The Parenting Dance: Hold Tight While Letting Go

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When Sarah Littman took her son, Joshua, to college this fall, it was hard.

"I thought I was gonna cry the whole way back from college," she says during a visit to StoryCorps in New York City. "But I managed to make it until I got home. And then I walked upstairs and I saw your door shut and I just lost it."

Eighteen-year-old Joshua is a freshman at Dickinson College in Pennsylvania. He also has Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism. He and his mother visited StoryCorps in 2006 when he was a seventh-grade honors student having trouble socially.

"Does it bother you to think of home?" Sarah asks her son.

"I miss it," he says. "I miss the dogs and everything. And you, and ... what, wouldn't you miss the dogs?"

Kids with Asperger's can miss social cues — and often have obsessions. For Joshua, it was animals.

But what Joshua really wanted to know was how it was for his mother when she went to college.

"I think I was a lot more excited about leaving home than you were," Sarah says. "I did have some rocky times where I was homesick, but I made some really good friends in college, and that's, I guess that's why I want you to get out of your room. Is it just you've been feeling overwhelmed a bit?"

Joshua is considering not returning to school next semester.

"Yeah, well, I have no idea why am I in college. 'Cause I don't know why I'm there," he says.

Sarah reminded Joshua that he needed to be more open to new experiences.

"Sometimes you have this resistance to trying things and then, when you try them, you end up really liking them," she says. "And really, I just want you to do more of that when you're at college. Just like take that chance."

But how would Sarah react if he failed his classes, he wonders.

"Well, if you came to me first and said, 'Look I'm having a really tough time,' that's one thing," she says. "But if you just sort of announce to me that you failed, then I'd be upset. Because I know how much potential you have. Is there anything you wanna tell me? Or was that a hypothetical question?"

Hypothetical question, he says, calming her fears.

"So, do you think I'll move out of the house when I'm done with college?" Joshua asks. "I don't know, maybe I'll move to Denmark or something."

"Hopefully you won't move so far away that it's really hard for me to come to visit you. You know, I'm really so happy to have you home. I miss you a lot when you're not there," Sarah says.

"Yeah. I miss you as well," Joshua says. "As well as the dogs and everything."

Audio produced for Morning Edition by Michael Garofalo.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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