It can feel like life or death when routine is disrupted. Routine makes an unpredictable world more consistent. When you know what happens next – because things generally happen the same way most days -- anxiety levels decrease.
(Incidentally, this is exactly why many kids with autism like to watch the same TV shows over and over. It’s comforting to know what will happen next. That’s why when we drove to Washington, D.C. and back in 2007, Isaac watched the same part of the Elf movie for hours and hours.)
Yesterday Isaac was sick, which is unusual for him. He had a fever, stayed home, and was miserable most of the day because he longed to go to school. I assured him the bus would come today, so when I got the phone call at 7:15 a.m. from the computer woman with the robotic voice, stating school would be cancelled today due to wind chill temps, I thought I had been dreaming. The only reason I didn't throw my phone across the room is that it's too expensive.
This week has been difficult for Isaac:
Monday – no school due to Martin Luther King, Jr. Day (Thank you, holiday, for not falling on a Sunday when Isaac goes to the YMCA.)
Tuesday – 2 hour school delay due to inclement weather
Wednesday – fever – stayed home
Thursday – 2 hour delay, then BOOM! school cancelled
When I phoned his school yesterday to alert them he had a fever, he was screaming in the background because he wanted to go to school. I called the bus garage to alert the driver not to stop at our house. What if she stopped here (or even drove by) and he couldn’t get on the bus? I don’t want to think about it . . . that might make the Chernobyl meltdown look insignificant.
Yesterday by 7:45 he had his lunch packed, boots and coat and backpack on, and his speech generating device around his neck. That’s his routine. He said “bus comes” 17 times in two minutes. He wore most of his gear until about 10:30 a.m., when he finally decided the bus really was not coming. He kept his coat on until about noon.
Me: I know you want the bus to come.
Me: I know you want to go to school.
Me: I know you want Noah’s bus to come. Noah’s bus comes first.
Me: We have no school today. We have no school today. The bus is coming tomorrow.
(insert screaming here)
Me: The bus comes tomorrow. The bus will come Friday.
(insert screaming here)
Sometimes he screamed, and other times I screamed. After many minutes of repeating the news, snuggling, and talking in a soft voice about these changes, he was okay. Kind of.
Noah said earlier this month he was the only one who raised his hand at school when the teacher asked, “How many students think the winter break was too long?” He said to me, “I was THE ONLY ONE!” I told him if I had been in that classroom, I would have raised my hand, too. It was too long for me to have my kids out of routine. We nearly lost our minds.
As long as there’s no school today, at least the three boys are together. If everyone is home, it seems more “normal” for Isaac. Nobody’s bus has arrived. The boys are all downstairs now, playing the Wii. Henry and Noah aren’t dressed. Who is? Isaac. Why? He wants to be ready. At least a few times each minute, I can hear Isaac say, “Bus comes” or “Noah’s bus comes.”
Tomorrow is supposed to be 30 degrees, which is a far cry from the polar-vortex temperatures we are feeling now. I won’t believe it until I see it. If I am alerted tomorrow morning that school is cancelled, I’m going to put on my oxygen mask and breathe deeply – then I’ll dig around for my stash of chocolate before breaking the news to the kids.