Guest Post by Jeff Stimpson
Last summer, when my 12-year-old son Alex was bolting from our apartment almost daily, I hit the roof. Something about Alex leaving the apartment and bursting in on neighbors made me raise my voice more than I wanted to even in middle age and even in this economy. Jill helped me see that was time to bring in help.
"Danny’s coming? Rhonda’s coming? Danny’s coming?” Alex says these days. He’s talking about the folks we found to … what? Babysit? That doesn’t sound right for a boy who’ll be 14 next summer. We found Danny (not his real name) on Craigslist; we found Rhonda (not her real name, either) through the psychology department of a local college. They take Alex on bus rides to locations as varied as Burger King to the Queens Hall of Science.
“Danny’s coming? Rhonda’s coming? Danny’s coming?”
“Yes, Alex. He/she is coming in an hour or so. Just be patient.”
“Danny’s coming?! Rhonda’s coming?! Danny’s coming?!”
“Alex, be patient!” He used to just say “Mommy!” or “Daddy!” He still does. But now he says other names. He asks if people are coming hours before they are coming (which we tell him, and he keeps asking). By the morning of Black Friday this year, Alex was bored out of his mind. He didn’t want to “do” letters with me, he didn’t want to pick up his room or put laundry away, jobs he usually throws himself into. He shouted into his iPad.
He would slip on his shoes, hoodie and backpack. “Take a walk!” he would say. “Wanna walk!” Alex, who will be 14 next summer and who still watches Elmo and “Barney,” has a clear need to see the world. He flies onto the buses now for overnight and summer camp; he totes his own luggage; he grabs the shopping bags of gifts or food to head to grandpa’s or Aunt Julie’s for family parties, even though he’s likely to spend the time there holed up in a spare bedroom with his iPad.
Still, I guess, the walls of that spare bedroom or that camp bunkhouse will not be the same old walls of his apartment; this seems to spur him. I wish I knew for sure.
Alex, does this spur you?
Alex, do like getting out more?
Getting out more!
I wish we could have these “companions” every day for many hours, but I’m two-and-a-half years unemployed, and these guys charge a lot. They won’t be there, can’t be there, every day that Alex slips on his backpack (Wanna walk!), and that hits me in the middle. In what I hope will be a trend for the future, Alex’s little brother Ned provides a voice that helps bring me off the roof. “At least,” says Ned, eying the iPad, “he’s connecting with a person.”
Jeff Stimpson is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at jeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, the Lostandtired blog, The Autism Society news blog, and An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”
Saturday, January 7, 2012
Jobs to Do by Jeff Stimpson
They're talking jobs in Alex's future, as he nears 14 and "vocational" begins to appear on his IEP. There are various jobs Alex (PDD-NOS) can do. Even now in the grocery store, he aligns cans so the labels face the same way. At grandpa's lake house, he sets the table for a dozen with the handles of the coffee cups all facing the same way. There are other examples.
Jobs he does:
Alex empties the dishwasher every morning before the sun is up (his schoolbus comes at 6, and he's often up by 4:30 anyway). "Knives, forks and spoons, Alex," I say over the lower bin, which I've pulled out after he's made sure to close the soap box. One by one he drops the utensils clattering into their slots in the drawer. Except for the paper-thin tablespoons Jill paid 25-cent each for, of course; Alex hates those, and morning after morning he tries to slide them unnoticed into the rear end of the drawer.
He does laundry, hauling the heavy cart to the elevator and punching B for basement. I still keep an eye on him down there, as it wasn't long ago that he darted for the door and even locked himself in the bathroom. These days, he scoops the fallen socks and underwear from the floor and stuffs them into the triple-loaders. When the laundry's done, he wrestles the tangles from the washer. Once, when all the triples were taken and we had to use the double front-loaders, Alex stared at the triples then looked for a moment at the doubles. He wanted to understand but the doubles were new to him. He wanted to understand - and I ached as I sure hoped Alex didn't realize that other people understand the difference between the doubles and the triples much, much faster than he can.
Jobs he creates:
Sweeping pretzel and cookie crumbs from the cushion of the couch, the floor of the living room, and Ned's bed, where Alex perches - never on his own bed - to munch and watch the iPad. "Alex put crumbs in my bed!" says Ned, his arms arcing madly across the sheets. When I was a little kid, I could never sleep when I thought there were crumbs in my bed, either. Thanks, Alex! I don't like to think about them roaches.
Alex up in the middle of the night and first thing in the morning also means I have to wipe piss from around the toilet bowl. Enough of that, for now. He scatters clothes when he's picking out what he's going to wear that day, socks and pants and T shirts littered around the foot of his dresser like Civil War dead in the Brady photograph around the walls of a fort. Alex scatters Legos and makes Ned cry and then swear. Thanks, Alex!
We learn more about Alex and jobs when we visit his classroom. We learn he orders the supplies for his classroom and delivers newspapers to all the classrooms in his school.
We learn too that he sweeps floors and wipes tables in his classroom. Funny he never mentioned that to us.
Jeff Stimpson is a native of Bangor, Maine, and lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family atjeffslife.tripod.com/alextheboy, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting, such as Autism-Asperger’s Digest, Autism Spectrum News, the Lostandtired blog, The Autism Society news blog, and An Anthology of Disability Literature(available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife”