On Monday I had the privilege of taking my son to his first day of second grade. As any mom or parent of young children can attest, there are a whole set of fears that are different than our fears as grown adults. Fears such as how they will interact with others, whether they will be prepared with their school supplies, will they be safe playing in the playground/school/classroom, will they be bullied by older kids, are all very valid concerns and very real for parents to deal with. If we lived in a world that was predictable and safe for all, parents (yours truly included) would let go of our children’s hands sooner and with less hesitation.
I learned a valuable lesson during the Autism evaluation process for both of my sons. It had been a grueling two hours of watching, listening, and waiting. As my sons went through a battery of tests with three psychologists, I listened to my children’s responses to the therapists. My heart went through a roller coaster of emotions, but I kept quiet, only responding to questions asked of me for clarification. At the end of the evaluation process, I listened to the team’s initial observations. As they noted the various behaviors that were obvious signs of Autism, I kept to myself and simply affirmed my understanding with a nod or an “mmm-hmmm.” I kept it in my heart and filed the information for later use when working with my children. I had to surrender to the fact that I am not the expert when it comes to working with children on the Autism Spectrum. I had to leave their behavioral development in the hands of interventionists, psychologists, and therapists who understood my children better.
Despite all that happened that fateful day three years ago, I continued to love and care for my children as my own. When I look back at this past week of “first-day-of-school” jitters, my fears as a mom of Autistic sons were monumental compared to the recent ones from earlier this week. Three years ago, I worried that my sons would never be able to form coherent sentences, or learn how to go potty by themselves, or be able to master fine motor skills like brushing teeth or tying show laces. A joined a small network of parents of Autistic children, and they have been a source of strength and encouragement. One parent in particular left me with words that stayed with me to this day. He told me, “The day will come when they will master these skills and you will look back and wonder how it happened… just do your best as the mom you are with great love, and trust in the team you are working with for the boys.” In a nutshell, my friend asked me to just do my best and to let the boys grow. Easier said than done… but it’s what I did. You know what? It happened.
I kept all the information in my heart, but I also kept my sons in my heart. I held onto their hands tightly in the earlier stages of their diagnosis, fearing the worst would happen to them. Then slowly but surely I began to let go of their hands so that their Autism team could work with them. The team taught me different ways of working with them, especially when it came to pushing them to learn new skills, and I am grateful that they did. Learning about the effectiveness and science behind Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapy was a start, and reading up on it helped ease my fears (see https://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/applied-behavior-analysis-aba). It also taught me how this approach can be used for children who are not on the Autism Spectrum. Above all, it taught me to trust in the process… to let go of my children’s hands.
My oldest son started his school year as a second grader and is off to a good start. He has a steady, albeit small, group of friends that he has had from school for the past three years. He is well liked by those friends, and is even liked by other “older” kids at his school as well. My younger son started his school year as a first grader and is doing a lot better than he lets on. After a Back-to-School-Night talk with his teacher, I discovered that my younger boy is quite a charmer and is the smartest one in his class. He excels academically and his skill set exceeds most of his goals on a weekly basis. The only challenge is getting him to transfer those same skills to other environments and not just at school. I keep all this in my heart and use that information when I need to.
For all the fears I had when my kids were first diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders, I had chosen to keep my children even closer to my heart and let go of those fears. Learning to trust was a hard lesson. I held their hands for a very long time in the beginning, but slowly I let go and let them become the young boys with personalities and talents of their own. I held onto their heart instead, knowing that they would always need their mommy to love them even when they didn’t want mommy to hold their hands for much longer.
So as I sent off my sons to first and second grade earlier this month, I only held their hands until they got to their new classrooms and met their new teachers. As I walked away from their schools, I held on even tighter to their hearts instead. My mommy fears have been quieted by the knowledge and trust that they are growing into the people they were destined to be because we do not walk alone on their journey.
Do you have parent fears you need to let go? What do you hold in your heart for your children? Comment in the space provided.
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