New Year

It’s January 10. I made it a whopping 10 days. Like many, I’m still doing one step at a time. Some people can do a day at a time. Others can do a week at a time. I’m sure there are others who do more. Each person moves at their own pace. I’ve always told people that as long as you are moving forward, you’re successful.

Sometimes I’ve felt like a fraud. I’ve pasted on the smile (you know the one). I’ve talked the talk and walked the walk, even though it’s not real. Why do we teach our kids about “white lies?” Because life has taught us that we will get kicked around. We will be lied about. We will tell those “white lies.”

I lived most of my adult life trying to be what is now called authentic. I’ve also lived it trying to be “real.” Since I decided 2021 would be a year of reflection, here’s today’s reflection: I am enough.

Five Years

I abandoned my blog five years ago. I got a job working with incarcerated youth. I was able to teach again. Teaching really is my first passion. Some of the residents wanted their GED and worked their tails off to earn the degree. Some did it so they could parole. Some told me it beat sitting in school. The last group did it because they were told to by the powers in charge of their lives.

I loved that job. Sure, it was challenging. I had to figure out how to reach each student individually. These kids came from such diverse backgrounds that a lot of flexibility was required. I also had to put aside preconceived notions and my feelings about crimes. I worked with students charged with drug dealing, students on weapons charges, students on sex offense charges, and occasionally students with murder charges, I’m sure there was a myriad of other charges I was not aware of, Yet, these were young adults who were being given a chance to change.

So, I taught, It’s what I do. Slow, fast, patiently, or firmly, I taught. Because that’s what teachers do. We teach. Teaching is a calling. If you think it’s just a profession, you don’t understand. I’ve been a licensed teacher since 2007. I’ve actually been teaching since 1986. I taught afterschool enrichment. I taught Deaf community members how to get the help they needed. I shared knowledge with my Girl and Boy Scout Troops. I taught others how to do certification procedures. I taught.

Recently I received a text from a former Girl Scout. She told me that the time she spent with me showed her how to spread the seeds of knowledge, She thanked me for not giving up. She thanked me for giving of myself. I really needed to hear her words that day. I occasionally hear bits and pieces about other youth I have spent time with. Each moment is tucked away safely.

The greatest gifts I have ever received were thank yous. If you have the opportunity to say thank you to a teacher, please do. That is the fuel that keeps us going.

Peace.

Yeah, 22

Middle turns 22 today. It’s the second year he hasn’t been home for me to do the traditional birthday celebration. Sending a cake would be very messy. Convincing his roommate to string up balloons and banners would be hard. So a box of goodies went in the mail.

I want to say how proud I am of Middle. He is working in a small field of study. No easy routes to success. Hard work followed by more hard work. It’s funny when we try to talk about what he’s doing since the topic is so far outside of my understanding. He still laughs at my attempts to understand. A good thing, I guess.

Today I hope he looks back and sees how far he’s come. I hope he hears all of us cheering him on. It’s not been an easy or perfect path, but it is his path. And I’m really proud of him.

Social Cues

I think we all struggle with this. The situations are never cut and dried, so a template is useless. But we can learn from each other. We can learn through experience. It may not be fun, but it is possible.

I find that reading body language gives me mixed results. Is someone mad at me or restless when they have their arms crossed? Are they laughing with me or at me? Did it suddenly go quiet? Was it something I said or did?

Here’s what I have learned. Stop thinking YOU did something. It sets off a negative cycle that can end up in a really awkward place. Instead, move the conversation forward or excuse yourself (oh, hey, I see Frank over there!). Don’t dwell on it. There’s plenty of time while you are trying to fall asleep.

 

 

Generalization

I’m tutoring now. One of The concepts in Language Arts is Generalization. I teach my students that generalization is not something they should resort to unless they are 100% certain that what they say/believe is 100% accurate.

Since it is almost impossible to say anything that holds 100% accuracy, generalization should rarely come into play. But what about when you have the same experience over and over? While it may not happen every time, it still seems to keep happening.

My brain keeps telling me it’s my fault. I’m doing something wrong. I made a bad decision. My friends and family are quick to point out that the only “bad” decision I’ve made is to keep falling for it.

