Tag Archives: trust

Trust

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?

Wing Check

I remember the public library near my home where I grew up – in a suburb twenty miles east of Los Angeles. I felt comfortable there, surrounded by books and like-minded people. I loved to go there, whether it was to find a cozy novel or to do research for a report or essay (definitely pre-Internet). When I was fourteen, my parents would drop me off with instructions to be standing out front for pick-up in an hour, which always went by too fast.

I still love libraries, especially small ones like the one I grew up with and the one in the small southern Oregon town in which I currently reside. Once every two weeks, Nigel and I walk the third-of-a-mile distance from our home to the library. I read magazines while he peruses the juvenile shelves for his favorite book series, Eyewitness, covering topics as varied as the Civil War, Ancient Greece, pirates, knights, and everything in between. After a half an hour, he has made his selections, and we check them out via the self-checkout (which he loves), and then we walk home. Often, since it is a small library, we need to request certain books through the inter-library loan service, and that is what Nigel did last week for the book The Neverending Story. And they called today to let us know that it had arrived.

I was busy working, trying to meet a deadline, and of course Nigel had to get his book right then. I thought for a second. He is fourteen, he can communicate, and he wants to be independent. He can do this, I thought. I took a deep breath and the words came out as I exhaled: “Would you like to walk to the library to get it yourself?”

“I can go,” he said, some excitement in his voice. “I know how to get there. I can get the book myself.” He quickly went to put on his shoes and jacket, as if worried that I would change my mind. “I’ll watch for cars,” he added.

I opened the front door for him as he left. “Be careful,” I said. “And come right back after you get the book.” I checked the clock and allotted enough time for him to walk there and back, added a few extra minutes for distraction, and noted what time I should start to worry if he wasn’t back yet. Ha! Start to worry. Like I wasn’t going to worry the entire time he was gone.

A minute after he left, some idiot on a scooter sped down our 25-mile-per-hour residential street, and I worried about Nigel reacting to the sound, or worse, not getting out of the way fast enough. I worried about him crossing the busier street that the library is on, I worried about someone luring him into their house. I worried about him darting away from bees and other flying insects, I worried about him leaving his library card at the library and having to go back for it (which has happened before, even when I was with him).

But these are the baby steps we must take. I would love for my son to at least have a semi-independent life, and I must start fostering that. I must let go a little. I have to trust. I’ve laid the groundwork, and now it’s time for him to test his wings a little. And it’s time for me to let him. I just hope that the idiot on the scooter is long gone when Nigel makes his way back to the nest.

It was silly of me to think that I could focus on my work while Nigel was gone. He has gone out on his own before, for bike rides around the neighborhood or to go to a friend’s house, and I worried those times, too. I don’t suppose it will get any easier, especially as he gets older and wants to do even more things independently. And I know that this is something all parents go through to a degree, especially since I have a younger, non-autistic child and go through it with him. But it is different – they are different.  They have coping tools and social skills to see them through many situations that Nigel does not, making him far more vulnerable. But I can’t deprive him of the satisfaction of walking to the library himself to check out a book if he is able to. And I believe that he is.

Right on time, actually early, he walks through the door, book in hand and library card in pocket. “Everything go okay?” I ask. “Fine,” he says, and shows me the book. It’s probably the same exchange that took place with my parents when they picked me up at the library all those years ago. And it feels just as good, all these years later.