Stories From the Heart: Acceptance

When my son Daniel was only eleven months old, I went for my annual check-up with my obstetrician. While I waited for my name to be called my mind drifted. I had spent a lot of time there the previous year, preparing for Daniel’s birth. The smell of the office was familiar and made my body almost feel expectant again.

I imagined that if I went through the waiting room door and into one of the cubicles beyond it I might travel back in time. Maybe my pregnant belly would reappear and I would discover that my baby was due next month and that the last year was a hallucination.

Perhaps I could go back to the moment in time that Daniel’s brain growth slowed and change some circumstance or other that would restore it to normal development. What if passing through that door meant awakening to a different reality?

There were two women nearby, one with a baby Daniel’s age. They were discussing the sounds their babies were making. The baby boy was repeating “ma-ma” and the other mom mentioned that her daughter was still stuck on “da-da”. I watched them and felt a twinge. It brought home again how real his delays were. It seemed to me that he’d been left in their dust and that trying to catch up would be like my being able to lose fifteen pounds before Thanksgiving, only ten days away.

I was used to these passing feelings by then. Mostly I had accepted that my son has special challenges, but sometimes the desire for normalcy rose up within me without warning. Seeing other children his age was one strong impetus for those feelings. Even now, fear of the future ebbs and flows, and optimism follows a similar course.

When I sat down to have my blood pressure taken at the doctor’s office that morning, I let the sadness wash over me. Being there reminded me of the high hopes I’d had for my baby while he was still growing inside of me. I felt the reality of Microcephaly again and let it go. My life so far hasn’t provided any magical doors to change, just portals leading to deeper opportunities for learning how to really love.

Time goes on. Overall I’ve reached a pretty good balance between trying to optimize his development as much as possible and just plain enjoy him like any toddler (even though he doesn’t “toddle” yet). It isn’t hard to fall in love with the adorable little guy, either. All he has to do is smile at me and I’m his.

In a fast food and microwave society it’s possible to go through life never really appreciating the savory taste of food grown in the backyard, cooked slowly over a flaming burner in your own kitchen. We tend to want things not now, but yesterday. Daniel’s birth began a unique training in patience for me.

Having a child with delays in development can sometimes make you feel that you’re trying to force a plant to grow. Goals are painstakingly met. It’s hard to spend day after day working on a simple skill like holding a bottle when the weeks so often turn into months. So much for the quick-zap, drive-through parenting method!

The upside of the story is that when a milestone is reached, the elation that everyone feels is a high like no other. When my son was finally able to sit without toppling over or folding into the taco position, it was cause for a celebration in our house. When he learned to clap I made homemade chocolate pudding for dessert that night, and we all applauded him in kind.

When we brought Daniel home from the hospital I thought that his having significant challenges would make my life forever sad. It has not. I am happy in ways that I’ve never imagined before. My son is a major reason for that joy. He grows my heart bigger and helps me to see how capable I really am. He teaches me.

Since his birth he has been examined by over a dozen specialists. He’s undergone magnetic resonance imaging, CT scans of his brain, electroencephalograms to observe his brain’s electrical activity, and countless venipunctures so that his blood can be analyzed for one thing or another. He has physical, occupational, speech, vision, and developmental therapy. Throughout all of  this he’s become an affectionate, playful little boy.

He’s two years old now. I no longer have fantasies of waking up to a different circumstance. Our life together is not what I expected, it’s true; and I would never pass up an opportunity to make things easier for him. But in the meantime, in that space of time that becomes our lives, I’m loving a little boy who amazes us every day by his courage, love, and wrought iron will. In those things, he’s way ahead of the game.

By Carolyn Murray

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: “C” is for Caitlyn

When I think back to my internship I always think about one student. Caitlyn, with a ‘C’, not a ‘K’.  She was this little 7 year old girl who was moderately mentally handicapped.  She came from a low income family.  Her hand-me-down clothes were permanently stained by red Kool-Aid.  Her hair was once long, but her parents in frustration, cut it off all short and uneven.  Obviously an at home trim. Her lips were always chapped because she had the uncontrollable urge to lick her lips all the time.  Her hands were permanently stained by markers, because she loved to draw. Wherever she went, she ran. Her speech was broken and hard to understand. In other words, she was a complete mess, but she was sweet and innocent, and never without a smile.

One of the objectives on her individual education plan was to independently write her name.  My intern teacher I worked under decided that a good mission for me to accomplish while I was in her class was to teach Caitlyn to write her name.

