Letting Go He’s Ready for Independent Living

by Liz Becker –

Navigating autism takes time – lots and lots of time. It took until Matt was almost 5 years old for speech to come, and then it was very few words for years after. It took almost 7 years to get out of diapers and almost 9 to completely be potty trained without the occasional accident. It took until he was almost 7 years old to get use to a change in routine, to age 12 to agree to try a new food item, and he was somewhere in his early teens when he started to pick out his own clothes. Autism slows down progress, but the good news is that it doesn’t stop progress. Doing something new just takes more time to learn.

I was never in a hurry – except for speech. Speech has a window of opportunity, so we pushed him to speak. Matt saw a speech therapist from his diagnosis at two and a half years old to his day of graduation from high school at 19 years old. Everything else was mostly accomplished with a bit of steady pressure and a great deal of time. Matt was given equal time to flap his hands and spin his toys and time to focus on learning something new.

Now that “something new” is the move to a place of his very own and a chance at independence. This has also been a long time in achieving. My oldest son, Christopher, bought a house before he moved away. My step-children, Jacob and Sarah, both got married before they moved to their own homes. Matt has been a witness to these changes in our family dynamics. He wants his own place too. I call this Matt’s “ultimate goal.” He has talked about it out loud to himself over the years and each time he does his voice is excited and full of energy. He craves it. Living on his own will mean he is in charge – something he needs to make himself feel “normal.” Matt has never liked being autistic. To put it bluntly, he hates it. He hates that he is different, that people view him differently, he hates that his speech is not … normal. He hates that he has difficulty understanding communication nuances. He doesn’t want people to know. Finding a way for him to accept it as a part of him has been a very difficult task. We are still working on it.

“Autism does not define my son” – a nice little phrase I have read a thousand times on blogs and social media pages. Unfortunately, yes it does. His autism characterizes his speech, his habits, his way of thinking, and yes, it characterizes his daily life. Matt is “more than his autism” – also a nice popular phrase – and this one is a bit more accurate. Matt is talented (his artwork is astounding), compassionate, friendly, intelligent, and easy to be around. He has a laid-back style that invites interaction. Then his autism makes those interactions difficult and sometimes scary. Social interactions and communication difficulties identify Matt as “different” and Matt hates being different. He wants to blend in – but can’t. He wants to hang-out, go places, do the things that other people do, and he tries his best to be just another guy, he really does, but he is aware that he is different. Social interactions are very hard. He knows he is different and it hurts him. If it hurts Matt, it hurts me. Autism is apart of him – the only part of him he dislikes. Moving to an apartment is a wonderful goal but for Matt it’s so much more than just gaining some freedom – it’s also a way of trying to shed some of his autism.

Moving out is a complex task for the autistic individual. It’s not as simple as packing your bags and going out the door. Moving out is another step toward independence, and because of his autism it takes time – lots and lots of time. Preparing for independence requires Matt to be able to care for himself. Over the years he has learned to do his own laundry, make his own meals, shop for himself, dress himself, take care of his personal hygiene, feel at ease at the dentist office, keep track of his finances, use a cell phone, and not freak–out when problems arise unexpectedly. He still needs to be able to talk to his doctor, tell someone when he is ill, seek help when needed, dress appropriately for the weather, be aware of his environment and foresee consequences of his actions and various situations. We all learn from our mistakes as we navigate our independence. These past several years Matt has had practice with each of these while in the safety of our home. He has learned much, and continues to do so. Yet, I know that most of what he will face alone can only be practiced after the move. It’s scary for me… but not for Matt. Matt is ready to take the plunge and believe it or not, I am ready to let him – scared, but ready. The years have flown by – where did the time go?

Read more at Autism and the ultimate goal: independence.

My Son with Autism Assures Me He’s Ready for Independent Living.

Jimmy Kilpatrick, a national recognized professional special education advocate since 1994.

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