All Aaron!

I heard Aaron through the baby monitor early this morning.  He wasn’t having a seizure but instead was making the unmistakable sounds of getting out of bed for more than just a trip to the bathroom.  When he turns his lamp on and moves his stuff out of his desk chair…his two back scratchers and his hand towel – always, always in his desk chair…then I know that he is getting up for the day. 

UGH!!!  I knew it was way, way too early for him to be awake for the day because I had just rolled over, unable to sleep myself, and saw that it was 4:00 a.m.  I turned the monitor off, tried to sleep but couldn’t, and later just got up and began my day. 

I was sitting at my quiet time desk, Bible and study book open, when in walked Aaron.  Another UGH!  And I don’t mean to sound mean.  It’s just that Aaron will not leave me alone if he is up and about in the early morning.  Without even looking at him, I said, “Aaron, do NOT come in here right now.  It’s too early.”

Total quietness.

So I turned my chair around and there stood Aaron, some videos in hand, slightly smiling.  He looked very chipper and very fully awake, and very happy.  Much happier than Mom.  But I had to smile, too, at the cute look on his face.

“Mom, I got out of bed…” he began.

“Don’t even go there,” I said.  “I know you were up at 4:00.”

“4:11,” he flatly replied.

I had to belly laugh at that.  His precision is always so funny, even before 6:00 in the morning!

We talked and compromised, Aaron saying that he would go back to bed if I would make sure he was awake at 7:30 so that he could say goodbye to Dad before Gary left for work.  Agreed.

I thought about yesterday when Aaron and I ran into Dillon’s before I took him to his day group.  If possible, whenever we are in Dillon’s, Aaron always loves walking up to the fresh seafood and fish display.  He loudly points out the shrimp, lobster, crab legs, and anything else he finds unusual and therefore very interesting.

But yesterday there was a surprise!  Aaron was beyond excited to see two whole fish, Tilapia, laying there on ice. 

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“MOM!!!  LOOK!!” he exclaimed as he pushed his way in front of a little family also standing there.  “He’s ALL fish!!!” 

How I love the way that Aaron expresses himself…well, most of the time!

Gary and I can truly say…He’s ALL Aaron!

Like taking him to Subway over the weekend for a sub.  Subway and Great Clips are two places where, for some reason, his autism just shines.  There in Subway he told the young girl waiting on us all about Dracula since he’s getting ready to watch the old, old Dracula movie.  He asked her if she had seen the movie, did she know where Dracula lived, and how his voice “sounds like England.” 

I kept re-directing him to think of his sub and not Dracula, so he told the girl that he wanted the bread with the black dots on it.  I had told him the correct name since this bread is new to him, but he couldn’t remember that.  She looked confused, I tried to interpret, but Aaron by then was already asking her if she could show him a picture.  And on we went from there until finally we had the sub with black dots in hand and safely exited. 

Later, as he ate his black dotted sub, I asked him if he liked that new bread.

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“I like it!” he answered.  “It tastes weird.”

That’s Aaron…ALL Aaron!

His take on food is so interesting and funny.  Last night he was eating peanuts.  He is often fascinated, over and over, by the outer skin he sometimes finds. 

“I’m afraid to eat those outering parts of the peanuts,” he told me. 

And orange juice pulp – “This orange juice looks like it has worms in it!”

There he goes…ALL Aaron!

Today describing his observation at Great Clips – “You know what I noticed they do to those women?  They take them to that water place and put their HEAD in it!!” 

YIKES!!

All Aaron again!

I could go on and on sharing many insightful, funny, amazing, and embarrassing comments from Aaron.  I have tons, trust me!  So why do I share?  To make you laugh?  Cry?  Scratch your head…like we often do? 

It’s like this not-too-great picture I took of Aaron awhile back.  We had just gotten home after I picked him up from his day group.  Aaron LOVES to share with his friends, so on our drive home he was already asking about what goodies he could take the next day to share with Natalie, or Simone, or Heather, or….

He didn’t even take his coat off, but just sat down on the floor in front of the cabinet, pulled out the snack drawer, and went to work searching for his next treat to share.

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In much the same way, I want to share with all of you what a unique young man our special Aaron is.  There are so many varied parts to Aaron.  Some parts I love to share, and others I may want to hide, but they all make up who our son is. 

Autism is not the end of the world, honestly. 

Instead, it can be the beginning of another world…a quite amazing journey.

And so I want to say to each of you –

“LOOK!!  He’s ALL Aaron!”

 

To Notice or To Ignore

The other night, Aaron and I were watching a DVD as he munched happily on his jar of peanuts.

“Mom!!” he suddenly exclaimed.  “What’s this on my dry roasted and salted peanuts?”