“Easy” I thought to myself. After the four years of training I had, this was going to be a breeze. I went home that night and prepared materials for Caitlyn to use to learn to write her name.  In my cockiness I only planned for one day of materials because I was sure that I could teach Caitlyn to write her name in one day. You know that saying, “Don’t count your chickens before they hatch…” They should make one for teachers that says “Don’t count your materials before you actually teach the lesson.”

I began Caitlyn’s lesson with a worksheet that had her name on it. Caitlyn was supposed to trace the letters of her name as practice and then copy them on the line below. Easy right? WRONG! From the moment I put the #2 pencil in her marker stained hand it was complete and utter chaos. It was as if another child emerged from within her and began uncontrollably writing on everything in sight.  I desperately grabbed for the sharpened pencil she was wielding like a dagger.

Finally my hand clasped hers and I yanked the pencil away. I remember feeling exhausted and sitting their realizing I was way over my head.  My cockiness fled the room like the children do when there is a fire drill. All four years of my education had been sucked from my mind and I know longer had confidence.  In that brief moment I doubted everything I thought I knew.

In bewilderment I stared at Caitlyn and she just smiled back. I remember thinking, this isn’t that hard, just try again. All you have to do is to get her to copy letters. I decided to try again, only this time I would use more caution. I would hold the pencil too. “Yeah, that will work.” I thought to myself and tried it again.  I placed the pencil into Caitlyn’s hand and quickly wrapped my hand around hers. I tried to steer her hand over the letters on the page, but my attempts were in vain.

She fought every move trying desperately to move the pencil to her desk, to her lap, to her ear, to my ear, to the floor, to her shoe, to the back of her chair. Well, you get it. There was no way that that child was going to sit still and independently write her name in one day. I felt defeated.

I worked with Caitkyn everyday for nine weeks.  Every day I would sit and battle that girl to hold her pencil and write. Eventually the battle was less physical, but still un uphill one.  On the last day of my internship, my teacher threw a small good bye party and before Caitlyn left for the bus she walked up to me with a folded piece of red construction paper. It was folded all weird and at different angles.  I thought it was a piece of trash and was about to throw it away for her.  She protested and in her broken way of talking conveyed that I was to open the paper.  So I looked down and opened the paper.

At first I thought it was a bunch of squiggly lines, but I soon realized that she had written the letter ‘C’ over and over again. They were all different sizes and some looked more like an ‘O’ but this card represented nine weeks of one-on-one work.  I could have cried, but knew she wouldn’t understand tears of joy.  I laughed and in that one single moment understood how much harder special needs kids have to work to get something as simple as independently writing the letter C.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: The Vet

Bubba, 14 years old, who has Asperger Syndrome, was not diagnosed until he was 13 years old. I wondered if this was a bad thing until an encounter he had with a Vietnam vet in our local Burger King.  I must tell you that one of Bub’s specialty topics is military so when he sees someone who could be a veteran he isn’t shy to ask.

I had gone to wash my hands before we ate and Bub was supposed to do the same. Of course he beat me to the counter and as I approached the conversation I heard the man say “I’ve tried to put all that behind me.” I’m now thinking “Oh no! What has this kid said now?” I see Bub turn the conversation around to the aircraft that moved people during that war.  The veteran was happy to tell Bub that he was very familiar with that!

Bubba goes into his little professor mode and told him all the stats on it.  The man turned to me and said, “This young man is very smart!”  I told him, “Yes, this is one of his specialty topics.”  This was to let him know that Bub has an advantage over most people because it is so easy for him to learn, but only if it’s in his specialty range.

I didn’t get to process what the man said right away, but when I did I was floored. He said to me, “You know, nobody has ever asked me about my time over there.”

Who am I to say that this isn’t God’s will that this young man, who doesn’t have the same boundaries that most have, affirms others who haven’t gotten that before?

It still gives me chills when I think of it.  I felt the presence of God among the people at Burger King that day.

By Alissa Tschetter-Siedschlaw

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Four Perfect Children

My whole life has felt destined.  Even the parts that have been rough.  As the proud mother of four perfect children, three of which have special needs, I have had many tear filled moments. We have had moments that are heartbreaking, for what trials their lives may bring them, and profound, through the many lessons that they teach me every day.  I have always been very pleased with my kids, but we have chosen to follow a challenging and often difficult path.  Two of our children, Breanna and Noah were born to us. Two of our children, Madilyn and Tyler, are adopted.

