By Barb Arland-Fye
Parents of children with or without disabilities share a common dream: independence and success, whatever that might look like for each child.
My older son Colin, now 30, has experienced apartment living for nearly 12 years with different roommates and with on-site support staff to help him live as independently as possible. His most recent roommate, however, left abruptly because his mother wanted him at home with her.
Support services are provided based on two persons living together, to share the expenses. That means Colin now receives more “alone time,” as he likes to call it, in an apartment that is no longer affordable. A year ago, my husband Steve and I might have worried about Colin spending extended periods of time alone in his apartment. As an individual with autism, he needs to build on coping skills to deal with life’s frustrations. What was he supposed to do when he discovered at 11 p.m. that he was out of orange juice? Call Mom and Dad in a panic, of course!
But in recent months we have observed ever-so-subtle growth in Colin’s maturity and positive coping skills. His increased alone time is beginning to look like a blessing in disguise, an opportunity to grow in independence and self-sufficiency. The very thing we’ve prayed for all these years.
Like any parents of an individual with a disability, we still worry about the “what-ifs.” Colin spends his week days at Handicapped Development Center in Davenport, engaged in meaningful activities and outings and socializing with his peers. Good so far! Then he goes home on a van and spends several or more hours on his own. He might not have support staff until 10 p.m. at night.
Will he become lonely and more isolated? Will he bother to make dinner, or become too wrapped up in his reading and watching Star Wars movies? On the other hand, he loves his staff supervisor, Breanna, who calls him often to make sure he’s doing OK.
The curious thing about our son with autism is that he likes to be around people, and he doesn’t. When he accompanies us to family reunions or to my parents’ house in the Twin Cities, he inevitably ends up in the front den, reading his atlases, the Bible and books about U.S. presidents. He takes comfort in knowing that the people he loves are nearby, but he doesn’t have to interact with them unless he chooses to do so.
When Colin was first diagnosed with autism, I asked God to help my son catch up with his peers and to not need special education. My prayers evolved over time, as I grew to accept my son’s gifts and limitations. Now I pray that Colin will live a satisfying and fulfilling life, as independently as possible, and engaged in meaningful, satisfying, paid employment. I believe God answers prayers in subtle, marvelous ways that provide me with better insight about my original request.
I also believe that God has blessed me with a spouse who strengthens my trust in the Holy Spirit’s guidance toward the best living arrangement for our son. Colin is embracing his alone time with grace and that’s what I need to focus on.
(Editor Barb Arland-Fye can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)