Sunday, August 30, 2009


There are certain things Martin will not help us do. When we have tried to cut his nails, he puts up violent protest. After months and months of miserable efforts, I began cutting them while he sleeps. He won't cooperate with haircuts either. In order to give him a quick buzz, we play a movie, strap him into the old highchair, put some sort of candy into him, and try to get it over as quickly as possible. Some autistic kids have sensory issues with things like clothes, but Martin seems to have issues with the way humans beings have to touch their bodies and cut their bodies to keep themselves from looking like Crystal Gayle or that guy in the Guinness world record book who has fingernails so long they curl around several times.

So much of childhood involves adults directing your body. Adults grab children's hands when they cross streets. They change diapers and wipe bottoms. The put food in mouths and wipe up faces. They scrub dirty necks and feet. All of this usually happens without the adults ever asking. I think of all the times I put my hands on Martin and then begin to wonder why he only reacts negatively when I'm cutting nails or hair. I direct his body on so many occasions every day.

Tonight something happened that made me think that I need to back off a little, be less directive of Martin and his movements. We arrived early for an ice cream social at church. Folks were setting up ice cream makers and tables with all the fixings. Others started to put up long tables for people to sit at. A few began to set up chairs as well. Martin watched them for a moment and then began to help set up chairs. He put up chair after chair. If I had asked him to do this, it never would have happened. If I had tried to stop him (if for some reason I thought he shouldn't be trying to lift heavy chairs), he would not have stopped.

I realized once again that Martin is his own person, with his own body, and he needs more room to figure out what he wants to do with himself. Of course, there are limits. I've mentioned before our frequent efforts to keep Martin from running into the street. But our concerns about the street sometimes spread into other areas, into much more low-stakes situations. Martin won't learn to use his body in good ways unless we give him more spaces like tonight. And tonight was really an accident. Lucky for us.


  1. I know this was totally not the point of the post, which I do know was a great point...but all I could think was mmm, ice cream social.

  2. Really interesting post. Did folks at church praise Martin for his help? I hope so. I can't help wondering if he will be the 'go to' kid for chair set up now. :)

  3. This can be very tricky - finding the right balance between giving space and giving direction and help. I wish you luck and wisdom as you continue to figure this out.

  4. SO amazing these developmental leaps are
    Just found your blog !