Breanna is a delight and a huge helper, and Noah has Pervasive Developmental Disorder-NOS which is in the Autistic Spectrum.  My husband Sean and I had always talked about adopting a child that would have a hard time finding a good home. We prayed every night that if this was the path for us that God would bring us the children.  It was that simple. Okay, it wasn’t that simple, but very worthwhile. When people ask me, “Which ones are yours?”  The answer is very clear: They are all mine!

We chose to adopt our children through the bursting at the seams foster system, which tends to be way too short on loving homes. Madilyn was born three months premature, meth and alcohol affected, with a severe brain bleed, hydrocephalus with a shunt, among many other issues.  Since this was a very faith lead decision for us, there really was no decision.  We had already made a deal with God. She was as much mine and if she had come from my body.

Madilyn faced and continues to face obstacles with boundless energy.  Adjusting to Madilyn, as anyone can imagine, was very trying for Noah, who has a hard time with his environment being disrupted.  All in all though we did pretty well.  But very unexpectedly we received a call about Tyler.  He was almost eight months old and had already been in four homes and was Failure to Thrive as well as neglected and meth exposed.  He would need a G-tube for feeding.  We thought we would have him for one week, but as God had designed, he would stay forever.

When this was all coming to fruition I was worried about poor Noah, who at one point claimed to be “allergic and terrified of babies”.  We talked as openly as we could about Tyler needing love and a family and how worried we were about him.

A couple of days later I found Noah in his bed in tears.  I asked him what was wrong, expecting the answer to be something like, “I lost Mario’s hat in my Nintendo game” or “My Pokémon is missing”, since he tends to think primarily about computer stuff.

Noah’s depth permanently resonated in my soul.  He said to me, with huge tears rolling down his sweet cheeks, “Mom, I thought that everyone knew the number one rule.”  I was still pondering whether or not he was referring to something real or imagined. “What is the number one rule Noah?”

Noah tends to have a look on his face like it is his first moment on this planet and he looked straight into my eyes, which he rarely does, and said with conviction and clarity, “The number one rule is: Everyone deserves a home.”  He went on to tell me how worried he was about Tyler, and that he thought that he should be in our family forever.

Sometimes Noah’s special needs are a great gift.  He sees a lot clearer and with less shades of gray than most, and he will tell you very openly exactly what he believes in.

When I think of the miracles and blessings that I have been fortunate enough to experience, I have no doubts of God.  I have felt the hand of God reach into my life and trust me with gifts like no others.  I just look around and it is obvious.  I have plenty of proof in the messes in my house.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: The Adventures of Elizabeth and Joseph

This is a recap of a day between me and my five year old son Joseph, with profound Autism.

My sweetie Joseph woke up shortly after five, but feeling refreshed no doubt after a long healthy 11 hour snooze. I myself slept nicely, having him sleep all night, not something to take for granted.

I speed cooked his ten slices of bacon, hard and crunchy, the only way he eats it, while he waited patiently. Then he gobbled it down with about four cups of juice like a ravished caveman. I like to see him enjoy his food, he gets so excited, jumping up and down (on his chair, no less) as I pull it out of the microwave.

After breakfast I scurried him downstairs so his little noises would not wake his older brother. Playing peek-a-boo under the blanket, both of us giggling, sometimes I was under with him, other times I was on the outside He was most often squealing with delight as he gave me intense eye contact.

I realized not the first time, how after five years he still can look at me as if what I am doing is the most amazing thing he has ever seen. He looks deep into my eyes as if he is looking into my soul. He looks at my mouth moving, as if it is truly spectacular what I am doing.

Sometimes as he pulled me closer to him for some “sugars” I thought how lucky I am to have him, his innocence, forever. I wished, as I have in the past, that I could feel this way all the time.

The morning progressed as usual until I suspected he was up to something (in his pants) I started upstairs and as he walked I could tell he was carrying a load. Straight to the bathroom we went and as he climbed on the toilet I could instantly see a bath was in order. While he bathed I ran downstairs to throw the clothes into the washing machine. I followed a path of evidence down the carpeted stairs, not missing a step or the horrible smell.

I proceeded to clean the stairs. After his bath we worked through the rocky adjustment in change in schedule.  He never takes a bath in the morning, always at night, and he thought it was time for bed instead of time for school. I spoke to him softly and simply about the reason for the bath and then broke out into his “going to school” song I have been singing since school began. The transition was falling into place for him.

