It had been about two months since I found out that my son was autistic. I was working as a catering manager at a large charity event. The event was to raise money for autism research. I only found that out once I arrived. In between clearing tables and directing staff, I noticed the presentation began.

At this point in my son’s diagnosis, I was still a total mess. I could barely hear the word autism without breaking down, let alone watch a presentation on it in the middle of working. Despite that, I felt almost stuck in place. I knew I shouldn’t watch it but couldn’t move my feet to walk back into the kitchen.

The presentation started off dark.

The life of an autistic adult…

It was scary.

It was heartbreaking.

After a few moments of the scary, it turned light and cheerful. I think it was meant to show how important autism research was. I think they wanted the scary to provoke donations. I am not really sure though, because, by that time, I was already shattered.

I hid behind one of our catering trucks and, as tears began to stream down my face, I prayed that no one would see me falling apart.

That was the day that I stopped imagining my son’s future.

I buried those scary, dark images as far down as I could. Along with those, I buried all the dreams that I had too.

I decided right then that I needed to take things one day at a time, otherwise I would break.

I couldn’t bear to imagine these scary, sad stories of what autism as an adult would look like.

I couldn’t bear to imagine that for my baby and so I just didn’t imagine anything at all.

Fast forward a few years and I was moving into a new home.

That is when I met you—the best neighbor that I have ever had.

You look to be in your 20s, like me, although I am not sure exactly how old you are.

I have never asked, but my mom heart knows that you are like my baby.

We don’t know each other very well, but you have changed my life from across the fence. 

You are the friendliest soul that I have ever met.

You live with your sweet mom and you are very helpful.

You take out the trash and hang Christmas lights.

You do all the yard work, while you sing loudly to your favorite tunes.

Sometimes we sing along with you, while we play in our yard, and that makes you giggle every time.

You greet me with a smile and a wave every day when I come home.

You make silly faces at my son to see him smile.

You bark and play with our puppy.

Your life is not dark.

Your life is happy and bright.

Your smile is contagious.

You are kind.

You care about everyone around you.

Today I was working from home when I noticed you outside shoveling our driveway.

We have never asked you to this, but you always have.

When you are finished shoveling, you come back to put salt down for us.

You don’t ask for anything in return.

As I watched you shoveling, suddenly my mind was somewhere else.

For the first time in years, I was imagining my baby all grown up.

I imagined him mowing the lawn while singing his favorite song.

I imagined him helping his neighbors.

I imagined him happy.

And just like that, everything changed.

From now on when I think of the future, I won’t think of the dark.

I won’t think of the scary.

I will think of the beauty.

I will think of the smiles.

We will still have a hard road.

There will still be bad days.

I still won’t know what the future holds but, because of you, I will have hope.

From now on when I think of the future, I will think of you.

The greatest neighbor in the world.

The one who gave me hope.

The one who gave this mama back her dreams, all from across the fence.

Thank you.