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  • Friday, April 05, 2019 11:03 AM | Anonymous


    Autism Tennessee has asked me to submit blogs about my experiences as a person on the spectrum navigating through a world of those who are not on the spectrum.

    People who do not have autism mean what they say, but they mean it the way they mean it, not how I interpret it.  When I take words literally, the results can be amusing and awkward at best, and tragically inappropriate at worst.

    Statement #1:  “It is o.k. to be completely honest with me.  You can say anything to me.”

    If I said exactly what I am thinking when others extend this invitation to me, the person might not be friends with me for long.  For example, I might be thinking, “Your hair looks horrible. When are you going to fix it?” Or, I might share the gritty details of the flu I had the previous week:  “It was a really nasty flu. I puked about three times a day. Phlegm was all over my pillow when I work up this morning.”

    I assure you, this is not what people who are not on the spectrum mean when they say it is ok to be completely honest with them.  I have generally experienced that the statement means that the person is more comfortable talking to me. Often times, they are ready to move past the pleasantries about the weather or the score of the big game the night before.  They are willing to let you know where they grew up or some of their favorite restaurants. They might be willing to share some of their most traumatic childhood experiences at some point, but that would come much later.

    Statement #2:  “Call me anytime.”

    If I called someone giving me this permission at three in the morning, I will probably be blocked the next time I try to call.  I could protest, “but you said I could call you anytime.”  That usually produces a “don’t be a smart aleck look.  You know what I meant.”

    I do  NOT know what they meant.  If they meant do not call past 8 p.m., then that is what I should  have been told. It doesn’t work, though. Others pick up that I am a pretty smart guy and don’t accept this explanation, even if it happens to be true.  

    This brings me to my next point:  I have found that it is pretty critical to be honest if others are going to let me into their professional or personal life.  If I really DID know better, it is more effective to apologize than to just blame my autism. The oddness to rudeness of the behavior isn’t protected by the ADA anyway.  So, I am out of luck if my employer has had enough of me. The good news is that most people make social errors, and most people are pretty forgiving if I just admit when I am wrong.  In fact, some find it refreshing to have an employee they don’t have to spend hours trying to break their denial.

    In any event, I have found it is best to ask permission to call between 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. weekdays first, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays next, and ultimately, 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. any day.  I have told folks, “Don’t tell me, as a person with autism, to call you anytime, because that means 3:00 a.m.” I have actually had people say that would be ok, because their phone is turned off anyway.  But I haven’t tested that yet.

    Statement #3:  “I can tell you are angry right now.”

    Telling me that I am angry, especially when I am angry, usually just makes me angrier.  I know what I am feeling. I don’t need someone else to identify my emotions for me. I can really hit the roof if someone adds, “You shouldn’t feel angry right now.”  It is like telling me it is inappropriate to breathe or let my heart beat or engage in any spontaneous involuntary behavior.

    My feelings are my feelings.  It is not an on and off switch I can control.  What I CAN control, however, are the behaviors associated with the anger I am feeling.  This what is really meant by the statement, I believe.

    I am a big guy.  For whatever reason, many of my best allies are petite women, probably because they remind me of my spiritual advisor, who is also petite and knows better than anyone how to get me calm,  Anyway, these friends remind me that I am a very big guy, and my anger can be really unsettling to someone who does not know me very well. I can get this stare like Judd Nelson got in “The Breakfast Club” when he was glaring down Michael Anthony Hall, who shared that he was in the math club AND the physics club.

    I believe what people usually mean by the statement, “ I can tell you are really angry right now” is that THEY feel a little uncomfortable with my intensity.  I think it is their indirect suggestion that I take a minute before continuing the conversation. I am proud to say it has been years since I have yelled at anyone at work. I just tell my supervisors I need a break.  They always grant it.

    So instead of getting into a therapeutic debate of the codependent implications  of letting someone else name my feelings for me, I try to recall the real message that the person wants to convey to me.  I am very impressed with my brave petite women friends who will struggle with me. I am touched to know they are not afraid of me.  They teach me how to gently say, “well, how do you know what I am feeling?” Then, we proceed to a calm discussion of the conflict, which I have many success stories of resolving.

