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“Problems Are
Opportunities for Creativity”

By Sandra Grabman


It’s been said that “attitude is everything.“ Never is that philosphy as tested as when one is raising a child with a disability. The following is a rewrite of my article that was published in the Autism Society of America’s magazine, The Advocate, in their spring 1992 issue. It is now also a portion of my unpublished book entitled Autism in the Family.



When you have an autistic child in the family, especially an adolescent one, you have to be flexible in your expectations and lavish with your sense of humor if you wish to live anything close to a normal life. If you see new, strange behaviors as a challenge rather than a problem, you’re halfway there.

My son Buz loves his freedom. Now that he has free access to a bicycle, there’s no stopping him. He loves to ride all over town and visit the snack shops, library, etc. (Ours is a relatively small city and most of those things are within a mile or two of our house.) It really worried me, however, that he had to cross a busy highway to get downtown; but friends have said that they’ve seen him out riding and he appears to be following all the bicycle safety rules we taught him. I have him wear a Medic-Alert necklace, anyway, just to feel a little safer. If anything should happen to him, his name, address, disability, home phone, and doctor would be instantly known. I keep the Medic-Alert necklace hanging over the handlebars of his bike so he’ll be sure to remember to wear it whenever he goes cruising.

Buz has his rituals, as do all people with autism. The protocol for Mondays is to visit first the Courthouse’s snack shop, then my office. Most of the time, this is okay. Every now and then, though, it isn’t. I work at a busy law firm, and he had started coming in at 3:00 and hanging around until 5:00. This was not acceptable, but I didn’t want him to feel that he was unwelcome. His psychologist/therapist suggested we make Monday afternoons as the only times he’s allowed to bake something he loves to eat but doesn’t get very often. Since, in my opinion, brownies are the next-best thing to heaven and also easy to make, we chose brownie mixes. So now Buz spends most Monday afternoons making brownies while I get my work done, uninterrupted. This has had an extra benefit: Following the simple directions on the back of the box has taught Buz how to follow written instructions, which is something he seemed to be unable to do previously.

Earlier, we had designated Tuesdays and Thursdays to be his “TV days,“ in which he’s free to watch all his favorite shows until suppertime. That kept him home those two days.

One day, Buz discovered those postage-paid cards you find so lavishly interspersed throughout women’s magazines. He had been taught in school how to fill out forms, so he practiced on those. I thought that was okay – until I discovered a bunch of compact discs in his room that had come in the mail. I told him that he mustn’t actually mail those cards because bills come with everything that’s ordered, and bills must be paid. That didn’t bother him. To solve that problem, he simply threw the bills away. So I sent the CDs and other items he’d ordered back to their companies with my apologies and changed our mail delivery to a post-office box. That way, I’d know about everything that goes out and comes in. He hasn’t ordered anything without permission since then.

Buz’s compulsiveness is something that can either be a problem or an advantage. My husband and son Steve are active in our community’s little theatre group, and Buz wanted to be involved as well. He was too shy to be on stage as an actor, but liked the camaraderie we had seen among the people who put on a live play. The perfect answer to that situation was to let him be in charge of putting the props where they belong when scenes are being changed. That, he did to perfection. His remarkable memory enabled him to remember exactly where each prop should be and when the time was right for him to put them there. He also is strong and always willing to help, so they had him moving the furniture around during scene changes, too.

While Buz was in high school, he wanted to be “like the other boys“ and drive a car. He also wanted to be like a few of the other boys and drop out of school. We told him that in the final semester of his senior year we would allow him to take Driver’s Education. That was just the incentive he needed to willingly stay in school until graduation.

A couple of people questioned the wisdom of letting him take Driver’s Ed. They felt, very justifiably I’m sure, that it would hurt his self-esteem when he wouldn’t be able to do as good a job driving as his classmates did. They didn’t want to subject him to failure. My theory, however, was that he would nag me constantly to my dying day to let him drive. Taking the class and “driving” on the simulators in the classroom would be a safe way for him to see for himself exactly why he shouldn’t be driving. After he’s knocked off a few simulated pedestrians and had a few simulated head-on collisions, it may become quite clear to him. My theory was only partially correct. After Buz took the Driver’s Ed course, the Department of Public Safety sent him a notice that they could not let him get a driver’s license until his autism is cured. So now he thinks they’re the “bad guys”. He’s sure that once a really good teacher gives him some instruction, his autism will be gone and he’ll be able to drive.

(Sigh. I guess you can’in them all.)