It’s NOT a Small World

On a recent night, as Aaron and I watched a video and he ate his tortilla chips, I looked over to see that he had perched a bowl on the ottoman in front of him.  Without even asking, I knew what that bowl was for.  Aaron has multiple bowls for multiple uses, all over the house.  Later, after our video was finished and he had cleaned up his area, I looked inside his bowl that he had brought into the kitchen.  Can you see what’s inside the bowl?

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Very, very tiny crumbs are in the bottom of that bowl.  When Aaron is eating crumbly chips, he likes to have a bowl in which he tries to ensure that the crumbs fall.  It’s easy for me to want to fuss at him for taking a whole bowl for such a few crumbs, but I know that my fussing will not change his bowl habit.  He will find a bowl to use, even if he must hide it under his blanket so that I don’t nag him about it.  Yes, he has done that.  So I just let it go…let him keep his bowl for such a seemingly silly use…and thank the Lord for my dishwasher!

Those little crumbs are a perfect picture of an aspect of Aaron that can be both humorous and maddening.  And as always, it’s up to me to decide which it will be.

So often, persons with autism fixate on what to the rest of us would be such insignificant matters.  Like those small crumbs, we would tend to just brush such matters away without a second thought .  But not Aaron!  Not at ALL Aaron!

Take the word, “of.”  Yes, “of.”

Did you realize that there is a movie entitled, “Battle:  Los Angeles?”  And that there is another movie entitled, “Battle Of Los Angeles?”

Aaron watched these two movies a few weeks ago, so Gary and I became ever so aware…once again, because the same thing happened the LAST time he watched those movies…of the importance of the word, “of.”

“Mom!” Aaron would say as he bound into the kitchen.  “I’m watching Battle:  Los Angeles!  Not the one that has the “Of!”  And off he would go in some long tale of the latest alien doings in “Battle:  Los Angeles.”

Then later:  “Mom, did you know that in Battle Of Los Angeles…not the one I’m watching right now – the one that has the ‘of’…”  And another long story would follow.

And yet again:  “Mom, in Battle of Los Angeles…the ‘of’ one…”

It was of upmost importance that he…and we…and anyone else listening…be clear on whether he was talking about the ‘of’ one or the non-‘of’ one.

Are we clear?!

Such a small matter, but huge to Aaron.

Dinner plates done right are also of utmost importance to Aaron.  A few evenings ago, at supper, Aaron had a barbecued rib on his plate.  He ate the rib, then tolerated us putting some cucumbers and ranch dip on that plate.  He ate the cucumbers and dip, then stood up and opened the cabinet door, and took out another plate.  We had asked him if he wanted another rib, and he said he did, but he didn’t say another word about what we knew was bothering him.  He would NOT put his second rib where cucumbers and dip had been, so a new plate was in order.  With his rib on a clean plate, he was happy.

Meals can be interesting with multiple plates, bowls of various sizes, two or more forks, a spoon and a knife no matter what we’re eating, and always more than one napkin.  May as well not fight it!

Life for Aaron is crammed full of these little crumbs.  Like the old children’s story of the Princess and the Pea, where the princess felt that little pea under all those mattresses, Aaron does feel the weight of all these matters that to us are very small and silly.

Therein lies the problem, though.  They are not small and silly to Aaron.  If we don’t understand that, then we will feel the weight of Aaron’s anger and frustration.  He can’t necessarily verbalize what he is feeling, or even understand it himself, but the issues are huge to him and not to be swept under a rug, so to speak.

Aaron’s life has a certain order to it, and he needs those around him to be on the same page with him.  However, most of us are not only on a different page, we’re in a whole different book!  So we’re always having to be aware of what matters most to Aaron, and when, and why, and how…if at all possible.  Notice I said that we must be aware of what matters…not even understand it…but at least to be aware.  And to place the importance on it that Aaron does.

So there may be more bowls to wash, or plates or silverware.  There may be more undue emphasis on minor little words like ‘of.’  More questions to answer, explanations to wade through, and endless stories and comparisons to endure.

But each little crumb collected in that bowl is a part of the puzzle that is Aaron.  Each sigh that escapes our lips…each roll of our eyes behind his back…each scratch of our head…is just part of the process of piecing together all that is Aaron.

Along with all that, though, is plenty of laughter and lots of smiles…and a view of our world that is anything but small.

 

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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What Will I Wear?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On Thursday I wore this blouse.

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

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

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

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

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

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

So on that day I was fun.

The next day I wore this blouse. 

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

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

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

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

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

“What’s wrong?” I asked him.

“What you have on,” he answered. 

“Don’t you like it?” I asked.

“NO!” he replied.  “It’s ugly.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“OK,” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I slipped on some forgiveness right then.

“I love you, too, Aaron.”

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

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

You Want Me Gone?

