As my son Jake, who is 21, finishes his final year at the Delaware Autism Program (DAP), he still exhibits hiding behavior in certain situations. The behavior is less intense than it was when he was younger. For example, Jake does well if I just stop by school and stand in the doorway; he will wave and say “Hi.” And with enough lead time and allowance for his automatic “No” response, Jake does well when I appear at school events. But anything more and Jake hides behind his jacket or shirt by pulling it over his head.
Over the years and after repeated conversations with Jake, I realized he thought I waited at home for him all day, likely in the driveway where he last saw me. It makes me laugh to think of myself standing in the driveway all day, but I was there when he left for school and there when he returned home. In Jake’s mind, I hadn’t moved.
So for all of Jake’s elementary school years, he got upset when he saw me at school. He would hide under tables or in a corner of the room to get as far away from me as possible. This response applied to the teaching staff, too. In the first grade, Jake saw his class para at his older brother’s football game and ran off. Thankfully, I could catch him at that age and carry him back.
Despite Jake’s hiding behavior, I wanted to attend his events at school. Even at large gatherings, he always managed to see me first and would hide his face or find a place to hide. I learned to keep my distance, working my way closer to him while watching his response and stopping when I’d come close enough.
His teachers noticed this routine and asked if I wanted to change it. This behavior had to stop if I were ever to enjoy seeing Jake at school, and he needed to be able to tolerate my presence outside of the home. At the time, I was happy the teaching staff wanted to help me as much as they wanted to help Jake. Looking back, I realize the importance of Jake learning to combine his worlds.
To achieve this end, a lot of prep work was needed. I relied on Jake’s school team to talk him through his concerns and calm him by prompting his scripted talk. Jake’s teachers used social stories and songs to teach him that my presence is okay. The stories outlined how the day would progress and always ended with Jake returning to his class and me leaving by myself. This scenario was also reflected in his schedule for the day.
We now have a routine for my attendance at school and Jake’s other extracurricular activities. I can be there at a distance and take pictures. And when he gets a medal, I can kiss his head afterward. This works for me.
Jen Nardo is a parent mentor and long-time Autism Delaware™ volunteer as well as a dedicated member of Autism Delaware’s newsletter committee.
This text was edited for consistency of language and message and was noted for reading in the summer 2019 issue of the Autism Delaware quarterly newsletter, The Sun.