Our decision to homeschool Sawyer was the singularly biggest change my wife and I instituted in his life. To be clear, the middle school Sawyer was attending at the time we pulled him out was doing everything possible to support him. The teachers cared deeply for him and were willing to make at times startling accommodations. It did not matter. The social environment of school coupled with the logistics of a few adults overseeing a crowd of children became too challenging to ignore.
I mention this because I do not believe it would have been impossible for Sawyer to find his grounding at school. I do not believe it is impossible for anyone to find their grounding, find their calm and their voice and their willpower, in any single environment. But it is certainly more challenging in certain environments than others. It is easier to feel at peace while at home sitting in your most comfortable chair talking to the ones you love than hiding in a ditch in the middle of a warzone.
School, for a variety of reasons, had become a kind of warzone for Sawyer, and so we brought the soldier home. Gradually, this change of environment had a settling effect on him. It was the first time I perceived that my greatest influence in Sawyer’s life, the one thing I could actually do, was adjust the environment in which he lived, to make it friendlier, calmer, and more inviting. He was not a car whose hood I could lift to adjust the wiring and change the plugs. His thoughts and feelings remained entirely and absolutely his own, a lesson I continue to learn every day. The environment, meanwhile, belonged to all of us.
Of course, as soon as I recognized this I began looking for other environmental changes. Should I buy a drum set to encourage him back into music? Should I buy him a new computer or simply remove all computers? Should I paint his room, make him more smoothies, sign him up for a social group? All decent enough questions, and all the answers would have their own minor effects. Yet none of these changes to Sawyer’s physical environment, including pulling him out of school, would have as significant an effect on him as the changes I made to the environment within myself.
I am not Sawyer’s whole world, but I am wholly responsible for my relationship with him. To love him without worrying about him, without requiring him to behave this way or that way, is to enter the very environment we are all seeking to create. What we call autism is nothing but a search for love. It is very easy to mistake it for something else, to call it a problem or even a disease. What a common misperception. Even war is a frustrated expression of our search for love, a belief that if only we killed everyone who disagreed with us, who challenged us, who looked or prayed or thought different than us, we would know peace, love’s resting position.
I must admit that there are times I resent Sawyer for requiring such unconditional love. I don’t always feel up to it. Just drink the damn smoothie and be okay. Yet I have never been anything but grateful for those moments when I have found unconditional love within myself. To find it is to end, if only temporarily, my ongoing war with life, to find allies where there had been enemies, to find acceptance, in fact, for all that there is, including me.
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I am the author of Fearless Writing: How to Create Boldly and Write with Confidence, and Write Within Yourself: An Author's Companion. Learn more here.