Saturday, May 31, 2014

Diagnosis: Understanding or Excuse?

A few days ago I had the pleasure of taking my second son out for coffee/hot chocolate before school.  I love the exam schedule that allows us special time together.  It is a joy.

During our latest coffee break, I told Gabe how I realized that I probably have Aspberger's.  He reacted more strongly than I anticipated.  How could I?  Wouldn't I have known before now?  Why wasn't it diagnosed when I was little the way his autism was?

I explained that this type of diagnosis, autism/Asperger's/ADHD, was not common until fairly recently.  As long as a child could walk, talk, and some what function in the world parents didn't normally seek help from doctors.  It just wasn't ever considered.  There were also not the vast array of doctors and therapists available to offer help.

Our conversation continued until I dropped Gabe at school.  One of his final comments was about the increased demands on kids today versus his grandfather's generation.  He is exactly right.  We expect very young children to start reading, writing and sit still for long periods of time.  We expect them to be able to think and function in a world that is filled with constant noise and distraction.  Television, radio, computer, cell phones and video games are constant distraction for kids and adults.

In our present society, we hyper-analyze everything.  We compare "Johnny" to "Joey", Ohioans to Californians, and Americans to Japanese.  Each difference must be explained.  Each deficit must be analyzed.  This has led to more and more people seeking to understand our children's behaviors and developmental issues.

In and of itself, this is a good thing.  Understanding can lead to improvement.  Realizing a problem exists is the first step in a resolution.  This is how I viewed Gabe's evaluation and diagnosis for Autism.  The label would not change him in any way.  I needed the information to better understand how to help him and to rule out other issues such as hearing loss.

Never should a diagnosis be used as an excuse.

I see it happening all the time.  I hear people using a diagnosis of ADHD to excuse poor behavior or bad grades.  Students tell me they can't do something because they have ADHD.  Baloney!  I respond that they have to understand their ADD/ADHD/Autism and work to overcome it.  The look of shock on some of their faces is priceless.

The rules of life do not change just because someone has a diagnosis of ADHD or Autism.  Just because echolalia, poor eye contact and pervasive behaviors are typical for autism doesn't mean they are acceptable behaviors.  I have been criticized for attempting to correct these behaviors in Gabe.  "Don't you know they are characteristics of autism?"  Yes, I know.  I also know they can annoy me to distraction and I don't want to live with them.  If I didn't work to correct them, the situation would never improve.

No Excuses!  If I wouldn't accept a behavior from my neuro-typical son, then I could not accept it from my autistic son.  The ways I went about correcting him and teaching him were the only differences.  What worked with Nate often fell flat with Gabe.  Some people thought I was too harsh or unrealistic.  I have one simple reason to hold Gabe to the same standard as his brother.

Laws do not change for those with Autism.  No excuses. Striving for Independence: Ways to Help Children with Disabilities Learn to Function More Indepedently eBook: Kristan Payne: Kindle Store

Thursday, May 29, 2014

The Original Purpose of Memorial Day

I learn much as a substitute teacher.  I never know what the day will hold or what topics I will be discussing, especially in the elementary grades.  Yesterday was no different.  One of the assignments was to read and discuss a short booklet about Memorial Day.

This short booklet explained the origins of Memorial Day.  One town dedicated a day to decorate the graves of Union soldiers.  This expanded to the whole country and to include all soldiers who died fighting.  The original name, "Decoration Day", emphasizes the focus on the deceased and the cemeteries.  The booklet went on to explain that Veterans' Day is the day we honor all soldiers.

Yesterday, this distinction of honoring only the fallen on Memorial Day fascinated me.  I really hadn't thought about it even though I'm sure I'd heard it previously.  All of our modern celebrations of Memorial Day include all soldiers and is not limited to those who died while serving our country.  I asked the class why we include all soldiers and if it is the right thing to do.

The kids are mainly nine and ten years old.  Most looked at me like I was speaking a foreign language.  I provided some ideas for thought.

We are currently involved in conflicts and there are daily reports of casualties.  Soldiers never know if they will be alive to see the next Memorial Day.  We need to honor them for the dangers they face daily.

