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Friday, January 10, 2014

Letting Go of Janey's Hand

The title of this post sounds kind of metaphorical, but it's actually not.  I'm talking literally about deciding when it's safe to let go of Janey's hand.

Until a few months ago, I held Janey's hand ANY time we weren't in a fenced in outside area.  This includes as soon as she got out of the car in our driveway (we live in a very busy street) and in all parking lots, stores, sidewalks and so on.  She has been known to bolt, and I live in constant fear of her getting lost or running away.  She usually didn't protest the hand holding---it's just the way it was.  But suddenly, around November, she started letting go of my hand in certain situations.  The main one is when she gets out of the car at school.  She seems very, very eager to walk to the school from the car by herself.  And so I'm trying, very hard, to let that happen...

It's hard for me.  I probably held the boys' hands far beyond when most mothers did.  They never minded much, but both of them had naturally less adventurous personalities than Janey does, and less active.  She has always pushed things a little further than they did, and I think this is the case even taking away her autism from the equation.  So my impulse would be to hold her hand forever, into adulthood, for the rest of her life.  And maybe that wouldn't be bad, but she is showing me that isn't what she wants.  She is 9 years old, and is starting to really look like a big girl.  So I am trying, very very hard, to let go when I can.

We park various places, but Janey seems to know the way to school from all of them.  I do tell her to wait as I lock the car and get ready to walk.  Then I tell her she can go, and she goes---ahead of me, because I am slow and not as sure-footed as her.  She walks swiftly and with purpose.  When we get to the crosswalk by her school, I call to her again to stop, and she does---looking back at me with annoyance at my pokey nature.  I always wait for the "walk" signal, and always talk to her about it, trying to get her to notice it and understand it.  And we hold hands crossing the street---I'll do that until I can't any longer.  But then I let go again, and let her walk into the school by herself.  Strangely, once we are inside, she again wants to hold my hand as we walk to her classroom, which I am happy to do.

In thinking about this, I realize that Janey has come a long way in this area.  She doesn't bolt any more, or very rarely does, or I wouldn't even think of letting her walk on her own.  Although I always figured she knew where the school was, in the past if I tried to get her to lead me there, she would just stand around and look blank.  Now she seems to have purpose, and to understand navigation a bit more.  And she is showing the start of a pre-teen-like annoyance with my overprotective nature.

I guess there is a little metaphor here.  I know this kind of issue will keep coming up and coming up.  I need to let Janey do what she CAN do on her own.  I need a way to figure out what she can do that she doesn't WANT to do, and try harder to make her do those things, and I need to look hard at my own behavior and what I just do for her because it's easier.  I need to try, little by little, to let go of her hand more often.  But it's complicated.  When you have a child you are fairly sure will never live on her own, what are you building independence skills for?  I know it's good for her to learn these skills, but somehow, it doesn't seem as purpose-driven as for other kids.  So I have to balance, to think hard.  Learning to walk without holding my hand is not going to lead to her going to the corner store by herself, probably ever.  Do I give up that little bit of safety to let her learn a skill that isn't going to progress on?  I just don't now.  Those are the questions I know I will be asking for years to come.


Mary Leonhardt said...

You are so amazingly turned in to Janey. Have you ever thought about getting certified as a special ed. teacher?

I know it would be very difficult, but think of the advantages. On an altruistic level, you could help so many more children. On a personal level, it would give you a well-paying career.

You still have a good deal of time before Janey ages out of services. But when she does, it would be great to be tuned into what all is available (which your special ed. contacts would provide) and to be able to afford them (which your salary could help with).

Just a gentle suggestion . . . When I was teaching, I would have loved having a case manager with your compassion and wisdom to work with.

Sophie's Trains said...

I do much more for Sophie than for my other kids at her age, because she needs it. I do notice though that sometimes I do too much- like carrying her up the stairs- she can do it! She's not at the stage yet to let go of her hand in public, but I'm progressing to letting her walk instead of carrying her everywhere (she used to fall a lot and doesn't anymore. But I guess in my mind I still think she's safer in my arms). I notice that when I start dressing her she sticks out her arms, or when I take her hands out of shirt sleeves she then puts the shirt over her head herself. Is teaching skills valuable even if she isn't ever going to live independently - I think yes! Anything she can do herself is one less thing you have to do. Any new skill will make connections in her brain, keep her mind active. There's no such thing as wasted knowledge. I say any little thing they learn will have positive effects on her life and yours. And also nevermind the impact on your relationship- trusting you believe in her, self-esteem from new independence. It's all good!

Freeyoke said...

I wasted a year of my life earning a certificate in secondary education for social studies. Never worked as history, government of geography teacher though I'm sure I could been a good teacher. I did learn about "scaffolding" where you provide support and help the child to build on what they know. I've been frustrated over the holidays as my daughter cannot say things she knew months before. I was hoping she was making steady progress at building up her vocabulary but it seem like the scaffolding is coming apart. I thought she wouldn't go through a regression phase and took some comfort in that but there's nothing worse than watching a family member just go blank when you know she could do something before. My wife is seeing the regression, too and nobody can really tell us what to next to compensate. We've never tried ABA due to the money but we are getting more tired of spinning our wheels. We may end up spinning wheels for long time but all the talk about early intervention makes me think- ok, but what kind of intervention works? I saw the amount the ABA therapists charge per hour but didn't really ABA listed as a specialty within a 20 mile radius from our home. I'm skeptical and see how some unscrupulous people could make a killing practicing a version of autism witchcraft on desperate parents. This brings me back to fostering independence as a stopgap measure for now. Anytime I think my daughter is "tuned in" I try to get her to do things for herself. It's a short list for a girl turning 4 next month but hey she actually started to use the toilet a little so hope springs up through the cracks of despair. I wish her teachers at the daycare would reinforce the potty training but they don't bother filling out the daily report regularly. It must be too much to ask them to help out the only autistic kid in the school and the only non-potty trained kid in her class.

Mary Leonhardt said...

I don't know why David never taught. I do know that sometimes it is very hard to get a high school social studies position.

Special Ed. teacher positions, on the other hand, are usually available, and special ed. tutor positions are almost always available. Tutor pay is around 17 dollars an hour, and might be a good way to ease into teaching, and see if you like it. Usually all that you need is a bachelor's degree.

Antti said...

I'm so delighted by whatever skill my son acquires. She waits and stops when you tell her to. That's huge!