Finding Where My Son With Autism Belongs

I ran into an old friend from the good ol’ days a year or two ago and made some small talk. The years may have changed, but he was pretty much the same person he was then. The only difference is that the material things he was bragging about were from today, rather than 1995. It was about impressing people with whatever he had. Same verse, same as the verse. He’s not unique in that personality. There are many like him.

When talk turned to our kids, I began telling him about my son. I wasn’t getting many words in, so I barely explained it before he cut me off.

Yes. I have a daughter and a son. My son has autism…

His hand went up with his palm out to stop me. I had forgotten he would do that and instantly hated it again. But I figured this might be good. Perhaps he had some major contribution to offer. When moments like this happen, I eagerly await whatever surprise is about to spring up.

Let me ask you. Where does he go to school?

He actually goes to the mainstream public school here, but he’s in the special education prog…

Great! That’s great. Keep him there. Keep him in that mainstream school. Whatever you have to do. That’s good. Good. Good.

And that was his contribution He then returned to discussing his car or whatever.

Now, I know people are reading this and thinking, “What is wrong with that? People should want their kids to be in a mainstream school, right?”

Technically yes. I get that. People strive for mainstream schooling. The aim is to one day have your child reach the goals you push for and that’s one that is on a lot of dream boards for parents.

lucas preschool

We all push for the best. As a dad, my goal isn’t only to have my 11-year-old non-verbal son in a mainstream school. It’s for my 11-year-old non-verbal son to be graduating from Yale while he awaits his inauguration as President of the World. Maybe a quarterback and a crime-fighting billionaire too. I want him to be everything. I’m a dad. That’s what I do.

The issue here is that my old chum from gone by had never even met my son when he offered this advice. He didn’t stop yapping long enough to hear that Lucas is non-verbal or that his form of autism isn’t the kind they play on television. He didn’t know his capabilities physically or verbally. He knew nothing. He just knew I had a kid, and that I should push for him to be in a mainstream school. Much like he would shine up his Mustang to impress the neighbors, I too should shine up my son for the same showmanship.

So, reading all that begs the question Do I want Lucas in a mainstream school? The short answer is yes. The real answer is that it isn’t as simple as that.

I want Lucas where he belongs.

That’s it. The program he’s in now works for him. One day, maybe even soon, it might not. As his parent, I need to look at what the options are, understand my son’s place in life at the moment, and bring him to those who can teach him whatever skills he needs. If those skills are math and science, they’re math and science. If they’re brushing his teeth and tying his shoes, then they’re brushing his teeth and tying his shoes. It’s about his needs, not whether anyone is impressed by his placement or my where I hope he should be.

I’ve written enough of these to know that there are some people right now saying, “No. Push. Never give up. Never stop.” If you’re one of those people, I feel you. I get you. I know what you’re saying and I agree. That’s not what I’m suggesting.

To give your child a chance to learn in the way that suits them is never giving up. Forcing them to be where they won’t learn just so people will think they’re doing better than they are would be.


When they offered Lucas a communication device years ago, I accepted it. At the time, a voice in me worried that the voice in him would never be heard because of it. I was scared that this iPad was me “giving up”, but I knew it was what he needed. I wanted him to talk with his words, but I thought that I would be robbing him of the only potential voice he would have if I didn’t give him that option, at least in the meantime.  

Schooling is no different. I said that I want him at Yale at the age of eleven. Remember that? No? I just said it a few paragraphs ago. Come on. That was supposed to be a jocular example of my high hopes for him. However, if Yale called me today and said they had a seat for him, I’d say no. Because that’s not where he belongs.

It’s not giving up on your kid to put them somewhere that falls short of the goals you had planned out by now. It never is. The reason why it feels that way is because of people who are ready to congratulate you for mainstreaming your child without even knowing who your child is. It can make a person feel like anything short of that is a failure.

The opposite is true. Failure is not placing your child somewhere you think they will flourish. It’s about where he can learn the best and which environment can give him the greatest chance for success. If that’s in a mainstream school, then that’s where he belongs. If it’s in a special needs school, then that’s where he belongs. If it’s homeschool, boarding school, or any school, he should be there. He should be wherever he needs to be, regardless of my own personal ego, fear, or dreams.

Simply said, my son’s place in academia isn’t done for show. It’s not to impress strangers. It’s to make him the best adult he can possibly be.

Where is Lucas going to be in five years? I’m not sure. I have hopes and I have goals. My only job is to give him the keys to get there and, when the time comes, hope we’re at that point. If we’re not, it isn’t his fault and it’s not mine. It’s simply who he is, and we take it from there.

I’ll always be proud of him, whether watching him sworn in as President of the World or watching as he ties his first shoelace. Whichever it is, I’ll know that I will always put his needs above anything else to get him there.

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