Persons, places and things: Companions on the journey


A friend at work dropped off an article from Woman’s Day magazine about a mother and father’s journey through autism with their now 20-year-old son. I devoured the sensitively written article, wondering whether it was a gift from the Holy Spirit. Just last week I’d received an email with the subject line COLIN and a message that read: “Could you please call me as soon as possible?” My heart skipped a beat as it always does when I receive one of these emails. Colin, my 25-year-old son with autism, must have had an incident and his service provider wanted to talk to me about it.
Colin struggles with impulse control which causes him, occasionally, to physically lash out at other people. Last week was one of those occasions and everyone, including Colin, was distraught.
A previously scheduled doctor’s appointment for Colin followed, and then a meeting with his service provider and coordinator to try to troubleshoot and plan strategy. While the effort seemed encouraging, a sense of isolation lingered.
All of us believe Colin has great potential and could hold down a job, but his unpredictable, sometimes volatile behavior makes that difficult at the present moment.
This past weekend, I participated in a talk radio program, having agreed to do so prior to Colin’s crisis of a few days earlier. A former newspaper colleague now in the health care field had invited me on the program he co-hosts to share my perspective as the mother of an adult with autism. What would I say?  What could I possibly share with others who might be struggling with parenting an autistic child, when I certainly didn’t have any answers?
But the co-hosts of the radio program were delightful, engaging and asked great questions that I could answer. Years ago, my friend Gail Karp, also the mother of a son with autism, provided information and support at a time it was desperately needed. In the years that followed, I tried to be that lifeline to several other moms and dads whose children have autism.  I wanted anyone listening to the radio program to know there are lifelines, particularly through the Autism Society of the Quad Cities.
In the 10 years since I began working at The Catholic Messenger, I have received a number of newspaper clippings, magazine articles and other materials on autism from thoughtful readers and colleagues.
My friend who dropped off the November 2012 Woman’s Day article titled “Caring for Alex” had no clue that Colin had been in a crisis last week. But she thought I might appreciate its message of strength, devotion and a sense of humor. I did.
Like my son, Alex showed a lot of potential early on. His mother, Pam, hoped that some day he might become a college professor like his dad. But Alex’s anxiety levels ratcheted up, the article says, and he began lashing out to the point that he attacked his father three times and had to be admitted to a psychiatric ward earlier this year. Alex is doing much better today, his mother reports. Even though our situations are somewhat different, I felt a sense of kinship. Pam and Ed and their son Alex survived this ordeal and they have a positive attitude. How reassuring!
One of my favorite hymns, “Companions on the Journey,” begins “We are companions on the journey, breaking bread and sharing life, and in the love we bear is the hope we share because we believe in the love of our God …”
My friend who dropped off the article Monday is a companion on the journey, and I thank her for that.
Barb Arland-Fye

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