A Sense of Humor Goes a Long Way

I am a substitute teacher’s assistant which means I fill in when an assistant is absent for a whole host of reasons. I suspect one of those reasons might be to take a day off for tending to their stressed-out nerves. One of many advantages of being a part-time substitute is I can take a few days off between assignments to avoid nervous breakdown country.

This job has given me an appreciation for school staffs. I didn’t give my own teachers enough credit for putting up with me and my peers back in the 60 and 70s.

One of my assignments that I have added to my “war stories chest” was about a male student who was “all hands”.  This was his most used body part!  While trying to doing a one-on-one assignment with him, he kept putting his hands on my face, neck, and once attempted to go further south.  This wasn’t a surprise since I had been in his class a few months back.  That time he repeatedly touched me in my privates.  I wasn’t upset with him since he’s only 5-years-old.  If he were older, well, now that would be an entirely different story. HA! 

I escorted him to gym class with another student who was one of the two girls in the class.  The rest were all boys.  I didn’t have to watch the girl and it’s a good thing she didn’t need as much watching because the boy couldn’t be left alone.  He would chase after other kids to get his hands on one.  It didn’t help that some kids would come up to him knowing full well he would chase after them. 

One of my better assignments was an afternoon subbing for a kindergarten aide.  I seldom EVER do kinder, but I thought I could manage a half-day.  I was surprised when this assignment was a four star one.  The reason had everything to do with my “Billy” (autism).  Billy isn’t entirely a thorn in my side. 

On the bright side, I credit Billy with my attention to detail, my craze with organizing things, putting things in order alphabetically, numerically, or some other system.  Well, in this assignment, I went from each of the kinder classes and did whatever the teacher needed.  In all cases, it was to work on paperwork such as stuffing kids’ folders.  Such work is right up Billy’s alley!

Not that I had to, but I finished the folders with putting them in numerical order knowing that they wouldn’t be kept that way.  But as long as they were under my control, they would be in ORDER!  I was on cloud nine doing this kind of work that other folks find BORING!  It is when I have to do heavy-duty social interacting with the kids that will wear me out … especially KINDER with 20-something of ’em per class.

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Oh ye of little faith

On a Martin Luther Kings holiday, I came across one of King’s quotes. This one I unpacked in my memory bank since there are times when I’m running low on faith. These words are good for filling up with some “faith” fuel:

FAITH IS TAKING A STEP WITHOUT SEEING THE ENTIRE STAIRCASE.

This short quote is an easy one to remember. I wish I could say that it was as easy to live this quote. I’m fairly good at it when things are going smooth-like. Moments when I’ve got a good spring in my step or I’m residing at the moment on cloud nine. But I confess I have plenty of room for improvement at living the King quote when anxious thoughts of what’s on my plate are popping up in my mind.

Jesus’s disciples had their own struggles with faith even though they were in the company of Jesus. In Matthew 8:26, Jesus tells his disciples,
And he saith unto them, Why are ye fearful, O ye of little faith? Then he arose, and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a great calm.”

This occurred during a storm when the water was so high that it was coming into their boat. I can’t blame the disciples for being terrified even though they had Jesus with them. I’ve been through “life” storms like everybody else. Despite my having a flood of memories of storms the Lord didn’t let me drown, my faith isn’t always at full strength when a storm comes through.

I relate to the disciples. It isn’t easy for me to take my eyes off on what turbulence I see and keep my eyes on the One I can’t see. Life affords me plenty of practice though. There always seem to be a storm brewing somewhere.

