Monday, April 15, 2013

Autistic Children Grow Up, Too.

Alex is going to be 11 next month. 11. a preteen. I've been getting these uneasy feelings over the past couple of months or so about things that just don't feel right anymore. These little twinges in the middle of what I'm doing that maybe it's time to stop since my little boy isn't quite so little.


Alex, as much as he will always be my baby, is no longer a baby. I told you before of my struggle with infantilization, this is an extension of that post. The things in that post were not at all infantilization. My friend said, "infantilizing is about treating someone as a child regardless of their maturity, while recognizing that he enjoys the same things that a younger kid would is being respectful to who is and not ignoring his maturity." In that post, I learned to recognize that he enjoys the same things a younger kid and there is nothing at all wrong with that, I'm not babying him by respecting his interests. In this post I am addressing my own concerns of treating him as a child regardless of his maturity. Infantilization is not about who he is, it's about how I see him.


The first time it happened, there wasn't a crack of thunder and a voice booming down from the heavens that he was no longer a small child. It was just a normal day. Our day went along as it always has, I was taking pictures of my sweet babies and quietly realized it felt awkward to think of posting pictures of Alex in his diaper. Not that there is anything wrong with him running around in a diaper... hell, none of these kids are fully dressed for long... but in looking at this perfectly framed moment, it just didn't feel right to share it with the world outside of our home. It felt like an invasion of his privacy. It's ok to post pictures of your infants and young toddlers in a diaper but do you post pictures of a 15-20-30 year old in a diaper? He's not a baby anymore, it's time to throw some clothes on before snapping pictures.


The evening of another ordinary day, it came to my attention that Alex needed to be changed. As I've always done, I plopped him down right where we were, which happened to be the middle of the kitchen floor, and changed him. Mid-change, it hits me that maybe this isn't appropriate anymore. There are males of various ages walking around, carrying on as they always do, not paying any mind to what we're doing because it's a regular occurrence. normal. And I wonder... is he too old to be changed out in the open? He doesn't protest but would Walter? Hell yeah! It's one thing to walk around in your underwear, it's just as unremarkable to change a baby's diaper right there in the floor, but it's quite another thing for an 11 year old child to be stripped down naked with their bodily functions exposed to the entire household. Family is close but not that damned close! It's time to start changing him in his room... or at least an empty room.


Then last night I was cleaning out his closet. Most of his clothes are perfectly fine. Sweat outfits, t-shirts, hoodies, jeans, some fancy shirts... things any kid his age would look "cool" in or at least, acceptable. Actually most of them are hand me downs from the uber-fashionable neighbor boy. As far as this goes, he's just like everyone else. and then I run across 3 sweatshirts. That feeling came back. The "this isn't right" feeling. I can't put these on him. In August, Alex is going into 6th grade. Middle school. Walter was a 6th grader last year and there is no way, no way he would have wore these clothes. "Coolness" may be controversial in the way that some people think we should teach our kids to not care about "cool" but I just cannot look at my middle school aged child and tell them that their feelings are invalid. Whether it should be or not, coolness is a relevant factor here in the sense of how preteens in this area determine the social acceptability of their peers. Even adults judge by appearance. Looking at a person and seeing the way they are dressed, you get an immediate perception of who they are. I don't want Alex to be presumed incompetent and babyish based on the way he dresses.


However, the "coolness" of Alex clothing is not what's at the core of this revelation... Just because Alex is in a Special School where most of his classmates probably wouldn't notice what he wore or care any more than he does, could I put these on him with a clear conscience? If he was mainstreamed and going into 6th grade at the middle school, would I put these clothes on him? Could I put something on him that I feel as a neurotypical child he would strongly object to just because he doesn't have the ability to object?  No.


Because nonverbal or not, intellectually challenged (questionable) or not, he deserves to be treated as an equal. I have to assume that he would react out loud the way any other child his age would. In order to do that, I need to see what other kids his age are doing, what clothing they are interested in, so I asked you. Your overwhelming response was if he likes it, let him wear it. Style depends on the person. I agree. However, I can't say what he likes because he can't tell me so I think it's best to err on the side of caution. I do understand that there are certain kinds of character shirts (not these, trust me, they're ugly) that are "cool" for any age but, really, the shirts are irrelevant.


The shirts are a just very small part of a much larger issue. Always presume competence. Ariane says that to presume competence "...is a way of interacting with another human being who is seen as a true equal and as having the same basic human rights as I have."  When presuming competence as well as recognizing maturity, you can never go wrong in treating everyone with dignity. You can never go wrong when you treat them as if their feelings and desires are no different than those of their neurotypical counterparts... even the ones who can't ask for it.

 

12 comments:

  1. Great post... and REALLY good food for thought.

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  2. i think this was an excellent post, and as jessi said - very good food for thought. as parents, sometimes we do need to step back and re-evaluate how we view our children. there is not only room for growth within our children, but within ourselves. <3

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  3. I totally agree with your judgement call. I remember early on in Riley World another mom remarking how "it is hard enough for our kids not to "stand out"...why give other kids any more reason to pick on them." Words I've always remembered and like Alex, Riley would and still will not say anything. If clothes/appearance can make a difference with his peers, it is one of the little things that I can do to help him "fit in".

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  4. Awesome post! I really wish I could print this and send it home for some of my student' parents to read. -Holly

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    1. Thank you! and of course, you have my permission to use it as you'd like.

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  5. My nephew is 3, nearing 4. I have yet to post, but have been following for almost a year. This strikes me. I have two other nephews from another sibling, and they are 7 and almost 2. It hits home. CJ (7) has always been able to say what he wants, or doesn't. Very smart, very excelled for his age. We are just getting to the point with Jojo (3- diagnosed low spectrum ASD) where you can show him two things and he can pick one. Maybe alex wants to pick, but needs it to be in his place at his time?

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    1. That's a great idea, he's working on making choices in school. Thank you!

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