Teenage Independence

Every teenager argues with their parents , don’t they? About what age they are allowed to see certain films, play on age rated console games, drink, party, stay out all night. Every family is different. Each sets their own boundaries. What is acceptable for some is certainly not acceptable for others.

A child’s maturity levels also affect those decisions. As parents , we need to decide what we think we should allow our own children to do and when, within reasonable limits. There are laws in this country banning under age children from drinking in public or buying alcohol but we as parents can still buy it and allow our children to drink it.  There are laws prohibiting under age children seeing films at the cinema but we can download them at home and allow them to watch. So, we do have some leeway and we need to use that discretion wisely.

But, how do we manage all of this with our special needs teenagers? How hard is it to ‘let go’ and allow them to learn by their own mistakes like we all did as teenagers? I know I was allowed an unusual amount of freedom. I stayed out all night at parties, went drinking and sneaked into adult rated films. I did many things under aged. We were even sent to school on the tube from the age of eight, unheard of these days to even allow a child to walk to a local school, let alone travel on the underground alone.

I am battling with what to allow, when to allow it or even when to try and push the boys into things. They have all just started recently to travel independently on the bus but only to arranged events at their destination such as running club for Thomas. They don’t yet go out unsupported and wander around town on their own. Thomas was desperate for the independence of travelling alone, Benjamin was more hesitant and fearful so we took it more slowly with him. I don’t want to push them into independence in this manner.

Our middle son is on the edges of mainstream life. He made friends with a mainstream group on holiday. How fantastic is that? But, it brings with it, a different set of worries. He has been invited to an event , way out of London. He can’t go. He is younger than all of them by a year or so and has only ever been out once independently on his own to meet a friend. It is a year or two too early. He is angry with me. Of course he wants to go and of course, I can’t let him. He is too immature to travel alone across London and futher out, to go drinking with a group of older mainstream teenagers. But he wants to. He really wants to be ‘normal’ and have ‘normal’ friends. How can I tell him his autism still affects him and his judgement?

Teenage arguments, desires and boundaries all need to be addressed. Add autism to the mix and it’s hard, really hard to negotiate.

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Today is the first day of the rest of their lives.

On Facebook today, a photo memory popped up of my oldest boys heading off for their first day of secondary school seven years ago.  It was the end of seven years of ABA for them, they had been to mainstream nurseries and schools accompanied by their 1:1 tutors. It was time for a special needs secondary school.

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Seven years of specialist school has now come to an end.

We have come full circle.

Today, the boys are going back into mainstream education, albeit under the umbrella of an autism unit. They will be attending mainstream Btec classes with 1:1 support. It seems like they are back where they started at 4.

But, they are light years away from where they were at 4. They went into reception class speaking only single words, with severe behaviours which culminated in them having to leave their first mainstream school. They could not read. They could not socialise. They only went to school for a few hours a day.

What miracles ABA worked. By the time they left primary school they were able to read, they were age appropriate in maths, they had friends, they could tolerate noise and chaos. They could learn and they had proved that. They loved school. We had hope for their futures and we were able to find a small school where they no longer needed one to one support.

The next seven years cycle has begun today. We have an 18 – 25 years old EHCP in place. Its a really important stage as it will impact on their future life choices.

Thomas will be doing an Art Btec. He showed a talent for art even before he learnt to talk. We have always known this would be his future career. He hasn’t done any art for the past two years apart from photography so this will be a great year  for him to get back to doing what he does best.

I worried for years that we wouldn’t find something for Benjamin to do. He too needed  a passion. He found one. He started drumming and that has grown into a serious talent. He can drum. He writes his own songs and composes them on the piano. He can’t read music yet as he plays by ear. His teacher thinks he has perfect pitch.  Most importantly, he is passionate about music. His favourite era is 70s and 80s pop music. Perfect for the rest of us in the house to listen to him drumming along to.

He is doing a music performance and technology Btec. Perfect for him.

One of the rare positives about autism is the focus our children have on anything they are passionate about. If you can redirect that passion for trains and lego to something that could turn into a future career, then you are really fortunate.

The boys are determined to make the most of their talents. They work so hard. Their focus and commitment makes me feel humble when I watch Thomas spending hours perfecting a piece of art or Benjamin going over and over a few bars of music to get it right.

I know they will succeed.

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