Self-help and life skills are all a part of raising a civilized child. There’s a sense of conforming to the norm, because it is normal for a child of a specific age to be able to dress, feed, and wash up by himself, as well as performing regular hygiene and grooming tasks, like brushing hair and teeth. In addition, when raising a child with autism, obtaining these skills is important for independence and quality of life purposes. So, yes, we are conforming to society’s expectations in a way that the child may not initially appreciate.
The problem comes into play when we expect or even demand that these skills be developed in the same way and/or on the same timetable as more typical peers. Such expectations and demands only lead to mutual disappointment and frustration. I’ve seen parents who have, at least for the most part, maintained the same timetable by make significant adjustments to the way the skills are developed. I’ve also seen parents sacrifice the timetable by waiting for the child to develop these skills at his or her own pace. I’ve tried both routes with mixed success, resulting in a rather mixed approach.
In the end, the question is not whether we need to conform to society in these regards; the question is how much we are willing to conform to society. Where we draw the line, as parents, matters. It impacts how we perceive our children and how our children are perceived by others. More importantly, it impacts how our children perceive themselves. It impacts the levels of chaos and order that exist within our homes. It impacts the comfort and adaptability of our children. It impacts their quality of life with regards to how expectations and methodologies relate to their frustration, their aspirations, their self-direction, and their self-authority.
In the end, our children will become adults. In the end, our children will find ways to communicate their own ideas, their own beliefs, and their own experiences. As we judge where our own parents drew their lines in the sand, so too will we be judged by our children. If you doubt that for even a moment, take a look around at the dialogues of autistics adults that pervade the blogosphere.
So, whatever struggles you face today, I caution my fellow parents to keep this thought in the back of your mind: What do you want your children to say about you when they can? Don’t forget that respect others’ personhood is part of civility, too. The way you teach your children to do that is to do unto them what you would have them do unto others. Autism doesn’t change that.