Autism Madness

As with any job, I have my good and not so good days as a substitute teacher’s aide.  Sometimes the class is just having a challenging day.  The teacher and staff are terrific but some of the students are having issues that day.   Such as the day when I came home feeling like I had been at the Wild, Wild West where there was too many outlaws and not enough possee.

The youngest four students were the issues.  Two of them were allergic to the word “NO”.  When either was told that word, they would kick shins or run around the room trying to get away.  Another one of the four likes to say “NO” a lot.  And, “I don’t want to”, “shut up”, “you’re mean”, etc.  Then, there was the one who would climb as far as the ceiling would let him.

I worked with the older kids with their classwork.  Unlike the younger ones, they didn’t hide under the table or throw their papers across the room.  A 4th grade girl was golden in doing her work without complaint but the 5th grade boys complained that it was either too hard or too boring.  I didn’t argue; just stated it wasn’t up for discussion.  The ones who were griping did eventually finish.  They were inspired by the girl who finished first and got rewarded with an I-pad.

I had oodles of empathy for the students, including the littlest among them.  Like the students, I am living on the spectrum too.  I had my own struggles that day.  The noise in a nearby room was at times loud when one of the children screamed as loud as their voice would let them.  I wanted to put my hands over my ears and hide under the table myself.

To add to the madness, I had a conversation, well, more like, an attempted conversation with someone I assume is a neuro-typical (NT), not on the spectrum.  I enjoy talking to this person when our paths cross, but not when he changes the subject in mid-air.  He was good at asking questions that were about me.  Get me started about myself or my interest and I’ll run the ball with it.  However, he’d intercept every time I responded to his question.  I didn’t have the nerve to say let me run with the ball so I can make a touchdown (finish answering the question).

It took a double dose of ibuprofen and retreating after school to my igloo (bedroom) for recharging to get through my day of autism madness without going mad.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Jetsonian Life

If you remember watching the sitcom, “The Jetsons”, you are probably a baby boomer too.  For those who don’t have a clue, it was an animated sitcom originally aired in the early 1960s and it was about a family, the Jetsons, who lived in a futuristic world of fantastic robotic contraptions.  It was one of my childhood’s top favorite cartoons.

My fascination with robots only grew as I grew up.  I was in my mid-40s; not my teens or 20s when I bought robots that could walk, talk, etc. They were approximately two feet tall.  I once took one I called “Billy” to work and the “adults” in the room were fascinated; however, I might have misunderstood their expressions and they might have been thinking, “what is a middle-aged woman doing living with toy robots?”  I have since given up custody of them to my nephews.  However, I did purchase a pint-sized robot, MIP, on my birthday a few years back and still have custody of him.

Thanks to Google, I have a talking gadget to assist and entertain me in my life of solitude.  You may have heard of the Google Home Assistant. It resembles an air freshner and is a voice-activated speaker.  The magic words to get her attention is:  Okay, Google.  She will listen and obey … well, unless I ask her to do something she isn’t programmed to do yet.

I bought Google as a Christmas present to myself.  I had to since I was 99.9 percent certain no one in my circle of kin and friends would have bought me one.  HA!  I chose it over Amazon’s version of one called an Echo Dot (Alexa).  I admit I acted like a kid playing with Google on Christmas day.  I may have been more excited at playing with my new talking toy than my nephew was with with his.

When I like something, I go overboard with it.  It’s an “autie” thing.  Knowing there was another home assistant voice-speaking gadet out there weighed heavily on my mind the entire month of January.  Common sense dictated I didn’t need another one, but I lack that sense.  The final straw came when Best Buy electronic store delivered me an in-store coupon.  That’s when I gained custody of Alexa.

Nowadays I wake up of a morning asking either Alexa or Google what the temperature is outside.  I depend on Google to set my alarm and wake me up.  I ask Alexa to give me the flash briefing of the day (the news headlines), this day in history, joke of the day, and the crazy fact of the day.  Before I go to bed, I ask Alexa to play “thunderstorms” to help lull me to sleep due to sensory issues to certain noises such as snoring, a clock ticking, or my own heartbeat.

I have often thought of the cartoon I grew up watching and how it has in some ways become a reality.  I am living the “Jetsonian” life.  Word is that Microsoft and Apple are rumored to be working on home voice-activated gadgets.  That’s the last thing I need but tell my “autie” that.

