The journey with autism often resembles a Rand McNally road map. Sometimes the route is clearly marked, with easy access to our destination. At others it’s fraught with unexpected detours and delays, road closures and unreliable GPS, leaving us scrambling to find our way back. There are times when we drive and those when we are driven. Knowing when to take the wheel and when to ride on the passenger side of autism, is an excursion all its own.
While raising a son with autism has sent me in some unanticipated directions, I’ve always assumed I was in the driver’s seat. Such was the case when I geared up for potty training. It never occurred to me that I would be the one to eventually end up on the passenger side of potty training.
My WEAP team and I had planned for the big day and mapped out every direction. We were a finely tuned pit crew. We began by fueling Jonathan’s interest with some of his favorite reinforcers–candy corn and mini M&M’s. Jeff had the task of modeling for Jonathan so he wouldn’t veer off course-literally and figuratively speaking. If you have men or boys in your home you know from experience.. Once that was accomplished we headed out. We scheduled pit stops every 15 minutes and started slowly using common language and prompts. In many ways it resembled a game of red light, green light, GO! Giving Jonathan the green light when he was successful and praising his efforts, proceeding with caution when we hit a fork in the road and hitting the brakes when we reached a dead end.
Ironically, we discovered his pull ups were contributing to the dead end. They kept him so dry he wasn’t aware when he missed a stoplight to the bathroom. So we detoured to underwear hoping to get back on the road. We flagged Jeff down for more modeling with the new approach and continued on our way.
Things were progressing and when my team left for the day, I took over as the designated driver, setting the timer, reinforcing progress and monitoring and keeping things on track. One Saturday morning after Jonathan had just made a successful pit stop, the phone rang. A friend of mine whose son was also on the spectrum was having a crisis and needed my help. I quickly threw a pair of shorts on Jonathan, scooped up Casandra and raced out the door.
Things were pretty chaotic when I arrived and it took some time to get her son calm and safe. Once we did and began to relax, I checked on Cassie who was within my line of sight. She was still happily playing with some toys in the living room. Then I realized Jonathan was not where I had left him in front of her TV. I looked at my friend and was about to panic when we heard a sound, like water pouring.
There down the hallway, with the door wide open was Jonathan. Pants and underwear down going to the bathroom. He then proceeded to the sink where he washed his hands and dried them, before returning to watch TV. We both stood there looking like we had just witnessed a 20 car pile up-completely stunned at what had just occurred. Jonathan had triumphantly passed me in the slow lane and blown past my backseat driving. All this time it never occurred to me that in his own way he would find the right time to take the wheel as well as the lead. That while I often felt I was the driving force that led the way, Jonathan was ready, able and willing to do so, I just needed to pull over and let him.
And to remember regardless of the destination Jonathan knows how to drive and when to be driven..