Charlie woke up before 5am on Sunday which was just as well, as one of my aunts was flying in from California on a red-eye. When she called at 7am Charlie was more than ready to hop into the car, so off we went to the sounds of The Clash.
As almost all of my family lives in California, Charlie hasn't had many opportunities to get to know his great aunt and he was reserved yet attentive during her visit. Sometimes when we have guests and there is more talking than usually with Jim, Charlie and me, Charlie gets agitated by the new, extra voices and sounds. My aunt used to be an elementary school teacher and she speaks in low and easy tones, and all the talking did not seem to bother Charlie, certainly not more than airplanes flying overhead do. He puts his hands over his ears when he hears them, but not so as Jim and my aunt and I chatted.
After awhile, Charlie betook himself to his own room and asked to listen to CDs and watch videos on the computer. We all dropped my aunt off at the train station as she'll be spending some days in New York. It was really lovely to get to visit with her some. We have few visitors and these "breaks" in the usual routine of things around here are very welcome, and all the more so because Charlie has a definite need for order. This need is evinced in the little arrangements that he makes around the house, in his setting his shoes and Jim's and my boots up together in alignment with the floorboards. Square and rectangular shapes objects (blue ice packs, a small stack of napkins) seem especially to get the ordering treatment (and go here for another arrangement by Charlie).
Such "lining up" of objects is regularly cited as a "red flag" for autism to parents of young children. When Charlie was first diagnosed we used routinely to undo the blocks and cars and other arrays of objects that he made; we were advised that such arrays were just the sort of "inappropriate" play with toys that needed to not be encouraged. Certainly we did find that Charlie was not happy to be instructed to play with blocks and cars and trains by doing other things than lining them up in groups of three according to color and shape.
Charlie did learn to build with the blocks and run the cars on the floor and push them down ramps. But we also learned that Charlie's arrangements need not, ought not, always to be undone by us, as they offer small signs of how he sees the world and seeks to make sense of it.
But Charlie's need for order can turn into a sort of "rage for order," into something like an obsession.
Throughout his life he's often insisted on eating a certain food or going to a certain place to eat every day. On Sunday, he asked over and over again to go to a certain diner. As we'd just gone there on Friday, we told him that we wouldn't be able to, quietly and simply. Charlie continued to ask and turned down numerous other options. We did get him a hamburger and a soda---the same foods he would have gotten at the diner---but we both knew that it was the whole sequence of going to the diner, sitting in a booth, etc., etc., that Charlie was something more than intent on and kept asking for. As we've learned that telling him "no, we're not going there, we just went there on Friday" only makes him more agitated, we talked quietly with him about other things.
We used to try to keep explaining to Charlie why we would could not go, only to see him get worked up by all the words and thoughts into a frenzy of anxiety. The careful answering helped and Charlie remained calm if a bit wide-eyed in the car. Then he came inside and got really, extremely, agitated, hard and fast: Because coming home said meant that we definitely weren't going to go where Charlie had been asking? Because his sense of how he'd wanted the evening to proceed had been thoroughly disrupted?
Charlie ended up eating the hamburger after which he asked to watch more videos. He's been asking to type in more words so I was glad to assent. Many YouTube sites later, he went to heat up some frozen items from the microwave and then, announcing that it was "bedtime," got his shoes and coat and went to his room.
The shoes and coat were on the floor right by the head of Charlie's bed, the shoes with heels and toes perfectly lined up.