Living with your adult child with Asperger’s and other amusing anecdotes.
A work in progress by Bambi Everson.
It’s 1 AM.
Sarah attempted to heat up a piece of pie in the microwave. Putting it on for 3 minutes instead of 30 seconds, and walking away, the house still smelled like charred toast well after the smoke had cleared. Twice last week, she had burnt the popcorn so badly; it hurt my throat to step into the kitchen. She had not noticed. I wrapped the blackened bag and tossed it out of the apartment into the communal garbage before knocking on her door. “Oops” was her only response. Her room smelled like was living with a longshoreman on leave after a month at sea. I could see new clothes I bought her crumpled at the foot of her bed, tags still on and stained with what I can only hope is merely tea. Sarah is 23, a recent college graduate who has never mastered the can opener.
These are the little things that invade my brain in the wee small hours if the night.
Then I start thinking, what if I died in my sleep? When would she notice? We don’t have a house phone so she would surely ignore any calls on my cell. If her dad called, she would just tell him I was sleeping and she wouldn’t bother checking because obviously my body was in the bed. Her dad would either believe her or assume I was mad at him again and would wait until I felt like talking. No, I would only be discovered when the police knocked on the door responding to an unpleasant odor coming from the bedroom. Sarah would insist she didn’t smell anything even as the police were gagging and calling for a coroner. And then Sarah would be questioned. Would she mention that she has Asperger’s Syndrome? Would the cops find this to be a suspicious situation? Would she know who to call for help?’
Yes. These are scenarios that have plagued my sleep for the last two decades.
When Sarah was much younger, it was suggested I test out one of these scenarios, as I am a single mom with less than stellar health. It seemed a rather cruel joke to play on a 3rd grader but oh the accolades she would receive should she dive for the phone or check for a pulse. Only the week before we had watched a five year old save his mother’s life after a severe asthma attack. We even had a friend whose 3-year-old helped his mom when she unexpectedly went into early labor. He knew where the phone was and was able to unlock the front door by standing on the piano stool to let in the EMS officers. The baby was born healthy right there on the living room rug. Was it possible I had a pint-sized hero of my own or could she be one by utilizing her superior rote memorization skills? I figured the knowledge outweighed the possible trauma.
Sarah was on the couch watching TV. I was on the computer in the same room just a few feet away. I stood up, crossing in front of her as if I was headed to the bathroom or perhaps the kitchen. I dramatically collapsed to the floor in a crumpled heap, lying silently in a most awkward and uncomfortable position and I waited.
I wondered how long I should wait.
I listened to the end of a Rugrats episode I could have recited by heart. My twisted leg began cramping up. It had been about two minutes. At last I hear some rustling as her body shifts off the couch. The click of the remote silences the VCR. Padded footsteps approach me. Then with great calm, she steps over my body, sits herself at the computer and starts playing Freddie Fish.
I figured now is as good a time as any to speak up.
“Sarah,” I say, slowly massaging my cramped thigh, “Did you notice I was on the floor here?”
“Yes,” she replies, barely taking her eyes off the screen.
My heart sunk. “What did you think was going on here?” I tried not to raise my voice.
“I thought you were just taking a nap,” she says matter-of-factly.
“I don’t know. You always say you are tired. I don’t know how you sleep!”
Snap! The cold wet towel of reality hit me in the face. Clearly my child was not going to be on the 6 O’clock News, wearing an oversized policeman’s hat and talking about how she had saved her mommy.
“Time to make the donuts,” I mumbled to myself as I shlumped towards the kitchen.
“I want macaroni and cheese,” Sarah bellowed. It was a command, not a request. I made a mental note to add cooking to the list of self-advocacy skills. That list unraveled in my mind like the naughty and nice scroll in Macy’s SantaLand.
I diligently began life skills training. The hard part is trying to anticipate which skills that come instinctively to us neurotypical folk will prove challenging to my Aspie daughter without insulting her intelligence. I think back to my own father who I am convinced beyond a doubt was an undiagnosed Aspie. He passed away in 1996 shortly after my daughter was diagnosed but before the word had spread beyond the Special Ed community. My dad adamantly refused to use a plastic razor claiming they simply didn’t work. It took me weeks to realize he hadn’t been taking the little plastic cover off the blade.
One needs to be Sherlock Holmes and a bit of a psychic to get into the mind of an Aspie and follow the trail of synapses that lead to their conclusions. The wiring is different so its rather like asking an electrician to perform La Bohéme without any rehearsal. We just feel ill equipped no matter how devoted we may be to the project.
// Continued in Part Two here.