As I watched my son race full speed down the sidewalk this morning toward his school bus, my mind went back to one of his greatest fears.
Unlike many kids, especially those with autism, my son was never a runner. He wouldn’t go more than ten feet away from me and in the few instances when he did, he made sure that I was within eye sight. For example, when we would go to the park he would constantly look up to make sure that I hadn’t moved from where I was. If I moved even a foot, he would run over to me.
When we would head to the car, he would be panicked to get to the car door as quickly as possible. As I would reach for the handle, he would reach for his. I never had to ask him to get in the car or to hurry up. He hurried on his own. He was terrified that he would be left behind.
He’s been that way since he was a young boy and to this day, I don’t know why. With the exception of his father and grandmother, I had never left him with anyone. So, what caused him to be so afraid of being left?
What’s odd, is that he didn’t start being that way until he had grown out of his toddler years. Even as a baby he never had the attachment issue that most babies do. In fact, he didn’t seem to care at all when he would be placed into someone’s arms or when I would walk away from him.
So when he got older and became terrified of being left behind, I was baffled. Why was he so afraid? Even now, when we have him go throw something in the outside trash on our way to the car, he will run as quickly as possible to make sure we don’t leave him. He’s 14.
I’m a firm believer in that we can’t hold our children’s hands their whole life. It is our job as parents to make them do things, in order for them to learn. Making everything easy for them, isn’t going to teach them anything. They have to learn and in my son’s case, he had to overcome his fear of being left.
Public places have always been the most challenging for him, so in order for him to gain independence, he had to conquer this. To do so, we started with small steps, such as having him get napkins from across the room in a restaurant. It sounds simple, but for him it was terrifying.
When he accomplished that, we moved to having him go to public restrooms alone. The first few times, I had to stand next to the door and wait for him. That took all but 30 seconds at most, because he would run in and then right back out again. I’m positive he didn’t do anything while in there, but at least he went alone.
Over the course of a few months, I started moving further and further away from the restroom door. Finally, he got to the point where he would go the entire distance by himself. He’s still very quick when he goes, but at least he does it now. He’s also learned to trust that when I say, “I won’t go anywhere”, that I mean it.
To further his independence, I also worked with him in busy settings, such as grocery stores. He’s now able to go a couple aisles away from me in the store to fetch items, with only experiencing a minor panic attack. Sometimes he’s made to go even further away to do a task; one in which will take several minutes for him to complete. Needless to say, this makes him a nervous wreck.
I test him often, which may sound mean to some people. But because of it, he’s learning that he doesn’t have to be so afraid. Even more importantly, he’s learning that he’s more capable of doing things than he thought.
Not only do I force him to do things in public, but in school the same is asked of his teachers. Make him work. Make him read difficult words. Make him talk. Unfortunately, if we don’t request teachers to do this, some of them will allow kids with disabilities to just sit on the sidelines. Not my son. He needs to get in the game.
I refuse to go easy on him just because he’s Autistic. That label does not, and will not limit his potential. He’s smart, funny, compassionate and very creative. Just like I tell him, he is capable of doing anything he sets his mind to do.
Never let a label determine a person’s future.