Less May Be More

Renata Lac – August 2012

As the parent of a 26 year old autistic young man, looking back over the years feels a bit like peering through a telescope at a very sparse landscape. Prior to the advent of the Internet, searching for information, for services or providers, and for support was a solitary hunt.

In the day-in-day-out rearing of your child, so much was left to the luck of the draw and to the stamina one could muster to “make things happen.” On the school front, where educational settings were assigned, we expected schools would universally offer “best practices.” We naturally relied on individual teachers or therapists to give direction on this journey without a road map. But the trouble was that there were at that time few best practices and many of the teachers and therapists were themselves still gaining knowledge. In the 1990’s there was a general societal lack of awareness and little understanding of the unique learning needs of our children or the supports needed for success.

Such a void naturally puts immense pressure on parents to micro-manage every aspect of their child’s life. Parents have had to be ready at all times to “go to bat” to maintain the needed support to gain some control over situations which can feel quite chaotic and produce deep anxiety in both child and parent. This condition of chronic stress can over time take its toll. What mother has not wakened in the middle of the night and worried whether she is doing enough, or what to do next, and what the future will look like for her son or daughter?

As parent-advocates we have had to evaluate incidents through a lens that has too often focused on the weakness of disability, rather than on the strength of the whole child. It occurs from the moment of diagnosis; a slight of hand which switches parents from looking at growth to looking at “deficit.” Where is the child? Where is the disability? We ourselves are left to piece together the reality of our child, and the child, being a child, cannot add his or her own voice.

The expectation of our child’s independence which sets in post-school years may reveal “learned helplessness” or fragments of undeveloped skills which make the road to greater self-sufficiency a very slow lane. Compared to the “average” young adult’s journey, the passage toward adulthood for our sons and daughters on the spectrum seems too often to be simply an extension of all the years before: lack of resources and opportunities, inadequate support, no guidance.

And so from the time of diagnosis parents are having “to do” for their child. Yet in the process of “separation” and fostering independence as they mature, a conscious effort to “do less” is essential.  It’s hard to pull back after all those years of frantic and dedicated involvement and “problem solving.”  Aren’t we as parents so very used to worrying, hovering, watching out, and jumping in? We don’t even realize how much we may not be giving our child the opportunity and space to allow for the development of individual motivation that leads to learning.  Doing for our child, which we have become so good at now, becomes the easier path rather than having the patience and self-restraint of not doing.

And sometimes learning involves some discomfort. Discomfort for all. As I write this, my son’s laundry sits washed and wet in the machine. He did it two days ago and it’s getting a bit of a musty smell. He is out of clean underwear I notice. Will he move on and dry his clothes today I wonder? We’ll see. But mum’s the word and mum won’t do it for him. At least with this situation, right now. I remind myself it is through examining each situation and holding back the impulse to let habit take over that I will slowly see him becoming an independent young man.

Over time the Internet, and the voices it has enabled, have filled out the landscape.  If anything, the challenge these days is to filter out the myriad of information. It is our hope that this website will be a place to share our experiences (all of us… parents and autistic adults), to foster dialogue, and to identify that which will be helpful and useful in making for a brighter future. 

Renata Lac

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.