    Anyway, I hope these examples of re-interpreting common statements provided insights to those who have autism and those who don’t.  If you liked this blog, I can do another one on this topic. If you’d like, I can share my insights in a future blog on the difference between when a woman is speaking “girl” or speaking “universal.”


    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.

  • Monday, April 01, 2019 11:42 AM | Anonymous

    "Joy is what happens to us when we allow ourselves to recognize how good things really are." -  Marianne Williamson

    Recently, Morgan had the opportunity to perform at Nashville Children's Theatre.  The evening was a series of one act plays and monologues, entitled "Conversations Over Tea", put on by Borderless Arts Tennessee and Nashville Children's Theatre actors.  It included friends with and without disabilities.  There were some excellent performances, and we were excited for her to be a part of it.

    Morgan's autism and anxiety can make her want to avoid "too many friends" and new situations.  It can often steal her joy, making it a struggle for her to hang for group activities, where she's not sure what "the script" is.  I've heard "practice makes progress" so we are always seeking new challenges, and saying yes to new things, to help her stretch her ability to cope.  In order to help her be successful this time, we took an early trip to NCT to give her a preview of what was in store.


    While I always hope Morgan will be able to give her best onstage performance, I'm much more invested in her performance off stage, Because That's Where Life Happens.

    The night of the performance, she was able to wait, listen to others, and clap for them.  She sat for over an hour before it was her turn.  I know it was hard.  I even heard her say to herself a couple of times, "I can do it.  I can do it.",  meaning she could hang in there. And she did!  So proud of my girl. 


    Here's a link to her performance at NCT - Brown Truck

    Here's a link to another performance at the Bluebird Cafe', an autism awareness event she's been a part of for several years - Circus Song and Brown Truck

    You can see the difference in her level of ease, when she's in a familiar setting.  I've seen her light up when she lets go of the anxiety, and enjoys the moment.  That's what we're aiming for.  On and off stage, we want Joy to be center stage.

    Until Next time,

    Know The Hope!

    Tammy



    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.

  • Thursday, March 14, 2019 3:38 PM | Anonymous

    NETFLIX AND CHILL DOESN’T MEAN WHAT I THOUGHT IT MEANT........
    AND OTHER THINGS AUTISM TAUGHT ME

    By Chloe Sybert

    Hey! Chloe here, and being autistic can be frustrating and wonderful at the same time. It depends on how you look at it.

    I could think,
    “Man, Autism really turned me into a socially awkward fool.”
    Or I could think,
    "There are plenty of socially awkward fools who don’t have autism! And now I’m a wiser, slightly less socially awkward person because I learned from my mistakes!”

    (For me) Autism is a wonderful thing, and I became truly proud of my diagnosis. With that being said, having autism makes things hard to navigate in life sometimes! Here’s some wise nuggets of wisdom I’ve picked up along the way. (Thanks Autism!)

    1. The camera app on my phone app isn’t just there to take amazing selfies! I’ve always had trouble with feeling food on my face and have had many an encounter with fine members of the male population- with who knows WHAT on my face?! (for real!) you would think SOMEONE would tell me, but Noooooo! So hence the camera app! I turn that life saver on, check my face and teeth, make sure I’m looking fine as wine again- then (and only then) do I strut my stuff!

    2. Your going to laugh, but I literally had to ask my mom what "Netflix and Chill" means! Psst:Netflix and chill doesn’t literally mean Netflix and chill (I’m disturbed). The morals of this factoid are: A. I shouldn’t take everything literally or be so naïve, and B. If I’m unsure of the meaning of something, I should ask. But probably only ask someone I trust!

