One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced over the years as a special needs parent has been identifying when I should trust my instincts.
From the beginning, I’ve experienced a constant battle between head and heart.
Like all mothers, I’ve wanted to trust my instincts and follow my gut when it comes to my kids’ development. Mother knows best, after all. I’ve wanted to let my kids try things for themselves, to see how far they can go. I’ve wanted to limit the amount of intervention in their lives and give them some direction over their own destiny.
Yet I’ve also been very conscious of the fact my kids don’t fit the normal mold and have additional needs that require consideration. Needs that have called for intensive intervention. Needs that I haven’t always completely understood. Both of which, naturally, have led me to question my instincts and look elsewhere for direction.
I’ve shared my thoughts on developing independence before and the extra considerations we need to make because of our kids’ additional needs. It can be tricky to find the balance between providing too much support and not enough while knowing when the time is right to push forward or pull back.
In short, it can be really tough to know whether to trust your instincts or not.
This battle has been raging within me in the last few months as I grapple with the reality that Gilbert will be off to high school next year. It came to a head last week as we waited in the office of the local high school for a selective admissions test. As we sat there, students came in and out and phrases were thrown around like “check your timetable on your smartphone” and “give your mum a call to confirm.”
I suddenly realised that my son will need a phone next year. Which wasn’t a new realisation, of course. But the reality of all that this means finally hit me.
Yes, my son will be a high school student in less than 7 months.
Yes, my son will be expected to have a mobile phone and device when he arrives.
Yes, my son will be expected to be able to get in contact with me, should he need too.
Yet, my son had never independently initiated a phone call in his entire life!
It hasn’t been a conscious decision to not master the skill of using the phone. It’s partly because we just didn’t see the need to show him before now and partly because he’s had no-one to ring. He will sometimes get on the phone to his grandparents on special occasions, but he hasn’t needed to call anyone as yet. Nor has he wanted to.
To be honest, Gilbert’s idea of being on the phone is holding the handset in front of his eyes and yelling down the line at the poor person on the other end (usually one of his doting grandparents) while complaining that he can’t hear what they are saying…not exactly a master of the art…
So I’d be mulling over the whole high school readiness issue, with planned visits to various specialists such as the psychologist, occupational therapist, speech therapist and behaviour clinician to help us on our way.
And I’d been thinking about all the things we need to do to get Gilbert ready ourselves, things like learning to use and navigate a phone, organising and packing up portable magnification equipment in between classes and becoming more independent and less reliant on others.
Anyway, on Monday, I needed to go shopping and Gilbert was home from school, decidedly unwell. He needed to rest, on one of those rare days where lethargy took control of his normally energetic self. I can literally count those days on one hand – they don’t happen all that often.
The local supermarket is literally a 1 minute drive from our house. As I considered how best to get everything done, I briefly considered letting him stay at home for a short time while I headed up the road to get supplies. I immediately put the thought aside, thinking he would need a lot of preparation before such an undertaking.
It’s not something that I could just throw on him with no real preparation.
But the more I though about it, the more it made sense. Instinctively, I knew it was possible. So, I came right out and asked him – did he feel comfortable with me leaving him alone at home for 20 minutes while I got as much shopping done as I could?
Surprisingly, Gilbert had no hesitation in agreeing to this proposal – he was stoked to be trusted and excited to have this opportunity. Meanwhile I suddenly appreciated the magnitude of what I was proposing – could I really leave him to his own devices at home, even for a short time?
As a master of risk assessment (a specialty of all special needs parents!) I quickly considered the risks and what I could do to mitigate them.
- Security – I could lock the house tight (he is physically unable to turn the snib in the door to unlock it due to his fine motor skill issues)
- Safety – I could instruct him not to answer the phone or answer the door to anyone
- Comfort – I could feed him before I left so he wouldn’t feel the need to try to scavenge for food
- Assurance – I could tell him the time I expected to return so he would have less to worry about
All that was left, was for him to be able to contact me should he panic or become concerned while I was out. So before I departed, I finally ran him through making a call on our home phone. I wrote down my number, showed him how to make the call and we role played a conversation.
After a few practice attempts, I did it. I left him home alone for 20 mins.
I can honestly say I have never been so efficient in my shopping – fear, anxiety and knowing you need to be home at a particular time really do aid in your ability to shop with military precision!
When I got home (with 1 minute to spare) he proudly told me that he hadn’t felt the need to call. He had been fine and enjoyed his time alone.
Glad he enjoyed himself. Meanwhile, it took me the remainder of the day to recover from the stress of leaving him alone!
He was so proud of himself for learning to use the phone and even prouder of earning my trust and having that opportunity to stay by himself.
It was one of those occasions where I was able to follow my instincts and give him a chance at independence, even though my head was reminding me of all the reasons why I couldn’t give him that chance.
Sometimes it really does pay to trust your instincts and take a chance.
Do you feel a similar pull as a parent? Have you been able to trust your instincts?