A Time for the Ages

This is a bizarre, surreal time that we are living in. Back in January, when my one “traditional” lecture course was canceled due to low enrollment, I was sort of bummed. It was replaced with an additional online class, and life moved on as normal. In hindsight, it was a blessing, as I am now somewhat carrying on “as normal” as I can from home – still, last week, when Jefferson State announced that we would close until April 6th, and then later in the week that we are closing indefinitely – life started to look differently for me.

I had thought about converting my research paper in my composition class to a Coronavirus-related topic, but I get enough of that kind of thing from the media and social platforms. I decided to be a little more personal with my online class, a venue that can easily become impersonal at times. I decided to give them a bonus discussion forum where they could vent about the virus and its effects on their lives. Here’s some of the prompt I used:

“So what are your thoughts on the virus? How has it affected you? Do you work in retail, or the food industry, or the medical field? Did you stockpile toilet paper, and if so, why? Are you afraid?”

I required them to respond to at least one classmate, and be “real” in their responses. (College course discussion boards are notorious for requiring responses, wherein students can be the most agreeable persons on the planet). I also warned them not to be keyboard cowboys here – this was no time for humiliating a classmate on social media for feeling afraid. This was a discussion board for healing.

The results, so far, have been really, really, good. Instead of the typical responses about a piece of literature they are studying, students are grappling with their feelings, fears, and anxiety about the coronavirus and posting about it. Most have written far more than the paragraph or two that I required for the assignment. All of them, like you and me, have someone that falls into the high-risk category. Some of them have been affected financially, as many in the service industry are working their way through school. Now, their futures are uncertain. The assignment was also a time for their instructor to let his feelings be known as well.

Like them, my financial future is a tad uncertain. Yes, I’m a tenured instructor, but summers aren’t guaranteed work. Rather than spreading my nine-months over twelve months, like I did when I taught high school, I get paid nine months for nine months’ work. Summer is a separate contract. If I don’t work in the summer, I don’t get paid. I can teach online from home if we are still in quarantine at that time, but if students don’t register for classes, then classes may get cancelled. I didn’t share that with my students.

I shared what is more important than financial woes. Here’s part of my lead-in to the prompt and discussion:

“This Coronavirus, I believe, is legitimate. I believe when it’s all said and done, we’re all going to know someone who gets it, and probably will all know someone who dies from it. With today’s modern age and connectivity through social media, that’s a sure bet. We’re all affected by this in some way, whether great or small. Though my wife and I are not in the age range for risk, we’re limiting contact with my in-laws and parents, who are all in their early seventies. Beyond their ages, my mother-in-law had breast cancer in the late nineties and consequently now suffers from lymphedema, and has some heart issues as well. I’m not terribly concerned that we’ll get it, or if we do get it, that we’ll die from it. My concern is that someone I love might get it and die from it.”

My college students have many of my concerns as well. If your hours at your job were cut back or if you were furloughed, you may be worried not only about the bills, but now also about how to teach your children as a newbie homeschool parent with no preparation. But don’t forget your children’s concerns. While they may not be college students who are worried about bills, they may still be anxious about the future. They may have questions about why they are home all the time, and why they can’t take their spring break vacation to the beach, etc. It’s okay to give them some answers, and it’s okay to be real with them, as I urged my college students to be real with each other. You may be surprised how much your children understand about the situation.

Here’s how I wrapped up my lead-in before finally giving them their writing prompt:

“I have friends on social media (and IRL, so to speak) who are taking it very seriously, and working from home, limiting contact with others.  I also have friends who think it’s some hoax or some governmental plot to take away our freedoms, and they’re going about their daily lives – neither is true, of course. It’s not much different than the flu of 1918. These things come around every hundred years or so, and they are not fiction.”

“Have any of you read Stephen King’s ‘Night Surf,’ or his novel The Stand? Both are about this sort of thing. I know it won’t get near the level of either of those two scenarios, but there is a good bit of fear out there. With so many event cancellations and quarantining, life will look differently through the lens of 2020 when we look back on it. This is ironic, since ‘2020’ is usually the name for clear vision. I think this pandemic may clear up our vision a bit and show us what is most important in our lives. Perhaps it is life’s way of making us slow down and spend a little more time with the ones we love.”

