Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Neurodiversity Awareness/Appreciation

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Tell Me What You Want, What You Really, Really Want!

This comic was shared on Facebook, and was originally
 published on
the Tumblr blog "Growing Up Aspie."
I saw this picture shared on Facebook this morning and it immediately inspired me to get my butt out of bed and write a blog post about it. 

The picture illustrates weird, ghostly looking being telling someone, "The trash needs to be taken out." The other person has a blank look on his face, as the words don't really register. But when the ghostly being says, "Please take out the trash in a minute," the person smiles and says, "Sure."

What it means is, many autistic people are not good at taking hints or responding to non-direct requests. This often gets them in trouble with others, who assume that the autistic person is being selfish, lazy or rude because they do not do what was vaguely requested of them. 

As an adult, I have gotten better at realizing that, if someone says something like, "The litter box is pretty messy," it is a good idea for me to clean it. It really only works for me if it is something that I usually do. At my aunt's house, I often help clean up the litter box, which is something I offered to do back when I used to live with them. I don't mind cleaning the litter box, I actually like to do it as an act of service to the cats and because sifting the litter is sort of fun and satisfying for me. I know, I'm weird. So if someone says, "The litter box is dirty," I would know that I should go scoop it out. 

However, if someone mentions something that isn't usually part of my routine, such as, "There is something sticky on the floor," I will just take it as a statement. You're just telling me there is something sticky on the floor. It is mildly interesting, and I might comment on what it might be, but it wouldn't always occur to me to wipe it up.

If someone says something like, "This (insert some sort of task here) is really difficult," I may hear it as a statement, but still keep doing whatever I'm doing. 

If someone says, "Could you grab a mop and wipe up this sticky stuff on the floor?" or "Would you mind helping me with this?" then I will do it.  But you have to say it, not just hint around at it. 

It is hard for me to understand what the benefits of hinting around, rather than just asking for help, are. If you are hinting around because your expectation is that the person will take the hint and do what you want them to do, then why not just say it? 

Some hints are even more vague. I remember a specific incident from when I was a teenager. I was in some sort of group therapy thing that parents and behaviorally challenged teenagers attended at the hospital. My mom was complaining about a time that she had left the vacuum cleaner out when she went to work, with the expectation that I would vacuum the living room. But when she had come home from work, she'd seen that I hadn't vacuumed. 

At the time, vacuuming the living room was not one of my usual chores. She hadn't asked me to vacuum, or left a note. She'd just put the vacuum there. I tried to explain this. "You didn't tell me to vacuum, so I didn't know you wanted me to do it."

One of the staff members running the group replied, "So you feel like you need to be told to do something in order to do it?" (She wasn't being supportive, by the way... she was more or less pointing out that I was selfish. Even through my autism, I could understand that implication!) 

Well, yes. Seeing the vacuum cleaner out in the room did not mean to me, "Mom wants me to vacuum." If anything, I would have thought, "The vacuum doesn't belong there," and I would have put it away. But I probably just noticed it for a brief moment, thought nothing of it, and went about doing whatever I usually did. 

The lesson here is, if you want something from an autistic person (or anyone, really, because it is probably just simpler this way) just blurt it out. 

The comic also suggested that people include a time limit in their request. 

This has gotten me in trouble at work a few times, because if my supervisor said something like, "I need you to  do this," I would say, "Okay." But I would usually have a giant pile of other things I needed to get done, so I'd intend to get to the requested task eventually. And then a few days later, the supervisor would be like, "Why didn't you do this?" I would be thinking, "I didn't do it yet.

Autistic people could train themselves to constantly ask for more information. For instance, I could just learn that, any time I hear someone make a comment, I should volunteer to take care of the problem, or ask, "Do you mean you want me to do this?" And whenever I  am asked to do something, I could try to remember to say, "When do you want it done by?" I'd have to become hypervigilant about it, constantly asking for more information, constantly volunteering to do random tasks that someone mentions. It might be easier if people could just be direct and specific when they want me to do something. 

People can even use this idea when talking to anyone. Parents, do your kids not clean their rooms when you say, "This room is a pig sty?" Why not just say, "Please clean up your room by the end of this week." Spouses, are you frustrated because your spouse doesn't fix a broken object because you commented, "This object is broken?" Try saying, "Could you please fix this object?" Friends, are you frustrated because your friend didn't volunteer to come bring you hot soup when you told them you have a cold? You could just ask them, "I need you to bring me some hot soup this afternoon." Give it a try, and see what happens! 

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Angel's ADHD/Autism/Sensory Processing Gift Guide

Hi, everyone! A few years ago, at around this time of year, I created a whole new blog dedicated to gift recommendations. I've decided to create an updated version. However, in the interest of possibly making some money (because I am really working on making a living with writing as much as possible latey) I am going to be writing my articles on Vocal.

So far, here is my first installment: 11 Best Sensory Jewelry Gifts

I will also be posting the links on my old gift guide blog. The benefit of looking there will be to use the cloud, on the top of the screen, to find gift ideas by category or by age group.

Let me know if you have any gift recommendations you'd like me to include!

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

You Don't Seem Autistic!

