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  • Grappling with autism is not for the slow afoot. New behaviors pop up all the time and have to be corrected. Old ones thought conquered resurface. Time is limited. You end up performing triage with a list in your head that only grows longer each day. I used to write them down, but when the list is never ending, sometimes it's better not to.

    Correcting behaviors–how to shower, not to overpack your school backpack, making sure not to miss the hardest belt loop at the backmost part of your pants–usually requires being there, to physically prompt the missed step, until it's running smooth, and you can “fade out your prompts”, as they say in the trade. Physical prompts are favored over verbal prompts with my son, because the latter tend to make him “prompt dependent”, which is to say he begins to wait for you to tell him what to do before doing it, which makes it harder for him to handle the task independently, which is the whole point.

    Physical prompting is tiring. Mostly, this is because you have to be at the right place at the right time to prompt, and that can be a little difficult when you have to run a household, grab some loose minutes to get personal stuff done, go to the bathroom, and veg out occasionally when it gets to be too much, the better to get back on your horse. The past year or two I'm also noticing it hasn't been as easy as when I was younger.

    If, by religion or inclination, you are susceptible to guilt, you are in luck, because every time you brush by the thing you haven't corrected without taking the extended time to correct it, you are reminded of your slothfulness. “If only I had taken the time (this would have been fixed already)” is your constant wistful refrain, and you get to sing it to yourself every time you pass by the correctable task you haven't made time for yet, and it slaps you on the back for another chorus.

    About 4 or 6 weeks ago, I remember wondering if my son hadn't begun dropping his fork and knife in the middle of his plate with greater regularity, instead of near the edge of his plate, where the handles of his utensils could remain clean. I tried half-heartedly to try to shape the behavior, got nowhere, and then decided to leave the problem uncorrected for now, and simply add an additional hand wash at the sink right after the meal. Not perfect, but good enough, I rationalized.

    We were rushing even more than usual to get to school yesterday morning, trying to get at least half a day in before early dismissal ahead of the coming storm. Aaron finished his usual morning waffles and fruit juice. “Glass” I prompted him, lazily, as I approached him, asking him to hand it to me instead of physically prompting him to put his own dish and glass in the sink, which he would have done eventually, either after the 4-minute YouTube video we didn't have time for stopped playing on his laptop, or the one after that, or the one after that. He picked up the glass and handed it to me.

    Unbeknownst to me, my son's hands had grown so sticky from the syrup accumulating with each drop of his fork and knife into the well of his plate that the glass was nearly coated in partially dried syrup by the time he handed it to me. As he placed the glass into my grip, it stuck there, newly adhered to my hand and still adhered to his. I pulled the glass out of his hand. Perhaps it was time, I thought, to reconsider working on that utensil placement procedure. I'm sure I'll get to it at some point.
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