Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Walter's Journey: Life on the Autism Spectrum This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Custom User Avatar
More by this author

“Walter, pass me the pink sugar pouch, please,” Mrs. Boyles asks her son on a Sunday morning at Perkins Diner.

A 23-year-old rummages through an assortment of colored packets and picks up a white pouch. Before turning to his mom, he hesitates. Then, flipping to the bottom of the pile he hands his mom a pink packet.

Meet Walter, an adult with severe autism.

“Walter wasn’t always like this- this well behaved, I mean,” Mrs. Boyles explains as she sprinkles the sweetener in her iced tea. “When he was a little guy, he was so horrible and out of control. He dragged his feet and banged his knees until they bled. Walter also used to bite me about 100 times a day. He didn’t understand the damage he was causing.”

Mrs. Boyles glances at Walter, who sits next to her patiently with a plastic straw dangling from his mouth.

“And I remember when he was 18 months old and in a play group. A lot of the mothers suspected Walter had autism and I began to have suspicions as well. When I took him to a doctor, the professionals thought he was hearing impaired. But six months later, he was diagnosed with autism. The teachers at the play group, who had never dealt with anyone with autism, were really stressed and didn’t know how to deal with Walter. He would hit them and run around in circles. He didn’t talk. Just run. So after having the NJ CAT to evaluate the degree of his autism and determine the extent of his services, Walter was categorized as ‘Most Impaired.’”

Mrs. Boyles looks back at her frustration.

“As a parent, I was distraught and frustrated. Imagine learning your child fell on the lowest end of the spectrum.”

“Before I didn’t know how to deal with Walter- he wasn’t a regular kid. When we took him to a special needs school, Eden, it was much better. Walter would sometimes bite the teachers and leave scars in their skin- he was very uncooperative at first- but the specialists never complained. He always wanted to do his own thing, but he learned to behave. Going to the school changed our lives.”

Walter stays calm beside his mother in the diner’s booth, looking out the window. Despite attending a special needs school in the morning, he spends most of the time with his mother at home. And as Walter dips a crispy french fry into some ranch, it's hard to imagine the “horrible and out-of-control” child he was before.

2000
Walter was seven when he escaped from home for the first time. At the time, Walter was left alone in his house, though his father was in their backyard weeding the garden. The gate was unlocked and Walter, unaware of the danger, sauntered past the driveway. He crossed a congested road before settling down at a nearby jungle gym.

When Mr. Boyles went inside to find Walter, no one was home. Moments later, his wife “nearly collapsed,” hearing the alarming news from her husband.

“We ran all over the neighborhood,” Mrs. Boyles recalls, “I was panicking, and my heart was racing. It was the scariest moment of my life.” Half an hour later, unnerved and terrified, she found Walter at the playground.

“I remember just collapsing on my neighbor’s lawn. I was nearly going to have a heart attack,” Mrs. Boyles says, “Both Walter and I have been through a lot.”

Throughout that year, Walter would continue wandering around the neighborhood, escalating Mrs. Boyles’ anxiety.

2002
On a Tuesday afternoon, Walter had downed so many cans of Snapple that he had a seizure. At the tender age of nine, Walter had a drinking problem. But not the type most people would expect.

“My son had a habit of drinking whatever is in front of him, soda, water, bleach, even T-shirt dye. That day, we had left some cases of Snapple in the garage, and Walter snuck a bunch of them into his room. The fluids messed up his electrolytes, and he started to shake uncontrollably.”

Another time, Walter found t-shirt dye during class. Without thought, he snatched the bottle and took a gulp. His frantic teacher alerted poison control immediately. Fortunately, Walter was safe, and his mother was assured that the dye had not damaged his health.

2005
At age 12, Walter tended to be apathetic about most activities and didn’t pursue any hobbies. On an impromptu trip to Six Flags, however, he fell in love with the park’s rickety train ride and a vibrant carousel. He ruminated about the hectic day, unable to fall asleep. Until 3 AM, he chanted, “Six Flags! Six Flags!”

“It was quirky. I had to stay up the whole night watching Walter, but I just found it really funny. And inside, I felt happy.” Mrs. Boyles chuckles.

2006
This was the year when Walter’s church underwent construction. A new section, where the Boyles Sunday service would be held, was annexed to the main building. As the family scrambled to attend mass, Walter lingered at the stone doors of the main building.

Mrs. Boyles called out, “Walter! Come here! Come here!” as she motioned with her hands, “The service is now in this building. We won’t be going to that building anymore.” But Walter refused to move. He stayed facing the door, with a stone expression.

“He didn’t talk, but it was clear that he was confused and wanted to enter the old part of the church. It’s tough to for people like Walter to adapt to new environments,” Mrs. Boyles took a sip of her tea and looked over at Walter, “Sometimes, they just need a little time.”

