How To Start A Great New Year

         Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!

My son, Jeremy, is a New Year’s baby. From the moment I was given Jeremy’s due date – January 10, 1989 – I was admonished by my sister the nurse practitioner to make sure not to go into labor during the holiday season.

Whatever you do, don’t give birth on New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day; that’s the worst time to have a baby – the hospital staff who are working either don’t want to be there, are getting drunk or are hung over.

We are living in Paris at the time, and  we are invited to a New Year’s Eve party being thrown by other expats in their  loft in the 6ieme  arrondissement. We don’t own a car, so we take the metro.  Obviously, I don’t drink any alcohol at this point, but I still try to dance as much as my 8.5 months pregnant belly will allow me to.  You can stop me from drinking, but not from dancing!

Just after midnight and after ringing in the new year, we decide to head home, about 2 miles away in the 12th arrondissement. The metro and the bus have stopped running for the night,  and  there are no taxis to be had, this being New Year’s Eve. We start walking in the general direction of our apartment,  still  hopeful of catching a cab after it has dropped off a client. After about a mile, we are walking in front of the hospital where Jeremy is supposed to be born in ten days. There is a park bench and I sit down.

Let’s stop here; I’m too tired to walk and it’s conveniently located in case the baby decides to come early!

Little did I know… Another half hour goes by, still no taxi , so we walk  all the way home. We are in bed by 3:00 am. A few hours later I feel what I presume to be the start of labor pains.  I call the hospital and describe what I am feeling, and they tell me to come in to the hospital NOW. I wake Daniel up.

We have to go, we are having a baby! I need to get to the hospital!

I make him a cup of expresso, two shots, because he is not a morning person.  I take a shower.  A woman wants to feel clean and look nice when giving birth (an oxymoron, I know).

When I get out of the shower, Daniel is not getting ready – he is putzing  around – putting away clean dishes, straightening the silverware drawer, emptying the garbage, all at a leisurely pace.  I am not feeling calm,  I yell:

What are you doing??? We have to go to the hospital!

He replies,

Yeah yeah, relax,  The baby is not due for another ten days! Calm down!

We go downstairs to the street to get a taxi. We realize we may have a problem getting one as it is early New Year’s day, about 7:00 am, and because according to movies we have seen, taxi drivers do not want to pick up pregnant ladies about to give birth. They don’t want their cabs messed up. We spy a cab and Daniel flags him down and I hide my discomfort and we tell the cab driver we are going to the hospital to visit a sick aunt. He takes us to the hospital.

Meanwhile, all I can think of is what my sister told me:

Whatever you do don’t have a baby on the New year’s Eve or New Year’s Day!

Sigh. Some things you can’t control. When we get to the hospital, the nurse checks my vital signs and how much I’ve dilated, and she says

Yup, it’s happening today; I’ll tell the midwife you are ready!

Daniel drops the bag he was carrying – the bag that you are told to have packed two weeks before you are due to go to the hospital – and he exclaims,

Oh no, I can’t believe it; I thought this was a dress rehearsal, I was just humoring you!

I could have killed him on the spot if I hadn’t been in so much pain.

Needless to say, Jeremy was born that day despite it not being a good day to be giving birth in hospitals. Everything went well.  It was a wonderful start to a New Year, for which I am forever grateful.

 

Frog Legs for Breakfast – Camping a la Francaise

People  often  ask how did I build the character I have to  survive all the challenges I’ve faced as a parent of a young adult with autism, including ‘negotiating’ with the systems in place to help us?  The answer is simple: I survived camping.

chantal snake

The word ‘camping’ conjures up different images for everyone. Mention camping to my husband   Daniel -  whose mother was  a  Puerto Rican from Manhattan and his father a Romanian from Detroit-  and here is what he pictures:

A 1960’s green station wagon, parked in a rest stop,  close to  flushing toilets, hot running water, and a Greek diner. His mom and sister sleep in the station wagon where the seats have been folded down, a mattress laid on top to make a nice cozy bed with blankets and fluffy pillows. Screens cover the open windows so the bugs can’t get in. Daniel and his father sleep in a 4 person tent pitched nearby. In the morning they rise and stretch, refresh themsleves in the cozy warm rest stop bathroom and get dressed. They drive to the closest Greek Diner or Howard Johnson, sit in a booth  and have a nice warm breakfast and fresh coffee.

My parents were French Alpinists before becoming French immigrants on Staten Island. They treked in the Alps carrying what they needed to survive in the wilds and sleeping in two-man  pup tents they had sewn together.  Camping meant battling the elements.

So my visual of camping is somewhat different than my husband’s. I see six children covered in soot sharing three small faded old handmade pup tents in a former cow pasture -  evidenced by the cow patties that are left behind – surrounded by woods, 15 miles away from any other humans.

My father was a project manager for a construction firm in New York.  Eventually he was  assigned overseeing the construction of a power plant  in Louisville, Kentucky.  During the school year he commuted back and forth from Staten Island to Kentucky. But during the summer, my parents would pack us all up and take us camping for two months in the Louisville area so that we could be together. For two months each of  three summers, the cow pasture is home.

