autism,  high school,  teen years

I need an ambulance!

J’s first spontaneous phone call came Friday while Whitney and I were getting our hair cut. J was at home by himself and I texted him halfway through the hair appointment to see how things were going. Less than a minute later I get a spontaneous call from J, telling me things were fine at home in a perfect, little three sentence conversation. I’m telling you IT WAS A PERFECT PHONE CALL. (Hi mom, this is Josh. Things at home are going well. When are you coming home?) I didn’t text him to call me. He just called me in response to my “how are things?” text.

The second phone call came yesterday while I was in the shower. The phone rang. And then a moment later the phone rang again. I thought it had to be my mom or my sister (because in my family, if someone doesn’t pick up the first time, they call again. I think it goes back to the time of the land line where if you ran across the house to get the phone but didn’t get there in time, you had no idea who just called you). But then it rang again. And again. And then I heard J yelling outside the door in desperation, “I need an ambulance!” at least, that’s what I thought he said because the bathroom fan. I asked him what he needed again (because why would he need an ambulance–was this an emergency?) and he sounded even more panicked. “I need an ambulance!” and then “I can’t handle it!” and then it clicked. It wasn’t “ambulance” it was “minutes.” “I needed more minutes” and “I can’t handle it” meant that his phone was about to shut off, and I guess, technically to him that was an emergency.

Because we’re trying to help J navigate his phone in the most healthy way possible, I restrict apps and put time limits on his phone. And J has very little time allowed. If he wants time on his phone, he has to ask me for it (and I give it out in very small increments–15 to 20 min at a time, and he has to let me know what he’s going to do with that time before I give it to him.) J typically spends his time playing Mario Kart or listening to music (and yes, googling exit numbers too–we use the google family link so I see what he’s doing with his time and it’s not always what he tells me he’s doing).

I’m guessing he was listening to music when the “minute emergency” happened, and saw that his time was almost up. That’s when the desperate phone calls started. When I got out of the shower I also found a text from him saying “Please text me.” I yelled back through the door to give me a minute or two and I would add more minutes to his phone. Instantly the yelling stopped and he was calm again.

Three months ago, Steve and I agonized over our decision to give J a phone for his birthday. J had been begging for a phone for a while, but we had put it off for a very long time because we weren’t sure we could trust J with a phone and the unlimited possibilities for trouble that came with it.

J’s anxiety means that he has an addictive personality by nature. He also has little to no impulse control (and self control) which means giving J a phone is a recipe for disaster. And frankly, J’s autism and anxiety don’t make him unique for potential phone issues. I can’t name one neurotypical teenage kid I know that hasn’t become addicted with electronics and social media. I know very few adults who can abstain from checking their email, Instagram, or Facebook multiple times an hour.

The biggest concerns we had surrounded by J’s already built-in obsessions and anxieties. We were worried about J checking out all of the exit sign numbers on every highway in the United States on Google maps and becoming anxious and obsessive over those. And while most parents don’t worry about the calculator app triggering an addiction or obsession with their kids, that was the other big concern we had.

J and W duking it out on old school electronic games.

Another concern Steve had was that we would sign J up to a phone and contract and be locked into something J would never actually use. The phone itself–to call and text people. But J was turning 17 and we finally decided that the kid needed to know how to make a phone call or text sooner or later for safety reasons and possible employment situations.

It’s a catch-22 that every parent faces. Your kid needs a phone for communication, but most likely your kid won’t use the phone for real communication. And you’re possibly giving your kid something that could really backfire on their social/mental/emotional development.

Well, I am please to report that finally, three months into J’s phone use, J has called me twice, TWICE unprompted to talk to me this weekend!!!! That’s a HUGE deal since J has struggled for the last 17 years to have any sort of spontaneous conversation. And I know now, that even in times of extreme (perceived) emergency, J can remain in a calm enough state of mind to call me about it. I can’t even tell you how huge it is. Even if the emergency is over more phone time.

Baby steps, right?

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