Do I seem autistic to you? 
"You don't seem autistic!"
I'm guessing that many autistic people who have told someone about their autism have heard this phrase in response. In fact, this is a topic that many people have blogged or vlogged about in the past. I thought I'd throw in my two cents.
The scenario: You are meeting someone for the first time, or this is your first time talking with an acquaintance for more than a few minutes. The subject of autism comes up.
For me, it is often when I mention that I have only lived in Washington for a few years, and the person wants to know how I ended up out here. I explain that I always had a hard time in Chicago, partially because of the fact that I am autistic, and that I came out here to visit my aunt a few times, and she thought that I would be more successful out here in the relaxed, accepting environment of the Pacific Northwest.
Then they say it. "You don't seem autistic!" Or, "Really? You have autism? I would have never guessed!" Or, "You must have gone through a lot of ABA therapy in order to be able to function this well."
Me: "Uhhhhhhhhhhh...."
What they are really saying is, "When I think of autism, I think of a person rocking back and forth, screaming, and needing to be restrained all the time. Or I think of Sam from the show 'Atypical' who seems to have no clue about social skills... for example, in one episode, he breaks up with his girlfriend during a dinner at a restaurant with her whole family, by announcing loudly that although she fits all of the criteria on the list he made, he just doesn't like her that much as a girlfriend... and later breaks into his therapist's house because he doesn't understand why that might be frowned upon. Or I think of Max from 'Parenthood', who sometimes comes off as unkind, like when  his cousin was in a car accident and all he could think of was going home even while his whole family is frantic. Or I think of Simon from the movie 'Mercury Rising,' who solves 'the most sophisticated cipher system ever known,' which for some reason is hidden inside a word puzzle book, yet who is unable to speak except for a few words in a monotone and who, in the beginning of the movie, disappoints his mom by not seeming happy to see her when she greets him at the door and just ringing the doorbell anyways even though she's standing right there. Yet here you are, talking to me pretty reasonably, not screaming or rocking back and forth, not breaking into houses, appearing to have plenty of empathy, and not being a genius. So, you don't seem very autistic to me." 
They might also be trying to give you a compliment, which is pretty much, "I imagine that you don't want anyone to know you have autism, and that you try very hard to appear normal, so I just want you to know you are doing pretty well at it." 
I am never quite sure of the right response to this, mostly because I'm not always in the mood to give a lengthy dissertation about autism. Plus, I don't want people to think I am trying to convince them that I am worse off that I am, or that I'm trying to get attention. 
And then, there's always the simple fact that, you always think of the best responses five hours after the conversation has ended. 
If I could remember to use this canned response, this is how I might explain it. 
When you are at home, relaxed, with your family, do you act a little differently than you are doing right now? Do you ever just lounge around in your pajamas at home, whereas you'd never be seen outside the house without your hair done? Do you ever snap at your spouse and children in ways that you would never talk to your co-workers? 
Autistic people often do have an understanding of what is "expected" in public. Many of us, especially if we were diagnosed as an adults and grew up just being thought of as strange, annoying or disobedient, can be hypervigilant about not drawing attention to ourselves. We don't want to get stared at, or bullied, or questioned about whether or not we are on drugs. (All of these things have actually happened to me when I was out in public.) Those of us who have jobs are aware that we can lose our jobs if we don't appear "normal" enough. (I did, didn't I?) So we hold it together when we go out. This is also a big reason for why many autistic people become exhausted more easily than others, Besides the fact that we may be going into sensory overload from spending too much time in the stinky, noisy outside world, we are also concentrating on blending in. 
I am really not sure if I am capable of seeming just like everyone else, even when I try. I can go to a job interview and remind myself to make eye contact (although sometimes I concentrate so hard on making eye contact that I forget to blink, and my eye starts spasming, and I have to shut my eyes for a while, which definitely probably looks a little odd) but I still mix up my words and stutter and sometimes can't get words to come out of my mouth at all. People may assume I'm very shy or introverted and never guess I'm autistic. 
When I'm very relaxed, on the other hand, like when I'm hanging out with animals, I may not do any rocking or flapping at all, especially when I'm getting a lot of calming sensory input from petting the animals or having them sit on me. If you are a fellow animal lover, then you might not think I'm weird at all when I constantly talk about animals, but in another place it might seem odd. 
When I know exactly what I'm supposed to be doing, and I'm in a familiar place, I may appear calm and collected. But when I am unsure of myself, like at a job or volunteer position I've just started, or in a crowded grocery store, you may spot me flapping, covering my ears, talking to myself, or just standing with my knees locked in a terrified position. 
If you are around me long enough, you'll begin to see my autism more frequently, You may see it when I have a meltdown and become nauseous after the smoke detector goes off several times in a row while you're cooking. You may see it when you hear me ask you, "Do you like Lily?"or "Does Lily love me?" fifty million times per day, for reasons unknown even to me. (It may be just because saying Lily's name is calming to me, and because hearing the things I know for sure being repeated is also reassuring.) You may see it when you notice me jump and flap when I am excited, when you see me barely being able to get through the security line at the Chicago airport because the yelling people freak me out so badly (especially the mean one named Moo) or when you realize that I have not done the forty fun things I planned to do this month because, when the time came, my anxiety about new situations sucked me back into the apartment like one of those old shows when someone uses a cane to grab someone else and yank them backwards. 
I am autistic all the time, even when I don't appear to be. When I manage to hide it, it is not so much because I am embarrassed of it and want to seem "indistinguishable from my peers," but because I am protecting myself from pain inflicted by people who are not accepting of others' differences. I maybe more socially aware than the fictional Sam and Max, and I will never be able to solve sophisticated cipher systems like Simon. But I am still autistic. Even right now. 

