Change and autism go together like oil and water. A couple months back my Dad broke the news to me that that he would be leaving on a two-week work trip after thanksgiving. If you know anything about the relationship my son has with my dad, then you will understand why I was a bit worried to say the least. To set the stage for those who are not as familiar: My dad is my son Damion’s favorite person, I think he would trade me in just about any day for time with my dad. Dad semi-retired a couple years back so he spends a lot of time with us, and Damion likes it. It has gotten to the point where Damion literally requests to see my dad so much that we started specifically setting into his routine certain days that we do NOT see him just so that my dad can have a break. It took us a bit of time just to work through those normal “one day at a time away” days without it turning into an immediate fight.
Needless to say, panic was my go-to emotion when the news that he would be leaving for two weeks came about. I instantly feared the worst, which to me was Damion reverting to constant meltdown mode at the continuous decline of us allowing him time with his favorite person. I knew I needed to prep Damion for the big upcoming change, but I struggled with how best to do so in a way that he would fully understand.
I started trying to incorporate a calendar. Damion’s concept of time is not up to par with that of his neurotypical peers his age. I don’t believe just giving him a timeframe of two weeks, or even breaking it down to 14 days, would be something that he would fully comprehend. I’m sure they have utilized some time of calendar at school, but past a daily schedule, it has never been something that I have pushed much at home. Now seemed like a good a time as ever to try and incorporate a calendar for a visual type of explanation to understand the passing days.
We also tried to prep him ahead of time for my dad’s departure, hoping for a bit less of a shock to the whole experience, but it didn’t seem like he really understood the situation until after my dad was actually gone. On day one we started marking the calendar with a star for the day we were on and a big “Pa’s return” on the day he was set to come home. Damion caught onto the concept quickly and has since started requesting to look at the calendar every day now and counting down the days to his grandpa’s return. We also have worked out time to facetime my dad in the evening which seems to be helping a bit as well. Damion can visually see that my dad is not at home but is at a hotel when they talk, which seems to help in his comprehension of the situation.
I imagine time away from a “favorite” person would be hard for any kid. Our biggest hurdle to overcome, one that goes along with the communication gaps that come with his autism, was definitely finding a way to break down an explanation for the time away that Damion could understand. Technology options such has facetime have been a good band-aid as well to the situation. Hopefully these tricks will come in handy for anyone else going through similar circumstances. I have honestly been extremely pleased with how well Damion has taken the whole thing. After about the first two days in, he seemed to get the hang of the whole absence. He asks about my dad each day, but more of just looking for a reminder of the date he will be back, which we just revert back to looking at the calendar for that visual when he brings it up. I tend to be one of those people who plans for the worst so that I am prepared, and based on our general everyday fight when he is not able to see my dad, I genuinely never imagined he would do so well with him being gone for this long. I am truly looking forward to their upcoming reunion, I know that my boy will be over the moon to see his “Pa”. But I am also happy to know that we have navigated a new way to get through other difficult “time-lapse” situations in the future.