Tuesday, July 09, 2013

Mother-Son Progress

We haven't focused on Oliver's autism for quite a long time now -- a few years, maybe -- unless you count a real and concerted effort at living in the moment, which is more my therapy than his.

 Surprisingly, we don't "do" anything especially aimed at remediating what I used to think of as his "deficits." We are, in fact, very close to giving up on speech therapy. Our focus has shifted from remediating to educating.

This is partly because I came to feel that a lot of approaches or programs set us up for failure. Well-meaning therapists trying to "get" Oliver to do something just kind of freaked him out and it ended up looking like the poor kid was really much more impacted by autism than he is in environments where he feels less anxious. Unfortunately his fear stems from those early days when I shamefully let adults "do" things to him in the name of therapy. The result is Oliver's abiding distrust of adults who try to get him to do things.  At home and in the community where he is well known and loved, Oliver is happy and thrives. So we go with what works.

We even abandoned RDI because, although I spent years training in the approach, it no longer worked for us. I didn't want to spend all of my time figuring out what "skill" we should be working on. I just wanted to enjoy my boy and, most importantly, spend my time being in the moment with my family. So I kept all the important things I learned from RDI about being a good guide to my kids and threw out all the programmatic stuff that was layered on top. And I read parenting books that made sense to me, like Alfie Kohn's book Punished by Rewards, which gives one great food for thought about how a child naturally learns and develops through intrinsic motivation and how parents and educators inadvertantly subvert this to the child's detriment. So much of autism "therapy"focuses on how to"motivate" the autistic child, which I think is an incredibly harmful way to approach education. But when our educational system doesn't even trust typical kids to develop their own motivation for learning and for growing into good, solid people, then imagining this to be possible for autistic children who supposedly lack any kind of motivation, well, that seems beyond the pale! But I have come to believe in it so much for both of my kids.

So yes, we're taking it easy at the moment and I let Oliver spend quite a lot of time doing what he wants, even if I sometimes wish he would make different choices.  And yet? Oliver is thriving! The kid takes my breath away. Daily I see him accomplishing things that would undoubtedly be somewhere on the long list of "skills" that any therapeutic approach might have told me that I would have to teach the boy. Examples? Showering,  dressing, searching for a lost item, figuring out how something works, getting someone's attention, making sure that his partner understands his intention before proceeding with a joint activity, even his language is increasing as his writing becomes part of our everyday life .... Well, the list goes on and on. And none of it was even on my radar as something I should be working on at the present time because mostly I'm just focused on other things: like gardening and executing my mom's estate and planning our next vacation. It's a year of deep breathing for me and since I let so much fall away while caring for my mom before her death, I'm being slow and careful in what I pick up again.

I have a lot of regrets about things that I did in the past in the name of "progress" for Oliver. I wish I had never agreed to some of the things I did or allowed when Oliver was still such a little guy. Those months when our school district implemented an intensive, in-home program, the speech therapist who employed the "verbal barrage"technique, the whacky diet. ... I was always so afraid to just let Oliver be his autistic self. Now, I find myself embracing it. I see that "progress" (or what we would call growth, maturity and learning for any other child) is just part of being human, autistic and otherwise.

So for now, I'm content to sit back a little bit and see how things unfold. ... Maybe I'm also making a little bit of progress.
Oliver just Being Oliver


  1. I appreciate what you are saying and just hope that you aren't beating yourself up too much about things you "allowed" in the past. We would be paralyzed as parents (of autistic kids or otherwise) if we did that.

    Thinking about one specific example: showering, we talked about that a lot before Henry went on this class trip, and it has made him extra anxious about bathing independently (about HOPING he doesn't have to do it by himself, and will I help him?). I wish we wouldn't have made such a BIG deal out of it and I'm sure the independence will come.

  2. Yes, I try to remember that I'm a Mother-in-progress!! I don't feel too bad about most things from those early dx days. I always tell Sami that you learn more from your mistakes than you do from getting it right so in a way I'm happy to claim those mistakes. Plus, hopefully, they make our kids more resilient, right? And as more time passes, our kids get older and it's easier to have an appreciation for their own personal arcs of development!

  3. Beautiful post! I do believe all our kids have an intrinsic tendency to do things that help them develop the skills they need. Sometimes the hardest thing for us is to slow down, live in the moment, pay attention, and let it happen.

  4. This really strikes a chord with me. And for my limited perspective on your life, I want to say that it sounded as if you always took a pretty gentle approach to things.

    I have also backed off a lot on trying to get the twins to do things. They seem to learn so much on their own, mostly from watching YouTube videos, to be honest.

    The only area I'm pushy in these days is toilet training. But being toilet trained would open up a lot of the world to them, so I'm sticking with it.

    I think guilt is naturally a huge part of mother hood , but I think you have done an amazing job with your boys. From JBGmom, who now has her identity stuck as mjsuperfan (it's a long story).