Rules

Every household has rules.  Kids and adults need rules – to give us boundaries, define how we will interact with each other, and thereby provide a comfortable environment to live in.

Families with Autism, if they are anything like THIS family with Autism, likely have more rules… and certainly more interesting rules… than the families without Autism.  Our kids with Autism structure their worlds differently and so the rules must accomodate that… accomodate their perspective… and that can make for some weird strange unexpected interesting rules.  Rules that sometimes must be repeated again and again and again.

Some of the more interesting rules from the last month include:

(from me, after Christmas pageant practice at church) “Here’s a rule.  This is very important.  You do not sing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” in mouse language at the top of your lungs while everyone else is singing “Silent Night.”

(from me, while holding onto the dashboard in the car) “No one is to smell Daddy’s armpit while he is driving!  Do you understand?  NO ONE!”

(from our younger son (with Autism) while giving his order to a waiter in a restaurant) “Here’s a rule.  It is very important.  The chef must stir sugar into the recipe but NOT the poison!”

I particularly like that last one.  Any other “interesting” family rules out there?

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Keep the homefires burning… or at least at work

I have a dear sweet brother who happens to also have a great sense of humor.  Imagine Jack Black (from The Holiday and Kung Fu Panda) mixed with Chris Farley (vintage Saturday Night Live) and you get an idea.  He’s funny, creative, and kind – a great combination!

My dear sweet brother lives in Michigan where it is pretty darned cold at times.  On an especially cold day recently he came up with an idea at work to help keep everyone’s warmth factor up – or at least their sense of humor.

It all started in his office (his desk, shelves and printer are in the back center to right of the picture below). 

n655206452_1135651_20061    He decided to create a fireplace in his office (look at how big this office is!!! And with a window!!! I am so jealous!!!).  He printed off a fireplace on his massive printer… he “found” some office furniture just lying around… I didn’t ask about the faux-sheepskin rug on the floor (some things are better just left as mysteries)…

n655206452_1137430_42251… and voila!  Here’s the view from his desk.  Add some mantle decor, a plant, and the family dog and you have a friendly family fireplace just perfect for keeping spirits warm.

n655206452_1135655_41781His co-workers soon warmed to the idea and began to gather.  But try as they might, the marshmallows didn’t get very toasty…

I thought this was a fun idea – especially on a slow, cold day in Michigan.

Am I A Drug Addict?

Our oldest son has health class in elementary school.  Each year the topic of drugs is included in the agenda for a week.  You know, the rah rah “just say no” and “drugs are bad” bit.  They even have a spirit week built around it where each day they wear something that reinforces the anti-drugs messaging – like wearing sweatpants for “It’s no sweat to be drug-free” day and wearing crazy socks for “sock it to drugs” day.  Fun stuff all around.

Don’t get me wrong… I am all for the anti-drug messages and I agree that they need to be integrated into the elementary school health classrooms.

But guess what was included in the list last year…

Yep… some things you would expect, like heroin and cigarettes…  These are definitely the easier messages.  Easy to reinforce.  Things that are clearly avoided in our household  Not a problem.  Alcohol?  While it was on the list and I have the occasional glass of wine with dinner, it isn’t a constant thing, so it didn’t raise any eyebrows from my fourth grader.

Of course, with this generation, they’ve included prescription drug abuse.  This is a less easy item around which to demonstrate support, since we do have prescription drugs in the house and some are taken on continuous schedules.  You can imagine the discussions…

“Mom, you take that every day.  That means you are addicted.  My brother takes his meds every morning, so he is a drug addict too.”   

“Son, the doctor prescribes this for me so I can take care of my body.  It is a good thing.  It doesn’t mean that I am a drug addict.  Your brother’s doctor prescribes that med for him because it helps his body deal with some specific issues.  We take these for the right reasons.”   

Are you sure?  My teacher says…” and on it goes.  In fourth grade the world is black and white.  Shades of gray are tough to explain.  This drug abuse dialogue is particularly fun when my son starts it in the grocery store and strangers hear me trying to defend my drug use to my son.  Eyebrows raise.  Fun all around.

But guess what else is on the list?

Caffeine!  Coffee!!!  My beloved morning beverage has made the fourth grade health class black list!  Can you imagine the dialogue heard in our household?

“Mom, you drink that every day.  That means you are addicted.” 

“Son, I am not addicted to coffee.  I enjoy coffee in the morning.  That’s why I drink it.” 

“That’s what my teacher says.  People abuse drugs because they enjoy them so much they can’t stop.” 

Son, I can stop when I want to.”   I shudder as I recognize this oft used phrase.  It sounds hollow even to me, the caffeine user.   Wait.  Now I am thinking of myself as a user?!?  Then he tosses out the stinger.

“My teacher says that’s what drug addicts say when they are really addicted and don’t want to admit it.” 

Pause. 

Longer pause.

“What is your teacher’s email address again?”

Luckily my other son screamd for bathroom assistance at that moment (not in those words of course but I will spare you that Autism dialogue altogether).  It gave me some time to figure out how to resolve my fourh grader’s inquiries in a way that supported the anti-drug messages yet protected my precious beverage of choice. 

Oh yeah… and get another cup of coffee.

God’s Bacon… or Bakery?

People often assume that my younger son (with Autism) is lost in his own world, not paying attention, and unreachable.  They make the mistake of dismissing him, ignoring him, and/or underestimating him.

Eventually he proves them wrong, often with hilarious results. 

Especially in church.

This last sunday our Pastor was at the pulpit, delivering a sermon around God’s plan for each of us.  I was in the choir loft, listening to Pastor (of course!) and watching my family sitting in the second pew from the front (right in front of the Pastor).  My husband and older son were sitting face forward, eyes up toward the pulpit, feet still, mouths closed.  Pretty typical sermon-listening posture.

My younger son was next to them, sprawled out on the pew, legs akimbo, fingers busy with a paperclip, eyes focused on who-knows-what on the floor, feet gently kicking the kneeler in front of him, lips and mouth working at some sort of silent exercise.  This is not typical sermon-listening posture.  But then, my son is not typical in many respects.

So Pastor is talking about God’s plan for us.  He says that God has our lives planned out.  That we need to trust in God.  His voice gets louder as he makes his points.  His hand gestures become broader.  He explains how this does not relieve us of all responsibility (“God’s plan, our hands”).  He gets louder and even more animated.  He goes on to say that we humans often feel such a need to control our destiny that people “sometimes … rush in thinking they need to save God’s bacon!” (gotta love Southernisms)

My younger son quickly and loudly pipes up with “WHAT?  WE NEED TO SAVE GOD’S BAKERY?”

Pastor quickly recovered from his surprise and said “Yes!  Can you believe some people think they need to do that?” and went on with his prepared text.  For a moment however he lost his audience.  Everyone else was laughing and twittering about my son’s cute outburst, asking each other if that was set up by Pastor, and amazed that a little boy was actually paying attention, much less THIS little boy who doesn’t look like he pays attention to ANYTHING.

Let me tell you now – he pays attention – and he picks up on a heck of a lot more than you think he does.

… and those gigles heard from the choir loft?  Those were from a proud mama who loves her baby very much and couldn’t help wondering if God’s bakery serves egg and bacon biscuits past 11 am.

That’s So Old School

Recently my older son had a sleep over.  As his buddies were munching on pancakes the next morning they were “talkin trash” and comparing notes on a variety of topics–homework (boring), Brian Urlacher (totally cool), and girls (hot).  They were so funny (except for the “hot” comments – which strode somewhere between hilarious and nervewracking) – spouting opinions about this and that.  I just listened and kept making pancakes while they chattered away.

At one point a lull in the converstaion came.  To break the silence my older son said “Remember when we used to play Guitar Hero?”  This is the Wii game that has been all the rage for the last year, in case you haven’t heard of it (i.e. live under a rock).  It involves “playing” a guitar along with a band on screen – if you get the hand movements right along with the chosen song you get cheered on by the crowd, your band fees go up, and you get to go on tours.  If you don’t do so well parts of the song fade out, you get boo-ed, and you don’t make money with your band.  There are multiple versions of it now available.

I resisted the urge to break in with “You mean like 3 days ago?” while I poured batter on to the hot griddle.  I kept quiet to see what would be said next.  I wasn’t disappointed.

“Yeah” answered one of his guests.

“Yeah,” my son said, “that’s so old school!”  He shoved another big forkload of syrupy pancake into his mouth while his buddies nodded their agreement.

I couldn’t resist any more.  I put down my spatula and leaned against the counter.  “Son, what do you mean by ‘old school’?”

He looked up at me with his sweet freckled face and said “You know, Mom… been there ,done that…”

“Oh.  I see.”  I turned around and tried to stifle my laughter.  Where do they come up with this stuff?  This feined ennui and sophisticated boredom – at ten?  Heaven help us!

Old Tummy

Recently I had an appointment with the doctor and I had to bring my youngest son with me.  While we were waiting (not so patiently) in the examination room, I leaned back on the examination table and my son (who of course insisted on sitting right next to me on the examination table) flopped across my middle and then lifted my shirt up to reveal my tummy.

     “No zerberts,” I told him, hoping to avoid the obnoxious raspberry sounds.

“Mommy,” he said as he looked up to my face. “Your tummy is old.”  He ran his fingers over my stretch marks.  “You have wrinkles on your belly!”  His face was all amazement and wonder.

     “Yes,” I said “I got those when I carried you in my belly, silly.” 

He appeared to consider this for a moment, then asked… “Do they hurt?”

     I sighed.  “Only when you talk about them.”

Here’s to all of the Moms out there with stretch marks and “old” bellies.  You wear badges of honor, ladies!!!

Pride In His Work

My youngest son has recently joined Cub Scouts.  Wolf Scouts to be specific.  He is thrilled to join the den and I am thrilled that he has an avenue through which he may make some friends outside of Occupational therapy sessions.

He loves the Cub Scout uniform shirt, he loves the idea of camping, but he is especially fascinated with the idea of earning badges (I guess this ties in pretty well with all of those behavioral positive reinforcement charts we’ve had over the years).  So, every couple of nights we look through the Wolf book and complete a few of the badge requirements. 

“Let’s go to my work now, Mommy.”

     “Your work, Sweetie?”

“My Wolf work, Mommy.  I need some badges!”

So we work on earning some badges.  The first was the “Family Fun” badge, then the “Duty to God” badge.  Accomplishing these requirements is a source of great pride for my son.  In a world where he is usually labeled as “behind” and “delayed”, where play dates are superceded by therapy sessions, and where he is starting to realize that there are significant differences between him and his typical peers, he has found a place where he can earn tokens of accomplishment just like other kids.  Tokens that mean something to his typical peers.  Tokens that show he can participate in their world.  These are a big deal, my friend.  They are proof that he belongs.  

As we mark off each item, he supervises my signature on each line to make sure I get it right.  “Very good letters, Mommy,” he says, repeating the phrase that we parrot night after night, encouraging him to mind his handwriting while he does his school homework.

The night that he finished these two badge requirements he made sure he included a report in his bedtime prayers… “I earned two badges God!  I did (what were they Mommy?)… I did the Fun badge and my Duty to you badge!  Are you proud of me, God?”

I think my son is proud of his work… and God is proud of HIS work, too.