Diversity in Autismland

A neurotypical asked me, “Why is Autism more diverse than any other disability?”

Well, in the first place, I don’t call my Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) a disability. It is more like a two-edged sword I live with. It is both an asset and a liability. Such as I can see details that others miss, but I usually can’t follow verbal instructions without hearing them again at least once, if not twice

I do understand the diversity of Autism being confusing to those who don’t have ASD.  It is confusing even to those of us who live on the Autism Spectrum.  I totally agree with the popular statement that if you’ve met one with Autism, you’ve met just one.

Autism, or ASD, is a range of conditions such as social awkwardness, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication, as well as unique strengths and differences. There is not one Autism but many types, caused by different combinations of genetic and environmental influences.

The reason “spectrum” is part of the title is there is a multitude of challenges and strengths in variation possessed by each person with autism.

I am often assigned to autism units when subbing for a teacher’s assistant. I see this diversity in every unit. There are those who have no language capability and some of those who do but seldom use their words. Such as a sixth-grade girl who can speak but seldom does. She’d prefer to answer a question with a nod of yes or no instead of words. There is probably not a school day that goes by that she doesn’t hear her classroom or speech teacher say, “Use your words.” On the other hand, I’ve worked with a 5th-grade boy who is a chatterbox. I don’t know what keeps him from having laryngitis.  Thanks to him, his teacher and two aides are all “in the know” about Spiderman.

The students with ASD are my fellow spectrum travelers. Although they have some challenges I don’t have and vice versa, I see commonality too.  I’m more like them than not.

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My Autism List

I really dig lists! A well-written list is straightforward. Something to refer to as many times as needed. In my case, a daily to-do list is like the attire for my routine. Even if a list isn’t written out, I have one on the brain.

My “todoist” computer app is one of the first things I lay my eyes on when I wake up my computer. On my job as a substitute teacher’s aide, if given a printed out schedule for that day’s assignment, I guard it as if it was a prized possession until I get to the end of the school day. I use the “shopping reminder” app that will appear on my phone when I arrive at the grocery store address.

Since I find lists to helpful, I thought it would be therapeutic to have a list of things about myself that are sure signs I do live with Billy around the clock 365 days a year. (Billy is my own nickname for my autism spectrum disorder (ASD)).

SIGNS OF BILLY (ASD)

My passion for making a list and marking off items as I do them.

A choice between staying home on a Friday night or going out with friends? Home!

Gadget collector

Give me something to organize and I’m a happy camper

No fashion sense.  Like ’em sweatshirts and sweatpants

I have more imaginary friends than real ones

My stomach jumps when my cellphone rings

Walk more often with my head down rather than looking ahead

Don’t answer the door!

Verbal processing wears me out

Do my socks match?

Here’s a bruise, and another one. How I got them I haven’t a clue

Group sports? Not me. I’m strictly a solo act

I love having friends my mom’s age

Taking a detour so I don’t have to pass the stranger on the sidewalk

I’ll just hang out in the bedroom and work on a jigsaw puzzle until the party is over

Funerals give me more fright than comfort

A keen observer

Eat the same lunch at the same exact time every day

Obsessed with desk organizers, picking up leaves and twigs, and Snyder’s mini-pretzels

Organizing my Mom’s pantry

If some fella ever flirted with me, I missed it

Give me a visual illustration instead of the gab

Imaginary conversation is my lifelong hobby

If I like the song, I’ll play it again and again…(fortunately for those who live with me, I’ve got three pairs of earphones)

I don’t share very well.

 

Riding on Faith

Do you remember the first time you hopped on a bicycle? I can’t say that I do and I figure it’s probably one I would have wanted to forget.  I assume it didn’t go smoothly because of my track record of bike falls. I was more successful at falling than pedaling before I had a handle on riding a bike.

Now that I have since learned I have been living on the Autism Spectrum, I have an explanation for my awkward relationship with bicycles. A common autism trait is having a hardship for doing more than one thing at once.  Bike riding requires steering and pedaling at the same time with a keen sense of observation and speed. I still have a scar on my knee from five decades ago where I might not have been keen on watching where I was going or how fast.   Motor skills also come in handy when riding a bike and I wasn’t endowed with much motor.

I haven’t looked for such but I assume there are “how to ride bikes” books out there.  Unlike when I was growing up, one can watch “You Tube” videos on how to ride a bike. Or spend time observing others take a spin on their bikes. Yet until one hops on a bike and puts feet to pedal, one doesn’t know what it is to ride a bike.  Now I can’t imagine someone putting a lot of energy into studying about bike riding without actually riding one. It sounds rather foolish, doesn’t it?

One could say that same thing about faith.  It’s one thing to know what faith is; it’s another to live it as one goes about the business of living.