The other night, Aaron kept coming in our bedroom after we had gone through his bedtime routine and said our goodnights.  Gary was already trying to go to sleep, and I wanted to do the same.  But Aaron kept opening our bedroom door and then softly knocking on our closed bathroom door……as softly as Aaron knocks, which is about as softly as he whispers……which is not much. 

“AARON!!” I hissed.  “Why are you in our room?” 

“I just wondered if you’re gonna have the monitor on,” he said.

“I’ve already told you I’ll have the monitor on,” I replied.   “Now go to bed!”

Not long after, it happened again.  Just repeat the above scenario, but this time Aaron said, “I just wondered if it’s going to rain tonight.”

I told him it was not going to rain…..and to go to bed, as I escorted him to our door, which I soundly closed.

Take three.

Same thing, except now he stood in the bathroom with me saying, “I just thought I could talk to you while you get ready for bed.”

The Mom look I gave him was all he needed, but still he just had to ask one more question.

“Are you SURE you want me gone?”

I assured him that I was sure as I yet again walked him to the bedroom door, closed it with one last goodnight……and locked it!

It’s been a rough couple of weeks with Aaron.  Both his seizures and his behaviors have escalated…..seizures at home, behaviors at his day group, Paradigm.  Another bad report this past Monday just took all the wind out of me.  Gary and I feel like nothing is working, but something has to make a difference.  We saw his caregiver at the Epilepsy Center this week, had labs drawn, will see his autism doctor before long, talked to friends who travel this road, are researching some options……and praying.  Praying a lot.

I was so thankful for the verse that God gave me this week.  The portion that meant so much to me was this phrase: 

“DO NOT HIDE YOUR EAR FROM MY PRAYER FOR RELIEF.”  (Lamentations 3:56)

It’s like that old story of the guy up in the tree with a coon, telling his friend on the ground, “Just shoot up her amongst us!  One of us gotta have some relief!!” 

It’s funny to hear that story…..not so funny to live with Aaron when he has so many behavior struggles that are severely impacting his happiness.  But all of us need some relief, Aaron included.

When he and I got home on Monday, after such a dismal report from his day group staff, Aaron went to his room.  Soon he walked up to me and handed me one of his sticky notes.  Here is what he had written:

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Bless his heart.  He really wants to do better, but finding that better is very difficult for him in certain circumstances.  Really impossible at times, as his Epilepsy nurse and practitioner discussed with me on Wednesday. 

That verse God gave me early in the week was perfect.  We need relief, as many believers through the ages have expressed, and as many of my friends are experiencing now in their lives in very serious ways.  The book of Lamentations is all about God’s faithfulness throughout the stresses and calamities of life on this earth.  In fact, the following verse after the author begs God to not hide His ear, says, “You came near when I called on You; You said, Do not fear!”

Good advice…..great promises!!

The day after these verses spoke so much to me….the day after Aaron’s bad day at Paradigm…..this happened.  I was out with my little elderly friend, Nora, when I got a text.  This text was from my friend in Texas, Dona, whose husband had a terrible stroke 11 months ago.  Dona and I rarely text, so I was surprised and a little alarmed to see her name appear.  I instantly thought it might be about her husband, Steve.

But all Dona said was, “Are you doing OK?”

Wow!!

She had totally, absolutely no way of knowing what I was dealing with.  We briefly texted, with her telling me that I had just been on her heart and mind.  God at work, without a doubt.

I could hardly wait to get home and call her.  We talked for quite awhile.  She told me again that she kept thinking about me and so she prayed.  I love it when God does these things!  He shows His love and His care in these amazing, wonderful ways, blessing all of us in the process.

A day or two later, Aaron and I were in Dillon’s.  We bought our few items, and then the cashier pointed to a large container of roses at the end of the conveyer belt. 

“Would you like a free rose?” she asked.

And Aaron jumped on that like a flea on a dog!!  He took a rose and then handed it to me, his face nothing but a huge grin.

“Here, MOM!”  he boomed.  “I want to give you a rose!!  Because I love you!!”

And with that, he gave me the biggest hug!  I thought my heart would explode!

The love note…..the rose……the hug. 

Mixed this week with the behaviors…..some scary seizures…..doctor visits…..decisions looming.

It’s like Aaron bounding in our room at bedtime, just when we think that he’s settling in for the night.  BAM!!  There he is again, full of talk and excitement, no matter how tired we are. 

“Are you sure you want me gone?” he asks.  No, Aaron, not gone…..but resting.  Go rest, and let us do the same.

His behaviors can be so very tiring.  This past week has been emotionally exhausting for us, as well as physically.  We could use some relief.

But we don’t want Aaron gone…..his personality and his take on life’s events to be gone.  We just want him to be happy, and to know how to behave in a way that makes others happy, too.  We have to keep working on that, and to keep trying to enable him to achieve that.

