One of my guilty pleasure pastimes is watching old reruns of the television series Sex and the City. In one episode Carrie wrote a column about “Secret Single Behaviors” after accidentally discovering that her boyfriend Aiden used Rogaine because his hair was thinning. Her own “SSB,” as she abbreviated it, was not talking for an hour after she came home, something Aiden needed to learn to respect. To use Carrie’s frequent catch phrase, “I couldn’t help but wonder…,” and I began thinking about what secret behaviors autism moms use to cope with the various aspects of our somewhat unusual lives. Some of these actions help us maintain a level of sanity, but most probably revolve around avoiding annoying our overly sensitive kids. As I catch myself doing some of these Secret Autism Mom Behaviors, or SAMB’s, I realize that most people with typical kids have no idea the things we do to keep harmony in our households. Therefore, I decided to share my secrets and reveal some of my SAMB’s to give a glimpse of a day in the life of one autism mom.
Since Alex, like many people with autism, relies upon routines (Think of Raymond in Rain Man insisting that the syrup must be on the table before the pancakes arrive.), we try to maintain a predictable schedule. Currently, he wants to eat lunch at noon and dinner at 5:00, and if food isn’t on the table by those set times, he’s likely to be agitated. To reassure him that things are remaining on schedule, we make sure to turn on the microwave before mealtimes so that he hears the oven running and knows we’re in the process of preparing a meal, keeping him calm. I’ve also learned not to set the table until the last minute because as soon as he hears plates and silverware clinking as they hit the table, like Pavlov’s dogs when the bell rang, Alex is ready to eat. Another one of Alex’s routines is list making. To avoid having our house become a cluttered mess of paper emblazoned with Alex’s scrawl, I must engage in a SAMB that Alex cannot know. Since he places value upon his written work, he would probably like to keep every list he’s ever made. To prevent him from becoming annoyed with my need for organization, I sneak his lists to a place where he can’t find them. If he doesn’t seem to miss them after about a week, I hide them in the recycling bin among the old newspapers. So far, he hasn’t caught on to my regular purging of his paperwork, so I’ve kept him from being annoyed with me about that.
To avoid disturbing Alex’s overly sensitive hearing, I’ve learned a few tricks so that he can’t hear what I’m doing. For example, I’m always concerned that my flushing the toilet early in the morning before I go to work might wake him and set him off. Therefore, I listen for the furnace, air conditioner, or humidifier to go on before I flush so that those mechanical noises can drown out the sound of running water. Another thing that bothers Alex currently is people talking on the phone. I’m not certain why this irritates him, but we never answer the phone and simply wait for the answering machine to pick up the call. If someone other than a telemarketer is trying to reach us, we sneak off to a phone where he can’t hear us to return the call. If we want to make phone calls, we do the same thing, hiding in the basement or lurking upstairs in our bedroom with the door closed. As far as Alex knows, we never use the phone, so he probably wonders why we even have one. Probably the most secret of my secret autism mom behaviors is coughing. Alex has a fit if anyone coughs, worried that they’re terribly sick and going to get laryngitis. Ed and I have learned that the only way any of us can get any sleep when one of us has a cold with a cough is to sleep downstairs where Alex can’t hear the coughing. Moreover, we have learned to cover accidental coughs by pretending to sneeze, moving chairs to make noises, etc. We are also pretty good at escaping to rooms where he can’t hear us cough. A recent cold that left me with a cough found me running to the basement, garage, front porch, or our bedroom, where I muffled my cough with a pillow. If all that sounds ridiculous, I must confess that sometimes when I’m driving alone in my car, I cough just because I can do it without fear of reproach. Perhaps that’s the oddest of my SAMB’s because I derive a strange sense of satisfaction from coughing uninhibitedly, not worried about any consequences. As I think about all the different ways we try to avoid annoying Alex, I pray that he will become more tolerant of others’ behavior so that we can relax and not worry that he will get upset over the small things in life. Cough, cough.
“God will judge us for everything we do, including every secret thing, whether good or bad.” Ecclesiastes 12:14