The Rat

It all started one recent night when our almost-broken DVD player became the totally-broken DVD player.  Aaron and I were watching the next Blue Bloods show that was in Aaron’s rigid schedule for the evening.  Aaron kindly paused the program while I went into the kitchen.  Something about that pause became the something that pushed our ailing DVD player into its grave.  Even Gary, our go-to he-can-fix-everything guy, came but could not fix.  And as I watched Aaron’s frustrated reaction, I rightly guessed that he would also be very difficult to fix that night.

I was very correct on that one.

There are times when Aaron handles life’s interruptions of his routine with amazing calm and grace.  That night was not one of those times. 

I didn’t help, either.  When Aaron became more belligerent, I became more frustrated.  I don’t do end-of-the-day meltdowns very well, especially as I get older.   I finally told Aaron not to be a bully.  But I didn’t end there.  I also told him not to be a bully brat.  I thought it had a nice ring to it, you know. 

Aaron did not think it had a nice anything.

Now we not only had to go to bed without finishing our Blue Bloods show, and knowing that the DVD player was dead, but we also had to walk up our stairs for our goodnight routine harboring anger.  I could have made amends and gone right to bed with no problem. 

Aaron could not.

And so began an age-old bedtime dance that we hadn’t done together in a long time.  It basically consisted of Aaron refusing to do what is normally done and insisting on doing what is unacceptable. 

His angry comments included: 

“I am NOT helping put the oil in the diffuser!”

“I am NOT taking my medicine oil!”

“I am NOT saying goodnight to you!”

“I am NOT going to bed!”

“I am NOT letting you kiss me goodnight!”

“I am NOT a bully brat!”

I stayed as calm and flat as I could be in my reactions as I went about my own bedtime routine.  Aaron continued his fuming by going into his room and closing his door, only to open it seconds later.  He would stomp up the hall and come into my room, hurling another angry comment at me.  One time he closed his door normally, but immediately reopened it so that he could slam it shut the second time.  I had to smile at that one.

But I wasn’t smiling at any of the rest, for sure.  I was sorry it had come to this…I was very tired…and I was totally aware that Aaron’s outrage could continue for some time.  Therefore, I just went to bed, pulling my covers up and acting as if everything was normal.  Gary had not come upstairs yet, so I left my door open. 

Sure enough, Aaron clomped up the hall again and came into my bedroom.  He didn’t even seem to blink as he saw me in bed and so changed his direction, standing on Gary’s side of the bed.  He glared down at me under the covers and continued his verbal barrage.  Then he was off, slamming his bedroom door before soon reopening it, and repeating the same action again and again.  In my bedroom, hovering over the bed as he angrily talked, and off again.  I don’t even know how many times this occurred.

Then all of a sudden, the next time Aaron hurried to my room to glower at me, he didn’t.  He didn’t hover and glower, but instead he sat on the bed beside me.  He started rubbing his hands together and then he said, “Mom, do you know what Nanomites are?” 

Really.  Nanomites.

And just as seriously as I possibly could, with no hint of surprise or laughter or tiredness,  I told him that I did not know what Nanomites are.  There we were, in the dim light, talking ever so diligently about Nanomites.  We didn’t talk about our anger…our hurt…our frustration with each other…our disappointment in the dead DVD player…or our needed apologies.  We talked about Nanomites.

And all was well. 

Aaron went back to his bedroom.  I stayed in bed, waiting.  Soon he was headed back up the hall, but this time he came around to my side of the bed.

“Here Mom,” he said.  “I want you to have this.”

A couple days earlier, I had taken Aaron to Dollar Tree.  You would have thought I had let him enter heaven for a few minutes.  He bounced from aisle to aisle, SO excited by his many finds, but definitely the MOST excited by this big, plastic, long-tailed, red-eyed rat! 

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I rolled over in bed that night, and there on my night stand was that long-tailed, red-eyed rat.  I knew as sure as ever, then, that things were right with me and Aaron.  He had given me what at that moment was most precious to him…his black, plastic rat. 

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He laughed and bent over as he rubbed his hands together…a sign of his pure joy.  And I thanked him.  I thanked him as sincerely as if he had placed a huge vase of roses on my night stand.

Aaron wanted me to come and say goodnight in the way we always do, so I did.  Then as I was in my bathroom right after that, I heard Aaron once again walk up the hall.  He knocked on the bathroom door, and when I answered he said, “Mom, I’m sorry.”

“I’m sorry, too, Aaron,” I replied.  “I love you.”

