Keep off the Grass!

It was a gorgeous day and the coach decided to take all the classes outside for P.E. class.  I was the coach’s sidekick for the afternoon since the regular assistant had the day off.  The coach told the students they could NOT play on the grass.  It had rained hard the night before and the ground was still muddy.  She emphatically repeated her instruction to “keep off the grass!”

She had me take a couple of the classes out and stayed behind with some students.  No sooner had we arrived at the play area that some kids were in violation of the grass rule.  I yelled for them to get off the grass and they obliged.  I would continue repeating “keep off the grass” since one student after another opted for the grass instead of the sidewalk.

The coach and the rest of the kids joined us.  I welcomed having the coach to help me enforce the grass rule.  But I was disheartened instead.  The kids walking out with the coach sidestepped the sidewalk too.  I didn’t say a word!  Why?  Because the coach violated her own “Keep off the Grass” rule.

I thought of raising my hands in the air and yelling, “I give!”  Just a thought in my head.  I didn’t act it out.  HA!

I think this was another case of my taking instructions LITERALLY!  Shortly thereafter, a basketball went down the hill to where water was still standing on the grass.  The coach only allowed one to go down and rescue the ball and she told the others who were aiming to head down the hill to stay back.  Maybe the coach’s “keep off the grass” was keep off the grass where it was muddy.  That’s just a guess, though.

Org Enough!

It was mid-March and that meant Spring break for all the school kids and staff.  Since substitutes aides weren’t needed, I was on break too for a week.  I had a heap more idle time and that can be a problem for someone living on the spectrum.  It threw off my routine, no fit schedule, and sitting idle is so hard to do.

Part of my strategic plan to fill up my idle time was tennis dates with just me, my racket and ball against the practice wall on a college campus.  I’d walk some laps too.  These “solo” activities satisfied my craving for “alone” time but I had to come up with other tasks since I could only hit the wall for so long.  I like tennis but not hours worth.

What else I found to do borders on obsession but oh, well.  It was organizing my stuff and I went overboard again.

I bought a few space saving items at the “Everything is a $1.00” store.  Some of those items I bought, well, I’d go back to the store to get another one or something similar.  Thus, I ended up with more space saving items than I had to fill them with.  That’s my autism talking.  If I like something, no matter what it is, I’ll go overboard with it.  For instance, the store also sells eight packs of pretzels in one bag.  I  bought six bags before the end of Spring break when two would have sufficed.

After having one too many space saving items, I was willing to call it a day on my “org” activities.  I missed organizing because I find it a calming activity.  I wanted to “org” someone else’s stuff but no one in the house took my bait.

If memory serves me right, I “org” my room’s furniture and stuff half a dozen times before I was satisfied.  I don’t think I could re-construct my room’s stuff back to what it was before I came down with the “org” bug.  My stuff should be “org” enough until at least maybe come summer vacation in June.



My 6000 Step Obsession

An obsession I have had for well over a decade is my collection of electronic devices.  I call them my toys and my toy store is Best Buy.  If most people shared this obsession, Best Buy profits would hit the roof.  Unlike Sears or JCPenny, they’d be opening stores instead of closing some store shutters.

When Uncle Sam’s tax refund recently arrived, I had an excuse to go to my toy store and buy what I had my eyes on and researched for weeks on the web: the Samsung GS-3 smart watch.  I was so excited when I brought it home!  Since it was a watch, this was one gadget I could keep with me around the clock.  I’m not a kid at heart.  No, I’m an “overboard” kid at heart.

The application (app) that perhaps is one of the most popular is the health one.  It displays a daily record of the steps I take.  I didn’t ask it to but it set a goal of 6000 steps per day. When I bought it, I didn’t think the number of steps I took each day would matter to me at all.  I forgot to consider the effect it might have on my constant companion – autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Since it is hard for me to sit still, another common ASD trait, I don’t struggle as much as perhaps other people in meeting that goal.  If during the week I am working a school P.E. substitute assignment, I don’t have to worry about hitting 6000.  But if it is more of a sit-down assignment of watching and working with youngsters in the classroom, I’ll have to step up to the plate before or after school to make up for lost time.

My “smart watch” is sometimes too smart for my liking.  If I have been sitting for an hour or so, it will vibrate displaying a message: “NEED TO MOVE” with a shoe icon underneath.  I may be at a place and time where I can’t do that, but if I can without breaking any social rules, I better get off my rear or my ASD guilt complex will kick in.

This isn’t a bad obsession as far as I can tell.  Exercise is good for my body and mind.  It is one of my best ways of avoiding or coping with ASD meltdowns.  It’s a rare day so far that my watch does not vibrate displaying the rewarding message of 6000 steps reached. The positive feedback from my know-it-all watch motivates me to step up to the challenge of 6000+.

