This is Austin. He’s Autistic, not Broken.

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Who wouldn’t want a Rainbow cookie? / Photo by KidZond.

 

For Spring Break we took a family vacation to the Mall of America. It was nice to get out-of-town and walk around, seeing the sights, riding the roller coasters, and being conned into zip lining by my 8-year-old son.

It was on our first day at our hotel that we met Austin and his Mother. We would see them only once, and not for the rest of our trip. How we met during breakfast was simple. Austin, around my son’s age, was wearing the same pajamas as my son. A cute little red-haired boy who came up to our table to smile at my son, delighted they accidentally dressed as ‘twins’.

Austin did not speak to us, just smiled. His mother came up to us, put her hand on her son’s shoulder and spoke these words.

 

This is Austin. He’s Autistic, not broken.

 

I said hello, and then it hit me what she said. It was cute, catchy, and sounded like a mantra she had repeated often. And although I only met Austin and his Mother once on that trip, I have thought about what she said, that mantra. Autistic, not Broken.

I went though a lot emotions thinking about this mantra, from finding it mildly offensive. I never said your kid was broken lady! to inspired. What a great way to introduce autism to others! Yet I couldn’t get over the sadness of it all.

See my youngest daughter is High Functioning Autistic. I never told this to Austin’s mother. I didn’t have a chance. I have never thought my daughter was broken.

 

Then again, maybe I have.

 

As hard as it is to admit. There are many times I wish my daughter was not Autistic. Sometimes this wish is selfishness on my part, most it is for her. I absolutely HATE the fact the world will be a challenge for her. That people will look down at her, ignore her, and ultimately categorize her into a slot that they can ignore.

The endless explanations to family, friends, strangers, about why she behaves this way or that. Or choices we are forced to make on behalf of our daughter that people are confused by. The advice that is more condemnation than support. That you just have to smile through, and nod, while internally you are screaming.

The many private things we do not discuss. The bathroom issues, the sensitivity issues, the Autistic Cycles she gets caught in. All those things that are a challenge to my family, to her, and our choice not to broadcast it.  They don’t understand the why’s. Even when you have explained it a thousand times.

Because Autism is a Wicked Little Tailor that fashions a suit for each individual, those of us who are A-Neural Typical can easily get lost by autistic behavior. Is the kid rude? Is she dumb? Wow she’s smart! Is she top of her class? Why is her hair messy? It’s 3 pm, why is she in pajama’s?

The questions, looks, attitudes abound. You as a parent navigate these perilous conversations and hope the adult will not be an ass to your kid. It doesn’t always turn out that way.

Sometimes the world surprises you. I was surprised at the Mall of America, at the Sea Life exhibit. If you have the chance, this is a wonderful place to visit. You can see an array of marine life, and even touch some.

One part of this exhibit is an acrylic tunnel you walk through. It takes you though 300 feet of the exhibit showcasing the aquatic life native to Minnesota, the Amazon, Rainbow reef and mythical Atlantis. You literally walk under the water and see the wildlife swimming around and over you. My son loved it, was beyond thrilled to go through the tunnel.

My daughter on the other hand, stopped dead at the entrance. I tried to coax her to go in just a little bit, but she was not having it. I did my best to alleviate her fears, but still she would not go. I let her mother and brother walk on as I tried to decide what to do.

Then the wonderful happened. A Sea Life worker noticed my dilemma. She came up to us and asked if we needed help. I told her that my daughter was High Functioning Autistic and seemed to have an issue with the tunnel.

The day before I couldn’t get her off the roller coasters, so I was a bit shock at her balking at the tunnel. Plus she is an animal lover extraordinaire, why this bothered her? She still hasn’t told me why. But it did, and the Sea Life worker noticed, and knew what to do.

Opening a side door, the worker walked us a short distance to another door and we bypassed the tunnel. I got the impression the worker had done this before, and that she had done this before for Autistics.

I was incredibly thankful to the worker. To the whole of Mall of America, which is sensory / anxiety friendly place.

It was a moment like that one, that gave me hope that others do understand. That they do get what Austin’s mother said, and now I do too. That with awareness comes compassion, with awareness comes understanding, and ultimately, with awareness comes knowledge that we are all individuals, we are all human beings deserving of respect.

This is National Autistic Awareness Month. 

