The Path Forward

street-1435744_1920“The path forward begins with a question.”

That’s what the shaman said during her ceremony.

I already knew the answer to her first question, which was “what is your process?” Based on her examples, I knew I tackled issues with a combination of planning and preparation. I also knew I often got stuck by doing too much of both. So I wasn’t expecting to discover much during the meditation.

What popped into my mind was the memory of a map spread out before me on the kitchen table, planning the route for our family camping trip. At twelve, I could do it as well if not better than Mom. I thought of all the trips I’d planned: for my family, for Michael, for my daughter Katie, for friends, for myself, including a three-month solo trip through Europe. I accomplished this through planning and preparation. It was, I realized, a highly honed skill, a talent, that I’d taken for granted for years. Something to be proud of. Something I’d developed through years of practice that began when I was a child.

I studied the map, the calculator, the dog-eared guidebook and realized that Mom valued safety and therefore remained stuck. I had learned to move beyond fear with planning and preparation. That’s how I kept myself “safe” but still able to adventure far beyond my comfort zone.

But what about the times I did too much planning and research, the times I also got stuck? I thought through all those trips, all those plans, and realized when I had a destination, a vision of where I wanted to go, the planning and research stayed in check. It was, in a word, focused. It was only once I began my unplanned life, when all milestones and destinations were obscured, when all dreams had vanished, that I lost focus and got stuck.

BalanceNo amount of planning, I realized, can prepare you for the unknown. No wonder I had wandered for so long.

I needed a vision for the path forward. A vision to guide the planning. I needed balance.

There was a ying and yang to moving forward.

The shaman asked how our process had served us on our journey. Hmmm. It had served me well for years. I had my life well-planned until suddenly I found myself in uncharted territory, spinning my wheels. Overwhelmed, I thought. I felt compassion for my younger self. Alone and terrified, with an autistic toddler in tow. No map, no guidebook, no resources. Just a leaking roof over our heads and a dog dying of bone cancer.

I hadn’t done that badly, all things considered.

I knew I’d been moving forward in some areas, but hopelessly stuck in others. I knew I’d been reacting to Katie’s constant issues rather than being proactive and relying on a plan (or goals). Was it possible the vision was too far off, too remote?

Then again, hadn’t something led me to the Rapid Prompting Method (RPM)? Hadn’t something been leading me all along?

I had no answer to those questions, but it was clear to me that I needed more short-term goals, that preparing for a well-planned adventure felt better than wandering lost in one.

The shaman asked what we needed on the path forward. I was immediately struck with the vision of Katie striding across a college campus, her fiery curls wind-blown, laughing with friends. For years I’d been telling myself this dream was too far out of reach, but suddenly I could see how it had been guiding me, even when I had no idea it was influencing my choices and actions. Hadn’t I read a story of a fourteen-year-old nonverbal teen diagnosed with severe cognitive delays who learned RPM and by 22 was graduating from high school and heading to college? If it was possible for him, it was possible for Katie.


Perhaps more important than a map or guidebook was the vision or the goal. Perhaps with a vision, you could find your way without a map.

I had my vision for Katie, but what about me? What was the big vision for my life?

I wasn’t sure, but I knew it was time to find it.

Until next time,

About Cynthia J. Patton

Writer, Editor, Advocate, Speaker, Special Needs Attorney, and Autism Mom. Also the Founder and Chairperson of Autism A to Z, a nonprofit providing resources and solutions for life on the spectrum.
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