In my New England backyard, after the long winter has finally passed and the snow has melted, it is now the season once again for The Dirt Pit.
What started out as a few small divets in the lawn has become a giant tract of sandy, sensory fun. Every day, W spends some amount of time pacing in The Dirt Pit, sifting the soil through his fingers, throwing dirt in the air, and trickling it onto his hands and legs. Before he comes in the house, he empties piles of dirt and stones from his shoes. For half the year, my boy looks like Pigpen from Peanuts, Charlie Brown’s friend who carried himself serenely in a cloud of dust. When the weather grows colder, he will run his fingers through the freezing soil until his fingers ache with cold. He never played in our sandbox; he refuses the pricey sand tray I have for indoors. The Dirt Pit is where he finds peace.
There are a lot of ways our family is different, ways we have adapted to meet W’s needs. Most of these ways are not readily apparent to the outside observer. Because autism is an invisible disability, to the outside world we may just appear a little more loud or intense at times; we stay home more often and miss out on some events. But The Dirt Pit is a glaringly obvious sign that we are outside the norm in our neighborhood, and we’re not trying to put on a polished, manicured appearance for the outside world. For awhile, I tried to stop the growth of The Dirt Pit, but I’ve decided not to fight it. It’s where my boy does his “thinking” (as he says), and calms his body and soul after a long day of school. That’s more important than a pretty lawn.
I suppose you could put a negative spin on the barren patch of yard. (“Autism ruins lawns! Autism costs families thousands of dollars in extra landscaping costs! Parents of children with autism spend more time sweeping dirt out of their houses than parents of typical children!”) I freely admit that it’s an eyesore. Someday, I will be happy to have a bigger garden, with some more fruit trees, or hydrangeas, instead of a giant pit of dirt in my yard. Someday, W will find different ways of decompressing his mind and regulating his body. But for now, I’m content with The Dirt Pit. After all, there’s less grass for me to mow.