We all have routines in our lives – our work, when we eat, getting dressed, getting ready for bed. We don’t normally think anything about them. Even when something happens to change our routine, most of us are capable of adapting, “going with the flow” you might say. If you are an Autism parent, however, you know that deviation from routine is tantamount to a nuclear crisis.
Isaiah in the beginning
Before Isaiah was identified as autistic, I noticed that certain things had to happen for him. He had to be home at certain times. He would only eat certain foods. He couldn’t stand loud noises. He had to be in bed by 6:30 in the evening, not asleep but in bed.
Isaiah’s quirks proved to be problematic for some family members who began thinking that I simply didn’t want to visit with the family or take part in family events. So, for Isaiah’s first Thanksgiving (Isaiah was 8 months old by then), I decided to try visiting with the family after Isaiah’s 6:30 evening routine. It did not go well.
By the time six o’clock rolled around, Isaiah began to get fussy. Most thought he was hungry because we hadn’t eaten dinner yet. I tried to feed him. Although he was reluctant, he did eat some and was quieted. That would prove to be the last time of the evening Isaiah would be comforted. As evening continued into night, Isaiah became more and more upset. He wanted to be held but wouldn’t let anyone hold him. He refused toys and other distractions, and began to throw tantrums, and himself, around the living room. When it was finally time to leave at 9 o’clock, Isaiah and I were both exhausted. At home at last, I quickly gave Isaiah a bath and set him in his bed. It took him a little longer to go to sleep than normal, but he finally did.
I tried to explain several times to the family that Isaiah and I couldn’t stay for functions that continued past his bedtime, but even after that horrible Thanksgiving, people continued to believe that I was keeping Isaiah away from them. They just didn’t see that Isaiah had a routine that could not be altered.
Isaiah Starts School
When Isaiah started school, I told his teachers that he exhibited autistic tendencies. I wanted them to be aware that once routines were in place, then Isaiah would need notification and prepping if the routines were to change. It was especially challenging if a parent-teacher conference were required because Isaiah began to associate seeing me on campus with time to go home. In his mind, if I was at school, it was time to leave, and it didn’t matter if it was only 10 o’clock in the morning.
Isaiah did well with the routines that school provided. He also got used to receiving feedback on a daily basis in his take-home folder. His goal was to receive five smiley faces a week. He became sullen if he received a “so-so” face and nearly unresponsive if he received a sad face.
Homework wasn’t a challenge academically. He brought his work to the campus where I worked. He sat down and did his homework. Then I would check it. One day in kindergarten, Isaiah had to circle all the pictures on the page that started with “T” for his homework. Why does this assignment stand out in my memory? Because one of the picture Isaiah had circled was a puppet. I asked Isaiah why he had circled that picture. He answered, “Because it’s a toy.” I was impressed and continued to ask Isaiah about the picture. Then I asked him, “What if this was a puppet? What letter would it start with?” Isaiah responded, “‘P’ but it’s a toy and that’s ‘T’.” I had to write a note to the teacher asking her to have Isaiah explain his homework. I didn’t want him to be counted wrong when his logic was sound.
Where’s My Routine?
As Isaiah gets older, it gets easier to make changes to his routine. We have to remind him that on the weekend it’s okay for him to continue to play with his friends outside after 6:30. He always acts like it’s a new concept, but he accepts it without any issues. I have been very fortunate to have family that accepts and understands (to some degree) Isaiah and his needs
Returning from a visit with his father is another matter. I discovered earlier this year that although Isaiah has been identified for almost 5 years now, Isaiah’s father has told no one on his side of the family that Isaiah has Asperger’s. Because of his father’s unwillingness to acknowledge Isaiah’s needs, we will have resistance to regain his normal routine because he’s been without one during his visit and several days of negative attitude due to lack of sleep.
Getting him to eat something other than peanut butter and jelly will also require some patience and discipline on my part.
Looking to the Future
This week, Isaiah will have the opportunity to explore two new experiences: a lock-in with the youth group from church and Comic Con. I’m always excited when Isaiah gets the chance to be “normal” – or at least gets a better understanding of his own “normal” routines.