Originally, this post was recycled from my personal blog – but I have added some details.
My son has always been a bit different. As a toddler he was slow to start talking and didn’t have temper tantrums. As he got older he would develop obsessions, particularly with things like museum exhibits. He would come home and process his experiences by creating small-scale models of exhibits he saw. If you moved one piece at even a slight angle, he would become agitated and upset. When he began school, he seemed socially awkward with his peers and struggled with fine motor skills. As he began to struggle academically, we knew that more support was necessary and this led to him being diagnosed as high functioning autistic.
He has always been blatantly honest and follows rules to a fault. About two years ago he walked right up to a woman and said, “are you pregnant?”. She said, “yes.”. And, he proceeded to say, “good, because if you weren’t you would be fat.”. I think I probably turned green at that one. However, she left before I could play the autism card and I agonized over that forever. This led to a full out lesson on why we never never say anything about a woman’s weight — EVER! And, he won’t ever again. In fact, if he hears a woman talking about her own weight, he is the first to jump in and tell her that she is just perfect.
Once he learns the rule, he never messes up again. The problem is though, we can’t pre-teach for every social situation and nuance he experiences. I hate this too because while he sounds mean and heartless at times, he is so sweet.
Now that we are heading into adolescence, his autism has manifested in a host of OCD behaviors. I don’t mean the garden variety, “oh, I am so OCD about” this or that…. I mean seriously, has to wash his hands 10 times an hour kind of OCD. Sometimes, it looks like he is wearing red gloves he does this so much. He won’t open cupboard doors or touch most handles either, well, he has to wash his hands right away if he does. Generally he just tries to open doors and cupboards with his feet.
I had one friend that told me that there were good things to this behavior, cleanliness, rarely gets sick. And yes, that is true. However, that same friend watched my children all day for me. When I came to pick them up she ran out of the house wringing her hands, repeating over and over, “The hand washing! The hand washing!” To which I replied, “I know, overwhelming isn’t it?”
So, we are slowly working through ways to manage this. It is rare to see my son without a tube of heavy-duty hand cream. The automatic soap dispensers in public bathrooms tend to work well because they limit the amount of soap he uses but, those tend to be full of harsh “kill your skin off” kinds of soaps. Recently I got excited when Lysol made a personal version of the auto hand soap dispenser. However, tons of soap comes out at once and the little $5 refill – we would be going through about two of those a week. So, let’s see, $520 in hand soap a year. Hmm….
That price tag had me looking at an avenue I always figured was over the top. But really, the hand washing is a bit over the top. Why not think outside of the box? So I start researching soap a bit more. Turns out that the foam soap is way better for your hands because it rinses completely off where the hand soap leaves residue. And, while many public places have harsher anti bacterial soaps in their dispensers, it is possible to find conditioning foam soaps. Also, the public dispensers are formatted to save money. Okay so, a refill costs $30. That is for 3,000 hand washings. The dispensers themselves, only $20. So…
Some boys want sporting equipment or new video games…. Mine is going to flip a zillion times over for his new automatic foam soap dispenser. Happy Birthday son!
Update: It amazes me how far my son has come since I posted this a little over a year ago. He can talk and manage his OCD tendencies now. The soap helped immensely, his hands never look chapped. He is growing and becoming comfortable with who he is and he owns his autism. Watch out world – he is headed your way!