stevenpiziks: (Default)
Over the weekend, we went to see the dramatic adaptation of THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME.  I dragged Darwin and Maksim.  Aran was looking forward to going.

It was a fantastic adaptation of novel to stage.  The stage is black with white lines that form a grid.  A set of white boxes line the sides, and a single red chair sits stage right.  Eventually learn the entire stage is embedded with LEDs that combine with lights and cookies to transform the stage into whatever set the scene needs, so we can pop quickly from a living room to a school to a neighbor's house to a city street.  Noise and lighting sometimes become overwhelming, deliberately so.

The story is told entirely from the point of view of Christopher, an autistic teenager who discovers his neighbor's dog has been killed with a pitchfork.  He sets out to learn who killed the dog, and discovers far more than he thought possible.  It's based on the novel of the same name.

The stage reinforces Christopher's autism.  The other characters, the set, the lights, everything happen from his point of view, so the actors don't act quite right--we're seeing them from an autist's eyes instead of our own.  The same is true of the set.  Lights snap from simple to confusing.  Christopher acts in ways that are confusing at the beginning of the play, but by the end make sense to the audience, even as they continue to confuse the other characters.

The play was painful and difficult for me.  There are a number of parallels between Christopher's situation and Aran's (though unlike Christopher's father, I've never gotten into a fistfight with Aran), which makes the play raw watching.  I understand what Christopher is going through, and I understand what his father is going through.  It was powerfully done and destined to become a literary classic, but I don't think I want to watch it again.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Over the weekend, Aran and I looked at a potential place for him to live.

We got a referral to the place from his new social worker.  It's a sort-of boarding house.  Six (Aran would be number seven) people live there, and the landlady/aid is in and out constantly, as are the social workers.  The rent includes utilities and Internet, but not food.  The house is in a good neighborhood, a subdivision with sidewalks and a nearby park.  A Kroger is a five-minute drive away, so Aran could probably transfer there and continue working.  We met some of the residents, and they seemed nice.  I liked the landlady very much.

There were a few things I didn't like about the house. One was that it wasn't cleaned well.  The landlady explained that she did some cleaning but she expected the residents to do most of it, and they . . . didn't.  This could be remedied, really, with an afternoon's work and putting Aran in charge of keeping the common areas clean.  (By "clean," I mean dusted and vacuumed, which were definitely lacking.  There wasn't any clutter or junk lying around.)  Although the house has a no-smoking rule, the residents often "sneak" smoking, as the landlady put it, when she wasn't there, and the house smelled of smoke.  Kala, who was also there, said this is very common among such living facilities, and we'd be hard-pressed to find a place where no one smoked.  The bedroom where Aran would be staying had a resident in it, and he didn't smoke, at least.

I have enormously mixed feelings.  I don't know if this is a good place or not.  Part of the problem is that I have no frame of reference--I haven't seen any other facilities.  I'll try to see some more.  Part of the problem is that this would be the next phase of Aran's life.  He'll be living in a place like this . . . . well, forever.  I don't like it.  He'd be more independent, and he definitely wants that, but his standard of living will drop sharply and stay there.  On the other hand, he can't live with me forever.  One day I'll be too old or too dead to help him, and he needs to be set up to be all right on his own--or state-assisted on his own, anyway.

This isn't an overnight process, either.  There are many steps here.  Even after he moves in, he (we) will have to apply for food stamps, get different furniture (the stuff that's already there isn't acceptable), find a doctor, learn how to handle his own money more than he already does, and so on.

Like I said--conflicted.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Last week, Aran lost his debit card.  He'd mislaid it at Kroger, where he works.  At my urging, he called the store to see if anyone had turned it in.  The manager said they hadn't.  Then we drove over to see if it was where he had left it.  He looked everywhere in the hot buffet section (where he'd last had it), but it was gone.

I had him check his account for unauthorized charges.  There were none.  Then I looked up the number to call for lost cards and had him dial.  "Put it on speaker," I said.  "You talk, and I'll be here to help if you need it."

