Navigating Turbulence: A Neurodivergent Mom’s Reflection on Supporting her Son’s Flight Journey and Coping with Unpredictable Challenges

I’m a neurodivergent mom of an adult child with autism. My son is doing amazingly well, although on his own timeline. He has graduated from flight school and he is finishing up his time as a flight instructor and is anxiously ready for the next step waiting for him with SkyWest. One of my son’s favorite fixations growing up was airplanes. He’s now 31, so this was mostly before the internet, but any plane or flying resource I came across I would get for him. Even if it was technical and way above him. I had read early on about Temple Grandin’s mother supporting her interesting fixations with the belief that it was likely the best way for her to have options and success as an adult. I did that with all of my kids. Whatever their interest, I would supply the resources. And with my oldest, sometimes that meant a lot of hours watching airplanes takeoff and land from the nearby, small, local airport.

But sometimes fixations can be difficult. My son returned to work from the holidays, but because of the weather he’s not been able to instruct so his flying hours are at a standstill. I have also learned with autism that there are often “rules” and right now I have no doubt my son has all kinds of rules regarding flying, the weather, and uncooperative students. Hint: the weather should always be perfect for flying, every scheduled flight should happen, and uncooperative students should not exist. When these “rules” are broken, it can be very difficult. Especially when there is no fix.

So there have been several mornings when I have woken to my son’s texts. Granted, he has every right to be frustrated and I always validate what he’s experiencing and feeling, but this is something mom can’t fix. As a parent, it’s incredibly hard to see our kids struggle. Perhaps even more so when it’s beyond our control.

I also know after 31 years of being this son’s mom that I am his safe place. Any other person that reaches out to him right now gets a pleasant pilot excitedly ready for the next step and counting his flying hours until he gets there. But that’s not the whole story. There have been delays, broken “rules,” other instructors having better luck, difficult students, etc., etc., and like all people, my son needs someone who can support him when he can’t hold it together anymore. I was there to pick up the pieces when he was nonverbal and didn’t have the words to express himself and I’m there now, although by text, to read the words he uses to express himself and to also understand the unspoken parts. I am also neurodivergent, and I know when things don’t go according to plan, there is a lot beneath the surface that may have nothing to do with the problem at hand.

There is no resolution to some problems, we just have to make it through the best we can and maintain hope that things will get better. For me, a brief walk through nature was the support that I needed to be there the next time my son starts texting.



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