Deciphering The Rules

Whether it is a first-grade teacher or an Ivy League professor, the beginning of the school year or semester is spent introducing students to rules and expectations. When I was growing up, rules were written in chalk on a blackboard. Now in some schools, rules are displayed on interactive whiteboards and typed out using a computer keyboard. The tools have changed, but the rules haven’t changed that much. Such as there’s still the rule that one can’t talk when the teacher is talking and that rule is still a popular one that students break.

I am a retired government employee and my post-retirement job is being a substitute teacher’s aide. I started my fourth school year in a gym class for two days. I heard the P.E. coach’s list of rules 14 times in those two days. It reminded me of playing my favorite song over and over again on my record player back when I was growing up.

The coach didn’t just read the rules out loud; she deciphered them.  That was particularly helpful for those who take verbal instructions literally — word for word — a common trait for those of us on the Autism Spectrum.  If she hadn’t explained them, some students might be trying to live up to something that wasn’t realistic and/or totally confused when the class was playing tag.

For instance, one of the top five was to do your BEST at ALL times. The teacher admitted that the literal meaning wasn’t realistic. She explained she wanted the kids to do their best with what they had that day. If they were in a fantastic mood with energy to match, they should be at the top of their game. If they were not up to speed, she asked they just do the best they could with whatever energy they had to give. I was glad she explained that because I wasn’t as much an eager beaver on my second day as the first day of being her sidekick.

Another one of the top five school district-wide rules was “Keep hands and objects to yourself at all times.” If taken literally, one would think it was NEVER appropriate to touch someone. That’s a good rule when students are standing in line or sitting side-by-side on the gym floor, but not when playing a game like tag where tagging is, more or less, touching someone.  The coach gave examples as to when the rule applies and when it doesn’t.  It’s a good rule, but the “at all times” phrase just needed deciphering.

The coach had her own dozen or so rules in a computer document that she read out loud. One of them was one that took me by surprise.  I never heard of a coach having the rule of “no jackets in the gym!” The students could wear jackets to school but were not to enter the gym wearing one.  Her reasoning behind this rule was that kids might get sick from getting too hot wearing a jacket while doing their exercises and playing games.

This rule gave me an uncomfortable feeling since I was in violation of it.  She didn’t ask me to take it off and I didn’t volunteer to do so. I was not working in a hot-boiling gym or even a warm toasty one. It was so cold in the gym that I felt my knees shivering. I mean that LITERALLY! I assume I was given a pass since I was a substitute or maybe the 20-something old coach wouldn’t ask a thin gray-haired lady to take off her jacket.

 

shivering

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The Multiplication of One

The Gospel of John ends with stating “And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.”  (John 21:25)  I can’t help but wonder what the “other things” were, but I accept that what is recorded is sufficient for us to know.  One can’t help but notice in reading all the four Gospels in the Bible’s New Testament that Jesus took the time to perform many a miracle. He had compassion for the blind, deaf, lame, and the leper. Such as he healed the blind beggar on the side of a road, the demon-possessed man living in a graveyard, and the woman with a bleeding illness who touched his cloak in a crowded place.

Word of his miracles spread throughout the region like wildfire.  Crowds would gather when hearing that Jesus was coming to their neck of the woods.  Such as in the story told in Matthew 14:13-21 where 5000 men, plus women and children, showed up traveling on foot to see the miracle worker for themselves.

As evening drew near, the disciples told Jesus that since they were in a remote place, they should send the crowds away so they could go to their villages and get something to eat.  Instead of agreeing, Jesus told the disciples instead that they give the crowds something to eat.  I wonder what the disciples were thinking at this point. They never imagined feeding that many people in one sitting.  Besides, the only food they had on hand was a mere five loaves of bread and two fish provided by a boy according to the version of the story told in the Gospel of John. It doesn’t take much math to figure out that wouldn’t satisfy a hundred, much less five thousand.

Jesus told them to bring the food to Him and directed the people to have a seat on the grass. He took the bread and fish and looked up to heaven, gave thanks, and broke the loaves. Then He had the disciples hand out the food. The disciples and the crowd saw something amazing happen. Something they couldn’t have imagined in their wildest dreams.  The fish and loaves multiplied before their very eyes!