We’re praying for God to give us wisdom, and to not hide His ear from our cry for relief.  I know He’s listening…..I know He cares……I know He’ll answer.  He’s already impressed others to pray for us.  That’s such an encouragement!

And when I look at my lone little rose in its vase, I’m reminded of Aaron’s love and of God’s love, entwined in many ways in my life.  One so often shows me the other. 

I just have to be making an effort to look sometimes. 

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My View

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All I Need to Know

He threw the glass across the kitchen this morning.  At least it was a plastic glass……and at least it was empty.  So began our morning.  Aaron got up just in time to go out to Gary’s truck in the driveway and hug him goodbye.  He was happy and I was hopeful.  Yesterday was up and down with Aaron.  He didn’t like me for awhile but then settled down and we had a nice evening.  We watched Wheel of Fortune, and played Skip-Bo later while eating strawberries.

Simple pleasures, but not always such a simple life with Aaron. 

This morning as we walked back into the house after his goodbye hug for dad, he decided that Mom was the bad guy again.  He told me he wasn’t going to go to Paradigm today, and on and on. 

Oh, the complexities of his mind!  The challenges of autism!  Physical issues I can handle so much easier because the flesh and blood of those special needs is right there to see and somehow grasp.  But the workings of the autistic mind are sometimes anyone’s guess, and this morning I was in no guessing mood.

So I launched back after his verbal barrage got to a certain point.  I pointed my finger at Aaron and I very firmly put him in his place.  But Aaron rarely stays in the place I put him.  I may feel better for a few seconds, but then he opens his mouth and his resolve is more set than ever……his resolve to win the war, even if he loses a few battles in the process.  I know this about Aaron, but I sometimes act despite what I know.  I act on my feelings, and I often regret it. 

The rest of the morning was filled with Aaron telling me he wasn’t going to talk to me anymore, all the while talking to me to tell me that he wasn’t going to talk to me.  Over and over and over.  He also didn’t want me to talk, so I mostly remained silent, which actually drives him crazy.  There was no winning for either of us at that point.

Aaron went to Paradigm, wanting me to come in with him so I could tell Barb to be sure he was nice……and Barb told him the same thing I had said earlier, that he was the only one who could be sure he was nice.  I don’t know for sure how his day has been.  I don’t know for sure that I want to know.

We’ve had lots of storms in Kansas lately.  On our way back from Topeka recently, Gary and I drove through the beautiful Flint Hills.  There on the horizon were storm clouds, and we were headed straight into them.  There was no avoiding the storm.  No matter what road we took, the drive home led into the storm. 

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And again yesterday, driving Aaron to his day group, we were facing storm clouds.  There they were, dark and threatening. 

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Driving into a storm reminds me of living with Aaron.  It also reminds me of Moses.  I’m reading the book of Exodus, and in chapter 3 God spoke to Moses in the burning bush.  He told Moses of the job He wanted him to do…..to lead the children of Israel out of Egypt.  And Moses said, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the children of Israel out of Egypt?” 

The first part of God’s answer was simply this: “But I will be with you…..”

God didn’t say, “Oh come on Moses, you’re the man!  You’re so great!  I know you can do it!”

Moses’ sufficiency rested only in those six words that God first spoke: “But I will be with you…..”

Moses’ sufficiency rested only in God.  Not in himself…..not in his family…..not in his royal connections from years past.  No.  The strength and wisdom and courage that Moses needed rested only in God.

I’m not proud of the times I blow it with Aaron.  I’m not proud of Aaron’s behaviors on the bad days.  I often feel like Moses.

“Who am I, that I can parent Aaron?  Who am I, that I can have patience enough on the bad days to tolerate the behaviors?”

And God’s answer for me is just the answer He gave to Moses: “But I will be with you…..”

It’s no mistake that I am Aaron’s mother.  God put me on this road because of His sovereign plan for me and also for Aaron.  I may feel on some days that I can’t do this correctly, or do it at all, but this is where God has put me.  God doesn’t make mistakes.

So here I am, driving on this life road and headed into yet another storm.  I know I’m not alone in this.  I know of others who are feeling the pressure of the dark clouds on their horizons, and are soon overcome with rain and lightning and thunder.  But if you’re God’s child, He is with you.  He promises you strength, wisdom for the asking, peace in your inner being, and joy deep down.  Whatever your situation…..your worry……your pain…..your secret turmoil……your fear…..your failures, God’s word to Moses is God’s word for you…..for me…. “But I will be with you….”

I don’t always feel this fact.  But I know this fact to be true, this fact of God being with me, and so I can rest in that knowledge even when I don’t feel it.

After I dropped Aaron off and drove home yesterday, this was my view.  All the time I was driving into the storm, just behind me was the lifting of the clouds. 

