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High School Graduation and the Beginning of Adult Life Bring Joy and Trepidation

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By Melinda Sacks

Managing Expectations - His and Ours

Throughout Alex's childhood therapists and experts of every variety have given us advice. Talk to him about his disabilities, they told us. Get him to acknowledge what is hard for him (sometimes it seems just about everything has been hard). Be realistic about what he can do in the future. We listened to such advice for years while the kids around us won scholarships, athletic competitions, were accepted to Ivy League schools, and traveled to exotic countries to study abroad.

At our house getting through the day without a call from the principal's office or a progress report claiming, "Alex will not stop talking in class," or, "Alex never turned in his essay on To Kill a Mockingbird, therefore he received an F," was a major accomplishment.

Ironically, Alex has rarely wallowed in his difficulties. Some would say he is in complete denial. But the truth is that I think it's important for him to hold onto his belief that he will someday make a lot of money, drive a nice car, live in a two-story house, and run his own school. As one therapist told us when Alex was a little boy, "Alex gets up every morning and puts on his suit of armor. He can't allow a chink in it, or a criticism to get through, or everything would crumble."

So we walk a fine line, telling Alex he can do many things but that each one takes lots of hard work. But we never say never.

Looking toward Alex's Day of Independence

It's hard for me to imagine Alex moving out, even though he is 6 foot 1, almost 19 years old, and holding down two jobs. After all, he still doesn't want to stay home alone when my husband and I go away overnight, although he doesn't like to admit it.

I'm not sure if he'd shower and shave if I didn't nag him.

He might live only on ice cream and Oreo cookies if left to his own devices.

But then Alex will surprise us with some comment or action that proves he is far more thoughtful and independent than we give him credit for. He helps an elderly woman who has fallen and walks her home to be sure she is all right. He cooks pasta for the 8-year-old he babysits and loads the dishwasher before the parents get home. He calls the junior college he plans to attend and gathers information about working at the school radio station, and then sets up a meeting to visit.

My husband and I look at each other and our heart's swell with pride, and with hope.

Comments from readers

"Melinda: Thank you for sharing this wonderful, heart-felt, well-written article on your special guy, Alex. You have expressed my concerns exactly as I have a son the very same age and have the very same feelings as I know countless other parents do as well. As other parents of non-learning disordered children look forward to these days of emancipation with joy and hopefulness; parents of kids with disabilities of any kind look at things far less optimistically yet we, too have the right to feel hopeful. I suppose we approach their leaving home with 'cautious optimism' and pray for their safety, good choices, good health and happiness every day of their lives. It's hard to let go, but without doing so, we'll never know how high they can fly. You and your husband have lovingly helped build a solid foundation for Alex - a platform on which he will stand as he spreads his wings and heads off to what we all hope will be the future he dreams of for himself. And, from his obvious desire to 'give back' and to help others, it is clear that he derives much satisfaction in those special, 'little' things in life (those things that truly matter most when you get right down to it)! Maybe we can't expect 'great things' from our special sons and daughters, but we can certainly expect a life of happiness and when everything is said and done; that is a life well-lived. Thank you for sharing your heart and it's my prayer for Alex that he continues to thrive with his upcoming independence (which he will likely do) knowing that his loving and supportive parents are just a phone call (or a text message away)! "