The logo for Autism Speaks contains puzzle pieces, which I think is perfect. Our whole life is a puzzle with our autistic four-year-old, constantly strategizing to keep him from terrorizing the world, destroying our house, and hurting himself. Every few months we have to level up, because what worked before doesn’t work anymore.
For instance, my son loves to get naked. Pretty typical for a four-year-old boy. The difference is, unrestricted, my boy will get completely naked 100% of the time, and I have to force clothes on him. He’s not potty trained, so you can see why that’s less than ideal. In this post here I talk about really the only foolproof way to keep those clothes on. Because even backwards zippered pajamas with a shirt on top and a duct-taped diaper don’t work all the time.
As you can imagine, my son is an impressive escape artist. The problem is he ranks high on the scale for figuring stuff out, but low on the scale for understanding that he can get hurt. It’s a scary combination. Whenever we enter a new environment where he is running freely we have to be aware of entrances and exits that he can dart through. We only go to completely enclosed parks. At home, we have bolts on the doors high up. We also have safety gates everywhere, but those mostly just serve to slow him down. We even have a double gate on his bedroom door (one on top of the other), but if he’s determined enough, he can rip both of them off.
Meal times have been interesting. Because Jac has sensory processing disorder, a common occurrence among autistic individuals, he can’t stand getting food on his face or fingers. For a while I let him feed himself but I got tired of cleaning yogurt and cereal off the floor and walls. He throws it probably 90% of the time. So even though he’s four and can feed himself, I do it mostly, and he lets me because he realizes it will keep his face clean.
Jac talks a fair amount, but most of the time he doesn’t use words functionally. For instance he’ll just yell out, “excuse me!” because for some reason he finds it hilarious. A lot of the time he’ll be thirsty or need a hug or something and even though he knows how to communicate these things, he’ll just scream, frustrated. Because I know him pretty well by now I can figure out what he wants and give it to him, or at the very least give him a pretty good mama snuggle.
Nights were a struggle for us for a while. Jac would either stay up really late or be awake in the middle of the night for hours. He doesn’t seem to need a ton of sleep, even though he’s very active during the day. Once he started preschool and dropped his nap he got way better at sleeping. Now he wakes up early for school, doesn’t nap, falls asleep around 8:30, and sleeps through the night. He still naps maybe once a week, and on those nights he’ll be awake really late. A few nights out of the month he might have a hard time, but for the most part, he’s the best sleeper out of all our kids right now.
Jac doesn’t mind the hustle and bustle of being around crowds of people, in fact, I think it energizes him. What he doesn’t like is a nice, sit-down restaurant. We figured out at this point that Panera is about as nice a restaurant as we can get. Forget the steakhouse; we’ve had some pretty nasty meltdowns with screaming and objects thrown. So for now, as a family, we’re just skipping the nicer places.
If we’re anywhere that doesn’t have walls or fences, Jac has to be in a stroller or some other restraining device, because he will run, and fast. He is NOT bothered by being separated from me in public. He thinks it’s a fun game to make me chase him. Not fun for me, at all.
Jac ignores me, as he does most people, most of the time, but then for about five to ten minutes at a time, several times a day, I get amazing smiles, cuddles, and interaction from him. It really is the most amazing thing, especially since he spends so much time in his own world. Autism is super-challenging, but it’s not all bad. Read my post about the perks of autism here.
If you’re autistic or someone close to you is, please share some of your challenges and what you’ve done to overcome them in the comments.