Dish Soap in the Fridge and Dinosaurs in the Bushes
Updated: Jun 23, 2021
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Today I put dish soap in the refrigerator, and then spent about 20 minutes searching for it and cursing under my breath that someone didn’t put it back where it belongs. Lately my mind has been mush. Maybe there are just too many thoughts flowing through it at once. I have always found my brain can only hold on to so much. What isn’t considered vital to function somehow seems to get pushed to the side... things like where I put the dish soap.
Some days and weeks are better than others, and some months I would even say I Am Rocking It! If I have remembered most of the appointments, teacher notes, therapies, work meetings, and various sports practices, I seriously consider myself a superhero! And if I haven’t, or I misplace things like soap, I have learned not to beat myself up too much. All in all, I call both Winning!
It seems though that I am not the only one who puts things like dish soap or pens in the refrigerator. Yup, I have found pens there too. To be honest I think I have misplaced everything from Windex to the house phone in the fridge. This might tell you a little something about me. Not only do I have a memory like swiss cheese, I really, Really like to eat!
Several days ago though it wasn’t my lost treasures that I found hanging out in our fridge. I went in for a snack and was greeted by quite a few of my son’s Jurassic friends. Poor memory or not, I knew this was not my doing. What were half a dozen small dinos doing in the cold? There must have been a reason Max decided they needed to chill. ;0)
“Max, buddy, why are your dinosaurs in the refrigerator?”
“Don’t be sorry. It’s no biggie, but why are they there?”
“I’m sorry! I put them there. I won’t do it again.”
“No Max, it’s ok, I’m just wondering why they are there? Were they hungry?”
“No, I put them there.”
“I know kiddo, but why?”
“Because I Put Them There!”
I think you get where this conversation was going. You see, Max has autism and for him this includes pretty significant speech and language difficulties. Sometimes the number of words he has can fool people. Max has used words like “avalanche,” “destroyed,” and “damaged.” That is some pretty impressive vocabulary right there. But regardless of how many words he can say, he often has a hard time using them to explain his thoughts and ideas. Many of the things he says have been taken straight from movies or things he has watched on t.v.
His vocabulary and language can be a little bit like my swiss cheese memory...it's there but there are quite a few holes. For Max there are some really amazing words and some basic foundational words, but most of the time the words in between are missing, and the ability to understand and use words correctly is often not there.
This can be confusing for people who interact with Max. One minute he may seem like he understands and is following you perfectly, and the next he may be yelling in frustration, upset and confused. Keeping this in the back of my mind helps me to be mindful of what his actions are trying to tell me.
There was a time when Max begged and begged for a special, fairly expensive dinosaur. We waited for his birthday, saved up, and got it for him. When he ripped open the paper he squealed with delight!
“Thank you. Thank you! He's the Best. Dinosaur. Ever!” He played with the dinosaur all day, and we felt glad we found a gift he really liked. This was his first dinosaur toy in what would eventually become an intense special interest.
That night Max took Brown Dinosaur, as he appropriately named his prehistoric friend, to bed with him. He was all tucked in, story read, and covers pulled up tight, but he kept getting up.
“Max go back to bed,” we reminded.
A minute later he was up again. As we heard the pitter patter of his little feet scurrying around upstairs we called, “Max please go to bed. It’s late!”
Several moments later the noises got louder and I knew I had to go check on him. As I re-tucked him back in bed, I begged, “Max you need to go to sleep."
It wasn’t until much later that night when I found Brown Dinosaur buried under the covers of my bed that I realized something was up. Maybe Max wanted to share the fun? Maybe he wanted to tuck in his new toy like we tucked him in? We weren’t quite sure.
The next night after Max was snuggled up under the covers I went downstairs. After picking up as many toys as I could manage, I walked past Max’s room on my way to bed. His door was shut, but Brown Dinosaur was sitting outside. Maybe Max wanted him to stand guard?
The following day after Max was tucked in I heard him quietly come downstairs and then immediately run back up. When I checked to see what was up, Brown Dinosaur was at the bottom of the stairs. The night after that Brown Dinosaur made it to the front door, and several days after that, as I pulled out of the driveway for work, I saw him head first in the bushes.
After I chuckled at poor Brown Dinosaur’s fate, it hit me. Max was scared. He loved this toy and played with him loyally, but I wondered if in the quiet dark at night, Brown Dinosaur seemed too real.
“Max, why is Brown Dinosaur in the Bushes?”
“He’s in the bushes. I put him there.”
“I know, but why? Are you scared?”
“I put HIM THERE!!!”
As it happened, Brown Dinosaur eventually broke. After a few weeks of being brought back in and put back out in the bushes, he was forgotten, and one day he spent the night out in the rain.
It had gotten to the point where Max didn’t even wait for nightfall. Day after day, in the morning I’d drag Brown Dinosaur back in, and then shortly after Max would put him out again.
When Brown Dinosaur wasn’t outside he was facing the wall, hidden in a closet, buried beneath blocks, or under someone’s bed. After his night in the rain, without the ability to roar, and thinking Max was afraid, we decided to give him away.
You would think that’s where the story of Brown Dinosaur ends, but it’s not. Once he was gone, Max was very upset.
“Where is Brown Dinosaur! Where is he! I want Brown Dinosaur!” he yelled.
“Really?” I thought.
As it turns out, Max really did love and wanted to keep Brown Dinosaur. Over time he has collected many dinosaurs, and he loves them all, but when he gets scared they become too much. I’m not sure why, but it’s as if when he’s really stressed or worried the balance between real and pretend gets blurred. I think maybe what seems like fun becomes scary. To be truthful, we don’t really know.
We eventually replaced Brown Dinosaur after days of Max begging and crying for him, and now Brown Dino 2 resides happily in our home filled with many dinosaur friends. There are quite a few days and months when Max’s fiercest looking dinosaurs remain carefully tucked in his bed, right alongside Brown Dinosaur, throughout the whole night. However there are other days and even weeks when they start out with Max but wind up in my bed, back in the playroom, in the bushes, or...in the refrigerator.
After some careful detective work I started to notice that our dinosaur migration patterns seemed to coincide with other events in Max’s life. Transitioning to a new school, an upcoming trip or doctor’s appointment we have been preparing for, and even a change of seasons can cause Max to want his dino pals to be further away.
It seems when Max gets stressed or scared, the dinosaurs go on the move. I sometimes laugh as I imagine Max staring deep into his favorite dinosaurs’ eyes. “It’s not you guys. It’s me. I just need a break.”
Like his mom who misplaces things in the refrigerator when the information in my brain becomes too much, Max moves his dinosaurs to cope with the stresses of life. In a body that isn’t always able to express what it is feeling with words that others understand, Max finds ways to cope and get through his day. When I listen carefully with my heart, I understand. When I look beyond the obvious, I’m inspired. He’s pretty amazing, that kid. So whether the dinosaurs are in the toy chest or in the fridge, tucked in his bed or in the bushes, we know Max is doing what he needs to feel ok, and I’d call that winning.
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