The other day, I glanced at Janey asleep on her bed and had the thought I think every parent has at one point---I thought "Who is that?" She looked so big that for a minute I didn't recognize her. Janey is growing up fast. She is outgrowing her clothes like crazy, she now wears a woman's size 7 1/2 shoe (we all have big feet!) and after always looking younger than her age, suddenly she looks older than her age. That is something that seems to run in my family---early maturation followed by ending up not very tall! I am proud of my girl growing up, but I am also scared.
The world isn't as kind to autistic teens and adults as it is to autistic children. This isn't something planned, but it's the truth. I fight it very much myself, when I see an adult acting obviously oddly. I tell myself "That is Janey some day" but there is something instinctive that makes me uneasy, that puts up a little guard. I hate this about myself, but I have to be honest. We expect kids to act in unpredictable ways, but when adults do, it takes a minute to see that they have special needs. Here's another post by the mother of an autistic girl that tells of these worries very well----link here.
There is also the deadline that hovers over all of us in the alternative world of fairly severe special needs---age 22. The schools will educate Janey until she is 22. Then, she is an adult, and there is no more requirement by anyone to educate her. I hope very much there will be programs in place for her at that point, but it's not a certainty.
These things combine to make me wish time would slow down. Janey getting older isn't going to lead to the milestones we dream of for our kids---college, marriage, a job, kids of their own. Janey getting older means for a large part the same Janey, but in a bigger body. That must be incredibly frustrating for her, to the extent she understands it. When I think about that, I can understand her screaming.
Of course, there is small ways in which Janey does get more mature, and I love seeing them. Yesterday after school we went to the ice cream store, the neighborhood market. It's just a very short way from our house, and Janey was impatient with my slow walking. I made her stay next to me most of the way, but on the way home, I told her once we were just in front of houses that she could go ahead. She ran to our driveway, and then turned and came back to me. I told her she could go down the driveway by herself, and she ran and did that. I thought about how just a year ago, I would not have dreamt of letting her run ahead of me, and I felt proud of her. She is progressing in little ways all the time.
In thinking about Janey's future, I wonder if we are preparing her for it in the right way. I think about what she learns at school. School is set up for a future that it's unlikely Janey will ever have. She is learning things that are meant as foundations of reading and writing and as an ultimate goal, a career or college. She doesn't learn these things easily, or at all. I wonder sometimes if her time would be better spent learning other things---how to prepare simple meals, how to do small house chores, and very importantly, how to enjoy the things she can enjoy---running, music, swimming and things like that. More and more, time spent trying to get Janey to say letters or count objects seems a bit wasted. But when she learned how to throw away her own pull-up, how to put her clothes in the hamper, how to pour herself a glass of water---those things made her life and our life and her life happier and easier. I picture a goal of her someday maybe walking to the ice cream store on her own. We would watch her go, maybe trail her, but I picture her going in, picking out the ice cream, taking it to the counter and giving them money. The workers there are so kind to her---we could prepare them ahead of time for her visit. And she could walk home on her own. That is a goal I would love to aim for, maybe 5 or 10 years from now. It might seem like a little thing, but working toward that might make more sense than working toward reading.
The next big step our society is going to have to prepare for is all the current child with autism no longer being children. We need to think seriously about what we would like their lives to look like, what THEY would like their lives to look like. That is what I am going to start doing with Janey. I think she has a chance at a happy life. It's not going to be the life that most people lead, but I can see it being a life that has its own meaning and joy. That is, I can on hopeful days. On discouraged days, I am terrified of that future.