Ever since Geoff was in first grade, I've been taking him to a Big Famous Boston hospital to see doctors and neurologists and thread through what his "issues" are.
Over time, Geoff was diagnosed with ADHD and Nonverbal Learning Disorder. I've discussed his diagnosis and our journey with him here in the blog many times.
The doctors we go see primarily treat kids who have severe autism. Some have different degrees of Aspbergers. A lot of the kids have to be seen weekly or monthly. Some receive a lot of therapy.
Right now we only have to see the Psychiatrists twice a year, kind of on a "maintenance plan" to monitor how Geoff is doing.
We'll call him Dr. Charles.
I get the feeling that Dr. Charles is very happy when Geoff comes to visit, and over time has become one of his easiest patients... At today's appointment, we talked about how over time he has really learned to manage his disappointment and his anger/aggression issues (ie: 2nd grade Geoff almost stabbed a teacher in the eye because she was being firm with him, and he was not done with his math problems and did NOT want to move on to the next thing, so he struck out at her with his fist when she got in his face. 16 year old Geoff knows that even if he's not done, you move on when it is time to move on.)
We talked about College. Which made Dr. Charles smile. I don't think he regularly gets to THINK about his patients actually going to college. We talked about Boy Scouts and how Geoff wants to be an Eagle. Each time we see Dr. Charles, I remind him that one day he'll be invited to an Eagle Ceremony, and I do hope he will come. Dr. Charles' main concern with Geoff is his lack of outside-of-school social interactions, and he encourages us to try and connect Geoff with others. Which we try to do. But he doesn't really have friends.
For instance, last night was his birthday. We planned a dinner out, but the three boys he told me he wouldn't mind spending time with outside of school all had other plans. And Geoff said "or so they say." It is hard for him to connect with people... and I don't know when he'll ever get good at it, if ever.
While we were waiting, Geoff took a good look around the room today and later told me he realized out of the 8 or 9 patients waiting, he was the most "Normal" of the bunch. He even used air quotes around "Normal."
One little girl had a laptop with headphones on, and was playing a game, singing and looking out the window and spinning in her seat. There was the friendly autistic boy who kept saying hi to everyone and shaking hands, over and over, with all the same people. Another boy with limited verbal skills was fussing with his mom, he had to be about eight.
Geoff was most interested in the boy who kept saying hi. We guessed his age to be about 16-20 maybe. Hard to tell. Geoff wanted to know what his story was. I told him he was probably (because I am not a doctor and cannot diagnose) autistic. We talked about how in the greater scheme of things this young man would need to be forever taken care of by others. He would never live on his own, take out the trash, put gas in his car, make his own dinner, have a roommate or a girlfriend. His parents would have to take care of him, and would, if they have not already, have to have a plan in place for when they are not around to take care of him. Maybe the boy has a sibling, older or younger, who can take him in. Maybe he'll end up in nursing care. I don't know. I do not know this family, and do not know the path that this young man will be on in the future.
His only language was "Hi," and a handshake. And I think he and I said hi and shook hands about 16 times in 20 minutes. His dad kept trying to get him to leave me alone but it was okay with me... I wasn't going anywhere, I wasn't trying to read, and he was doing his best to communicate in the only way he knew how, so I wasn't going to shut that door.
In talking about him with Geoff, I said "All I know buddy, is that everyone is on a different journey and some people have it harder than others. And in comparison to that boy, your dad and I and you, all of us together on YOUR journey, we have nothing to complain about and no fears of the future. I do want you though to have a soft heart, and a deep compassion for boys like that. Protect them, educate others about them, and just be aware that there but for the Grace of God go you. Promise me that."
He nodded his head and looked out the car window. He asked me if he was autistic, or had Aspbergers, and I told him no, he didn't. "But I'm socially awkward," he said. Yeah, but that doesn't immediately equal Aspbergers. Never self diagnose. We talked a lot about how far he's come and how further he'll even go. We talked about the possibility of him doing a program in 2014 with the Boy Scouts called Sea Base. We talked about College, the Navy or Coast Guard, and I told him to finish the three missing pieces of German homework he has that his teacher emailed me about, and we'll worry about the future when it gets here.
And indeed, there but for the Grace of God.