Wednesday, 17 May 2017

When growing independence is frightening

Waffles for breakfast

Have you seen Rain Man?  If not you should.  There was a scene in it where Raymond, an adult with autism,  tries to cook frozen waffles in a toaster.  It all goes wrong, smoke pours out of appliance and the smoke alarm goes off.  His brother, played by Tom Cruise, comes rushing in, smashes the alarm off the ceiling and sorts out the smoking toaster. Raymond isn't safe to be by himself.  He was just trying to do was make himself breakfast,  but he is not independent.  He needs support, even to make breakfast.  And so does my son.

Anthony is a nine year old boy.  He has autism too.  Unlike Raymond though, he's not fictitious, he is a real little boy. He is our eldest son. He walks and he talks but he finds somethings difficult.  He goes to a regular school and has someone there who helps him, because he is not independent.  However, that doesn't mean he doesn't want to be.

About six months ago or so, Anthony started to ask to do more things "by myself."

I'm not going to lie.  When he says this it sounds almost exactly the same as when our three year old daughter says it.  "I can do it," she'll say whilst trying to pull on her socks and shoes. But whereas Jane has then mastered her shoes less than a week later,  her autistic brothers still needs to think about it several years later.  However, being able to put your shoes on or not won't burn your house down.  Being able to put your shoes or not, will not cut your hand open. 

One morning this last week, I was woken by the sound of Anthony scripting down stairs.  He was saying the same things over and over again and it took me a moment to realise he was talking about someone being hurt.  And then he said, "I'm going to die."

I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs to find Anthony holding his hand.  "I was just trying to make breakfast," he said.  Oh... and this.

Anthony tried to open the custard

Anthony is often awake before us, but about two years ago we decided he could come down stairs and watch tv before we got up.  On this occasion, he'd suddenly decided he wanted to make breakfast instead. He had successfully made himself and his brother enormous bowls of breakfast.  Anthony and David both have exactly the same breakfast every morning.  Jane though has what she fancies, within reason.  Anthony had decided she might like custard(?) for breakfast and was trying to open it with one of the sharp knives he'd got out of the drawer.  He didn't actually cut himself whilst trying to get the custard open... no he decided to see if the knife was sharp by running his hand along the knife.  

As the cold water ran over a little cut so I could get a look at the damage he declared he had already cleaned his cut and pointed to the Mr Muscle Kitchen cleaner he'd got out from under the sink. 

I throughly cleaned the cut.  Applied a plaster, cleaned up the mess and then after the all the children had got to school, I ran over in my mind what could have been a very bad incident. 

We talked to Anthony about knives.  About waiting for us. We went to bed.

The next morning we were woken by the smoke alarm.

Anthony had tried to make Jane toast.    Smoke was pouring out of the toaster and Anthony was at the bottom of the stairs spinning in a circle trying to wave a small cloth at the smoke alarm. "It's ok, I didn't use any knives," he said.

Anthony's desire to be independent is a good thing.  But we really need to help him manage expectations. It seems unfair to force Jane to have the same (safe to make) breakfast everyday so that we can specifically teach Anthony to make it.  Instead, we are helping Anthony to understand what is safe and not safe to do... but this can mean thinking of everything.  We can quiz him... is it safe to go on the road?  Is is safe to use the kettle?  Is it ok to get a pack of crisps?  Is it ok to balance on a chair to get the pack of crisps?  And then help him understand solutions for these.

While this takes repetition and time we are fortunate in that he seems to have given up the 'making breakfast' phase.  But I can't help but wonder... maybe fear... what will he try next?

Linked on:

Real Mum Reviews

28 comments:

  1. It is a careful balancing act. Letting them try vs. keeping them safe. Sounds like you are in my court...giving them a chance. And lots of times they blow our minds with their successes.

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    1. That it so true. I was initially very impressed he'd even thought to make breakfast!

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  2. Ah bless I have seen Rain Main and know exactly which bit you mean. I agree with the above comment - you are being good giving him that chance but having to really watch what he is doing. But sounds like he will get there. Thanks for sharing with #bestandworst x

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  3. Just like the chair to get the crisps.....it's a balancing act. Giving enough scope for independance but not wishing any harm to come up him. You sound like you're doing a good job at it.

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  4. It's so hard to try and imagine and prepare for any eventuality. Been there. Still there and still trying to get the balance. Wish more people understood. All that preparation is overwhelming and exhausting sometimes.

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  5. Eek! How scary. I'm glad the knife incident didn't end badly. It must be a relief in one way that he has given up making breakfast.
    It is hard to get that balance just right.
    #bestandworst

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  6. Glad this didn't end badly! You are doing such a good job. I really want to watch Rain Man now you have mentioned it. I haven't seen it for years. Thanks for linking a second post to #TriumphantTales

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  7. Yes, we've got Rain Man, fabulous film, and your mentioning it there perfectly sets the scene for me as I can see how difficult this would be to handle. I'm so glad Anthony's OK, but how frightening and challenging to need to second guess and plan for every eventuality like this. I think it's great that he's still seeking ways to be independent despite these setbacks, which can only be through your handling of each one well x Thanks for sharing with #WotW

