autism,  sensory processing

Rattle and Hum

Thursday we got a new fridge. A beautiful, stainless steel, French door fridge. You know–the type of fridge that probably everyone else has owned since the early 2000’s. We’re now one step closer to having all of the kitchen appliances match. Even better–we are now proud owners of a monolith masterpiece-meets-organizational-miracle machine.

At least I felt that way two hours after the Home Depot team installed it. We were elated that the installers were able to move our old fridge down our two narrow staircases and into the basement. Is the second fridge absolutely necessary? No. But can we have two fridges? Yes. Because this is America and why not.

I stood in the kitchen after re-stocking the new fridge, feeling pretty satisfied with our new acquisition, and then it started. This loud, vibrating sound from the back of the appliance. “It’s just powering up, getting that internal temperature down,” I thought. “I’ll pick up the kids from school, and it will be just fine.”

When I came home with the kids the vibrating hadn’t changed. In fact, I could have sworn it had gotten louder.

“What’s that sound?” J asked as he got a snack out of the fridge. “Is that just the new fridge?”

“Yes, I said. The sound will turn off soon enough.” It’s just gearing up for the ice machine I reasoned. These things take a little bit of time on the first day, right?

For the entire evening the new fridge made its presence known. I made dinner, with, as my dad would say, “that racket” in the background. J and I sat at the kitchen table half an hour later to do homework and “that racket” was still rattling.

“That’s sound’s just the new fridge, right?” J asked again.

“Yes,” I said annoyed. Steve was on the phone with the service representatives trying to figure out what was up with this stupid appliance.

Surely, I thought, the fridge would settle itself out by the morning but sure enough we were greeted with its incessant resonance.

The sunset that evening. We’ve had some pretty amazing ones recently.

J came down and didn’t once ask about the “strange noises.” Everyone ate breakfast, got ready, and left for school and I was left home alone with the fridge.

Me, my writing, and the fridge. I couldn’t stay more than 5 minutes in the kitchen with that machine without feeling like I was going crazy. Like I really felt like my skin was crawling because of that darn fridge. I moved everything downstairs to work.

And then this thought crossed my mind: Why am I so agitated by this stupid fridge? Do I have sensory issues? Or am I just annoyed because my brand new fridge is noisier than the early 1990s fridge we just moved downstairs? Is it because I’m so first-world spoiled that I can’t just ignore this fridge?

This is what being an autism mom does to you. You start assessing yourself in the same way you assess your autism kid. I had no earthly clue what a sensory issue was before J and autism came around. I thought about J and all the times he brought up the fridge noise the day before. See, I thought, he was bothered by it too. Not meltdown-bothered by it like he would have been 10 years ago, but enough to say something about it. But he got over it. And if he hadn’t I would have told him to use one of his coping strategies and just deal with it–to put on his sound cancellation headphones or go to a different room, turn on some music. You know, the coping strategies.

Should I be using coping strategies?

Maybe. But the service representative will be coming out to our house this week.

Here’s the crazy thing about raising an “outsider” in an “insider’s” world. I’m always requiring my “outsider” child to just “put up” with our “insider’s world.” But when any of us insiders have a problem with how the world around us is functioning, then we make a stink about it, we make other people or things accommodate us. Because we can. Our poor “outsider” kids don’t have that same luxury.

I love my new fridge. I just expect it to work the way I think it should.

Steve noticed something this week while working with J on his visual therapy. It’s a clear example on how J’s brain is not working the way it should when interpreting certain types of visual information. This activity is probably one of the most challenging exercises of J’s current set. The goal is to replicate the picture you see with a pile of mixed up shapes in front of you (and eventually replicate the picture by memory without the guide in front of you).

As you can see, he’s selected the right shapes from the pile and he knows generally where all the shapes go, he just has a hard time orienting those shapes in the space in front of him. This isn’t a random guess or attempt. For this particular picture he has been placing his own pieces in this exact way every single time he sees this pattern. For some reason, he’s seeing that picture in that particular way–something completely different from what it really is.

It’s just another example of how J lives in this world in a way that’s not the same as the rest of us. And visual therapy is just another example of our daily attempts to help J navigate as an “outsider” in our “insider” world.

I think of the fridge, I think of J, and I think of my own tolerance for things that don’t fit my processing threshold and desired expectations and I think I should really give J more credit for how hard we ask him to work to function better in our “insiders” world. After all. I’m the owner of a brand-new, fully functional fridge. It gives me the extra space I wanted. It keeps my food at the right temperature. The freezer drawer had amazing organizational options. I’m just picky about that one thing–the constant hum buzzing in the background. Am I a hypocrite for not just “dealing” with it myself?

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