Random objects in my house have become like my aging knee joints – after they’ve been sitting in one place for awhile, I can’t move them without hearing some complaining.
The Shrek: Forever After DVD case is always on the coffee table, despite the fact that the movie hasn’t been watched in weeks. My hairbrush is rarely in my bathroom drawer – it keeps turning up on my son’s dresser. And, every day, there’s a tube of Vaseline Lip Therapy on top of the piano in the living room. I know, this doesn’t seem “cleaned up” to me either, but every time I try to put these things away, my son returns them to these positions.
It’s my fault for rearranging the furniture.
We are currently living in the basement of my in-laws’ home. Our place is nicer than the term “basement” implies, and I’m grateful for the place to live [thank you, J & M!]. But its cluttered, because – despite the fact that most of our possessions are boxed up in storage – we are still attempting to live in our two-bedroom “apartment” with too much of the stuff from our previous five-bedroom home [thank you, housing crisis].
In April, after we’d been here about a year – this short-term solution clearly evolving into an open-ended residence – an urge came over me to clean up, sort out and make the space more livable. We sold some furniture, pulled other things out of storage, and generally reorganized the house. Spring cleaning and de-cluttering always feels great to me. But I think it makes my son feel like he’s entered The Twilight Zone, where everything seems familiar…but just different enough to be creepy.
Although people with autism are known to have difficulty with changes in routine, my son has always been relatively easy-going. We’ve moved many times since he was born, and he’s handled our multiple address changes better than I have. Usually, once he sees his favorite stuff in the new house, he feels at home. But changing things within his familiar environment has created a backlash of sorts. He’s no longer insisting that the chairs and tables be moved back to their original positions – but now that my frenetic furniture arranging appears to have subsided, my son is reasserting control by making sure that the little things never get moved.
As you may have seen in my previous post, my kid has been fixing things that he sees as “Wrong.” He’s on a daily mission to return items around the house to their proper positions. I have to be very conscious of where I put things down because I never know when the Google Earth camera in my child’s brain is going to take the snapshot that will “Forever” define that space in his mind.
I set my hairbrush on his dresser one morning as he was getting ready for school, and I guess he liked the way it looked.
Someone’s lip balm was left on the piano one night, and now if its missing, my son will find one – in my purse, in a drawer, wherever – and order is restored.
The pillows from our couch ended up in our son’s room at some point, and now we can’t get them back.
The remotes for the TV in his room have taken up permanent residence in the spot they were temporarily placed one afternoon – on the left-hand arm of the right-side chair.
Even in our master bedroom, my son has decided that he knows where things belong. The items on our nightstands are arranged symmetrically for us every day. The bookshelf near my desk is filled with materials that I use for work as a researcher for a non-fiction author. In other words, my office contains a lot of items that have nothing to do with my child, but I recently learned that his visual memory is still keeping a record.
A few weeks back, I returned a stack of these books to my colleague’s house. My son was with me, and before we left her house, he took notice of the books now on her table. It took a little convincing to get him to leave without them. Any doubt that he recognized those books as belonging at our house were erased as soon as we got home – he went directly to my office to check the bookshelf. He hovered around it for a few minutes, and returned to look at it several times that night, as if reprogramming his visual map of the room to incorporate the newly empty section of the shelf.
The Shrek: Forever After DVD on the coffee table became an issue because it was one of his birthday presents this summer. Gifts don’t get put away around here very quickly – once presents are shelved, you know the party’s really over. So, I tend to let gifts linger “on display” for a little while, to extend the celebration. Because of its “birthday gift” status, that Shrek DVD lived on the coffee table for a few days. I just didn’t realize how he was recording it in his mind, marking its place, until it was time to put it away. Too late.
No matter how many times I put that DVD with the others on the shelf below the TV in his room, regardless of how many creative ways I came up with to explain how happily all the DVDs go together….within a day, Shrek would reappear on the coffee table. We are, apparently, still celebrating.
In our haggling over where the Shrek DVD was going to live, I realized that he didn’t have a problem with the empty bookshelf in my office after that first day. The key was probably that the books were missing. But the Shrek DVD was not disappearing. It was being “misplaced” among the other DVDs and he had to fix it.
I decided to remove the Shrek DVD case from his visual field for awhile. When he first noticed it was missing, he scrambled back and forth looking for it in the two places he knows it to reside – the place where Mom thinks it belongs, and the correct one. But, by the next morning, he was no longer looking. After a couple of weeks, it seemed as if a Shrek-free coffee table had started to look right to him.
So, I did an experiment the other day. While my son was at school, I rescued Shrek from his hiding place and reunited him with the other DVDs. After my son had been home from school for about an hour, I wasn’t really that surprised to hear him ask to watch that movie, out of the many he has to choose from. But, the case itself remained shelved. By bedtime, my hairbrush was on my son’s dresser, lined up directly with the essential oil bottle, like an exclamation point. The tube of Vaseline Lip Therapy was sitting squarely in the exact center of the piano. But the Shrek DVD case was still on the shelf.
The following morning, while making breakfast, I watched as my son came into the living room and began immediately to situate the remotes and coasters on the coffee table, clearing a space just slightly to the left-hand side. When he returned to his room, I knew what was coming next. He emerged with the Shrek DVD case in hand and restored it, smiling, to its Forever After space.
Anybody want to buy a coffee table?