“I love you,” he mumbled as he hurried off and back to bed.

I kept that ugly plastic rat on my night stand for a couple days.  It reminded me of so much.  It was an unusual picture of my relationship not only with Aaron, but also with God.

How many times have I been angry with God over a problem or a situation in my life?  Maybe not even full-blown anger but frustrated and not trusting Him totally.  How many times have I held onto hurt, or worry, or fear, or whatever else it may be that I want to harbor close to me.  Things or people or events that I don’t want to relinquish to God? 

All the going back and forth with God doesn’t accomplish a single thing.  It’s only when I yield to Him and to His control in my life, tell Him I’m sorry if I need to do so, and then give Him my thing that to me is precious…that I want to keep and coddle…only then will I have true peace.  Also, only then will I have open communication and sweet fellowship with God again.  Only then will I see what’s on the new path upon which He has set my feet.

Who knew what that silly red-eyed black plastic rat would teach me? 

Leave it to Aaron…and to God…to take the bad times and make them full of good.

 

 

Parts and Pieces

I walked out into the garage the other day and this caught my eye.

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What is this?  It certainly looks like a small trash can that contains little pieces of paper.  It is that, but it is also much more.  So much more, at least to me. 

You see, this trash can holds the small pieces of paper that are left when Aaron cuts out a coupon for me.  Aaron cuts out the Sunday coupons every Sunday, rain or shine, do or die.  He has quite the coupon cutting routine going on as he positions everything just right.  His pillow on which he sits, his coffee beside him, a particular pair of scissors that are used ONLY for coupons, the coupon box…it’s all placed just so-so before the cutting process even starts.

Then he methodically cuts each coupon on the dotted lines (more or less), and if there is final perfecting needing to be done…if the dotted line cutting isn’t quite accurate enough…then he will continue to cut around the coupon that he is holding until it is just right.  Thus he has small strips of paper that fall to the floor in front of him. 

These strips of paper cannot just be scooped up and thrown away.  No, no!!  He carefully takes each thin strip of paper and cuts it into even smaller pieces as he holds it over his little trash can.  For weeks and weeks, these paper strips pile up inside his green trash can until finally, someday…when the can is very full…Aaron, and only Aaron, will decide to throw them away and start all over. 

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When I glanced at the familiar trash can that day, seeing all the colors and sizes of papers inside, I immediately thought that this is such a true picture of Aaron himself.  There are so many parts and pieces of Aaron, just as all of us have parts and pieces, but Aaron’s are truly unique because of his autism.  Looking at all the pieces of what makes Aaron…Aaron…gives much understanding of what makes him tick.  Maybe it will also give all of us some needed understanding of so many others who are one-of-a-kind special people, yet similar in many ways as well. 

Let me give you some examples of our Aaron’s parts and pieces.

I’ll start with coupons.  Sometimes I will put a Dillon’s coupon in the red coupon box.  If I haven’t had time to sort the coupons by the following Sunday, this is where I will find the Dillon’s coupon. 

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It’s under the bench beside him.  This is because Dillon’s coupons are odd to Aaron and don’t belong with regular coupons. 

This way of thinking is also why I found these a few days ago.

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These are Skittles, but not just any Skittles.  They are misshapen in some way, so Aaron won’t eat them.  To the side they go, to be later thrown away.

This same Aaron principle is why I sometimes find pieces of food on a napkin, set aside by Aaron to be thrown away instead of eaten.  Usually this part of his food is shunned because it’s too crisp.  He can’t just push it aside on his plate.  It must be completely removed from the plate.

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Aaron must nearly always have a spoon and fork when he eats, even if he’s eating a finger food that requires neither.  And multiple napkins, for sure!

Aaron always, always has a salad when we eat in a restaurant.  Often the salad is served on a plate, which he never minds at all.  But here at home, salad must be in a bowl.  One night I suggested that he eat his salad on a plate, to make it easier.  He stood by the table, staring at the offending plate, and then told us that he just wouldn’t eat salad that night.  He wasn’t angry…just very matter of fact.  So I got out his bowl and he ate his salad. 

Aaron enjoys watching Wheel of Fortune at 6:30, after supper.  One evening I asked him if he was going to watch, and he said yes, so I told him to turn on the TV.  He paused.  Why?  Because it was 6:25…and Aaron will NOT turn on the TV for Wheel of Fortune until 6:28.   Yes, you read that correctly.  6:28.  On.  The.  Dot.

6:25 was a ridiculous idea.  Aaron stood there, staring at the clock for a few seconds before his eyes riveted back to the television screen, black because it was OFF.  Clock.  Screen.  Clock.  Screen.

