Encourage Independence

Autism IndependenceMe: “Kirsten, dinner’s ready!”

K: “In a minute. Angry birds.”

Me: “Um. Okay. Come down when you’re ready.”  …said as I walked away grinning from ear to ear.

Not your typical response?  True.  But not your typical situation!  This was a conversation I had with Kirsten last week.  An absolutely appropriate thing for a 21 year old young adult to say to her mother.  An absolutely appropriate thing… and a first.  Time. To. Celebrate.

You see – we work on these things.  Nurture this feeling of independence.   Of personhood.  While I don’t feel *I* missed out on that period of slamming doors and general parent-disgust… I do feel Kirsten did!  It’s a rite of passage.  A part of the struggle to adulthood.    

Little things, really.  Over the years, it’s the little things done consistently that have made the biggest difference. 

Things like…

1)      First off, she’s got run of the radio.  Or I should say, did have run of the radio.  Now she’s got run of the iPad.  And I don’t suffer for it.  She’s renowned for her DJ talents.  Although, I must admit, this did not begin as a move to encourage her independence – but to encourage my sanity!  From a very young age she would loudly announce “Change the channel!” at the start of all commentary or advertisements.  Drove. Me. Crazy.  The day she was old enough to sit in the front seat … YES! 

2)      When shopping, I avoid telling her no. Why? She lives in the world of absolutes.  And if I give her too many “no’s” she is going to stop asking.  I hear you NT parents out there:“…and that would be a baaad thing?!”  Yep.  It sure would!  I want her talking.  I want her thinking about cause and effect.  I want her to realize she is worthy.   However, avoiding “no” doesn’t necessarily mean “yes.”  It often goes something like this:  K: “Oh, movie?” Me: “You want that movie?” K: “Movie?” Me: “That does look like a good one. Let’s take a picture and maybe we can get it next time!” My phone is filled with Kirsten-desires.  To the point that very often Kirsten now holds up a new item and says, “Take a picture?!”   

3)      Picking out your own clothes is a basic – right?  Not so much for someone who finds shopping stressful, and trying things on near-unbearable.  And although I’ll admit there were times I took the easy way out and bought clothes on my own… for the most part, we shopped together.  In the early days K had the 5-item, one-stop dressing room rule.  This has expanded into the 10-item, two-stop dressing room rule.  We’re getting there…  MORE important… she now takes great pride in what she wears.  Picks her clothes out the night before saying something like, “LeeAnn will love it. Oooh. Cute outfit!”

4)      Seek her advice.  Whenever I’m trying to decide between two things (and I actively seek these moments out), I ask her opinion.  Me: “Which one do you think we should buy?”  K: “Oh. Yellow one.”  Me: “Great choice! I like that one too.”  Does it matter?  …little moments adding up.

5)      Is it her hair or mine?  I admit she had to fight me on this one.  I loved her curls.  And she loved short hair.  I realized she had the right…  Fiiiine…  After she cut her hair off for the 5th time, I relented.  Guess what?  Knew what she was ‘talking’ about.  So cute!

6)      She is not a back-seat girl.  After she hit about 18 years old, I re-evaluated the whole car situation.  And, although I’m still her mom – I am also her friend.  And my friends are her friends.  As friends, we rotate who sits in the car’s front seat.  Only fair, right?  Right!

7)      Friends go out for some one-on-one time with Kirsten.  That’s right.  Thrills her.  K: “No mom! Only Kirsten!!”  Now she will plan these dates.  A recent conversation – K: “Go out with Ana in October.”  Me: “Fun! When in October?”  K: “Um… October (whispers) 19… 12… (says aloud) 5!”  It’s a date!

And so, it is with each of these conscious decisions… little things really… that have brought us to where we are today.  Me: “Dinner’s ready.”  K: “In a minute. Angry Birds.”  Success.

How have you encouraged your child’s independence? Built their self-esteem?

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5 Responses

  1. Tara Black says:

    After a few meltdowns about what to wear to school, we are now to the ‘let Megan pick’ (within reason of course) and strongly encouraging her (especially since her 20th bday) to do her stuff herself (aka getting whatever it is she asks one of us to get because she is wayyyyyyy too busy on the computer to be bothered with getting up to get it….lol). She has my husband well trained, and it took most of the summer to retrain myself as well. I think it is harder for my husband because she was so ill in ’10 and it took much of ’10 and part of ’11 to get her back into shape that we fell into the ‘get it for her’ mentality. Now days, most of her reactions are totally teenager!! ‘Whatever’ or ‘Fine!!’ with the crossing arms thing…no rolling eyes …yet…but we do ask her opinion as much as possible because she deserves to be able to decide these things…just as they all do!!

    Go Big K!! :)

    • Autism Makes Me Laugh | Tammy says:

      Similar situation here! Not the getting clothes – she likes to get them out each night. But just about everything else. I can’t tell you how many times she hands ME her trash… and each time I say, “I’m not a garbage can.” :)

  2. Diane says:

    I’m with YOU!!! The first time R “asserted” his independence was music to my ears!!!

    I loved the “Take a picture”! Haahaa! We use the “put it on your BD/Xmas list” line. Thankfully they are 6 months apart. :)

    • Autism Makes Me Laugh | Tammy says:

      It’s a BIG deal, right?! Oooh… the things we celebrate.

      We talk about birthdays and Christmas too! And the pictures are great. I’ll have plenty of gift ideas come the next holiday. Win-win. ;)