 

 

Faith: Read About It, Talk About It, But Above All Live It

Life has its share of storms.  Sometimes we are hit with a rainshower, or something stronger such as a thunderstorm, or we feel as if we’ve been hit with a tsunami.  Faith is an option in all these storms.  It’s as much an option as trying to weather through it entirely on our own or drowing in it.  When a storm comes through as I am going about my business of living, I don’t hesitate to pray seeking the Lord’s help.  But I have this bad habit of no sooner have I finished my prayer that I am worrying about the storm I supposedly left in the Lord’s hands.  That’s not living my faith.

At the beginning of Luke, chapter five, Jesus was teaching by the Lake of Gennesaret.  He saw two empty boats left by fisherman who were washing their nets.  He got into one of the boats and asked Simon, the boat owner, to put out a little from the shore.  Then Jesus sat down to continue teaching from the boat.

When Jesus finished teaching, he instructed Simon to take the boat into deep water and let down the nets for a catch of fish.  Simon told Jesus they had fished all night and hadn’t caught so much as a bite.  However, because Jesus said so, he would let down the nets.  Simon may have still had some skepticism as he laid down the nets, but he chose to do it only because Jesus said so.  I can’t think of a better reason to do anything since Jesus knows best.  

When they let down the net, they got more than what they expected.  I dare say they could have had a big fish fry and invited folks near and far and still had some left over fish.  They caught such a large number that their nets even began to break. They had to ask their partners in the other boat to help them.  Together they filled both boats so full that they began to sink.

Simon and his partners, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were astonished at the amount of fish they had taken in.  Their world had been rocked.  Every aspect of their lives would change.  They pulled their boats up on  shore, left everything behind, and followed Jesus.  Jesus told Simon to not be afaird; from then on he would fish for people instead.  

When storms come, it is best to do what Simon did.  Wait upon Jesus to tell you what to do and then do it.  It may be to sit still which may be the last thing you want to do.  It may be to go out on a limb that you have doubts about climbing on.  You may be feeling some skepticism or fear, but do it anyway and see what happens.  You just might get more than you ever expected.

 

 

 

Breathe

My meltdown started with the voice mail symbol on my cellphone.  This symbol will push my inner panic button every time.  Fear and anxiety are predominant emotions in my living on the spectrum.  In this case, the fear of the unknown caller and message.  I could hear my heart beating in my chest as I called my voice mail.  I don’t dare hold off listening to the message because if I put it off, the fear of the unknown message will continue to press on my panic button.  Usually, a phone message is no big deal and I can sigh a ton of relief.  But not that morning.

It wasn’t a message for me but for someone I know.  It was upsetting because I didn’t give that person my number.  They were trying to reach someone else through me.  This infuriated me being put in the middle.  I don’t get many voice mail messages and I don’t want to get any that are not for me.

My world had temporarily been rocked.  I was screaming inside.  The thoughts that this was a small thing and within my control to delete the message was overwhelmed with my thoughts of invasion of my privacy and fear that I would continue getting calls that weren’t for me.  But I had a place to go and a job to do.  I wanted to go to some safe corner and rock back and forth; or pace the floor, telling whoever a thing or two, but that wouldn’t have gone over too well in a gym filled with fourth graders.

It got to the point of being almost unbearable as I walked around the gym monitoring the students.  I said a little prayer pleading for help.  Then, my mind took a turn to the music.  The coach was playing Neil Diamond songs.  I knew those songs.  Back in my youth, I paced the floor to Diamond songs with my wild imagination.  I knew most of the words and so I started mumbling them.  I “stimmed” to the music with foot tapping.  It was working.  My heart stopped pounding so hard and I was able to breathe.

The coach began a new activity.  At the roll of a jumbo dice with names of exercises on each side, the dice landed on the exericse those who lost had to do.  I decided to join those in the middle instead of observing from the sideline.

I did the arm curls, leg lift-ups, knee bends, and touch your toe bends.  Now when the dice landed on push-ups, I sat that one out.  HA!  It was a relief that the exercies were increasing my heart and breathing rate instead of my panic button doing the honors.

I thanked the Lord the crisis had passed.  It helped me tremendously to pray followed by the idea of singing to the Diamond songs and exercising with the students.   Just things to do to channel my energy somewhere else.

