Photo credit to Dustin Groh, via Unsplash
My independence is not your independence and your independence is not my child's. So why is it that I have to constantly justify how and why I raise my children as I do?
It has been often suggested to me that I do 'too much' for my children. That by giving them the level of support that they need, I am somehow stymieing their growth. That it will not help them in the long run. The old 'the world isn't like that and they will just have to learn to get on with it' bollocks. Only recently I was told by a practitioner, whose expertise I had sought, that it is important that my child become more socially independent and less reliant on me. I nearly swore.
I have written about this before, in my Parent Toolkit post. When a child receives a diagnosis their parents have to do a crash course in order to understand how to support their child, all the while juggling shock, fear and, very often, guilt. We make a plan, often using advice from practitioners who are experts at pointing out every single bloody 'area of concern', and crack on. We make lists, plot possible routes to a final achievement and, if we are lucky, enlist the help of willing people around us. But the work, in itself, is both overwhelming and relentless and we CANNOT tackle every aspect of development that needs support, simultaneously. We pick our battles and work on what we can, when we can, navigating the tricky path between ensuring that our kids feel loved and not deficient. We are all striving for independence, but that means different things to different families. Things that a neurotypical child might pick up through a bit of practice can take forever. My son was eight before he could cope with using cutlery appropriately and now wouldn't question it. He eats oranges, completely unaware of the two years worth of minimal gains that it took to get him to that stage. I could give you a hundred such examples. There are aspects of his development that I have been working on for many years that we still haven't achieved but with which we persevere.
Any parent with more than one child will tell you that each one learns differently. Any parent with one child will tell you that their child learns differently to many of the children in their class at school. All children need support to learn new skills. Yet for some reason, parents whose children have additional needs seem to be bombarded with questions as to why they parent as they do, as if there is a gold standard of parenting and child achievement that we must constantly strive towards. If I am being generous I can just about accept that some people think that it is a way of showing an interest. But be assured, constantly having to explain the whys of everything we do is absolutely exhausting and it can take years to prove our point.
One of the reasons that I started to blog was because I was so tired of answering the same questions over and over again. Every single time someone commented on what my child ate I felt that I needed to explain the whole food issue, definitively laid down in Sausages. I felt judged and it made me defensive. People have to grasp that children reach milestones at different times, or not at all, and what parents need is support and not challenge. How about praising a child for what they can do, instead? Or stepping up by gently asking how to support their growth yourself? Believe me, the slightest victory will be warmly received.
It is nearly twelve years since my son was diagnosed as being autistic. I didn't know what I was doing, had not the faintest clue how to help him and no idea that he would ever manage to speak, dress himself, or communicate his needs. Very early on I had to stop worrying too much about the future and concentrate on the here and now, with only an occasional glance towards the horizon. Whilst he continues to need significant support at school in order to access the education on offer, there is little doubt that he will, in time, be able to live an independent life. His independence. For him. He will still require a level of support practically and socially but will be as self-reliant as he can be and it is something that he craves. He simply cannot wait to head out into the world.