Sunday, November 6, 2011


As I walked into our kitchen the other afternoon, I discovered Alex had left an interesting arrangement of his belongings on the kitchen table. Realizing how much that array of items revealed about him, I immediately grabbed the digital camera to record what he had left behind, the way an archeologist records ancient artifacts to demonstrate how people in other civilizations lived. For those who have not lived with a child who has autism, I offer this visual evidence along with explanations of the significance of each essential item.

In the top left of the picture, a size 9 Nike athletic shoe can be observed. This shoe, a right one, happens to belong to Alex, who apparently placed it on the kitchen table himself since Ed and I don’t put shoes on the table. While some may be surprised to find a shoe on the kitchen table, around here we find Alex’s shoes in all sorts of unusual places. Whenever he gets tired of wearing his shoes, he takes them off and leaves them right where he is. Often, we find them on the couch where he’s been reading, in the middle of the bathroom floor after he’s been using the toilet, or anywhere in the house where he’s been walking and decided he’d prefer to be shoeless. As the spirit moves him, Alex takes off his shoes and dumps them where he’s standing. That answers the question of why his shoe is on the table, but the next logical question might be, “Where is the left shoe?” or “Why is there only one shoe on the table?” Sometimes Alex decides to only remove one shoe, which has led us to nickname him over the years as “Johnny One Shoe.” He often does the same thing with his socks, wearing a sock on one foot and going barefoot with the other, which has led us also to dub him as “Johnny One Sock.” Fortunately, he finds both nicknames amusing. As for that left shoe, it was under the kitchen table; maybe he didn’t find it worthy of being on the table with the right one. That’s a question I can’t answer, and Alex certainly won’t reveal his reasoning.

In the center of the table are the remains of his afternoon snack, gluten-free and casein-free cake. Alex frequently leaves one or two bites of food on his plate, as illustrated in this photograph. Also, like a typical kid, he eats all the frosting but leaves a little cake in his dish. After discovering that Alex had food sensitivities to glutens (the proteins in most grains, including wheat) and caseins (the proteins in milk and milk products, such as cheese), for several years we have kept him on a strict diet that avoids these proteins. He never complains about his restricted diet, and we are fortunate that he eats a variety of foods well. With more people on gluten-free diets, the availability of gluten-free products on the market has increased significantly since he started on the diet, which makes life so much easier for us. I used to make all of his treats from scratch, carefully measuring three different gluten-free flours (rice, tapioca, and potato starch) to make the perfect baking blend along with xanthum gum powder, which helps hold the ingredients together, the way glutens do in most flours. Last year, Betty Crocker came out with gluten-free baking mixes that are readily available at grocery stores, and this has made baking cakes for him much easier. The cake in the bowl was from a Betty Crocker gluten-free (and casein-free, made with Fleischmann’s unsalted corn oil margerine) yellow cake with Duncan Hines classic vanilla frosting (also gluten-free and casein-free). This particular cake was baked for Ed’s birthday although I also made a chocolate chip cheesecake for Ed. Whenever we have birthdays, I typically make two cakes, one Alex can eat on his restricted diet and another one with typical ingredients for everyone else to eat. I never want him to feel as though he’s missing out on the celebration because of his special dietary needs. I’m just thankful that he enjoys eating the cakes I bake for him.

At the top is yet another typical reminder of Alex, a kitchen timer. As I’ve mentioned in previous blog entries, Alex is obsessed with time, so he often consults calendars, clocks, stopwatches, and timers. I’m certain that his love of math and numerical values is related to this extreme interest in measuring time. He can usually be seen carrying around at least one timer or small battery-operated clock as he moves from room to room, and for some reason he must have something that measures time when he eats. The timer pictured is a particular favorite of his; my parents bought it on sale and thought he’d like to have it. Often we’ll hear random beeping coming from another room and realize that either Alex is setting the timer or has set the timer previously to make it beep. He’ll even carry around timers and clocks that need new batteries just because they seem to make him feel secure, whether or not they are working. One of the good things about Alex’s love of clocks is that he has learned how to set the time for every clock—and we have many—in our house, which comes in especially handy on days like today, where the time change necessitates adjusting all the clocks. Now if we could just get him to put his shoes where they belong, that would be helpful, too.

“Don’t worry about your personal belongings, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.” Genesis 45:20


Lynn Mayden said...

Sean does the same thing with socks. Sometimes he takes one off and not the other. I don't know how he can stand walking around like that. I have to have both socks or none. Once he even wanted to wear socks in the shower to see how it would feel.

Pam Byrne said...

Hi Lynn,
The socks and shoes must be a sensory issue. How did Sean like wearing his socks in the shower? Hope he's doing well.
Take care,