Home > In Their Own Words > In Their Own Words – Doing the Odd Job

In Their Own Words – Doing the Odd Job

This “In Their Own Words” essay was written by Rose Wade. Rose has two children, including a teenage son with autism. She is a military wife and the founder of The Robin Hood Lego Campaign Advocating Autism Awareness and Lego Therapy.

Summer is here. Officially, as the last day of school for my kids was on Thursday. I know a few moms whose kids have been out for two weeks already. And to think that our school district didn’t even have snow days to make up. Otherwise, I’d be poised at the door until July 1st, waiting for the first opportunity to toss the kids into the pool.

Ah, the pool. We have a new one. One of those ready-to-pop plastic deals with three colorful rings that have to be blown up. By mom. That pretty green of the plastic doesn’t make the job any more fun. But, we have to go with the temporary pool for now. We’re moving soon and I like to pack light. Given my husband’s propensity for shopping, I’m always recalculating the household capacity for storage. “No, hubby. Don’t buy something new until you get rid of something old first. And quit looking at me that way or I’ll start charging you for storage.”

Thankfully, my dear son, Matthew, managed to traverse our very full garage to find the pump we use on our camping gear. Matthew has yet again saved me a bit of work. “Mom, why is your face so red.” “All of my breath is inside the pool, dear. No, don’t…*sighs…step on it.”

A few minutes of the pump to the rescue and Matthew gets the biggest smile of satisfaction when he’s able to be helpful to someone. He’s also sure to make sure you know it. Matthew won’t hesitate to ask if I want to thank him for helping me. “Yes, darling. I always do. Thank you.”

The day is saved! Almost. The lawn needs to be cut before the pool can be filled with water, children, toys, and begin its rapid approach to untimely holes and quick patch jobs. “Pass the duct tape, please.”

Matthew has decided that he wants to learn to do ‘odd jobs’ so he can earn extra money during the summer. The older he gets, of course, the more he wants to be like his dad. Well, his dad is often away from us for deployments. Yes, it’s just me and the kids. And my son who has autism wants to be man of the house.

So, still flying high from ‘saving the day’, Matthew is confident and ready to tackle learning to use the lawn mower.

Well, my backyard is currently more of a jungle, thanks to frequent rainstorms and an uncooperative mower that allowed the grass free reign to grow to two feet high. And Matthew wants to mow it. It’s like me at 14 nagging my dad to teach me to drive. I didn’t care that there was a foot of Chicago snow on the ground. Not the best conditions, but try rationalizing that to a determined child.

But, I’m not one to squash my son’s enthusiasm. Especially when so few activities light up his eyes and hold his interest. Anything that involves actually venturing outside of the house is usually rock-bottom on his list.

With Matthew looking on eagerly, I went through the finer points of how the lawn mower works. Step-by-step. Fill the gas, check the oil, prime it, etc. It’s somewhat difficult to do since Matthew will ask a question while I’m in the middle of an explanation. I’ll have to redirect him and start over.

I found it takes a lot of thought to explain how and why the lawn mower works, what not to do, how to be cautious. All the while making certain he understands and without overloading him with information.

Nearing 13 years old, Matthew is almost a teenager. But autism renders his behavior and actions immature. I know how old Matthew is in years, but I see him approach a gas-guzzling, loud, bladed machine, and I see the innocence of a five-year-old child.

It’s funny to me that Matthew seems confident with the lawn mower itself. He’s a big kid. He gave the pull a half-hearted yank. “Matthew, you have to do it in one pull or it won’t start.” “But mom, I don’t want to break it.”

So, he’s not afraid of the mower. But he hates touching the grass. He thinks it’s gross. Instead of touching the grass, grabbing it and helping empty the bag into the bin, he tried to use the end of the rake. “No, Matthew. That won’t really work. It’s just grass. You can touch it.” I had to repeat and demonstrate five times before he would attempt it himself.

Matthew is in an odd stage, for me, I realize as I watch him tentatively push the mower over the grass. I have to applaud, encourage, and teach him, feed his enthusiasm. And I have to balance my caution of teaching a child to use a lawn mower with teaching a child with autism to use a lawn mower. All of this has to be done to nurture his firsts and his accomplishments, without reverting to the over-protective hovering mommy that I often have the urge to be.

Matthew has managed to mow a small section of the lawn. He’s excited to tell his dad about it during the next phone call. While writing this post, Matthew knows it’s about him. He reads over my shoulder. I asked him to hold off questions until after I’ve finished or else it’ll break my concentration. He began to pace back and forth. Then stopped. “Mom, can I go finish mowing the lawn?”

I know, a lot of parents would jump for joy to have their kids volunteer for the task. I’m sure once the novelty wears off and he’s had to mow the lawn a few times, he’ll start disappearing when it needs to be done. Or bemoan in full teenaged fashion and ask for a raise in his allowance.

