I’ve been working on a post about sensory processing, but this week we had a tooth incident. So, I’m going to skip ahead on the background and go straight to an example of how sensory issues effect our family.
Everett’s biggest sensory processing issues are oral. When he was about 5, it started to hit me that losing teeth might be a real problem for us. I wasn’t sure how he would react considering Everett wouldn’t even get within 3 feet of a toothbrush.
The day finally arrived when the tiny tooth that emerged when he was an infant started to loosen from his gums. I had long before gone to the internet and asked Google the question “How do you teach kids with autism about losing teeth?” The wisdom that emerged was to find books and videos that visualized what was happening to him, so it would be easier for him to understand. I found about 10 different versions of books about losing teeth. The large majority of those included the Tooth Fairy. Everyday, we would read through the books and he seemed content and happy about the process he was going through.
One Saturday afternoon when the eviction of his tooth was becoming more evident, we sat down to read his collection of tooth books again. After we finished, I asked Everett if he wanted the Tooth Fairy to come visit him. He stared daggers at me and immediately screamed “ME SAY NOOOO!!” He ran off into his bedroom and I didn’t hear anything out of him for awhile. At that point in his life, he would still take short naps on the weekends so I assumed he had fallen asleep. He emerged from his bedroom about an hour later and came and sat with me. It took me a minute, but I realized something was different about him. I caught a quick glimpse of an empty spot in his mouth. He had gone into his bedroom and pulled his own tooth. I went searching for the tooth, but it was nowhere to be found. The idea of having a strange fairy flying into his bedroom while he was sleeping and taking his tooth from under his pillow was so preposterous to him that he was willing to do anything to get rid of that tooth. Everett still doesn’t understand the concept of money, so the value of exchanging teeth for money is completely lost on him.
It was one of the first times that I realized his view of the world would forever change my default views of how things worked. It made perfect sense that he wouldn’t want a fairy he didn’t know getting all up in his business, and what never occurred to me was how creepy the reality of the tooth fairy might be for Everett.
This also was a perfect example of how much I prepare for the worst case scenario of things with him and they turn out to be painless and drama free. We made it through our first lost tooth without tears and the only fear was of fantasy, and he immediately came up with a solution of removing the reason that would make the tooth fairy show up. We never found the tooth. I searched through his room and garbage cans around the house. We came to the conclusion that he flushed it. That day his first tooth disappeared, but what also disappeared was a little bit more of my fear that Everett would drown in this world.
Fast forwarding to our current life when Everett has a loose tooth, he is obsessed with it and not in a very pleasant mood. It really takes most of his attention and there is no doubt it causes constant discomfort. When he was younger, he would put the top of his shirt into his mouth and chew on it when he had a loose tooth. It was the first sign of what was starting to happen.
Last weekend, I noticed he had his hands in his mouth a good bit. I asked him if he had a loose tooth. He told me that he did and I examined which one he said it was. It had a little give to it, but figured we were a couple of weeks away. Monday night, Everett started asking to go to “Daddy’s house”. Everett talks about Brett regularly, looks through memory books almost daily, and has very real and intense bouts of grief that happen almost weekly. He misses his Dad terribly, but he never asks to go to his house. After speaking with his behavioral therapists, we decided it was best for Everett to be with us as we moved out and sorted through Brett’s belongings. He visually needed to understand that his Dad was no longer at the house. And I believe it was so helpful in getting Everett to understand what was going on and that Daddy is gone. So, his request of going to Daddy’s house completely threw me off guard, because he hasn’t asked to do that since February. The next day he had a rough morning at school and due to some scheduling issues, I wasn’t able to take him to therapy like I normally do. All of this led to a meltdown that kept he and Clay from making it to his appointment. When I got home that afternoon, he immediately started asking to go to Daddy’s house again. The request was unusual because it lacked the normal amount of sadness that goes along with his grief over Brett’s death. He was almost bargaining for me to just make an exception this one time and figure out a way for him to see his Dad. We all laid down to go to sleep that night and all of us sudden we heard Everett cry out “You did it!!! You pulled your tooth!!! Great job Everett”. He came and brought me his tooth and proceeded to ask for high fives. It hit me then that Brett pulled every tooth after the first one he lost.
Once he knew that I wasn’t going to be able to summon a visit from his Dad, he literally took matters into his own hands. Like countless times before, he figures out how to navigate our world even though he doesn’t always understand it and can’t communicate with ease. I’m so proud of his determination and ability to overcome the challenges life throws at him. He was a boy who needed his Dad. I know that has to be frightening for him but like his willingness to navigate his fears with the Tooth Fairy, for the second time in his life he faced that fear and pulled his own tooth like a little man.