Little bits of Independence

When it comes to raising children, it can often be hard to know the best ways to balance keeping them safe and allowing them enough leeway to be able to learn independence. Add in having a child with autism and those lines between the two get even fuzzier. Damion is now 10 years old, and I don’t want to put him in positions where I am holding him back, but there are additional safety concerns with him that I don’t necessarily feel with my daughter who is two years younger. So, this summer I have made a conscious decision to let go of the reigns, just a little bit, and grant him a few more ounces of independence.

My two youngest play baseball/softball every spring. They play for local teams and our practices are at our community parks. Those parks have playgrounds near the ball fields but not within range of what I have normally felt is an acceptable distance to allow Damion to get away from me in a public setting. In all years past this meant that if he wanted to go to the playground, I would go with him and not be able to watch any of their practice, or I would have to bring “extra hands” to help. Well, this year we let go of our reins a bit.

 During practice times we allowed Damion at first to just go to the bathroom by himself. Bathrooms are a walk down the path but still completely within eye shot. I would tell him to go and come right back. The first few times I watched him the whole way and I found that he did great and followed the directions exactly as I told him to. Then we moved onto the playground.

At first, we only tried allowing him to go the playground, without me right beside him, during his younger brother’s practice because his sister was able to tag along and help keep an eye on him. As he did well with that, I started letting him venture to the playground without his sister right by his side for short bits of time, giving him instructions to check-in every so often.

For the most part he did great! Only a few small hiccups like reminding him not to leave any items at the playground when he returned (his crocs were the main thing he would leave behind as he loves to be barefoot). We did have one instance where there was a game going on at another field during our practice, so the concession stand was open, and he returned to me holding a bottle of Pepsi. I was confused and walked up to the concession stand and the lady working was holding a hot dog for him as well. Apparently, he had ordered the hot dog and drink and just walked away without paying. Luckily, I had some money on me. No issues that we couldn’t work through and just some additional teachable moments to help him gain some additional responsibility.

None of these allowances would seem out of the ordinary for a neurotypical 10-year-old, but these little bits of freedom were a big deal for Damion. We hope to be able to continue to work with him and allow him more opportunities to gain these additional bits of independence as time goes on. I don’t know if he will ever be on the same scale as his same-age counterparts, but hopefully as he continues to grow, we can expand his freedoms and continue to find the perfect age appropriate balance between his independence and his safety.