Clay was in second grade. During a free period, he was spelling out words on a white board with magnetic letters. He was into brand names that he saw on signs at the time, so he spelled out “Starbucks”. Then he spelled out “Penske Trucks”. Clay’s teacher came over and made a big fuss.
“That’s great, Clay. You are spelling such big words.”
“Can you spell something else just for me?”
Clay looked at her, looked at the letters on the table in front of him and with no hesitation spelled out, “Go Away.”
I have told that story at several conferences for work. It always gets a laugh, and I usually go on to talk about how it is a great example of direct, honest and effective communication.
Here’s the thing. I leave something out of the story. Clay, who is now 16, doesn’t speak. To be specific, he doesn’t use speech to communicate. He says words all the time, usually phrases from his favorite books or movies or something he just heard. Clay has autism. I leave that part out for two reasons:
- I don’t need it to make the story work. In fact, the knowledge that Clay has autism tends to add a distraction.
- The fact that I have a son with autism is not something I volunteer in the first few minutes that you meet me.
Don’t get me wrong. It is not that I’m ashamed or hiding it. I’m just generally a private person, who doesn’t wear his personal life on his sleeve. The thing is that Clay is front and center in my life (along with his older brother), and I thought it was time to share the rest of that story in my own way. With this blog. Maybe it will be helpful to other parents dealing with life with their own Clay.
One more thing. Clay has begun using a computer keyboard to communicate with us, and it is my fervent hope that he will be able to contribute to this blog as well. Stay tuned for that.
If you are new to the blog, you might want to check out:
“Have Mike Read” – the first time Clay typed
“A Mother’s Day Message” – Clay’s thoughts on this special day for his Mom, who is his typing partner and number one fan.
“So Proud” – an account of the day Clay presented to a class at Arcadia University.
Please feel free to contact me to share your thoughts.