    3. Sadly not everyone can or should be trusted! I’ve always had a problem with being overly open, and overly trusting. It’s hard for me to tell whether people are genuinely not good for me, versus just imperfect people. I tend to get attached to people really quickly. The good side to that is, if your my true blue friend, I’m loyal to you, and you will always know how much I truly love you. The con is, I have befriended people who have quickly betrayed my trust repeatedly. It’s easy for me to be hurt. So I was talking to a professor about this. I told him I needed more concrete rules or formulas for navigating my trust spending (how much trust I give people). He suggested that I imagine everyone starts with 50 points. If they do something kind or something I deem worthy of friendship, I mentally add up however many points I deem fit. However, if they let me down, I mentally subtract points. ( they can be earned back). If they get too low, I will see their true colors and know I probably shouldn’t be around them. I just don’t walk around tallying up points in a notebook!

    4. As funny as I am, I have learned to be aware of over disclosure! Well, yes a lot of my insights are rather hilarious, some are inappropriate for certain audiences. Also I don’t need to over share everything about me!

    5. I learned my mom will comment on my … well unique sense of style. But that’s just because she cares about me. She means well and is not trying to insult me. Some of what she says is funny! And it teaches me valuable lessons. For instance: did you know if I wear the wrong sock, shoe, pant  combination to Hobby Lobby, my parents will look at each other and say , “Chloe, you look like Micheal Jackson!”? It’s true. It happened.

    6. I tend to over analyze every text I send to my friends. I’ve learned that true friendships will not end over a silly text. And true friends can always work out a dispute.

    7. I learned I should never apologize for being who I am or taking steps to ensure that I am comfortable at outings! True friends will understand and will want me to be comfortable!

    8. The world may not accommodate always me, but there are good people in this world. There’s plenty of people on my life or who I’ve encountered who have shown kindness and understanding and have accommodated for my needs! I have heard horror stories of ableism in the media, and while that breaks my heart, autism taught me there are good people in the world.

    There you go! Some wise words of wisdom! Wait! One more thing: it’s perfectly fine and acceptable to love yourself. It doesn’t matter if you have autism or not. You deserve to love who you are! Trust me- I’ve learned THAT the hard way!

    -Chloe


    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.

  • Tuesday, March 12, 2019 3:50 PM | Anonymous

    Chloe here! I'm published! Check out my new book. -Chloe Sybert


    Colors of My Spectrum A Collection of Poems About Living On The Autism Spectrum

    Welcome to a collection of original poems and paintings by a creative and resilient fighter, who refuses to be defined by autism! It is the writers most sincere hope that through this book, people will learn the value and importance of inclusion and that different is truly beautiful!

    *Thanks to the readers who have followed along on Chloe's journey with autism through her blog at Autism Tennessee. We look forward to continuing to share her musings and insights!


    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.

  • Wednesday, February 27, 2019 11:30 AM | Anonymous

    WHY CAN’T WE BE FRIENDS? By Chloe Sybert  

    Being a good friend to those on the spectrum

    Hi, my name is Chloe Sybert, and I am an artist, dancer, speaker, writer, illustrator (so many wonderful things) and I happen to be autistic!

    I feel like many people do not understand the full extent of what it means to be kind and accepting to those different than them. Also I feel like autism scares people! There is so much unknown! Chances are you know someone with autism and would like to be friends with them (you should!). I feel like some people are intimidated by how to do that!  


    The thing to keep in mind is that we are really not that different from you where it matters, and we are just looking for people who show an effort to understand and care about us! It really isn’t rocket science! Everyone on the spectrum is different , what may help one person might be different from someone else! However I have spent a lot of time with those with autism and based on my experience and knowledge, here are 5 tips I have for being a wonderful friend to someone on the autism spectrum!

    1. Don’t be so easily offended by us adapting to our environment in our own way, or learning to interact appropriately at our own pace!  I have to mentally prepare for social outings because they stress me out. So if I bring noise cancelling headphones to adapt to loud noise, or if your autistic friend doesn’t make eye contact with you, or if you see someone stimming  (rocking , fidgeting , or other self coping behavior) this shouldn’t bother you!! If someone does something you think is quirky , it’s not your place to judge! It takes a lot out of me to interact with people sometimes so I appreciate when I’m allowed to be comfortable and myself and when I feel safe.  I used to apologize for doing things I needed to cope like stepping outside for quiet time, but if you’re a true friend , you would want me to be comfortable. My friends are the ones that say , “Don’t apologize! Do what you need to do!”

