* I have some catching up to do. If you are a loyal follower of this blog, I offer my deepest apologies for not having posted for the last 10 weeks. See, about that time, I took on a new adventure of being a full-time substitute for an amazing high school social studies teacher who was on maternity leave. Clearly, some things had to go just to keep up with everything between school, our family, my photography, and my part-time work with our church. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to continue everything, so blog-posting was one that had to go on the back burner. However, I kept writing. It’s one of those things that I find I simply can’t not do. It just happens. So while I wasn’t posting, I was still writing. It’s time now to catch up. Thank you for sticking with me! 🙂 Here’s Presuming Competence from April 16.
There’s another writer/autism mom I follow online. Jess Wilson pens Diary of a Mom. If you have any interest at all in life on the spectrum scene, I’d recommend looking her up. She can be found both online in her own blog and on Facebook as “Diary of a Mom.”
I read her columns for several reasons, but mostly because it’s almost like going home. Going home in the sense that it seems she gets me. She gets what I’m feeling. She gets where I am. She gets the frustration, the anger, the fear, the extreme joy over what to the rest of the world may seem like the smallest little detail. She gets it. And we’ve never even met. We’ve never talked on the phone, never texted into the wee hours of the morning, never even had an online exchange. But still, she gets me because she lives it. She lives in the messy trenches of the spectrum but sees the beauty of her daughter’s smile and feels the deep appreciation for merely a moment of eye contact when she truly gets to see the twinkle of her daughter’s eye. She relishes the joy of watching her daughter jump and spin and connects through Nick Jr. and all kinds of characters her daughter’s peers have long since left behind. She gets me because she lives it.
I am so thankful for the circle of people I can get real with in terms of this joyride Ben has taken us on without any of the ugly judgment that could easily be passed, but sometimes it’s good to lose myself in someone else’s experiences just to remind myself we are not the only ones who are one this crazy ride. In doing so, I have also learned a great deal about making it through the days.
One of the biggest lessons I keep relearning both from Diary and continued experiences with Ben is that of “Presumed Competence.” This is the idea that we stop judging and deciding for our children what they can’t do, but instead presume competence in everything – presume that they can.
Instead of saying, “Thanks, but we’re going to pass on the roller skating party because I don’t think Ben can handle the falling, the lights, the music, and all the people.” (Yes, I’m guilty here.) Presumed competence assumes that he can enjoy a day with family and friends feeling the freedom of zooming around on skates and laughing off an ill-timed fall or two and just as importantly that if he couldn’t handle it, that he could express his needs to me, trusting that I would help meet those needs and we would find another place to be or another thing to do while the others were skating.
Last month, we had the opportunity to go roller skating with our older kids’ 4-H group. I passed. I wasn’t up for the challenge of all that Ben may not be able to handle and I simply didn’t want to try. Everyone understood – there’s no sense in putting ourselves in what we know is going to be a difficult situation, so our family split and Ben enjoyed a very pleasant “play at home day” – absolutely nothing wrong with that. Everyone enjoyed the day and we came back together as a family that night sharing stories of falls while skating, funny things Ben said or did, games I played with Ali, and bloopers from play practice from the older boys.
Yesterday, we had another opportunity for family fun while roller skating. I decided we’d try it because I’d been to this rink before, I knew it would be a small group and the vast majority of folks there know our precious boy and they are some of his biggest cheerleaders. They presumed his competence, it was time I did, too. I’m so glad I did. That boy had the best time! The roller rink personnel were phenomenal. All the little skates were already tightened a bit so Ben and Ali could join all the big people with confidence. Their wheels rolled enough for them to skate and have fun but not enough for them to fall every time they took to the rink.
I got to see my boy enjoy the freedom of skating. He got to feel himself roll along. He sang and danced under the spinning lights. He laughed and laughed and laughed when he fell and laughed even more when mom fell. Then he came right over to either help me up or fall right on top of me, on purpose, laughing the whole time. He even beat mom at limbo. It was the best afternoon. I immensely enjoyed watching my boy enjoy life.
And proof came later that afternoon when I was saying my goodbyes before heading out to work. Just before I left the room he was playing in, he stopped me with his precious voice, “Mommy, thank you for the roller skating.”
Be still my heart, my boy just said thank you for our afternoon together without anyone even saying anything about the day. It was obviously a fun time for him. He obviously had been thinking about it and wanted to tell me thank you.
Presuming competence goes so much farther than roller skating, but it’s a great place to start because social situations are some of the most difficult for kids like Ben. We have to keep reminding ourselves that he can do pretty much anything he sets his mind to. He can go roller skating with friends. He can play baseball. He can be in the play, sing at the concert, and in time learn to play an instrument if he so chooses. Just like he sings along with Steve at the end of Blue’s Clues, “We can do anything that we wanna do.”