Tag Archives: calendar

Thinking Ahead

My younger son Aidan, who is twelve, has recently discovered Bob Marley. He found one of my CDs from my college days (when I first discovered Bob) and it was love at first listen. Aidan plays it day and night. He tells me that he likes the music, but also the lyrics. And I’ve noticed that, too. Aidan seems even calmer and more introspective than usual. What I hadn’t noticed was that Nigel had also started listening.

Last weekend the boys were very excited because The Day the Earth Stood Still was opening. They had recently seen the original and looked forward to comparing the new one to it. I told them that we’d wait until the following weekend so it wouldn’t be so crowded. Then I made the fatal mistake of writing on the calendar the day and time I hoped that I could take them to see it.  If it’s on the calendar, it’s in stone as far as Nigel is concerned. It’s going to happen. And usually, it does. But that morning the schools had scheduled an emergency 2-hour late start due to bad road conditions, and that threw everything off for the day. Because Aidan started school two hours later, I couldn’t go into work until two hours later. Consequently, I didn’t finish my work until two hours later than I normally do. By the time I got home, I could not do all I needed to do in time to go to the movies that evening, and we would go the following day, I announced.

Nigel got upset. “But it’s on the calendar!” he yelled and began breathing heavily through clenched teeth, eyes wild as he quickly went into meltdown mode. This was not good. I had plans with a friend later that evening (something I had planned to do after the movie), and if Nigel didn’t calm down, I wouldn’t be able to leave him. I tried reminding him about “Old Plan, New Plan.”  “That doesn’t work!” he yelled. He then took a wooden ruler and mutilated a piece of pizza with it. I could tell he was escalating. He went to the living room and broke one of my hand-painted pysanky eggs from relatives in Slovakia. I knew that my response was crucial – he wanted a reaction out of me, so I did not react. I calmly said, “Nigel, pick up those broken pieces and put them in the trash.” And I think he was a little surprised that I didn’t yell at him about the egg, so he actually cleaned it up. He resumed his verbal tirade, but at least he stopped being destructive. Then I had an idea. An alternative for him. It was a “New Plan,” but I didn’t want to call it that.

It was risky, because I didn’t want him to think that I was rewarding him for his behavior. But what I hoped to accomplish was to help motivate him to regulate his behavior himself. Some would call it a bribe. But God knows that when you have to change plans on an autistic teen, you better have an acceptable back-up plan.

I sat him down and tried to look into his wild eyes. “Nigel, here are your choices. You can be mad about not going to see the movie tonight, but that’s not going to make it happen. Or, you can calm down and come with me to the store to pick out a video rental and get some ice cream, and we’ll see The Day the Earth Stood Still tomorrow.” Then I got up and went to my room to get my boots and coat.

Aidan followed me into my room. He looked at me. “Why does he act that way?” he asked with concern and sadness in his voice. “Honey, it’s because the autism makes it hard for him to regulate his emotions and his behavior.”

“Then how is he going to take care of himself when he’s an adult?” Aidan asked in a sincere voice.

A chill ran through my body. I looked at him. “We don’t know if he will. But he’s learning; he’s trying. I think he’ll figure it out. And he can live with me as long as he needs to. So can you.”

I put my arm around him and we walked out into the hallway. Nigel was standing by the front door, with his shoes and coat on. I looked at his face, and the wildness was gone, replaced by a look that I couldn’t determine. Remorse? Gratitude? Maybe both. “I’m ready,” he said. “Okay, I’ll get my purse and keys,” I said. As I walked off, I heard Aidan quietly say to him, “I’m glad you were able to calm down.” And my heart filled with far too many emotions to identify.

A moment later, as I started the car, Nigel asked from the back seat, “Can we listen to ‘Don’t Worry About a Thing’?”

“It’s called ‘Three Little Birds,'” Aidan said.

“Sure,” I said, inserting the CD. And then we all sang, even Nigel:

Don’t worry . . . about a thing . . . ‘cause every little thing . . . gonna be all right . . .

The Calendar and the Rebel

The calendar is sacrosanct to Nigel. It helps him to organize the vague concept of time, helps him to mentally prepare for upcoming events, and it even helps him to decide what to wear. He takes the concept of seasons very seriously and dresses according to the calendar, not the weather. Spring means short-sleeved shirts, even if it’s still snowing. If we’re having a really hot day in May and I suggest to him to wear shorts, he maintains, “It’s not summer yet.” Summer means shorts, no matter what the forecast. But no shorts before it’s officially summer. And by God, no pants before fall.

This morning as we were beginning homeschool, it was a bit chilly in the house, so I put on jeans and a sweatshirt. I suggested to Nigel that he might be more comfortable in pants rather than the shorts he had slept in. His reply was automatic. “It’s not fall yet.” I jumped up and ran to the calendar.

“But it IS fall!” I said, gesturing wildly to the calendar. “Today is the first day of fall! It’s printed right on the calendar!” The thought occurred to me that I was enjoying this just a little too much.

Nigel got up off the couch and came over to check. His eyes got a little wide when he looked at the calendar, then quickly narrowed. “Well, I’m fine,” he said, not looking at me. “I’m warm enough. I don’t need pants. I’m keeping the shorts,” and he marched back over to the couch and sat down.

I don’t know which shocked me more – his nonchalant, rebellious response or the fact that it really was the first day of fall, and it just so happened that I could point it out to him on a day that I suggested that he wear pants. I admit I had a little fun with that. But I’m glad that his effort to rebel against my suggestion has made him less rigid about adhering to his self-imposed seasonal dress code. This is definitely a step in the right direction, an openness to change. Never mind the emerging need for rebellion! We’ll just ignore that issue for now. After all, a little flexibility goes a long way – for both of us.


Autistic individuals (especially younger) often have difficulty understanding the concept and sequence of time. Unless the sequence of events is tied together as a routine, some autistic people can have trouble recalling the steps of an event in the same order. This affects their ability to learn cause/effect and means/end relationships. It also makes it difficult to predict and prepare themselves for coming events. They need a visual reference.

Nigel loves lists and calendars to make sense of the vague concept of time, and he has the cognitive ability to use them. For instance, Nigel is the first one in the household to change the calendar on the morning of the first day of a new month, without fail. He has done this since he was about seven years old. I remember back in December 2001, I had noticed that in the two weeks since December began, Nigel seemed anxious whenever I showed him something on the calendar, even though he was very excited about Christmas coming. I couldn’t figure out what was bothering him about the calendar. The following week I brought home a 2002 calendar and showed it to Nigel. Instantly his face lit up and he said, “Now we have a calendar for January and February 2002!” I realized that he had been anxious because there was nothing for him to visually refer to after December for upcoming events.

Nigel then proceeded to flip through the calendar and write in his shaky but determined hand: “NO SCHOOL” on all the days that there was no school scheduled. I smiled, amused and relieved. Sometimes autism takes a back seat for a minute, and then he’s just a regular kid.