Ryan sits on the living room couch, munching blueberry waffles that are completely plain, just the way he loves them. Amidst the pile of crumbs that accumulate, he is watching the previous night’s hockey highlights on NHL Network.
He already knows all the scores — and the shots on goal totals — having checked them on his computer immediately after waking.
He doesn’t appear to be paying particularly close attention. He cares more about the numbers the highlights represent than the plays themselves. I decide to engage him in conversation, mentioning how well Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne must have played in a shutout of Phoenix.
Ryan is dismissive, telling me that Rinne didn’t face many shots. Barely an hour later, I have already forgotten the exact total, but he had committed all of the night’s totals to memory.
I ask about Nashville’s record. Ryan says he doesn’t know — an answer that would have been absurd a year ago, but Ryan is now much more interested in shots on goal than records this year, so I believe him.
But I’ve been had. He does know. When Nashville’s record appears in an on-screen graphic, and is mentioned by the hosts, it is incorrect. Ryan notices and blurts out the correct record. I grab my laptop to check, but it’s pointless. We’ve done this before. He is always correct.
Before the next highlight has begun, I am already dreaming.
I am dreaming of Ryan, gainfully and incredibly happily employed as a hockey fact-checker. Exactly where does not matter. He has found errors in hockey cards, hockey video games, hockey web sites and now a hockey television network. Any of them could use the services of someone like him, with his amazing powers of memory, calculation and instant recall.
But here’s the problem with my dream: The moment I dare to look that far ahead, I lose focus on the happy end scenario and immediately fear all the messiness that comes between now and then.
How will he fare navigating high school? Will he be able to manage college without the intricate support structure he enjoys now? How would he come across in a job interview? Would co-workers accept him, quirks and all? What if he’s working in hockey and a team manages 30 shots on goal in a single period?
The questions are popping into my head so quickly, they threaten to ruin the moment. The beautiful, sweet, innocent, hopeful moment when I see the awesome power of my son’s mind applied in a way that might win him gainful and fulfilling employment. That might allow him full participation in the normal world.
No, I don’t like that word either. But that’s the goal, right? I’m not as focused on trying to teach Ryan to act normal as I was once was, though I want him to have the tools to fit in. But ultimately the goal is to have him be able to thrive on his own, and that will likely require him to bend to the rest of the world and not the other way around.
I manage to push the thoughts out of my mind long enough to ask Ryan a question.
“You know, there are people who’s job is to check things like that,” I tell him. “Do you think you’d like to have a job like that one day?”
“YES!!!!” comes the enthusiastic reply.
And for a moment, it’s enough. For the second time that I can recall, Ryan has expressed interest in a future occupation.
It’s enough to push all the worries aside and focus on the happy ending. The journey to get there may be messy, but it’s the path we were given and the one we do our best every day to navigate. I also recognize how fortunate we are that Ryan has been only mildly affected by autism in a way that makes these dreams realistic. I know that it is not the case for everyone.
I do not know, can not know, how the journey will play out. But envisioning a scenario that ends with fulfillment and happiness and full participation is a powerful inspiration, more for me than for Ryan now — but that’s OK. He’s still a kid. He doesn’t need to be burdened by looking that far ahead. All the same, I am thrilled to see a tiny seed planted in the now. May it grow and prosper in the journey to then.