An FB memory from 2010 had me smiling last week: I love Ronan more than the last bread and butter pickle left in the house. Usually he gobbles them up. Happily, he turned it down so I could eat it. I could eat those tasty treats all day long.
Ironically, that memory popped up the day after I again had the last bread and butter pickle. I didn’t offer that last one to Ronan though. I didn’t want to share it. I wanted it all for myself. I don’t usually do that; but that one night when I wanted just a little peace and quiet, I ate that last pickle.
And I enjoyed it.
The next day, after reading that memory, I could’ve felt stabs of regret for not sharing. But I didn’t. That’s because I had a brand new bottle of pickles ready for Ronan. Seeing the new jar in the pantry reminded me of a shopping trip he and I took many years ago. Outings these days aren’t always successful for him, but that day all those years ago, with tons of patience and great communication, it was one of his best days…
From another memory, written and shared with family, back in the spring of 2015…Enjoy!
Ronan continues to be on a modified school schedule. Lacking energy to sustain a full academic day, he only attends a few hours of school each week. Since starting the modified schedule, I’ve had to do a lot of juggling. Finding someone to watch Ronan during the day doesn’t always work out, so he ends up accompanying me wherever I need to go.
Errands are harder.
Getting to appointments takes longer.
Meetings take careful planning.
Since we’re always hoping Ronan will gain more independence, I welcome the opportunity to bring him with me. Most of the time, it works out well having Ronan tagalong to places he normally wouldn't go. He gets to see his community during regular business hours. He gets to learn and master new skills. He gets to interact with people and they with him.
As much as I’d rather he could have the energy to be at school learning, he’s been able to learn valuable lessons when we go out. Some simple things he’s had to learn over the last year include:
-Learning how to walk calmly to the car when prompted (instead of acting out because he wanted to stay home and watch more YouTube videos).
-Staying buckled in the car seat (instead of attempting to wiggle out because we didn’t get more French fries).
-Keeping shoes (and clothes) on while we shop (instead of taking them off when things didn’t go as planned).
-Keeping shoes on while we’re in the car (instead of throwing them at Mommy while she’s driving).
-Resisting a meltdown and remaining calm (instead of thrashing about on the floor as has happened before).
-Using appropriate communication (instead of pulling Mommy’s hair when we went down the “wrong” grocery store aisle).
Being able to learn those simple things has helped when we go out and about, but Ronan still has lots yet to learn. I do as well. I need to plan my time better so that I’m not rushing Ronan into situations he’s not comfortable. I need to prepare the environment better as well as prepare those who will interact with Ronan. For instance, when Ronan must accompany me to a doctor’s appointment that I’ve scheduled for myself, I should remember to show Ronan a picture of where we’re going or at least drive by the place with him one time before we actually need to go in it. I should also let the provider know that my visit may take a few minutes longer than usual. That’s because Ronan’s curiosity, as well as his anxiety and his sensory issues, can prevent a smooth transition into (or out of) the parking lot…the waiting room…the exam room…or meeting room that we’re going into. I need to remember that sometimes things will take longer. That things won't go as planned. That we are that try, try, try, try one more time family. I also need to remember one more thing.
Ronan’s come a long way.
When he was much younger, as Ronan was tumbling onto the spectrum, he preferred that we drive out of the neighborhood a certain way. Not being able to communicate that very well due to the fact that he lost his speech, Ronan would let me know that I was going the “wrong” way by screaming and crying and by thrashing about in his car seat.
Back then, tear-stained cheeks and massive meltdowns were the norm. Meltdowns haven’t been completely resolved, but with brainstorming, juggling, rethinking, planning, assessing, and reassessing situations as we face them have helped reduce the number of meltdowns Ronan has. Just last week, when he accompanied me to the grocery store, it took quick thinking to keep him calm and to understand what he wanted. Ronan wanted something. I couldn’t figure it out though. It was a simple request really, but because of the lack of speech and language, that simple request turned into a 15-minute standoff.
Here's what happened.
The health food section of the grocery store has a granola “bar” – there’s all sorts of granolas in see-through bins to make your own trail mix. There’s also a few dried fruits and chocolates in the containers, too. We never go in this area, but I misjudged the aisle I needed and ended up face-to-face with open containers of tasty goodness. Ronan thought he could just scoop the food out with his bare hands. I said, "Wait, let me help,” and quickly grabbed the scoop and a small container. But Mr. Independent didn’t want my help. Nor did he want the scoop of granola that I thought he was eyeing. He wanted something else and pushed my hand away. I said, "Hold on, Buddy. Let me help you." Frustrated, Ronan shut down. Then he sat down on the floor and tossed his headphones at me. He was just about to take off his shoes, but with quick thinking, I remembered that I brought Ronan’s iPad with us.
I showed Ronan the iPad and said, "Look. Spell what you want." Ronan cannot resist spelling! He immediately got up and walked over to me. Back and forth we went for five minutes—he typed and I finger spelled. It wasn't easy, but Ronan was finally able to tell me what he wanted. Feeling successful, Ronan smiled. I did, too.
What do you want, Ronan?
Mom I want food.
I said, “You do?”
He typed You.
I said, “Good job for asking!”
He typed Good.
I asked, “Do you want candy?” (because there was a container of M & Ms next to the granola – maybe he wanted that?)
"Oh! You don’t want candy," I replied.
This is where that brainstorming, assessing, and reassessing came into play. Scanning the items in the granola bar one more time, I asked, “Can you please show me what you want?”
Ronan typed Please…but he also carefully pointed to another container, one with chocolate in it.
“Oh! You want chocolate. Do you know how to spell chocolate?" I asked.
He signed No.
I finger spelled, and Ronan typed Chocolate. He then added yes.
Yes! Problem solved! Crisis averted! We could move on! But before we did, Ronan typed one more thing. He typed the name of the movie he wanted to see when we got home: See and Learn Colors.
By the end of the shopping trip, things were much, much better. Frustration levels were low, and our shopping cart was full. In fact, three extra items made their way into the cart because Ronan continued to be successful in communicating a desire for those three products. We walked out of the store with a jar of pickles, a box of pretzels and a box of pop tarts. Now, he won’t be eating those pretzels (they’re not gluten-free), but he had the pickles for breakfast the next morning (because he asked for them), and he’ll bring a pop tart to school this week.
Pickles, pretzels, and pop tarts. That could be a totally random list, but it’s got a lot of meaning for Ronan. That list includes independence. It shows proper communication. And it gives me a little bit of hope. I love it when I find a little bit of hope.
Cathy Jameson is a Contributing Editor for Age of Autism.