    2. True friends understand those with autism aren’t that different from them! You might not be able to fully understand where your friend is coming from, but chances are you can relate to an extent of what they are experiencing. Empathy, not pity- is key! I have lots of noise sensitivity. And I had a meltdown at college after a fire drill at a friend’s dorm. Now, while my friends would never understand what it’s like to have a meltdown to a loud noise, they know the noise isn’t a lovely sound to them either! So they let me take time after to cry and recover and they said , “I’m sorry Chloe. That was a loud noise so we understand why that was hard!!” Also, you might think your friend is quirky or not relatable, however, autism or no autism, we all have similarities! We all can love , and we all want to be accepted. Take the time to learn how you are like your friend in an effort to understand them! My friend  Kristian Thomas says wisely, “ I think that someone can be a better friend to someone on the spectrum by understanding and empathizing with their struggles. Even though they may never relate completely, you can always be a good listener and support system for them. Most importantly, you should love and accept them for who they truly are and never try to change them to fit your standard of “normal”.

    3. Include us! Nobody likes to be uninvited and excluded from the group. Instead of assuming your friend will get overwhelmed and therefore not inviting them to the event, try telling them about the event, answering all their questions, and asking one of your own. Ask, “if you would like to go, how can we make you the most comfortable so you will enjoy your time with us?” My classmates had asked me what they could do to help me with passing baked goods at the student center for an assignment. They told me it was loud and asked me how they could make me comfortable. Then they listened! This made me feel like they actually wanted me apart of the group and valued my  contribution! I’m now looking forward to this event.

    4. When someone on the spectrum is telling you about their experience as an individual on the spectrum, their experience is valid and it’s not your place to correct them! Mainly I’m talking about person first vs identity first language! If someone prefers to identify as an autistic rather than a person with autism , that is up to them! This is a hot topic in the autism community! But my philosophy is , “my autism- my choice. Not your autism, not your choice!” Be respectful and kind and non judgmental when someone is telling you about their autism as it takes courage to do!

    5. Finally, this is the most important thing. The main thing I appreciate most in the true friendships is that they see me for me and not my disability. I deal with enough judgment from rude people and myself, I need positive vibes from my friends! Also my autism isn’t who I am! There is so much to me! One of my closest friends  essentially told me, “look, you are Chloe not your disability. You are Chloe , hardworking, caring, and kind, you are wonderful to me and nothing can change that!” This made me tear up because I felt loved and accepted and I was grateful she took the time to get to know who I truly was!


    So, if you are thinking about befriending someone on the spectrum, don’t hesitate! Take the time to get to know them for the wonderful people they are and keep in mind that autistics, have so much to offer and aren’t that different from you where it matters most! Take a chance on us, we are worth it!

    Chloe


    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.


  • Monday, February 25, 2019 9:02 AM | Anonymous

    I’m not a jack of all trades; I’m a master of many. I don’t feel there is anything I can’t do if I want to. – Evel Knieval

    This March, we’ll be celebrating Papaw’s 80th birthday.  I wouldn’t call him Evel Knievel, but in his lifetime, he has seen and done a little bit of everything.

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    Long before most household repairs and improvements required either a license or a permit, my dad had no problem getting the job done.  He was a machinist by trade, but he also served as our resident plumber, carpenter, electrician,… He may have had a unique approach to some things, but the end result was usually masterful.

    When dad wasn’t working, he was busy inventing and creating things.  I remember him having projects going on in the backyard all the time.  He built a plane, a submarine,…  Not models, The Real Life-size Working Things.

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    As a boy, he was flying planes before he was old enough to have a driver’s license.  He’s enjoyed deep sea diving, fishing, treasure hunting, and traveling.

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    Now he volunteers full time with Meals on Wheels, and is passionate about taking care of “his people”.  He’s also a bit of a poet and a painter. I don’t think there’s much he hasn’t done, or couldn’t do. But I’m most grateful for his Papaw skills. My girls are as different as night and day, and somehow he has managed to be up to the tasks.