If there is a positive to take away from all of this, that may be it. Maybe we all slow down and spend some good quality time with our families. Maybe we learn that we not only love those short people that are running around our house, but that we actually like them as well. And maybe, for some of you, you learn that you, too, can homeschool – and that parents are, in many cases, the best teachers for their kids.

I closed out my assignment with this:

“This is a time for us to comfort and come together, not tear each other down.”

I’ll echo that here. With social media, we have connections and access to more people than ever – hopefully, your newsfeed is full of a variety of people, not just folks who all think like you. If you do have some variety there, be kind. Have a healthy respect for their views. You don’t have to agree with them, but it would be nice at a time like this if we could all get through it without too much bickering.  

Be safe – and wash your hands!

~ Brian

Hands on Fire

A couple of weeks ago Collier tested and earned his first rank in karate – his yellow belt. He was beaming with pride at having earned this achievement, and we were proud of him. He loves to please. In fact, when he was testing, we were in the room, and we thought he would  lose points for looking at us every time he performed a move instead of paying attention to his instructor.  

At last week’s belt ceremony, when we got there, Collier was sent to a back room – away from us, which always makes us kind of nervous. As it turned out, all the students were in an adjacent room with a temporary, movable wall between them and the parents. After the opening remarks, each group of students who earned their next belt were called out in front of the parents, and their names were called.  

“When I call each student’s name, I want you to clap like your hands are on fire,” said owner Danny Williams, “these kids worked hard and deserve it.”  

Collier came out with his group, and he was radiant, and as with other situations, he kept his eyes on us at all times. His eyes were wide, with his eyebrows raised in anticipation of his name being called. When it was, he stepped forward, and we obeyed Mr. Williams’ command. Our hands lit up. 

Though Mr. Williams need not tell us…….. there are many areas in Collier’s life where he struggles, so any opportunity we have to praise him when he does achieve, we take.  I was extremely proud of him, and I wanted to show it. It’s a great accomplishment for anybody, let alone someone on the spectrum. 

The areas of life that autism can affect are endless. For Collier, one of his struggles is with processing oral directions, and the testing for his yellow belt was fast. Really fast. Thankfully, he passed, as did all the students in his testing group. Not all of them always do, we were told. We know that the day is coming when he won’t pass one of the tests, particularly if the speed gets faster. But for the time being, he has earned a yellow belt in karate.  

Earning his yellow belt is just one in many fights with the bully where Collier won. You  see, autism is a bully. It robs Collier and others of lots of achievements that other kids so easily earn. It makes me sick. But at the same time, he can and does earn and achieve lots of things, from merit badges in Boy Scouts to trophies in baseball to good grades – just in his own time.  

But am I always celebrating his victories? Am I always cheering loud enough for him? Am I giving him the affirmation that he needs? Are my hands on fire? 

In the days following the belt ceremony, Mr. Williams’ words kept swimming in my mind. Too many times Collier gets frustrated because he can’t do something, and we push him to do as many things as his typical peers do, but do we recognize his achievements enough? 

In the midst of helping him succeed in school, Boy Scouts, karate, ABA therapy, speech therapy, piano, and other activities he participates in, am I doing enough in the cheering department? Sometimes I worry in all the busyness that we get wrapped up in that I’ll forget to be thankful of what we have and what he’s accomplished. 

Every rank in Scouts that he earns, and every merit badge he earns, I want to be there clapping. Every hit he makes in baseball, I want to be there cheering. Every bit of progress he makes in ABA therapy, I want to celebrate. Every new step he takes in speech therapy, and every time he goes bravely to the chiropractor table, I want to scream about. And yes, every new belt he earns in karate, I want to clap like my hands are on fire. 

I don’t ever want them to go out. 

~Brian  

Around the Campfire that Wasn’t

On Wednesday, Collier and I went to our January session of “Homeschool Appreciation Day” – his Collierism for Class Day at Valley Creek Academy, the school we use for our homeschool cover. Even though I am always the only dad there, and really the only adult male there, save for the retired fella that teaches science and one lonely grandpa – I still enjoy going each month. It’s a school day off, and a day to be around other homeschool parents and students. It’s where Collier learned that he may like martial arts. Who knew? It can be busy and noisy and sometimes unpredictable, but Collier loves it just the same.  

This month’s Class Day included much of the same as last semester – science and then art, karate, cooking, 4-H, and whatnot. But tucked in the middle of the day was a new session. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that session would break my heart. 

