Mix and Match – no co-ordination

Well they don’t do they! Or at least mine don’t. My autistic children keep everything separate, Pokemon in one box, trains in another, Dinosaurs in an old and forgotten one. Their ‘play skills’ improve with practice, prompting and encouragement, but the idea of giving a Pokemon a ride on a train, or permitting the trains house room in the Pokemon box, is basically a non starter. Even the idea of such a bold step would evoke mass hysteria and panic. Would it be possible to make a ‘house’ out of Lego for the Pokemon or maybe the trains? Of course not, such cross contamination would be unthinkable! Order must be maintained at all costs. It would constitute a severe blunder on my part to try and jinx the status quo.

I wouldn’t mind so much if this was but a thinly disguised ‘tidiness’ gene. I could also tolerate a little more of the OCD tendencies in this respect, but that’s not really the issue here.

In many situations they are incapable of differentiation. They seem ‘blind’ to the differences or unable to pin point something specific. A cupboard full of food, but they can’t ‘see’ the cereal shelf, the nearest one. Or a barren empty room, with one obvious item of a contrasting colour in the middle of the carpet, but to them it is invisible. But when it comes to toy category contamination, they’re as sharp as tacks.

Do I permit this happy state of affairs to continue? Of course not. I take every [many] opportunity to invade their space with a foreign object; a wind-up toy amongst the bricks, a kaleidoscope sneaks into the crayon box, a ‘soft’ Pokemon mingled in with the ‘hard’ ones. Do they tolerate the the introduction of such an anomoly? No, they treat it like a virus.

But if you persist, the steady drip, drip, drip, [translation = nag, nag, nag] may eventually take root. For mine I suspect that although part of it is smudging the boundaries of their rigid categories, it is also familiarity as they gradually learn to tolerate a less than perfect world – and we all need a bit of that.


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Perfect Pancakes

My children do not eat eggs, amongst many other things, even though only one of them is neophobic. They love the shape of eggs, holding eggs, playing with eggs, buying with eggs but not actually eating them. Whilst their diet is appalling it is just one of the many campaigns that we're working on. Each child has a narrow diet and has very little overlap with the preferences of their siblings. Separate meals for each individual person with their own set of quibbles can be a challenge for the chef. So a couple of years back when junior entertained the possibility of eating pancakes for breakfast we considered this step to be a major breakthrough. At last we had found one meal where they would all eat the same thing as each other.

As usual, I was not content with this development and started tinkering with the ingredients. Changing the recipe of something that they already eat, is also a recipe for disaster but I forged ahead regardless. The goal? Egg consumption by stealth. Weeks of careful tinkering eventually produced two pancakes per child, one egg per pancake. Result each child 'eats' two eggs per week. Cost? One gallon of syrup per pancake consumed, not an idea ratio but another little something that we can tinker with. When I recall the delicate lacey crepes that my mother created I am tempted to hide in my own oven, but needs must where the devil drives.

Hence at their current ages of 9 seven and a half, and 6, after years of meticulous devotion my children consume pancakes with the consistency of India rubber. They'd double as Frisbees if one were so inclined. Not so much a culinary tour de force as reinforced tyre material.

As side issue, which is the one I wanted to discuss was the 'perfection' aspect of the pancake in question, not it's consistency, but it's shape. A perfect pancake in this household is round. Not only is it round, it is perfectly round. In fairness I only need to make one in three, is perfectly round and ensure that junior is the recipient of my efforts, if I wish him to participate in the eating extravaganza. It's a very simple formula for success; if it is round he will eat it, if it is not round he won't and no amount of syrup will persuade him otherwise. Even if you hold out and represent the irregular pancake at snack time, lunch time, next snack time and supper time, be assured that this is a battle that you, or rather 'I', am not going to win. I have no idea what perils of consumption worry him so inordinately on this matter, but he will not be budged.

