She and I had a number of battles while I was taking care of her. Mostly, we battled over chocolate. She wanted mine and would find it wherever I hid it. I didn’t want to share my chocolate and rationalized that she shouldn’t eat that much chocolate before dinner. The hide and seek war with the chocolate went on for several years.
My young friend had a number of autistic phobias. One of her more peculiar phobias was over rolls of toilet paper. She acted okay with the stuff on the spindle, but she would screech and shriek and dance away if she came across toilet paper rolls on the dining table, in a closet, or sitting in the hall.
Now, sometimes I am a very nasty person. I get cross, or competitive and insist on my own way. So, one afternoon when my friend needed some time out, and I had her daughter, I got tired of the chocolate hide and seek. That kid could track it down by smell wherever I hid it. We were short of money at the time, so I ate my chocolate sparingly just for a little occasional treat. Well, Miss I’m-Afraid-of-Toilet-Paper-Rolls ate half of my precious chocolate. Being very evil, I took my chocolate away from her again, put it on a high shelf and stashed a four-pack of TP in front of it to stand guard.
Well, as soon as I got busy with something, I heard a shriek from the kitchen and smiled knowing what happened. She’d found my chocolate. This young woman was non-verbal, but for this occasion she tracked me down and had a great deal to say in her own language while shaking my TP four-pack at me. I strongly suspect she cussed me out good before she threw the package of TP on the floor and went back for the rest of my chocolate.
I got a good laugh over how Miss-Chocolate-Thief could control her phobia under the right circumstances. She saw me laughing and had to smirk over the humor of the situation.
Curiously, the next day her mother called me to tell me how wonderful her daughter had been all evening, “She helped me set the table for dinner and was so focused.” I confessed to protecting my chocolate with the four-pack. We concluded that the structure and solid limits along with me not buying into her phobias other than using them to set limits comforted this young woman.
Somewhere in my education, a professor said something about not validating unreasonable fears or ideas. She said we were not supposed to look for the monsters under the bed because it validated the idea that monsters could be there. I used this bit of wisdom when dealing with special needs children.
My young autistic friend had a phobia over dogs. She’d do her shrieking, crying, running away routine whenever she saw a dog. She’d learned to sign “bite”. As she got older, she started signing bite every time she saw a dog. Most people would reassure her that they wouldn’t let the dog bite her, or that the dog wouldn’t bite. None of the reassurances helped with the phobia, which limited where her family could go if there might be dogs.
I love dogs and usually life with one or two or three. For some time, I kept my dogs in the kennel when Miss-I’m-Afraid-of-Dogs came to visit. Occasionally, she would encounter my toy poodle and shriek and sign “bite”. One day I looked at this young woman who’d been adopted from Korea. She was shrieking and signing, “bite”.
I answered, “No. I know you are from Korea and people there eat dogs, but that is my dog, my friend, and you cannot eat him.”
Stunned, the young woman looked at me, and a look of glee came over her face as she looked at the sleeping dog and signed, “bite”.
I repeated my admonition that she could not eat my dog. I repeated this admonition for a year or eighteen months before she got her very own very gentle special dog. She occasionally could be found on the sofa with her head on her dog. How thankful we all were that she could share in one of life’s richest joys--having a doggy friend.
Too often we get wound up in the situation and forget to think outside the box or bring humor into a situation that we define as serious. We forget that our special needs friends need silliness and humor, too. In the case of my young friend, too many saw her disability and not the person with the fantastic sense of humor underneath. Her sense of humor often set her free to be the person she was created to be.