Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Free-Range ASD Kids?

Last night Sweet M came to me after her shower, wrapped up in her oversized (adult large) bathrobe, and said, "M___, we need to talk." She had an arch and urgent tone suggesting that this was a matter of no small concern.

"Okay, what's on your mind?"

"I have got to go outside by myself. Karina goes out by herself."

"Really? Karina goes out by herself?"

"Yes. Today she walked home from school by herself. So how come I can't go out by myself?"

"Well . . ." I started to say before she interrupted me.

"I know, I know, the city is a big place, and I could get lost, and there's lots of noise and lots of people and some of them are thieves and bad, and so it's not safe."

"Yes, and lots of the people are good, but there are some people, a very small number of people, who are very bad and wicked to children and parents want to keep their children safe."

"Yes, but I have got to go out by myself. You know — it's a teenage thing."

"I know, but you're not a teenager yet."

"Okay, so when I'm fourteen," she bargained, half asked, half insisted.

Somehow we skipped right over thirteen, so I seem to have bought myself an extra year. Eighteen months in total.

"Maybe. Maybe when you get your dog and you have to walk her twice a day. But I have to talk to your father and some other adults."

"Okay. So we'll talk about this later."

Okay my dear other adults, what do you think?

When is it safe for a language-delayed, PDD-NOS kid (girl in this case) to go out on their (her) own in New York City?

Normally I joke with her that I'll let her out on her own when she's forty. But that isn't funny anymore because the urgency of her desire for more independence is palpable.

The over-precious parenting or helicopter parenting that is prevalent in our culture has come under some solid critiques lately. Lenore Skenazy, who let her nine-year-old son ride the subway alone and then wrote an essay about it for The New York Sun looked at the statistics and observed that your child has more chance of dying from falling out of bed and than of being abducted and killed.

Writing at her blog, Free-Range Kids, Skenazy advocates for more freedom of movement and independence for kids. This year she launched Take You Kid to the Park and Leave Them There Day. In principle, I agree with her. I don't know how I'd have survived if I'd been tethered to a parent or a nanny until I hit my teen years . . . I probably would not have been prepared at all to be a teenager.

But what about our kids — our kids with the sensory issues and occasional dysregulation and the language impairments? When can we safely let them out of sight? And how would we know?


farmwifetwo said...

Mine hasn't got street smarts. Yes, he knows the rules, but he doesn't think it through. My now mild-NLD kid is a poster child for "the theory of mind" and missing the "I give a shit" - gene.

These things create a child that just does and the hell with the consequences.

He's nearly 11 and this summer I've granted permission - YIKES - for him to cross the road without supervision to ride on the other half of the farm. Fingers crossed, he always watches b/c even though they put up a "watch for children" sign.... I'm lucky if most go under 80km/hr and definately not the motorbikes and 4wheelers (gravel).

Baby steps. Next year I'm going to have to allow him on the road in front of the house.

I'd start small.... how far is the nearest corner store? Walking around the block alone? Taking the dog around the block. Start doing it together, start giving her room to do it herself.

They're getting old enough that one day we're going to have to grant permission.... I'm just hoping I've taught him enough not to get hurt.

Anonymous said...

It's very top-of-mind for me too. I read Lenore's blog and I totally get it. It makes so much sense to promote independence and self-reliance; there's more safety in those skills than suddenly turning a kid loose at 16 or 18 or whatever.

But like you, I wonder the same thing. How to marry my core beliefs about childhood and independence and freedom with the reality of raising a kid w/ PDD-NOS. And in my case, a kid who panics if he loses sight of me in our tiny town grocery store where every adult in there knows his name and address.


If someone comes up with a good solution, let me know.

Anonymous said...

okay. you've got 18 months.

and this, my friend, is an excellent question.

i don't have an answer for you on nyc. i haven't lived there in a hundred years and certainly, was never a mom there. we are facing the tip of this particular iceberg now that fluffy is nine and, thankfully, we live in a neighborhood on a street where he can safely hang outside, ride his bike up and down the street, even around the block, and seems to be okay. my neighbor is VERY hands off, very free range. but her kids are exceedingly independent and NT. so...i'd love to hear other thoughts.

MothersVox said...

It's really a tough one because I just don't have any idea of how she'd fare walking down the street on her own. She'd be safe enough, but she could wander off, or get distracted. I don't know. More thinking and planning is needed.

jenmcjen said...

I've been a lurker/ fan for quite a while--I'm so glad that you and this mom are writing again!

I am a mom to 3 boys, the oldest is almost 8, pdd-nos and I am also a social worker at a school for children with visual impairments and other disabilities. I too struggle with figuring out how to balance fostering my son's confidence/ independence/ freedom with his difficulties understanding what is happening around him in the big world.

But here's an idea that I've picked up from work. Blind children usually have lessons in Orientation and Mobility, where they are taught step by step how to get around in progressively more complex environments, by learning travel skills, how to interpret environmental information, etc. Before "clearing" a child on a route, the O&M teacher will usually practice it with them several times, and then observe them several times from behind to assess whether they can do it on their own safely. We will sometimes purposely throw the kids some curve balls, so we can make sure that they can handle problems that come up. (Like have a "stranger" approach them, etc)

Perhaps over the next 18 months, you could shadow your amazing Ms. M, see how she copes with the things that arise, and talk with her about the things that caused any trouble. She might gain confidence and you might gain comfort.

For blind students, there is an Expanded Core Curriculum, including social skills, O&M, independent living skills, self-determination skills, compensatory academic skills, technology, etc. With my own ASD child, I've been thinking that we need to pull all these pieces together into an expanded core curriculum for ASD kiddos. Our schools should be helping us more in developing all these real life skills, because it's all the things that really matter in adult life.

thanks so much for your writings!

MothersVox said...

Thanks so much jenmcjen, for coming out with those great ideas. That is brilliant. Of course there must be protocols for this -- we just have to look for some good models. Starting with ones for visually impaired kids makes perfect sense. *Thank you* so much for your thinking about this!