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It’s true of my life, too.  God will relieve the burden, even if the situation remains.  He relieves my burden by reminding me of Who He is, like He did to Moses.  And reminding me that He is with me, always. 

Even when I say, “Are you sure, God?  Did I take a wrong turn somewhere?  And look how I’ve messed up!!”  And He answers once again, “But I will be with you…..”

Dark clouds, or bright sky.  Angry Aaron, or happy Aaron.  God is with me.

On some days, that’s all I know.  But on every day, that’s all I need to know. 

 

Monopoly On a Scrabble Board

I have a dear friend, Joyce, who has two sons with special needs. They each have significant special needs. Joyce is someone that I admire very much. I know she couldn’t handle all that she does apart from God’s grace. One day over lunch, she said the most profound thing to me. We were discussing some of the unusual ways that our boys function in their daily lives, and how we must function as their moms.

Joyce said, “It’s like playing Monopoly on a Scrabble board.”

That’s just one of the best descriptions I have ever heard about living with a child with autism, or many other developmental issues.

How on earth DO you play Monopoly on a Scrabble board?!! At first glance, I might say that you DON’T!! But as parents of our special children, we must. We have to be creative……flexible……think outside the box……and be very patient when all the pieces just don’t fit.

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The bottom line is this……we just don’t have a choice. So we take the Scrabble board and figure out our version of Monopoly, often writing the rules as we make the plays……and changing the ones that don’t work.

Aaron has been doing so well lately that I’ve felt like I’m mostly playing Monopoly on a Monopoly board. Imagine that!!

Oh, we always have our Aaron moments because that’s just how it is. But he’s been unusually happy and kind lately, both at home and at his day group. He’s even wanted to help more around the house, including in the kitchen.

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There are mornings that he hasn’t wanted to go to his day group, just like we don’t always want to get up and face our day. One morning he was getting upset about having to go to Paradigm, saying that he just doesn’t have a good time there.

“But Aaron,” I countered, “every time I pick you up, you say you had a good time.”

Not missing a beat, Aaron replied, “Well, the next time you pick me up, I’m gonna say I DIDN’T have a good time!!”

So there!!

He didn’t see my smile as he huffed out of the room. He ended up going that morning and having a good day, by the way.

This past Friday, however, was just the reverse. He left the house happily. We enjoyed listening to our oldies on the way to Paradigm. He was looking forward to some shopping and pizza at the end of the day, after I picked him up.

I pulled up to Paradigm and saw him sitting outside with his friends. His face was red and he was minus his glasses. I just knew…..and I was right. It had been a meltdown day for Aaron, and who knows why? He had broken his glasses….again…..but thankfully this time I was able to pop the lens back in. His staff was talking to me as Aaron sat in the van beside me, red faced from crying. So instead of shopping we just went to get his pizza and then head straight home, where we continued to sort out what had happened. His behaviors were wrong on several levels, and dealing with it would take a long time, I knew.

Hand me the Scrabble board.

And that rule book that I’m working on, continually.

Yesterday we took a walk in Swanson Park, stopping at the recycling bins on our way. The bins were full, so we couldn’t drop our things off then. We enjoyed the park, the fresh air and sunshine, and the deer that we saw. Aaron had a good time, despite complaining of a sore throat.

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Last night at bedtime I told Aaron that we might get some rain, and maybe some thunder and lightning. Aaron loves rain and he loves storms. He followed me up the hall after I delivered the hopeful storm news to him.

“What time?” he asked.

I told him that I didn’t know what time the rain or storms would come, but that if it happened, it would be later. As in not this very minute.

“Like when?” he asked.

I repeated that I didn’t know just when.

“Will it be later?” he continued asking.

Deep sigh……which he totally didn’t notice.

“Yes,” I affirmed. “The rain and possible storms could be later.”

I hoped to finally be finished.

Aaron followed me still.

“So we might not hear it?” he wondered.

The Scrabble board! Where’s the Scrabble board?!

Today Aaron is home with his cold. He is home with me, snorting because he doesn’t blow his nose.

I am re-reading the Monopoly on the Scrabble board rules about patience.

I was in the bathroom. Aaron stood on the other side of the door, happy because he had asked if we could try the recycling bins again. I had said yes, and had also told him that we would run an errand as well while we were out. Aaron sees all sorts of possibilities in the word “errand.” Most of which are in the form of food.

So there he was outside my bathroom door.

“Mom?” he began. “Are we going to recycle?”

“Yes,” I answered. “I said we’ll run an errand and do the recycling later.”

“What do you mean later?” he asked.

I wilted a little.

“Just later,” I replied.

A moment of silence.

“So what time?” he asked.

A Scrabble board in every room is what I need, with all the Monopoly pieces. Certainly in every area of life with Aaron.