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Monday, August 20, 2007

Sequencing the autistic child

Whilst I have a tendency to exaggerate, the truth of the matter is that careful planning is often the key to success.

I decide that I will be successful.

To increase my chances of success, I know that the best thing to do is to plot a time line, a feasibility study, for a trip to the supermarket. I am an American. I have a huge positive attitude. Fortune favours the brave! Then I'll check my energy reserves to see if we have a match?

Albertson's is our nearest grocery store. I assume that we will spend the barest minimum of time within it's confines, 10 minutes maximum, to include paying and bagging at the check out.

I determine which six items are most essential, in case we need to bail early, as well as an escape route, that doesn't include carrying anyone.

Ten minutes drive there, and back again, with accompanying screams. That would be half an hour tops. I flick the corner of the on-line coupon I have been saving for an emergency. It would be so wonderful to have all of my groceries delivered to my door, but so extravagant. This is not an emergency, this is 'normal.' Anyway, it would take me far too long to fiddle about on the computer to complete the order.

I estimate the time involved prior to that particular evolution. It may take between 10 and twenty minutes to get both of the boys dressed. Since dressing is an aversive activity for them, I should also calculate the likelihood and duration of meltdowns? So that would be another 50 minutes, as a worst case scenario.

Of course we would need to visit the bathroom before leaving the house. That may take another ten minutes per child. This must include persuasion time. Maybe we should fulfill this step prior to dressing, to avoid the inevitable naked status again? So that’s another 20 minutes, assuming we are meltdown free for this activity.

What else? How many minutes will it take to prompt two small people to attach sandals to their feet? Thank goodness we’re not in sock season! It’s another one of those conundrums that might take ten minutes but could potentially descend into a 50 minute wrangle. I err on the side of caution but do not wish to be overly pessimistic. I plump to split the difference with 25 minutes. What else?

At some stage, eventually, we will need to enter the car. Always the most difficult step. It might also take me quite a while to find them and or catch them too.

Once in the car, and later once they are all in their seats, I will prompt and wait and prompt and wait…… until they all have their seat belts on. This is a skill they both learned some months back. I must not do it for them. They will learn to be independent if it kills me.

I look at my children playing pretend Pokemon and debate whether it is a worthwhile exercise to disturb this peaceful scene at all? Conservatively, this little trip may take all morning, or rather, two hours and five minutes. Not for the first time, I wonder if I could just wait in the car, delegate the responsibility for all these steps to someone else, someone more capable and with more patience? I quite fancy sitting in the car in the garage for 125 minutes on my own. I recheck the fridge to see if it has magically filled itself whilst I wasn’t paying attention?

It hasn’t. My positive attitude wavers.

I check the freezer in the hope that the two year old bag of frozen peas might have become fertile, bountiful and multiplied.

It hasn’t. My positive attitude dwindles.

I decide to be brave and make a start. Reboot.

Some time later, we arrive at the supermarket. My positive attitude has a severe dent in it. I remove my earplugs and tuck them back in their little box duct taped to the dashboard. I turn around to face them and give them careful verbal instructions as to what is expected. My eyes glance over their heads to the car parked behind us. There I see three children playing cards with the windows open. No adult appears to be present. For a few ragged moments, I contemplate going into the supermarket alone. My positive attitude experiences jealously. My green tinged gaze drops down, drawn by the rhythmical kicking of two little feet, naked feet. I scrabble around the floor to hunt for sandals. Did he throw them out whilst we were driving along or did he jettison them whilst we were still in the garage? I should go back and check. I dither. It's taken us so long to get here! Just in time I remember that we are in America. It is all too common to find signs in California that state 'shoes and shirt required.' The supermarket doesn't have one. Hooray! I push the buttons to open the doors and scramble out of the car to grab as many hands as I can gather.

We negotiate the parking lot. A car pauses in the thoroughfare as we wobble on the curbside. The angel driving the car waves us across, his biceps hang from the window and I see the tattoos flex. The angel continues to wait, stroking his beard, as we cavort across the road. One child emits sparks and the other threatens jelly legs. We reach the opposite curb and I glance back at the driver as he revs his pick-up truck, to nod my thanks and bestow sainthood upon him.

We approach the entrance and the electric doors. Strangely the doors are already half open. Standing in the half open doors, is one of the checkers. He tells us that the store is closed for the day. It will re-open at 6 a.m. tomorrow morning for the inaugural official name change to “Lucky.” My positive attitude shrivels to the size of a peanut. One child drops the ground in a heap and the other dashes off at warp speed. My daughter, the whippet, races after the hare, whilst I disentangle the heap from my ankles. I refuse to calculate the number of minutes we have wasted to get to this point in the day, nor convert them into seconds.

Moral – 125 minutes on the computer is not a waste of time if you can subsequently eat. Positive lesson learned.

And the next time you see the ballistic kid and the incompetent parent, just think, 'I am lucky," because some of us are, lucky that is to say.

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