The crowd had plenty to eat and no one, so to speak, left the table hungry. After dinner was over (or supper as folks in the south call it), the disciples had leftovers to pick up.

Years ago, I heard a minister preach about this story. He had an interesting perspective that up until then, I had not given on this miraculous feeding. The Lord is in the business of multiplying. In this story, it was food. But it isn’t just food the Lord can multiply.

There are countless stories where the Lord has taken what a child of His does, such as an act of kindness or a display of one’s God-given talent, and multiply it many times over. After the minister finished his sermon, he then invited his daughter to sing a hymn. I don’t remember the hymn, but I do remember she had a lovely voice and her talent left an impression on me. It’s been over a decade and I still remember the minister’s lesson and the minister’s daughter putting the lesson into practice.

My own heart has been touched multiple times from observing a special talent possessed by a child with Autism.  For example, a boy around ten whose drawings is stunning for one who has yet to say his first word.  It does my heart good to hear a lovely girl sing who can’t yet hold a conversation.  She can sing words of a song with her beautiful voice accompanied by an angelic glow on her face.  I’m told she sings in the church choir.  Only the Lord knows how many hearts that child has touched from the choir loft.

The Lord can take what we do, no matter how small the action may be, and have it touch multiple lives for the better. Many testimonies have been given by those whose lives were changed by an act of kindness from a fellow human being. There are testimonies of those who came to know the Lord through the witness of one person and then that one goes on to share the gospel to multitudes of people.

It so often starts with “ONE” and multiplies many times over just as the loaves and fishes so long ago.

He is Autistic

I am a frequent Dollar Store shopper.  The check-out lines are sometimes too long for my liking but I admit three or more people ahead of me is what I consider a long line.  I reckon it all depends on your point of view as to what “long” or “short” is.

On one of my shopping trips as I approached the check-out line, I was relieved there was just two ahead of me.  The store manager was manning the register.  He was checking out a red-headed freckled-faced boy who was grinning from ear to ear.  I’m guessing maybe 10-years-old.  The youngster had his dollar bills ready and gave to the manager.  I had my head down when I heard the manager say in a stern voice, “What are you doing?”

I did not see what happened but I saw the boy’s hands near the gadget customers use to purchase with a credit/debit card.  He was probably playing with the buttons.  There was what seemed like a long pause and a red-headed slim woman came up who was probably the boy’s mother.  She just said to the manager two words, “He’s autistic.”

I felt like an arrow hit my heart since I’m on the Spectrum, too.  The manager maybe felt an arrow in his heart, too, because he said in a softer tone, “Oh, okay.”  Nothing more was said.

The boy reminded me of the students I work with as a substitute teacher’s aide.  It is rewarding to work with students like this boy.  It is sad, though, to hear of “shopping tales” that are such a nightmare that parents/caretakers are reluctant or give up taking their child with them shopping.

The incident replayed in my mind over and over for the remainder of the day and into the night.  It took me back to my childhood when a 7-11 store manager was correcting me for something I had no idea was wrong.  His stern warning left such a mark on me that I still remember it a half a century later.

I watched them walk out of the store.  I dare say it wasn’t the first time she had to tell a stranger, “he’s autistic”.  It probably won’t be the last either.  Perhaps she had left her boy at the counter to see if he could handle paying for something all by himself.  He did fine except for the last part.  He just needs more practice, that’s all.

The boy didn’t drop his smile the entire time.  He seemed oblivious to what had happened.  I hope he has no memory of it.  But I’m sure his mother did not get off so easy.  She was the one who took the hit.

 

 

A Crowded Nightmare

The nightmare happened on a day near the end of the school year for a 6th-grade boy with autism. There was something different going on at school that day. A break from their regular routine to attend a gym competition. For him, any change in routine, good or bad, can be another nightmare.

