Thursday, May 10, 2007

I Believe in Guardian Angels

Well, the last week or so has been pretty good for Buddy Boy (and for us). We've all settled back into our somewhat regular routines, and our days have been fairly uneventful. So I guess I'm ready to relate what happened almost three weeks ago now. I'm not a guy that gets rattled (shaken up) very easily. Just a month ago I pretty much laughed off an incident when Buddy Boy got ahold of Liz's car keys and started up the car in the garage. But this incident I'm going to describe really upset me, and I'm only now getting my sense of equilibrium back.

I awoke at about 5:15 AM (my usual time). As soon as I exited our bedroom to go to the bathroom down the hall I smelled burnt popcorn. I immediately got a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach and proceeded downstairs. I saw (and smelled) the following things in rapid succession (not necessarily in this order):

As I passed the family room I heard and saw the TV was on. Buddy Boy was nowhere to be seen.

I followed my nose to the kitchen. I saw Buddy Boy sitting at the kitchen table eating burnt popcorn out of a bowl that we use for popcorn, which is stored in a cabinet above the refrigerator. He appeared unharmed, and safe.

The top of the hot air popcorn maker was half melted, and it was still half filled with burnt popcorn, which spilled over the counter and floor.

There were several pieces of burnt 8.5" x 11" pieces of paper on the floor, as well as a big black burnt spot on the kitchen tiles (about 3 feet around). The air smelled not only of the burnt popcorn, but also of smoke. Our smoke alarm had not gone off.

There was black soot that covered a lot of the stuff in the kitchen (Liz later informed me that she cleaned off soot from things in the dining room and living room, too.

I saw a small mound of melted blue wax from a melted birthday candle on the floor.

The oven door was open, and a baking pan was sitting on the door of the oven. The pan was filled with a half baked yellowish mass.

After quickly ascertaining that there was no acute danger, I ran to Buddy Boy and hugged him. And I trembled. I was scared.

I have always had a healthy respect for (and perhaps a little fear of) fire, ever since the time when I was about thirteen, when my then 3 year old brother almost burned down our house with a candle when I was babysitting him and two other siblings. I managed to extinguish that fire with a fire extinguisher with the only damage being a buckled tile floor, a burnt chest of drawers, and a singed set of curtains. It was real close to a disaster. I have always kept several fire extinguishers around the house, have smoke detectors on every floor, and have an escape ladder stored in my closet upstairs. Our house was built in 1880, and though we have lived in it since 1998, I have yet to light a fire in the fireplace.

After quickly ascertaining that Buddy Boy was OK, I decided that this scene was too terrible for Liz to see as is, and that I would try to quickly clean up as much as possible, as fast as possible. I didn't want Liz to feel the same panic I was feeling.

Buddy Boy asked me if it was the middle of the night, and if he should go back to bed. I just had him sit down.

I grabbed the garbage bag out of its container and I started shoveling things into it. The popcorn and the burnt papers were the first things in. Then I got a scrub brush to try and get the big burn mark off the tile floor. I got the majority of it off before Liz walked in. I filled her in on what I knew, and after a little while she took over while I was able to escape to work.


Buddy Boy has become "sneaky" as of late. We keep a "baby monitor" in his room (as well as in Sweet Pea's). Our house walls are solid, and these monitors allow us to hear them if they cry out in the middle of the night (they also allow us to hear single songs on a CD played over and over all night long, too). Buddy Boy knows we have the monitor in there, and he knows we know if he shuts it off (which he has tried to do a couple of times). He has learned to be very quiet in tiptoeing out of his room and carefully opening and shutting his bedroom door. We have caught him a couple of times after sneaking out of his room. He's never done anything other than watch TV or go to sleep in another room. Nothing even close to this incident.

We've also been battling some sleep issues with Buddy Boy. We thought Melatonin was working, but had had a few nights where he had a lot of trouble falling (and keeping) asleep. Eventually he had always gotten to sleep, though.

