The Reality of Autism and Independence
As Wee Girl is getting older, she’s starting to get more independent. Which is a good thing. It really, really is, and I’m proud of my daredevil child. But it has some downsides too, which are starting to become clear. Having a pre-verbal child with autism and independence is making my life very interesting indeed.
When I was young and we lived in St Andrews, I wanted to go to the beach. I don’t know exactly how old I was, but this is one of my earliest memories, so I couldn’t have been much older than my daughter is now. My parents weren’t able to take me, so I left the house and tricycled to the beach.
On my own. Without telling anyone.
Yeah, I bet you can tell how well that went down. My mother remembers going to the beach and seeing my tricycle left abandoned on its side, one wheel forlornly spinning… I might have made up the bit about the wheel, but the rest of the story is true. I remember wading into the sea with my dress on because I couldn’t undo the buttons at the back.
So maybe this is karma.
The more Wee Girl understands, the more she wants to try things for herself, which is wonderful, don’t get me wrong, but what if those things are not safe for her to do?
At the park I only have to take my eyes off her for a moment (to get Little Man, for example) and she’s gone, letting herself out of the playground and making for the cafe.
She was sharing a bath with her brother recently, and decided to help wash him. Lovely, right? So she got the soap, and pushed his head forward. She was very gentle, but without meaning to or realising his face went into the water. It was just for a instant and I quickly intervened, but Little Man came up spluttering a little bit, startled but not upset. I would never have left them alone in the bath together, anyway, but moments like that hold a light up to reality and show you how how translucent and fragile the barrier is between everyday life and tragedy.
It’s at times like that when the communication barrier is evident. Telling her ‘no’ seldom works, not in the way it does with Little Man. The sterner the ‘no’ the brighter the giggle, and I can explain the danger, but I have no way of knowing whether she understands. And it’s particularly hard when she’s doing what she’s doing because she wants to help.
She’s going to turn five in a few months, and at a time when most parents are perhaps starting to feel they can relax a bit about certain things, that they can trust their children more as they grow older, I’m finding the exact opposite; the more independent she gets, the more closely I have to watch her. While children her age are finding friends to play with at the playground, I’m there, shepherding her, chasing her, playing with her. Doing something as simple as making sure she doesn’t run in front of the swings, for instance; how many other parents of five year olds are doing that?
Don’t get me wrong, her increased independence is a very good thing. I am happy and proud that she’s getting more engaged, more willing to try things for herself. I’ve spoken before about my doubts at whether her autism really shapes who she is in Would You Choose to Cure Your Child of Autism? but in this case her boldness and gutsiness absolutely are part of what makes her who she is, and I’m growing prouder of her every single day. I would not change that for a millisecond, not even for my own peace of mind.
But this is one of the things they don’t tell you about autism, that sometimes all of the work you put into helping the child to understand the world and get involved makes things harder, not easier, and that while other parents may be starting to relax, my work is just beginning.
And I haven’t even thought about adolescence yet.
Are you finding your work is getting easier as your child gets older? Is your grass really greener than mine?