Monday, September 19, 2016

The Air Freshener Incident

I normally go into Walmart on my own, solo, unaccompanied, without kids, unattached, unaided and alone (but not lonely), intentionally unassisted, in order to do my shopping without incident. “What kind of incident?” you ask. That’s right. Not all of you have spent time with my Sydney.

Sydney is truly a unique young lady who marches to the beat of her own drum. Sydney has no filter. If she thinks it, she says it. If she sees it, she touches it. If she likes it, she needs to own it. In a nutshell, there is rarely a dull moment when Sydney is around. She keeps things interesting. 

Sometimes when I take Sydney places, “things” happen. Things happen that should only happen in sitcoms to fictional families, or in silly children’s books, never in reality. The author Barbara Parks wrote a series of books about a little girl named Junie B Jones that my older kids and I enjoyed very much. Sometimes I wonder if Junie B came to life, and is living in my home. Only I call her Sydney P.  

My kids were out of school today for a teacher workday. And I needed a few things from Walmart. Against my better judgment, and because my list was very short, I took Sydney with me into Walmart. Milk is one of those things that cannot wait and we were out. So I threw caution to the wind, and drove to Walmart. I rationalized that Sydney and I could get in and out of the store quickly and I gave her a pep talk in the car before we entered the store. I was determined there would be no drama, and I would not give Sydney the opportunity to disrupt my mission.

Three minutes in, as we turned down an aisle to grab a cleaning product on my list, Sydney caught sight of the air fresheners. She became hyper-focused on those and stopped to look at them, hands on hips.

Knowing that she had to talk fast, because I was not slowing down, she loudly told me that we had an urgent need in our home for an air freshener. I looked back over my shoulder and told her to catch up, and that air fresheners were not on my list today.

Now, Sydney does not speak quietly, nor does she understand the concept of being discrete. We were not alone in the aisle, and Sydney’s claim that our home was in need of an air freshener drew the attention of at least four people. In order to make her case, and guarantee that an air freshener make it into our cart, Sydney began to describe the smell that she was sure enveloped our home. The people in the aisle all looked at me. They were not even pretending to look at anything on the shelves.

I asked Sydney again to move away from the air fresheners, assuring her (mostly for the benefit of the people listening) that we do not have the unseemly odors in our home that she was describing. But Sydney did not take a step. Instead she bent down to examine the different fragrances more closely. I walked back toward her and quietly told her that we needed to move on.

“Mom. Why are you whispering?” she said. “We need to talk about the smell I keep smelling in my room! Last night I couldn’t even sleep. It was so awful. I’m pretty sure an air freshener would really help.”

It just so happens that I go into Sydney’s room several times each day. I had been in her room that very morning to put away laundry. There was no odor. There is no odor. And I told her as much while she was bent down inspecting all the Glade, Renuzit, and Febreeze containers. She wasn’t listening, but I could see out of my peripheral vision that everyone else in the aisle was leaning in and had heard it all. And the crowd had grown slightly. I briefly wondered if one of those folks might even offer to buy an air freshener for the poor little girl whose mom had her living in a room with a stench.

“Mom. Do you know how these things work? I don’t even see how you open them. Do you have to take all the paper off to smell them?”

I tried again. “Sydney. There is NO smell in your room. We don’t need an air freshener.”

So, she changed tactics. “Mom. You know that smell when we make a fire outside to roast hotdogs and the wood is burning? I smell THAT smell in my room sometimes too.”

And as one more person walked into the congested aisle, I reached down and picked up an air freshener, tossed it into the cart, and hurried away, chin held high.

That air freshener is on Sydney’s dresser this evening and she comes into the living room every few minutes to tell me how wonderful her room smells.

If only those folks at Walmart could hear THAT.

If only I had waited and gone to Walmart tomorrow. We could have lived without milk for twenty-four hours. 

If this story made you giggle and you want more be sure and find us on Facebook at Quirks and Chaos. 

The above is just one of hundreds of stories I could tell. Here are two I have illustrated:



Monday, September 12, 2016

Transitioning to High School with Autism

My son Tate is a freshman in High School this year. We are two weeks in and I am breathing a bit easier now. He’s surviving. Transitions can be hard for people with autism. I worried about everything. How would Tate manage the huge transition to High School? How would he manage all the smaller transitions from one class to the next, in a hall crowded with so many other students? Those kinds of things are so much harder for Tate than they are for you and I. On Tate’s second day of school, his older brother ran into him in the hall. Literally. 

Tate’s brother has since seen Tate in the school halls, and reports that Tate has mastered the skills necessary to dodge most of the other students now. Whew!

That first week was a bit rough on Tate. He was exposed to some ideas he could hardly believe. He came home distressed because his choir teacher mentioned the wearing of robes at the scheduled performances. Luckily, she was most understanding, compassionate and accommodating when I explained Tate’s sensory issues and his anxiety about things like this. 

