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…

 WP_20171008_15_02_35_Pro

Does NOT belong among these coupons.

 WP_20171008_15_03_30_Pro

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. 

WP_20171021_09_37_01_Pro

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. 

WP_20171021_12_16_35_Pro

  

 

 

 

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. 

WP_20170412_18_02_13_Pro (2)

 

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.

WP_20170412_18_11_59_Pro

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.

WP_20170412_18_12_59_Pro

 

WP_20170412_18_13_03_Pro

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.

WP_20170412_18_14_55_Pro

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

WP_20170412_18_15_00_Pro

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. 

WP_20170324_16_40_41_Pro

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.

WP_20170328_12_17_20_Pro

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. 

WP_20170328_12_15_32_Pro

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.

WP_20170328_12_14_32_Pro

“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!

wp_20170101_13_32_06_pro

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.

wp_20170106_12_45_41_pro

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.   

wp_20170107_08_32_18_pro

 

 

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.

wp_20161104_11_44_11_pro

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.

wp_20160824_16_32_51_pro_li

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.

wp_20161104_13_45_55_pro

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. 

wp_20161104_13_46_11_pro

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)

wp_20160605_11_45_55_pro_li-2

 

I’ll Go Happy

Last Monday, Aaron had a rough and grouchy day at his day group.  Sometimes we can pinpoint the cause and other times we just can’t.  I’m so thankful for the understanding staff at Paradigm.  I don’t know how they do what they do on some days, but I do know that they don’t get paid enough for all they endure on those days.  I love their philosophy:  Tomorrow is a new day and we start all over.

As I said goodnight to Aaron at the end of his rough day and gave him a hug, Aaron said, “Mom, tomorrow I’ll go happy!”

So on the next day, the new day in which we were starting all over, Aaron was indeed happy.  His attitude was entirely different than the no good very bad yesterday.  And on this better day we also got some wonderful news from our daughter in Houston.  She has a break between jobs and was coming home for a visit!!!!  Not only Andrea was coming, but also her boyfriend Kyle!!!!  Not only Andrea and Kyle were coming, but also Andrea’s two dogs and Kyle’s dog!!!!!   

wp_20161029_09_14_39_pro

Can you tell I was excited?  You bet!  Aaron was excited, too.  He loves and misses his sister.  He’s getting to know Kyle and to realize that Kyle is a new part of our family.  But oh, I know Aaron and I know that having a house full of people and pets can be challenging for him.  We face this issue any time that we have extra people around…..extra noise……extra routine disruptions……extra attention grabbers away from our usual main attention grabber.

We work to prepare Aaron for those disruptions before they occur.  I went over several things with him, like how he would use Gary’s and my bathroom while Andrea and Kyle were here.  We talked about the dogs and how we need to act with having four dogs in the house.  I tried to cover all the bases with Aaron, but Aaron brings out new bases quite often……based on what’s happening around him at the time…..things we just can’t predict. 

I let Aaron stay home from Paradigm on the two Paradigm days that Andrea and Kyle were here.  Aaron was SO happy with that idea!!  He loved going with us to eat lunch at Freddy’s.

wp_20161027_13_29_33_pro_li

 

wp_20161027_13_06_47_pro_li

He loved going for a walk in Swanson Park.

wp_20161027_15_36_09_pro_li

He loved being here with us and the doggies.

wp_20161028_11_12_22_pro_li

He loved us watching Independence Day Resurgence with him while he ate snacks and snacks and snacks.

He loved trying to sneak snacks and snacks and snacks to the doggies.

He loved talking to all of us, especially to Andrea and Kyle, about all his favorite topics.  And this is where we usually start seeing some issues with Aaron, because Aaron doesn’t know when to stop talking.  Sharing the stage is hard for Aaron.  He truly wants to be included in our conversations as we sit around the dinner table, for instance.  We do listen to him and try to include him, but Aaron isn’t going to talk about the subjects that we talk about. 

