Star Trek and Autism–Boldly Going Where No Mom Has Gone Before

When we recently found out that my 8 year old son J had Asperger’s (which is a form of Autism), I was incredibly upset. A lot of the dreams I’d had for him were shattered or at least significantly altered. It took awhile to bounce back but as always, I leaned on Trek to help me make it through this difficult period.

1.Boldly Go Where No One Has Gone Before–when I think of these iconic words from the opening narration of TOS, it reminds me that we have to find new ways of doing things, new ways of looking at things so that we can make our journeys out and about as smooth as possible for my son, who also has Sensory Processing Disorder and ADHD. Bright lights, loud noises and even crowds can cause him to have a meltdown of epic proportions so each trip out somewhere requires a lot of preparation beforehand so that we can avoid the pitfalls that can make an outing that’s supposed to be loads of fun totally miserable for him.

2. The Needs of The Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few–sometimes, despite our best efforts, J does have a massive meltdown in public. Out of respect for those around us, we do our best to remove him from the situation by taking him outside the building or even out to the car to calm down. Because we don’t want to be THOSE parents–the ones with the kid who is obviously not having a good time, kicking and screaming and tantrumming to make their wishes known while the parents go on blindly as if nothing is happening.

3. Too Much Emotion Can Be Just As Bad As Too Little–J has, fortunately, never had a tough time expressing how he feels. But it’s part of our job to teach him to rein in his emotions sometimes, especially if he’s getting really angry or frustrated. It’s tough to teach him to channel those sometimes frightening emotions into something positive but we do our best. We don’t want him to repress or hold back anything though, because holding things back can be just as unhealthy as letting it all out all the time.

4. Impressing the Captain is ALWAYS a Good Thing–Since the beginning of the school year, J has been struggling with adapting to his new classroom and his new surroundings. Although it is in the same building, the teacher is different and he has different classmates than he had before. Most days, he’s had a rough day and it shows. Today, however, he came home with a sheet full of smiley faces, indicating he’d been able to stay on task and do his work without much prompting. His teacher wrote on the paper “I was very impressed today. Good job!”. I think that meant more to him than anything else in the world. I can always tell when he’s had a good day because he tells me how happy his teacher (who he loves to death) was with his work.

5. If You Don’t Want to Get Noticed, Don’t Wear A Red Shirt–red is one of my son’s favorite colors and I’ve noticed that when he wears red, he draws the girls in like bees to honey. I don’t know what the attraction is, but an 8 year old boy surrounded by girls is almost never a good thing.

6. If You Don’t Know What To Say, Make Use of the Dramatic Pause–J often has a tough time finding the right words for what he wants to say when he’s trying to express himself. Oftentimes I have to remind him to slow down, think it through and come up with the right words to say what he needs to say. Usually after I remind him to slow down, he’s able to speak more clearly and tell me exactly what it is he wants to tell me.

7. NEVER EVER Doubt The Power of Friendship–there is a girl in J’s class named S. S and J have known each other since their preschool days when they both attended the same special ed preschool. When J is having an off day, S cheers him up and hangs out with him, even if nobody else wants to. They also go to physical therapy sessions at school together and are each other’s cheerleaders. I am extremely thankful for S and for the other kids like her who ‘get’ my oddball son, who don’t think twice about how he has to have his sandwiches cut just so or how certain things really bug the crap out of them even if nobody else seems to mind. They don’t think twice about it, it’s just who J is and they accept that.

8. Infinite Diversity In Infinite Combinations–when my sister in law and her husband told the family they were adopting a bi-racial baby, we didn’t think twice about it. I know that some people might have asked “Why didn’t you wait for a WHITE baby?” or “Aren’t you afraid of what the baby’s going to say when he/she is old enough to ask why they aren’t white like their brothers and parents?”. Not my sister in law and her husband. They’d been thinking about adopting again (they’d adopted their eldest when he was only a few weeks old) and when this opportunity was presented to them, they didn’t even blink. I for one am glad that they didn’t decide to ‘just wait for a white baby’…if they had, then N wouldn’t be a part of our family and things wouldn’t be the same. I can’t imagine never having this sweet, lovable, funny, brave, BOLD girl (she smeared her already gorgeous brown self with home tanning cream AND painted her face with Mommy’s makeup one evening) in our family.

