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I’m thrown forward briefly, my purse tossed on the floor of my car. I quickly look behind me but Justin is already leaning back in his seat, apparently in good worn condition. I drive slowly far enough from the merging traffic to the side of the road where I won’t be hit, then I stop. In my rearview mirror, I see a woman in an SUV pull up behind me. I tell Justin it’s fine, keep the engine running as it’s literally 102′ outside and head back to his car after assessing the damage on mine.

She is visibly shaking, probably in her sixties, apologizing profusely. She sees Justin rocking back and forth in my car and shaking it, and asks if he’s okay. I tell her he’s fine and he’s got autism, that’s why he’s rocking, and his face falls down and she says she’s sorry once again. I tell her we’re all fine and that’s what matters, and to get back in the car and call the police while I call my husband.

All I think about walking back to my damaged car is Monty Python’s line, “‘It’s just a scratch’.

I return to her car a few minutes later and find her too upset to know how to call the police, so I dial 911 and we wait. Two lovely agents arrive within minutes, we write reports, they check my information (they were even able to pull out Justin’s driver’s license). I’m asked to go to the woman’s car so she can apologize again, and after making sure the police will keep an eye on my son, I do. In twenty minutes, everyone walks away while I wait for my husband to come.

I put everything in its place, call our Subaru dealership and tell him we’re coming in, and sink into my seat. When bad things happen in our family, I try to find the bright side when I can, and here it’s pretty easy. No one was hurt. I did not hit the car in front of me. It will be a big inconvenience but it won’t cost us anything.

And with a huge sigh of relief, I acknowledge the most important part – Justin didn’t have a seizure.

Even a few years ago, I would have been terrified after this crisis, because like many autistic people, Justin is not a big fan of a change of routine, and the consequences of the accident could have been risky. Instead, my severely autistic nineteen year old boy just sat in his seat and chilled out for about an hour from start to finish, shaking his head when I asked him if he wanted some juice, gently swaying to classic vinyl on the radio. He was amazing at the dealership, not protesting when he had to change cars, seemingly unfazed that his trip to Seaside was dead in the water.

He was patient. He was cold. Not so long ago, these things would have been completely out of his reach.

My point is this. Those of you, especially those with young children with autism, might think that all the challenges you face are permanent. I’m not going to lie to you – some of them might be.

But the truth is, your son or daughter will likely conquer many over time, with patience and hard work. I never could have imagined five years ago that I could be in a car accident with my son and everything would be fine. I would have laughed at anyone who suggested it.

And I would have been wrong.

Ask for help with challenges when you need it, from your child’s early intervention therapists, their school, a BCBA through insurance if you can. To do work. Be patient. Know that it can take months or years to change the behavior you want to change.

Be gentle with yourself while you work.

And above all, don’t lose hope.

To learn more about my family, visit my blog at

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Sam D. Gomez