As a parent I had to do something this summer that felt like I was having my heart ripped out! I sent my autistic kid to camp! Now, you may be thinking that I should really get over it and be tough but the reality is that my 13 year old son with autism decided that he wanted to go to a basic training camp wth the Air Cadets…..two weeks in military camp. Oh my goodness! My first response was to scream, “NOT A CHANCE!” But, I soon recognized that that was my own fear speaking. He is genuinely interested in anything military…especially airplanes. He loves structure, routine and predictability…who better to deliver that than the military!
And so, off he went. Happily. Me…..not so happy! I worried, I stressed…what if they yelled at him? What if he was not accepted by his peers? What if he didn’t eat? What if it was too loud or too hot or too cold?? Would he be able to advocate for himself? Would he be able to fit in and feel good about himself?? Would he feel safe?
Worse yet, the rest of our family was to be in Chicago for the National Autism Conference and my baby would be hundreds of miles away at military camp!! What kind of a mother allows that???
The kind that has a husband that says, “Let him go…he can do it….he wants to do it…don’t stand in the way of his growth!” OUCH. Me, stand in the way of my own son’s growth??? With some more discussion, I realized that it was MY fears and MY needs that were taking over and disabling his need to take a risk. I had to trust that all of the planning, social skill training, self regulation work and communication development were for the purpose of this moment…..letting my son be an independent young man!!
I will spare the daily details of how I coped for two weeks, but suffice it to say that camp is almost over and when I visit my son I am utterly overwhelmed at how he has grown up. He seems taller, more sure of himself and he has a smile that stretches across his face. He shows me his list of friend’s emails and I start to cry…..isn’t this what we have strived for? He has come from a boy who rocked, screamed and hid under tables to a young man that has dreams, friends and most of all, he has a self confidence that only comes when parent’s let go.
Thank you Kieran for making me see that I cannot let my fears hold you back!