Friday, January 7, 2011

Ordering Our World

I used to love that movie "Groundhog Day." You know, the one where the guy lives the same day over and over, continually waking up to Sonny and Cher singing "I Got You Babe?" There's a part near the end where the central character (played by Bill Murray) is walking down the main street in town, and he's exuding, at least the way I remember, this mixture of both power and fatigue at knowing exactly everything that's going to happen because he's lived the day so many times. "A gust of wind," he prognosticates just before the wind blows. He casts a weary eye over to the same homeless man in the same spot begging for change, he anticipates the nerdy salesman who calls out to him across the street; he steps over the deep puddle of slush that he knows will be there, waiting to trip him up.

I think about that scene now and marvel: "This is the story of life with Ethan!" I say this with a smile. I've mentioned before how Ethan does not seem to have that classic resistance, as with so many with ASD, for changing up his routine. He doesn't tantrum if I drive to school a different way or change up what he has for breakfast. He doesn't insist on the same shirt or socks that have to fit just right. He's just not like that -- but that's not to say he doesn't prefer sameness very much.

Very, very much.

There are many things that give Ethan joy -- music, his parents and extended family, cups of milk, and play areas with tunnels and ball pits, to name a few, but I'd have to add to the list sameness and predictability. When they happen throughout his day, his eyes sparkle, and all seems right with his world.

First thing in the morning, when I get him out of his bedroom: "It's wake up time!" he announces. Then, "Time to take a shower." This is directed at yours truly. Every time I get out of the shower and Ethan sees the towel on my head he announces "Towel hat!" with a big smile. Then he goes to get the hair dryer, and I tell him not yet, in a few minutes, and he keeps asking about the hair dryer. After I'm done using the hair dryer he looks at the buttons on the plug and says, "Press the red button, yes! Press the yellow button!" and fools around with the buttons. "Now go downstairs!" he announces.

Once we get downstairs we must wake Anna up (if this is a school day). His waking up of Anna always involves several big shakes of her shoulders and "Wake up Anna!" Then it's over to the refrigerator. "Want some milk please?" he asks.

The day continues like this. At school we pull up just as the buses have dropped off the kindergarteners and are driving by. "Count buses!" Ethan announces, so we do. The buses are always followed by a mini-van bus. "...and one van," Ethan always adds, after counting the buses. Then the car door shutting. "Ethan close it THIS time!" he announces, and usually I say yes. But later in the day I insist on shutting it. Gotta break the same-ness somewhere along the way.

When we're driving Ethan likes to note the bridges ("There roof bridge, Mamma!" -- he really likes the roofs of bridges) and also always points out the Connecticut River, which we drive over just about every day. When we drive by Anna's school, it's "Anna coming home soon!" At home when we have the radio on for news he needs to announce that the "News is coming mamma," which he knows by the sound effects that precede it. And on and on we go.

There are times I tire at the repetition, like Bill Murray waking up and realizing he is doing the same things once again. But a few things stop me.

One, I think about the tendency of all of us to order our world. At our church people park in the same spots and sit in the same seats, week after week. In Target holidays are carefully charted out, and we love the order of it: Christmas is done and like clockwork everything for Valentine's Day is displayed. Before that holiday even draws to a close the Easter decorations will be there, telling us what to buy, reminding us what's next. TV news is nothing but an endless stream of cliches and cliche stories (think of the reports before each impending snowstorm, with the obligatory shots of people buying bread and milk and the interview with the guy in charge of the plows). We crave order. People with autism just crave it a little more.

And when I'm tempted to be annoyed with Ethan constantly saying the same thing, I think of how often I think the same thing, when we drive by certain places, in particular. Sometimes I wonder if it's a little autism in me. It's been 25 years, for example, since we came upon a horrible car accident on a back road in Massachusetts and every time we drive around that curve I think of it. When we used to go on drives when I was a kid I'd always look for certain things. "There's the house with the balcony that I like! There's the cliff we once climbed to!" Every single time. Kind of like "There roof bridge, Mamma!" if you ask me.

Most of all I end up reminding myself that Ethan is communicating. He's sharing these things, he's calling out his world, setting it all in order the way he likes it, and enjoying the ride. For the most part, my little boy is happy. What mom could ask for more?


Anonymous said...

i love that you see all of the positives in ethan's repetitve phrases and routines. i used to hear other ASD moms complain about echolalia at a time when i would have given anything for *any* spoken words at all. (not that i'm underestimating how annoying/
frustrating echolalia can be!)

ethan *is* communicating and he's enjoying the ride. how wonderful!

Deb said...

I think you hit the nail on the head, there. He is wanting to share things with us and if it comes with repetition, especially right now when he hasn't been speaking in sentences for all that long, so be it! I know my parents also would love to hear my brother communicate in such a way. It really is about perspective.