Mrs. Boyles continues to explain how Walter has no desire to have friends, and always misses his sister, who is now in university. She asks her son, “Do you miss Charlotte?” and he nods.

2007
As Mrs. Boyles describes her son’s journey with autism, Walter looks down at his fries, nudging her. He is limited in his speech and indulges in the music playing through the diner’s speakers instead.

“The first time I took Walter to New York was when he just turned 13. That day, no one could babysit him, so I took him out with his sister and his friends,” Mrs. Boyles reminiscences.

“My daughter’s really into musical theater, so we went to a couple of Broadway musicals. West Side Story, Lion King, Trip of Love, and oh yeah- Mama Mia. Walter really enjoyed Mama Mia.”

Walter scratches his head as if contemplating his favorite show.

Mrs. Boyle explains that Walter was different than other individuals with autism since he can tolerate loud noises. And he is allowed to sit with the general audience during Broadway shows and treated just like everyone else. The staff at the door greet him, hand him a program, and usher him to his seat.

For Walter, the performances are not the highlight of a visit to the city. Rather, it is riding public transportation. On the bus, Walter spectacles at the towering skyscrapers and the bustling streets. At the subway station, he swipes his metro card and bounds through the turnstile. He has ridden the train for an hour, from midtown to Chinatown, watching the world pass.

“He likes the subway because he thinks it's a ride, like one of those at Six Flags,” Mrs. Boyles looks over at Walter and grins.

“It’s surprising actually. You would expect New Yorkers to be very aggressive and stingy, but when Walter and I went to New York, everyone would lend their seats to Walter. Even the people buried underneath their sweatshirts with their earbuds plugged in.

The New Yorkers were so generous, especially the people in Times Square. We were waiting for our tickets, and the guy who worked there saw Walter, who was really uncomfortable being squished in the middle of the horde. He called us over and pulled us out of line. Then, he brought us to the front, and we were the first ones to get our tickets!”

“And during the show, a chauffeur offered us disability seats, even though Walter can walk and function. It really goes to show how kind people can be, which is always appreciated.”

2008-2014: “People with autism also have impaired imitation skills- one thing they tried to teach him at Eden was to imitate motions like hand clapping. But grasping such physical skills was difficult. That’s when we introduced Applied Behavior Analysis teaching methods, which focuses on learning through positive reinforcement. So whenever he successfully imitated his teachers at Eden or even did something right at home, we would reward him. The shift from traditional teaching methods to ABA methods not only helped Walter learn more efficiently but also helped Walter improve his behavior and mentality. Something I think all autistic parents should really consider implementing…”

During this time, Mrs. Boyles also realized Walter didn’t care what others thought about him. When others would stare at him or comment on his appearance, he didn’t mind.

“I think the important thing is that there's a point when you don't care what people think. It’s their problem.”

2015: Last year, Walter graduated from extended care at Eden Autism Services. At twenty-two years of age, he had no formal academic education but has maintained a few minor jobs: Packaging dog treats, filling mail, and cleaning group homes. And although he struggled academically, Walter was able to acquire simple mechanical skills, such as vacuuming and cooking, by being employed. For a while, he even folded the programs at the Metropolitan Opera.

Despite his basic proficiency, Walter still had a severe case of autism and needed guidance from teachers and therapists. So Mrs. Boyles decided she should fill out an application for Walter to live in a residential home, while receiving all the care he needs, throughout his adulthood.

“The application process to get Walter in a residential home was very drawn out. I was told that because of the limited spots and the long list of applicants; he wouldn’t receive a spot in the home until he was 30. Of course, I wanted him to be in the home immediately, but the residential system revolves around need-based priorities and the individual’s degree of impairment. My son is very helpful and obedient, so it really isn’t too difficult to take care of him at home.” Mrs. Boyles says. “But for other parents, it might be tough to tend to their children.”

Mrs. Boyle sighs and starts to rant in frustration, “We really want Walter to reside in a permanent home, though. Also, I know it sounds morbid when I put it like this, but if my husband or I were to die in a car crash tomorrow, we want to make sure that Walter is cared for. We wouldn’t want our 18-year-old daughter caring for Walter because she has her whole life to plan out! Anyway, NJ is a very progressive state, but I kind of wish that everything wasn’t a giant bureaucracy. Like if I had a problem, I would want the government to be more streamlined if anything else.”

Walter nods his head suddenly as if sympathizing with his mother.

As she watches Walter affectionately, Mrs. Boyles says, “Sometimes I don’t think Walter cares about me. I feel like he doesn’t really reciprocate my love, but maybe it’s just because he doesn’t understand. You know, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’m getting a little tired… like just the other day I was drinking a cup of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, and he wanted me to pour out my drink just to play with the cup. At times, he’ll do something imprudent, and it's as if he doesn’t even consider my feelings.” She tucks a lace napkin into the collar of his shirt to keep the ranch from staining its navy print.