So, to people who tell me I don't seem autistic,  I guess my response is, "Maybe you should read my blog!" 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Sisters And Brothers

When I was a kid, I desperately wanted more brothers and sisters. 

I had one brother, two years younger than me, but our relationship was strained. We were always either the best of friends or the worst of enemies. Because we often lived in neighborhoods where there weren't many other kids around, and because we didn't have any cousins our own age (except for BT, who lived in Oregon and came to visit us in Chicago for a few weeks in the summer) we were often stuck playing with each other. We could play happily for hours on end. We'd play He-Men or Barbies together, ride our bikes together, play outside on the swing set, or play make believe games with storylines that went on for days. In the summer, because our house didn't have air conditioning, we'd often sleep in the basement on the fold-out couch. We'd have a never-ending slumber party down there, watching movies and making weird recipes that didn't involve cooking (like instant pudding) and talking and laughing, and then we'd sleep in late the next day.

But the older we got, the more he passed me up socially and emotionally, and the meaner he would be to me. I used to hate how he was mean to other kids too, at school... he would bully kids who were different or who had special needs. We were still very close about 50% of the time, but the other 50% of the time he'd be yelling at me, making fun of me, calling me names, or putting me down.

I daydreamed about either having a much older brother or sister who would look out for me, or a much younger brother or sister who would look up to me... instead of just a similarly-aged brother who thought I was an idiot and thought everything I did was ridiculous.

Just about any time I made a friend, I would adopt them as my sibling or cousin. I had a best friend, Karen, who I referred to as my sister for years. My best friend at school and I called each other cousins, and we made up an elaborate story about how our dads were half brothers and that we'd just found out we were related. (It explained why we had not even known each other the first year of junior high, but in eighth grade were suddenly cousins!)

The little toddler a few doors down, who my brother and I babysat, became my "little brother." I became a little obsessed with him. I found him, and everything he did, adorable. I would use my allowance to buy him toys from the grocery store.

The guy who lived down the street, who was in his early 20's and was a headbanger and whose cat had a litter of kittens that he would bring out in the yard for us to play with, became my first big brother. My mom would get angry at me for hanging out at this guy's house, because she thought it was creepy. He was eight years older than me. She would tell me, "Why would a grown man want to hang out with a fourteen-year-old girl, unless he was a creep?" But it was not like that at all... Charlie never did anything inappropriate towards me or the other kids who would go sit on his front porch after school. If anything, he was socially more our age. We'd mostly talk about the show "Beavis and Butthead", if that tells you anything about him... and we could sometimes cajole him into doing our homework sheets for us... but he did try to encourage us to make good choice. I would complain to him endlessly about my mom, who, at the time, was always angry and yelling at me. I used to talk about running away from home. Charlie was the only one who could explain why it wasn't a good idea, without implying that I was an idiot... he'd say, "I know you could take care of yourself, but legally you wouldn't be allowed to get a job or get your own place to live, so it would be really hard. Just stick it out at home for a few more years."

This continued well past my teens, into my twenties. If I was friends with them, I loved them, and they became my family.

This used to drive my mom crazy. In my parents' eyes, you were required to love your family, and "family" included only those who were related to you by blood, marriage, or legal adoption. When you grew up you were supposed to find your future husband or wife, whatever the case may be, and you would love them, and that would be why you'd marry them, making them your family. You could like others, but you couldn't love them. It was impossible.

I never did understand this. I didn't see "like" and "love" in different degrees. I was not sure that I always loved my brother, who could be very cruel to me. I knew that I really did love my friends. As I got older, my circle of friends widened, and therefore my "family" grew and grew. Another guy eight years older than me, named Nick, became my big brother, and Tony became my somewhat little brother even though he was only five months younger than me, and Vicky and Karen became my sisters. This was how I introduced them to others, as my siblings. I became an aunt for the first time when I was nineteen, because Nick's girlfriend had a son. I lived with them, and long after she and Nick broke up I continued to live with his ex-girlfriend and her son off and on, for years. Her other children became my nieces. Her sisters became my little sisters. I never loved them any less than I love my "actual" nephew, Squeak, now.

I had a friend who became very addicted to drugs. She had two daughters, one who was the same age as my "nephew" and one who was younger. I used to take care of them. When their mother lost custody of them, I kept track of them through their time in foster care, and when they moved in with their father I started taking them on the weekends. I alternately referred to them as my children or my nieces. They'd refer to my nephew as their cousin or their brother. It didn't matter what words we used. I loved those kids.

