Sometimes, it takes the observation of a stranger to realize things. A month or so ago, I was with Janey at our favorite store, the Savers thrift shop. She was looking with me at toys when I noticed another little girl, about Janey's age, who I strongly guessed was also a member of Autism Nation. She ran over to where we were and grabbed a stuffed animal. Her mother was right behind her and apologized, and I said it was fine, and then said "I think our girls are kind of similar" She looked at Janey and smiled, realizing what I had realized, and then said "But my daughter is wild!"
I realized at that moment that Janey is no longer wild much. She doesn't run away from me. We can go for a walk and not hold hands, and she pretty much stays with me. Sometimes she goes a bit ahead, because I am a slow walker, but I can call her to come back or to wait for me, and she does. I don't worry about losing her if I take her to a store (which I don't do much, as she still doesn't like them at all) or an outdoor place. She of course still is in motion most all the time, but it's mostly hand flapping and jumping, not running away.
It's always a bit of a surprise to me to realize that a behavior that Janey used to have is gone. I think that's because stages with Janey show up much later in life than with most kids, and last much longer. That can make them seem like they are just part of her, but they aren't, always.
Another example was Janey's mischief stage. That was a tough one. She'd do things like empty bottles or jars or glasses of water onto the floor, or whole bottles of shampoo into the tub. Even when watching her every second, she'd manage to slip a little ahead of us and do something messy and destructive. That stage lasted about a year, and it was a long year. I think now it was a stage that is a typical toddler stage, exploring the world. The difference was that Janey was taller and more mobile than a toddler, and less able to understand limits, so it was not as easy (or as cute) as it would be with a toddler. Now, unless Janey is truly trying to make something she's seen us make, she doesn't do the mischief stuff much. She might decide to make Kool-Aid using half a jar of powder and a drop or two of water, in the process making a huge mess, but that is a by-product of trying to help herself, not just a mess for fun.
The toughest stage of all is one I will euphemistically refer to as the "diaper incident" stage. If you have a child with autism, you probably know what I mean. It's horrible, horrible, horrible. It results in malodorous messes that take hours and hours to clean, and a feeling of total despair. That stage lasted a couple years---not with incidents every day, but more than enough. One is more than enough. Now, while knocking on wood and pleading for no jinxes, I will say that Janey is pretty much 100% trained in that part of toileting. Thank goodness. The other type of toilet training is maybe 70% right now (although close to 100% at school) and I will write about that soon, but the incident part? Hopefully gone for good.
The bottom line is that the stages Janey has gone through, and a lot of kids with autism go through, are not completely unheard of stages for typical kids. But they start far, far later in life, when there is more potential for mayhem and less tolerance by the general public, and they last much longer. At least some of them, though, do pass. They pass quietly. There isn't a sudden moment when they end. It's more a gradual realization that, wow, she hasn't run away from me for a long time now. She doesn't empty shampoo any more. She hasn't done the horrifying "painting" in years. Wow.
Some parts of autism are, at least for Janey, probably going to be forever. But other parts aren't, and I am proud of the progress my sweet girl has made, just as much as a mother of a two year old is proud when some stages end. I'd say I'm even prouder of the end of those later and longer stages. And more relieved.