Over the next couple of days, Liz and I pieced together the approximate sequence of events.

Buddy Boy has always been quite adept at operating the TV and cable remotes. When he was two, he couldn't talk, but he had the basic functions of the remote (on/off, volume, channels) mastered. He now is faster than any of the rest of us at operating the three remotes necessary to control the TV, cable box, and the VCR. He can scroll thru the menus and find whatever he wants. We put a password on for the pay per view stuff, as he once ordered up a cartoon movie without asking.

Buddy Boy evidently must have come out of his room fairly shortly after we had gone to bed. He had watched three full length animated movies (as we ascertained from the cable menu). That alone must have taken him almost 6 hours. That's when he evidently got hungry, and moved to the kitchen.

Buddy Boy related that he used flour, butter, and water to make himself a "cake". Though proud of his industriousness, he could have burned himself badly handling hot stuff from the oven.

Having failed to make himself something that tasted good, he proceeded to the popcorn. Again, having overfilled the popcorn maker and left it on too long, another hazard (this time fire) was averted.

At some point Buddy Boy decided to play with the birthday candles. He got them out of their storage place in a high cabinet, and also got some matches out of the same cabinet. We think he lit the matches from the stove, then lit the candles (we later found the remains of at least three candles, one of them in the living room-he said he wanted to take fire to the fireplace).

I consider it just short of a miracle that no one was hurt (not to mention that the house was still intact). I have thanked G-d many times since that day for protecting our son and the rest of our family. I have also been mad at myself for not being more careful prior to this.

The hardest thing I've done since this is install a metal hook/eye lock on Buddy Boy's bedroom door. Liz and I talked about it for a couple of days before doing it, but didn't see any other way of assuring protection for all involved. Our burgler alarm would alert us if an outside door was breached, but if we activate the inside motion alarms, none of us would be able to walk around without setting it off. I feel terrible as a father, locking my kid in his room at night. I think of the wooden box and padded room that were used for discipline in a school that Buddy Boy was in for a while last year, and wonder if I am just as bad. For his part, Buddy Boy has taken the lock on his room in stride. If this becomes a long term issue, I'll probably talk to the alarm company and get his door wired into the system somehow. But for now we have the lock. I tell myself that if Buddy Boy really needed to get out of his room in an emergency that he is stronger than that lock. And that the act of him breaking the lock would create enough noise that we would hear. But perhaps I am just placating myself. All I know is that neither Liz nor myself got a good nights sleep for the two days until we installed the lock (and for a few days after that, too, until we trusted it).

We've talked several times with Buddy Boy about several issues (lying, trust, SAFETY) but aren't sure what is sinking in (especially as this incident was less than two weeks after the starting the car incident).

But as I started out saying, the last week or so has been good. Buddy Boy has had several good days leading up to his IEP (I always hate the psychological disadvantage of going into an IEP with recent "bad" days having occurred-they seem to become disproportionally important to the "team"). And the sleep issues seem to be a bit better, having changed to a prescription med.

I don't know if Buddy Boy will think less of me for having installed the lock, but I do know I need to keep him safe.


jypsy said...

This is from an assessment done on Alex when he was 3 - "At home Mum had to physically rearrange things as Alex is into everything. (This is easy to relate to as Alex had my office in a shambles before he left!). Alex is not allowed in the kitchen and his room is basically stripped down to bare. At night mum locks his bedroom door."
The fact that he wasn't allowed in the kitchen didn't mean he didn't get into the kitchen though - there was also a padlock on the fridge as well as all the standard child safety locks on all the cupboards. I don't recall how long we locked his bedroom door for... I do recall that although I felt bad because it felt so strange, both the locked door and the stripped down room, I felt ok because it was all about safety, his mostly, and the family's and it was done with much love and no better option. It was not at all a punishment and Alex was never unhappy with this situation. He had pretty much total freedom within his environment, even if it meant restricting the boundaries of his environment by times. He was very often up and awake in the night and we'de hear him jumping on his bed and laughing, but because he was safe and happy, we lost very little sleep.
I think as long as Buddy Boy knows this is all about safety and not some kind of punishment and he can find ways to amuse himself and be happy in his room if need be, he'll be fine. And so will you...

