When I learned that a commentary I wrote about Clay, and how funny he is, was going to appear in the Philadelphia Inquirer, I realized there was something important I had neglected to do.
I have been chronicling a lot of intimate details of Clay’s life over the past 10 months. What he had to say the first time he typed. His message to his Mom on Mother’s Day. His first school dance. His 15th birthday. The loss of our dog. His first horseback ride. The first story he ever wrote. The amazing day when he appeared on a panel at Arcadia University.
I’ve written exactly 50 posts. Some made fun of his quirky behaviors like compulsively turning on lights or stripping our Christmas tree of its decorations. Others shared his anxiety over school or how much his camp counselors enjoyed their time with him.
Here’s what I didn’t do. In all that time, I never asked my son what he thought about having his life shared so publicly. As Clay has learned to communicate his thoughts and feelings through his keyboard, one lesson has hit me between the eyes again and again. Underneath the front that his autism presents to the world, sits a smart kid, who is very much aware of his condition. A kid who shines when he is treated with the respect we all deserve. I should have included Clay in the decision to write about him in this blog.
So, the other evening, after dinner and his nightly shower, with Clay snuggled into warm pajamas, my wife and I posed some questions to him on the keyboard he uses to communicate:
“What do you think about so many people reading about you and your typing?”
“So cool that they are reading about me in the blog,” he typed, while wandering around the kitchen.
“Do you mind that we share stories about you?”
“Yes, I like it very much. We are so happy that we are so popular.” (His older brother kids him that he has become a celebrity.)
Clay needed a break at this point, so he headed up to his room for some well-deserved time wrapped in his comforter. After a few minutes, my wife followed with the keyboard and two more questions.
“Is there anything you want to say to the people who have been reading about you?”
“A time to say so thrilled to have a voice.”
“Do you have any advice for others who might want to learn to type?”
“Stay strong and keep faith in yourself you are powerful and so awesome.”
A message for all of us. And a reminder to me that—every day, despite our ups and downs together—my son deserves to be treated like the intelligent, loving, funny, and surprisingly-wise-for-his-age kid that he is.
#1 by Jeffrey Blumenfeld on January 14, 2011 - 8:31 am
Enjoyed today’s Inquirer piece more than anything I’ve read in quite a while. I may become a regular visitor to your site. Take care.
#2 by Larry Blumenthal on January 14, 2011 - 8:50 am
Glad you enjoyed it. Hope to see you back here to follow the rest of Clay’s journey.
#3 by kim mccafferty on January 14, 2011 - 9:09 am
Loved the piece in the Inquirer. Glad to see something got published in such a well-read forum that demonstrates how funny our kids can be, and so human. Congratulations!
#4 by Larry Blumenthal on January 14, 2011 - 1:21 pm
Thanks, Kim. Clay has so many constraints in his life, but deals with it all better than I ever would. He is a pretty amazing kid.
#5 by Brenda on January 14, 2011 - 9:54 am
LOVED this story! My son is 13 with autism and he is verbal but not able to communicate needs or express feelings. I recently gave him a laptop and I to learned there was a very smart person in there with alot to say. he also uses a cell phone to text me and does so very well.
Thanks for sharing life with Clay!
my son is always hungry too 🙂
#6 by Larry Blumenthal on January 14, 2011 - 1:23 pm
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Brenda. Keep feeding that little guy whatever it is he needs.
#7 by Joe Passanisi on January 14, 2011 - 10:31 am
WOW, Just read the article and all I can say is WOW.
Clay reminds me of my 13 year old, Tony, in so many ways. Thanks for sharing your adventures with us. It is encouraging to see another child with so many similar abilities and actions find their voice.
My wife and I look forward to future post.
#8 by Larry Blumenthal on January 14, 2011 - 1:25 pm
The best thing about Clay finding his voice is watching the boost in his self esteem as he gains some control over his life. Thanks for taking the time to comment, Joe.
#9 by Katey Engel on January 14, 2011 - 10:42 am
I enjoyed reading your article in the Inquirer this morning. Every child should be looked at by his parents the way you have chosen to look at your child, to see the true person. You are all blessed in so many ways.