That by itself was funny, the way he says the complete name of the peanuts printed on the jar. Of course, Aaron sees nothing unusual about that at all.

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What WAS unusual, to him, was the little thing that he held up for my viewing.

“What’s what?” I asked as he held something miniscule up for me to see.

So Aaron quickly pushed back his blanket, crawled out of his chair, and stood beside me with his open palm carrying the mystery object.

Before I could tell him what “it” was, Aaron decided to first inform me of what he thought “it” was.

“It’s the cover that’s on some of the peanuts,” he told me.

This isn’t the first time that Aaron has called the thin skin on peanuts a “cover.”  It had been awhile since we had carried on this conversation.  I therefore told him once again that the “cover” was actually a thin skin that remained on some of the peanuts after they were processed.

“A skin?” he asked.  “Can I eat it?”

I assured him that he could eat it.  Later, after he had gone to bed, I found several peanut coverings on the table…ones that he had set aside, not to be eaten along with his dry roasted and salted peanuts.

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Yesterday, Aaron and I ran down to Dillon’s to buy him some lunch.  There in the entry were some little Girl Scouts selling their Girl Scout cookies.  Aaron had walked ahead of me, so as I grabbed a cart one of the girls focused on Aaron.

“Would you like to buy some cookies?” she asked him.

But Aaron had spied the salad bar.  At that moment his entire focus was on lettuce and cheese and boiled eggs and lots of ranch dressing…not on little girls with yummy cookies for sale.

Aaron completely ignored the girl’s question as he barreled in the open door and headed for the salad bar.  I was hurrying after him, because Aaron is sometimes a disaster at salad bars.  My job is to keep his fingers out of the tempting toppings, his head out from under the plastic shield, and to minimize spillage as he insists on “doing it myself!!”

But as I rushed by the sweet little scout, I definitely saw the look on her face.  She was confused by Aaron; for many reasons, I’m sure.  One of the big reasons, though, had to have been the way he completely dissed her and her question.  She was totally ignored.

I smiled at her as I scurried by, thanking her and saying no thanks, and wondering what she must have thought.

I survived the salad bar with Aaron, even as he told me I was rude for taking the tongs away from him as he spilled first some lettuce and then some cheese, and as I yanked the ranch dressing bottle from his hand before he squirted half of it on his salad.  A man was awaiting his turn, and as I turned to walk away he just smiled at me.  Aaron does have a way of becoming the center of attention no matter where we are.

I grabbed a few more items and then we went through the self check-out, me reminding Aaron over and over to stand beside me.  No wandering off to inspect other’s purchases, engage a random stranger in conversation, or sit down at a Starbuck’s table up the aisle while he ignored the worker who asked him if he wanted something.  All of the above…and more…he has done, trust me.

It was easier this time, though, because Aaron was keeping his eyes on his salad.  After I had paid for everything, he took his salad and held it in his two hands.  He walked this way out of the store, holding that salad ever so carefully, as if he was carrying a delicate Ming vase that he dared not jostle at all.

Aaron was once again so focused on his salad that when the young man who was overseeing the self check-out spoke to Aaron, Aaron once again totally ignored him.  And once again I saw that look on the employee’s face, the look that mirrored the one on the little Girl Scout.  A moment of confusion at being dismissed in such fashion.

But I also saw the young man’s face relax with understanding as I was sure he was quickly processing the reality that is Aaron.  And as I walked by, I spoke to him as I chuckled, and he broke out into a huge grin.  He got it!

How is it that Aaron can pay attention to a tiny little peanut “cover” while totally ignoring human beings who are speaking to him?

Elementary, my dear…elementary.

Autism.  Pure and not so simple.

Aaron often notices what we don’t notice, and ignores what we do notice.

When it comes to ignoring people, we can be downright embarrassed at times.  And then there are those times that it’s probably better for him to not notice certain people.

Anyway, the complexities of autism take many years and many experiences to understand.  Plus each individual is just that…an individual who is unique in how autism presents itself in their life.

That’s why it’s called a spectrum.  A “broad range of varied but related ideas or objects.”

Except Aaron is not an idea or an object.  He is a unique and varied human being, one who delights and engages and ignores and yells and frustrates and…

Well, you get the picture.  At least I hope you do!  Because then you can smile more as you enjoy the broad and varied view.

 

 

 

 

Life is Like a Coupon Box

I walked into the kitchen on a recent Sunday, after Aaron had completed his usual Sunday coupon clipping chore.  There on the counter lay a Dillon’s coupon, one that I had put into my coupon box several days earlier.  I knew right away what this lone coupon on the counter meant.  It spoke volumes to me as it silently stared up at me…..volumes about our Aaron.

You see, this coupon…

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Does NOT belong among these coupons.

