If your purpose is to win…

…you have already lost.

Competing – and hopefully winning – can be a key part of any journey, but it shouldn’t be the destination. If reaching your destination is all you have to look forward to, what happens when you get there?

Or as I tell my sons: the goal of competition is, of course, to win, but your purpose – for training, for competing – should be to learn, to grow. To have fun.

A story and a smile

As I got on the shuttle this afternoon that took me from long term parking to the terminal, the driver greeted me and handed me a card that included a reminder of where I was parked. I thanked her and made a comment that this was the first time I had used this lot, and that on my return I would quite likely find myself in the short term lot in a futile search for my truck.

I got the impression from her that she wasn’t really having a good day, that she may not really like her job of driving the same loop for hours at a time, that she was – quite simply – in a grumpy mood. But she responded to my comment, so I continued the conversation.

By the end of the five minute ride we were both laughing and smiling, having shared stories of lost cars in vast parking lots, of walking around with arm held high pushing the alarm button on the keyless remote, of searching for a rental car in a vast sea of rentals that all look alike.

A key philosophy of camping and backpacking is to leave the places you visit in better shape than when you arrived. It seems to me that this philosophy is a good one to have for our interactions with other people as well.

A world without autism

If autism could be cured, and if we, as a society, chose to cure it, what would that mean for our future?

How would it impact our lives, and the lives of our children (and descendants many generations down the line)?

What would society look like 50 years from now? 100 years from now, when autism (or autism-like traits) were no longer a part of our world?

His decision, not mine (thoughts on an autism cure)

A few years ago, a friend asked me the question: “If someone told you there was a pill you could give your son that would cure his autism overnight, would you give it to him?” Sounds like an easy question, right?

I hadn’t really thought much about it for some time, as it had been nearly ten years since his autism diagnosis, so I answered with a very non-committal, “I don’t know, I guess so.” That evening I gave the question some more serious thought, and was surprised by I learned.

If the child study team that gave us the diagnosis had asked that question right after giving us the diagnosis, when our son was just barely three years old, I would not have hesitated. I would have given him the pill right then and there, no questions asked. (Well, maybe “do you take credit cards?”)

But if you had asked me five or six years later, as my son approached 10, my answer would not have been so quick in coming, or quite so easy to make. At almost 10, he was still autistic, but he was so much more. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that it would be impossible to separate his autism from the rest of him. If we cured the autism, what would be left? Or, I should say, who would be left? Would it be the son I knew and loved, or would it be a “new” child that I would need to get to know all over again? Would I like this new child, this new addition to the family? Would he like who he had become?

Ask me now, when my son is nearly 19 and preparing to graduate high school, and it would be even harder for me to answer. Although in some ways it would be much easier, because what I’ve realized is that at this point in his life it is not my place to make that decision for him. If someone came to me today and asked that question I would very quickly respond, “Don’t ask me, ask him; it’s his decision to make, not mine.

This may be a surprising answer to those of you that don’t have experience with autism. But if you are a parent, you know exactly what I’m talking about. When our kids are young, it is up to us to guide them, direct them, and protect them. As they get older, we help them discover who they are and what they want to be. And then we “let go,” we let them leave the nest.

It is the same for our autistic kids, even if the path is a bit longer or rockier.

Note: Author John Elder Robison also wrote about cure today, from the perspective of an autistic person.

Neglect, or good parenting?

The following ties in well with my recent post Parents should be leaders (not managers) and my overall theme for Autism Awareness Month, so I’m reposting it in its entirety.  I first posted this in April of 2008.
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What would you think if your friend/neighbor/sibling told you that they had left their 9 year old son at a department store in mid-town Manhattan, by himself, because “he had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own”? Would you call Child Protective Services, or would you say “good for you”? Would you ever do something like that?

After you’ve had a chance to think about it for a second, check out the essay Why I Let My 9-Year-Old Ride the Subway Alone by Lenore Skenazy (also available on her new blog, Free Range Kids).

Was I worried? Yes, a tinge. But it didn’t strike me as that daring, either. Isn’t New York as safe now as it was in 1963? It’s not like we’re living in downtown Baghdad.

Anyway, for weeks my boy had been begging for me to please leave him somewhere, anywhere, and let him try to figure out how to get home on his own. So on that sunny Sunday I gave him a subway map, a MetroCard, a $20 bill, and several quarters, just in case he had to make a call.

No, I did not give him a cell phone. Didn’t want to lose it. And no, I didn’t trail him, like a mommy private eye. I trusted him to figure out that he should take the Lexington Avenue subway down, and the 34th Street crosstown bus home. If he couldn’t do that, I trusted him to ask a stranger. And then I even trusted that stranger not to think, “Gee, I was about to catch my train home, but now I think I’ll abduct this adorable child instead.”

Long story short: My son got home, ecstatic with independence.

Long story longer, and analyzed, to boot: Half the people I’ve told this episode to now want to turn me in for child abuse. As if keeping kids under lock and key and helmet and cell phone and nanny and surveillance is the right way to rear kids. It’s not. It’s debilitating — for us and for them.

It’s that last sentence in the excerpt above that really caught my eye. It is no less true for our autistic kids than it is for our non-autistic kids. There are obviously some differences that need to be allowed for, but only by being given independence – true independence – can kids learn how to be independent, and parents learn how to accept that independence.

As you can imagine, there was a huge negative reaction. But she also received some support from her readers. Check out her follow up, America’s Worst Mom, for the details. Security expert Bruce Schneier also weighs-in on his blog, that is worth a read as well.

Sure there are risks, and there will be mistakes and issues along the way. But isn’t that what life is all about?

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On the subject of leadership, there is a lesson to be learned here for managers/leaders of all kinds.