Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Dressed for...Success?

This is part of a dog-park ensemble William wore the other day.

Parenting an autistic child has definitely been a different experience than with William’s two “neuro-typical” (NT) siblings.  In all the ways you would expect (we had speech appointments instead of playdates), but in other ways that I’m never sure how to handle.

One of these involves the area of personal style.

With the two older children my outlook on clothing was pretty hands-off.  I theorized that letting our daughter simultaneously wear polka-dots, plaid AND florals would let her “get it out of her system”! ( By the way, I was wrong.  And, as a 20 year old she has a fantastic style that is completely her own.)  With our older son, my only intervention was to ask that he either wear a black shirt OR black pants to school, not both.  

I believe in individual style, I really do. But I also know how you dress tells the world a little something about you.  And when you have a child with a disability, suddenly it seems like clothes can not only make the boy, but they might make the boy a target.

My friend works with high schoolers with ASD, and has a student re-entering public school from a home school environment. This young man’s sartorial choices include too-short jeans and sandals with socks.  My friend explained to his mother that these choices might single him out for teasing.  The mother objected, saying “It shouldn’t matter!”

She’s right.  It shouldn’t matter.  But it does.  Especially in middle school, which we are about to start. And so I will probably be a little more involved in William’s style than I would be if he didn’t have autism.  Which is not to say that he will be decked out in whatever is the pinnacle of trendiness right now.  It just means I will intervene if he tries to get on the bus with the outfit pictured above!

Monday, August 8, 2011

“Don’t Say He Can’t Do It!”

This was my reaction to one of William’s siblings when they expressed the idea William would never be able to slalom water ski, and therefore shouldn’t try.  I know why they said it, they were worried he’d fail.  How he’d feel.  How we’d feel.  Sometimes it’s easier not to try.  But the advocate in me spoke up.  I’d like to say I knew William would be able to do it, but I didn’t.  It just felt unfair to not let him try something any typical child could attempt.

What’s the harm in trying?  If he’s not meant to slalom ski, he can keep skiing with two skis.  Or just go tubing.  

Of course, he showed us. He did it.  He tried every time we were at the lake this summer.  He didn’t get discouraged.  He didn’t doubt himself.  And he did it.  He did it his way, by “dropping a ski” instead of being pulled up on one.  Once he got it, he did three laps around the lake, until we cut the engine so he could stop and rest.  Then three laps again later that afternoon.  And again that evening. And the grin on his face could have cleared a cloudy sky.

This story illustrates why we have decided William will attend public middle school this fall, instead of the small private school for kids with disabilities we were considering.  Simply put, that’s what he wants.  Desperately wants.  So much so that he said “Please, Mom, I’m begging you, let me try Southview!”

What would I possibly say to that?  “You can’t try it?”  “You’re too disabled?”  “You won’t be able to do it?”  No, I can’t say that.  

We’ll try it.  If it doesn’t work, we’ll go back to two skis.

And we’ll remember to wear a life jacket.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

How William Felt About Camp

And, from the journal about his week I learn that this double thumbs up comes from being able to: go tubing, banana tubing, go on a pontoon boat, ride bikes, have sno-cones, go horse-back riding, have fire trucks visit, do music, play Yahtzee, make a t-shirt, play on a playground, go canoeing, do archery, play electric guitar and do karaoke ("Don't Stop Believin)!  

His counselor writes: "...he is a kind, friendly kid who is eager to try new things."  Indeed.

Thank you, Autism Society of Minnesota and Camp Knutson.