Thursday, February 11, 2010

Fostering (Unwanted?) Independence

As our children reach various ages and stages in their lives, they cross a border to independence that is like a ripple in the water. Each point brings them farther away from their core family. My daughter, nearly 13 years old and in 7th grade, walks alone or with friends to and from school, walks home from nearby friends’ houses by herself after dark, goes out for pizza or a soda with friends. On a sunny weekend, she might leave the house in the morning and not come home until dinner time. She can check in by cell phone, but that does not change the fact that she is considerably less supervised than she was only a year ago.

What we take for granted will be experienced by our neuro-typical children, must be viewed in another light for children with social communications issues. Because my son has always been a self-proclaimed “city kid,” I was not surprised that he took to public transportation so readily. Moreover, his weeks in rehabilitation after his illness when he was in eighth grade prepared him to take those steps outside on his own. But an AS or NLD teenager going “walkabout” on a weekend afternoon is not the same as a young AS or NLD adult preparing to live fully independently. The ripple is much farther away and there is a fear factor that must sometimes be overcome.

For the past few days, I have been on the sidelines of a passionate (electronic) dialog among parents of young adults with autism/Asperger’s Syndrome. Like I do, they encourage their children to step outside the box, sometimes literally, and to nurture their own independence. The issue was raised time and again that, in many cases, the child was not ready to do that. The fear is that the more independence they demonstrate, the more that will be expected of them; and they remain uncertain of their competence to succeed on their own.

So as we foster independence, it must be with the primary goal of fostering self-confidence. At every opportunity, I hope the adults in my son’s life – whether, teachers, other professionals or family – continue to remind him of all he has achieved and all that he still has it within himself to achieve in the future.

No comments: