Tag Archives: cleaning room

Metaphor

The Scene: Teenage boy’s bedroom. The occupant has autism and, although he eventually learned to talk, he is characteristically literal-minded and often has difficulty understanding various figures of speech. Those close to him have learned to take what he says at face value and proceed accordingly. The floor of the bedroom is piled high with dirty clothes, papers, trash, food wrappers, Lego and Bionicle pieces, DVDs, books, and magazines. The boy’s mother, astounded that even with the weekly room-cleaning sessions the mess still builds up so quickly, stands in the doorway with her hands on her hips. She recalls previous attempts and avoidance techniques and congratulates herself that she has at least implemented the mandatory weekly sessions prior to allowance disbursement and movie time. The mess is nowhere near as bad as it used to get, and for that she is relieved. She steps inside the room and gives suggestions for a plan of attack, pointing at the largest pile and urging her son to first put away the clothes, and that will make the pile seem a lot smaller. The son gestures wildly at the pile.

Teenage son:  What a load of crap!

Mother (matter-of-factly):  Well, if it’s crap, let’s throw it away then.

Teenage son (aghast):  It’s not all crap! It’s a metaphor! You can’t take it literally!

Executive Compromise

A short conversation with Nigel last night –

Me: Nigel, you really need to clean up your room. I can’t even see the floor in there.

Nigel: The floor is purposeless.

Me: No, it is not ‘purposeless.’ The floor is for walking on to get across the room.

Nigel: Walking is purposeless.

Me: You’re not making sense. Of course walking has a purpose.

Nigel: Well, it’s too hard to clean my room.

And so, the room-cleaning saga continues. Some of you may recall the ideas I came up with in the past to address this issue, such as listing specific steps to clean the room, making chore charts, using positive and negative reinforcement, and trying to inject humor into the situation. All of those things worked a few times; none of them work now. With five full inches of trash, clothing, books, DVDs, papers, and Lego strewn across his entire floor, I had to dig deeper to come up with a solution.

I remembered Mama Mara’s post from a few months ago discussing the concept of executive control and her son’s room, and I used that to fuel my search. I searched for more about executive control/function, and specifically, cleaning up rooms. I found a video on Autism Children Now that was quite helpful. The subject, a woman with Asperger’s, discusses the fact that ASD individuals have a different perception of what is organized. It reminded me of the following exchange I overheard between Nigel and Aidan a few years ago:

Aidan: You’re using my toothbrush, Nigel! Mine’s the one with the stickers on it.

Nigel: Sorry, my brain is not good with memorizing things like that.

Aidan: That’s because you’re not organized!

The Aspergian woman in the video maintained that when it appears that autistic people’s living areas are disorganized, the spaces aren’t disorganized to them. They know where everything is. And while I am sure that this is true in many cases, unfortunately it’s not with Nigel. He doesn’t know where everything is. Things get lost in his room, swallowed up. Last weekend he had an overnight Scout camping trip, and while packing he could not find his flashlight, compass, Swiss Army knife, or even any socks, all of which were buried. We had to go out and buy these things at the last minute, which did not make me happy. I could dock his allowance for these items, but that really doesn’t help him to learn how to be more organized.

What to do? The woman in the video made an important point: compromise is the key word. Compromise on organization, and do not be abstract in your instructions. I can’t just say, “Nigel, you need to organize your room better.” What I can do is compromise on the things that I want him to have organized. For example, I can have him agree to the following:

  • Daily trash pick-up, every evening at the same time
  • Socks go directly in laundry bin when taken off
  • Scout items or other easily lost items put in a designated spot

I would love to have him clean his room thoroughly every week, but I know this is not possible for him. I would love to have all of his clothes in his dresser, closet, or in the laundry instead of on the floor, the books and DVDs on the actual shelves that are set up for them, the papers in stacks or files, and everything organized the way the rest of my house is. But there’s no compromise in that. With the 3-step list, he won’t feel overwhelmed, and I don’t have to hear “I don’t have any socks” or “I can’t find my flashlight/compass/scissors/wallet” anymore. And, if I’m really lucky, I won’t have to wade through five inches of trash to tuck him in bed every night.