H is a collector! He is a collector of facts, like the Amazing Craig (H’s Dad) and like myself! And also like me… he is a collector of stuff! We both love thrift stores and the thrill of a treasure hunt!
H has the coolest room! It is representative of his widening interests and our desire to support his foray into new areas. Glancing around his room would reward you with a glimpse of his passions… Star Wars, Lego, Michael Jackson, retro-pop-culture treasures and action figures, dress-up, Indiana Jones, rocks and minerals, books, watches, Star Trek, Godzilla, hats of all kinds, weaponry, spy stuff, Bionicles, magnets, K’nex, The Lord of the Rings, magic, pranks, electronic stuff, materials for inventing, partially constructed inventions, ROBOTS – (LOTS of robots), Ninja Turtles, a sock monkey or two, The Terminator, puppets, Lego(it bears 2 mentions), coins, treasure, shiny stuff, and bits and pieces that might be useful for creating something new…
As lovely as it is that he is surrounded by his nest of favourites… it is difficult for him to keep it all organized – which makes it even more difficult to clean!
Last night I spoke to Craig about it – and tried to get him on board with a strategy: “How about we withhold electronics from H until he handles his room?”
Craig didn’t say a whole lot in response: “Mmmm-hmmm… “
I interpreted this as his being on board with my latest scheme!
I was wrong (yes – again!) Craig wasn’t on board. This morning, when H opened his electronics, I whisked Craig into the kitchen and whispered my concerns: “I thought we had a plan… H is almost 14 – and he needs to be able to sort and organize his stuff. We do too much for him!! It is ridiculous! We are doing him a disservice!”
I should share that I sometimes envision H being on the show Hoarders someday if we don’t adjust the trajectory a bit here! Yes – that is a bit melodramatic – I know! – but it is part of the context. It is a part of my reaction – and I need to be aware that sometimes I extrapolate a present situation to a future in a way that is not particularly realistic, or even helpful to anyone. I want my child to have the skills to interact with the world. Sometimes I am afraid he will build a protective nest around himself and the result might be that it enables him to engage in his interests in a way that keeps others away. However, this is my fear to own – and it exists only in fleeting moments.
Craig’s response was well thought out and wise: “Leah, we have an anxious kid here! It can’t be OK for his room to be like that for a few weeks (or months) and then one day because you decide you can’t handle it anymore – the context suddenly changes! We need to support him in this – ease him in so we don’t build his anxiety more around this.”
I realized I had to assist H again into breaking down the job into manageable chunks and give him the message that we were there to assist and support him in the undertaking. I had to set aside my unreasonableness and take it out of the mix, so that it would not add anxiety to the situation.
I supported H in picking out sections to focus upon… and helped him sort and organize. I will continue to do this and shift my way of thinking about his room to be more supportive to his developmental needs.
I will continue to remind myself that this is an opportunity for skill development, apparently for both of us! H won’t keep it clean at this point – so we need to support him in scheduling clean-up time so that his room doesn’t get so far away from him and become such an overwhelming task.
He needs to be able to visualize a shift his daily strategy so that he can see that putting something away – may make life easier in the long run.
He needs to be provided with opportunities to develop ownership and pride for his organizational skills.
Today there was a lot of learning that took place – but I must admit – it was mostly my own. I had a chance to think about the framing of the task and separate it from my own fears and judgements.
I said things like, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it: is to round up all of the Bionicle and Hero Factory guys and their replacement parts and to return them safely to their home base! Please destroy this message so it is not intercepted by any villains!!” H bought into that… I also used the term backwards playing… (Yes… I know – a stroke of genius!) This is how I framed some of the clean-up: sorting Lego is playing with it backwards and breaking the time/space continuum!
And too… we took lots of breaks.
At one point H said, “Mom- I am going to work on my room a little more now and I don’t need you to come! I have the confidence to try it on my own now!”
Later – he yelled for my assistance.
There was a pile of rubble on his bed.
“I am here to support you if you need it. Are you feeling a little overwhelmed and not sure what to do next?”
“Yes…” H replied with the relief of someone who felt understood.
We dug in together… and we will continue to do so. H’s room is a metaphor, a microcosm of our other places, struggles, challenges and successes! We are on this path together, and with generous guidance from Craig and my wonderful boy… we will all continue to grow and learn.
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, (2012)