In the middle of the field is a one room old, rickety wooden shack where maman and papa sleep and where we all take cover during scary lightening and thunderstorms punctuated by torrential downpours of rain which reduces the cow field (and cow patties) to a mud pond. We keep our supplies in the leaky shack  and every other Sunday a rural roman catholic priest comes to celebrate mass for us (now that I think of it, maybe he was giving us last rites).

At a safe distance from the shack and tents is the one-hole wooden outhouse all eight of us share. There are no lights, and when use the outhouse we take a flashlight even in daytime to make sure no snakes are waiting for us in the hole where we sit to do our duty.

There is a large campfire maman uses to cook and heat water  to fulfill the basic needs of eight people, and next to it a picnic table where we eat. The pots on the campfire are old, and dented, stained black from the soot  which emenates from the  campfire which is kept lit 24/7 when it is not raining. Soot from the fire covers everything we have at the campsite. The only running water besides torrential rains is the stream below where my dad takes us frogging on moonlit nights.

The worst part about camping is not the frogging; it’s the sleeping in the narrow short pup tent. Every night I crawl in to my side of the tent, the left side, careful not to knock down the short pole in the middle of the tent holding up the ceiling. The tent is very low to the ground and the tent’s ceiling at it’s highest point is only 12 inches away from my face if I am lying on my back.   As a little girl, I can handle snakes but I absolutely abhor spiders; I have nightmares about them, usually the black widow sort.

Unfortunately, every morning when I wake up, the inside surface of  my tent which I share with one of my sisters,  is full of between 10 to 20 Daddy Long Legged spiders. Up close, these spiders look like one giant eye with  8 skinny, long legs coming out of that eye. Here is my first dilemma every morning upon waking up: I must get out of my sleeping bag in the narrow short tent without touching the canvas siding of the tent, because if I do the spiders will start moving.  And I am certain they will crawl all over me.  The second dilema is deciding: Do I stay face-down  as I carefully crawl out from the tent backwards so I can’t see the spiders but I imagine  them jumping on to my back  as I try to leave the tent?  Or do I roll over on to my back and  shuffle out of the tent feet first, with my eyes wide open so I can keep my eyes on the spiders, terrorized that at any moment one or more of them will jump on me?

My siblings, who know about my fear of spiders are relentless. Every morning before eating breakfast we must  air out our sleeping bags and empty the tents. And every morning one of them, ususally my older brother, grabs a spider by one of its legs and chases me around the campsite. I quickly learn to run fast, very fast. Once I am so terrified that I run all the way to the closest dirt road a quarter of a mile away before realizing I am wearing nothing but my big white panties. No matter that there is no one around for miles to see me, I am mortified.

After the spider chase torture ritual every morning, it is time for breakfast cooked over an open fire. If  we are lucky, we have frog legs for breakfast. There is a steep path leading to the stream below, which becomes a mudslide whenever it rains. At the bottom of the path, an old wooden rowboat is tethered to one of the trees that overhangs the river.  The rowboat is so old  that most of the  paint is peeled off, but you can tell that at one time it had been green. The water in the stream is murky and the sun barely ever reaches through the large tree branches that hang over it, tree roots sticking out making perfect resting places for all types of reptiles and insects.

Occasionally, when the moon is bright my dad takes take us ‘frogging.’ There are parts of frogging I really like: getting into the rowboat at night with the moon shining and fireflys  glowing,  insects buzzing, and feeling like we are going on a real adventure.  What I don’t like is the killing the frog bit. The idea behind frogging is to have frog legs for breakfast. As our parents never cease to remind us,

Papa: “ Cuisses de grenouilles, Frog legs are an expensive delicacy served in the finest of of restaurants in France. We are so lucky to have all these delicacies hopping around  for free, waiting to be harvested for our dining pleasure.”

I never can understand why my friends recoil when I told them about my frogging experience.  I imagine they  haven’t had  the good fortune of tasting frog legs cooked over an open campfire.  They didn’t know what they are missing.

The oldest four children climb into the rowboat with my dad, and we each have our job to do. Two of us row the creaky old boat, one of us  holds a flashlight and shines it over the river looking for frogs, one of us carries the burlap bag, and my dad holds the pitchfork. The pitchfork is smaller that your regular farmer’s pitchfork,   it looks more like  the miniature pitchforks sold with devil’s costumers around Halloween. But the prongs on this pitchfork  are real metal, thin and sharp.

Before we get into the rowboat, my siblings and I fight over who gets to do what. Everyone’s favorite job is holding the flashlight. It beats bagging the frogs and is less strenuous than rowing. It’s dark on the river, with overhanging branches of the trees blocking any moonlight. I like being in control of the flashlight because then I can shine the light  and  actually see – if I want to- all the weird things out there making noises. Whoever controls the flashlight controls what everyone sees because it is pitch black on the river.

We all sit quietly in the rowboat and wait till we hear the croaking  of  frogs and then  I turn the flashlight on the frog and aim the beam  right in  his eyes. The frog is blinded by the light, and he sits frozen, unable to move. My sisters  row the boat closer to the poor frog as I keep the beam of light steadfastedly aimed at the frog’s  eyes. Papa lifts the pitchfork up and spears the frog in his belly and my brother quickly moves in with the burlap bag and voila! in the burlap bag he goes! We always catch at least a dozen, we are 8 people and a pair of of frog legs  does not provide much nourishment – as delicacies rarely do.

