Autistic Children Move Forward With Each Independent Skill

Special To The Courant

Standing at my kitchen counter recently, I watched my son, Cash'an, methodically butter a bagel for his breakfast. He had taken each slice out of the toaster one by one and put them on a small plate he had gotten from the cabinet. Then he grabbed the container of butter from the refrigerator, after making sure everything on the top shelf in there was in place. Next, he took a butter knife from the draw and began the process. He spread the butter a bit, leaving a good part of the bagel unbuttered. I knew it wasn't his intention, so I helped him butter the rest — this time. After taking a juice box, he sat at the kitchen table and ate. All I could think about was not so long ago, he couldn't get his bagel, butter it or sit at the table to eat it because then, at four, he really didn't quite understand how these processes worked together.

Today, now at age 10, my son understands that after a bath comes putting on clothes. I smile at this because I can remember when he did not always get that notion right away either (I can laugh now). Though he may not put the clothes on his body perfectly all the time, he's getting there. He corrected me the other day, for example, when I handed him his pants backwards — something I don't thinkI've ever seen him do with me.

Autism is such a complex disorder. Learning things step-by-step, from the tiniest detail to the finished goal, is how children with this disorder learn. We, those who are considered typically developing, take these things for granted. Recently, I realized how much I appreciated that my son has learned to dress or feed himself or use a bathroom independently, especially when he was away from me and our family for more than the usual few days spending time at my mother's house. I knew he had learned enough through our family, and home and school therapists, to be able to rely on the basic daily living skills he had. I didn't care so much whether his clothes matched or if he sat nicely at the table as much as I hoped he remembered how to dress himself and that he would eat his food without me, my husband or any of us at home prompting him to do it as we often do. In situations like that, you start to realize what's really important. I want my son to grow up with manners, etiquette and respect for himself and others. But, I've worked with other children with autism, who are older than my son, and cannot do things like independently using the bathroom or feeding themselves. I could only imagine the angst of their parents.

So upon my son's his return home and during his recent visit to my mother's, she asked me if she should change the pants he was wearing that day. Cash'an had picked out his own clothes that morning and was wearing cotton navy blue sweatpants and a short-sleeved navy blue and red striped shirt. I don't know if it was by coincidence, but his clothes matched. His grandmother wanted to replace his pants with shorts because it was a warm summer day. I definitively told her 'no.' I wanted him to feel confident in making his own decisions and enjoy that he had learned his dressing routine and made his own choices. It took us a long while to teach Cash'an how to get dressed. Autistic children sometimes go backwards and have to re-learn some things. Whether his clothes match or not, and even if his bagel is not completely buttered, I just want him to be able to move forward with as many life skills he can learn.

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