Why can I not ease off the reins and let my son manage his life? My adult son works with wonderful people who embrace his neurodiversity. He loves his job and is enthused about living alone, and I am happy for him! But I still wrangle with myself to not step in and manage.
For example, my son likes to sleep. When he was a teenager, he would have slept half of the day had I let him do it. But now that he is an adult on his own, I worry that he will not get up and get to work on time. I call him every morning to make sure he is on his way to work, and if he does not answer, I send a text later to confirm that he has shown up. I even do this when I am out of town and on vacation. Yes, at 6:00 in the morning I am up and anxious. I know that I need to let this go.
Are you guilty of not letting your kids fly? Are you having trouble letting go?
The Problem with Not Letting Go
As loving parents, we want our children to succeed in life. But sometimes, this pushes us blindly into overcompensation. We find ourselves frequently sneaking in and organizing our autistic teen’s school work to ensure they have a positive next day in class. Or we continue to do our kid’s laundry because we do not trust that they will do it themselves and that they will end up with no clean clothes in their closet.
By not letting our kid fly on their own, we teach them that they are not accountable and lack responsibility. In turn, we presume incompetence, even if it only pertains to some areas of their lives. This can lead our children to feel that independence is either impossible or that they are flawed.
Empowering Our Kids with Success (Letting Them Fly)
Per Dr. Sarah Wayland, the mind shift with RDI® is to empower young individuals to make their own decisions, figure out what’s working, what’s not working, and how to get through it by themselves. “But, we have to show them that we actually believe that they can do that.”
By allowing our autistic children, whether they are an adult or not, to fly on their own, we encourage independence and prepare for adulthood, with a toolbox that is filled with necessary life skills:
- Problem-solving and self-awareness
- Ongoing growth and development and uncertainty management
- Flexibility, teamwork, relationship building, analysis and appraisal, perspective, creativity, and innovation
It is okay for our children to feel uncomfortable when life happens, and we encourage this by letting go. Real change happens when our autistic children get out of their comfort zone. The learning process is motivating. It supports and grows the encouragement needed to continue growing.
If you step back from managing your child, will they fail? Russell Lehmann, autistic public speaker, author, and poet, looks at failure as something that we all need to embrace:
“If we were to never fail, we would never know what we need to improve upon, and we would never be aware of what we are truly capable of. When there is a chance you may fail at something, you either succeed or you learn. There is no losing when it comes to failure. Think of failure as a trampoline: you are going to fall, but you will bounce back better because of it!”
The transition that occurs between childhood to the teenage years, and adulthood, is a very challenging process for autistics, but it takes preparation, and it relies on many factors, including the autistic individual and their families. Dr. Lynn C. Davidson remarks that too many families do tasks for their adolescents long past when the teen could do them on their own. While some (autistics adults/teens) do need support for what may seem like basic tasks, parents also must work to learn the boundaries and abilities of each person. Doing too much as a parent can stifle your child’s development and personal growth. Remember this, personal growth is a lifetime endeavor, it does not stop when an individual becomes an adult.
10 Ways That You Can Let Go Today
Our blog, 10 Ways to Let Your Kids Fail Now for Success in the Future, contains helpful action steps that can be followed by parents of young autistic children, as well as teens and adults.
- Do not do what kids can do for themselves
- Set consequences for actions
- Health and safety first
- Celebrate failure and encourage effort
- Resist coming to the rescue
- Give your children space
- Do not manage your children’s work for them
- Do not give in to guilt
- Encourage your children to try new things
- Promote decision-making
In practical terms, how do these ten steps apply to the parent who calls her son every day to ensure that he is awake and arrives to work on time?
The adult child is capable of waking themselves up and getting to work on time (1).
Adulting has many consequences in place, especially for individuals that arrive late for work regularly (2).
If your adult child lives with you, set boundaries that ensure the safety of your family and home (3).
You can celebrate failure with your adult child, and you can encourage effort from afar (4).
Resist calling your child to verify that they arrive to work on time (resist coming to their rescue) (5).
Give your adult child the space to learn and grow (6).
Do not try to manage your child’s responsibility with their job (7).
Do not allow feelings of guilt to persuade you or stop you from letting your son fly on his own (8).
If your adult child fails, and even if they do not, you can suggest new things for them to try – but avoid issuing directives (9).
You can promote decision-making in your adult child by allowing them to make choices without your intervention (i.e., without your daily check-up phone call) (10).
Support is Available
None of us are perfect at parenting, and it takes immense time, patience, and energy. We, and others, are here for you on this journey. Here are some supports that are available for autistic teens and adults. Remember one important thing above all, RDI® is for everyone, there is no age limit: Adulthood Transitions, Housing, and Long-Term Care Support.
At RDI®, we have created an Online Learning Community to help parents like you get real help on the topics that matter the most. Get answers to your biggest questions and concerns about autism and learn how to best support your child’s (adult or not) growth and progress.