To you I wish to give two things

To give you roots, to give you wings

~ Hanging on the wall between Brooke’s and Katie’s bedrooms


Activities of daily living (ADLs) is a term used in healthcare to refer to daily self-care activities within an individual’s place of residence, in outdoor environments, or both. Health professionals routinely refer to the ability or inability to perform ADLs as a measurement of the functional status of a person, particularly in regards to people with disabilities and the elderly.

Instrumental activities of daily living (IADLs) are not necessary for fundamental functioning, but they let an individual live independently in a community

  • Housework
  • Taking medications as prescribed
  • Managing money
  • Shopping for groceries or clothing
  • Use of telephone or other form of communication
  • Using technology (as applicable)
  • Transportation within the community

~ From Activities of Daily Living (ADLs), Wikipedia


She tears the birthday card free from its envelope. She smiles when she sees Dora’s smiling face on its cover. “Dora!” she says, hugging it to her chest, “I love her.”

She turns it over in her hands. The card’s lumps and bumps convince her that there is something further to be opened within the cover itself – a treasure to be found inside. She hands it to me to help solve the mystery. “You will open it,” she says.

Recognizing the mechanism, I hand it back to her. “Here, honey,” I say. “it plays a song. Press right here.”

She presses the button and Dora and the Fiesta Trio begin crooning Feliz Cumpleanos. She loves it.

I prompt her to open the card to read its message.

She doesn’t notice the bill that falls out as she opens it, so I pick it up off the floor and hand it to her. “Look, baby,” I say. “What’s this?”

“It’s a dollar,” she says, pushing the button to hear the song again.

I hold it up. “Are you sure it’s just a dollar?” I ask. “Let’s look at it together. What number do you see on it?”

She looks at it closely, but doesn’t say anything.

I wait.

“Fifty,” she finally says. “It says fifty on it.”

“Yes it does,” I say. “So how many dollars is this worth?” I ask.

“Fifty,” she says.

We walk upstairs to her room to get ready for the day. “Hey, Brooke, why don’t we bring this with us when we go shopping later and if you find something that you really want, you can buy it with this and it can be a present from Papa and Grandma N?”

“Okay,” she says.

“Ooh,” I add, “and we can also bring the money that Aunt J and Uncle R sent for Christmas! Let’s bring that too.”

She agrees, and I grab the ten-dollar bill off of her dresser and hold them both out to her.

“So,” I say, “let’s figure out how much you have all together. We have this one which is ten dollars and this one which is fifty dollars. If we add those together, how much is it?”

She looks at the bills.The wheels turn. She’s not getting frustrated. She’s not balking. She’s still with me. I lean into banister and into the quiet of the moment. No pressure.

She takes her first stab. “It’s fifty!” she says.

“Well, yes,” I respond. “This one is fifty. And this one is ten. If we add fifty and ten together, we get … ”


I pick her up and spin her around. “Sixty, that’s right! You have SIXTY dollars! That’s a lot of money.”

She looks up at me beaming and asks for something that throws me. “Can you say, “you got it right so you get a token?”

I smile and try a different tack. “How about if I say, “you got it right so you get sixty dollars?”

She shrugs and says, “No, you will tell me that I can have a token,” then jumps onto my hip, koala style. We manage to walk down the stairs as one – tangled in a physically awkward but emotionally delicious hug.

She doesn’t look at the money again.


We are at the Paper Store. She’s honed in on a Dora Paint With Water book and a sleeve of butterfly stickers. I suggest that she use her gift money to buy them. She looks at me blankly. I’m not sure how else to say it.

I walk her up to the counter with her purchases. She puts them down and is gone like a bat out of hell before the cashier can say, “That will be $9.97, please.”

I smile at her. I look behind me. I’m grateful that there’s no line.

I call Brooke over and hand her the two bills. Before I can say a word, she’s grabbed them out of my hand and thrust them both onto the counter.

I collect them and crouch down to her. “Brooke, can you ask the lady to tell you how much it is? You weren’t here when she told us.”

“How much is it?” Brooke asks. I know it’s rote. I know I’m putting words in her mouth. I have no idea how else to do this.

The clerk smiles at her. “That will be $9.97 please.”

With a quick peek over my shoulder to confirm that there’s no one waiting, I hold out the bills. “OK, Brooke, it’s nine dollars and ninety-seven cents. Which of these can we use?”


She doesn’t say it; she yells it. She doesn’t want to play this game. Neither do I, but we have to. Don’t we? This matters. Doesn’t it?

I don’t look at the clerk. I can’t imagine what she’s thinking of all of this. It’s not relevant right now. It can’t be. I carry on.

“It’s nine dollars and ninety-seven cents, honey. What’s that close to?”

“A HUNDRED!” she yells.

“Yes,” I say. “The ninety-seven cents is really close to a hundred. So that means we would round UP to the next dollar …”

“NINE!” she yells.

“Okay” I say, “starting at nine, if we round UP to the next dollar, what would that be?”

“A THOUSAND!” she yells.

