“I always wanted to learn to do things for myself. Without that, I how would I ever have freedom?”

What does it mean for a child with autism to become an independent adult, and what does it take to achieve that? Bryce and I have talked long and often about it. Though he credits a long line of great teachers he had, he also remembers feeling from earliest childhood that he wanted to learn to do things for himself. He never lost that, despite the struggles of his autism that won’t ever end. I know he had these feelings because one of his earliest preschool evaluations contained the words “potentially independent adult,” and his kindergarten teacher told me he had a keen sense of self-regulation and self-problem-solving.

Today I am asking you to consider, carefully and always, what you are modeling for your child in terms of independence, problem-solving, advocacy. Not a week that goes by wherein I don’t receive an email or message that goes something like this: “My child was just diagnosed as autistic. What should I do? Don’t tell me to read your book; I don’t read books. I just want you to tell me what to do.” When I point out the vast generality of the question and the hours it would take to dialogue and gather the info on this specific child needed to construct meaningful, actionable answers, then offer my consulting fee, the response is “Oh, no, I don’t want to pay anything! Just give me a few pointers.”

Independence isn’t achieved by trying to get others to do our thinking and legwork (for free), spoon feed us answers without context, framing life in the most sweeping generalities. When I asked Bryce if he could recall those childhood feelings of wanting independence, he said, “Even though my so-called special needs made my childhood difficult, and even though I had terrific help from teachers, I never wanted to be pampered and I always wanted to learn to do things for myself. Without that, I how would I ever have freedom? I knew early on that I wanted that freedom.”

In Temple Grandin’s book The Loving Push, she discusses the difficulty of motivating spectrum teens who simply don’t want to do things for themselves. I see the antidote as never letting it get to that point by never letting yourself get to that point.

Let your kids see you grapple with “This is hard, even overwhelming. I’m going to have to frame things differently and do things that don’t come easily to me. I may slip a step back at times. But I’m going to break the issue or task into bite-size pieces and build it one increment at a time. Increments, not earthquakes. I can do this. I can do this. I can DO this. I CAN do this.”

© 2016 Ellen Notbohm
Originally published on Facebook, 11/11/2016

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