A Meltdown Met With Compassion

A few days ago, I dropped my autistic son off for therapy. He was in the midst of a minor meltdown the continued outside the car(meltdowns are not uncommon in the world of autism) and it was enough to draw attention. A gentleman standing by his vehicle glanced in my direction. I ignored it like I usually do. So, I took J inside and we said our usual goodbyes.

As I returned to my car, the glancing gentleman approached me, gave me his business card and began crying. He put his arm around me and said, “Call me sometime, I have an 18-year-old with autism. Bless you.” He got in his vehicle and left.

I misjudged the man’s glance. His gesture was the kind of compassion the moment called for.

An American 4th @ Morgan’s Wonderland

Authentic moments of American pride are scarce in our contentious political environment of late, but I experienced such an occasion this morning. Today our family celebrated the Fourth of July at Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas, an inclusive amusement park that is especially accommodating to those with special needs.

While waiting for the water park to open we attended the ceremony honoring first responders and military personnel, current and veterans. We were treated with a presentation of the national anthem you won’t hear at your typical America sporting event. Two students from The Academy at Morgan’s Wonderland school for students with special needs, Leah and Gabriel, along with their teacher, Sierra, humbly sang the words “Oh say can you see”.  Afterward, Leah sang a passionate cover of  Firework that would have brought tears to Katy Perry’s eyes.

13_colonies_American_FlagWhat moved me was watching two individuals, who, for me, represent the vast population of special needs Americans, honor another group of Americans, and I mean specifically veterans here, that share a common reality; neither of these groups receive the fully funded care that they need and deserve.  And yet, they faithfully stood and honored the very country that deprives them.  It was a dose of humility that we all need to swallow. Surely, we can do better by these and others. We must!

Our nation’s leaders sit a very power tables. While they have laid out fear and despair on the table-cloth, there are still those, like Leah and Gabriel, who remind us of an America that can still offer hope to its most fragile citizens and to those beyond her borders.  So, on this day as we remember the words of our founding declaration that ALL have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, let us be about the business of improving life for, not just some, but ALL Americans.

Thanks, Morgan’s Wonderland. We’ll be back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

10 Year Old With Autism Arrested

The Washington Post recently reported that a 10 year old boy with Autism was arrested at his school for a 3rd degree felony charge.

I read this story with great interest as a parent of a child with Autism and as an educator. The story is no doubt incomplete.  There is always more information than what the public is given. One thing is for sure, getting upset or offended by the vile comments made by those with little understanding or compassion would be futile. I’m here to educate and foster constructive dialogue.

No two individuals on the spectrum are alike. For example, some cannot communicate verbally, while others, like the 10 year old at the center of the report, can verbalize quite well.  And, yes, just like the boy does in the video, that may include dropping the proverbial “f-bomb”.  But I hear that from neurotypical students every day. So, it’s inconsequential to the story as far as I’m concerned. I am more concerned how instances like these, as outrageous as they are, can serve as a learning opportunity for all.

While we cannot ignore the  “throw ’em in jail” attitude when dealing with difficult students. Our culture has a long history of this easy way out.  But this incident, like most, was likely avoidable. It highlights the need to better train our public educators and to cultivate a greater understanding in the hearts and minds of the general public on the subjects of Autism and neurodiversity.  A properly trained educator will better detect the triggers that can lead to a tantrum, meltdown, or an aggressive episode.

This is an opportunity for understanding and new learning -not judgment. My prayers are with the boy, his mother, as well as the educators involved.

 

 

 

 

Lessons From Autism: #1

Prior to meeting my wife, Kerri, I had limited exposure to Autism.  Sure, there were students with Autism on the campus where I taught English at the time. I’d see the them in the hallway or stop by their classroom to say “hello,” but that’s about all I knew.

When Kerri and I began writing back and forth via an online dating website it was clear there was a connection between the two of us.  The writing went on longer than I experienced as typical [typical: I’ll return to this word often].  Anyhow. ..I began to wonder if things would ever progress to a phone call.

“She’s hiding something. . .I know it!” I thought.  Hmmm.

AS205So, I nudged. And still she held out on giving out her phone number.   “I get it,” I thought. She’s a single mom of two. . .doesn’t want to jump in to things.   But there was a connection!  Why the hesitation? Surely this is worth of a phone conversation. So, I twisted her arm in a virtual sense and, finally, the digits.

Several conversations later, Kerri took a significant personal risk and told me about her son with Autism. This, I later learned, went against the advice of her friends.  To my own surprise I didn’t flinch.  I wanted to hear about him. The connect only grew stronger and I could explain why. Little did I know I was standing a the two roads that diverged in a yellow wood.

