What I leaned from 10 feet
This Facebook status popped up yesterday as one of my "memories on this day" posts. I was going to write something on my personal page, but decided to write this instead.
January 7, 2014 at 3:50pm ·
"There are a lot of things about autism that you need to actually live in order to come close to understanding. That's just the way it is. One of those things is bolting. Since the day he could walk, Luke would take off at top speed. Any direction, at any time, with no warning. He's scaled fences and jumped through screened windows while I was looking directly at him, and before I could even flinch. Outside of the house I've had to hold on to him at all times, unless it was a completely controlled environment. I've probably lost as much sleep over his safety as I've had. He's 9, and it's only been about 6 months of him walking freely in public within arms distance. We just went to the store, did our thing, and walked back across the parking lot with a distance of about 10 ft between us. I didn't have to touch him once. When we got to the car, I didn't have to pin him with my leg to get my keys out. I still needed my owl neck to constantly scan our surroundings, but these are the things Ive always wondered if I would ever see. Yay Luke!"
After I read it, I sat drinking my coffee and started to reflect on it. My son's safety has been such a challenge, that even therapists have not known what to do. If I didn't live it, I probably wouldn't believe some of the things that have happened. 10 feet. 10 feet is an enormous accomplishment for Luke, and in the two years of practicing it, he's doing great. When he gets off the bus after school I can hang back and let him come to me, rather than having to go right up to the bus doors. Last week he was allowed to walk to the driveway to get something out of the car while I waited in the doorway. There was no running into the street, and he came back on his own. I stood there watching, so happy for him. These are big accomplishments.
Giving Luke space requires an enormous amount of trust on my part. It reminds me of the game where someone falls backwards and needs to trust that people will catch them. No one's ever really pumped for their turn with that game. I need to trust that what I have been teaching him over the years about safety is sinking in. I need to be ok with giving that space, and that's extremely hard for me to do. If anything ever happened to him, I would just die. As Luke has gotten older, he has become more aware. He still doesn't have a complete sense of danger, so my decisions on giving him space need to be really good ones. He has come so far, but still has so far to go.
When we go out, I scan every environment for possible problems, at all times. That is not an exaggeration. There really never is a "completely controlled environment." Some are just better than others. If we are at home, I can be a little more relaxed. That means I can leave Luke alone in a room for a short period of time while I go into another. 10 minutes is my max before I poke my head in to make sure he's ok. Aside from a few familiar houses, when we are in someone else home and Luke walks out of the room, I go, too. If he is out of my sight, I get extremely uncomfortable. It may seem like I'm paying attention to a conversation, but 95% of my mind is on every noise around me. If I hear what sounds like a door opening, I immediately go running. That's just the way it is, and there really isn't anything I can do about that. I do believe that over time it will continue to get better.
So the first thing "10 feet" taught me, was that I needed to trust that space is ok. He's getting older. He's getting better at it. It's ok. Not only is it ok, it's good for him. Trust.
The second thing it taught me was to let go.
I was hyper viligant all the time. Luke would be at school and I'd still react to noises that I heard, or if I tried to focus on something, I'd find my mind wandering to my environment and what is happening in it. It's a behavior that has been ingrained into me over the years, and I had no idea how to turn it off. We aren't meant to live that way. It was my number one cause of stress. I learned that I needed to let that go and practice being more mindful of where I am at the moment. I needed my own 10 feet. I learned that I do that through my yoga and meditation practice. Yoga allows me to not only clear my head, but also helps me physically work out anything that isn't serving me. It's my number one resource. The second is art. I love to draw, and I make stained glass mosaics. I used to think these things were "extras." Things to do if I ever got the time to do them. The problem was that I never seemed to get the time, so I had to make them a priority. I can get lost in any of the above activities. I don't think about anything else except being me in those moments. I may not be able to shut my vigilance off when Luke is home, but when he is at school, I needed to allow my brain to take a break.
We all need space to grow. Luke does, I do, you do. Give yourself space and make room for things that you enjoy. Reading, knitting, cooking, drawing. Advance in something you already know, or take a class and learn something new. When you learn, you grow. When you grow, you become stronger, and happier. When you are happier, you are more equipped to deal with whatever life hands you. It all starts with the gift of space.