It was the Campfire session. There was a lady from Camp Fletcher there to teach the students some facet of camping. Today’s lesson was on building your own compass. I’m not sure how other Class Days work, but at VCA, sometimes there are two classes offered concurrently for each age group, and the students can choose which session they want to attend. Collier and I decided the Campfire session sounded better than cooking. (We’ve never been to cooking – afraid they would cook something not gluten free, we’ve always chosen karate instead). This semester, though, Campfire and Cooking were the two competing sessions.  

We got there and Camp Fletcher Lady and her assistant were super nice to Collier, even hanging out with him while I ran to put his artwork in the car so I wouldn’t have to keep up with it. He was the only student there when I left, and he was still the only one when I got back. After about six or seven minutes, it was apparent he was going to be the only one there. All the other kids chose cooking.  

Not to be discouraged, she told us what today’s lesson was going to be. We chatted about their facility (why not? That’s how we got into karate lessons, after all), and then she told Collier he could stay and make the compass, or we could go to cooking. He chose cooking, though we did take a lesson plan for the compass. I think it will be a neat project.  

Cooking was fine. We watched other kids help the teacher make a homemade bubbly pizza bake, as well as some homemade Caesar dressing, which really was fantastic. We then had lunch, and afterwards I handed Collier off to his Nana and Pop. They stay with him for 4-H when it’s time for me to head to work. 

After Collier’s karate lesson tonight, and after we got home from celebrating my dad’s birthday, and AFTER Collier had been in bed a while, when he SHOULD have been asleep, he came stumbling down the hall:  

“Dad?” 

“Yeah buddy?” 

“Remember that Campfire lady, and how we were the only ones there, and we left her for Cooking?” 

“Yes, I remember. Why?” 

“Do you think she felt bad?” 

I’m not sure she did, but I sure did. At least after Collier not-so-smoothly pointed out that we should have stayed. I was broken. 

“Dad, we should have stayed.”  

“I know buddy. I know. Next time, if she’s there, we’ll do Campfire instead  of Cooking. I promise.” 

If any of you are wondering if kids on the autism spectrum can’t feel love, or can’t have emotions or feelings, you’re wrong. They have the truest kinds of love and emotions, and the truest kind of empathy. They may not recognize it or be able to express it. They may not know how. They may just say that you should have stayed when you actually left. 

I never really thought twice that day about leaving. I did feel a little bad, as she had prepared a lesson that no one got to enjoy, but I didn’t worry over it. I didn’t let it keep me from sleeping… until now.  

We’ve prayed a lot over Collier. We’ve prayed that he would “lose” his diagnosis countless times. We’ve prayed that his IQ scores would come up. We’ve  prayed that his reading would improve. We’ve prayed that he would make friends. We’ve prayed that this time, the therapy would work, or this time,  we might actually be able to get in to therapy. We’ve prayed and prayed. Man, have we prayed.  

Amidst all those prayers though, sometimes I tend to overlook my blessings. Because one of the prayers that I’ve had for years and years – since Collier was itty bitty – was for him to grow up to be a better man than I. If anything, that night showed that answered prayer to me. We followed the crowd when we shouldn’t have, and he knew it. 

Next month, we won’t worry about being the only people in the session. We won’t feel weird, and we won’t follow the crowd. We’ll go to the Campfire session, and we’ll have a good time doing it.   

Next month, Collier will sleep soundly after “Homeschool Appreciation Day.” And so will I.  

~ Brian 

Smiles and Strikes

A few months ago, Brian had written a post about how Collier had enjoyed the martial arts portion of his monthly class day. Well he has had so much fun with that little part of his class day, that we decided to let him try out real classes for a month to see if he wants to take on a more permanent basis. We had gone up in December to be fitted for our uniform and to see where he would actually be taking classes. The day we were there it was fairly quiet with just a few people, so he was pretty excited about taking classes and coming back to give it a try.

This past Friday night was his first class and when we arrived, it was a completely different scene than the first time. There were lots people everywhere, two classes going on in the glass-walled training rooms, tons of parents on the bleachers watching, and lots of noise and activity. I felt my worry levels start going up immediately because if there are two things that set off Collier’s sensory buttons, it’s noise and fluorescent lighting. I was afraid being assaulted by those immediately, he might not be able to focus once he got into class and all his excitement would be for nothing. Since we were early, we left for a few minutes and went outside, away from all the activity until it was time for his class to start.

