Sunday, June 27, 2010


All kids go through stages, and Alex is no exception. Alex’s stages, however, have unique twists to them because they often have ties to his sensory or OCD issues. Others are related to his desire for control. When he was little, he created routines, as many children with autism do. For example, at bedtime, he insisted on having four cups, each a different color (red, yellow, green, and blue) and each with a different drink: water, juice, milk (before we knew he had sensitivities to casein, a milk protein), and Sprite. He would line up the cups in his order, take a sip of each, and then he was ready for bed. After watching television shows, he intently watched the credits and insisted on saying, “Bye bye” as each name appeared on the screen. More recently, when words appeared on the tv screen, he analyzed whether any anagrams existed for these words. If not, he would say, “NO WORDS,” a phrase he learned from an anagrams game on his handheld electronic dictionary. Since time is important to Alex, he had a routine several months ago where he had to check our microwave clock before going to the bathroom. No other clock would do; this meant that he would often turn off the cooking cycle so that he could check the “official” time, which was annoying. These various routines gave him a sense of order, though.

At times Alex develops obsessions that make him a tyrant about others’ behavior. One summer, he decided that no one could use contractions; for example, if we dared say “don’t” or “can’t,” he immediately reminded us that we were to use “do not” or “cannot.” I’m not sure why this formality arose, but we were glad when it disappeared. Another summer, he did not want people to cross their legs for some reason. He would try to uncross our legs. Rather than battle with him, we attempted to remember not to cross our legs. If we forgot, however, he tapped our knees to remind us of our infraction. He also went through a phase where high gas prices really upset him, so if we drove past a gas station, he would let his displeasure be known from the back seat by whining, sometimes by throwing things, and when very agitated, slugging one of us in the front seat. We learned every route around town that would avoid gas stations so as not to invoke the wrath of our backseat driver. For someone who likes letters and numbers, Alex surprisingly will not eat with us or take vitamins if one of us is wearing clothing with words, numbers, or logos. He calls them “bad imagine clothes,” and we have learned the proper dress code if we want him to take vitamins or eat with us. It’s easier than debating him.

Other stages Alex has gone through have been directly related to his sensory issues. When he was little, he would rub his clothing tags as he sucked his thumb. He would also chew on his shirt collars, especially when new teeth, baby and permanent, were coming in. This was a nuisance because he needed clean shirts several times a day, and the chewing ruined several of his shirts. His current habit of twirling his hair is much easier to handle. A recent phase that seems to be fading is his need to imitate people’s voices, especially children. He then developed an elaborate routine where he would talk about dates and then try to recreate the voice he thought he had at that time, for instance, saying 1997 in the higher-pitched, or as he called it, “little voice” of when he was five years old. As that stage has gradually gone away, he developed the need to tear up little pieces of toilet paper when he is using the bathroom. I try to remind myself that it took him years to toilet independently, and I’m pleased that he can do so. Nonetheless, I will be glad when the little tp pieces stop getting tracked through the house, making it look like a hamster cage and requiring frequent vacuuming. Considering how well-behaved Alex usually is, these are just minor inconveniences. As I always half-jokingly say, every phase will eventually disappear—only to be replaced by another equally annoying one.

“For everything there is a season, a time for every activity under heaven.” Ecclesiastes 3:2

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