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My Special Needs Son Conquers the Can'ts

As soon as my son’s pediatrician suspected something wasn’t quite right with my then-2-year-old, his life became governed by a litany of can’ts.

He can’t make eye contact.

He can’t hold a conversation.

He can’t sit still.

He can’t attend regular preschool.

He can’t play sports.

He can’t make friends.

As petrified as we were by his autism diagnosis, we were very busy raising his three older brothers whose worlds were filled with cans. Undaunted by the naysayers, we had no intention of imposing any limitations on our youngest.

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We enrolled him in an early intervention program the day after he was diagnosed. Less than a year later, he was able to start at a special education preschool available through our school district. By the time he graduated to a small inclusive special needs kindergarten class, he was speaking to anyone who would listen. With constant reminders to, “look me in the eye,” his ability to hold eye contact grew with each passing day.

With maturity and a firm grasp on an array of coping mechanisms, he learned to focus, not blurt out and stay put. He even tackled three seasons of park district co-ed soccer. As for friends, like many of us, he connected with a few cherished buddies and has many likable acquaintances.

By the time he hit middle school, we thought he had left the naysayers in his dust, but we were wrong. We were stunned to hear trained professionals add two more:

He can’t play an instrument.

He can’t take learn a foreign language.


They knew better than to deny him anything he wanted to explore—driver’s education included.

I wonder what they’d have to say to his piano teacher who didn’t give up on him when the band director did. And dare I even mention the “A” he got in his mainstream freshman Spanish class?

By the time my husband and I sat down with him and his high school support team to discuss his sophomore year course load, they knew better than to deny him anything he wanted to explore—driver’s education included.

Is he nervous about getting behind the wheel? A bit, but like most other teens, he’s excited more than anything. Is he afraid of getting into an accident? Maybe more so than most, but then so was I. In fact, I was so nervous, I managed to defer getting my license until I was almost 18, but that’s another story. As soon as he had his permit in hand, I promised to get him behind the wheel so he can start practicing.

At the end of the planning session, his caseworker asked him if he had given any thought to what he wanted to do after high school. Before she could finish her question, he blurted out, “Why college, of course. Or did you mean to ask what my major would be?”

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Like all parents, we know our child better than anybody else. One thing—perhaps the most important thing—we know about our son is never say can’t. Well, you can, but chances are you’ll have to eat your words.

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