Then it was time for the first class to begin. I had been talking it up all day and reminding him how much fun he was going to have but even then, when it came time to go in, there was just a little hesitancy. Collier often is scared to go into a new situation, even when he really wants to. His anxiety and uncertainty in himself cause him to often miss out on things he wants to do and it breaks my heart; I really didn’t want this to be one of those times. So, before we could go spiraling down that rabbit hole, we got his shoes off, him on the mat, and us out the door and to the bleachers. We made a clean get away and he stayed on the mat, so there was our first victory of the night.

Now I don’t know if you’ve ever been to a martial arts school, but with this one, the training rooms are basically big glass boxes with bleachers for the parents on the outside. Once we got settled in on our side of the glass, another level of worry set in. As sweet and loving and eager to please as Collier is…….he’s physically pretty clumsy and uncoordinated. I was immediately worried he would stand out and not be able to do things like the other kids. While he may not be a taekwondo natural, he tried his hardest and attempted everything they asked him to, from the “Chung-Be” stance to a “Palm Heel” strike. And every time he finished and ran to the back of his line, he looked out at us. He already had a smile on his face, but when we gave him our thumbs up, he absolutely lit up.

Before too long, his first class was at an end. He had managed to do all the activities, and the instructors had been very patient and helpful with him as well. I think his proudest moment was when he got a high five from the instructor who had been working with him. Of course, he immediately turned to us to make sure we had caught it. We had, and the pride he had in himself was visible. In fact, he had so much fun we went back on Saturday morning for our second class. 😊

Will he continue taking after his “trial” month? I have no idea. I hope so. I know it would be good for him to stretch himself and could help him with his focus and self-confidence. But I will let him make the ultimate decision. However, I will carry with me those big smiles that came after we showed him how proud we were. It was such a great reminder to me that as parents we need to take every opportunity we have to build our kids up.

Too many times our kiddos have to hear from the world about what they can’t do, from administrators about scores they can’t achieve, and from counselors about concessions in life that they have to make. But we as moms and dads instead can choose to focus on what they can do. Whether it’s getting a job and living independently…or surviving one taekwondo class, every victory deserves a celebration.  

~ Amye

My New Year’s UnResolutions

Last year, Amye and I came up with our own version of an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for Collier, complete with goals for him academically, socially, and functionally. Earlier this week, we sat down to look at how we did on reaching those goals last year. There were several that we met, and quite a few that we did not meet, not because Collier couldn’t stay the course, but because life got in the way and we stopped working with him on them. 

We revised the goals to reflect what we think we can achieve this year. Revising IEP goals is quite common, as those of you who have children in public school and on the spectrum know, and the same should be true for us who homeschool. We should have goals for our children, and we do for Collier. 

After Amye and I revised our goals for Collier, it was time for me to set my own goals for 2020. I broke them down into five different categories, and each category has a few goals in it. While I have financial, professional, and health goals that I want to reach [boring], the ones that garner the most attention, and are the most elusive it seems to reach, are those that are somewhat intangible and deal with family.  

In truth, the toughest goals are all a subset of one main goal: to be a better father and husband. 

Goal 1: I want to become more patient with Collier. On the surface level, I am a good father – I rearranged my schedule to help homeschool Collier [so did Amye], and I do things with him, help him with Scouts, etc., but there are times when I lose my patience with him. There are times when he just doesn’t get a concept I am trying to teach him, or he is stimming too much or just won’t let something go, and I lose my temper with him. In those times, we get frustrated and both end up upset. I want to be able to step back and give him a little more grace in those moments. After all, if it’s frustrating to me, how much more so is it for him, who’s dealing with it internally and struggling? I need to be supportive of him.  

Goal 2: I want to be more forgiving of myself when I don’t 100% reach goal #1. I will do my darnedest to keep our “classroom” positive, but if I lose sight of that momentarily, I will forgive myself and immediately move forward. No dwelling on the past, no focusing on what has happened….just looking forward to our next little victory. Collier doesn’t hold onto his past failures, so why should I? This may seem like an insignificant goal, but I’m no good to my family if I’m wallowing in self-pity.  

