I’m trying to decide how to convey the enormity of the story I’m about to tell you.
Let me say this first.
Some people think that individuals with autism progress to a certain point and then stop learning and changing. They think there is a finite window during childhood to help the child learn appropriate and functional behaviors. Once that perceived “window” closes, they think, “Welp, this is as good as it’s going to get,” and they stop challenging the individual with autism to try and learn new things.
This is so wrong on so many levels. I consider myself a life-long learner. There is no way I know everything there is to know as a 20-something and I highly doubt that I’ll be the same person in ten, twenty, or thirty years. I challenge myself to learn, my job challenges me to learn, grow, and develop my skills, and my family expects me to grow as an individual as the years go on.
Why should the standards be any different for an individual with a developmental disability such as autism? Why should Dude have a beginning and end point on his progress chart? It’s positively absurd.
Lately, he has been reminding us just how absurd it is.
Back story #1
When it comes to getting Dude to do something, nine times out of ten, he needs to be prompted.
For example, he may come downstairs to get one of his favorite snacks if he is hungry, but he has never asked for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. We’re pretty sure he would have no interest in eating those three meals if we didn’t prepare them.
Up until a couple weeks ago, Dude had never initiated his morning bath-time routine.
Sometimes, we even need to remind him that he should probably go to the bathroom.
So yea. You could say that taking the initiative and doing something of his own accord isn’t really the norm for Mr. Dude.
Back story #2
Dude has never been particularly good at the whole getting ready for bed and sleeping thing. He doesn’t get into his PJs, brush his teeth, and lay down without prompting and assistance from our parents (and me when I’m in charge). Since I have moved out, if Mom and Dad accidentally fall asleep downstairs and don’t wake up until after midnight, guess what? Dude is wide awake upstairs listening to music or playing with his sound toys. The thought never occurs to him to put himself to bed. He may pass out on his bed if he is tired, but he is almost always curled up facing the wrong way at the bottom of the bed, uncovered, still wearing his clothes from the day, and with all the lights in his bedroom still blazing.
Back story #3
It has been a long standing joke in our family that if three of us are on one floor in the house, Dude is on the other. Like any individual, the school/work week takes a lot out of him and he wants to be left alone by the time he gets home.
More and more, Dude has been wandering downstairs during the evening after dinner. He’ll come down to get a snack or sometimes he’ll just come down to see what everyone is doing.
On Friday night, my parents heard Dude’s footsteps coming down the stairs around 10:30pm.
He appeared in the kitchen, which is the room next to the family room where our parents were watching TV.
“No Grandmom’s,” they heard him say.
Mom muted the TV and turned to speak to Dude. “You and Dad are going to Grandmom’s for breakfast tomorrow morning.” (Dad and Dude have been going up to our grandmother’s house on Saturdays to take her out to breakfast and help out around the house for about 8 or 9 years now.. since our grandfather passed away and her health has declined. Dude is used to the routine and dislikes it when he doesn’t get to go. Since Dude and Dad didn’t go last Saturday, Dude wanted to make it clear that he was expecting to go to Grandmom’s this week.)
Dude seemed satisfied with this response, but lingered in the kitchen.
When he next spoke, our parents’ jaws just about hit the floor.
“Bed. No bed,” Dude said. (To understand Dude’s use of the word “no,” kindly refer to the Dude Language Guide.)
Mom and Dad turned their eyes incredulously towards him.
“Do you want to go to bed?” Dad asked, wide-eyed.
This kid is in his 22nd year on this planet and he has NEVER EVER asked to be put to bed. EVER.
Our parents haven’t even been practicing with him, trying to teach him to learn to ask for this when he is tired. Dude simply up and did it.
Adults with autism can’t learn new “tricks.” Yea. Right. Good one.