Yes indeed, camping is good training for facing your demons.

 

One Person’s Experience with The AGI Residential/Daily Living Support Online Course

Jeremy Sicile-Kira wrote the following blogpost in January 2014. He had the opportunity to have two new staff members take the The AGI Residential/Daily Living Support Online Course, which provides best and evidence-based practices for those who support the daily-living needs of transition aged students, young adults and adults with autism and related disabilities. Jeremy wrote about his experience and his thoughts about the curriculum. Jeremy recently reached his dream of moving out into his own place. Jeremy’s  comments below, were originally published in an Autism Research Institute newsletter. Jeremy is the co-author of A Full Life with Autism


Jeremy and JL
Kindly having well-trained Direct Support Providers is frankly the key to having a successful life for me and others like me. Two new direct support providers who joined my team nicely had the opportunity to take the online AGI Residential/Daily Living Support course. Frankly they learned more about autism then I could kindly teach them. Basically the Autistic Global Initiative (AGI) course greatly gave them a really firm foundation for understanding why I was the way I am. The course justly explains key elements about how to figure out why we act the way we do and how to best support a person with autism of different abilities. Kindly general information about autism is not always nicely explained in training given by organizations who hire staff to support people like me or other types of autism. Often training for support staff is about legal, medical, safety and health issues. Kindly they may train on how to handle behaviors, but not about why we have those behaviors. Kindly the support staff who went through the AGI training frankly had a better grasp of self determination than before they started working with me.

The new staff following the course learned nicely faster and more completely how self determination in reality applied to my life and justly how it meant they had to kindly learn all the best ways to support me.

I am very grateful that my two new staff members had this opportunity. They greatly learned how to insure that my dearly-needed supports were in use. Frankly having plans is the most important support. The staff help me to schedule my time so I have work, chores, learning, and social activities. Mixed in to my schedule are strategies to help me stay regulated. Greatly my mother in the past helped with this scheduling; now greatly trained staff can help me build my own schedule. Having a plan means believing that I very nicely know how to prepare myself mentally for the day. Having a plan is important to avoid stress and anxiety.

Justly the very kind support staff behave better when they have an understanding of what causes difficulties for me. Greatly my hope is that I won’t very much need to be supported every day in the future, and that I can become more independent. The AGI course gave the new staff a better understanding of techniques to help me learn how to physically move my body to learn and do functional living skills. Truly my body gets stuck. This means that when I try to move it does not respond to my command. Greatly the staff made conversational remarks about the course and I could tell they were learning more and greatly improved every week.Justly I noticed that their confidence grew as their knowledge did. Nicely when staff feel comfortable, I do as well. Justly the staff understands how to best support me when I experience anxiety and PTSD. Frankly nice staff make me feel safer when I’m out because I know they can help me stay calm. My comfort level goes up when I feel safe.

Greatly my mom does not need to train new staff who took the AGI course about autism, only about Jeremy-specific training that I want my support staff to have. Truly I feel more happy knowing that when I move out to my own place there is a program that can help with training new staff.

Jeremy and Handsome

 

Transition to adulthood: Jeremy is moving into his own place!

Jeremy (a bit overwhelmed with so many people invading his space at the same time) and part of Team Jeremy.

Jeremy (a bit overwhelmed with so many people invading his space at the same time) and part of Team Jeremy.

Jeremy is moving into his own place. Months ago, when we found out that Jeremy  received the approval and supports (from the powers that be) to make Jeremy’s dream a reality, I enthusiastically stated in an AutismCollege blogpost that Jeremy and I would be blogging about the process of preparing for this major transition – in the hopes that some of the information would be useful to others.

As John Lennon once wrote, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”  Here it is, almost six months later, and we’ve had no time to write.  I’ve moved over fourteen times since I was a baby, so I’m no newbie when it comes to moving into a new home. But for Jeremy, moving meant more than just transferring to another living space. In the book, A Full Life with Autism, Jeremy and I described  some of the preparation that has been ongoing for years. Here’s what the last six months have entailed:

  • Learning to be more independent in certain home skills:  Learning physical tasks is challenging for Jeremy due to his visual processing and motor skills. Practicing in a familiar environment helps before transferring the skill to a new environment. We have to break down tasks into simple steps.
  • Learning what it means to be a good housemate: As soon as Jeremy knew that his dream was coming true of having his own place shared with another person; he wanted to know what it meant to be a good roommate. He asked a young man he knows at his volunteer job to have breakfast with him so he could ask him what to look for in a roommate, and how to be a good roommate. He had heard this man talk about his roommates, so he figured he might have advice. Then, Jeremy wrote some simple rules for himself to follow, ie “The first rule is that I need to do my dishes when I make food.”
  • Finding the right apartment in the right neighborhood: Jeremy has always wanted to live in the neighborhood he grew up in because everyone knows him. When he goes out shopping, or walking the dog or to the beach, people stop and talk to him. That’s important to him.
  • Finding the right housemate: Jeremy needed to find someone who would share the apartment with him (each have there own bedroom and bathroom). Jeremy needs 24 hour supports, and the apartment-mate would be responsible for being there most nights. LifeWorks (the company that was vendored to provide supports and supervision to make all this possible) found Jeremy’s housemate.
  • Finding the right staff: We are lucky in that we have wonderful support staff that have been with Jeremy for years, but we needed more people to fill all the hours on the schedule, and LifeWorks  found people that were a good addition to the existing Team Jeremy.
  • Staff training: Because of Jeremy’s communication challenges, training was and continues to be a high priority. New  ‘Team Jeremy’  members receive a certain amount of training so that they- and Jeremy -can feel comfortable and safe as they go about their day.
  • Preparing the apartment: Having the apartment as functional as possible for Jeremy helps him be more independent. Where everything is placed in the cupboards, how everything is organized is what makes him successful in completing tasks. Think about how someone with limited visual skills and limited motors skills needs to be able find and get what he needs for everyday life – that’s what Jeremy needs to be as independent as possible.
  • Having his sister Rebecca’s advice on his décor: Jeremy was very clear as to what he wanted in the apartment (very little) the colors he wanted (solid, no patterns and lots of green) and what he wanted to hang on the walls (a few paintings representing calmness, friendship, love). But he wanted his sister- whom he has helped move away to college and into different living situations there- to help him find the furniture needed in the living room and to help him with figuring out where to hang his chosen paintings and posters.
  • Earning the money to pay for his rent: Jeremy is responsible for his share of the rent, and he wants to earn money from his painting. Mom is helping with the marketing at the moment (anyone want a painting, prints or cards? Contact me!).

There is undoubtedly much more to add to this list, but this is a good start. At time of writing, September 1st is the official date for Jeremy’s full-time move to his apartment.  Just like Jeremy learning the skill of pointing to letters to communicate, being ready to move out away from his parents did not happen overnight. He has been preparing for this transition for many years (read A Full Life with Autism).  It’s a process, and it is still ongoing. There are sure to be bumps in the road, but that’s life. We feel grateful that wonderful Team Jeremy and LifeWorks are here to support him  as he takes the first steps of living his dream.

All you need is love …

Love&AutismAs parents, most of us are concerned with the basics in regards to our children with autism: “Are they getting their educational needs met?”  “When they grow up, where will they live and will they be employed?”  Of course, these are important concerns. But so are creating  connections with others, and developing healthy  relationships. It’s not always easy to know how to help our children foster relationships.  If you are a parent or educator in Southern California, then you are in luck. Love & Autism: A Conference with Heart is taking place in San Diego on August 23rd and August 24th.

Jenny Palmiotto, LMFT,  Owner and CEO of The Family Guidance & Therapy Center of Southern California  decided to host this conference, and Jenny explains why in this blog post from the RDI Connect website: “As a professional who works directly with the autism community, the version of autism that the media depicts is far narrower than the diversity of people whom I have the privilege to work with on a daily basis. Likely the most devastating myth that I hear about individuals with autism, is that “people on the spectrum” do not want or need relationships. The most worrisome part of this falsehood is when loved ones and individuals on the spectrum start to believe this debilitating myth. It is crucial and long overdue that we discard this limiting belief. Relationships define lives, everyone’s lives. Our primary goal in life is to love and be loved; this does not change when you are born with neurological differences associated with autism. Love is an innate and fundamental part of being human.

Many people struggle to find love and trusting relationships; some of those people have a diagnosis called autism. The diagnostic criteria for autism include social deficits as one of the three hallmarks of the disorder. However, the core deficit in interpersonal relationship does not mean that there is not a desire or longing to connect with others. Individuals on the autism spectrum want and need relationships at all phases of their lives.

New research shows the bi-directionality of autism, meaning that when an infant that later becomes diagnosed with autism interacts with his mother, he is more withdrawn, responding less to his mother’s attempts to interact and then, in turn, the mother’s interactions become more directive and less responsive/sensitive. The early relational disturbances that mark the parent-child relationship for those on the spectrum frequently extends over the course of life with difficulties in developing friendships and later intimate partnerships. Regardless, individuals on the spectrum feel the same emotional longing to belong and to be a part of something special at home, on the playground, in working/professional relationships, or as part of a team. The problem becomes: how can individuals on the autism spectrum get the closeness they want and deserve?

The ability to give and receive love is far more than a social skill that can be learned; it takes perseverance, reflection, risk, and trust. Our brains are experience dependent organisms, meaning that an individual has to experience relationships rather than simply learn about them in isolation. Professionals working with individuals with autism need to begin by understanding the neuro-science of attachment and love. It is essential that autism professionals do more than stop aberrant behaviors. We need to make sure that our interventions and methods have relationships as the primary focus. Relationship building cannot be secondary to behavioral skills training. Developing the “we” is important from the first moment of life and thus should also be central within our treatment options for those on the spectrum. Fulfilling reciprocal relationships are not only possible for all individuals on the spectrum, they are imperative to living a full and satisfying life.

If you are interested in finding out more about how to help your child, spouse, sibling, or loved one on the spectrum develop rewarding relationships; please join us at Love and Autism: A Conference with Heart on August 23-24th 2014. We know you will LOVE this event.”

To receive more information about the conference, sign up here.

Student and Military 50% off if they email info@familyguidanceandtherapy.com, or event text (619)607-1230 a picture of their student or military ID.

Regional Center Members  can attend for FREE after Regional Center funding – email info@familyguidanceandtherapy.com  for links.

