My son Logan is on the autism spectrum and although not all individuals on the spectrum struggle with abstract concepts like time, Logan does. Until he was at least twelve, I would use cartoon segments to explain how long something would take, since this concept seemed to resonate with him.
Stop judging me. It worked.
I could say something would take thirty minutes and he’d look at me in complete bewilderment. On the other hand, if I told him it was as long as two Sponge Bob episodes (roughly fifteen minutes each) he would nod sagely, like a wise and patient monk.
Another thing individuals on the autism spectrum often struggle with is executive functioning. This set of mental skills helps people manage time, switch focus, plan, organize information, remember details and prioritize responsibilities in order to get things done.
Logan has EFD: Executive Functioning Disorder.
*Not to be confused with another EFD disorder*
Meaning, he has a hard time prioritizing not only his own information, but also the information he needs to tell me. With Logan, all knowledge carries the same weight and priority tag, whether it’s, “The dog snuggled with me last night.” Or “Your hair is on fire.”
Consequently, fewer words strike fear into my heart than the following seven when uttered from Logan’s lips,
“I may have forgotten to tell you…”
This statement is most frequently heard as I’m pulling up to the curb to drop him off at school. A few years back as I rolled to a stop in front of Driscoll Middle School, Logan paused before getting out, his brow furrowing, a clear indicator of his concerted effort his brain is making to remember something.
“You look like you’re trying to remember if you put on underwear this morning?” I teased him, smiling.
“Mom!?” He scowled, incensed.
But I catch him running his finger under the waistband of his jeans, to make sure.
“Mom.” He begins again, slowly, thoughtfully,
“I may have forgotten to tell you I signed you up to make steak for my class today.”
“Steak?” I ask incredulously.
“Yes mom. Steak. You know red meat? Beef? It’s what’s for dinner? It’s for our reading feast today.”
“Steak?” I repeat dumbly. “Can’t it just be cookies… or cheese sticks, or… meatballs?”
“No.” He answers definitively.
“It’s suppose to be steak.”
What period am I suppose to bring steak for your entire class? Should I serve it on fine china? Do you still have the pressed linens from when I brought lobster in?” I fire my questions rapidly, like a well trained sniper.
When I stop to reload, (take a breath) Logan takes advantage of the temporary silence by hurriedly blurting,
“You’re confusing me with too many questions!”
I pause, bite my tongue, allow him time to collect his thoughts.
“It’s second period.” He says finally.
“I mean, I think it’s second period.” He amends, his brow furrowing again.
“And no. I don’t know what time that is. I’m a human, not a computer. And NO mom! You can’t make something different, so don’t ask again. I mean it’s on the printed menu in ink woman! INK!!” He continued, his voice rising dramatically, while gesturing wildly with his hands.
“What printed menu?” I interrupt again.
Logan takes a deep breath, as he gathers the patience needed to deal with this dense headed woman, he’s been given as a guardian?!
He sighs the sigh of someone who just finished 22 hours of brain surgery. His face clearly says, This is not rocket science woman!
“Mom. Listen to what I’m saying.” He enunciates each word, his teeth clacking.
“The menu says you are going to bring Filet Minion, medium rare. It’s what I think my reading character would eat. I can’t help it if he has good taste.”
“Who’s your reading character?” I ask, clearly confused.
At this point the line of cars behind me starts honking in earnest. Logan smacks his palm to his forehead, his nostrils flare widely as he draws in a deep drink of fresh air.
“You look like an angry bull” I say, reaching for him.
But he doesn’t hear me since he is muttering something under his breath. I’m guessing the serenity prayer?
God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, like my mother.
He begins again, this time pinching the bridge of his nose.
“I don’t exactly think it’s wise to concern yourself with such trivial questions such as who or who not my character is when you have steak to cook.”
I nod, sagely, conceding. Then I remind Logan he needs to get out of the car or he’s going to be late. “What time is it?” He asks.
“8:07” I say.
“And what time does school start again?” He continues,
“8:15.” I answer.
“So how much time do I have?” He wonders out loud.
“Eight minutes.” I tell him.
“How much time is that…?” He begins.
“About half a Sponge Bob episode.” I say.
“Geez! I gotta go!” He says, hurriedly grabbing his backpack,
“I’m going to be late!”
He pauses just before he closes the door, and tells me,
“Just bring the steak to the office before second period. And make it, you know, classy. My character is a man of the highest caliber!”
Logan stops mid departure to dip his head towards me so I can bestow the traditional goodby kiss on his forehead. He waits patiently while I lean towards him, a knight waiting to be knighted. I kiss him, smooth his golden hair away from his forehead, which he hastily pushes back down. This is the same goodbye we’ve shared since the first day of Kindergarten.
I watch him scamper into school, and I, in turn scamper to the grocery store.
As I drive I started to think of all the other things he told me recently.
Friday night he told me,
“Mom, I may have forgotten to tell you that I have choir rehearsal Saturday at 6 for Regionals.”
“Is that six am or six pm?” I ask.
“I don’t know. Does it make a difference?” He answers, blinking.
Also, the zipper on his church pants is broken (mentioned as we walked into church).
He’s out of deodorant, in answer to my asking, “What’s that smell?”
And he needs lunch money. That call usually comes as I’m walking into the house from the gym, which happens to be a quick two minute drive from the school. The gym. Not the house.
Also, the call usually comes because lunch has already started, and he’s been denied for a zero balance.
Please note, this is the same child who went through $100 of lunch money in ten days, because he didn’t realize it wasn’t an “all you can eat buffet” situation.
As I’m racing into the store, I text his older brother Spencer to ask what time second period starts. I push my shopping cart through the aisles like I’m on some sort of speed shopping game show. Spencer texts back the time frame and I make a mental note that the steak may be more rare than medium rare, since I only have about one Scooby Doo episode plus a Disney Short to both make the dish and drop it off.
Maybe I’m an enabler. I don’t know.
Maybe good parenting would have been to let him feel the natural consequences of forgetting to tell me. But, for Logan getting, receiving and transmitting information seems to be a telegraph-operator-tediously-slow-agonizing-process of taps and dashes.
Tap tap tap, dash dash dash.
It takes concerted effort just to form the sentence, and get out the idea before I interrupt him, or urge him to hurry up, making him forget everything he was going to say.
I know I frustrate the boy with our different styles of communicating. And I believe, sincerely that he is doing the best he can.
Which is why I bought the good steak.
And dirtied four pans cooking a filet in each one so I could get it to him on time.
Logan may have forgotten to tell me to make sure the steak is hot, cut into bite size pieces and speared with some of those firework toothpicks with the fancy blue tops, but I remembered anyway. I mean his reading character does have an image to maintain.
And good taste.