Here is a sample conversation:  We may be talking about Andrea’s new job or talking about Kyle’s summer at sea.  Then Aaron will loudly call one of our names.

“Andrea!!”  he says.  When she responds to him, we often hear this from Aaron:  “Ummm.  Ummm.  Ummm.”  We wait.  “Ummm.  Did you know what the Queen Alien on Independence Day Resurgence looks like?!”

“No, Aaron, I don’t know what she looks like,” Andrea answers.

“Well, she looks like a…..I don’t know.  Mom, what do you think she looks like?” Aaron asks.

So I try to answer but I don’t really know how to describe the Alien Queen because it’s been awhile since I saw that movie….and I don’t really care what the Alien Queen looks like…..and in trying to muster some enthusiasm and interest in this question that I’ve heard a hundred times, Aaron can sense a shift in my emotions.  As much as Aaron struggles with social norms, he is very adept at picking up the subtle cues that we are not as animated about Alien Queens as we are about Andrea’s job or Kyle’s schooling. 

He views our world from afar, wanting so much to enter in, but never knowing how.  But he does express his frustration by comments that we later hear.

“Mom, you didn’t want to talk to me.  You just wanted to talk to Andrea or Kyle,” he will say. 

I try to explain that we do want to talk to him but that we haven’t seen Andrea or Kyle in so long…..and we want to catch up with them on their lives…..but to Aaron that doesn’t make sense.  Round and round we go, and where we land nobody knows.  Or when we land.

Which happened on Friday during supper.  Andrea’s friend, Sarah, had come over to see Andrea and Kyle.  They sat in the family room visiting and talking and laughing.  Aaron was up in his room, then down in the family room…..up in his room, down again.  He wanted to be a part and he was in many ways.  He just can’t be the whole part and so conversation would swirl around him.  Kyle was talking and laughing at one point, and Aaron whacked Kyle’s leg with a book.  I heard it but didn’t see it.  It was a sign of things to come.  Aaron was frustrated now, truly frustrated, and when that happens he picks a target.  Lucky Kyle.

I don’t remember all the details of what happened at supper.  I was up from the table getting slices of cheesecake ready to serve.  Aaron was at a boiling point and we didn’t realize it.  His system was on overload…..his pressure gauge was maxed out…..and he erupted.  He leaned forward and yelled at Kyle. 

Aaron left the table.  We apologized to Kyle.  He was understanding and patient.  Aaron came down later and apologized.  We watched the movie later and Aaron was very happy, as if nothing ever happened.

Why do I tell you this story, one you’ve heard before if you’ve read this blog for very long?  Because this scenario is just a very real picture of how Aaron processes…..or doesn’t exactly process…..the world around him.  Our world is ticking along like normal, but Aaron’s isn’t.  He is so impacted by nuances that we don’t even notice.  Sounds…..loud laughter that he doesn’t understand…..hilarity……silliness…..his routine changing….   All these things greatly affect him, more than we can begin to know. 

So he reacts, usually loudly and hurtfully.  Then he’s sorry.  It takes great understanding, as I’ve said, to deal with this about Aaron.  He doesn’t think like we do or process as we do or react over time as we do. 

But he truly wants to. 

Andrea and Kyle left to go back to Houston the next day.  Aaron was with us in the driveway, entering into things, when Andrea asked for a hug.  Aaron ducked his head and walked away, through the garage and into the house as he muttered to himself.  A hug in front of everyone?  Are you kidding me?!  We know this about Aaron and it makes us smile.  He can yell, but spontaneous hugs are very, very difficult.

One of the first things I did after they left was to get Aaron’s things put back in his bathroom.  “Us kid’s bathroom,” he calls it.  We got his cup with his toothbrush and toothpaste put back on the counter.  We got his body wash and wash cloth back in the shower.  We hung his towel on the towel rack. 

Aaron then noticed that his razor attachments were not in the correct place.  He rearranged them the way he wanted them.  He stood back and observed the counter for a few seconds. 

wp_20161031_11_20_44_pro

Then he said, “OK.  It’s looking good.”

