53: Life Skills

53: Life Skills

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Raising Kids on the Spectrum

Life Skills

Humor is the great thing, the saving thing.

~Mark Twain

I hear screams and breaking glass, then a click. I redial the number. More screams. More breaking glass. “Don’t hang up! Tell me what is going on,” I plead.

My daughter struggles through her tears, anger, and disbelief: “Carter couldn’t find the orange juice so he called 911 and the cops are here!”

Oh, of course.

Finally, after so many years of continuous instruction, unable to take a day off, my husband and I felt we could take a vacation. So, there we were, in a hotel room far away from the current crisis.

“What about the house sitters? Where are they?”

“Mom, they are still asleep. I didn’t want to bother them.”

Oh, of course.

Take a deep breath.

We have come so far, I remind myself. After all, we had conquered banking. . . .

“How can I help you?” the smiling bank teller asked my sixteen-year-old autistic son.

“I would like to order a pizza!” he replied with enthusiasm.

The teller smiled. “That sounds really good, I would like a pizza too.”

I smiled too. Thank God for nice people.

“Carter, this is a bank, we can’t order pizza here. We can get money here and go home to order pizza, remember?” I said with that slow, instructive voice of experience. We continued with the transaction, just as we had practiced at home, just as we had reviewed so many times.

The teller smiled. “How would you like your cash?”

“Well done, with lots of ketchup,” my son replied with a look of pride.

“Not quite, Carter. That is what you say at the restaurant when the waiter asks you how you would like your hamburger. This is a bank. What he means is, what kind of bills do you want — fives, tens, or ones?”

Yes, we had conquered banking.

And phone calls . . . “Mom, is that enough butter?” he asked, like a racehorse out of the gate, no need to waste time on pleasantries.

“Oh hi, Carter. I’m not sure since I can’t see what you are doing.”

Or the time that I drove him to the library because it was raining and he couldn’t ride his bike . . . and as I was pulling out of the parking lot, my phone rang. “I’m at the library.”

“I know that, Carter. I just dropped you off. In fact if you turn around you can see me and wave to me.”

Seriously? Is this what they mean by “mind-blindness?” And why did he decide then to follow the “call me when you get there” rule, when so many other times he hadn’t bothered to call me?

Yes, we had conquered so many things. I remember that day when I asked him to stop on his way home and pick up a gallon of milk. When he walked in the door with the jug of milk and no bag, I was astonished. “Did you pay for it?” I asked, imagining that he just walked out with it and soon I would be visiting him in juvenile detention.

“Yes,” he answered, handing me a receipt to prove it. I smiled. I thought I had died and gone to heaven.

I celebrated the moment. A little victory in life’s never-ending battle for life skills. Oh, how he hates life skills!

“Is that another life skill? I’m done with life skills. How many life skills do we have to do?”

Banking. Phone calls. Groceries. We had battled them all, sometimes winning, sometimes trying again. And don’t forget about ordering pizza online . . .

“Whoa! $200 of pepperoni pizzas? That’s twenty pizzas. Do you really think you need that many?” I asked, grabbing the mouse out of his hand and clicking on “Clear Shopping Cart.”

“I’m sorry. The computer was slow!”

Life skills. He needs them. I need them. All those years working in the emergency room have not prepared me for the daily crises of life with autism. Some days I think I’d gladly manage a cardiac arrest over the meltdown caused by a fly in the house. At least in the ER we have equipment, proven strategies, and teamwork. I have no equipment for the predictably unpredictable responses of autism. Proven strategies fail me in the downward spiral of anxiety produced by that nemesis of daily life: change. The better half of my team has to work for a living.

I need life skills: patience, perseverance, and perspective.

Patience, to live graciously in my son’s challenging world, where love still wins more battles than strategies do.

Perseverance, to know with confidence that my efforts are not in vain.

Perspective, to celebrate the progress, thankful for all that he can do.

Life skills. How many do I have to learn?

Maybe just one more.

A good sense of humor.

~Carol Schmidt

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