“Slowly, baby,” I say. “No rush. Let’s figure it out. What’s one more than nine?”

“Ten,” she says.

“That’s right,” I say. “So let’s look at the two bills and see which one we should give to the lady.”

She grabs the ten and hands it to the clerk, who takes it and puts it into the register. Brooke is long gone by the time she tries to give her her change. I offer her a long-practiced smile, take the three pennies and thank her for her patience. “We’re working on it,” I say. I don’t have it in me to explain. I don’t really feel obliged to anyway.

It’s been a long day. Brooke is out of spoons, and, truthfully, so am I. It’s time to go home. So with that, we leave the store and walk hand in hand to the parking lot – her carrying her hard-won prizes, and me, awkwardly juggling my carrier bags, full as they are with unanswerable questions.


21 thoughts on “wings

  1. I remember the concept of change being REALLY overwhelming as a kid, maybe you could start at stores that are in whole dollars? (I’m not sure where exactly that would be, but surely they exist?)

    • Places like Dollar Tree…everything is $1. Maybe that would be helpful!

      Well done momma and Brooke!!! She will get there. Hang in there 🙂

  2. This is a story that has been written a million times in my house. He still doesn’t get it. Although he only ever sees us use a debit card. A friend of mine said that some adults with autism have something like a preloaded card for purchases. It is easier and then you don’t have to worry about someone not giving proper change. I thought that sounded like a great idea. Most people don’t use cash anymore. But you still have to figure out if you ‘ll have enough…

    • This is a great idea, and most likely the road we will choose as well. It takes the pressure out of the moment and gives them a chance to go back home and work out the details on paper so they can budget for the next purchase.

      • true. One of my fears it them being taken advantage of with getting the wrong change and just walking away and not processing it fast enough (I mean I HAVE done that). In reality most NT kids can’t count change very well (even though I agree they SHOULD learn this skill). I won’t give up, but I admit I don’t push it as much because i think the way of the world is with debit cards of some sort. and the rest of it is too abstract (for my son)

  3. Oh my gosh. This could have been about my Kylie if you changed the name. We are struggling with this right now as well. Me asking questions, trying to help her figure things out on her own and Kylie yelling out random guesses and getting more stressed by the second. Math homework has become a huge hurdle we must get over on a regular basis now. I know she knows the answers. They are somewhere in the recesses of her brain but accessing them at a given time is proving to be such a chore. I try to be as patient as I can and explain it in length but sometimes there’s a barrier I can’t seem to get past. She stares off into space and shouts out random guesses to get me to somehow quit asking her the questions. Thank you for posting this Jess. We are wearing the same uncomfortable shoes.

  4. You’re a wonderful mama; for persisting, for spreading those wings, for preparing her to fly. And for feeling no need to explain – good for you. This sounded hard and heartbreaking, but there were, as always, the glimmers of promise that fuel the next try. Hugs.

  5. You and Brooke did so well….when I have been in your shoes I did not handle the situation with as much grace. I hope to try again soon…as these are skills our children definitely need. Hang in there ..your patience is inspiring.

  6. Well done! We have to start some where, right? I’m impressed she did it! Go Brooke!! We haven’t even come close to introducing the concept of money to Cymbie. I wouldn’t even know where to start, but we have time…
    Also, I couldn’t help but think of Cymbie and all the ABA with the “token” comment, lol.. We use a token board with Cym, and it’s very effective…but I can see now how it bleeds into every day life too 🙂

  7. Oh honey. Ditto The Great Paula up there. And God love you for getting the whole wing concept and slowly, patiently trying. You’ll do it again and again.


    Because that’s who you are.

  8. I love this post. Just Sunday, I gave my son some money to buy himself a water bottle at Dunkin Donuts. He’s 12. He’s a wizard with math. And yet, I bet he hasn’t completed a purchase himself more than a handful of times. I thought “we really need to work on this.” Thanks for reminding me.

  9. Money issues take time. Our sweet pea struggles with this as well. She will get there… in Brooke time.


  10. As a child on the spectrum ( back in the 70’s when no one knew what the spectrum was) I could do all the math for purchases with ease. What I have not gotten to this day, is why everyone cares so much. Shiny coins and colored paper trigger no emotions in me whatsoever. Oh, I understand the rules of the game pretty well, but it’s unspeakably boring and everyone’s else’s fanaticism about is just obnoxious to me. I’m now in my 40’s with two kids on the spectrum and I still struggle with caring about money. I would never do something for money that I would not do for a friend as a favor and I really can’t understand why anyone would.

    People are always saying things like “money isn’t everything,” and the “best things in life are free,” or even “the love of money is the root of all evil.” It appears that no one but those of us on the spectrum actually believe these things.

    John Mark McDonald

  11. I love this story. As a mom who was considering doing this very thing this weekend, for the sixth birthday. I’m not sure yet that I’ll have the patience you showed to go through with it. But it should be done, and I applaud you for doing it. I remember my mom doing this with me for my birthday, around her age. Making the connection that the money buys the toys.

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