For any questions, please contact  info@familyguidanceandtherapy.com.

Free Webinar with Dr. Suzanne Goh: Getting the most out of brain-based treatments for autism

On Monday August 25th, at 6:00 pm PST  (9:00 pm EST) Dr. Suzanne Goh will be participating in a two hour webinar moderated by Chantal Sicile-Kira, hosted by MomsFightingAutism.  To participate in this free interactive webinar, please sign up here:  MomsFightingAutism.com.

Topic:  Getting the most out of brain-based treatments for autism

A wealth of therapies are now available for children with autism. Choosing among them, knowing which to prioritize, and understanding how they may interact can be a challenge for parents. This seminar will present some of the latest neurological research to help guide parents in these important decisions.

Topics that will be covered include:

-       Diagnosis and managment of mitochondrial dysfunction inautism

-       Neurologically-based approaches to behavior and language intervention

Guest Speaker:  Dr. Suzanne Goh

Headshot SuzanneDr. Suzanne Goh is a board-certified pediatric neurologist with expertise in the evaluation and treatment of children with neurological conditions that impact brain development, cognition, and behavior.

Dr. Goh received her Bachelors of Arts degree, summa cum laude, in History and Science from Harvard University (1993-1997). She went on to attend Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar (1997-1999). In 2004, she graduated from Harvard Medical School, cum laude. Dr. Goh completed her Pediatrics internship at Massachusetts General Hospital and her Pediatric Neurology residency at University of California San Francisco.

Following a postdoctoral fellowship in the Pediatric Brain Imaging Laboratory at Columbia University, she joined Columbia’s faculty as Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurology, with joint appointments in the Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology. At Columbia she also served as Co-Director of the Developmental Neuropsychiatry Clinic for Autism and Related Disorders where she oversaw a multi-disciplinary team of physicians and psychologists specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of children with autism.

Dr. Goh’s research has focused on mitochondrial and other metabolic disturbances in autism. She has also conducted brain imaging research to identify differences in brain circuits in children with autism. She has been affiliated as an author or reviewer with several leading neuroscience journals, including Neurology, Annals of Neurology, Pediatric Neurology, & Developmental Medicine & Child Neurology. She has taught at Harvard University, Columbia University, and the University of California San Francisco.

Dr. Goh is co-author of the book Spectacular Bond: Reaching the Child with Autism and ASD Unlocking Language: A Program to Teach Language and Communication

For more information go to  Dr. Suzanne Goh’s website.

Moderator: Chantal Sicile-Kira

Chantal-Sicile-Kira-homeChantal Sicile-Kira’s passion for empowering others, her love of writing and her personal interest in autism has led her to become an award-winning author of five books, speaker, and leader in the field of autism.  Her first award-winning book, Autism Spectrum Disorder, was updated and  published in January 2014. She has been involved with autism spectrum disorders for over 25 years as both a parent and a professional on both sides of the Atlantic. A tireless advocate for those on the autism spectrum, Chantal founded Autism College in order to provide practical information and training  online about autism.

Love and Autism: A Conference with Heart

IMG_2050Months ago I posted here that Jeremy was preparing to move this summer and that we would be blogging about the preparation and transition. Well, as you all know, life is what happens when you are making plans. I’ve been swamped with work and so has Jeremy (painting orders keep arriving…) and the actual transition takes a lot of time and energy. Perhaps when he is actually moved out 100% I’ll have time to write about the experience to help others -people keep asking us to do so.

The most important aspect of life is the relationships we have with others – family, friends, lovers. A few years ago I wrote about Jeremy’s yearning for love in Autism & Modern Love . In our book A Full Life with Autism,  Jeremy and I shared our experiences in trying to help him in developing relationships or finding out more about sexuality. It wasn’t easy. It was hard to find resources then, and still today  rare is the opportunity  to help our loved ones on the spectrum prepare for this aspect of their life.

Love&Autism

Finally, there is a conference - Love and Autism: A Conference with Heart – taking place in San Diego on August 23rd and 24th that is all about having healthy relationships between family members, between couples, between friends.  No matter the age of your loved one, it’s an important topic to help with his or her emotional growth, necessary for all the different types of relationships possible.

I hope to see you there! Readers of this blog can get 20% off  registration at sign up by using the coupon code: LOVEASD. Student and Military 50% off if they email info@familyguidanceandtherapy.com, or event text (619)607-1230 a picture of their student or military ID. Regional Center clients can attend for FREE after Regional Center funding. Email info@familyguidanceandtherapy.com for links.

 

 

Autism & modern love

Jeremy Sicile-Kira

Here is an article I wrote five years ago  - Jeremy was 20 years old. (It first appeared in  Spectrum Magazine). I’m reprinting it here now because it is still as relevant today as it was back then. Enjoy!

Jeremy is quite a catch – he’s buff from working out at the gym, has an endearing personality, and he starred in an award-winning episode of the MTV ‘True Life’ series. Never mind that he is autistic, needs help with everyday living skills, and probably always will. (In my opinion, he should be looking for a traditional wife who will take care of him, instead of a girlfriend, but I digress.)