And my Daughter is Alexis, she’s Autistic, not Broken. 

 

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The Trash Talking Twins.

And my Son’s quick lesson on the Sticks and Stones rule of life.

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Nick with his new hair cut, same as the old cut. / Photo by KidZond.

 

I know my kids. So when my son Nick sat down next to me at the table, I could tell something was wrong. His facial expression was pained, his eyes red rimmed, but no tears. He looked at me and I stopped my conversation with my friend to turn my attention to him.

“What’s up buddy? You okay?” I asked. Of course he wasn’t okay. He was on the verge of tears. Did he get hurt? We were at a local trampoline park. A twisted ankle is fairly common here. But that wasn’t the case.

“Some little kids are being mean, in the dodgeball court.” He said blinking rapidly. I nodded.

“What are they doing?” I asked him.

“Saying mean things, calling us names, calling me names.” He said.

The trampoline park we were at has two dodgeball courts. My son and daughter take lessons at the park, along with a family friends oldest daughter (Their youngest daughter hangs out while the older three are in their lesson). We hang out after the lessons to let the kids play while we adults talk about what is going on in our lives. It’s a nice time for all of us, kids get to play together, we get to catch up.

Rarely is there ever an incident at the trampoline park. Everyone behaves, and the staff are excellent in monitoring kids. They do a great job at keeping teenagers and little kids from mixing so as to avoid possible injuries from kids getting too wild.

But this wasn’t the case, the kids trash talking my son were younger, a set of boys, twins.

Nick was upset, wasn’t sure what to do. He likes playing dodgeball, and has even joined tween games. To the credit of the tweens who usual play with younger kids, they pull their throws, so as not to hurt the younger players. Now he was the older kid, and the younger kids were calling him names. Making fun of his throws, calling him ugly and stupid.

I told him he could do one of two things. Either go play somewhere else, the trampoline park had many activities for him to do, or he could let the boys know he wouldn’t play if they continued to be rude to him. He went with the later.

It didn’t end well.

Ten minutes later my son came back angry, so were our friends two girls. The Trash Talking Twins at first accepted Nick’s peace offer to play, but then went right back to their talk. They became more aggressive and even started to use foul language. This shocked all four of our kids. My friend asked his daughters what happened, I talked to Nick. The story unfolded that the twins cared little about playing nice.

Because of the time, all of us were leaving for the night. Nick kept a look out for the twins, but couldn’t see them. He saw them in their car, but by then it was too late for me to talk to their parents.

Thoughts of Sticks and Stones. 

At home Nick was still talking about the twins. He was still upset at how they talked to him, and as he said “for no reason”, which bothered him most. He was upset, he was angry. I let him know those are normal emotions. I also asked him who else was there playing, he told me no one. And when the four of our kids left, the twins were left alone, no one wanted to play with the rude boys. I told him that is what happens when you are rude to others.

Then he shocked me.

Nick told me he thought about hitting them, about yelling at them, and calling them names. He wanted to hurt them like they had hurt him. But, he felt that was wrong, and it would just get himself into trouble.

I was surprised by this, it was very mature for an 8-year-old to have that restraint. That when twins insulted him, called him an F’er that he kept his cool. He did not lash out in anger, but simply walked away.

The Trash Talking Twins just used words. They didn’t assault him, didn’t hit or push him. Just used words that cut deep. Yet those words stirred an anger in Nick he hadn’t felt before. One that he wanted to solve with violence. Yet he didn’t.

It was a moment for me. My son acted like a Man that night. Not the little boy he is. He could have taken the low road, lashed out, but instead rose above it to walk away. He also confided in me his thoughts and feelings about the incident.

I told him I was proud of him, and that his actions were the correct ones. In this case, walking away was best. If he needed, he could defend himself from a physical assault, yet this wasn’t the case. Talking trash back to the twins would have also gotten him nowhere. It is doubtful they would have cared.

I don’t know the Trash Talking Twins story. I don’t know their upbringing or home life. They were younger, maybe a year younger, maybe a little more. To say that I wasn’t totally shocked by their behavior would be a lie. I’ve known kids like that, even in my day and age.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do is walk away from a hostile situation. To turn the other cheek and leave. It is easier to get down in the gutter and slug it out.

