Monday, June 21, 2010

Helicopter, Helicopter

I've been thinking about this subject quite a bit lately. The whole "helicopter" parent debacle. I was reading an article by Shannon Des Roches Rosa (who kicks much buttinski) over at Squidalicious where she tells the story of her son, Leelo, at the park. She preps her readers  by saying that Leelo is not a "free-range" boy, and that too much spontaneous and unstructured play is "risky". 

Leelo wanted to play with the kids, which he normally does not want to do. Like all of us with kids on the spectrum, we have that moment. The A Bomb, aka the Anxiety Bomb which implodes and freezes our insides. Our normally functioning brains are reduced to cottage cheese as we frantically attempt to make some decision that will be best for our child at the time. 

That decision can have long lasting consequences. If it's a good choice, there are rainbows and magical unicorns. If it's a bad one, well..we all know what our children are capable of when their off their game in a major league way.  So, we tend to chose what is safe. We decide what will have the least amount of collateral damage or that which will not have us eat an entire box of Ring Dings. 

Today at karate, Nathan was frenetic. He could hardly stand still, jumping up and down, doing endless pushups. I was watching him do this and at one point did tell him to listen to his sensei, but then I left him alone. I felt bad I had interfered. I had to let him feel it out, to solve it on his own.

He came out after class and said,
 "Mom, I got a yellow stripe, that's for character."
"How was your character today?" I asked.

"I had bad character." he replied.
"Why do you think you had bad character?" 
"I did not listen to Sensei and that's what I'm supposed to do." he said. 
"What can you do to change that for next time?"
"I will listen to Sensei!" he chimed.

I wish I had just left him alone. I felt very hovering Mother Ship-ish.

When I was a kid, I walked to school a half mile unsupervised at 5 years old. I had a key to my house and could walk in and spend the afternoon alone by the time I was 8. At the age of 12, I used to take the subway to downtown Boston alone. I was very free range before it evolved into supposed child abuse and neglect.  My mother's criteria for intervention was if there was blood or I was suddenly engulfed in flames. I'm not quite that detached, but I struggle with making it easier and having him wrestle with things, ideas and concepts which may plague him. 

We had our three month goal assessment with Nate's therapist and we discussed what we wanted to work on. Nate said he would work on his handwriting. I told him I wanted to work on his social pragmatics and his therapist said that she would work on his being more proactive in regards to making connections with friends (which tie in together). I think now giving Nate input in regards to his treatment is essential to his continued psychological, behavioral and social growth. He's part of the plan, as he should be. He's old enough and cognitive enough to be a voice in those decisions. 

So, to get back to Leelo...
After Shannon had her A bomb, she decided to let Leelo play:

He's in the middle, just being a kid with autism, enjoying other neurotypical kids around him.

We can't always let our children roam freely, but they do need to feel free sometimes. 


  1. I love reading your posts. You should turn them all into a book! Your writing is incredible and so relate able! Thank you for sharing!

  2. Let me ask you, and anyone else nearby, for a bit of relevant advice...if you don't mind.

    My little Aspie, about to start 4th grade, has finally started getting invitations to little boy birthday parties. Sometimes moms are expected to stay, sometimes encouraged not to.

    How much do I explain to the other moms in advance? On the one hand, I don't want others to expect Rain Man or to coddle him. On the other, I feel a need to explain why I'm telling them "If he gets angry and starts to yell or throw things, just make sure he doesn't run into traffic". OR do I leave it up to the other kids, who obviously wanted his quirky little company enough to invite him, to say "Hey mom! He's gone nuclear. Grab him before he hits the street!"

    What do you think?

  3. @Meghan: In my humble opinion, I would stay at the party, but in the background. That gives him some space and you peace of mind to know that you don't have to be a hovercraft.

    And as for moms, I personally do not mention anything upfront unless I feel it's necessary. If I do mention it, it's always straight up, but I always say it with a smile.

    I think if he's getting invitations, then the kids seem to think he's okay, even if he's quirky, which means that the moms have taught their children that we're not all the same and that is okay.

    I hope that works! Please let me know how things worked out. :)

  4. @Sherry: A book? Well..the thought has crossed my mind. I feel I need to focus more to get it written down. :)

  5. Oh, the tension between giving them enough support and giving them freedom. Sigh.

  6. Meaghan - what the Ninja said. All of it. Hover invisibly in the background; if explanations become warranted - always "straight up and with a smile" - that's exactly how I do it as well. My child does not have a disease that requires their pity, he has a difference that deserves their respect.

    I would also add: bring things that may help calm or regulate him via his sensory diet (gum, fidget toys, etc).

    Love Squid too. And blogher in general :)


  7. @Caitlin Wray: I truly appreciate your comment. That is awesome. Thanks so much! And ditto on the fidgets, too, they can certainly help your aspie during times of stress.

  8. @Brenda: I think all parents go through this with their children, but it's hard no matter what! :)