I have broached the subject of "when to stay home alone" on this blog before. It is hard enough with a "typical" child, but as usual, you throw in the autism shake it up a bit, and you get a mess.
We have practiced. We have done mini trial runs. We have written out rules. We have done phone practice in therapy, starting over a year ago. We have prepared. A lot. We have left him for 5 minutes, 15 minutes, been across the street, at the bus stop, the list goes on and on. I leave the phone with him and call him during these trials and he answers, sometimes not saying anything, but it's practice.
Saturday came, and it was nearly time for Zachary's basketball game. It was pretty clear that Daniel would not be ready to go in time. The game was at noon and the precision timing of lunch and dressing on a Saturday was not coming together in our favor of getting Daniel out the door. He can't be rushed and he has to get everything "done" or you might as well not go out. He'll be a wreck and it will be miserable and we'll pay for it in some way or another. As this was unfolding Saturday I said, "Why don't we leave Daniel home, he can eat his lunch and stay on the computer". My husband was surprised at my leap of faith. He stated, "I didn't think that was an option, but I think it's fine". So I quickly went over the rules, made Daniel do a quick practice run on the phone, and gave him his lunch. We were going to be gone for just over an hour. The basketball game is an hour, and we are very very close to home. I was nervous, but ready to take the plunge. It was probably better that I didn't have much time to think about it.
We set him up and left. We got to the game and the first thing out of my friend Jodi's mouth was "where's Daniel!?" I told her and she looked surprised but knew it would be hard for me. We pushed the parents from the game before out of their seats and settled in for 4th grade basketball. We were happily chatting while the teams got ready and my cell phone rang. I froze. I carefully looked at the screen of my beloved Blackberry to see "home" on the screen staring back at me. While Daniel has practiced calling us he has never ever picked up the phone on his own to call someone completely unprompted. I believe Todd said "answer it" because I was just staring at it in disbelief!
Daniel- "Hi mom!"
me- "How are you Daniel, is everything ok?"
me- "are you just calling me to say hi, or are you nervous?"
Daniel- "I'm not nervous"
me- "are you calling just to say hi?"
Daniel - "yeah"
He was so sweet and I was SHOCKED. What a step! I was relieved. I talked to him for a few minutes and told him how great he did and when we'd be home. I still can't believe it, honestly.
The game progressed, as have the 4th graders skills, and it was nearing the end. I realized I should call him and do the usual check in. I dialed home. It rang 5 times and went to voice mail. My heart starts quickening. I hung up, and called again. Same thing. The quickening is turning into a pounding. He has NEVER not answered before. Never. I think, "he could be in the bathroom, he wouldn't take the phone to the bathroom". I dialed a few more times and nothing. Todd pulled out his phone to try (he is only supposed to answer two different numbers that come across caller id, mine and Todd's) same thing. Nothing.
Jodi says "is this good or bad?"
Todd says "it's very bad" and stands up grabbing his coat. It's the end of the game now, but Zachary has to change his shoes, do the congratulating and it will be a few minutes. Todd looked at me and said, I'm going home. Jodi offered to drive Zachary and I home while Todd went home.
I was trying not to panic. I get an odd calmness in some instances which I achieved then. I actually told myself that freaking out wouldn't help. If something went wrong it already did and I couldn't change it. I should wait before I freak out. Wait until I really hear that something was wrong. I was hoping he wasn't following the script, but that seemed somewhat unlikely. It didn't make sense to me. Jodi praised my self control, but I didn't feel I had much choice. I didn't want to upset Zachary unnecessarily. I also didn't feel in control, my mind was going crazy, but on the outside I went about our business.
We were walking out to Jodi's car when my cell rang. It was Todd. Daniel was fine. He was on the computer listening to music SO LOUD that he couldn't HEAR THE PHONE. I could hear Daniel in the background I knew he was upset. I was fairly sure Todd had yelled at him in his panic. Daniel felt like a failure.
When I got home I went and talked to him. He was red in the face and looked very very sad. I told him how amazed and proud I was that he called me to check in all on his own. I told him it helped me know he could do this on his own. I talked him up. I could see his face turning upwards, and some pride filling him back up. I then had to say it scared us when he didn't answer the phone because that is the rule if he's staying home. He deflated a bit again. I told him we'd try again soon and I was sure it would be better next time. We went on with our day. While I'm thinking back, I can feel the joy of him calling us, and the panic of him not answering. I questioned myself wondering if he was ready. I wondered if my parents when through this stress when they left me alone the first times. Do all parents go through this? Is is more stressful because of Daniel's autism?
What I do know is this. It is important for him to learn these skills, and it's important for us to give him independence. We'll eventually get there. I just hope I live through it!
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