Aaron stays true to his autism roots by having routines for almost everything. Honestly, it sometimes nearly drives me nuts! At other times I realize that at least I can predict what he is going to do in a given situation……..such as the way he idles over to the silverware drawer before a meal, and as quietly as Aaron can be quiet, he opens the drawer………. and as gently as Aaron can be gentle, he removes a knife and a fork and a spoon, and then tries to hide them as he softly as Aaron can be soft, walks over to the table and tries to sneak them beside his plate…….where they join his other silverware already there, but that never is enough. And Gary and I have our own little routine after this routine occurrence……….the routine of looking at each other as we routinely roll our eyes. Then we sigh and move on to dinner, where Aaron uses his extra silverware…….maybe…..but if not, he is satisfied that it is there as he uses a different utensil for each food item on his plate. I won’t even go into the napkin and the toothpick routine.
Then there is his toothbrush routine before bed each night. He puts the toothpaste on his brush, holds it under the water, and proceeds to brush as he is also opening his drawer by the sink. In this drawer lays his towel, the towel with which he repeatedly wipes the sides of his mouth as he brushes………..because he can NOT get any toothpaste on the skin outside of his mouth. He furiously scrubs his teeth, even though the dentist has told him to quit scrubbing so hard. And he furiously rubs the escaping toothpaste from his skin with his trusty towel. He also spits several times during the brushing in order to get rid of all the extra bubbling toothpaste in his mouth……….and this results in even more rubbing of his skin with the towel. When he is done, he turns the faucet on full force as he fills a cup and swishes the water in his mouth and enjoys one more spitting session and one more furious towel-cleaning swipe. And if one speck of toothpaste is on his hands, he will end the evening with his hand-washing ritual. It’s exhausting!
Last night as he was getting ready for bed and it was time to brush his teeth, he realized that Andrea was in their bathroom with the door closed. He waited…..and still the door was closed. This was not fitting into his bedtime routine at all. He waited a little longer, and then informed me that he could not brush his teeth because Andrea was in the bathroom. I told him to just wait a couple more minutes……….and I may as well have told him to walk to the moon and back, and then maybe he could brush. He was not happy, to put it mildly.
I was in our bathroom, and our bedroom door was locked when Aaron tried to open the door……and then knocked. He rarely knocks first and then opens……..and this is why our door was locked. Anyway, as I had just told him that he could wait a few more minutes before he brushed, he knocked on our door and then said, “How about we not??!!” He couldn’t see me, so I openly chuckled and then told him that yes, he COULD indeed brush his teeth……..even as Gary reminded me that we have extra toothbrushes under our sink. Opening our door, I told Aaron to just come in our bathroom and use a new brush.
He reluctantly and unhappily agreed as he followed me into our bathroom. He took the new brush on which I had already squeezed some toothpaste. I even held it under the water for him. He then reminded me that he needed a towel……….and I reminded him that he could just use Kleenex that were sitting nearby. He began to furiously brush, partly from routine and partly from anger. He reached over to the Kleenex box, yanking out one Kleenex and then another and another and another until I told him to stop. He rubbed off the offending toothpaste, and threw the barely used pile of Kleenex away. More furious brushing ensued, and then he grabbed a fresh wad of Kleenex. I just HAD to tell him that he was wasting Kleenex. That comment came just before I couldn’t help but smile……….which he saw…….and which only added to his frustration. His entire tooth brushing routine was in crumbles and his mother is smiling!
So he spit and then blurted, “You are SO weird!!” This was followed by turning on the water full force, swishing and spitting his water with much emphasis, and then washing his hands. He used four or five squirts of hand soap, washed and washed………….then another four or five squirts of soap, and more furious washing under the water that I had turned down. It took him awhile to be sure that all of the soap was removed, and then to totally dry his hands. He had no idea of the effort it was taking me not to fully laugh out loud. I wanted to say, “WHO is weird??!!”
Of course, I did not say that……..not out loud. I only said it to myself and then was able to laugh as he walked up the hall, and I re-locked our bedroom door. There in our sink was the evidence of his out-of-routine tooth brushing escapade………..the pile of soft bubbles would take awhile to wash away. And the pile of Kleenex in the trash can was further evidence of what had just occurred……..which was Aaron having to adapt to an uncomfortable situation which was anything but routine.
I know it’s good for Aaron to be stretched in these ways that seem simple to me, but are anything BUT simple to him. It’s good, too, for me to see how these breaks in routine affect him and how they cause him distress. It helps me to understand him even more and it further confirms to me what is important to him.
Oh, and I now know that he thinks I’m weird………but that’s also pretty routine.