“Martin, why don’t you go get yourself dressed like a big boy? Want to pick out your own clothes and get dressed?” I asked at nine o’clock yesterday morning. We had all slept late, and Martin was running around the house in jungle-print pajamas.
I didn’t believe that he’d actually get himself dressed. Six months ago, I laid pajamas out on his bed and spent 20 minutes trying to get him to take off his clothes and put on the pajamas. I went away to let him concentrate, returned every two minutes to beg or threaten or cajole, even lost patience (not my finest parenting). Martin continually forgot his task. He rambled about nothing, jumped on the bed, played with Curious George. I absolutely could not get him to focus enough even to remove his clothes.
Not too much has changed since then, except that for the last two weeks Martin has responded to every suggestion, however benign, with a resolute “No!”
Nevertheless, this morning I mentioned getting dressed only once before Martin said, “Okay!” and scampered down the hall to his room.
I went to the kitchen, where Adrian was eating breakfast. “I told him to get dressed,” I said. “I’m not hopeful.”
Barely a minute had passed before I heard Martin running down the hall from the bedrooms, yelling, “Mommy! Mommmmm-meeee!”
I found him standing in the living room, buck naked except for the blue socks he’d worn to bed. He looked straight at me (score!) and asked, “Mommy, am I still five years old?”
“Yes, you’re still five years old. Now don’t forget to change your socks.”
Martin ran back to his bedroom.
I returned to the kitchen. From afar, I heard a familiar sound. Martin’s bedroom dresser has thick metal handles attached to the drawers with leather loops, and when the handles are dropped, they clunk against the wood. The dresser is the last piece of a heavy German bedroom set that my older brothers once shared. As a kid, from my bed at night, I would hear that clunk and know Rudy and Eddie were getting ready to sleep. Now the sound ties Martin to his uncles.
“He opened the dresser,” I reported to Adrian. “I think he’s getting out clothes.”
After another minute Martin came running down the hall again. I met him in the living room. He was wearing clothes.
“You got dressed!” I exclaimed. “You got dressed! Good work! Go show your daddy!”
Martin went to the kitchen through the family room. I went through the dining room and got there first, which gave me a second to throw my fists in the air, jump up and down, and whisper to Adrian, “First time. First time dressed by himself without a reminder.”
Martin arrived. As Adrian picked him up for a hug, I surveyed Martin’s choices. Navy blue sweatpants with CHICAGO printed on one leg. A white sweatshirt with blue stripes. Adrian set Martin down, then snapped the sweatpants waistband to make a confirmation. “You’ve got underwear,” he said.
“Oh dear,” I added. “Martin, you’re doing so well. But you did forget to change the socks. Go change your socks?”
Back down the hall went Martin.
“Am I pushing my luck?” I asked Adrian.
Moments later Martin sauntered back into the kitchen and said, “Actually,”—that’s a favored word right now, the snarky actually—“I’ve decided to wear my sandals today.”
On his feet were Velcro beach sandals, without socks.
It was 34 degrees out.
“Sure, Martin,” I said, content. “Why don’t you wear those sandals until it’s time for church, and then you can put socks and shoes on at the same time.”
I was happy. Adrian was happy. Martin was happy.
Autism, of course, has its ways of changing any day. At church, after the service but still in the sanctuary, I told Martin that he had enough time to run around in the gymnasium but would have to eat his snack in the car. (We had to get to an Anat Baniel Method therapy appointment.) Martin responded by screaming, repeatedly, interrupting the postlude and eliciting annoyance from fellow parishioners. I picked him up and carried him outside. A complete meltdown ensued.
Last night Adrian tucked Martin into bed at 8:00 pm. Martin, who has recently discovered the joy of exiting his bed and running to the living room, went to sleep at 10:45 pm. Unlike Adrian, I cannot fall asleep while Martin is up and chatting. I got to bed after 11:00 pm and was one unhappy camper when 5:00 am rolled around.
Fortunately, as I may have mentioned, yesterday Martin dressed himself without prompts.
Which reinforces this truth: With every new morning comes fresh hope.