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    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.

  • Friday, February 15, 2019 9:13 AM | Anonymous

    Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. Love is such an important experience that even the pain of losing someone you love is better than not having loved that person.”  Bookbrowse.com interprets these words to mean that “the pain of loss does not outweigh the pleasure of love.” I have experienced Tennyson’s words in the ballroom dancing I have done since 2011. Ballroom dancing has helped me take risks in developing appropriate friendships with women and to value and solace in platonic love when romantic love is not available.  Platonic love lessens the sting of not having romantic love. I also realize that I don’t need romantic love to be fully self-actualized.

    I don’t mean to suggest that ballroom dancing is the answer for anyone who experiences social awkwardness.  I am sure there are activities that are just as effective that are not anything like ballroom dancing. I do know that for me, finding my best social self cannot be done in isolation.  I need other people and I would encourage anyone who struggles with social awkwardness to find a way to connect with others that works best for them.

    I read somewhere that even when men with autism pursue women romantically in an appropriate manner, they often fail to secure that kind of relationship. That experience was very frustrating for me.  It still is, but the frustration became much less intense once I began ballroom dancing. I undervalued friendships with the opposite sex. I made the mistake of having an all-or-nothing attitude toward friendships with women.  I believed it was not fulfilling enough to just be friends with women. I do feel loneliness still, not being in a romantic relationship. But having emotional intimacy with many women really does help with the loneliness. I feel confident that I can continue to add to my happiness even if I am forever single.  I believe I will always work through the periods of loneliness I experience, especially as I continue to grow in my relationship with myself.

    From my youth I recall believing that since I was smart enough, handsome enough, sensitive enough, etc., that I was entitled to a romantic partner.  I have since learned that love does not work that way. Love is not a logical, rational proposition you can negotiate. Either it happens or it doesn’t. A healthy relationship is not something that can be manipulated.  I am grateful I am not in a romantic relationship just for its own sake, because then it wouldn’t really be romantic.

    For me, the key has been to be comfortable with myself while I pursue platonic and romantic love.  I tried a dating service once and I learned, for a high price, how to spend dinner with a woman appropriately.  But none of those introductions led to a romance, or even a friendship. I realized then that I did not want to date.  I just wanted to spend time with women so that I could learn how to be around them appropriately. That is when I decided to try ballroom dancing.

    In 2011, I started ballroom dancing with the goal of meeting a romantic partner.  Within a month, I realized it is better for me just to have fun, become a better dancer, and make new friends. For me, ballroom dancing is a series of three-minute introductions, a platonic answer to speed dating.  it is an opportunity to meet several women in one night.

    In a future blog, which I will probably call, “The Second Lift,” I plan to write about my experience in preparing for and successfully executing a showcase performance with my instructor in the winter of 2018.  But for this blog, I will share of how I learned to ask a lady to dance, what to do while I am dancing with her, and how to end a dance. I hope it will inspire hope in those who are socially awkward that these skills can be learned. The professional instructor told me that if I follow her advice in these areas, I will be able to persuade many ladies to dance with me.  She was right.

    I mentioned earlier that doing things “right” doesn’t guarantee romance. But I also learned that if I do things appropriately, the pride in myself overrides any result from my efforts. This is the essence of Tennyson’s teaching: it is not whether you win or lose the game of love.  It is how well you play. Asking a lady to dance is not difficult, but there are quite a few don'ts to avoid.  Don’t interrupt her if she is in the middle of a conversation. Wait for her to finish her conversation.  Before I might have just asked, “Wanna dance? “to someone I have never met. My instructor taught me it is more effective to introduce myself first then offer my hand in invitation.  Remember to smile. The most difficult part is when a lady says no, but it often isn’t personal, and it doesn’t mean you cannot ask again. If I have another conversation later with a lady who declined my invitation, I might ask if she is open to another invitation at some point in the future.

