If it’s Tuesday, this must be…

the day J’s backpack was forgotten at home.

Autistic individuals are very attached to their routines.  The predictability of a set of tasks gives them comfort, allows them to anticipate and be ready for what’s coming next.  Never mind that this is infuriating and frustrating to the rest of us mere neuro-typical mortals, routine is good for people who have autism.  Part of the high-wire we walk on every day (the bouncier, less taut portion of the high-wire) is fraught with effort to break those routines without causing a meltdown.  When I use the word “fraught” I don’t do it lightly…I often do the sign of the cross before I even consider breaking our routine.

Consider this: the world is full of unpredictability, and there is nothing that is more unnerving to an autistic person than a “picture” that pops out of nowhere and doesn’t belong in their mental “album.”  Our mornings follow a pattern so predictable that I know something is wrong by the order in which J does things; if he comes downstairs before he goes to the bathroom, he is confused about which day it is, and this probably means he didn’t rest well, something that will throw his little universe into chaos.

Just like housewives in Königsberg could set their clocks by Immanuel Kant’s walk at three-thirty in the afternoon, we can pretty much tell what time it is in the morning by the creaking of J’s steps in his room.  In his brain, pictures of what is supposed to happen slide by, like the “cover flow” on his iPod, and he progresses through time and space aided by those.  If you throw in a new picture or remove a familiar one, confusion will ensue.

Things have been a little chaotic since our oldest son started working.  We have developed a routine of sorts, but it’s taken some effort on our part to fall into it.  The nature of hospital work schedules can be uncertain, especially around the holidays.  So there are times when our oldest works on a Friday but is off on Saturday and Sunday, or works Sunday and Monday, and is off on Tuesday and Wednesday.  The monkey wrench, so to speak, will be thrown into the machinery of J’s “cover flow” from time to time.  All in all, J has adjusted well to his brother’s absences and to the fact that he has to sleep during the day in order to work at night…

This morning…however…

For the first time in a few weeks, J was driven to school by both dad and brother; the routine of late has been dad drives him to school, drops the car off at the hospital and older brother drives it home.  We have the one car, and we’ll stay that way for a while, so there’s a lot of carpooling going on around here.  This morning the routine was altered and the backpack got left behind…

Cue the wrath of the gods of Mt. Olympus?  No, not really…there was more frustration amongst the grown-ups than for J.

The backpack was not missed until J got to school and was asked for his communication log.  He had not really had a negative reaction to the backpack’s absence until then, until he realized he didn’t bring something that is part of the morning routine.  Cue a little hollering and hand-gesturing.  The teacher, upon being told by the aides that the backpack wasn’t with J when he arrived, told him it was no big deal and sent him to his next task…peace and quiet…all is right with the world because the pictures have, once more, fallen into their rhythm.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch…

We don’t get a lot of phone calls around here.  We call each other, but few calls come from outside our household.  My husband will call me or e-mail me several times a day; our son will call us or text us; I will call, e-mail or text them.  When we’re all here and the phone rings, we all act as if we’ve never heard that sounds before (I TOLD you the reports of our popularity are greatly exaggerated!)  There’s a lot of “you answer!  NO!  YOU answer!  WHO could it be?” going around…we’re dorks, what can I say?

This morning there was a lot of back and forth calling.  There was some heated discussion as to who was responsible for the backpack and its being left behind.  This is when we quote Paul Simon’s line from Train in the Distance that goes “negotiations and love songs,” only with us it usually has a much happier result than in the song.  After a bit of arguing we came to the conclusion that the kid will survive the day without his backpack, and that we all have to make sure he learns to remember it…

Guess who’s pulling out another piece of foam board to make another PECS checklist to put next to another door to be seen whenever he’s leaving for school in the morning…  This board will have enough space to hold PECS of boxing gloves, Slinky, jacket, backpack, communication log, and several open spaces for whatever else J might find endearing and necessary to his daily well-being.  There will be plenty of space to add pictures, but -hopefully- we will be able to start paring them down to nothing but the absolutely necessary at one point or another…

I should have invested in Velcro stock when I had the chance…




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