From our days in Relationship Development Intervention therapy (RDI), I recalled the principle that autistic children learn a lot by doing activities along beside their parents. In other words: consider the child a life apprentice.
Since learning that, I’ve made a stronger effort to engage Rachel in daily activities around the house. At first she preferred to ignore the world and sit in a corner piled with blankets. Today, though, she is often right in the middle of everything I do. It sometimes makes me smile. Sometimes, though, I just want to get things done.
Yesterday was no exception to the “get it done” mindset. Rachel dropped a bowl full of peanut butter, which shattered on the kitchen tile. I had to act fast before she stepped in the glass and cut herself.
The first part was tricky. Rachel was embarrassed because she had made a mess, so she wanted to help clean. But a shoeless child and broken plates do not mix. Once I finished sweeping, however, there was no keeping her back. Gripping the steam mop with iron fingers, she joined me on the floor.
My first impulse was to jerk the mop away and tell her no. I had to take a breath. My patience had jumped into the trash along with the glass chunks, so I had to stop and think about the big picture: Bonding with Rachel and teaching her a skill or getting the job done quickly?
I told myself to get a grip and let her have the mop. I held the cord and watched her dance around the kitchen. A grin spread over her face. Self assurance rolled from her shoulders. She felt so big! It was so cute … until I noticed the trail of muddy footprints behind her.
Ah, yes. Hadn’t she traipsed through the garage barefoot a few minutes ago? That would explain the footprints–on the white tile, I might add. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. In my head, part of me stomped around. This is so unfair. Everything I do gets undone or messed up. Why do I even bother?
Again, I wanted to grab the mop. But I held back. What would that teach her? One, she would feel like a failure. Two, was I crazy? My child was interested in mopping the floor! Who cares if she didn’t get it right this time. If I handled this well, I might have a big helper around the house.
So, I breathed out and just watched. Rachel looked behind her and grimaced at those footprints. I’m not sure she knew where they came from, but she mopped over all the muddy spots until they disappeared. (I think her feet were pretty clean by that time, too.)
Again, I learned something vital from my sweet daughter who happens to be autistic. Perfection comes with too high a price. When I take the time to be with Rachel rather than be around her, we gain trust and increase her social awareness. Who cares if there are muddy footprints in the kitchen. It’s just a floor. The dog tracked mud in five minutes later, anyway, taking away my clean floor. But no matter how much mud the dog tracks in, she cannot take away the relationship I have built with my daughter through time well spent.