the secret


Ed note: You might recall that yesterday’s post began with a note that said, Three magical things happened that night — the first you’ve already read about, of course, but there were two more. and the first of those started with nothing but a phone call.

This, my friends, was the third … 



During dinner, Brooke and I sat across from one another. On her left was Aisling, on her right, Tristan. Tristan already had my heart. From the moment that I’d met him at Tuck’s memorial service, I was hooked. The gentle handshake. The poised and polite, “Thank you for coming.” The formality with a touch of the achingly familiar.

During the dedication of the Wii cart at the hospital, he’d done everything that was asked of him, but otherwise kept to himself. He’d had his headphones plugged into his iTouch, and as the kids careened around the room, he’d watched the screen intently.

At dinner, it was Brooke who was staring at the screen. The room was crowded and the table was loud. Katie and Finn were debating something at an octave that only preteens can hear. Jeni and I were laughing. Alex and Loch were talking. Aisling, to Brooke’s left, was looking to play. It was a lot to process and even more to manage. Brooke was holding it together, but not by much. The iPad was her lifeline.

Tristan leaned in to see what she was playing, then asked a question. It was a perfect opening salvo for conversation.

“Oh, I like that game too. What’s your high score?”

Ever so slightly, I panicked.

He was too close. Not for anyone else, but for her. He was asking a question that she couldn’t answer. She has no idea that the numbers on top of the screen have meaning. ‘Scores’ don’t enter into her orbit.

She was immediately overwhelmed and confused. She let out a shriek in response to his question. I tensed. I thought of one of Landon’s cartoons …


Copyright Landon Bryce 2013 thAutcast

used with permission

… and was desperately afraid of how this might go.

And then I wasn’t.

Because his response was so incredibly sensitive, so empathetic, so generous.

I explained that she was overwhelmed by her surroundings and that the iPad made it easier for her to handle.

“I get zoned in too sometimes,” he said. “I get that completely.”

And then he asked what kind of autism Brooke has. I explained that she was first diagnosed with Autistic Disorder, or Classic Autism, but that more recently her diagnosis changed to PDD-NOS. He nodded thoughtfully. “I have Asperger’s,” he explained. Jeni asked him if he remembered when he used to have a tough time in busy places too. He said that he did. And then he said, “We’re a lot alike. I understand.”

I wanted to hug him. On so many levels, I just wanted to hug him. And it struck me, just how amazing that moment was. How this poised and confident sixteen year-old young man, who occupies such a dramatically different place on the spectrum than my girl, looked at her and said, “I get it.” How, despite their stark differences, their commonality was clear. How generously he adjusted for her – his expectations, his approach to her – because he got it. How easily we talked about his diagnosis – and hers. How comfortable he was saying, “This is who I am.” How the words weren’t about labels, per se, but identifiers, common threads. How he intuitively knew not to take offense when she simply couldn’t handle interacting.

I wrote to Jeni on Monday morning. “I’d like to write about the interaction between Tristan and Brooke,” I said. “But only if both you and he are completely comfortable with my doing so.” She promised to ask him and then we talked some more. We talked about comfort and confidence and their root cause – acceptance. “Acceptance is key,” she said.

After spending time with Tristan, and all of Jeni’s kids for that matter, if she had told me that feeding them pinky toenail of newt every Thursday was the key, I’d go out and get some pinky toenail of newt. Because the proof is in the pudding, folks.

But it turns out that her big secret is no secret at all. It’s the very equation upon which we’ve been working the whole damned time.

Awareness + Acceptance + Celebration of Awesomeness = Self-confidence –> Self-esteem –> Happiness

That’s it.

No pinky toenail of newt necessary.

12 thoughts on “the secret

  1. Awareness + Acceptance + Celebration of Awesomeness = Self-confidence –> Self-esteem –> Happiness

    That’s it.

    Love it!

    Love you,


  2. Tristan sounds like a very wonderful (and incredibly self-confident and self-aware) young man. But, knoeing the little bit about his family that I do, that shouldn’t surprise me. 🙂

    I think that formula works pretty well for just about everything and everyone. If only we’d all use it more. (I mean, the “general” population.) xo

  3. I love this, especially the image. With two boys on the spectrum and a daughter who is a selective mute, there is a lot of autism poking in our lives. It also sums up how my son can become frustrated by other kids on the spectrum. We are working on those social skills.

    Jess, you are doing everything right and you can see the proof in Brooke. I think some of the strongest people I know are moms with kids on the spectrum.

  4. This is not only the support and respectful recognition we want for our kids, but also how awesome we hope they grow up to be. Sweet Tristan. xo

  5. If you could apply that formula to all Jr. Highs, especially girls, the world would be a much happier place. Unfortunately it seems acceptance is used as power and a commodity. In some ways, that is really the root of Stan’s comment yesterday….you want acceptance, but I’m not going to give it to you if it is incovenient for me. In many cases, girls learn how to barter acceptance at a younger and younger age. You can’t be in our group unless you do this…. If you’re friends with that person, you can’t be my friend. While special needs families may need to work harder at this, it is a universal formula that could change the world.

  6. Jeni’s words give me hope. This is exactly how we have proceeded with our son. He is overflowing with self-confidence at 9 and we intend to do everything in our power to sustain that as he enters adolescence. I find that his self-confidence, in turn, is infectious. It increases OUR confidence in him and our hopes for his future. So much so that I don’t know how to respond to friends who ask what kind of living arrangement I expect he’ll need in adulthood, because I expect he’ll be able to handle adult life just as well as their neurotypical children–no more or less likely than their kids to be living at home with his parents! That’s not to say we aren’t ready for challenges that arise that can be attributed to his diagnosis–whether it’s hiring an academic tutor for some subjects, finding social skills groups to help him build better interpersonal communication skills, or signing him up for an adapted sports league to give him the experience of a team sport. If self-actualization is for real, then our son will indeed be a rock star–metaphorically at least. 🙂

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