Since birth, TJ has made steps toward independence — and now he’s starting his own job. (Lauren Swick Jordan)

My son, TJ, is 16 and has autism.

When he was little, my husband and I were in a fog of new terms, new therapies, new people — new everything. And we wanted to try everything to see what worked best for TJ and what would make him the most successful he could be.

Our world became a world of firsts, where the smallest successes were celebrated.

First words! Later than the other kids his age, but who cares? And once the words started coming, they didn’t stop. Huge celebration.

First time pumping his legs on the swing! He could make the swing go all by himself, and he was so proud. We were beaming.

First two-footed jump! A huge accomplishment for our boy with low muscle tone!

Then as time went on, these firsts became more like milestones. These were the game-changers that opened up TJ’s world for him, bit by bit.

First time riding a two-wheeled bicycle! This took a long time, but as his confidence grew, so did his willingness to take risks.

First time sitting through a school assembly! The noise of these used to hurt TJ’s ears, as is common in kids with sensory-processing issues. Crowds were so hard for him, and it took a lot of work by a lot of people, but finally TJ was able to sit through an entire school assembly and, consequently, be okay in a bus station. Or train station. Or airport. Or even a supermarket.

Bit by bit, little successes turned in to big successes. And TJ worked so hard for each one.

TJ taking a walk by himself led to TJ walking the dog by himself, which led to TJ walking home from school by himself. His independence was growing before our happy-tear-filled eyes. (I’m a happy crier.)

With every success, TJ’s world has opened up. Last year we took our first family vacation. Airplanes, restaurants and beaches — all of which used to be really difficult and uncomfortable places for TJ — were not only comfortable for him, but also fun. We all enjoyed every second of our family being together.

Now, where he was previously directed by us or his teachers, TJ is taking the lead on showing us where he can go and what he can do. He is showing us his way.

TJ just got his first job.

We don’t really know what it entails yet — he starts next week.

But as we talk about how it’s okay to be nervous and excited all at once, I can’t help but look backward at where TJ started all those years ago, and how far he has come.

He has worked so hard, every day. I remember thinking how far away TJ was from independence when he was small, and now here we are — at the doorstep of another huge milestone.

I’m so, so proud of our boy — excuse me — of our young man. He has developed an impressive confidence of who he is and what he likes. He works hard to have the most opportunities possible available to him. And he is excited for where he is headed.

We don’t know exactly where that is, yet. But I know that if he follows his heart, it will be somewhere that is not only just right for him, but also somewhere amazing.

And I can’t wait to see where he goes.

Lauren Swick Jordan is a frequent On Parenting writer and blogs at Laughing…like it’s my job.

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