A Latchkey Kid…with Aspergers

Dear aanebaanff
Readers — Please note that this letter is not recommending a Free-Range regimen for everyone or anyone, it is just this family’s experience. But a heartening one! (Boldface, mine.) 

Dear Free-Range Kids: My 10 y.o. son is an impulsive, ADHD type, also recently diagnosed with Aspergers.  He’s been kicked out of several daycares and before/after school care places over the years and is often in trouble at school and on the bus (despite not giving my too much trouble at home).  At the end of last school year, he got kicked out of literally the last after-school care option I had, so I decided he would ride the bus home this year.  Because he’s shown such problems with discipline, I was a little nervous about the situation.

We’ve put a checklist on the fridge (call mom, lock door, do homework, wash dishes, etc).  Now every day he comes home and works through the checklist, after which he can watch TV or play video games (screen time during the week has been a rarity for him in the past). 

It may be optimistic to say this only a few weeks into the school year, but the change is astounding.  Because he has the freedom to work at his own pace and on his own schedule without distractions, his homework has been neater and had fewer careless mistakes.  And because he doesn’t want to lose the privilege of screen time, he does a much better job with his chores and is careful to do everything on his list and follow all the rules laid out for him.  I think letting him ride the bus and spend the hour and a half before I get home from work has been a big win.

I’m admittedly a little nervous about nosy neighbors or well-meaning teachers finding out he’s home alone and getting involved, but I definitely think the rewards outweigh the risks. – Angela

Lenore here: I think so, too! Generally, people respond well to their loved ones trusting and believing in them. I wish you both continued success!

P.S. And regularly washing dishes? Kudos! I will show this to my own boys!

Latchkey kids come in all stripes.

Latchkey kids come in all stripes.

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24 Responses to A Latchkey Kid…with Aspergers

  1. FreedomForKids September 9, 2014 at 12:20 pm #

    The LW might want to read about unschooling parenting and how their trusting their child and giving them age-appropriate freedoms makes for a very happy child and a happy, well-functioning family.

  2. no rest for the weary September 9, 2014 at 12:42 pm #

    How tragic anyone who is finding a solution that works for them and their child has even one iota of worry about what the neighbours will think / do.

    In the space of 40 years, we’ve gone from pathologically ignoring obvious signs of distress and damage in children who are in real trouble to pathologically reporting on parents who are simply weighing risks and benefits and coming up with strategies.

  3. marie September 9, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    Very interesting. A kid with Aspergers might be especially averse to helicopter parenting since it requires so much interaction with the parents. Setting out clear expectations and leaving him alone to manage things…brilliant. I hope this strategy continues to work well for this family.

  4. Erica September 9, 2014 at 1:00 pm #

    no rest for the weary, I find that particularly sad given that at the same time that people are chasing parents for absolutely nothing, they find a way to ignore serious maltreatment of children who are in obvious distress. There was an article in the NY Times about a little girl in Queens who was 12 and LOSING weight and size, obviously bruised, wearing shabby clothes, while her younger half-siblings thrived; who had actually told people that she was being abused; and yet who nearly died as a result of that abuse – only to have the neighbors say that they thought something might have been wrong (but apparently did nothing about it). So, it’s all happening at the same time, which is terribly sad.

  5. Becca September 9, 2014 at 1:17 pm #

    As a mother of an older son with Aspergers, I can see why this solution worked so very well and why he would have been kicked out of so many places. An Aspie needs a safe zone…a quiet, calm place to chill out and decompress. After school time is especially hard. It is so much work for them to hold it together all day long! This mother has created that safe zone for her son. Kudos to her!

  6. Bekki Childers September 9, 2014 at 3:06 pm #

    My oldest is an Aspie with ADHD, he and his little brother have been in that same situation since they were 7 and 10. Other than occasional bouts of brotherly “love”, we’ve had absolutely no problems!

  7. Nicole September 9, 2014 at 3:15 pm #

    I don’t have Aspergers, but I do have experience as a child with after school programs. For a quiet kid who wanted nothing more than to do my homework and read a good book after school, these programs were torture! Hours of organized sports, lots of noise and kids running around- ugh. It was overstimulating and made me a nervous wreck. The best day of my childhood was the day in 4th grade when my aunt started babysitting us after school. By 6th grade my mom trusted me to stay home and watch my younger brother, too. Families need to be able to make the right choices for their own members, not worry about what everyone else thinks.

  8. K2 September 9, 2014 at 3:31 pm #

    Years ago, I was a latchkey kid at 7. I’m still here. Despite the relatively low risk that something might happen, Yee Gads, I really think the country is starting to mandate that we spend too much money on too many things and not just for children. Obamacare is mandated and rather expensive too. It should be considered that 50% of the country is on food stamps and really don’t have any cash. It is just assumed that the money is there or that people should have less children. People are having less children, which is not really good for the short-term good of the economy and we are currently the #3 (Hong Kong and Singapore are #1 and #2) economy with China about to take our place and make us #4. Spending trillions of dollars (government social workers and government mandates) we don’t have to try to eliminate relatively low risk is really questionable for the larger picture. We need to recognize when the money for an expensive aftercare program isn’t there and realize that half the country or more can’t pay for it. Forcing this type of expenditure might really not be helping the kids. It might be just putting poor parents in more debt making it harder yet for them to afford basics like food and utility bills. With 50% of the population on food stamps tax dollars should also not be seen as an endless gravy train. My parents income was similar to ours, but they lived a lot better than we do partly because they didn’t have to pay for a lot of the mandates we have to pay for.

  9. lollipoplover September 9, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    Parents know their kids best. Believing in them and giving these incremental responsibilities to prove they will make you proud shows more care than any after care program could. A quiet time to himself may be just what he’s needed all this time.

