One of DC’s IP (no “E”- he is out of school) goals is for his staff to work with him on being home alone for small amounts of time. Anyone that knows me, knows that I am not comfortable with this at all but as he moved through middle school and high school his dismissal time got earlier and earlier. As he got older there were less to almost no options for after school care. He is verbal but does not communicate well so hiring and trusting a stranger was not an option and I was running out of people I knew to hire. After his freshman year of high school when I lost my last babysitter to college, I knew I really had to teach him to get into the house by himself and safely. I had cut my hours as much as possible without losing my full time status, but still the race with the bus was tight and a nerve-racking experience. I knew he really should learn how to get in, lock the door and call me, just in case there was a time that I was delayed getting home.
I began working on this a very long time ago, long before it was an official goal. We practiced quite a long time and finally made it to the point where he was okay for a few minutes. It is actually odd that they added it to his IP as a goal just a few years ago as by that time he had already mastered it, but I suppose practicing with his staff could only enforce what he had already learned.
I started the process unintentionally when he was still in middle school. Everyday when we would arrive home from where ever we had been I would hand him the key and let him unlock the door. Never thinking that he would ever be in the house alone I just thought that he should learn to use a key in case he had a locker when he went to high school.
After losing that last baby-sitter in high school, I started by going step-by-step through the routine with him. Unlocking the door to get in, locking the door behind him, calling me, getting a snack and waiting for me to come home. There were pictures and reminder notes everywhere. We did this for months before he got to the point where he did everything without prompting. Doing everything on his own when I am there never means he can focus enough to do it on his own.
So let the testing begin…..
I am fortunate that DC had the same bus driver and bus aide all through his 4 years at the High School and throughout the 2 year College Transition program. I am also fortunate that they were absolutely wonderful women and went above and beyond for all of the kids they drove. I knew they would cooperate.
My car, when parked behind the house could be seen from the main road that the bus drove down before turning onto the extension road that leads to our street. You really have to be looking for it in order to see it and my hope was that DC did not even realize that it was visible from the main road and would not be looking for it. The drivers were instructed to let him get off the bus only if they saw that my car was in back. I hoped that DC would not know that I was home and hiding in the garage. I wanted to be sure he would follow all of the steps we had gone over 100 times before, when I wasn’t there. The first day, he came home “by himself”, I could hear him barreling through the house. I waited and waited for my phone call – nothing, but I could still hear him stomping all over the house as if it he was having a dance party. Finally I dialed the house phone. The phone ringing must have reminded DC that he hadn’t called me and instead of answering the phone, he picked it up and began dialing (while I was on the phone) and began reciting his script:
DC: Hi, Mom! I am home!
Me: DC, you were supposed to call me when you got home.
DC: Yes. I’m sorry Mother (pulling out the formalities and using “mother”)
Me: Did you lock the door?
Me: Okay, Go get your snack and I will be home in a few minutes.
DC: Okay, see you later.
I waited in the garage for a few minutes and then opened the garage door as if I was just arriving and then closed it again. I came up the stairs and DC was waiting at the cellar door.
I looked around and the front door was not only unlocked but wide open.
Closed the door – NO
Locked the door – NO
Called Mom – NO
Got a snack – Yes
I did sort of expect him to be a bit confused the first few times – it was new.
We went through the whole routine again and he completed every step without a problem. We went through it every single day for weeks and even though he could do everything while I was there, every day it was the same outcome when he thought he was alone. I knew that he knew what he was supposed to do, but I also knew he needed some incentive to focus on what he needed to do, so after weeks of hiding in the garage and DC forgetting to complete every single step (except for the snack, of course) – I finally had to pull out the big guns.
“DC, if you forget to call me when you get home and I find the door unlocked one more time, you will lose your movies and computer this weekend.” That did it. The next day, he did everything perfectly – everything!
Now, I would never threaten his movies or computer use over something that I knew he was not capable of doing. In this case he was following all of the steps without any prompting while I was there. He just could not get himself to focus when I was not there. Losing his weekend computer time was just the incentive that he needed.
The next test was to be sure that he would not open the door for anyone. After a few weeks of hiding in the garage, I decided it was time to ring the doorbell and …… he answered the door. Knowing that this was not something I could test again right away because he would know it was me; I had to pull out the big guns immediately and threaten his weekend movie/computer time again. I waited a few weeks before I tested the “Do not open the door” rule and when I rang the bell, I could hear DC yelling “Do not open the door” and he did not open the door.
