My son has a few apps on his iPad that he truly loves. Outside of Youtube Kids, he generally rotates through a set series of loud and repetitive games. Elmo’s ABCs is one of his favorites. Me? Not so much.
As a non-verbal seven-year-old, Lucas always has letter recognition placed highly on his list of priorities. So, for years, we have watched as he’s swiped away at this app and grown to truly love it. The way it works is that you trace a letter, both capital and lowercase, with your finger and then they play a letter-specific video. That’s his favorite part. He loves the videos.
The problem is that he doesn’t quite know how to trace the letters with his finger. So, for the last few years, he’ll come ambling over, iPad in hand, and drop it into my lap. I look down, see two versions of the letter R, and take his finger in my hand as I guide it along the lines.
That’s R. See that? Arrrrrrr. You trace it. That’s an R.
The app will “ding”, the video will start, and, with a big smile, I will send him on his way.
There you go, buddy. R.
I pat him on the back and it’s as if I sent him into a revolving door. In less than five seconds, he is in front of me again. The iPad is there waiting.
OK, kiddo. Once more. J. This is J. Jaaaaaaayyyyyy. OK. Good job. There you go.
Lucas. Buddy. You’re killing me. Last time. OK? I’m not doing this anymore. Seriously. We can’t do this all day. Ready? N. Ennnnnnnn. Good job. There you go. OK.
No. I told you already that was the last time. I can’t keeping doing this. You understand, right? I can’t…don’t look at me like that. Fine. S. Esssssss. Here. You do. Look at your finger. No. Look. Look down. Esssss. Good job. OK. I…Oh come on. T. Teeeee…
I kid you not, I have had full afternoons of this. Every time I put my foot down and insist that I’ve helped trace his last letter of the day, he’s back with another. I look at a dotted K and see little green lines around it from where he tried swiping it himself. His face looks up at me with an expression of, “You can do anything, Daddy. Do this.” I melt. I trace.
This app is symbolic of life with both of my children. My goal is to teach them ways to grow and learn on their own. It’s a common ambition for moms and dads. You want your kids to be able to do everything in the world without any help. I know I do. If they do happen to struggle along the way and they need me, though, I’ll always be there. I know that too. That’s what I signed up for.
Having a child like Lucas presents a unique list of responsibilities. While I always try to accentuate that raising a child on the spectrum is similar to raising one who is not, my son definitely has some specifics of his care that other children might grow out of at a much earlier age. That’s just a fact. From getting him dressed to cutting his food into proper pieces, there are a number of tasks that most parents are happy to rid themselves of when their kid reaches a certain age. Like them, I am eager too.
For my boy, though, that certain age might be long down the road. I know and accept that. As a parent, I want him to reach that point as soon as possible – not just for me, but for him. I want Lucas to be proud of everything he has taught himself to do, but if, one day, he can’t do those things himself and needs me to help him out, I will. For how long? Forever. No thought. Not even a question. All real parents would say the same.
Sure, I’d love him to trace the P on his own. I’d also love him to go brush his hair or tie his shoes. Even the tasks that take two minutes each add up and if he suddenly became completely independent tomorrow, it would save time for us to focus on many other things. Becoming self-sufficient will always be a goal for him in the same ways that I make goals for myself in areas that I need to improve. I’m here to help him learn and I will do all I can to help make that happen.
If it doesn’t, though, I’m here for that too. That’s the job of a parent. There’s nothing to ponder. I would do it for him and I would do it for his sister. Autism or not, if they need my help, and they genuinely tried to do it on their own, I will be there to offer it.
One day, I hope that Lucas will be able to call from his house and tell me about all he has been doing with his family. As he grows and matures, I will work as hard as I can to help make his best possible life a reality. I love him and want his adulthood to be better than anything I could ever imagine.
But if, at that same age I’m imagining, he walks up to me with an iPad wanting me to trace the letter M, I will gladly take his finger and guide him along the dots. I’m his Dad and I’m there in any way I can be for as long as I can be. Whether it’s in his apps or in his life, I’ll happily guide him forever, if I have to.