Sunday, July 31, 2016

Consolation and Joy

Yesterday, Alex spent most of the evening relaxing on our back screened porch, lying in the hammock we had given Ed for Father’s Day. After a busy week filled with activity and a bit of anxiety, he probably just needed to unwind.

On Monday, we took him for his annual eye examination and were pleased by how well he cooperated. His optometrist does a great job of working with him to assess his vision, and the combination of reciting numbers and letters on the eye charts holds Alex’s interest, of course. When the first chart was put up on the wall, the assistant asked Alex if he could read any of the letters, and he said no. Thinking that he was looking in the wrong place, I pointed to the chart and questioned him myself. Again, and seemingly a little hurt that I didn’t believe his first response, he insisted that he couldn’t see any of the letters. The assistant then switched to the next larger size of letters, and Alex could easily read them aloud. He was telling the truth; his eyesight had simply gotten a little worse over the past year. With a new lens prescription, we picked out new frames nearly identical to the ones he’s been wearing for two years, and we were told the new glasses would arrive in about ten business days.

As a reward for being so pleasant at the eye doctor, we took him to our county fair that evening, which he really enjoyed. Watching him maneuver through crowds and handle all the sights, smells, sounds, and general confusion, we were pleased with how calm and content he remained the entire time we were there. In fact, observing the rather rude behavior of many other fair goers makes me think that they could also benefit from the lessons Alex has learned in behavioral therapy about using good manners and respecting personal space.

On Tuesday, Alex visited the dentist for the second time in a week because the regular six-month checkup last week revealed a cavity that needed filling. Because the sensation of numbness is a little overwhelming for him, we had practiced at home beforehand using the numbing cream and cotton swabs our dentist had given us last year and suggested we use prior to having a filling. Thanks to the expertise and kindness of our dentist and his assistant, Alex handled the drilling and filling amazingly well. In fact, he smiled right before the dentist began drilling and afterward told us that he liked going to the dentist “one hundred percent.” Of course, we are truly thankful to have understanding doctors who reassure Alex to gain his complete trust so that they can give him proper care.

On Wednesday, Alex’s peer companion came to spend the afternoon with him, and they seemed to enjoy each other’s company. As she kept him entertained, I tackled organizing his room. Filling a large trash bag with things he no longer needs, I realized how far he has come because I didn’t worry that he would have a meltdown if and when he discovers I’ve thrown away his random lists and odd souvenirs so that he can find his prized possessions without being distracted by clutter. That evening we took him shopping at various stores and were impressed by how well he now navigates through aisles (again better than most typical people), staying out of other people's way, and never bothering anything, just stooping or craning his neck to look at items that intrigue him.

On Thursday, Alex rolled with changes nicely when his music therapist suddenly had to cancel their session that afternoon because he was having car trouble. This was on top of his altered schedule of missing behavioral and recreational therapies last week because his behavioral therapist was on vacation. Nonetheless, Alex understood the situation and handled it well. That evening, we took him to a concert in our downtown park, something he’d been looking forward to all summer, seeing one of his favorite bands, the Spazmatics. Despite the crowds and loud music, Alex thoroughly enjoyed the 80’s music, swaying to the beat and even singing along to songs he knows.

On Friday, we were just heading out the door to go out to one of Alex’s favorite restaurants, Round the Clock in Chesterton, when our electricity suddenly went out, probably due to intense rain storms. Because we couldn’t shut our electric-powered garage door and we needed to keep an eye on our sump pump to make sure rain water didn’t seep into our basement, we decided to stay home until the power came back on. Between the disappointment of not going out to dinner and the unusual situation of being without electricity, Alex was a bit unnerved. However, he coped pretty well, trying to manage his anxiety by discussing his fears and frustrations.

When he told me he was bored because the Internet, cable, and power outage meant that he couldn’t use his iPad or watch television, I reminded him that he could read instead. As he fretted about whether he could still take a bath, I assured him that we could set up our crank-powered lantern to provide light in our windowless dark bathroom. At one point he went to use the bathroom and yelled, “It’s too dark in here!” Before I could jump up and get him a flashlight, I discovered that he had already gotten a flashlight himself. As he revealed various concerns through questions (“Will the power be off for a week?” “What if the electricity is off until midnight?’), I was able to reassure him and ease his anxiety by telling him this was only temporary and that we would be all right. A few years ago, a situation like this would have sent him into a meltdown, but he handled his fears admirably, using the coping skills he has learned in behavioral therapy.

After the power returned a couple of hours later, he seemed relieved to have things back to normal, insisting that we fix all the clocks to the correct time right away. Fortunately, he knows how to reset our trickiest clocks, leaving the easier ones for me. When he overheard Ed getting frustrated about a clock that is extremely difficult to reset, Alex showed good problem-solving skills, suggesting, “Just wait until midnight, unplug it, and plug it back in.” Not only has he learned ways to cope with frustrating situations, but he has also developed methods he can share with other people who are frustrated. Now that is real progress, and we are delighted with how well he currently copes in a variety of situations. We know that God is helping Alex overcome the obstacles of autism, especially his anxiety, and we are truly grateful for consolation that makes his life, and therefore ours, easier and better.

“When anxiety was great within me, Your consolation brought me joy.” Psalm 94:19

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