Friday, December 31, 2010

Being a “Version 2” Dad

Two days ago I was considering what I had been experiencing with Christmas with my kids. Christmas 2008 was awkward and heart-breaking as my ex and I tried to do Christmas together at “home” and it quickly became the story of how many ways I could be a self-righteous SOB to the ex. Christmas 2009 was spent alone and without money. It was horrible overall, despite my reaching out to the kids by reading the “Christmas story” from Luke to them.

This year, because I had a job, some money, and a car, I was able to plan ahead and get the kids for Christmas and New Year’s Eve. We’ve been spending the time in Utah (a halfway place between WA and WY, the circumstances of which shall be covered in a separate post) and I have been gleefully available for every hug and kiss and trying to be a part of every game. I haven’t seen my kids since July and have been staying in contact with them over the phone and, more recently, my daughter and I have been emailing.

Christmas gifting the kids since 2008 has been a different experience to me. For a while I had wanted to simplify and spend less on the kids. We live in a consumer society and I wanted Christmas to be special, a time of peace for the whole family, a time to reach out and “do for others” rather than having the focus on ourselves. But it takes two to make that tango work and I didn't have the support I needed to do it. So, we continued to spend several hundred dollars each Christmas. What really confirmed this feeling for me to spend less was the email my kids’ mother sent last year to me and my parents, telling us what she was getting the kids for Christmas and making available the option to help out with the cost if we wanted to. I was embarrassed to see the total cost outlined for each kid and that it was being made public for all to see how much my then-wife was spending. Everything just seemed wrong.

This year, I wish I could have done more than I have; the kids need and want shoes, Jake threw out his snow gloves because they don't fit anymore, etc.; but the gifting was more purposeful and I am comfortable admitting to anyone how much I spent were they to ask. We did traditional PJs and ornaments, Christmas morning breakfast, and then just spent time together enjoying each other. PEACE, LOVE, MEANING.

Now, assuming we spend the next years flip-flopping who gets the kids for Christmas, that leaves me with only 4 more Christmases with my babies until they are grown. To me it’s devastating because it makes me realize, again, just how much I am missing in a broken marriage. But it also helps narrow my vision to think ahead of time, to do things with purpose and meaning and to make these last 4 “kid” Christmases really special.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Facial Hair

For several years now, I have had a ‘hockey goatee.’ My mom enforced a no facial hair rule over her boys and so when I was out on my own, I finally took the opportunity to grow something. I would get tired of a goatee and then shave it all off. Then I'd go right back to it. Having a clean face makes me look younger, I think. But the goatee helps to thin my face in my older, plumper, age.

One year, I was planning on being a pirate for Halloween and wanted the entire costume to be authentic. This meant I started growing out my hair and my beard. It was hilariously bad. My skin and AS don't like that much hair. My skin begins to react with itching and general unhealthiness. My AS ensures that the prevalence of hair is always on the forefront of my mind. It becomes something I have to consciously think about every day to overcome, to endure. My hands can't stop trying to “fix” the unruliness of all the hair and I spend too much time finger combing and scratching. But isn't it fun to see me as a mountain man?

I just got up out of bed, at 5 AM, to shave my facial hair and trim my goatee. It had been all growing since last Tuesday. My normal routine is to shave every other day (except on the weekends), and trim the goatee to scruff once a week. But with all this growth, my face was starting to itch a bit too much and I need to make sure that the soap is actually getting to my face. So, an early morning shave became a moment of relief for me. I wonder how many other Aspies are okay with facial hair.

2010 in Reflection

Wow! I'm laying in bed on a winter's night reflecting over the last year. It was only like 12 days and one year ago that I rolled into West Richland, WA in a rented moving truck on fumes. I reduced my belongings to what fit in the truck… some things I just had to leave for grabs by my then neighbors. Like the cool red anodized microwave that worked perfectly. I had no idea where I would be living or what I would do to make money, or even if this was a good idea.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

How I'm doing

Well, it's been quite a long time since I have blogged. Many things have happened. In June I was hired by a local credit union to work in their marketing department as a Marketing Project Lead. My initial reaction was, “Oh, crap! Now I need clothes.” Since it was around my birthday, I used birthday money to buy some pants and shirts. I feel very comfortable working in this position. It's more or less where I would have been if I had kept working and not run my own business. My boss is great. I work with talented people. And I get paid and have benefits.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Because Sometimes You Just Have to Make Things Better

When I moved to Washington in December, I was blessed by my friend Justin who was able to get me into a place right away. The rent for the rest of December and all of January would be covered. That gave me some time to find a job so I could pay for rent … but that's a different story.

