I make it a point to explain how raising a non-verbal son with autism is quite similar to raising a verbal child without autism. My daughter, Olivia, is twelve and she uses words. Boy, does she ever use her words. Lucas, her nine year old brother, expresses himself through other means. To the outside world, they may appear different. In reality, I deal with the same issues for both of them.
- No snacks before dinner.
- Go get ready for bed.
- Calm down and sit.
- No eating the laundry.
- Brush your…
What? Oh yeah – laundry eating. I guess that one is different. There probably should be an explanation to go along with that.
Since he was toddling, my son has had a fixation on chewing blankets. With his tiny tusks just growing in, we chalked it up to teething. Once they were in his mouth, he’d be done chomping on his special Carter’s baby covers and that phase would come to an end. It was adorable in its own way. Although, with long saliva-soaked cloth dangling from this face, it could be a bit gross at times.
As he got older, his oral fixation stuck around. By now, he was balling it up so far into his cheek that he looked like the third base coach for the 1985 Houston Astros. I’d watch in awe as his face blew up to twice its size as the remanence of drenched blankie hung from his mouth. Sometimes it would brush against you and, if you closed your eyes for a minute, you’d swear you were in a car wash.
For most kids on the spectrum, sensory issues are nothing new. They chew, they rub, and they squeeze lots of chewable, rubbable, and squeezable toys. Because of that, there are a long list of items designed for children like Lucas to munch on and – believe you me – we tried them all.
We bought him the rubber chewies that looked like Legos and dog-tags. It seemed like a match made in mouth Heaven. The kids in the ads loved them. His friends at school loved them. Surely, he’d love them too.
Nope. He held it to his mouth, put it against his lips to appease us as if he was doing an act of charity, and then promptly placed it down on the floor – slightly damp and picking up germs. Gross.
So…we got a rope attachment to keep these rubber toys around his neck. They were his chewlery like a pint-sized Mr. T. I pity the fool who don’t chew his chewlery! That would surely keep it around his neck, in his mouth, and away from dampening our home like all those sopping wet blankets.
Nope. He did the same thing that he did before. He held it to his lips and quickly disregarded it. The only new add-on was that he almost choked himself to death pulling it off.
At this point, we realized it could be the fabric. So we got small ones on necklaces that were made of the same cloth material as his cherished blankets. We figured he would love them and…oh, come on. You know where this is going.
Long story short, nothing worked. Only those blankets, and items of their material and length, could satisfy his mouthy desires. They had to be full sized and have a t-shirt like material or else he had no interest. As the kids would say, that was his jam.
Now that you’re up to speed on his love of woobie-gnawing, you might be able to see where the title of this post is going. Sometimes, when the impulse strikes and he needs to get his cotton-blend fix, there are no blankies in sight. That’s when he goes on the hunt like Elmer Fudd at Bed, Bath, and Beyond.
He stalks his prey…in the laundry room.
This little bugger just walks up to the door, turns the handle, and begins scavenging through the baskets below. He tosses the clean clothes. He tussles the dirty clothes. He ruffles the towels. He spills the detergent. In some cases, he opens the door of the dryer and throws the contents over his shoulder all to find something – anything – that can satisfy his hunger.
And then I’ll come in and find him there, surrounded by a pile of laundry – both clean and dirty – with his hands raised in the air like a cornered criminal…and my t-shirt stuffed deep in his mouth. I stare in disbelief before throwing one of his blankets, usually laying somewhere on the carpet, into his upturned arms.
Lucas! No! No eating the laundry!
Now, there are some moments in our parenting where we fail to realize the true insanity of what is happening. You may have become so accustomed to your kid laying face down on the cold linoleum tile at the bank or stirring the toilet water with their hand. But once in a great while there is a moment of dadness that is so full of madness, you can’t help but feel it in your bones. This is one of those moments.
No! No eating the laundry! I can’t believe I’m saying this!
And I can’t.
This has become a new and, frankly, crazy issue. It brings about concerns that, even as you’re reading this, you haven’t considered. Like what? Try this one.
At the start of the Coronavirus pandemic, I was going to stir crazy. So, I ordered a new shirt online. It was virtual retail therapy and an attempt to recapture normalcy. We were stuck indoors as no one knew anything about what was causing the pandemic or why it was spreading so rapidly. That’s why, when it arrived, I made a mental note to wash it before putting it on.
I placed my new shirt on the dryer and waited for the current batch of laundry to finish so I could start a fresh load. Ten minutes later, I walked into the den and saw him.
That’s it, I said to myself. That’s how our story ends. People are going to be like, “How did his family die?” And someone is going to go, “His kid ate the laundry.”
Luckily, we’re still alive. Unluckily, he’s still rummaging through our unmentionables, and I’m still freaking out every time he does. Eventually, I tell myself, he’ll learn to stop or, in the very least, I’ll stop being shocked by it.
Honestly, though, I’m not ready to bet on either.