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Learning to 'Let Go' and Watch My Son on the Autism Spectrum Be Independent

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Being a “helicopter mom” wasn’t something I planned on. I always knew I would stay home for a few years, if possible, but surly I wouldn’t have a problem with hiring babysitters and dropping the kids off for a few nights out or some quality time with my husband. This all changed when we realized our oldest son wasn’t processing verbal communication and other social queues, leading to an autism diagnosis.

We are currently just over two years into our journey, and our daily life and routines seem “normal” to us, and our son is thriving. We have arrived at a place of accepting the challenges, and it’s becoming our family norm, however out of the blue, a new set of fears and anxiety appeared with a vengeance, which seems to be the trend in parenting regardless of your child’s needs. You find your stride and then a new challenge, task or fear will set in with a new stage in parenting.

I have found this new “independent” child my most fearful stage thus far.

My son who struggled so much around age 2-3 has thrived so much in his two years of therapy and ear surgery. On many days we don’t think twice about his diagnosis nor notice he is different from many of his peers. Many of our friends at school and their parents don’t know of his ongoing journey with autism, and he is in a class with many friends and is so outgoing and very loving. He plays games and talks to his peers, he makes fart nosies and makes jokes and goes to the movie theater to see the latest animated flicks. I find myself getting teary eyed over things that are so simple, yet seeing him be connected and truly into activities, friends and having meaningful conversations is something I still am taken back by at times. This was the first year he stood up and performed at his Christmas concert at preschool without running off stage, trying to knock over the podium or simply seeing us in the audience and immediately coming over to sit with us.

With all of his accomplishments and milestones I can’t help but also be going through by far the most challenging stage, filled with fear and anxiety and it’s overwhelming. I must learn to let the “leash” out a little, just a little, giving him room to explore and play like other kids, alone, without me.

Even during the days when I was so scared about never hearing a sentence come out of his mouth and wondering if he would be able to communicate back and forth with us, I at least knew he would be safe. I was always there. I didn’t leave his side for the first three and a half years, ever. When I did leave him it was in organized and set circumstances with my parents or at school with his aide. Milo does great in environments he has already gone through. He needs to check everything out, open every drawer, look in every closet and throughly inspect his surrounding. He has mastered the maps of our local zoo, museums and friends’ and families’ houses as well as his preschool. He is in his bubble of comfort, or should I say “my bubble of comfort”?

My husband and I have always been constantly “on” him because he would run. He was a wind-up toy always wound. The moment you would put him down he was off. One day we wanted to see how far he would get from us at the beach (it was empty) without him looking back. We never got the chance to see when he would look back because he never did, and he kept running. I think he would have gone for miles if we would have let him. Another evening we went for a swim at out local athletic club. We were all sitting around the table eating dinner, my husband, myself, my parents and both my kids. We were in the middle of a conversation and all of a sudden Milo got up from the table and started walking towards the pool. My husband got up and we both started yelling his name to stop. We were just feet away from him and sure enough he walked straight into the pool. He was 2 and a half. We quickly got him out, and I remember my mom saying in a surprised voice, “He just walked straight in to the pool!” I smiled and just said, “Yep,” and started packing up our things to immediately leave and get everyone safe in the car, as it usually took me awhile to recover from safety events going wrong. It reminded me too much of what could happen if we weren’t always “on.”

These are just two stories of many that could have turned out really bad. We have “lost him” at our complex while walking the dog while my husband turned to say hi to neighbors, we have “lost him” when he ran ahead a little too far and ducked into the bathroom at the zoo. We never take our eyes off him, and yet he has found many opportunities to slip away. As he gets older, as he grows and develops into a little boy who wants more independence I’m trying to learn to accept that he is not that little boy/toddler who always ran away. He is now almost 5, he is very responsible, loves rules and for the most part follows them. He is learning boundaries, and I will try my hardest to let him have acceptable boundaries. My mind will never forget the little boy he was, and the sleepless nights that had faded away are returning with the notion that he is growing up and wanting independence.

He is not that boy anymore, but the lines are blurred for me of what “was” and what “is.” As we sign him up for kindergarten I find myself anxious and full of fear, for his school now has 60 kids and his new school will have 600. As he asks to play with the neighborhood kids his age or walk up to his aunt’s and uncle’s house, I find myself worried and not able to breathe if I can’t be there or see him.

I have recently signed him up for summer camps and other programs that don’t warrant me being with him. I know this is so important for his development, however I’m constantly in a state of worry. And I know I need to let a little bit of that go. I need to trust him. He deserves it, he has earned it, he deserves to discover and explore without the constant hovering of eyes watching his every move.

I keep reminding myself this is why we do what we do hours of therapy — therapy that is fun, engaging and has totally helped him learn to check in with us and follow rules, and although I’m not sure when I will let go more, for now I’m happy to say I’m trying. Inch by inch. I’m not comfortable with it, but as they say “great things never come from comfort zones.”

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Thinkstock photo by Murchundra

Originally published: March 30, 2017
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