The Fine Line for Autism Parents

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at AutismWonderland.

When Norrin was younger, before he was diagnosed with autism, friends and family used to make fun of the way I hovered around Norrin. “Bubble Boy,” my one friend liked to call him. And family would urge me to sit down, to relax and let Norrin be.   They all said, he was just being a boy – but he was a busy kid – constantly running around, getting hurt or into something he shouldn’t.

After Norrin’s diagnosis, I hovered even more especially when we were out visiting or in crowded places. When out walking – I never let go of his hand. I have this fear of letting go.

But Norrin is seven now and becoming more independent every day. I need to let go and let him experience things without me hovering behind him.

A few Sundays ago my husband, Joseph, decided to register Norrin for his first Road Runners Kids race. I was okay with Norrin running up until we got there and I saw the crowd. Street blocks filled with “typical” kids and their parents, music blasting and bitter cold winds. Naturally my mother hover instincts kicked in. As we waited I held his hand and put an arm over his shoulder. And every few minutes I kept asking if he was tired or wanted to go home. All he had to do was say the word and we were out of there. But Joseph was determined for Norrin run the race.

I wanted to keep Norrin “safe,” Joseph wanted Norrin to take a chance. This is the line we walk along constantly.

Like when we went to Sesame Place and Joseph insisted Norrin ride on the roller coaster. I thought it would be ‘too scary’ for him. Norrin loved it!

Or that time we went to the The Intrepid and Joseph took Norrin on the Gforce Encounter Simulator ride. We spent a good fifteen minutes arguing  discussing whether or not it was appropriate for Norrin. The thing was enclosed and went upside down. When Joseph and Norrin got on, I had to walk away. When the ride was over, Norrin stepped off with a huge grin wanting to “go again.”

And that Sunday, Norrrin ran his race and had a great time.

Thinking of all this reminds me of that Parenthood episode – the one where Max wants to run for student body president. Christina encourages Max to go for it while Adam thinks its a bad idea. Adam is scared because he assumes Max will lose. And when Max won, I was on my sofa sobbing like a baby.

All parents want to protect their children but when your child has special needs – your life sometimes revolves around wanting and needing to protect them. There’s a fine line between knowing when to hold on and when to let go. And that line becomes easily blurred. I’m grateful I have a partner like Joseph who helps me to see the line clearly.

Do you having trouble knowing when to hold on or when to let go?

Please tell me, it’s not just me.


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  1. by Nicki

    On March 13, 2013 at 8:09 pm

    I have related to this article so much it is not just you! Technically my son who is 4 years in age has not yet been diagnosed yet but I know he is Autistic and will be diagnosed, it’s just a matter of time. I am a single/lone parent struggling with a currently 5 year old daughter also, having some issues of her own. We live in England. It’s a long neverending battle to get us the help we need!

  2. by willaful

    On March 13, 2013 at 9:05 pm

    My autistic middle grader recently decided he wanted to ride his bike by himself. And it was so, so hard to let him do it. But we bought him a cheap cell phone, set a few boundaries, and off he went.

    Today he texted to let us know he had *met some kids from school* and they invited him to ride with them. My friendless, lonely son.

    Even if that hadn’t happened I’d think we did the right thing. Even if, God forbid, he gets hit by a car tomorrow I’ll think we did the right thing. Because he asked for it. Because he developmentally needed it. He made it clear that now was the right time.

  3. by E (The Third Glance)

    On March 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm

    I am an autistic adult. And I read this and just had to comment. My mother was a hover-er. And while I’m not a parent, I can say that my mother’s hovering really hurt my ability to be confident in myself and my abilities. She certainly had the best of intentions of wanting to protect me, wanting to keep me from harm. But the message that she tried to send was “I love you and want to protect you”. The message that I received was “I don’t think you can do this. I don’t think you are good enough to do this”. And that hurt. So yes, it is a very fine line, one that is really hard to balance. But as an adult, I wish I’d been able to take more risks and make more mistakes as a kid – I spent a lot of time trying to prove to my mom that I was good enough, and she spent a lot of time trying to protect me from ever having to be good enough. That meant I was (and still am) terrified I am not good enough. This doesn’t mean don’t protect your son, obviously. I just wanted to share another perspective that you might not have thought of yet. :)

  4. by willaful

    On March 13, 2013 at 11:36 pm

    E — thanks for speaking up. I forgot to mention that my son is so much more confident now. I also let him shop on his own for the first time, and the feeling of being trusted also did wonders for him. We’ve possibly overprotected him for too long, but I hope it’s not too late to make things better.

  5. [...] The fine line for autism parents ( [...]

  6. by Kathy

    On March 15, 2013 at 11:21 am

    Thanks for sharing every parent’s struggle with keeping our kids safe and giving them space to grow. They need room to have successes and failures and we need to be nearby to help them make the most of each. Cheers!

  7. by Gricelda

    On March 21, 2013 at 3:04 am

    Hi I dont find where to subscribe to receive your next post or newsletter per Email…

    Excuse my english, I’m French^^


  8. by Alice

    On March 26, 2013 at 7:54 pm

    Sadly, if you have two children with severe Autism and MR, it is not a choice whether or not to hover or hold hands. We have locks, alarms and it is still my biggest worry.

  9. by Alice

    On March 26, 2013 at 7:56 pm

    Sadly, if you have two children with severe Autism and MR, it is not a choice whether or not to hover or hold hands. We have locks, alarms and it is still my biggest worry. People used to tall me I worried too much, but no one does now!