By now most people have seen the Subaru television ad known as “Baby Driver,” which turns grown men like me into simpering idiots. A concerned-looking middle-aged dad is leaning through an open car window on the passenger’s side talking to his amazingly cute little daughter. As he sees her, she’s about six years old hunkered down behind the steering wheel, which she is unable to see over, and struggling to fasten the seat belt. She’s about to take the car out for her first solo drive. He’s giving her the typical Dad’s “safety” spiel. He hands her the keys and says, “I don’t want you driving on the freeway, OK?” As daughters are prone to do, the cute little girl says in a slightly annoyed voice, “OK daddy!” and she takes she keys. Cut back to dad, “I want you to call me, but not while you’re driving.” Cut back to the daughter who is actually 16 or 17 years old and closely resembles what the little girl should look like when she grows up. She backs out the drive way with a casual wave to Dad. I must have seen that ad a dozen times and every time I turn into putty.
Every parent has had that experience whether it's your child's first day of kindergarten, taking the car out for the first drive, or going on a first date, it’s all the same. We all tend to see the feverish four year old we held in our arms when she was sick, or when he took his first wobbly step, or when she pleaded with you to read her another story before bed. We stood by the bedroom door peering through the crack at his regular breathing as he slept in the glow of the night light. It was Shakespeare who wrote, “The silence often of pure innocence persuades when speaking fails.”
Parents of children with autism feel the same way as every other parent, but they are even more protective, and for good reason. When their teenage son with Asperger disorder is going to a party with his typical friends, Mom it terrified something will go wrong, that maybe the other kids will make fun of him, or maybe he’ll have an agoraphobia attack. When their 15-year old daughter with high functioning autism wants to go to a movie with several of her friends from school, trying to act nonchalant, Dad asks whether there any boys going along. And the daughter says, “It’s OK Daddy,” just like the little girl in the Subaru ad. Actually it usually is OK, but a surfeit of caution makes sense, especially in the beginning. But eventually we need to remember the remark by psychologist Havlock Ellis, “...the art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”