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  • Andrew Scott Bassett

Graduation And Your Autistic Child

My amazing and wonderful son Austin graduated from high school a few days ago. As with any parent, it's still tough to wrap my head around the fact that my boy has already reached this age. What makes the event even more remarkable is the fact that my son is autistic, in fact, severely autistic. He struggles with things that most kids do without thinking about. He needs help with everyday activities that other high school seniors can easily accomplish by themselves.

So all these considerations go into the planning of his graduation night and ceremony as you would imagine. I spent two mornings down at his school hanging out and watching the seniors practice for the graduation ceremony. The normal kids, as society likes to call them, you know, the kids who aren't special needs like my son, well they would have no issue with the ceremony and what was expected of them. However, asking my autistic son, who is usually on the move and rarely just sitting around, to sit through even this short graduation program, and it was short, only about an hour long, would be unreasonable and unfair to my boy as well as the other kids who would be distracted by my son's inability to just sit still and listen to the speakers. Oh, and the parents of the other kids graduating who might always have the memory from this important night of not only their child but also my child acting out or doing something to bring attention to himself during the ceremony, that also would be completely unfair to everyone else. Of course, it was important for myself and my wife, to see our boy graduate just like the rest of the kids, but at the same time, we had no desire to take away from the great event and have our son be a distraction to the service. This is in a nutshell the great struggle for the parent of an autistic child, on one hand, you want them to be as normal as possible and experience the same things other kids do, but on the other hand, you don't want them to take away joyful and memorable experiences from other children and their parents, it's a emotional tightrope truly we walk each day.

After each graduation practice those first two days I spoke with my son's school principal. Fortunately for us, he was a nice and understanding man who wanted us to bridge the same struggles I had just spoken about. That is that our son and we his parents would get to relish in his graduation ceremony as much as possible and at the same time distract as little as possible from the other seniors doing the same thing. We made a plan together, the principal and I, and the wonderful woman running the graduation program. After much deliberation and discussion, we decided that our son wouldn't have to sit through all the speeches and songs. We would instead lead him out from behind the back barriers which stood behind the other sitting graduates. He would come out after the talking and music had stopped and he would move forward and be the very first student to have his name called. I would be on one side of him and his classroom aid would be on the other side.

It was a good plan, except for one thing, the WEATHER. This was an outside ceremony held on the football field. This year has been a strange one for weather, and graduation night was no different. Normally it's sunny and hot this time of year, early June. But this year we have had the most rain seen in a long, long, time. That is a nice thing, except, when you are attempting outside events like, well, a high school graduation. Rain was in the forecast to hit about the same time that the ceremony would start. Thunder and lightning were also a possibility for our area and were actually taking place all over our area. As I stood with my special needs son, my arm locked around his, ready to make the triumphant walk toward the stage where my son would receive his diploma and handshake, the clouds began to open up and deposited their moisture upon us. My brother who was in attendance had joked before the ceremony started that if the lightning did hit that we could see the biggest barbeque in state history since most everyone watching the event was sitting on metal bleachers. At last, with the rain picking up steam, but thankfully, no lightning or thunder to speak of, important since large booming sounds certainly don't go down well with those on the autism spectrum, yes at last, my son's name was called and we soldiered up to the podium and he got that well-deserved diploma and handshake. Everyone was a winner this night, my son, overcoming so much to graduate. We his parents getting to enjoy and revel in the moment of his great accomplishment, and the other kids there, you know the so-called normal ones, and their parents, not ever having even the slightest idea about all we went through to make the night special not only for our child but for theirs too.


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