This week celebrates an unusual but famous holiday in which we depend on a rodent to tell us whether spring is on its way, otherwise known as Groundhogs Day.
A little family fact for ya, this is your great grandma Menzo’s (GG Joy) favorite holiday. Now I’ve never sat down and asked her why, but maybe it has something to do with Punxsutawney Phil - the seemingly innocent groundhog that comes out for a morning meal to find the town staring at him as if he’s the most important meteorologist in town. Only to be picked up and held to the sky like Simba as if he’s been birthed the new king of the pride lands! Poor guy was only looking for breakfast.
While Groundhog’s Day is most widely related to the sweet meteorologist rodent, it is also referenced when events appear to be continually repeating. That my dear is how living with autism is like Groundhogs Day over and over and over again.
It might sound like I preach this, but you like predictability. For most children with autism, unpredictability can lead to great stress and anxiety, just trying to function in what most would see as the simplest of tasks. The answers in combating such anxiety lie within finding coping strategies and control over the situation, which can be easier said than done.
For example, I don’t like scary movies. How do I know I don’t like them? Well, I watched them and didn’t like the feeling they gave me. So, if someone invites me to watch a scary movie with them, I’d take control over having to feel that way and say “no.” Seems simple enough, but like I said it’s a little more complicated in your life.
Everything we do in life revolves around our senses. From touch, smell, sound, you name it at least one or more of our senses is being used always. When how you process these senses is somewhat off, anything new can become a game of jack in the box waiting for you to be surprised or unexpectedly frightened.
So, how does one take control of these situations? Establishing a predictable routine for even the simplest of things. Period. That’s where our Groundhog’s day story comes into play.
Once you’ve established a routine, predictability is present, and you feel more in control and calm. These routines can slowly sneak up on us because they can happen with ANYTHING you do! From playing with toys a particular way, eating, getting dressed, leaving the house, even in speech…Literally anything.
For the most part, your routines have been manageable and in certain situations to our benefit. For instance, you will not take off your seatbelt in the car until I say, “Push the button Addie.” You will stare at me, finger on the button, until I say it. You’re even so kind as to give me a little time to remember until you say to me “Push the button Addie?” – Like hey, mom that’s your cue!
After school is by far the most scripted.
I tell you to push the button Addie, and you exit your car seat. Then you stand at the van door until I tell you to push that button (but you will only do it after everyone has exited the van). You then happily jump, stim, and skip over to the bricks that line our garden from the sidewalk, pick the same one up every day saying “Hebby brick” (your version of heavy brick) placing it then back in position. Next up Jumping, stimming, and skipping over to a plant that grows crazy shoots off it – you slap one (as if you’re giving the plant a high five - “great job being a plant buddy!”) Then once again happily jump, stim, and skip to the front porch being careful never to step on the first or last step EVER. As soon as you enter the door you literally collapse to the floor (lucky for us, we all know you do this or we would’ve all face planted from tripping over you by now) getting your socks and shoes off and quickly as you can! It’s a barefoot or bust situation! You then gallop (yes gallop) your way to the bathroom to use the potty. Business done, toilet flushed, hands washed, you walk out of the bathroom pants around your ankles and ask for a diaper (we are half-way potty trained if you catch my drift.) I slip your pull-up on, you immediately say “a pants?” - as if to tell me not to forget you need pants. Then you head straight outside to swing. SAME THING EVERYDAY RAIN OR SHINE, SNOW or ICE! And this is literally only one of your routines! You have a score of them!
For those of us who live a Groundhogs day type life, it’s important to figure out ways to protect our children from anxiety, but to also prepare them for a world that isn’t always going to be predictable. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t pick and choose my battles. Sadly, there isn’t a black and white answer on how to do this. There is a lot (I mean A LOT) of trial and error. Like autism, once you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism, because no two are the same. For our family, we have been accommodating to your routines talking through changes if necessary or sometimes using visual pictures for support, because they’re pretty harmless.
So, Addie, while the world swoons over the famous Punxsutawney Phil (the meteorological rodent), we will just remain happy that our routine doesn’t have actual rodents in it.
Happy Groundhogs Day baby!
I love you.