There are some things that I can always count on with Aaron. He will always write down the time he gets up in the morning and the time he goes to bed at night. He puts these times in the notebook that he keeps by his bed, on the floor. Always on the floor. He will always only read at night. He will always keep his tennis shoes on his floor in front of his trash can, placed just so-so. He will always ask at night if it’s going to rain and if I’m going to have the monitor on, to listen for seizures. He will always want four cups of coffee in the morning (they’re not full, but there must be four!). He will always finish a song we’re listening to before he gets out of the van. And he will always want a house salad when we eat in a sit-down restaurant.
In fact, as soon as his bottom hits the seat…..before our host or hostess can say a word…..Aaron looks up and says, “Can I have a house salad?!” So I have to run interference and rescue the confused host or hostess by telling Aaron that he needs to wait to order his salad.
When the host or hostess comes back with our water, Aaron once again looks up and asks if he can have a house salad. Never mind about ordering his meal. His salad is of prime importance, and once it is ordered…..with Ranch dressing and no croutons…..then he can get on with the business of looking over the menu and making his meal decision.
A couple weeks ago, as Aaron ate his house salad in IHOP, he said, “I like this salad. The lettuce is black and yellow.”
I smiled and thought that of course the lettuce looks black and yellow to Aaron. He’s color blind, and so not only did the lettuce look black and yellow to him, but black and yellow lettuce made perfect sense to Aaron.
Just like so many other things in Aaron’s life, I thought. We don’t see it quite like Aaron, but to Aaron his view of things makes perfect sense. The rest of us are left to figure those things out and understand them.
Here are some recent examples:
THE SATELLITE CLOCK!
It’s actually a satellite weather station that Aaron had on his desk. He loved it. He especially loved the precise time it kept, and the display of the outdoor and indoor temperature. He kept a close eye on those temperatures. One Saturday morning, Aaron came downstairs, looking troubled.
“Mom,” he began. “My clock says that the temperature is 13!”
I knew he meant the outdoor temperature, because that’s the only temperature that he keeps track of. Since it was summer, I also knew that something was very wrong with his weather station. And since something was very wrong with his weather station, I knew that something was very wrong with Aaron’s world. Since something was very wrong with Aaron’s world, I knew that something was about to very wrong with Gary’s and my world. That’s how these issues work. A domino effect, you know.
The planet was definitely out of kilter for the remainder of that day. Aaron came downstairs repeatedly, telling us that the temperature was wrong. I finally asked, “Aaron, can’t you just ignore the temperature?”
Aaron looked at me with no expression, but I could see that he thought I was very off balance. “Aaron, can’t you just ignore the temperature?” I asked again.
“No,” was all he answered as he turned and walked away. Life had become very hard for Aaron at that point.
Gary worked on the outdoor sensor, to no avail. Later, Aaron came back downstairs and told me that he wanted to take a nap. I agreed, and he started to walk away. But he stopped, turned around, and said, “I would take a nap. It’s just that my clock says 97.”
So the temperature had jumped from 13 to 97? Neither of those temps was correct, as Aaron knew all too well. However, I assured him that he could really take a nap regardless of the temperature on his clock.
He turned to walk away once again, but once again stopped. Turning around, he said, “I would take a nap, it’s just that……” What he left unspoken spoke volumes. It’s just that his clock was sitting on his desk showing the wrong temperature, and to Aaron that clock was screaming, “ALL IS NOT WELL IN YOUR WORLD!!!! WE NEED TO MAKE IT RIGHT!!!!”
Bless his heart, Gary made it right. He ended up buying a new clock that shows the outside temperature, and now all is well.
THE TV SERIES!
Aaron got all nine seasons of The X-Files for his birthday and for Christmas last year. He finally, after several months, finished watching all nine seasons. But then one day in Wal-Mart he found the new tenth season. He still had a Wal-Mart gift card, so I let him buy season 10. Those of you who know Aaron well can guess what happened.
Aaron had to start watching the whole series again, beginning at season one. You don’t simply watch season 10, people. You must watch the series in order. Season 10 must come after season 9, which comes after season 8, which comes after……
You get the idea. He had to watch the whole series again.
