Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Getting Ready for School

Last week, I spent three days at home. I needed a break from work and September is a busy month for us at home, full of birthdays, anniversaries and father's day.

My wife was glad that I was home. This meant that she too could take a break while I looked after the morning mayhem.

Surprisingly, everything went off without a hitch and the kids were fed, packed and dressed for school not only on time but also with enough free time to play a few rounds of computer games. At first, I thought it was a fluke but the pattern repeated over the next few days.

Does this make me a better parent? No - of course not!

It does however suggest that aspie methods work best with aspie children.

The Need for Routine
When I was in primary school, my mother used to set my clothes out the night before. She would make a pretend person on the floor of my room with my pants, shirt and tie set out in the right places. The pretend person even included my socks separated and poking into my shoes.

In the morning, when I had woken up, I'd simply transfer the contents of the floor onto my person.

I didn't have to rush around the house looking for clothes and I didn't forget things, like underpants or like wearing shoes without socks because everything was in the one place. If there was anything left on the floor after I'd finished, then it meant that I'd forgotten something.

A photo from last year showing how I prepared my son's clothes for a morning outing.

These days, aged 40, I don't leave my clothes on the floor in a "body pattern" but I do still set out my clothes in the bathroom on the night before. I don't have to rush around trying to find things in the morning and I don't have to make decisions about the weather or colours while getting changed.

It works.

If I needed any further proof that I'm not able to operate like a normal person, it's this. Last week, we had a visitor during the week. As a result, I moved my bag to a more tidy location. I went to work without it the next day. Sure, I realised halfway to work that I didn't have it but my point is that I didn't notice its absence as I was going out the door because it wasn't in the "daily pattern".

During lunch that day, I found a very cheap playstation game that I thought my kids would love, so I bought it. Normally, I'd put it in my bag but since I didn't have one, I had to hold onto it. Needless to say, I fell asleep on the bus, woke up at my stop and rushed out without picking it up.

I need my routine.

Change Resistance
In the early days of our marriage, my wife went to great pains to point out how silly some of my habits were. She didn't like the idea of setting my clothes out. After all, if the weather changed, I'd be poorly dressed. Similarly, she had specific ideas about putting ones bag away.

My routines have been developed over time with the intention of keeping me on track. If I don't follow them, bad things happen (as with the lost playstation game). I rely on those routines and I'm very resistant to changing them.

My children are considerably less resistant to change because they don't yet understand how critical the routine is. As a result, they allow their clothes for the following day to hang wherever their mother puts them. They also allow their schoolbags to be moved out of sight (or the bag stays wherever they drop it). It was interesting to note that on two out of the three days, I needed to send one or both children back to the house to get their schoolbags. Picking them up when going outside isn't (yet) part of their routine.

Confusing Aspie Children
All things considered, my wife does a very good job of getting the children off to school each day. After all, it's a daunting task. The real problem is that aspie style organisation doesn't come easily to her because she's neurotypical.

Neurotypical children seem to automatically know that if you don't have underpants handy, you go and find some before you put your pants on. Many aspie children, mine included, don't.

Similarly, neurotypical children can often watch television while getting changed because they're able to multi-task and because they're aware of the passing of time. If my children are exposed to the television while getting changed, they become captivated and lose focus on everything else they are doing. Even turning the television off doesn't always bring them back. Once they've lost their focus, it's almost impossible to get them ready for school.

I've talked to my wife about setting our children's clothes out the night before and she tells me that it's done. In fact, this particular statement from me will often enrage her. She points angrily to a nearby rack where our two children's clothes hang side by side, often with other clothes in between.

She see two sets of clothes.

I just see a clothes rack with shirts and pants, no underpants, no socks, no shoes.

The difference in our perception is astonishing.

Sometimes the clothes hang all together side-by-side, One son's school uniform on the left, one on the right. This is better, much better but still too close. It's not necesarily clear whose is whose. After all, my boys don't check the sizes.

When I hang things out, it's on opposite sides of the room. More than that, I put their schoolbags with their names emblazoned in large letters next to the clothes so that there can be no mistake.

Like I said, my wife does a splendid job, it's just that she hasn't got that aspie perception - she doesn't see things the same way that we do. The parents of aspies need to act a bit aspie themselves in order to get their kids off to school without loss of sanity.


e said...

I've recently become very aware of needing to leave things out where I see them. (you'd think at 50 I would have noticed it before now) Fortunately, my other half also needs his things out where he can see them. It creates a whole other problem of his stuff looking like clutter (chaos) to me. I appreciate his need to do it, so the irritation is something I gladly tolerate.
I have to keep tote bags specifically packed to every place I need to carry things to. I keep them ready to go. Otherwise, I am guaranteed to forget something.

