As parents, when we welcome a child into the world, we tend to do whatever we can to protect them even as we help them to grow and flourish. When a child has special needs like a diagnosis of autism, we tend to hold him or her even more closely, sheltering them from a potentially cruel and dangerous world, and hoping to encourage their growth in a way that avoids having their differences be too noticeable to the outside world. Parents work hard to help their child succeed and to protect them from failure or harsh treatment from others. But sometimes the day comes when they suddenly realize that their child hasn’t learned the skills needed to manage on their own. They lack the connections to receive help from anyone other than their parents or immediate family members. While the parents meant well, they find that that have unknowingly secluded their children from the life lessons that would prepare them to function on their own. Without the “wind” of difficulty throughout their lives, their “root systems” remain underdeveloped, making it impossible for them to stand up to the wind on their own.
The following quote explains the danger well: "As a parent, your nature is to protect. Sometimes fear of risks ... can cause you to exclude a person with autism from their community.” (Marguerite Colston, spokeswoman for the Autism Society of America).
Naturally, it is difficult to know when to shelter and when to give a gentle push to help our children step out and experience life lessons for themselves. It’s a process of daily deliberations and decisions. We don’t need to do it alone—our community can be a source of help to us as we seek to uncover and maximize our children’s potential and assist them in being successful. There’s wisdom in the saying, “It takes a village,” as we admit to ourselves that we cannot do it on our own. Are you familiar with the inspiring story of Helen Keller? Hers is an amazing story of success in spite of being both blind and deaf. She once said, “A man can't make a place for himself in the sun if he keeps taking refuge under the family tree.”
Some of you reading this have young children at home. You may be inspired to find ways to help your children develop new skills, understanding, and connections so that they can stand strong against the winds of daily living and of adversity. Others of you find that your children are grown, but do not have a strong root system. Although you will likely face resistance and other challenges as you work to help your grown son or daughter, you may be encouraged by this old proverb: “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago. The second best time is now.” It’s never too late to make healthy changes that benefit both you and your children! Even “late bloomers” can be successful. In the words of Moliere, sometimes “The trees that are slow to grow bear the best fruit.”
In my own parenting, I think back to numerous occasions when I bit my tongue instead of discouraging my children from trying something new. Although I was afraid they would experience failure or disappointment, or even ridicule, I let them chart their course. Sometimes it proved to be a difficult or painful outcome, but it gave us an opportunity to talk about how life works, and what we can learn each situation. Other times they succeeded beyond my wildest expectations, and we were all able to celebrate yet another joyous (and sometimes unexpected) success.
Best wishes as you continue to teach and nurture children and young adults toward an ability to stand strong and bear fruit!