Growing Up on the Spectrum

She’s the only girl in her Autism Special Education class.  She’s in 4th grade as of this writing.  I’ve worked as a substitute teacher’s aide in classes she’s attended since she was in pre-school.  I’ve met all her teachers and without exception they have described her as being very smart.  I could see that myself from watching her do class assignments.  She was more often than not the student who knew the answer to the teacher’s question before anyone else. 
I thought some years back that she had the potential to be one of the ones who would transfer to general education classes.  Well, the transfer isn’t complete at this writing but she is spending some of her school day in general ed.  Her teacher is hopeful it will increase to full-time.  She is book-smart, but her behavior and social skills needs a bit more work.  
I empathize with this student as I do others in her class.  One doesn’t outgrow Autism.  I’m 60 and my social skills could still use some work.  Such as I enjoy being a substitute aide but such things as deciphering teacher’s verbal instructions is a constant challenge for me.  
It is a common Autism trait to be “brutally honest”.  This 4th grader  definitely has this trait.  Or, you could say that tact is not her thing. Maybe she will learn it as she gets older and maybe not.
 
For instance, on one occasion, the other aide and I were sitting at the table with her.   She told the aide whom I guessing is in her 40’s, “You are a little old.”  Then, she looked at me and said, “You are…”.  I interrupted her with wave of hand.  I knew what was coming and stopped her in mid-drift from saying “very” old.  That’s the one time I caught her.  In other words, most times I didn’t dodge her brutally honest bullet.
Kids, you gotta love ’em, whether they are growing on the Spectrum or not.

Growing Up on the Spectrum

It is an asset when you are on the Autism Spectrum to have a connection with a fellow traveler on the Spectrum. Whether in person, e-mail, texting, or social media, it can help to have someone in your life who is facing similar challenges. I’m fortunate to have several because of my job as a substitute teacher’s aide in elementary schools. One of the areas most needed for substitute’s are Autism classes. I have been subbing for five years and I literally have watched my fellow younger travelers grow up from as far back as pre-school to 6th grade.

I recently saw one of those students I’ve watched grow up for the last four years. He is at this writing in the fourth grade. In two more years, he’ll be starting a new chapter in his life journey: middle school. Since I don’t sub in middle school, I’ll not see him grow up past 5th grade.

He already faced going to a new school because he was moved from one school’s autism unit to another. At the time I saw him, I was subbing for a physical education aide in his new school. It was news to me that he had been transferred. It was a pleasant surprise! He had always been in his class at a higher level than the other students. Academically he was head of the class, but his social skills needed some work. I empathized with his difficulty in just asking the teacher or aide a question or asking for help. I had that problem at his age and I still have that problem still and I’m 60! I was astonished to see how much he had improved in interacting with both adults and the other students. He recognized me and with just a tad of urging from the aide, he said hello and my name which he remembered on his own.

He was more active in P.E. class than he was at his old school.  I observed him talking more to other students. I write this blog because it isn’t often I can write about a story first hand of a student with autism show tremendous improvement after having not seen them in a good while.  But when it happens, it makes all the effort to help those growing up on Spectrum worthwhile.

He is special to me because he reminds me of ME!  Such as in the dining department. I relate to him still eating the same lunch that he ate four years ago.  The aide asked me, “Did he eat just toast and bacon the side back at his old school?” I nodded and laughed! Yes, that him all right! He eats it the same way in the same sequence (first the bacon, then the toast).  When he was asked by the aide what he had for Christmas, it was the same old thing, toast and bacon.  I have the same meals, same time, with little change every day.  My main entree for dinner will be different, but everything else is the same and I eat it all in the same order.  I even cut things, like pizza, a certain way.  Otherwise, I won’t eat it. 

His favorite on the playground is a swing and that was mine too.  He is obsessed with a soap opera “Bold and the Beautiful.  I was a soap opera addict at his age too. I had more soaps to watch since such there was more “soap” to watch back in the 60s and 70s. 

Also, the teacher’s aide says he is so smart and well, we have that in common too.  HA!

In the Eyes of a Child

When the usual family members come for Sunday dinner, I hide out in my room playing with one of my adult toys like a computer, laptop, or one of my robots to name a few. My grandniece and nephew leave the dinner table first and dart to MY room. I could say it is because they want so badly to see me, but truth is, it’s the objects of my autistic passions (electronic gadgetry) that draw them to their Aunt’s room. Oh, and they adore me too.