The WHOLE. SERIES!!!!!!
I think he’s just beginning season five right now. I so hope there is not a season 11.
THE EXPIRED COUPON!
Aaron cuts out my coupons that are in the Sunday paper. He is extremely meticulous, trying very hard to cut only on the dotted line. No shortcuts are allowed. He is sure that he is the only person in our house that cuts coupons correctly. We have lots of coupon stories that we could tell.
Anyway, the other day I was taking expired coupons out of my coupon box. I had a pile of coupons that were of no use any longer. Aaron walked in the kitchen and spied the pile of coupons. He asked what I was doing with them, making me feel like I was partaking in something forbidden. So I explained that I was sorting out the expired ones.
“What are you going to do with them?” he asked suspiciously. I told him I would throw them away. He stood over me staring at the coupons that I was laying out to be tossed in the trash. That’s when he saw it……the coupon that somehow was not exactly cut on the dotted line. I’m sure he thought it was one that I had cut out, since he knows that Mom is a very sloppy and careless coupon cutter. He reached over and gingerly picked the offending coupon out of the mess laying there.
Then he went over to the kitchen drawer, opened it and took out his scissors, walked back over to me, and began to cut that coupon on the dotted lines…..the way it was intended to be cut!
He didn’t care when I reminded him that I was just throwing that coupon away. He didn’t care when I told him that the coupon was expired and of no use anymore. He didn’t care that I told him he was just wasting his time. He continued to carefully cut off the extra little strip of paper and let it fall into the pile of expired coupons. Then he took the coupon that he had just corrected, laid it on the rest of the coupons very methodically, put away his scissors, and walked away as if all was well with the world.
Because for Aaron’s world, things were made well at that point.
THE ICE CREAM!
My last example…..for now…..is Aaron’s bowl of ice cream. This past Friday night we were getting ready to watch a favorite TV show, Blue Bloods. Aaron was with me earlier in the day as we bought some groceries. I bought him some Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream that he wanted, so before Blue Bloods started he asked if he could have a bowl of his new ice cream. I got his ice cream and handed him the bowl as he sat in his favorite family room chair.
I was in the kitchen for a few more minutes. When I walked back into the family room, there sat Aaron is his chair……but he wasn’t eating his ice cream. He had placed the bowl on the ottoman in front of him.
“Aren’t you eating your ice cream?” I asked him.
“Not yet,” he told me.
And it hit me. Aaron was doing with his ice cream what he also does with his popcorn at the theater. He was waiting for Blue Bloods to begin before he would pick up his bowl and eat his ice cream. I watched him. Sure enough, the second that Blue Bloods began, Aaron reached over and picked up his bowl of ice cream. He ate every bite and loved it…..but not until it was just the right time to do so.
You see, life for Aaron has certain rules. He doesn’t walk around explaining those rules to us, but we’ve come to know them well since we have lived with autism for so long. Someone else wouldn’t get it at first, but trust me when I say that Aaron would educate them soon enough……and at times maybe not so kindly.
Strange how he has precise coupon cutting and ice cream eating rules, but his rules of etiquette and relationships can be sadly lacking. How he can’t nap when his clock is showing the wrong temperature, but he can sleep soundly at the end of one of his rough behavior days. How he will take weeks and weeks to re-watch X-Files so that he can keep the seasons in order, but saying a simple “I love you” is so difficult for him.
It’s just like his salad with the black and yellow lettuce. Sounds pretty weird to us, even yucky, but not to Aaron……because that’s just how he sees it, right there in front of him. The salad tasted fine, no matter the color. And the taste was what mattered to him.
So Aaron’s ordered world is what matters to him, too. Ordered in his way that he understands, because that’s just what he does and it’s really all he can do. He’s come a long way and made lots of improvements, but Aaron is Aaron.
And sometimes we’re the ones who need to improve, honestly. Improve in our acceptance and our understanding of Aaron, not expecting him to bend to us but instead be willing to bend to him. Our way isn’t always the only way, in many areas.
But I draw the line at black lettuce. Not gonna do black lettuce.
Yellow, maybe……but not black.
Well…..maybe just a taste. It might surprise me. ♥