Bolt On

My 13-year old son Alex slams shut our bedroom door just short of 8 a.m. Something tells me to get up. I don’t, though, and a few minutes later I hear a door shut in the hall outside our apartment. That slam I’ve heard before. The stairwell of our building is across the hall; all you can say is that Alex has never left our apartment building.
“Get a lock he can’t open!” some have said. Great theory, but again autism proves to us how we’re in a new world: Fire regs forbid a key padlock on the inside of an apartment door.
“Regulations” and almost everything connected with the real world seems like mist as I get up and check the rooms of our apartment. “Alex has bolted!” I announce to the form of Jill there in the bed. I could’ve hit my sleeping wife Jill with a bang stick, but these words get her up quicker.
Soon I’m out in the hall. I hear a door slam upstairs, yet I stick to my search procedure of taking the elevator to 15 and then down floor by floor using the stairs. (Stupid dad.) On the 10th floor I find – at this insanely early hour – a delivery man, and then I see a door open down the hall, the lights bright inside and the wood of the floor sparkling new. I hear a woman speaking.
 “There’s a strange autistic boy in my apartment …”
Bingo! My life has become saying bingo! to myself on seeing a door open at an insane early hour and hearing a woman saying “strange autistic boy.”
“He’s my son,” I tell her. “I’m so sorry…”
“I was expecting people,” she says, “so I opened the door and he barged right in!” I peer in and see Alex at her shiny redesigned kitchen counter, standing there with his iPad like someone who will never own a kitchen like this.
“That’s all right,” she says. “No problem.”
“Alex, come out of there right now!”
He does. I’m sorry! he keeps saying. He hugs the woman’s arm. I’m sorry. I take him home feeling like Tom Cruise in Rain Man in the intersection scene. Next day we send a note to the neighbor and slip it under her door: “Hi. I am sorry I came into your home on Sunday. Thank you for being so understanding. Alex…” I have him write it until I see the M and the S just look too … what? Abnormal? Dangerous in an “Oh my God he lives just floor from me!” kind of way? I write the note for him to sign; he does sign his own name.
We have tools to keep him here that we didn’t have last summer when he bolted. The iPad, for one. I don’t believe he’ll leave the apartment without it (“I think he will,” says Jill…), so instead of leaving it on the dining room table overnight to charge, I charge it on my bedside table. I also place a chair in front of our door before going to bed and on the chair stack empty tin cans. He’ll accidentally knock them over and make a racket. Solid theory.
Stupid dad. How long before he learns to silently remove the cans? Stopping Alex with a contraption is like firing a phaser at a Borg: You get one or two shots at most before he adapts and continues his relentless advance.
Jeff Stimpson lives in New York with his wife Jill and two sons. He is the author of Alex: The Fathering of a Preemie and Alex the Boy: Episodes From a Family’s Life With Autism (both available on Amazon). He maintains a blog about his family at, and is a frequent contributor to various sites and publications on special-needs parenting and to An Anthology of Disability Literature (available on Amazon). He is on LinkedIn under “Jeff Stimpson” and Twitter under “Jeffslife.”

One Response to Bolt On

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