Many parents of children with disabilities are overly protective — understandably so, as these children may be more vulnerable than their peers. However, this instinct may sometimes be counter-productive in helping our children with disabilities thrive.
It is true that children with ASD are at an elevated risk for eloping, which means wandering away from the safety of caregivers. They may also lack the ability to recognize other forms of danger such as traffic or open bodies of water. I must at times stay on high alert. But I am often on high alert even in situations where there isn’t an imminent danger. I discovered from a recent trip to Disney that I need to let go a little, both for his success and mine.
As Orlando residents and Disney annual pass holders, we frequently visit the theme parks. My overwhelming fear of my son getting lost or hurt means our Disney days typically follow the same routine. When not riding an attraction, my son is either strapped in his stroller or tethered to me.
Because of his new obsession with Star Wars, we recently visited Star Wars Land at Disney’s Hollywood Studios. After flying the Millennium Falcon alongside his best friend Chewbacca, my son protested both returning to the stroller or wearing the tether.
My husband and I locked eyes. After a few moments of silence, we hesitantly agreed to let our son walk unassisted provided he held our hands. He accepted the terms. Throughout the rest of the day, he held our hands as we walked. At times when we needed to let go of him, he placed his hands in his pockets and stood patiently next to us. My husband and I were as thrilled as we were in disbelief!
I now recognize my extreme efforts to keep him safe were limiting his ability to learn how to do just that. My due diligence in protecting him will remain a priority when necessary. However, I will also purposely seek opportunities where I can back off a little and allow him to proudly demonstrate the functional independence he is gaining.
“A parent’s job is to teach their children to not need them anymore. The hardest part of that job is achieving success.” –Author Unknown