The Jigsaw Puzzle

Matthew had an impressive meltdown over the long 4th of July weekend that could so easily have been prevented.

I was sitting at our dining room table paying bills when he came bolting from the kitchen, where he had been talking to my husband, Peter. Matthew picked up a dining room chair, and threw it across the room, smashing it into pieces.

“Whoa, calm down,” I said to my son who by now was in tears.

“It’s all Dad’s fault!” he cried, his forehead twisted in anguish and his shoulders shaking. “He wouldn’t sing all the verses!”

“Look, Matthew,” Peter said sternly, “I told you I had work to do, and that I would only sing the first two verses of Yankee Doodle Dandy.” My husband was wearing a Yale sweatshirt. It took tremendous self-control to keep from laughing.

“This might be a stupid question,” I said, biting my lower lip to keep from smiling, “but how many verses are there?”

“Including the chorus?” Peter huffed,  “about eighteen.”

“But you sang all of the verses last night,” Matthew wailed,  “and we were happy!”

It became clear to me that there was more to the meltdown than the Yankee Doodle song. Our son had had a tough day, and I had neglected to share the details with my husband.


Matthew had been to the dentist that day and had had two cavities filled. Then, with his mouth full of Novocain, he rode is bike to the local grocery story to deliver a gift-a jigsaw puzzle-to a young woman who worked there. Matthew had wrapped the puzzle painstakingly with lavender and white butterfly paper and used almost an entire roll of tape. When he handed her the gift, she accepted it politely and went back to work.

“How’d it go?” I asked Matthew when he returned less than twenty minutes after he left.

“Fine,” he said quietly, then went to his room to listen to the Beatles on his boom box. My heart ached for him. No one seemed to understand that Matthew yearned for a relationship with a woman like most young men his age.

If I had shared Matthew’s story with my husband, our dining room chair would have stayed intact. Peter would have had the opportunity to help Matthew, perhaps sharing the story about the time he gave a girl a rabbit’s foot in the eighth grade, and she laughed in his face.

At the very least, they could have sung all eighteen verses of Yankee Doodle Dandy.

And then they would have been happy.


Laura Shumaker is the author of A REGULAR GUY: GROWING UP WITH AUTISM


She writes each Friday for 5 MINUTES FOR SPECIAL NEEDS.

Laura is thinking of starting a dating service for young adults on the spectrum. (More to follow.)

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