In our last post, I shared with you the Occupy Kitchen movement that Chad and I have been enduring for the past six weeks during which our hero Nate declared that the kitchen was the only acceptable space on the 1st story of our house. Within the kitchen, Nate kept shrinking that acceptable space further and further until, finally, he only wanted his meals underneath the built-in kitchen desk. At that point, Chad and I threw up our hands in despair and called in the expert: Ms. Susie.
Our IEP does not provide in-home services but, occasionally, we have home visits from Ms. Susie. She’s been here to see how Nate behaves in his home environment and to create a common ground for conversations. I no longer need to say, “Nate’s jumping off of the big brown recliner in our living room next to the window” because Susie’s been here. She knows where it is. So I just say, “Nate’s jumping off the brown chair,” and understands the issues because she knows where it’s located and we can get to work on an appropriate plan for behavior modification. This in-home visit, however, was prompted by Nate’s worrisome Occupy Kitchen behavior. It had gone on for so long at home and our fear was that it would start spilling over into the school environment. No description could fully depict the severity of the situation so Ms. Susie came over for a visit after school to see for herself.
Of course, when she got here, Nate was willing to enjoy the romper room and the kitchen, putting me to shame. He was excited to see Ms. Susie, after all! But ten minutes later, Nate thankfully started to get under the kitchen desk and make himself comfortable. That’s when Ms. Susie said she had a solution and broke the news to Nate: no more toys in the kitchen. Toys could be in the romper room or in the small hallway that connects to our living room but not in the kitchen. The only things that could cross the kitchen border were Nate’s friends (Hobbes x3, Big Ralphie, Little Ralphie, Hippo and Gorilla) and his blankets/wubbies. Then Ms. Susie freaked Nate’s freak because she implemented the plan right then and there.
Oh, the horror! Suddenly toys were being pushed to the right into the romper room and straight ahead into the hallway. Nate quickly came out from under the desk to try to rescue his things as they were being pushed overboard–they must be saved! Ms. Susie set up a border — the wooden strip that divides the wood floor from the tiled kitchen floor — and she and I sat there on that border and repeatedly told Nate he could have the toys in the hallway but not past the strip of wood.
Yes, there were tears. Yes, Nate was no longer excited that Ms. Susie came over to his house. But, no, it didn’t scar his mental health. Susie stayed at our house for 1.5 hours, most of which was spent implementing this new plan and then she headed home. (Nate could not say “bye bye” fast enough.) That’s when the testing began.
Nate loves small tiny toys, especially these round disks that have clock stickers on them. He sat in the hallway and hid a clock disk in his hand and casually leaned back, putting the clock over the line. I saw it. I squashed it. Nate was mad. He did this multiple times, always with very small items. Each time I caught him. Each time he was mad.
Consistency is key though and, by the end of the first 24 hour period, it was clear Nate understood the rules. Ms. Susie’s theory about this strategy also proved right: if there was nothing to play with in the kitchen, then it was a boring place, so Nate would be more likely to explore other areas of the house. A week later and I’m proud to say that our romper room is a horrific mess, our hallway leading to the living room is cluttered, and our living room has been visited three or four times–and our kitchen remains a place to simply cook and eat. Nate still tests us but now he understands the rules. When he carries a toy into the kitchen, I hold out my hand and he just gives it to me. No tears. No whining. No fit. And then he’ll go play with it wherever I put the toy.
Now if you’re saying to yourself, “That makes sense. Why didn’t you just think of that?,” then you aren’t recognizing that we’re not playing with a full set of bocce balls. Chad and I have been worn down by this whole affair – not to mention the 4.5 years that preceded it. We both work and Chad’s going to grad school. Nate’s not consistently sleeping through the night. Some days, the goal is just to make it to bed time and we don’t really care how we get there – we just are sprinting for that finish line. We need outside perspectives of friends and professionals who understand what we’re going through to help us see the light and guide us to the light of day instead of toward an oncoming train.
Sometimes, though, Nate still crawls under the kitchen desk. But it’s usually in a laundry basket boat to watch a show…. :)