Single Moms Raising Autistic Sons

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Monday, January 26, 2015

Guest Post by Dawn Marotte: Stepping Up and Stepping Back

Stepping Up and Stepping Back

My 6 year old daughter huddled in a corner at a local store screaming at the top of her lungs because we didn't get the right cart.

This wasn't the first time she had a meltdown in public. My husband had to physically pick her up and carry her, kicking and screaming the whole way, to his car - where she refused to sit in the seat and sat wailing on the floor in the back of the car for 30 minutes.

All I could think about were the years stretching ahead of me, struggling to just get through each day.

But we stepped up to help her because that is what parents do.

Thus began our journey of therapies, doctors, diets and research.

We tried everything we could to help our daughter. For years it felt like we spent all of our time, money and energy helping her learn the skills she would need to be able to communicate and interact effectively with her peers and the world. We went from one therapy to another, tried diets and chiropractic care, read every book we could and joined online support groups.

Then we blinked and suddenly she wasn't a little girl anymore.

She was a tween and attending middle school. Hormones and attitude arrived with a bang. She didn't need all of the therapies anymore and by 7th grade her autism specialist actually wrote in her annual report, "A. has the social skills she needs, she just chooses not to use them."

This was a turning point for us as parents.

We realized that all of the hard work she had put in to learn about body language, conversational skills and the social rules that guide our world was successful. More importantly she was happy with herself. She has the skills the rest of the world says she needs, but she also has the discretion to choose when she wants to use them. We had spent years stepping up to manage everything in her life for her.

It was time to step back.

She still needs support of course but we needed to change focus and learn to let go a little bit at a time. It's not about talking to peers or handling the environment without melting down. Now it is about learning life skills and advocating for herself.

  • She has to learn how to ask for help when she needs it.
  • She has to learn about personal hygiene
  • She had to learn how to take control of her environment when she can and make adjustments when she can't.
  • She has to learn how to do laundry.

Parenting a teen on the spectrum is different than parenting a young child.

Our kids don't mature on the same schedule as others but they do grow up.

Now we have to teach them how to take care of themselves. They will need to know how wake up on their own, get to work, make dinner, brush their teeth, buy clothes, shower regularly, wash dishes, wear deodorant, schedule doctor's appointments and all of the other chores we adults do on a regular basis.

We have to take the time to teach them the skills that will allow them to live as independent adults. They aren't going to pick up these skills by observation. We need to show them, step by step, how to perform each skill they need to master. Then they need to practice them until they have mastered them.

Our focus has to change from advocating for them to teaching them to advocate for themselves.

We need to help them learn how to ask for help when they need it. And ask again if they still aren't getting what they need. This means practicing how to approach teachers or staff at school to ask a question. This may be something to add to your child's IEP (Individualized Education Program.)

When you take them places, whether it is getting their hair cut, going to a movie or out to eat make them speak with the staff. Have them ask a relevant question. This isn't about social interaction, but about learning to ask for information and processing the response. They may want to prepare a question in advance and practice asking it. This process of thinking ahead will work for the as adults too.

When they leave high school and go to college or into the workforce they will need to be able to ask for help. No one is going to be there to advocate for them and silence will not serve them.

We need to be there to support them when they fail, as everyone does from time to time.

Not every day is going to go well and the teen years can be particularly difficult. Often the level of communication with the school will be less. More teachers per student and more students for each teacher mean they have less time often to share daily events. It is important to set up a communication schedule and method that works for everyone.

Sometimes our kids focus too much on the negative and we may need to help them see the positive. Teens seem too often to generalize, "Everyone thinks, No one does, etc" We need to help them focus more on the specifics. That could mean writing down 1 or 2 positives for each day and then reviewing them regularly. It can also be helpful to review all of the progress they have made so far in their life.

We need to be there to celebrate with them when they triumph, as they will.

There will be many more opportunities for teens to participate in groups with similar interests. They may find their tribe in art, sports, music, anime, fashion, cars or any of the other clubs available to them. Get a list of clubs and activities and try them out. Don't place any limits - if they find something interesting try it. Finding peers with similar interests can help our kids practice their social skills with others who are already excited about the same subject.

Another place that they may excel is in online groups. Forums such as can provide a safe place to interact with others on the spectrum.

We need to step back and let them mature into the adults they want to be. Give them the room to find what they want to do, without preconceived expectations about what they can and can't do. Help them along, but give them the respect they deserve as young adults who are capable.

We need to be parents our kids can be proud of.

How has your parenting changed as your children have gotten older?

Disclaimer: Although I approved this article for submission it does not necessarily reflect my views however if I did not think it appropriate then I would not have published it. This is Dawn's experience and therefore it should be read and understood as such. Lora

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