Love is easy for me. People freak me out and I tend to keep my distance, but if they make it past my defensive barriers, they can worm their ways into my heart. Children can do this more quickly than adults. I have, very literally, loved almost all of the students I've worked with. At my last job, the children were always telling me, "I love you, Miss Angel," and I would tell them back, "I love you too." Because I did. Some of the other staff members found this inappropriate, because teachers should not "love" their students and vice versa. Love, they said, was reserved for family members.

I've heard that autistic people do not get attached easily to others... but I've alway s been the opposite.  It doesn't seem like you should be able to put parameters on love. I am not saying I am "in love" with everyone, like I want to marry them... but I love them. I love my students, I love my friends, I love just about every animal I've ever encountered, and I even love plants and inanimate objects. I don't know why people think that is odd, or bad. But they do.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Some New Autism Theories

The other night I had a dream that someone told me there was a reason for autism. They said that autism existed to test other people and see how they'd treat people who were different. It was sort of like a litmus test, and you could tell everything about a NT person just by watching them interact with an autistic person. It was an interesting dream, but when I woke up I wasn't sure I even wanted to mention it on my blog. I know there are a lot of people who get sort of irritated by anything that hints of, "People with special needs are here to teach us all a lesson!" I guess my subconscious brain is very corny.

Later on, when I was thinking about that, I came up with a different theory of autism. Many, many autistic people think of themselves as aliens or report feeling like aliens on this planet. When I first started this blog, I thought the whole "I must be an alien" thing was original, but it turns out that it was almost universal among autistic adults. So, what if there is something to that?

I remember reading, years ago, about how scientists figured out there were originally two different species of early humans, the neanderthals and the cro-magnons, and you could take a DNA test to find out if you were part neanderthal. That's sort of what gave me the idea. What if there were aliens on earth long, long, long ago? They could have physically resembled the neanderthals and cro-magnons, but their brains were different. Some of them mated with the neanderthals and the cro-magnons, and that is how our alien race got mixed with the human race.

I know it sounds crazy, but is it really that much crazier than the other autism theories you've heard?

(By the way, after I almost finished writing this blog entry, I Googled "autism alien DNA," and it turns out there is a group of people who believes that autism is caused by aliens abducting people and altering their DNA. So, there's that.)


Saturday, November 17, 2018

Milestones Never Met

My mom texted my brother and I in a group text today, telling us that one of our cousins is pregnant. And a little part of me died again.
Not that there's anything wrong with my cousin. I'm sure she'll be a great mother. She's always loved babies. I don't really know her that well these days, though. She's 9 years younger than me, and although I babysat her a few times when she was little, our parents weren't close, so we never had as tight of a relationship as I do with some of my other cousins. But I'm still happy for her... because, you know, babies.
But there is that little part of me dying too. And I will try to explain it to you, but it will be hard for me to not sound like a selfish bee-yatch. Yet I always do try.
On my mom's side of the family, I am the oldest cousin. There was me, then two years after that came Bro. Then 7 years after that came my cousin who is pregnant now, followed closely by her brother. For a long time there was only us four cousins, with a huge gap in the middle of us. I was in my twenties by the time my four youngest cousins, Ponygirl, Sox Boy, the Professor, and Shirley Temple, were born.
For the purpose of this blog post, I'm mostly talking about me, my brother, and my two somewhat younger cousins, the ones I grew up with, not the four very little ones. Growing up, I was the oldest cousin. But the others, my brother and the two cousins, always passed me up and outshone me. It was one thing to constantly be in my younger brother's shadow. But when your younger cousins who you babysat begin to pass you up, it is hard.
I was, as a teenager and in my twenties, the blacksheep cousin. I was not yet diagnosed with autism. I was simply the troubled, mentally ill cousin who ran away from home and lived on the streets. My brother and cousins, meanwhile, were popular in school, got great grades, and excelled at sports and at everything they tried.
My one cousin, who is pregnant now, went away to college the same year that I tried to. I, of course, was a grown adult who had already been working part time for years while putting myself through community college. My cousin successfully transitioned to college, lived in a sorority, and did all the things college kids are "supposed" to do. I, on the other hand, had a terrible meltdown on my second day there, went through severe depression, and had to postpone my college career while I moved back in with my parents and cried on the basement couch for several months. During that hopeful week when my parents had driven me to college, where I was going to live in adult housing because I felt way too old to live in a dorm, my mom proudly told me, "You're going to be the first person on my side of the family to get a Bachelor degree."
But I wasn't. After having to leave that college in a state of disappointed disgrace, I did get back into college, but it was a rocky situation. At one college I attended in the teacher prep program, the professor, when finding out that I had autism and ADHD (because by that point i was diagnosed) told me I should rethink being a teacher, because teachers had to be very organized and independent. I had to start over from scratch at another college. I took a few years time out to help raise my best friend's children. By the time I managed to graduate with my Bachelor's degree, both of my younger cousins had already gotten theirs, and were on their way to Master's degrees.
And then there is the whole baby thing.
I've always wanted to be a mama. I've blogged about that before. Somehow I also always assumed I'd foster or adopt children, rather than giving birth. When I was 18, I wrote to social service agencies asking what the minimum age was to adopt children. (It was 21.) I imagined that, by the time I was 21, I'd have my own house and be a foster parent.
Decades went by.
Okay not decades. But years. In those years, my brother had Squeak. My whole extended family lost their shit with excitement. My grandmother said, "It's about time I had a great grandchild! All of my friends have great grandchildren already." They all talked about how proud they were of Bro, what an amazing father he was, etc.
They still do. And I'm proud of Bro too... and I love little Squeak... but the ghosts of the children I dreamed of having stand silently next to me, possibly never to become real.
Sometimes I don't even know if I still want kids. I mean, I always did. I've helped raise other people's kids. I've done all of the day to day things like staying up all night with a screaming baby or a puking preschooler, changing diarrhea diapers that leak all the way up their back and soak through their onesies, giving baths, putting to bed, making meals, going grocery shopping with wild banshees jumping in and out of the cart, dealing with funny looks from judgmental playgroup mommies... I did all that! And I loved it! All I wanted was to someday get to do it for my own children, who wouldn't be whisked away every time their real parents got a little bit sober and started to miss them.
I still do want all that. The only hard thing is that I have lived on my own for a long time now... with my animals. I have weird worries, like what if my children pull Lily's fur, or what if GOD FORBID, THEY ARE ALLERGIC TO ANIMALS???????!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!?!?!??!?!?!
Plus there is the fact that I know I'm emotionally young for my age. I still have meltdowns when I don't get enough sleep or when people refuse to tell me whats for dinner. I still need a lot of support from my mom. Ironically, I think I functioned at my best, at my most maturest, when I was raising children who needed me to be the adult. But what if I can't do it forever? Or what if I try to adopt children and I can't get approved because I'm just too autistic?
Basically, all this came into my brain when my mom told me that my cousin is pregnant. Its just another milestone that everyone else is meeting, that I may never get to. Next thing I know, Ponygirl will be be pregnant, and I'll still be the weird, spinster aunt whose dog calls her Mama.
(By the way, I will NEVER NEVER NEVER be a parent who stops thinking of my animals as my babies once they have human children. Never. Lily and Yoshi are my babies forever. But I'd still like some human babies too...)
Does that make any sense at all?