Before School today, my son told me he was still upset about the Trash Talking Twins. That he even dreamt about them. This situation, and it’s repercussions, will be with him for a while I think. A life lesson that is a bitter pill to swallow. Like the comeback we all wish we said but didn’t, Nick will be haunted by what he could have done but didn’t. He may not know it now, but in reality he will be a better person for it. A wiser person.

And now the Moral of the Story. 

If you haven’t noticed, the world is full of Trash Talking Twins. Just go on Facebook, or Twitter to find them. Our political leaders do it all the time, as does those in the Media and even in our entertainment world. These days, we revel in Trash Talk.

Yet we ignore the repercussions of such talk. Although Names will never hurt me may seem true, it isn’t. Like my son, that name calling can lead to thoughts of anger, desires to commit violence. They leave just as much of a lasting impression as being hit.

Most of us will never cross that line, never lash out at someone physically just for something that is said to them. However, as we become more like the Trash Talking Twins, we risk escalating the violent reactions of those we offend. Even from those gentle souls like my son. The other day my son took the high road, but in a world that puts Trash Talking Twins on a pedestal will he always stay on that road? I don’t know. I can only hope so.

 

Civility Redux.

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We leave this tiny blue dot to small hands. Let’s keep that in our thoughts and actions. / Photo by KidZond.

 

Let us talk you and I. Let us sit and converse about a subject of our choosing. One that maybe we differ on opinion. We may raise our voices, we may shout with glee, and laugh or giggle at our comments. We may get serious, may glower at each others points, wave a dismissive hand.

Yet, we will not make it personal. It will not spiral into name calling, or shouting in anger with our faces red and spittle flying from our mouths. We will not threaten each other with bodily harm. We will not seek vengeance against opinions that differ from ours.

Because in our discussion? All points are welcomed. The silly, the insane, the humble, the thoughtful. We are ignorant, and being ignorant? Is a good thing.

Ignorance is lack of knowledge. Everyone is ignorance on one thing or another. It’s part of being human. We can’t know everything, even those of us who are well versed on many subjects will admit their ignorance on a subject they know little to nothing about.

One thing that defines a good conversationalist, is knowing their ignorance, and doing something about it. Listening to others points of views, then doing a little research to find out more about the subject. Then the conversation can begin anew, with more detail to discuss the point.

On the opposite end of ignorance is stubbornness. Those that stick to a point despite evidence to the contrary. On opinions? This is fine. This is your opinion. Have at it. Yet on those subjects based upon facts and knowledge? The easiest way to deal with those that remain stubborn on the subject it is to remember the line from Max Ehrmann’s poem, Desiderata.

“Avoid loud and aggressive persons; they are vexatious to the spirit.”

And with a smile and nod, bow out of the conversation. For it is better to let the conversation die than to argue with a fool. That fool being you, who is arguing with someone who will not see reason. We’ve seemed to have lost this train of thought in the social media age.

On Social Media.

If for some reason you believe the current troubles with civility are new, sorry, history is not on that side of the argument. Ancient Egyptian artist use to draw very unflattering pictures of their bosses to show their displeasure. Ancient Greeks and Romans wrote nasty, but very witty, comments about those who displeased them. When the printing press came along, that just upped the game. Pamphlets and even books were dedicated to tearing down ones foes. And let us not forget one of the most famous smack down letters, The Declaration of Independence, which, when it comes down to it, was a ‘stick it’ letter to King George III of England.

Yet with the advent of social media, our desire to shame those we do not agree with, to slam those who have different opinions has reached new heights. Gone are the days when you had to wait for the printing press. Now, the simple touch of the ‘Enter’ key will suffice.

Social Media is just a tool, it is not the cause of uncivil behavior, just the enabler. You can hide behind a false name, a fake account, and lash out at those you disagree with. Things can be said that you would probably never say to someone’s face in person. You may not even know the person. Personal attacks are rampant, with the full knowledge that accountability is not there.

Those who seek popularity or attention from social media can be the targets of the most vicious attacks. With horrible consequences as stories of online bullying and suicides from social media attacks grow.

The issue, is simple. It’s fast and numerous. Back in the day, bullying was only done by a small group, at school, the neighborhood, or work. It was more personal too, you knew your attackers. Unfavorable as it was, you could avoid those bullies. Now? They come from all over, nameless, faceless voices over the internet. While you may have had five to ten bullies at school, now there are hundreds who pile on you.

