My son is going to London. Somehow he got himself voted onto the School Council and he is joining the other councillors on a trip to visit the Houses of Parliament in London tomorrow. I have a strong suspicion that his desire to become a councillor had little to do with being a councillor and a lot to do with spending more time with his first ever crush, whom he describes as “wonderful”. She put herself forward as a candidate and young love gave him the courage and motivation to not only nominate himself but also give an impromptu candidate’s speech to his class on how he would use his powers to keep the school tidy and organised. Excuse me, what? This from the boy who is “too tired and weak” to tidy his room on any given day? This from the boy who takes 45 minutes to tell a ten minute story? I had no idea he was even voted a councillor: I found out from another mum the following week! Nevertheless, his fellow classmates bought his pitch and now he is a councillor and he is travelling to London. It’s a twelve hour round trip leaving the school at 6:30am and returning around 6:30pm, with travel on a coach, a train, the underground and by foot.
Any parent of an autistic child will know what this means. When I received the letter with permission slip to complete, the following thoughts immediately went through my head:
- What if he becomes distressed from sensory overstimulation?
- What if he finds it too crowded and becomes distressed?
- He doesn’t eat when he’s stressed – what if he becomes too tense to eat and becomes distressed from low blood sugar?
- What if he gets travel sick?
- What if the noise and crowds in the underground are too stressful?
- What if he needs to use the toilet and forgets to go and has an accident?
- What if he wanders off and gets lost?
- What if he breaks something in the gift shop?
- What if he breaks or loses his purchase from the gift shop and has a hysterical crying fit from tension and tiredness?
- What if… what if…. what if?
I know the answers to all these “what ifs”: he will be fine. He always is. Every trip, he’s been fine. He’s been on two school residential trips so one long day to London will merely be an exciting adventure with his friends. He is capable of more than I know, more than he lets on. He’ll have fun and he’ll be very tired and if anything we will see the aftermath the next day or the day after when he can finally relax and process his tension. I’ll prepare his one-to-one teaching assistant for the possibility of a tearful meltdown the next day but as his assistant will be going with him on the day itself, I know he will be fine during the trip.
It’s not just my son that has to learn to cope with venturing out further into the world but me too. I can’t protect him against every event or every stressor. Things will go wrong in life, plans will go awry and he needs to know how to handle that and to handle how he will feel, and I need to learn to let him. In September my “baby boy” will be moving up to high school; he isn’t a young boy any more. He may be autistic but the world won’t do him many favours because of that. I have to let him have adventures and accidents without me being there to explain his intentions and pick up the pieces. It goes against everything I have done for the first ten years of his life; because he is autistic I have been his conduit into this world, explaining the world to him and him to the world. We have been a gang of two, brave adventurers facing the big, wide world. We have been pirates and heroes and soldiers, making up stories to overcome his anxiety at leaving our safe, predictable haven of home. I created “Sock Monster”, the lovable, portable friend to chat to on the bus when journeys took too long or he was nervous about going somewhere. (Sock Monster still talks to him at bedtime occasionally – remember “younger for longer”?) I have anticipated as many bumps in the road as I could; packing for every eventuality, sourcing food he will eat because I know he won’t eat most food provided outside the house, taking people to one side to explain his actions and emotions so that he will be understood and cared for appropriately when I’m not around. I have made charts and books to read with him to prepare him for upcoming events. I have spoken to the children he has played with on the street so they know to look out for him and bring him back at meal times as he has no sense of time and can’t tell the time on a watch. I have done my best to smooth the path before him. But now I have to stop and step back. I have to let him get into situations where things may go wrong, where he has to explain himself, stand up for himself and learn not to back down or be afraid. I have to let him learn to be self-sufficient practically and emotionally. I have to let him grow up and only he can do that for himself.
And so he will go to London and I will ignore the What Ifs and I will be happy for him to have this wonderful opportunity. Wish us luck…. I know the boy will be fine. I think London will survive. Watch out world, here he comes!
Public Domain photograph of Big Ben and the Palace of Westminster courtesy of pixabay.com