Our ride is just fine, thank you

When Ashlyn was well beyond the age most kids learned, I decided it was time for her to ride a bike. I was a single mom then so my brother and dad offered to help. They removed the training wheels from the bike she had barely ever used and got on either side. As they pushed her down the street she turned her head and talked, about dinner and lunch and breakfast the next day and what time we would be finished because Rachael Ray was on at 1 pm on weekdays. If they had let go of her she would have fallen over faster than you can say Food Network. 

It was then that I declared us done. We were finished trying to do “normal”.

The only ones who wanted her to learn to ride a bike were myself and those people who write the books on child development that I may have burned by the candles on her second birthday cake.

Ashlyn is 18 now. Two years past the age when she “should” have received her driver’s license. Several years into questions about when we are starting driver’s training and stories from well-meaning parents about their child who didn’t feel like driving until he was 20 or their daughter who they thought would never get her license until one day (thank goodness!) she finally parallel parked.

It is a good thing I perfected the closed mouth, plastered on smile response years ago.

Ashlyn will not drive, not because she doesn’t feel like it or because the only thing holding her back is fitting our minivan between a truck and a sedan, but because she is wired differently. She could direct you to any location in our city with her eyes closed and regularly comes to the rescue of a lost substitute bus driver, but if you put her behind the wheel you better be prepared to hit the brake while she is steering or steer while she pushes her foot all the way down on the gas. Don’t worry, none of this would be dangerous because that important first step of taking the car out of park would never happen.

Not being able to drive has many implications on her future and I am okay with that, I made peace with it long ago. What I have not made peace with is others trying to wrap our autism up with a pretty bow. My normal is not their normal.

Lacking the desire to drive or putting it off for a few years is not the same as not having the developmental skills to brake and steer while looking straight ahead. I’m sure there is some special education/occupational therapist/miracle worker who could spend the next ten years helping my daughter learn to drive but frankly, we are therapy-ed out and so is she. There will be no more attempts at trying to fit her into someone else’s “normal”. Accepting her as she is is a much greater gift than a set of car keys.

She is perfectly happy with her life, just don’t tell her she missed a Food Network marathon eight years ago when her mom thought she should learn to ride a bike.

Cheering for a teen with autism

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  1. says

    I.Love.This. I feel as if parents are constantly comparing their kids, and if your child is not at the same development level as theirs they give you this whole excuse pitty party. I stopped comparing a while ago, I wish others would too.

  2. says

    Lovely & supportive as always. As a parent it’s not easy to let go of what kids “should” be doing. My dd just turned 10 and is 5 ft 2. She INSISTS on wearing footy pajamas–you know the fleece, one piece zip ups. She wears them year round. She recently went to a slumber party when we were visiting our old home town…people we hadn’t seen in 15 months. It was a 12 year olds slumber party & I was afraid of mean girls so I encouraged her to take something else to sleep in–just in case. She said..”I am who I am and I don’t care what they think.”
    Robbie recently posted..Re-Entry

  3. says

    Bravo on doing what’s right for her! I have friends who never got their license and live in the city. They have no need or desire to learn. Not everyone has to do everything the same way.
    Marta recently posted..As Is.

  4. says

    Yes, I am so done with “normal.” Thank you for this. Also, what is it about spectrum kids and Food Network? My son (who, at 9, has no interest in riding a bike or wearing lace-up shoes) could watch Chopped for hours on end. As for actually eating anything besides the five acceptable foods, not so much.
    Kathleen at Middletini recently posted..Ownership

  5. says

    I never mastered riding anything but a stationary bike. I took drivers ed when I was 14 but didn’t get my full driver’s license until I was 16, most of my friends got theirs at 15, the legal driving age back then. I’m not autistic, I have Cerebral Palsy, not as severe as some people with CP, but moderate enough to make my normal noticeably different from able bodied people. I am happy with my life and my own form of normal even if other people don’t get it. I have one daughter, which is a miracle, since my chances of having any children had been classified as slim to none. She was born almost 19 years ago and is now a wife and mother to a beautiful 4 month old baby boy. Luckily, neither of them inherited my CP or sense of normality. Their normal is not my normal and that is just fine with me.
    Beth recently posted..Black and Gold Fleur de lis Sports Fan Brick by BethieFliesToo

  6. Kay says

    Can I ask a question? Does she want to drive? Or is she perfectly fine with not having her license. I’m asking simply because I’m stumped. My daughter is 16 and high functioning, for the most part. She has two older sisters that are trying to get their license and she’s gung-ho on getting hers. My husband and I have talked and we agree on waiting until she’s older and more developed but I have a terrifying fear that she’ll never be ready but will push for it anyhow. I’m not so upset over denying her the license, more on stuck on trying to explain to her why she shouldn’t.

    • says

      That is a tough one Kay. My daughter actually doesn’t want to drive at all so it makes the decision much easier. I can imagine it would be much harder if she wanted to drive but if I wan’t sure of her ability to do so. I have heard their a special needs driver’s ed teachers but, I know, in our situation, even a special teacher would not make it work.

  7. says

    Thank you for putting this into words so eloquently. My 20 year old son with Mitochondrial Disease will never drive either due to his seizures and general issues with coordination, and he has accepted this normal for himself, as have we. Our normal never does really look like anyone else’s, and most of the time, we are good with that. Normal is overrated after all!

    • says

      My five year old also has mito and I think, adjusting to so many changes with Ashlyn has helped me deal with my youngest’s diagnosis. Because I know she will do what she can do when she can do it.

      • says

        We ceased following “the norm” developmentally, or otherwise, early on. At some point I started living by the mantra that things will happen when they are supposed to happen, exactly how they are supposed to happen, and the kids will be exactly who they are supposed to be. My job is finding the patience and faith to live that way. Sometimes that is easier said than done! When I can though, it is what keeps me sane. Again, well said, and thanks for sharing the perspective!!

  8. says

    Yes. This, exactly– “What I have not made peace with is others trying to wrap our autism up with a pretty bow. My normal is not their normal.” It gets exhausting. I am still shaky in the plastered-on-smile-and-nod technique. Please tell me it gets easier? Please?
    Niksmom recently posted..Phone Home

    • says

      Sometimes it’s easier and sometimes it’s just not. I think for the most part I can brush it off but sometimes it just feels so isolating to have people who don’t get it, you know?

  9. says

    You make everything seem better, Jess. Like having permission from a friend to live life on your own terms. I don’t have an autistic child, but I have children developing at different rates, with different interests, and different obstacles. It’s easy to try to push them to meet the goals that “everyone” else is meeting. This reminds me that those kinds of milestones are flexible, if not okay to completely ignore.
    Nicole Leigh Shaw recently posted..Sugar bowl condolences

    • says

      Thanks for this Nicole. I’m so glad Ashlyn taught me early on to make our own rules and just go with what makes her happy. I think it has helped me so much with my other kids and taken the pressure off hitting all those milestones.

  10. Holly M. says

    Thanks! On a regular basis I have to step back and decide which milestones are for me and which ones are for the boys! Once again, thanks for doing such a great job putting it into words!