Life Skills.  Those two words have been hammered into my mind time and again over the years.

Every Therapist, Counselor and Developmental Pediatrician we’ve seen has stressed the importance of teaching these vital lessons. 

When you have a child on the Autism Spectrum, every day involves imparting essential life skills and hoping your child will be able to attain them and put them into practice. 

Imagining my thirteen year old son living alone someday, and having to do everything for himself, the topic always floods my thoughts with worry.

From remembering to brush our teeth twice a day to maintaining a clean living space, we learn to do these tasks as part of our daily life. 

For children with Autism, chores like these can require constant reminders; often visual ones. They don’t come easy and much more effort is required. 

Preparing food, personal grooming and managing money can all be challenging responsibilities for them to master. 

These duties may be straightforward for most people, but for someone with Autism, repetition and patience is key. 

I am amazed by my son’s intellect; he can recall dates from history, troubleshoot most computer issues, and recite every Pink Floyd song ever written, with ease. 

There are so many things that he does incredibly well, yet I often doubt that we’re effectively teaching him all that he needs, to someday function independently.

Something happened recently that we count as a monumental victory; and lessened our doubts a bit. My husband took our son, Tyler, to one of his favorite fast food restaurants to pick up his standard cheese sandwich. 

The order for this sandwich MUST be precise…foot long, LIGHTLY toasted, triple cheese sandwich, with American cheese, on Italian bread.  He also must have one chocolate chip cookie to go along with it. 

As they arrived, Tyler asked if he could go inside and order alone.  My husband was quite surprised, but intrigued that Tyler wanted to assert his independence. 

He parked directly in front of the restaurant so that he could see right inside to the counter.  He anxiously gave our son the money to pay for his sandwich.  Tyler immediately asked him, “Can I get my cookie too?” 

He told him that if he had enough money, he could indeed buy himself a cookie.  As my husband, the apprehensive Dad, watched our child walk inside alone, he called me from the car. 

He was actually standing outside his car by that point, nervously monitoring the exchange from afar. 

He relayed the details of the transaction to me as best as he could, not being able to hear the conversation inside.

We were both on the brink of hyperventilating as he crouched out of view, waiting for Tyler to emerge with his dinner.  We wondered if he had trouble expressing his order or counting out the correct change. 

As the minutes passed, he described how our son was standing at the counter smiling, and chatting with the staff.  Finally, he sees him walking toward the door.

After holding his breath he exclaims to me, “YES!! He remembered to look both ways before walking out into the parking lot!”  He fumbled to hurriedly get back into the car, to conceal his spying. 

I finally hear the car door open and he asks, “How did it go, Bud?”  The response was beautiful and made us both wonderfully proud. 

“It was fine.  I had enough money left over for two more cookies, so I bought one for you and one for Mom.” He had generously purchased our favorite cookies with his leftover money!

It’s hard to express in words how proud we both were of him in that moment.  I would compare it to feeling our hearts literally exploding. 

Not only did our son carry out this major life skill by himself with courage, he had the thoughtfulness to buy something for us as well. 

I was so proud of him and also of my husband that day.  It took bravery on his part to let go and to allow our son to spread his wings. 

Moments like this show us that he is going to be all right…even though we feel clueless as parents at times, together, we CAN tackle these life skills!

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