We all heard him screaming; not everyone knew who it was. But I’m Jack’s dad, and I know his voice. I was in the auditorium, teaching a Wednesday night class on the book of Acts. He was in a different classroom across the hall. It’s our church’s special room for kids with developmental delays. We call it the “Open Heavens Room.”
I knew from his scream that he was frantic but not in pain. His mom would be two rooms away, teaching a gaggle of children. I swallowed.
“I’m sorry, guys, that’s Jack. Mind if I… I’ll be right back.” My class was gracious. They know the drill by now. I love our people…
I ran out of the sanctuary and Jack saw me at once over the split door that keeps him safe. His eyes were red and he was screeching the words, “Smart Writer One.”
I knew at once what he needed.
“Smart Writer One” is the name of Jack’s favored electronic toy. Why the “One” in his name? He has a twin, you see: “Smart Writer Two.” We found the twin on eBay. It was all Jack wanted for Christmas. He inspected every Amazon package that came to the door over the entire holiday season, begging us to open it. You’d never have guessed he was waiting for something he already had. What’s better than a Smart Writer? Two identical Smart Writers, that’s what!
So now, the boy plays with his two favorite toys for hours every day, and they alone share his pillow. His sister, on a whim, suggested that he change Smart Writer One’s name to “Gary One.” It made no sense, of course, because her mind operates on random thirteen year old frequencies, but for some reason Jack capitulated. He liked the nickname.
“Gary One,” he said in approval. And of course, the new guy is “Gary Two.”
The Garys never leave the house. They are much too precious. Oh, believe me, we’ve tried to bring them along. We’ve told Jack how much more fun his drives to Portland would be with his two favorite toys, but every time we’ve tried, he’s pushed them toward their hiding spot in the cupboard.
“No fank you! No fank you!”
Well okay then.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder is not uncommon for kids on the autism spectrum.
In fact, OCD is one of the primary markers that experts look for. In our experience, these obsessions can change over time. Jack had a tower of bean cans that he kept in our living room for months. He also had a shirt he refused to take off. And then there are the movie phases. We’ve had “My name is John” videos, and seasons of Pooh Bear, Dragons, and uncountable viewings of Cars 2.
Food, too, reflects those OCD tendencies. Jack eats, like, three different foods. That’s it. He does chips, waffles, and these slimy cookie ball things that help him to decorate our sliding glass door with handprints. Sara hides all manner of nutrition in everything he eats because that’s the only way he will get what he needs. His diet is just too limited.
Whenever he makes a shift to allow something new into his life, we all breath a sigh of relief. It’s good for him to stretch. It’s good for all of us to stretch.
Right now, his Smart Writers are his best friends on the planet, and whenever he’s out and about, their existence is always on the edge of his consciousness. They anchor him to where he comes from. When he cries out the name “Smart Writer One,” then, we know what it means. It means he wishes he was home.
That night in the hallway, I pulled my microphone off my ear and hugged him over the split door. His eyes were red and he told me one more time, “Smart Writer One?” It had become a question, and he turned his ear to my lips to receive my expected answer.
“First Open Heavens Room,” I whispered, “Then Smart Writer One.”
That is our script. Yes, son, we know you don’t want to be here. Yes, you will see your toys soon. We have some things to do before then, but it won’t be long. First this, then home.
Jack wiped his eyes and turned back toward the couch where his laminated pictures sat. That was all he needed the rest of the night. All the kids in that room have their coping mechanisms. Jack’s are actually quite simple. He just needs a reassurance that we haven’t forgotten about him, and that things won’t be that way forever.
Indeed, that is a truth we can all settle into. Life can make us anxious and angsty. Irritants can masquerade as emergencies. And soon, everything turns frantic.
At such times, we need to a good reminder of the temporariness of things. Life might seem acutely exhausting right now, but it won’t be like that forever. There will be better days when peace returns, joy comes roaring back, and the air around us smells like home again. First, the hard stuff, then the break. First pain, then home.
All it takes is a whisper from our Father.