It has been a couple of weeks since my GS-3 has been tied to my wrist (except when I have to give it juice for recharging).  I am going overboard but nothing new about my tendency to do that. I am jogging in place after I get up in the morning which is something I didn’t even think of doing pre-GS-3.  I even run in place while I’m waiting for the microwave to go off.  I now rack up around 13,000 steps per day.

I don’t dare change the default from 6000.  If I double that in a day’s time, that’s great.   But my motivation of reaching at least 6000 isn’t just desire or exercise.  My ASD won’t give me a break unless I walk 6000 steps by bedtime!  HA!


Putting the Books Back in Their Place

About a dozen years of my time spent in the workforce was at a library in one of the government agencies in the nation’s capital.  Now I didn’t move halfway across the country to work for Uncle Sam in a library.  That wasn’t the plan but it was okay.  Some of my best life experiences were those that weren’t planned.

I joined the library around 7 years after my arrival in the agency.  My first library job was a junior catalog officer.  I took to cataloging books like a duck to water.  The senior catalog officer who taught me the art of cataloging gave me the finest compliment, “You are a natural born cataloger.”  Since the compliment was from my trainer, she would know of all people.  If I could speak to her now, I would tell her why it was natural.  In one word, “autism”.  I had the common autistic trait of being detail-oriented.  I was oblivious to the big picture but saw so clearly the little details.

One job that isn’t popular among library staff is shelving books.  Much of library work has been affected by technology.  One can argue for the better or worse.  But back in my library days, shelving was still done the old-fashioned way.   There are libraries where the entire collection is available on-line only.  But if there are actual books and shelves to put them on, old-fashioned manual shelving is probably required.

I won’t say I was thrilled to shelve, but I didn’t mind it much.  I found it relaxing in an odd sort of way.  Shelving books gave me a break from cataloging them.  I possess the natural tendency to want to put things in numerical order.  An attraction to numbers, after all, is a common autism trait.  If I saw a book out of place, I usually put it back in its correct address.  As the cataloger, I was probably the one who assigned it its address. I didn’t know it then, but I know now, it was an “autie” thing of wanting to put books back in their place.

I may be biased, but I think a person on the autism spectrum makes an ideal caretaker of a library’s catalog.





Out of the Mouths of Babes

I had the privilege of spending time with first graders while subbing as their P.E. coach’s sidekick.  They were a good group and I wish I could have been with them longer.  I couldn’t say that about the 3-6th grades.  HA!

It is a good thing I have gotten over my “age sensitivity” when it comes to what comes out of children’s mouths.  The first graders had a different perspective than mine of what “old” is.  I have no doubt I had the same perspective when I was their age.  Just like I did, they’ll change their perspective when they get older.  If memory serves me right, my perspective changed around the time when I started saying to folks I had reached middle age and no one blinked.

I was exercising with the 1st graders doing jumping jacks, jogging in place, etc.  One of them said to me, “I didn’t know Grandmas could walk fast.”  Instead of informing him that I wasn’t anybody’s grandma, I just told him a fact of life:  Grandmas can walk fast!  I have been an eyewitness such as way back when my Grandma chased after me when I was on the loose.

When we took the 1st graders outside to walk laps around the field, one of them asked me how old I was and I told him “30”.  He didn’t fall for it.  He told me his father is 42 and I sure looked older than his Dad.  I finally confessed my age of 58 and he said, “You are old!”  I wonder what he would think if he met my Aunt who is 88.  Ancient, I guess.

This child did not leave my side as we walked outside with his class.  I didn’t know at the time he and I had something in common:  autism.  I wasn’t surprised, though, because he showed some familiar traits.  He preferred spending time with me, the adult, rather than kids his own age.  I was the same way at his age.  If I could find an adult who would give me the time of day, I’d stick to them like glue.

In the course of thirty minutes, I got a synopsis of his life story.  He would be seven come June 6th.  He had an older brother whose height he described as being almost as high as the ceiling.  I learned he was afraid of lightning and mosquitoes.  He repeated that multiple times.  He’d jump whenever he saw a mosquito.  Well, either it was his imagination or my eyesight because I didn’t see one flying around.

I don’t know if he’ll remember our walk together.  I doubt it, but then again, I have childhood memories of folks who probably thought I’d have no memory of them.  I do know I’ll not soon forget the boy who feared a lightning strike and a mosquito bite.