That night at supper, Aaron asked the blessing.  He nearly always says two things when he prays.  He doesn’t say the same thing with each prayer, but he says two things.  On that night he said, “Lord, thank you for the food.  And thank you that Kyle and Andrea got to come.”

wp_20161027_12_31_13_pro

Yes, it was looking good now for Aaron.  He was happy that Andrea and Kyle were here, along with Darcy and Oakley and Aries and our own Jackson.  He will be very happy when everyone comes for Christmas. 

Aaron will have every intention of saying, “I’ll go happy!” 

He’ll go happy into our family time, but it will be a time of upheaval for him and of struggle as well.  It’s up to us to understand that and to allow that for Aaron, all the while trying to help him know how to take time to decompress and not to blow up. 

Only when things are back to normal…..Aaron’s normal…..will he be able to step back and say, “OK.  It’s looking good.”

And it’s very important for us to be able to look at Aaron’s world through Aaron’s eyes, and still be able to say, “OK, Aaron.  It’s looking good.”

Let’s go happy!  It’s sometimes the hard choice, but always the best choice. 

It Makes Me Think

I wrote earlier about Aaron’s difficult day on Monday, and about his desire to take a “sorry card” to his friend whom he had hurt.  ( Another “Sorry Card”)  Time now for a quick update.

I walked into Aaron’s room on Tuesday morning, carrying his cups of coffee and finding him sitting on the edge of his bed.  He was writing in his log book the precise time that he was getting out of bed, and still trying to fully awaken.  I know not to talk a lot to Aaron first thing in the morning.  He needs time to process his new day, time to drink his coffee, time to shower…..and I need time to evaluate his mood.  So I said a simple good morning as I put his coffee on the bookshelf beside his desk.  He never even looked at me, which is typical.

But he did speak. 

“I don’t want to go today,” he softly said.  “I have a headache.”

I never know if he really has a headache, or if he’s just trying to get fully awake.  I don’t try to talk him OUT of having a headache, and neither do I encourage him to indulge his headache. 

“I’m sorry,” I said as I walked out of his room.  “I’m getting in the shower now.”

“I don’t want to go today,” he repeated.

“But what about the “sorry card” and Burger King coupon for J, and the pillow for S, and the green pepper for Barb?” I asked.

He was silent.

I went on about my morning.  I heard him taking a shower and then later heard him on his computer, yelling happily…..which is always a good sign that his outlook has brightened.

I went to his room for his glasses so that I could clean them before we left for Paradigm.  There lay the pillow for S, and the “sorry card” for J, near his empty coffee cups. 

“I’m going, Mom,” he said.  He even sounded cheery, and I was very relieved.

We walked out the door later, Aaron carrying a bag in which we had placed the pillow and the green pepper.  His “sorry card” for J, along with the Burger King coupon, were in a plain envelope and placed in the bag as well.

Aaron went into Paradigm with no hesitation when I dropped him off at the curb.  I prayed as I drove away, that Aaron would be happy and kind and would actually give his gifts to his friends…..especially the “sorry card” to J, for that was most important.

That afternoon my phone rang.  The caller ID displayed Barb’s name, and my heart dropped a little.  Sometimes Aaron calls me using Barb’s phone, and some of those times it’s because he’s unhappy.  Sometimes Barb calls me, though rarely, but usually it’s because Aaron is having a really rough day.  Sometimes Aaron also calls just to loudly laugh and tell me how much fun he is having.  Sometimes answering that phone is like playing Russian Roulette.  I just don’t know what pressing that answer button will bring.

“MOM!!!!” Aaron yelled into the phone.  And I immediately knew that he sounded like all was well.  “I wanted to tell you something!!”

“OK,” I simply answered, hoping for the best.

“I’ve been having a good day!” he continued.

“That’s wonderful!” I replied.  “Did you give J the “sorry card” and the coupon?”