Rachel said...

I love the way your mother put out all your clothes for you when you were a kid. She sounds like a very practical person. And the photo of the way you put the clothes out for your son did my little Aspie heart good. ;-)

As a child, I always left out my clothes for the next day of school. I couldn't have imagined doing it any other way.

As an adult, I leave things where I can see them, or I'm liable to forget what to do. For instance, when I do the laundry, I leave an empty laundry basket in the kitchen where I'll practically trip over it. Otherwise, I won't remember that I've got laundry to hang up or take in.

I've even gone so far as labelling shelves in my closet with the kind of clothing they hold: work clothes, workout clothes, hanging-around-the-house clothes, pajamas. Otherwise, I won't remember which is which.

Fanny said...

Hello. I've been reading your blog for over a year now but, I've never commented, though. I'm from Argentina and I'm not a diagnosed aspie, but I believe I might be. I saw a psychologist for almost a year but gave up two months ago. It felt like she didn't really know what Asperger is- which is understandable but I'd rather go back when I have more time. Anyway, what I wanted to let you know is that your blog is entertaining and informative. A hard thing to accomplish these days. I heard about a movie called "Adam", that's soon to be released. It'd be interesting to see your opinion or a review for the movie after it comes out. The link is on my name URL.

aspieteach said...

I giggled a little at the "body pattern" part b/c I totally understand. I now have a grown-up version of this; when we upgraded our closets my husband insisted on getting what I guess is called a valet bar. It telescopes out from the top of your closet and you can neatly hang a whole outfit on there!

Loved this post, Gavin!

CelticRose said...

I have the same problem. In addition to leaving things out, I also have a to-do list in Outlook and I set reminders for time-sensitive tasks. For laundry, I set a timer so I know when it's done.

If I ever need to take something with me that I can't leave out in plain sight (like my lunch that needs to stay in the refrigerator until shortly before I leave), I'll put my keys on top of it. I can't leave the house without my keys, so I won't forget the item. ;-)

I don't have a problem with clothes since I don't have a lot of clothing. For work I'll generally have a set of outfits that will last me through the week. I only have to grab a pair of pants, a top that matches, undies, and on my way out the door I slip on the one pair of work-appropriate shoes I own. It's easy when you don't have to choose from too much stuff.

e said...

"I'll put my keys on top of it. I can't leave the house without my keys, so I won't forget the item."

I do that! It's the only way to guarantee something doesn't get forgotten.

M said...

off topic:

i know you like doctor how. what about "the prisoner"?

also a special interest of mine. i was curious since the re-make is airing in just a few months, the mini-series. was wondering if you'd heard about it, what you thought of that idea, a remake. i'm sort of tense about it, looks very good but the original is so good. er. anyway. sorry for the random comment.

Gavin Bollard said...

Believe it or not, I've never actually gotten around to watching the prisoner.

I'm sure I'll see it at some point though.

I usually dislike remakes unless they're vastly and completely different (preferably differently titled too) because I feel that simply remaking someone else's film lacks imagination.

Occasionally, something good comes along (John Carpenter's version of the Thing being an excellent example).

Anonymous said...

Gavin, would you say that aspies take longer to get ready and face the world in the morning? Do they need some time to put on a "personality"?

Gavin Bollard said...

Young aspies certainly take longer to get ready in the morning.

Older aspies take longer to get ready to go somewhere new.


Older aspies who are going to a familiar place, eg: work, usually have their routines so well rehearsed that getting ready in the mornings becomes quicker (by yourselves).

Of course, If you add others (unpredictable and dependent children) to the equation, then it takes even the older aspies longer than most.

e said...

Anonymous said...
"Gavin, would you say that aspies take longer to get ready and face the world in the morning? Do they need some time to put on a "personality"?"

I need lots of time in the morning and always have. Its not about personality - I can't function until I've been awake for a while. It's gotten better with age. I used to not be able to talk upon waking. That's gotten better but getting dressed, motor planning, coordination ... they are all nearly impossible. I try to set my alarm about an hour before I have to be up and spend almost all of that just waking up.

OHANA D said...

This post has helped me tremendously!! I just came home from dropping my 10 YO son off at school...late..after a large meltdown.I didn't lay his outfit out before I went to the b.r. this AM and made him late...(sound familiar?) He's just recently been "diagnosed" aspie, so it's interesting to read that other people have lived what I thought was so uniquely just the way my son is! SO, I am going to try to do better to "think aspie" and help us ALL out in the long run! Thank you! Thank you for sharing!!