In addition to the anxiety felt by Tate, and all the new routines to learn, there is also a learning curve for Tate’s new educators. Each year as new teachers get to know Tate and his quirks, I worry that Tate will be misunderstood or even mistreated because of his lack of social awareness and socially acceptable responses. Will his teachers understand autism? Despite my fears, Tate is adjusting marvelously. The High School teachers are proving to be as proficient and as understanding as the teachers we left behind in Junior High.

Working with Tate requires patience and a sense of humor. Luckily, the Physical Education teacher is demonstrating that he has both when he teaches Tate. Despite Tate's awkward gait and limited coordination, P.E. has always been one of Tate's favorite classes at school. I wondered if High School P.E. would be very different. I have always heard that much of the bullying that goes on in a High School is done in gym class. After just these few days I can see that Tate likes his P.E. class very much. The fact that there is never homework, helps!

Tate does not believe homework is ever justifiable. Since he first entered public school he has been adamant that schoolwork should stay at school where it belongs.  

Tate's attempt at his report was his personal best. I read it with mixed feelings. Things like this show me just how far behind Tate is. But they also show me how far he has come. It is true that Tate cannot perform academically at the level of his peers. However, I can honestly say that I am every bit as proud of his efforts as any other parent. Tate works hard and does the best he can in a world he has trouble making sense of. He shows me daily what it means to persevere. It sounds a bit cliché but it is a fact: Tate has taught me far more than I will ever teach him. He makes my heart smile. 

Get to know a child with autism. You will be forever changed in ways you could not have imagined. 

If you liked this post, you might also like: Coffee Tables Aren't Hot

Monday, August 8, 2016

Meet Jacob: A Young Businessman with Autism

If you were to poll the parents of children in the autism community and ask them about the concerns they have, the uncertainty about their child’s future would be at the top of many lists. I know. I have a fourteen-year-old son with autism. This worry has haunted me for twelve years, since my son, Tate, was diagnosed. It is always in the back of my mind. What are we going to do when Tate is too old to go to school? I know parents of young adults on the spectrum, and while some are researching group homes, others are desperately trying to help their children find employment.

Tate is entering High School this year. He still cannot count change accurately. He processes language slowly. His social skills are poor. He will likely never be a good candidate for most jobs. He lacks many of the skills necessary.

Autism Speaks reports that approximately ninety percent of the adult autism population are unemployed. I have recently corresponded with two adults with an Asperger’s diagnosis who have told me how difficult it is to fit in, even when they are very capable of working a job. The social skills required to hold many jobs are often difficult to teach to a person on the spectrum. They are often misunderstood and coworkers are sometimes unfriendly, even when the actual work is being done well.  

More and more parents are becoming proactive in finding meaningful employment opportunities for their adult children on the spectrum. It is said: “necessity is the mother of invention.” In the news lately, there have been some amazing stories. Adults with autism are working in bakeries and kitchens. One family started a carwash business that employs adults with autism. These are fantastic ideas. These are not things that my son would probably enjoy or excel at. He could definitely be taught the skills needed to bake cakes and cookies and to wash a car. His sensory issues would make car washing torturous for him though. Interacting with the public would lead to much confusion too.

I have recently gotten to know a mother named Shelly who gives me hope and inspiration. Shelly’s son Jacob is about to age out of public school. Jacob reminds me a lot of my son. Shelly and her husband are concerned about Jacob’s future and finding meaningful employment for him. Jacob, like my son, is impaired developmentally and socially. Despite years of vocational training in school, with a wonderful teacher, Jacob has been considered unemployable. In order to employ Jacob, there would be a need for complete and constant supervision. Jacob is sometimes defiant and uncooperative as well. What kind of occupation could there possibly be for a young man like Jacob?

Because Jacob has an amazing set of parents who know his weaknesses but try to focus on his strengths, they may have found the perfect niche for Jacob. They are helping Jacob to start his own internet sales business. Every day Shelly and Jacob work on the skills he will need to create his products, market them, package them and sell them. Jacob has leaned to do inventory and much more. He especially loves any part of the business that involves using a computer. He picked up invoicing through Paypal very quickly and enjoys that part of the business the most.  

At first, Jacob’s training sessions did not last more than half an hour. Thirty minutes was all he could handle. Some days Jacob cooperates more than others but he is making a real effort and learning so much. His training sessions are getting longer. This is all a full-time job for Shelly and it leaves her exhausted. There are high hopes that Shelly will fade some into the background as Jacob gains skills. Their goal is not to get rich, but to give Jacob meaningful employment that he can be proud of. This kind of thing would not work for every family. Jacob will need supervision close by, even if not hands on, at all times.

The business is in its earliest stages and there is still much to be done. The most obvious thing needed for Jacob's training to succeed, in the form of actual employment skills, is through the repetition that comes with consistent orders.  In order to facilitate that, Jacob's parents are trying their best to build a customer base through social media and word of mouth.

To learn more about Jacob and his business, go to Journey to Jacob’s Ladder on Facebook or find his Etsy store at

Jacob is just one of many young people who are entering adulthood but unable to become part of the traditional workforce. There are many more upcoming young entrepreneurs on the spectrum in search of a niche to call their own. 

