I’m not sure if this column will be helpful, but it may be enlightening to those with a child on the spectrum.
It’s not the actually turning of the knob, or pushing and pulling of the hinged access that bothers Konner. In fact, I’m not really sure what bothers him. It’s the fact that he wants to be the one to open the door.
Let me give you an example. One of the worst doors is the front door to the house. Konner seems to want to be the one to open it up when we get home. Usually in the rush of things myself, or Jen, will just walk up, unlock the door and herd the boys in trying to keep the dogs from rushing out. In all this madness Konner will throw himself into a frenzy and sometimes go into meltdown. He will begin screaming, “Close the door! Close it!” At this point the only thing to do is close the door. If you’ve made it inside you have to stay. If you’re still outside you have to stay there until you can get him to calm down.
Usually he just wants to open the door himself, but sometimes it seems like he has already set his mind on not going in.
If the door is locked it presents another issue. He wants you to unlock it, but not open it. This works in reverse though. One time I had come back from the grocery store and had both hands full of bags. Instead of setting them down, digging through my pockets, turning the key, picking the sacks back up, and walking in I decided to just knock on the door with my foot and wait for Jen to open the door. This sounds logical to most, but Konner happened to be on the other side. While Jen was coming to my rescue Konner began yelling, “Use your key dad! Where’s your key!”
I tried to explain that it was in my pocket and my hands were full. No go. As Jen reached for the door he began to scream louder. “No, use your key!” After what seemed like minutes with my hands full and the bags cutting into my fingers I gave in and sat the bags down.
This also happens with car doors, refrigerator doors, and anything that you can open.
In a similar situation, I was recently at the school when we began to walk out the door. As we got to the end of the hall there were the double doors. I stopped to let Konner open the door, knowing what would happen if I didn’t. At that point he pushed on the door that happened to be locked. “Oh great,” I thought to myself. “Here we go.”
Let me interrupt to say that most parents with children on the spectrum begin to look for the worst in every situation ahead of time. I’m constantly telling myself, “Okay, if I do this, this will happen. And if he sees this, we’re going to have a meltdown for sure. I hope this doesn’t happen because we’ll be done for the day.” It’s like a constant chess match with autism, and I’m trying to think three or four moves ahead.
However, Konner looked at the door, realized it was locked, and moved to the other side. At the same time the principal was there and opened the door for him. “No!” I screamed to myself in my head. As the principal opened the door Konner froze. There was no way he was stepping foot across the threshold. The principal has worked with Konner enough to know how to deal with this situation and stopped, shut the door, and asked Konner to open it. As he did I felt relief. Konner opened the door and all was well again.
The strange thing is that sometimes it doesn’t matter. He can walk through a door that someone else opens without even thinking about it, but usually he’s keyed into the fact that he didn’t do it. He also doesn’t mind when he’s in a line with others and the class door holder is propping it open.
I’ve searched the internet and all my books and have yet to find anything that talks about kids dealing with this, let alone a solution. We have discussed this with his therapists and most feel that it is a control issue. The problem most likely stems from other issues that have happened throughout the day. This is usually from a buildup of over stimulation that has occurred over time and is just coming out because he wants some sort of control. This seems logical to me.
Especially since Konner is also in a phase (at least I hope it’s a phase) where he says, “I don’t need help!” No matter what it is, opening a candy bar, doing his homework, playing on the computer, or starting a bath Konner doesn’t want anyone to help him with it. He gets into this mode when he has to button his pants, which is difficult enough for me, but it’s near impossible for him. He has a meltdown because he can’t do it, but he has a meltdown if you try to help. It’s a catch 22.
The things we have tried include just letting him have control. This seems to be the easiest solution because he gets to open the door and does things himself. However, he needs to learn how to ask for help, and deal with not being in control. So when I feel like putting up with a fight (which is not often) I will go against him on things. As Temple Grandin says, you must challenge these kids to better them.
If you have any similar stories I would love to hear them.
Don’t forget Sensitive Santa is coming up on Tuesday, Dec. 13 at the Community State Bank in Poteau. This is open to all children with disabilities. For more information contact the Parents of Autism on facebook, or me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: I am in no way claiming to be an expert. I’m just a father who is trying to learn as much about Autism as I can to help my child. I hope that you all can learn from me, and I from you. I ask anyone who has questions or comments about something I have written, or autism, please contact me at email@example.com. I will try to answer questions as I have time, and if I find it interesting enough I may touch on it in my column.