I knew it had to happen. For 18 months, the "robot" creature in the backyard had grown to gigantic proportions. While it could be hidden inside a tent or a tarp, I didn't mind so much. It was Allen's project and it kept him occupied. But when the thing outgrew its tent, I knew we were in for trouble.
To no one but Allen would the jumble of aluminum cans, metal pieces, wooden pallets, and wheels resemble a robot. I saw a pile of junk; he saw a creation that would one day move and function. Anytime I was tempted to complain, I reminded myself of just what the project meant to Allen.
The odd collection of parts began in April of 2015, shortly after Ron was hospitalized--again--with clinical depression and resulting heart issues. Coincidentally, Allen had just been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome and while he'd always had learning challenges and difficulties with social situations, the label hit him hard. He was going through job training with Occupational Vocational Rehabilitation and wasn't permitted to have a job. And my kids, all of them, like to work. Allen had time on his hands. I did not. With Ron in the hospital for six weeks and me working multiple jobs, Allen was left to his own devices.
Enter the Robot Plan. Allen made sketches and plans, mentally constructing it in his mind. Then he began to collect the pieces. He saved aluminum cans and cut them apart, bending them into a covering for the robot. He scavenged sides of the roads for metal and wheels and thrown away parts. Each piece meant something to him. He was excited when a pair of baby buggy wheels were found, ecstatic when a large trashcan became available.
According to SAMHSA (2016), adults on the autism spectrum disorder tend to be introverted and often look for ways to self-medicate in order to avoid a sense of anxiety and stress. While genetics play a part in ASD, a chemical imbalance in the brain contributes to developmental delays and problems with thought-processing and neural stimulation. 7.9 million Americans with a mental disorder self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
I did not want Allen to be one of them. So while he went for job-training and dealt with physical and mental testing requirements, he built his robot. I bought a bigger tent.
Two weeks ago, the robot was ready for testing. It was a "weight test" only, Allen explained to me. With no moving parts--save the buggy wheels--the robot was not a working model. But when he was able to make it stand on its own and pass a "rock test", he declared it a success.
My neighbors declared it a disaster. I didn't really blame them.
Last week, various parts of the "robot" were taken down and delivered to a storage unit Allen rented. On Sunday, a rented truck from Home Depot carted the rest of the remains away. I wasn't sad to get my backyard back, but I was glad that while Allen adjusted to so many changes in his life and found new ways to learn and relate to society, he had the robot to keep him from back street drug deals and bars.
A rather irate neighbor asked me why I had allowed such a "monstrosity" in my yard. I started to explain, then wisely shut my mouth. Later on, though, it occurred to me that if I had a blind child, or a child with a physical disability, no one would have complained about a ramp or a "blind child" sign. Allen's disability is invisible and sometimes comes across as cockiness. Nonetheless, it is a disability recognized by the ADA. For Allen, the robot--ugly as it was--was therapy.
Perhaps I was wrong to let the project take over the backyard. There is no rule book that comes along with the diagnosis of ASD. I make this up as I go along. And Allen, God bless him, continues to help me learn.