One night recently I woke up at 3:00 am to find that all the houselights had been turned on. Usually a sound sleeper, Jeremy had been making the rounds. I heard him downstairs and decided to investigate. He was looking through my husband’s collection of architecture books. He found the one he was looking for, Las Vegas: The Fabulous 50s, and flipped it open to the section on strip clubs and showgirls. “Why are you up, Jeremy, what’s going on?” I asked. “I’m thinking about girls,” he replied.

Oh, how I miss the prepubescent years when Jeremy was examining the guitars in the music magazines and not the beautiful models holding them. Although Jeremy has been showing an interest in females for some time, he is now communicating that guitar magazines just don’t do it for him anymore. I long for the days when his choice of reading and viewing materials ran along the gamut of Dr. Seuss’s ABC and Sesame Street when he wasn’t occupied with his school work.

The show that finally got his attention away from Big Bird is Entourage, a HBO series which is a show about four good friends from Queens, N.Y., now living in Los Angeles who try to get laid and avoid relationships in-between acting gigs. There is a lot of eye candy for the guys on here (and the male actors are not so bad-looking either). Dusty, one of Jeremy’s tutors, offered us the DVD of the first season as a gift. Jeremy got hooked. When asked what he liked about it, Jeremy spelled out by pointing to letters on his letterboard, “I like that they are good friends.” So I bought him Friends, which I thought was a little tamer but still dealt with friendships, but after watching two episodes, Jeremy didn’t want to see anymore. Frankly, there isn’t enough female nudity to keep his interest. I guess it wasn’t the male bonding between the main characters on Entourage that he was focusing on.

My main concerns for Jeremy up until now have been: where will he live, what can he do to earn money, what will happen when my husband and I are no longer alive? Not a week goes by when I don’t research the possibilities and create new possible scenarios in my mind. He is now 20 years old, the same age as the young adults I worked with in a state institution for the developmentally disabled years before Jeremy was born (I guess you can catch autism by osmosis). It is one thing to help people with autism and their families with the emotional detachment of a professional; it is quite another to be caring for and planning for your own child. At the end of the day, it is the parents who are responsible, and it is difficult emotionally as well as practically to try and create a future for your loved one. For most parents of autistic kids, just providing the basic necessities of food, shelter and work for them is a constant worry. But loving caresses, physical intimacy, love, and a relationship with someone who is with you because they choose to be (not because they are related to you) are also basic necessities. I am not immune to the sadness embedded in the emails from parents of young adults writing to me for advice, asking for answers, asking me what they should do. How are they going to cope? I feel their pain. My heart aches as it mirrors my own distress. We have barely enough energy to make it through an autism-filled day, let alone plan for the tangible—and less tangible—future needs of our children.

My son learned to communicate by spelling out on a letter board and has been doing it now for about four years. The way he describes what autism is like for him, it sounds like a less severe form of “locked-in syndrome,” similar to what Jean Dominique Bauby, the editor-in-chief of Elle suffered. Bauby had a stroke and lapsed into a coma and when he woke up he could move only his left eye. He wrote his memoir, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, blinking out a code representing the letters of the alphabet presented to him on a letterboard.

Jeremy is clear about what he feels and thinks. “Being severely autistic means being stuck in a body that doesn’t work well with no way to communicate. People ask: Do I feel emotions? Yes I do, I just can’t show them. Like when my mom helps me I am really grateful, but I can’t get my face to move. You know autism is very different from being retarded and the difference is that nothing seems different to me. I am the same as you inside. I can’t control my body but I am smart.”

Before my son could communicate his feelings, I had no idea how he felt about people and relationships. To look at his body language, which he can’t really control, you would think he does not want to be around people. Yet, he wants to connect so badly with people his own age and he struggles to find ways to communicate this. His quest to connect with friends was effectively documented on MTV: Jeremy masters assistive technology in order to have a voice, yet has difficulty staying in a room full of noisy people at his own party.

On his 19th birthday, Jeremy let me know for the first time that he was unhappy with his birthday presents. When I asked him why, he spelled, “I want a cell phone.” “What do you want with a cell phone? You are nonverbal,” I exclaimed. “I want to text my friends,” he spelled. He sees how adept his younger sister, Rebecca, is at connecting with her friends via text, and he was hoping to do the same. This cell phone business has been difficult. Those little keyboards are not easy considering the visual processing and motor problems my son has. And the only real friends he has (sadly) are his tutors. But I know he is lonely and wants to connect. So he got a cell phone.

Since Jeremy keeps bringing up girls, I suggested he join Facebook and work on his communication skills, as this is important for any kind of relationship. “Do you think I will really find a girlfriend on Facebook?” he asked. “It’s not that simple, but you will meet people and you can connect with others right from home and practice communicating,” I told him. Now, he goes on Facebook about every other day with one of his tutors. He likes to see if he has any friend requests and to comment on what he is doing. What are you doing right now? Jeremy is thinking the girls at the gym are hot.

Mark, one of his tutors, suggested that Jeremy start working out. He took Jeremy to check out different gyms. Once they had narrowed down their search, Jeremy and I went to discuss membership terms. When it came time to ask questions, mine were the usual, “What is the initial membership fee? What will the monthly payments come to?” I asked. Jeremy’s questions at the first place were a bit different. “Are the girls nice here?” he spelled out. “Are they pretty?”

