Big Steps

Posted: June 15th, 2010 under communication, life on the spectrum, parenting, socialization.
Tags: , , , , ,

This is the start of M-‘s fourth week in his own apartment an hour away in the city.   Yesterday evening, I got email from him saying he had mail from the city, and was supposed to take something to the city offices and have a stamp, but he didn’t know where the city offices were and did not have a stamp in the apartment.   He had sent the email in the afternoon; I checked email after supper.  I phoned to ask him what the mail had been, and was prepared to guide him through whatever it was or deal with it on my Wednesday trip to to the city.   It took awhile to get clear what the mail had been about (note to self–still need more work on comprehension of questions and providing direct answers), but then came the marvel…a milestone indeed.

It turned out that between the initial email to me, and the later phone call, he had figured out that a) the mail was a utility bill from the city, and b) he had bought a stamp at a nearby convenience store, after asking at the apartment complex office where he could buy stamps.  And c) he had already written the check and mailed it back.

He had solved a problem on his own, using available assistance which he figured out how to contact, without a parent stepping in to suggest or guide.   And what is almost as important, he knew he had done something new that was good, he knew he had solved his own problem, and he was proud of himself.  He felt his own competence.   This also is new…although he’s gained in competence every year, he hasn’t shown real confidence in it, ownership of it.

If you have an autistic kid…you know how golden that is and I got blurry-eyed then and every time since I’ve thought about it.

Another thing:  we had driven him to the nearest supermarket to the apartment (something over a mile away) several times, and I had mentioned what might be a safe way to walk there, but he’s sensitive to heat and it’s been hot–so I didn’t think he’d do it anytime soon.   But Sunday, after church, he told R- he’d walked to the store, described his route there and back, and commented that it was good exercise.   And last week, though I waited in the city to see if he needed help getting back to the apartment from skating, he called from each bus as he caught it to tell me he was on the bus and fine.

So…does this mean he was ready for this move three years ago when he finished spec-ed high school?  No.  He was still scared of the idea then, and when he’s scared he freezes.   He hadn’t lived anywhere but our house yet.   The intervening three years got him to the point many high school seniors reach at 17 and 18, when getting out of their parents’  house (at least) and the town (if it’s not big enough) is a high priority…and ahead of many of them because we had the chance to have him out of this house and doing some of the things he’d need to do in his own apartment.  (This is why we hadn’t ever sold my mother’s house…) The trick has always been finding the moment when the underlying competencies have been gained, when he’s just a little frustrated with the status quo, and then showing him the open gate.    Sometimes with a little push (that first time at an autism camp) but as he grew, it was more just opening the gate and letting him find that the barrier was missing.

And if he’s really caught on that he can appreciate his own increasing competence as well as solve some of life’s typical problems, then he’s on the edge of being much more self-motivated and goal-oriented.

For those of you in the maelstrom of early childhood with a kid on the spectrum, those struggling every day with everything from meltdowns to toileting to eating problems to family members who are about as supportive as a wet noodle (only they sting) and friends who are sure you could have a “normal” kid if only you did what they tell you….the little bitty gains do eventually add up.  There is a light at the end of the tunnel.   It’s a miserably LONG tunnel, no denying that, but it’s not forever…as we’re finding out now (and three years ago I was thinking it was likely to be a dead heat between our aging bodies and his creeping progress towards independence.)


  • Comment by Dave Ring — June 16, 2010 @ 3:59 pm


    I’m glad to hear that your son has met these challenges so successfully. I’m happy for him and for you.

    I recently watched the movie A Horse Boy, about a family who take their six year old autistic son to Mongolia in the hope that Mongolian shamans and the boy’s own affinity for animals can help him to make some difficult adjustments. I’m guessing you will have seen this already. If not, I think it would interest you–another case of an autistic person rising to meet very new and different circumstances and doing so very successfully.

  • Comment by Elizabeth — June 16, 2010 @ 9:30 pm


    I haven’t seen it (I see very, very few movies) but have heard of it, certainly. What opens a window or door for a child (autistic or not) is often individual to that child.

  • Comment by Mel Tatum — June 17, 2010 @ 6:39 am


    *blurry screen*. What great news!

  • Comment by Dave Ring — June 17, 2010 @ 9:13 am


    Yes, I think that is true. It could be that what the shamans did, the ceremonies they carried out, were effective for him. It could be that what the shamans and the tribal peoples and their horses WERE reached him in some important way. It could be that the experience of visiting such a distant and different place and surviving the difficulties involved gave him the perspective and confidence to overcome other long standing barriers.

    I don’t go to many movies — never confident I’ll be able to sit thru the whole duration — but watch quite a few at home by Netflix.

  • Comment by Elizabeth — June 17, 2010 @ 9:59 am


    When we went with M- to Churchill (in conjunction with the Winnipeg WorldCon), the acceptance of that community for a child with differences helped M- in just a few days. When autistic kids are seen as people–not problems–they can then (sometimes? mostly?) begin to experience social contact as potentially valuable. When the focus is always on them as “wrong” then there’s no reason to connect with others.

  • Comment by Elizabeth — June 17, 2010 @ 12:34 pm


    Mel, I was blurry-screen myself. Today’s addendum was the casual comment that no, I didn’t need to drop off some things from home for him, because he planned to go ice-skating. R- could bring them on Sunday instead. Which sure sounds to me like “No, I don’t want to come home this weekend.”

  • Comment by Elizabeth — June 18, 2010 @ 10:58 am


    Wrong…he emailed this morning that he DID want to come home this weekend. OK. People can change their minds.

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