A few days ago, Ben rushed upstairs from the family room to where I was standing in the kitchen. He said, "Mom, come here--quick!" with the same urgency that he might have said, "The basement is flooding," or "There's a giant spider crawling up my leg!" As I followed him back down the stairs I asked him what was upsetting him. He replied, "Two pictures on the wall are crooked and it's making me sick!" Sure enough, two pictures in the family room were hanging slightly off-center (well, only one was really off, but it made the other one look crooked, too), and he was feeling anxious and unsettled by the lack of symmetry and order.
Odd, of course, that a child who demands such order still creates such chaos in our home. I am sure that if I could keep our house in spotless, everything-in-its-place condition, he might experience less internal anxiety and confusion. But truly, I cannot catch up with him. I have never been able to keep up with him. When he was a toddler, the schedule typically went something like this: (1:15 p.m.) I catch Ben dumping some kind of shampoo / toothpaste / maple syrup concoction on his brother's bed, and while I am mopping that up, (1:19 p.m.) Ben is in the living room coloring on the sofa with ball point pens. When I move to clean the sofa (1:34 p.m.) he scatters the day's mail, newspaper, and any other papers left on the table all over the floor while heading to the family room to pour cups of water onto the carpet. When I finally get to that mess (1:47 p.m.), he's already back upstairs peeling paint off the walls or shorting out the entire top floor of the house with a spoon inserted into an electrical outlet (HOW he didn't get hurt while blacking out the upstairs, I still can't understand). I wish I could say that I'm exaggerating a bit for dramatic effect, but those of you who ever spent much time with us during those years know that this is exactly how things went, from the time Ben woke up every morning until the time he went to bed at night. It was overwhelming.
Is it better now that he's six? Sometimes. There is less incidence of shampoo and syrup joining together in unlikely combinations, and after I explained to Ben that pouring water onto the carpet was damaging our house (leading to an unexpected outburst of sadness and tears), he hasn't done so much of that lately. But the paint on the walls seems to peel off far too easily to resist (there must be something therapeutic in that motion), and every paper stacked on a table seems to demand relocation to the floor. Toys are dragged out from every room to be stacked, combined, and aligned or else dismantled via screwdriver and hammer (rarely are toys played with like actual toys), but they never seem to make their way back to their original locations. Folding clothes is a skill he hasn't learned yet (yes, we've tried. Some autistic kids aren't even dressing themselves yet at age six, so I think we're actually advanced on the occupational tasks), so clothes are strewn all over the house--whenever he gets hot, or can't stand the feeling of the fabric on his skin, he peels them off wherever he is and drops them on the floor. On a positive note, when given freshly folded clothes to put away, they do go into drawers. Well, drawer. Singular. Everything in one drawer. But I'll take it.
So you're wondering why I don't make him clean up after himself? Why don't I teach him to be tidy? Believe me, I try--continually we work on cleaning skills. But the task is akin to teaching apple trees to grow oranges. While I try to get him to put puzzle pieces away, he blows in my face and asks if we have more otter pops. I refocus him on the puzzle pieces, but he needs to know why some people have secret rooms in their houses. I make one more effort to focus on the puzzle pieces, but he's wondering why Utah doesn't have potatoes (translation: "tornadoes") like other places. Cleaning is a complex series of tasks that his mind simply cannot process. At least, not all at once. If I can find ways to break his jobs into one or two very simple steps, he does better...but not all cleaning jobs lend themselves to that kind of patience (mine) or focus (his). We're working on it...
By way of school update, the speech therapist finished all her testing and the results were actually hopeful. In most social contexts, Ben can understand what's going on at least at an average level (sometimes on the low side of average, but still average). That means that Ben has the ability to interact with his environment in appropriate ways. It doesn't mean he has any interest in doing it, but having the skills is a big chunk of the battle. Aside from that, his speech is problematic--there are six or seven letters that he cannot pronounce in any position (beginning, medial, or final), which is why we often think he's speaking Mandarin, Klingon, or a unique dialect of Manda-Klingon.
But here's the big news: drum roll... We finally have an IEP in place!
On his current medication, Ben has been having very good days at school. His impulsive moments (randomly hitting or pushing another child) are limited to once or twice a week, and for the most part he's getting his work done in school...sort of. So his current IEP doesn't include much of a behavioral or academic component right now. If we have to modify it to add some behavioral or academic strategies down the line, we will. For now, he's working with the speech therapist twice a week on articulation, and once a week he's pulled out by the school psychologist to work on social skills. His IEP goals in that area include learning to identify his own feelings, and then express those feelings in appropriate ways. How interesting it would be to see that happen. He's also supposed to learn how to ask other children to play with him, and then how to play in socially acceptable ways. Again, he might learn the skills, but he won't necessarily want to use them.
So that's where we are this week, and that's where I'll leave off. After all, there are papers and toys all over the floor, and I need to go clean them up--they're making me a little bit sick, too.