For many parents of children with autism, schedules are a lifeline. Knowing what to expect each day — and when to expect it — is often critical for minimizing anxiety and as a result, tantrums.
We learned quickly if we created a schedule with pictures and times, Ryan would read it over and over, become familiar with it, and remain calm. His teachers did the same in school. As he got older and could read, just giving him a list of dates and events or a calendar with our plans served the same purpose.
But what happens when that schedule unexpectedly changes? There is that little thing called the weather which has gotten in the way of many plans and caused many a tantrum over the years. Ryan’s reaction to weather events can be a storm unto itself.
In the early days, it was difficult to reason with him if something got cancelled – he didn’t understand why his schedule suddenly changed due to rain or snow and would scream and cry.
As he’s matured, Ryan has heard many times that sometimes plans change and we have to be flexible. Does he understand? Yes, in theory. Is he accepting of it? Not always. Does he talk incessantly about how he wants to do the activity that might get cancelled and threaten to ‘freak out’ if it does? Of course. For hours.
And for some reason, he seems to think I, alone, control the weather.
This is a typical conversation:
“Mommy, make it sunny!” Ryan will often whine if it’s raining and we can’t do something.
“Ryan, I don’t control the weather,” I’ll respond.
“Who controls the weather?”
“The weather is controlled by what happens in the atmosphere. Not by a person.”
“Well, tell the atmosphere to be sunny.”
Winter is very similar. Back in elementary school, Ryan hated snow days. He wanted to be in school every day the calendar said there was school. Any chance of snow caused anxiety.
“Mommy, tell the snow not to come so I can go to school.”
“Ry, I don’t control the weather.”
See dialogue above for the rest.
“Believe me, Ryan,” I would often think to myself, “I have no desire for snow. Snow messes with my schedule, too. If I had the power you seem to think I do, our weather would be amazing year-round.”
These days, Ryan is a little more flexible about snow (as long as it doesn’t ruin his weekend plans). He’s ok with school closings – but only full days, as late arrivals mean he has to adjust to a slightly different schedule.
One night this past year, we were discussing what might happen with school the next day.
“I don’t want a late arrival, Mommy. Tell the woman to close schools for the whole day.”
The woman? Dan, Jordan and I all looked at each other in confusion. Mother Nature? G-d? Me?
“What woman?” I asked.
“The woman! You know, the one on the phone!”
Ohhh! “The woman” was our superintendent. Years ago when we started school, we had to provide our phone numbers and e-mails for mass messages from the district about things like school closings. We gave them every number we have, several e-mail addresses and opted in for text messages, as well, just in case we missed something. As a result, each time there is an early dismissal, late arrival, or school closing, four phones will simultaneously ring, and multiple e-mails and text messages will ping with pre-recorded messages, where we’ll hear the voice of our superintendent with the news.
Since last winter was a horrible one, I think the order of who called our landline the most (yes, we still have a landline. The cell signal is terrible in our house) was probably my mom, my sister, and the superintendent. If we’re lucky enough where she makes a decision at night rather than 5am, I’ll answer one of the calls on speakerphone so everyone can hear her relay the news.
“You mean [superintendent‘s name]?” I asked.
“Yes!” Ryan said, excited I finally got it. “Call her and tell her to close schools.”
“Right,” I thought. “Since she and I are BFFs, I’ll just give her a call right now and tell her how to run her district.“
Fast forward to this past weekend… Ryan loves to swim. We go to family and friends’ pools a lot in the summer, along with our gym pool. We watch the weather religiously the week leading up to any major outdoor event and this week was no exception. We had plans at two different pools. Saturday we were going to swim with friends at a rooftop pool in the city, and yesterday we were planning to visit Dan’s sister and family, who have a beautiful pool at their house. As the week went on, the forecast did not look pretty for either day.
Ryan watched the weather reports nervously. Each day: “Mommy, I want to swim this weekend.”
“I know. So do I. But we can’t control the weather.”
Friday: “Mommy, I’m going to freak out if we don’t swim tomorrow.”
“You’re 14 and too old to freak out.”
“I don’t want it to rain. Make it sunny. Please, Mommy.”
Serenity now! Or at least some wine!
Saturday was a washout. It was a long day in the house, with Ryan telling me how bored he was, how I needed to make the rain stop for Sunday, and how much he wanted to go to Aunt Anna’s pool.
We fell asleep to pouring rain. I prayed for it to stop the next day – at least for a few hours. Yesterday morning started off cloudy but dry. By the time we got to Anna and Mike’s house, there was sun! We swam for several hours and it actually turned out to be a decent day. Ryan was calm, content and smiling.
At the end of our visit, we made plans to come back at the end of the summer.
“Mommy, will it be sunny then?” Ryan asked.
“Ry!” I said, exasperated, “It’s 6 weeks away. I have no idea what the weather will be then! Look at this gorgeous day you ended up with!” I gestured to the blue skies and sun. “How about appreciating it?”
“Thank you for the sun, Mommy,” Ryan said.
“Ryan,” I laughed. “I don’t control the weath–” Oh, never mind. I give up. After a weekend of taking beatings for the rain, why not take credit for something good?
I smiled sweetly. “You’re very welcome, Ry.”