My son the tiger


Raise your expectations to succeed.

“Aim for the moon and, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”  – W. Clement Stone

Or, inversely, lower your expectations to feel like you succeeded.

“The secret of happiness is low expectations.” – Barry Schwartz

Expectations can be healthy or unrealistic.

My son Griffin is in Kindergarten. We didn’t expect autism and had never suspected it until our pediatrician raised the concern when Griff was only 18-months old. Then kindergarten seemed like light years away and an impossibility.

Would he talk? Would he learn? Would he listen?

He exceeded our expectations during kindergarten. Academically he performed on a fourth grade-level; that’s as high as the test would go. If you sing a note, he’ll play that note on the piano. If you tell him your birthday, he could tell you what day of the week your birthday is on this year, last year, ten years from now, and maybe even the actual day of the week you were born. He remembers what he ate on March 26th. He’s amazing and did an amazing job in kindergarten.

But he doesn’t really converse. He’s obsessed with toilets…and fire alarms. What could go wrong? A dozen eggs in the toilet could go wrong. An overflowing toilet that dripped through the ceiling in my basement office could go wrong.

Griffin runs off, slips away, vanishes. The technical term is elope. He made it to the road once and the memory of him sitting in the middle of our thankfully seldom-traveled country road still makes me sick to my stomach.

At the end of the year his elementary school has a field day at the high school track. We try to treat Griffin like the other kids are treated. None of the other parents were standing with their kids in the infield. The parents were in the stands. So I asked a high school kid to look after Griffin.

“Griff is pretty easy,” I told him, “but you have to watch him. Stay close. He’s a runner.”

At one point the high school kid was 25 yards from Griff and had his back to him. I went down to the field. Griffin didn’t care that other parents weren’t with their kids. He was excited to see me and ran to give me a hug.

We were at the starting line with the other kindergartners for the 100m dash. They jumped and played and joked. The stands buzzed with parents and grandparents. It was pretty chaotic and the more chaos, the more Griff slips away into his world of flushing invisible toilets.

I knelt beside him. His eyes and mine didn’t meet, they rarely do. Eye contact with Griff is like trying to press two positive sides of a magnet together. His eyes always slip away.

“Griff,” I said. “When you hear the starting gun I want you to run like a tiger.”

A few years ago, I saw a feature on SportsCenter about an autistic teenager who was an amazing runner. His parents credited running with improved social awareness and communication. Apparently this running autism connection is a real thing confirmed by early studies

What if Griff was one of these kids who took to it? What if the race began and Griff ran faster than any of the other kindergartners, leaving me behind and the other parents wondering why this kid–my kid–was so far ahead of theirs?

When you get to know Griff, which takes time, you experience how amazing he is. He has inside jokes with everyone and he never forgets them. He makes you feel special. Like you are in on a secret? But what if he ran…fast…and all the other parents who normally saw a kid flushing toilets saw a sprinter? What if he could show them how amazing I know he is?

Griff looked at me, our eyes actually meeting for a moment, and said, “El Tigre.”

That’s Spanish for Tiger. I think he’s bored of English, so he dabbles in other languages- Russian, Finnish, and sometimes he makes things up just to mess with us. He has his own language which one of his therapists calls Griffinology, which really doesn’t make sense at all. “Griffinology” would be the study of Griffin. It should be Griffish.

Anyhow. The track coach smacked two blocks together and the kids took off. Every single one of them….except for Griffin.

“El Tigre” he repeated and then skipped down the track like he was tiptoeing through tulips. He picked my wife’s cheers out of the crowd and ran over to say “hi” to her. He was 50 meters behind the other kids on a path that would make a drunk waterbug’s look straight. But he didn’t stop running. He didn’t stop smiling.

From the infield, I kept pace and met him at the finish line.

By the way Finish line in Finnish is maaliviiva.

Teachers passed out ribbons to the winners before they could even catch their breath. For most of the kids it was their first race. No doubt each of them thought themselves fast until faced with the cruel reality.

Griffin didn’t care about ribbons. He didn’t care about meeting or exceeding my expectations or his own. Other parents had cheered on Griffin. Everything about him radiated joy. The finish line meant nothing to him. Expectations meant nothing to him. It was the journey that mattered. It’s always the journey with Griff.

It’s like he doesn’t have that camera that faces us all. The “how do I look to other people” camera. He’s just pure.

Like a tiger.


Griffin, has always sounded like a gift. Enjoy every minute of him. I’d like to meet him someday.

Kelsey says:

We do. He’s quite the character.

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