We're Family

July 30, 2014

By Dan Coulter

Who’s in your family?

It may be larger than you think.

My wife, Julie, and I recently went to her annual family reunion.  We showed a video there that we’d produced about several generations of family history using interviews and old photographs.  We included a story about great-grandfather Rommie trying to drive his new Model T Ford for the first time.  When it abruptly started forward and he couldn’t remember how to stop it, he clung to the steering wheel yelling, “Whoa! Gee! Gee! Haw!” as if he was driving one of his mules.  His oldest son jumped up on the car’s running board and got it stopped.

The older members of Julie’s family grew up together. As children, her father and his cousins spent their summers together working on family members’ farms.  They love telling tales about the work, play and shenanigans they shared.  It makes some of them wistful when younger members of the family, who didn’t grow up with their cousins and don’t feel the same sense of kinship, don’t put as high a priority on attending family reunions.

This is probably an inevitable result of a mobile population, in which extended families can live great distances away and rarely see each other.  The older members of my wife’s family are close because they understand one another.  They speak the same language.  And they’re always ready to help and support each other.

If you’re lucky enough to be close to your extended kinfolk, that’s great.  But you don’t have to be related to people to feel a sense of family.   Parents with children who have special needs such as Asperger Syndrome or autism can feel very alone.  Especially if their extended family lives far away and may not recognize what they’re dealing with on a daily basis.

This is when contact with others dealing with similar situations can be a lifesaver.

Like the mother I know of who rescued another mother taking her developmentally delayed autistic son to a Thomas the Tank Engine exhibit at a transportation museum.  In the museum’s gift shop, 11 year old, 150 pound Aaron flopped down on the floor and threw a tantrum in the midst of the other, mostly two and three year-old, Thomas fans.

Desperately trying to deal with the situation and purchase the new Thomas DVD her son had picked out, Aaron’s mom, Lynn, felt someone grab her shoulder.  She thought to herself, “If you say one word I’ll…!”

But she turned to find a woman who said, “Give me your stuff and give me your money and I’ll pay for it.  I’ll meet you in the parking lot. I have a son with autism.”

Lynn managed, with a struggle, to get her son to her car.  A short while later, the woman and her daughter appeared to deliver the DVD and Lynn’s change.  The rescuer gave Lynn a hug and said, “Sometimes this is all we can do.”

Then her daughter said, “You should have seen my mom.”

“What did she do?”

“The security guard was having a problem and said ‘they shouldn’t let kids like that in places like this.’  And she looked him straight in the eye and said ‘If you’ve got a typical child, you go home tonight and pray to God you never have to go through anything like this.’”

Lynn said it touched her deeply that someone else knew what she was going through.

Those of us with children on the autism spectrum are sometimes in the best position to give each other the help and support we need.  We know what it feels like.  We speak each other’s language.

We’re family.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Dan Coulter is the author of the videos, “Understanding Brothers and Sisters with Asperger Syndrome” and “Understanding Brothers and Sisters on the Autism Spectrum.”  You can find more information and articles on his website: coultervideo.com

Copyright 2008 Dan Coulter (Revised 2014)   Used By Permission   All Rights Reserved

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