As I went to drain the water from the tub, I had the crappie (no pun intended) realization that the switch to let out the water was broken.

After Joseph and Jacob where gone to school I went into the bathroom with a screwdriver and took the plate off the wall, emptied the drain by pulling some very long ‘thing’ right out of the wall. Hubbie dearest would probably have a heart attack if he saw that one, but it worked like a charm. I screwed the plate back on.

As I was washing my hands after fixing the tub, I glanced in the mirror only to see I had poopy-doopy on my chin. I laughed. I had put both my boy on the bus, like that.

I sat down to write this story. It was ridiculous and extremely gross! I had feces on my face!

But my morning, for the most part, had been filled with pure enjoyment with the tender, precious moments with Joseph. I never once lost my cool, cried or raised my voice. Is it always like this? No, but I wish it were.

The bottom line; I believe all children are Gods greatest gift. I have “had my children and lost my mind, but found my soul”. My son may never be like other children, but I am blessed to be his Mother, and it is these special moments that keeps me appreciating him.

By Elizabeth Owen

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: At The Supermarket

When our son Franklin was diagnosed with Autism at the age of three, my husband and I were very concerned about the emotional needs of our five year old daughter Marina.  We wanted to make sure that her needs were being met in the midst of the flurry of therapy, workshops, and support groups we were attending to support our son.

One day when the four of us were out at the supermarket, our son started to act strangely and talk in his gibberish to a couple in the market.  After seeing the puzzled looks in their faces, our daughter promptly approached the couple, and said with a big smile on her face, “My brother is special. He’s artistic!”

At that moment, I felt the love and understanding in her heart for her brother, and I knew at that moment that everything was going to be OK.

Now, almost ten years later, our daughter Marina is growing into a beautiful, understanding young woman…and she loves and supports her brother now, just as much as she did when she was five years old.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Put a Twist on It

It was a cold Fall day as I took my seat in my Introduction to Psychology class.  All the leaves had fallen off the trees on campus and a brisk wind howled through the campus building doors. There were about 60 other bright-eyed, young, “know-it-alls” in class with me as the professor started to lecture.  Half way through his lecture about neurons and synapses, the professor announced that we would be having a visitor to the class today, and introduced an attractive couple that had just moved back to the US from England.

I listened while the woman talked about her young son, Jacob, who had been given a diagnosis of Autism, right prior to their return to the US.  “What’s Autism?” I thought.  I had never heard the word before.  What did it mean?  She talked about how Jacob didn’t know his name.  How he wouldn’t respond to it when someone called him.  How when you walked into a room, he didn’t lift his head up to look at you.  How he never acknowledged anyone with even a simple hug; how a hug hurt him.  How he wasn’t able to talk and how he had some “odd” behaviors.

The young couple sent around a picture of their son, Jacob. When his picture made it to me, I was confused.  I sat there and starred at a beautiful little boy.  He had the bluest eyes I had ever seen.  And while they were not looking at the camera, you could tell how angelic he was.  He didn’t look like there was anything wrong with him, how could he have Autism?

They passed around a signup sheet, looking for volunteers to work with their son.  I placed my name on it.  It would be good experience I thought.

The first time I met Jacob, he came toddling into the family room from the kitchen.  I remember getting onto the floor and saying “Hi, Jacob”, but he just walked right past me.  Actually it looked more like he had pranced right past me on his tippy toes.  But there was no response to my friendly attempt to meet him.  I found it odd.  After some additional time had passed, and more people showed up at their home to meet Jacob, we learned about an intervention they wanted to use with Jacob, called Applied Behavioral Analysis.

I sat horrified as I watched this little boy scream, kick, hit, and scratch at his mother in her attempt to get him to sit in a little chair.  About 20 minutes into the therapy, with tears streaming from my eyes and my heart ripped in half, I got up and left the room.  Teresa followed me out.  I sobbed as I explained to her that I was not going to be able to do that to him.  I told her that I thought it was horrible to make him scream and tantrum like that.

She listened calmly and told me she knew how I felt.  She told me that it killed her to see Jacob like this as well, but this intervention was one of the best ways to teach Jacob the skills he would need to be ready to go to school in 3 years.  She asked me to please come back a few days later and try a session with him.  I reluctantly agreed.  More surprisingly, I actually did return.

