My son has a consistent habit of opening up the closet where the cleaning supplies are kept in our home. We know the sound of the old wood door being jostled open, like a staple of the background noise in our home. Many times we just ignore it, but at least once a day my wife or I will come up to him and observe him looking at the items in the closet. Nothing in the closet is that interesting as far as we’re concerned, just a vacuum, mop and bucket, broom, dustpan and some cleaning rags. The really fun bottles of cleaner live on the top shelf in safety. But our son is somehow entranced by these cleaning tools. While he will occasionally try to grab at some of the items, he mostly just hangs out with the door open. Although he is autistic and non-verbal, we still ask if there is anything he wants or likes in the closet. He just walks away as if he was caught doing something wrong.
He has picked up other interesting habits recently, such as going to the mailbox after we park the car in the driveway. He picks up the mailbox lid and tries to stick his hand inside it. We usually say “No, don’t touch,” since we don’t want him to smash his finger if he drops the lid. There is also the excitement—yes, actual excitement—when the dishwasher is opened and unloaded. He jumps and squeals and reaches for things. Also in the kitchen is a small stereo that he will turn on and off and adjust the volume, usually way too high. The weirdest habit is when he goes into our bedroom, jumps on our bed and reaches for the nightstand lamp shades. He reaches up to fiddle with them like he’s trying to shake them or maybe just take them off.
Observing and Copying
Are these just examples of a bored child playing, or examples of an autistic child demonstrating repetitive behaviors with no real logic? Is there something he is seeing or experiencing we just can’t grasp? My wife, his mother, the keeper of all wisdom, was fortunately able to enlighten me:
“He is watching you.”
“He is watching me, what do you mean?”
“He wants to be like daddy, so he’s doing what you do.”
“What exactly do I do?”
“Well, you like to clean, and are always going in the closet for the broom, so I think he wants to use it too.”
“And what about the other stuff, like the mailbox and the dishwasher?”
“You always get the mail when you get out of the car with him, and he sees both of us unloading the dishwasher and probably wants to help.”
“Okay, sure, but what about the thing he does with the lamps?”
“You always fix the shade on that one lamp because it gets loose, right?”
“So, you’re saying he’s just copying what I do to be like me?”
“Yes, your son is watching you. He wants to be just like his daddy.”
Source: Special Needs Parenting- Key Ministry