Of course Politics are going to enter this conversation.  

(Full disclosure: I love politics.)

In the United States of America politics are nearly a sport. We have our sides, many of us root for our team as we oppose the other side. It gets heated, and this is not new at all. Over our history we have had some doozy of arguments in the realm of politics. Many with disastrous consequences. In truth, the lack of civility in politics is common. Yet as of late, it has spilled over from the usual ‘rooting for our team’.

Enter the world of social media. President Obama was really the first social media president, and he was pummeled many times on social media, most stories were exaggerated claims to make him look like a tyrant.

Social media existed prior to 2009, but really took off during the Obama presidency. When President Trump came along in 2013, social media was in full swing. And things got weird quick.

So, if the other side won, do you think social media would be kind to President Hillary Clinton? Probably not. This begs the question, what will become of our next President? President 46? Will they get a pass on social media? Or will erroneous stories abound? I think if the trend continues, the next President is going to be tar and feathered every day they are in office, probably even after they leave office. In politics, civility is not just lacking, nor dead, but a zombie horde that hungers for brains of the masses.

Our Conversation. 

Let us talk you and I, but let us avoid those subjects that might cause our stubborn sides to come out. So, we will not talk politics, we will not discuss climate change, nor shall we immigration. And, for the love of God, we will not discuss plastic straws. We shall not converse about Monsanto, nor abortion. Let us…well, let’s just not talk at all shall we? We shall not discuss those things that matter, those things that need our attention. Because we can’t talk. We can post memes to show our dissatisfaction. We can go on our Senators and Representatives Facebook pages and call them names. Saying vile things and even making personal threats. Because they aren’t human are they? They lack feeling and compassion because they have a different opinion than ours. We’ve become the zombies, and they have become the tasty treat for us. We do not offer our opinion, or a solutions or ideas. We offer contempt, hatred and damnation. How dare they, whoever they are, have a different opinion than ours.

Discussion is dying, and not a slow death, a quick one.

This is the price we pay for being uncivil. We shut down discussion and discourse. We stop the exchange of ideas and thus turn our ignorance into stubbornness. We are slowly killing ourselves because it is more entertaining to be snarky than it is to offer solutions.

And finally

On social media I came across a cartoon. The cartoon was about a jeopardy style show where the correct answer was wrong because it offended another player. A social commentary on how our culture is changing. Honestly? Sometime being offended by other’s opinions is a good thing. It makes your defend your opinion. As long as it is done in a civil manner, there is nothing wrong with it. So, I leave you with my answer to the post:

Offend Me.

Tell me I am wrong. I want you to articulate your argument so it challenges my status quo.

Never shy away from an argument (good discussion). Don’t be afraid to make your point.

I will not learn from stodgy ideas I have accumulated over these 55 years on this world. I will only learn when others challenge my point of view. And have me defend my views.

Be Nice. Be Courteous. Understand not everyone shares your views or opinions. Don’t succumb to pettiness and name calling.

Rise above that.

Challenge Me. ALWAYS.

 

Of course, this post is just my opinion. Tell me yours.

 

Take this stick and swallow your feelings.

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A diagram showing the difference in Male/Female arguments. / Illustration by KidZond – don’t laugh.

 

It was one of those conversations that stick with you. I was in my late twenties, over at a friends, who was in a rocky relationship with his spouse. We were discussing relationships and he drew a diagram like the one above. A very simply diagram.

The purpose of the diagram was to explain how men and women argue, or discuss issues that affect their relationship. Men tend to argue linear. They build on point A to point B, to point C and so on. Women do the same, yet point E may be vitally related to point B, and even point B may involve point Q. Women’s arguments tend to be interconnected.

I was amazed by this revelation, it made so much sense to me at the time. Of course, this diagram is a very broad generalization. Not all men argue in a linear fashion, nor do all women build their arguments like a spiderweb. I’ve often wondered what the marriage therapist was trying to tell my friend and his spouse.

I will say, that over the years, the idea that men and woman look at things differently has stuck with me. I have had discussions with women in my life that I saw the spiderweb, knew I was going to lose the argument and eventually be rolled up in a silken web only to be devoured later. I have also had these conversations with men, usually managers, who find ways to make sure it is your fault.

For the most part, I don’t take credence in the diagram anymore, it’s cute, a generalization, but not accurate.

