My baby is growing up. I swear, if one more boy looks at her in public, I may just snap. D- is 14 years-old, willowy, beautiful, smart, hard headed and stubborn. She also has autism. She is easily influenced by pressure from anyone-peers and adults both-and lacks a general understanding of life.
When she is in a mood, she says things that are hurtful. She tells stories that could result in severe consequences. Yes, she has accused both her father and myself of abuse. She screams that her teachers do not care and no one understands her.
However, she is a teenager and she is growing up. I remember when she was born, she would curl up on my chest and fall asleep each night. She would run into my arms when I picked her up from daycare. I have watched her grow and learn new things. I have watched her fail at many things in life. We have tried to teach her that everyone makes mistakes and that is perfectly fine. According to her, it is failure. Even her therapist cannot convince her that mistakes happen and they do not make you a bad person.
She is learning about hair and make-up. D- has a strong interest in fashion. So we set her up with her own Pinterest account. One that I can monitor, but I do not control it. I have zero expectations that she will follow my fashion tastes, or my hair styles or my preference for make-up. The hope is that she can now see other styles and ideas to help her determine what she likes and what she does not.
Here is the problem we parents face: mentally and emotionally, she is not a teenager yet. She is delayed and no amount of support or therapy or specialists will ever change this fact. I am scared for her. Boys look at her and they do not see a child with autism. Not until they take the time to talk to her. Then they walk away and lose interest. Children she has been friends with since elementary school have walked away from her and called her childish because she is not at their level mentally. Their words, not mine.
I want her to succeed in life. I have always told her, “D- I have no idea what you are going to do in life, but I know you will shine.”
The fear is real. Her friends are dating, yet she is completely freaked out by it. It bothers her so much, that she is avoiding some of her friends. She still watches cartoons and plays with Barbie dolls. Her friends mock her for this and call her childish. They know she has autism, yet they expect her to keep pace with them. As a high school student, she worries about fitting in. No thanks to one fellow student in particular, she has no doubt at all that she does not fit in. That resulted in a crying jag and a melt down as soon as she came home from school. Within minutes, I was on the phone with the school. Do NOT bully my child because she has autism. Should I bully you because I do not like your hair cut?
I worry about her future. I wonder what is going to happen after high school. Where we live, she receives services while she is a minor. However, once she turns 18 and graduates from high school, all services stop unless we pay for them out of pocket. There is no way we can afford that. I have done my research and explored the costs. To pay for the same kinds of services would cost our family over half of our monthly income. And that will be the bare minimum of services she is currently receiving.
She is growing up and I still see the little girl that use to cuddle with me on the couch to watch cartoons. I still see the little baby that once crawled into bed with me at 5:30 am each morning to tell me she was hungry. I also see the young girl that excels in science and loves math. The girl that wants to know how machines work. Why does the weather change like it does? How does the moon affect the weather? Why are there more boys at NASA than girls? Yes, she is focused on space, weather and NASA. This has been a pattern of hers since she was 8 years-old. I told her to graduate from college and go work for NASA if that is what she wants. This year her idea has been to be a “weather woman” on TV. Sounds good to me.
Her biggest setback is a lack of independence. This is typical with children in a similar place on the autism spectrum. As least, that is what all of her doctors tell me. I need her to learn to be self reliant. I need her to learn to be independent. Her future could very well depend on these skills. As a parent, I fear for her future.