Friday, December 23, 2011

Driven to Distraction

I have finished my Christmas preparations (except for the handful of presents to be wrapped, because I would not want to be able to make such a definitive statement without a caveat) and I am feeling reflective on the eve of Christmas Eve, as I always do this time of year. Each year, there are things I would like to do differently the next year and things that I wish I could remember, like how many pounds of pecans I need to order in October from the St. John's Ladies' Aid in order to prevent the inevitable last minute trip to the grocery store to purchase more, which causes me great consternation because they are usually almost twice as expensive for pecans that are not nearly as good.

The answer to that question, by the way, is six. I always make six pounds of pecans and maybe now that I have actually typed that sentence it will be retrievable from the depths of my gray matter next fall.

I need the pecans to make my world famous Swedish Nuts, a recipe handed down from my Grandmother, who incidentally is not Swedish, but "German Nuts" do not sound nearly as appealing--once again, a sextuple batch, because if I say it enough times I might actually remember. Six batches gives me enough to exchange with neighbors (paired with the also world famous peanut clusters), to take to work and share with our family in town.

This year I had assembled the ingredients, including the recently purchased additional two pounds of grossly inferior nuts, and was getting ready to start the first double batch. I had tuned the radio to the local station playing all Christmas music, all the time. I had even put on an apron. Yes, this is serious business and you can just about hear the David story coming, can't you?

For this recipe, you essentially make a meringue, add lots of cinnamon and sugar and then bake that mixture onto the toasted pecans with a stick of butter. I told you it is a good recipe. I turned on my KitchenAid mixer to make the first of three double batches of meringue.

Upon hearing the sound of the mixer, David came running into the kitchen. He has a love/hate relationship with my mixer. He loves to watch it run, but he absolutely loathes the sound of it running especially on high. And since it is extremely difficult to whip egg whites into a meringue with the mixer on low, I ignored his repeated requests to TURN IT DOWN and suggested that perhaps he should go find his headphones.

Well, instead of muffling the sound with headphones, David decided to neutralize it in his own way, by running Michael's cordless power drill, also on high speed, next to my right ear. I suppose he had just created his own white noise.

But when that did not quite have the desired effect, he added the sound of his favorite You Tube car wash video and kept resetting the kitchen timer in one minute intervals so that he could watch it countdown from 59 to zero. 

I almost lost it. I could not really concentrate on my recipe, which fortunately for my cholesterol I only make annually, so it is not too familiar. I was getting aggravated.

And then, I remembered a seminar that I attended a few years ago. An occupational therapist was trying to put some of the challenges of autism, or any type of sensory processing disorder, in terms that the general public could understand. She asked us to imagine driving in very icy conditions. Because you have to concentrate so hard on keeping the car on the road, you tell the kids to shut up, turn down the radio, and turn off your cell phone. She asked us to imagine what it would be like if we could not turn off or tune out those distractions.

Much like trying to concentrate on a recipe with the mixer running, the radio on, a car wash video playing, the oven timer beeping every minute and a drill running.

I often say that I would like to be able to be inside David's head, just for a minute, so that I could see what he is seeing, feel what he is feeling. And, on that day, I do believe that he unintentionally gave me a glimpse.

I will try to be more patient when David seems overwhelmed. I will try to remember that I can usually turn off my distractions.

Because many times David cannot.

Author's Notes:
No, we do not routinely let David play with power tools, but the drill is out because Michael has been assembling some inexpensive office furniture. Rest assured there was no drill bit in the drill.

People who do not intimately know someone with autism may now be asking themselves, They have videos of carwashes on YouTube? Yes, and they have a great selection of elevator videos, too. David would be happy to show you a few of his favorites.

1 comment:

  1. Oh, Kathy, once again you beautifully illustrate the joys and difficulties of life with autism, but so sensibly and sensitively turn it to a lesson for yourself. You amaze me. And, I must say - thank you for the wonderful nuts! I have them carefully hidden until all the relatives leave. (Oops, a bit of honesty there!) Merry Christmas!