Even those soldiers who come home from war alive are casualties of war.  I very briefly explained Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and Shell Shock from World War I.  Many soldiers come home with visible injuries.  All soldiers come home with memories of experiences no one should have.  The invisible emotional and psychological effects of war alters their lives just as much as a visible physical injury.

I used J.R.R. Tolkien as an example.  The students all know at least some of the story of the "Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit".  I had recently read or what a television program about Tolkien.  (I visualize my readings so much that I often forget if I read it or watched it.)  Tolkien was a soldier in World War I.  The trench warfare and the horrors he saw are reflected in the darkness of the trilogy and its prequel.

I tried to summarize my point by saying that we need to honor all veterans because a part of them died during the war and they live with memories I hope the kids never have to experience.  One student made the point more clearly than I ever could.  She said that it happened to her brother.  He just isn't the same now.  When they go to the fireworks displays on the 4th of July, he can't stay for long.  The noise gets to him.

In a few short sentences with unscripted emotional pauses, she conveyed to the class the reality of soldiers coming home but life never truly returning to what it was.

I honor all soldiers for all they do.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

What is "Normal"?

Many years ago I was subbing in a high school biology class.   The topic of the day was genetic variations such as color blindness.  As usual, I expanded the lesson to include my knowledge.  I studied genetics and even extracted DNA as a graduate student.  Without fail the kids encourage me to tell stories.  Anything to deviate from the normal monotony of the school day.  On this day I remember posing a question to the students.

How do we know that the way we perceive the world is the same as others?

I talked about the color blindness and wondered if we really have any idea how others really perceive colors, sounds and touch.  I thought I was giving some good examples and raising some interesting philosophical questions.  The kids started laughing.  Quiet giggles at first.  Followed by real laughter.  Not what a teacher wants to hear when trying to open minds to new ideas.

I looked around the class and quickly realized my mistake.  Sitting in the front row closest to the door was a student named Jenna.  I was lecturing about how some of us may have very different ways of perceiving the world and the kids were all looking at Jenna.  I had totally forgotten that she was blind.

For this bunch of students the idea of different ways of perceiving our environment was nothing new.  Most of them had known Jenna their entire lives and watched her interpret the world in her own ways.  She never let the absence of sight stop her from doing what she wanted.  Most spectators at a Friday night football game didn't have any clue that one of the drummers had been blind since birth.

After laughing with the class, I expanded the idea.  Could some things we find comforting like a shower or a soft touch actually cause pain for others?  They scoffed at the idea a little.  When I took certain medications to treat my migraines, the shower became a place of torture.  Each spray of water felt like a needle being poked into my body.

When Gabe was little and struggling to learn to talk, I noticed that he seemed to hear sounds differently than the rest of us.  "Keys" sounded more like "kitties".  I think this would probably be called an auditory processing disorder but I never pursued a diagnosis on it.  Instead we worked to help him "translate" what he hears into what the rest of us expect to hear.

Now I am learning that my understanding of the world is more different than I thought.  I have always been slightly "off".  A friend called me an "odd duck".  Actually she would say "from one odd duck to another".  I am realizing my special odd duckiness could actually really be Asperger's.

Yet another failed career has had me searching for answers.  I read a post about Asperger's and saw myself.  I read more about it on another site and saw myself even more clearly.  This type of realization happened once before.  I was watching Oprah discuss with a guest the horrible side effects of a medicine.  I don't remember the medicine that was discussed.  I do remember thinking that the horrible side effect was somewhat normal for me.

Now I am on medications for anxiety and depression but... I sometime miss the out of body floating feeling.  Too bad it's not normal.  

Sunday, May 25, 2014

I Thought I was Normal. I was Wrong.

I always thought I was normal.

I thought that how I experienced the world was pretty much the same as everyone else.

I knew there were some things that I just couldn't understand no matter how hard I tried.  I knew I have failed at every job I ever held because I couldn't understand the "politics".  I knew my mind worked in a way that was different than most people's.

Yesterday, my world collapsed and was rebuilt when I read a blog by Tania Marshall describing life as a woman with Asperger's.  In her short blog I saw my life.  All the fuzzy unknowns were brought into crystal clear focus.  For years I had thought that I shared some of my son Gabe's autistic characteristics but I had never once truly thought of myself as being even remotely near a diagnosis.