On a Sunday, my 9-year-old grandniece had a curious look on her face when she looked at what was residing in my closet. “You have a pantry in there?” Well, that’s true. A microwave and small oven with food items above on the shelf would qualify as being such. Isn’t that what a kitchen is for? The kitchen is my Mom’s territory. I eat in the bedroom and my meals are completely and totally a solo affair. It’s just easier to cook my meals in my own room.

What really had my grandniece curious than just a food pantry in a bedroom closet was why I just had boxes of cereal and oodles of sodas. I told her I had Autism. She didn’t know what that was and I figured as much. I told her when she learned what the word meant, then she’d understand why her Aunt Sashi was that way she was.

This is another bright side to my Autism. If I was a neurotypical, I dare say it would not be my room that my grandniece and nephew darted off to on Sunday afternoons.

What happens if you keep an Aspie from following his special interests?

I answered this question that someone asked on a website.  The question brought all sorts of words to mind.  Some I wouldn’t repeat. I settled on:

WARNING – be prepared for WWIII!

If someone tried to keep me from my special interest, for instance, my electric scooters, it would be, more or less, the equivalent of taking a pacifier from an infant, a favorite toy from a child, a cell phone from an outgoing teenager, and the remote control from a couch potato.  There would be trouble with a capital “T” if my scooters were off-limits.  The products of my electronic gadget obsession fill my bedroom. If I wasn’t allowed to shop at Best Buy to add to my collection, my moaning could be heard in the hinterlands.

It is my special interests that are the bright side of living on the Autism Spectrum (AS).  I call it compensation for AS’s dark side.  If there was a bottle of pills that would take AS away, I would not take them if I had to give up my compensation.  I’d give my bottle to those who have AS who are unable to live independently and take care of themselves.

There is an exception.  If one is pursuing a special interest and it is a threat to themselves or others, then intervention is a must!  For example, I gradually increased my exercising from 6000 to 30,000 steps.  This occurred after I bought a Samsung Gear watch that counted my steps.  Walking became another obsession and I went overboard.  How much?  My doctor told me to reduce my exercise because I was losing too much weight.  I agreed to rack it down to 8 to 10,000.  Most days I stick to that.  Most days, that is.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Tire on the Rocks

The attached picture was my once-beautiful car I had bought only six months earlier than the date this picture was taken. As President Trump often adds to the end of his tweets, “It’s sad”!

This incident is one example, among many, of how I, living on the Spectrum, handles an anxiety hair-raising emergency of my own making.

This happened while I was dogsitting for my brother and sister-in-law.  They moved to their retirement home which is located in a remote area out in the country. It may not be remote to them, but it is to me who has resided in suburbia all my life.  Now I drove all the way from the big city on a major freeway, a major expressway, and an interstate highway, for three and half hours without a hitch.  The same driving back. But my driving score dropped a few notches while attempting to cross my brother and sister-in-law’s backyard. I stumbled with my steering wheel and one of my car’s front shoes landed over the rocks.

I turned over some of the rocks that encircled around a patch of dirt. It used to hold a garden until my sister-in-law gave up since not much grew and what did died.

Did I immediately call for help? I dare say all those people I know, family and friend and acquaintance, would have been on their phone immediately calling their closest kin or neighbor or anyone who might come to their rescue. Not me! I don’t ask for help until it is a LAST resort! I didn’t want anybody to know. At least, not until I got my car off the rocks.

I racked my brain of what I could do to put my car’s tire back on firm ground. I won’t go into all the things I tried because some of my attempts would be downright embarrassing.

Finally, I called my brother since I couldn’t think of anything else and I was truly exhausted. I was resigned that I couldn’t get myself out of this one. My brother suggested a few more things that didn’t work. I asked him if he and my sister-in-law had any friends since they have many more of them than I do. Compared to them, I live in solitary confinement. HA! He called his pastor who promised to come over the next morning.

After calling my brother, I called my Mom and told her my stuck over the rocks predicament. She hollered, “WHAT???” I don’t get into ordinary jams. I often feel like my “oops!” episodes resemble “I Love Lucy” episodes.

Unknown to me, she immediately called her baby brother, my Uncle, who lived about an hour away from my brother. He’s more like a big brother to me since he and I are 5 years apart. When he got out of his car, he could NOT contain his laughter while my Aunt did, at least, in my presence.  HA!