We’re not there yet. I have a child with autism who needs a touch more guidance through his accomplishments. I’ll enjoy his enthusiasm while I can. For now, he’s actually outside, raking grass. As long as he doesn’t have to touch it.

The next accomplishments are already on the horizon.

“Mom, when I’m 14 are you going to teach me to drive your car?”

“Um, yes, but maybe not my car.”

“In Their Own Words” is a series within the Autism Speaks blog which shares the voices of people who have autism, as well as their loved ones. If you have a story you wish to share about your personal experience with autism, please send it to editors@autismspeaks.org. Autism Speaks reserves the right to edit contributions for space, style and content. Because of the volume of submissions, not all can be published on the site.

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  1. Bronte Abraham
    July 8, 2010 at 2:46 pm

    Ah – our son is a lawn mower at age 10. To get over some of the “Mom anxiety” we have an electric mower and my son is super careful (moreso than the rest of us) about not running over the cord! You will be happy to know that a year later, the novelty or moving the lawn has not worn off and my son still asks to do this chore weekly! We even get to use it as a reward for school work completed — imagine that.

  2. Sarah Evans
    July 9, 2010 at 12:35 am

    I have a five year old and he loves to help his new thing is dishes I let him wash out 2 or three plastic dishes and then he gets tired of it amd just walks off leaving the water running lol. I have to make sure i put the dish soap up though or he’ll use the whole bottle on 1 dish. Im not sure if thats a five year old thing or his autism but Im just glad he wants to try to help!

  3. andrea
    July 9, 2010 at 1:05 pm

    How wonderful is it when you see your child growing up and make strides to become their “own person” in this world? My son is the ripe old age of 13 and he’s taller than me. To him, he thinks that makes him grown up. Well, we’ll have a chat about that later. It’s a little strange to help him “faux-hawk” his hair when he asks. “Son, you’re gonna have to sit down for this”!
    While I fix his “cool ‘do”, I think to myself, “how did my little boy grow so fast?”. The next thought is, “Oh, look, he’s trying to fit in”. In this strange universe called Autism, somehow there’s a sense of pride and melancholy all swirled together to cheer my son on when he wants to be a part of his budding peer group. Along with the new found “growing up”, my son earned himself a 3.71 GPA in regular education classes by his own self initiative. He has his sights set on becoming a meteorologist. In our families support of his dream, we have resorted to reward him with newspapers to feed his need for anything weather.He even chose to feed the dogs every night and put them to bed as his daily chore in return for watching “storm chasers”. He’s faithfully kept his end of the bargain and feeds the dogs every night without question. At least in our case, “helping” and having a sense of purpose and belonging has really given my son the feeling of “growing up”.Kudos to any parent who relishes the small to huge accomplishments of any of our chilren!!

  4. Cathy
    July 9, 2010 at 2:07 pm

    Rose, good luck with Matthew and the lawn mowing. My husband got our son with autism to mow a rectangular section of our lawn by cutting every other row so he could see which way to direct the mower. After doing that several times, he now cuts the rectangle just fine, and seems to enjoy doing it. Best of luck!

  5. Warren Grasso
    July 9, 2010 at 3:16 pm

    My 10 year old has been mowing the lawn too! Last year he’d only walk along next to me while I did it. Now he does half (with me watching closely) and I do the other half. Now that I’ve been letting him do it he tells me “Dad, the grass is getting pretty high – time to mow the lawn”. The best part is the high five he gives me when he’s done!

  6. Cid
    July 9, 2010 at 3:22 pm

    My 6 year old Brother with autism loooves lawn mowers! I believe it’s the sound of the lawn mower and how the wheels spin!

  7. Mary
    July 10, 2010 at 12:51 am

    Our 13 year old son with autism started mowing his grandmother’s lawn this year. He uses headphones and his i-pod do block out the sound of the mower. It took some training but he is now doing a good job and he loves having his own money.

  8. Sabrina
    July 11, 2010 at 9:49 pm

    So glad to hear your son wants to be the “man of the house”. Sorry you are doing this on your own, sound like you are doing GREAT! My 8 year old is just now ok with touching grass, must be a sensory thing. When he was a baby, we could take his shoes off, put him on a blanket in the yard and he wouldn’t never crawl off. That was of course before he was diagnosed with PDD-NOS. Now we understand. I hope someday my little man will be able to get over the sound of our mower and at least be able to go outside while we mow. Good luck to you and your family.

  9. denise parker
    October 29, 2010 at 5:54 am

    I can so relate. It made me smile in my tears. I am going to use this to ask a question. My son is 11 with aspergers. Everytime he leaves the home even for school is getting homesick. We did move to Germany but have been here for about 5 months know. Is this a new thing that could snowball if i don’t put 120 percent in changing it? someone please help i am getting very nervous about this. thank you so much.

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  1. July 10, 2010 at 12:54 am
  2. August 13, 2010 at 1:26 am

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