Sunday, May 25, 2014

Looking Forward

As I mentioned in my “May Days” blog entry three weeks ago (5-4-14), Alex has been a little off this month. Suspecting that the ridiculously high pollen counts make him slightly irritable, we have tried to be especially patient and reassuring with him in recent weeks since he really can’t help his behavior. Nonetheless, his current obsession with bath time and his need to ask us repeatedly when he will take a bath every day has become tedious. Even though we answer him every time he asks, he still acts anxious. Since he responds better to verbal cues than spoken reminders, I have written reminders for him so that he can look at the memo instead of asking us. However, he carries this small slip of paper around the house with him and doesn’t always remember where he has put it. This creates a whole new level of anxiety because then he can’t find the paper with the time written on it and insists that we help him find his note instead of just writing a new one. Sometimes I think he deliberately “loses” the note just to watch us spring into action, searching the house high and low until we find it.

Yesterday Alex again started with repetitively asking what time he’d take a bath. After answering him several times and deciding that I did not want to spend my Saturday hunting for his reminder note, I came up with an idea. Having watched my middle school students (and a few of my colleagues who have imitated this concept) write reminders on their hands, I decided that I would write Alex’s bath time in the palm of his left hand. As I explained what I was going to do, he looked askance at me, yet also seemed fascinated. As I began writing 6:15 on his hand, I was reminded of the time several years ago when I came home from work to discover he had written dozens of pi digits on his foot and leg. When I asked him why he had done that, he nonchalantly explained, “Couldn’t find paper.”

Although I was a little worried that he might think that writing on himself was an acceptable alternative to writing on paper, “Desperate times call for desperate measures.” After I finished writing the highly anticipated time on his palm, he studied it and then asked me, “Is that a tattoo?” Having seen athletes with tattoos, Alex is not a fan of them and seemed concerned that I had permanently defaced his hand. I reassured him that it was not a tattoo because the numbers were temporary since the ink would wash off his hand when he did take his bath in the evening.

Throughout the day, we saw Alex checking his palm periodically to remind himself when bath time would be.  Not only thankful that this temporary tattoo reassured him and kept him from asking us the same question over and over, I was also feeling pretty proud of myself for coming up with a rather clever solution. At dinner, we watched him check his left hand a few times to view his reminder, which magically seemed to calm him. Still a bit concerned about the permanence of the ink, he asked when the numbers would be gone. I reminded him that they would wash off during his bath, which seemed to satisfy him. Then he asked us, “Is that something to look forward to?” As much as he found those numbers on his hand helpful, he was also looking forward to their disappearance, knowing that the event he was anticipating all day had arrived. Thus, I realized that Alex is even cleverer than I am because he’s figured out one of the best things in life—looking forward to something special.

At this time of the year when young people celebrate the end of the school year with proms, award ceremonies, and graduations, I feel a bit wistful that Alex has missed out on these celebrations. However, I’m grateful that he really doesn’t know what he’s missing and that he doesn’t fully realize what autism has denied him in life. For him, bath time, a seemingly ordinary event, is something to be anticipated and celebrated, a simple joy he savors. Even looking at the time written on his hand that reminds him of this upcoming event makes him happy. He doesn’t need a highly planned big celebration; little things in life that others would take for granted bring him contentment.

His ability to find spontaneous joy was evident this week as we watched the finales of the musical talent television shows The Voice and American Idol. At one point during The Voice, he suddenly and eagerly told me, “That’s my favorite song!” Although I don’t think he’d ever actually heard the song before, somehow it sparked an enthusiasm in him that made him smile and sway to the music. The next day, while we watched American Idol, he became equally enthusiastic as he recognized a familiar Fleetwood Mac song, which made him happily get up and dance. He had looked forward to the finales of these shows, and he wasn’t disappointed.

While I sometimes feel bad that Alex doesn’t get to experience the rites of passage most young people do, I realize that he also escapes many of the disappointments. For him, a relaxing bath or hearing a song he likes, familiar or not, makes him happier than going to a big celebration. Moreover, he has learned one of the great secrets of life—anticipation can be better than the actual event. As we wait with expectancy for Alex to make progress, we need to remember that looking forward to the future makes the wait easier. In the meantime, we should enjoy the seemingly small things that bring us happiness, as Alex knows. Looking forward is a good thing; maybe I should write that on my own hand.

“But if we look forward to something we don’t yet have, we must wait patiently and confidently.” Romans 8:25


Bright Side of Life said...

I am so glad you found a way to solve the issue, it really is like being a detective... figuring out what could work for our children!
We have also been watching The Voice and were so excited that Christina Grimmie came 3rd. Our RDI consultant is her aunt. My claim to fame hehehe :-)

Pam Byrne said...

You are absolutely right--it IS like being a detective! These kids don't come with instruction manuals, so it's up to us parents to find clues and figure out what they mean. Hope you and your family are doing well.
Take care,