As I have mentioned in previous blog entries, Alex loves clocks and calendars because they help him keep track of time, one of his favorite concepts. In addition, he likes for us to make daily schedules so that he can anticipate what events each day holds for him, especially his favorite activities—eating, going places, and showering. We keep a basic schedule posted on our refrigerator that he consults a few times a day; plus lately he has requested a more specific schedule for each day that I write for him on memo pad paper. These daily lists are never far from his sight as he often carries them around with him or places them next to his alarm clock where he can compare the schedule to the actual time. Somehow knowing what’s ahead for him not only allows him to look forward to favorite activities, but also gives him a sense of calm to reassure him that “there is a time for every activity under heaven.” (Ecclesiastes 3:1)
While this need for routine is common among people with autism, I suspect Alex has also inherited my need for organization. My friends at work have teasingly nicknamed me “Pamodex” because of my organizational skills along with my logical physical and mental filing systems that allow me to find needed information quickly, just as a Rolodex does. [When I consulted the Rolodex website to check the spelling, I ran across a quote that applies to their product and my own life, as well: “Because when you’re organized you can…go live your life.”] Like Alex, I find making lists helps me plan and prepare for upcoming activities, and knowing what I’m doing and where I’m going gives me a sense of peace, too.
Although Alex and I share a need for planning, I’ve found lately that some of our best times are those that occur spontaneously, never appearing on our beloved lists or schedules. Recently, Alex asked to go places, but we really didn’t have anyplace we needed to go, nor had we planned anything. Ed suggested on the spur of the moment that we go to Ogden Gardens, a local park filled with trees and flowers where he often takes beautiful photographs. This particular day had perfect weather—sunny and warm with a nice breeze. As we walked around leisurely, Ed took pictures of the scenery while Alex and I just enjoyed being outside on a beautiful day. At one point, we came across a new addition to the park, a small statue of a turtle, which caught Alex’s attention. For years, one of Alex’s favorite attractions at our county fair was a tortoise that was over one hundred years old. Most children had no interest in the tortoise that barely moved, preferring the more active goats and llamas, but Alex loved that old tortoise. Perhaps seeing the turtle statue in the park reminded him of his old friend because he stooped down to get a closer look and ran his hand across the smooth shell of the turtle statue. Fortunately, Ed was able to capture that earnest action with his camera—an unexpected moment that brought Alex joy.
Last night, I was watching one of my favorite movies, The Secret Life of Bees, when Alex came and sat beside me. Now, Alex rarely enjoys anything that has much of a plot, let alone a “chick flick” like Bees. In fact, I think the only movie he has probably ever watched from start to finish is Shrek. Although I seriously doubt that he had any interest in the movie, he sat with me for nearly two hours, keeping me company. At one point during the movie, he gently patted me on the shoulder and grinned, a sweet gesture that brought tears to my eyes. If I had asked him if he would like to watch the movie with me, he probably would have told me no. That he chose on his own volition to sit with me and share an activity I liked made this spontaneous activity even more special to me. Considering that several months ago, he often acted as though my presence annoyed him, Alex’s willingness to spend time with me, along with his apparent enjoyment of doing something I like more than he does, made this seemingly mundane time one I savored.
This morning, Alex asked me to play gospel music for him. One of his favorite CD’s is Alan Jackson’s Precious Memories, a collection of traditional hymns by Alex’s favorite country singer. The uplifting lyrics of faith and praise, along with the beautiful melodies, make him smile and remind me of my childhood growing up in church singing these hymns. As we listened to the old standards of “In the Garden,” “The Old Rugged Cross,” “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and others, Alex and I enjoyed listening to these songs we have heard many times before. Once again, we shared a special time that we hadn’t planned; this time he initiated the activity and allowed me to enjoy it with him.
While the summer was filled with paperwork, appointments, and planning for Alex’s future, the spontaneous joys we have found the past few weeks have reminded me that even though schedules are necessary for the obligations in life, we must be open to the unplanned activities that surprise and delight us. How blessed I am to have a child who teaches me the lessons I need to learn!
“You can make many plans, but the Lord’s purpose will prevail.” Proverbs 19:21