It’s Time to Let My Amazing Teen with Autism Be Her Own Person

I knew it was coming and I’m ashamed to say I honestly didn’t want her to go. Not because I thought she would have a less than stellar time, but because I knew she would be flying solo, dancing alone, placidly moving amongst her peers in a school gym minus the entanglements of awkward middle-school friendships that complement adolescence.

It's Time to Let My Amazing Teen with Autism Be Her Own Person

She would be on display, friendless, for all to see and my heart was breaking as my mind drew the pictures.

My sixth grade daughter; red hair, blue eyes, autistic, was ready to attend the Winter Dance at her middle school. She had politely requested to NOT go shopping for a dress but rather wear a floral dress and coordinating suede boots that belonged to me. The boots were comfortable and warm-check. She could wear leggings under her dress-check. The dress had pockets-check.

The little nuances non-sensory seekers don’t think about when we dress, she can find distracting. She permitted me to curl her hair and brush a bit of sparkle onto her eyelids, but that was it. No lipstick! No mascara! She would feel that and it would bother her. No jacket. The dress had long sleeves and that was enough.

Her dad drove her to the dance and dropped her off. She had enough money for entry, concessions, and to take a picture if she chose. Two hours later he would line up our Subaru behind other parent-chauffeurs and be teacher-directed back toward the gym to pick her up. The time went by and I watched the clock, frequently texting my husband to ensure his return was early enough for her to make a prompt exit. I waited and texted and waited. She climbed into the car and after being questioned, informed her dad she’d had a wonderful time and gave the dance a rating of 10 out of 10.

I saw the lights as they pulled into the drive and I could not wait to hear from her. I choked back tears as she came in and looked at me with a wave of her hand. I asked her, “How was the dance?” “Great,” she said. She repeated her 10 ratings from earlier and requested to have some technology time. I pumped the brakes on the technology time because as a mom, I needed the details. After six questions and some wait time, I found out that she danced alone and spoke to no one.

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It was the last statement she made though, that shut me down. “Mom, stop making me feel bad.” What did she say? “Mom, stop making me feel bad,” echoed in my brain. The oxygen was sucked from my lungs; I had made her feel bad! Flabbergasted, I apologized and of course excused her for technology time. As she walked away hot tears welled up in my eyes. It’s not her peers that make her self-conscious about socializing. It’s me. My expectations are weighing on her.

As a mom, I want my child to have typical social experiences. I want her to have meaningful friendships, conflicts she will have to work through, and decisions to make that will force her to use the moral compass her father and I have helped to instill in her. But the WHEN and HOW of these wants and desires are not up to me. I’ve got to learn to let her be her own person. Friendship may look different for me than it does for her. There may be elements of friendship that she does not require the way I do because she is different than me, the same way we all differ from each other. I can’t shackle her to my expectations because it inhibits her from being who she is. And who she is, is amazing!

The morning after the dance, I was drinking my coffee and thought about pictures. Had she used any of her money for pictures at the dance? Quickly I searched out the middle school’s Facebook page and saw the link to the photographer’s photos from the dance. As I scrolled through the pictures I saw groups of kids smiling, holding props, and throwing up peace signs. Then I saw it. A girl, donning a bright blue boa and a thousand-watt smile. That was my girl! She was beautiful, a confidant; social on her own terms and living up to her own expectations!



This article was featured in Issue 87 – Building ASD Awareness and Communication

Rachel Landry Fahrney

Rachel Landry Fahrney, MEd, is a special education teacher at the elementary level. She lives and works in Northwest Georgia and loves beautiful Lookout Mountain where she calls home. Rachel is married to her husband Jamie and they have two daughters, Zuri (11) and Ellonie Scout (6 months). Rachel loves having Zuri read her favorite anime stories to her and dancing to music with her youngest daughter Ellonie Scout. She also enjoys listening to podcasts and frequenting the Dollar Spot at Target stores.