I met a very articulate young man recently who has one of those invisible life threatening medical conditions, and also happens to have Asperger’s. I was working with him because of the aforementioned medical condition, not because of the autism.
Mom was going to be out of the home for a while and I had never worked with her son, I’ll call him Mikey here, so I asked the usual “what does he like” questions. To summarize the answers – Mikey was having a rough day that started with making choices for breakfast, he’s very shy, and he would probably prefer to play in his room alone. To which I replied, “OK, I’ll just make sure I can see him from here and let him know that I’m available if he needs me.” In my head I was thinking, “Well, I guess this lets me off the hook for trying to figure out how to entertain an 8 year-old boy for the next several hours.”
When Mom called Mikey to come and meet me, he reluctantly came out of his room for our introduction. I told him my name and offered him a handshake, he politely accepted and told me his name. He was quite and stayed close to Mom as she said her good-byes and reassured him she would be home soon.
As soon as the door closed behind Mom, I looked at Mikey, fully expecting him to beat a retreat to his room, and asked, “So, what would you like to do?”
Mikey started talking. He told me that he really liked Spider Man and wanted to paint a picture of him with the paint set one of his regular nurses had given him as a gift. He also told me he would sit on the floor in the kitchen so that he didn’t make a mess with the paint. We had a nice long conversation about Spider Man. When he stopped to take a breath I asked if it would be OK for me to check his vital signs before he started painting. He said, “Sure,” and then he started to tell me about Batman, his second favorite super hero.
I waited for a moment to let him finish his thought and then said, “Can you be very quiet for me while I listen?”
“Sure,” he said, “I’ve done this before.”
I smiled, thinking to myself, “Of course you have little one, especially with your history.” And the rest of the assessment proceeded smoothly. As I removed the BP cuff I started chatting to let him know it was OK to resume conversation now, “I’ll bet that got pretty tight didn’t it?”
Mikey’s answer caught me off guard, “Yes. But I like it.” Looking at the cuff he continued, “I like the way it squeezes me.” I immediately thought of Temple Grandin and her Squeeze Machine, and wondered for the briefest moment if I could make one for him. It was just a thought, and he moved on to painting and bringing me up to speed on the adventures of Spider Man.
When Mikey was satisfied with his master piece, I “Ooohed” and “Ahhed” as he carefully placed it on the cabinet to dry while he cleaned up his paints and put everything away. I was impressed. Then he popped the question – “Would you like to see my room?”
I’m not sure why, maybe it was my conversation with Mom earlier, but I felt as though I had been extended a great honor. So, with what I estimated to be just the right amount of enthusiasm I replied, “Sure, if you’d like to show me.”
We walked across the hall, and with a flourish of his arm as he stood just inside the doorway, he invited me in, “Welcome to my room!”
As I crossed the threshold I felt a certain energy, and surveying my surroundings, all I could say was, “Wowww.”
That seemed to please him as he started to share stories about each of the little Lego models he and his Dad had built and displayed on the top of his dresser. I was so happy that I had allowed my daughter, my adult daughter, to talk me into attending the movie with her because I was able to engage with Mikey and share his excitement about the Lego figures.
Then we moved to his collection of video games. Mikey informed me that he played the games very well and had unlocked special secrets hidden in the various levels of the games. Again, it paid that I had watched some of the actual movies and at least paid attention to the previews so that I could follow along and hold my own in the conversation.
Next, Mikey invited me to join him back in the living room to watch some of his favorite Netflix cartoons on the television. And once again, I was glad that I was at least familiar with some of the shows from a time when my own children were his age so that I could actively participate in conversation with him. And, before we knew it, Mom had returned home.
You may have guessed that I really enjoyed the time I spent with Mikey. I didn’t have to worry about entertaining him, he entertained me. I couldn’t help but wonder, what if I hadn’t been so well versed in the things that he found interesting? Would he have opened up with me so much? Would he have continued to laugh and talk as much as he did without the educated feedback? While I have watched most of these kiddie shows just to humor my daughter, I now see the activities as Pediatric Continuing Education classes. I saw Frozen several weeks ago, along with How to Tame a Dragon, and I guess the Hobbit is on the calendar for December. Now, all I have to do is convince the Board of Nursing to accept my movie CEs…