The competition was among the older grades. I was taking part by helping the coach take score. I noticed him coming in with panic written all over his face. He looked around as if he had stepped out of a car and found himself in a far away place. His world had been thrown off kilter. I felt empathy because I had been in a similar boat many times.  Routine is essential to me too.  I just have coping skills he doesn’t have.  I don’t think it was just the crowd, but the hustle and bustle of basketball shooting, frisbee throwing, and relay racing. There were whistles blowing and kids roaring with boos and applause.

The teacher aide recognized he was in sensory overload. She had him sit down with some of his classmates who were taking all the commotion in stride.  In no less than a minute, he got up and stepped out on the gym floor spinning in circles. He made an indescribable sound but a familiar one to those in his inner circle. This is his own unique distress call when he is potentially in meltdown country.  When he almost ran into a student who wasn’t steady on her feet, the teacher brought him back to the sidelines. He sat there for maybe five minutes. That was as long as he could take before getting back up and spinning once again on the floor.

This time the aide brought him back but she sat down on the floor with him. She gently rubbed his arms and hands to soothe and reassure him it was okay. Her idea worked and he calmed down enough to remain seated.

Although he could pass for a high school football player, he is a gentle soul. Even in meltdowns if he physically hurts anybody, it is himself.  After the last contest, she had no problem whatsoever getting him to go back to the classroom. He was the first one in line as his class walked back.  He was more than ready to return to the familiar place and resume the routine. His crowded nightmare, at least the one that day, was over.

Ancient in their Eyes

I was subbing for a special education aide at an elementary school.  I was somewhat a familiar face to the students since it was my sixth visit to the class.  I knew almost all the students by name which is no small thing for me.  I have a bad habit of names going in one ear and out the other instead of sticking between my ears.
Two of the boys, in particular, acted so enthused to see me again.  The entire school day they treated me as if I was some celebrity.  I am not used to male admiration.  The last male admirer I can recall was a fella named John who was in my first-grade class.  Now that was, give or take, a half-dollar’s worth of years ago.  I thought to myself that too bad both of these two boys were born in this century instead of the 1950’s.
They both asked me a ton of questions.  I felt like I was a guest on the Dr. Phil show.  One of them asked what year I came into this world.  I answered truthfully and was rewarded with them both informing me I was old.  I said, “Hey, guys, I’m not ancient.  I was subbing at the same elementary school I attended when I was your age just the other day and the building is still standing.”
The teacher got on to them for even asking the question as well as their not-so-tactful response.  They both apologized.  I couldn’t be mad at them.  I’m pretty much immune to it since they aren’t the first, and won’t be the last, of students to ask me the age-old question. I’ve come to expect I am ancient in their eyes.
A week later, I was at another school subbing in a school gym where I had a different experience.  Out of the blue, without any encouragement from me, a boy came up and said to me, “You look nice today”.  I asked him to repeat it since I wanted to be sure I heard him right.  His comment made my day.  Well, with kids and their observations and questions, I have to take the sour with the SWEET.

Children Need to be Heard Too

I was subbing for an elementary school P.E. coach’s sidekick.  The first half of class was walking laps outside around the baseball diamond.  While the coach watched sitting on an upside down bucket with his speaker phone, I walked the laps.  I thought my walking might inspire the kids to walk or run and not hide behind a tree to get out of the exercise.  With my gray hair, the kids think I’m the same age as Old Father Time.

A 1st-grade girl came up and took my hand.  Unlike me, the girl didn’t have a problem starting and carrying on a conversation.  We had an unspoken deal.  She did most of the talking and I did most of the listening.

She had a good reason for wanting to talk.  Her Grandpa passed away just 2 days earlier.  It wasn’t so much sadness I heard in her voice but curiosity.  Perhaps it was her first encounter with the death of a loved one.  He had strokes and as she put it, “he just died”.  She didn’t even know he was in the hospital until after he had passed away.  She had observed that her Grandma still had his clothes.  Other than telling her I was sorry about his passing, I just listened.  She just needed someone to talk to and that someone that day was me.

She didn’t want to go off and play in the playground as the other kids did when finishing their last lap.  She couldn’t hold up as long as some of the other kids because of her asthma.  It does get in her way sometimes.  It is routine for her to use the asthma inhaler as soon as she gets home from school.  She said pretty much her whole family had asthma.