    Knowing what to do while I am dancing with a lady is the most difficult part of the dance for me.  I do generally engage in appropriate small talk like the weather, where they are from and what brought them to the studio.  Inevitably, the most interesting and eclectic comments can still emerge from me at this point. The first time I dance with someone I often tell them that I am on the autistic spectrum.  That often helps. My most regular dance partners tend to be intrigued or even amused with my quirks. Since I have learned to laugh at myself, we just laugh together.

    If I can’t think of anything to say, I can always just work on the dancing with my partner. Many of the women are really good dancers. One of my friends practiced the basics of samba with me many Saturday nights.  The practice helped me perform well in the showcase. Other times, I dance with a new dancer, and I teach her the basic steps. In any event, I do generally engage in appropriate small talk like the weather, where they are from and what brought them to the studio.

    Nothing can ruin a positive dance experience more than just abandoning the lady in the middle of the dance floor at the end of the song.  It is always great manners to escort her off the floor. A good rule of thumb is to take her where you found her. I often ask her where she wants to go.  

    I enjoy working on dancing as a team with the opposite sex.  Ballroom dancing makes it easier for me to appreciate and understand women in all areas of my life.  At work, all of my supervisors are women. I have a good relationship with all of them. I used to struggle in almost every relationship I have, both men and women, but ballroom dancing has really helped me improve socially.  Even my toughest critics in therapy commended my decision to ballroom dance.

    The physical contact in ballroom dancing is nurturing, but it is neither romantic nor sexual.  It is a pleasant connection that takes the sting out of being alone. My greatest satisfaction with ballroom dancing is knowing that I am putting myself out there just in case a romantic opportunity does arise.  But if it does, it would probably be in a context other than ballroom dancing. The ladies I see each Saturday are like sisters, rather than potential romantic partners.

    Even if it doesn’t happen for me, I have the satisfaction of knowing that I gave love my best effort.  This is what Tennyson’s words mean for me. If I spent my life on the sidelines without making an honest effort, I know I would regret it. Knowing that I did my best makes me feel good about me, and the relationship I have with myself is the one that is most important. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if I don’t find a romantic partner. I have already loved platonically and won.


    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.


  • Thursday, February 07, 2019 10:53 AM | Anonymous

    I entered kindergarten in Atlanta, GA. 47 years ago.  I have a powerful long-term memory but accessing experiences that reflect autistic characteristics in me is difficult.  I can say, however, that making my first friend was not done in a traditional way.

    I was invited over to play by classmates, but those invitations rarely led to a second invitation.  I was still trying to find a sport I in which could excel. I was lousy at both football and baseball, and I could not maintain a social conversation for more than a few seconds.  I had no clue why. It simply was not on my parents’ radar to screen me for autism, because I was developing language, could maintain eye contact, and I had interest in connecting with others, but did not know how.  I was maintaining excellent grades in school, and I was interacting with other children, and so I appeared normal.

    But I was quite lonely, and I spent much of my childhood entertaining myself.  I remember having a fascination with match box cars, and I spend hours lining them up all over the house.  I can recall making nonsensical sounds that entertained me because it confused others. It was a strange sort of social revenge.  Since I was confused by the neurotypical behavior around me, I responded to it by engaging in my own made-up vocabulary of sounds just to confuse my peers.  I cannot recall any from early childhood, but I can recall many from middle school. For example, I was taking Spanish in 6th grade, and I really struggled to learn from this strange teacher who tried in vain to convey stories about a sweater she purchased two years earlier in Mexico.

    Then, one day in a boring session of conjugating Spanish verbs, I exclaimed,”Beeeeeeeeeeee!!!”  

    Several classmates looked at me, but not all of them were disgusted.  A few of them were quite delighted. It was my unique way of bonding with my peers.  I recall one other guy in class, who ended up being a key part of a formidable alliance as a striker on a  YMCA soccer team, was absolutely thrilled with it, because it infuriated our teacher.

    It became a game with Sean and me.  Who could say, “Beeeeeeee!” the loudest without getting caught?  I had a clear advantage. I was in the back two rows from the teacher.  Sean was right in front of Ms. Cantrell. “beee,” he would say softly. While Ms. Cantrell was hitting him on the head with a pencil, I decided to up the ante.


