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Friday, July 06, 2007

Fault on the line

I lay out their clothes on the floor, two sets. I have been doing this since time immemorial. [translation = 8 years] I may be an automaton in the mornings but this is one of the morning routine’s steps that I have no problem with. I make sure that each item of clothing reflects the manner in which an ordinary person might put on their clothes. Each set looks like a little mannequin, a flat one, lying out on the carpet in anticipation. We have spent many a long year helping both the boys try and put them on in the right order, the right way round.

It’s just one of the tiny little props that we have engineered in their lives. These little markers make up the scaffolding to support our visual learners. The props have been built up over the years to help them move forward, tiny little fragments that make their lives and therefore ours, run more smoothly. Since it’s summer their short trousers lie inert, an inverted V, zipper on top, snap unfastened with underpants overlapping the top, Y opening as a pointer. The T-shirt is also ready, together with a pair of socks. A pair of shoes for each child by the side is a pointer, aimed to indicate which set is whose.

A couple of children ago, spouse would examine the bible. [translation = developmental milestones of typically developing children] When the boys came along we ignored the bible more and more. As a result, I am now uncertain at what age a child should be able to dress him or herself? My [unreliable] sources tell me that this should occur at around the age of three or four, but in the meantime we keep trundling. It's not that we have no expectations of them, it's just that are expectations are on elastic. We are confident that in the future that there will be more and more things that they will be able to do. The difference for our boys, is that they'll do whatever they're going to do when they're 'good and ready,' rather than when they're 'supposed' to do it.

As parents we have learned that there is no point in fretting about such matters. You put their scaffolding in place, the best design you can come up with and practice a lot but their milestones are like unseasonal hailstorms. [translation = Cherry blossom petals in December]

When the average child hits a milestone the average parent is delighted. When the autistic child collides with a milestone, even if it's the wrong milestone and years too early or too late, the parent of that autistic child rarely behaves rationally. When the typical child does whatever they're supposed to be doing, when they're supposed to be doing it, we are pleased. However, when the autistic child does what they're supposed to be doing, even a very tiny little thing, the parent may experience something very close to a heart attack. You may be celebrating milestones long after other parents have reveled in those same markers, but that only makes them better. [translation = exponentially]

Sometimes it can take up to half an hour to persuade them to even attempt to put them on. Even when they are more willing they often muddle the sets up, as there’s so much scrabbling around on the floor. The clothes become tangled and rucked. The boys become entangled with each other. They benefit from being in close enough iin proximity to copy each other. [translation = the inertia of one can often motivate the other.] They must not be too close because the margin of error is narrow. Sometimes a race ensues, often as not, instigated by their sister. Racing and clothing are not a happy combination. [translation = guaranteed to cause at least one meltdown] There are too many pitfalls like zippers, snap fastenings, socks that hide their openings, shoes that change form by being kicked into an upside down position.

Am I weary of these details? Funnily enough I’m not. They are so ingrained, familiar and automatic that they don’t even reach the status of chore. It is hard to describe the magnitude of the issue of dressing, to say nothing of toileting. So ordinary and yet so impossible.

As I get older and greyer, I wonder what kind of girlfriend [boyfriend?] or life partner, will take over the responsibility of laying out their clothes for the morning? We need to return to the 1920’s where a gentleman would have a manservant to attend to such matters. They need a Jeeves, each of them. Someone to tie a cravat, chain up the pocket watch and attach a button hole rosebud to the lapel. I wonder how many gentlemen, elderly gentlemen, exist today,who are still incapable of attaching their socks to their suspenders, living in some assisted living programme?

I pat the cloths instinctively, a check, a note to myself that I’m ready for the marathon of dressing. Spouse appears bleary eyed behind me to arch his back and rake his hair, a cat waking reluctantly.
“I thought you were bringing them down with you?” I ask, as he is alone.
“I was going to,” he pauses to yawn and smack his lips together, “but they’re getting dressed.” He puts balled fists to his eye balls and grinds the sockets.
“What do you mean, their clothes are already here?”
“Oh right yes. Well, they’re getting dressed upstairs.”
“Upstairs! What do you mean upstairs?”
Although I can hear my own words coming out of my mouth, I am unable to stop myself from sounding like a complete idiot. I can hear screams from on high followed by a stampede of fast drumming feet. Junior appears before me and skuds to a halt. His brother is close on his heels, too close on his heels. They collide and swear at each other, “Barnacles!” “You fishpaste you are!” Palms of small hands check small craniums for damage. All is well.

