This little thing here? This cheap wooden contraption that hates the electric clothes dryer for making it obsolete? Well, it’s useful again, at least around here.
I hope I’m not jinxing our experiment to say out loud that it’s working.
See, my son “fixes” everything around us. When he’s been on a two-week break home from school, this behavior is even more apparent. We live in the house, use things, move stuff around, and he follows behind us putting everything back in place and keeping things in order the way that he likes them.
- The blinds (closed)
- The doors (certain ones open, others closed)
- The lights and ceiling fans (on or off depending on the room)
- My glasses, pens, papers, and the computer mouse (straightened and lined up)
- The washing machine and dryer doors (closed)
- Paper towels and toilet paper (torn straight, without any extra pieces hanging off)
- The remote controls (lined up correctly on the coffee table)
- Chairs tucked under the kitchen table (even if you just stood up for a moment)
- Toaster dial set to “1″ (even in the middle of using it)
- Oh yes, this list could go on and on and on and on.
We’ve tried many approaches to encourage him to be OK with how things in the house get used. We’ve written social stories and rules, set timers, locked doors, attempted to redirect his attention, and positively reinforced every time he’s left things in their “altered state.” We keep working this issue because his constant policing aggravates all of us, the boy included. He is stressed because we keep changing things, and we are stressed because he is changing them back. When he’s not hovering over us as we are using things, he’s immediately entering the room we just left to “reset” it. He’s on patrol all the time, checking and re-checking every room in the house, and his anxiety rises the longer he has to wait to set things right.
Our first successful intervention was the Blue Tape to block off the kitchen.
As much as I want to teach my child to help with cooking, on some days, this kid’s hovering makes it impossible to prepare a meal. While I’m using the kitchen, he’s right there with me, moving things back to their default positions as soon as I put them down. The kitchen towel must hang “just so” on the oven door. The salt and pepper shakers have to be in their places (and straight!) on the counter. The kitchen faucet faces the left-hand sink, not the right. On and on.
So, a while back, after a few days when he was particularly fixated on “fixing,” I started stretching blue tape across the entrance to the kitchen and told him he couldn’t cross.
I couldn’t believe when it actually worked. He didn’t take down the tape. He just stood behind it and watched, occasionally motioning for me to “fix” something myself. But I wasn’t tripping over him anymore.
I began using that blue tape enough that we switched to some more sturdy ropes strung between hooks.
These also work amazingly well. They ain’t pretty, but they are magical.
The blue tape was also useful in keeping our kid from closing the shades on our sliding glass door. My husband installed these rolling door shades on tracks, but our son would never allow those doors to stay open. Because the “default” setting was closed. Until we put a piece of blue tape across them.
If we use the tape, the shades stay open. He leaves them alone. That’s the rule. The blue tape kinda clashes with the decor, but it lets the sun shine in, so I’m OK with that.
My son can easily remove the tape or the ropes. He could throw out the tape, and unhook or scoot under the ropes. These barriers don’t physically stop him. They mentally stop him. They remind him that it’s OK for things to look different for a little while.
Our latest trick – credit to my husband for thinking of it – is a clothespin.
Turns out, simple wooden clothespins can also be used to communicate “Stop. Don’t Touch. Leave This as it IS.”
First, we clipped a clothespin to the drawstring on the blinds when we wanted them to stay open. The first time our son saw this, he gestured to it, essentially asking me, “What’s up with this new thing?” I let him know that when he sees the clothespin, it means “Leave this alone.”
He paused for a moment. And let it go.
So far, when the clothespins are up, he’s leaving the blinds open. It looks a bit odd, but for the first time in forever I don’t have to feel like we’re living in a cave. I’ve tried this on multiple windows and so far, so good.
With that success, I decided to try it on the washing machine. We have a front-loading washer that we’d like to leave open sometimes to let it air dry. I clipped a clothespin to the inside of the washing machine door.
Again, it’s just a symbol, it doesn’t keep the door from closing. But so far, it’s working. This one needs a little more monitoring, coupled with some additional reminders about the new “rule.” But I’m hoping the magic will ultimately prevail here too.
My son is capable of manipulating a clothespin. But just like the tape and the ropes, this little device makes him pause just enough to get control of his impulse to FIX all of the things. It’s a visual reminder that the blinds, or the washing machine door, or whatever, looks different on purpose, and it’s all right to leave them like that.
My next task is to remember to hide the clothespins when we’re not using them, because otherwise they all somehow appear in a newly “assigned” spot that happens to be the middle of my kitchen counter. Lined up straight. Of course.
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