n. pl. re·spon·si·bil·i·ties
1. The state, quality, or fact of being responsible.
1. The obligation to carry forward an assigned task to a successful conclusion. With responsibility goes authority to direct and take the necessary action to ensure success.
I recently had the privilege of attending an intense leadership training that not only gave me skills to put into use in my professional life but gave me the tools to make great strides in my personal life which crosses over to my relationship with my children, my husband, my siblings, my parents, friends… so on and so forth.
I have always been a leader for as long as I can remember. Being the oldest of 7 siblings, leadership came with the position of first born, oldest daughter. It was my responsibility to take care of others, inherited at birth. I have always thought of taking care of others as being responsible FOR them. During an intense life changing training that spanned Thursday night, Friday night all day/evening on Saturday and the majority of Sunday I realized that responsibility was not something you did FOR others but actually something that you give TO others. The shifting began and I started to see that if I wanted others to do for themselves, I needed to pull back and allow this to happen.
Being the parent of two sons who have a developmental disability of autism, I had not thought of this before. My leadership, I realized through this process, was fear based leadership. Fear of school services being taken away, fear of dying, fear of my sons being abused, and fear of my boys being vulnerable in a world that may not be ready for them fully…. The fear goes on and on. When I live in fear I continue to be responsible FOR my sons therefore not giving them the skills to advocate effectively for themselves.
This is where disclosure and honestly with myself needed to be looked at. If I am going to die, wouldn’t it make sense to teach my sons what they need in order to be successful in all areas of life from school, home, community…? Absolutely!!!! When I started to make the shift from being responsible for others to being responsible to others I changed. I started to shift away from negative feelings such as: protector, rescuer, controller, not fully listening to others, being tired, anxious, even blaming others or being in victim mode. I began to feel more positive and take back my power. I began to teach my children, to encourage, to share. I also started to be in a state of relaxation, a feeling of being free, of more awareness of others around me and what I call “speaking my truth” as well as hearing what others have to say. Because of this shift, I listen, I collaborate freely without conditions or strings and I began to trust in the process fully again and open the doors to new experiences and opportunities.
The 4 day intensive training blew the doors wide open to allow for awareness, a shift/awareness that had already begun in me during my son Billy’s 6th grade year. The program he would transition to for middle school was more on a life skills track with academics embedded but with more community based instruction than I would have liked. After all, aren’t “typical students” getting all of their instruction during the day in classrooms? So why does my son have to go on a day trip to Wegmans or do community service at an ice cream parlor??? Oh boy was I mad – angry that things had to be different than what my typical daughter’s 6th grade experience had been. I was angry that I had to be feeling this way and put in this position to begin with. Oh how the resentment and anger had built up around this new placement and journey. Where did I lose my trust? Where and when did my sense of adventure and “wait and see” attitude leave me along the way? In my pre-Autism days I would have definitely taken more risks and wouldn’t have fear of the unknown fog my lenses. Now all I could see was the work I would have to do to prove my side, or the work I would have to do to clean up the aftermath of a failed year. I couldn’t afford to lose a year, after all, Billy only has so many years left in his educational career and we can’t afford to have one wasted year in the mix.
Yikes! I never even thought to ask Billy what he wanted or to even look to see if he was happy in this new placement. Why would I? I wasn’t happy so why would Billy be! My gut said, wait a minute. My personal philosophy is, question placement, question the schools philosophy and follow my gut that I am still in charge of community based instruction. My fear, need for control and rescue kicked in and I called everyone I could find a number for. I did my work and visited the new program, asked endless questions and still didn’t like their philosophy. I then started to talk and rally my troops to help me justify my cause and my reasons as to why the 6th grade program would not fit Billy. What I got back was trust in the process from the educators. “We are making changes and we hear your concerns but at this time we feel this program will be able to appropriately meet Billy’s needs.” So I did what I had to do and I cautiously stepped back and allowed the program to do its thing.
Well to my surprise, but keeping a speculative eye on things, Billy’s first month in the new program was amazing. He loved it and was embedded in science. Who wouldn’t be when you get to watch caterpillars do their life cycle thing right under your eyes? They were even videotaping the caterpillars just in case they hatched while they were out of the classroom. Billy couldn’t stop talking about them and what they were doing each day. The Smart Board was also a huge plus and the many computers available to the students throughout the day. They still used a multisensory approach to learning and programs for reading and math, but they just did things a bit differently than when in 5th grade. That year Billy would make many gains in science and have a passion for this area whether it was volcanoes, butterflies, or body systems, he was learning and loving it. He was also making some gains in independence because of less 1:1 time. He was making new friends and some academic gains although not spectacular, but still he made gains. As for community based instruction (CBI), Billy loves his outings/fieldtrips and getting a break from the classroom demands. I love hearing about his adventures and looking at pictures.
This was my learning year, the year my shift started, and when I decided I needed to allow Billy to think more for himself, allowing the process to happen without my always needing to be in control and give trust back to an educational system that hasn’t always done right by me or my children. I do my best these days to take it day by day and not look for a crisis or a hill to die on. There will be times that I have to shift back into full gear and advocate to help my son but while doing so I will remain responsible to him rather than for him. “Nothing about Billy without Billy” is a motto that I have always had throughout the years. Now instead of just knowing who Billy is and what is good for him, I talk with him about what he wants, what he likes, and where he wants to be. I include him more everyday in the decision process and continue to exploit his strengths and interests. The shift has also begun for Billy. Although he still needs assistance in many areas, he is being as independent as he can be and I am pulling more and more away to allow him to spread his wings. For now, someone is usually around to catch him when he falls. We all have natural support whether we have a disability or not, and we all are able to make meaningful mistakes that teach us. It is Billy’s time to experience and be a students and a 13 year old in the truest meaning of the word. I trust him to be responsible for himself and his actions. I trust and I let go. This is being responsible in its truest form.
Billy is beginning to understand his Autism and the complexity it comes with. He is starting to ask questions about his future and is showing an interest in being more independent. A couple years ago I may have discouraged him from wanting to learn how to stay home alone. Now I respond with, “I like that idea. Let’s see how we can help you to be able to do that, Billy. Maybe you can answer the phone when someone calls because if you want to stay home alone you will need to be able to use the phone (functionally). How about you call dad at work…. Tell me about the stove Billy? Are you allowed to touch the stove when mom isn’t in the kitchen with you? Let’s cook dinner together so I can show you how to use the stove safely…” Although Billy isn’t ready to stay home alone he is working on improving his independence and taking an active role in developing his own skills. Billy knows he has Autism. It is the work we do to teach him about what that means and the supports that will help him be successful that really counts. Being responsible to my children means talking and disclosing both the strengths that make them successful as well as the challenges and the supports that will help them be successful so they can have meaningful participation and relationships in all aspects of their lives.
Let’s face it the only one I would be protecting if I hadn’t shifted or disclosed would have been myself.
All of us are leaders. People are drawn to us for various reasons whether we encourage it, accept or not. What I ask is which one are you? A fear based leader or a love based leader? I have been both and I will say leading in love is by far the better choice.
For more information on Upstate New York Families for Effective Autism visit www.unyfeat.org
For the intensive 4 day training from Lifestream that changed my life and had impact on my children visit http://www.lifestreamrochester.com/
Julie Buick mother and advocate to Kathleen, Billy and Bobby
Educational Advocate/Trainer and UNYFEAT’s – VP of Advocacy
“Shifting responsibility for our children to responsibility to our children creates a lifelong expectation in ourselves and our child that educates, honors, challenges, respects, and values both individuals. It is exactly what I expect from those who enter into my life and my childs.” Julie Buick