Saturday, September 5, 2015

"Problems Must Be Solved!"

I first noticed about a month ago, when we were anticipating thunderstorms and heavy rain in the afternoon.

Normally our kids prefer to leave toys strewn about in the backyard in redneck fashion and an exasperated holler is the only thing that seems to get them to pick up. On this day, however, Ethan had gone on his own and hauled just about everything not nailed down into the garage: trikes, other riding and push toys, sandbox stuff, the whole nine yards.

"We have to be prepared, because of the storm," he informed me sternly.

A few weeks later up in Maine, we were headed out for a walk on a morning in which showers threatened, and again I caught him loading things inside the cabin: namely, outdoor fireplace items like a cooking grate and other fire tools. "Is the grill okay?" he asked worriedly, and I pointed out that it was covered, in case it rained. "But the bottom's not covered!" he exclaimed. He then looked around, running a list outwardly in his head. "Everything is all set," he said, more to himself than anyone. "The hammock is okay in the rain and so is the swing. The grill is mostly covered." He turned to me. "Problems are solved," he said happily.

The next day, a problem very much was not solved. It's quite bizarre the way every person on the spectrum who enters our little camp is drawn to turning on all of our lights (we have a number of old-fashioned fixtures primarily spread across one room) when they get up in the morning. Ethan is no exception, although usually he is flexible. He doesn't have an order the lights have to turn on, and he usually isn't insistent about which lights or having every light on.

Usually. On this day, he wanted to turn on all of the lights on this "tree" of three lights someone purchased more recently, as it provides better reading light than the three wall lights. Blasting all three of these babies, to most of us, is a little much. Especially if you're sitting right next to them. But that day, Ethan wanted those lights on. He needed those lights on. Before we knew it, he was on the floor, crying.

"Problems must be solved!" he wailed, and as he thrashed around, I knew this was the mantra of many, many people on the spectrum. The ones that have to have you say a certain phrase in a certain way. The ones who must have this food but not that food or this brand in that certain wrapper. The ones who must do this before doing that. Each one, even those who are non-verbal, marches to the beat of an insistent theme: This is a problem. Problems must be solved!

"Ethan, why?" I asked him. "Why does this problem need to be solved?" That is always the question, isn't it? Why does one person need you to switch off all the lights and another needs them on? Why must the food be eaten in a certain order, the blocks be arranged that certain way, the toys all be aligned in a row, just right?

I was waiting for a grand revelation.

"I don't know!" he exclaimed. More tears. More frustration.

We didn't let him turn on all the lights. I didn't do this out of cruelty. I just felt as if he has to learn, if at all possible, to sit with that uncomfortable feeling. How can he handle a job someday if he requires all of the lights turned on in a certain way; the seating arrangements just so; the door opened or closed?

And as I hugged him tight, I knew this wasn't just a spectrum problem. It's a human problem. I remembered all the times I've hated leaving the house with spare keys because I couldn't find my regular pair. I've hated the office closing for the day before I could call and resolve the issue. I've hated going to bed when the cat was still escaped out of the house.

In short, I very much do not like the insecurity of not having all my ducks in a row...of not knowing exactly how every aspect of life is going to turn out.

Indeed, I need to learn to sit with that uncomfortable feeling of not knowing, of problems not being immediately solved, too.

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