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  8. Rain Man is a great movie. I haven't seen it in a while. I feel like I might want to watch it again. I think all parents can relate to this post. Parenting requires balancing safety with teching independence. As much as we want to keep them safe, we can't lock them up for their own good. Each of us has to weigh the risks and decide when our little ones are ready for a new challenge. #bestandworst

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  9. I love this post so much, we have a very similar conversation in our house about strangers, I am all too aware that in Number One's head a stranger would not count as a person who has a dog - after all, dogs are friendly. Someone mean wouldn't have a dog,.. You get the picture. Letting go is hard, especially when we know our children often lack the complex reasoning skills to ensure they are safe #PostsFromTheHeart

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  10. Oh bless him. his want for independence is so adorable, but the dangers is completely understandable as to why you're so worried.
    I guess its time and understanding for all, could it be that perhaps he learns to make his own breakfast only? it gives him independence and the repetitiveness to make it easy for him to learn it?
    Thank you for sharing this with us at #TriumphantTales, I hope to see you back tomorrow

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  11. Oh my goodness, in a way it's super adorable he already wants to be so independent! After all, then it comes the moment when you need to look after almost every second that what he's going to do next haha! Sounds like you're doing well :-)

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  12. Oh, how scary! The problem is exactly as you say: you need to think of everything. An obedient autistic child still needs to be told *exactly* all the things they can't do because they take everything so literally that if you haven't specifically said e.g. the toaster is off limits they just won't realise. And it's impossible to always predict what they might try.

    I can imagine telling Tyger he can't use a sharp knife to open something so he'd find a sharp pair of scissors, instead. Just as dangerous, of course, but if I haven't specifically mentioned the scissors then they're not off-limits in his mind.

    It's exhausting!

    I hope you don't wake up to any more 'uh oh' moments!

    #SpectrumSunday

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  13. that is a difficult thing to work on, can you plan set times when Antony can use the kitchen with support? would he accept breakfast as a supper treat? so he could help make for Jane before bed? #spectrumsunday

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  14. I totally understand this and daren't leave Joseph along for long. He hasn't done anything to make me worry (yet) but I know he has absolutely no understanding of any danger. It's a constant source of worry yet I want to be able to encourage independence.

    #SpectrumSunday

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  15. I can't believe I'd not actually watched the film 'Rainman' until a month ago! I know exactly what you mean here, it's just starting with my eldest girl wanting to do things herself. She announced to me only yesterday that she'd "made herself breakfast," and I then realised she'd eaten almost a whole jar of jam with a spoon! She'd also attempted to get into the custard carton with scissors and had created her own 'sensory experience' from our 'messy play' cupboard mixing 'Jelli Baff' with foam and water ! So I came downstairs to it all crystallising on my kitchen floor!
    Thanks for sharing a great post :) x

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  16. This must be a hard one as you want to give him some freedom and allow him to do somethings himself but it must be very hard and a little scary to see him with the knives. Great post as always , i love reading about your family#PostsFromTheHeart

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  17. It is such a balancing act isn't it - allowing independence but keeping them safe. I do believe in letting kids have a go at new things as otherwise how will they learn to develop their own skills. However I haven't forgotten discovering my teenage son trying to make cheese on toast by laying the toaster on it's side - he thought it would work better than using the grill! sigh! #SpectrumSunday

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  18. Hello, I just found your linky and your posts. I have a 7y old adopted son with abuse, neglect and trauma in his past so we are still unsure if he is autistic or attachment disorder (probably both), since they often have similar manifestations. Your breakfast scene is similar in our house too, also the next day disaster followed by 'I didn't use knives today', we are still learning to live with him so I will defo follow your story and learn. Thanks!

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  19. He's so sweet! And some people say that someone with autism can't think of others. Well they're proved wrong here. #PostsFromTheHeart

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  20. Scary stuff lovely! But it's great that he wants to help. Our son is the other way when it comes to chores. X

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  21. My heart stopped seeing that picture the first time...but here again. It is fantastic that he is wanting to do more for himself but I can imagine it must be frightening and a big challenge. Its so useful you sharing this experience x #Spectrumsunday

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  22. I can understand this. I'm not an autism parent, but I think that there comes a point in every kid's life where this starts to become an issue. Such a tricky balance to find between cultivating that independence and the sometimes hard task of explaining why some things have to be off limits #KCACOLS

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  23. Goodness what a worry - ours aren't old enough to be making their own breakfast yet but it's just a matter of time... #postsfromtheheart

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  24. Good luck with his growing independence. I hope you can find a balance between this and him being safe. #kcacols

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  25. Eek! It must be so tricky finding that balance!
    EJ (6yrs) is not at the stage to do things like this in her development, but she is getting pretty mobile and inquisitive, and although she can't pull to stand (yet!) she can kneel up (and has very long arms!) so we are now finding all the out of reach places are now very much within reach! #spectrumsunday

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  26. What a hard balance for you! It's difficult for a parent to know what responsibilities a child can manage in general, let alone one that is autistic. The autistic children I work with like repetition so I guess that's a good place to start. Good luck and thanks for linking with #KCACOLS

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  27. It must be a difficult balancing act. Well, I suppose it is for anyone when children are young and starting to develop independence. But, as you say, for neurotypical children I guess that is a more time limited concern than perhaps it is for you. #KCACOLS

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