My friend Pat Coskran just wrote a fascinating book about life with his son, Sean. At 32, Sean is no longer a child but a man who views the world through a unique lens. Sean is autistic.
I met Pat and Sean through our involvement with the Special Olympics golf team. While you may think golf is an odd sport for individuals with special needs, many of the athletes excel at the sport and rival normally abled folks. Like me.
OK, I’m a terrible golfer, but let’s not open that wound.
Pat’s book details several episodes in Sean’s life including involvement with the Fire Department, glass blowing, a ride in a helicopter, and general life with an autistic person.
As anyone who has dealt with a differently abled person knows, many of the interactions force us to look inward and determine what our actions should be and what kind of person we are. Pat eloquently discusses that topic several times in the book as he is forced to confront his own fears and insecurities as they relate to Sean.
Sean has a passion for anything related to firefighting, firetrucks, and firefighters. A local fire station (107) informally adopted Sean after they found out about him and his passion for the fire service. They included Sean on many of the routine things that stations do — cleaning vehicles, flushing hydrants, etc.
How would you feel if your child was included in such activities? Would you be a bit concerned for his/her safety? What if your child was autistic? Now, you can understand a bit of what Pat felt.
However, Pat bravely trusted the men of Station 107 to work with and mentor his son. And I think, in some measure, Sean gave back to the guys of this firehouse by letting them be what they truly are — heroes.
The firehouse stories of Sean are worth the price of the book alone. But there were more.
At one point, Pat describes a situation where Sean gets lost. Father and son were out and Sean wandered off, distracted by the interesting world around him. Unable to find him, Pat called Sean’s cell phone and asked him where he was. Sean responded, “I’m right here!”
If you think about it, Sean was completely correct. He was not lost because he knew exactly where he was. Here. There was no confusion or lack of understanding. Autism gave him a sense of being and confidence that was hard to argue with.
Of course, that did not play well with his Dad. As any parent would, Pat was concerned with Sean’s safety and wanted to know exactly where his child was located. But the concept of communicating an exact location was not familiar to Sean. And this caused Pat’s frustration.
When we get frustrated with a loved one, it is often from a sense that “they should see it our way because I’m right.” We should remember this as we go into the holiday season and are forced to deal with all those “wonderful” relatives.
Pat learned that his sense of right was not how his son viewed it. He had to suppress his frustration and speak Sean’s language. He calmly asked Sean what he was seeing. This enabled Sean to describe the landmarks that gave Pat the clues to his location.
I heard this story myself many years ago and it still makes me smile. Because, in a way, it fits in many areas of my life. When someone disagrees with me, I remember that they may be saying, “I’m right here.” I need to view the issue through their prism and maybe ask them a few questions so I can get a bearing on where they are.
Seems to me like the foundations of understanding.
When Sean got his first job at Carousel Ranch tending the horses and helping assist the staff, it is a wonderful victory for Sean and Pat that brought a tear to my eye. Not only was this a victory for Sean but it was a validation of the growth and understanding that his father went through as well.
If you want a fun read, you can pick up Pat’s book “Growing Up with Sean” on Amazon. It’s an affirming and hopeful story of growth for both father and son.
Steve Lunetta is a resident of Santa Clarita. His column appears Thursdays. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.