“Stay focused and stay determined. Don’t look to anyone else to be your determination – have self-determination. It will take you very far.” (Justice Smith)
This quote speaks truth to my soul and is a lesson taught me by someone close to my heart – my son, who has Autism and is now 38 years young.
Let me tell you a story . . .
From the day he was born, Nate loved playing in water and loved his bath time. He could spend hours in the tub if I let him. The water relaxed him and soothed him in a way almost nothing else could. He would splash around, recline the length of the tub, and sing songs that could be heard all over the house. He was the cleanest kid in town and, his singing, one of the joys of my life!
This went on for years and years.
During that time, Nate learned to speak in 1 or 2 word phrases, but his articulation was such that, unless you knew him well, you mostly couldn’t understand him. He grew tall, learned to read some “sight words”, and could work the tv and vcr in his room better than I could.
Then, one day, when Nate was about 13, I wanted him to take his bath after dinner, following the same routine we always did. I was shocked when he said, “No.” And he was adamant about it. I tried cajoling, begging, and demanding – none of which was successful.
This went on for several days and I just couldn’t figure it out. Not wanting to take a bath was completely out of character for my son and I was starting to get really distressed.
Finally, the day came when, out of complete exhaustion and exasperation, I said, “Fine. How ‘bout in 10 minutes then?!”
To my surprise, Nate said yes. He promptly went in his room, turned off his tv, came back out to me in the kitchen and said, “Tub time.”
You could have knocked me over with a feather! It took me several days to realize that the whole thing wasn’t about his bath at all. It was about him being 13 years old and wanting to decide for himself when he would take a bath – a perfectly normal and legitimate thing for a 13-year-old young man to decide for himself.
That’s what self-determination is: “making things happen in a person’s own life, instead of having others do things to or for them. People who are self-determined know what they want and how to get it. They choose and set goals, then work to reach them. They advocate on their own behalf, and are involved in solving problems and making decisions about their lives. They don’t have to do everything for themselves, but instead, they make or cause things to happen in their lives that improve the quality of their lives.” (Michael Wehmeyer)
When a person is “self-determined”, they have freedom to be whoever they wish to be and freedom from the artificial constraints and limitations imposed by others. In other words, I can free myself from the unhealthy me and become the healthiest version of myself as possible.
Being “self-determined” gives me the power to make choices. I can choose to exercise (or not), eat healthy meals (or not), drink lots of water (or not), take vitamins, get enough good quality sleep (or not), etc.
Having the power to make choices opens me up to opportunities and risks. Opportunities to fly in a plane comfortably, take long hikes in nature, ride my bike, and extend the time I am on this earth to help provide the support my dear and wise son needs to live a happy life.
Risks come when I make choices based on incomplete or inaccurate information. I am human and am also subject to being impulsive and making bad decisions, which can also lead to risks. Risks aren’t always bad, but it’s important to be aware of them and realize there may be consequences down the road that result from the risks I take. (Like that cheese steak and pizza I ate yesterday.)
In order to take advantage of my opportunities and minimize the risks, I have to be responsible for myself and my actions. I have to not only be “self-determined”, but self-aware as well, so that I can self-correct as the need arises.
In other words, my living a “self-determined” life is like going on a long road trip and I’m the driver. I can choose to drive safely and follow the rules of the road or I can drive aggressively and end up in a ditch. I can use my GPS and reach my desired destination or I can meander around and hope I eventually end up where I want to go without too man detours. While on the road, I have to eliminate distracted driving (no texting!) and watch out for potholes so that I don’t crash and scuff up the vehicle.
Another part of a successful road trip, is making sure my vehicle is properly maintained. So, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go “change my oil” and “rotate my tires”.