Greg arrived home from work to a cold house today. It got colder when I couldn’t explain to him why the shredder wasn’t working. He simply screamed and rammed that piece of paper into the blades and when nothing happened, he screamed again. “There is no electricity!” I shouted. He tried again to shred his work papers to no avail. This continued, a scream and a futile attempt to get the shredder working, (he even took it apart!), until I convinced him by cutting up the work papers myself and stuffing them into the trash bin below the shredder. Transitions are difficult at best for those on the autism spectrum, and Greg refused to accept that his Friday routine was disrupted and not able to be fixed despite his repeated command for me to “Fix it!”
He usually comes home from work after a week of boxing, labeling, sorting and skills training with the expectation that his calendar will be crossed off and all will be completed according to the schedule in his mind and on his MagnaDoodle. When high winds kept him from his regular schedule, he just couldn’t cope. In his mind, things should always work.
Jay called while en route to the gym with bad news. The lights were out there, also. Evidently, there would be no gym for Greg today either. The treadmills were down and out. “Where’s Jay?” He repeatedly asked, and despite my patient answer of, “Dad is on his way home. The gym is closed because of the wind and there is no electricity,” Greg just could not understand what was happening. “Where’s Dad?” “Where’s Dad?” “Where IS Dad?” I asked myself. I wanted Dad to jump on a flying carpet and get home instantaneously, but instead, had to supply creative answers to still the potentially exploding cannon that Greg could be when his routine is disrupted.
When darkness crept down over the woods, and the trees began to disappear in the night sky, I lit candles and turned on all of the battery-operated candles and the gas fireplace. Greg started to calm down. He always liked the dark but that didn’t stop him from saying, “Afraid. It’s dark. Scared.” Thankfully I had downloaded two videos onto his I Pad, so he was able to sit with me in the kitchen and do his word search book by candlelight and watch the two videos until Jay returned home. By that time it was only 5:45, and I knew we were just beginning the long night.
With no promise of lights, I gave Greg cold pizza for dinner along with his bottle of water which we had been unable to take to the gym. Apparently when one is on well water, the water stops when the electricity stops? Now I know why people who live some distance from the nearest convenience store stock up on water in case of emergencies.
I was shocked when Greg ate that pizza cold! In the past, he’s never varied from his eating routine either. Did he finally understand that since there was no electricity, there was no warm food? I lit more candles, but Greg kept blowing them out! He has done that since his first birthday party when he discovered cause and effect and loved watching the light disappear and the smoke appear. By the time complete darkness fell upon us, Greg realized that he needed a flashlight to do his word searches and he tolerated my grand gesture of holding it while he worked. Afterward, he played with the flashlight himself while Jay and I tried to get warm in the living room.
No more complaints came from Greg. In fact, he might have viewed the entire evening as an adventure! Calmness prevailed. No sound of music. No sound of the television. No sound of Jay and me arguing about how to handle the outage since we’d both accepted that it was going to be a long one. There was peace in our household.
I ate cold pasta and drank lots of wine, fortifying for a long night. The wine helped to warm me up. At 7 P. M. Greg, conceding that there would be no electricity, said ”Ready for bed.” Again, he was very flexible in using a candle to go upstairs, in using bottled water to brush his teeth and in switching back to winter jammies from spring ones to keep him warm in a very cold house. His air purifier remained idle, and for the first time ever, he did not gesture toward it to get me to turn it on for him. Could Greg have figured out that this particular necessity relied on electricity? Sometimes he shows us that he understands. I thought we would have another fight, but Greg passed on that one and hopped into bed.
On this Night the Lights Went Out who could have predicted which of the many changes to his routine would set him off. A shredder, of all things. To go with the flow and work in the dark, eat cold pizza and initiate bedtime all by himself were the unexpected joys that befell our household this night. When those lights came back on, I almost regretted it until I heard Greg shout, “Clock!” His alarm clock needed to be set to the new time so Greg’s routine could start fresh on Saturday. His need for routine returned with the click of his clock when the electricity came back.
There is some bad that comes with raising a special child, but the good shows up and all is forgotten. Until the next storm....
P. S. Thanks, Shannon! Your interest in reading about Greg inspired this blog. Whenever I take a hiatus, I realize that so many people out there want to know about autism and see how it affects families. Your smile and encouragement will stick with me for a long time. I think you must be liked and appreciated in your classroom.
Watching videos, playing with putty, completing word search book... what do kids do when the power is out and their phone batteries are DEAD? They go to bed!