During that first session with Jacob, he didn’t scream at me when I asked him to come. He came to me and sat in the chair without incident. I wondered what had happened in the days since my last visit. I was instructed by his mother to tell him “Do this”, and then clap my hands.  I did as instructed and then took his little hands and helped prompt him to clap his hands.  After the very first trial, Jacob started to scream and kick his feet.  “Keep going”, Teresa pushed.  I kept presenting trials of clapping hands and with each new trial, Jacob’s screams got more intense.  I could feel the tears welling up in my eyes….I couldn’t believe that I was making this little boy scream like this.  What kind of person was I?

About 25 minutes into the session, I presented the exact same trial that I had presented to him for the previous 25 minutes–“Do this”, then clapped my hands: but something magical happened this time.  There was an instant stop to his screaming, which was replaced by a giggle.  Jacob then took my hands and clapped them for me.  How could he go from screaming to giggling in a second flat?  Did he really understand what I wanted him to do all this time?  Why did he clap my hands? Teresa, who was watching the session, just cried.  “He’s getting it”, she said.  “What a sense of humor he’s got”.

This was my first introduction to Autism and my first experience working with a child with Autism.  I was 18 and so naive about what it was and how to treat a child afflicted with it.  Thankfully, Jacob saw it in himself to teach me the ropes and to even make those magical transformations in my presence.  Without his magical transformation in front of my eyes on that very first day, I don’t think I would have had the strength to return to work with him again, or to forge on in this field for the last 12 years.

He taught me that not everything is as it seems….for even in his biggest tantrums, a giggle could literally be right around the corner.  With a gleam in his eyes that said, “Yeah, I get it. Now let me put a twist on it!”

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Take Flight

Aaron had been diagnosed with PDD-NOS when he was 2 years old and was just starting to be able to communicate verbally when I started to work with him at 4 years of age.  I was his in home therapist and worked with him one on one for approximately 30 hours each week.  On a typical day, I would shadow Aaron to the diagnostic kindergarten classroom for 1/2 a day and then would spend the second half of the day working with Aaron on pre-academic, academic, and communication skills at his home.

I loved working with Aaron and watching his eyes light up when he learned something new or was able to complete a task that had previously been too difficult for him to master.  One Spring day, in the afternoon, we had been learning about kites and how to fly a kite.  As part of that lesson, we were going to go outside and fly a real kite so he could have the experience of participating in that activity.

It was a wonderful day to fly a kite.  The winds were blowing and I thought it would be relatively easy to get the kite to take flight.  I showed Aaron how to hold the string and kite handle, so I could throw the kite into the air.  After several attempts, the kite was still on the ground and a very disappointed little pair of eyes just stared at me.  I told Aaron that we would try one more time, but if we couldn’t’ get the kite into the sky; we would have to try another day.  I tried again to get the kite into the sky…..Aaron held the line steady, and I tossed the kite up….it came crashing right back down.

I looked at him sadly and said “I’m sorry honey…Maybe we can try again tomorrow”.  With a look of disappointment that words will never be able to describe, he looked at me and said, “one more time”.  Exhausted, I looked at the sky and just pleaded my case to the Lord up above, “If you have a sense of humor, you will put this kite in the sky!”

With a renewed sense of brilliance in his eyes, I took the kite and threw it into the air.  A gust of wind picked it up and the kite took flight!  Aaron just smiled this little grin…it was like he knew that this time the kite would take flight!  After we got the kite high into the sky, we sat on the curb together and watched it dive and soar.  He was so excited, and the laughter and gleam in his eyes was the most vivid I can remember ever seeing or hearing.  A photograph that his mother took of us that day sitting on the curb holding the line to the kite still echoes of his laughter in my office today…almost 6 years later.

If it hadn’t been for his plea to try just “one more time”, we would have never gotten that kite into the sky that Spring day.  I’ve often thought about how ironic the situation was that Spring day. I was there to help Aaron learn and to teach him to never give up, but on that day, it was Aaron who taught me what it meant to never give up.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: A Skunk Story, Glenn and I

My good friend, Louise, invited me to meet her cousin, Glenn.  During birth his brain had been deprived of oxygen which resulted in a number of challenges.  Both of his parents died in a car accident, so he had been taken in by their grandparents. Thirty-four years old, he was able to ride a bike everywhere and pick up groceries for his grandparents.  He could dress himself if someone chose the outfit for him and keep himself neat and tidy.  Loving to be outdoors he was able to cut lawns.  He lived in a small community that cared for him and went out of its way to find him jobs that he could do.

