Redefining Typical

A Mother, A Son, A Journey…..with Autism

Driving with Mae Mae February 18, 2011

Filed under: autism-Siblings — Cheairs @ 9:34 pm
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“Mommy, does Dawson have a little bit of autism or a lot of autism?” It was the question that came from my four year old daughter’s mouth just after she had asked me if she could have a cupcake for lunch and if we could go by the dollar store later that day. This was the beginning of many conversations yet to come with my Mae Mae: Questions about her brother, who has autism. Questions that only came in the car―in this most secure place, with me facing forward and gripping the steering wheel and with her strapped in her pink butterfly booster seat holding tight to her “lovies.”  In our big safe black Volvo station wagon, just the two of us. Me focused on trying to get to our next destination, thinking about getting her signed up for her next dance class or how I needed to reschedule an occupational therapy appointment for my son. It was here — with me driving down Route 29, stopping and starting with the traffic lights, with cars passing me and with me passing cars — this is where the conversation began. 

“Mommy, does Dawson have a little bit of autism or a lot of autism,”she asked me again. I could feel the tightness in my throat and the urge to break every traffic rule, to stop the car on the side of the road and put my daughter in the front seat so that we could drive together and talk. I wanted to be able to look her in the eye and read her face when I answered this question. I knew that the questions about my son and his autism were going to increase. I knew that, as she developed, so would her need to somehow put her arms around it. To hold it, look at it, be mad about it, cry about it, laugh about it, be embarrassed by it, and just question it. I knew it was coming, but I just did not expect it now. 

So I took a deep breath and answered, “Well, Mae Mae sometimes he has a little bit of autism and sometimes he has a lot of autism. When Dawson puts things in his mouth, like marbles or hair bows or when he gets really upset and tries to hit me when the video skips, well that is when he has a lot of autism. And when he is playing tickle games with us as a family or when he wants to play ‘tag you’re it’ in the back yard―that is when he has a little autism.” 

“When is his autism going to go away?” she asked. 

“Sweetie, Dawson’s autism is not going to go away.” 

Her voice was strong and adamant, “But Mommy, Dawson is talking better.” 

With a sense of calmness I said, “I know he is talking better and he is working really hard, but honey, it is never going to go away. He may learn to talk better and play better, but it never going to go away.” 

With a sadness in her voice that I could see in her eyes in the rear view mirror she said, “Mommy, I don’t like Dawson’s autism.” 

I could feel the tears welling in my eyes, “I know you don’t. You know what? Sometimes I don’t like it very much either. Sometimes his autism makes me feel sad or even mad.” 

I could sense her looking at me. “It makes me feel sad and mad too, Mommy.” 


“Yes, Mae Mae?” 

“Can I still have a cupcake for lunch today?” 

I smiled and wiped away the tears. “Sure why not.” 

My daughter said with an excited breath, “Can we still go to the dollar store today after we pick up Dawson from school? You know Dawson loves to go to the dollar store. I have a great idea! We can go to the dollar store as a family!” 

I nodded my head in agreement, “Yes. Yes, we can. We most certainly can.” 

This was the beginning; the first of many conversations to come in the car with my daughter. It’s just me and my “Mae Mae.”  In the car. Safe- quiet. Mother- daughter. The conversations, they are simple, short, heart-wrenching, honest, and full of love. Wrapping her arms around this world of autism. Around my son and me.

Copyright © cheairs graves February 18, 2011


14 Responses to “Driving with Mae Mae”

  1. Ms. T Says:

    So proud of you, Cheairs! I’m also really excited for more peaks into your world now that I’m up in DC. Three cheers for the entire family. Lots of hugs for Mae Mae and Dawson. Oh, and maybe some Baby Einstein video watching the next time I’m in town. Love y’all!

  2. Melissa Says:

    so. beautiful. :-)

  3. Paul Says:

    Really nice, Cheairs. Thank you for sharing your life – and your gift.

    • lisa Says:

      I love this piece…as I do all of your writing! You have a true gift, and we are so blessed that you share it with us! We love your wonderful family!

  4. Kate Says:

    I love those kids!!! What a thinker little Margaret-Ann is. I have seen so many siblings of my students, the ones who try to get their arms around it, showing such great love for their siblings with autism. Beautiful moments of love. Thank you for putting me on this path. My life truly has never been the same.

  5. Ursula Says:

    Beautiful writing, Cheairs! I feel your authentic sharing of private thoughts and exchanges. Keep opening the doors! I love you!

  6. Shelley Says:

    Thank you for sharing! I have a 6 yr. old son with high functioning Autism. And a 4 yr. old son without it. My youngest knows his big brother is different, but I haven’t talked to either of them about the autism. How did you tell your kids about it? Does your son know that he has it? I am just afraid to put that label in his head. Any suggestions?

    • Cheairs Graves Says:

      I am not sure if my son knows he has autism or not. He probally lands smack in the middle of the spectru. We started talking about his autism to our little girls as soon as she was old enough to know something was differerent. It has become part of the everyday language in our household. She knows that since Dawson has autism that he can not play like her or talk like her. We use very simple language that helps her where she is developmentally. I hope that this helps. If I come across other resources I will post them….Cheairs

    • Cheairs Graves Says:

      Shelley, I have thought more about talking to your children about your son’s autism. Have you tried contacting Autism Speaks? I have already found them to be an amazing resource. You may have already tried contacting them. They may have a “parent guide” to talking to your child about their sibling’s autism. Or talking to your chld about his or her autism. I hope this helps. We find that keeping our language very simple. For example Dawson has a had time playing becuase of his autism or Dawson has a hard time talking because of his autism. As my daughter has gotten older we have gone into more detail but still keeping it simple. I hope this helps.

      • Shelley Says:

        Thank you Cheairs. Reece, my son with autism, has very good language skills thanks to early intervention. His socially skills have improved greatly, but he still has his moments. I am a member of Autism Speaks! We did a walk and raised close to $10,000. Reece has more behavioral issues and staying on task is difficult. Sometimes his little brother has to say his name several times before he gets his attention. I am just starting to see the frustration in his little brother and was wondering if I should talk to him about it. I just don’t want him talking to Reece about it yet. I want Reece to feel like he is normal.

  7. Denise Says:

    Thank you for sharing. I am so happy to see a blog like this. My son is four and has Autism. I hope you will check my blog out also! :)


  8. Jill Anderson Says:

    What an amazing talent you have…I am sure there are mothers, fathers, grandparents and siblings that will benefit in many ways from your blog. So sweet to allow a glimpse into your beautiful family! The addition of Susan’s incredible photos can only make it even better…can’t wait to read more. xoxo Jill

  9. And that’s how it is, isn’t it? Just as quickly as the deep questions unfold, they are gone again into the wind. I agree with simplicity when it comes to siblings. Autism has been part of our family’s consciousness since the possibility of the diagnosis was first pondered. We own it together. And when Jonas is ready to understand, it will be as if it always was. No shift. Just being who we are and accepted as such. Thank you for sharing, Cheairs. :)

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