 

Inside Out

 

Yet the other day the diagram popped back into my head. I had a different perspective on it. One I am still pondering about.

We were at home watching the movie Inside Out again. If you never have seen this 2015 Disney/Pixar movie it is a much watch film. The story revolves around a tween girl named Riley that is uprooted by her fathers new job. They move from Minnesota to San Francisco California. What makes this simple premise work is the little people inside Riley’s head. Her emotions that live inside her head and operate the control room.  For adults, there are a myriad of little gems in the story that will elicit guffaws. From the Train of Thought, to memory of a jingle that just won’t go away. An earworm from Hades.

But what really caught my eye were the Islands. Called the Islands of Personality in the film, these little places were meaningful things in Riley’s life that became so special they have their own place (island) in Riley’s mind. Each island is connected to Headquarters (control room) and the ‘little voices’ inside Riley’s head can look out on the Islands of Personalities. I noticed that the islands were connected by a straight line, like a conduit or synapse to headquarters.

Looking at those connections, and watching my autistic daughter giggle at the movie, made me think about something she has recently started to say. And I wondered, are those connections really a straight line of thought with her?

 

Swallow your feelings

 

About a week ago, my daughter handed me a small stick and told me to “take this stick and swallow your feelings”. She giggled, and so did my son. (I did not swallow the stick, just so you know.) I did asked where this phrase came from. Did it come from a cartoon? A video game? A friend. My son told me that Alexis just said it. She made it up he said. Honestly I am not sure that is true, but wherever it came from, she had taken a liking to the phrase.

She used this phrase most of the week, then on Friday we all sat down in the evening to watch a movie, Inside Out.

That is when the old diagram and the conduits to the Islands of Personalities started to merge in my mind.

What you will find often enough with young autistics, is that when you ask them a question, there is a delay in response. In school, this can sometimes be seen as not knowing the answer to a particular question, but in reality, it is processing time. Autistics seem to have a delayed response. This, I should note, is the appearance to us Neural Typical people. Not necessarily what is going on inside their heads.

With High Functioning Autism, I have found more and more there is scant research and information as to how they think. Most of the research is devoted to making them behave like us, conformity. While that isn’t wholly a bad concept, I personally think it’s a little off. Personally, I would rather they would work with Translation than Conformity.

Translation works like this. My daughter has emotions. She isn’t dead inside. In fact she is vibrant with emotions. She just can’t get them out for you to see. Or when she does, she selects the wrong one. Her islands of personality do not have straight paths, in fact, they are a spiderweb of paths. She has to sort through the tangle web to find the correct response. Sometimes, the paths get crossed, or intertwined. Yet while the character Riley from the movie had Emotions that controlled her from Headquarters via a console, in Alexis’ case, the console is a little glitchy. She may select one emotion, yet another comes up. Much to her chagrin.

These are the things I work on with her. Helping her learn what is the ‘normal’ response to a situation. How to deal with emotionally charged moments, and to seek out the proper response. I don’t force her, I guide her. I ask questions, and if the response is incorrect to what society expects, I do my best to explain. It is not a perfect method, it is time-consuming and well, frustrating at times for both of us.

The common method now is conformity. Basically taking away and giving, to make an autistic conform to societal rules. This method may work better for some, I’m not knocking it, have used it to a degree, yet I don’t feel the carrot and stick method works that well with HFA. They will outsmart you, and use it against you.

 

Spiderwebs

 

It was the combination of the movie, and my old friends diagram, and her new catchphrase that gave me a new insight into my daughters mind. What exactly the stick represents, I really am not sure. Yet swallowing one’s feelings? I have a hunch that is how she sees our world. That maybe, more often than not, she has to swallow her feelings rather than express them. Because expressing her feelings is hard, yet swallowing them? That is easy for her. Better to leave them inside rather than select the wrong emotion.

Yet, it comes with a price. Like the stick in the metaphor, to swallow a stick would be a hard thing to do, getting stuck in one’s throat, tasting nasty and dry. Leaving you with a bad taste, and a sore throat. Emotions, and our ability to express them correctly, is hard enough for those of us that do not fall into the Autistic Spectrum. For autistics, the wrong selection could be catastrophic. So, swallowing the stick is sometimes better than selecting the wrong emotion.

 

 

…Not Judgement.

