Love, Sex, God, & Autism

LSGA1 Love Sex logo April Mitchell final web

For years, people have asked me, “How did Jeremy Sicile-Kira  become the person and painter he is today? What is your  your story? How did Jeremy’s Vision  come about?”  Well, here it is! I’ve created –  a 70-minute multimedia storytelling event appropriate for Keynotes, Fundraisers and Special Events.  This keynote can be adapted to your events needs: it can be accompanied by workshops with learning objectives, or  shortened for end-of-year-dinners and fundraisers. “Incredible … powerful… inspirational…” are comments offered by those who saw the premiere in San Diego this past July.

Love, Sex, God & Autism, is  a universal and inspirational story about resiliency and adapting to change. In my 70-minute storytelling event, I humorously and lovingly wrestle with the trials and tribulations of my family’s successful attempt to change the prognosis given to my child – life in an institution.  It’s the hysterical and heartbreaking personal account of a young man’s quest for love, and a family’s search for normalcy – or at least inclusion!  Along the way,  I explore how my upbringing  provided me with the grit and  resiliency  I would need as Jeremy’s mother. Life-changing gifts are discovered, affirming our family’s belief that being “not like the others” means being different, but not less.

For more information, or to book this presentation, please contact us at Autism College.

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.

 

 

Praise for A Full Life with Autism

Lars Perner, Ph.D., Chair, Panel of People on the Spectrum of Autism Advisors for the Autism Society of America, and Assistant Professor of Clinical Marketing, USC, had this to say about A Full Life with Autism:

Each individual on the spectrum is unique and will need personally tailored supports.  At the same time, because of autism’s complexities and seemingly contradictory characteristics, it is often difficult to get a view of the “big picture” of a life on the spectrum and the challenges that it presents.  In their very comprehensive—yet highly readable—book, Chantal and Jeremy succeed in addressing both of these concerns.

Although ample resources for addressing the diverse needs of individuals on the spectrum are presented, the case Jeremy illustrates the types of challenges, surprises, and opportunities  that may come up as an individual develops.  Chantal talks about initially not expecting Jeremy even to finish high school and subsequently being able to help him not just graduate but go on to college.  An especially intriguing issue discussed involved helping Jeremy understand that a girlfriend is not something that can just be “hired” in the way that one can secure aides and support workers—an issue that only the most clairvoyant parent might have anticipated. Although optimistic and filled with humor, the book clearly acknowledges challenges that this family faced and those that will likely be faced by others—including obstacles to finding long term housing opportunities and healing from traumatic events.

Although much of the writing is done by Chantal, Jeremy is a consistent, creative, and innovative contributor, talking candidly about his own experiences that have led to the lists of tips that he presents.  I especially love his observation that rights of disabled individuals “are founded on the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution.”  The book’s extensive list of issues that may come up will unquestionable leave many families much better prepared for handling the challenges that will come up over the years.

A Full Life with Autism: Comments by Dr. Cathy Pratt

Unfortunately, many adults on the autism experience high rates of unemployment or underemployment.  Some of our most gifted live in poverty and have few options in life.   Chantal and Jeremy have creatively worked to create an engaged life for Jeremy and his family.   This book provides very practical ideas for transition planning and provides a template that others can use as they support adults moving into adulthood.   I highly recommend this for any family or individual as they  prepare for transition planning.

 

Dr. Cathy Pratt, BCBA-D, Director- Indiana Resource Center for Autism, Indiana Institute on Disability and Community; Former President of the Autism Society of America

Modern Love

by Chantal Sicile-Kira

Editorial Note: This article originally appeared in Spectrum Magazine in the February/March 2010 issue.

My son is pining for a girlfriend. He’s on Facebook.

Relationship Status: Single

Interested In: Women

Looking For: Friendship, Dating,  A Relationship, Networking.

Political Views: Go Obama!

About Me:  I like to listen to music and walk on the beach. I can type with one finger. I have autism.

