Perfect Autism

By Sufen Wu – FCSN Parent; translated by Wei-Jen Hsia

At 7 am sharp, Chiling shows up at my bedroom doorway.

“Breakfast!” He is the master of one word expressions; cherishing his words like gold, he always gets to the point with just a single word.  For instance, as my driving navigator, I simply have to tell Chiling the destination, and he will direct me with perfect instructions: “left lane,” or “right turn.” Sometimes, when I get distracted, he never fails to calmly remind me of the next step: “straight” or “exit.”  When he sees a red light coming up and I have not started to hit the brakes, Chiling will raise his voice nervously: “Stop! Stop!” This is the only situation with two words.  I always receive gentle reminders from Chiling, never harsh criticisms. Chiling is undoubtedly my best partner.

Since shelter at home started, I started to teach Chiling the first steps of being independent; especially how to arrange his daily activities, so he can anticipate and control his own schedule.

Naturally, the first activity of each morning is making breakfast!

Knowing that Chiling is not good with complicated sentences, I use the tactic of one word instructions to create a pattern he can follow. 

  1. Pan: take out the frying pan
  2. Six: set the electric stove to setting six
  3. Oil: spray some oil onto the pan
  4. Egg: get one egg from the refrigerator and break it into the pan
  5. Exercise: while waiting for the egg to cook, he can do some muscle building exercises, such as 50 stretches with resistance bands or 20 pull-ups
  6. Bread, cheese
  7. Oatmeal

With this tactic of single word instructions and daily repetition, Chiling is now capable of making his own breakfast. I just need to make sure he does not forget to turn off the stove.

After breakfast, Chiling goes to the bathroom to brush his teeth. Shortly afterwards, he will show up in front of me again and say, “Floss,” indicating that he wants my help. Shaving is another activity Chiling struggles with since he has cut himself while shaving before. “Help!” is one of the most important messages from Chiling; it is the most satisfying accomplishment for me that he has learned to request assistance when needed.

At 8 am exactly, “Journal.” Chiling sits down and gets ready to write in his diary, a habit he has developed since first grade in elementary school. Once an activity becomes a part of his routine, it will undoubtedly be executed with a quality guarantee.

Although it is often difficult to spend lots of time reviewing each of his foundational skill sets, we allocate an hour each day between 8 and 9 am to work on this area. Besides writing in his journal about the weather and his schedule for the day, I focus on training his fine motor skills, which have been a consistent weakness for him. We utilize writing as a training method. From 123s to ABCs, every stroke needs to be performed meticulously, and we also try drawing and picking up coins. Sometimes I also include basic question-and-answer sessions to check if Chiling understands my questions and knows how to answer them correctly.

9 am – Noon

Besides attending virtual online classes, Chiling spends the remainder of his morning practicing various keyboard routines, from piano to yangqin to accordion. Although this may seem strenuous, he does it at his own pace and decides when to take breaks. “Bathroom,” is his cue for a break, and he goes back to practicing when ready.

At 2 pm sharp, Chiling comes downstairs and begins violin practice. For the first 15 minutes, he focuses on the fundamentals by repeating and practicing the same scales until both the treble and vibrato sound smooth and harmonious. He sets the timer himself and practices continuously, enduring my criticisms and corrections along the way.  Chiling has to concentrate and focus his strength into just using his fingertips and wrist muscles, avoiding his habit of using his large muscles. While this is really a difficult process for him, Chiling endures it without any complaints. The one word tactic is at work again: Practice!  Practice!  Practice!

Besides playing the cello and violin, Chiling also likes other instruments such as yangqin, xylophone, accordion, and saxophone.  Although he mainly plays practice pieces, he also entertains himself with popular songs on occasion, and music is clearly a key way through which he expresses himself. 

In between his practice sessions, Chiling enjoys playing games on Xbox, Playstation, or performing karaoke; all the games he plays are related to music. We make sure our home is well equipped with these fun games for developing his creativity and imagination. They are all set up and ready for action, and Chiling just turns them on to enjoy his personal time and space.

At 6:30 pm, “Take a walk!”, Chiling says as he starts to put on his shoes. Every evening, it’s time for a short outdoor adventure with Chiling and our dog. While I walk the dog, Chiling rides his bike or shoots 60 baskets on the basketball court. Getting outside for just one hour a day every month, helps all of us, including the dog, lose weight!

Chiling received volunteer service award from Kaiser

After dinner, Chiling enjoys some private time in his room listening to music, playing games, and recording on his phone. Around 9:30 pm, he appears in front of us again, “Exercise!” He turns on the treadmill and music in the garage, and exercises for at least 30 minutes. One of our best investments, the treadmill has been used every day for the past 10 years.

On Wednesdays, Chiling takes his clothes to the washing machine; “Laundry!”, still the one word tactic. The first milestone of his training was putting all of his clothes into the washing machine. Then, step by step, we progressed both the workload and amount of responsibility: adding detergent, finishing the wash cycles, and finally drying the clothes.  

For folding his laundry, I use the backward chaining method for training.  I first separate out the laundry and leave the last step of the procedure for Chiling to finish. “Completion” is a key part of each activity for Chiling, so he can see the final result of his work and enjoy a compliment or a reward. Over time, I slowly increase the share of the steps for him to finish, and these small rewards help motivate him to improve.

On the topic of luring with carrots, this is a must-have technique in daily life. I often use watching movies, shopping, and riding the bicycle as rewards to spice up Chiling’s daily life. So far, the biggest goal that he has been targeting for over a year is, “Go to Taiwan!”  I know that this cannot be done in the near future, but he will be very anxious without a forecasted timeframe. Uncertain phrases such as “maybe” will also make him anxious. Therefore I let him say, “go to Taiwan in 2020, if the virus is over.” He repeats this to me at least 10 times a day! 

2020 has passed with the pandemic still in full swing. Knowing a Taiwan trip is unlikely in the near future, I wonder and worry about Chiling’s reaction; he must be very disappointed!

On January 1, 2021, the first thing Chiling said to me in the morning was, “Go to Taiwan…”  As I was still figuring out how to comfort him, he corrected himself with, “Not yet!” While the alluring carrot of going to Taiwan is still a big motivation for Chiling; he has learned that a rain check means that while plans may get delayed, they are not invalidated. 

The key message of this article is to take advantage of the quality of persistence with our autistic loved ones, but don’t let them stumble due to their stubbornness.

Environmentally friendly fabric mask made by Sufen,
the see through panel allows for easier communication

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