Autism has a tendency to create concrete thinkers. As a parent, there is some comfort in this – as when I say the words “here’s the rule” – it really means something. Rules, at least for Elliott, are to be followed (not that he always appreciates them), but there is comfort in structure and order. Rules help to make this otherwise confusing world a bit more orderly for him. Rules for Henry are designed to bend – not so for Elliott (we’re not sure about Ada yet, but she is especially talented with stirring up drama).
That said, we have had to create a lot of “rules” that other families likely don’t need. Crazy things like “It’s a rule that we don’t ask the check-out person at Target what year she was born in” or “It is never ok to ask someone if they are a boy or a girl”. You get the drift.
Elliott has created his own list of house rules that he is continually adding to or modifying – it is taped to a wall in our kitchen, and receives frequent editing. There are a few favorites which I’ll share with you (feel free to implement at your house should the mood strike you). Rule#24: Do not knock on Elliott’s door even if you think he might be dressing. Rule #13: Elliott wants Ada and Henry to follow all the house rules. Rule #7: No running in this whole house but you can only run in the basement only if you are playing games in the basement. Rule #15: Worry about yourself – that counts for Ada and Henry. I’m guessing you sense a common theme here . . .
Rule based thinking is something we’ve dealt with for as long as Elliott has been using language. We’ve learned to do our best to try to use it proactively to help him learn or understand new concepts, but there is much about our world and life in general that is gray. Gray is hard for those that think black and white. Sometimes gray makes me sad because it is so elusive for us, yet, more and more, Elliott is showing bits and pieces of social comprehension that for most are no big deal, but in our house are cause for celebration. “Getting” something that is usually gray is what we strive for. It’s hard, and it takes time, patience, and a great deal of humor, but inch by inch, we are making progress.
A couple of weeks ago, we had something new come up at school. When I arrived to pick Elliott up, his teacher told me that she had to chat with him because he had randomly been saying “hot girls” at school and then laughing. While the occasional inappropriate word does pop up in our house (especially during Packer games), I felt confident “hot girls” was not vocab that had come from home. We decided to let it go, assuming it was random. Several days passed, and alas, another discussion from the teacher regarding this time multiple references to “hot girls” – even leading to a time-out after she gave him a warning to stop saying it.
That night, I called Elliott to the red couch, uncomfortable, but ready to have a healthy discussion about hot girls. He was nervous (being summoned to the red couch means something is serious, but I could tell he was thinking through his day, trying to determine where he had gone wrong), yet listening attentively. I asked him what he thought “hot girls” meant – he immediately bristled, clearly uncomfortable to be talking about this with his mother. He thought for a moment, and replied “well girls that are really warm, of course”. I proceeded to share with him that likely his buddies from school meant something different, and we discussed better options for sharing with someone when they look nice. We also discussed that there are times when you are with your friends that it is ok to talk about things in a different way than with adults (this is that crazy gray area stuff that does not click so easily for the E man). He shared with me that he was saying it out loud because it made people laugh, and he liked being funny (hmmm . . . saying inappropriate things out loud to make people laugh, don’t know where that came from?) It led to a great discussion, and while I’m not confident this won’t come up yet again in some context, it felt like we made some headway.
Hot girls, I thank you. You’ve helped us make some progress into the gray area. Its progress inch by inch, but I’ll take it . . .