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, and 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 50’s, 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, which is basically a show about how four good friends from the East Coast now living in LA 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, nicely offered us the DVD of the first season as a gift.  Jeremy got hooked. When asked what he liked about it, Jeremy spelled out, “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 concern for Jeremy up until now has 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 think about this and research the possibilities and create 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 precious child. Because 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. Already just thinking of providing the basic necessities of food, shelter and work for your loved one with autism is a constant worry (unless he is a trust fund baby). 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, the kind you can’t pay for even if you have the money.  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 4 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 lasped 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 your 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! They just left.” Jeremy was even happier – a Charger Girls poster is the only athletic memorabilia hanging in his room.   “I like this place! This is where I want to come workout.” commented Jeremy.  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 regularly there 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,”  he spelled. “Uhhh…. OK, ask Janine to take you to the mall,” I replied. Jeremy is, after all, over 18.  Sure enough, Jeremy 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 of how it is not that easy and that, yes, being autistic and all that entails for him, it will be difficult. But that 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 Big Love. Having three wives, a 3-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.

 

 

Modern Love

My son is pining for a girlfriend. He’s on Facebook.

Relationship Status: Single
Interested In: Women
Looking For: Friendship, DatingA Relationship, Networking.
Political Views: Go Obama!
About Me:  I like to listen to music and walk on the beach. I can type with one finger. I have autism.

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,  and  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 50’s, 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.

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Dear Santa

Dear Santa,

This year, I am not asking for a cure for breast cancer, or cures for world hunger, ignorance, the crappy world economy, homelessness, the negative aspects of autism, greediness, war, global warming, or any other crisis facing the world today.

This year, I am being purely selfish and asking for fulfillment of a few basic needs for my family. I realize that compared to others, we are a very fortunate family because we have a roof over our heads, and my husband and I still have work (although we are making only 2/3rds of what we were making the year before and the cost of living is way higher, but why quibble?).

At the risk of appearing greedy, here is my wish list for what I would like to find under the tree this Christmas :

1. $100,000 for a college education for my daughter, Rebecca. She is graduating from high school in June, and according to the local papers, she will be lucky if she graduates from a state college or university in 5 or 6 years, if she gets in at all. Our beautiful state is broke, so there will be less students admitted to the colleges in fall 2010. Rebecca is applying for scholarships, and working some, but it’s not going to be enough. There is not much in the way of student loans anymore. We have equity in the house, but we need to save it for real emergencies, like if our income continues to spiral downward (oh, and our son requires 24 hour support, and how are we going to pay for that?). Please, can you help us here? We’d be grateful even for a quarter of that amount.

2. A bigger iPhone for my son, Jeremy. I know this may sound like a weird request, but he can’t talk very much due to his autism, and Apple has this great program called Proloquo2Go which can give him a voice. Problem is, the iPhone keys are really too tiny for him. Jeremy uses another assistive technology device, but it is heavy, hard for him to push the buttons, and frankly looks very ‘special ed.’ Not only that, but it costs a small fortune compared to the iPhone, and breaks down often. Communication is key to being an active part of society, and looking cool is important at his age. Please tell me you agree and grant this wish.

3. If you don’t have any pull with Apple re: the iPhone, another wish high on my son’s list is a girlfriend, because besides communication (and $$$) what is life without love or a warm body to hug? I’m sure living at the icy North Pole, you and Mrs. Santa can relate to that. Seems like something a mom shouldn’t have to ask for her son, but although my Jeremy is buff from working out at the gym and really cute, he’s not typical boyfriend material what with his autism and all. Funny thing is, Jeremy doesn’t understand why I just don’t run out to Costco and get him a girlfriend – I’ve been getting him everything else he needs all these years like occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, vision therapy; why not a little massage therapy? Maybe you can help with this one?

4. For my husband and I, my request is not that you give us anything, but we would like you to take back the 15 extra pounds each that we have put on stressing out on #s 1,2,3 above on our wish list. Feel free to re-gift them to someone else who could use a little fattening up. We would be happy to know that we are helping a family in need.

5. Last, but not least, For our dog, Handsome, and our cat, Gabe, a year’s worth of food would be helpful. We’ve had to start rationing and Gabe keeps trying to get outside to hunt for her dinner, and we really like the birds in the area – we don’t want them to end up in Gabe’s tummy.

I guess that’s it for what we’d like to see under the Christmas tree this year. I know there are people worse off than we are, and I feel guilty even sending you this letter. I hope you understand.

Thank you in advance, Santa. We wish you and Mrs. Claus, all the elves, and the reindeer, a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Sincerely,
Chantal