The Eight Year Old

Filed Under (Acceptance, autism, Development, Parenting, Safety) by Estee on 18-08-2010

Lately I’ve used this term: “the normal path of autistic development.”  I use it because I do believe that the path of autistic development seems to take on familiar patterns like later acquisition of language, motor planning skills and social skills, to name some. So, although we recognize that while autistic people are similar they are, like all people, also very unique. For the purposes of this post, however, let’s just say, it’s often more elegant to compare apples to apples.

Every once in a while, however, I go check out the oranges. Perhaps it’s because I’m a first-time mother to an eight-year-old boy. I’m quite familiar with that path of autistic development as I find stories in common with other autistic individuals and the parents of them. Yet as a parent of a young boy, I’m curious about the typical eight year old boys. Aside from the speech, the social skills, the sports (among other things),  I notice that Adam is becoming a, for lack of a better word, typical eight-year-old.

Case in point:

He is curious.

I can’t keep up with him in the house.

He wants to be independent and doesn’t want my help.

If I tell him to stop doing something, he gets angry with me.

He climbs and moves and climbs.

I tell him not to.

He does it anyway, even though I know he understands.

He thinks disgusting things are funny.

I don’t like it.

He thinks that’s funny.

I feel out of breath trying to keep up with him.

He thinks that’s funny.

He seeks out attention.

He likes attention.

I find myself sounding like a nagging mother.

I don’t find that at all funny.

He knows things.

He figures people out.

He can manipulate people.

He is becoming more aware.

He is becoming self aware.

That makes me short of breath….my list goes on…..

Are we getting the point? Adam is a boy full of beans. He is growing and maturing and often gets frustrated because he wants to be so independent. That sometimes gets me frustrated as well because I wonder why I feel so ill-prepared.

After climbing upside down into his trundle bed and tearing off the guard rail (I guess he means to say he no longer needs it), I decided to pull out the old Alphasmart Neo keyboard that is so handy to carry around because it is so light weight. Even though we are practising on the Vanguard, a much heavier AAC device, I find the Alphasmart still useful in a pinch. Adam has been practising writing stories on his computer independently. We write them out together, then transpose them, if you will, onto the computer to improve his typing skills. I was quite pleased today to see how his spontaneous communication via typing has also improved. It helped us calm down before bed time this evening and he told me about camp, his counsellors and his day. His body calmed and he was not just the active eight-year-old, but a more empowered one this evening.

Adam wants what he wants when he wants it, sometimes. For the most part, he listens, puts away his things, is now more inclined to get his own things. Then I wonder why I am so out of breath. I mean, it’s what we’ve been working towards for so long. He can put on his own shoes, is beginning to dress himself (okay not perfectly, but I don’t care), and wants to give himself his own shower (I am fearful of the hot water). For certain, I must worry about safety and must always try to stay a step ahead of him. It was this boyish progress that prompted me to check out the oranges. I realized that really, all kids are the same. Just because some can or cannot do certain things, it doesn’t take away the will or desire to do them. Just because Adam can’t talk fluently or initiate play with other kids regularly, does not make him any less of an eight-year-old.

I’ve known that, but to live through our autistic kids’ development just be different for us parents, after all. For so long, we worry about what our kids will not do, and we spend inordinate amounts of time and resources trying to teach them how to do things. There is nothing wrong with this!! Yet when it happens  we sometimes speak about our kids as a series of behaviours instead of noticing that they are growing and maturing as they should — as they should differently, autistically and at the same time, very similarly to any other same-aged child.

I must consider to stop running out of breath and learn to just breathe.


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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.