Mafe Maria: Personal stories by autism parent mentor, Maria Stultz

Blind but Trusting

I’ve just received my rental car for the week. After placing my bag in the trunk and contemplating all the little ways how this cheap rental is not as nice as our family car, I pull out the map package I’ve printed earlier charting the route to the Option Institute. The number of steps is overwhelming for somebody like me, a person with not much sense of orientation who almost always gets lost when going to a new place. And I can’t afford to get lost this time. It’s Sunday; the Son-Rise Start Up will begin tomorrow… It’s late, I gotta get there before it gets dark… The worst case is I’ll get lost, I won’t be there Monday, I’ll miss important information, and Joaquin will suffer.

I look at the many pages I’ve printed splitting the map in segments so I can see all the surrounding roads and areas, just in case I get lost. I desperately try to memorize the different roads I need to follow. There are so many crossroads I better not miss, and I’m not one of those people who can drive and look at a map at the same time. Google’s text directions are crazy and are printed on two different pages — if a road changes names at some point, they list each name as a separate step. The font is tiny. There’s no way I’ll be able to read it as I go. So I try to make a cheat sheet with just the numbers of the different roads in sequential order. But I don’t trust it, and I keep studying the map. Suddenly I realize that I’ve spent 45 minutes in the car just looking at the freaking map trying to figure it all out ahead of time. Trying to stick it all in my head so I won’t fail. But I realize it’s not possible. I realize that all I can do is memorize the first step and start driving, trusting that I won’t miss the signs, that I’ll feel when I’m getting close to an important intersection and stop and check before I go the wrong way. Trusting that 1 hour and 30 minutes later I will have made it to my destination.

Before I leave, I ask somebody how to get to my first main road. The directions are clear, but I’m afraid. It’s not a simple “take a left here”. I start driving. I reach that first road and immediately start looking at all the minor street signs that appear. One of them confuses me. I take a right into a road named the same way as something on my map. But something feels wrong. I decide to get back to the main road and wait for the next sign. I keep going and reach a 4-way crossroads not easily understandable on the map. I make a very dubious guess for which the driver behind me gets exasperated, passes me with rage, and cuts in front of me while yelling something. I don’t drive too long before I feel again that perhaps I should stop and re-evaluate. From my stopping point I can see the intersection. Something tells me I should go back and take a different direction.

My decision was pivotal in the success of the journey. I’m actually on the right path; a few miles down I can finally see it. I keep driving, and keep stopping at strategic points when I feel I’m getting close to the next crossroads, just to check my next step on the map so I can be alert to the signs. I get rain throughout the journey on and off. The road doesn’t have a whole lot of traffic, but every once in a while a couple of cars pile up behind me. I’m driving at the speed limit because I don’t want to miss the signs. I’m driving at a speed that feels comfortable given my lack of experience with the road, though some times it feels like I’m stretching myself, less so that in the beginning, but still: I’m sort of blind, and I know it.

But I keep trusting, and I keep driving. And little by little I take all the right turns and I reach the final stretch. The question now is when to stop. I’m looking for a red barn. I see one, but no signs. I keep driving, and finally I see the glorious sign. I’m there. I made it.

During the week at the Start-Up, I met a woman that reminded me of myself in some way. Though different in personalities and backgrounds, we both are strong goal-oriented women; both eager to help our children. She’s been on the autism journey much longer than I have been. She was there for the specific, practical, hands-on, nitty gritty tools to help her son. She didn’t want any of the “touchy-feely” stuff. Several times I heard her say that. We talked a few times and it was pretty clear that we were in very different yet parallel dimensions. She was tired in her journey and declared herself unchanged; she just hoped to get the roadmap and the tools. I shared with her and others the personal breakthrough I had found that day, coincidentally the “touchy-feely” day that made her feel disappointed in what she was getting out of this so far.

I went to the Option Institute hoping to finesse what I already knew about the Son-Rise program. I went there thinking that I would get stronger in my methodology, that I would get more details about what to do and how to do it. I was well prepared and wanted more and deeper. But what I didn’t expect to get was the most important thing that happened to me there; the piece that I was completely missing; the one I was resisting most… Not the acceptance of my child’s autism; not the belief that this is an incredible opportunity in my life; not the discovery of the dialogue process… What I discovered at a very deep level was my resistance to ask and take help from others. I’ve always felt alone. I’ve never expected help from anybody (not even my parents). And I felt that finding volunteers to help me run Joaquin’s Son-Rise program would be difficult… Training them, managing a team, having to explain to a person what is in it for her… Because I didn’t really believe that there was anything in it for them. Because I could not believe that somebody not related to my son could love him this way in order to help us.

But the message that was waiting for me there was all about this. The people I met (many of whom where there for children not of their own, or just for children in general), the dialogue I had that day… The realization that there are giving people in the world, and I was so surprised and moved by it, because it was as if I didn’t believe they exist. And I had a vision of myself surrounded by the wonderful people that will come along in this journey to reach Joaquin. I felt this great love that they will develop for Joaquin, and I had a taste of the love we will feel for them. I understood the kind of connection we’ll all have around this precious child. How he will be “ours” and how the process will change us all for better. And I couldn’t wait to meet them.

And then, I couldn’t stop crying every time I talked about it, so I realized that this goes way beyond my process with Joaquin. It was completely rooted within me. I realized what a great craving I had for this kind of connection with others. I realized that for some reason, I had learned to suppress it somehow and act proud of being an antisocial self-supporting hermit. And it cracked me up every time I revealed this about myself and people were so surprised because the impression I made on them was the opposite of antisocial.

So to me, my drive to the middle of nowhere, to the place where I would get trained in order to help my son, was a perfect metaphor of the journey I just started. I know where I want to go. I have a roadmap and a car. Yet, I’m sort of blind to how the journey will develop. I can’t foresee all the twists and turns. There’s a chance I may get lost. And I can’t plan the experience and control it as my personal comfort wants to have it. I just have to start driving and stop and ask for help when I feel I need it. And trust my intuition. And eventually, I’ll get there.

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  1. On , Joey wrote:

    I am so glad that you put this story and these thoughts down on “paper.”

  2. On , Ria wrote:

    Oh Maria, I’m so touched by this. I can so relate to you, because I too have the idea I have to do it all by myself. I’m so glad you can throw away that confiction. I’m starting to undermine it myself, too.

  3. On , Maria wrote:

    Ah, my friend… I’ve come to suspect that parents of special children have more than one thing in common ;)

  4. On , Ruth wrote:

    This has touched a chord in me too. Thank you for posting this… I intend to read this again when not at work and hopefully will email further xxxx

  5. On , Mafe Maria » Meeting Strangers wrote:

    […] I am so lucky to have found such a great volunteer for our program… I am so lucky to have found Son-Rise on that same black day… I am so lucky that everything is fitting like pieces of a puzzle, and every day I feel more and more confident, capable, and way less scared of the blind spots on this road. […]