Goal 3: Learn to say no. This goal transcends a lot of areas for other goals, from personal to professional and everything in between. Here’s the reality: leadership is important, but we don’t have to be leaders in every organization that we are a part of. Sometimes it’s okay to be just a member – an active, supporting member. After all, there are tons of more actors in a successful motion picture than just the lead roles, and without the supporting cast, many times the movie wouldn’t be as successful. It’s okay to play a supporting role, and at times, an extra 😊. The result is to have more time available with your family, which is a more important leading role in my life anyway.  

Goal 4: Court my wife. Go on a few “dates” and at least one overnight or weekend trip with Amye, sans Collier. This is something that has been bothering me for a while. I need to date my wife. Why? Because our relationship should come first; it’s the egg that came before the chicken. Wait, what? My point is, without our relationship being healthy, taking care of Collier, raising him, teaching him… those things won’t happen. Over the last few years, autism and homeschooling have taken priority over our relationship. Now that we’ve become comfortable with both, it’s time to enjoy each other a little more.  

Those are my goals for this year – NOT resolutions, mind you. In my mind, resolutions are simply a way to sell gym memberships and plastic storage containers every January.  My goals aren’t sexy I know, but as the disabled gym card and clutter in my closets testify, I’ve never really been able to keep resolutions anyway. So, I intend to keep my streak of not keeping resolutions alive this year by way of not making any. None. I will, however, make some goals for myself for this year.  

Happy New Year! 

~ Brian 

Gold, Frankincense, and Myrrh? Not Exactly

Over the last few days, Brian has started asking what I want for Christmas…yeah he’s a last minute guy. I came up with a few things, but for some reason that question has settled in my soul, what do I REALLY want for Christmas. As I’ve been thinking about it, I came up with my real Christmas list.

Contentment. I want to be let go of all the jealousy. The jealousy I feel when I see someone able to pursue their career goals in a way I haven’t since autism came into our lives. The jealousy I feel when I see people going on fabulous vacations, vacations we can no longer afford due to medical bills. And the jealousy I feel when I see the other kids Collier’s age growing up and leaving him behind. Instead I want to embrace contentment. To rest in the real blessings I have been so graciously given: an incredible husband, a loving son, and supportive parents. To love with abandon the corner of the world that God has established for me.

Peace. It’s so easy in this constantly moving world to add so much to our plates, that tranquility in spirit becomes almost impossible. Before we know it, we’re heading to three different therapies, a couple of doctor’s appointments, trying to do a million different hands-on learning projects, and have agreed to head up yet another committee. In trying not to miss out an any opportunity that might help Collier, we sacrifice a time just to be still (well as still as rocking, flapping and spinning allows you to be) with our families. It may not be a quiet peace, autism is rarely ever quiet in our house, but I want a peace that allows us freedom from anxious thoughts and to have confidence in the decisions we’ve made for Collier. The kind of freedom that stops chasing after the normal things and starts cherishing the exceptional.

Joy. This is one that I’m trying to cultivate so, so much. So often we confuse joy with happiness, but they are so different. Happiness is a rapidly changing emotion and tends to be caused by other people or events. But joy, true joy, is a purposeful attitude that comes from deep within us. To me it is being at peace with who you are and where you are….and knowing without a doubt you have been placed there for a reason.  When I express gratitude every day, even for the smallest of things….I’m choosing joy. When I refuse to allow a situation to make me mad….I’m choosing joy. When I keep scrolling instead of debating…I’m choosing joy. I want to live a life of joy as I walk my path, even when the thorns seem to be encroaching on the clearing.

Hope. Of all the definitions of hope, the one on my Christmas list is: “to expect with confidence.” All too often though, I think we let hope just turn into another word for wish. When we say we’re hoping a new medicine or therapy works, really we’re just wishing this one does…where so many before haven’t. A few weeks ago we found a video of Collier in kindergarten and we could barely understand him now. I saw first hand how all of our prayers for speech hadn’t just been wishes made out into space, but hopeful pleas answered with confidence by our God. It was such a powerful motivator to me to stop wishing and start hoping.  True hope – based in the One who renews my strength.

So, this year while my social media feed is filled with pictures of Coach bags, iPhones, Pandora jewelry, and whatever else are the “hot” gifts now, I’m going to make a conscious effort to put that phone down and focus on my family. To stop worrying about the presents under the tree and enjoy the presence of the people around me.