    In the loudest voice imaginable, I bellowed, “W!!!!!!!!!”  I figured if we were to scream letters of the alphabet, we might as well work our way all the way through it.  Besides, “w” was more irritating to listen to than “b,” because it was three syllables long, rather than just one.

    The class erupted with laugher.  Ms. Cantrell made me sit right next to her and threated to kiss me if I wasn’t quiet.  That kept me subdued for a while. But one look at Sean, and I was off again….

    “Beeeee!!!!!!!!”  I was crawling on my hands and knees to avoid Ms. Cantrell’s lips.

    The art and science of making ridiculous noises to win friends began with my first friend, Mike.  Our earliest encounters were the opposite of how someone might make a friend. Since I had no idea how to engage in small talk, but wanted someone to climb the jungle gym with, I ran up to Mike, slapped him on the back, and shouted, “How are ya?!  Let’s go climb the jungle gym!!”

    Mike was always a very patient man.  He writhed in pain every time I slapped him, but it took him weeks to finally ask me to quit. Perhaps the best decision I made was to respect his request.  I asked him recently why he tolerated me. His response was that I was persistent, and that he had no innate fear of unusual behavior, which seemed to be what prevented many others from approaching me.  Ultimately, he was entertained by my antics and enjoyed the game of confusing others around us.

     We soon perfected the nonsense sound ritual as a team.  We would run up to the toughest kids on the playground and scream one of those nonsensical sounds.  We delighted in running to the top of the jungle gym we knew they could not climb. Over and over, the tough kids tried to climb the jungle gym like rabid dogs trying to get to two cats in a tree.  But it was no use. By the time it was time to go in, we smiled as we walked in the safety of our class away from the brutes in the other lines who wanted revenge.

    That same year, Mike introduced me to organized soccer, which I had discovered about a year before was my sport.  We would play on many teams for years after that, finding other kids who would participate in the strange noises we made just for our amusement, or would at least tolerate it.  Along the way, I learned just enough soccer and social skills to make enough friends to have a relatively happy childhood.


    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.

  • Wednesday, January 23, 2019 8:45 AM | Anonymous

    "Call your mother. Tell her you love her. Remember, you're the only person who knows what her heart sounds like from the inside." ~Rachel Wolchin

    Recently, I was on the phone with my mom.  I was in the middle of telling her something I thought was important at the time, and she stopped me to let me know she saw a cardinal and a squirrel on the ground near the bird feeder.  

    I love phone calls with my mom. I know there are always going to be a few conversation detours. I hear about her latest trip to the store, if there were any good deals, how friends are doing, and what they're up to. She'll tell me which chores she's gotten done, and how much more there still is to do. During flower season, she keeps me updated on what's been planted, repotted, and how much rain is in the rain gauge.

    I enjoy our Friday morning visits over a cup of coffee, while Morgan chimes in on almost every sentence.  We laugh, shrug, and shake our heads, rarely completing a thought.  We end our visits with a hug, a kiss on the cheek, and a promise to call again soon.

    img_4197

    We celebrate my mom's 78th birthday this year, and I'm realizing just how important these conversations are, whether they're about something I need to tell her, or just about a cardinal and a squirrel.  I love you Mom.  I'm blessed to have you here.  Happy Birthday!

     


    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.

  • Tuesday, January 15, 2019 8:20 AM | Anonymous

    Before I get into the difficult time I had during my seventh grade year in middle school, I would like to point out that my childhood is filled with pleasant memories.  I was reasonably athletic, and so my peers admired the contributions I made as a basketball and soccer player as a kid even if they did not always understand my behavior. Similarly, my classmates seemed to overlook my social awkwardness when we had group projects, because they seemed to realize I could help them earn a good grade.  Finally, like most on the spectrum, I had few friends, but I had just enough. In this case, I needed just one.

