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Aging, Autism & the Autumn of Life

Updated: Nov 10, 2021

Autumn brings the brilliant color turning of the leaves and a cornucopia of harvest. It’s a time to slow down and prepare for longer, colder nights, as the daylight begins to shorten. It’s a time to reflect, go inward, to contemplate where you are in this existence here on planet earth. As part of the baby boom generation, I have no doubt entered this season of my life.

Most people my age will look back on where they’ve been and what they’ve accomplished. They will reminisce with friends and family about memories they hold dear; a mixed bag review of triumphs and regrets, hopefully balanced by a mountain of gratitude. Thoughts of who they’ll bequeath their house, their dog and cherished collection of LPs will fill their heads. Autumn, it’s a seasonal reminder that time is short.

As a parent of an adult with autism, being in the autumn of my life only highlights the urgency to answer a question that has been lurking around my brain for years, Who will take care of my special needs son when I’m gone? As many times as I’ve asked myself this question, the answer comes back the same, like the echo of a voice shouting into an empty cave. No answer, just the hollow echo looping through my brain.

Joining the rank of empty nesters is not part of the plan. Adult children like mine require ongoing guardianship that includes management of their personal, medical and legal affairs. Ritual rites of passage are eclipsed by questions about basic living needs: Where will they live? Who will care for them? Will they be safe? These decisions are not yours alone, but made jointly with public agencies and organizations. Decisions that will affect everything they do every day. Raising a child with autism leads you down a different path with challenges that remain beyond your lifespan.

In the autumn of life, time is no longer on your side. You are placed in a position to surrender to what is and plan for an uncertain future. You must trust that the growing need to care for those aging with autism will be met. It requires a leap of faith and a belief your prayer will be answered with hope to bring peace of mind before the first snowflake falls.

Note From the Author

A friend commented on the picture I took for this post and how beautiful the leaves appeared against the dark bark of the tree. She paused and said “you know that’s poison ivy, right?” No, I didn’t know. The poison ivy was wrapped in the beauty of autumn’s first colorful glow. Through my lens, I could only see the vibrant colors and change of the leaves. I quickly realized it was an even more perfect picture for this post. A metaphor for finding beauty in the imperfections of life. It’s natures reminder that we are all unique in how we move through this world and no matter who you are the beauty of your own true colors will shine through.

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