Children, it seems, sometimes like to have things just so. Everything in its place — as they deem it — and everything arranged just so. Perhaps that’s why Rudyard Kipling named his book of children’s stories Just-So Stories.
What happens when things are not just so? If the child has autism, she might have difficulty explaining how things are not just so, and once that’s explained, might have further difficulties accepting the fact that things must remain as they are, just so or not.
Imagine a child — we’ll call him Samuel — is sitting in a blue chair at a table, working on an art project in his free time. Another child — we’ll call her Jen — is getting ready to do her math work with me. She starts heading over to the table where all the materials are laid out: the worksheet for answers, the manipulatives (in this case, plastic blocks) to help with counting, and a few horses because, well, Jen just likes horses.
But her blue chair is not there. Who knew she had a blue chair? I didn’t. When did she get an attachment to this particular chair? No idea.
Still, she needs her blue chair. The one Samuel is sitting in.
Who knew Samuel could so quickly develop an attachment to that very same chair? I didn’t know, but would have suspected it’s possible.
Who knew this would all to amount to crisis for Jen? Once I saw where things were heading, I did.
The thoughts running through my mind then: Whom do I upset? If I leave the chair under Samuel’s bottom, Jen is not going to do any work and will in fact only scream at me for trying to work out a compromise with her. If I try to get Samuel to relinquish the chair, he’ll go ballistic because he’s having a go-ballistic-at-everything day. Besides, it really isn’t fair. He was sitting in the chair long before Jen decided she had to have it. And it will be more difficult to work while he is in crisis than it will be to try to get Jen to compromise, so I left the chair there, got Jen to go to the quiet area for calming down, and waited.
“I’ll give you two minutes to calm down,” I said, then walked away, set the timer, and waited.
“Are you ready for some math, Jen?” I asked when the timer’s bell finished ringing.
“No!” came a shriek. “I hate math! Stupid math! I want blue chair!”
“The time is not ripe,” I thought.
Eventually, Samuel finished with his project and moved on to another part of the room to do more work. I grabbed the blue chair while I had the chance, put it at the table where I’d set everything up, and walked quickly over to the quiet area. Tapping Jen on the shoulder, I said quietly, “Look what I have for you over at the table.” She hopped up, virtually bounced to the table, sat down, and we had a truly delightful time working together on math.