Those are the real gifts I want this season.

~ Amye

Christmas in Joyland

This past Sunday was our children’s play at church. The title was Christmas in Joyland.  It had everything that makes a great kid’s play: cute kids who tried hard to get their lines correct (but were actually cuter when they didn’t), songs that fluctuated between kind of quiet and incredibly loud depending on how fun they were to sing (trust me there is no doubt you are supposed to “GO! TELL IT ON THE MOUNTAIN!”), some great dance moves, a super sweet message about giving at Christmas that has really hit me hard, and a few exhausted adults who worked so hard to give parents a memory to hold tight to for years to come. And there, a member of the “chorus”(which sounds large and grand but was really just the four kids without speaking parts) enjoying himself to no end, was Collier.

I am well aware that most “typical” sixth-grade twelve-year-olds have moved past Children’s church and into the youth group. But we’re just not there yet. That’s the thing about autism in our family –  we seem to get stuck for so long in one place and just when we start to feel like we are never going to get anywhere else… all of a sudden he jumps ahead like six places.  In the last year he’s gone from Paw Patrol cartoons to not being able to get enough of Miles Morales and Into The Spiderverse.  He’s also recently starting to push for a cellphone when he turns 13 (I’m pretty sure I’ve got an entire post on how I feel about that 😉).

We are also working hard on trying to make socially appropriate conversation, but this is one of those areas we’re moving pretty slow at. We also still struggle with attention timespan, especially when we have to be still. So right now, fun songs and learning Bible lessons through active lessons and crafts are more his speed. And that’s okay. I’m confident that soon we’ll get to the point we are ready to make that leap from the children’s group to the youth group. But for the time being, we’re thankful our church has allowed him to stay where he is comfortable and “fits” right now, rather than just move him along because he’s reached a certain age.

So here we are, spending one more year in Children’s Church, which means one more Christmas play. He’s been working hard over the last few months to try and learn all of the words and the motions that go along with them. We’ve listened to the play CD in the car while we were on the way to therapy, Boy Scouts, to run errands, and even with his grandparents when they took him to Chattanooga. I think I could have performed a one-woman version by the time Sunday rolled around. 😊

Then came Sunday morning. We dropped him off in his toy soldier costume (which was really just camouflage pj pants and a black t-shirt) and wished him luck. Then an hour or so later, it was curtains up (well, really just moving a music stand but you get the idea).  He gets right up there and tries his hardest to keep up with the other kids, even though his motor planning issues means he may be a step or two behind. He sings all the words he can remember and tries his hardest to keep his body still when the other kids are talking.

I’m sure there were people in the audience wondering why the kid who was a least a head taller than everyone else is singing in the chorus with the younger kids. Why he would sometimes walk across the stage sounding like an elephant or why he couldn’t seem to lift his hands above his head (honestly I’ve got nothing for that one, he just says he doesn’t like to). But I couldn’t have been prouder of him if he was playing Huck Finn in Big River. Collier made his joyful noise to the Lord, and I have no doubt his creator enjoyed it.

I’m hopeful that next year, we will continue our forward momentum and be able to move up to youth group. I know that will present new challenges and hurdles we can’t even imagine yet. But for right now, I’m going to enjoy this small moment and rest in the peace of spending a Christmas in our family’s Joyland.

~ Amye

Fruitful Fears

The sermon series this month at our church is called “No Fear November,” which is not just a catchy alliterative title, but one about a healthy fear of God, and how that translates into fully accepting the love of God. Two weeks ago, over the course of one sermon, the pastor posed this question: what was your greatest fear? As the day wore on, I couldn’t get the  notion out of my head, and found that notion still fluttering there in the back of my mind the next day, when we took our Boy Scout Troop on a field trip to a local television station.

The tour was really good – both entertaining and educational for our scouts, who are working on a journalism merit badge – and yet, I couldn’t get the question about fear out of my mind, even amidst a great tour. As with most dads, my greatest fears all surround my son – Collier. Some of those are what typical dads fear about their typical sons:

What kind of man will he become?

Have I prepared him fully for adulthood?

Have I taught him the things I really want him to know?

Will he get married and give me grandkids?

Will he come to know Jesus?

But then, always rearing their ugly little heads, are other fears that are not typical, that are somewhat unique to dads of special needs children, particularly those on the autism spectrum:

Will he live independently? How can I help him do that?

