Apr 30, 2019
By: Jenny Noonan Dye
Jenny Noonan Dye is a writer, dancer, actor, podcaster, and has been a blogger since 2005. She has worked with a variety of organizations, including Better Days 2020, and the United Nations Foundation, specifically Shot@Life, for which she served a year as part of the National Mentor Circle. She and her husband are the parents (biological/step/in-law) of ten kids.
This is a continuation of Jenny’s previous post, New to the Autism Community.
Once back in his bedroom, I hand him a pair of pants, which he puts on. He starts counting out loud, “One, two,” and then whispers the rest, all the way to ten. I help him with his deodorant and some topical oils before helping him with his shirt; it’s not that he needs my help with the shirt, but I ensure that it’s right-side-out and not backward. He’s eager to get downstairs, he knows I’ve put his device in the kitchen, and he wants it, but first I ask him to please make his bed, which he does.
Since I’ve been in Andrew’s life I’ve been able to teach him a few things. Or, if not teach him the skill, introduce some things into his routine. Making his bed is one of those things. Another is putting on his socks, which initially was quite frustrating for him, I think. Another is washing his hands (I’m a big proponent of hand hygiene) regularly, having him count to 20 while he washes and then counting to five while he dries.
I think my husband had been used to doing things a certain way, and, as it is with any child, sometimes it’s easier (and faster) to do things yourself. As a new pair of eyes in Andrew’s life I look for things to teach him to try to help him become more independent.
I grab a pair of his socks and we walk downstairs together. We stop at the bottom landing, where he sits to put his socks on. He will often put them on upside-down, in which case I ask him to please try again. Andrew doesn’t always like to be asked to try again, but he does it. It’s not uncommon, after a few tries, for me to begin the process for him, lining up a sock and pulling it only over his toes, after which he pulls the sock the rest of the way up. Then he puts on his shoes, and while I tie his shoes, I ask him about the colors he and I are both wearing.
All ready to go, he walks into the kitchen to check on his device. Again, he uses it for communication, yet I worry it’s too much of a distraction. I’m still not sure how to navigate this. As he is inspecting his phone he stands still while I turn the right pocket of his pants inside out. I use a magnetic key to pin his GPS tracker, which has been charging overnight, to his pocket, then put his pocket back down where it should be.
I ask him to put his device down on the counter (which he usually does), and ask him if he’d like a breakfast sandwich. He opens the refrigerator and pulls out a single Jimmy Dean sausage, egg, and cheese biscuit, then gets a plate from the cupboard. He unwraps the sandwich, puts it on the plate, throws away the wrapper, then carries the plate to the microwave. “One, zero, zero, start,” he says.
“Yes,” I tell him. It will be only a little overdone. I ask him to sit down at the counter, which he does, always in the same spot. (I’ve seen a video of Andrew as a child also sitting at this same spot in the kitchen.) He folds his arms. “Would you like to say a prayer?”
Before I can finish saying the word, “prayer,” he’s begun. He expresses thanks for the day and for food. He asks a blessing on (in order), “Brittany, Avrey, and Chewy.” Then, “Emma, Clara, and Quinn, and Syd.” Then, “Rae on her mission.” Then, “Jensen.” He closes his prayer. The sandwich is done, so I grab the plate and place it in front of him. “Hot,” he says before making a blowing noise. He knows what he’s doing, and takes his time eating while I take another frozen breakfast sandwich from the freezer and put it in the refrigerator for the next morning.
Sometimes he will eat the whole sandwich, the way one typically eats a sandwich. Often it will be layer by layer, and he’ll only have the biscuit. Sometimes he throws most of it away. Other times he’ll also have a banana, which he peels not by tearing the peel down from the top but by cracking the peel along the side of the fruit. Other times he might want an apple, which I slice and peel for him. He also likes those Cutie mandarin oranges which are so easy to peel.
And then there are the other days when we might be cutting it close on time, so I cook the sandwich myself and wrap it in a paper towel for him to eat on his way….
Once he’s finished eating he puts his plate in the sink and washes his hands while I stand by him. I often rub his back while he counts to 20. I hand him a paper towel, he dries his hands while he counts to five, and he throws it away. “Let’s get your coat and your backpack, please.”
If his coat isn’t still on his chair in the kitchen from the day before, he gets it from the hall closet, along with his backpack. Then he sits on the landing near the front door while we wait for his ride. I talk with him; he’s immersed in what’s on his device.
At some point between 8:45 and 9:15 a van pulls into and parks in our driveway. The driver gets out and walks to the door. After we hear the knock, I encourage Andrew to open the door, “Say, ‘Good morning!’”
“Gooh moh-nee,” he says while still looking at his phone.
“Good morning, Andrew!” Most staff members from his day program have known Andrew for years. They love him. They care for him. I’m grateful for them.
This is when I ask about what he’s got at the day program facility. If he needs more briefs, I send them. If he needs more food, I send that, too.
In the winter, Andrew will often wait for the staff to hold his hand while he walks down the stairs and across the walk to the driveway. “‘Bye, Andrew!” I call before he reaches the van. He might respond, he might not.
And then I start my own day.