Blogger Elise Ronan
Elise Ronan is the mother of two young men with Asperger’s syndrome. A volunteer parent advocate in her home town, she also co-moderates the Twitter support group The Coffee Klatch and is the author of the popular blog Raising Asperger’s Kids. In this feature article, Elise discusses the importance of being flexible.
“Do not project what will be; take each day, each moment, in its own time, and then one day you will look back and see just how far your child has come.”
Flexibility and Reality
By Elise Ronan
The thing that I found that helps when raising children on the spectrum is your ability to be flexible. Now I know that sounds convoluted, considering that one of the hallmarks of an autism spectrum disorder is the inabity to be flexible, but you must maintain your ability to play switcharoo at any given moment. My ability to roll with the punches and take each moment as it comes has helped our entire family deal with the issues that surround the boys on a daily basis. It is as simple as changing the time you allotted for grocery shopping or running to the dry cleaner that could make or break your child’s day.
Now does that mean that they should not learn to be more flexible? Of course, they should. Does it mean that they need to learn how to adjust their schedule or understand that sometimes a teacher, aide or therapist may change? Of course it does, but until that time evolves it is helpful that you be the change you want to see in your children (hat tip to Mahatma Ghandi; hope he appreciates my usurpation of his philosophy.)
Start with a schedule…
We always start out with a schedule and an idea of what we want to accomplish on any given day. We allow the children to partake in creating that schedule. Now when they were little, of course, they were not capable of deciding what to do when, but because we included them in the process and taught them through example how to schedule their time, they are able today to create their own schedules. The reality is that during school this is a lot easier than during the summer, especially when there is no camp or set time for classes of any kind. This means that everything in their day is up to them, and that can be a little daunting, but on the other hand, free reign of your life is not bad once in awhile.
Get them involved…
So what we have them do is list the things that they want to accomplish, or not accomplish, as the case may be, for that day. There are chores, games, exercise and responsibilities to be addressed. Then of course there’s the all-important computer and video game time that has to be worked in as well. We decide what the start time will be and discuss how much time will be allotted to each endeavor. Then they type up their daily schedules. Of course they allot most of the time to having fun. During the summer, as long as exercise and their chores are included I do not really care how long they hang out. My high-schooler had such a hard year in school last year that he truly needed the months of summer to decompress.
Be willing to make adjustments…
So they create their schedule and of course, that means under certain circumstances, my schedule has to revolve around what they need to do. If they decide to do their chores at a particular time and they still need supervision under certain circumstances, I may need to adjust what I planned to do for the day to accommodate them. It really is not a big deal. The idea of parenting is to teach, and that includes teaching life skills as well. We may not think that learning to do the laundry is a top priority, but as they get older it really is. They must learn to take care of themselves and know how to run a household, even to the point that they need to learn how to clean a toilet.
It’s a balancing act…
So this is what I mean by us being flexible. I don’t really think it is so terrible that we align our day to what will make the boys happiest or induce a teachable moment. Many would say that children need to be the ones who run their lives around your priorities. Have you ever met a teenager that does that? There is the natural need to separate from parents at this age, coupled with the fact that they still need your input into how they function. Yes, it is a bit of a balancing act. While they are teenagers, replete with the eye rolling and bad attitude at times, they also have aspergers which means that as much as they don’t want you around, they have to deal with your presence more than their typical peers have to deal with their parents.
(Truth be told, I am not sure, that there shouldn’t be more supervision of typical teens as well, but that is just me.)
Help them explore the options…
That is also an interesting part of raising the boys; they are also quite the teenagers right now, replete with attitude, messy room and the inability to project into the future. Well the oldest, my college man, has some kind of an idea, but that does change on a daily basis. Right now he is contemplating changing his minor. The high-schooler has absolutely no idea what he really wants to do, except that at this moment he does want it to include video games. I remember as a small child he wanted to be a video game tester. However, we had to explain to him that you really don’t get paid for being a beta tester because there are so many out there who are happy to do it for nothing. So we are exploring how he can incorporate his love of video games and the ability to inhale food into a career.
Set the example…
In the meantime, we have also let them decide what they want to do on any given day during the “staycation.” The boys have made a list of activities and assigned it to a day. We will have to see if it works out and if we have to change the schedule around. Interestingly they know how to be flexible on a day-to-day basis; it’s just the moment-to-moment activities that may cause consternation. But we are getting there too.
Flexibility, that’s the key for the whole family. Stay flexible so you can teach your children the purpose of their need to be flexible.