The thought of my autistic son moving out was almost debilitating and it definitely caused me to have many nightmares.
I put HF in the title of this article which stands for “High-Functioning.” I’m well aware that some of our beautiful friends on the autism spectrum won’t be able to move out for a variety of reasons.
Michael is high-functioning now (post meds and post hours and hours of therapy) and in the deepest parts of my heart, I know he can do it. I know he can be on his own and feed himself and sleep and do his work and exercise and do whatever needs doing to lead a productive daily life.
I’m his Mama-bear though and I’m so sad about the thought of “losing him” (that’s how it feels – Gheesh, let me use dramatic language!). I feel like he’s soooooo vulnerable to the outside world and that he can be hurt by jerky-jerky people and he could even be unwittingly hurt by people who just don’t understand autism.
He looks so “normal” (whatever that is… cuz we still don’t know) and he speaks so intelligently but if there are too many things at once, his brain can do some fascinating things that can create unexpected outcomes.
The bottom line with my story here is that whatever difficulty you might be going through in life, especially if you’re working on helping your autistic child move on to new skills or even moving out, I’m here to report that it can be done and it can even be done with humor and grace!
Michael moved out for the summer
You read that correctly!
Michael moved to his Dad’s house this past weekend and man oh man, it’s been difficult for me. His Dad is being totally awesome and working hard to let Michael do his own thing because that’s the agreement we all made in order to help Michael learn to live on his own while in a super safe environment.
It wasn’t easy but we’re all doing it and I’m just so proud of our family in this moment!
The plan is for him to learn what it feels like to live on his own and then we can prep for him to go to college next year after he graduates high school and I’m thrilled to share that…
We. Are. Doing. It!
If you’re ready to make a difficult change in your life, you’ll find the steps that I/we took to make Michael’s moving out possible in the first place:
1. Have someone who believes it can happen at the helm of the process
What do you want to happen in your life that seems completely impossible to you?
Do you know anyone that wants this “impossible thing” for your life as well? Or do you know someone that will at least strongly believe in the end result for you?
We are so fortunate to have a family therapist who works with every individual in our family. Here’s your friendly reminder that autism is a family experience. You probably don’t need that reminder, but I think it’s important to note that for this story.
My autistic son has his own individual journey but we all definitely take it with him. I myself have been completely intertwined with caring for him and providing accommodation after accommodation … often without even realizing I do it.
I think I would never have thought of him moving out to go to college right after high school. Why would I? I’ve spent my entire life protecting him, why in the world would I let him go out into the world so soon?!?!
And then I giggle knowing that all along, my end goal has been to raise him to be on his own and to go forth into the world with his amazing gifts and talents. I want that for him and I want that for the world… he’s such an amazing human being!
Our therapist’s whole goal (from what I see) is for Michael to be a productive, happy, and contributing member of our society and all the work we’ve done with her has led us to this point – this point that she had full confidence we’d get to.
I didn’t share this confidence mind you (Mama Bear and all), but I kept working to get here … and here I am on the 4th day of my son not living in my house.
My emotional cycle has looked something like the following:
Work through another nightmare.
Realize I have another son and have awesome alone time opportunities with him so I made concrete plans to play, cook, go to the movies, and swim with him.
Sleep hidden under the blankets.
Open my eyes and realize the world hasn’t ended.
Eat a festive dinner with Mason that we prepared together.
Notice I’m a little more at ease.
Realize there will be bumps but we’ll take care of them as each one arises.
Know that we’re actually already doing it so we’ve already jumped.
Cry again because I’m still sad about the whole thing and just shared my feelings with a close friend.
Etc, repeat, and furthermore.
2. Work hard to believe the person who believes it can happen
This is a work-in-progress for me and as previously stated, I am still struggling with Michael moving out. But I trust our therapist. I am choosing to trust as our therapist looks me in the eyeballs and says, “I know he can do it.”
So … I look her back in the eyeballs and say, “Okay, I will work on believing you” probably as a single tear rolls down my cheek.
I know I want to believe her and I know how much my son wants to be independent so I put my trust into all of us even though every cell in my body feels the opposite.
I choose to believe in others even when I don’t believe it myself. And that is as powerful as it gets to ensure the success of whatever endeavor you’re trying to achieve.
And here’s the comfort for me anytime I start flailing: If it fails, it fails.
We can always revert back to where we started and begin again and learn from the experience to this point.
This is the one thing that has helped me the most as I witness my son moving on and being so capable… all the while being capable without me (snivvle, snivvle).
I cry when I think about that… My son is capable without me.
It takes my breath away and makes me so sad but much more than that, I’m as proud as the proudest peacock Mama can be.
I know I supported Michael and I failed him bigly.
I cheered him through triumphant times and I taught him important lessons I thought were meaningful.
I hindered him in so many ways like by being overprotective and too forthright with adult subjects.
But now he can take all of my successes and lacks and he can use them to shape his own life.
And that’s what it’s all about! You put your whole heart in, you get your whole heart trounced, you put your whole heart in and you shake it all about.
3. Find the gifts … because there are always gifts
He’s doing it! What a gift in that all on its own! He’s really doing it!
Just two years ago I never thought this possible, but he’s doing it and he’s doing it well [GIFT 1]. (Hah – I probably didn’t think this possible just two months ago much less years, but I’m committed to overcoming my own stuff so my kids can thrive.)
He’s dedicated to becoming independent [GIFT 2] and he’s going for it like an absolute champ [GIFT 3]!
Michael is amazing and without someone lovingly pushing me and mostly without me being willing to be pushed (Ugh) [GIFT 4], he wouldn’t be this far along. I’ve ruled the roost for so long that I most likely would have stayed stuck a bit longer than this.
I’m gifted in my own satisfaction and pride in my parenting [GIFT 5]. This past 17 years has been amazing as it’s been chock full of complete shit-shows and extraordinary events we couldn’t imagine our luck to have experienced.
Our lives have been filled with so many exhilarating moments of love, life, and unabashed joy. Mmmmmm, such goodness!
I would not trade in my life with my kids for anything in this entire world. Hoo-boy, I love those two boys.
Essentially, we’ve been planning this out for the past year (maybe his whole lifetime?) and right now is just when it’s all coming together in the first major phase of the independence program.
Planning and letting your child know the expectations (front-loading) and what the overall goals are for any plans in life, no matter how big or small they might be, helps to create a much more peaceful life (in my opinion anyway).
5. Keep Going
And that’s it.
We’re here, it’s been 4 days and the Earth is still rotating and revolving.
It’s just time to actively relish in the gifts, understand that all emotions are present during life, hold onto other visions for the world you want to live in, and just keep doing your best in each moment as it arises.
I hope this helps you in some small way.
Always … reach out if there’s anything you feel is too much for you. I’m working hard at being a beacon of light, hope, and joy for parents of autistic kids and really for anyone who resonates with my world view. I want to be part of the solution for a more beautiful and kind world so maybe I can help you in some small way, that’s my hope for sure.