I told her I had Asperger’s.   The word wasn’t familiar to her and I didn’t go into details about it.  She said she can’t run as much as her friends without wearing out.  I told her sometimes I am not up to being with people.  She said sometimes asthma gets her out of doing stuff she doesn’t want to do such as strenuous activities. I told her Asperger’s sometimes gets me out of going to parties.

His Sidekick Sub

Due to an elementary school coach’s sidekick having to be out for two weeks, the six-foot-tall coach/former college football player had something a tad better than no sidekick at all – me.  A substitute is at least an extra pair of eyes and someone to watch the kids when one has a nature call.

We had a few things in common.  For one thing, we graduated from the same high school.  I was in the class of 1977 and he was in a class that graduated in the following century.  We both value exercise as a means to improve our health and mental well-being.  He tosses a football and I hit a tennis ball for stress relief after a school day of spending time with pretty much the entire student body.  It beats my having a meltdown and possibly tossing or tearing up my own stuff.

I did my best to help him out.  I showed up at the school gym on time and wasn’t late coming back from lunch.  He monitored the kids playing outside on the tennis/basketball courts on one side of the field and I monitored the playground on the opposite side.  I helped maintain order for the indoor games.  Most importantly, I left the toilet seat up in the coach’s office restroom.

An amusing story was my encountering an odd problem in the restroom.  The light switch didn’t work.  I had to use my “smart” watch’s flashlight application which was sufficient enough that I didn’t fall over the “john”.  I noticed later the light was on but I didn’t dare ask what’s the deal with the light.  The common sense thing would be to ask but it remained just a thought because a lack of common sense is a common trait for those on the autism spectrum like myself.  Either I continued to go in the dark or I figured it out myself.

I did solve the mystery when I spotted another light switch that did the trick.  I didn’t feel bad, though, about not asking the coach for enlightenment.  I was just relieved the coach didn’t catch me coming out of the dark restroom and saying something like, “Wouldn’t it be easier with the light on?”

With the weather cooperating, most of the classes were held outdoors.  The kids played various outdoor games such as basketball, football, soccer, or hung out on the playground.  When I found a basketball that wasn’t being used, I commenced to dribbling it.  The kids might have thought it strange for a gray-haired 58-year-old lady dribbling a basketball.  In my humble opinion, they should view it as an encouraging sign.  When I see an 80-or 90-something-year-old taking a stroll in the park on their own two feet, it gives me some hope that I might still be doing such if I should live so long.

Actually, when I dribbled, I wasn’t only dribbling.  I was doing two things at once: dribbling for physical exercise and stimming for mental exercise.  I had the advantage of having a job-related task that masked my stimming.  Dribbling is as much a way to stim as rocking or pacing the floor since it is repetitive movement.  For someone living on the autism spectrum, stimming is a way of keeping me cool, calm, and collected while the kids do what they are so successful at — noise and mischief making.

I knew the coach missed his “regular” sidekick and the kids missed her too.  I never thought for a second I could replace her or for that matter, any aide I sub for.  I do hope he’ll miss me some as I will him, the other staff members, and the kids.  That assignment was a reminder to me that two people born decades apart can work together as if they weren’t.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pup in the Hat

You’ve probably heard of Dr. Seuss’s “Cat in the Hat”.  Well, here’s a tale of a pup in the hat.

The puppy doesn’t bark or bite.  It won’t hurt a fly.  It doesn’t have to be fed or cleaned up after.  Truth is, it’s a stuffed pup.  It arrives at school with his 4th-grade owner.  If the boy is at school, the puppy is at school.  The stuffed animal is showing some wear and tear from being toted around so much.

Along with carrying the puppy, the child wears a hat to school.  He might say he’d feel naked without it if he could carry on a conversation.  Maybe one day he will.

In the classroom, he tucks his pup inside his hat like a mother puts a baby in a cradle. He’ll place his pup in the hat inside his desk, occasionally checking on it like I constantly check to see if my keys are where I left them.

On days I have subbed in his class, I notice he doesn’t get much done because his mind escapes into his own world.  I know all about that because I’m an escape artist too.  He will do some classwork; then, go back to daydream land.  The work he does get done shows he is a smart boy.

