Imagine a toy box full of bricks. They're the building bricks kind with those little house shapes so you can make your very own town. All brightly coloured and smart, brand new from the shop. How lovely they look, inviting and begging small hands to take them out and play!
Then the box is tipped over, sending bricks, houses, tiny wooden cars and all the shapes you love are sent tumbling across the floor. They scatter, some landing in heaps, others rolling off next to the door. They are everywhere, and this is how toddlers like them: all over the place, ready to be picked up one-by-one as needed.
These bricks don't belong in the box, you see, where they look neat and gleaming in the light from the nursery window; they belong on the floor so little hands can choose them without having to rummage through a massive pile to find what they need.
You have a happy, unconcerned toddler on the floor, choosing bricks and building their own little world. And then the aspie toddler arrives.
Mess everywhere! Colours streaming in the air as if the bricks were in constant motion, their tumble from the box continuing in the aspie mind as the colours and shapes jumble together and become a mass of confusion.
It doesn't matter that each brick is now separate and easier to choose: all at once, there are too many. They are only easier to choose for the non-aspie toddler who can look at them and, see only fun, knowing which to choose first.
To the aspie toddler they are now too many, their pieces noisy and crowded, the room full of disturbance, like the air when it is full and heavy before a storm. The bricks, shining in the sunlight, seem to sneer and crackle at the aspie, daring a touch, raging at the quiet air, too loud and bright for a safe encounter.
If the bricks are in their box, the aspie toddler knows where to find them. He knows if he digs deep, he will be able to push past the bricks he doesn't need to find the one he does. The minor inconvenience of having to search is nothing compared to the shock of having them all laid out at once, challenging him to put aside the distraction of so many pieces. Far better to dig and know what you are looking for than to be presented with the whole of choice and forget what you needed to find.
The aspie toddler sets to and starts to gather the bricks. At first the non-aspie ignores him, thinking his friend is joining in the game. Once he sees that aspie means to put away all the bricks there is sorrow and anger. They're supposed to be out there like that! It's part of the game!
Aspie ignores the noises from his friend, barely registers anything except the need to replace the bricks. Once the bricks are away and all in their right place, then it will be good again. The sunlight will be just bright enough and the nursery floor will look how it is meant to, without the clutter of too many extra distractions.
There is a tussle as non-aspie tries to stop the aspie replacing the bricks. Finally aspie realises that non-aspie doesn't want them away and, worse still, will most likely tip them out again as soon as they are tidy. A quick, sharp flash of fear fills the aspie toddler as he sees his work is in vain: the bricks will come back out and be disassembled, all his work undone and confusion permanent.
He steps away, face creasing in sadness and the beginnings of panic. He wails as he steps on one of the loose bricks and looks at non-aspie's uncomprehending face. It will never be safe in the nursery, he will never be able to keep all the bricks in their rightful place. He will always be at the door, unable to work out where to step safely or which brick to pick up first.
Tears streaming, he runs for the door, stumbling on his way over the bricks and reaching for the safety of the hall outside. Falling through, the light of the nursery is left behind, dwindled to a glimmer through the crack in the door. Through the gap he can hear non-aspie taking out the bricks he put away and playing happily. His heart dreads returning and yet it longs to be in there, understanding why the mess is safe and not wondering what comes next.
He turns his face to the door, plucking up the courage to go through and try again. This time, he will succeed.