My Autistic Son And The Kindle-Swallowing Elevator

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Today, my article is unrelated to science or endurance sports.  Instead, the subject is family. Specifically, my son, who is “high functioning” autistic.  Zachary is cute, sweet, loving, and funny 98% of the time.  The other 2% of the time he is a stubborn, frustrating boy.  This 2% is sometimes predictable.  An example of this 2% is his day a couple weeks ago when his usual teacher was not at school.  That day culminated in him lying in the middle of the hallway at school screaming for 15 minutes.  Sometimes, however, Zachary has completely unpredictable moments.  Such a moment was last weekend.

Zachary goes to gymnastics every week.  This is in part for the physical therapy-like benefits of gymnastics, in part for the socialization benefits, and, in large part, just for fun for him.  He had just had a nice morning in gymnastics.  One of his sisters’ gymnastics class goes for 45 minutes longer than Zachary’s, so he typically sits on a couch upstairs in the building playing with his Kindle for Kids (officially a Kindle Fire HD Kids Edition).  When it was time to get his sister, Zachary insisted on riding the elevator down from the second to the first floor. Anyone with a child on the autism spectrum will identify with the intense need in their children for repeated, almost ritualized, activities.  The elevator, after gymnastics, is such an activity for Zachary.

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On this day, Zachary made up his mind he did not want to leave the elevator.  Finally, after a great deal of arguing, he finally did get out of the elevator.  Somehow, in the process, the Kindle fell out of Zachary’s hand.  Wouldn’t you know it?  The Kindle did not just fall out of Zachary’s hand but through the narrow space between the elevator car and the floor of the building.  That’s right, Zachary’s Kindle ended up at the bottom of the elevator shaft!

My son has a history of sudden, unexplained moments of pique.  Example of this include throwing his great-aunt’s remote control off a balcony (it broke and I had to find the one online supplier in the country, in Texas, from which to buy a replacement), knocking bowls off counters into garbage cans, and pushing his sisters (who are amazingly kind and patient kids).  But this episode was different.  He adores his Kindle and I can’t imagine him intentionally damaging it for any reason.  Furthermore, what kind of aim would be required for Zachary to purposefully throw his device between the elevator car and the floor of the building?  The space is only slightly wider than the Kindle, itself.

As his parent, I was filled with a range of emotions.  Anger that he should throw a fit over something so silly, which, in turn, led to the loss of his Kindle (no matter how unlikely it would be that it would disappear down the elevator shaft).  Amazement and disbelief that the Kindle really went down that space.  Shame that my son could throw such a public fit, which, in turn, would require involving a number of people to try to save or replace the Kindle.  Frustration that, in spite of years of therapy and in spite of being the best parent I can, he still has these unexplainable and uncontrollable fits.  Sadness that Zachary will not have access to this device, which has been a nice source of education and entertainment for him.

A couple days later I communicated with the manager of the gymnastics center.  I was told that the Kindle for Kids would be very difficult to retrieve.  In fact, I was told that the elevator company would charge me much more than the value of the Kindle just to come out and look at the problem, let alone the cost of attempting to rescuing the device.

So, I called customer service at Amazon, the company that makes and sells Kindles.

“Um, I have a story for you that you may not believe.  You see, my son loves his Kindle.  He is autistic and it has been great for him.  But…somehow he dropped it down an elevator shaft a couple days ago and I just learned from the facility manager that it would be very difficult to retrieve.  Help.”

The customer service person was amazingly nice and surprisingly patient with my bizarre story. She then had me speak to her supervisor, to whom I relayed the same story.  Finally, Amazon, very kindly, helped me to replace Zachary’s Kindle.  This was just wonderful customer service.

I waited until today to surprise Zachary with his replacement Kindle.  I have been able to spend the entire day with him and I wanted to connect the return of this device to good behavior. Finally, I wanted him to understand that people, including me, Amazon customer service, and the staff at the gymnastics facility, all worked on his behalf to help him.  Zachary just wrote a thank you letter to Amazon.

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“Dear Amazon,

I love my Kindle!  Thank you.  You helped me.

Yours truly,

Zachary”

I hope this experience has taught my son some important lessons about behavior, consequences, and thankfulness for the things he has and the people who help him.

Uh oh!  I just heard Zachary behind me saying “look Daddy, I’m an elevator shaft!”  Here he is pretending to be the Kindle-swallowing elevator shaft.  I guess my work is not done…

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Published Valentine’s Day, 2015

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