When I saw that my son received a text message, I didn't react like most parents do. I thought, for a brief moment, that my son might have a friend.
Parenting Special Needs

Autism’s Lost Text Message

When I saw that my son received a text message, I didn't react like most parents do. I thought, for a brief moment, that my son might have a friend.

By Jaycee Kemp of Running Through Water 

One night as I was plugging in my son’s iPad, I noticed he got a text.  Many parents lose sleep over whether or not to invade their preadolescent’s privacy by looking at personal messages, but not me.  My child at 11 years old is completely illiterate and he had never gotten a text before.

I glanced around as if nervously waiting to get busted for reading it, but the truth was my stomach was in butterflies out of joy and excitement.

Hi A2. This is Ryder

Are you in bed?????

If you aren’t what time do you go to bed???

Maybe I have been wrong! Maybe school has been helping him truly cultivate and explore friendships after all! Real ones! A2’s class picture was on the refrigerator and I ran to it to ask him which one was Ryder. I recognized several of the boys in his class but didn’t know anyone named Ryder. Unfortunately, my son has a severe language disorder called Childhood Apraxia of Speech in addition to Autism, so I had no way of knowing for certain which one Ryder was because A2 enthusiastically would answer “yeh!” to every child I pointed to.

Could he be a child from the resource room?  I could not know that either because the school would not tell me the names of any of the children in that room due to “privacy.” The kids with whom he spends the majority of the day. The kids who also probably never get or send texts or receive invites to play. The kids who can’t just ask each other and then come home and tell their moms.

My husband and I were feeling almost hyper-vigilant over where we would know this child from since the area code was from a city we lived in many years ago. A2’s real name is an unusual one, so clearly this is meant for him.

How did he get A2’s number since A2 doesn’t even know it?  Does this child comprehend that A2 can’t read? Could this be an adult? A teacher? A predator?!

My joy was quickly turning to irrationality as my husband texted back to give this Ryder person a piece of our mind.

As it turns out, Ryder was trying to get in touch with A2. Just not MY A2. 

Ryder was in 6th grade and had just moved and had met a new friend at his new school (not ours) that day, exchanged numbers and did what every 12-year-old does when making new friends.

A2 was contacted by a ghost. An illusion of a promise of the world to come.

The coincidence lacked the sparkle of serendipity and sent a gut punch that made the butterflies swirling in my tummy fly out of my mouth and away into the sky, out of reach. One three-lined text of 19 words, 57 characters, 6 question marks and 2 happy face emojis sent me into a 10 minute emotional tailspin ending in disappointment.

While my reaction may seem dramatic and my sweet boy was oblivious, man alive, I know he would have LOVED for that text to be his if he knew. You see, that would mean someone wanted to tell him that they got a new skin in Minecraft, or ask him if he wanted to ride bikes to the park, or see if he’s allowed to see that Jason Bourne movie. It would mean that someone might be sneaking him a YouTube video he isn’t allowed to watch at home or asking him if he thought the new girl was cute.

It would mean that someone was thinking of him right at that very moment. It would mean he had value to people other than me and his dad. It would mean he was growing up.

Before this whole parent thing came along and made me loopy with worry, I used to help families move their loved ones into nursing homes. One particular instance, I helped take inventory of a man’s belongings, and I asked him to give me his wallet so I could start a resident account for him to keep his $10 bill safe. He refused and his wife asked to speak privately with me in the hall.

“I know he has no need for money here, but is there any way you can make an exception to let him keep it with him?”

I’m certain I did not handle the situation with sensitivity or understanding because she replied, ”We were never wealthy people, but he was proud of the fact he always put food on the table or could hand his sons money when they needed something. That money in his pocket makes him feel like a man. And that, child, is all he has left to feel like one.”

I let him keep the money and have contemplated since then what the last material thing I would hold on to would be and why.

I just didn’t realize that it would come earlier in life and be a random text message that was not meant for my child.

These things. These little things that give us a perceived sense of value–that we anchor to other things and make them into something more. Ultimately, the text itself was probably meaningless to A2. He, however, does very much care about all those things that receiving a text implies.

Having a way to communicate with the world makes you a part of it, and a rolling digital scroll of blue and white messages are like the receipt to prove it nowadays. My friend’s daughter left her phone at home while she was at overnight camp and powered up when she returned home to 1022 unread text messages. I never did ask if she read them all.

I do know that A2 will never experience the betrayal that can come with adolescent friendships and are exacerbated by text messages.  No girlfriend break-up text.  No secret texts between friends who are standing right there with him, exploiting his trust. No anxiety over the three dots or “read” receipt.

No. None of that.

While I am disappointed that Ryder misdialed and reached out to the wrong A2, just for a moment I thought about grounding A2 from his device because he knows he shouldn’t be texting so late.

This post was originally published on Running Through Water.


About the Author

Jaycee Kemp is a social worker raising two perfect kids in an imperfect world. When she is not busy being educated about life by them, she likes to take what she has learned and tell folks all about it through time consuming things like TEDx talks, book-writing and blogging. Jaycee been featured on The Mighty, Sammiches and Psych Meds, BLUNTmoms, Break the Parenting Mold and her own corner of the internet at Running Through Water. You can also find her way more than you should on social media on Facebook and on Twitter.