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Getting Help

I am always thinking about ways to make Justin’s life better, to give him a more independent existence. I’m hoping this goes on my tombstone along with “he ate broccoli and lettuce and liked them.”

It’s good to have goals.

In an effort to bring about said independence I was able to call in the “autism squad” from Justin’s private autism school to do an assessment of his (and frankly, my) skills to see where we could improve.

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Yes, I know, these are “first world” autism problems.

Before you stop reading and dive into “her kid can’t be severe she has NO idea what it’s like here” I’ll tell you my eldest son is in fact severe, from tip to toe. Justin has at best five intelligible words. His potty training techniques still need refreshing on occasion. In the past sleep, aggression, and an aversion to anything not a carb ruled our lives. He was severely affected, and still is.

He’s also affectionate, clever, and most of the time one of the happiest children I’ve known, and I taught for a dozen years, so that actually means something.

His parents, teachers and therapists labored about thirteen years to help him reach the point where we have “first world” autism problems, such as the struggle I was having getting him out the door in the morning (honestly, what’s more reinforcing, getting on a bus or playing “Up” on a DVD player?). At Justin’s school parents are able to request free consultations from their excellent BCBAs (yes, I said free!) for up to eight sessions at a time, either to work on major issues as I’ve outlined above, or simply to improve quality of life. Except for his reluctance to board his daily yellow chariot we are in a great place with Justin (yay ABA and medication!), and I felt the need not only to change our routine from me cajoling/begging him to leave the house, to a joyful boy leaving behind a movie or the computer to go to his happy place- school.

Yup, I’m pretty sure he likes it there better than his house. I try not to take it personally.

My son’s lovely BCBAs advised me on some ways I can help him be more independent in his morning routine, but mostly they came up with an incredibly clever plan (I knew they would) to help ease him out of the house in the mornings.

The plan looks like the photo above.

You’re all autism parents. You get the drift.

When they first outlined their idea of taking pictures of all of Justin’s morning activities, creating a book, and letting him flip through the pages to each new exciting daily adventure, I honestly thought it wouldn’t work.

Actually, I thought “not a chance in hell,” but I’m polite so didn’t share that exact sentiment.

The dynamic duo came over at 7:00 AM one morning (yes I said AM) and stayed with us from the moment Justin rose from his bed to the moment he bounded onto the bus (of course that day he went without any problem). They took pictures of everything we did to get ready for his day job (he found this highly amusing), then went on their merry ways. A week later they came back (yes, again at 7:00 AM!) and we took the book for a test drive.

He loved it. It was as reinforcing to him as a plate of warm Philly pretzels and a Baby Einstein video on his DVD player, and that is high praise indeed.

It’s been two weeks now, and I haven’t had one single morning where I’ve struggled to get him on the bus. The last two pictures in the book are of his backpack and the bus, and when he gleefully turns to those pages, he often gifts me with a knowing smile. When I show him the “bus page” he now walks readily away from his movie choice du jour, and heads right to our front door.

Victory. Yum.

It will take me some time to implement all of their recommendations for increasing his independence (they say it takes a thousand trials to create a new habit, at fifty I’m finding it takes a million), but I will perservere. Justin’s personal consultants have reminded me that he’s fourteen and he can’t sit on my lap forever for his Eric Carle bedtime story (this one will be a challenge), but other changes will be easier to master over time. Gaining independence is not just a learning curve for my boy- it’s one for me too. It’s something we autism parents need to constantly keep on the back burner (when not fighting insomnia, aggression or other all-consuming issues).

I don’t know when I will no longer be living with my boy, but at some point that day will come. I want him to be as prepared as humanly possible.

I want to be as prepared as humanly possible too.

So here’s to creating new habits, and thanks to his wonderful consultants!

For more on my family visit my blog at

Follow me on Facebook at Autism Mommy-Therapist

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