TJ has autism. He is 15. A teenager.
Sometimes those teenager traits override those autism traits.
Lately TJ has been trying more than ever to assert his independence. When he was little and so incredibly dependent on my husband and I for absolutely everything, this was a very far away dream and a wish we hoped would come true.
Well, be careful what you wish for.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m thrilled. I’m overjoyed at his drive.
I’m also terrified.
TJ came home from school a couple of weeks ago saying “Mom, on the last day of school I want to walk home by myself.”
The world stopped spinning for a second, I swear.
On the outside I smiled a huge smile, as I said “Wow TJ! That’s wonderful!” On the inside my mind started running. “OK…we have to do this gradually but with safety in mind. And without him feeling my nervousness for him. And there is construction going on – how does that factor into it? And will he get tired? Will he get distracted and get lost?…” and on and on.
I’m telling you, it’s a good thing I was a theater major, because as all this was going on inside my head I was smiling and showing him how cool I was with the idea.
So TJ and I started to plan this together. He said he would not walk with a friend, because that’s not walking home all by himself. True. So I presented a step-by-step approach to him that he agreed with, with some accommodations on my part so I wouldn’t cramp his style.
Steps 1 and 2 were seamless – practice walks with me walking a few steps behind him.
Step 3 was a big one though – crossing a busy intersection. By himself.
On the outside, I showed him that this was a piece of cake – it was just another step. He is 15, right? No problem. He’s totally got this.
On the inside, not so much. But again, it’s my job to help him grow into an independent man. It’s our dream for him – total independence. This is a step towards that.
So on the morning of step 3, I dropped TJ off at school fully prepared for his walk across the busy street. And I said “Have fun with it buddy – I am so proud of you. You’ve got this. I’ll meet you on the other side of the street.” And he left my car with a huge smile.
I went home and posted about my nerves on Facebook. I’d rather vent to my friends than let TJ know that I’m just plain scared. And I’m so glad I did – what a huge outpouring of support I got! It made me feel so much better. I have such wonderful friends.
Later, as I was walking to meet TJ at the busy intersection a mile away from my house, I remembered one post in particular. It was from TJ’s Physical Therapist from his elementary school days. She said, “Lauren, remember the first time you let TJ walk down the hall of the school by himself to me? You were so nervous, but it was so important for him to do by himself. He has come such a long way since then.”
She is right – he has come such a long way. And so have I. I am such a Mama Bear protector of him and his brother. But I realize that it is so important for both of them that I let go, slowly, as their wings grow stronger and stronger and they want to fly away.
Isn’t that our job as parents, autism or not, to create independent beings? Yes, they will fall, but they have to learn how to pick themselves back up and trust that they can do so. This looks very different for both my boys, as autism throws a wrench into the works. But even though it looks different, the goal is the same: independence.
So with tears in my eyes, and my heart soaring, I watched my TJ cross this busy intersection all by himself. He was smiling. He was proud.
He is independent.
And my god, I couldn’t be happier.
Lauren Swick Jordan blogs at I Don’t Have a Job.
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