The other day I received an e-mail from Amazon.com with a detailed list of suggested items entitled, “Recommended for You.” These e-mails appear in my inbox every few weeks, and I always find them interesting because they have analyzed previous orders and come up with similar yet different items they would like to sell me. What is especially intriguing is that they don’t realize these recommendations are actually for Alex; I’m just his personal assistant who orders online for him and tracks the package when he asks. With its wide variety of books, electronics, toys, and games, Amazon holds special appeal for Alex because he can find nearly anything he’d like to own. Having mastered their search function, he enjoys looking through the various possible options, comparing prices, weighing which is best for him, and then negotiating with me as to whether he can order his desired objects. Although I don’t always understand quite why he wants some of the objects he finds on Amazon, I am always impressed with the imagination Alex shows in coming up with various gadgets and the specifications he requests that they have. Moreover, he does know what he wants because the items he chooses usually become particular favorites of his that he carries around and uses often.
Since Alex likes numbers, statistics, and weather, we have a variety of thermometers around the house so that he can monitor the temperature. A few years ago, he began checking Amazon to see what kinds of thermometers they carry and found one he knew he had to have, a non-contact infrared thermometer with laser targeting. While this sounds like something from a science-fiction movie, it’s just a thermometer that can be pointed at an object to determine its temperature using a laser. Alex was impressed with its digital display, but the real selling point was that its description included the range of temperatures it could measure: from -76 to 932 degrees Fahrenheit. I suspect that he was hoping to test the extremes of the range, but that was not going to be an option. However, once the thermometer arrived, we found him with his head stuck in the refrigerator and freezer, checking the temperatures there. Another day, I discovered the plastic end of the thermometer had melted slightly. When I questioned Alex what had happened to it, he admitted that he’d been testing the temperature of light bulbs when they are turned on and had gotten too close. He can sit for long periods of time on our back screen porch measuring the warmth of the sun’s rays as they shine on the floor out there, and he likes to note the changes as the angle of the sun shifts. One day, I opened the dishwasher and discovered that he’d put the thermometer in the top rack of the dishwasher to measure the temperature of the water when the machine was running. Unfortunately, the thermometer is not water resistant, but after a couple of days of drying, the gadget was as good as new. At least Alex was smart enough to put it on the top rack of the dishwasher; I’m not certain that it would have survived a round in the bottom rack. Nonetheless, despite all the various experiments that thermometer has endured, as evidenced by its appearance, it still provides Alex with hours of entertainment, proving that he knew what he was doing when he decided to order it. Another gadget he found on Amazon that he has enjoyed thoroughly is a stopwatch. When he decided he wanted a stopwatch, he carefully compared and contrasted his options before deciding upon one that measured to 1/1000th of a second. His need for precision and accuracy made him opt for this model over the more common ones that measure to 1/100th of a second. While most people use stopwatches for timing sports events, Alex prefers to use his to measure the exact length of television commercials and You Tube videos. In addition, when he is watching NASCAR races on television, he sometimes measures the length of pit stops with his stopwatch being more precise than the ones shown on the television screen. If Jeff Gordon’s pit crew wants to know exactly how fast their stops are, Alex could tell them.
In addition to electronic gadgets, Alex also enjoys searching for unique books on Amazon. One of his all-time favorites is Pi: A Source Book, nearly 800 pages (exactly 797 pages, according to Alex) of articles about the mathematical concept of pi, one of his favorite topics. I believe he has read nearly all of this long book, and he has read some sections repeatedly. My favorite part of the book is the pi song, complete with music and lyrics. A few weeks ago, Alex decided that he would like a 1996 World Almanac to add to his collection. For several years, he has received a World Almanac for the upcoming year as a birthday or Christmas gift, and he consults these reference books many times a week, to the point their pages become bent and their covers fall off. Nonetheless, these well-worn books remain in his collection for reference. When he told me he wanted the 1996 almanac because it was the year of his earliest memory, I asked him if he already had one. He assured me that he did not and then went on to recite the years of the almanacs he does have. Thankfully, Amazon did carry this out-of-print book through their book dealers, and for less than four dollars, Alex obtained his desired book, which he has enjoyed reading, perhaps stirring memories of those early years. Although children with autism are sometimes said to lack imagination, Alex’s creativity in coming up with ideas for gadgets and books he’d like to have defies that stereotype. Moreover, his ability to research and find what he wants, as well as to show good consumer skills by determining the best value, makes me proud to be his mother and his personal shopper.
“May He grant your heart’s desires and make all your plans succeed.” Psalm 20:4