Thursday, November 15, 2018

When Special Ed Students Are Punished In School (My Thoughts)

Some schools call their isolation rooms "Focus Rooms,"
like the one where this 9-year-old from Texas was sent.
This blog entry is going to be a little different from most of the ones I write. Usually I write about my experiences as an autistic person. But I was also a special education teacher, and worked in special education classroom for about 10 years. So when I saw these two articles recently, I wanted to write about my point of view... both as an autistic adult, and as someone who has worked in schools.

The articles are both about how children with special needs... particularly autism...  get punished or get put in time out at school. Both articles are mostly from the points of view of the children and their parents, speaking out about how the children are treated at school.

In one article, an adorable, freckle-faced little autistic boy told reporters that when he was put in an isolation room... a small room with a mat on the floor, an exercise ball, and pillows... he felt like the teachers didn't want him around, and he worried that they'd forget him in there. In another article, a 14-year-old autistic boy who missed over 100 days of middle school because he was suspended or sent home, said that he felt like "the worst kid that ever was."

Reading those articles gives me mixed feelings.

First of all, I sort of felt empathy for the teachers and the school. There have been plenty of times when I've been the teacher having to escort a screaming child to the isolation room, or having to beg the special ed director to send this child home. Those were circumstances in which the children were making everyone around them unsafe. They were circumstances in which my other students had to spend hours just sitting on the floor in the hallways reading books or drawing because all available staff had to be in the classroom dealing with the kid who is kicking holes in the walls. Part of my frustration with teaching special ed in public school was that I was expected to make behavior management a priority over everything else. If I had a class of ten kids, and one of them had severe behavioral issues, I was expected to spend 99% of my time an energy on that one child... to the point where, several times, I was quarantined in a separate room with a child or children for weeks or months while the rest of my students were taught by paras or substitutes.

If you've read this paragraph, you might think the simple solution is, then yes, do put them in isolation. Do send them home. If they can't function in a classroom in a safe way, then they need to be somewhere else.

But the truth goes a little deeper than that.

In every school where I've worked, the children with the most behavioral issues are also the children I've grown the most attached to. They were smart, creative, funny, sensitive, and often a lot of fun to spend time with. They wanted to do well in school... but they were constantly on edge. Imagine a day when you were at your most irritable... a day when you woke up on the wrong side of the bed, it felt like everything was going wrong, your emotions were running strong, and everyone was getting on your nerves. Now imagine that you are 8 years old and that is your life every single day. Life for them can feel like they're surrounded by people running their fingernails down chalkboards.

I also know that most of the kids I've known, most of the time, didn't just suddenly blow up over nothing. It always started small. A kid would put his head down and refuse to do his math. The teacher would insist that he sit up and do his math. The kid would mutely refuse. The teacher would start revoking privileges such as recess. The kid would argue. Things would escalate. Next thing I'd know, I'd be sending my students out into the hallway while the principal dragged the kid into my room.

In the schools where I worked, there was a lot of pressure to "not let them win." We, as adults, had to "win" by making the children comply. If you told a child to pick up his pencil, you'd better be ready to do whatever it takes, remove any privileges you needed to, or send your other students out of the room, to get this kid to pick up the pencil. And at the end... after the other students are sent out, the kid has destroyed the room, the parents have been called, etc... you're still supposed to say, "Now, you need to pick up this pencil."

