Monday, March 29, 2010

Truffles for the neighbor, treats for her dog

Recently I went on a Caribbean cruise. For a whole week, I didn't do a load of laundry, or a dish, or wipe a butt. It was heaven.

Meanwhile, my sweet husband ran the fort. Our almost ten year old daughter who has Asperger's is being homeschooled these days, and he left her home in the morning while he walked our son to school, one block over. He would be gone somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes. He made her breakfast, sat her at the kitchen table, and reminded her not to answer the door if anyone knocked. 

He always brought the cell phone. She knows the number, but just in case, it is prominently displayed beside the phone. She knows how to use it.

She relishes these brief moments of freedom. They rarely happen because both parents are usually home in the morning. I know she sneaks chocolate chips from the cupboard when she's alone. It tickles me to imagine her wandering around the house, full of herself and her independence.  

So one morning, Todd left with Seth, and upon his return, as he walked down our street he saw two people on our front steps. He assumed it was Jehovah's witnesses or some other solicitors and he slowed his step a bit, hoping they'd have moved on by the time he reached our porch. He knew Riley wouldn't answer the door. As he got closer, he couldn't believe it. One of them was actually sitting on our front steps, chilling.

As he got even closer, he realized it was Riley. A neighbor woman and her dog were standing beside her. He quickened his step.

He neared them and noted Riley was in her pajamas and bare feet, and it was cold that day.

Apparently, Riley did not like the cereal he had poured for her, and had attempted to run outside and tell him, but he and Seth were too far down the street to hear her. When she tried to get back inside, she realized she'd locked herself out of the house. Jingle, her service dog, was locked inside.

Our neighbor, whose name I did not even know, was walking her own dog, and she saw Riley outside. She waited with her. She put her coat around her. Because of Jingle, and the community involvement it took to get her, she knew Riley has Asperger's. It made her late for work, but she hung out with Riley until she knew she was safe.

The experience brought up a bunch of insecurities for me. Would a typical ten year old come running outside in bare feet because she didn't like her cereal? Are we wrong to very occassionally leave her home alone for between ten and 15 minutes? Is she safe? She's certainly old enough to take care of her needs for 15 minutes, and she's not one to ever do anything to get in trouble, but is her judgement lacking? She's unattended longer than 15 minutes when we are home and in the shower or busy with other tasks. How do we teach her independence without giving her small tastes of it? What would she have done if the neighbor hadn't come by?

I asked and she replied, "I would have just waited on the porch for Dad."

"Were you worried?"  

"No. But I was cold."

We're using this as a learning opportunity. Not liking her cereal is something she could have waited to tell her Dad about. It wasn't urgent. A good lesson for her to learn. As a result of this incident, we've reinforced which neighbor's doors she should knock on if she ever finds herself in a similar situation. 

The lesson in it for me?

There are kind people, who will help my child if she needs it, even if I'm not there holding up the world.  


Michelle O'Neil explores family, spirituality, Asperger's, service dogs, law of attraction, homeschooling and other things at




  1. Oh, this brought tears to my eyes. Yes, I think that's the greatest lesson in this story, to trust in the kindness of others.

  2. Three cheers for the neighbor!
    And hullo? Can we talk about how much progress little Miss has made? I mean seriously. Girlfriend has come so, so far.

  3. Everything about this makes me smile! :-)

  4. I love that you are giving your daughter safe tastes of independence. Surely they are as sweet to her as the chocolate chips she indulges in. It's good that your neighbors understand her situation. I often wonder if and when our daughter will be able to handle this sort of independence. When will I trust her to walk two blocks to school unattended (or will I always follw her surreptitiously spying to be sure she makes it OK?)...I think making the incident you described into a learning moment is excellent. We are teaching our daughter her address in case she ever gets separated from us and have told her to find a polieman or a grandma to help her. In the actual stress of the moment I'm not sure what she would do...and I hope we never find out!

  5. So glad it all turned out all right! A learning experience for all, and very well handled.

  6. oh, i love that neighbor! and i think you all did an amazing job. all of you. it's quite something to step into independence. i'm proud of riley. frankly, of all of you! it stretches the whole family.
    and you? on the cruise? WOW!

  7. I am always amazed at the kindness of others if they really understand the problems we face. The problem is the general public are unaware of the challenges. If they knew, they would most likely be kind also.

  8. I can imagine how HT felt when he realized it was Riley on the step and with a neighbor. But, the thing is, you guys have done a wonderful job with your kiddos and Riley did okay. Wonderful that the neighbor stayed with her. And I love that you are using it as a learning opportunity. We try to do that in our household.
    Bouquets all around :-)

  9. We occasionally leave our Asperger-ish nine-year-old home for a few minutes at a time. He's got the phone and plenty of food and drink (and he's tall enough to reach any cereal he wants lol) He knows not to answer the phone or the door. Last month I ran to the library after school to print out our tax return (because, by golly, we needed the tax refund to replace our computer so we could print out important documents like tax returns!) while he did homework. Well between having to wait for a computer and getting a phone call and not having change for the printer and various other inconveniences, I was gone AN HOUR. He was a LITTLE panicked and accidentally locked me out in his hurry to help me let myself in, but I talked him through the deadbolt and all's well that ends well, honestly. Hooray for Riley! :)

  10. Well, now you know. You cannot leave her alone for even 10 minutes with cell phone. I have some kids without Aspergers or any other diagnosed issues, that I would not leave alone for more than 30 minutes or so at that age. 10-15 minutes, maybe. An hour definitely not. Just started leaving my youngest alone for more than a half hour, less than two this year and he is nearly 13. It really does depend on the child.