My son, Haydn is a control freak.
He is five years old, funny, brilliant, sweet and lugging around a diagnosis of Asperger Syndrome.
One night during dinner, I decide to offer Haydn a biscuit. The following conversation ensues:
“The biscuit is not for the boy!”
“That’s fine Haydn.”
“I’m not going to eat bis…”
“I don’t know what that means Haydn.”
“This is not the biscuit room!!” (That’s one way of putting it…)
“That’s fine Haydn. But, I want you to keep the biscuit on your plate. You don’t have to eat it, but it stays on your plate.”
A ten to fifteen minute stand-off follows until the innate need to feed diffuses the argument and he eats his dinner with the biscuit riding sidesaddle on his plate.
Haydn likes to have a certain amount of control over as many elements of his life as he can. The “Biscuit Incident” is a perfect example. He doesn’t want to eat the biscuit because it isn’t pasta or an ice pop (like any other five year-old). Then he uses his Haydn-spective and decides that since the biscuit is something he won’t eat, there is no reason for it to be on the plate.
But it is not only the layout of a dinner plate that Haydn feels he must control. He tries to control topics of conversation (He can take any conversation, and within one or two exchanges bring it to the topic of his choosing), the clothes he wears (He wore nothing but gray and black to school for over a month without our noticing), the balance of random objects (He likes to have both lamps on or off, if two are in a room, or both visors up or down in the car…), the path he takes when he walks through a park, zoo, or mall, the order of the play list when he is listening to his music. He tries to maintain a certain predictability to his life which seems to calm him. It is my thought that eliminating the unpredictable elements in his life makes it easier for him to deal with the intense sensory stimulation and social challenges he must deal with on a daily basis.
When he gets himself worked up over something like this it can be a bit of a trick to get him off topic and out of the mental loop he settles into. Since we can’t just beat him with a stick (joke…) we need to use calm, repetitive statements, always keeping an even keel and under no circumstances should we yell. It just hurts his ears. (Having released the Kraken on him a few too many times in the early days, I can tell you it just makes him cry and draws him into his own head, and leaves me feeling like a total jerk) Often we just remove him from the scene of the crime and let him reset himself (that’s the big one – more often than not, he can do it himself) in a different room.
Everywhere we go, I try to be conscious of the doors we go in, the paths we take when we walk around, even the route we take in the car.
But, at Christmastime Daddy screws up.
Haydn and I spend a few nights during the weeks preceding Christmas running to the mall and doing some shopping. We park in the garage, run into the mall, grab a few things and leave. During a two week stretch we probably spend two or three nights a week, getting the last minute stuff done. Five, maybe six trips. I do not pay attention to the routine, do not mix things up, and every time we enter, Haydn hits the handicap button to open the door (and loves it). Two days after Christmas, Haydn, Mommy and I go to the mall to exchange a gift. I park in the same spot, we enter the same door, and…
The button doesn’t work.
Haydn pretty much loses his mind over this. He starts to cry, yelling at the two of us,
“We need to push the button.”
“I have to use my button hand.”
He throws himself on the floor against the wall, and will not move. He keeps yelling and crying, really making a good show of it, when Mommy steps in and:
“Haydn, do you have a boo boo?”
“No I do not, Mommy.”
“Haydn, are you hurt from the button not working.”
“No I am not Mommy.”
“If you don’t have a boo-boo, and are not hurt, then why are you crying?”
“I want to use the button door.”
“Well, the button is broken, but we are inside the mall now. Do you want to stay and have fun, or should we go home because the button is broken?”
“I want to stay.”
Mommy saves the day, and Haydn learns a little lesson.
And the button is no longer an issue.
This particular incident is an important reminder to Mommy and me, that for the time being, we must always keep an eye on Haydn’s behaviors. It did not take long for the button hunger to sink it’s teeth into him. He settles so quickly and easily into routines that if left to his own devices he will embrace them and become dependent. From the outside looking in it probably looks like over-parenting and micro-managing, but it is critical to put an end to potentially harmful behavior before it becomes ingrained in his thought process.
The “Incident of the Broken Handicap Access Button,” (sounds like a bad Hardy Boys title) reminds us that although we have had many successes, and we have had a lot of laughs, and our little man Haydn is doing extremely well, we can not get lazy, because it is so easy to stumble and veer off track. Everything we do now, is to help him five, ten, twenty years down the road.
All important things to consider. However, there is one thing, as a result of this experience, that haunts me at night and irritates me to no end.
We live in the 21st century. Shouldn’t ALL doors open and close automatically? Can we please, just lose the damn buttons?