For most kids, the phrase “time out” isn’t a good one. It usually means that they’ve broken a rule or broken a dish. For Nate, “time out” is a very, very happy phrase. In fact, it’s one of his main coping mechanisms in the big, bad world.
We started noticing time outs right around the time Nate was diagnosed with autism. When things got too crazy for him—the teevee was too loud, the show was too stimulating, the room was too messy—Nate would toddle on over behind the couch, which has blankets draped over the back of it (to protect it from Archy’s claws). Nate would quietly lift up the blanket, pop himself under there, and put the blanket back down. There he would sit for a good five or ten minutes. Chad and I would peek over the couch to make sure Nate was ok. He was fine. His hands were usually folded in his lap and his feet sometimes did a little happy dance while poking out from the fringe.
The blankets over the couch aren’t magical to Nate. In fact, any piece of fabric will do. What he does under there remains a mystery to us. Sometimes, we can get Nate to re-engage with us by playing peek-a-boo, but that’s only when he’s chilled out a little bit. (You know he’s not ready when you pick up the blanket and you get a disgruntled face.) But, for the most part, Nate will let you know when he’s ready to play and all is right in his world.
We asked his therapists these “time outs” when we started working with them, as his hiding increased significantly at that time. They explained that Nate’s senses are different than yours or mine. Nate’s senses distort his perception of the world in a way that we don’t fully understand yet. Regular noises, crowds of people, or being asked to do a task in therapy can become overwhelming. To regulate himself, he goes under the blanket, which significantly alters two senses: sight and sound. There’s nothing distracting to look at under a blanket, and sounds are muffled. That allows Nate to gather his wits and, when he comes on out, he’s a new boy, ready to go.
We got tired of the couch blanket so Chad and I got Nate a tent. A really fabulous, really large tent. Even though Archy Cat liked it, it turned out that the tent was too big for our boy. Nate craves small, tight, closed spaces. So, at Miss Lisa’s suggestion, we crammed as many pillows and stuffed animals in the tent as we could. Brown Bear, Alligator, Christmas Curious George, and many other friends all camped out in the living room. Then Nate started to take his self-dictated time outs in the tent. Unfortunately, the tent made it more difficult to get him out to start the next task of therapy. Nate was quite surprised when some of his therapists managed to get themselves inside of his tent and held court there. Very surprised. But eventually, he grew tired of the tent. And we grew tired of how much real estate the tent took up in our ever-shrinking living room.
Enter the Egg Chair. We went to IKEA on a Sunday (don’t do that, people) and Nate had a blast in their kids section. All of the big toys—tables, kitchens, easels, and chairs—were set up for tots to play with. Nate? He found a bright blue egg chair, very reminiscent of Mork and Mindy. It has a parachute like door that slides open and closed, fully enveloping my boy in the chair. Nate was in heaven. The other kids, too, loved it. In fact, a seven-year-old nearly threw Nate out of the chair so he could get in it. (That’s when we had a discussion with the stranger boy about sharing….)
The chair was expensive and we hemmed and hawed if we should get it. Finally, we decided it was worth the money, and drove back to IKEA to purchase it. It was sold out. So, we waited a few more weeks and bought it when it was back in stock. I built the chair to the best of my abilities and Chad finished it up. The egg chair now had a home in our living room. And it was grand.
Of course, Nate doesn’t like the egg chair in our house. It’s only fun at IKEA. Sure, he’ll sit in it every now and again, but I’m pretty sure he would no longer pick a fight with a seven-year-old over it. What does he love most? His old friend, the blanket that hangs over the back of the couch. Some things never change.