It’s prom season, and today I want to send my best wishes to the thousands of teens across the country who are going to their prom.

This great American tradition is one of the most memorable moments in a teen’s life. I certainly remember mine.

Prom is one of those events – for those who are lucky enough to experience it – that creates a memory which stays with you forever. Even though many students don’t realize it at the time, prom also signals a time in a teen’s life when things are about to change – especially when it precedes graduation.

For some students, that change might be college. For some, it might be work. And for others, maybe some time off to figure out where they are headed.

Many of you know I have a son, Ryan, who is on the autism spectrum. Well today, I am proud to say that Ryan is heading to his first prom.

As a parent, watching your child go off to the prom reminds you of that life shift that your child is about to experience, so I decided to write an open letter to my Ryan to tell him just how proud I am today.

My dear Ryan,

Tears of joy are falling on my keyboard as I write these words to you.

I remember the day you were born. You were a big boy with a big head – which made for a difficult delivery for your mother! (Thank God for that epidural.) But when you finally arrived, you were just perfect; blond, pink and adorably chubby. I guess that’s why I gave you a good Irish name.

You were a good baby. You did everything right. But at the age of 2, your mother and I realized that you would have some challenges ahead.

I’m sure that now, as a teenager, you must have had thoughts like, “Why did I have all those teachers at home?” or, “Why did I have to go for physical therapy?” or, “Why are people constantly telling me not to do this or that?” I’m sure you’ve realized that your days have differed from those of your brother and sister. But you’ve taken it all in stride.

For years I would come home late at night and sit down to read all the progress reports that all your therapists wrote up. Some days were full of good news, others full of frustration at the lack of progress. Many nights I would just sit up thinking about your future. I wanted you to have the best that life has to offer.

Through all those years, and all the uncertainty, I did the only thing I knew how to do: I prayed to God. I asked God for you to be able to feel love, to experience love and to be able to show love. And boy, were my prayers answered.

You may have had your share of challenges growing up, and you may continue to face them as you head into young adulthood. But one thing that will always carry you through is your ability to love.  You love life, you love your friends and family, and you express your feelings quite elegantly. The purity and innocence with which you view the world is enviable. You have a heart of gold, and I don’t ever want you to forget it.

I remember writing a story about you years ago entitled: “Looking at the World Through My Son’s Eyes.” I was perplexed by your interpretation of your surroundings. But as I watch you grow and experience life, I’m learning that you see the world as a happy and wonderful place. At the same time, I’m learning that you understand the kinds of feelings that can threaten that happiness, such as sadness, envy and jealousy.  Yet somehow, you have a way of convincing others to look at the world in a more positive light.

So when three weeks ago, you came home from school and told your mother and me that one of your best friends had asked you to go to the prom with her, I was delighted. But at the same time, I was scared – for my sweet little boy is growing up. I began to reflect, and I realized that the miracle I asked God for all those years ago had become a reality.

I hope you understand how important you are to me, and how important it is for you to never change. Stay golden, Ryan.

Your loving father,
Dr. Manny