Tuesday, January 13, 2009

What's driving my fear?

It is Sunday morning, December 28th, 2008. My son has just left for the Christmas Conference to be with his friends from Campus Crusade. This is the third time he has attended this annual event. He always comes back happy and energized. This time he drove the car. First he will drive down to campus and pick up some friends. Then he will drive to downtown Indianapolis. Then on New Years day, he will go back to campus and return home. My stomach hurts.

Let me give you a little history about cars and my family. My brother Jerry left home on Christmas night in 1974. He slid off a rural road, hit a bridge abutment, and was not found until the next morning. He died of shock and exposure at age 19. He was a very capable driver. He never returned home.

My sister Lisa was driving to work on February 1986. Her car skidded in front of a snow plow. Her seat belt did not prevent a broken neck. How could it? The truck with the snow plow was loaded with salt, which meant it probably weighed at least 30 tons. It must have been like a hockey stick hitting a puck. She was 26 years old. She too was a capable driver.

Multi tasking is not one of Mark’s skills. I guess this is generally true for people with autism. I don’t mind when he works math problems in front of the television, but driving requires his full attention, and for an extended period of time, or it is dangerous. On December 1, 2004, Mark drove the car to school. He had been driving to school every day that week. He left in plenty of time, and I had been up early listening to the weather forecast, which said that temperatures were above freezing. As so often is the case, the weather man was wrong. There were many accidents that morning in Hamilton County, and Mark drove across a bridge that had a bit of ice. The car spun and he hit the rail. Thank God for good engineering or he’d have fallen to the interstate. We had $12,000 in damage to the 4-Runner, but my boy was unharmed. It was a huge warning for Joe and me. A police officer saw it, and told Mark he was not driving too fast, but just lost control due to the ice. He flagged down a school bus and put Mark inside. Then he had our car towed. Once at school, other officers who knew and understood Mark, talked to him and calmed him down before sending him to the resource room where he was able to speak to a teacher who could give him further comfort. It took four months for Church Brothers to rebuild the car. A new frame had to be shipped from Japan. You can criticize SUV’s all you want; it’s a small price to pay for safety!

In 2006, my sister Kathy was driving with her 27 year old son. Another driver ran a stoplight and T boned her vehicle. Her son Cory had one collapsed lung and the other had been pierced by a broken rib. He was flown to a trauma center in Columbus, Ohio. It was soon discovered that my sister’s neck and pelvis were broken. Her abdomen was filling with blood. She too was flown to the same hospital. Cory improved quickly, and was back to work in a few months. Kathy later became a patient at the very rehab center where she was also employed. She was able to return to work as a part-time employee in a little less than a year. The other driver was inattentive. Kathy is a good driver, and was the victim of someone who was distracted.

Except for about 9 years when I worked with my husband in a lab that we both own, I have worked in sales. This means that I have traveled as much as half the country at one time: driving as many as 60,000 miles per year. I can drive safely in the worst of conditions, but with age, comes the good sense not to do that. I hope that one day I will be relaxed and confident about Mark’s driving. We’re not there yet. He took driver’s training in high school, but I hope that he can take another driving course this summer with trainers who work have worked with stroke victims. I’ve looked into how I can improve his safety on the road. He can be tested to reveal any weak areas of his driving skills, and work on those areas to improve his safety. Mark has done a great deal of bike riding, and that has improved his driving too, but accidents happen in my family, and bad things happen when they occur. My hope is that when he graduates from college and finally gets a job, that he’ll be living very near to where he works. His driving has improved immensely, but I cannot imagine that I could not fall asleep while he is behind the wheel. I don’t think it’s just because I’m his mother. I make him drive as often as I can when he is with me. Sometimes he tells me he’s just not up to it. I try to be quiet when he drives, but it’s gotten to the point that he doesn’t like driving in front of me any more. This is a big area of concern for me. The worst pain I’ve ever known was the loss of my siblings. I don’t want to have spent my life helping him to overcome obstacles only to let him be killed on the highway. I seek to help him gain independence, but I know better than anyone else, the consequences of small mistakes on the road.

I have seen this kid overcome obstacles that I would never have believed he would overcome. Sometimes I think God has allowed me to watch as a miracle has unraveled before my eyes. Or is it a miracle of the brain’s neuro plasticity? Even so, it is no less a miracle to me. Nevertheless, I long for the day, when I no longer worry about Mark each time he gets into the car.

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