Sixteen, College and a Silver Lining
Note: From time to time we receive a heartfelt contribution from a parent. Chuck Hancock has written for us in the past – he is a single father who cares deeply about his son who is 16 years old. When he writes about Charlie, he has a nice mark – “I’m the luckiest.” And we’re lucky enough to hear from him on his son’s 16th birthday. Happy birthday Charlie! Kim
By Chuck Hancock
It seems like it has been more than three years since I submitted a review on Age of Autism. The last time was 2018. Before 2016 and 2011. I’ve read such deep and insightful submissions here, and not for a second do I think what I’m submitting is even remotely in the same mundane realm (I’ve had a lot of Marvel lately – seen movies.)) Of interest and thoughtfulness of the pieces I read. I mainly write about “Dad Stuff”.
Charlie, my son, is a child with an autism spectrum. My only child. To be on this journey with him all these years has been, to the surprise of anyone reading this, full of great ups and crazy lows. That means I can’t imagine living without him for a second.
Charlie is 16. I think back to the day I turned sixteen and vividly remember what it was like. I had friends, drove a car, went to parties, did sports, and was interested in girls. Charlie doesn’t share any of this with me. All he wants is to have friends. He fights so socially. Breaks my heart I find it easy to get angry and angry about it. I struggle with it a lot. But then I breathe and pray (though probably not enough) and just try to get back to this place. This place where we are all. This place where we would do ANYTHING for our children.
Navigating the education system over many years has been a challenge. Whatever “education” is these days. IEPs, the occasional bullying, and just trying to find an environment for Charlie he enjoys. Unlike many of my parenting friends with typical children, his mother and I are not constantly worried about his future. Colleges, careers, etc. A little blessing maybe.
Charlie, his mother, and I moved to Florida from Maryland last fall. Saw the writing on the proverbial wall. Big step. Divorced, let’s try our best to become parents together. This also included choosing a school. We have chosen a school here so that Charlie goes to the 9th grade. A very small private school. Bills itself as one for children with “learning disparities”. Catastrophe. While he was there in person, it didn’t fit well. While school reports showed A and B, I knew Charlie didn’t really benefit from being at that school. Unfortunately, there were also a few bullying episodes there. New kid in school etc. It’s so hard to find a good fit when it comes to schools.
So we found a new Christian-based school for this year. With the exception of last year, Charlie was always in mainstream school. Every student has a student mentor. Very cool. Charlie also seems to be doing better privately, and not quite so small. Having Charlie in a regular public high school with over two thousand students would be too overwhelming for him. So now, third school in three years. Difficult for every child. Although A and B were in 9th grade, the entrance tests for the new school showed what we thought was right; Charlie really didn’t learn or keep much in Algebra I. Not much better at reading. When we discussed this with the school and Charlie, his mother and I decided to do 9th grade again. Charlie agreed to that. New School, to him, none of the other students would know he was a 16-year-old ninth grader. Fortunately, as this is not a public school, we had the opportunity to do so. I hope the extra year helps. For no other reason than to give Charlie another year of maturation.
The last year or two has of course been an incredible challenge for all of us. Virtual training for most, along with the bans, closings and myriad other crazy “rules”. I feel so bad for the kids in most schools. Plus the stress for the family. I fear that all students, especially those with special needs, have essentially lost a year. The masking rules particularly bother me. Since communication is estimated to be between 75 and 85 percent non-verbal, depending on which study you read, these kids, especially the little ones, really suffer a lot from it. It breaks my heart.
I suspect the silver lining of these years of non-stop vaccination talks, unlike many reading this, is that, unlike many reading this, millions of people are receiving information about vaccine safety for the first time. Information that you haven’t thought about for a minute, or at least only a little. I sincerely hope that this increased knowledge and exposure will save millions of children from future vaccination harm. That would be an amazing thing.
I am guilty of being a total overposter on Facebook. For years, when posting things about Charlie, I would add, “I’m the luckiest.” While it’s certainly true, I found myself during the past year not posting nearly as much about Charlie and second, when I did without mentioning “the happiest” part. The last year has been tough for Charlie and me. I understand he has spent the past few years sailing through this wonderful period also known as puberty. And I remember he’s 16. We just don’t do as many things together as we did when we were young. I get it. I was once 16. Still, I miss our time together.
So I work hard to shake it off and try to stay focused. Anything I can do to make Charlie better. Some things fail, some succeed. And at the same time, as some have suggested, try to do things that will make things better for me. As already mentioned, Charlie longs for friends. To be in a more social environment. It’s just so difficult for him. I just pray that I can help him meet some kids to hang out with and do things with.
I am in such awe and admiration from all parents of ASD children. The same applies to all other handicaps and disorders. Although we have no choice, we are all on this journey together. For life. Fortunately, while it can be so heartbreaking at times, there are times of pure joy. Today, Charlie’s 16 year old is a joyous occasion indeed.
Still the happiest