“YES!!!” he said.  “WAIT, MOM!!!  WAIT!!!!” he eagerly said.

Now this always means that Aaron is getting ready to hand the phone off to someone else.  Often it’s Barb, and I’ll hear Aaron say to her, “My mom wants to tell you something!”  And Barb knows full well that I didn’t say I wanted to tell her something, so she gets on the phone laughing and she hears me laughing, and we talk for a minute while Aaron – I’m quite sure – is standing nearby rubbing his hands together furiously.

So on this day I was prepared to once again hear Barb’s voice, but it wasn’t.  I heard a young man’s voice haltingly saying hello to me.  He was a little hard to understand, but I figured he was J.

“Is this J?” I asked him.  He said yes.

“Thank you for the card and the coupon,” he said.

“You’re very welcome, J,” I told him.  “I’m sorry that Aaron hit you.”

“Oh, it’s OK,” he replied.  And he said something else about the coupon.  I could tell he was very happy with that, and with the “sorry card,” too.

He handed the phone back to Aaron, who told me with great exuberance that he had also given the pillow to S and the green pepper to Barb.  We soon hung up, with me feeling very happy for Aaron.

As we drove home that afternoon from Paradigm, we talked about how much it meant to J to get the card and especially the coupon.  We talked about how S smiled when Aaron gave her the pillow.  We talked about how Barb thanked him for the green pepper. 

And we especially talked about how happy it made Aaron when he was kind to his friends……how much better he felt on this drive home because of being nice.

These are simple, elementary truths that seem so hard for him to retain.  Aaron wants to be nice.  He really does.  But his impulses and his lack of filters sometimes drive his “nice” desires out of his brain quickly as he responds to the moment.

The next morning, Wednesday, Aaron wanted me to go inside Paradigm when I dropped him off.  He wanted me to talk to S about the pillow he had given her.  Sometimes my to-do list makes it hard for me to agree to anything extra, but something told me that I should do this for Aaron.  So I parked the van and we both got out, walking inside his day group together.

Aaron immediately strode over to the wheelchair where S was sitting, and I followed. 

“S!!!!” Aaron said, rubbing his hands together.  “Here’s my mom!!!!”

I felt like I was Vanna White on Wheel of Fortune.  “Here’s Vanna White and Pat Sajak!!!!!” 

I walked around to where S could see me, and I patted her arm as I told her hello and asked how she’s doing.  S always says that she is fine, as she is all bent over in her chair.  She amazes me as she does something else I always see when I am with her……she smiles.  A huge, sweet smile.

“Did you like the pillow that Aaron gave you?” I asked her.  There was that wonderful smile again as she looked up at me and said a simple, “Yes.”  But her smile said it all.  It must mean a lot to her, in her limited world, to have friends.  I know that Aaron understands that.

One day, when talking to me about his friendship with her, Aaron said to me, “S doesn’t have much friends.  Am I her friend?”  I told him that he is indeed her friend…..a good friend.

“It makes me think I don’t know what to think,” he answered after some thought.

How sweet!  How telling! 

Friendships do matter to Aaron, very much.  He just doesn’t always know how to make them…..how to maintain them……how to express his feelings to his friends without being loud and rough. 

But sometimes he does, like with S.  He talks a lot to us about her limitations and he feels empathy for her.  So even if he thinks he doesn’t know what to think, the very fact that he IS thinking about these things is very positive to us.  We’re thankful that this week turned out so well…..that Aaron hopefully learned some important lessons…..and that those lessons will actually STICK in his brain!!

Because trust me, there are many many days that Gary and I look at each other after an Aaron episode and scratch our heads.

Aaron’s words could easily be our words:  It makes us think we don’t know what to think!!!

But I do think that this week has been mostly positive, for me and for Aaron and hopefully for his friends. 

It makes me think that we have a very special son, even when he makes me think I don’t know what to think!

And that’s just how it is around here.

wp_20160903_12_34_08_pro_li