My non-verbal son is going through another naked phase. It came out of nowhere and it’s been one of the worst ones in a while. Every time I turn around, he’s taken his clothes off.
He has done this before and, when he did, I wrote a whole cutesy thing about it. I called it My Son Was Wearing Pants When You Got Here. Get it? Ha! He was...now he’s not. He’s naked! That scamp!
It was funny…when he was younger. Maybe “funny” is the wrong word. Forgivable? That might work. Seeing a young child with special needs running around in his glory is shocking to many but in a fairly innocent way. They laugh. They blush. They turn their head. Sometimes they will go, “Uh, your son has his business hanging out.” It’s a whole thing.
That was then. This is now. My boy is on the cusp of turning twelve. One year from a teenager, he’s not built like a preschooler anymore. The whole scene is a different one.
If he were to pop out of his room naked, fewer people will laugh or blush. Turn their heads? Probably that one. It’s socially unacceptable on a number of levels and not something that can be brushed away.
As a special needs parent, I’ve tried to be conscious of that fact. There are some inappropriate things that my boy can do that people just have to live with. Shout out here and there in a loud restaurant? That’s fine. Clap loudly for the sake of the echo when walking down a hallway? That is too. Stimming moments and call-outs that are out of his control are things that people will just have to deal with, provided we are in a setting that allows that sort of thing. If he’s not disturbing the peace or infringing on anyone else, it’s fine.
Taking food off of people’s plates? No. Even as a child that wasn’t appropriate. As a young adult, however, it would be disastrous. If you are reading this and thinking, “Oh, that’s not true, anyone would understand”, you’d be wrong. The social media comments on a previous post I wrote about him stealing someone’s coffee provided me with enough responses claiming they would “punch him” or “have him arrested” left me worried for his future.
Shoving his way past someone? Nope. When he was a tiny little fella, it was rude but nothing to worry about. A person might go, “Whoa, excuse me.” I’d offer a sorry and make him do a non-verbal apology wave. We got past it. Today, he’s practically my size. It wouldn’t go well.
Nudity? Definitely not. The scenario I laid out earlier was one that seemed fairly innocuous. It didn’t consider all the variables that come into play. What if there is a young child there? What if we were having a serious function for his sister or a loved one? To suddenly see their teenage boy, regardless of his place on the spectrum, running around (or worse) naked, is anxiety-on-reserve for any special needs parent.
Do you want to know how to separate special needs parents from those without special needs? Those who don’t have a child like mine usually offer me advice or words of encouragement. The words:
He’ll learn. You just have to teach him not to.
Yes. I understand that. That’s how learning works. Maybe that will do the trick. After all, parents of toddlers have to teach them not to do those things too. They yell or they punish or they put their neurotypical child in time out with a towel around their waists. That does the trick.
The only issue is that I have been doing that since he was a toddler. This isn’t something that I applauded for the last ten years. I have been teaching him and reinforcing it. There were times when it worked…only to return again. The phases come in cycles and right now we’re on a downhill one when it comes to clothing. Sometimes with a boy like mine, it just doesn’t take.
No matter how I handle it, the consequences he faced are erased from his mind within minutes. I know this because mere moments after I just gave him a long scolding lecture with “no, no, no” hand signals, I will find him stripped again in his bed. That’s not even the worrisome part.
When he sees me coming, he not concerned. There’s no fear or attempt to hide. I walk in and he will simply look up and smile. It isn’t a naughty grin either. It’s an oblivious look of, “Oh, hey there. Welcome to my room.”
And that scares the crap out of me.
Full disclosure here, I get incredibly worried about this. Those who have read this blog for years know that I always tell the positives of my son’s autism and there are many. I love my boy with all my heart and I’m grateful to have him in my life. He does wonderful things and makes me happy every day.
This, however, is not one of those wonderful things. It doesn’t make me happy. It makes me scared for the day that he has a mustache and a receding hairline. It makes me terrified for the day that I am no longer here.
Are you ready for the insanely ironic ending to all of this? Do you want to know my grand plan to correct this behavior?
I just have to teach him. He’ll learn.
Yup. Didn’t see that one coming. What else can I do? Sure, he hasn’t yet. Maybe the day will come when it suddenly clicks in his mind that he shouldn’t do these things. Maybe there’s a technique that I need to discover or a way to get through that he will truly understand. When you have a non-verbal child with “severe” autism, you live with a lot of maybes.
Maybe it will work. Also, maybe it won’t. Maybe one day, he will be a grown man struggling with this impulsivity issue and I won’t be there to stop it. Maybe the worst-case scenario will come true. I have to accept that. If I don’t, it will drive me crazy.
In the meantime, though, I am going to do everything I can to show him the right way to live. Whether it’s keeping clothes on his body or food on a stranger’s plate, he needs to be shown the proper way to share in the world around him. If the day comes that he doesn’t follow societal norms, then the day comes that he doesn’t follow societal norms. It won’t, however, be because I didn’t do all I could to teach him.
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