Winter Break in Autism Land

Sixteen days.

Siiiiiiiiiiixteeeeeeeeeen daaaaaaaaays.

That’s how long until the kids go back to school.

Yeah, that sounds so wrong, doesn’t it? The start of winter break, the kids are happy to be home. I am released from the strict kid morning and afternoon-evening routines. We are not going anywhere, but we have family coming into town to spend the first half of the break with us, and that promises to be full of fun.

But with Lil D home for a mere three hours, the kitchen drawers are being open and slammed shut in his constant search for different bead spinners. Any and every glass he finds around the kitchen or on the dining table, whether or not the person is done drinking from the glass or cup, is dumped into the sink. A little while later I hear him up in my bathroom opening and slamming drawers shut, and I beg my daughter to run upstairs, usher him out gently and lock the door – else I will be losing my toothbrush or any jewelry I may have out.

Sixteen days with Lil D home. As wrong as it sounds, I am counting down the days. Because as much as I love to have him around and have his hectic schedule relaxed, I know we are walking on borrowed time from the minute vacation begins. Because he is a creature of routine, and being out of school coupled with his severe lack of leisure activities is asking for trouble by the second week of vacation.

Maybe this time will be different. Maybe he, too, will learn to relax and enjoy the break from the rigors of school and home therapy.

But I’m not counting on that.

My mother-in-law and I were conversing the other day. I was telling her about the upcoming activities my husband and I have planned for the family and the various social functions coming up. My husband’s sister and family will be visiting us, and with my other sister-in-law living close by, I expect a full house for much of the break.

I pray that Lil D will be okay with all the garbar (chaos), my mother-in-law said. I hope he won’t be too disturbed by it all.

Yeah, that’s what I pray for, too.

A big part of the problem is that there is very little that Lil D likes to do for fun. As one of the administrators at his autism school recently said to us, it’s as important to teach Lil D good leisure-time activities and hobbies as much as self-help, vocational and academic skills. It’s a 24-hour day, he said. And that’s about eight hours for school, eight hours for leisure and eight hours for sleeping. What does he like to do in his free time?

Um, not much.

Years back, when we moved to Central Virginia, put Lil D in a private autism school and wrote his first IEP here, his teachers asked us if they wanted them to teach him to watch TV. At the time, that struck me as absurd. He had a bazillion things he needed to learn how to do with the severity of his disability. Teaching him to watch TV seemed to be the least of his priorities.

Fast forward eight years to now. Two weeks back I took his two home therapists out to dinner to discuss various issues and things we were working on with Lil D. His home therapy has changed so much over the years, and now it’s as much about learning to be out in the community and gaining self-help skills as it is about building friendships and helping him find things he enjoys doing.

As we discussed his lack of fun activities and things he can do to occupy his time (this is a kid who doesn’t like to play video games, watch any particular videos on YouTube, watch anything on TV, listen to music, perseverate on any type of toy or anything – and believe me we have tried to introduce one thing after another hoping to find that magical thing he could enjoy doing), we decided on two things – let’s see if we can get Lil D to listen to music and watch TV.

Yeah, it’s amazing where we are and what I’ve learned about what is important for Lil D have in his life since those early days of school.

So the other day his therapist sat with Lil D and channel surfed until they found something he seemed to be slightly interested in – Sponge Bob Squarepants. He “watched” (if that’s what you want to call it – we were just looking for him to stay on the couch and see if he would look at the TV) for a brief few minutes before wandering off.

And he was back to opening and slamming the kitchen drawers, dropping his beads into one and then coming and asking us to give him “beee.”

Sixteen days. I’ve got two kids who are thrilled for winter break to have begun and one for whom that much time off is simply not a good thing.

Every winter, spring and summer break. Every single time.

About Dilshad Ali

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