In autism “…Any of the senses may be over- or under-sensitive, or both, at different times…”It’s home addition excavation day at Super Daddy’s house.
Wrapped in a blanket, Wonder Boy breakfasts at a glass door overlooking the digging. He leans back in a kitchen chair, legs crossed, shoulders relaxed. He sips cranberry juice and nibbles waffles. He presses himself to the barricaded opening to improve his view of the production in process.
The skid-steer loader is a “small, engine powered machine with lift arms used to attach a wide variety of labor-saving tools or attachments.” This day the vehicle is equipped with a sharp-toothed front-loading bucket and rotating, rubber covered tracks.
The machine rumbles to life and the earth quakes. It roars across the ground and the house shakes. The bucket drops with a clang. Teeth tear through the damp soil, teasing nostrils with musky, wet-dirt scents. The odor alters our senses of taste. When the machine travels in reverse, it screeches, beep-beep-beep. When it maneuvers near the main house, teeth scrape the foundation like fingernails on a chalkboard.
It’s a sensory rich spectator event.
Amaze Girl? Sleeps in. She briefly joins her brother at the window before donning noise reducing headphones far from the hubbub.
Wonder Boy oversees the activity for hours, reveling in the sights, sounds, tastes, smells. He watches the machine eat through the earth. As the hole deepens, the skid-steer’s path out of the widening crevasse is both precarious and engrossing. The little machine powers sideways, spins and turns. It teeters almost vertically up the lofty wall.
Soon the pile of removed dirt is a mountain range that spans the yard’s length. It encircles the swing set, traps the trampoline. With each full bucket, the elevation of earth and clay rises. Beeping, belching, growling, groaning, the little skid-steer crawls higher up the mountain to release its catch.
Long after Amaze Girl retreats to homework, piano and books, Wonder Boy watches the machine at work. He is enraptured, enthralled, enchanted.
Until he isn’t.
Sensory overload in autism may appear like a tsunami on a sunny day: one moment the sea is warm, placid and calf-high. The next, calm recedes into a broiling horizon, uncovering moldy rocks and flopping fish. It returns as a wall of water, high, salty, angry.
Wonder Boy flat-palms the kitchen table. He circles the living room and races down the hall. He slams the bedroom door, screams.
He rejects his talker. “Pick me up,” he says, when he wants a squeeze. “I want juice,” he says, when he needs a hug.
Wonder Boy’s in-home therapist arrives. Wonder Boy drapes his talker across his chest and relaxes into the comforting structure of one-on-one attention, routine, work.
After the noise is done, we sit on a picnic bench outside. We are walled in by the mountain of dirt; a breeze tickles our backs. A fat robin hops about the silence, searching for worms in the upturned terrain.
In this moment? There is peace.