After that conversation, I had multiple epiphanies.  This was a big deal for Kerri.  It’s kind of disclosure that results in a great deal of vulnerability.  And it’s the kind of information  would cause the recipient to bow out and move on. This is a real fear of many single parents with Autistic children…”Will the person I’ve grown to love leave?”

I’ll be honest.  If I had met Kerri a few years earlier I might have been that person to take my first exit.  But I was experiencing something I hadn’t in a long time.   My spiritual, emotional, and mental heath had simultaneously found a calm place.  The time was right for, not just any relationship, but one that would involve anything but the typical state of affairs.

I’ve learned a great deal about life in the past two years.  There have been, and will continue to be, frustrations that challenge every ounce of human patience.  Likewise, there are moments that reach the peak of joy.  And there is literally every emotion in between.  Autism, like other disabilities, brings perspective to life.  There is little energy to spend on matters that are  of little consequence (and those matters differ from person to person).

One of the many lessons I have learned thus far is to challenge people  who say, “I couldn’t do what you do.”  My response?  “Yes, you can, and someday you likely will.”  It might be caring for a child with a disability, a parent that develops Alzheimer’s, a sibling who suddenly needs lifelong care, or a spouse that one day needs you to feed them.

Sure, there will always be those who cut and run because they are too afraid to come out of their narcissism.  For the most of us, however, love and compassion will prevail.  And we will deepen our understanding what it means to be human.

 

 

The Handicap Placard: Why We Use It

UnknownOn occasion one will find my vehicle parked in a handicapped space. And there’s a good reason for it.

This post is not a defense, nor is it an apology. It is an explanation to increase awareness.

Obtaining a handicap placard isn’t as easy as some people assume. There are specific disabilities that qualify an individual (or his or her driver) to park in reserved parking. Some of these disabilities are visible to the eye: some are not. Therein lies the problem for those who do not understand, or worse, roll their eyes and cast stones when they see someone using a handicap space that they think shouldn’t be.

Imagine an 8 year old boy whose neurological processing does not allow for the same awareness of surroundings as the typical individual. Place that boy in a crowded and busy parking lot and the likelihood of him running in front of a moving vehicle is increased exponentially. To an onlooker it’s the child of a neglectful parent. In reality, it’s a boy with autism who, growing stronger everyday, that, at any moment, will impulsively pull away from his parents and run haphazardly into danger.

My wife and I use the placard when we feel it’s necessary, especially when visiting a “big box” store. Most of the time we don’t. But when we do passersby won’t see Jakob’s disability. But it’s there. And our job as parents is to get him safely from the car to the front door.

So, to those who are quick to judge those without visible disabilities, please give pause and consider what limitations lie beneath the surface.

Likewise, to those who have a family member that qualifies for a handicap placard, please don’t use it if that person isn’t in the car. It doesn’t help the rest of us.

I Caught You Looking: The joys of public scrutiny.

J can be loud in public. Any child can. I suppose a loud scream is expected more from a small child than an 8-year-old boy. But J has autism. That’s his (and my family’s) reality. He’s going to make noise at any moment and it can be piercing to the ear.

Today, as my wife took the boys out to the car while I paid for our items at Costco, J did his thing as he passed by the woman in front of me. She glanced at me and then I caught her full-on-turn-the-head-look at him as he walked out. I wanted to say, “He spared you his best effort.” But I moved on with my life.

This happens frequently. I don’t know what people think when they look. I don’t care.

I’ve never been bothered by children in public, save the rare climber behind me in a restaurant booth. And I have always tried to curb my judgment about their parents.

One of the young parents I follow on Facebook, a woman who used to be in a church youth group I served years ago, recently told a story about the sharp judgment she received from an onlooker when her child was in full on tantrum mode in public. This mom was simply trying to get her child to the car for safety and a place to calm down. To the onlooker, I say, your insertion into this mom’s life is unwarranted and unwanted. Thanks for being unhelpful. Move along.

Our society is plagued with people who seem to know what’s better for other people’s children, even if they themselves have children. But such arrogant superiority doesn’t stop at judging how others parent. Folks will look and judge and shake their heads over many other things: the fashion a woman chooses, watching two men walk down the street holding hands, loud children, the eye roll when a single mother takes out her WIC card to buy groceries, children in public, and so on. Oh, did I mention children in public?

I would think people have enough on their plate than to cast stones at those around them. Parents will do what they feel works best (an I’m not speaking of abuse- that’s a different conversation) for their children or what they simply know how to do. People will live their lives in the way suits them: sometimes it’s the only option they have at the moment.

So, if you must look, offer a smile or an expression of understanding. Otherwise, look away and go about your business.