I spent the first couple of months sleeping on the linoleum floor which covers my bedroom, which I like to term, “the closet”. Then I started becoming increasingly aware of the age and condition of this house.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

From Autism Speaks Blog - “I Am Michael”

This post appeared on the Autism Speaks Official Blog today. Very important reading.

This weekend, we received the following e-mail (and accompanying poem) from Gary Herrmann, a member of our community who is the father of a nine-year-old named Michael, who has Asperger Syndrome.
Like a lot of kids with Asperger Syndrome, my son has difficulty in social settings. He has one good friend. At the time he wrote this poem, both families had been very busy for a couple months, and he hadn’t been able to see his friend Billy very often. That, combined with some of the difficulties he had been experiencing in school lately, probably contributed to the feelings he expresses in the poem below.
The assignment was to type the poem. He was given some direction as to how each line should begin and word to use in each.
I was overwhelmed by the poignancy expressed in his poem. As you will see, my son’s name is Michael, and he has a heart the size of our planet … Maybe my son’s poem will strike a chord with parents and families and remind them that even if they have difficulty expressing them, our children experience all of the same emotions we do.
I        am    Michael.

I     wonder    if    I   am   human?

I   hear  ringing    all  the    time.

I   see    molecules ……I   think.

I    want    more   friends .

I   am    lonely.

I   pretend      I   have    more       friends  .

I feel       left  out.

I  have   the   record   of        the             least     friends    in    the     school .

I     worry    if  I   have   no   purpose.

I say  jokes  to   be   funny.

I  hope   people   now   understand.

I   am  Michael.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sweet Desayuno Tacos

A Hearty, and Simple, Meal That Any Single Guy Will Love

I think the first thing I could ever cook was eggs. My mom told me how and I just started doing it. Scrambled, poached, fried, hard-boiled… I got it covered. I have been known to make pretty good breakfast sandwiches and have even snobbed them up by using muenster and turkey. In late 2007, I started changing our diet to be more gluten- and casein-free. This meant wheat was out as well as cheese and milk. One thing we could eat a lot of that was easy to find was corn tortillas, which meant lots of tacos for many meals. I eventually translated my traditional breakfast sandwich into a gluten-free, casein-free breakfast taco, using some taco seasoning and rice milk in the eggs and either gluten-free sausage or ham. The rice milk actually adds a bit of a sweet flavor to the eggs and makes it harder to burn scrambled eggs.

That experience lead to tonight’s meal, a mexican-inspired dish called Sweet Desayuno (breakfast) Tacos. It's a fairly simple recipe and flexible for your own modification. The ingredients include (for 1 or 2 people, 4 tacos):

Sensory Sensitivity and How It Can Push an Aspie to the Limit.

In my last post, I talked a little about the affect sensory sensitivity can have on someone, myself, with Asperger’s Syndrome. This is very common to anyone with an autism spectrum disorder, and it can manifest itself in differing ways and intensity. Noise, light, fabric, food texture, smell… this can be so overwhelming to someone with an ASD that they may feel the need to remove their skin, end their day, close their eyes tight… something to overcome and/or deal with their overload.

This sensory sensitivities affect me in many different ways. For instance, sound is not a major issue for me except as it becomes a distraction. I have a sound machine that I use to go to sleep with sometimes. The water sounds (beach, rain, river) are very soothing to me and I have found to many other Aspies as well. However, specifically on a sound machine, which uses a looped soundbite to perpetuate the illusion of a continuously active and live experience, I find myself too occupied searching for and recognizing the loop. This backfires as a way to get to sleep because it keeps my mind too active to relax. Light is also not a big issue for me, typically, as long as I am wearing sunglasses. What I'd like to talk specifically about, so it is possible for the reader to better grasp how sensory sensitivity can affect an Aspie, is an issue which took place long ago with me regarding smell and touch.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A Sample Day in the Life of an Aspie and the Ever-present Risk of Meltdown

I have decided to let my guard down a little and share with all interested parties what it's like to move through a typical day with Asperger's Syndrome. This is strictly my experience, but I think might give a general idea how someone with AS might navigate his or her own day, every day.

As I describe this sample day, it is important to understand an Aspie's tendency to have frequent sensory overload. It is common for someone with AS to experience things with our senses (sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell) in an exaggerated way. Aspies tend to have issues with texture, the way clothing fits, smells, light, etc. because we have a heightened sensory experience.

