Therapeutic parenting has its advantages. Instead of dimissing my son’s difficulties. I look at them closely and see how I can support him. I take his disabilities into consideration when talking to him, working with him, and when I have expectations for his behavior. I deal with him in a therapeutic way. The world, however, often does not. Sure friends, family and people who know him (or me) are more acommodating to his quirky behavior, odd mannerisms and unexpected outbursts. But what about the real world? How will my parenting help him in the real world?
Autism spectrum can cause serious differences for a student trying to work a job or fit into college. Fortunately community colleges in our state are required to provide accommodations for students with a documented disability. Last week my son and I went to an orientation meeting for the disability program at the college he’s interested in. We sat in a room with 35 other parents, and high school seniors, to hear the counselors speak and to participate in activities designed to help the prospective students learn what services would be available to them on the campus.
I was pretty surprised when the other mothers in my group did everything for their students! They took the activities, they told their student what to do, and then, when it took longer than the moms were comfortable with, the moms took over and did the activity themselves! I was shocked to see such invasive parenting. Were these mothers going to attend college along side their students? Would they sit in classes with them? Take notes for them? Do their homework assignments?
When will they figure out their parenting needs to back off? Here are some ideas for parenting a child with a disability to help him be ready for independence:
Watch your interactions. Are you still doing things your nearly-adult child can do? Organize his homework? Correct his assignments? Schedule his activities? Go with him to everything? If you can identify where you are overprotective, address that area right now.
Strive for “typical” behavior. Do you know typical teenage behavior? If your only experience is parenting a child or children with disabilities, you need to learn about ‘typical teenagers”. I recommend this book Surviving Your Adolescents: How to Manage and Let Go of Your 13-18 Year Old, by Thomas Phalen. Not everything in the book will apply to your situation, but you may benefit from a reminder about what is normal for teenagers.
Put them out there in the “real world”. Does your teen sit in his room playing video games all day and night? If so, he has some friends, albeit “online” friends. Try to get your student out into the real world, for work, or volunteering, or social activities. More than anything you tell them, they grow by experiencing life, don’t they? Push them out there (if need be) so they can start experiencing life.
Remove your structure but put expectations on them. Does your student know what to expect after high school? Be clear about how your student will contribute (whether it’s school or work, if he stays home or moves in with a relative, etc.) Expect some blowback. He won’t want to take up what you have always done for him (like laundry), but think of it this way – Will you be around forever? If he needs to learn skills for independent living, why not start now? You know your student the best, so support where you have to, but hand more and more of his life over to him. Start today!
My son starts college classes in September. I sure hope those “overprotective orientation mothers” won’t be there!