Autism is a spectrum disorder.  There are a wide range of characteristics and many of the traits are typical to all people.  The intensity of the trait is the variant.  In my job as a substitute teacher, I have meet hundreds of kids.  In many of them I see traits that are similar to Gabe and his autism.  I recognize them and adjust my interactions accordingly.

My focus has always been on Autism and Gabe.  I studied everything I could about it in order to help him become the best and most he could be.  His diagnosis at 36 months of age was definitively "Autism".  There was not a shred of a doubt.  Nor was there any leaning towards the now outdated (but still valid in my opinion) diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome.  For this reason, I never read much specifically related to Asperger's.  I also skipped over anything related to girls.  I was only concerned about Gabe.

Yesterday, for the first time, I seriously considered my life and Asperger's.  As I read Ms. Marshall's post, I saw myself.  What shocked me most was the fact that these things were being described as "not normal" for everyone.  I thought they were.  They were normal for me.

I shared the link on Facebook and mentioned my thoughts about possibly having Asperger's.  A friend shared another link describing more about Asperger's  (  I read with growing understanding all of the problems I have faced in my life and how many of them are because I truly am different.

I am unique.  I now know my uniqueness has a label.  That label will help me understand myself and how to better interact with others.  It does not change me nor do I want to change me.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

End of My New "Career"

A random shot of of the high school gym floor.
Most likely this was an unintentional photograph.  My finger hit the screen again instead of hitting the home icon.  I usually delete all the random and blurry photos without thought.  Today, this one caught my eye this morning when I was looking for a picture for my post.  Something about the way the lights reflect on the wooden floor fascinates me.
The lights- fleeting and  delicate.
The wooden floor- Solid and unchanging.
The corner of the chair means I was there for an awards ceremony or meeting of some kind.
The edge of the school logo reminds me that the floor is meant for sports.

The gym floor at the high school has a set routine of beginnings, middles and endings.  Every August,  the parents of incoming freshman attend orientation for a new building with new and higher expectations of the students.    Throughout the year there will be sports practices and competitions, pep rallies, assemblies and dances.  Each season begins with a parents' meeting and ends with an awards program.  The year ends with the ultimate awards ceremony, graduation.

It is a very well defined schedule of beginnings and endings.

Several months ago when I looked at this picture, all I saw was a mistake.   I used it to illustrate a post about writer's block.  Then, I only saw the problems with the photo.  It wasn't planned and at that time I saw no value in it.  Now I find it a fascinating metaphor of life.

Life is not scheduled.  For our lives and many parts of it, we never know how long they will last.  In the past two years, my small community has experienced unexpected deaths.  I've written about them.  Elliott- a 10th grade student who was at school on a Tuesday and dead the next morning.  Most of us didn't realize how fragile his health had always been and that his short life was a gift.  Zenan, James and Lauren died when their apartment caught fire in the middle of the night.  A friend, a few years younger and seemingly much healthier than me, suffered a heart attack and died shortly after doing what she did best: motivating parents and students to sell mulch and support school athletics.

These ending were sudden and irreversible.  Each one impacted my life but Tammy's death continues to change the way I live my life.  The day she died I was offered a new job.  The first time in decades that I had an offer for a job where I could make more than $10,000 a year.  I was scheduled to start the day of her funeral.  I reported to work only to discover that I was not allowed to start because my background check hadn't been finished yet.  The owner claimed to have thought he told me he would call me when I should start and acted surprised that I was there.

I went to Tammy's funeral.  I spent the week thinking about life, death and my purpose.  I pondered working for a man who claimed to not remember telling me to start on a specific day.  I have no doubt he did.  I remember saying I hated to ask but I needed to leave early on the first day and take my son to his orthodontist appointment.  Selling insurance was not something I wanted to do but I wanted a job that paid a fair wage.

I almost didn't take the job.  I almost saw the delay as a sign that I should walk away.  Reality prevailed.  I could not refuse a job.  Two months later, all my hopes have been dashed and any respect I had for the owner is gone.  I learned much.  Earned a little money.  And ...lost more than ten pounds due to stress.

The first month was great.  The job was easy.  I had much to learn but it wasn't anything I couldn't handle.  I thought I could finally have found something I could do and make a fair amount of money doing.  I wasn't going to become rich but at least I could afford to take the boys to the movies occasionally.

