her quiet revolution for independence

a school age child wearing a green hoody and pink and white striped pants pulls an aqua colored backpack on wheels up a driveway covered in leaves.

a school age child wearing a green hoody and pink and white striped pants pulls an aqua colored backpack on wheels up a driveway covered in leaves.

In addition to being Autistic, Evie is physically disabled.  Because of this, I’m in the habit of doing things for her because there are a lot of physical things that she does not have the current ability to do. Unfortunately, this habit has led me to do things for her that she CAN do.

I think I do it because it is often faster or easier in the moment.  Or I worry that she will injure herself.

Over the last week or so, Evie has been sending me a really clear message.

She has been capable of pulling her backpack for several years.  She has been pulling it from her classroom to meet me when I pick her up at school for years.  Up until pretty recently, she would drop it when she saw me.  I would think, “she is tired, I will just do it for her.”

I never gave her the opportunity to pull it into school in the morning.  I just did it.  Because again, easier in the moment.

And if I am honest with myself, which is painful sometimes, because sometimes I don’t respect her physical capabilities.  Probably more like often than sometimes.  And probably more like capabilities than physical capabilities.

Since the beginning of this school year, our hands have met at the handle of her backpack more times than I can count.  She’d usually yield to me, and I would pull that backpack for her without thought to what I was telling her with this act.

About a week ago, she’d had enough.  Her hand firmly grasped the handle of the backpack–and she communicated her insistence that she would be pulling the backpack with one hand and holding my hand with the other.

A few days after this, she started dropping my hand after a second.  And then pushing it away when I initiated hand holding.  I had a few moments of panic at school.  We were, after all, walking on a sidewalk in the school parking lot.  I would have to stop myself from forcing her to hold my hand because in my head, I was thinking, “She cannot keep herself safe.”

I make a big deal about the presumption of her competence.  But when it comes to her physical competence, I’ve screwed up.  Big.  I give her more support than she needs… or wants.  I forget that all kids get hurt.  Getting hurt helps one learn about safety  The reality is that no one has interfered with her acquisition of safety skills than me.  My instinct to protect her, may keep her safe in the moment, but in the long run it is to her detriment.

Over the last couple of days, when Evie is pulling her backpack, she is not letting it go.  The side door of our garage is a big step up and down.  She is not capable, right now, of both lifting her backpack and navigating the step.  But she will not let go and let me lift it over for her.

She holds onto the handle with one hand, grasps the door frame with the other, steps over the threshold and then yanks that backpack over.  She pulls the backpack up the ramp and into the house and doesn’t drop it until she reaches her chosen destination.

Even when she is not going to school, Evie has taken to bringing her backpack when we leave the house.  And now she wants it in the backseat with her where she holds onto the handle during car rides.

The backpack may seem like a small thing.  And you might be thinking, “this lady just wrote a whole bunch about her kid pulling her own backpack.  Really?”  I’ve come to see her backpack as a symbol of her desire and need to become independent.  I think she has too.

As much as I would like to think that I nurture a sense of independence in Evie, the truth is that I’ve put my convenience and my often unreasonable fear of her getting injured ahead of her need to gain the skills which will allow her to achieve independence.

I have failed to presume competence in this way.  Failed to recognize that Evie is capable of communicating when she does and does not need my support.  It is my job to give her opportunities to grow and learn and develop.  Even if that means a scraped knee or needing to take a few extra minutes to accomplish little things like pulling a backpack into school.

Evie overcomes unfathomable obstacles every day.  The energy she puts into gaining new skills is astounding.  She shouldn’t have to fight anyone, let alone me, to practice those skills.  To appreciate the confidence that self-sufficiency brings.

I’m so proud of her for advocating for herself.  She is determined.  Fierce.  Awesome.

Love explosions.

19 thoughts on “her quiet revolution for independence

  1. This is beautiful. To paraphrase “Diary of a Mom”, this is a small thing and this is a huge thing.

    I’ve been going through a similar process, though in my 47-year-old state of being, so with different goals and different stakes, but a similar insistence that I be viewed as someone competent and capable of making my own choices. More than that, someone deserving of being allowed to take thought-through risks and to learn from my mistakes or problems. I am trying to make my life bigger and someone (who probably, like you with Evie, was acting from a place of wanting to support me) got afraid and tried to push me back into a smaller, safer life.

    But there is safety and there is safety. One kind of safety is holding momma’s hand in the parking lot to keep from being struck by a car. But a bigger, more important kind of safety is the safety that comes from making one’s life bigger, learning, problem-solving, coping, and discovering that it is possible, valuable, and appropriate to test and trust one’s own strength.

    It seems to me that it is frightening to step back and allow someone to grow in that bigger safety.

    It is good that you have faced that fear and are grappling with it for Evie. It is my deep and sincere wish that we all find the courage to face the fears that naturally come when we watch those we love as they stretch their wings and take flight. May we never allow too much fear to mingle with our love such that we end up clipping one another’s wings. May we all learn to thrill to the flight of others. Letting go of the fear allows us to feel the wind beneath our own wings as well.

  2. I like this! Awesome….. Can I make one suggestion? If that is Evie in the picture there, can it make a suggestion about her pants, every kid wants to look cool, and am I suggest pants that are baggies, and are less revealing that she is wearing a diaper? No kid, no body that I. Know wants people to plainly see they are wearing a diaper,,,you would never wear anything that showed your maxi pad during your cycle now would you? No you buy pants undies Ect, that make sure your protection is discrete, same should apply with diapers

    Awesome article I love it, I as a fellow peer ( I am autistic , delayed, Ect. and I wear protection too) I hope this advice comes in a nice way, as it is ment in the nicest and respectful way 🙂

    • Evelyn wears clothing based on comfort and her needs. She doesn’t like the way loose fitting pants feel. Tight pants are also really helpful in that they provide feedback to her body and she has an easier time physically–she is able to do more independently when she is connected to and aware of her legs.