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A sign posted on an elementary school wall.

 

Last week when I picked up my 5-year-old niece from her Pre-K class I passed a wall plastered with pictures and stories. In the center was this sign.

Autism is one word trying to describe millions of stories. and underneath, offer support, not judgement.

This may seem sappy, but the sign, the wall, what had been going on in my life at that moment, hit me hard. I did my best to hold it together and walked on to pick up my niece. Walking through a crowded hallway of parents and overly excited 4 to 5 year olds, who jostling each other for a turn at the drinking fountain. I signed my niece out, lead her out of the school, stopping to snap a picture of the sign. Then I thought about writing this blog. But I didn’t write. I thought about it for nearly a week.

I fully feel the support. From friends, family, school teachers and professionals who help us with Alexis’ Autism. It is a wonderful feeling, and I am truly grateful.

Yet at times, I feel the judgement. For many, Autism is just an unknown. They look at it from the outside and see…well they see a new car. See, I thought about the sign for nearly a week, and found an analogy that made sense.

 

Analogy Time!

 

Lets say, for the sake of analogies, Alexis is a new car. Snazzy, looks great on the outside. Sunroof, all the new fangled bells and whistles. I drive this car everyday. So I know this car well.

On occasion I give people rides. They like my new car, say it works like every other new car they know, looks like a normal car to them too. But they don’t drive it everyday like I do.

See, every once in a while, my navigation system won’t talk to me. It is very frustrating. I really need it to work sometime, but it doesn’t some days. Selective Mutism.

Then the fuel system doesn’t work, and my car vapor locks on me. Just stops.  Getting it to work again can take days. Sometimes, I have to take it into the shop. Gastrointestinal issues.

The sun roof is stubborn too. It will open, but refuses to close. Hangs up and the navigation system complains it hurts too much to close. Tactile Issues, Hair.

But everyone sees this awesome car on the outside, and they don’t understand the issues I have with it. I can tell them, and they will listen, but then they look at my new car, and shake their heads at me.

“It’s fine, what are you talking about. Can I have a ride?” They ask.

“Sorry, not today, the fuel system is backed up and the navigation system quit talking to me about it. Sunroof needs an adjustment too.” I tell them.

“You know? You complain about that car too much. It’s fine, you just need to drive it like everyone else who owns a car like that. You probably don’t know how to operate it properly, it looks just fine to me!” I hear. And all I can do is sigh.

Silly as this analogy is, unfortunately it is accurate.

Alexis has issues that come with Autism. Even as high functioning as she is, there are still issues that seem to baffle people.

In her case, Autism is expressed by extreme anxiety. Yet this anxiety is quirky. Things that freak other people out? Like roller coasters? She’s fine with them.

She loves roller coasters.

Yet a word, a phrase, a look can push her anxiety levels to nearly catastrophic levels. She will go mute, she will lash out, she make odd sounds and nervous tics. Then she will become constipated due to her anxiety. Which, a little TMI, becomes a nightmare to deal with. From as little as going through ten pairs of undergarments a day, to doctors visits when it gets severe.

There is also the impression that she needs to learn to behave like other children. Or that this is just a phase she will just grow out of. As if this is a cold she will shake, and I am overreacting.

She will never behave like other children, she will not grow out of it.

She will learn to adjust to our world. Find ways to cope with stresses that plague her now. She will grow, learn, become a productive adult. In her own way. I am so very thankful she will. Other who have autism, are not so lucky.

I don’t doubt her future successes, yet right now she is (and we are) in the adjustment part. Working on routines to keep life on an even keel for her. Because at this point, routines are important for her, and difficult to keep in the busy, fast paced, modern life.

I call Autism The Wicked Little Tailor, because it is. Autism truly is one word to describe Millions of stories. Each person whom it touches, it does so in its own unique way. No two autistics are alike. Each person wears their own little suit of autism, and has to cope with it.

Those of us who are the caregivers, we have to not only help them, but be an advocate for them. Do our best to teach others.

And honestly? It sucks sometimes. Teaching others. They would rather judge than listen.

Because to them, the car is new and shiny, it should work like every other car its age. They are only the occasional rider, they don’t drive it everyday like I do.

 

A little on the quirky side.

Unicorn Alexis

Alexis behind a Unicorn Mask. / Photo by KidZond.