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The Dillon’s coupon is not a regular coupon to Aaron, and only regular Sunday coupons are to be placed…precisely…in the coupon box.

Silly mom for thinking otherwise.

Aaron’s life is like that coupon box.

Aaron wants most things in his world to be done in a certain order…..words said in a particular way…with order and sequence and expected results.  But life doesn’t operate that way, no matter how much Aaron tries to orchestrate it to do so.

I saw a small example of this the other night in our family room.  Aaron was looking forward to watching one of our favorite television shows.  He wanted to know what time it was coming on, so I told him what the television guide said.  BUT…I had to add…the football game that was on earlier would no doubt disrupt even the best planned TV schedule.

The TV guide said our show would air at 8:30, but at 8:30 another program was still on.  Aaron was not happy about this development.  I explained the situation, multiple times, as Aaron sat in his favorite chair with his legs covered by his favorite blanket and with his favorite snack-of-choice on the ottoman in front of him. 

He sat there in misery, staring at his jar of cashews, and not-so-patiently waiting for his program to start.  Football games are the epitome of a messed- up world, in Aaron’s orderly world.  A 15 minute quarter may last 47 minutes, for crying out loud, and THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE!! 

So there Aaron sat in his chair, waiting for the other boring show to end so that his anticipated show could start.  But that wasn’t all that wasn’t right in Aaron’s world.  It was the cashews.

You see, he will only eat his snack-of-choice during the actual television program.  Not during the offending show that was still playing.  Not during the commercials.  ONLY during the actual program that is to be seen will he eat his actual snack that is to be eaten.  So he sat there, staring at his open jar of cashews in front of him, but forbidden because of the dumb show that was still on…because of the dumb football game that was before that…on this day that was getting dumber by the minute. 

We made it through that cascading torrent of dumbness…barely…without a meltdown or without Aaron giving up on it all and returning to his room like he threatened to do.  And on the very second that his program appeared on the screen, Aaron’s hand dipped into the jar of cashews and his world was set upright on its axis, as it should be. 

The coupon box once again only held the correct coupons.

Last night, as I waited for Aaron to get his bedtime routine completed, I watched him write down his time-to-bed in his special notebook…a new notebook, by the way.  His other is year’s full of the times he went to bed and the times he got up in the morning.  Aaron wrote down the time…10:14.  He was preparing to close his notebook, but paused and then gave a little sigh as he scribbled something out in his Went-To-Bed column.   

“What happened?” I asked.

“It went to five,” he flatly answered. 

Yes, the time changed the second he finished writing 10:14.  It became 10:15, so he HAD to correct the time in his notebook.  Scribbled-out numbers are unsightly, but far preferred over having the WRONG time recorded. 

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The coupon box was once again correct.

Aaron is slowly working his way through watching the complete old Star Trek television series from the 1960’s.  In the opening monologue before each show, Captain Kirk is referred to as Captain James T. Kirk.  Therefore, Aaron NEVER calls Captain Kirk just Captain Kirk.  Captain Kirk is Captain JAMES T. KIRK, people!!

So this conversation happened the other day:

“Mom, who’s your favorite Star Trek character?” Aaron asked.

“Hmmm…” I pondered.  “I guess it would be Captain Kirk.”

Aaron looked at me blankly, as if I had mentioned a foreign character from another show and another time and another planet and another galaxy.

“Who?!” he questioned.

“Captain Kirk,” I repeated.

He continued to stare at me.

Finally…

“You mean, Captain James T. Kirk?” he queried.

Oh, how I wanted to double over in a total belly laugh!!!

But doing so would have highly offended Aaron, so I had to just answer him as seriously as if I was agreeing to the outcome of a very serious discussion about a profound world event.

“Yes,” I sincerely replied.  “Captain James T. Kirk.”

Aaron was very relieved to have this issue settled, and so his Star Trek discussion was continued.

The coupon box was aright once more.

It’s vital that those who live and work with Aaron understand how very profoundly his life and his happiness is tied to the order that he alone sets for himself…and expects everyone else to understand and follow.  Sometimes his desired order can’t be followed, but we must know how to guide Aaron through those times.  Those times when the wrong coupon is in his box, and Aaron most definitely will react, are times that demand great patience on our part. 

When Aaron is deeply frustrated, angry, defiant, or confused is very often a time when the wrong coupon is in the box.  We can’t always see it and we don’t always expect his strong reactions, but we…and everybody else who works with Aaron…had just best realize that there is more going on inside that brain of his than we will probably ever know or even remotely understand. 

It can be so hard and challenging and maddening to us at times…and we know Aaron better than anybody on the planet.  We love him more than anyone, too.  Imagine how very difficult it can be for others to achieve this level of understanding!  And how very impacting in our lives it can be for this lack of understanding to affect us, and Aaron, in a very negative way! 