      If Evelyn decides that she would rather wear clothing I would support that decision. But there is no shame in bodily functions or ability/inability to use a toilet. I’m not going to ask her to sacrifice her comfort and physical needs because others feel the need to be discrete about them. She can decide what her priorities are. And personally, I’m with her. I pick comfort first in my clothing. But I respect that others might not feel comfortable in the same clothing that feels good for me or her.

      Thanks for your feedback 🙂

      • On I got ya, yeah is understand I’m the opposite I need loose clothing but I know there is options though , like wearing the tight leggings under something ….or wearing bike shorts like spandex or such

        True I can agree, but at the same time, I grew up different wear you do not reveal undergarments period in public . And diapers, pads Ect were always delt with discreetly , and most folks I know even folks who are comfortable and love themselves, still don’t want there diapers to be plainly visible …but I am glad, and I thought she probably likes those and picks her own clothes which I fully support and advocate for, but just do you know there is ways,because I can’t see her. Skinh friends and running around a school with diapers showing god wheni was I nacho. Tat simply did not happen, people who did wear them, made sure I was discrete,..or Yule be such an outcast,

        Glad to chat anyways though. In other news boy she is growing up! She is so cute …man, enjoy those elm years while you can, they fly by
        Talk to ya soon have a good one

      • I think this is largely cultural. I was raised the same way. However, I’ve tried really hard not to raise my kids that way. Instead of putting emphasis on the way things look, I put emphasis on the way things feel. Even so, your suggestions for wearing things under baggy clothing would not work for Evie at this point in her life. She actually dislikes clothing period. Her body temperature runs quite warm so layering clothing is not something she enjoys–a few times, I’ve insisted she wear layers in super cold weather and she has been miserable to the point where when layers are required for safety, we just stay inside. lol

        All that said, there will undoubtedly come at least a period time in her life where she will prioritize aesthetics over comfort—I’m remembering jamming my Fred Flinstone feet into impossibly high heals. I will make sure to remember your ideas so that maybe there will be a middle ground between socially acceptable fashion and comfort.

        Thank you again. I really appreciate your input as a person with personal experience with such things 🙂

      • Hehe oh yeah I rembrr we talked about the heat thing because I run very hot

        Oh cool, yeah I getp that I like sift light slightly baggy loathes but at home I am in t shirt and boxer briefs over the diedees 🙂
        Lol I’m a red neck…t shirt underwear, watching tv. Heehee picture THAT. And sleep tonight haha

    • I didn’t even notice the diapers until you said something about it. So I looked at the picture again and, yeah, I can see something but I couldn’t even tell what it was. People have all kinds of panty lines and stuff. I wasn’t really focused on her behind when I looked at the picture. Just looked and saw a beautiful girl!

      I think if anyone ever teased me about diapers, I would say “why are you staring at my butt?” and then laugh. 🙂

      • LOL no not staring at her butt I use noticed it it was rally obvious, maybe because I’m n a iPad and it’s up close to my face, but yes that would be. My action too, but is…also. A part of me would. Be I barraged but I’m a smart ass, I crack jokes

  3. Oh man sorry about the types who, I’m out of it today , even iPad and aac software couldn’t translate today, sorry about that haha!

  4. I love this. And Evie yanking her backpack up the stairs with such determination reminds me of all the times I’ve been determined to do something, even if it meant doing it in not the most graceful or natural way. It often seems to matter more to me that I’m doing it myself, even if it’s an ugly, messy process that takes twice as long. 🙂

  5. As a physically disabled autistic adult, I would like to applaud you. I can’t clap, but I can say encouraging things very loudly. 🙂
    You are doing it right, seriously. I think you will find she can do a lot of things, she just needs to find her own way of doing them, much like my approach to applause.

    • Thank you Carlyle–it is always great to hear that adult members of her tribe figured out how to make things work. Once I think I’ve got the major stuff figured out when it comes to parenting, something pops up to slap me back into place. Where I belong 😉

  6. I can relate to this too. Sophie is also physically disabled and fell down a lot for about a year after started walking (which was at 19 months). Fell down on her face in fact since didn’t realize to stick out her hands. Watching her little face become battered and swollen also made me overprotective when she moves. I’ve been realizing the same thing- I need to step back! Good for Evie for showing you what she wanted 🙂

  7. I love this article! I love that you realized that there is so much more to communication than words. Your daughter can teach you, as much as you can teach her, because autism is a different way of thinking, so everything meaningful to us, as human beings is being thought from a different perspective, thus adding tremendous value to each, and every subject.

    Autism is about self-orientation, about independence, about freedom, about comfort, about abundance, about well-being, about joy, about fun, about excitement, about exhilaration, about enthusiasm, about love, about empowerment, about intelligence, about brilliance 🙂 but not always in the traditional ways they have been so far expressed 🙂

    Autism is about evolution, and about expansion – it is about real improving solutions 🙂 ❤

    if you are to see it, you must open your eyes, your mind, and your heart to the tremendous value, and benefit autism adds to the world 🙂 ❤

  8. That letting go or at least stretching that umbilicus is HARD. There was a study recently that noted that the last child born to a family is very often erroneously perceived as smaller and less able than their older siblings. Presuming competence is definitely something I constantly have to work towards.

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