My days always start the night before. Before I am even considering sleep, mental notes about the next day's schedule and needs are running quickly through my head over and over again. Because I think in pictures, this actually becomes rather intense as my other senses are being used, including sight and hearing. I actually see a physical list in my head on legal sized paper scrolling up and then repeating very quickly. While the list is doing this, I also see flashes of different colored lights (quite similar, actually, to a traffic stop at night) behind the list and I am trying to make sure I have everything I need on the list, adding and modifying as I go. A very tiresome experience.

Friday, April 23, 2010

“Is Autism Caused by Childhood Vaccinations?”

Answering another question about autism, “Is autism caused by childhood vaccinations?” This is actually a great question and often debated subject, leading to questions about curing autism or understanding and accepting it.

Many parents become aware of autistic symptoms in their child around six months of age, which also happens to be the timeframe of several routine vaccinations. This has lead to rampant theories that vaccines or their preservatives may cause autism. What makes these theories even more palpable is when a celebrity has a child diagnosed with autism but chooses to stay rather uneducated about ASDs. Jenny McCarthy is one such celebrity mother of a son with autism. Unfortunately, in our society, celebrity is confused with knowledge and wisdom, and many people are easily swayed into a certain mindset because of celebrity platform.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

The Unique Ability for Aspies to Lose Themselves

On Friday, April 9, 2010, Nadia Bloom went missing from her home in Florida. Her parents found her bicycle neatly parked a half mile from home.

Nadia is diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, a mild form of autism. It is common for people with autism to wander and subsequently, sometimes, go missing. This problem becomes more dangerous with those who have trouble communicating. I have also heard that people with autism are attracted to bodies of water, making drowning a leading cause of death.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

“Is it true that ADHD is a mild form of Autism?”

The simple answer is, no, ADHD is not a mild form of autism. As autism is a spectrum disorder, there are milder and more severe classifications.

Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD) include Asperger's Syndrome/high-functioning autism, autism, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, and sometimes include Rett syndrome and childhood disintegrative disorder. Where the severe end of the spectrum might be characterized by the autistic savant, with very deep, but very narrow interests and very little typical social interaction; the mild end would be someone with Asperger's Syndrome. Autism is a neural developmental disorder characterized by impaired social interaction and communication, and by restricted and repetitive behavior. Asperger's Syndrome (AS) would further be characterized by the preservation of language and cognitive (learning and thinking) skills.

ADHD and its relation to autism is, though, rather integral. A common misdiagnosis for AS is ADHD. In addition, ADHD is commonly diagnosed comorbid with AS. My son was diagnosed with AS and mild ADHD. There is an interesting paradox for AS people: an intense small group of obsessions and trouble focusing. The difficult side of this can include being too easily distracted and the danger of physically wandering off. The bright side is that the AS mind is going, going, going, thinking of solutions or processing things.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Autism & Sports

We are all exceedingly aware of the benefits of exercise, team play, and accomplishment. For many parents, getting their sons and daughters involved in sports like soccer, basketball, or baseball is a given. This is an environment where our kids can grow physically and mentally stronger, learn good sportsmanship, stay healthy, learn what it means to work as a team, acquire additional social skills, and experience the thrill of achievement as well as how to yield graciously.

But for children with autism, these arenas can be more frustrating than anything. The sources of irritation include a unique sense of justice, underdeveloped gross motor skills, distractions, social awkwardness, and a perfectionist attitude. I will discuss each of these irritations and then suggest some options better suited to a child with autism.

April is Autism Awareness Month

Since discovering that Jake and I both have Asperger Syndrome, our lives have been altered in a lot of ways from diet and supplements to behavior therapy and educating those close to us. Some people want to find a cure for autism, I prefer to look at it as just a different way of thinking and experiencing the world we live in.

Many will remember the Rain Man character played by Dustin Hoffman. This character captured in a very general and stereotyped way a few traits people with autism display: social awkwardness, rigid and repetitive behavior, and amazing genius.

But, just what is autism?

Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning someone diagnosed with autism may have any variation and/or severity of the symptoms of this neurodevelopmental disorder. But the three common symptoms of autism are impaired social interaction, impaired communication, and narrow interests and repetitive behavior. For the person that is not affected personally by autism, it might be presumed that just because someone with autism doesn't speak, that they have nothing to say. Nothing could be further from the truth. I encourage you to view this video made by someone with autism. (It's about 8 minutes, but truly educational)

I'd also like to point you to the Autism Speaks website, which talks very plainly about the autism spectrum and has many resources for families, friends, educators, etc.