When I met Glenn I was immediately taken by his charm.  Six foot four, large and powerful, he looked like a man who worked outside and had a masculine, no nonsense approach to life.  The immense juxtaposition was that he stood behind my friends five foot four, small bone frame, trying to hide, holding his hand in front of his face as he peeked at me between his fingers.  Sweet, curious and innocent; I liked Glenn immediately.

Glenn loves animals, Deb.  Maybe you could tell him about some of yours. Louise offered, trying to make a bridge between us.

Louise and I sat down, trying to appear oblivious to tall, big Glenn hiding his face behind his large hands.  For me, these situations always seem more, normal, than trying to fit in at a luncheon or cocktail party.  I love people but I hate making small talk.  Being with Glenn, big hearted and curious, and his cousin who adored him, was much more real and authentic to me.

Louise and I started talking about my Appaloosa Pony, War Hand.  He was all white, with big black polka dots and we talked about his special personality, how he was always pulling tricks on people opening corral gates, and then opening doors and walking into people’s homes to visit them and other original, unhorse like behaviors.  I spoke directly to Louise, occasionally peeking back at Glenn.

This was comfortable to me as at the time I still had trouble speaking to strangers and Louise was in fact one of my favorite friends, tolerating my differences and encouraging me.  Occasionally she would turn to her cousin, Wow, Glenn, did you hear that?????  War Hand went into that lady’s house to visit her!  Glenn, can you imagine?  War Hand puts his front hooves on the corral fence, stands up tall, like a human being and lets them know it’s time for breakfast for his goat friend, Capricorn, and himself!

Glenn would smile.  His hands came away from his face. He had a sense of humor and started to relax enough to chuckle.

“Hey, Deb, why don’t you tell us about your pet skunk, Arpege? Glenn, did you know that Deb had a pet skunk? . . . Glenn, you know what a pet skunk is, don’t you?” Louise asked.

I glanced over at Glenn, trying not to be intrusive, I saw him nodding his head rapidly, up and down, above his massive shoulders.  As long as I didn’t look at him directly, for too long, I knew that he was starting to connect.

My animals are one of my special interests the interests that Aspies are known to have that can drive many people crazy as they talk about them on and on.  In my twenties I became aware, that one shouldn’t go on and on about ones affinities the things that occupy my mind all day long.  But Glenn and Louise were a rapt audience.  Glenn wanted to know about Arpege.

I was delighted.  I told how I rescued Arpege, as a skunk kitten, in Maine when she had become separated from her mother.  I told how my father and brother were afraid, but that she never sprayed me.  Home in Connecticut, a veterinarian removed her scent sacks so that she would not be able to spray.  I described her two gaits: a waddle and the characteristic bounce, like Peppy La Pue, in the cartoons. Arpege had had a wonderful sense of humor which she demonstrated by chasing my mother through the house, up the four levels of stairs, at a bounce, as she carried the laundry, screaming each time.

My brother, also with Asperger’s Syndrome, and I spent our youth imitating the physical actions of others.  I often jump up and start acting out the action of the story that I am telling, rolling along with the pictures streaming through my mind, my natural way of thinking and processing.  In the easy atmosphere with Glenn and Louise, I found myself acting out Arpege’s many antics.  Soon we were all giggling uncontrollably; it felt like we knew each other for many years.

We spent the afternoon laughing as I told my animal friend stories.  Glenn sat down with us and started asking questions.  His shyness, and mine, dissolved.  When their grandparents came home, he kept saying, Deb has a skunk! Tell them about the skunk!

That afternoon took place over thirty years ago.  Since we lived many states away, I never got to visit again.  But I never forgot Glenn’s warmth, big heart and sense of humor.  For a number of years, Louise told me that when she would visit her grandparents that Glen always remembered and would ask, “How’s Deborah?  She has a skunk! “

Eventually Louise moved to the opposite coast and we lost touch, as often happens as the years pass by.  But that afternoon, the deep connection and the fun we had has always stood out in my mind.

Glenn had immense hurdles to face; daily life tasks that many do on remote pilot, were often insurmountable obstacles to him.  Given deep respect and care, he developed self esteem so that he could meet and touch people on a very deep level.  All of us who are faced with differences can find, in the interactions with life and the vast majority of the human population, frustrations over not being able to fit in, and be normal.

