Best Friends

By Jeff Stimpson

Last summer, when my 13-year-old son Alex was bolting from our apartment almost daily, I hit the roof. Something about Alex leaving the apartment and bursting in on neighbors made me raise my voice more than I wanted to even in middle age and even in this economy. My wife Jill helped me see that was time to bring in help.

“Danny’s coming? Rhonda’s coming? Danny’s coming?” Alex says these days. He’s talking about the folks we found to … what? Babysit? That doesn’t sound right for a boy who’ll be 14 next summer. It does sound right a boy who has autism. We found Danny (not his real name) on Craigslist; we found Rhonda (not her real name, either) through the psychology department of a local college. They take Alex on bus rides to locations as varied as Burger King to the Queens Hall of Science.

“Danny’s coming? Rhonda’s coming? Danny’s coming?”

“Yes, Alex. He/she is coming in an hour or so. Just be patient.”

“Danny’s coming?! Rhonda’s coming?! Danny’s coming?!”

“Alex, be patient!” He used to just say “Mommy!” or “Daddy!” He still does. But now he says other names. He asks if people are coming hours before they are coming (which we tell him, and he keeps asking). By the morning of Black Friday this year, Alex was bored out of his mind. He didn’t want to “do” letters with me, he didn’t want to pick up his room or put laundry away, jobs he usually throws himself into. He shouted into his iPad.

He would slip on his shoes, hoodie and backpack. “Take a walk!” he would say. “Wanna walk!” Alex, who will be 14 next summer and who still watches Elmo and “Barney,” has a clear need to see the world. He flies onto the buses now for overnight and summer camp; he totes his own luggage; he grabs the shopping bags of gifts or food to head to grandpa’s or Aunt Julie’s for family parties, even though he’s likely to spend the time there holed up in a spare bedroom with his iPad.

Still, I guess, the walls of that spare bedroom or that camp bunkhouse will not be the same old walls of his apartment; this seems to spur him. I wish I knew for sure.

Alex, does this spur you?

Spur you!

Alex, do like getting out more?

Getting out more!

I wish we could have these “companions” every day for many hours, but I’m two-and-a-half years unemployed, and these guys charge a lot. They won’t be there, can’t be there, every day that Alex slips on his backpack (Wanna walk!), and that hits me in the middle. In what I hope will be a trend for the future, Alex’s little brother Ned provides a voice that helps bring me off the roof. “At least,” says Ned, eying the iPad, “he’s connecting with a person.”

Jeff Stimpson is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism(both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, the Lostandtired blog, The Autism Society news blog, and An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”

About gbutch
My name is Garrett Butch and I am the father of a child with autism and the founder of Maximum Potential Group. My wife and I started our company to empower parents and schools to learn how to provide ABA therapy to their children and students. After spending $100,000 on therapy over the past 4 years, we wanted to share our knowledge and help those who do not have the financial resources and for those who do not live near qualified therapists.

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