Finally, he spoke.  “Should I turn it on at 6:27?” he cautiously asked.

I took this event as seriously as he did as I told him that I would turn it on, so he ventured out and did just that. 

VICTORY!!!  At least for that one night. 

He wants to only eat lunch at 12:00 on the weekends when he’s home, or maybe after…but NOT before 12:00.  I asked him one Saturday if he wanted to eat lunch and he said yes.  Then he stopped and looked at the clock.  He then said no to lunch.  I knew why, but I asked him anyway.

“It’s 11:48,” he replied patiently to his silly mom.  “I’ll eat at 12:00.”

I’ve watched him sitting on his bed carefully watching his clock before writing his time-to-bed in the log that he faithfully keeps.  As soon as the clock is precisely on the next minute, he will write down the time.  Or I’ve seen him write down the time, look at the clock as it suddenly is on the next minute, and then watch as he scribbles through the time he wrote in order to put down the exact minute. 

And when Aaron watches a DVD, he watches it from the very beginning to the VERY end…all the credits…EVERY single line and word.  He does the same with a book, reading the very first page, the table of contents, and ending with the index in the back. 

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I’ll never forget how I learned that about Aaron.  Years ago, he was reading one of his Handy Answer books and he came to me with a question.  “Mom, what does http/www. ,mean?”  I asked him to show me what he was talking about, so he showed me the very end of the book with all the references to various web sites.  Even after I told him what it was, and that he didn’t have to read that, he continued to read every single one. 

Living with Aaron can be so many things because of his many parts and pieces.  It can be hilarious, fascinating, entertaining, demanding, frustrating, and maddening.  All in one day!!

And just as there are outward displays of his varied parts and pieces, there are many inner examples of Aaron’s unique design.  His way of thinking…of processing life…of feeling valued, or not…of feeling important, or not.  Those parts of Aaron are sometimes very difficult to predict, to understand, and to handle correctly. 

It’s his inward desires that, if unmet, are often understood better by us only after angry eruptions on his part.  This is very typical of those with autism.  Aaron already has a hard time talking to us about his feelings or desires, but it IS those very feelings and desires that drive him to outbursts of anger and resentment. 

So again, we are seen trying to fit together another aspect of Aaron…more parts and pieces, like his coupon pieces, that demand to be seen and understood for what they are. 

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We have been a party to this inner part of Aaron for some time now as it relates to his sister falling in love.  Andrea and Kyle will be married next month, so this occasion has opened a whole new door to us…and especially to Aaron.  Matters of the heart actually open all sorts of doors.  It’s been a very interesting, and sometimes very sad, process…one that I will write more about later. 

One that has plenty of parts and pieces of its own!  Stay tuned! 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Happy, Helpful, and Forgiving

It’s beyond time for an Aaron update.  I do believe I could write every day about life with that young man of ours.  I wish I had that kind of time, so since I don’t, I’m sitting here wondering how on earth to corral my rambling thoughts on recent…or not so recent…Aaron antics.  And not only his antics, but what those actions show about the real Aaron, deep in that brain of his.

Aaron has been mostly happy lately.  He is showing that happiness in various ways.  One way is by being extra helpful, so he’s been taking out the trash and the recycling; setting the supper table; carrying in groceries; and even helping others in ways that are…well…a little intimidating.

I saw that for the second time yesterday as we left Sam’s.  We were walking to our van when Aaron spied a lady near where we parked, putting her items in her car trunk.  She had a couple heavy packs of drinks.  Before I knew it, Aaron was running toward her.  I knew what he was going to do because he had done this same thing last week at Wal-Mart.

“Aaron!” I said.  “Come back here!”

But he was determined to help this random lady.  She looked up, a tad startled at first, but then she quickly relaxed when she saw Aaron.

“Hey!” Aaron blustered.  “I’ll help!!”

She smiled and actually let him!  Then she looked at me with a big smile, which made me very happy, as Aaron proceeded to put her two heavy drink packages in her car.  She thanked him as he stood there with a huge smile, rubbing his hands together in his Aaron way, and then came back to the van.  And I don’t know who was happiest at that point…Aaron, or me!

The lady last week at Wal-Mart was kind but said no to Aaron.  So as I did then, I once again explained to Aaron that his offer was very nice but that he had to understand that running up to various women at their cars might be scary to them.  Aaron thought this to be strange, even after I explained it to him.  It’s so amazing that he doesn’t get it, that social norms elude him. 

