True Confessions Autism Style

Matthew had been at camp for two and a half days when it hit me that I had stopped grinding my teeth. This was two years ago, when Matthew was 21 and home for the summer from Camphill Soltane in Pennsylvania. The lack of structure at home had made Matthew anxious, impulsive-and aggressive. I prayed that Camp Harmon, a camp for individuals with special needs of all types, could provide Matthew with the activity and the discipline that he needed.

But when the phone rang, and the camp director told me that I needed to retrieve Matthew from camp as soon as possible, I wasn’t all that surprised. I learned that my son had been teasing a fellow camper relentlessly for the first few days of camp, and that that morning, he had pointed a bow and arrow at the terrified kid during archery.

When I arrived at the camp, a two-hour drive, Matthew’s bags were at the curb, and after a brief “exit” interview with the camp director, we drove home.

“I’m sorry”, said Matthew. He looked scared of me. I had to remain calm, even though I was so angry, because I knew I would be most effective that way.

“I know, Matthew,” I said,  “We can talk about it when we get home.” I handed him a bottle of water.

“I did something scary another time, too. But that time no one caught me.”

Dear God.

“Really?” I said, “What was that?”

“If I tell you, you’ll be angry, that’s for sure.”

“No I won’t. But you don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to.”

My kindness to Matthew was like a truth serum. And the truth spilled out.

“Last time I was home, during Spring Break, I drove dad’s car all the way to Macy’s.”

(Matthew does not have license. He’d been driving with his dad in a nearby church parking lot occasionally, but he doesn’t have the judgment or temperament to drive alone. To get to Macy’s, he had to drive on the freeway for about two miles.)

“It was early in the morning and the men were putting clothes in the store so I walked in. They asked me to leave or they would call the police. So I drove the car home.”


“Where was I when this happened?” I asked gently, my heart pounding,” and where was dad?”

“You were at the gym. Dad was in the house.”

He was in the house was he?

“Were you scared?”

“Pretty much”

“Did you stop at red lights?”

“Probably not. I’m done talking now. ”

“O.K.”, I said, needing SO badly to FLIP OUT but somehow restraining myself. “Just one more question. Do you promise never to drive the car again…without asking?”

“I’m done with driving.”


I knew that what Matthew had told me was the truth-he wasn’t capable of lying.

Matthew dosed off, a man absolved of his sins, and I thanked God for the truth, and for protecting my son-and everyone else who was on the road that day.

When I got home, I asked my husband if he remembered Matthew’s Spring Break visit.

“Do you remember a time when your car wasn’t there when it should have been? ”

“I actually don’t remember it being gone,” said Peter pensively, “but I remember finding it was parked all cockeyed in the driveway.”

Uh, huh…

” I figured you did it. I was going to tease you about it, but you were at the gym….”

I nodded with a slight smile, and Peter turned pale. “Matthew?


No, I didn’t berate my husband for his lack of vigilance that spring morning. He’s on mega-alert now during Matthew’s visits.

And we’re just hiding the keys in case Matthew decides he is not done with driving, after all.


Laura Shumaker is the author of A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM


She writes each Friday for 5 MINUTES FOR SPECIAL NEEDS.

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