The Same, But Different

TheSameButDifferentThis column was originally published as part of my “Tuesdays with Madison” series at

Either way, I knew I was going to cry.

My son answered the phone, covered the mouthpiece, and whispered the admission director’s name. As I wheeled closer to take it from his hands, my emotions bubbled up, filling my eyes with all my heart contained.

Whether the answer was “yes” or “no,” I knew I was going to cry.

I took a deep breath.


She began with an apology. “We’re sorry it took so long to get back to you.”

The journey began months ago, when Madison began to struggle at school. Limited in verbal expression, she relies on structure, routine, and predictability to function at her best. “Schedule please,” is by far her most repeated phrase as she continually seeks to order her world.

But her world had become too complex for her to order. She needed my help.

Although she had flourished in her current school, her behaviors had begun to escalate, courtesy of rising hormones, we thought. We soon realized that the program no longer met her needs. The search for a new placement began.

“Madison has been accepted …” I heard the voice say. I slumped forward in my wheelchair, chin to chest, palm to head, and pressed the phone hard into my ear.

“Thank you,” was all I could say.

That phone call changed my daughter’s life six years ago.

Last week, another phone call changed it again; we learned Madison’s adult placement had been finalized.

Again, I cried.

A search that began two years ago was finally complete—at least for now. In the world of autism, I’ve learned that nothing is ever fully final—there are just too many variables.

Meanwhile, my other children prepare for their own life-changing milestones.

My son graduates from high school, heading 3000 miles away to college.

My daughter is getting married.

And once more, emotionally-charged expectations fill my heart.

As parents of children with autism, I think we are entitled to feel different and special in the extraordinary effort it takes to parent their unique and ever-changing needs. We continually seek resources while at the same time assessing their abilities and capacities to learn and grow.

But, if we’re honest, isn’t it the same set of skills required for our other children?

Granted, that journey is less lonely and perhaps filled with more options.

But in the end, they, too, have changing variables and need our help as they seek to order their lives.

We struggle as they struggle—and celebrate as they celebrate.

We take deep breaths for them and with them.

The same, but different.