Just a few minutes ago I waved goodbye to Aaron, went in the house, closed the door, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. He did it!! What did he do? He agreed to the reality of me not being able to drive him to meet his day group because our van is in the shop. He agreed to let the Paradigm van pick him up at our house. He agreed to go in early. EARLY! It wasn’t without some angst from Aaron…….some anger…….some rude words……some refusals. But he did get in the van when Katie pulled up in our driveway and he did go. Success! At least for now……for today.
Yesterday my van’s air conditioner wasn’t blowing cool air as I drove home in the afternoon from a nice visit with my friend, Jennifer. Since it was time for an oil change and tire rotation anyway, I just called the shop and asked if I could drop the van off around 10:45. That would be right after dropping Aaron off to meet his group. I usually just wait for oil changes and such there at the shop, but Keith told me that I needed to bring the van in early so that they could work it in during the day.
Of course, my very first thought as soon as Keith told me this was Aaron. Could he be picked up at home for his day group? If so, would it be early? If so, how early? If so, would Aaron agree to this change in his routine…….because he has NOT been accepting of that change in the past. See how I automatically connect the dots? This is how it is when you have autism and routines and the great disruption that occurs when routines are disturbed.
Sure enough, Paradigm could come to pick Aaron up at home but sure enough, it would be early. And sure enough, when Aaron came home a while later and I gently broke the news to him about the next morning……he was none too happy. I built up the fact that he was excited about going to see Planet of the Apes, right? And excited about getting his usual large extra-buttered popcorn with the free refill, right? And excited about getting his end-of-the-week surprise for having a week of participation at Paradigm, right? And it really isn’t a big deal about being picked up at home and going in early, right? Wrong. Right to all the above except that last one.
“But Mom, I want you to take me!” he complained. So we spent here and there moments during the rest of the evening convincing Aaron that all the right reasons to this change in plans totally outweighed the one wrong reason. The one really BIG wrong reason, in Aaron’s mind. He was agreeable to this plan by bedtime, and I urged him with fake excitement that we would be as agreeable in the morning when push came to shove…….right?
Wrong. I knew when Aaron walked into the kitchen this morning that he was back to square one, which was that he wanted me to take him in to meet his group at his normal time. He hadn’t said a word yet but the look on his face told me that Aaron had not only disconnected all the dots, but that he had also moved the dots all over the place and he was most unhappy. The van was gone……the driveway was empty, as were his hopes that somehow I could still take him in to QT to meet his group at 10:30.
“NO!” he firmly exclaimed. “I’m NOT going in early!”
So I tried putting our dots in order again like they were last night by explaining all the things I previously mentioned the night before that would be super great reasons to go today……albeit early and not in our van. Aaron wasn’t buying it. He was agitated…..and alert.
“You’re just trying to bargain me!” he said with force.
Why is he so perceptive sometimes?
Finally he went to his room, declaring that he was not going to take a shower. And he dressed and got on his computer, and I left it alone. Sorry, Paradigm, for the lack of a shower today. Sometimes bargains work out that way in these situations. Welcome to my world of being an autism parent.
A couple cups of coffee later, some computer time, and some unwinding worked wonders by the time I went in Aaron’s room to get him moving in the right direction. I suggested to him, with trepidation, that we go outside and sit on the front porch while we waited for his ride to come. And I added that I would tickle his back. This made Aaron happy, and made me feel some hope that this being picked up early at our house just might work today.
I reached over to get Aaron’s glasses so that I could clean them when I saw an extra bowl that I hadn’t seen before. There was Aaron’s bowl full of Jolly Ranchers, and his other bowl with only his favorite grape Jolly Ranchers, but this third bowl was new to me. I looked inside and there I saw several toothpicks laying in the bottom of this bowl. A whole bowl with only a few toothpicks inside. This is so Aaron, I thought. He had told me the other day that he was saving these toothpicks, so of course he put them in a bowl.
As I walked through the family room a few minutes later, there I saw two more bowls on a shelf of the end table that he uses. They were empty at the moment, but for some reason they were important to Aaron. That made five bowls that Aaron had out at this time for all the various reasons that sometimes only he knows. Unless there are more under his bed. That’s entirely possible.
He turned off his computer and I heard him come coming down the stairs as I walked out on the front porch. He came out the door, carrying his bowl of Jolly Ranchers, and then sat by me on the glider……with his bowl of candy on the table right beside him. There he sat, dejected in defeat. He wanted to go to the movie……he wanted his popcorn with butter and a free refill…….he wanted his end-of-the-week surprise. But not this way. Not with having to go in early and not having Mom take him in the van to meet his group like we nearly always do.
Aaron reached over and took a Jolly Rancher from the bowl. It was a grape one. He handed it to me to place on the table on my side of the glider. Then he got another Jolly Rancher and it was not grape, so he put it in his mouth and enjoyed it while I tickled his back. He was mostly quiet as I stroked his back and he relaxed. Then we talked about the wasp we saw and the seed pods from the tree as I opened two of them for him to see and about Loony Tunes and about the neighbor mowing his yard.
He got another Jolly Rancher……another grape……so I put it beside the first grape one on my table. He sucked on another flavor then as we talked some more……and I tickled his back……..and the van pulled up. “NO!” he said. So I stood up with my happy face on that I didn’t feel, and Aaron stood up and took the two grape Jolly Ranchers and went in the house.
He put the grape Jolly Ranchers in the grape bowl. Then he came back outside and took the other bowl back into the house. He returned with a baggie of Jolly Ranchers and a frown, saying again that he was NOT going. But he did get in the van as I stood there talking to Katie, and I can only hope that he’s cooperating with his group on this movie day.
Who would have thought that such a small thing would create such a large problem? Well, I thought it because I know autism and I know Aaron. I look around our house and I see all his various bowls. I see how he divides his special items, be it food or toothpicks, into these bowls. This is how it is. My house has bowls everywhere, it seems! The marks of Aaron’s mind and how it operates, put into bowls in the family room and bowls in the kitchen and bowls in his bedroom.
So this ride business and the complexity of solving it, of connecting the dots for Aaron, is so much like those bowls. Aaron has a mental bowl that contains the fact that we leave the house shortly after 10:00 and we go to Quik Trip to meet his ride. On the way we listen to music, and we might stop at Dillon’s for something, and we see the field with the cows, and the field with the bulls, and the bent house, and the striped parking cement fixtures in a certain parking lot, and the old car parked in someone’s driveway. It’s Aaron’s morning routine bowl.
His morning bowl does NOT include being picked up at our house. It does NOT include being picked up early. It does NOT include sitting on the porch waiting for his ride, nice as that was. So my job is to try to make this unwanted bowl somehow agreeable to Aaron. I never know if my efforts will succeed until he is in the van and driving away.
And then I am both relieved and still a little worried, hoping he doesn’t take his frustration out on his staff or friends. I also hope that he will see that this bowl is all right and that he can use it again on other days that he will need to be picked up at home, early or not.
He found one more grape Jolly Rancher before he got in the van, so he handed it to me. After he was gone, I went into his room and dropped it into his grape Jolly Rancher bowl. Keeping order is so important to Aaron. This morning I’m sure he felt like there were many unwanted flavors in his morning routine bowl. I can only hope that he’ll see that those flavors are good and that he can tolerate them after all. I hope he’ll see that I’m not a bad guy for mixing things up for him.
One thing I do know, though, is that this story is not over. There are always more bowls for Aaron to fill, his way. Because to Aaron there is no other way.
You can put that in a bowl!