A friend said “You are going to tell him that he is allowed to open the door for the police.”
For DC there is only “You can open the door” or “you can’t open the door” – there is no in-between. Fortunately our police department has a program in place
where families of special needs children and adults can register with the department. If a call should ever come in to the police department for any reason, our address is flagged and the officers responding can pull up pertinent information about DC; verbal but does not communicate well – may not answer questions correctly – may change his answer if asked the same question more than once – may become upset if asked the same question too many times – not aggressive but he may become agitated and so on. The information on file also states that he will not open the door.
My hiding in the garage went on for about a year until I was as comfortable as I could be with this. I spoke to the bus driver again and told her that it was okay to let him off the bus as long as they did not leave until he was in the house and had closed the door behind him. Most of the time I still made it home before him, so I would park down the street, far enough so he and the drivers could not see me, but close enough so I could see the house and the door – I wanted to be sure that they were not leaving until he was inside. Even though I was home before he was 99.9% of the time and was sitting down the street, just knowing he could do it took away a lot of the panic of racing the bus every day. The very few times that he did arrive before I did, I was on the phone with him the entire time. As an additional safeguard in case I was in an accident or something like that, I had an alarm clock set in the living room and if I was not home by the time it went off, he was to call Doug or my mother. In case something like that ever did happen and he was not focused enough to call Doug or my mother, I set it up with Doug that I would call him when I got home and if he did not hear from me by a certain time, he would come right to my house.
Not long after all of this training my DDS (Department of Developmental Services) caseworker was able to secure a grant for support services and staff
, so I was able to go back to my regular working hours. As I said, hiring strangers was out of the question but fortunately I was able to hire two people from the school system. One knew DC very well from school and the other worked with and/or knew at least 4 people that I knew well. Even though he now had staff and they usually arrived earlier than DC did, they still had him go through the motions of unlocking and locking the door and calling me, so he did not forget everything he learned.
When we went from high school/transition program to a day/work program, we lost his beloved bus driver and aide and had to move on to a livery service (the first service was a disaster, to put it mildly, but the next service driver was wonderful and the private hire he has right now is working out just fine). These drivers were also not allowed to leave until he was in the house and the door was closed behind him.
Since he started having seizures last summer, I am no longer comfortable with him being alone even for a few minutes. As I said, one or the other of his staff arrives at my house every day a few minutes before he does. Both are coming from full time day jobs so there is not a lot of wiggle room time-wise, but on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday their arrival time works out perfectly. On Thursday’s his transportation arrives earlier than the rest of the week because his friend *Salli is not in the car- sometimes as much as a half hour earlier. On Thursday’s I leave work early so I am home when he arrives.
On this particular Thursday, I was home. The door was open but I didn’t hear the car arrive so I was not right in front of the door (now, due to said seizures, the driver is required to stay until he gets inside and either sees me or his staff). I believe it was our old driver’s last day. I could hear DC making the noise he makes when something is not right or exactly as it should be. Hearing this noise I could picture exactly what he was doing; coming up the sidewalk, looking at the ground and walking his determined/aggravated walk.
DC, from my many years of trying to avoid turning everything into a routine, can be pretty flexible about some things. His “coming home and getting into the house” routine is not one of them.
Before I made it to the front door, DC came in. A split second after he came inside, the screen door opened again and a pair of hands put a package down right behind him on the floor inside the door. DC, clearly upset, would not turn around and totally ignored the person and the package but the noise he was making got louder, knowing someone was behind him. I went to the door and the mailman was just getting back in his truck and DC’s driver, seeing me, started to pull away.
We have lived in this house for about 18 years. Does the mailman see us enough to know that DC is autistic? Probably not. This poor man was probably two steps behind DC all the way up the sidewalk wondering why this guy was ignoring him, walking so quickly and not turning around and take the package (and making that noise). DC, on the other hand was just becoming more and more annoyed that some guy was following him and messing up his routine.
There are just some routines that are not to be altered in any way, shape or form and this routine is certainly one of them.
But really, the whole thing must have been pretty entertaining for his driver on her last day and any other neighbors that may have been outside at the time …
(FYI, Seeing a set of just hands and a package coming through the door has scared the life out of me more than once)
(The photo? A re-enactment, of course – but exactly what it looked like)