I recently began a job at a Connecticut University where my son’s school for autistic and other special-needs children is also located. Being so close to him reinforces a sense of security, knowing that I can get to my child at a moment’s notice.
Cash’an, 10, however, has no idea that I am so close. His cognitive ability could not quite comprehend that I am in a building all day other than home, where his concept of routine tells him I’m supposed to be. For a typically developed child, it would be like seeing their teacher at the grocery store, rather than at school. So I don’t visit him often. When I have stopped by his classroom a quick hello or to bring a snack, Cash’an greets me affectionately with kisses, all the while gently placing his hand on me at the ready to steer me to the door. It’s a little better than when I visited him at a previous school less than a year ago and he simply, kissed me, said "bye bye" and blatantly pointed to the door. I would chuckle to myself and leave.
Then and now, I try to be mindful of his challenges because interruption of routines sometimes raises his anxiety. In school that interruption impacts his ability to stay on task. I also want to be respectful of the teachers, who work hard to keep him focused.
Today, as I was walking to the campus café, I saw my son taking a walk with his class. When I stopped to greet him, Cash’an, who still has some limited verbal skills, again calmly gave me lots of kisses (with the extra smacking sound I actually taught him just as a way to use his voice, but really makes me smile), and then looked at me like "What are you doing here?"
That was my cue.
Autism is about routine. I needed to let him have his, even though I thoroughly enjoyed that moment. His classroom aide said Cash’an had never walked that far out the building before with a group, so that was progress. I quickly said bye and walked away. Inside the café, I watched him continue to walk along a path, and peeking back inside the window (I’m sure he saw where I went). He was looking for me. I was proud of him and wishing I could have joined him on the walk. I realized that he is starting to walk on his own, even if they are slow steps.