The Denver Autism Wheel

Running the race: keep going, or slow down?

Posted on: August 31, 2010

I had an IM conversation with my mom last week. During the course of the conversation, I mentioned how many activities everybody in the family has, between Cub Scouts, sports, school and work. She said that was all fine because it seemed like we slowed down for Chris to let him catch up. That struck me as a very strange thing for her to say, first because slowing down is something I’ve never been very good at, second because, as my mom, she knows perfectly well I’ve been an overachiever since middle school, and third, if we slowed down to let Chris catch up, he’d never catch up, and nobody in the house would never get anything done. And anyway, Chris is just as busy or busier than everyone else in the house with the added rigor of an after school tutor twice a week.

We don’t “stop to let him catch up.” We came from a school experience where he came home with his para’s handwriting on his homework on a daily basis. We had no idea what they were having him do in the classroom, and honestly, the SpEd department didn’t seem to eager to let us in on the secret. He started second grade at a grievous deficit in reading and math comprehension. So we had to up the pace just to catch him up with the rest of his class. But because of that, at a new school and with staff and teachers who set reasonable expectations, he tested in the Proficient range last year when he took the CSAPs for the first time.

What happens when you stop? Well, have you ever run a race, and the frontrunner slows down? What does everybody else do? They keep pace and slow down, too. They don’t overtake the leader. And that’s what we found with Chris. More important than stopping everything to make sure he was OK was keeping it moving. If he saw us slow down, he’d slow down, too.

Now, we’re not robots or slavedrivers. Nobody can keep up a fever pitch of activity indefinitely. Believe me: I used to work myself sick when I was a teenager. My mom (who should remember these things) used to force me to take a day off…from school…once in a while because I would make myself physically ill with the pace I kept. Lesson learned. So: part of running the race is pacing yourself, setting reasonable expectations of what your brain and body can do. You have to be realistic about what you’re capable of. That’s why the limit on extracurricular activities…for the children AND the adults in the house. Part of our race includes Friday Movie Night and regular trips to the mountains for pie and ice cream. We eat most of our meals together, we read together before bed, we talk, we share.

And we’re honest with each other and ourselves. It’s a good habit to get into with your family anyway, but when autism is in the equation, it’s essential. We have to know what to expect, what’s coming next, when we get downtime, and what the long- and short-term goals are. We have to know when enough is enough, too. Each of us is only human, after all.

So, no. We don’t stop everything to make sure Chris is still running with us. It wouldn’t do anybody any good. The trick is to know when he needs a hand to catch up, when we all need a rest, and when we really need to push to top that next hill. And that’s all of us, autism or no autism, every day.

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1 Response to "Running the race: keep going, or slow down?"

Well said and thanks for sharing. Our youngest has an autism spectrum disorder and we want to go full speed ahead as a family as you suggest.

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