[What is it about the elevators? Is it the feel you get from going up and down? Is it the control of going into a closed box and exiting in a whole different place, yet taking no steps? Maybe, someday, my son will tell me. For now, I just know – especially with the Christmas shopping season in full swing – that elevators are less challenging than they were only a year ago… Here is my “Weekend Archives” post on elevators from March 6, 2011.]
It was Saturday morning and we were venturing out for the first shopping day since coming down with the virus from hell a couple weeks ago. “One up and one down,” my son whispered to me just after I fastened the velcro on his shoes. “What?” I asked. He repeated. “Oh, you want to go one up and down the escalator? Ok, but just one up and one down.” I answered.
“No,” he said, “Elevator.”
This took me by surprise. We’ve been off the elevator kick now for quite some time. He was exclusively seeing escalators, with only the slightest dalliance in the elevators, maybe once a month. This had been the standard operating procedure at our local mall since it was set on fire and partially burned down last October. (Another story- suffice to say – my son was not involved except as a bystander).
Lots of children with ASD have a fascination with elevators. My son is not nearly advanced as these expert children whose riding in, videotaping of rides and trivia knowledge of elevators, far exceeds that of my four year old. I don’t know why they love the elevators so. All I do know is that my 4.5 year old son loves it, and just as quickly, falls apart once inside. Not always. But he can get caught in a loop that requires several trips up and down, ending with a meltdown.
There were times when he was younger, before ABA that I would spend a couple hours walking him through the mall so he could ride in every. single. elevator. I am not exaggerating. Every elevator. When he was finally drug away, on occasion, he would go limp, fall to the floor and begin a screaming, crying fit while reciting some phrase or counting until I could pick him up off the floor and carry him to the car. As he is now over 50 pounds, those days are over. I will not be carrying him across the mall kicking and screaming, through the parking lot and into the car. So, of course when he said “elevator”, I cringed.
But knowing we are supposed to confront our fears, and with several months of ABA training, I told him we would go to the mall and ride the elevator but only once, one up and one down. I told him to repeat it. “One up and one down,” he said in compliance. Then, like the son of lawyers that he is, he added, “I want to go in the one with the G.”
He was telling me that he wanted to ride in the elevator with “G” marked for the first floor instead of the numeral “1”. But silly me, having not memorized which elevators at the mall have a “G” and which ones had the “1”, I had to guess which one he was talking about. First, of course, I asked.
“Mommy doesn’t remember. Which one has the “’G’?” I asked.
“The one that…..the one with the G and the gold thing,” he answered.
Ever so helpful, don’t you think? As far as I knew, none of them were gold and I did not know what the “gold thing” was. I asked if he meant the elevator in the middle of the mall by Penney’s. What was I thinking? Like he knows where Penney’s is. But, my son responded “Yes.”
I was not entirely convinced that the elevator outside the Penney’s at our mall did have a “G” instead of a “1” but I knew that was where we were headed. It had always been one of his favorites because it was extra large and deep and he runs inside of it when we are the only ones in there.
At the mall, we headed to the beloved elevator. I always pray that no one else is getting in or out to avoid the stares and the dirty looks. He ran to the call button for the elevator. Putting his face right next to the buttons, he pushed the “two” button with the requisite urgency. He was also deeply into some self-talk. After pressing the button, he ran over to the opening for the door and stood, pacing a bit, waiting for the door to open. When he realized it would not open immediately, he yelled out the standard, “Fire truck”, his f-word. He always yells this loudly when he is made to wait.
As usual, I attempted to hold him back, away from the elevator door, so others could get out before we got in. Thank God, no one was inside. The little guy darted right in. He headed straight for the panel of buttons and immediately pressed the “two”. Then, pointing he said, “What’s that?” first pointing toward the picture of a bell and then to the picture of a telephone.
First, I had relief that he moved his finger away from the alarm. He’s already pushed that one before. Even though pushing it again turns it off, I’ve learned that pushing it causes the phone inside the elevator to ring. Mall security calls to assure that everyone is ok inside the elevator.
When he started pointing at the telephone, he started to recite what he hears his friend, Jessica say when she answers the phone at our office. “Good morning, Law Firm. This is Jessica. How may I help you?” We tell him to say his own name but he simply repeats her name instead. This was the self-talk on the way up.
Next, while looking at his finger pointing, I realized that this elevator did not have the letter “G” for ground floor. It had a “1”. I sighed. I knew that technically, the little baby lawyer knew he had me because of the specification, within his oral contract, that he would limit himself to “one up and one down” in the “G” elevator and not if I messed up and took him in a “1” elevator.
True to form, he asserted his next destination was the elevator outside of our local Sears, which, he now informed me had the “G” rather than the one. I relented. He had not been to the mall in quite a while. I was in no hurry to get anywhere. We walked to the elevator by Sears. Well, actually, I walked. In the last 50 feet, he skip-ran to the elevator, increasing the distance between the two of us.
After he pushed the call button, again, I tried to hold him back. Again, he darted inside when the door opened – only this time there were about 10 people inside. A couple families and their children with strollers. I had to pull him back out while they exited, all the while getting “fire truck’ed” by my kid and the usual array of dirty looks. This time those dirty looks were accompanied by a “Did he really do that?” which I ignored.
We went up, by ourselves, luckily. As soon as the door opened to the 2nd floor, my son wanted to get out, push the outside button for the first floor and get in and push the “G”. Unfortunately, there was a Spanish-speaking mom, her daughter, son and a baby in a stroller waiting to get in. I held back my son and the other family got in. My elevator operator pushed the “G”, and down we all went in “relative” silence, my son self-talking as we descended. The family got out first. We followed.
I must say that I was proud that he had no complete breakdown and walked away after the agreed upon “one up and one down” but if I’m going to negotiate any more elevator rides, I better start taking inventory of the details. Otherwise, the kid will get me every time.