Less than month later, everything changed.  A co-worker who happened to also be the owner's daughter changed her attitude towards me.  She became passive-aggressive and tried hard to undermine my confidence.  Not long after that her father's attitude changed also.  I continued to do my job and be as professional as possible.  At one point I tried to discuss it with him.  He turned everyone of my concerns back around to my faulty behavior.  Then he started talking about after I quit.  I said I felt pressured to quit.  He vehemently denied anyone trying to force me to quit.

A week later, his wife who had not been in the office until that day met with me to outline all my faults and convince me to quit.  I refused to quit.  She shredded my personality and behavior.  If they didn't like my work, they should have been telling me all along.  If I made mistakes, I needed to know immediately.  All the mistakes they claimed I made were bogus.

My first "mistake" was refusing to take the blame for errors his daughter made.  My second "mistake" was questioning whether certain activities were legal before I was licensed.  I probably would still be working if I hadn't expressed my concerns.

I was studying and learning about the laws and became uncomfortable making calls to customers before I was licensed.   I had expected him to respect my concerns and wishes to err on the side of caution.  I had expected him to respect the fact that I try to do everything according to the laws.  It was only a matter of a few weeks before I was going to be licensed.

I do not regret any of my actions.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

My Unconventional Resume

Since being fired last week, I am once again considering my resume.  How do I present my life on a single sheet of paper?  When I was younger and had a conventional life, it was fairly easy to assembly my resume.  List my jobs and education.  Nothing too hard about that.

I worked odd jobs in high school and college:
    1. Cleaning bathrooms on the Turnpike, then food service and cashier.
     2.Busboy and then waitress at a nice restaurant.
     3. College cafeteria worker.
     4. Anthropology research assistant
     5. Botany research assistant
     6. Accounting clerk at the college bookstore.

Then my life starts to get more interesting.
     7. Long Term substitute teacher in a high school learning disabilities class
     8. Math teacher at a community college
     9  Research laboratory technician in immunology
     10. Graduate research assistant in anthropology.

At this point I became a mother and my life no longer fits the typical resume.  I graduated with my MA just months before I had my first son.  I did not have a job to leave.  My home and my son became my life.  I taught myself everything I needed to know.  Not long after that my second son was born.  He is the reason for my unconventional resume.  He is the reason my life has had a purpose and I have found my passion.

My son has autism.

Since then I have:
    1. Studied autism- causes, symptoms, treatments, and theories.
    2. Studied Ohio's special education system and laws.
    3. Closely monitored my son's diet, behavior and growth.

My resume is now result based.  The result of my work for the past 14 years is a child once described as incapable of doing anything on his own to a young man who is actively pursuing his dream of studying finance in college to become a leader in the industry.  The child who couldn't count in second grade is now the tenth grader studying the stock market.  The child who could not tolerate a touch is now a wrestler and football player.

My life work has produced this photograph.  It is not just any head shot picture.  I took this picture to complete his ACT registration.  Not just is he taking the college entrance exam, he is the force behind college visits and registering for the exam.  As a tenth grader, he has done more to prepare for his future than most seniors.

The academic success, self reliance and moral fiber of my son and of his brothers has been the result of my hard work.  I did not do it alone but I was the force behind it.  I was the constant.

This is my true resume that can not be reduced to a single sheet of paper.  It covers more research and study than I did in graduate school.  It meant mastering every subject that effected my son's life.

I failed in one area. I failed to grasp its significance was his toe walking.  That failure on my part resulted in two major surgeries to rebuild his feet.  I made the mistake of assuming a symptom was caused by his autism without exploring other possibilities.

My unconventional resume will become a book.  I will share what I learned.  It is comparable to writing a Ph.D. dissertation.  I am approaching it as I would a dissertation or thesis.


Is It Truth or Slander?

Is it slander to mention being fired on Facebook?

I was fired, posted about it and was threatened with a lawsuit.

In truth, I was extremely careful to not say anything that could be considered as a personal attack or in any other way inappropriate.  I said what the owners said when they fired me.  I was good at my job but they felt I threatened their authority.  I also said I liked and respected my co-workers.  Finally, I said that they told me I made numerous mistakes but were unable to back that up with any examples.

Is that slander or the truth?  Here are some details.

