*A version of this post was originally published on 7/29/14
Ever since Bethany became sick with brain cancer in 2000 I have made it my life’s mission to make her life as happy and comfortable as I possibly can.
In my mind’s eye I’ve always imagined that she must feel lonely, depressed, and isolated because her illness has been so confining.
I mean, she basically couldn’t do anything but lie on the couch having seizures or recuperating from them for 12 years straight!
After Bethany miraculously stopped having such debilitating seizures, my husband and I made it our mission to get her involved in all the fun activities and stimulating experiences that we felt she had missed out on.
Now, we feel like we are not doing enough to provide Bethany with the happiest life possible if we don’t try to make her participate in as many fun social activities as we possibly can.
We so desperately want to fit in all the fun for her that we can because we fear that the bottom may drop out at any minute and she’ll begin having seizures again.
But there’s just one little problem with our mission!
Most of the time trying to get her dressed and out the door to all these fun activities causes so much anxiety, bad behavior, angry feelings, and meltdowns (hers and ours) that our fun activities turn out to not be any fun at all!
We discovered an awesome social and fitness club for teens and young adults with autism and signed Bethany up!
It’s been tough getting her to go, though.
Last Sunday, in order to avoid the anxiety that anticipating going causes her, we didn’t tell her we were going.
We pulled into the YMCA parking lot and told her that we wanted her to go inside and have fun with her friends at Club.
At first, she refused to get out of the car.
We waited a while and she finally agreed to go inside.
But, when we got inside she did nothing but lie down on the floor.
She did not enjoy herself or the activities whatsoever.
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When are we going to learn that we cannot force our version of a happy life onto Bethany?
Bethany is nearly an adult and she’s entitled to have some say in how she spends her time, even if she chooses to spend time doing something that we don’t consider fun.
It’s most likely that Bethany is not really feeling lonely, depressed, or isolated.
We just imagine her to be!
She’s probably just about as happy as she’s ever going to get and she really just enjoys being home playing games, watching her videos, and spending time with her family.
We cannot force Bethany to accept our version of what we think a happy life should be like for her.
However, we can continue to offer her opportunities to take advantage of all the fun social activities that are available to her.
But we will not cause her unbearable anxiety by trying to force her to participate in activities she really doesn’t want to participate in!
Bethany now happily participates in many fun activities out in the community!
Allowing her the dignity of choosing what activities she wants to give a try and giving her time to get used to participating in new activities has eased her anxiety.
Throughout the past 4 years, we have continued to encourage, but not force her to go to her special needs fitness club activities.
Most of the time, she attends and has fun!
Attending has taught her many important life skills such as following all the steps necessary to for her to get to an activity or appointment on time and coping with transitions and changes in her routine.
She has developed meaningful relationships and friendships with the other kids at club and looks forward to seeing them!
She also loves going shopping, swimming at the YMCA, looking for books and DVDs at the library, going to movies and going to special places like the zoo!
She’s come a long way!