So as I’m sure you’ve figured out by now, many of the things that are normal in our home aren’t normal in most homes. But normal is relative, right?
I thought it might be fun to take a look at the things in our home that we don’t think twice about but that are clearly not typical of other families (particularly those that aren’t affected by autism). Most of these things are so much a part of our every day that we don’t even think twice about them. Truth be told, I had to take a step back and think about it before I even noticed everything on our list. And I’m confident this isn’t even all-inclusive.
One of my favorite voices in the world of autism and parenting is Eileen Shaklee (a.k.a. Mama Fry) of Autism With a Side of Fries. I can relate to her on a whole lot of things… She’s got one child who happens to be a teenage son who, of course, lives with autism. I see a lot of commonalities between her kiddo and our own, and frankly she just seems cool. Honestly, I’d totally love to go share a bottle of wine with her while we swear under our breath about all the things that need to be sworn about. Seriously, though, if you're not familiar with her, you need to go check her out.
There is one thing that Mama Fry tends to say regularly that I find myself also saying ALL THE TIME. Often in response to, “Why does he do that?” she’ll simply reply, #BecauseAutism. (Look at me- using a hashtag like I know what I’m doing…) But let me just say that there is a lot of #BeauseAutism happening in our home.
With that in mind, let me show you around our home… Or as I often greet visitors, “Welcome to our chaos…” (…and now you know where our name came from.)
When you first come in, you’ll see our living room… Here, you might notice that we have a new couch and loveseat. Why? Because we wear things out quickly between the constant rocking, kicking, flopping and all of the other sensory-seeking behaviors (#BecauseAutism). Our last sofa/sectional was only about two years old and was already showing some major signs of wear… Admittedly, it was from the economy line of furniture from a major national brand, but seriously—TWO YEARS. Could we have squeezed a little more life out of it? Probably… But the fact that the frame was already starting to bow convinced us that we’d better put some of our stimulus money toward a replacement before we didn’t have a choice.
From here we’ll wander down the hallway to the bathroom where you might notice that there is no shampoo or body wash in the shower… I’ve discussed before how Nolan can’t be trusted with liquid soaps or lotions (#BecauseAutism), so you’ll understand why we live a life reminiscent of my days on campus—with everyone sharing one bathroom, you had to drag your own stuff to and from the shower every time. This is the same reason why the door on the bathroom closet has a childproof doorknob cover.
Speaking of that doorknob cover, you may notice other things along the way that we do to keep Nolan safe. The doorknob cover is one of the more obvious touches. That and the alarm system we added after we realized Nolan could open the door on his own (the neighbor lady has a bitchin’ porch swing that he just can’t resist… #BecauseAutism) are the more visible reminders in our home. But there are countless other things we don’t think about that are a part of our everyday… Like the child safety locks that I keep on in my car. You mean you don’t have to let your 15-year-old out of the car every time? Just me? Huh… weird.
Moving on, we’ll find ourselves in Nolan’s room. Here, Nolan’s bed is undoubtedly stripped of all bedding. Why? Once again, #BecauseAutism. If we didn’t need to strip the bed because of toileting issues (which are less frequent than they used to be—thank goodness), Nolan does it himself. He loves the feel of the mattress fabric, and he’s will lay on his bed and rub his hands across the surface for as long as we will let him.
You may also notice the general disarray of his room. Part of this is, of course, from the fact that he’s just pulled everything off of his bed (including no fewer than 8-9 blankets most of the time… that’s another #BecauseAutism sensory thing for Nolan). But the rest of this is because for some reason he loves to move whatever furniture he can. Since Nolan’s room is a safe space, we tend to let him have some down time alone there where we helicopter parent a bit less. So this is usually where he decides to slide a chair, dresser or bed (which is currently constructed of used milk crates after he broke 3 beds in a period of 2 years if I remember correctly) across the floor as far as he possibly can. Bonus points if he can get something wedged behind the door so that Mom and Dad have a harder time getting in.
Last but not least is the kitchen/ dining area. Perhaps the most atypical part of this portion of our house is the quantity and variety of foods that we tend to have on hand. Nolan is currently 15 and as a result, he eats like a ravenous raccoon on garbage day. So needless to say, we tend to look like we’re stocking up when we’re really just trying to get through a week.
A lot of people on the autism spectrum tend to have a limited range of foods that they can tolerate. This type of restrictive eating is usually because the person wants to avoid the sensory input that most foods provide. Instead they prefer to stick with foods that have simpler flavors and textures like chicken nuggets, French fries, macaroni and so forth. While Nolan isn’t an extremist in this way, he swings a bit more extreme in the other direction.
Nolan’s go-to foods are a pretty accurate reflection of that. Primary among these go-to foods is soup. Specifically, Campbell’s Chunky Soup. Gumbo, Jambalaya, Chicken with Wild Rice… There are several that he’ll eat can after can of if allowed. As long as it isn’t creamy, cheesy, mushy or noodley, chances are good that he’ll devour it—especially if it’s spicy. He also leans toward other bold flavors like sour and salty. If I had to guess, I’d say Nolan’s ideal snack would probably be a can of soup followed by a giant pile of green olives dipped in yellow mustard. #BecauseAutism, our guy seeks out the sensory input that this type of big-impact flavors give him.
I think that just about wraps up our tour for now… I’m sure eventually I’ll have more epiphanies about things that are a normal part of our daily lives being #BecauseAutism, but for now I’ll just leave you with a scene from a few weeks ago… Nolan was in his room rearranging as always. In this case he emptied his closet, and that’s exactly where I found him. And I mean, it’s a Monday morning… If you can’t find me, I might be right in there avoiding the world with him.