A Bucket Full of Pinecones

Last spring and summer was a strange and difficult time for our household, as well as a very happy time.  Our Kiddo had health and behavior problems.  The Youngest  graduated from grad school.  The Middle Boy came home with a master’s degree as well and a desire to go to law school.  The whole family was back home and would be together for the foreseeable future. It was a period of readjusting to each other as well as handling some challenges.

Our house, itself, also had its share of troubles–from a leaking roof to an invasion of raccoons.  Those problems were easier to handle then Our Kiddo’s issues and we quickly resolved the roof leak and captured four raccoons–and two opossums for good measure.  In addition, our wildlife guy–he handled the critters, NOT Kiddo–suggested cutting down or at least trimming a good number of trees and bushes.  We had always liked the “cottage in the woods” look our house had but certainly didn’t want any more raccoons if we could help it.  We decided to cut down all the trees except for the glorious Ponderosa Pine in front of the house–we would have Wally-the-Tree-Guy trim that one in half so the branches wouldn’t be anywhere near the roof.

After Wally cut down the trees, bushes and trimmed the pine tree, we didn’t have much to do to clean up–except for the pine cones.  There were pine cones everywhere, in the ground cover, on the sidewalks, in the flower beds with the hostas and day lilies.  Getting the time to pick them up–the hundreds all over the place–just wasn’t going to happen with Our Kiddo’s problems taking up so much of my time.

During this time, we also played the “what’s wrong with Kiddo” game.  He was down to 112 pounds–why was he losing weight?  Why was he screaming in pain but not being able to tell us where he hurt?  Why was he not the happy guy we love?  From April to August, we tried to get him back on track.  Since he was having behavior problems, it was very difficult to keep him on the schedule he thrived being on.  He didn’t want to do his academics or the art work he so loved to do.  He loved to be outside but we kept him inside a great deal because I didn’t feel we could trust his behavior.  He was able to do some of his envelope stuffing jobs but it was torture to get him to stay on task for the two or three hours it took for each.

I kept a record of his behaviors and we tried to see a pattern somewhere. He had some medical tests, a visit from the paramedics and a trip to the Emergency Room which still did not give us a clear diagnosis.  Then, we finally got an answer. He had bulimia (he was “stimming” by vomiting after eating large amounts of food) and migraines.  Treating those things–the bulimia, behaviorally, and the migraines with diet and when he seemed to be in pain with medication–made a difference.  He seemed to be back on track, weighed 135 pounds and was almost his old self.

This leads me back to the pine cones.  All summer, I worried our postman or a delivery person would trip and fall or step on a pine cone and hurt themselves.  Each time I went outside to weed, I promised myself I would get out to the yard and take care of them.  Every time I watered or got the newspaper, I vowed to do it that weekend.

The last week of August, I knew I had to do something.  I wanted to plant bulbs to take the place of some of the now missing bushes, but I needed to weed in the front yard first.  I knew I had to get the pine cones out as well.  Our Kiddo had been spending more and more time outside, when it wasn’t too hot or wet, and seemed so much better.  I didn’t want him in the house by himself, so I got us each a bottle of water, opened the garage door and out we went.

My plan was to have him sit on the bench on our porch, sipping his water but then I thought perhaps he could pick up some of the pine cones.  The lawn waste bag was next to the garage and I went in to get a bucket.  I motioned for him to come over to me and pointed to the pine cones on the ground.  His first response was to kick the stray pine cones back under the tree, into the ground cover.  I laughed and told him no, he had to put the pine cones into the bucket and picked one up myself to show him.  Immediately, he began to put pine cones in the bucket.  I told him he could sit on the sidewalk if he wanted, throwing pine cones in the bucket while he sat.  I watched him for a while as I weeded the area he had just cleared of pine cones.  Soon, the bucket was filled and he brought it to me.  I showed him how to dump the bucket into the lawn waste bag and he smiled, took the bucket back and began again.

I weeded and he threw pine cones in the bucket, dumped them and started over.  We had been working together for about an hour when I had an especially tough weed to pull.  I put my back into it and turned around to not see Kiddo–where did he go?  Before I could move to look for him, he came strolling out of the garage with a smile on his face and a big handful of gummy bears–his favorite treat for reinforcing good behavior.  He had worked hard and now it was time for a treat–and he got it himself!  We continued for another hour or so and Kiddo got every pine cone we could see.  When we finished, he went again to my secret treat stash on a shelf in the garage for his gummy bears.

When Hubby got home that evening, I showed him what Kiddo had done.  Hubby’s first response was to kick one of the stubborn pine cones we had overlooked into the ground cover, just like his son!  I laughed and showed him the huge bag Kiddo had collected and told him what he had done.  I explained, rather than having to constantly supervise him, he worked independently.  Working independently has always been difficult for him, and yet, after a difficult period in his life, he learned something new, did the job without a lot of supervision and was even able to enjoy what he was doing.  How great was that?  After a rough patch, Our Kiddo showed us, once again, not to count him out.

As the parent of a nonverbal person with autism, I have learned to readjust my dreams for him–but doesn’t he have a right to have dreams for himself? Dreams, perhaps, we’ve never thought about?  After a very difficult time with him, I am again excited to think of other things for him to do, things we’ve overlooked in our quest to find him some meaningful work.  And we’ve tried many, many things.  Perhaps, he knows what he would like to do, we’ve just not hit upon it yet.

Our Kiddo and his peers have a right to their own dreams.  It is our duty as parents, educators and advocates to try to help them turn those dreams into reality.  We must think outside of the box and not be satisfied with what is considered the standard for those with disabilities.  We must try new things, not give up even when it seems we should, and forge on.  Who is to say we won’t find their dreams in a bucket full of pine cones?

Every month is Autism Awareness Month at our house!

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