Stuck Windows, Stuck Minds

Back when I was a kid, the driver’s-side power window on the family car stopped working correctly. My father had the inclination to try to fix it by himself. Well, for the longest time the inside door panel, along with a few other “extra parts,” were kept in the trunk while the window remained broken.

I don’t remember what the result was of that experiment in auto healing. I think we probably got rid of the car before the window ever worked again. But I took a long-lasting impression from that whole situation: Don’t try to fix things if you aren’t 100% sure of what you’re doing. But if you do try…never give up before you reach the result you’re looking for.

I’ve been thinking a lot along those lines recently in relation to treating and healing my son Mikey’s autism. I think it was the end of the school year and the inevitable review of the good, bad, and unfulfilled potential of the past few months that has turned me, quite honestly, into an emotional mess where Mikey’s well-being is concerned. (As an example, Coldplay’s song, “Fix You,” especially the lines “High up above or down below/When you’re too in love to let it go/But if you never try you’ll never know/Just what you’re worth” had me in uncontrollable tears the other day).

My column this month has been inspired by the sadness, doubt, and frustration I’m feeling and is not as upbeat, optimistic, and relatable as the pieces I usually write for the Autism Society’s blog. The genesis of these new feelings is my family’s consideration of a new alternative treatment plan for Mikey and the lingering question: “How do you know if what you’re doing is helping or harming your child?”

As the song says, “…if you never try you’ll never know.”  Is it always better to do something, than nothing? I think as autism parents we’re often on our own in this dilemma and it’s that uncertainty and fear of the unknown that really makes me feel the need for guidance I can trust.

My struggle is this: On the one hand, I want to do anything I can to help Mikey. But on the other hand, I don’t want to do anything that could possibly hurt him. Because those two things can potentially clash, and because I love him so much, I tend to get paralyzed with making decisions on different approaches to treatments. It also doesn’t help that the Jersey Boy in me has that ingrown distrust of most things that sound like they’re being touted by a snake oil salesman (“Yeah, right! Get outta here!”)

Unlike the power window situation in my dad’s car, I don’t want to attempt a “fix” with Mikey unless I’m really sure of what I’m doing. Mikey doesn’t have any spare parts I can ignore if something goes wrong, and once I make up my mind I want to see it through to the end. But, through all of this recent contemplation I have realized one thing: I have to give my dad credit for not being afraid to try to fix the window.

So, I’m also going to try. I’m going to be open-minded and work with my wife on this decision. I admit it…it’s tough for me. But I know I’m going to feel frustrated whether we go with this treatment or not. The doubt will always be there until I see something that proves itself to me. So, for now, I’m pushing the Jersey Boy out of the way, doing my research, and focusing on what good may come in helping Mikey to be happy, healthy, and function at his highest level throughout his life.

Dan Olawski blogs about fatherhood and his son Mikey for the Autism Society. He lives with his family on Long Island, N.Y., where he works as a writer/editor. His time is spent following Mikey with a vacuum cleaner, watching his beloved New York Yankees and continuing his pursuit of the perfect chocolate chip cookie. He can be contacted at dantheeditorman@gmail.com.

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