As we arrived at the second place, LA Fitness, the doors flew open and more than a dozen gorgeous, shapely young women came running out. Jeremy was all smiles. We walked in and the receptionist said, “You’ve just missed the Charger Girls!” Jeremy was even happier. The Charger Girls are the cheerleaders for the San Diego Chargers football team. A Charger Girls poster is the only athletic memorabilia hanging in Jeremy’s room. “I like this place! This is where I want to come workout,” he said. Jeremy got straight to the point with the salesman. “Do the Charger Girls really work out here? Are they good at sports? What is their schedule?”

Jeremy joined LA Fitness, and goes there regularly with either Mark or Troy, another tutor. This past Christmas, Jeremy spelled out, “I want to buy a calendar with pictures of girls for Troy.” “Uhhh…okay, ask Janine,” I replied. Jeremy is, after all, over 18. Sure enough, Jeremy went to the mall with Janine (another tutor) and came back with a calendar aptly titled “Hot Buns.” I’ll leave the rest to your imagination. I’m sure he was inspired by the Charger Girls.

When Troy came over the following Wednesday as usual to take Jeremy to the gym, Jeremy gave him the calendar. Now, Troy is an ex-Navy guy, single dad of an 8-year-old girl, and works in a middle school classroom for students with aggressive behaviors. He is not your shy, withdrawn type. However, he looked perplexed when Jeremy handed him the calendar. “Jeremy, thank you, and I’m honored you thought of me, but why are you giving me this calendar?” Jeremy rocked excitedly back and forth and spelled out, “Because you are the best tutor to help my mom understand she needs to find me a girlfriend.” “Jeremy, I know you need a girlfriend, the question is how to find one,” I said. “Troy is the best tutor to help,” insisted Jeremy.

I asked Jeremy what he wants in a girlfriend. “When I think about having a girlfriend I am thinking about sex,” he explained. I asked, “Is sex all you think about?” “That really is not the main thing. I want a relationship. I want to have someone to talk to and laugh with,” he replied.

We have discussed a lot about what it means to have friendships and relationships and the meaning of love and how that is different from just having sex. He is beginning to understand the complexity and difficulty of it. Even without autism, having a loving intimate relationship with another person is not a given. “I think finding love is not easy for anyone. What I mean is that most people greatly search for love but do not find true love. I know this because I frankly see that my aunt is not married and she is a great person.”
I ask him, “What does love mean for you?” “Love for me means that someone likes my way of thinking about life and the same philosophy about living. Love is not a prisoner but it makes you realize that you care about this person more than anyone else.”

I could not have said it better myself.

While Jeremy has his eye on Entourage for inspiration, I have my sights set on another HBO show, Big Love. Having three wives, a three-house suburban home, an extended family and strong community ties – it sounds like a better model for what Jeremy’s future should look like. With three wives, Jeremy would have the love and intimacy he craves, and the women would have plenty of respite. This arrangement would also solve the housing problem and our worries about what will happen when his father and I are no longer alive. For now, I keep searching for ways for him to connect and relate with people, and to keep alive the flame of hope he carries in his heart that one day, he will find true love.

Free Online Autism Conference April 26th & 27th: Focus is on Transition to Adulthood

 Moms Fighting Autism and Autism College are partnering up to offer a free virtual conference on Saturday April 26th and Sunday April 27th from 8:00 AM to 5:30 PM PST. This year’s theme is: Autism from Adolescence to Adulthood, Preparing for Independence and Growth. Keynote speaker Chantal Sicile-Kira, author of five award-winning books on autism, will be speaking on Preparing for the Transition to Adulthood.  Speakers include: Brian King, author of Strategies for Building Successful Relationships with People on the Autism Spectrum, Greg Zibricky,CFP, author of F.A.M.I.L.Y. Autism Guide: Your Financial Blueprint for Autism; Janet Lawson and Dan Swearingen founders of Autistry Studios, on Building a Working ASD Community; and Wendy Partridge, Executive Director of Heroes of the Game, Inc., speaking on “Work Incentives Planning and Assistance.” 

011_3“The transition to adult life can be a rude awakening for parents as well as the young adult,” said autism expert and founder of AutismCollege.com, Chantal Sicile-Kira. “The unemployment rate for adults with autism is very high, and we can do a better job of preparing them during their school years. Listening to these speakers is a great way to get empowered with the information parents need to know.”

 We know that parents and professionals don’t always have the ability to attend conferences due to time, geographical location, or finances, and hope you’ll consider joining us virtually. Registration is completely free, and attendees can use their computers or smartphones to both listen to the talks as well as post questions live to the presenters. Readers may sign up for the conference here.

“In honor of Autism Awareness month, I want to provide free practical information on autism to all who need it,” said Ernest Priestly, Founder of MomsFightingAutism.com. “For many parents, it is difficult to leave home to attend conferences. A virtual conference is the best way for moms, dads, grandparents and teachers to get information they need without leaving their home. I’m glad I can help make their lives a little easier.”

About Moms Fighting Autism: MomsFightingAutism.com hosts webinars for mothers of children on the autism spectrum and anyone interested in learning more about autism. MomsFightingAutism.com provides tools and services that allow members to connect, support and learn from each other.

About Autism College: AutismCollege.com, founded by the author Chantal Sicile-Kira, provides practical information and training, on-line or in person based on her books.

