We went shopping again the other day. Back to That Supermarket, the one that Dad likes because it's cheap but The Boy hates because it has people and queues and no self-service checkouts. I'd like to pretend that my decision to involve him in the shopping experience was a deliberate one because I wanted to teach him some independent life skills when he's older, but if I'm honest I took him with me because I couldn't be arsed going while he was at school.
We made it round in approximately seven minutes. For someone with cerebral palsy, he can whizz round a supermarket in a speed Dale Winton would be proud of. There was stuff in the trolley, some of it looked green, success. We got to the till, a bit of a queue but not too bad. Dad had even remembered to bring his own carrier bags. What a virtuous pair we were.
Then an old dear shuffled up behind us in the queue. She had half a dozen eggs and that was it. I thought I would set an example for my son. "Would you like to go in front?", I said to her, stepping aside and gesturing as if I'd just offered her a Damehood. "Thank you", she said, "very kind". I smiled to myself. That warm feeling of pleasing someone. Knowing she thinks I am now a perfect father and a perfect human being. All is well.
As she stood in front of us in the line, now inches away, I didn't spot The Boy's face. I was too busy trying to work out the number of syns in a flapjack. If I had, I might have spotted the reddening. I might have pre-empted what was about to happen.
"BIT RUDE!", he shouted at the top of his voice. Oh dear, no build up with this one, whatever had upset him had gone straight to the danger zone. "YOU!" he yelled, pointing at me, "HOW DARE YOU LET AN OLD WOMAN PUSH PAST YOUR SON. HOW RUDE! RUDE MAN! SHE WAS BEHIND US! YOU LET HER PUSH IN!!!".
Here we go... Another outburst. The old dear turned round, glaring. People staring. Pointing. Whispering. The Boy continued right the way through the queue and out of the shop. Ramming me with the trolley. Screaming, hitting. But finally, after years of angst and worry, I don't care as much what people think when things go awry. Maybe Mr People Pleaser has finally come to terms with his son's behaviour. Or maybe it's just that when an eleven year old behaves like that it's more obvious something is different with him than when he was a toddler...
We got outside, and as always seems to happen the calmness and quiet of the car brings him back round. And this might seem strange for some people to grasp, but I apologised to him. And I didn't do it just to try and placate him. I'd forgotten to see the world as he sees it. In his world I'd broken the rules. Rule No 11,967 filed in his head under 'Queueing', the rule I mentioned in my blog last week, the rule that you never push in. I'd broken it.
I imagine this is the way life is for The Boy... in his head there is a huge filing system, compartmentalised into Rules for Living. The only way he can make sense of the world. Things you do and things you don't do. Learnt over the years with hundreds of new rules added each day. And every outburst is when there's a variant to that. When the rules suddenly change. That's why routine gives him comfort. For years I tried to introduce the concept of a cooked breakfast once in a while. But he couldn't cope with that. Because breakfast is a bowl and a spoon. It isn't a plate and a knife and fork. That's dinner. And for him to be able to cope with that seemingly small change in routine meant in his head he was rewriting and then re-learning the Dinner rule, the Breakfast rule, the Cutlery rule, the Days of the Week rule, and so many other rules that he'd spent years mastering and now all of a sudden they had to be re-learnt and re-cross-referenced and filed.
And now I've ruined the queueing rule. Yes, he knows now that people can push in sometimes. But what is the rule? Did I let her in front of us because she's old, or because she has six eggs, or because she was wearing a green coat? Was it because it was 4.06pm, because it was a Wednesday, or because it was raining outside? The Boy can't be sure, so all he can do now is write a rule to cover every possibility. Until something happens to change it. And then they can all be re-written again and so this confusing life goes on and on and on...
It does me good to try and understand the way the world appears to him sometimes. It makes me appreciate him even more, to be almost in awe of him and others like him when I think of the battles that rage inside their heads daily. And to remind myself just how far he's come. Yes, I need to help him to work on his outbursts and controlling his aggression. But it will come. And it will come by trying to understand him that little bit more each day.
So, today Dad has added Rule No. 784,678 to his own Rules for Living. To always, always remember to look at the world through the eyes of another. It's amazing what you can learn.
This blog is about bringing up The Boy. He's 12 years old and autistic. It's written by The Dad. It's my words, my view. Other people will think differently and have different opinions. Good.