We have been very blessed with some amazing, kind, understanding people in Aaron’s life.  We have also seen the damage that can come from those who don’t get it.  We have watched this damaging impact in the lives of others whom we know and love, as well, who have special children that have their own coupon box.

Let’s give grace to our children…to the parents of these special ones…and try to comprehend just what each one’s coupon box is really all about. 

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Take Time

Last year, especially in the fall, we were having a terrible time with Aaron’s behaviors.  He was generally miserable, and so therefore everyone around him was miserable as well.  Poor behaviors, no filters, and an inability to figure out cause and effect, can certainly produce some headaches for everyone.  It’s the side of autism as well as the effects of seizures, at least for Aaron and for others that I know, that is most difficult to understand.  Difficult, too, to have compassion and empathy for our adult Aaron when he is hurtful with his words and careless with his actions. 

Aaron seems so high functioning.  He is, in many ways, just that.  So it’s very hard to decipher when he is manipulating us and being willfully disobedient, and when he is truly on a track that he just cannot control. 

We see a wonderful psychiatrist for Aaron’s autism.  Gary and I resisted any drug intervention for a long time, but eventually years ago we decided it was time to see if medicines would help Aaron.  Several have been tried over the years. We feel that we have found a beneficial drug now.  The change in Aaron has been dramatic, for the better.  Perfection?  No.  But the improvement we’ll take, for sure!

Since we increased Aaron’s dose of this medicine in January, he has done so well at his day group and at home that it’s been like a vacation.  Well, not totally – but definitely we have seen positive strides. 

But then this week happened.  It’s not been over-the-top awful with Aaron, but he hasn’t been his chipper and happy self as much as in the past few months, either.  He had been collecting steam for two days, disgruntled in the mornings and just very edgy.  Yesterday morning he was fully on track for a bad day, and I didn’t have the ability to derail him, try as I might. 

To add to the volatile mix, I am very vulnerable right now.  Honestly, I don’t handle holidays very well sometimes.  That’s because I miss our two kids who live too far away to come home quickly.  My loneliness for them runs deep during holiday time…..any holiday……and I am more emotional.  Easter is this Sunday.  I love what this time of year is all about.  I long to live every moment in the victory that is mine in Christ.  Then along comes Aaron…..

God bless him!  I picked him up from his day group yesterday.  For maybe one minute things were fine.  Then he told me that he had given his money away….again….and that he did do this and didn’t do that.  And I was just done.  I didn’t yell, but I lectured, which is almost always ineffective with Aaron.  We can do this and we won’t do that and maybe so-and-so……  And I was cold and distant, which makes Aaron feel abandoned. 

We were home, I was in the kitchen, and Aaron kept coming in to say one more word…..to throw one more barb at me.  It’s amazing to see how he thinks.  How I can be making a profound point, eyeball to eyeball with him, and then to have him open his mouth and still be way back at where he was in the beginning, totally not connecting things the way most of us would. 

He finally bent over, hands rubbing furiously together like he does when he’s excited…..but this time he was NOT excited……and his eyes were wide and wild. 

“I don’t love you anymore!!” he said through firm lips. 

And he waited for my response.  I turned my back and it hit me.  I am vulnerable.  I am tired.  I am emotional. 

It’s the perfect time for Satan to attack.  He is no gentleman.  He loves to kick Christians when we are down.  I knew that the adversary of my soul would have been thrilled for me to lash out at Aaron with my words……to release all my pent up anger at him……and then to blame my reaction on Aaron and on my emotions and even on the upcoming holiday! 

I had asked some friends earlier in the day to pray for Aaron.  I know they were praying for me, as well.  And there in the kitchen, with my back to angry Aaron, I prayed, too.  I asked God for peace, for wisdom, and especially for Satan to be defeated right then and there.  I claimed God’s power over our home and over this situation, recognizing that His power was and is all that I need. 

I hoped for time with Gary alone when he came home from work, before Aaron bombarded him unexpectedly with all the sordid details of the day.  That doesn’t often happen, but God was so good.  Aaron was busy in his room when I saw Gary’s truck pull in.  I was able to meet him in the garage, where he knew right away that something was wrong.  We had alone time to talk before Aaron burst through the door.  Gary was ready then, able to be kind and calm, with understanding. 

I was amazed at the happy Aaron that came in the house soon after!  He ate supper with us and acted as if nothing happened.  I was so thankful!  And after Gary and I cleaned the table, Gary told me to come with him as he headed out the door for a walk around the yard.  That sounded wonderful to me!

But it also sounded wonderful to Aaron, who of course knew what we were doing.  My heart sank a little as he followed us outside.  He didn’t care that he was wearing his pajamas already…..didn’t care who might see him……didn’t care that he wasn’t wearing shoes.  So I told him to take off his socks, and he happily joined us for a stroll outside. 

