Having a special needs child growing up in my home has taught me more about trust than any other element of my life. Especially with my particular child having such an independent spirit and wanting to do things on his own. The problem is that he does not always have the coping tools and social understanding necessary to navigate many situations he could encounter. And so, as he has gotten older and has started wanting to go places on his own, I have learned that lecturing him on safety issues and wringing my hands while he’s gone are not the best ways to cope with the experience.

Of course, all good parents in general are concerned about their children’s safety and well-being when they’re out doing something on their own. I know how it is with a non-autistic child because I have one. I know that even though I have just as much concern for his welfare, the worry is mitigated. He can handle himself far better in situations where other people are involved, which is almost any situation when someone’s away from home. I don’t worry about him causing problems, or about his behavior escalating. I don’t worry about him reacting violently to insects flying near him. I don’t worry about someone tricking him into doing something unsafe or unlawful. And I’m just as relieved when he gets home safely, but while he’s gone, the worry seems more manageable.

For two years now, my autistic teen has been asking me to let him ride his bike to the local grocery store alone. And for many reasons, I kept putting it off. I just didn’t feel that he was ready. Now, since he recently started riding his bike to and from school every day and has demonstrated that he can use a cell phone properly, I can no longer justify not letting him ride to the store, which is just a little farther away than the school.  One afternoon last week, he asked me to let him ride his bike to the store. I put it off, telling him he had to do his chores first. He did them in record time and asked me again, assuring me that he’d be careful. Out of stalling material, I literally wrung my hands and began breathing rapidly, like the beginnings of a panic attack. Nigel noticed.

“What’s wrong?” he asked.

I hemmed and hawed. Finally, I said it. “I just wish you didn’t want to do this, Nigel. It worries me.”

He paused, and then he made eye contact and said, in his flat but beautiful voice, “Mom, sometimes you just have to trust me.”

I almost gasped. A lump quickly formed in my throat. It was one of those rare lucid moments when he says something so simple, yet so profound. Somehow, he knew exactly what to say. “You’re right,” I conceded. “I think you’re ready to do this.”

“I am,” he said in the same resolute tone.

We then did a quick “verbal social story,” since these days he rarely needs them to be written. I verbally walked him through the route he would ride, told him where to lock up his bike, discussed what he would do in the store, and suggested that he not stop to talk to anyone along the way. He could briefly answer a question if someone asked, but then come straight home. We figured out how much time he would need to get there, get his Silly Putty, and come back. Then he left, and I watched him out the window as he rode away. I visualized a herd of angels surrounding him.

While he was gone, I took his advice. I worked at my desk and just trusted. I trusted that he could do this, trusted that he would be all right. And to my surprise, I actually believed it. I did so well that right about the time I thought to check the time, I heard him rattle the side gate to indicate that he was home, putting his bike away. My eyes immediately welled up and I patted them dry as I rose from my desk. Nigel strode into the house and I went to greet him.

“I did it, Mom,” he said calmly, with a hint of pride. “See? I told you I would be fine.”

“You did and you are,” I said, putting my arm around his tall, warm frame. “I’m really proud of you.”

“Thanks for letting me go.”

I tried not to get misty-eyed again. “You’re welcome, honey,” I said.  How did he know that that’s the hardest part of trusting – the letting go? That, as I discovered that afternoon, it’s also the most rewarding?

23 thoughts on “Trust

  1. Grandma Madeline

    What a poignant story and experience! One of the many emotion-filled thoughts I had while reading it was a statement you had said to me many years ago as you sadly and fearfully speculated if you would ever be able to communicate in a full verbal capacity with Nigel when he grew up. Not only are you able to talk together, but he is comforting you as he bravely strives to accomplish his achievements!

  2. kyra

    oh tanya! i absolutely love this! it’s exactly what we do, isn’t it? keep letting go, being willing to trust, little by little, appropriate risk taking. eeeeeeek! i love the obvious trust between you and nigel, the honesty. so moving! am so proud of nigel! and you!

  3. Kim

    Wow! What an amazing story – you tell it so well! Good for both of you! I could practically feel you wringing your hands when he asked to go! Very powerful.

  4. Cathy

    my son sounds like your’s–he’s very independent, but impulsive and I worry about him being able to handle situations. you did a great job of making sure he was ready to do this! good for both of you!

  5. pixiemama

    Oh, Tanya.
    I still have a lump in my throat from reading it. My current mantra is “let it be” but maybe I should start working a little “let it go” in there just to start preparing myself.

    You are such an amazing mom.


  6. CorrieHwe

    Beautiful story. It is amazing to let go and see how well it works out. You are both growing up so quickly. 😉 I have to get out my tissue box too.

  7. Joanie

    Oh, my. (sniff, sniff) Tanya, you’ve done it again, another beautiful chapter in your family’s journey. I so love visiting your blog, but I am only able to visit on strong days. The way you write just gets to me every time. The experiences and the emotions you talk about are so close to ours, it is sometimes hard to read. And yet, you always manage to find the beauty of the situation. Thanks again for sharing.

  8. Paulene Angela

    Tanya, Thank you for your beautiful words and Nigel I’m really happy for you, what a proud moment.

  9. Anonymom

    Trust is the issue. When I lived in NYC, there was a bank called First Trust. I cut out those words from their ads and pasted them all around my apartment.

  10. Brenda

    “The letting go” – you hit the nail on the head, Tanya! The hardest thing ever. But what an amazing piece of communication between you two. Sigh. How beautiful!

  11. Laura

    (Wiping away the tears)

    Thanks! I am already hormonal!
    This has been such a big deal for me too. My most recent attempt to let my son be more independent went terrible, AND it was all because of me!! I wonder who has more anxiety, my aspie or myself.

  12. Nicki

    I think its great that you took a deep breath and let him do it! It seems like he felt he was ready, and he was right! I’m glad it turned out so well for Nigel and you!

  13. Tera

    trust. so simple, but so complex. I let Kaeden pick up a few little things i need at the grocery store as it’s his means of being ‘mama’s helper’ and he finds so much pride in doing so. But you are right, when I hear his bike tires on the gravel outside the back yard, relief washes over me. It’s much easier with Jari. I always just know he’ll be okay, but with Kaeden that doubt always lingers in that not-so-secret place in my mind. I’m glad you and Nigel had this experience. That son of yours is teaching you more that you’ll ever learn from a book. I’m so proud of both of you.

  14. Annique

    This reminds me quite a bit of my own youth. My mom especially had a hard time letting go out of protectiveness. She did gradually albeit grudgingly, fearing that not letting me go would be far more damaging to my development. Now I’m 21, and just a few months back my best friend and I (she also has autism) went on a city trip to Paris. No parents, no caretakers, no tour guide. Just us and my basic high school French. We had a great time and everything went just fine. Our parents are quite proud of the level of independance we’ve gained, and I think secretly they are also proud of our outspoken ‘the sky is the limit’ attitude.

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