I often get the suggestion that I should make my daughter do something she’s afraid of so that she’ll be prepared, to fix something about her, so that she can succeed in the future. Ironically, these suggestions put her fears up against grownup’s worry-fears about the future. Fear versus fear.
I think with a neurotypical kid this is easier to dismiss. There’s a security in thinking that they can do anything they want as an adult and won’t be held back. People use disability, particularly neurodivergence, as a reason why you must intervene now. The fear seems to have more basis. People picture fearful futures of dependence and institutionalization. But we are all interdependent to different degrees, and the solution to a society that institutionalizes autistic people is not to fix all the autistic people, it’s to fix the social structure so that everyone can lead a full, autonomous life, however interdependent and accommodating.
But how do we balance these worries, these made up fears about a possible future we don’t know and can’t know, with a child’s fear here and now? A child’s fear is overwhelming. They can’t run away, not yet. If you make them do something they can resist, but they are stuck. The combination of ableism and childism means that autistic kids all the time, every day, live lives that are out of their control. Down to every micro action, every minute using screens, every word and the tone of words.
I choose not to make my daughter do things to fix her. I choose to trust that if she wants to overcome her fears and sensitivities, she’ll decide to do it when she’s ready. Even if that’s at age 16 or age 30. It’s ok that here she is right now deciding to avoid things that neurotypical kids do. She’s doing other things instead. Like right now, she’s terrified of every movie and tv show except for two, but she’s learning to read. She’s learning socialization from online games and a couple close friends. She’s busy. Why make her do the thing I’ve decided must be fixed now?
As a toddler, my daughter loved slides. She went for the big kid slides before she was two. Then, for two years she was terrified of slides. I think the reality of their height set in, or the sensory overwhelm of being at the park with other people and noises and activities. Whatever the reason, I never made her do slides. I never did gradual behavior therapies to force her to get used to slides that were one foot high then two feet then three etc. I just let her do other things at the park. Then, a few months ago, she went for it again. And even though she still has plenty of fears, she’ll even do tube slides now and all the slides most five-year-olds like to do. She even does rope ladders. The other day she had me shake the rope ladder while she climbed to the top in order to have it on “challenge mode” like her video games.
I trust that she is a person with a drive to explore and enjoy the world. And that she knows herself and she knows what is the most important fear to work on right now.