She concludes, “But at the end of the day, Walter and I, well, we wouldn’t want to be anyone else. You know, the other day I asked Walter if he wanted to go to college, like his sister, and he responded, ‘No, I want to stay with you.’” 

“Even if he knows he's different, he doesn’t care. He likes the way he is. He doesn’t want to be like his sister, hang out with friends, or go to college and not live with us. People will judge us; they always do. Honestly, though, who cares? Again, it's their problem, not ours. I think we’re both happy with the way things are.”


Mrs. Boyles looks back at her frustration.

“As a parent, I was distraught and frustrated. Imagine learning your child feel on the lowest end of the spectrum.”

“Before I didn’t know how to deal with Walter- he wasn’t a regular kid. When we took him to a special needs school, Eden, it was much better. Walter would sometimes bite the teachers and leave scars in their skin- he was very uncooperative at first- but the specialists never complained. He always wanted to do his own thing, but he learned to behave. Going to the school really changed our lives.”

Walter stays calm beside his mother in the diner’s booth, looking out the window. Despite attending a special needs school in the morning, he spends most of the time with his mother at home. And as Walter dips a crispy french fry into some ranch, it 's hard to imagine the “horrible and out-of-control” child he was before.

2000
Walter was seven when he escaped from home for the first time. At the time, Walter was left alone in his house, though his father was in their backyard weeding the garden. The gate was unlocked and Walter, unaware of the danger, sauntered past the driveway. He crossed a congested road before settling down at a nearby jungle gym.

When Mr. Boyles went inside to find Walter, no one was home. Moments later, his wife “nearly collapsed,” hearing the alarming news from her husband.

“We ran all over the neighborhood,” Mrs. Boyles recalls, “I was panicking, and my heart was racing. It was the scariest moment of my life.” Half an hour later, unnerved and terrified, she found Walter at the playground.

“I remember just collapsing on my neighbor’s lawn. I was nearly going to have a heart attack,” Mrs. Boyles says. “Both Walter and I have been through a lot.”

Throughout that year, Walter would continue wandering around the neighborhood, escalating Mrs. Boyles’ anxiety.

2002
On a Tuesday afternoon, Walter had downed so many cans of Snapple that he had a seizure. At the tender age of nine, Walter had a drinking problem. But not the type most people would expect.

“My son had a habit of drinking whatever is in front of him, soda, water, bleach, even T-shirt dye. That day, we had left some cases of Snapple in the garage, and Walter snuck a bunch of them into his room. The fluids messed up his electrolytes, and he started to shake uncontrollably.”

Another time, Walter found t-shirt dye during class. Without thought, he snatched the bottle and took a gulp. His frantic teacher alerted poison control immediately. Fortunately, Walter was safe, and his mother was assured that the dye had not damaged his health.

2005
At age 12, Walter tended to be apathetic about most activities and didn’t pursue any hobbies. On an impromptu trip to Six Flags, however, he fell in love with the park’s rickety train ride and a vibrant carousel. He ruminated about the hectic day, unable to fall asleep. Until 3 AM, he chanted, “Six Flags! Six Flags!”

“It was really quirky. I had to stay up the whole night watching Walter, but I just found it really funny. And inside, I felt happy.” Mrs. Boyles chuckles.

2006
This was the year when Walter’s church underwent construction. A new section, where the Boyles Sunday service would be held, was annexed to the main building. As the family scrambled to attend mass, Walter lingered at the stone doors of the main building.

Mrs. Boyles called out, “Walter! Come here! Come here!” as she motioned with her hands, “The service is now in this building. We won’t be going to that building anymore.” But Walter refused to move. He stayed facing the door, with a stone expression.

“He didn’t talk, but it was clear that he was confused and wanted to enter the old part of the church. It’s tough to for people like Walter to adapt to new environments,” Mrs. Boyles took a sip of her tea and looked over at Walter, “Sometimes, they just need a little time.”

Mrs. Boyles continues to explain how Walter has no desire to have friends, and always misses his sister, who is now in university. She asks her son, “Do you miss Charlotte?” and he nods.

2007
As Mrs. Boyles describes her son’s journey with autism, Walter looks down at his fries, nudging her. He is limited in his speech and indulges in the music playing through the diner’s speakers instead.

“The first time I took Walter to New York was when he just turned 13. That day, no one could babysit him, so I took him out with his sister and his friends,” Mrs. Boyles reminiscences.

“My daughter’s really into musical theater, so we went to a couple of Broadway musicals. West Side Story, Lion King, Trip of Love, and oh yeah- Mama Mia. Walter really enjoyed Mama Mia.”