I feel empathy for the kids. When you are a small autistic child in the middle of an epic meltdown, being pushed into a tiny room and having the door locked behind you must feel scary. And on one hand, yes, everyone's life would be easier if they would just do what they're asked to do and pick up the pencil. But sometimes they cannot. Sometimes their brains and bodies just won't let them.

When I started writing this blog entry, my intention was actually to defend the teachers and school staff. Because really, when a kid is screaming and throwing things, you do not have a lot of choices. You have to separate them from the other students, either by removing the kid who is throwing things, or by removing all of the other students. In the last two schools I've worked at, because of the problems created by isolation rooms being misused, the protocol was to remove the other students. So you end up with the other students losing hours of their activities and lessons. Sometimes, as a teacher, you're given some ideas that you're supposed to try, or a behavior plan. Often those behavior plans take up just as much time and energy as the behavior itself, and the behavior rarely improves. If a child really does not have control over his mind and his actions, he is not going to suddenly be able to control himself because you give him the chance to earn a sticker.

To me, a lot of the problem is because schools are set up similar to businesses, where the idea is to spend the least amount of money possible in order to get the desired results. What is the maximum number of students we can put in each classroom where the teacher is still able to get some teaching done? What is the fewest number of paraprofessionals we can put in the special education room? How can we make this one single school social worker stretch out enough to serve all of these students who desperately need help? What is the shortest amount of recess we can get away with giving kids, in order to get the most academic instruction in, so that we can raise our test results? It is about numbers, it is about dollars, and we could make it all work so beautifully if it weren't for these darn square children who don't fit into our round holes. And when some children fall apart, we blame everything on them.

I guess this could be another blog entry supporting my Someday School plan. But although my little school will possibly be able to help a handful of children, there are hundreds of others... at least one in every single classroom across the United States... who will still be lost in the system.

Thousands of Washington students isolated and restrained, despite law limiting practice (11/9/18)

Washington special needs students disciplined more than twice as often as general education peers (10/25/18)

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Smoke Detectors

Here is the transcript of a true conversation that took place the other day.

Me: "My apartment manager is coming to my apartment tomorrow to do a building inspection."

Auntie M: "Oh, that's interesting."

Me: "I wonder if they'll ask me why I knocked all of the smoke detectors down."

Auntie M: "Hmm... Why did you knock all of the smoke detectors down?"

Me: "Because they were hurting my ears when they went off."

Auntie M: "Yes..."

Me: "They go off in the middle of the night sometimes. For no reason. And there is no smoke. I can never get them to turn off. Even after I knocked them down, they wouldn't turn off."

Auntie M: "Uh..."

Uncle J: "You know they are meant to be loud, right? They're supposed to wake you up when there is smoke."

Me: "They do wake me up. But there is no smoke. And they hurt my ears terribly. Remember that time at the rental house?" (Referencing a time when we were at a rental house at the coast and my cousins were cooking and the smoke detector kept going off, over and over again, resulting in me getting nauseous, having a minor meltdown, and having to sleep for two hours.)

Uncle J: "Maybe it is carbon monoxide."

Me: "If it was carbon monoxide I'd be dead by now."

Uncle J: "Could you hook them up just for the day when the building manager is there?"

Me: "Maybe. I think I threw one of them away."

Auntie M: "Why did you throw it away?"

Me: "Well, it wouldn't stop going off, so I put it in the freezer."

Auntie M: "Uh... why?"

Me: "So I wouldn't be able to hear it anymore."

Auntie M: "So, then, why did you throw it away?"

Me: "It was frozen. I figured it wouldn't work anymore."

Auntie M: "Okay. Where is the other one?"

Me: "Buried underneath all of my towels in the linen closet."

Auntie M: "Good place for it."

Me: "I can't hear it in there."

Auntie M: "Maybe you could have Googled how to turn them off."

Me: "I couldn't Google, because my fingers were in my ears, like this!"

(Important note: The smoke detectors go off one at a time, not all at once... on separate nights, usually 2 am. Also there are three of them, very close to each other. I still have one left, so if there is any actual smoke, it will detect it. More likely, it will detect nothing and go off anyways.) 

Sunday, November 11, 2018

I Need A Schedule, Dag Nabbit!

A few weeks ago, my mom and I went to California to visit Bro and Squeak.
One somewhat annoying thing about traveling with members of my family, or basically spending time doing anything with them, is that they like to be spontaneous. They hate being tied down to plans. I, on the other hand, love to know what we're doing. I shouldn't say I love it. I would love to be more spontaneous and fly through life by the seat of my trousers. But I need to know what is coming up next. I need some idea. I have to be able to visualize it in my head.

This may be part of why I always loved working in classrooms so much. In public school classrooms, we always have a schedule. We may not stick to it one hundred percent, which is fine... I understand changes happen... but we at least have a rough outline of what we are going to do each day.

But my family hates to answer questions like, "What are we doing tomorrow?"

Or, "What are we doing after this?"

Or, "What are we going to do for dinner?"