Here are some photos of Jacob "on the job." Notice how much of the work he is doing on his own. His mom is always there to guide but Jacob is doing everything he can, on his own. 

Monday, July 18, 2016

A Clean Room and A Precious Find

My fourteen-year-old son, Tate, is six feet and three inches tall, exactly the length of a twin mattress. For two or three years I have talked to Tate about getting a bigger bed, bringing it up fairly often. Each time he became anxious, adamant that he did not need or want to change beds. Tate has autism and change is hard for him. About two weeks ago, I could tell he was possibly warming up to the idea so I pushed harder. I wanted to let him decide, and this week he has declared he is ready. Today, I went up to clean his room, in preparation for the moving of furniture this weekend. We will be moving a queen sized bed into Tate's room Saturday.

Cleaning Tate’s room is always an adventure. He has things placed exactly where he likes them, and he does not like others entering “his space” either. I often clean Tate's room while he is at school but it’s July and the kids are all home most of the time. I try to respect Tate’s wishes for the most part, even his eccentricities, knowing he cannot really help having them. But, at the same time, even a kid with autism needs to conform sometimes too. A reasonably clean room is one of those aggravating things my son just has to accept for me to remain sane myself. Tate is not quite capable of keeping his room clean himself, although he is making progress. His eyes do not seem to be able to see a mess in quite the same way my eyes do. Siblings often pitch in to help with the work and it goes quickly. Sometimes Tate's siblings are better at motivating him than I am too. 

There are four large plastic tubs in Tate’s room and a couple of baskets. They contain toys he never touches: some that were his brother’s favorites, some that he got for Christmas, a few that never even came out of the packaging, all gathering dust. When I suggest getting rid of anything, Tate is usually resistant. There have been a few things that are far too babyish for him that I have been able to convince him to let go. Today I snuck a few things out that I was sure he wouldn’t miss. I vacuumed and dusted and carried out trash. I rearranged some things on shelves and made more room to display some of Tate’s artwork from school. He endured it all quite well, only becoming upset with me when I took some things downstairs to wash. Some of the anxieties and rigidities that Tate has lived with for so long seem to be loosening their grip on him a bit. He is maturing.

The last time we made drastic changes to Tate’s room, he was about eight years old. He was sharing a room with his brother Levi and we’d gotten them matching loft beds. The boys loved them. But we had not put enough thought into it, as Tate was still wetting the bed occasionally. With the added time and effort it took to come down from a loft bed, the accidents got much worse and Levi and I seldom got an uninterrupted night’s sleep. So, after trying many tricks and training programs, and making no progress with staying dry at night, it was back to the furniture store. We came home with a captain’s bed that matched the loft beds and we switched Tate’s out, giving Sydney the loft bed. For at least two years he could hardly stand to go into his sister’s room because HIS bed was there and it reminded him of how he’d been “cheated.” He has been in that twin-sized captain’s bed ever since and has not wanted to make any changes. His brother moved into another room a long time ago, giving Tate the opportunity to use the other loft bed but it no longer interested him. And autism reinforced for me once again how uncompromising it can be.

While cleaning Tate’s room I came across things that brought back precious memories, like Tate’s pet rock named Rocky. I had not seen Rocky in years. (See link below to read about Rocky.) I uncovered enough lip balm to last us all for years to come, and many typewritten lists. Tate loves lists. There were lists of movies, lists of movie personalities and lists of gifts Tate wants to receive. And, among those lists, I found something very precious that blew me away. It was a story Tate had typed out. It made me smile because it was so much fun to read. It made me cringe because the spelling was atrocious. It left me excited because it was something he did on his own, without help. It caused me to choke up because it was imaginative, and autism makes creativity and imagination harder for people with autism, so writing a story is not something that comes easy for him. I edited it just a bit so it is easier to read but changed none of the wording. I’m thinking he stole the first line from Snoopy perhaps but the tragic and abrupt ending is all his own. Read and enjoy.

It was a dark night. A man who is someone who can turn people into animals. Batman, Robin, R. L. Stine, C-3PO, and R2-D2, team up to stop him. They go to Kansas to find the Smith brothers a.k.a. Tate and Levi and their sister Sydney. They find out the only way to stop him is for the three related kids to go with them. Then they run into Casper the friendly ghost (who also goes with them) and Casper’s cousin Spooky who goes with them as well. And when they got there, the villain, as you all know, has released all the villains from Tate’s DVD’s. And when R. L. Stine told Batman to go to the bat cave, Robin went with him. Spooky gave Casper the way to stop the man. Tate went to look for a way to stop him. The man’s plan to take over the world is almost finished. He turned Tate into a dog. Ten minutes later, he turned back to normal. Levi opened all the DVDs and the villains got back into the DVDs and the villains were never seen again. Tate has the power to turn into animals whenever he sees the name of an animal now and Tate pushed the man to his death. The end.

Who knew that cleaning a bedroom could inspire a blog post? If you liked this one then you might like: When a Rock is Not a Stone  and Typewriters and Texts