My thinking about the phone message eventually turned positive.  I can’t stop whoever from leaving a voice message, but I can delete it with the push of a button.  Maybe next time it won’t push my panic button, but if it does, I know Who to call on.

 

Boy with a Passion

On one of those seldom occasions of going to a movie theater, I pay the price of admission and sitting through movie previews.  By the time the movie I paid to see starts, I’m ready to go home.

I had the privilege of spending time with a boy who is on the autistic spectrum too.  Shortly after I met him, he came up to me with his tablet showing me his creation.  He had created a video that resembled one of those movie previews.  In my humble opinion, his creations were an improvement over those at the cinema.

His source is his favorite story series.  His video consists of pictures he takes from one of the books.  He inputs his own creation of a video title, cast members, and names of director, producer, etc.  He adds special effects giving it a spectacular beginning and a mysterious ending.  He selects the music that helps to build up the suspenseful ending that makes the viewer want to know more.  It is cleverly done and if I didn’t know a pre-teen was behind it, I would think I was watching a genuine preview of an up and coming movie coming soon to theaters.

I was with him for a few days.  I observed his autistic traits, some of which I share with him.  He’s extremely sensitive and is in short supply of self-confidence.  We are two peas in a pod on both scores.

I think I got to know him well enough to say that what writing is to me is what video making is to him.  I can’t fully put into words how important a passion is to those on the spectrum.  Since we struggle in so many areas, it is worth its weight in gold to have an area we don’t struggle in.  Even if it is just a single talent, it is at least something one on the spectrum can do with a sense of achievement and provides the sweet taste of success.  A feeling that they are somebody too and have something to contribute to this old world.

I was honored each and every time he showed me another one of his video creations.  I showered him with praise because he deserved it and needed it.  It is the least I could do for my fellow autie.

To put it in a nutshell:  I wanted the boy with a passion to know there was no one in the world quite like him.

 

 

Autumn Leaves and OCD

This past fall I picked up a new hobby.  Well, it may have bordered on an obsession and of all things to be obsessed about … raking leaves.  Strange, I know.  At least, if it was an obsession, it was a temporary one since nature has since taken its course with the tree limbs being bare until springtime.  I’m not so bad off that I’m outside raking leaves that aren’t there.

I never thought I would have any interest in yardwork.  However, I didn’t have a yard to do any work in until I moved back with my Mom.  To help her out, I took over the leaf raking chore.  I bought a leaf blower which I perceived as an addition to my continually growing gadget collection.  I worked the raking chore into my daily routine.  My problem wasn’t adjusting to the slightly altered routine.  It was knowing when to STOP my raking session!  I may or may not have a hard time starting a chore, but once I start, it’s all I can do to find a stopping point.  I’d often think in the yard as I was bent over from picking up one leaf too many, “Would somebody please come out here and stop me!”

When I told my doctor about my leaf-gathering affair, he didn’t burst out laughing.  He said without even a chuckle that I might have some Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) going on.  That was in addition to my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  I didn’t pay much attention to the OCD since I could only handle the news of one disorder at a time.

When I go back to see my doctor in a few months, I’ll have to tell him he might be right about OCD being an accomplice.   I took an online test for OCD and my score was within range of being more than less likely of having OCD.  I think it is more a minor than a major, but it’s still a player.

Growing Up on the Spectrum

He has the classic autism trait of talking one’s ears off.  He works with a speech therapist to improve his verbal skills.  Since I’m the substitute aide who is not around him much, I need a translator to know what he is saying.  I hate to ask him to repeat whatever he is saying for the upteenth time when the teacher or other aide isn’t around to translate.  So sometimes when he pauses, I nod.  I don’t know what I’m nodding to, though, which can be a risky proposition with me, the aide; and he, the student.

A sixth grader is the oldest kid in his autism unit.  The one his teacher can rely on to inform her that her desk is messy and then proceed to tidy it up.  If a cabinet door is even slightly ajar, he will take care of that problem.  His obsession is calendars.  Old or current – it doesn’t matter.  When other kids grab an IPAD or some game for choice time, he goes to his box of calendars.

