RETAKE BY DAVID FINCH
my ambition will forever exceed my skill. That
is how we grow after all.
ast year, at the invitation and encouragement of a good friend, I took up mountain
biking. It’s not something a lot of thirtyseven-year-olds get into – at least, not the thirtyseven-year-olds that I know. Almost everyone
I’ve met since my first ride – a powerfully addictive jaunt through the hilly woods near my
house – has been cycling for at least half their
lives. Negotiating difficult terrain has become,
for them, somewhat instinctual. Jagged rocks,
steep descents, tangled roots – it’s all in a day’s
work for them.
Part of learning is discovering one’s limits, and
yet we tend to feel as though there is danger
associated with that. We fear what may result
from our ambition exceeding our experience.
In an effort to protect us, to keep us safe, our
brains imagine any number of reasons why we
shouldn’t do things. I may discover that I’m not
as good at making friends as I’d hoped I would
be. I may be mocked if I don’t know the answer.
I may crash my very expensive bike into a tree.
If we are not willing to be vulnerable – to feel just a little
bit unsafe – we will
never bump into
hard enough to
Because I’m still learning, the guys
take it easy on me. No one expects me to launch myself
off a boulder or rocket
through a narrow
switchback at stupidly
That’s not to
high speeds. And yet,
say that we
on occasion, that’s exshould ignore
actly what I do, though
it’s rarely on purpose.
Eager to grow, to do
better, to keep up with
the guys, I push myself to
who face the
discover new terrains and
daily reality that their nonexperience higher speeds.
verbal or self-injurious autistic child or
I don’t exactly seek out the
loved one may just leave the house and wander
giant rocks or hairpin turns, but what can I say?
off alone, I am reminded how fortunate I am
Obstacles have a way of sneaking up on you
that my instincts would prevent me from dowhen your ambition is greater than your skill.
ing that. As much as our brains love to torment
And though I sometimes find myself soaring
us with worst-case scenarios, occasionally they
unexpectedly through the air like the cartoon
make pretty good points, and we need to listen
coyote realizing too late that he’s run off a cliff
to them in those moments. However, we risk
or tumbling over my handlebars into the waitmissing out on the great lives we could be living
ing branches of thorny bushes, my hope is that
if our desire to be safe results in self-limiting
ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses
Rele and d
thoughts. Worse, we risk passing those limiting
beliefs along to our children and unwittingly
shrinking their lives as a result.
Relentless focus on worry and dread has been
my approach to parenting since my children
were born. From the time they could lift their
own heads, I’ve been deliberate and thorough in
pointing out every possible harm that may befall them. “We can’t go on a walk today because
it’s kind of windy,” I once explained to my fouryear-old daughter. “You never know if a rock
is going to pick up and slice into your eyeball.”
My wife thought I was being unreasonable, but
that very thing has happened to me. “I had to
wear a patch on my eye for weeks,” I continued,
my daughter practically in tears. “To this day, I
can’t keep my left eye open in bright sunlight.”
Never one to share cups or straws with my
children, I’ve shown them love by sharing my
fear of less-than-optimal consequences. “Never
reach blindly into your backpack; you could
get a paper cut or jab your finger with a hidden pencil tip.” “Do not eat crackers or pretzels
without first sipping some water; you can’t rely
on peristalsis.” “Please, let me chop up that
popsicle; I once choked for, like, a full second on
a popsicle tip that broke free unexpectedly.”
In preparing my children to expect the absolute
worst and avoid those circumstances at all costs,
I’ve instilled in them not resilience, not intelli-
gence, not a sense of self-reliance, but utter fear.
My daughter apologizes for reaching into her