Autism has taught me many lessons. It has forced me to think critically about all aspects of my parenting style. It has led me to always have a plan — and to always be ready to change it. But more than anything, it has taught me to appreciate small moments and little victories. It has taught me to try to live with a hyper focus on the present while trying not to look too far ahead to the future. I try to compare Ryan’s progress only to Ryan, and not to Riley or his peers. What can he do today, this month, this year that he couldn’t yesterday, last month, last year? That is how I try to measure progress (with varying degrees of success, I’ll admit).
In short, I try to look at life more through a microscope, drilling down on the tiniest details of what’s right in front of us, and less through a telescope, focused on some faraway goal that we may or may not reach.
— From “Microscopes vs. Telescopes,” May, 15, 2013
I wrote those words a little over a year ago, and I still believe them.
But you know what?
Sometimes a telescopic worldview can be real useful, too.
Much like a relative who visits occasionally and immediately notices incredible change in your kids that you might have missed (because you’re with them every day), it can be helpful to step back from time to time and assess where you are.
Not only where you are, but how far you’ve come.
Sometimes the change happens so rapidly that it becomes normalized before you even realize what’s occurring.
When it comes to his independence, Ryan barely resembles the person he was last fall. At the start of the last school year, he and Riley asked to attend public ice skating sessions almost every Friday night, as that is a go-to activity for the middle-school set in our town.
For the first couple of months, either Veronica or I would take them and sit in the lobby for the entire session. Sometimes we went together, joking about how it was the highlight of our weekly social calendar.
We didn’t think we had a choice. We didn’t think Ryan could handle the responsibilities — paying, tying his skates, following rules, etc. — needed to navigate the sessions completely by himself.
We were wrong.
He was fine. He occasionally ran afoul of the skate guards — just like most of the other boys. But once he learned to tie his skates on his own, he really didn’t need us. He got on the ice and skated until the session ended. For Riley, just like her peers, it was a more social experience. She skated some, she chatted some. She went to the snack bar. She gossiped with friends.
We realized pretty quickly that they didn’t need us. After a few months, we tried a drop-off. We let Riley handle the money. It’s not that Ryan couldn’t handle it, he just hadn’t ever had any interest in doing so and was lacking in experience. But Veronica was working with him, making him order and pay for his pizza slices after social group.
One of us would get back to the rink a few minutes before the session ended to pick them up. And other than the occasional forgotten water bottle, or complaints about obnoxious middle-school boy behavior, there weren’t any issues.
Ryan continues to go skating over the summer. He doesn’t care who else is there. Without her friends, Riley has no interest. So a few weeks ago, I took him.
And I dropped him off.
Outside the rink.
And two hours later, I picked him up.
And it was no big deal, you know? He had everything. He even had the change. He remembered to text me to find out where I was picking him up.
Except that you and I know better. It was a big deal. It was a Not Little Thing.
Only I didn’t notice what had happened until he did it again the following week. After the second consecutive issue-free, drop-off and pick-up, pay-your-own-way and don’t-forget-your-change skating session, I mentioned it to Veronica.
“Can you believe it?”
She had been thinking about the same thing. About how far he had come — or maybe he was there all along and it was us that made the progress?
I’m not really sure. I was too caught up viewing life through a microscope. But it doesn’t really matter, because the telescopic view shows just how far we’ve come.