I sat there for hours in a rocking year in my parents' livingroom. Hunched over. Fingers cramping. Neck straining. Looking from the magazine to the keyboard to the television. Ignoring the complaints of my sister to let her watch TV. Finally, the last line of code was entered and I typed "run."
The result of my efforts was a tiny ball bouncing across my parents' TV screen.
My family said, "That's it?!"
It was the early 1980s and I was a young teenager. Those years were the early times of home computers. I had saved all my money to buy the Commodore Vic-20 that I was typing on and entering the pages of code that would earn me my ultimate reward of the tiny, red ball (and not a round ball, mind you, but the squared equivalent common in those days) repeatedly bouncing across the TV screen (at the time, many of the low-end computers would be hooked up to your television and not a monitor).
Being interested in computers and tech back then was really appealing. Everything was new and the concept of being able to "program" a home computer was pretty cool. Sitting for hours to type in code (no hard drives back then) seemed to fit in with my obsessive drive to finish things and be rewarded. Of course, I wasn't a "programmer" I was just typing code that someone else had written and published in a computer magazine. The most I ever "coded" on my own was a simple little program that would ask you to enter a number from 1 to 10 and then display a message when you entered a number. Of course, the devious side of me would enter this code on computers in stores and instead of a positive message I'd have the computer display insults when someone entered a number. "Number 5? Nooo, you idiot! That's wrong!" Yeah, I was a geek even back then.
My parents, probably looking to get something back from their tolerating me hogging the TV all the time, kept pushing me to go into computers. But, I've always loved language and words and writing. I knew from a pretty young age I wanted to be a writer or an editor--something to do with words. When the time came that I was finally able to go to college I knew I was going to
study English and Journalism.
That decision wasn't met with the encouragement or happiness that I'd wanted from my parents but I knew that computers were just a hobby for me. It didn't appeal to me to think about sitting for hours in an office writing code, etc. That was something I did for fun and as the years went on I knew I wasn't skilled enough to keep up with programming languages. Computer languages are very rigid and that's not the way my brain works.
Every career test I ever took always listed writer/editor as one of the top jobs I'd be good at. I was pretty convinced (and very stubborn). I think it wasn't until I had graduated college, with honors, with my degree in English/Journalism, that my parents finally accepted my choice of profession. Over the years, such as the months of unemployment I just suffered through, there have been times when I thought about switching careers, but I've always known in my heart what I was meant to do.
The important thing is that I made the choice for me. No one forced me to pick a career. No one told me that because I was horrible at math I shouldn't even think about becoming an accountant or something like that. I wasn't pre-judged as to limit my future.
IT'S THE CAN-CAN, NOT THE CAN'T-CAN'T
Recently, during an evaluation of Mikey's progress, someone said, in response to some results from the tests, that Mikey would probably never be a lawyer and that there were good vocational schools to think about for the future. Now, I kept the Jersey Boy in me tame and didn't explode at this person. What I would have said, though, would have been along the lines of...DON'T EVER TELL MY KID WHAT HE CAN OR CAN'T DO!!! Especially not when he's barely three-years-old and doing well in his autism therapy.
Apparently there are a lot of parents of autistic children who just want the easy route. They just want to know the bare minimum they have to do to make sure their child can do something, anything with their life. I want more than that for Mikey and I honestly believe he wants more, too. Mikey is a very motivated kid and very smart and he never backs down from his schooling. Don't tell him, or me, that he CAN'T do something.
This was the first time I've heard someone say Mikey couldn't do something. His therapy and everything we've done since he was diagnosed has been about what he can do and what he will be able to do. Are there challenges in his life and in his mother's and my lives...of course. But we don't give up or back down and I don't expect anyone who is in his life to back down.
Most of the parents I know from Mikey's school are dedicated to helping their children fight past autism's challenges. They don't want to change their children they just want to make them better and make life easier for them. Isn't that what all parents want from their kids regardless of if they have a disability or not?
Mikey loves jigsaw puzzles. He sits there and does them over and over. Maybe he'll grow up to be the NY Times Crossword Puzzle creator someday. Or maybe he'll surprise me and say he wants to be a computer programmer. Whatever it is that he decides to do with his life I'll support.
Never tell your kids they can't do something. As far as I'm concerned, CAN'T means Copout And Never Try.