They remember and spark to tell me the news simultaneously. They shout, loudly. They huddle, a skirmish, a scrum, to get as close to me as possible, to be the first to tell me the news. [translation = completely normal sibling rivalry]
“Me! me! me! Look at me!”
“No, no, no. Look at me!” they are all elbows and knees vying for position, thrusting themselves into my attention. [translation = as if I could do otherwise]
“I am clothes!”
“Me too, me too, me too!”

Combined, they make a writhing mass, a Medusa head. I shimmy between them, insert myself as a barrier, one to each hip, an arm to hold each one in position for a bear hug crush to stifle their words and give a clearer message. We cling to each other in the kitchen in silence. Their grins are so huge they risk splitting their faces. My own mouth widens uncontrollably. I feel a couple of elastic bands on my braces twang with the strain.

As with so many 'firsts,' it may well be a 'one off,' [translation = unlikely to be repeated in the near future] but that means that it's all the more important to savour the trembling moment.


Stomper Girl said...

You're back from holiday!

I enjoyed your tale of boys getting dressed. I'm half looking forward to the day when it stops being my responsibility and half not ....

Anonymous said...

My little one (5.5yr old) can put them on by himself. I put him and them in the bathroom morning and night. I thought... just maybe we'd mastered the correct direction... but no luck.

My #1 goal this winter was not to have to supervise... took a couple of mths of mornings and bedtimes.... finally b/c his job... but I still put them on the floor so they go on back/front correctly. He does know where they all go and which order they go on.

This summer the goal is that he gets them himself and takes them downstairs. I think the front/back part is going to take a lot longer.

Little steps... but good ones. Now... if he'd only talk and was using the toilet independantly :)

Domestic Goddess said...

such an AWESOME thing. I began laying clothes out a year ago when I realized one could get dressed (in forty-five minutes, but dressed himself nonetheless)if I put the clothing out for him. He was five. The other is 4.5 and just learning, but he's doing it! I supervise him, but he can pull his pants up, put on socks and shoes, pull a shirt over his head and get his diaper (pullup) on and off himself. Sometimes that last part comes back to haunt us, HAHAHA! But the little steps. They are grand holidays to me!

Anonymous said...

We do this for our fragile x'ers. Now my girl does it for herself.

We learned with my son what battles to fight. He loves his clothes backwards. So for daytime he has to have "the tag in the back" cuz mom said so. But we let him put his pjs on any old way he wants...usually backwards!!

Chaoticidealism said...

Wow, you are a lovely writer!! I could imagine the scene clearly. Your boys are so cute!

I've been known to do the same thing for myself--it's not that dressing is difficult, but that decisions are. I put together a single outfit, in the order it has to be put on, and then put that in my drawer. Repeat, for seven outfits, one for each day of the week... Much easier. No standing frozen in front of my dresser, trying to figure out which of many essentially equal choices I should make: Black pants or brown, white shirt or blue...

I've never cared much about appearance or clothing; but being dressed in the morning is a good thing, and anything to make it easier is also a good thing!

I've progressed to taking clothes from the top of the stack, now: one from the stack of pants, one from the stack of shirts, one from the stack of bras... :)

Aspie minds are weird; but they're also pretty creative at finding solutions to deal with the weirdnesses. Looks like you've done the same for your boys!

Phoebe said...

I am clothes! Awesome!

Haddayr said...

I have sent you an outraged email regarding this post.

I shall share my warm fuzzies here: Arie can only get dressed with his father in attendance. When I am anywhere within sight, he fails to generalize the skill.

Methinks this has less to do with Autism and more to do with manipulation!!!!

kristina said...

And then the miracle moment will come when you look groggily up and see a fully clothed child (long pants on 90 degree day, shirt backwards) grinning at you and waving his shoes in your face....... I never thought it would happen; it has; it will for your guys!

Heidi said...

You've just made me cry and I am trying to watch Spinal Tap play at Live Earth on TV!

I know exactly how you felt at that moment. Here, too, we celebrate milestones as and when they happen, and they are always so unexpected that when something like this happens it completely floors me for the rest of the day.

Joeymom said...

Joey has discovered the skill of taking his clothes off. He is very proud of this skill.

He demonstrated it for Grandma yesterday...

gretchen said...

Yay! A kiss to each on top of his head!!

I always get out the clothes and assist with the dressing. One day last week Henry actually dressed himself (I think I bribed him in some way). His clothes were all backwards (even his underwear), but I was still proud!

Anonymous said...

Its amazing how far parents can go to get their kids independant. Its a shame when people blame parents. http://www.thenewsroom.com/details/536060/Health?c_id=wom-kg-jlt This article blames mothers ages for autisim - kate from the womens health desk at thenewsroom.com

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