We Are on This Adventure Together

Dear Miles,

I used to travel a lot before you were born. I took lots of journeys and lived in foreign countries. I would take only what I could carry on my back. Then you were born. I thought my journeys were over, and I said as much to an acquaintance who had just returned from a few years in East Africa. She smiled and told me how wrong I was. She told me I had just embarked on a new adventure and on a much grander scale. She was right, and we are on this adventure together.

I used to think I was supposed to be your knowing guide as we navigated life. After we got your autism diagnosis, I felt overwhelmed by what it would mean to bring you safely through our adventure. I wanted you to have an experience like mine, never knowing the pain of being different. The truth is I don’t know where we are going and where we will end up. That’s what makes it an adventure, and we are on this adventure together.

You are an intriguing traveling companion. You are filled with such emotion and soul that I think you are carrying along mine also. How do I guard your uncontainable joy while helping you maneuver through anxieties I will never know? When do I push you to reach the destination? When do I back off to allow you to get there in your own time? I don’t really know, but I can travel along with you. We are on this adventure together.

Sound has become as important as sight as we travel together. I had heard of sensory processing disorder before, but I didn’t know what it looked like until we tried to go into a church sanctuary with a loud, electric worship band. I never noticed how loud carts are at the entrance to a supermarket as we jerk them from the line; you are brave and cover your ears, wait patiently for me to pick you up, and we move away to the produce section (where we can listen for the canned thunder before the vegetables are sprayed with water). It’s profound when we are walking and you ask that we stop to listen to the birds singing in the trees. I could not lead you to that sort of insight, but you allowed me to join you in it because we are on this adventure together.

Like the best travel companions, you’ve created a soundtrack for our journey. You feel music more keenly than I do; some studies show you use a different part of the brain than I do to process it better. I was never aware of the sonorous tone of a contrabassoon until we discovered it together pursuing your love of the orchestra. I didn’t know the vibrancy of Khachaturian, the grand scale of Dvorak, or the irresistibility of Tchaikovsky before you brought me along on your exploration of music. I’m so grateful we are on this adventure together.

Like sojourners have for ages, we share stories with each other. Your performances of everything from the Magic Flute to Mighty Machines will always find a grateful audience in me. You capture tone and reproduce it faithfully; you memorize lines of staggering length; you perform with enthusiasm; and, most beautifully of all, you invite me to participate in your performance. Every moment is bursting with dragons, magic school buses, princes, Santa, tractors, dinosaurs, and pirates. I’m so thankful for every performance while we are on this adventure together.

There will be joy on our journey, but I know there will be sadness too. I’m sorry, but I’m not very good with that part. I’ve never been comfortable with it, but I’ll be there for the sad moments too. You’ll never have to be by yourself. If you need space, I can give it to you, but I hope that you’ll always prefer to work through your big emotions with me as we continue on this adventure together.

I don’t know what our destination is; that’s what scares me the most if I’m honest. I don’t know where we’ll end up. Even if I had some idea, it wouldn’t add much of value to our trek. I read once that falling in love is an adventure in and of itself. I tell you as often as I can that I love you. I’ve tried to teach you that the expected reply is “I love you too,” but expected replies in social interactions aren’t really your thing. But it’s ok. It’s ok because I know we are definitely on that adventure. Together.