The Lessons He Teaches us

jack 2

My husband and I work very hard to teach our son Jack practical life lessons.

How to make breakfast, change a light bulb, feed the dog, get the mail—stuff like that.

This isn’t always easy. It requires a lot of patience, and planning.

You see, Jack has autism. 

He is sixteen.

He doesn’t like lessons. 

He doesn’t quite comprehend things the same way other teenagers do. 

He needs step-by-step instructions, and a lot of cues. He is easily distracted by loud noises, or  the looping track of ideas within his mind—what time it is Antarctica, if spiders have teeth, that sort of thing.

Still, we are determined. 

He has a job now, at a local restaurant that specializes in homemade pasta.

Every Tuesday afternoon, he washes dishes. 

He stands before a large stainless steel dishwasher and cycles pots and pans through the hot water. 

Every Thursday afternoon, he makes pasta. 

He sits next to a large, impressive-looking machine, and cuts the linguine or penne into equal sizes. 

The other day I asked him which he preferred to do: dishwashing or pasta-making.

He said pasta-making, because his shirt doesn’t get wet. 

Once a week, my husband Joe brings his tall boy to the bank to deposit his check. Afterwards, they stop for lunch. It is just one of their many routines. 

Last month Joe took him to apply for a debit card, and when it came in the mail, Jack turned it over and over again in his hands, marveling at the numbers stamped in the plastic. 

For my own. Bank card.

The following day he asked if he could open his own Amazon account. My son loves Amazon, you see. He loves to organize household products on Subscribe & Save, and order gifts, and scroll through the DVD titles to find the new releases. 

So we agreed, yes, he could open his own account. We explained how to keep track of his account balance using the ledger in the checkbook. 

He sat at the counter, and opened up my laptop. He plugged in the numbers on his card. He created a password. 

And then he bought twenty dollars worth of mints. Mentos, actually, the kind with the chewy center. 

He wrote the amount carefully in the checkbook ledger, while Joe and looked over his shoulder and gaped.

I mean, twenty dollars worth of Mentos, people. 

He didn’t say anything while we talked about money management and budgets and saving. He stayed quiet.

He stayed quiet, you see, because words are hard for my Jack-a-boo. They are like butterflies floating in and around his periphery. It takes a while for him to coax them into order.

But wait. For me to tell you.

All at once, the butterflies stilled. 

The butterflies stilled, and inside their stillness was an explosion of color, and light.

For I bought them. To put in the break room at work. So everyone could try.

All this time, we’ve worked on the practical stuff—how to work around the house and make his own meals and load the dishwasher.

All this time, we forgot. 

We forgot about generosity, and camaraderie, and friendship.

Time and time again, he takes my breath away.

Forgive us, Jack. 

Forgive us. 

We are desperately trying to be the people you deserve. 

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, 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 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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Kate Swenson

Kate Swenson lives in Minnesota with her husband Jamie, and four children, Cooper, Sawyer, Harbor and Wynnie. Kate launched Finding Cooper's Voice from her couch while her now 11-year-old son Cooper was being diagnosed with autism. Back then it was a place to write. Today it is a living, thriving community of people who want to not only advocate for autism, but also make the world a better place for individuals with disabilities and their families. Her first book, Forever Boy, will be released, April 5, 2022.

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