As my Uncle was coming up with a “free-Pree” (Prius) plan, he asked me where my brother’s septic tank was.  He didn’t want to run over it.  I answered truthfully and loudly, “How in the world would I know?”  I wouldn’t know a septic tank if it bit me. I wasn’t raised where cows roam and hens lay eggs.

It took a backhoe, my Uncle’s big pick-up truck, my Aunt assisting with signal maneuvers, two long silver planks, and a chain to free Pree from off the rocks.  My Uncle did need my assistance which considerably raised my anxiety because he was giving me verbal instructions. This is not something I do well. He said things like “Steer to the right just a tad”, well, just what is a tad? I just watched his facial expression knowing that would show if I steered his version of a tad or went over or under one.


Pree’s shoe that took the hit had a bulge in it.  I’m glad my Uncle pointed it out because I would have been clueless about it. I know a lot about electric gadgets, such as computers, because that’s my passion. Auto mechanics is not! If he hadn’t told me the tire was sour, I probably would have needed rescuing again on the side of a road with a blown-out tire. I got it replaced easy enough at a tire place that knows my Uncle really well. All’s well that ends well.

My Uncle told me afterwards he had taken the damaging pictures and already e-mailed them to my Mom. I wasn’t surprised he did that since one of his joys in life is to tease the person who made him an Uncle for the first time. At least, my Mom only showed them to my other brother. My Uncle doesn’t do Facebook or Instagram and so I didn’t have to worry about these photos going out to the hinterlands.

I had taken pictures and texted them to my brother since he needed to see what was going on at the time. Although my brother does do social media, he promised not to post them for all to see. After all, a dog sitter for a home way out in the middle of nowhere is hard to come by.

Just Wondering

Back in my youth, long before I learned I was living on the Spectrum, I would have that familiar feeling of an “alien being” when I saw:

People…

…hanging out with their friends

…going to prom.

…going out with their friends to party.

…sitting, talking, laughing with their friends.

Although I occasionally did such things, except for the prom, I wondered what it‘s like to enjoy such things. After five decades, I still don’t have a clue.

Looking Out The Window

If I could take a single snapshot of myself as a child, it would be of me as a little girl looking out the window watching the children play.  A child wishing to join in, but too afraid to step outside and ask “can I play?” Maybe if she had asked, they would have let her join in the circle.  But repeatedly being a victim of bullying, she didn’t dare risk rejection. She maintained her distance on the sidelines where she felt safe.


She compensated the loneliness with retreating into a world of make-believe where she could be anybody she wanted to be.  She made up a cast of characters who let her join their circle. In this world, she got to take part and play the starring role. The little girl knew it was a world of her own imagination.  And when she invariably got caught acting strange, pacing back and forth, talking to herself, she’d bear the brunt of the heckling.  No matter the fingerpointing, she’d retreat to that imaginary world where she was somebody.


I am on the autism spectrum and was only self-diagnosed two years ago at the age of 58. My diagnosis was a gift I shall treasure for the rest of my days.  I know now what’s behind how I think, feel, and act. Before the diagnosis, it was like walking in pitch black darkness. The diagnosis was the light bulb.   

It was largely through working as a substitute teaching assistant that I came to the realization of being autistic.  Sometimes I would cross paths with a child who reminded me of the little girl looking out the window.

One of those times occurred in an elementary school gym while subbing for a P.E. aide.  I was watching the children play in stations, each section being a different game. I noticed a third-grade boy who was  standing next to me. I asked him why wasn’t he at one of the stations and he shrugged his shoulders. I asked him, “How about basketball or tether ball, or jump rope, or hula-hoop?”  He nodded “no” at all my suggestions. I asked him what he liked to do. He said, “EAT!” I could not keep a straight face.