9. The Struggle Yields Its Own Reward–over the summer, we took our son to a place called Going Bonkers which is basically a big room with cargo-mesh enclosed climbing frames up to the ceiling with slides and ziplines and giant elastic thingummys that you can grab onto and bounce up and down. Getting J to climb up to even the first level (which was about 3 feet off the ground) was a struggle. He didn’t like the mesh enclosure because it wasn’t solid under his feet. He didn’t like being off the ground and said so. Loudly. He was afraid of the slide because it was very tall and slicker than most of the other slides he’d ever been on. The zipline was downright terrifying because he had to hang on to a handle, which he struggles with because of the weakness in his hands. He HATED the whole thing and wanted to go home. RIGHT NOW NOW NOW NOW! But we had been encouraged by his physical therapist (whom we love to pieces) to bring him there to do physical therapy as play. We pushed. We grunted. We groaned. J pushed back. Eventually though, after about a half an hour of wheedling and standing behind him so he couldn’t turn around and go back down the way he’d come, he decided he liked being up high and climbed up to the highest level which was about 20 feet off the ground. He thought that the superslick slides were the BEST MOST WICKED THING EVAR!!! Complete with fist pumping. If we hadn’t pushed and prodded and continued to assure him that everything would be ok, that it wasn’t as scary as it seemed, he wouldn’t have learned that it was perfectly fine and he would have fun climbing in, around, over and through waaaaay up off the ground.

Author: Gail Gerard

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  1. Gail it was a complete privilege and blessing to read that! Your insights are very meaningful and helpful to me as well! I love that your son J also has a friend like S to love and support him. We all need those cheerleaders in our lives. You have my greatest respect for all you do, and I’m proud to be a fellow member with you in the Trek Mate family!

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    • Awww..thank you. 🙂

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  2. Thank you for sharing! My two daughters are 12 and 6 so I love reading and learning from other parents! Your story is very comforting to me because it reminds me WE ARE NOT ALONE! So to speak 🙂

    May the Great Bird of the Galaxy bless your lives,

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    • Thank you. 🙂

      I do try, as best I can. I work with what I’ve got and yeah, every day is a struggle, but that’s what parenting is all about. It’s about the struggle and it’s about the journey, not the destination.

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  3. What a great article Gail, Emma works with kids with Autism and she really loves her job. It is always great to here from parents like you!

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  4. Great article, wonderfully written and while I am not a parent a lot of the article resonates with me. Thank you for sharing.

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  5. I absolutely love your take on parenting an autistic child. My son is social spectrum autistic and I have to take a very similar approach. I’m glad to hear I’m not alone. 🙂 Thank you!

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    • Thanks. We knew that J had issues (mainly ADHD, sensory issues, etc) long before we had him diagnosed with Asperger’s. I have to be able to laugh at stuff like this every day because otherwise, I’d be crying all the time.

      It also helps that J seems to is naturally clownish, so he’s always doing weird things to make me laugh. I think that’s his way of connecting with people–by making them laugh.

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  6. Hi, I really enjoyed reading this. As a blind mum with a partially-sighted nine-year-old daughter, I know all about boldly going where noone has gone before! Sometimes things are a struggle, but mostly they’re a lot of fun! I could relate to a lot of what you wrote here, so thank you for sharing it with us.

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    • You’re welcome. 🙂

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  7. Thank you for posting this. I have two boys with Aspergers. My oldest is 9 and also has ADHD. He has a good teacher this year, but still struggles with daily school work. Not because he doesn’t understand it, but because his focus is everywhere else. It is a constant challenge to find ways to work with him. I see him working so hard just to get through the day and he rarely gets credit at school for “hard work” just the end result. That said he is also the sweetest kid you could ever meet. My middle boy also is in the spectrum, but he copes with it much better (and also is not ADHD).

    Again thanks so much. I am bookmarking this for further review.

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    • I totally understand about the attention span being all over the place (ooh look SHINY! Squirrel!) because we have chosen NOT to go the medication route.We tried it, the side effects were awful and we decided against it because it just wasn’t worth it to us. The good things that came out of him being on meds (being more focused, less melty-downy) were really offset by the side effects (rage spells, less appetite, sleep disturbances). I feel so lucky that we have a school staff willing to work with us on his behavior, etc.

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