Or, "Are we having dinner today?" (Oh goodness, are meal times a sore subject for me. I need them. I need breakfast if I am awake for it, and lunch, and dinner, and maybe some snacks. I need to know they are available. My family, on the other hand, are not as tied to meals as I am. If my mom munches on some cheese and crackers at four o'clock, the whole family just may not have dinner that day. Of course when I was a kid she always gave us dinner... I'm not saying she's negligent or something... but I mean, if we're traveling together or something, or I'm on vacation with my family, I cannot depend on the idea that we will get lunch and dinner in the same day. And I need that so badly. But again, I digress...)

They also like to cancel whatever plans we do have. For example, my mom and I had planned on going to Odd Man Inn (my very favorite farm sanctuary and all around favorite place on Earth) the day before we left for California, but then she decided we'd leave a day early to go see Bro and Squeak instead. WHICH, by the way, I handled very calmly and understandingly. I told my mom I was sad that we were not going to go to the farm because I really wanted her to see it, but that I understood that she would rather see Squeak than see my beloved farm animals. I didn't even say it sarcastically, the way I am sort of saying it now. I said it very understandingly.

SOOOOOOOOOO, while we were visiting Bro and Squeak, I kept on asking my mom, "What are we going to do today?" or "Are we going to do anything today?" On both Thursday and Friday, the answer was ambiguous. My mom and brother were happy to just lounge around the house. My mom helped my brother do yard work, and we just lingered around. The first day was somewhat okay, because Squeak was at school, and I took a long nap in the morning to try to catch up with the sleep I had missed that week. When Squeak got home we played games with him for fifty hours (by the way, Squeak totally cheats at every game) and then had dinner, and then Squeak had his bath and bed time.

On Friday Squeak had no school, so on Thursday evening I tried to find out from my mom and brother what we would do the next day. I thought we might do something fun with Squeak. Before the trip, my mom and I had talked about things we might get to do with him, like go to the coast or visit a pumpkin patch. So I was like, "What will we do tomorrow?" And they were like, "Uh... nothing."

The next day was somewhat torturous for me. There was no schedule. There were no activities. There were fifty million more games of Candy Land, because somehow that is the only board game my brother has in his house. (Remind me to get Squeak some new games for Christmas!)  There was watching Squeak and Bro play catch for a few hours. There was some hacky-sacking instruction by Bro, in which Squeak and I tried to bounce the hacky-sacks off our knees for a few hours. When I describe it now, it sounds so luxurious... a long, lazy, sunshiny autumn day hanging out with my family with no particular agenda. Yet my anxiety was rising. I needed something to do!

I caught somewhat of a break that evening after dinner (yay, dinner!) when Bro organized a spontaneous art project. We worked on making Halloween decorations out of construction paper and glue. I made a great haunted house, with door and window flaps that could be opened to reveal spooky characters peeking out. Squeak let me use some of his Halloween stickers and I also cut some of the characters out of construction paper. That hour of construction paper art was probably my calmest hour of the day, because I had a project. If someone had somehow told me, "Today after dinner we will make Halloween decorations," that probably would have carried me through the whole day! Of course, nobody knew ahead of time... so you see... why... I... was... going... crazy...

After Squeak went to bed that night I asked my mom and Bro what we were doing the next day, and they were all, "Meh... nothing," and I just about jumped through the plate glass window. I stayed reasonably calm though, but kept saying, "Can we just do something? Could we do something?" And they got annoyed with me and my brother said I was putting too much pressure on him to entertain us, when I should have just been happy with the privilege of basking in his presence.

That night when I went to bed, I did have a meltdown. I had a very silent meltdown, because I was sleeping in the top bunk of Squeak's bunk bed and didn't want to wake him. I bawled silent tears for quite a while, and then I made a frantic post to my Facebook friends. Finally I was able to fall asleep. When I woke up the next morning, feeling hungover as I always do after a major meltdown, my Facebook feed was full of understanding friends sending their love and encouragement. That helped a lot. It really did.

That day, my mom and I were watching Squeak while my brother did some work building a baseball field at the local park. With my mom in charge instead of Bro, we actually had a really amazing day. We did play some games with Squeak, which ended with him trying to cheat and us busting his balls and making him play by the rules and him hiding behind the couch. But then we went to the park, where we spent several hours playing with the hacky sack and football. And I met a dog, which helped a lot in calming me down. My brother brought us Subway and we had a picnic in the park. Then my mom and Squeak and I went down by the river and hunted for rocks, which was my favorite time ever. We decided that part of the river, which has all of these huge, flat rocks and shiny rocks, was going to be our secret family place. After that, we went out for ice cream. Then we went to a Dia De Los Muertos celebration at Squeak's school. Then, we went out for pizza. Finally, at home, we had a group effort pumpkin painting project with some black light paint my brother had.

It is worth noting that all of these events were unscheduled, except sort of for the Dia De Los Muertos thing, which I actually knew about several days earlier from looking at Squeak's school calendar thing on the wall, but which my brother kept saying we couldn't go to because it was going to be really somber and he just wanted to bring Squeak by himself, but which turned out to be totally not somber and involved costumes and a salsa tasting contest and Squeak running around playing with all of his friends, but yes, I digress again. Anyways, it was a totally unscheduled day, and I still managed to have fun. But my anxiety would have been so much lower, if I had had even the skeleton of a schedule. If I could have known for sure that we would go to the Dia De Los Muertos celebration that evening, for example, knowing that one thing for sure could have been a strong pillar that helped me through the rest of the day.