  10. Jill September 9, 2014 at 7:18 pm #

    How great that this family foundd an after-school solution that works for them.
    But @K2, where did you get the idea that fifty percent of American households are on food stamps?

  11. Donna September 9, 2014 at 9:42 pm #

    Cool. I definitely look forward to my kid being a latchkey kid next year.

    K2 – 50% of the population is not on food stamps. About 12% of the population is on food stamps.

  12. Jenny Islander September 9, 2014 at 11:08 pm #

    50 percent on food stamps? Who’s been spreading that around and why? The last time I saw nationwide figures on participation, it was 14 percent.

  13. Lexis @ Babystuff.tips September 10, 2014 at 1:27 am #

    Great to hear of this success!

  14. pentamom September 10, 2014 at 9:57 am #

    I have no idea where this “Hong Kong and Singapore have larger economies and China will soon pass us” is coming from, either. Not even close.


  15. Papilio September 10, 2014 at 11:18 am #

    Those afterschool care programs sound like I would’ve hated them too, and I’m not even an Aspie (but have always appreciated silence and just doing my own things at home at my own pace), so no wonder this worked out so much better!

  16. BMS September 10, 2014 at 12:49 pm #

    We have used after school programs as the nuclear threat:

    If you don’t behave after school, we will enroll you in an after school program.

    My kids would rather be boiled in oil than have to go to an organized after school program. They want to come home, snack, chill, play legos, get on Minecraft and decompress. They’ve been staying home after school by themselves for 3 years now, with no issues (they are 14 and 12). Sometimes they eat way too much junk food, and they almost never do their homework (although that’s improving). Other than that, the house is still standing, the cops haven’t been called, and no one has cut off any body parts. And they are much, much happier.

  17. Sharon September 10, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    My daughter is a latchkey child now but it would have been hard in Maryland because of the law on the books that children under 12 can not be left alone.

    She does do homework mostly because she wants to watch her televisions shows at night which I won’t let her do if her homework is not complete. She enjoys working at her own pace and even solving her own problems. She wanted to start studying for English and did not have the words yet. She emailed another student who found a link posted them to her phone and texted them to my daughter. Now my daughter knows most of her words and will be ready for her quiz on Friday.

  18. Betsy in Michigan September 10, 2014 at 7:24 pm #

    He sounds a lot like my 8 yr. old Aspie ADHDer. If anyone gets nosy, you just tell them that learning personal responsibility is part of his IEP! Or doctor’s recommendations, or whatever. I am so excited that in the last several months the convergence of my daughter’s feeling confident enough to handle him (she’s 13) and his becoming less squirrely allows me to leave them alone for an hour or so to take a yoga class. If I give him some elusive TV time, they only fight over whether they’re going to watch a history documentary (her interest) or an engineering/how it’s made one (his interest)!

  19. Lauren September 10, 2014 at 9:00 pm #

    When I was in 10th grade my brother was in 2nd. His bus got home 30-40 minutes before mine did, so he had a key to let himself into the house. I can’t imagine what kind of trouble my parents might get into for that nowadays!

  20. Red September 10, 2014 at 10:51 pm #

    My 8-year-old is really starting to push the whole “you know mom, I can stay home while you run the errands”. And the reality is that if he stayed home: he would be watching kids programs on Netflix, which he knows how to control perfectly well. He might make himself toast or toaster waffles as a snack, which he often does in the morning while I’m out walking the dog anyhow. He’s not a kid who plays with dangerous things, and his stupid choices tend to be limited to choices which accidentally destroy other things, not choices which might hurt himself.

    There is a benefit to listening to your own kid’s attempt to take certain aspects of responsibility themselves. Because it’s something he wants, it’s something where I feel that if I sit down and say that I’m running to the grocery and here are the rules, he will likely follow the rules because he knows it’s about being trusted and proving himself able to be trusted.

  21. Amy September 11, 2014 at 10:38 am #

    This really hit home. My son (neuro-typical) also hated the after school program at his grade school. He was often on the receiving end of bullying behavior from a few other boys, and it caused our family a great deal of stress and many tearful nights. But, I kept him in the after school program because it was the “safe” option. When he switched to middle school he begged to be allowed to come home after school. He is doing great! We also have a checklist – he calls me right when he gets home, makes sure the door is locked, gets his homework done, practices his instrument – and then he has time to play (online) with his friends or watch TV. Of course have some groundrules, and we did get him a cell phone for my peace of mind, but I really wish we would have done this years ago. We set high expectations and he’s living up to them. It’s a win-win.

  22. Wisegal99 September 14, 2014 at 9:47 am #

    My son is 9 years old and autistic. This year, for the first time, I have been allowing him to walk to school with his little sister. She makes sure he doesn’t get lost (he has a bad time with directions, even though it is a straight shot of about 1/2 mile) And he looks out for her. I gave them a cell phone and taught them both how to use it. I have to say that my son is much calmer when he comes home and proud of himself for his new accomplishment. He gets mad if I pick him up because it’s raining or he has an appointment right after school It has really helped with his attitude.

  23. Paula September 17, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    Mother obviously knows best. I have a 16yo with Aspergers and I am confident to leave him alone in the house for a few hours at a time. He locks all of the doors and knows not to answer the door to strangers. In my judgement, I know him enough not to leave his younger siblings in his care for longer than 10 minutes at a time, but that’s my judgement call, and it’s reflective on my son’s own unique issues. As for leaving him to come home on his own, you know him better than some over-zealous or nosy stranger!

  24. Sigh September 19, 2014 at 5:08 am #

    @Betsy in Michigan: Just a thought but could they both agree on a ‘Technology through the ages’ type program? You know, where they pick an object…say, a camera for argument’s sake. And then just go through ‘first camera and how it was made’ alll the way up to ‘cutting edge camera and how they make those’.