Sunday, October 21, 2012

What Jan Brady Didn't Teach Me

I have to admit: growing up, I was a major Brady Bunch fan.

Weekday afternoons on Channel 56, Boston. Every afternoon. For years. To say I have most episodes close to memorized wouldn't be too much of an exaggeration.

Any Brady Bunch affictionado knows the story of Jan and her lost locket. A "secret admirer" (later revealed to be Alice the Housekeeper, who empathized with Jan being the middle child) sends Jan a beautiful locket, which Jan proceeds to lose one evening.  To find it, the Brady's come up with a solution: replicate down to the minute everything that occurred that fateful evening the following night, to jog Jan's memory of exactly what happened. And so they all put on their jammies and eat the same bedtime snacks and make sure they brush their teeth in the same fashion (Bobby even going to bed with toothpaste in his mouth for some crazy reason) and voila! Jan starts screaming, remembering she leaned out the window to look at the stars. In typical Brady fashion, the locket is of course hanging outside of the window, stuck in the trellis vines.

I've tried the Brady Bunch technique with my own misplaced objects, and the funny thing is, it does actually work sometimes. But here's what doesn't: there is no way to perfectly replicate a situation that's already happened. I know this. We've been living it out in the church basement for the last month.

I've written about this being the first year Ethan is participating in our church's kids' choir for the Christmas show. They are practicing two songs, to be sung up on the stage under bright lights, for five performances (I'd be happy if Ethan did one). I'd be even more grateful if we made it through the show without him dabbling in his new-found nervous habit of digging his hands in his pants a la Al Bundy.

We wouldn't be doing this if it weren't for the fact that Ethan loves music and loves to sing. This is not something we would force him to do. But he seems to enjoy the experience in his own way, and doesn't mind practicing, so here we are.

The thing is, this is new for him. Ethan doesn't care for new. Most kids on the spectrum don't. Ask him to try something he's never attempted, eat something different, watch a show he doesn't know, his first response will be tepid at best, out-right refusal at worst. I've found that when he's decided to dabble into something new, one of the worst things is for there to be too much new, and for the new thing to be too challenging. So, for example, if he's going to try fishing in Maine for the first time, better to quickly hand him the pole all ready to go and make sure there's a fish right there to catch. Starting from scratch, attempting to explain too many steps, making him wait too long, changing the whole situation up every few minutes, is going to turn him off quickly.

SO, with this rehearsal thing, what I was hoping for is a hefty dose of sameness in the midst of Ethan trying something different. Alas, it was not to be.

Rehearsals started in the church basement with a CD. The first week went fine. This was what Ethan was expecting. He'd watched Anna in the past. He took it all in and I'm sure made mental notes that This Is What Practicing Is Like.

The second week, "Miss M." was on vacation so "Miss D." led the choir, and they only practiced one of the songs. Ethan didn't get why Miss M. was gone and why we only practiced one song, but he went along.

The third week, we were away in Maine. I hated to get out of the groove with practicing, but hey, visiting family comes first.

The fourth week, Ethan wanted to know why Miss M. was back. More than that, he wanted to know why a man was playing the guitar accompanying them rather than the kids singing along to a CD. The fact they had all been told several times that in the real show they would sing with a band not a CD had long since floated way over Ethan's head. The entire practice, Ethan couldn't take his eyes off the man and the guitar. He forgot all about singing. To top it off, anytime he did start to sing, this sweet girl behind him, who happens to have Down syndrome, started belting out the song in an ambitious but incredibly off-key way. I could tell this drove him crazy. He kept turning to stare at her, too. When Miss M. came around with the microphone to see how kids did singing on their own, he was completely oblivious that the mic was in front of him. This boy who knows just about all of the words by heart and can belt them out with gusto could only think about the girl out of tune and the man with the guitar.

This week, week five, we were prepared. We had a little talk about keeping our eyes on the teacher when practicing singing. Ethan assured us he would do that. So, we got downstairs and -- no, they couldn't have! -- they changed the room the kids were practicing in. AND Miss D. was back instead of Miss M., who had to care for an ailing relative. All of Ethan's promises about watching the teacher went out the window when he had to process a different room, different teacher, a door left wide open with parents hanging around outside, and icing on the cake, placement next to the girl out of tune once again.

I had to smile, watching him try to remember to watch the teacher or at least me, mouthing the words dramatically in the back, across from him. I had to offer silent thanks that while Ethan was distracted, he wasn't completely shutting down. He was coping as best he could.

I guess it's no surprise to anyone that life rarely flows like a Brady Bunch episode. Despite our best efforts, there isn't a way to truly replicate an experience, week after week or day after day. There will always be a changed room or sick teacher. There will always be something.

For those people with ASD who live for routine, predictability, and sameness, this is especially unfortunate. But I suppose the sooner they learn, the better -- and they won't learn learn unless we expose them, to the best of our ability and of course without cruelty, to situations that challenge them and take them out of their comfort zone.

Week six of practice is six days away. I can only imagine what surprise will be waiting for us this time around (Miss M. is back! We're switching back to the orginal room!). The only thing we're successfully replicating is unpredictability. Perhaps that's not such a bad thing.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I am sitting here SO proud of Ethan for coping with all those changes from week to week!! Just reading it was making *me* anxious. I can't imagine how hard it is for our kiddos - how many adjustments they must make in a day. At R's school her 1-on-1 teacher will say, "Time to walk to the library!" Then, on the way, she intentionally takes a detour "Oops, we're going to stop off at the office first!" I think it really helping R cope with the unexpected. Yeah, we never get too old for that lesson!