Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Do you like fire alarms?


I don't think I've lost my mind, but I may be seeing that possibility on the horizon.  Our son, I guess I'll call him Safety Guy for now, has developed an interest in commercial fire alarms.  This is such a totally Asperger's thing, being hyper-interested in a techie-geeky electronic thing, it's almost a stereotype.  But, I'm proud of him for trying to learn about fire alarms.  Let me tell you why.

Our son has been afraid of sudden loud noises since infancy. People clapping, people singing at a birthday party, fireworks, thunderstorms, car alarms, you name it, if it was sudden and loud, it startled him, and he was upset about it.  That anxiety went to a whole new level when he started preschool, and had to do FIRE DRILLS.  The preschool had a horrendously loud air-horn type fire alarm.  Oh my goodness, he was flat-out traumatized every time they had a fire drill.   That didn't improve when he went to early kindergarten - different kind of alarm, same kind of reaction from our son (hands over ears, crying, totally distraught).  Testing the smoke detectors at home was equally difficult for him.  I think some of the sounds actually hurt him, since his hearing is extremely acute, as well as startling him and totally disrupting his activity and routine.  It was just a BAD THING any way he looked at it, and nothing seemed to make it any easier for him to deal with.

Safety Guy quickly developed an interest in all things related to safety and dealing with emergencies or natural disasters.  Home schooling allowed us to avoid the fire drill trauma (except for the time some kids set off the church fire alarm after Easter services one year - cue the hands over the ears, and the anxious meltdown).  It also allowed us to study all sorts of calamities and emergencies and how they could be detected or prevented.  He's fascinated by disaster scenarios.  (He also loves watching automobile crash tests - but that's another post, lol.)  Then, last year, we decided it was time for the kids to return to public school.  What was our son's number one concern as soon as we told him?  Yep, you guessed it:  FIRE DRILLS.  (#2 was bullying.)

The school has handled his anxiety over this really well.  They warn his teachers ahead of time for scheduled drills, so they can in turn warn him.  His classroom has one of the alarm bells right over the door (he was NOT happy to see that).  Still, it's always unnerving to him when they happen, and although he's old enough that he doesn't cry or melt down, he still covers his ears, becomes anxious, and is frustrated by the disrupted routine.

Here's where I have to praise my Safety Guy:  A few weeks ago, he decided that the best way to learn to not be afraid of fire drills was to learn more about fire alarms.  So, being a typical kid in this Web-savvy generation, he went to YouTube to see what he could find.  Wouldn't you know that there are dozens and dozens - hundreds! - of videos on YouTube of people testing every fire alarm system known to man?  People collect and share these things, like others collect antique cars or lunch boxes.  (Just listening to some of the guys - they're all guys - narrating the videos, you can tell many of them probably have Asperger's too, or something very similar in nature.)

For the past several weeks, Safety Guy has been looking up videos of fire alarms on YouTube, learning about the different manufacturers, and especially listening to the various kinds of alarms.  He's found out exactly which alarms are in his school, his sister's school, and other places he remembers from the past or visits now.  (He just told me that the one from his preschool that started this whole traumatic journey was a SpectrAlert P241575 horn alarm.)  He's talked about being a safety engineer, or working for a company that installs alarm systems.  He says he's still freaked out by the idea of fire alarms at school (it's winter in NY - no drills until spring), but I'll bet when they go off again on the first nice day in March, he'll have his ears covered, but he'll be watching the alarms and lights and talking to everyone around him about what kind of alarm it is.

He asked me a few days ago if he could buy an old alarm system or two and set them up in the basement, so he could test them.  "Um, what makes you think the rest of us want to listen to you test fire alarms?" I asked him.  He looked puzzled -  you could just see him thinking, "Who WOULDN'T like to hear me test fire alarms?  Aren't they great?  Oh, wait. . . ."

Good for him - at least he's constructively facing his fears.  Now, if I could just get him to stop playing his fire alarm videos several times a day - I'm starting to hear them in my head. . . .