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It actually turned into a very sweet time.  Gary showed Aaron the sunflower plants that were popping up in the garden from last year’s seeds that had dropped in the soil.  Gary pointed out the deer tracks all around, the toad jumping in the water, the clearing he’s been doing out back, and the new grass seed planted.  He pointed out an ant hill and how busy the ants were working.

He showed Aaron how the oak tree is budding and how the buds look like baby pineapples.

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He showed Aaron the oak tree seed pods that fly like a helicopter when you throw them in the air…..things that Aaron knows but that are fun to see again with fresh eyes.  Then Aaron threw one up and watched it land.

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Suddenly Aaron remembered something that HE wanted to show Gary.  It’s something that I had pointed out to Aaron a couple days earlier. 

“DAD!!!  Come look at this plant!” Aaron insisted.

We followed Aaron, with me knowing where he was headed, and we found him standing there just staring at the Lilac bush.  I love the way he stops and stares at things that interest him, as if he’s absorbing every detail…..which he probably is.

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Aaron then leaned over and smelled the sweet lilac scent, and Gary and I followed. 

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I was filled with more than the smell of lilacs.  I was filled with reminders of how important it is to give Aaron time…..time to work through his frustrations and anger without losing mine.  Time to hopefully express himself better.  Time to join Gary and me in a few moments of simple pleasures.  Time for him to see and to know that he is loved.  Time to hopefully show him how to live in thankfulness for all that God has given him. 

If I’ve learned anything with Aaron and with autism, it’s that taking time is absolutely necessary. 

Take time to smell the flowers.

Take time to understand our Aaron.

What Will I Wear?

Aaron notices much more than we sometimes give him credit for.  I love how he will point something out to us, often something that we never paid attention to at all, and then offer his comments on it…..of course……whether we want to hear them or not.  We usually DO want to hear what Aaron has to say, but trust me – there are times when we do NOT want to hear what comes out of Aaron’s mouth. 

Aaron rarely gives any thought to whether we want to hear his observations or not.  His insights may be new, or they may be ones that we have heard over and over and over and over…..and over……again.  It doesn’t matter one whit to Aaron.  He would probably implode if he didn’t talk, so talk he does……and we listen, regardless.

He shares things with perfect strangers, too.  I took Aaron to Wal-Mart with me after I picked him up from Paradigm on Friday.  Aaron was happy that I had found a soft fuzzy blanket on sale and that I had put it in our cart. 

“Is it for ME?” he hopefully asked.  But when I told him it was for our aging Great Dane, Jackson, Aaron was not at all disappointed.  He loves Jackson. 

Aaron sat on the bench near the register as I checked out.  I loved the look on his face as I looked at him and smiled.  Inside I was hoping not to hear him blessing us all with his ear splitting loud clapping…..or a silly ‘meow’……..or a fox whistle……or a very embarrassing farting noise. 

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But Aaron didn’t stay on the bench for very long.  No.  He saw the cashier ring up the soft fuzzy blanket, which reminded him that he had something important to share with her.  He didn’t care one bit that he didn’t know our nice Wal-Mart associate.  He did know, though, that she needed to know something.

So he got up from the bench and purposefully marched over to where she and I were finishing my transaction.  He pointed to the soft fuzzy blanket.

“That’s for our dog.  He’s nine years old and he has weakening in his muscles.”

She thought that was so nice to be buying our dog such a nice soft fuzzy blanket.  She and I were starting to have a dog conversation when we heard Aaron again.

“LOOK!!” he blurted out.  And there he stood, lifting up his right arm and showing the poor unsuspecting soul his yucky yellow and purple bruise on his arm. 

“Aaron…..” I started, but he barreled right over me.

“My desk chair fell on top of me when I was reaching for apples and peanut butter, and I got a bruise!!” he explained. 

She showed him his desired amount of shock and sympathy while I tried to hurry up my payment.  Knowing smiles were exchanged between us as I readied to leave.  Well, knowing smiles shared quickly between her and me. Aaron was already off in search of his next victim, so I had to run.

So back to what Aaron notices, and then shares all too fully with us…..or anyone else who is fortunate enough to be nearby.

On Thursday I wore this blouse.

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Aaron came into the kitchen, looked at me with his head tilted to the side, and then offered his opinion.

“That shirt looks like it should be colored,” he commented.

This forced me to look with new eyes at my shirt. 

“Aaron,” I asked.  “Does this remind you of the adult coloring books that you and I have seen?”

“YES!!!” he replied, so excited that I had gotten what he was trying to convey.  “It looks like it should be colored!”

