Fire Drills

Hi.

My name is Carrie.

I have five kids, and my second son has autism. His name is Jack.

I’ve come to think of autism as a kind of symphony, if you will. There are loud cymbals, and a quiet tympani. Sometimes, there is a melody, but more often than not, it sounds like chaos.

Jack hates fire drills. He always has. For much of his life, he has lived in fear of them.

When he was six, he would come off the bus and say the same phrase over and over again.

Drill no drill no drill no drill.

When he was eight, he asked about it every morning.

When. Is the drill? Is it. Today? Drill. Today?

In fourth grade, the principal would warn him if there was a drill planned. And when the fire trucks showed up, they let Jack stand at the front of line and head outside first.

By sixth grade he memorized which days there would be a drill, based on some formula of frequency and regularity only his brain understood. Yet he was rarely wrong.

Jack is sixteen now, and throughout the years, his language has improved. He can communicate more effectively. He can describe the sensation of fear—albeit haltingly—and explain memories stored deep within his mind.

Mom. For do you remember. When I was three. In the mail store.

At first, I didn’t remember.

And then, I did.

I had a flashback to an autumn afternoon, maybe early October. Leaves covered the sidewalk and crunched under our feet.

I remember feeling hurried, like I had somewhere else to be next, as I stood in line to buy stamps, and mail a gift.

Three-year old Jack was squirming and darting and moving and hopping.

His little fingers reaching for the red lever. Reaching, grabbing, and pulling.

I couldn’t get to him fast enough. Back then, I could never get to him fast enough.

All at once, a red flash of trucks, the rush of people out the door, loud voices.

An entire plaza emptied into the parking lot. Women in work out clothes, a man in a long white apron. And Jack, holding my hand and screaming.

Apologies—he has autism I am so sorry I couldn’t get to him in time, stern looks, more screaming.

All this time, I thought he hated fire drills because of the sound—the loud siren and the wail and the ushering down the hallways through the front door. I thought he felt panicked by all of the movement.   

All these years, I was listening for the cymbals, when I should have heard the quiet tympani of my boy’s heart.

That is why. For me I am afraid. Of drills.

Why, buddy, why?

What if it. Was my fault again.

When it comes to my son and his autism and the music inside his spirit, I make so many mistakes. I don’t even know where to begin.

Jack-a-boo, I am sorry.

I did not know.

I am sorry.

Written by, Carrie Cariello

Carrie Cariello is the author of What Color Is Monday, How Autism Changed One Family for the Better, and Someone I’m With Has Autism. She lives in Southern New Hampshire with her husband, Joe, and their five children. 

Carrie is a contributor to the Huffington Post, TODAY Parents, the TODAY Show, Parents.com. She has been interviewed by NBC Nightly News, and also has a TEDx talk.

She speaks regularly about autism, marriage, and motherhood, and writes a weekly blog at www.carriecariello.com. One of her essays, “I Know What Causes Autism,” was featured as one of the Huffington Post’s best of 2015, and her piece, “I Know Why He Has Autism,” was named one of the top blog posts of 2017 by the TODAY Show.

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Finding Cooper’s Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you’re never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village….all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to our journey. You can also follow us on Facebook, subscribe for exclusive videos, and subscribe to our newsletter.

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Finding Cooper's Voice is a safe, humorous, caring and honest place where you can celebrate the unique challenges of parenting a special needs child. Because you're never alone in the struggles you face. And once you find your people, your allies, your village....all the challenges and struggles will seem just a little bit easier. Welcome to my page!

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