Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Fly like a bird

A while back, a friend told me about her theory on co-parenting roles. Children are like fledgling birds, she thought. It’s the dad’s role to make sure that they become independent, so they begin to push and push and push the fledglings out. 

It’s the mom’s job to nurture the fledglings, always checking to make sure they are ready and able. 

After all, she told me, just because you push them out of the nest doesn’t mean they are ready to fly.

For parents of children with autism, like me and my friend, giving our kids the skills they need to make their way in the world, and then the inevitable pushing them out of the proverbial nest, can be rather daunting.  It can take hours and hours (years and years) of intensive teaching to give them the smallest of skills.

It’s quite remarkable, really, how much our typical kids can absorb, like water soaking into a sponge.  Effortless. At the same time, some concepts are just so abstract and difficult, it’s a wonder kids with autism get them at all.

I discovered this when I tried to teach Aidan (my typical kid) the concept of yesterday, today, and tomorrow when he was young.

Think about it.  It’s actually quite difficult.  Aidan, who learns everything lickity split (it’s shocking, really, how quickly), took forever to figure this one out. 

“Is it tomorrow Mommy?” Aidan would ask.  No, sweetie, it’s still today.  “Is it yesterday yet?” he’d ask in the morning.

(Of course, he’s nine years old now, so I’m waiting for the questions about sex, which will be even harder to answer I’m sure.)

For typical kids, it’s almost as if just breathing and being is enough for them to learn and develop.  For those with autism, many, many things have to be painstakingly taught, step by step. If the concept of yesterday, today and tomorrow is hard for typical kids, imagine how hard it must be for kids like Conor.

(Except for the computer.  Conor picks that up so quickly.  It’s such a cliché, but it’s true.)

It’s amazing how many steps are involved in brushing your teeth.  Think about it. Getting the toothpaste, opening the top, getting the right (I stress, the correct!) brush, turning on the water, putting the stuff on the brush, putting water on the brush, which teeth to brush, how long to brush, what to do with your tongue, spitting it out… not to mention the sensory issues that can create obstacles.

So when do I know my fledgling with autism is ready to leave the nest?  Will Conor ever be ready to leave?  Sure, one day, I assure myself, he’ll be ready.  Only to join someone else’s nest. 

Because as hard as we try for the next ten years, my son will not be able to live independently.  Not with his place on the autism spectrum. I just hope he’ll live independently of us.

I’m sure by the time he’s 21, Conor will be more than ready to live independently of me.  Half the time he already looks at me like I annoy the hell out of him. (Yeah, right back at ya, buddy.)

It’s more than a little scary, you know, sending my disabled child out of the nest.  Who else will know all the little signs and meanings and interpretations and idiosyncrasies that my child has?

I guess I’d better start writing it all down now.

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