The Only Way You Learn about Anything – even Autism

Last summer, after the rains abated, it was time.

I searched for the same video I’d been using to turn my sprinkler system back on. This is one I watched only once a year, if lucky. I usually needed to reference it more than once. Not because I’m terrible with retention — which can be true — but because, inevitably, something would break.

I’ve learned a lot about my sprinkler system and sprinkler systems in general. It’s not a special interest. I’m not particular keen on it.

When things are broken, I learn more about them.

My sprinkler turn-on ended up being a summer school, with humiliating coursework. Things broke. Things I couldn’t name, with parts I couldn’t explain, with pieces that fired upward toward my brain. Literally.

I’d adjusted the test cocks, turned the screw heads to what I thought was perpendicular, parallel, or whichever — I’ve still yet to learn the difference, which is awkward when I end up perpendicular parking in crowded downtown confines — turned off the main shutoff valve, and sent the vacuum breaker skyrocketing into my frontal lobe. Thank you, skull, for taking a shame-inducing hit for me.

All those italicized terms — those were just thing A, thing B, doohickey C, and whatevertheheck D in my mind. But they all conspired to break.

And as they were broken, so I learned.

I did repair those things, after vain and errant hunts for parts. Off we went to find that video, re-open all the valves, ensuring my dome steered clear of the potential blast radius —

We were clear — until a sprinkler head rocketed off behind me, propelled by a spectacular geyser, cold arc of water gushing and glorious, unbound and unyielding to that former node.

And as this was broken, so I learned.

This was far less injurious to both my pride and forehead, so the endeavor of sprinkler head replacement came with far less shame, far more digging, much more dirt.

I’ve come to similar learnings in autism.

I’ve surveyed the things I found broken.


Relating to others.


Social graces.

Saying “the right thing.”


Sensory overload.

Devotion to routines.


It has been a year of learning.

This summer, after the rains abated, it was time.

I learned more about my sprinkler valve assembly. I’d learned to keep my bell from being rung. With a harsh whishhh, the vacuum breaker held.

And again, malady. My backyard sprinklers defied my clocks orders and sprayed without beckoning.

As more things were broken, so I learned.

My wife insisted I do a very unorthodox thing and read the manual. After sitting on that for days, I relented. And so I learned. I learned about resetting my sprinkler clock. I learned about how to adjust and test my valves manually.

Once my system ran, I noticed an errant head midday, laid shattered upon the dry grass.

Something must have broken.

But using what I’d learned, I’d made a key discovery. It wasn’t MY sprinkler head that broke this time. Sorry neighbor – this was yours.

Things weren’t broken, so I learned.

I discovered the same exact thing in my autism this past year.

Things break.

But I am not broken, so I have learned.

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