By Barb Arland-Fye
My son Colin and his roommate Eric have been sharing an apartment for nearly three months and our family sees encouraging signs that these two men with autism are compatible.
They enjoy sharing meals together, visiting bookstores and going for walks. Both eagerly await their own copy of the daily newspaper each morning and like participating in Collage Theater for people with special needs. Eric has even accompanied Colin to Mass at Our Lady of the River Parish in LeClaire.
Most recently I took the risk of inviting Eric to join us for Thanksgiving dinner, the risk being the possibility of me serving as cook! As it turned out, my husband Steve was home and prepared a delicious dinner for six of us: Colin and Eric, a staffer from the agency that provides them assistance with living skills, our younger son Patrick, and Steve and me. I can’t recall a more satisfying Thanksgiving. Always anticipating what’s down the road instead of what’s right before him, Colin declared that Eric should be a part of our Thanksgiving tradition next year, too.
Twenty-three-year-old Colin was slightly agitated this weekend, perhaps because of the change in routine that accompanies every holiday and the fact that his piano performance at the Festival of Trees in Davenport did not start on time and interfered with his lunch schedule. We had invited Eric to this event as well, and Eric said yes, but later decided to go on an outing with a staffer. Colin seemed disappointed; I worried that Colin might be getting a little possessive of Eric because my son becomes easily attached to people who are a part of his life on a regular basis.
My husband appreciates Eric’s calm demeanor and is hopeful our son absorbs that sense of peacefulness some day. When I talked with Colin and Eric’s staff supervisor about how things are going, she assured me that the two men get along. They also seem to accept that either one of them can be difficult when struggling with frustration; they simply let those incidents run their course.
The supervisor, who demonstrates wisdom well beyond her 20-something years, reminded me that Eric is nearly 15 years older than Colin — which means he’s had that much longer to grow up. Because Colin is my first-born child — living with a disability that turns convention on its head — it’s been difficult to gauge his emotional and social growth. Even though I occasionally remind him to act like an adult, until now, I wasn’t convinced that he ever could.
At the end of the Thanksgiving weekend as Steve, Patrick and I drove Colin to his apartment I asked what had been most special thing for him. He said: “Having dinner at your house with my roommate Eric and going to (the Vigil for all Nascent Human Life) at Sacred Heart Cathedral.”
Colin’s supervisor says he may be a little edgier than some of the other individuals with special needs that she works with, but he has a wonderful personality and he’s fun to be with.
In this Advent season of hope and expectation, I am coming to appreciate the gift I’ve been given.