No turning back

It is one tenth of a mile from my parents’ driveway to the north end of their street.  Philip, Roscoe and I were at their house for supper last night. Even though I let him play in their back yard, Roscoe was insistent that I take him for a walk. I wanted to get home, so I planned a quick trip to the end of the block and back. A mere two-tenths of a mile. There are no sidewalks, so the three of us would walk along one curb, cross the street and come back on the other side.

Philip had his own idea.

When we reached the T intersection, Philip went right.

“Wait,” I called and took his hand. “We’re crossing the street and going back.”

I’m not sure if it was hearing the word “back” or the act of turning around, but Philip balked. He began to whimper, so I relented and followed him around the block.

Philip prefers his journeys to take the form of a circuit. Nothing is more upsetting to him than being told we are going on a walk, exiting the house and then having me say, “Wait, I forgot a bag for Roscoe!” As I backtrack to the house, he will begin to cry. While it may only take me a couple of seconds for this detour, it takes several minutes for Philip to calm down and enjoy our resumed walk. That’s why if it begins to rain after we have started our walk, I resign myself to getting wet. Philip would rather have that inconvenience than the anxiety of changing directions.

I try to vary our walking routines by following different paths, but each route must be a round trip. The closest I’ve come to avoiding this requirement is walking along a cul-de-sac. As long as I let Philip follow the curve of the curb, always going forward, he finds this way acceptable.

When we returned to my parents’ house last night, Mom asked if we had gone all the way around.

“Yes,” I responded. “Philip doesn’t like to turn around and come back.”

She stared at me.

“He gets upset and cries,” I continued.

“I guess he has you trained,” was Mom’s response.

Yes, I guess he does. Honestly, there are times I’m feeling tired or lazy, and that’s the only reason I want to turn around. Giving into Philip means that I get a bit more exercise.

Yet, I also think of all of the times that I don’t let him have his way. I think of how the world will be as inflexible as he is. So what if I have to walk a little farther or get a little wet?  I know that being made to turn around is distressing to Philip. The world may not be so willing to acknowledge or accept this. Teachers will ask him to complete tasks that he doesn’t want to. Life will require that he change direction even when he doesn’t want to. There are circumstances in which I will have to force him to comply, and he’ll have to learn to deal with it. For now, I’d rather offer him my patience and understanding.

For now, when we go out for a stroll, there is no turning back.

independent walk 005

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31 thoughts on “No turning back

  1. I don’t think allowing him to achieve a sense of completion means he “has you trained”. I think it means you’re attentive to his needs, and that’s a wonderful thing. You’re exactly right: the world won’t be taking his feelings into consideration all that often. So it’s extra nice that he has someone looking out for him, giving him a little more breathing room in the world. Thx for this post, it’s terrific.

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  2. I don’t have any experience in dealing with a child with autism, but I have to imagine that this is the perfect way to approach it. And I love your optimistic approach that because he insists on the longer route, you get more exercise! Good for you!

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  3. i’m always a little afraid to compare my experience with my kids, because i don’t really know… here goes.. but, my mother says all the time that my kids have me trained to do things, on fear of upsetting them or their tantrums… like sending my kid to camp. but like you, even if my kid can be ‘broken’ and made to get with the program, i chose to bend for him, at least for now… the world is a lot less flexible… and sometimes, that’s just what moms do. right?

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    1. It really is about picking your battles. While forcing your son to go to camp may have benefitted both of you, his not going wasn’t necessarily harmful.
      As for comparing, I’ll quote the movie about autistics called “Wretches and Jabberers”: I’m more like you than not like you

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  4. You’re a wonderful mom who knows what her child needs.

    My friend Steven has autism. For a couple of years, I took him shopping every Saturday. He is a very routine-oriented person, and breaking the routine would cause him unnecessary stress and anxiety. We had to take a very specific route to the co-op or he would be extremely uncomfortable. For example, as soon as we turned from Puget onto State, he would immediately begin repeating “left lane, left lane”. There was a left turn six blocks up, but he needed us to be ready for it well in advance. And when we got to the store, we each had a very specific routine with regard to the acquisition of the groceries. Steve is an amazing guy – quirky and sometimes frustrating, but he’s taught me a lot.

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  5. I certainly don’t want to rag on your mother, but, hmm. Why when we do what we think is right, is necessary, is not worth the fall out of a different course of action, why do people assume it’s because our children are spoiled or have us trained or wrapped around their fingers? Life is so hard, there are so many immovable obstacles, why add another when you simply don’t have to. Kids who need their routines NEED their routines. Sometimes their parents have to ask them to be flexible (and deal with how hard that is for them) and sometimes the parents need to be flexible to help their child. Sigh. I’m with you, mama. I’m with you.

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  6. You’re a good Mom. I agree with your thinking on this. My son gets worked up about certain things and we just decide to choose our battles. The world is so inflexible and there will be times when they can’t have things their way – just as you said. And if we as parents can bend for them sometimes, why not.

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  7. What a lovely post. I think you’ve given him the greatest gift of all with your patience and understanding and I like to think that the people in his life who are worthwhile will give him the same and be happy to do so. It’s a good reminder for me to sometimes follow someone else’s path although it might not be my first inclination. Thanks for this post =)

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