My family just doesn't understand it. They say they do, but then they refuse to give me any sort of schedule. They literally say, "Yes, we know you need one, but we're not going to have one."

I don't even know how to end this because it is a problem with no solution. And now my dog is barking at me because she wants me to put her on my bed and she wants me to get into bed also because my dog is very concerned about the late hours I've been keeping. So, I guess, this is goodnight!

Friday, November 9, 2018

Working At Home Is Rather Cool

Hi everyone! I thought I'd stop by and update you on what I've been doing. The short answer is, nothing really. After being unable to find another teaching job for this school year, and having my spirit and heart broken by the last two years teaching special ed in public schools, I've ended up taking a break. I'm taking this time to work on starting up Someday School, and I'm also doing some work at home jobs.

My first work at home job is writing articles for Steady Content. Basically they have a list of articles that need to be written. They're usually on topics like product reviews, or the top ten of something. They give you an outline of the article, including the products you are supposed to review if that is what the article will be about. My job is then to just fill in the outline in the form of an article. I read about all of the products being reviewed, fill in the information, and give them star ratings in different categories. If it is a Top 10 article, at the end I get to write up my verdict, choosing which product I like best. I usually pick a few of them and explain who they'd be best for. For example, when I was reviewing RV camping resorts, I highlighted the one I thought would be best for families, the one I thought would be best for couples or single adults who just wanted some secluded time together, and the one that would be best for people on a budget who just wanted a place to park their RVs without all of the bells and whistles such as pools and game rooms. It is actually kind of fun and interesting when I get an article I like, although sometimes they can be a little boring. It takes me about 3 hours to write an article (I could probably do it more quickly but I get really into researching it and finding the information)   I also recently got accepted by the same company to be the person who prepares the articles, which means I'd get to create the outlines... but I'm still waiting to see if the first articles I prepared got approved. They make you wait for approval after you do your first five or six, and if they get approved, you can then do as many as you want. My struggle with this has been basically forcing myself to get out of bed. Ideally, I'd get up at a regular wake-up time, such as 7:00, and start work at 8:30 or 9. If I did that, and worked 8 hours, I'd be able to write about 3 articles a day. But what usually happens is that I am glued in my bed, it gets later and later, and I waste a lot of the day. Even with no where to go and nothing to get anxious or depressed about, my anxiety and depression still manages to hobble me! Lily does not help me in this regard. She would be perfectly happy to stay snuggled up to me for 24 hours a a day! She doesn't even bother me to get her breakfast or take her outside... I usually have to be the one to wake her up! Yoshi, on the other hand, will stand next to me on the bed and shake me with her paw, whispering, "Mama get up and feed me!" She will also attempt to clean her own litter box if I don't do it quickly enough. She's mastered the scooping the lumps out of the box part, but she has not been so great at transferring the lumps into the Litter Genie, so it just ends up on the floor next to the litter box. But it is still pretty impressive for a cat! And she's only two years old, so I can imagine that at this rate, in a few years she'll be able to run the dishwasher and take Lily for walks.

But I digress...                   

My second work at home job takes place in the wee hours in the morning. This one is actually a teaching job... I teach English to children in China, online. Right now I teach through a company called GoGoKids. If you are interested in teaching English, feel free to use my referral link. I'm not sure I'll keep doing it though. I don't mind the part where I have to get up at 2:30 in the morning to teach children on the other side of the world. (It is just my luck that I live in the earliest time zone in the USA. If I lived in New York, I wouldn't have to get up until 5:30!) The part I mind is that, when I have 6 students scheduled, about 80% of them will either cancel or not show up. So I basically stay awake for hours each night, doing nothing. I'm sort of interested in trying this other company called SayABC, which I also got accepted for. I'm working through the tutorial right now. I'll let you know how that goes.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                The advantages of working at home are that I can also take time off to do other things. For example, I've joined a singing group that meets once a week to sing, and I've also started an activities group for autistic people. It's called Autistic Community Adventures. It has 25 members so far, and next week we go on our first adventure, to the arboretum. I can also take time off for days at a time... for instance, last month I took a week off to go with my mom to visit Bro and Squeak. If I am going to be gone for longer, I can do my writing job from anywhere with Internet. The teaching online job would be harder to do from other places, because I wouldn't have my background and props (I've turned one wall of my kitchen into a classroom) and because I'd keep other people awake in the middle of the night.      

The disadvantages of working at home are that, first of all, it isn't my dream job of teaching special education. Also, I can go days at a time without ever leaving my apartment for any reason other than to walk Lily in the park across the street. As soon as I get Yoshi to do that job for me, I will have no reason to go outside at all. I don't necessarily see that as a disadvantage, because I am pretty happy to stay home... but it probably isn't that good for me to just live in a cocoon.

Anyways... I just wanted to update you on what I'm doing these days. I'm going to try to start blogging more often also. I know I say that all the time... but now that I work at home, I'm really going to make it happen!