“Do you like this shirt?” I asked.  And he told me that he did like my coloring shirt, very much. 

So on that day I was fun.

The next day I wore this blouse. 

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Aaron had come in the bedroom and seen me wearing it, before I added a sweater.

“WOW!!” he said, in awe.  “You look like a princess!”

I just laughed.  A princess?  But there was something about this blouse that he loved, and so he saw me as someone very special as I wore it. 

On Sunday, as I was getting ready for church, Aaron came in the bathroom and saw me wearing this blouse.

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“Ewwww,” he said in a measure of disgust.

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“What you have on,” he answered. 

“Don’t you like it?” I asked.

“NO!” he replied.  “It’s ugly.”

There was something about it that wasn’t fun like my coloring blouse and wasn’t special like my princess blouse.  This blouse, to Aaron, was ugly……ugly enough to him that he reacted instantly to it.  He wasn’t trying to be mean.  He was just being honest.  The design; the colors that he saw since he’s color blind, perhaps; or maybe the style – whatever it was, he didn’t like it one bit.

I’ve thought about all this since our morning yesterday.  Aaron was not one bit happy to be going back to Paradigm after enjoying his weekend.  I’ve learned to just let him work through it, to not force the issue, but to let him make the decision.  He knows the consequences of going and of not going, so it’s good to let him be the one to choose. 

But yesterday, on this Monday, he was extra unhappy and extra grouchy.  Downright hateful a couple times. 

“I want a break!!” he angrily told me.

“You just had a break,” I told him back, but not angrily.  I know better.

“When was my break?!” he wanted to know.

“Saturday and Sunday,” I answered as I fixed my hair.

“Don’t say that Saturday and Sunday were my break!!” he told me.

“OK,” I said.

So I’m fairly certain he came in the bathroom a dozen times, each time saying with more and more anger, “Don’t say that Saturday and Sunday were my break!!”

He continued on down his anger path.  I didn’t react……I breathed deeply……I prayed…..and I looked forward to Aaron making up his angry mind about what he wanted to do. 

He finally came in the bathroom, bent over while he rubbed his hands together, and said, “I don’t love you anymore!!!!”

Then he was spent.  I was, too.  He walked away, calmed down, went to Paradigm while he happily listened to music, and the storm passed. 

What I wear, in a sense……what I display to Aaron when he is so angry…..makes a huge difference in the outcome.  It’s much like my blouses that caused a reaction in Aaron.  If I show anger when he is angry, the result is explosive and nothing is accomplished.  If I show patience, then he sees that his anger isn’t accomplishing what he hoped it would.  If I ignore him totally for awhile, he becomes uncomfortable and realizes that he has crossed a line. 

I can choose what I wear during these episodes just as much as I chose those three different blouses on three different days.  Will I be fun, or special, or ugly? Every situation with Aaron is different, too, so I need wisdom…..which is a big reason that I pray.

Oh, I get upset, too.  I mutter under my breath……think not-so-kind thoughts……and if Gary’s here, he is at times my sounding board, as I am his. 

But still, what I wear in front of Aaron is so important.  Above all, I must wear unconditional love.  It’s hard sometimes to do that, especially when he tells me he doesn’t love me anymore.  Thankfully, that doesn’t happen often, but when he does go that far, I struggle.

When I picked Aaron up from Paradigm that afternoon, he acted as if nothing had happened between us at all.  And last night, as we watched Wheel of Fortune, Aaron starting rubbing his hands together wildly.

“MOM??!!” he loudly said, “I LOVE YOU!!”

Which is Aaron’s way of saying that he is sorry, and that he does love me for real.

I slipped on some forgiveness right then.

“I love you, too, Aaron.”

It felt very nice, maybe like the princess blouse.  And fun, like the coloring blouse. 

I’m thankful the ugly was gone, at least for now. 

I’m Trying to Go HAPPY!!

Aaron and I sat down to play Skip-Bo the other night.  It’s a familiar nighttime routine for us on many days, this game of Skip-Bo.  As Aaron came to the table, I saw that he was carrying two bowls.  One was empty, and the other was full of Tootsie Rolls.  These Tootsie Rolls had been a sweet surprise from our friends, Jim and Joyce, this past Sunday.  Aaron was very happy to have been given such a huge bag of Tootsie Rolls, trust me!

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As we sat down to play Skip-Bo, while I was shuffling the cards, Aaron began unwrapping a Tootsie Roll.  He carefully took off the wrapper, and I then learned the purpose of his second bowl, the empty one.  He placed the Tootsie Roll wrapper into the empty bowl.  Soon he was ready for his second piece of candy, so he once again pulled on the wrapped Tootsie Roll, removed the paper, and carefully placed it alongside the first wrapper in the proper bowl. 

