This boy of mine has big plans: he is saving to go to New York City. I am not certain why he is so driven to get there, but I suspect it is a combination of wanting to relive Home Alone 2- Lost in NewYork, and the draw of the musical-sight-seeing-antics of the Gene Kelly/ Sinatra movie, On the Town.
H has plans. He is going to Times Square, The Automat (for pie), Coney Island (ice cream apparently), to the top of the Empire State Building, a visit to Lady Liberty, a gander into the lobby of The Plaza, Yankee Stadium, the Jersey Turnpike (that – I know is from Bill Cosby’s The Chicken Heart that ate New York), Central Park, and he plans to eat some sort of special hot dog somewhere and ride on the subway. I am sure he will manage to squeeze in Broadway and a few other sights and experiences as well.
H is planning this trip to New York with his dad, The Amazing Craig, and Craig is periodically throwing spare change into a jar to save up for their adventure. I am not invited (not to be misread as resentful- I don’t want to go…) – it’s a guy thing.
H, however, is collecting bottles and cans and recycling them to earn the money and to do his share to save for the journey. So… here is the resiliency part: H hates sticky, being sticky, touching sticky, even smelling the smell of sticky… and recycling cans is, for H at least, an ultra sticky, sticky smelling, sensory overload, undesirable job.
When he was a preschooler we used to sometimes go to this coffee shop where H would get this GIANT rice-krispie square… then he would insert a wooden stir stick into it so he could eat it without actually touching it. I thought he was brilliant- but I really didn’t realize that it was about avoiding sticky– I thought it was because he was making a popsicle and also because he loved and still loves sticks (the wooden things-not to be confused with sticky).
H has a number of people rooting for him and his project. I think he is developing a sort of fan following at our local recycling depot, and family and friends are pitching in by saving and donating some of their bottles and cans for the cause. But the rest is up to him. He is being given the opportunity to really work for something and earn it.
H loads and unloads the car, puts the cans on the sorting table and pretty much sorts them all by himself now. It has taken a while to get him to the place where he knows how many cans to put on each flat, and to be able to sort and stack things so they are stable. The last time we went, he even handled the whole money transaction at the till… alone!! (Yes- this mother didn’t interfere, or prompt, or assist in navigating the social interaction – I merely watched from afar.)
But that is not the biggest learning that is happening for him. H is learning that he has to be willing to work toward a goal and that reaching the goal might take a long time. He is learning that we all have to endure some aspects of things we do not like to get what we want and that his life cannot be purely pleasure driven. He is learning about saving: he is able to see his money growing steadily in the bank by tracking his monthly bank statement, and he is becoming increasingly able to fill out the bank deposit forms. These are important lessons for a child on the autism spectrum – they are important for every child.
He knows that his sticky work is paying off, and he also knows that part way through the sorting process he can wash his hands if it is too much to handle. He does this every time at about the half-way-mark, but then he gets right back in there and finishes the job.
The lessons he is learning about resiliency, working toward a goal and enduring discomfort are so simply taught, but so often missed when we, as parents, do for our children in order to help them avoid the stickiness of life.
but this kid is going to New York
… and he will have earned it!!
30 Days of Autism is a project designed to fight stigma, promote civil rights, and increase understanding and acceptance for those who process and experience the world differently.
© Leah Kelley, Thirty Days of Autism, (2011)