Will he be able to have a job or career?

Will he contribute to society?

Will he grow up and fall in love one day? Will she treat him right?

Will he give me grandkids?

Does he understand, or will he be able to understand, about heaven and hell? Will he come to know Jesus?

As you can see, there is some cross over. Some things that are common to all dads and all kids – questions about adulthood, but the fears parents have about their child on the spectrum are tweaked a little from their peers, just like our children.

Most parents don’t have to worry about whether their child will grow up to live independently. It’s just a given. But not on the spectrum. The idea that Collier may not be able to live independently has lingered so long in the back of my mind I had just come to accept its presence, like that odd person that comes to the party and sits in the corner the whole night. It’s always there, in the back of my mind. I won’t say I’ve come to terms with it, but I will say that the older Collier gets, the more I have to hold on to my faith that he will live independently one day.  

You probably noticed one other notable similarity between my fears and those of a typical father: Jesus. For folks like Collier, who are on the spectrum and are visual learners, it can be difficult to grasp the abstract. Heaven and hell are pretty abstract, and are difficult for even adults to grapple with, which is one of the reasons Collier’s salvation has been on our prayer list for so long.

On the way home from our field trip to the television station, he told me he didn’t want to go to hell, and asked me what he needed to do to go to heaven and be with Jesus. I told him to ask Jesus into his heart, to be his Lord and Savior. That night, we brought Collier into the living room to talk about salvation and pray with him, but to our surprise, he told us he had already done it, on his own, before getting in the shower.

That’s just like Collier. Two weeks prior, we had gone to a Judgment House, a Christian answer to the scary houses that the Halloween season produces. In the Judgment House, we got to see scenes from both heaven and hell. Though we had talked about both of these before many times, seeing the visual of them helped him to understand what was at stake, and the fruit appeared two weeks later.

To say that we were relieved would be an understatement. We’ve been praying for this for a long time, not only that he would get saved, but to understand why he needed to ask Jesus into his heart.

Those fears that I have about being a parent – from teaching Collier what he ought to know, to guiding him to independent living, to him getting a job and contributing to society, and all the rest – they are all important. Every single one of them. And I may fall flat on my face and fail at every single turn. But there is one that I get to cross off the list.

And it’s the most important.

–Brian

I’m Thankful

Remember a few years ago when everyone on Facebook would do the 30 days of “thanks” during November on Facebook? Well, I have admission…I never did it. That trend started while we were still adjusting to the word “autism” and, if I’m being honest, I thought I’d never really have anything to be thankful for again. I would watch everyone with all their thankful posts and want to throw my phone against the wall. Well….several years, hundreds of prayers, and thousand of moments later…here we are. And even if I haven’t quite made “peace” with autism, we have at least created enough of a truce for me to find my thankfulness again. So… I decided to make my own list and yeah, I know I’m about five years late and it’s no longer the “hip” thing to do. But, if you know me, you know I’ve never really been on the cutting edge of any trend so, here we go my own autism thankfulness list…..

  1. I’m thankful my son says, “I love you.”
  2. I’m thankful my husband says, “I love you.”
  3. I’m thankful it’s now November and culturally acceptable to listen to Christmas music.
  4. I’m thankful my parents are such a huge part of Collier’s life.
  5. I’m thankful for a Boy Scout troop who is so accepting of Collier.
  6. I’m thankful for the dads of that troop who are such good leaders and examples for the boys.
  7. I’m thankful for coffee (lots and lots of coffee).
  8. I’m thankful my son can go to the grocery store without melting down.
  9. I’m thankful God provided a way for us to homeschool Collier.
  10. I’m thankful for an old friend who opened a door for me to work from home.
  11. I’m thankful Collier likes to hug.
  12. I’m thankful it’s Little Debbie Christmas Tree Cake season.
  13. I’m thankful Collier doesn’t think he’s too cool to be seen with me (yet).
  14. I’m thankful that I wake up next to my best friend every day.
  15. I’m thankful that my son has never wandered, and I’ve never had to hunt for him filled with fear and dread.
  16. I’m thankful that The Office is on Netflix for 13 more months.
  17. I’m thankful for the love and forgiveness of God.
  18. I’m thankful for the friends Collier has.
  19. I’m thankful Collier likes to go on vacation and doesn’t mind visiting new places.
  20. I’m thankful for camping friends.
  21. I’m thankful for stretchy pants after Thanksgiving dinner.
  22. I’m thankful Collier can swim and pray for every autism parent who has lost a child to water.
  23. I’m thankful Collier has no bowel issues (and all the autism moms say, “Amen!”).
  24. I’m thankful Collier can ride his bike and loves to do so.
  25. I’m thankful for Fannie Farkle’s corndogs.
  26. I’m thankful Collier’s speech is improving.
  27. I’m thankful that the only New Year’s resolution I kept this year was to go to a ladies Bible study- I’m not sure those women will ever know what that meant to me.
  28. I’m thankful I get to be Bud and Elaine’s daughter.
  29. I’m thankful I get to be Collier’s mom.
  30. I’m thankful I get to be Brian’s wife.