And so, because of a few, I’m changing. I’m not going to keep falling for “it.” In my case, “it” are people who consistently take advantage of my generosity. You see, I’m a firm believer in pay it forward, karma and all the good things in the world. Lately, I’ve been getting blindsided by people who are not on the same page. They take and then expect more. Nary a thank you in sight. I’m not talking buying a friend some lunch. I literally let someone take a 7-week vacation from their responsibilities. They lived in my home, ate my food and asked me to drive them places (no, they didn’t have a car). They criticized me and made it so my family avoided coming home each evening. Today I spent 2 hours “cleaning” what was supposedly already clean (and my standards are basic sanitary, not white glove).

So, I am done with people like this. I am generalizing that people who don’t say please and thank you are not on the same page and don’t deserve to enter my life. There it is…100% of people who take and take without saying thank you aren’t worth my time. I feel a social media cleanse coming on.

Sometimes, you just have to generalize to understand something.

 

Erased

Something happened today. It wasn’t earth-shattering. But it did help me understand more of the current conversation around having disabilities “erased” by the media and society.

I was in a public location. I found the two-stall restroom…one for disabled individuals, one for non-disabled  individuals. Both were occupied and one person was in line in front of me.

I had my service dog with me. I was toting my backpack with my IV medication in it. The people in the bathroom had just come from a meeting we were all attending.

The disabled stall became available. The person in line in front of me took it, leaving me the other stall. The one that wouldn’t fit both my service dog and me. One that I had to put my backpack in my lap just to use the toilet.

I put my dog into a stay just outside the stall. The non-disabled individual started talking loudly about the dog being loose in the bathroom. All I’m trying to do is take care of business.

Later, in the meeting room, our eyes met. There was no apology. Just a sort of condemnation in her eyes.

She could have waited the 20 seconds and taken the other stall. I guess I could have waited the two minutes to use the disabled stall. But….I really feel she should have been the one waiting. Courtesy. Giving the disabled person the space to take care of business would have been the right thing to do.

For those who take the time to read this, and don’t “need” to use the disabled stall, please consider who else may be waiting. Sure, everyone would like the stalls to be larger. Some of us NEED the larger stalls. Be courteous. Thank you.

The Naughty Porcupine

Editor’s note: This is a true story. No allegory intended.

Youngest took a summer internship at our local zoo. It’s been two weeks and every day we learn more about the animals she is responsible for supervising. Today, even though giraffes and lions are her assigned area, she was helping out in the American porcupine exhibit.

One of the porcupines (there are 2) recently had surgery and is on “vet watch.” This entails a keeper having eyes on the porcupine all day long. It turns out that this particular porcupine likes to stick his paws in crevices.  And he gets stuck…alot. Her job was to get him unstuck.

The porcupine also enjoys climbing trees like a sloth instead of like a porcupine. He gets stuck about three feet off the ground. The keeper is supposed to go tap on his claws to remind him to move. Hold that thought….

As Youngest is sitting in the rain, making sure the porcupine doesn’t get stuck, a zoo patron comments to his young son about  the “intern in the wild.” Youngest wears a shirt that boldly states “INTERN” across the back. Another patron comes by and asks her if she’s worried about “being shot” by quills. Youngest, in her nicest voice, informs the patron that according to the information sign RIGHT THERE, porcupines do not actually shoot quills. Besides, she has heavy-duty work gloves just in case she has to handle the porcupine.

As youngest relates this story, she keeps referring to the porcupine as “naughty.” Hence, the naughty porcupine. Ah, the joys of the animal kingdom.

Left Behind

There’s so much about Autism that creates empty space. You want friends, but being social is damn near impossible. You want to work, but landing that job requires some skills you don’t know how to express. You want company, but the thought of a “party” is draining. You want people to value YOU, but they can’t see past the diagnosis.

Other things make me feel like I live in a different age. Autism $peaks was founded in 2005, 8 years after my son was diagnosed. It was never part of our “awareness” as they seek to catch vulnerable parents right after diagnosis. ABA started flexing its wings in 2004, although it’s been around since 1960 as a way to rehabilitate social deviants.Hopefully that gets a few of you thinking.

