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.