Stephen Jay Gould theorized that rather than Darwin's idea of a slow, gradual process, evolution is actually characterized by periods of inertia, followed by (relatively) sudden bursts of intense activity. He called it "punctuated equilibrium." When I look at my son, at the ways that his mind and body continue to grow, it makes a kind of intuitive sense.
It's sort of like this: blahblahblahblah [START TO READ] blahblahblah [GROW AN INCH IN LIKE A DAY] blahblahblah ALL OF A SUDDEN DECIDE HAIRCUTS ARE OKAY. And so on.
Of course I know it's not really sudden activity: all the gears have been in motion, and lots of things are happening, above and below the surface, before we see that emerging skill.
Let's consider the haircut.
A while back, I started chronicling Isaac's haircut experiences because, like many kids on the spectrum (as well as some canny adults), having a very large and strange person repeatedly lunge at you with scissors is terrifying.
Add in the surprise and sensory impact of being sprayed with water, the snick-snick of the scissors near your head, the itchy sensation of hair falling on your neck and down your shirt, and it's pretty intolerable.
So we went through a long period of haircut rejection, and the poor lady at the kids' barber shop did the best she could with a writhing, screaming charge.
We tried social stories, and weaving haircut play into Isaac's therapy sessions. We tried waiting it out in front of the barber shop, while kids filed calmly in around us. We tried trimming him at home (Child Protective Services, Style Division, nearly paid a visit). We tried diversions (videos, books, cameras, whatever). Ultimately, we just gutted it out.
Rather than waiting until haircut time to broach the subject, we just started talking about hair every so often: about how Daddy needed a haircut, about how mommy was going to get her hair cut, about how, in a few weeks time, he'd need one too.
"No haircut," he'd remind us.
And then, suddenly, he decided he was ready. "I want a quiet, soft haircut," he told me the other day. "Not a loud, hard haircut."
"Okay, Isaac," I answered. "When we get there, you can tell the lady what you want."
And he did, in barely a whisper, after I prompted him. This time involved no squirming, no tears, no drama. He chose his chair, he let the lady put a bib on him, he sat and allowed his hair to be cut.
So my suggestion, for whatever it's worth: PECS, social stories, they're a starting point. But we've found that just remembering to talk about things, even if we're not sure how much he's taking in, has made such a difference.
Sometimes it's so gradual that it doesn't even feel like progress. And then there's this punctuation, and then, for a while, lovely, lovely equilibrium.