Walter scratches his head as if contemplating his favorite show.

Mrs. Boyles explains that Walter was different than other individuals with autism since he can tolerate loud noises. And he is allowed to sit with the general audience during Broadway shows and treated just like everyone else. The staff at the door greet him, hand him a program, and usher him to his seat.

For Walter, the performances are not the highlight of a visit to the city. Rather, it is riding public transportation. On the bus, Walter spectacles at the towering skyscrapers and the bustling streets. At the subway station, he swipes his metro card and bounds through the turnstile. He has ridden the train for an hour, from midtown to Chinatown, watching the world pass.

“He likes the subway because he thinks it's a ride, like one of those at Six Flags,” Mrs. Boyles looks over at Walter and grins.

“It’s surprising actually. You would expect New Yorkers to be very aggressive and stingy, but when Walter and I went to New York, everyone would lend their seats to Walter. Even the people buried underneath their sweatshirts with their earbuds plugged in.

The New Yorkers were so generous, especially the people in Times Square. We were waiting for our tickets, and the guy who worked there saw Walter, who was really uncomfortable being squished in the middle of the horde. He called us over and pulled us out of line. Then, he brought us to the front, and we were the first ones to get our tickets!”

“And during the show, a chauffeur offered us disability seats, even though Walter can walk and function. It really goes to show how kind people can be, which is always appreciated.”

2008-2014: “People with autism also have impaired imitation skills- one thing they tried to teach him at Eden was to imitate motions like hand clapping. But grasping such physical skills was difficult. That’s when we introduced Applied Behavior Analysis teaching methods, which focuses on learning through positive reinforcement. So whenever he successfully imitated his teachers at Eden or even did something right at home, we would reward him. The shift from traditional teaching methods to ABA methods not only helped Walter learn more efficiently but also helped Walter improve his behavior and mentality. Something I think all autistic parents should really consider implementing…”

During this time, Mrs. Boyles also realized Walter didn’t care what others thought about him. When others would stare at him or comment on his appearance, he didn’t mind.

“I think the important thing is that there's a point when you don't care what people think. It’s their problem.”

2015: Last year, Walter graduated from extended care at Eden Autism Services. At twenty-two years of age, he had no formal academic education but has maintained a few minor jobs: Packaging dog treats, filling mail, and cleaning group homes. And although he struggled academically, Walter was able to acquire simple mechanical skills, such as vacuuming and cooking, by being employed. For a while, he even folded the programs at the Metropolitan Opera.

Despite his basic proficiency, Walter still had a severe case of autism and needed guidance from teachers and therapists. So Mrs. Boyles decided she should fill out an application for Walter to live in a residential home, while receiving all the care he needs, throughout his adulthood.

“The application process to get Walter in a residential home was very drawn out. I was told that because of the limited spots and the long list of applicants; he wouldn’t receive a spot in the home until he was 30. Of course, I wanted him to be in the home immediately, but the residential system revolves around need-based priorities and the individual’s degree of impairment. My son is very helpful and obedient, so it really isn’t too difficult to take care of him at home.” Mrs. Boyles says. “But for other parents, it might be extremely hard to tend to their children.”

Mrs. Boyle sighs and rants, “We really want Walter to reside in a permanent home, though. Also, I know it sounds morbid when I put it like this, but if my husband or I were to die in a car crash tomorrow, we want to make sure that Walter is cared for. We wouldn’t want our 18-year-old daughter caring for Walter because she has her whole life to plan out! Anyway, New Jersey is a very progressive state, but I kind of wish that everything wasn’t a giant bureaucracy. Like if I had a problem, I would want the government to be more streamlined if anything else.”

Walter nods his head suddenly as if sympathizing with his mother.

As she watches Walter affectionately, Mrs. Boyles says, “Sometimes I don’t think Walter cares about me. I feel like he doesn’t really reciprocate my love, but maybe it’s just because he doesn’t understand. You know, I’ve been doing this for 25 years, and I’m getting a little tired… like just the other day I was drinking a cup of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, and he wanted me to pour out my drink just to play with the cup. At times, he’ll do something imprudent, and it's as if he doesn’t even consider my feelings.” She tucks a lace napkin into the collar of his shirt to keep the ranch from staining its navy print.
She concludes, “But at the end of the day, Walter and I, well, we wouldn’t want to be anyone else. You know, the other day I asked Walter if he wanted to go to college, like his sister, and he responded, ‘No, I want to stay with you.’” 

“Even if he knows he's different, he doesn’t care. He likes the way he is. He doesn’t want to be like his sister, hang out with friends, or go to college and not live with us. People will judge us; they always do. Honestly, though, who cares? Again, it's their problem, not ours. I think we’re both happy with the way things are.”






Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

bRealTime banner ad on the left side
Site Feedback