As a mom of a child with autism, I have a ready list of worries relating to him being out in the world. I recently took my eldest child to see an advance screening of Pixar’s latest release, “Finding Dory” which we both enjoyed immensely. I chose not to bring my son with autism, because an advance screening means a big crowd, long line-ups and sometimes a late start. It is potentially too overwhelming for him, so it felt safer to keep him home.
He won’t miss out – Cineplex in partnership with Autism Speaks Canada is offering a sensory friendly screening of Finding Dory on July 2nd, so my partner will take my son to see Finding Dory then, when my son can move in his seat, make noise and we can ‘relax’ that we are in an audience of people who “get it”.
But this is just one of the ways that having a child with autism impacts our family. I worry about him every time we leave the house and go out into the community, and even in the house I worry – we have baby gates and high bolts to help keep him from wandering.
I worry about how he’ll do at school, if he’ll be able to attend integrated ‘typical’ classrooms or if he’ll be separated. I worry about potential bullies and people who might harm him due to his sweet nature and trust of other people.
In “Finding Dory”, the main premise is that Dory remembers she has a family and that she misses them, so she sets out to find them. Through flashbacks we learn about her parents Jenny (Diane Keaton) and Charlie (Eugene Levy) and how they worried about Dory. Dory suffers from Short Term Memory Loss and if she leaves home without her parents, her parents are afraid (and rightfully so) she won’t be able to make it home on her own. They practice playing ‘hide and seek’, devise a way of leaving shell paths to help Dory find her way and come up with songs and rhymes to try to help Dory retain important information so that she can be safe when away from them. Dory wants to learn and tries to learn, but her disability prevents her from being successful. Her parents spend every day practicing these drills over and over again, not unlike how we work with our son at his IBI therapy. I can completely relate to their worry about Dory, how hard they work to try to help her and how proud they are when she accomplishes her goals.
Unfortunately, Dory’s parents fear is justified. Dory does get separated from her family, and she does encounter many dangers in the ocean, but luckily escapes harm. She meets Marlin and later Nemo, who end up taking her in to be a part of their community and family. They offer her support and patience and do what they can to keep her safe and help her be included in their community. They accept that she can’t help but wake them up in the night and that she makes unsafe decisions, and they love her anyway.
I hope my child with the support received in his childhood is able to be an independent adult who can find companionship and form a family of his own. I hope that he can be gainfully employed and help make the world a better place with his beautiful spirit. I worry about him and hope he makes it safely through the world into the future I dream of for him. I am hopeful that there will be community living options for him should he need them, such as those offered at the organization I work for*, and I will continue to advocate for a more inclusive world for him, not unlike the reef Dory lives in with Nemo and Marlin (her chosen family).
In her community, Dory finds acceptance, inclusion and a feeling of independence while being supported. These are the things that help me worry less while advocating strongly so this future can be a reality for children like mine.
-*Jennifer works in KW Habilitation’s Residential Services since 2013. Her son was diagnosed at age 2 1/2 with autism and benefited from KW Habilitation’s ELCCFR Special Needs Access Point (SNAP) program which brought additional supports in to his daycare, to address his early social and communication needs, prior to and following diagnosis.