Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Would this contract hold up in court?

Desperate times make for desperate mothers. Last year, when he was nine, my son Colin started refusing baths. This water paranoia seemed to have come out of the blue, because he never had trouble with it before. I even have really adorable video footage of him in a big Jacuzzi tub with his brother, playing with bubbles and giggling his head off. He’s never fallen in the tub, so when he suddenly just flat-out refused to get in the tub for his bath one evening, I figured it was just a fluke that day and put off bath-time for the next night.

Things didn’t go any better the next evening, either. In fact, my failed attempt trying to coerce Colin into the tub took hours and a lot of years off my life. Suddenly, something that my son had enjoyed, or at least tolerated, had become what I call “a Thing with a capital “T” and even though Colin is “verbal,” he couldn’t explain to me why getting into the bathtub was suddenly so intolerable.

The next day, with my son becoming more in need of a bath, my visiting sister told me to relax and allow her to handle it. No such luck. The boy who was typically eager to please his favorite auntie behaved like a cat being dipped for fleas and my sister ended up the wetter one.

When I’m up against a dilemma that seems to have no solution, I sometimes get just plain silly. This was one of those times.
I don’t know which exhausted, over-wrought corner of my brain the idea came from, but I decided, just for the heck of it, to ask Colin to sign a “Bath Contract.”

Now, I’m no lawyer, and I’m sure it wouldn’t have held up in court, especially because it didn’t contain any big legal words, but this is what I typed up:

“I, Colin, agree to take a bath every Sunday night before bed.
I don’t have to take a bath any other night if I don’t want to. Love, Colin”

I left a space for him to write his name then read it to him and explained that he does need to take a bath sometime, and that if he wrote his name on it, it meant he would have to take a bath, but only on Sundays, that’s it. I just assumed he’d refuse to “sign” it and run off.

Imagine my surprise when he took the pen from my hand and wrote “C-O-L-I-N” very carefully and deliberately under the word “love.” I explained again, in simple language, how that meant he was making a promise and it was “the rule” that if he signed his name under a promise, he’d have to keep the promise. I then hung the “bath contract” on the refrigerator and proceeded to point it out to him for the rest of the week. He always responded to my reminders with a “yup” or an “okay,” but I didn’t really expect anything to come of it.
I just braced myself for Sunday evening’s bath battle.

On the next Sunday, after supper, I took the “contract” down and showed it to Colin, told him it was Sunday, which meant it was time to keep the promise he signed, and watched in utter amazement as he said “okay” and walked up the stairs, got undressed, and turned on the bath water!!! I allowed him to control the temperature, which also might have had something to do with his new attitude of cooperation, and helped him calmly step into the tub safely and sit down and get clean, finally.

After a lot of “yays!” and “what a good boys!” we called my sister with the good news. I put the freshly clean Colin on the phone to tell her himself: “I take a bath, Aunt Bowbie!” Aunt Barbie had heard about the “bath contract” and we had had a good laugh over the stupid things we sometimes try as mothers to get our kids, autistic or not, to do what we need them to do. Unbelievably, we haven’t had an issue with baths ever since. Still, I’m afraid to jinx our record and try this crazy idea on the door-slamming problem or the no-eating-Nestle’s-Quik-powder with a spoon at 5 a.m. issue….

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Super-awareness: freedom to sniff and finding the good stuff.

A lot of people are under the mistaken assumption that people with autism are unaware of their surroundings. My experience with my son, Colin, is that they are, on the contrary, super-aware. Super-awareness can look like unawareness if you don't understand that there's a lot more to experience in the world than the average person allows himself.

Colin is a super-sniffer. He's a bloodhound wearing the disguise of a ten-year-old boy. For him, it can be a wonderfully intoxicating way to discover the world. And his autism gives him the gift of not caring what anyone thinks when he sniffs unabashedly. What freedom!

Take a baseball mitt, for example. Wouldn't you, if you could, love to just stuff your face deep into a baseball mitt and I-N-H-A-L-E the rich leather scent of it? Try it, the next time no body's looking.

Being a super-sniffing bloodhound can net you the good stuff, too. One morning, I woke up, as I've often done, to the sound of Colin rummaging in the cupboards. I called to him. As usual, we did our little "thing." I groggily called out his name and he called back, "whaa--aat?" a few dozen times, which is a clever ploy. What's going on in that cunning brain of his is this: "I can pretend I don't hear you, you'll think I'm having auditory processing difficulties, and I can keep on doing what I'm doing until you come find me."

It works, of course. Having autism doesn't mean he's unaware OR stupid. I finally had to haul my butt out of bed. I found him washing his hands in the powder room, trying to hide the evidence, if you will. He wore a large grin, like the Joker, but he wasn't actually smiling. What WAS that?!

"Colin, honey, what's on your face?"


"What's that on your face, Sweetie?"

"What?" etc...

Finally, he had to 'fess up. I wasn't going away. He explained, "I smelled chocolate and found it in a yellow can."

Yellow can?! I ventured into the kitchen and found brown powder EVERYWHERE. Colin ran in after me and grabbed his yellow can -- Nestle's Quik -- brought it to his mouth and tipped it back like a drunk getting the worm out of a tequila bottle. Which explained the chocolate "smile." Why doesn't it ever occur to me to grab a camera during these precious moments? I suppose it has something to do with the fact that these moments usually occur between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. He knew he had to move fast if he was going to get another fix before I took the yellow can filled with bliss away from him.

I was jealous. Sensible, middle-aged mothers do not have the freedom to grab a can of Quik and toss it down it back, no matter how much they'd love to. The smell of chocolate lingered in the house for days, though. A sweet reminder to those of us who don't have the gift of being a super-sniffer, super-aware.