Sweet Mysteries

About two weeks ago, my wife began leaving the paper towel roll on the window sill in our kitchen, in clear view of Mr. Busy Hands. I have no idea what prompted this obviously insane action by a normally sane human being. But, through some miracle beyond explanation, the paper towel roll has remained there—untouched by the little fellow—ever since.

For many, this may seem like a minor occurrence. Trivial, even. A topic unworthy of a blog of this stature. For these two veteran autism parents, however, it represents a milestone comparable to men walking on the moon or the invention of gluten-free bagels that taste and feel like, well, bagels. Let me provide you with a short history.

Six or seven years ago (the exact timeframe lies beyond the grasp of my increasingly feeble mind), we had a paper towel holder under one of the kitchen cabinets. We would place our paper towels on this holder, like nearly every other household in America. When we needed a paper towel, we would remove one from this roll and use it according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

Clay, our live-in Mr. Whipple, had other ideas. He loved the “squeezability” of the paper towel roll. He would remove the role and walk around with it, often trailing about 30 miles of paper towel through the house. He would perform this activity perhaps 100 times a day. We would rewrap the paper towels in an increasingly large and sloppy fashion, and attempt to stuff the roll back on its holder under the kitchen cabinet.

After a few weeks of this interesting exercise, I had the brilliant inspiration to move the paper towel holder out of Clay’s reach. I mounted the holder in a carefully chosen spot above the sink area, inches from the ceiling. A place where my wife and I had to stand on our tippy toes to reach it. This created great amusement for our guests, but did the trick—more or less—until Clay grew tall enough to reach the towels on his own. Once again, the paper towel dragons began appearing on an hourly basis.

We were left with the final option. The paper towels were relegated to a high shelf in the pantry, where they remained, like precious jewelry, safely behind a locked door. Clay would occasionally grab them when he was in there cruising for snacks, but for the most part he left them alone. We were forced to fumble at unlocking the door, usually with wet hands, when we needed a paper towel. They were safe in there, though, so we soldiered on.

Fast forward to two weeks ago when my wife took the aforementioned crazy action of putting the paper towels in plain view and within easy reach of the little guy. He has left them alone. Not so much as one squeeze. It defies explanation. It may someday be the basis for a struggling student’s Ph.D. thesis. It also got me thinking of a situation with our doors (another example of Clay’s single-minded focus). Our kitchen has a door that leads to the backyard. The door has an extra sliding bolt I installed at the top to keep Clay in the house when needed. I watch him scan the kitchen when he enters. Refrigerator—locked. Pantry —locked. Back door—open. Bingo. Here we go. No matter the weather or the time of year, if that door is unlocked Clay will open it.

Here’s the thing. Our living room also has a door to the backyard (and to the front yard). These doors don’t have an extra bolt. They are often left unlocked. But Clay never uses them. Never opens them. Never seems to even think about trying to go out that way. Leave that kitchen door unbolted during a hurricane, though, and he’ll wander right out. In his socks. Sometimes without any pants on.

Now, when he opens the kitchen door during a tsunami, at least we can wipe up the mess without having to release the paper towels from their forced bondage in the pantry.

Next up, setting free the napkins.


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  1. #1 by Kathy Perry on May 27, 2011 - 10:45 am

    Love it! I admire that you can keep your sense of humor when the rest of us would be pulling our hair out! Have you ever typed to Clay: Why do you only go out the kitchen door when it’s unlocked: and see what he says? I am sure he has a fascinating reply!!! He is one clever dude in my book!

    • #2 by Rosemarie on May 31, 2011 - 2:35 pm

      Finally a chance to respond. Clay is clever indeed, but with the door I’d say a lot of it is habit/compulsion. I’ve noticed that when he goes around to the other side of the house he will only walk back using the walkway…even if would be faster to cut over onto the grass. I remember a while back encouraging him to take the short cut to me and he refused. Another time we were running late in the morning for the school bus, so I opened the closer door around the other side of the house. You would thought I was asking him to walk on coals! In his mind, he always goes in and out through the kitchen door, and so be it.

  2. #3 by Gppa Tony on May 28, 2011 - 1:54 pm

    Never a dull time, huh Larry.

  3. #4 by Art Subong on May 31, 2011 - 2:34 am

    Reading your blogs has given me a lot of patience and understanding with my nephew who had been diagnosed with the mild case of the syndrome.Orientals, as in our case, should be finding out the wisdom of your blogs and an enlightened approach to dealing with autism!By the way, the prevailing attitude from where I came from, with a religious belief behind it, is that you will find a multitude of blessings and rewards in life for taking care of God’s child like Clay!

  4. #5 by Larry Blumenthal on May 31, 2011 - 7:56 am

    Thanks for your thoughts, Art. Sometimes Clay will bop himself on the head as if to make his brain work better, and I get some small sense of how frustrating this condition must be for him. Yet he keeps smiling. Patience and understanding are crucial.

  5. #6 by autismmommytherapist on May 31, 2011 - 11:03 am

    With us it was toilet paper, and a penchant for the sliding glass doors leading to the backyard. No interest in the front door to date, for which we are grateful. As always, you and your wife handled this well!

  6. #7 by Kim on May 31, 2011 - 9:29 pm

    love this post and the new “look” of the blog. let’s hope that this not-interested-in-the-paper-towels thing sticks 🙂

  1. Loose Ends « Life With Clay

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