A grown-ass man

Sam came home today after spending three days in Fort Worth. He has competed every year at the Chisholm Challenge, a series of horse shows for riders with disabilities. It’s part of the events that lead up to the annual Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

Sam added another silver belt buckle to his collection, but that wasn’t the big accomplishment this year.

This was the first year, since 2003, that no one in the family was able to go with him to Chisholm Challenge. (So, dear readers, there is no video to share of the many events he rode, both English and Western, including several competitions hosted the first day by the American Quarter Horse Association.)

He’s been going to other horse shows this year as part of his preparations. I’ve been able to get to a few of them. But more often than not, he’d get up early on a Saturday or Sunday morning and drive himself to a nearby arena and compete for the day.

This was also the first year he drove himself to Fort Worth and back. And the first time he traveled to stay in a hotel where he wasn’t with family.

There were always plenty of longtime friends around looking out for him, so I knew not to worry. Some of the good people at Born2Be, where he rides, have known Sam since he was in elementary school. At this point, I think they know, too, how important it is that Sam be his own grown-up self.

I wasn’t there because I was I traipsing around Austin, on assignment to cover the first day of the Texas Legislature. I was doing a whole lot of things I’d never done before, or hadn’t done in a few years. I kept thinking about Sam being in Fort Worth at the same time, also doing a whole lot of things he’d never done before. I became keenly aware each time I was problem-solving. (Am I facing north or south? How do I get to that building? Where’s the elevator? Where’s the bathroom? Where can I plug in the charger for my laptop? Why isn’t the wi-fi working? If I sit here, will I be able to see? Should I leave now, or do I have time to chase that down? Do I have enough gas to get out of Austin before the traffic gets bad? Oh, gosh, I am so hungry.)

It was a lot of problem-solving. That’s what we expect adults to do. Just drop yourself in the middle of something and start solving all the problems. Adults with autism don’t do that very well. They get overwhelmed. People around them step in a lot and help them solve the problems.

Still, kids with autism are no different than other kids: to grow up strong and resilient, they have to learn to solve their problems.

The newsroom I work in has short cubbies. It fosters teamwork, but it also means co-workers often can hear your half of your telephone conversations. One time, a former co-worker was in a testy, problem-solving conversation with his mother, who, as a civil rights activist, is no wallflower. It was hard not to take note when he told her, “I’m a grown-ass man.”

I keep that little descriptor in my head. I know Sam will probably never say it to me, but I want him to believe it about himself, more and more each day.

Yes, he can. He’s a grown-ass man.


  1. Karen Jacobsen on January 14, 2017 at 11:39 pm

    Great story! People, including Sam, want to achieve. The sense of accomplishment when facing a challenge or multiple challenges can only be felt by doing it alone. Sam has been meeting challenges and accomplishing great feats throughout his life. This is another milestone….with more to come! We are so proud of him!

  2. Carol Heinkel on January 17, 2017 at 3:00 pm

    So proud of you both!

  3. Carol Heinkel on January 20, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Good news! It’s something more to build on. Absolute independence is only for hermits; the rest of us proceed at our own pace toward that “goal,” stopping somewhat short. I’m really,deeply, happy to hear that Sam hasn’t stopped but is still progressing. Love from Grandpa

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