    I think the most frustrating aspect of my life was not understanding why my classmates often rejected me.  Neither they nor I knew I was on the autistic spectrum. I did know I was hearing impaired, but I compensated for that by sitting near the front in all my classes and asking a lot of questions.  Perhaps that is what annoyed some of my classmates. “David is so smart, but he asks so many stupid questions. Why is that?” My peers did not know I was hearing impaired. I was ashamed of it and did not tell anyone.  That was not a socially smart decision. I was not responding to much of what was being said. I am sure my classmates thought I was rude, dumb or both. But I was not really aware this was going on, just that my peers were rejecting me and did not understand why.

    Anyway, there were also times when I could hear fine what was said, but I could not follow the content and tone of the conversation as quickly as they could.  I laughed inappropriately when nothing funny was being said. I still do that, but I apologize when I do, and I understand why I am doing it. So, I am able to regain respect today.  Back then, I had no clue that my behavior was very irritating. My buddy Mike, however, weathered it all, because I think he felt a little sorry for me, but also because he was quick to see my assets.  He played defense and set up many goals I scored when we played soccer together.

    I think my classmates grew tired of trying to understand me.  So, they began to bully me. My theory is middle school children don’t have the insight to grasp the subtle behavior patterns of their peers that tick them off.  So they pick come unusual characteristic that cannot be changed, and they make fun of that. In my case, that seemed to be what happened.

    My classmates made fun of my hair color and unkempt way I styled it.  I am platinum blond. It is darker today, but back then, it was practically white. So, my nickname was, “Mophead.”  I heard it everywhere: changing classes in the hall, during lunch and in class. Oftentimes, groups of them would chant, “Mophead” as I walked by.  Riding the bus home was particularly rough. Around school, I could walk away from the taunting. On the bus, I was stuck. I had to listen to it for an hour and a half, because I was the last stop on the bus route.  Nobody stopped it. I was practically suicidal. But I lived through it.

    The turning point was the field day we had on our playground.  There was much going on: a snack bar and all kinds of outdoor games.  I was wandering around when suddenly two of the regular bullies walked toward me.  I walked in the other direction, but it was no good. Bullies started to come at me from that direction as well.  Before I knew it, I was completed surrounded by the tormentors. I had nowhere to go. I looked for help, but none came.  I figured I was about to beaten to a pulp. I was terrified.

    Then, something happened.

    A small group of tough kids stepped in the middle with me.  These were less than average students from the poor neighborhoods.  One of them remembered my helping him with classwork back in elementary school.  The bullies were stymied. My new allies asked me to point out the primary perpetrator.  I identified the ring leader. His arrogance was quickly replaced by fear. I left the scene in tears with sadness and relief.  I felt sadness because I never felt so alone. I felt relief because I realized that not only did I have enough influence to persuade at least a few to help me, the abuse stopped when I asked for help.

    Enter my buddy Mike.  Over the summer, I explained the situation to him.  He was furious. Mike lived in a different part of town from me.  So, we didn’t ride the same bus. So during the first week of 8th grade, we decided we would have him spend the night with me on a Friday night so he could ride the bus home with me.  And that’s all it took.

    We sat down with the ring leader and pointed out every instance that he participated in the abuse.  When we were done, I asked his primary co-conspirator if any of what we said was untrue. He said nothing.  Another bus mate tried to get me and Mike to stop making our case. I quickly told her it had nothing to do with her, and she had no business butting in.  She became silent. And when it was time for the ringleader to get off at his stop, Mike and I promised him that Mike would be riding home with me often.

    Mike’s intervention probably saved my life.  I did not want to return to these horrors. Together, we made sure the bullying stopped and stay stopped.  I remember that next school year, our soccer team reached the state playoffs and defeated the team on which one of our rivals played.  Mike and I had a ritual of writing the score of our soccer game on the board of algebra class. I realized as we wrote the score of that city playoff game, I had earned more than just one victory.  They teach in schools today that the bystander is key to stopping the bullying that happens in school. Truer words have never been printed. Parents can’t stop bullying. Teachers and administrators can’t stop it.  You need bystanders like Mike.


    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official views or opinions of Autism Tennessee. The author and the blog are not be held responsible for any misuse, reuse, recycled and cited and/or uncited copies of content within this blog by others.

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