Philip’s autism has led to several developmental delays. To be honest, I don’t feel like I know what is developmentally appropriate any more. When I was pregnant and in the first year after Philip’s birth, I subscribed to a few e-newsletters on “what to expect.” I finally canceled my subscriptions when it became clear that Philip was not just a late bloomer but experiencing significant delays, especially those in spoken language. Being a lover of language, I think this was the hardest for me to take. I as wrote about in this post, I’ve had significant training in language development. I thought I was doing all of the right things, yet Philip still wasn’t talking. My training just hadn’t prepared me for how to promote communication for my own non-verbal child.
So, I began to pick up some bad habits. One day, I realized that I could not recall the last time I said goodbye to Philip before leaving for work. His lack of response left me feeling like it was pointless. But it isn’t. I’m supposed to be modeling not only language, but social interactions. After that day, I decided I need to rebuild the habit of saying and waving goodbye each morning.
A question that came up in several of the autism screening tools was whether Philip could follow one-step or even multi-step directions. Peter and I may not have agreed on all of our answers on the various surveys and questionnaires, but we definitely agreed on this one: no way. But I wouldn’t answer that question the same now. Through the building of routines at home and the intensive training at preschool, Philip’s receptive language has grown thus making it possible for him to follow at least a one-step directive. When he chooses. Hey, he’s a toddler. Even neurotypical toddlers choose not to listen.
Unfortunately, just because Philip has been learning doesn’t mean that his mommy has been keeping up. I have gotten so used to doing everything for Philip that I wasn’t giving him the opportunity to practice some basic self-care. Philip doesn’t let me get in his way. There have been several instances where he has surprised me by doing or at least attempting to do a task that I had once done for him.
For example, there was the day he reached down and zipped his own coat. Or the first time I saw he try to pull up his own pants after a diaper change. In talking to his preschool teacher, I’ve found out that they are challenging him to do these things himself. That’s what inspired me to make him undress himself for bath. Not only that, I taught him to put his clothes in the laundry basket. It took two days. He’s smart enough to learn, if only I make the effort to teach him.
This week I had another “aha” moment. I’ve been to Philip’s preschool several times. I know that the students are expected to take off their coats when they arrive and to put them on when it is time to go home. So why have I been doing these things for Philip? The taking off part has been easy. Philip is usually motivated to get out of his coat. But I kept thinking I had to put his coat on for him. Sure, I finally got out of his way and let him do the zipper. But for the first time on Wednesday (yes, this was only two days ago), I handed Philip his coat. And he put it on.
So, I’ll keep trying to find new ways to increase Philip’s independence. But I’m not only teaching him to do everything by himself. I’m also creating opportunities for him to problem-solve and ask for help. He may not ask right away, but I need to give him the chance.