Every year when April rolls around, I reflect on how far my Caleb has come that year. He has had some struggles this year, especially in school, but the Jr. High years are a struggle for all kids.
All his life, I have prayed for him to move more to the "average" side of social skills, academics, self-regulation. I can embrace his quirkiness, but there are times when life is just easier when you are able to blend in a bit. He is now keenly aware of his differences now that he is 12 and the level of maturity in his friends is increasing by leaps and bounds.
He is making huge strides! He began riding the bus this year. That has been a double edged sword in that it is a source of independence for him (and makes my life a bit easier) and an opportunity for him to be teased. Of course, I would love to take care of everything for him, but as parents, we need to be encouraging his autonomy and should be gently nudging him to be HIM. I gave him the choice: I will drive him to school each day or he can continue to ride the bus and advocate for himself. He chose to ride the bus!
He is able to remember and take his own medicine in the morning. This is huge!!!!! We started this semester with a pill organizer, ran through the morning routine with him for several days, and now it is the first thing he does in the morning, completely on his own.
He can now get completely dressed and ready for school with me only saying, "Show me your responsibility," after eating breakfast. No distractions, no interferences from his brother, no yelling and crying, no constant reminders from yours truly. He can brush his teeth, put on his clothes down to shoes and socks, use deodorant and a bit of cologne, brush his hair, and remember to grab his glasses, lunch kit, and backpack, consistently, every day! It's honestly like a miracle. Yes, I set out his clothes, and yes, I pack his lunch, but we will be transitioning him to being responsible for those things this year. It's a major accomplishment.
He is now in charge of taking out the trash. He hates it. He hates the smell, the sight of all the trash in a bag, and the general uneasy feeling he gets when he has to carry it into the garage to the trash can, but he does it. My husband walked through it with him, answered his questions, watched him do it a few times, and now he does it. We went through this scenario:
Caleb: "Do I take out the trash every day?"
Dad: "Not every day, just when you see that it is full."
Caleb: "So every day?"
Dad: "If it is full every day, take it out. If it is not full that day, do not take it out."
Caleb: "So just on school days?"
Dad: "Caleb, every day, look at the trash can. Ask yourself if it is full. If the answer is yes, take it out. If the answer is no, do not take it out and check it again the next day."
Caleb: "OK. It's my job."
Dad: "Yes, it is your job."
The what-if's in life are so difficult for him. He works so well with a clearly defined routine. He loves to know what to expect and does not deal with change easily. So when life happens, and problems arise, big or small, he does not know what to do to problem solve. When you run out of clean underwear, what do you do? When you don't have milk, can you still have breakfast? If it is raining outside, what do you need to bring for school that you didn't have to bring the day before? If it is Wednesday and Jansen is supposed to take his shower first, but Jansen is still doing homework and it is 8:00pm, is it ok to go ahead and shower before him? It's all the tiny things that we all take for granted that Caleb needs a plan for. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to be aware of those types of changes all through the day, to create options for him, diffuse the frustration and anxiety, help him make the right decisions, and reinforce all of that...when it is something that kids just naturally do?
I'm focused on the positives, the progress, the thought that I know he will gain all these life-skills, just at a different pace and through a different method. He is an amazing child, full of life and love. Autism just makes him more amazing!