My nine-year-old son is non-verbal, has autism, and he loves me. Those are three things about him I can say with confidence.
I love watching his face light up when he sees me and seeing him tap his chest twice when I ask “Who does Daddy love?” Those things mean the world to me and they solidify the fact that, just like his sister, I am special in his life.
While I know I am high on his list, I do, however, wonder where I rank in relation to his iPad.
I’m not talking about his communication device. That too is an iPad, but we call that his “talker.” I’m taking about his entertainment iPad, the one with the all the apps, videos, and magic on it. If he was a cartoon superhero character, it would come to life as his sidekick and offer assistance. If he was an action figure, it would be bundled in the box as his accessory. If he was an android, it would be attached to his arm. That iPad.
When he goes to school, the bulk of the day is padless. When it is not in session, however, all bets are off. He knows that there is plenty of time for iPadding during summer or, worse, quarantine. He usually gets it and he always wants it. For a boy without too many favorite toys, it only seems fair to let him have the things he loves.
Of course, that obsessive behavior can be a bit much and there are few reasons it has to be curtailed. For starters, he needs to know moderation. When he gets sucked into the stimming world of his device, it’s hard to focus him on anything else. Trips out to the park, time with family, and even a ten-minute bath can be difficult to unplug him from long enough to enjoy. He needs to be separated from his Precious in order to remember that there’s a whole world to live.
There’s also less romantic reason to rip him from his love – battery management. That thing needs to charge. While we could candy-flip him with his backup device, it seems a bit excessive. So, once it dies and it needs to be recharged, Lucas has to go without. By then, he’s had the darn thing for hours. So it’s understandable…to us.
I will plug it into the port and hide it beneath a couch or under a bed sheet because I know, within minutes, little-Sherlock Holmes will be on the prowl. If he finds it, he’ll tear it from the wall and scurry off. It has forced some new hiding spots to be developed.
During these times of forced separation, he will enter my office and, upon seeing me sitting there, will begin tapping my arm. It’s a small persistent tap that says, “Hey.Hey.Hey.Hey.Hey.Hey….” No matter how annoying it is or how often he does it, I can’t help but look at his little face and laugh. He might even lay on his stomach, put his chin in my hand, and peer up with an adorable glance of cuteness that I can’t help but think he is doing on purpose.
Haha. No, buddy. You’re cute, but no iPad. It’s charging.
He responds with his iPad gesture request. He places his thumb in the middle of his hand and looks at me as if to say, “Yes. I hear you. Now where is the iPad?”
So I repeat, “No, buddy. No iPad. Charging.”
With that, he will drop to his knees and begin crawling on the ground to check under the couch and ottoman for the forbidden treasure. When he doesn’t see it there, he will take me by the arm and try to lead me beneath my computer desk to help him check for it. It’s his way of saying, “Look, pal, we’re in this together. Come help.”
No. Lucas. Stop. No iPad. It’s charging. You have to wait.
At this point, I am on my feet and he’s not as cute as he was a minute earlier. I begin to offer a parade of umpire signs. I place my hand up to symbolize “wait”. I do a rainbow motion to show “after”. Then I return the iPad signal with my thumb and hand. He lets out a cry of anguish and leaves the room.
For ten seconds.
That’s when he returns as if we had never met before. He plops down next to me, knocking over my phone or whatever cup may have been there. His bulbous body wedges itself right against mine and, as I look down at him, he looks back up as if to say, “Oh. Hey. Didn’t see you there.” Then he gives the iPad signal. “Ya’ll get any of them iPads laying around?”
And we do it all over again. And again. And again.
I say this to some parents with neurotypical children and they will nod and say, “Yes. I understand that. My kid is the same way.” The issue is that I too have a neurotypical daughter and I can get the similarities. Kids can be impatient and sometimes it takes a few tries to get them to understand that – no – you can’t have what you want this minute. Maybe a “no TV later” threat or a bargain that involves doing dishes will solve the problem.
The difference is that that my son doesn’t understand threats or bargains, at least not now. I’m not sure if it’s a patience issue or a misunderstanding regarding the passage of time, but Lucas doesn’t just wait things out. He wants what he wants when he wants it and will ask you repeatedly.
Sure, I can react in all the ways my instincts demand. Get mad. Make a spectacle. Whatever. He still will be back in the room seconds later asking again. It’s not until he’s content or moved on to another activity that he lets go of his request. Those reactions only prolong the situation and heighten the tension.
Proof that he doesn’t get it? If he were to find the iPad somewhere and pull it from the charger, it’s not like he will even hide it. He will come and sit down in front of me and swipe away, knowing full well that I am taking it away within seconds. I have seen him dive through the air to pull it from my hand, all so he could touch it for a moment before losing it again.
As his parent, I have to remember this, but it can definitely be difficult. Lucas’s persistence is a blessing and a curse. Without it, he would never have been able to learn some of the life skills we once thought would be impossible. But it also causes a lack of understanding when it comes to what he has to wait for.
It’s annoying and adorable all at once. And, as a dad, I’m proud and irritated all at once. Getting angry won’t help though. It’s all about demonstrating the same patience to him that I want him to learn from me. It’s funny to think about when I remember that I’m the same person who used to take my Nintendo controller, spin it around by the wire, and smash it into the wall because I couldn’t get Mario to jump over that plant in a pipe. That’s when I learned that it’s even harder to do with a broken joystick.
I’ve come a long way since then. The student has become the teacher. Super Mario taught me. Super Dad will teach him. Although, just like Mario, I really want to ram my head into a brick sometimes.