Growing Up on the Spectrum

It was sixth grade’s turn to do the fitness tests of curl-ups and push-ups.  I was subbing for the coach’s sidekick and monitoring the students who were waiting for their turn to curl and push.  It would have been impossible for me not to notice the skinny boy with long brown hair that hung down past his eyes.  He would every few minutes shake his head and then carefully go over his hair with his hand.  I was impressed with his performance of doing more curls and pushes than most of his peers.  I wondered if he was perhaps only shy or if he was somewhere on the spectrum too.

The kindergarten class was excited when the coach told them they would be going outside for P.E.  Not so much when they were told they would be walking laps around the cones on the field.  I walked with them thinking if they saw an “old” person do it, then surely they could do it too.  A “kinder” who is on the spectrum chose not to walk with the others but chose me instead.  Her talking up a storm relieved me of having to talk much.  I was briefed on her life story.  She lived with grandma during the week and with her parents only on weekends.  I asked if she liked living with grandma and she shook her head no.  She didn’t like the arrangement.  As she put it, it was “sad”.

The tax man cometh.  He had finished the paperwork and called Mom saying he’d be right over for her to sign so he could then file her taxes.  Her 58-year-old daughter made the excuse of going to her favorite store to do some window shopping.  She didn’t want to go through meeting a new person and do the introductions.  I’m still growing up on the spectrum.

A Game of Patience

At a time in my life when I was experiencing a long spell of stormy weather, I saw a sign on someone’s office wall that said: “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass.  It’s about learning how to dance in the rain”.  Those words were an ointment for my troubled heart.  If one waits until the storm passes, they may be waiting most of their entire life.

For me, time spent playing in the backyard with my grandniece and nephew was a rain dance.   A walk in the park, or shopping at my favorite store, or a day trip to some new place was a dance in the rain.  The rain dance doesn’t make the storm disappear or make it any shorter, but it sure helps to weather through one.

A storm can be a long one filled with days of waiting.  It may seem nothing is being done, but one can’t see what the Lord sees.  It’s a matter of faith to leave the storm in the Lord’s hands, seek and follow his guidance, and in the meantime, dance in the rain.  It may be our job to sit still even though that’s the last thing we want to do.  It helps to remember that in most of the storms in our lives, there’s more than just us in the picture.  It may be someone else’s turn to go out on a limb and our job to sit still and wait.

Have you ever gone to a baseball game where all the players on both sides were on the field at the same time?  If you did, they weren’t playing baseball.  Only one team is playing in the outfield while the other team is sitting in the dugout.  Have you ever seen all the players on one team up at bat at the same time?  Hopefully not!  There’s just one player who is batting and those waiting for their turn in the dugout.  Perhaps baseball is one sport that’s good for learning patience because “waiting” is a requirement.

It takes faith to weather the storm by dancing in the rain.  It takes faith to sit still and wait upon the Lord.  It takes faith to take one’s turn up to bat.  It may be taking an action that will rock your world, changing every aspect of your life.   Or, it may be a simple task such as visiting a neighbor whom God knows needs someone that day to talk to.  God may pick me to be that someone.  It’s up to me leave the dugout and go to bat for my neighbor who some day may be at my door when I am needing a listening ear.




Twenty-Something Pairs of Lungs

An autistic trait that gets me in hot water sometimes is difficulty with verbal instruction.  I think I would do better with a full page of step-by-step written instructions than a half minute of verbal.  Insert a diagram and I’m set to go!

Once upon a time, I was assigned to four kindergarten “kinder” classes.  I had a schedule where I spent some time in each class doing whatever the teacher needed help with.  One of the first things that morning was walking with one of the kinder teachers to another room in the building to pick up crayons.  She was explaining why I would need them for later.  I later learned my interpretation of that conversation was, in a word, OFF!

We stopped by a room that she said later would be where the kids would have art.  I assumed this was the art room and the teacher in the room she introduced me to was the art teacher. The kinder teacher told me the kids would have art in the afternoon and I would go with them and take the crayons with me.  I didn’t think at the time it was strange carrying crayons back to the class.  Why not leave them in the art room with the art teacher?

Well, art time came and I was escorting one of the kinder classes down to the room.  The problem was I forgot about the crayons until I was halfway down the hallway.  Common sense would have dictated my telling the teacher I had to go back and get the crayons.  But back when they handed out common sense, I must have been hiding under the bed.  HA!

My thinking was once the kids were settled in the art room, I would go back and pick up the crayons.  Well, that plan would have worked if there had been an art teacher.  The teacher I saw earlier that morning was NOT the art teacher.

That morning’s conversation with the kinder teacher was replaying in my head and I misinterpreted a few things.  The reason the teacher and I picked up the crayons was because the art teacher was absent that day.  We were not in the art room but occupying one of the general ed 6th grade rooms and it was their teacher who I met that morning.