Hebrews 11:1 tells us that faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen.  Such as believing one’s prayer is going beyond the ceiling or that it isn’t luck or a coincidence that you made it through a storm, but an answered prayer.  It is one thing to talk about this common word in the Bible, or to sing hymns about it, or to read and memorize the 336 verses that contain the word in the King James Version. It is well and good to pray about something on one’s plate, but it takes faith to leave it in the Lord’s hands.  If one only has book-smart knowledge of faith without the practical use of it, it is like the person who is book smart on bikes but has never pedaled a day in one’s life.

I gave up bike riding a long time ago. I recall I once got back on a bike a decade or so ago when I had the rare opportunity of having access to one in a remote area. Like they say about riding a horse, it all came back to me. Although I was rusty from lack of practice, I didn’t take a fall. However, my hips paid me back BIG time after my bike reunion. I would ride a bike now but I can’t think of a place where I could ride one where there was a sure-fire guarantee that there would be absolutely NO witnesses. I’m afraid of both failing and falling in public.

I assume that even those who ride bikes well into their later years still run the risk of having a fall anytime they hop on their bikes. Not as often as most people, but they still run the possibility of flying off the handle. One can only hope they don’t break some vital bone in their body, like a neck.

Likewise, no one is perfect at riding on faith. We all fall sometimes to our fears and doubts. Just as it is with bike riders, the important thing is to get back up and try it again. Just as it is with most things, the more you practice living your faith in the Lord, the better you get at it. It’s okay to be rusty at riding a bike, but not okay to be rusty at riding one’s faith.

Life and its Curveballs

I am a baby boomer. I can tell if I’m talking to a fellow baby boomer if I ask such questions as: “Does Gomer Pyle ring a bell with you?” and it rings a bell with them. I don’t mean the reruns on TV land, but the original TV series. The thing I remember most about Gomer was his exclamation: “SURPRISE, SURPRISE, SURPRISE!” It drove his commanding officer, Sergeant Carter, up the wall.

Life does have its surprises all right. Some good, and some not so much. One of my autism traits is my need for routine and so I don’t necessarily welcome surprises. Even good surprises can give me some anxiety until the surprise wears off.

One of those things I am surprised to be doing is working in the same school district I grew up in.  I am a substitute teacher’s aide where I work in elementary schools.  I’m often flooded with my own school memories as I go about my job from one school to another.

I recall the subject I dreaded most was a favorite of many of my peers – Physical Education (P.E.). With a weight problem and awkwardness, P.E. was a humbling experience. I scored high in the classroom but fell behind on the playground and ball field.  Sometimes on my rump!

If someone had told me back when I was attending an elementary school that when I got to be 58, I would return to that same school to fill in as the P.E. coach’s sidekick, I would have told the person they had a wilder imagination than I did. That’s saying a lot because my imagination was and still is off the charts.  It sure threw me a curveball to not only be working in a gym class but above all, to like it!  I have become an avid walker, tennis player, and I even shoot baskets!  Instead of at the age of 8, but at 58.

I did return to my old school recently to fill in for the P.E. aide while she was out for a day. I was escorting the 5th-grade girls out to the court to play volleyball. One of the girls came up to me and asked, “How old are you?” Now I’m on my 4th school year and if I had a quarter of every time I’ve been asked that, I could buy lunch at McDonald’s. Now I could have taken a serious tone and advised her not to ask older women their ages. Or, I could have given a cute answer such as “39 and holding”. She probably wouldn’t have believed the holding bit anyway. I could have pled ignorance or pled the 5th. But this was the last class of the day and I was tired. I just told her the truth.

She said, “My Mom is thirty-three.”  I thought, “So what?”, but minding my manners, I only thought it.  Sometimes I say too much and this was one of those times. I told the youngster I went to this school back when I was her age. Her eyes lit up and she said, “Really!” I nodded and said, “Yelp. No kidding.” I surprised her but she had a bigger surprise for me with her comeback answer: “My goodness, this school must be REALLY old.” She was quite empathic about the “really old” part as if she was referring way back to the “horse and buggy” days. My heart dropped knowing I walked right into that one.

The girls were learning to play volleyball. One of the few things I could do in P.E. that I had some success at was serving the ball in volleyball.  I was far more confident on a volleyball court than let’s say a baseball diamond where I was terrified with fear that when the bat met ball, the ball would make a beeline towards me.  Seeing that the girls were novices, I took the ball and served it.  After a successful demonstration of what a volleyball serve looked like, I heard some “WOW”s from the girls. I surprised them all right! I sort of surprised myself since I couldn’t remember the last time I served a volleyball.