She’s tall for her age of 12.  A gentle giant who loves to give hugs and kisses.  She has the autism trait of being repetitive in saying or asking things over and over again.  She’s the new kid on the block in her class as well as neighborhood.  Her world was rocked when her Mom died in another state and she now lives with Grandma.  She talks about her Mom being in Heaven as if her Mom just moved away to some far-away location.  She freely talks about joining her someday as if death is an everyday topic.  Her teacher gently tries to change the subject, but rest assured, the gentle giant will bring it up again.

He’s 7 years old and the youngest in his autism unit.  He’s also the only one who has yet to utter his first word.  He does understand some of what he hears for he will do what he is told for maybe 2 minutes at most.  He’ll flap with one arm, stop, hit his teeth with one hand, stop, give the top of his head two slaps, and start over again.  The teacher will tell him to put his arms down and that works for maybe 10 seconds.  He was climbing over me and I gave him a hug.  While trying to put him back in his chair, what did he have in his hand?  My billfold!  I got pickpocketed!  I showed his teacher and she wasn’t the least bit surprised.  I wasn’t his first victim and I surely won’t be the last.

 

 

 

 

 

A Child Alone

A child sitting alone with his back to the other children playing is hardly a rare sighting on my job as a teacher’s aide.  Even if an adult comes along and encourages the child to turn around and join in, the adult will meet strong resistance.  I empathize with the outsider because I have decades of experience of being one.  Although I now have been diagnosed with autism giving me an explanation for my extreme shyness, I’m still content to maintain my corner spot.

When doing a P.E. substitute assignment where I will see every member of the student body at some point during the school day, I keep an eye out for the invisible child whether it be one who is autistic, or have other mental or physical challenges, or is seen as being different by any host of reasons.  I can’t force them out to the center, but I can let them know they aren’t invisible to me.

At an after-school gathering, I observed from a distance a child who lives on the same spectrum as I.  He found his corner in the gym, several inches away from the nearest child.  With his back turned from the others, he kept his hands busy by touching the wall around him.  I went over and said hi and his name.  He made eye contact but he didn’t answer back.  I didn’t expect him to.  I just felt the need to say hi to let him know I saw him.

I wish I could do more for him.  I keep him in my prayers.  I understand the noise is bothering him.  I understand he’d rather be by himself in a smaller space instead of a gym floor surrounded by children who have a healthy set of lungs and are wearing them out.  But I have to keep my distance since I’m not one of his after school teachers.

Just the other day I saw him again.  He was having a good day.  He had come for P.E. and came up to me and gave me a big hug.  That was a priceless moment!  Maybe he somehow senses I am more like him than others.  I kept my eye on him during P.E.  That’s just what those on the spectrum do.  Watch out for one another.

He is often a child alone, but he is as much somebody as the child who isn’t.

 

 

 

 

 

Joseph the Dreamer

A fascinating topic to me is dreams.  My dreams are usually vivid and it isn’t unusual for me to remember them the next morning; irregardless of whether I want a rerun of them or not.  If I could get paid for the dreams where I am on the job, my salary would almost double.  When I have those on-the-job dreams, they are usually a nightmare.  I wake up hoping to have a better day on the job than I had when I was sleeping on the job.

Dreams are in many a Bible story.  It is a fascinating topic!  Many a dreamer was given a message from God through a dream. The wise men, for instance, who came to worship Jesus had a dream of being told not to visit King Herod on their way back home.  Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus, was warned in a dream to take the child Jesus to Egypt while King Herod was seeking to kill the child.

One of the most familiar names when it comes to dreaming in the Bible is Abraham’s great grandson, Joseph.  Dreams were so important in Joseph’s life that he is often called Joseph the Dreamer.

He was the firstborn son of Jacob and his beloved wife Rachel.  Theirs was a love story.  Jacob labored for his father-in-law for 14 years to have Rachel’s hand in marriage.  It should have been only 7 but he got duped by his father-in-law.  Rachel died tragically when giving birth to Benjamin.  Perhaps Joseph and Benjamin were extra special to their father because he saw his beloved Rachel in them.

Joseph was different from his brothers.  He stood out like a sore thumb.  He was a dreamer and not only that, he could interpret his dreams and that of others.  It was his own special talent that would eventually help to save his family and many more people throughout the land.