He introduced me to his puppy.  I tried to introduce him to his math problems but he didn’t take the bait.  When he packed up for the day, he didn’t forget his companion.  He wouldn’t go home without it, but he did let the pup out of the hat.  He wasn’t about to leave school without his hat on.

Swing High

One thing in my childhood that set me apart from the other kids was the swing.  I did swing like my siblings and neighborhood kids.  But when I was on the swing, my mind was far from the swing set.  Far from the backyard or playground.  I was swinging in my make-believe world with a cast of characters under my direction.  I was both the director and the star of the story.  The more exciting the story, the higher I swung.  It’s a wonder I didn’t swing high enough to knock the swing set off the ground.

The “swing” memories came flooding back to me at the school playground where I was subbing for a Physical Education (P.E.) assistant for a couple of weeks.  This was a school I didn’t have as much a subbing history with as other schools.  I had only subbed in their gym and not in any of their classrooms.

As I was watching the 2nd graders on the playground, I saw a boy sitting on the swing who wasn’t swinging.  He noticed me watching him and asked me to push him.  I suspected he might be a special education student since most 2nd graders can push themselves.  I did my part and pushed him for what seemed like a good half hour; although it was probably half that.  He reminded me of myself at his age because he was an escape artist too.  If I understood what he was saying to himself, he was pretending to be on an airplane.  He was having such a good time that I kept on pushing even though my arm was aching for me to quit.

Another child came up and said it was his turn.  This gave me an excuse to give my arm a rest.  The boy knew the other child and gladly gave up his seat.  I suspected maybe they were in the same class and I was right.  The other boy needed a push too.  Oh, dear, I couldn’t refuse.  I’m particularly biased when it comes to special ed children.  And these two boys and I had something in common – the autism spectrum.  I realize this when the aide in the autism unit came up and assisted me with the two boys.

I don’t deny I wasn’t glad when the coach blew the whistle and I was relieved from swinging duty.  However, I wasn’t at all sorry about my arm getting a work-out.  They were doing what I did when I was on the swing at their age.  The only difference was I didn’t need someone to give me a push.  If I had, I would have hoped someone would have come along and given me a push.  That’s why I pushed at their request so they could both swing high.

Tablet Meltdown

It was a relaxing afternoon since Fridays are most welcomed by school students and staff alike, more so the staff I suspect.  I was subbing in a special ed class.  The youngest of seven students was a kindergartener who was quite a pickle, but cute as a button.

Like so many little and big kids, she takes a fancy to the tablet.  She knows how to use her fingers to switch from one view to the other and with one finger touch the icon that suits her fancy.  She knows what button to push to pull back up the home screen.  We didn’t hear a peep out of her until she let out a scream.  She was giving the tablet a talking to with a face that could kill.

The teacher and the regular aide did the right thing in admonishing her to use her voice and ask for help instead of throwing a tantrum.  It is a message she has to be told each time it happens.  I think that day it happened about a half dozen times.

I whispered to the teacher that there were many a time I wanted to do the exact same thing.  In my private moments, I have thought or spoken a few choice words to my tablet, desktop, laptop, or other devices.  I couldn’t tell the kinder I had done what she did since I didn’t want to discourage her from following the teacher’s instructions.

The teacher chuckled since she knew what I meant.  Most any of us have wanted to scream at a device that has gone haywire.  Such as tossing whatever out the window.  Most of us don’t because we’d have to pay for it and the window both.  Even worse, when it isn’t our device or our window.

The regular aide was asking me how I had been doing since my autism diagnosis.  I told her about my meltdowns and how I went about coping with them without damaging property.  She said, “At least, you know what they are and have coping skills.  These children don’t yet.”  She had a good point.  Those who occupy a different spot on the spectrum who can’t communicate what is going on suffer tremendously.  They don’t know what to do about it other than scream, kick, cry, etc.

There was one moment when she was playing on the carpet. We don’t know what went wrong but she started screaming again.  But this time, she was rocking back and forth on her knees.  Now that I relate to since I rock too when I want to scream.  And I admit there have been times I have screamed at my tablet.