For all intents and purposes, I was the art teacher!  And, I had 20-something kinder students with a picture for them to color with NO crayons.

Common sense would have dictated I use something called a “telephone” to call the kinder teacher or the office for HELP!  It didn’t occur to me to call until after the end of this unforgettable school day.

Instead, I asked the kinders if anyone knew where “Mrs….” room was since it wasn’t their teacher who had the crayons in her room.  I learned a lesson the hard way.  Don’t ask such a question to 5-year-olds.  Everyone volunteered by raising their hands and their voices with it.  Sheer pandemonium!

I was rescued by the teacher across the hallway who had an ample supply of crayons.  She brought them over and while there, used her “experienced” teaching voice to quieten the kinders down several notches.  Meanwhile, I wouldn’t have blamed her if she wondered what planet I came from.

We all learn some things the hard way.  I learned if I find myself in a jam in a classroom alone with students of whatever age, don’t forget there is such a thing as a telephone to call for HELP!  And, only under exceptional circumstances should I ask for volunteers in a kinder classroom.  This wonderful age group is not my top pick assignment since most kinder classes have 20 or so kids to a class and that’s 20-something pairs of lungs testing my low level of noise tolerance.






Sweet and Sly

It is called Preschool Program for Children with Disabilities (PPCD).  Its goal is to provide early intervention and better prepare children age 3 to 5 for school.  On my job as a substitute teacher’s aide, I sometimes spend a day in a PPCD class and afterward, I go home to recuperate.  HA!

It was an exhausting day with half a dozen PPCD’ers.  I did battle with a four-year-old girl, small for her age, who did not lack in sheer stubbornness.  We did battle over her chair.  I wanted her to sit in it; she didn’t.   Her strategy was to straighten up her legs, refusing to bend at the knees.  She put up a good fight, I’ll give her that.

Her counterpart was a boy who has a certain strategic way of stopping an adult who is standing in the way of what he wants.  Although I got a sore foot when he stood on it, he didn’t get to play with the Ipad.

Another child was doing great at playing with blocks until he came down with a case of boredom.  He attempted to duck out of the workstation and I caught him.  He took advantage of my sitting in a grown-up chair with rollers.  While trying to keep him from running off, he used his legs to scoot us both going in reverse across the room.  The teacher intervened and with two against one, he went back to the blocks.

Now there was an older girl in the class who seldom said a word.  Sometimes she was wearing a slight frown or a slight smile.  When in the play area, she sometimes preferred my lap to sit on than the floor.  It was okay with me.  It beat her stepping on my foot.  What I remember most about her is she liked to give back massages.  After the battles with her classmates, I was utterly delighted that she gave me one.  I hated telling her to go back to a workstation because she gave a terrific massage.




Jump, Dribble, or Hit the Wall

All the schools in my area had a “heart” fund drive during last February that included heart health awareness and jump roping.  The kids solicited dollar bills from kin and neighbors to raise money to help those whose hearts are not healthy.  As for what jump roping has to do with heart awareness, well, when I jump rope, my heart does pick up its beat!

It was news to me that jump roping isn’t just a kid’s game.  It is a sport!  I was subbing for a P.E. aide on that day each class was shown a video of an Olympian jump roper who did rope tricks at lightning speed.  The coach demonstrated how to correctly jump rope and the students attempted to imitate her demonstration.  Instead of just monitoring the students, I took a rope and joined them.  Since I had not jumped rope since my elementary school days, my hips got quite a jolt.  I was happy I managed not to trip and fall over the rope.

I have read on more than one autism website that individual sports such as running or swimming are ideal for those living on the spectrum.  That wasn’t news to me.  I don’t run or jog, but I do walk in a park by myself sometimes.  Since I often sub in gym classes, I have more opportunity to jump a rope or dribble a basketball.  I am best at doing “solo” activities, whether it be taking a whirl with a hula hoop or writing a blog.

I’d just rather compete against myself rather than another human being(s).  In my leisure time, I’ll go on a date with my tennis racket and ball to play against a practice wall.  The wall always wins, but I get exercise.  Sometimes I receive mental therapy by imagining that whatever is irritating me is the wall.  When I do that, my ball and racket get a hard workout too.  HA!

When I was in the gym one day, a couple of aides and students were at one basketball hoop playing together.  I was shooting baskets, too, but at a nearby hoop by myself.  I wasn’t entirely alone.  I had some social interaction.  The youngest student, kindergarten age, was in my shadow dribbling the ball to her own delight.  She is a little one living on the autism spectrum too.  We were content doing our own thing – she dribbling the ball and I aiming for the hoop.