If there was ever a picture of how Aaron organizes his life, it would be in his use of multiple bowls.  I have blogged about this in the past, especially this piece from a few years ago.  It so fully explains Aaron’s use of bowls.  Put That in a Bowl!!

So as I watched him eat his Tootsie Rolls while we played Skip-Bo, I was once again reminded of how Aaron wants……no, he needs……his life to be just a certain way.  We all do that to some extent, but for an individual with autism, those needs are ever more acute.  The smallest disruption in routine and expectations can totally pull the rug out from under Aaron. 

Providing some fluctuations in his day and in his life can actually be very good for Aaron.  Finding the balance, though, is tricky.  Giving him consistency while also guiding him through changes can be very challenging for him, and definitely so for all of us who are a part of his life.

The staff at Paradigm can most assuredly attest to this fact.  They endure changing Aaron more than anyone.  Aaron can be very up and he can be very down at his day group.  Sometimes we see and know the triggers, and sometimes we don’t.  They have seen the good, the bad, and the ugly from Aaron during his nearly 11 years there. 

Aaron has been home this week with a bad cold.  He totally loves staying at home and would do so every day if we let him.  But like I said, Aaron needs to be away from routine and predictability in order to grow and to thrive.  He has friends at his day group and staff that he loves, but the atmosphere there is active and sometimes loud.  He can’t totally control his environment there……what people say or do……what activity he will participate in that day……how he will feel.  So for Aaron, staying home is much more preferred, but is not at all what he needs to do every day. 

He was well enough to return to Paradigm yesterday, on Friday.  I could tell he didn’t really want to go……didn’t want to think of leaving home for the day.  I was encouraging Aaron to keep a good attitude as I poured his morning coffee under his watchful eye.  He watches to make sure I do the coffee job JUST RIGHT!

“Mom,” he finally said.  “I’m not trying to go MAD!  I’m trying to go HAPPY!”

Wow!  His insights floor me sometimes.

He really wants to process life correctly.  Sometimes, however, it’s just a huge stretch for him to be able to do that. 

For Aaron, it’s Tootsie Rolls in one bowl and Tootsie Roll wrappers in another bowl.

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He can control this business of candy and candy wrappers.  He can’t control, though, his atmosphere at his day group.  Some days it’s just too much.  But we must gently push……must keep trying……must understand how hard it can be for him.

He had a great day yesterday at Paradigm.  They went to watch Rogue One at the theater.  Well, I’m not sure if it was a “great” day, but Katie told me that it was a good day……and to me, that’s great. 

Gary and I had Aaron with us at Sam’s on Monday.  I was checking out the asparagus when Aaron walked up to me with a bouquet of flowers, his face all smiles while Gary watched in the background.  Gary had pointed out the bin of flowers to Aaron, and Aaron instantly wanted to buy me some.  We’ve watched those Iris’s this week, some blooms falling off as they wilt while other buds burst into bloom.

Again, just like Aaron.  We wait for him to grow……hopefully to bloom……and in the mean time we enjoy him and his unique, colorful life that we see every day. 

Candy and wrappers…….buds and blooms……it’s all part of what makes life with Aaron both challenging and beautiful.   

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My View

I was in TJ Maxx with my elderly friend, Nora, last Wednesday when I got a call from Paradigm, Aaron’s day group.  I was tempted not to answer it, figuring it was Aaron just wanting to tell me about his day.  That could wait.  But I wasn’t sure, so I did answer and I immediately knew that the news was not good.  Aaron was on the other end, his voice thick and choked with anger and tears.  Here we go, yet again, I thought.  How I wish that Aaron could stay happy!

I picked him up as soon as I got Nora settled back at her apartment.  Aaron was asleep, so I had time to talk to the staff, all of us scratching our heads as to what caused his angry outburst that morning……and what the solution could be.  I found out from Aaron later what happened.  He tried to give his good friend two McDonald’s coupons and she didn’t want them.  She wasn’t being mean to Aaron, just honest, but Aaron felt rejected and very hurt, so he just had a total meltdown. 

Thursday was a better day for Aaron.  Then came Friday…..

I told Aaron that we would go out to eat when I picked him up at the end of his day.  His choice.  So he chose Denny’s, of course.  He does love Denny’s.  On the way to Paradigm, I talked to him about being nice…..being kind with both his words and his hands.  About talking to someone if he was angry or hurt.  He agreed with everything I said……until he walked into Paradigm.

I was waiting in the van after I dropped him off, waiting for him to come and tell me if they were going to a movie.  But instead, out the door came one of his staff.  She told me that Aaron had become verbal instantly with another client when he walked in the door.  Then out came Aaron, yelling at this staff as he stood on the sidewalk.  He eventually got in the van and off we drove.  My anger and disappointment and great frustration spilled out in harsh words as we drove toward home.  I was so mad at Aaron and mad at myself for being mad, and it just all boiled over. 