 

Like any parent, I have a lot of hopes for my children. You bring these little persons into the world and try to teach and guide them so they can stand on their own. You wish nothing but the best for them, and wish with all your heart, that they will succeed in their life better than you. You’re fearful of the world, and what the world may do to them, but you know if you give them the right tools, they will be just fine.

Yet when you have a child with High Functioning Autism, the fear is magnified a hundred fold. The deck is stacked against her from the start.

We’ve only been on this rollercoaster of learning about our Autistic daughter for a little less than a year now. Dozens of meetings with doctors, counselors, school staff and reading. A lot of reading and research. At times for me, the challenges of giving my daughter the tools to have a happy healthy life are daunting. It can make you feel very small, very ignorant, and very angry.

Anger is my biggest problem. Most people don’t see my anger. I’m usually considered a jovial guy, even when subjects come up in the course of conversations that normally piss everyone off, I’m the guy who takes it all in stride.

Except when it comes to my kids. I’m very defensive.

Yes of course you should be defensive of your children. I’m not a helicopter parent, more of a military drone style. I’ll let it go on for a bit, then come in low with missiles ready to fire and blow you up verbally. It’s not a good trait, I don’t like being like this. But, it’s my kids. Still, until my wife pointed out that this drone style of attack wasn’t helping the situation, I had been lashing out.

She was right of course, I was wrong. I ran afoul of my own passion to defend my daughter, just to exacerbate the situation. I need to find a way to redirect, to work on getting those who can understand Alexis, to understand. Those who are incapable…well to just let it go.

Fairy Brides are Quirky.

For years I have been an avid Folklore buff. Mostly British folklore. In those stories that I have read and re-read, I have run across the Fairy Bride. A quirky set of tales that have not made it to Disney yet. Yet these tales help put things in perspective, and makes me wonder if Autism was a foundation for the tale.

Fairy Brides are a big part of British Folklore. A man meets a beautiful woman and marries her on the spot, so to speak. Yet his bride is quirky, she has trouble adjusting to the mortal worlds social norms. Fairy Brides tend to cry at Weddings, and laugh at Funerals. Much to the consternation of the mortal husband. They do socially inept things that often cause the husband to have to admonish his wife, to try to change her, mold her into being a ‘Good Wife’. Often the story ends with the Fairy Bride leaving the husband, his life now in ruins.

While the moral of the story is one about the fallacy of Love of Beauty alone, (for Fairy Brides are the loveliest of creatures) it also makes me think of Autism. A woman, from another plane of existence, has to adjust to a world that just doesn’t make sense to her. A world that demands she conform, behave as they expect her to, not as she is. Yet she never does, and in the end, goes back to a world that makes sense to her.

This is a problem I face with Alexis. Not so much her, and her autism, but to how others react to it.

Some people just believe that we are bad parents. That we need to correct her more. Others feel she is conning us, twisting things around so she can get her way. They get confused by her actions and react badly because they just don’t understand that she does not think like they do. That social norms they take for granted, are not to be found with her.

Now while some will learn, other will refuse to. No matter how I explain it. Even if I say those infamous words “Don’t take my word for it, read this…” , they still are locked into their opinion that this is some sort of great game to Alexis. That she is a puppet master and we are merely puppets.

Of course the part that really gets my proverbial goat is the “Fix it” or “Grow out of it” mentality I run across. Those who believe they can fix Alexis’ autism by doing this or that. Or that she’ll one day just grow out of it. She won’t. This is her, it is how she will be for the rest of her life.

And that is when I call for a drone strike, lashing out verbally against those who think this is all some sort of game.

And, I have to stop that.

Because my wife was right, lashing out isn’t helping me, her, or our daughter. You can educate people, help them understand that Alexis isn’t being a brat, it’s just that she thinks in a way that you can not fathom. I need to just learn that not everyone will get it, not everyone will accept her, and that my job as a father, and our job as parents, are to work with her to help her understand that not everyone will understand.

Our hopes are to give our HFA daughter the tools she needs to lead a good life. To enjoy family and friends. To have the career she wants. To teach her that although like a Fairy Bride in the mortal world, she can learn to adjust to our theoretical “Neural Typical” world, and still be herself.

Because like a Fairy Bride, with all her quirkiness, she is the Most Beautiful of Creatures to us.

The Inexplicable.

