What amuses a normal child may completely confuse my kid with autism. My son is has no clue what to do with toys. Right now at age 10 he depends alot upon the active participation of an adult to amuse himself. I think that dependence is partly a byproduct of IBI (intensive behavioural intervention) which he has received over the past 4+ years. Under IBI his activity is closely and constantly orchestrated by an adult instructor. At home we try to give Nick alone time, in hopes that he will learn to entertain himself.
So far it has been mostly unsuccessful. Nick will watch TV, but only a select few shows which he will watch over and over again. Sometimes he is content to watch them for hours. His favorites shows are Blues Clues, Mighty Machines and Backyardigans. Other times he gets restless and wants the adult entertainment committee, consisting of me, a committee of one. That can be difficult at times, in a house where there are 2 other siblings, a husband, dog and quaker parakeet.
At home when not interested in TV or the adult entertainment committee is busy, we get trouble. He does what is considered normal for a two year old kid: he “get into things”. Imagine having a 2 year old for 10 years! That is why I say that 1 autistic kid is like having 10 kids, one born each year for 10 years. Because Nick is cognitively 2 years old in a full sized 10 year old body, the problem of “getting into things” is that much greater: he has the ability to reach high objects, and the strength to break them including the locks designed to keep objects secure. Some of the behaviour is attention seeking, for certain. But some of the trouble he gets into is genuine play, for him, just like for any 2 year old.
Nick enjoys playing with normal household objects. As a preschooler he used to put them in long lines around the house. At 10 he shows preference for items that have sensory properties of interest to him. For example – spinning objects or objects that move repetitively are interesting to him. So he will pick up objects around the house and spin them in his hands. To add interest, he might walk back and forth while spinning the object in his hand. A similar interest to spinning is pouring. He loves to watch liquids in particular being poured. These sensory habits of entertainment can produce a mess in our house if not carefully monitored. Some favorite activities relating to moving spinning objects:
1. unravelling toilet paper rolls or paper towel rolls
2. removing the lids of containers
3. watching ceiling fans or wheels on passing bikes and cars.
4. pouring the contents of containers, boxes, bottles, cartons into the sink (can be solids too like sesame seeds – we have had many sink plugs and I think Enbridge regrets selling us a plumbing insurance plan)
5. dropping things to see what happens
He is very interested in how things smell. He loves scented objects of all kinds. I think a big reason for this is that if it smells good it might also be edible. Many objects that smell good can also be spinned. Some of his favorite things:
1. dryer sheets
2. scented candles
3. laundry soap, fabric softner, dish detergent
4. cleaning agents of almost all kinds, especially fresh scented VIM
5. body lotion, soap, shampoo, conditioner, hair gel, deoderant, perfume, aftershave
Needless to say, for his safety and the well being of our home, we have to maintain a minimalist lifestyle. We cannot leave things out on the counters. We cannot leave stuff by the sink. We need to keep locks on all the cabinets and also certain rooms are locked; for example the laundry room. Luckily he won’t go in the shower so we can keep some personal cleaning items in there. In spite of these efforts, in our house you will not find a candle or a stick of deoderant devoid of tooth marks. No matter how vigilant we are, we do sometimes turn our backs upon his presence and that is all it takes for the deoderant stick to get sampled.
His autistic fun has been hard on the house, physically, and also on our possessions. Many a bottle of Mr Clean with Febreez has been dumped into the sink. Learning how to put things away promptly and keep them safe has been an expensive learning experience. We love him dearly, we know that he is not intentionnally destructive. I am grateful for all things that gives him joy safely. I am grateful for the peace that we have when he is enjoying himself. That being said I find it hard to cope sometimes with the mess and the extra effort to keep the house in order. It does add tremendously to my work load, and stress because I never know what disaster awaits me in the next room. I am very grateful for house cleaning services which I have every other week. Of course we not get receive any extra funding to help with the cleaning and replacement costs.
You are probably wondering, why don’t we teach him not to do these things? We have been trying for years and years. We have had a team of professionals trying to help us with these behaviours. We are talking about a kid who after 10 years still does not understand the concept of a greeting. He does not understand the concept of a mess either. It boils down to the fact that there are few things more motivating for him. And the fact that it is so very difficult to change, so much repetition is required, the caregiver needs to be right on top of the behaviour all the time. That is hard to do in a busy chaotic house. I think many familes give up and put up.
I know that there are families in Ontario that have children whose behaviour issues are much more challenging. They are dealing with holes in the wall, floods. We have only had one small flood in the upstairs bathroom. There are kids that are destructive to their home, and to self and other persons. We have it relatively good. Still it could be much much easier, I think that most families have NO IDEA what lifewithautistickid is like!