A few years ago, I was a home health aide for 2 autistic brothers. They lived with their aging grandmother, because their mother had given up on taking care of them. I went to the house every week day and met their school bus. I got them off okay and then helped the grandmother with their dinner, baths and bed routine.
When I had time in between dinner and bedtime, I would do activities with them. I brought my guitar over sometimes and they liked that. I brought art and crafts supplies and we created things together, so that they could feel that they accomplished something.
The younger one was about 14 and he was more severely autistic than the older brother, who was 16. The 16 year old used to play baseball with me in the yard. I bought a plastic bat and ball at the store myself. The grandmother was too old and disabled to be able to play outdoors with him, so he liked to have someone who would play ball with him. He actually was very good.
Over time they became used to me and looked forward to my visit. The older brother had a routine that he did with me every day, when it was time for me to leave for the day.
He would let me out of the back door, which had a screen. He was still inside of the house and I was now outside of the house. Then we would stand, facing each other. I was facing the house and he was looking out from the inside of the screen door.
He would then put his hands up, against the screen, palms facing me. I would put my hands up also, so they were touching against his hands, from the opposite side of the screen. We would touch hands in this manner for about 5 seconds and then he would ask me when I was coming back.
I would either say “Peter I am coming back to see you tomorrow,” or if it was Friday, then I would say,”Peter, today is Friday. I will be back on Monday, after the weekend.”
Then he would repeat what I said, “You are coming back tomorrow. Okay.” His hands would drop down and I was able to leave, without him worrying about when I was going to return.
He was always content with my answer. He just wanted to understand when I was coming back. I do not really remember exactly how we started this. I think that he put his hands against the screen one time and I put mine up to meet his. He liked it, so I just began to do this every day.
I suspect that he was afraid I would not come back, because he had abandonment issues. He had lived with his own mother until he was 14 and then she just left them with the grandmother one day, and never came back.
I was told by the grandmother, that the mother stopped by once every other month or so, but only for a short visit, and mostly with her, not the boys.
Peter and I did our goodbye routine everyday, without fail. He never forgot to put his hands up against the screen and to wait for my hands to join his.
I never left, unless he was ready to come over to the door and say goodbye to me. We probably did this for 2 or 3 months, until one day I forgot…
I was in a hurry for some reason and I called to Peter that I was going and then I went to get into my car. As I was opening the door to my car, I could hear him screaming and crying. I turned to look and he was holding his hands up against the screen and I was not there.
I got out of my car and raced back up to the door. I put my hands against his and said I was very sorry. Peter said. ‘When are you coming back?”
I told him, “Peter this id Friday. I will see you on Monday, after the weekend.”
“Monday,” Peter said and gently dropped his hands down to let me know it was okay to go. I cannot think of a time that I felt much worse than that about something I inadvertently forgot to do.
I never forgot again and we always said goodbye, in our little ritual. His hands up first on the screen. Then mine coming up to meet his. Holding for 5 seconds and then finding out when I would be back. Then the final “okay” from Peter that he was okay for me to go.