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Statue of a child reading to a dog. / Photo by KidZond.

 

So now what? It happened again, as it has happened before. A person with a grudge, or madness, or maybe just disconnected with humanity, took innocent lives.

Pundits abound, and yes, even me. Yet don’t expect answers from me. I don’t have any, only questions, many questions.

The first question I have is Gun Control. Logically, and let’s be real here, logically we should have stricter gun control. National Registry, more in-depth background checks, maybe even restricting who can have guns. You can’t possess alcohol in the United States until you are 21. Smoke until you are 18. Defend your Nation until you are 18. Why should children touch weapons until then? Logical question.

But we know the answer. Whether you are “Pro-Gun” or “Anti-Gun” the ability to control some 300 Million firearms is daunting, if not impossible. From lawsuits to skirting the law by schematics, to definitions as to what exactly is a dangerous firearm. Gun Control, as noble and lofty as is sounds, is impractical for prevention of gun violence.

The 2nd Amendment needs to be repealed argument comes up. Considering that we only have 27 Amendments in our “241 years” as a nation, should tell you something about how hard that would be. Yes some Amendments have been repealed, but the 2nd Amendment? That is not going to happen.

Of course Mental Illness has entered the discussion. With many using Mental Illness as a foil to this scourge just like others, who use an inanimate object as the foil. Obviously the teen in Texas had to be mad, because sane people do not just kill people. So goes the argument. Yet many suffer from mental illness and live out productive, well-adjusted lives, never once posing a threat to others, much less themselves.

And whether those who perpetrate these crimes are mentally ill or not, labeling a whole group, or suggesting this group alone is responsible, is damning to our society. Especially to sufferers who want nothing more than to be accepted. Try telling your boss you take medicine for depression and not have them start to ‘watch you’. Bantering about mental illness as the sole cause is absurd.

Then there are those who say it is societies fault. That if we just had fathers in those children’s home, or if we didn’t have video games full of violence, they would grow up just fine. However many people grow up in broken homes. Homes filled with violence, drugs, and alcohol. Yet they do not go out and murder people.

You could say this is all due to a lack of Faith. That God has been stricken from the classroom and demeaned to the point of being called a fairytale, and this is the root cause. However it was religious zealots who took down the Twin Towers in New York City. Jim Jones, David Koresh, and dozens of examples exist to say that Religion doesn’t prevent mass killings. Of course Stalin wasn’t a very religious guy and he murdered millions. Individual shooters in recent events have not professed great faith or lack there of.

 

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Daniele Crespi – Cain Killing Abel/Wiki Commons.

 

One possibility to this issue can be found in an old archetype story from the Bible. The story of Cain and Able. The ‘First Murder’.

In the story Cain’s offerings to God are rejected. His brother Able’s are accepted. This implied jealousy finally drives Cain to murder his brother Able.

So the story goes.

However the story has other meanings that are missed. At one point, God warns Cain that Evil is ‘knocking at the door’ (paraphrasing the passage). God tells Cain to be wary of his feelings and attitude. Cain, ignores this and slays his brother.

And while there are many other metaphors that can be taken from this story, this warning from God stands out to me.

See, when it comes down to it, it is the individuals decision that casts the die. They are the ones that plan out their heinous acts. They are the only one who readies themselves. Who, if so inclined, has to confront what evil they plan to do. And if they have self-doubt, or find their humanity, and sanity to turn away from their deed, change their own mind and stop themselves.

No matter what we do as a society, what laws we pass, amendments we repeal, court ordered mental evaluations, those who wish to do harm to others, they, and only they, can stop themselves.

This doesn’t negate our responsibility as members of society. We should be vigilant to stop those who wander the path of Cain. We should exam all avenues that can prevent these terrible crimes, to protect the innocent, and make us safer.

No one political or ideological solution will solve this. Blaming others to make sense of these tragic events does not one damn bit of good. Finding solutions to stop future tragedies is not based on Gun Control, 2nd Amendment Rights, School Security, Mental Health, or Legal solutions. It is based on all of these combined, working in concert, to solve a greater issue. Stopping the inexplicable, less we find ourselves wandering in the land of Nod forever.

 

[Opinions expressed in this Blog are the Authors and the Authors alone.]
https://www.npr.org/2016/01/05/462017461/guns-in-america-by-the-numbers
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cain_and_Abel