Cleaning Noah’s room is among the most daunting of my weekly challenges. I have pared down his toys to the most essential – though at eight, he is mostly interested in electronics and legos, and not much else. I have vacuumed – over and over – the hay and bedding kicked out by his fat rodent of a guinea pig, only to have it re-appear when Noah sneaks him out in the middle of the night to play with him. (Hay and bedding also appear when Noah shows up in my room with Bubble Gum’s glinty little eyes peeking out at me from one of Noah’s knapsacks). But it’s cleaning the flat spaces – the spaces where things can be arranged, or displayed – that taxes me most. Everything on dressers, bookshelves, or chests is particularly arranged, it has a meaning, it is placed just-so.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (“OCD”) can sometimes be a joke. Even in our house, our family used to hint we were all a “little OCD.” We needed square corners on the bed sheets, a particular thing cleaned a particular way. To this day, I make lists – only to cross off the “accomplished,” and add more to the “to do.” I have created my own hell, you see. Because I never get it all done.
OCD is a greater burden to those with it than some of us will ever know. It’s an anxiety disorder in which recurrent, unpleasant thoughts (obsessions) are sought to be controlled with certain repeated rituals or behaviors (compulsions). OCD and Asperger’s Syndrome go hand-in-hand. Not surprising, considering that anxiety is the most pervasive emotion of Autism itself. Sometimes, Noah manifests this anxiety through hand-washing or door closing. Sometimes, he expresses by hoarding. His little pieces, his collections and piles are all part of this.
Here is this morning’s collection:
A sting-ray tail, a dessicated beetle, a rock, a yellow feather, a candy tin, and a camel Matt and I brought home for Noah from a trip to Israel. The last in this list, Noah received from us with no enthusiasm whatsoever, remarking flatly to Grace, “Look, Grace. A fragile camel.” It was fragile. And probably the wrong gift for a five year old. We told him he had to be careful when playing with it. I may as well have brought him home Murano glass.
Noah’s grown in tolerance for my moving of his things in order to clean his room. He used to scream and throw a fit, and now, if it’s really important, he only whines with exasperation, “Mom… That was there for a reason!” He can never articulate the reason. Not with enough specificity to understand, anyway. The next day, another display will replace it.
Noah’s mind is prone to fixations and puzzles, but it is complex and deep and fascinating. Every esoteric display is a key to his mind’s workings. I pray for “discretion and understanding” (1 Chronicles 22:12), for today’s display, and for those that follow.