Anonymous said...

I understand you're shaken up, and I'm not trying to make light of that, but you know, lots of kids try to cook when their parents aren't watching. This isn't some sort of autism-specific behavioral problem... it's just one of the things kids often do as they get older.

I remember waking up early one Easter morning (when I was just a little older than Buddy Boy) and finding an enormous potato in the middle of my candy, which my mother had been threatening me I'd get for bad behavior, but I hadn't really believed her! My sister had a smaller potato. We decided that instead of letting our mom see that it bothered us, we'd make french fries and show our mom how much we loved our potatoes.

So we got out a big cast-iron skillet, filled it full of cooking oil, heated it up, and dropped in our potato slices. Oil splattered all over the kitchen. Fortunately, neither of us got burned, which easily could have happened. (If you're wondering, the fries were quite tasty.)

Instead of putting a lock on Buddy Boy's door, why not install a secondary keypad for your burglar alarm in your bedroom? Then you could turn on the inside motion sensors from that keypad when you go to bed, and if you want to get up and walk around, you can just turn them off again.

kristina said...

If melatonin had not worked for Charlie, our plan was to try another medication prescribed by Charlie's neuro---hope Buddy Boy is sleeping better (and you too). This might seem too elementary a question but: Does he know to ask an adult or other party in charge first before doing certain things-----to ask to get permission?

Am making a mental inventory of our kitchen right now!

Glad to know you are all safe.

Mom without a manual said...

Yikes! I understand your concerns and totally agree that you are doing what you have to to protect everyone's safety.

Still, I know it is hard.

Joeymom said...

Please, please don't feel bad abou the locks. I've had to change my exterior locks three times, and install chains higher and higher on the doors, since JOey was 3. He's now 5. Joey has no door; he slams them. So far, hes only wandered into our room... but we've already bought the small alarm system to put in should there be any signs of him going downstairs. We know that day is coming. Its one of those little alarms stores use, that set off a doorbell when the door opens and teh ligh beam is broken between the two little nodes. We have locks on most of our cabinets, and have to change them when he figures them out; we'll probably have to go to a keyed system of some kind. Cleaning products and matches are stored in a high cabinet that locks with a key already, but we always wonder- as we do with the exterior doors- what do we do when he finds that key? Most of our current ABA program is focused on safety issues, like giving him a plan for when he does get out. We also watch episodes of shows that emphasize safety (like Pinky Dinky Doo and the Fluffy Buns, where Pinky, even in her made-up story, NEVER touches the oven). What else can one do, but try to teach this stuff?

Keeping your family safe- including Buddy Boy- is your duty as a parent. Keep up the good work!


Club 166 said...

Thanks, guys.

I'm really feeling better now, though still a bit guilty (why can't I be the parent I want me to be?).

Buddy Boy, at 7, definitely knows that he's supposed to ask to do things. He also seems to have entered a somewhat mischievous phase, where he thinks he knows better than we do, and doesn't need to ask permission to just "check out" things that are fun. I thought the "know it all" stage wasn't supposed to start for a few more years.

Bonnie, I love your french fry story. I'm sure your mom told that story for years afterwards to her friends. And I know that this incident will become family folklore eventually. It's already faded as an imminent threat, so it's not quite so scary.

Jypsy, I'll think we'll eventually go to an alarm based system. We'll have to have some things changed (one of the motion alarms is in our bedroom), but we'll probably wait a couple of months until Buddy Boy gets accustomed to having to stay in his room.

