It’s 9 a.m. and my toddlers are eating popsicles.
They are content (even quiet?) in their car seats behind me as we drive to ABA therapy. We are going on year three of “potty training” (I could call it a lot of other things) with my son Wilson, who is almost five years old and on the autism spectrum. He really pulled one over on me this morning with the new potty sticker chart by managing to sit and pee in the toilet four times more often than he would have on a typical morning, scoring a popsicle for himself as well as his little sister.
Oh well, it’s all about balance, right?
As parents, we all strive for a sense of balance in our children’s lives. There are the usual suspects: screen time, treats, sleep. If you are a parent of a child on the spectrum, there tends to be a few more items to add to the daily juggle.
You pack his food for the day (the same food you packed the day before and the one before that). You keep his snacks on hand, knowing full-well you can’t just pop into a restaurant or convenience store and find something he will consume.
You try to get him to taste new things but you also want him to eat. He has inherited your stubbornness and those hunger strikes are brutal for everyone. He knows the difference between chicken nuggets and tenders and how dare you serve one instead of the other? If you buy another brand, size or shape of his precious food he will make certain you regret it.
You sneak eight supplements in while keeping all the gluten and dairy out.
You plan and adhere to a routine (because that’s where he thrives) but also create space for him to enjoy some toddler spontaneity. Allow him freedom, but not so much that that he’ll wander off. Let him feed his curiosity but keep this fragile and fearless little human safe.
You let him stim and enjoy scripting off in his own little world, but not for too long, or he won’t let you join him there.
You prepare for the battles you know are coming, like haircuts, blood draws, dental exams or finishing his food containing aforementioned supplements. You keep a reserve of patience for the obstacles you don’t foresee, like an altercation over his open urine sample (he wanted to pour it into the potty like a “big boy” and I needed to ship it off to a lab in Texas.) Or that time he flushed his soiled underwear down the toilet…
You enjoy the quiet moments and you fear them. If it’s too quiet, then someone is up to something, somewhere.
You teach him “I want” and “no” when you would rather he was saying “please” and “no, thank you”. When he requests something appropriately, you usually oblige because it took so long to get there. In the back of your mind you worry that you tend to give him anything he wants to avoid a meltdown.
You start to plan for the future, but it’s overwhelming. The unknown is terrifying, so you try to live in the present.
You let him struggle. This, this one is the toughest. To wait. While he fumbles into his clothes or attempts to put his shoes on the wrong feet, you take pause instead of jumping in to do it for him. You hold your breath when people ask him questions and he struggles to think of a response, trying to give him a chance before answering for him.
You are his advocate, not just for more, but also for knowing when he’s had enough poking, prodding, testing or hard work. The real balance is knowing you would do or try anything to help your child while having the awareness that you cannot do it all at once.
I know many of us never feel like we have found a sense of balance, but we will never stop searching for it.