This youngster was tugging at my heart strings.  I knew what it was to just watch the other kids play.  Instead of pushing him to shoot baskets or jump rope, I asked him if he’d like to take a walk with me.  He agreed to that.
As we went for our walk around the other kids playing, I asked him questions such as what he was wishing for Christmas. He said, “Food!” This boy had more “food” on his brain than inside his tummy. I asked him what his favorite food was and he said “hamburger” and what hamburger place he liked best and he said “Mom’s”. I assumed he meant Mom’s homemade hamburgers were better than at any restaurant.


He pulled out his Mom’s business card with a beaming smile on his face. He was so PROUD of his Mom and it seemed to be of such comfort to him to have the card with her phone number in case he needed to call her. He let me see the card and it was a hamburger restaurant. That explained why his Mom’s hamburgers were the best and his favorite food.   


He told me he had one sibling, an 18 year old sister, who works with Mom at the restaurant. Since there’s a big difference in ages, perhaps he’s not used to playing with kids his own age. He feels more comfortable with adults than other kids and I was that way when I was his age. Now I prefer hanging out with children more than I do adults.


I believe the Lord has blessed me with both my diagnosis and a job that helps me cope with that diagnosis.  It was no burden at all to let that child know that he wasn’t invisible to me. I gave him a little bit of time and attention that I wished someone had given me when I was that little girl looking out the window. The past can’t be changed or relived. But my job gives me numerous opportunities to help young ones who struggle with what I struggled with and still do.


In an autistic unit, the other day, I hugged a child who was having a bad day.  I whispered to myself, “I know. I’m on the spectrum too.”

Some Obsessions Come and Go, Some Don’t

A question was asked on a website:  Is it possible for someone with Asperger’s to replace an obsession with another one?  I took a shot at the answer since I have Asperger Syndrome (AS) and I know first hand about having obsessions.  Some of mine have come and gone, but a few remain!

According to the DSM-IV diagnostic criteria for AS, having an “encompassing preoccupation with one or more stereotyped and restricted patterns of interest that is abnormal either in intensity or focus” is a core symptom of AS.

That’s a mouthful! In plain English, this criteria is having unusually strong interests/obsessions. Personally, they can sometimes be overwhelming, annoying, and fascinating.

I remember on my job as a substitute teacher’s aide working with a student with AS who was obsessed with monsters. During choice play time, he would bypass the games and I-pads for the crayons and paper to draw pictures of his favorite movie monsters.  If there was a movie coming out featuring a monster, along with a superhero, he would tell me all about it. I’d listen knowing my attention was important to him, but I admit I didn’t follow his every word.

Many people have special interests.  That’s nothing unusual about someone who is not on the spectrum having an obsession.  What makes it a “special interest” in the autism criteria is the focus and intensity. When it affects every aspect of one’s life or is sought after with strong intensity to the exclusion of everything else, it is considered a “special interest”.

An obsession I long ago gave up but had when I was growing up was soap operas. I spent most of my winter, spring, and summer school breaks in soap opera land consuming hours of soap on my couch potato.

Overall I think most of us view them as a positive thing. An obsession I’ve had for decades and still have is with electronic gadgets, such as computers, tablets, voice-activated assistants, smartphones/watches, and virtual reality glasses. Shopping for and getting absorbed in my gadgets recharges my batteries. If I feel one of those awful meltdowns is coming on, sometimes spending quality time with one or more of my gadgets will help me avert one. Sometimes, that is.

Not all Autistic people have special interests but I think many do. Some people have one special interest while others have multiple. Some people have the same special interest(s) throughout their entire life while some people’s change over time.

While most special interests are “harmless,” if an interest involves behavior that is illegal, taboo or a threat to your or someone else’s health or well-being, it may be necessary to seek help in redirecting one’s attention to a safer alternative.

Image result for smart watch exercise

I have to curve one down for the sake of my health. My obsession with exercise began when I added to my gadget collection a Samsung Gear smartwatch that counts my steps among other things. Once I got into the routine of counting every step I take, I overdid it! Only by 30,000 steps per day. I take my doctor’s word for it that I’m the only patient in his many years of practice that he had to tell a patient to “cut down on the exercise”.  This counting-my-steps obsession is gone. I’m down to 10,000.