Lessons Learned in Philadelphia, Part 1

April 21, 2016

When, during our trip to Philadelphia, Robert was exposed to new arrangements of familiar elements, he exhibited  the behaviors I knew from the past.  I dealt with them years ago and believed they were extinct.  They weren’t.

In the past, I discovered that Robert’s universe was made of separate bubbles. Each bubble consisted of specific places, concrete people, and a particular set of rules characteristic to that sub-world.

1.  Each person has assigned her own place  -in the world and shouldn’t encroach  on another person’s space. Robert tried to push me out when I visited HIS classroom.  He attempted to block his teachers from entering OUR home.  While we, the parents, could take him to almost any restaurant, only his respite providers (any of them) could take Robert to McDonald’s. 

2. Each person also had  special role in Robert’s life.  When outside, Robert followed Amanda example to the T’s.  She climbed on a rock, he did too.  She walked on a fallen tree, he walked on it too. She jumped in a funny way from the curb, he returned to the sidewalk to emulate her movement.  But when Amanda reached for the bottle of juice which was placed too high for Robert (he was shorter then she at that time), he got mad. It was not her job to do so.  Only parents could give him his juice.  It was their prerogative and their responsibility.  

3. Robert could go to any place provided that after each visit we returned home.  Then he could go again. The home was the center connected to other bubbles, but the remaining bubbles were not supposed to be connected to each other.

4. The things should remain in the same places.  All things, but specially our cars.

Over the years, we managed to help Robert expand his worlds and connect many of those separate sub-worlds into more complex but hopefully more uniform universe replacing narrow rules with more general ones that allowed for flexible adjustments. However, during our trip to Philadelphia Robert seemed to recreate his old model of the universe.  When we didn’t act in accordance with this model, Robert tried to remedy  that by constantly remaining us about the problem and, when we didn’t react properly, he protested.  


Hotels and Friends Don’t Mix.  Or Do They?

I had told Robert that we would first stop at  my friends’ house and then we would go to a hotel.   I repeated that information a couple of times.  So we stopped at friends’ house and that was not a problem.  The problem was staying longer.  Just long enough to eat lunch.  My friends prepared  rich vegetarian lunch for us and a few items for Robert.  Robert had arugula and chips and his favorite ginseng green tea.   Robert didn’t want chips.  He ate the whole bowl of arugula and drank a large glass of tea. That he ate anything at all was a surprise in itself as usually in other people houses, Robert eats only what we bring with us.  He ate very quickly, even before the rest of us managed to put great macaroni salad and vegetable Sloppy Joe on our plates.  Somehow, he managed to wait anxiously until we finish our dishes.  He agreed to drink coffee  we offered him hoping it will take him a few minutes to drink. But he chugged it in a few seconds.   Then he went on helping cleaning the dishes believing that the empty table would be a clear signal to leave.  Almost every other minute, Robert was repeating, “Hotel, hotel, hotel”, to remind us about the main goal of the trip which was staying in hotel. We could stop at our friends’ house, but the hotel was where we were supposed to be.

As we drove with our friends to the heart of Philadelphia, Robert kept pointing at them and repeating, “House, house.”  letting us know that they should stay in their house.  I  tried to explain my friends that this is nothing personal just an example of Robert’s ontology, in particular, his strong conviction  that people belong to certain places which shouldn’t be changed.  At least not before Robert learns more about them and builds additional routes for them to travel. That, however, requires learning new paths and that is not always easy.  Every time we encounter Robert’s rigid assumption about the rules of the world, we use it as  another opportunity to expand his world by presenting new connections.   It is often uncomfortable at the given moment, but it is the lesson Robert won’t forget and thus he will accept easily similar arrangements in the future.

Next day, just before exiting Philadelphia Robert said, “House, house.”

“Yes, we are going home”, I assured him.

“No, house, house.”

I understood. “Robert do you want to go home or to Maggie’s house?”

“Maggie’s house” he replied.

Robert’s world grew wider and more flexible.   Now it included our new friends, their house and new connections.



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