Autism and setting realistic goals

Cathy Blatnik


Dominic starts tenth grade a week from this coming Monday.

A handful of my friends have kids around the same age as Dominic who are taking (or have taken driver's education training) and are already practicing driving. While I am very happy for them, a part of me feels a little bummed out (and left out).

I remember very distinctly when Lauren was younger, secretly comparing her to other children her age. Things like, crawling, walking and saying their first words. When you are a parent of a "typically-developing" child, those three things come along pretty much "on track." It's a different ball of wax when they have differing needs.

Before Dominic was diagnosed with Autism at 2 1/2, I knew something wasn't quite right, but I was so overwhelmed by everything else going on in my life at the time, that I was just happy to make it through each day. When he started school at age three and still in diapers, I wasn't too concerned. It was much easier just to send in diapers and wipes and not worry about the whole process of potty-training, it was just too overwhelming.

I was beyond frustrated and disappointed, because we knew there was no physical reason why he wouldn't use the bathroom. We tried all kinds of things at home and I just resigned myself to the fact he would always wear diapers. It wasn't until Dominic got a male teacher at school and we made it a "realistic" goal, that it started coming together. It took a while, but by the time he was a little over age nine, we got him to consistently go.

At his Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting each October, we discuss goals and expectations for the coming school year. Dominic has had an IEP since he was three, he just turned 15 a few weeks ago. Where we live, he can be in the school system until he is 26. I think it's always good to set goals, because it gives you something to work towards. I wonder if driving is a realistic goal. I have thought about it off and on all summer and put off doing any real serious research because I already knew the answer. I guess you could say I was in a little bit of denial. Through just a bit of research I did on the Internet this morning, I found a list of questions that were developed by Autism and driving safety researchers at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) to see if Dominic met the criteria to drive:

1. Do you feel you/ your teen or young adult consistently demonstrates good judgment and maturity at school, around peers, and at home?

2. Are you/ your teen receptive to constructive criticism and instruction? Do you/ your teen demonstrate knowledge of the rules of the road and other skills taught in driver education classes? If not, do you need specialized instruction or a driving assessment?

3. Are you/ your teen agreeable to practicing driving with a skilled adult prior to driving independently? If so, is there an adult who is willing and able to serve in this important role?

4. Are there any medical or behavioral conditions (such as significant visual impairment) that may prevent you/your teen from driving safely? Are there medical interventions that may be needed to ensure safe driving behaviors, such as treatment with ADHD medication if your teen has symptoms of ADHD?

While Dominic meets the age criteria, he definitely doesn't meet the above criteria, so I guess learning to drive isn't a realistic goal. I have mentioned this before, that when Dominic first got the diagnosis of Autism, I spent two weeks "coming to terms about it." I thought then and I agree now, that you have to go through that process, before you are able to devote yourself 100% to your individual with disabilities.

That time is different for everyone. Who am I to say that process that you go through is too long or too short? The important thing is that you DO come to terms with it. From time-to-time, the reality of Autism kind of smacks me in the face, like the possibility of driving. When it does, I just remember the wise words of Dominic's preschool teacher, "focus on what he can do, not on what he can't do!"

A realistic goal for this summer was learning to do a handstand!


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