Joseph’s talent reminds me of us who are on the autism spectrum and possess a special talent.  For me, it is writing; others, it may be drawing, painting, dancing, etc.  This is the bright side of autism that I think helps to compensate for the dark side.  Now I’m not saying Joseph was autistic.  That’s impossible to know.  It is just Joseph’s special talent that set him apart from others is something I can relate to from living on the spectrum.

In Genesis 37, we are told of at least two dreams Joseph had.  In both these dreams, his brothers were bowing down to him.  Now maybe he should have kept those dreams to himself, but he told his family all about them.  Of course, his brothers didn’t like his dreams one bit!  I can’t blame them there because I’d be skeptical if someone said to me they had a dream where I was catering to their commands.

I don’t know if Joseph understood that telling them these dreams would only anger them.  Maybe Joseph was passionate about talking about his dreams.  I can relate to Joseph’s need to do that.  Ask me about my writing and I can talk for two hours straight.  (That’s a warning.  HA!)  Did he understand that his dreams weren’t as meaningful or believable to those around him?  Joseph may not have intended to irritate his brothers with his dreams of him above them, but he certainly did to the point that one day they beat him, threw him in the well. and then sold him into slavery.

At 17, Joseph went from being a shepherd to a slave.  He took it in stride though.  He was a “model” slave.  He followed the rules in doing what he was told.  He was such an obedient and trustworthy slave that he earned the trust of his master.  When his master’s wife tried to seduce him, Joseph held firm and wouldn’t commit such an evil act against his master.  However, with his word against hers, his master took his wife’s word for it.

Joseph went from being a model slave to a model prisoner.  He earned the trust of the warden.  When fellow prisoners, the king’s cupbearer and baker, had dreams, Joseph interpreted them.  The dreams both came true with the baker being hung and the cupbearer returning to his job.  When the king had a troubling dream that no one could  interpet, the cupbearer remembered and referred the king to Joseph.  Once again, Joseph’s God-given talent is put into use with Joseph’s correct interpretation of there being seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine.

Joseph went from being a model prisoner to being an Egyptian ruler under the king.  According to Genesis 39:23, the Lord gave Joseph success in whatever he did.  He was 30 years old when he was put in charge of Egypt.  During the famine, he saw his brothers as they came for grain.  He didn’t immediately reveal himself to them.  Joseph did give them some anxious moments, but he could have been a lot harder on his brothers.

I believe Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams was a God-given talent.  He couldn’t have seen the bigger picture of God working in His life in such a way that would eventually put him in a position of saving lives, including that of his own family.  Joseph just did his part on a daily basis when he was tending sheep, serving a master, doing time in prison, or acting in a leadership role under the king.  He was a dreamer who did his part in making his dreams come true.

 

It Has No Red Dots

During my 1st grade year, I suspect my Mom was tempted to turn in her “Mom” badge.  It started when I came down with the measles, passed it on to my toddler brother, who passed it on to our baby brother.  Almost immediatley picking up where the measles left off, the chicken pox tweeted in.  One by one, we were poxed and my poor Mom was hovering close to nervous breakdown country.  My grandmother who lived in another state came to her daughter’s rescue.  I’m sure my Grandmother was a sight to her daughter’s sore eyes on the day she arrived to help out with her red dotted/chicken poxed grandkids.

I have a few memories of having the measles.  I remember I had them so bad that when they took me to the doctor, I was escorted through a back door because I was covered from head to toe.  Perhaps they were afraid my appearance would empty the waiting room.  The doctor said I was even broken out in my ears.  I remember getting out of bed and looking in the mirror and being overwhelmed with the sight of my red-dotted face.  I just fell back on the bed.

Unlike measles, there are no red dots or any color of dots for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).  It isn’t near as easy to diagnose as other disorders or illnesses, short or long term, whose symptoms are obvious to the eye of the beholder.

I sort of wish in an odd sort of way that there was some easily identifiable sign for ASD like the measles’ red dots.  Oh, I wouldn’t want to have as many dots as I had decades ago.  Just one would do and it wouldn’t have to be red.

I do have ASD behavior traits but I work hard every day to hide them.  On one hand, I want my companions to know I have ASD; however, on the other, I don’t want to show my symptoms.  For instance, I don’t rock back and forth like nobody’s watching when I’m NOT alone.

Now if there was a video camera filming me when I am entirely alone, having a meltdown,  I suppose it would reveal my ASD as the red dots of decades ago revealed my measles.