But I find courage when I think of my afternoon with Glenn, raised in the atmosphere of his grandparents, loving and a caring extended family, and community, he was able to radiate his special energy and big heart.  Diagnosed three years ago with A.S., at the age of fifty, I finally understood my wonderful but different life.   Suddenly my special affinity and focus on animals and other special topics, my affinity with other, special needs people, made sense.

I think of the special day with Glen; I am motivated by his special gifts.  He accepted me, knew who I was, and reflected that back in a way that few others ever had.  I know as I join the movement for early diagnoses, tolerance and caring that all of us who face life challenges can be helped to find our special place in life, so that we can share the gifts that God has blessed us with.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

Stories From the Heart: Learning Friendship

“Don’t look at me”, “Don’t touch me”, “Don’t sit near me”, and “Too loud, too loud” are the sensations that scream from within.  “Why does the world have to be so confusing?” “It hurts me.”

My Molly is 5 years old.  She came to us at 20 days old as a foster daughter.  Molly did not bond to me, but to my husband.  Very unusual for foster babies in our home.  I knew there was something different about Molly, but what?

At three years old Molly was diagnosed with Autism, as tears rolled down my cheeks.  I suspected Autism, yet to hear the words out loud still hurt a mother’s ears.  By this time, we had adopted Molly and had much love invested in her.

We struggled to help Molly adjust to this world so full of strong contrasts for her.  A light breeze to us, felt like a tornado to Molly with “things” swirling about.  The tornado crashed across her body.  The leaves blowing in the trees the sound of a freight train.  The sights and sounds that we crave are the very same things that hurt Molly.

Human contact was tolerated at best.  “Why won’t Molly sit on my lap?” my husband questioned in complaint.  I told him, “You have to  be a chair”.  “I let Molly sit on my lap and stop my longings to wrap my arms around her.”  Gently, I explained, “Molly gets on your lap, you hug her.  “Quick as a flash, she’s gone.”   “You have to learn how to just be a chair.”

An emotional connection with another person is often a rare thing for a child with Autism.  I told Grandma, “Don’t feel bad, Molly doesn’t hug me either.”  While her cousins played in their little group, Molly sat on the sidelines comfortable in her own world.

I remember my first, best friend, Kathy.  We shared everything.  We played together every day, back and forth at each others’ house.  We held hands.  We were best buddies.  I wanted Molly to know the gift of friendship, yet how this would ever happen was a mystery to me.  That kind of closeness with another human was against the grain of who Molly is.  So many obstacles in the way.

Last year Molly attended a special school for Autistic children.  She quietly sat in class, day after day.  At the beginning of each school day, Molly would whisper, “My name is Molly.”  Molly was in class, but not really with the class.  They could have been in another room for all that it mattered to her.

This year began with a new school and a ride on the bus. How frightening the bus was for Molly.  A new driver?  A man driver?  This sent Molly in a spiral of anxiety.  She craved sameness in order to have some control over her world.  Weeks went by with anxiety and tears.

One day a wonderful thing began to happen.  Molly started watching a little girl, Claire, during playtime.  They started swinging next to each other.  No words were exchanged, just closeness, sameness.
The teachers began to tell us, “Oh, Molly and Claire, they are next to each other always!”

Molly and Claire began sitting next to each other on the bus.  Always.  Soon, at home, Molly would mention Claire’s name.  We began sending little stickers and such for Molly to share with Claire on the bus.  Claire would bring little things for Molly.  We all knew something special was happening and happily encouraged them.

The school year came to a close and soon summer school began.  Molly cried when she saw a new bus driver.  She didn’t see Claire on the bus, either.  Now her world was beginning to unravel.  Getting Molly on the bus that day was not going to be very successful.  Molly cried, her eyes searching the bus not knowing what to do.  Nearly hysterical, Molly suddenly saw another classmate, Katerina, on the bus.  She started crying, “I need Katerina, I need Katerina.”

It was simple and to the point.  Molly needed human contact.  Molly needed Katerina.    Tears filled my eyes as I saw Molly reach out to yet another child as a bridge to the world.  My heart aching for the distance she had traveled to reach outside of herself.

Molly is learning friendship and human contact is a good thing.  I am reminded through Molly that friendship does make the world a gentler place.

Author Unknown

* Stories From the Heart is an ongoing series of user contributed heart warming stories, that shine light on the Autism experience.

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