Four months ago, we moved to a new school district. The day that Graham started school, I got a call from his new teacher. She told me Graham didn’t belong in a self-contained class all day, which was his placement in our last school district.
While excited, I was nervous. My son couldn’t hold a conversation more than a few exchanges. How would he make friends? He doesn’t understand many social norms. Would the kids in the general education class make fun of him? Would his teachers understand? I grabbed his communication folder every day as soon as we got home expecting a note saying ‘This isn’t working, he can’t handle it.’ Instead, I kept getting notes saying, “Graham had a great day!” with things like “Participated independently” and “Completed work independently” checked off.
Then came the IEP meeting. Again, I expected to hear he wasn’t doing well. That he was an outcast. Again, I was surprised. His peers like him. They take care of him at lunch, encouraging him to eat his food and walking him through the line to get his chocolate milk. He got a Christmas and Valentine candy-gram from other students. His teachers reported that he had friends. He was bringing home completed school work from class that was correct.
One day it hit me: my son was doing what I thought he couldn’t. He was hacking it academically. He had friends. His teachers valued him, and knew how smart he was.
In short: I had completely underestimated him.
Last week, Graham had a doctor’s appointment. I told the nurse there was no way she would be able to get his blood pressure - he is absolutely terrified of the device. I did, however, want to see how far he would go. He surprised us both when he sat down quietly, held out his arm and let her get his blood pressure. No whining, no fear.
Then his doctor prescribed a medication only available in pill form. I had tried with disastrous results about six months ago to get him to take a pill. Even mentioning it made him upset. Still surprised from the blood pressure event, I asked him if he would take a pill. He said yes. That night, he did.
It’s a learning process for me. Throughout our journey with autism, I have been my son’s voice. I have stepped in to protect him more times than I can count, ensuring he wasn’t sent into a fearful frenzy. I have been so afraid of him failing that sometimes I’ve been afraid to let him try. But I’m discovering I’m over-protecting him, and need to let him lead the way now. He wants the chance to succeed or fail - he just wants to try. After how hard he’s worked to get where he is, I don’t want to be what holds him back.
So I’ll keep reminding myself to let go a little. To let him tell me when it’s too much. And when he can’t handle it, I’ll still be right behind him ready to step in and help.
In case you need some help, here's a place to start: Sally is a parent and advocate for her child with special needs. She blogs at sallysblog.com. When she's not posting here, you can find Katie at her blog, Okay, Who Turned Out the Lights.