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A really bad sensory break


Both Cindy and I got used to the fact years ago that sensory processing challenges were a big part of Nolan’s Autism diagnosis. We’re still getting used to the fact they put a dent in the ol’ wallet, too.


I should have known it would be wise to always have some extra cash on hand after Nolan destroyed his fifth mini trampoline in less than two years, and before he even turned five years old. We never know when one of us is going to forget to hide a bottle of shampoo before Nolan covers himself, and the bathroom, with it and empties the bottle. Or he finds the dishwashing soap we think we’ve cleverly camouflaged on top of the refrigerator and the next think I know I’m slip-sliding around the kitchen floor and adding one more item to the grocery list.


Toothbrushes are the latest objects of his destruction. I swear the kid is part beaver the way he’s gnawed the bristles to the point he’s spitting them out almost as soon as we’ve taken another toothbrush out of the package. I chucked yet another one in the wastebasket Sunday morning; I think it was about the 30th one in the last three or four months that’s met a premature demise. For full disclosure, I was a little groggy and started to brush my teeth with his toothbrush before realizing my mistake. But it already was well on its way to being a mangled mess after only being used maybe five or six times.


Having to replace toiletries or toothbrushes on a semi-regular basis is a pain in the ass, but it’s not going to set us back too much. It’s the same with trampolines and yoga balls, although in Nolan’s defense it’s been more than a year since he’s popped one of the latter (I never did pay his middle school special education teacher for the one he wrecked last year in her classroom. But I think I recall her saying she has a budget for supplies, so she can foot the bill if she hasn’t already. Besides, he’s in high school now, so good luck trying to collect anything from us.).


Nolan isn’t being malicious when he’s depleting our supplies or rendering an object useless, but a few dollars here and a few more bucks there add up over time. We’ve dealt with broken beds – I've lost count, so let's just say several – and broken keyboards (seven keys lost off a $200 Yamaha digital keyboard). And now we’re dealing with inadvertent interior decorating.


I was in the garage putting a coat of wax on my car Sunday afternoon when I heard Nolan crying near his open bedroom window. Cindy appeared at the window as I walked over and told me, “You’re not going to be happy when you come in.”


Of course, I knew right away it had something to with Nolan doing something he shouldn’t have. At first my mind went to him leaving bodily waste somewhere that wasn’t our toilet. But then I had visions of him breaking something important, like maybe our television set, which really would suck since we just had Dish Network installed two weeks ago and they have a network that airs reruns of “The Johnny Cash Show,” and they just added another one that shows “The Munsters.”


I took a breath and asked, “Why?”


Cindy said, “There’s a hole in the wall,” meaning Nolan’s bedroom wall.


I asked, “How big?”


She made a circle with her hands about the size of my late father’s pumpkin ball softball from the 1960s that I have in the basement.

It seems Nolan had been kicking that particular spot of the wall while he was laying stomach-down on his bed watching videos on his iPad. Maybe he’d kicked that spot repeatedly over time and it finally reached its breaking point. Maybe it had just taken one or two good whacks. Either way, there was now a decent-sized hole in the wall. Cindy talked about looking for a headboard to cover it until we could fix it properly. I started wondering how helpful the how-to videos on YouTube really are, and if maybe Cindy and I can take the McGyver approach and fix the hole with $2.98 worth of common household objects without having to call a handyman.


Look, I can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to be nonverbal, nor I can begin to imagine what Nolan feels every day.


I worry about the physical harm he does to himself when he’s agitated – right now, he has three bruises on his right arm from where he struck the contact hooks on his headphones where he attaches the facemask he wears at school. I can’t imagine needing to wear noise-canceling headphones to shut out what can be a headache-inducing world, and sometimes supplementing it by yelling as though he’s auditioning for a heavy metal band.


There are times when Nolan’s body is telling him it needs something to regulate it, and that’s OK. You want to walk to the nearby tennis courts, take off your shoes and bounce around so you’re getting input? Fantastic! You want to take all the blankets in the house to your bedroom and roll around with them, son? Great – have at it! Are your muscles telling you to rip all the sheets off your bed and push it away from the wall and to the middle of your room – four times in two hours? Dad gets tired of putting everything back together after the third time you’ve done it, but hey, he really needs to work on his hospital corners. Are your legs telling you it’s time to gallop up and down the hall with enough force to rattle objects in three rooms – close to bedtime? Maybe that’s why it takes me so long to write one of these posts.


Being back in school has been wonderful for Nolan. His teachers and paraprofessionals have made sure he’s received ample sensory breaks, and he has adaptive physical education daily. Cindy and I try to do our best to make sure his sensory needs are met. But Nolan is a growing teenager who doesn’t realize how strong he really is. Replacing a yoga ball or fixing a wobbly chair leg is relatively easy. I’m not sure I can say the same about a hole in the wall.


I really hope what Nolan did Sunday was a one-time thing. It’s so much cheaper to replace toothbrushes.


Guess which one is Nolan's!

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