Just today on social media, I was following a conversation about all the therapies and equipment being provided to families with children on the Spectrum. And I have to wonder, with all this support, how come Autism $peaks isn’t obsolete?

And yes, I do wonder how things would be different if my children’s (and mine) needs had been addressed instead of being punished. Tactile defensiveness? You’ll outgrow it with exposure. Social awkwardness? Things change with time. Stimming? You’ll need to stop that to fit in. Here’s a substitute action until you learn to quit.

Now I understand some of the bitterness I feel towards people. I’m looking at “haves” and “have-nots” while wondering if it really makes a difference. If you “have” all the latest and greatest shiny things, will you eventually exceed expectations because of the shiny things or because you can “pass?” Did we miss out because we made do with what we had, that didn’t include any shiny things?

I guess we’ll have some answers 10 years from now when this group of Autistic children are grown and starting their adult lives. Did they benefit or are things still the same? Are they better at “passing” or have they reached acceptance both within themselves and their communities?

Food for thought……

 

Autism Privilege

Why not? Everyone seems to be tacking the word “privilege” onto descriptors. I have “white privilege” because of the color of my skin. I have “economic privilege” because I have a roof over my head and food on the table. The one common thread is I was “given” these labels by people who were different from me.

So, Autism privilege. The current discussions in the communities I frequent are of two minds. First, there are Autistics. All kinds of Autistics from across the spectrum. Autistics writing and speaking up. We’re just spilling out of neat little boxes where others put us.

The second kind are usually parents. They have kids on the spectrum, but are not themselves Autistic. You might see them referred to as “Autism parents,” usually by their social group. Some of these parents are pretty convinced that their child’s Autism is what entitles them to Autism privilege. A name which they gladly accept for all their sacrifices.

See the difference? Autistics speaking for themselves in any fashion are a threat to deep-rooted beliefs. But “sacrificing” yourself by raising your child gives you privilege. Seems a bit backward to me. Why would I choose to listen to those who claim privilege over those that are Autistics? Well, I don’t.

Autism $peaks seeks to drown out Autistic voices. They are claiming privilege on the basis that Autistics are lesser beings that require handholding. And the public buys it because obviously A$  knows a lot about Autism. That’s the voice of privilege. Not experience.

Listen to the voices. Hear that Autistics feel marginalized by organizations and people who survive by claiming a privilege that is not theirs to claim. Change your perspective and you just might change someone’s world.

Guinea pig

In the colloquial terms we are familiar with, a guinea pig is something you try new things on. It’s a catch-all phrase that people use to indicate they are trying new things. Let’s be guinea pigs by going to a new restaurant. Let’s be guinea pigs by getting makeovers. Let’s be guinea pigs by reading books outside our comfort zone.

I get it. What I don’t get is when people make their kids into guinea pigs. I’m not talking about offering up peas instead of carrots. I’m talking about therapy. Did you know that Applied Behavior Analysis has been in use since 1960? That it’s popularity picked up in the 1970s? The process had been used primarily on people with “social maladjustment.” It was reborn in the 1990s as a means of “helping” people adjust to society.

In less than 20 years, ABA has gone from a fringe treatment for social maladjustment to a widely accepted “therapy” for people with Autism. The focus is almost exclusively on exterminating unwanted behaviors. Coping skills aren’t the focus. Rather, learning to be “normal” is the desired outcome.

While teaching your child that they must fit in a box to be “normal?” Who decided that boxes were necessary. People are criticized for allowing their children to explore the “not normal” parts of life. If it makes me happy to flap, spin or stim in another way, what difference does it make? Why does your normal have to be my normal?

Guinea pig. Therapists may or may not really understand ABA. They do “understand” that behavior must be changed to “normal” to measure success. Therapists try many different approaches to accomplish this goal. And you are a guinea pig throughout treatment as they find ways to homogenize people.

How boring. Diversity is what keeps us discovering, exploring and learning. Embrace acceptance of things that differ from your expectations. We are all unique. We all have things to offer. Acceptance makes us better human beings.