Zoom Autism Magazine Summer 2015 (Issue 4) | Page 20

Growing Confident RETAKE BY DAVID FINCH my ambition will forever exceed my skill. That is how we grow after all. L ast year, at the invitation and encouragement of a good friend, I took up mountain biking. It’s not something a lot of thirtyseven-year-olds get into – at least, not the thirtyseven-year-olds that I know. Almost everyone I’ve met since my first ride – a powerfully addictive jaunt through the hilly woods near my house – has been cycling for at least half their lives. Negotiating difficult terrain has become, for them, somewhat instinctual. Jagged rocks, steep descents, tangled roots – it’s all in a day’s work for them. Part of learning is discovering one’s limits, and yet we tend to feel as though there is danger associated with that. We fear what may result from our ambition exceeding our experience. In an effort to protect us, to keep us safe, our brains imagine any number of reasons why we shouldn’t do things. I may discover that I’m not as good at making friends as I’d hoped I would be. I may be mocked if I don’t know the answer. I may crash my very expensive bike into a tree. If we are not willing to be vulnerable – to feel just a little bit unsafe – we will never bump into our boundaries hard enough to s on shatter them. ocu Because I’m still learning, the guys take it easy on me. No one expects me to launch myself off a boulder or rocket f through a narrow switchback at stupidly That’s not to high speeds. And yet, say that we ach o appr on occasion, that’s exshould ignore n my since s bee actly what I do, though our instincts. ha it’s rarely on purpose. When I born e wer o Eager to grow, to do speak to t better, to keep up with families the guys, I push myself to who face the discover new terrains and daily reality that their nonexperience higher speeds. verbal or self-injurious autistic child or I don’t exactly seek out the loved one may just leave the house and wander giant rocks or hairpin turns, but what can I say? off alone, I am reminded how fortunate I am Obstacles have a way of sneaking up on you that my instincts would prevent me from dowhen your ambition is greater than your skill. ing that. As much as our brains love to torment And though I sometimes find myself soaring us with worst-case scenarios, occasionally they unexpectedly through the air like the cartoon make pretty good points, and we need to listen coyote realizing too late that he’s run off a cliff to them in those moments. However, we risk or tumbling over my handlebars into the waitmissing out on the great lives we could be living ing branches of thorny bushes, my hope is that if our desire to be safe results in self-limiting " 20 ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses " s tles read n Rele and d ry wor ng enti par en dr chil my . thoughts. Worse, we risk passing those limiting beliefs along to our children and unwittingly shrinking their lives as a result. Relentless focus on worry and dread has been my approach to parenting since my children were born. From the time they could lift their own heads, I’ve been deliberate and thorough in pointing out every possible harm that may befall them. “We can’t go on a walk today because it’s kind of windy,” I once explained to my fouryear-old daughter. “You never know if a rock is going to pick up and slice into your eyeball.” My wife thought I was being unreasonable, but that very thing has happened to me. “I had to wear a patch on my eye for weeks,” I continued, my daughter practically in tears. “To this day, I can’t keep my left eye open in bright sunlight.” Never one to share cups or straws with my children, I’ve shown them love by sharing my fear of less-than-optimal consequences. “Never reach blindly into your backpack; you could get a paper cut or jab your finger with a hidden pencil tip.” “Do not eat crackers or pretzels without first sipping some water; you can’t rely on peristalsis.” “Please, let me chop up that popsicle; I once choked for, like, a full second on a popsicle tip that broke free unexpectedly.” In preparing my children to expect the absolute worst and avoid those circumstances at all costs, I’ve instilled in them not resilience, not intelli- gence, not a sense of self-reliance, but utter fear. My daughter apologizes for reaching into her backp 6