At some point, it switches. Suddenly, your children are “too old” in the eyes of many for the things you are doing for them, rather than teaching them to do for themselves.
To me, my son is never too old, though. He’s still my baby. Lucas might be ten on the outside, but his abilities and skills in some areas fall below where many of those thick used paperback baby books say he should be by now. He’s non-verbal and has autism. With that come struggles in some areas. That’s a given.
That’s not to say that he doesn’t have wonderful qualities and fantastic personality traits. I’ve written about them repeatedly. However, to pretend like there aren’t certain roadblocks in his way because of it would be sugarcoating something that most know to be true. Autism, for him, is like many other issues a person can live with. It has positives and it has negatives. You can’t just talk about one side of that coin all the time. There are heads. There are tails. It flips depending on the situation.
When he was a baby, I took care of everything for him. Most parents reading this, whether their children are on or off the spectrum, can relate. You feed your baby. You dress your baby. You help your baby to see the world. If your baby doesn’t want to interact with relatives, you can shrug and say, “He’s tired.” We do things for our babies that the world applauds because, in their collective mind, you’re just being a good parent. They make memes about how great you’re doing and tell you to “hang in there”. Of course, most of them are directed at moms only, but that’s another problem to discuss another day.
As Lucas grew older, I began to make the transition as most parents do. I started to expect him to do things himself. I no longer yanked off his shirt or spoon fed him the peas with the revving of an airplane. After all, when the time came, it worked for his sister. She learned. Hell, it worked for me at some point in my lifetime too. At some point or another, all of us faced a time when we went from having things done for us by grown-ups to having to be the ones to do it ourselves.
The difference was that my daughter “got it”, so to speak, right away. When she did, she was at the right age, according to those second hand paperbacks. The time frame on paper matched up with when she first started tying her shoes or brushing her teeth. The insistence that she “try” on her own wasn’t met with too much pushback and when she began taking the reigns on her own, it was easy to sit back and watch it happen.
However, my son didn’t take to a lot of those things right away. It was the part of the process that came with noticing “delays”. In fact, my son still hasn’t taken to some of those things. Some he has, others he hasn’t. We work with what we have and work on what we don’t.
That plate of peas still sits in front of him and, while he’s begun to master the art of stabbing chicken with a fork and maneuvering it into his mouth, some utensils are still beyond his control. I can see that. Feeding him corn or peas by the spoonful myself is actually pretty easy. It would take all of five minutes to literally spoon-feed him his dinner. He would be happy. I would be happy. It would be quick. It would be easy.
But, I shouldn’t.
Instead, I take his hand into mine and together we do it – one painstaking shovel at a time. Some fall to the floor. Some spoon loads end up empty by the time they reach his mouth. A ten minute meal takes twenty and, by the end, neither one of us are all that happy. He’s still hungry.
But, it’s what I am supposed to do.
There’s no more parental heroism in being his extreme and total voluntary caregiver during moments like this. At some point, the teeter tottered and feeding my kid like a baby went from something that, as a parent, is good for him to something that’s not. It’s a short term solution that all but promises long term problems. I’m just delaying the delays.
I don’t want him to be twenty and unable to feed himself…unless, of course, that’s something he’s truly incapable of when he reaches that age. When the big 2-0 does roll around though, if he still can’t work a spork, I want to be able to say to myself, “I did everything I could. I need to keep trying. Maybe he can get it by 30.” I want to know that he and I worked together and perhaps he just lacked the ability as of yet, not that he lacked the care by me to help him realize his own full potential.
This goes for brushing teeth. This goes for getting dressed. This goes for a million other things that would speed by much quicker if I just treated him like a Cabbage Patch Doll. He’s not, though. He’s a big boy. I hear enough people tell me how tall he is each day to remind me of that.
My boy may have special needs, but they’re ultimately his needs to fulfill. One day, when I’m not here anymore, he will have to know how to do as many of them on his own that he can. It’s my job to teach him now how to make that happen. He might not be able to do all of them, but I know he can do at least some (and hopefully most) of them. He’s surprised me through the years have gone by and he will continue to surprise me as the years push forward. I just have to allow him the opportunity to show me what he can do, no matter how much easier it would be to do it for him.