For independent people with disabilities, acknowledging the need for assistance can be profoundly difficult. But on a memorable trip with my son, I learned firsthand how vulnerability and humility can pave the way to meaningful interdependence.
I surprised my youngest son with an overnight trip to Chicago to see his favorite comedian live. My boy has autism and ADHD (like me and his brothers). He’s incredibly shy and introverted which has left him with no friends, too scared to drive and seeming afraid of the world.
But he was so excited about this trip that he was beaming the whole time.
He was especially proactive on this trip, anticipating my needs, running to the lobby to get our food deliveries (no chance in Devil’s Disco Inferno was he gonna eat anything off the hotel menu.).
As we walked/wheeled to the theatre, I was reminded of my abysmal sense of direction. It felt more like pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey than anything resembling GPS. I was feeling frustrated because I was afraid we would be late and I would let my son down.
Did I mention that I expected perfection this weekend and didn’t want anything or anyone to mess up – especially me? This expectation made it harder for me to be flexible and resilient in handling the GPS conundrum.
I’m sure he heard the frustration in my voice. The map app, which usually treats me right, was either asleep or drunk. He reassuringly suggested another map app, which I downloaded and like magic, it was everything my ex-map app was not. I made a point of telling him he made a great suggestion and thanked him.
I noticed him taking the lead in so many little ways, it helped put me at ease and let go of the perfection in favor of supporting him – which needed to be the point in the first place.
Before you knew it, we were in the theater. We had a sensational time. He was able to laugh as loud and as hard as he could. I suspect it was cathartic for him in some ways.
The following morning, as we navigated the train station to get back home, we were confronted by an accessibility problem. Our train was on ‘Track 3’. The only wheelchair accessible sliding doors were at ‘Track 1’ and ‘Track 16’. The sliding doors at ‘Track 1’ were OUT OF ORDER. So I needed to wheel down to the ‘Track 16’ doors so I could wheel back to ‘Track 3’. If you’re feeling exhausted reading it, yeah, it was rough.
Fortunately, my son was there to push my chair when I could no longer move myself. Without his help, I might not have made it to the platform in time to catch the train home. This experience, and the number of times I needed his help during the trip showed me that as a disabled person, it’s not safe for me to travel alone. That is a humbling and vulnerable realization.
I’m so grateful that my wife and sons are understanding and available to help me. Ya know, I wonder if the ability to be humble and vulnerable is a prerequisite for being able to ask for help.
On a side note, as a freelancer, I need to include aides or assistants in my pricing and plans when I travel to conferences or events at my clients’ request. My physical limitations due to various pathologies mean that I cannot reliably travel long distances on my own without needing regular assistance. I’m not prepared to traverse airports and train stations alone, let alone everything else I’d need to do upon reaching my destination.
This trip with my son has taught me so much about his growing capacity for self-determination and my own increasing need for collaboration with others to meet my needs. I’m grateful that we were able to share this special memory while gaining insights about how we can continue to support each other as he grows in confidence and I work within my physical limits. The opportunity to get to know each other, laugh, and learn together was an invaluable experience.
Relationships are the currency of life.
Asking for help ain’t easy, I get it. But we all need a hand sometimes, and there’s no shame in reaching out. As someone who’s been there, I’d love to chat if you or someone you care about struggles with pride or fears around needing assistance. Together we can find comfortable ways to be a little vulnerable, get connected, and make things happen.
My own journey has given me lots of real-world tips for building those support networks. Hit me up if you think talking might help – no judgement, just listening. I’m here to start that conversation.
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Brian has a Master’s Degree in Social Work and is the father of three boys with Autism and ADHD. After receiving the same diagnoses himself, he went on to write 5 books and become a recognized specialist in the field. With a unique approach to helping parents and educators connect with their children who live with these unique challenges, Brian’s captivating, interactive presentations and programs continue to change lives around the world. His message of self-compassion, resilience and the importance of working together is one we all need to hear. Book a Discovery Call with Brian to discuss the best way you and he can work together.