I pulled into Denny’s, deciding that it might do us both good to be in a neutral place.  Aaron sat on the curb before going in, saying that maybe he just shouldn’t go in to eat.  I told him to come on and he did, but for most of the meal I just sat silent.  I was exhausted and defeated and still battling my anger.  Aaron was scared……scared because of all the people from whom he fears rejection, he fears it the most from me.  He kept telling me that he loved me……kept trying to share his salad with me…..his crackers, French fries, chicken strips……even reached over, took my hand, and kissed the back of my hand.  Yes, he really did that.  I wonder who saw it, and what they thought of my lack of emotion? 

We ran into WalMart after our meal, where I picked up food for Thanksgiving bags for church, and Aaron tried to help.  I still felt numb, tired.  After I checked out, I looked toward the bench where Aaron was sitting, and this is what I saw.

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Then my heart did stir with sorrow for Aaron as this picture of him was a picture of dejection, and his own tiredness.  Oh Aaron, how I wish your life wasn’t so difficult and hard!  And how I wish you could understand that you so often make it that way, and yet so often you can’t control the impulses you have that make you make it that way.  It’s so complicated!

Aaron went right to bed when we got home.  I went to the patio, baby monitor and my Bible in hand.  I could listen for seizures while I spent some time unwinding and processing……reading my Bible and praying.  I could hear Aaron’s steady breathing on the monitor as I breathed out my prayer to God, asking Him for wisdom to know how to deal with these constant ups and downs from Aaron. 

I called my friend, Wendy, who walks this road that I walk.  She understands and doesn’t judge.  She offers counsel and advice, empathy and understanding.  And I know that she prays for us, for Aaron……prays with love and care.

Aaron was awake then, coming outside to test the waters……to see if Mom was still distant and angry.  He relaxed some when he could tell that I was better.  He smiled when I said that we could take Jackson for a walk around the yard.

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We walked down to the back of our yard, around the huge evergreens that hide the very back loop of our property.  It’s an area that is hidden from view as you stand on our patio or look out our windows.  You would never know it’s there until you walk behind the thick trees that keep it hidden.

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I stood looking at the eerie sight.  Branches of the old trees there hang low, gnarled together as they bend toward the ground.  A finger of the neighborhood lake curls around under the limbs, still holding water since we’ve had such a wet summer.  It’s a shadowy and dark place, a little creepy even.  It’s interesting, but not warm and welcoming……not a place I want to linger for long. 

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As we stood there, Aaron talking and Jackson sniffing the bushes and tall grass, it hit me that this is so much like our life with Aaron.  Anyone who lives with a person who has autism…..or multiple seizures…..and takes tons of meds to help them…..knows what I mean. 

Aaron is funny and smart and often kind.  But he is also prone to angry outbursts where he is hurtful and unreasonable.  For days we may mostly see the pleasant side of Aaron, but we know that hidden inside him is still the anger and the frustration that he feels, and sometimes releases.  It is not a fun place, and it is not a place where we desire to linger.  Yet sometimes Aaron makes us linger there as his brain is going through whatever his brain goes through at those times. 

I know that mentally and emotionally I must walk away from the shadows that threaten to engulf me when I am overwhelmed by Aaron’s behaviors.  He needs me, for one thing.  And I need to stay whole and strong, loving and forgiving.  It’s not easy, but I must.  Friends and family help.  A good staff at Paradigm helps.  Gary is my biggest help, taking over when I can’t.  And definitely, crying out to God helps the most. 

Aaron and I turned from that scene, finally, and went back out into the open yard…..to the sunshine and grass……to the full view of our welcoming house.  Likewise, given a little time, he and I returned to our normal relationship.  I love him dearly.  I know he needs me.  He needed me when he had three hard seizures during the night on Friday.  But he also needed me even more when he was out of control emotionally that day.  He needed me to believe in him…..to discipline him……to try to help him even when he pushes me away……to care for him and to love him.

Behaviors are perhaps the hardest part of Aaron’s disability.  They are frustrating, embarrassing, and exhausting at times.  Families who deal with this need extra love and prayer.  Staff who deal with this need the same, as well as frequent thank-you’s for what they endure. 

Aaron’s behaviors hold him back in many ways…..and could easily hold us hostage in many ways, as well.  But Gary and I know that we can’t let the dark times be our focus.  Like the staff at Paradigm says, today is a new day and we start all over.

We don’t always get to choose our view on any given day, but we don’t have to stay forever where the view is scary and dark.

“Today is the day that the Lord has made!  Let us rejoice and be glad in it!”  (Psalm 118:24)

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