I consistently think about my parenting and how it will affect Matthew. I know that many think I am pretty hard on him. That maybe I don't allow him enough freedom, that maybe I take things with Matthew too seriously. I am a strong believer that a parent has to parent each child as an individual. In my house, this means each child is parented fairly, but also very differently.
A lot of this stems from how I think the boys are perceived by the world at large. Matthew comes across as much more capable than he actually his. His IQ puts him at a level of mild mental retardation. This is a very accurate description of his ability to cope with life, to problem solve and to participate in self care activities. However, it is not at all how most would describe Matthew. He is very charismatic, and can carry on conversations, and unless you have a lot of conversations with Matthew, he has enough scripts that it takes a little while for someone to learn that he cycles though a variety of scripts with each person.
This weekend Matthew and his respite worker were faced with a reality that reminded me that it is important to be firm and to continue parenting Matthew with little wiggle room. Matthew, as we all know, has a food obsession. He thinks about it, talks about it, lives for food!
This weekend Matthew and his respite worker were walking through the mall and they went to check out the candy store. While they were in the store Matthew became very focused on the skittles container. This is one of those candy stores where all of the candy is in a large bin and you use a spoon to scoop out the amount of candy you want and put it into a bag.
Matthew's respite worker was looking around the store while Matthew looked around and Matthew gave the counter man an odd look and a quirky smile and apparently made the man nervous. Matthew's hands were on the spoon and it appeared that Matthew was putting candy into the spoon and was trying to steal candy. The shop owner came over to Matthew and the respite worker and told Matthew that he needed to wait in the store, the owner then went to the back, looked at the video and saw that Matthew had not stolen anything and he came back out front and told them they were free to leave the store.
When Matthew and his respite worker came home, Matthew quickly told her to tell me what had happened, which is wonderful. However, as she told me what had happened, it became very apparent that Matthew was not understanding the gravity of this situation. He was focused on the fact that I might not make him dinner because we were talking about what had happened. He was focused on the fact that I might not make him what he wanted for dinner. No matter how much I tried to refocus him and get him to understand that dinner is not a part of this equation, he could not grasp the gravity of what had happened.
Even as he sat eating the quesidilla he wanted for dinner and I tried to again talk to him about what had happened that the man thought he had stolen candy, I could not get Matthew to understand that stealing is a big deal. That even if it is just a skittle, it is a really big deal.
Unfortunately for Matthew he has a few things that will always work against him in life:
1. He is large for his age- while he is only 11, he looks more like 13 or 14, so people relate to him as if he is older and expect more from him.
2. He is african american, and sadly, in the US, this is still often a reason for people to respond differently.
3. He communicates well above his level of understanding. He can look you in the face and talk and talk and you think he is understanding and he truly is just repeating what you have said without internalizing the information or understanding it for himself.
My first thought was why would the respite worker bring Matthew to a candy store. She knows of his food obsession, it seems like a silly place to bring him.
My second thought was what happens if an 11 year old is accused of stealing? What is the next step? How do you convince people that he is unaware of what he is doing, while teaching him how serious this is?
Thankfully, I also had another thought. If I don't teach him the risks of this behavior, he will never learn. Of course he has to go in and out of candy stores. He has to do this as a young adult so that when he has the freedom as an adult, I have impressed upon him that he cannot steal. That taking even one piece of candy is stealing. That touching the candy is wrong. That looking at the candy too long makes shop owners nervous.
As you are with us and you wonder why in the world I am so strict with Matthew, please realize that I am parenting Matthew so that he is ready to be an adult, to be able to be in the world and not eat himself to death. So that he doesn't go table to table in a restaurant inappropriately interacting. So that he understands how you relate with others at a dinner party, at a buffet, at a restaurant etc...... I am parenting the adult that Matthew will become so that he is ready for life in the real world. I believe he will always need help, but I also believe he will not live with a caretaker with him 24/7, for this reason, he has to know how to live in the world, and I was given 18 years to teach him the skills he will need to do this. I have 7 short years left, and given that times is short, I ask for your help in teaching him the rules of society so that Matthew is ready to take on the world!
- I am a single mom of three amazing boys! All three of my sons entered my family through adoption. All three of my boys have developmental disabilities. My oldest son, Matthew has been diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and Bipolar Disorder. David, my middle son, has a genetic condition, he has a duplication on his 15th chromosome which leads to autism like symptoms, seizures and learning challenges. My youngest son, Jacob has learning disabilities. Each of my children bring unique challengs to our family and also bring their own personality and joys to our everyday life!