Before we moved here I searched online for a parent support group, knowing that would be where I would find my friends. Sure enough, on the first day of school, I ended up standing next to the very person I had contacted online, and we marvelled at the small world connection. Robin is the best mother I know and one who inspires me on a daily basis. Lucky you, now you can get to know her as well in this amazing guest post. Enjoy.
I’m standing on my back patio, watching my five-year-old son through the sliding glass door. He is bouncing around the kitchen on his exercise ball, happily unaware that he has just locked his mother out of the house.
Blake didn’t mean to lock me out. I had stepped outside to throw something away, just for a moment. After I left, Blake simply returned the door to its “normal” state – closed, with the latch pointed down. Like many other autistic people, Blake is very aware of his surroundings, and tends to “fix” things that are out of place. Lights on that should be off, books rearranged on shelves, doors left open that must be closed.
“Unlock the door, Blake,” I say, shaking the door handle. He comes to the door, smiles. I instruct him: “Pull up,” and mime lifting the latch. Blake copies me but doesn’t touch the handle. “OPEN DOOR, Blake.” He laughs and repeats, “Open door!” But he doesn’t understand.
It all comes down to this – all the hours of behavioral and speech therapy, doctors’ appointments, IEP meetings and filing cabinets full of data sheets and treatment goals. If he cannot understand a simple instruction to unlock the door, what does it matter if he knows his colors, his shapes? If he can recite the alphabet forwards and backwards?
I run to a neighbor’s house to call a locksmith, cursing myself for not hiding a key outside. Then, I return to my patio, to wait where I can play with him through the glass and try every so often to get him to let me in. The hazards of my once-childsafe kitchen are clear from my new vantage point. Which window can I break, if he grabs that sharp knife off the counter, climbs up on the still-hot stove, falls off that ball and cracks his head on the hard tile floor? Oblivious to the dangers, Blake laughs and bounces and taps on the glass between us.
Just as I reassure myself that at least I can keep an eye on him, Blake leaves the room. He runs into my bedroom where, of course, the blinds are closed. I can hear him jumping on the bed, a favorite pastime that I instantly redefine as reckless. He yells “Jumponthebed!” – one of the rare times he calls for me to play. I am helpless to respond.
Then, it happens. He reappears, running into the kitchen, and tries to open the door. He notices the latch and, without hesitation, flips it up and slides the door open. I am stunned by the speed at which my dilemma is solved. Blake, in turn, is bewildered by his mother’s enthusiastic and borderline hysterical response. I cry and hug and sigh and he just smiles, as if to say, “It’s about time, Mom, what were you doing outside for so long?”
It’s not always about ability. More often it’s about motivation. Blake could easily learn how to unlock the door; he just needed a reason. People with ASD have difficulty seeing the world from another’s perspective – my need to get inside didn’t register with Blake. Until it became his need, the locked door didn’t concern him. Years later, my interactions with Blake are still shaped by this experience. Beyond teaching him the meaning of “unlock” (and hiding a spare key), the most important thing I can do is to give my son ample reason to use and strengthen his abilities; to discover what will entice and motivate him to open the doors to our world.
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