I had just seen this demonstrated a few minutes prior to the parking lot incident, while we were in the self-checkout lane inside Sam’s.  A man in the other lane beside us was trying to get the attendant’s attention.  She was talking to someone else and was unaware that this man needed her help.  He continued to try to get her to notice him.  What I was noticing was that this exchange was bothering Aaron.  He was bothered by the fact that the man’s voice was rising, and he was bothered by the fact that the attendant didn’t hear him.  Therefore, Aaron decided to be helpful once again.

“HEY!!!” he yelled out. 

Well, well, well.  This did get the attendant’s attention.  And Aaron got a very annoyed look from her, with a raised eyebrow to boot.  I apologized to her while correcting Aaron, and then she realized about Aaron, and she was kind and understanding, and Aaron’s face turned very red, and I have no idea what the irate man was doing. 

WHEW!!!!

It was another teaching moment for Aaron, with me doing the teaching and Aaron looking around for someone else to help. 

OK, where was I?

Oh yes, I was talking about how happy Aaron has been and how he shows it.  He was so happy to see my good friend, Jennifer, in Sam’s that he gave her a big hug.  Yeah.  SO big and strong that I texted her last night to see if she was hurt.  She said she’s not.  Oh, Aaron!  Just another social norm and boundary that Aaron doesn’t get. 

Sam’s was pretty exhausting yesterday, can you tell?

In fact, by the end of the day, Gary and I were at the end…of our patience and our wits and our nerves.  I don’t know, it was just such a tiring evening with Aaron.  He wasn’t bad at all.  But goodness, he LOVES to talk!!!!

That’s another way that he shows his happiness.  Talking!  Almost incessant talking!!  He’ll be in his room for a few minutes and then we hear him barreling down the stairs.  He finds us no matter where we are…outside, downstairs, in the garage, on the porch or patio, or in the bathroom.  It matters not!  Aaron has something to say and he WILL say it, even if he’s said it a million times before.  You think I’m exaggerating?  It certainly doesn’t feel like it to me and Gary.

We often tell Aaron that we just talked about this…that he needs to look that up on his computer…that we don’t have a clue about it…and we even throw up our hands as we say, “I DON’T KNOW!!!!”  But Aaron is not easily deterred as he pushes on with his comments and his questions and his observations…over and over and over. 

I wish I could say that I’m ever the wise and patient mom.  I wish I could give examples of how to always be on top of these issues.  But in all honesty…and I do try to write this blog with all honesty…I’m just not.  Not always patient and calm and understanding, much as I want to be. 

At the end of last night, when I was at the end physically, Aaron and I were in the kitchen.  He was talking again and I was just so done.  He, I thought, spilled a little water on the kitchen floor and that was it.  I didn’t yell, but I talked through…I’m ashamed to say it…gritted teeth. 

“Just clean up the water,” I said, in my “gritted teeth” voice.

I hurt Aaron’s feelings. 

“Shut up!” he responded.  More than once.

This prompted a stern rebuke from Gary.

Well, the rest of the evening went fine as Aaron and I went through his bedtime routine.  But when it came time to give him his hug and a kiss on his cheek, he put his arms under his covers and said no.  No goodnight.  No hug.  No kiss. 

“Because you were mean to me,” he said.

So I left his room.  But before long he was at my bathroom door.

“OK, Mom,” he said.  “I’ll say goodnight.”

He walked into his room with me following.  He got under the covers, held out his arms for my hug and accepted my kiss on his cheek.  Bless his heart.  He so wants our love.

Forgiveness is a big part of our life.  We have to forgive each other a lot. 

God forgives, too, and I’m surely thankful for that.

And God understands, as my dear friend Linda reminded me this morning.  She understands this kind of weariness as she reminded me that Jesus often tried to get away to be alone…but the crowds still followed Him.  I’m so thankful that God understands, and ever thankful for the forgiveness and peace He gives.

I’ll end on a funny note.  I am sometimes amazed at how quickly Aaron can be irritated by me.  I mean, really – ME?!  Be irritating?

It is very puzzling, though, at what can set him off.  Like the other morning, when feeding our Great Dane and fixing his pills in some peanut butter, I dipped into some peanut butter for myself.  This really bugged Aaron. 

“MOM!!  You act strange!” he said angrily.

“How do I act strange, Aaron?” I asked.

He stared at me a minute.

“In lots of DIFFERENT ways!” he replied as he turned and walked away.

Now if that’s not the pot calling the kettle black!  HaHa!!

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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.