Saturday was a day that Aaron had anticipated for a few weeks. That’s because Saturday was the day we were celebrating Rosa’s birthday by eating with her family at Chili’s. Aaron and Rosa are very special friends. They don’t see each other very often anymore since Rosa has a new day group and a new residential setting. These infrequent get-togethers are very nice for both of them, and usually very enjoyable for us parents.
I knew that Aaron was excited about going to the birthday dinner when at 10:15 Saturday morning, he asked what time we were leaving. I told him that we would leave at 4:45. He asked again a little after 1:00, and of course my answer was the same. He told me that it was going to be a long time before we left, but he hurried back up to his room and got busy once again. I was surprised that he didn’t ask about our leaving time again. I expected at least two or three more queries, but he didn’t ask further.
Aaron and Rosa were happy to see each other, in their own way. Rosa opened Aaron’s gift right away, and soon was holding some of the colored pencils he gave her in her hand. At one point, amidst the commotion, I just watched the two of them. Rosa talked and Aaron responded as he listened to every word she said. Aaron didn’t really look at her like you and I would, yet he was listening and answering.
After dinner, Aaron and Rosa wanted Rosa to ride in our van to her house. We had all planned to go to Rosa’s house for birthday cake, so off we went on a pretty drive through the country west of Wichita. Storm clouds had been building in that direction. They were beautiful to see as we looked out over the flat Kansas landscape. The clouds, the lightning, and our radar told us that soon we would have a good old Kansas thunderstorm.
Leroy and Louise’s house is an old family farmhouse, built in 1912. They have remodeled it, and it’s just so lovely and interesting. We thoroughly enjoyed walking around the yard, learning some of the history. Then it was fun to take the inside tour, seeing original elements of the house that are still intact and appreciating the updating that has been done. I loved seeing the various family pictures on the walls, a story waiting to be told for each one.
However, as we oohed and aahed and asked our questions, Aaron was becoming pretty perturbed. He had lost interest in the house, the history, the beautiful views from the large windows, and even Rosa’s room that he finally got to see. I was trying to enjoy this time with friends, but Aaron was demanding more of my silent attention……and then eventually my not so silent corrections as his attitude was becoming more evident. When Gary and Leroy came inside, Gary joined me in our attempts to keep Aaron on track.
It was time, then, to look at Rosa’s pretty cake. The candles looked like crayons, perfect for Rosa. She had jungle themed plates, cups, and napkins in bright colors. Those were also perfect for Rosa because she was adopted by Leroy and Louise from a jungle tribe in Brazil. Talk about a story!! Now there’s one for sure!
We sang Happy Birthday, and then Louise asked Aaron to help Rosa blow out her candles…..which he did, by blowing them all out except for one. Rosa didn’t seem to mind, thankfully. But Aaron still wasn’t happy. He was continuing to let us know that he was ready to go home. We knew that arguing with him wouldn’t help at all, but only make matters worse. He didn’t want to sing Happy Birthday (but then he really never does like doing that); he didn’t want to eat cake; he didn’t want to eat ice cream; he didn’t want to drink sparkling grape juice; and he didn’t want to sit and watch us do all those things. But we did sit and enjoy our cake and ice cream and sparkling juice…..with Aaron lamenting that he wanted to go home.
The storm was picking up outside and lightning was flashing, which only increased Aaron’s insistence that we go home. His agitation was increasing, too, just like the storm outside.
“Aaron, you’ve wanted to come to Rosa’s house for the longest time. Why are you acting this way? Why do you want to go home?” I asked.
“Because I want to watch the storm from MY room!” he answered.
I wasn’t at all surprised by his answer, though I was disappointed at how unhappy he was. He wasn’t out of control, but he wasn’t enjoying this time that he had said he wanted to someday have. Time to see Rosa’s house and Rosa’s room and Rosa’s life.
But a storm had intruded, and suddenly nothing else was interesting to Aaron. All of our talk was about a house and a history that surrounded this pretty house, while Aaron just wanted to see it all quickly and then go home where he could get back to his world and his house and his history……and enjoy the storm in his own room, where storms are meant to be enjoyed.
It seems selfish to us, but when you know autism you know that it’s really not selfish. It’s just rigid. It’s Aaron’s rigid way of living his life. Yes, Aaron’s life is mostly about Aaron, but those realities are beyond his control. He thought that he was using great control to stay as long as he did without a complete meltdown…..and I guess we should be thankful for that as well.
That evening to me was a perfect example of the saying about trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. Wanting Aaron to just get over it…..wanting him to enjoy the talk and the tour…..wanting him to really get excited about the birthday celebration with the cake and the decorations…..wanting him to enjoy the storm at Rosa’s house instead of in his room at his house…..well, it just wasn’t going to happen. We could hammer all day, but the square peg would NOT fit in the round hole. Nope. Not going to happen.
It’s embarrassing to Gary and me, but we do understand what makes amazing Aaron tick. A storm in any other place is just not right. He wanted his house, his room, his pajamas on, his way. I’m glad we did stay and we did make Aaron stay, stretching him beyond his comfort zone without devastating him. I’m glad that Leroy and Louise understand, and I hope that Rosa was happy with the evening. I do wonder what she was thinking, but she also knows Aaron well.
You know, if Aaron was blind I would never ask him to go walk down a busy sidewalk by himself, unassisted in any way. If he was in a wheelchair, I would never ask him to go up or down a set of stairs by himself. Aaron is confined, in a sense, by autism. He is confined to a way of functioning that cannot be overcome by mere encouragement. Just like I could not cheer him in a wheelchair into being able to conquer those stairs, I could not cheer him with my words or expectations into being able to function appropriately at Rosa’s house on Saturday night. He cannot just ignore his autism…..cannot stuff it into a corner of his brain for an evening and act like we want him to act. He does try, like he did at Rosa’s house, but it’s very difficult for him. We see progress sometimes, and other times not so much.
On the way back to our house on Saturday evening, the rain fell hard against the van. Aaron was sitting in the middle seat, visibly relaxing as we headed to our house. He went inside, talking happily, and quickly changed into his pajamas. Later, we had some conversation about the evening…..what was fun and what we were disappointed in concerning his behavior. Will he learn from it? We can only hope. We can only keep trying.
But most of all, we must keep understanding and we must try not to be too discouraged. We all have ups and downs. Aaron’s are just usually louder and involve the people around him, no matter who they are.
Maybe that’s why he likes storms so much. They’re definitely seen and heard, just like Aaron.
We were sure that Saturday would find us slipping that round peg in a round hole with no problem. We were sure that the evening would be an easy fit for Aaron. But along came a storm…..
Who would have thought?