At the beginning of March I started a new job in a totally new field.   I thought the job was a gift from God.  I'd been looking for full time work for almost 10 years without success.  Out of nowhere I got a call from the owner asking if I would be interested in interviewing for a position even though I'd never even applied.  I got the job and began to learn as much as I could as fast as I could.

In the beginning, it was wonderful.  I liked the people in the office.  I liked interacting with the customers.  If I didn't know something, there was always someone to ask and they would explain it.  I learned the daily routine of the front desk and was slowly beginning to understand the details of my new line of work.  For the first few weeks, I spent an hour every day at an on-line skill training program.  I was told I was doing an amazing job.

Then it all changed.  I can pinpoint the day when one of my co-workers started to feel I was a threat to her job.  Her sudden animosity was like a slap in the face.  I still have no idea what triggered it.  At first I tried to attribute her change in attitude to a health issue she was facing.  We all have bad days and days we vent towards people for no reason.  After a week or so, I couldn't use that excuse for her behavior anymore.

Around this time, my "training" stopped.  I was no longer allowed time for the on-line training program.

Office procedures were changed frequently.  When I started, I was told to take notes, do whatever needed done and then shred the notes.  That evolved into a very elaborate system of recording activities.  I actually think that this was a huge improvement.  I also documented everything I did in the parent company's client management computer program.  Since the system was designed for adding information about customer contacts and follow up reminders, I used it extensively and wrote in the phone log.  I did not realize these changes were really a way to "catch me making mistakes".   For that, it was a failure.

Around the same time as my training stopped, I was told I had to start making outbound phone calls to customers.  My knowledge was still very limited but before my boss would agree to let me order study materials for licensing, he said I had to prove I could do the job.  That made no sense to me.  How could I discuss something with customers that I don't understand.  He wanted these phone call to be a way of cross-selling products.

I became frustrated by the increased pressure and his refusal to provide study materials.  I bought my own.  I started with a Dummies Guide to the industry and then order my own set of licensing materials.  If there is one thing I am good at doing, it is studying and learning.  So, I did what I do best.  I studied..

I tried very hard to be pleasant and friendly with everyone.  I worked hard to make sure I made no mistakes.  The biggest mistake I made was telling my boss that I didn't think I should be making these outbound phone calls until I was licensed.  Through my studies I learned that much of what he told me to do during the phone calls was not legal for an unlicensed person to do.  Those phone calls were not worth six months in prison. Another month or so and I would be licensed to make all the phone calls he wanted.  He got very upset and defensive.  He said the blame would be on him as the boss.  Since he is not an expert on the law, I wasn't convinced.

Three days later, he asked how things were going.  I told him I was concerned that the co-worker was not happy with me but I had no idea why.  I also said I got the feeling she wanted me to quit.  Somehow that turned into a big discussion where I was to blame for not going to her with my concerns.  He also started throwing all sorts of accusations at me like being defensive about my mistakes and not asking for help before doing things.   I asked what mistakes.  He had nothing.  When he started talking about "after you quit", I got mad.  I never once said I was considering quitting.  After almost a half hour of this nonsense, I asked him to leave my office.  I had nothing further to say.  I went back to work.  He came in an hour or so later and said we needed to work this out.  I had no idea what he wanted.  I told him I felt that they were trying to make me quit.  He flatly and emphatically denied it.

One week later I am told all of my faults and numerous errors are unacceptable.  I still have no idea what errors they mean.  When pressed, the owners list opening the water bill, making up a potential clients phone number, volunteering to do more than my share of a project, and not completing a contract for a client.

Since when is the company's water usage confidential?
The client gave me an old phone number and I am blamed?
Doing more than my share of editing a tedious spreadsheet was horribly presumptuous?
Why was it my responsibility to ensure that licensed staff do there job correctly?

After an hour of this ridiculous talk, I finally asked if I was being fired.  Oh, no! They didn't want to fire me but they also didn't want me to work there anymore.  I should take the high road and quit. Another 20 minutes of the owners trying to convince me to quit.  They turned all of their character flaws around and blamed me.  The even had the audacity to tell me that I had some deep seated issues that prevent me from being employable.

The truth hurts those who choose to believe a lie but it is not slander or libel to speak the truth.