So there’s 30 of the things I’m thankful for today. I know you’re supposed to do one a day but, much like Dickens’ ghosts, I got all my work done in one night. And even as I steamroll headlong into Christmas decorating (yep I’m that person), I want to keep the lessons of this Thanksgiving exercise with me as I go through the entire month of November.

I take that back….I want to keep the lesson of thankfulness with me through every month.

~ Amye

Bald Spots and Overgrowth

Ahh… the crunch of the lawnmower as I cut what’s left of my grass in the current drought – is there any better feeling than knowing you just cut grass for the last time for perhaps six months? I know I’m waxing poetic here, but I truly, truly hate cutting grass. After I win the lottery, I’ll never again touch a blade of grass, except to walk barefoot across it. I’ll never sit on a lawnmower again, and I’ll never experience weed eating in jeans in July (or October) to avoid the bloody shins from such a heinous act.  

Cutting grass for the last time of the season is one of the great “last times” for me, and plenty of others who can’t afford or don’t want to hire out a lawn service, but as I rode around the yard on my father-in-law’s Craftsmen (my own machine bit the dust recently and I’m trying to avoid buying another just to sit up for six months), I got to thinking – cutting grass gives you nothing but time to think – cutting grass in October in Alabama is a pretty good metaphor for raising a child on the Autism Spectrum. There are bald spots from the dry weather, and areas of overgrowth from our field lines. 

There are many “last times” that we experience in our lives, and not all of them are very good. As parents, we never know when the last time we will hold our child in our lap will occur, or when the last time our child will want to put his arms around our necks and be picked up. Or maybe the last time he’ll willingly hug or kiss us in public without fear of embarrassment. If we did know of such times, we would be sure to pay more attention to them, to remember them better. I think that may be one of the positives of Autism Spectrum Disorder. One of the areas of overgrowth.  

So many times people write about the negatives of the disorder, or bald spots in the lawn, and there are many. My child can’t do this or that. He needs help in this area, help in that area. Can’t we make an accommodation for that to help him succeed? Is there any other supplement we can try to cut down on his self-stimming behavior? What other therapy can we try? Will my insurance over that? You get the idea. There are plenty of bald spots. But there are also lush areas of the disorder as well – positives that can’t be measured with test scores, personality battery tests and the like.  

We get to hold on to some things a little longer. 

Yes, there are notions that we will get to hang on to longer that aren’t so good – like the possibility of them never leaving our house, but there are also positive things we will get to hang on to. I wrote previously about how Collier still believes in the tooth fairy and Santa and old EB, that long-eared purveyor of chocolate eggs. But what else? I started thinking about these as I cut grass. 

Collier is not ashamed of me. I mean if I dropped him off somewhere, he’d still give me a hug and a kiss as I left, without any embarrassment. He still likes to be tickled. He still likes to spend time with us and his grandparents. He still likes to be picked up and to wrap his legs around us. And he still believes with a child-like innocence. How many other twelve-year olds do you know like that? I know the trade off is steep to gain such things, but it’s one that was given to me, whether I chose it or not. Another area of overgrowth.  

As with others, there is an ebb and flow of life with Autism. Bald spots and overgrowth. I may complain about the bald spots – I may thrash around and write blog posts about them – but I hope that I’m not so bull headed and ornery that I don’t occasionally stop and appreciate the lush areas of overgrowth. After all, at one point, Collier used to like riding on the lawnmower with me as I cut, but that stopped a few years ago when he got too big.  

I don’t even remember the last time.  

–Brian  

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