A Conversation with a Friend

Jim, I just finished reading “Letting Him Out.” I’m sorry you’ve suffered for decades, protecting that little autistic boy inside you. But I’m glad you’re considering letting him out of that walled prison you’ve kept him in all these years. I like knowing the real you.

Thank you, but I don’t get enough credit for how well I’ve done without him. I’ve accomplished a lot — so much that people don’t recognize the sacrifices I’ve made. They can’t see my deep scars. It is so tiring, still. I’ve had to be strong. I’ve had to protect that little autistic boy.

I wrote a year and a half ago how I wanted to let him out, but I’m afraid he won’t be strong enough to survive. I’m afraid I won’t be strong enough for the both of us.

Which is the greater pain? Is it the onslaught of the external world — the bursting door you’ve had your shoulder against year after year in the desperate attempt to hold together, to keep from crumbling? Or it a worse pain that you haven’t been able to let this little boy out, to be less than whole? You’re not complete with that little boy staying inside you, frustrated and scared, but wanting to be free.

I admit I have this void in my life. I had no choice if I wanted to survive, but sometimes I feel like a hollowed out overbaked shell, not a real person, a used up shield.

Don’t you think the void that can be filled? Yes, you have a hole in you. It’s the size and shape of that autistic little boy. But unless you let him fill it, you’ll never be complete. You don’t have to anguish over what you lack. All the pieces are there. You can be whole, different than you are, different than others maybe, but intact, and better than now.

Sometimes I think I’m too competent. I’ve learned too much. Life isn’t quite as hard as it used to be, even if it is often just as painful. But now that I can live — not just survive — I find I don’t know how.

Without a mission, without the constant desperation to solve the conundrum of life with humans, I’m lost. I have a rip in my fabric I don’t know how to mend.

But the solution is inside you. The little boy who had his childhood taken away to give you life  — who hid while you suffered for the both of you — is still there. He’s been living there, all these years, in the dark, scared to death, hoping you would notice him, even comfort him.

I’m afraid, too.

It’s not too late to find him, to pull him out, to embrace him. Maybe this is your chance, a chance for both of you, a chance for you to know and connect with the boy you felt you had to shun to survive.

Why would I want to connect with the inner autistic child? He’s the one I had to protect all these years. He’s the reason I suffered, so he might live. He’s my Achilles’ heel. He’s the most fragile part of me. He’s the burden, the part of me that dragged me down all those years, that nearly killed me.

But you see, I don’t think he’s the part of you that dragged you down. I think he’s the part of you that allowed you to live.


He’s the one who figured out all the hard problems and fed you the solutions. He’s the one who collected all the information on human behavior and showed you the patterns, that there was a way to survive, that this wasn’t an incomprehensible puzzle.

I can tell humans are maddeningly confusing to you, but there are patterns your little boy found when he looked hard enough. He was the one who turned chaos into this hugely complex model of the universe you use. He’s the one who gave you rules, gave you order, gave you your life.

You owe it to him, to yourself, to let him out.

How do you know? How can you know so much about him?

Because I am him.

I’m your little boy. I gave you hope and you gave me voice. We need each other. Alone, we are not complete. Alone, I am a disabled child. And you are a soulless automaton.


It doesn’t have to be this way, Jim.

I’m scared.

Me too. What are you scared about?

I’m frightened I’ll be too different. I’m worried I’ll be judged: at work, by family, by friends.

Really, Jim? Family and friends? Don’t they love you?

Yes. But will they love us? Oh, I know they will accept us together, even be willing to spend time with us. But the two of us will be terribly different than I have been.

Different? Maybe better?

Maybe better to us, for us. But probably shocking to them.

So how about you? What are you scared about?

I’m worried I won’t work. I’ve been cooped up for decades with wasted limbs folded under me. I don’t know if all the parts will function. But I have faith that together, we can stretch those atrophied muscles. We can gain strength.

Without you, I’m weak. Without me, you’re purposeless.

Purposeless? Damn you, I’ve protected you all these years. You’re alive because of me.

And I’m grateful. Look, I’m not being fair. I know how hard this has been for you, how hard it still is.

I’m not asking you to do what you can’t do. If you want to remain safe, to keep me hidden, to live out our lives in quiet shrinking shame, so be it. Hell, you’ve earned it. I know it’s risky to do otherwise.

Hey, I’ve taken chances. I’ve exposed myself far beyond what I ever expected.

When you were a quiet little boy incapable of communicating to anyone — even your mother — could you have imagined climbing the steps of Capitol Hill, speaking with authority to crowded rooms of lawmakers?

When you were seventeen, frightened at becoming an adult, on that day you retreated from the world and stuck me out there, clueless and lost, to suffer and survive — would you have dreamt I would ever have a job, let alone one where I’m responsible for forty thousand people around the world?

Those long dark years when I slept alone on the small mattress on the floor of the dirty apartment in Hackensack, friendless, barely eating, struggling to dress myself, would it have been possible to conceive of that same man flying around the world conducting business, invited to speak at global conferences?

And now I’m exposing myself in new ways. I’m writing for the world to read. I’m talking to packed rooms about us, about who we really are, about the mountain we climbed. You’re not completely hidden, not so walled off. People see you.

They hear about me, but they don’t see. In fact, you don’t see, do you? Do you know what I’m like, what we would be like together?

No. Every time I try, I can’t picture it. My mind can’t cross that last chasm.

Then it’s too soon. Let’s learn each other. Spin more tales. Keep exploring me.

I’m sorry.

Don’t be.

I love you.

No. But you might.

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8 Responses to A Conversation with a Friend

  1. Alma Aton May 3, 2017 at 11:17 pm #

    I’ve got mixed feelings reading this article. It’s making me cry, laugh and think, that I can do much more for my kids with Autism. I have three kids diagnosed with ASD. And my second child, a daughter is having the most difficult case as to the level, I guess..I don’t know how to describe it. It’s difficult for me as a mother and yet i just know now the severity or the level of the difficulty that my children are going through. It’s breaking my heart. Thank you so much for sharing this….From the bottom of my heart…Thank you! ! I’ll try to become a better helper,mother, friend to them to the best of my ability…I hope that i will succeed!

    • Jim May 4, 2017 at 7:17 am #

      Alma, your mixed reaction makes sense. I was of more than one mind in writing it. I hope you continue to find ways to provide your children with what you need. Your comment opens up questions that might not be answered here, but I wish I could understand better what you are struggling to understand.

  2. Lisa May 14, 2017 at 6:38 pm #

    As a mother you made me cry. As a mother of an autistic boy you made me learn.

    • Jim May 14, 2017 at 6:51 pm #

      As a former autistic boy, you made my day.

  3. Robin May 27, 2017 at 1:23 am #

    Thank you so much for sharing. I got diagnosed a couple of months ago. I’m going through the same conversation with my inner girl too

    • Jim May 27, 2017 at 9:17 am #

      The best of luck to the both of you.

  4. Linda-Teresa August 17, 2017 at 8:41 pm #

    My little one cries and cries. I have to shut her in the cupboard. I keep asking for help, but no-one listens. No-one will help. The part of me they can see is grown-up. She does not look like she needs help. She looks like a whole grown-up person and they expect her to behave like one. They say, “You must be responsible. You must help yourself.” They do not realise that is what I am trying to do.

    • Jim August 19, 2017 at 9:33 am #

      I’m getting a bit of how your little one struggles, Linda-Teresa, even if it is a slight fraction of understanding thereof. Thinking of my own life and learning of yours, I can’t help reflect on our ill-fitting society, constructed — not consciously, of course — by the dominant selective pressures of minds unlike our own.

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