I guess one of the other things that immediately went thru my mind was that Buddy Boy was having a manic episode, and would acquire another diagnosis. But as my wife pointed out, he was awake and bored. He was just looking for something to do and something to eat (though I wish he had just gone for a bowl of Cheerios and a popsicle!)


VAB said...

That sounds stressful. I can't help noticing the industrious and independent aspect of it all, but nobody wants a fire, that's for sure.

They sell a type of door alarm/door bell that has two small components (one goes on the door jam and the other on the door). When the door is opened, the two components are separated and it sends a signal to a receiver that you have somewhere else (like in your bedroom). You can also fashion one by using an ordinary remote doorbell, such as you can find at Home Depot.

Here's something I have been wondering about. A lot of ASD parents report that their kids have sleep problems. Our guy has always slept less than his peers, but he is never tired in the day. Our solution is just to put him to bed late. Is that not a possibility for Buddy Boy? Does he get tired if gets less that the recommended amount of sleep?

J said...

At times, Club 166, I can be an eloquent writer/speaker. This is not one of those times.

Holy Crap!

I can understand the three-week "cool-down" required prior to blogging about this.
How old is Buddy Boy? Melatonin is working for Jason after some very difficult years of sleep issues, but I keep reading about how its effectiveness wanes after time. I hope Jason's sleep patterns normalize prior to the Melatonin losing efficacy. Furthermore, I hope Buddy Boy does not cause too much heart-thumping in your household anytime soon.

Club 166 said...


When Buddy Boy goes to sleep later, he still gets up at the same time. He just has more behavioral issues that day. :(


As time passes, I've felt much better. It now seems more like an isolated incident, rather than a start of a new dysfunctional pattern. Isolated incidents are much easier to handle.

For the last week, Buddy Boy has been the best he's ever been at school. This has been very fortuitous, as we're heading up to his IEP, and it's always nice to go in looking good.

Steph said...

This is our main challenge with Reed right now too. When he was a baby and toddler, he was the best sleeper in the world. He would regularly put himself to bed if he was tired before bedtime. Then at around 2.5, when most of the other problems started, he stopped sleeping. Left to his own devices, he sleeps 4-5 hours a night. He once lit a stove burner and turned the gas on on another burner while I was in the basement doing laundry. Luckily, I heard him out of bed and came up and shut it off before anything happened. We have a similar latch on his little brother's door, as he has a tendency to pile furniture on him while he sleeps (dresser drawers, toyboxes, etc), but Reed's room doesn't currently have a door, after he disassembled the doorknob and then accidentally locked himself and baby brother in for an afternoon. (are we sensing a pattern here? lol). We tried Melatonin, which worked for a while, but he built up a tolerance to it pretty quickly, so we eventually added a small done of Clonidine, which works much better. For some reason, the Clonidine plus a kid's multivitamin works the best. We think it keeps him from waking up hungry and then not being able to fall back asleep.

Anyway, I didn't mean to hikack your blog. I only meant to assure you that you're not alone in this. Try the vitamin at bedtime, you never know, it might help you too, =]

Ange said...

Judging by some of your posts, I wonder if you are in the same general area as me. Have you heard of Adaptability? They do a home assessment for sensory/safety home modifications needed for people with disabilities. It's been 1.5 years since our 1st intake, but we are now getting solid wood doors (that can't be beat through with a flashlight) and alarms for the doorways. Also have some neat sensory stuff and swings for our "blue room." Also, as another commenter posted, you can get battery operated, magnetic alarms for doorways too..Safe Alert makes them I think. I got ours at bed bath & beyond.

Our son was placed in a seclusion room (padded closet basically) too in kindergarten and we fought to have it taken out of his BIP. We have an entire bedroom now that is full of foam blocks, a jumpolene, and soon a swing etc. We will soon have safety glass over the window. We use it as a place where we do fun things, but also a safe place where he has a time out. We've been really working on it being a safe place to escape rather than a safe place to be punished. Anyhow, I understand the feelings you're going through regarding the lock.