While cleaning house this past weekend, Ed and I remarked on another positive change we’ve noticed recently in Alex: he’s become fairly neat. Only a few months ago, he had the annoying habit of tearing up little pieces of toilet paper and strewing them throughout the house, requiring a need for frequent vacuuming. Apparently he has lost interest in doing that in the last few weeks because I only found two tiny pieces of toilet paper on the bathroom floor on Saturday. Overcoming this habit also explains why I don’t have to change the toilet paper rolls as frequently as I had been doing. As I mentioned in my blog entry “Stages,” Ed and I have commented that every annoying stage eventually disappears, only to be replaced by an equally annoying phase. The toilet paper tracked through the house had replaced the pieces of legal pad paper with Alex’s lists written upon them scattered in nearly every room. We solved that problem several months ago when we started buying composition notebooks for him to use for his sacred lists; not only does that prevent list loss but also limits list litter. Thankfully, as Alex has matured, he has outgrown various phases, some of which he couldn’t really help and others that seemed to be deliberately irksome on his part.
Because of his obsessive-compulsive tendencies, Alex has initiated routines throughout the years regarding eating. At times, he insisted upon eating three servings at every meal, so Ed and I would estimate how much he could eat and divide that amount into thirds for the required three servings. Later, he dropped the three servings plan and went to timed meal sessions instead. He would set a kitchen timer for ten minutes of eating—no more, no less. He would even leave one bite to eat during the last few seconds of that ten-minute session. Within the past few months, he seems to have a sense of how much he wants and needs to eat and simply eats that amount in whatever time it takes. He’s no longer tied to an obsessive routine about meals, which shows progress. Some of his past behaviors were also linked to his sensory issues. For example, wearing shoes and socks seemed to bother him, and he would only wear them when he was going someplace. As soon as he walked in the house, he would immediately take off his shoes and socks and go barefoot, no matter what the weather. In another recent change, he will now keep his shoes and socks on his feet long after he’s arrived home, apparently not bothered by the feel of them. Because of his sensitivity to sounds, he had previously been upset by thunderstorms and the sound of people coughing. Whenever it would storm in the night, he’d have a meltdown, yelling and pounding on his bedroom wall. Once we realized that he couldn’t hear thunder in our basement, we would take him to sleep in the basement bedroom while we slept on the pullout couch in the basement family room. Shortly after we arrived at this solution, Alex seemed to stop being upset by storms and now sleeps through them. Similarly, he is no longer bothered by people coughing, which is a relief. If Ed or I had a cough, we’d try to keep away from Alex because he’d run at us, grab our necks, and yell, “STOP COUGHING!!” Being sick is never fun, but being sick around Alex was especially stressful. Now, he never seems to be fazed by anyone coughing, which is another step of progress for him.
Besides the behaviors linked to his sensory and OCD issues, Alex also just did things to be ornery. Like many children, he would engage in various attention-seeking behaviors, such as whining, arguing, and interrupting conversations. Even though he doesn’t seem to have any sense of being self-conscious, he did seem to know how to do things that might embarrass us. We went through a stage where he thought it was hysterically funny to say stupid things when I was trying to order fast food in the drive-through lane. From the backseat, he’d yell into the speaker at McDonald’s: “I want pizza!” or his personal favorite, “I want INFINITY hamburgers!” Then he’d laugh and giggle as I’d try to give the real order. He also found it amusing to keep pressing buttons that would make loud noises, including the one to find the cordless phone or the one on our key chains that would set off our car horns. Needless to say, those were hidden from him for several months, as was a small tape recorder he would use after provoking us so that he could record our exasperated responses to play back for his own amusement. In addition, he used the television to annoy us, turning up the volume as loud as it would go, just to watch our aggravation. He would also overreact to quick changes of commercials, which he called “switchovers,” by tipping over lamps. After replacing various broken light bulbs, lampshades, and lamps, we were pleased when he got past that stage. During those particularly trying early teen years, he’d ask me every night before he went to bed if he’d done anything bad that day. I’d try to minimize his infractions and tell him I loved him so that he knew we’d forgiven him. Now, every night before he goes to bed, I thank God that I can’t think of any bad things Alex has done that day. The progress he’s achieved is such a blessing to all of us, and, as I now tell Alex every night, we’re so proud of the nice young man he’s become.
“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn shining even brighter till the full light of day.” Proverbs 4:18