Every Friday is pizza night for Henry and me. We have a party. I put this in place after I separated from his father. I wanted Henry to have a routine that he could count on in a difficult and uncertain time. And I wanted to do something fun he could look forward to every week. He likes being with his dad more than he likes being with his mom. Sometimes it’s hard for me but I get it. Dad is more fun. Whether you are together as a family unit or in separate houses, dad is usually more fun than mom. For instance, when Henry comes out of his room in the morning I greet him with joy and excitement. Then I ask if he’s going to brush his teeth, change his clothes, and put on deodorant and body spray. Moms have an agenda. So, a pizza party was good to remind him that we can have fun.
In order to have pizza night, we have to go get the pizza. So, every Friday we go to the grocery store. Henry started giving me a list of his desired foods on the drive from OCA to the store. It started out pretty basic, because the list of foods he actually eats is very short: pepperoni pizza, waffles, peanut butter, chips, chicken nuggets, applesauce, bananas, blueberry yogurt, graham crackers, fruit snacks and goldfish. Over the last several years, he’s added to it. There’s cupcakes and cakes, pink sprinkle cookies, gummy bears, Swedish fish, ice cream sandwiches. Almost every week he adds one new thing.
It’s important for him to get the list out. It’s important for him to be heard. It is important for me not to get irritated with the amount of time it takes to get the list out of his system. On days when he’s ramped up sometimes he’ll give me the list three or four times. I treat autistic behaviors with respect but as I’ve said before, we’re in charge of the disorder, the disorder is not in charge of us. Autistic repetitive behavior can sometimes build on itself and not stop. One technique I use is to say, “Ok, last time.” And let him do it (whatever the behavior is) one last time. Another thing that works is for him to write the list down and put it on the fridge, just like my grocery list. One day he couldn’t stop, so I said, “I’m going to the store. Text me your list.” By the time I got to the car, there was a full list on my phone.
What pleases me is his ability to say what he wants. To be part of the process. It pleases me more that there’s not a meltdown when the enormous list of junk food is not purchased and brought home every single week. The basics, absolutely, and then I usually pick one treat from the list, a different one each week.
I want to be like this. Do you know what you want? Do you know what you need? The bigger question is: Do you ask for what you want and need? Henry boldly makes a list of what he wants and needs. More boldly he asks for it. Repetitively. Then he is delighted with what he receives. Every week. I’d say that’s a pretty good way to live.
Here’s a link to the dash cam video of one week’s version of The List.