By Indie Dad

The story so far: After their mum moved out, my two sons, Alex and Danny, decided we needed some house rules. They were aged nine and seven at the time and felt a powerful need to impose some order on the world. I had expected them to come up with five or six rules but they returned with a lengthy list, consisting of 32 rules…

Rule 13 – ‘We eat over plates’
One of the big differences between the boys was the amount of mess they created. Alex, as is characteristic of many people with Asperger’s syndrome, was keen to impose order on the world. There were few things he enjoyed more than lining up his toy buses in a neat row, and he would get angry with anyone who moved them. Danny was very aware of this, and soon came to realise that messing with Alex’s buses was a quick and effective way of winding him up. I suspect that Alex would have liked a rule stating ‘We will not interfere with other people’s buses’, but recognised that Danny would have found it impossible to comply with this.

Danny was the opposite of Alex, a spreader of mess. Evidence of Danny’s presence around the house included the following:

1. Lego. Danny loved Lego, and acquired a huge amount of it. In a bid to contain the spread of plastic pieces, I cleared the furniture away from one end of the living room and declared it the ‘Lego zone’. My theory was that it would remain in this area, and the rest of the house would be Lego-free. It didn’t work, of course. I was like King Canute, raging ineffectually at an incoming tide of plastic. And so it spread across the floor, and then it clogged up the hoover.

2. Muddy footprints. Whatever the weather, Danny liked playing outside. This was a good thing, much better than having a child who spent all of his time indoors staring at a screen. It was good for Alex and me as well – Danny was the one who got us to go outside and play.

The problem was, Danny didn’t stay outside. Every time he went into the garden he realised he wanted something from the house, usually from his bedroom. And what seven year-old would bother taking his shoes off every time he went back in the house?

The result was a trail of muddy footprints which ran from the garden door, through the living room, and up the stairs to the boys’ bedroom. This trail became a permanent feature of the house, especially once the Lego had broken the hoover.

3. Toast crumbs. Because Danny was busy, he ate on the move. The main thing he ate was toast and, although it was on a plate when it left the kitchen, it didn’t stay on the plate for long. If the trail of Lego and muddy footprints didn’t lead you to Danny’s whereabouts, the trail of toast crumbs certainly would.

Danny’s policy was to ignore my complaints about the Lego and the mud. After all, what was to be done that wouldn’t involve a disproportionate amount of effort? But he did recognise that he couldn’t ignore me on everything; that in the interests of living harmoniously alongside other people, the occasional compromise had to be made. So rule 13 was Danny’s compromise – ‘we will eat over plates’.

He still didn’t do it, though.

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