#10 by Natalia on January 14, 2011 - 11:06 am
I’m so glad Clay has found his voice and that your are sharing it with us. I loved the article and your post here even more. I love connecting with parents who know the blessings of autistic children. Thank you for writing.
#11 by Jean Mitchell on January 14, 2011 - 12:00 pm
So nice to read your uplifting story today in the Inquirer. I, not having an autistic child or knowing one personally, would have never “guessed” that such knowledge and wisdom would be capeable of someone with autisim. I know there are all spectrums, but if one doesn’t speak and you don’t know what they know or think, it is hard and typing and letting people see what you have inside you, is a blessing. So glad that Clay lives in this day and age where such things are possible. Sounds like you are a great family.
#12 by Larry Blumenthal on January 14, 2011 - 1:27 pm
That is the biggest lesson I’ve learned in the past year, Jean. Fortunately, my wife never stopped believing in Clay’s potential.
#13 by Christophers Dad on January 14, 2011 - 12:08 pm
I just happened to stumble across your sight, and being the father of a 6 year old on the spectrum, it is interesting to read the similarities…the light switches, the brand names story (i have Dunkin Donuts drawings everywhere) and other things. I am very happy for you that you are now able to communicate with Clay a little better…this gives hope to all of us out here. Thank You for sharing your experiences.
#14 by Kathy Perry on January 14, 2011 - 1:14 pm
Thank you so much for sharing that amazing short story about your dear Clay today in the Inquirer, for sharing the fun part of autism, which can be so devastatingly tiring for families on a daily basis, and also for making more people aware of autism. We so short-change those with impairments, often not giving them a chance to shine. Clay has been blessed with two amazing parents who see life differently, and seem to have given this young man the tools he needs to live well in this world. I hope to read more about Clay—he is destined for greatness!
#15 by Loret on January 14, 2011 - 1:54 pm
“Stay strong and keep faith in yourself you are powerful and so awesome.”
Dear Larry (and Roe), Clay is so wise beyond his years!!! Please tell him that I am printing his quote as inspiration for me when I’m having Dark Days. Love you guys.
#16 by Jean Mitchell on January 14, 2011 - 3:09 pm
Please notify me with follow-up comments….thanks
#17 by luisa on January 14, 2011 - 10:07 pm
As a grandmother of a 15 yr. old autistic child, I have witnessed and shared similar pain and the joys you described in your blogs. You are to be admired for your ability to tell it as it is, and for your great sense of humor. May they serve you well. My grandson is also blessed with parents and siblings who are committed to his well-being, and has made great progress. By the way, De luca is a name on my family tree.
#18 by Aspergirl Maybe on January 15, 2011 - 12:11 pm
Hi there. I was pointed to your article by Laura at Life in the House that Asperger Built and absolutely loved it! As mom to an eight year old with autism, I can totally relate to that story!
I also very much appreciated reading this post about how you sought your son’s opinion on being written about. Thanks for being so open with what you are learning through this experience.
#19 by Dr. J on January 15, 2011 - 3:49 pm
All that one can say is AWESOME! Awesome in that Clay’s potential for life is beginning to be unlocked. Awesome that you are allowing his voice to not only open but become a beacon to others who do not realize the opportunities that exist for autistic kids. Awesome that your family has lived through much but still have found a way to let Clay develop his sense of being, his self esteem and his sense of humor.
#20 by Larry Blumenthal on January 15, 2011 - 7:00 pm
Thanks, Jay. That means a lot coming from someone who has seen the whole journey up close. Credit as always goes to my amazing wife, who never stopped believing in Clay’s potential, and to Clay, who handles all of the constraints in his life with so much grace.
#21 by Gpa Tony on January 15, 2011 - 4:44 pm
This is my first comment about these Blogs.
I am amazed how much information is in his mind. He is a bright and wonderful grandson, and I am pleased to find out he can express how much thought and information he can relate to us.
As always, I love him very much.
#22 by Larry Blumenthal on January 15, 2011 - 7:01 pm
Thanks, Grandpa Tony. You know we all love you, too.