However, during my temporary check out period following surgery, my domestic duties have been severely curtailed. Spouse, the original pancake make of some 15 years experience entered the fray and took up the griddle. Whilst I would like to say that they all cheered him on in his efforts, this would be less than truthful. I had the pleasure of witnessing the presentation of the first tear shaped pancake. The noise that cracked open from his lungs assured the neighbour that he had just been slain to the floor with a stake through his heart. Fortunately he was speechless with shock, so outraged at the concept of non roundness. Even when the screaming subsided he was only capable of half sentences:
“what? / it can't be / no / never / not elipse / aghhh.” On reflection spouse and I concurred that a non round shape might have been an option if the pancake had been a recognizable and familiar shape. A preferred shape might even have brought additional rewards, but a trapezoid on a early Sunday morning didn't enter our thought processes, well it doesn't often, does it?

The other two chomp away oblivious to his angst and make unhelpful comments;
“Hey it looks like a tear and he's crying!”
“Mine is like a , like a …er. …..it is shaped like a squidgey moon!”
“Actually, it looks like an egg too!” Everyone turns to look at junior's plate. Everyone mutters in agreement, it does sort of look like a pointy egg. Junior allows his eyes to sweep over his own plate, whereupon he sputters in awe, “it is! It is like an egg! I love it, eggs are my favourite!”


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Request in a letter, needs expert translator

At various opportune intervals during the day, I nab him to park him at the table. Once in position, I mention that it might be a good idea to add to his list for Father Christmas. [translation = Santa Claus]. He sighs with a mixture of weary patience and defeat, “O.k. what we are putting now!” he queries with exasperation. Autism's rigidity seems impenetrable. [Ref 1]
I detail the five items that I have managed to extract from him thus far: [translation = auto suggestion] chocolate, Belgium only, a book, non-specific, a game, general but probably of the 'board' variety, something to cuddle and 'a present.' It is a woefully short list for any 6 year old to have produced. Generally children of this age either have a list several yards in length, or a shorter version with very specific items, make serial number and price, just so that there can be no mix ups.
“Can't you think of anything else you'd like him to bring you for being such a good boy all year?” I weedle.


“Ah mummy, I is not a good boy anyways and I don want nuffink any roads up.” I seek out the blue eyes to see if I have timed this badly? I point to my beautifully configured numbers in the hope of encouraging him to add another. I don't want to induce cardiac arrest in Santa when he finds a list with only five items on it.
“Can't you think of anything that would make you feel very happy, that would make you feel a happy green?”
“Well, maybe I am wanting something.”
“Really? What?”
“I am having to want three eggs actually.”
“Great! Number 6, three eggs, that's a great one! Can you think of another one?”
“Er, well, maybe I fink I am wanting a great gold star.” Saints preserve us, we're on a roll! “Wonderful! That would make a superb gift. Anything else?” Is there a chance we might reach double digits?
“Hmm, let me see now, I think my last fing would be some green toofpaste so that my teef can be happy too.” Why didn't I anticipate this? Does anyone manufacture green toothpaste? Do I have enough time to go to Walgreens? Will they let me open half a dozen tubes so that I can squeeze out a squirt and check colours? “Superb, happy teeth must be the best thing in the world, anything else?”
“ Umm, may be I need some bendy pens, I mean soft pens that won't be hurting my hands and fingers.”
I know that his ‘list’ looks strange to a casual observer. I could explain each items significance but that’s not really the point. The point is that he has no compunction to explain what these things are. The theory of mind, or lack thereof, tells us that he assumes that I understand, that I think as he does, therefore there is no need for him to expound. Even if I were a complete stranger he would still not explain, even if prompted, there would be no point. His perspective is that everyone knows their significance. It is easy to see why this tendency is seen as pivotal, in an autism diagnoses if not merely narcissistic.

“Fantabulous, those are the best pens on the planet! I hope he has some?” I wonder where they can be bought? “Any other offers? Anything else? You're up to 8 now!”
“My last thing will be a sharing thingy.”
“What kind of a sharing thingy?”
“A game that my bruvver is liking very much, so that we can be taking turns together. I like the game cube game because is it yellow, er because is it nearly golden colour, which is my favourite colour, but he is liking it because it is a Pokemon game and it will be making him happy, it is called a “Topaz Pokemon Version.”

So much for the Theory of Mind.

Ref 1 = 
adamantine \ad-uh-MAN-teen\ adjective
1 : made of or having the quality of adamant 
*2 : rigidly firm : unyielding 
3 : resembling the diamond in hardness or luster

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