Sunday, August 2, 2015

Request List

Because Alex has made significant progress in the past several months, Ed and I asked him two months ago to make a list of the things he’d like to do over the summer, confident that he would be able to behave himself well enough to do these requested activities. Knowing Alex as well as we do, we were also certain that his list would be reasonable and, therefore, manageable. Basically, he made the following list:

1. Go to different restaurants.
2. Go to the county fair.
3. Go to concerts in the park.
4. Go to the farmers’ market.
5. Go to Zao Island (a local family arcade and miniature golf course).
6. Go to Dairy Queen.
7. Go to the movies.
8. Play in the sprinkler.

With two weeks left before Ed and I return to our teaching jobs, marking the end of our summer, we have been able to fulfill all of the requests on Alex’s list. This summer, he has enjoyed dining at Round the Clock family restaurant (in Valparaiso and Chesterton), Culver’s hamburger place with gluten-free buns, Panera Bread for salads (inside and out on their patio), Fazoli’s Italian restaurant, Schoop’s fifties-style diner (breakfast and dinner), Suzy’s Café, The Port fifties-style drive-in, Tao Chen’s Chinese restaurant, Bob Evans family restaurant, and Kelsey’s Steak House. Despite the limitations of his gluten-free and dairy-free diet, we have found items on the menu that he can eat, and he happily devours whatever is put in front of him. Most importantly, he demonstrates that he has learned the manners we have been teaching him, thanking the people who wait on him and being pleasant and patient.

On Monday evening, a perfect summer night with comfortable temperatures, we took him to our county fair, something he looks forward to visiting every year. Along with visiting the horse and cattle barns, we looked at the 4-H exhibits, enjoyed an excellent concert by country musician John Berry, and walked around the carnival midway. Whenever we go places, Alex wants to know what there will be to eat and drink, but most food fare at the fair doesn’t fit within his dietary limitations. However, he did enjoy a root beer float minus the float and strawberry lemonade. Also, he wanted to continue his annual fair tradition by playing the duck pond game, where he chose a red sock monkey stuffed animal, whom he named Alan (after his favorite country singer Alan Jackson) for his prize. Although he told us he had “tired feet,” by the end of the evening, he rated his visit to the fair “one hundred percent.”

On Thursday evening, we took him to a concert in our downtown park, the last one of the summer series, where we had already seen the local community band, a country band, and a rhythm and blues group. The last concert was a pop group who were not Ed’s taste in music, but Alex and I found them entertaining. Of course, Alex also liked having something to eat and drink as he bobbed his head to the music.

This summer, we also took him to the Saturday farmers’ market here in town and the European Market in nearby Chesterton. Even though these were on his request list, Alex seemed more interested in walking as fast as he could past the displays instead of actually shopping. In fact, he reminded me of Chevy Chase’s character Clark Griswold in the movie Vacation at the Grand Canyon, nodding his head and moving along, just to be done. Consequently, we bought nothing, but we could at least check off another item on Alex’s list.

Also, we took him to Zao Island, but the miniature golf course was extremely crowded. Even though Alex is much more patient than he used to be, we felt that the wait would be too much for all of us. Perhaps we will try again before summer is over; I always enjoy Ed telling Alex repeatedly to look at the golf ball because Alex is looking everywhere but at the ball. Nonetheless, Alex enjoyed playing the Wheel of Fortune video game and the NASCAR simulation racing game, where he drives Dale Earnhart Junior’s car but drives recklessly, running into walls and other cars, making us glad that he does not have a driver’s license. Even though his favorite video game, Deal or No Deal, was broken, he still smiled the entire time. I think we definitely need to return to Zao Island for a round of miniature golf and a try at Deal or No Deal before summer ends.

For years we used evening trips to Dairy Queen as a reward for good behavior in the summertime. Even though Alex’s diet limits his options on the Dairy Queen menu, he likes their Arctic Rush slushes and typically keeps a mental list in which he rotates the flavors he likes: cherry, lemon-lime, and strawberry-kiwi. Although blue raspberry is another option, he never chooses it because he doesn’t like the “blue lips and blue tongue” that is inevitable after drinking one. This summer, Alex has strayed from his usual slushes, choosing instead to have their gluten-free french fries with root beer to drink. Even though we no longer have to bribe him with trips to Dairy Queen, he still enjoys frequent visits there for a snack or dessert.

Because going to the movies can be overwhelming with the big screen, loud volume, and crowds, we have avoided taking Alex to the movie theater for fear he would have sensory overload. In fact, the last time we took him to the movies was before we knew had had autism; we went to see Toy Story when he was three years old. Although he was fine then, we never took him to movies again for fear that he might get upset. Moreover, he never really seemed very interested in anything that had a plot. Recently, though, he has shown greater patience and enjoyment in following the plot of television shows and movies on t.v., so we thought we’d give this another try. When he asked to go to the movies, specifically to see the new Pixar movie Inside Out, which he’d seen advertised on television, we thought this was the perfect time to take him. Once again, he showed how much progress he’s made, sitting calmly and enjoying the movie, never complaining about how long he had to wait or asking when he could go home.

His patience also paid off as he waited for the final item on his list request list to be fulfilled. After rainy and unseasonably cool weather this summer delayed his sprinkler runs, he finally was able to enjoy sprinkler time during some hot days in the past two weeks. Even though most young men his age would not think hanging out in the backyard sprinkler was something cool to do, Alex sees this as a fun summertime activity that he’s anticipated every year. As we watch him enjoy that simple pleasure, we are reminded that even though he’s come so far, he’s still basically a little boy at heart.

As summer comes to an end, I think all three of us can easily say that this has been our best summer ever. Alex has been able to do all the things he wanted to do, and Ed and I have been thankful and happy to watch his delight as he engaged in these common activities that brought him such joy. God has truly blessed us, and we are grateful.

“Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord. Each morning I bring my requests to You and wait expectantly.” Psalm 5:3


Kath & Fred said...

We should all take time to enjoy the simple pleasures as we are all children at heart. I am happy that Alex can enjoy these activities without the pressures to be "cool" or "grown up." I would love to play another game of "bounce ball batter" on a dead end street with all my neighbors. (Little Patty Dunn would be there)

Pam Byrne said...

Hi Fred,

I totally agree with you! I think it's a shame that kids today are so busy staring at screens (computer, television, cell phone, video game) that they miss the fun of those good old games. Some of my fondest memories are playing in the circle of a dead end street with my cousins and their neighbors: kickball, wiffle ball, kick the can, hide and seek, etc. I also miss the days of sitting on my grandparents' porch on Oney Avenue (the street where you and my mom grew up) watching lightning bugs and listening to the radio. Nostalgia is a good thing.

Take care,