The Three Models of Autism – One Person’s Perspective

Jackie McMillan, BES

Jackie McMillan, BES

Autism College occasionally publishes guest blogs of different perspectives.  This blogpost is by Jackie McMillan, B.E.S., who has Asperger’s Syndrome. Jackie’s self-directed recovery started in 1976 at age 11.  Since her first inkling that she was autistic in 1988, Jackie has been combining her recovery discoveries with those of other autistics, and with scientific research from a variety of health fields.  Finding no workable model of autism, she has created one that helps others to optimize the gifts, and minimize the challenges of Autistic Spectrum Disorders.  She has drawn on her degree in environmental studies, two years of pre-medical training, and many certifications in complementary health.  Jackie lives by the motto:  If you know things have to change, you might as well enjoy it! For more information about McMillan, visit  ThriveWithAutism.ca  

The Three Models of Autism

Have you ever wondered why some autistics get health and functional improvements from an intervention like food changes, and other autistics just don’t? Or wondered why there’s such a big gap between a good day, and a bad day, for the autistic in your life?

I have a unique perspective on this. I have autism, and at age 11, I spent one month at a wilderness canoe-tripping organization. Through that month, ever-so-gradually, my pain levels dropped, my emotions smoothed out, my thinking and memory improved, my reaction times got much faster, and I was able to make and keep friends. Unfortunately, within two days of my return to my normal inner-city environment, everything slid back to ground zero. I desperately wanted to go back to that amazing quality of life, though, and I was determined to figure out how to recreate it.

The Turning Point:

I turned my life into a science experiment, testing out every factor that had been different between these two environments. Through lifestyle choices, my thinking improved enough that I was able to go through the science track in high school, where I began to chase down my symptoms in the medical journals. No-one ever mentioned autism; my parents felt I had enough to deal with, sans diagnosis and the threats of institutionalization which would have been normal at that time.

In my second year of pre-medical studies, I hit a roadblock. Though the medical journals covered many of the factors which I had discovered could help or hurt me, the medical program was focusing all of its efforts on diagnostics, and drugs. I knew drugs were trouble; in a pharmacology course, I had looked up every drug I’d ever taken. I had all the side effects plus some, and even the intended effects were disproportional.

I took some time off to regroup, and ended up in a different university program, environmental studies. Around that time, a nurse gave me an informal diagnosis of autism. The medical journals were spot on in their diagnostic criteria of ASDs (as applied to me), but the treatments and theories didn’t make sense at all, in terms of my own experiences. Fortunately, other autistics’ experiences mirrored mine: I wasn’t crazy in what I had identified could help, or hurt!

Right now, there are three models of autism.

The Outdated Model of Autism:

The outdated model says that autism is an incurable neurological disorder, and that nothing can be done except to suppress the symptoms in a variety of ways. If an autistic’s health improves enough to camouflage in the school or working world, then the original diagnosis must have been wrong. An unintended result is that this model silences autistics who have experienced some degree of recovery.

The Bio-Medical Model of Autism:

We now know that this outdated model isn’t true, because doctor’s children have recovered enough health function that these MDs have begun treating other autistic children, with some success. These doctors are working with the biomedical model, which says that autism is caused by some combination of malnourishment, impaired detoxification, and immune dysfunction.

The bio-medical treatments are expensive supplements, detox protocols, and immune supports. Unfortunately, it is often carried out in a “one-size-fits-all” manner, without careful study of which impairments might need to be addressed before action can be taken on the others, for each individual. It is also inaccessible to many who cannot afford the treatments, or find a doctor who keeps up with the research, and the results are spotty.

The Five Root Causes Model of Autism:

But there are many, many adults in the autistic spectrum who began with much more impairments, yet are now sufficiently functional that we can participate (at least to some extent) in venues and interactions formerly limited to the non-autistic population. Our collective experiences point to two root causes of autism which are not included in the biomedical model. These are unresolved trauma, and brain and nervous system impingement.

Autistic experiences also point to simple and inexpensive lifestyle choices which can maximize function — or quickly detract from it. This makes a great deal of sense of the variable function and symptoms of each individual with an ASD, from day to day! With different blends of the different root causes in action for each autistic individual, these lifestyle choices vary, but the commonalities are obvious.

Interventions vs. Lifestyle? Or both?

Beyond lifestyle choices, interventions can still make a huge difference to health, function, and quality of life for autistics. How do we tell which interventions will help which autistic? Fortunately, the symptoms themselves point the way. The unique symptoms expressed by each individual can make it much easier to understand which of the five causes might be in action, to which degree, and in what order of precedence, for that specific individual.

But tailoring treatments to the relevant root causes is not enough, on its own. Without the lifestyle changes which support a return to health, functional gains are as short-lived as mine were from that summer camp experience. Fortunately, what is healthiest for people with ASDs is what is healthiest for our entire human race. Health challenges as disparate as hair loss and cancer respond favourably to the same lifestyle changes.

Which straw broke the camel’s back to bring on autistic symptoms can be figured out, and quality of life improved, for every individual on the autistic spectrum. Some repairs are easier than others, and some are more complete. But the potential contributions all of us autistics, with our problem-solving brains, are needed by our culture in this time of change. Won’t you please help us to thrive?