Although I am shy of surprises, I am thankful for them too. If the Lord gave us the blueprint of our entire life on this earth at the start of it, we’d be strangers to hope. If our lives were neatly planned and organized, no surprises, there’d be no reason for faith.  I’d rather be thrown a curveball every now and then than live without any hope of something good happening around the corner.

Jesus Had His Critics

There’s an old saying that there’s always a critic out there somewhere. I am reminded of that every time when I log in to my Facebook or Twitter account.  Imagine if you can that everyone on the Internet superhighway were to strictly adhere to the rule “if you can’t say something nice about someone, don’t say anything at all”, for just one day. My guess is the Internet traffic would be reduced to the volume of highway traffic on a Christmas morning.

Now I am not anti-social media. I am an avid user myself of social media.  There are the positives of contact with extended family and friends I wouldn’t have contact with otherwise. Like any number of things, social media is a two-edged sword. I have to take the sour with the sweet when I log in to my accounts. I enjoy the sweetness of the baby picture of my first cousin’s grandchild while ignoring the postings of those who never have anything nice to say about anything.

I wonder if social media had been around when Jesus walked this Earth, how many postings there would have been of Him. My guess is Jesus would have been a popular topic in His time.  After all, multitudes of people flocked to see Jesus because they had heard of Him through word of mouth. Jesus gained so much popularity that His critics, such as teachers of the law and Pharisees, feared a rebellion and sought a way to turn the crowds away from Him.

One of the things Jesus’s critics threw at Him was performing miracles of healing on the Sabbath. Instead of being happy for those who were healed, the critics were crying foul claiming it was unlawful to heal on the Sabbath. Jesus paid them no mind. A number of miracles recorded in the scripture were performed by Jesus on the Sabbath. One of them is told in Luke 6:6-11.

Jesus entered into a synagogue and among the crowd, there was a man whose right hand was withered. The scribes and Pharisees were watching every move Jesus made, wondering whether He would heal on the Sabbath. They had no concern for the man with a withered hand. They only hoped Jesus would heal this man so they could seize the moment and criticize Him. In their way of thinking, the Sabbath was a day of rest and they considered healing folks of their infirmities a violation of that rule.

Jesus knew they were watching Him and beat them to the punch. He had the man with the withered hand to stand up in the crowd. Then Jesus spoke to the crowd asking if it was lawful on the Sabbath to do good or evil; to save a life or destroy it. No one said a word. Total silence. Jesus’s critics were caught in a corner. They’d be in trouble if they had said evil. How could they say good knowing they couldn’t then very well criticize Jesus for then doing the good of healing someone? Since they were silent, Jesus said unto the man to stretch out his hand. When the man did, his hand was restored whole as the other hand. Jesus once again had silenced his critics with words alone.

Rising above criticism can be a lonely road when it is hard to find a supporter. But if you are doing what the Lord has laid on your heart to do, I can’t think of a better reason to do anything. For example, it had to have been lonely at times when Noah was building the ark before the flood came.

I take another lesson from this story which is to not only rise above criticism, but to reign in my own. I should be prayerful of what to say and what not to.  I’m not God and so I can’t claim to know what’s best for someone else, let alone myself.  I should prayerfully aim to be more in the cheering section than in the critic’s corner.

 

That is Just Billy

Since I was formally introduced to my never-sleeping constant companion, Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), I have researched it as if I was studying for a final exam. My Google search history is full of terms related to ASD. A couple of autistic forums I’ve joined have also given me volumes of information. Sometimes I think because I could give a long lecture on the subject, I should be able to control my emotions, symptoms, deficits. I should know that’s wishful thinking on my part.

I’ve since given ASD a name: Billy. That may be silly, but I have a peculiar sense of humor. No offense against the “Billy’s” in this world. I chose it because I like the name and it rolls off my tongue easy-like. It is therapeutic in an odd sort of way to give my ASD a name. After all, he is my constant companion. He can be naughty; he can be nice. He shows up in my dreams. Since I don’t have a choice about living with Billy, I can give it a name for humor sake. When I fix a sandwich in my own peculiar way, eat items on my plate in a specific order, or pace the floor when excited, or become extremely agitated from a sound I’m sensitive too, I think to myself, “Well, that’s just Billy.”

I spent a lot this past summer while off from my school job tending to my Mom’s yard. I got in the habit of when feeling a meltdown from Billy coming on and if it wasn’t pitch dark outside or pouring rain, I’d grab the clippers and give the hedge a haircut.  The hedge appears to have lost weight this summer since I didn’t lack for meltdowns this summer. The hedge is trimmer than I reckon it has ever been since it took root over a half-century ago. Thanks to Billy, I may have gone overboard with the clippers.

hedge