(Today we have a guest post from a friend of mine - Susan. She wrote this a while back and I've asked her permission to reprint it here. I like this post a lot. So, enjoy another voice today.)
"I'm scared, Mom."
He was scared all right. I could see it in his eyes and in his body movements. We were walking through the new Terminal 1 at Pearson International Airport. He had just checked his baggage and we were heading toward the departure gate. He was wearing the new jacket I had bought him at Costco on the way to the airport. It was the top half of a rain suit, perfect for English weather. The bottom half was safely stowed in his duffel bag and on its way to the belly of the giant air bus he was about to board.
"I'll be praying for you," I said. "You'll be okay. God's brought you this far..."
"Yeah," he said with quiet resolve. "I'm scared, but I'm still going…"
David had just finished his second year at Queen's University in Kingston. While at school that year, he learned about the opportunity to go to England for a study term and had thoroughly and carefully explored the possibility. He applied for a bursary to help with the cost and filled out all the forms on his own, calling us often for reassurance and affirmation that this idea was a good one. We talked to him about the difficulty someone on the autism spectrum would have getting through airport security, finding the right seat on the right plane, and then finding his way around a strange airport in a strange country and ending up, finally, at the right destination but where everything was new and there was no structure in place ahead of time. We thought it would be best if one of us traveled with him. David knew he needed some help, but he didn't need our help. Instead he approached Disability Services on the Queen’s campus and got the name of someone his own age who would also be going on the trip - someone who would watch out for David and was willing to provide any support he might need. "Peer support". He was identifying for himself what his needs were and building his own support system around himself. Yup, our Davie was growing up.
We met El-amin at the airport, just under a massive grey pillar marked "J" and next to the Air Canada counter. It was still half an hour before they could register for their boarding passes so we had a bit of time to get acquainted with him and his parents. Like me, they had come along to see their son off. El-amin was an only child, I soon found out from his lovely, doting mother. Her head was elegantly wrapped in a beautiful scarf. El-amin was very self-assured and told me that he was a philosophy major, just finishing his third year.
"Do you believe all that stuff they teach you?" I smiled at him.
He laughed in reply. "No, not any more. I did during my first year, but it didn't take long to realize that all these cool things that sound like the truth, can't all be the truth. You have to sort things through for yourself."
We visited for a while and then his friend Emily arrived who was also going on the study trip. She was just as friendly and accepting as El-amin. I stood and visited with her parents while the three students procured their boarding passes and then stood in line to check their baggage.
We parents were all excited and obviously apprehensive a little about sending our children across the ocean, even if it was just for six weeks. We exchanged stories and got to know each other a bit. El-amin and Emily soon led David through the baggage checking process and I was relieved to see them take his bag across the counter, having feared all this time that it was overweight and not knowing what we'd do if it was.
Rejoined by our children, we left the baggage checking area and drifted over to Gate 8, where we would be saying our final goodbyes. We were joined by a few other students who were on the same study trip and knew each other from school. We all hung together for a bit longer, looking at the planes out the window, and then suddenly everyone was hugging and kissing, and saying their farewells.
I couldn't believe what a warm and wonderful young man was El-amin. His parents told me that one of his jobs on campus was to welcome International students helping them to adjust to life in Canada on a strange campus. He seemed instinctively to have just the right idea of how much support David needed, while at the same time giving him enough space to maintain his self-esteem.
"C'mon, Dave. This way." El-amin and Emily waited for David to catch up before they all three disappeared behind the sliding doors where they would undergo their security checks. David turned to give me a characteristically stiff hug and then he was gone.
We parents all looked at each other, suddenly bereft of our children. I could see worry and concern behind their smiles and in the reassuring comments they made to one another.
"They'll be all right," they kept saying over, and over.
I had a sense that I wasn't quite fitting in to the situation somehow. I was actually feeling a bit guilty that I wasn't more worried - like these other parents so obviously were. Here was my kid with a fairly significant disability headed across the ocean for six weeks. Wouldn't a "good" parent show the same concern as these others? My kid has a disability and I wasn't worried. Yet, all the parents of these "typically developing" kids obviously were.
I thought about it as we all parted ways and I headed back to the parking garage, but it wasn't until I was telling the story to my friend Belinda on my cell phone on the way home that all my feelings began to gel. David had matured enough to realize what kind of support he would need, and took the steps to arrange for it himself. God had provided El-amin - and Emily – the perfect traveling companions for him and would he not meet all of his other needs as well? What did I have to worry about, really?
David is often overwhelmed with anxiety sometimes to the point of being temporarily incapacitated. He struggles in social situations. And he was headed for England. We, his parents, who had been the primary buffer between him and the rest of the world, were staying behind. But unlike the other parents in that terminal, I was confident my kid would know Who to call on in times of trouble when I'm not there. And I know exactly in Whose hands ultimately he is in.