Aran negotiated the phone tree and ended up talking with a rep.  He only needed one prompt from me to get his card canceled.  Cool!

The number was only for canceling cards, not replacing them, though.  That required a visit to the credit union.  I thought about this.  I have to leave for work early in the morning, before the CU opens.  Aran gets home from work moments before the CU closes in the evening.  It would be tricky getting over there.  Well, there was no reason he couldn't do it himself.

I told Aran what he needed to do, and wrote down a numbered list of instructions.  (1. Go to credit union. 2. Ask the teller for a replacement debit card. 3. Ask for expedited service and how much it will cost. 4. . . . )

The next day when Aran got home from work in the evening, I asked him if he'd gone to the credit union.  He said he had, and that he'd ordered a new card. It would come in three business days.  Go Aran!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
The school where I teach houses the district's ASD (autism spectrum disorder) program for teenagers.  This program is for teens with severe ASD, ones who can't function in a regular classroom.  To give you an idea of the severity here, one of the students recently smashed a teacher in the face and broke his nose.

Room restrictions don't allow the program to have an entire section of the school to itself, though, and the ASD classrooms butt up against mainstream classrooms, which leads to interesting encounters.

For example, today I was in a computer lab that shared a wall with one of the ASD classes.  While the students were working, we suddenly heard BOOM! And CRASH!  This was following by several short, loud screeches.  Then more crashing and thudding against the shared wall.  It shook.  More yelling.  And more yelling.  And yet more yelling.   This kept up for the rest of the class.

(The ASD program has procedures in place for dealing with this, incidentally.  My instincts as a teacher were to run over there and see if they needed help, but I stayed where I was, since I also knew there was nothing I could do.  I'm not trained in procedure for cases like this, and I know the student wouldn't react well to a stranger in any case.  The ASD teachers know what they're doing and had the situation in hand, and they document every situation minute by minute for both the school and the parents.  I know because I've seen them do it.  Wherever Schools is very careful about this kind of thing.)

The whole thing made me feel shaky on a personal level.  A few neurons to the left, and that could have been Aran.  I thought about the terrified student, who didn't understand (was unable to understand0 why the world was so painful or scary, and the parents of the student, who live in constant fear, stress, and worry about their child.  I know what they go through, but their pain is more powerful than mine.

What surprised me, however, was my students' response.  They kept on working, and ignored the noise as if it were perfectly normal.  At one point, a student murmured to another, "Those are the autistic kids.  They get loud sometimes."  And the other one said, "Oh."  And that was it.

Autism, even in its extreme form, is becoming more normalized and accepted.

The Appeal

Nov. 15th, 2016 08:50 pm
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
I took Aran to his housing appeal last week.  The social worker, apparently one higher up on the scale than the previous one, said she would run Aran through the entire intake a second time to see what was what.

This took more than two grueling hours.  We went over every aspect of Aran's life and his ability.  I was forced to make him look as helpless as possible, emphasize what he couldn't do, minimize his accomplishments.  It was horrible.

Several times, the social worker said that Aran is in a gray area when it comes to state aid like this.  He can't function entirely on his own, but he's too high-functioning to be a shoo-in for help.

"We mostly deal with people who have severe mobility issues or who need help with daily hygiene," she said.

"Who will help Aran when I can't?" I countered.  "I can't do it forever.  Who will handle this when I'm not here?"

She acknowledged, not without kindness, that this was a problem.  "But our budget has been repeatedly cut," she added.  "And unfortunately, it's not likely to get better."

By this, she meant the recent election, of course.  Republicans don't fund housing programs for the handicapped.  They don't fund food stamps for such people.  They cut funds for social services when the handicapped need them most.  And we have the most conservative, Republican administration in long history.  Things will only get worse.  You can, by the way, imagine my fear and rage at the results of the latest election.  No one seems to care that it's putting my autistic son on the street.

In the end, the social worker checked the lists, ticked the boxes, and regretfully announced that Aran's appeal was denied.

"However, I can recommend him for Mental Health Services," she said.

"Do they help with housing?" I asked.

"Sometimes.  It requires another appointment and intake with a new agency."

"What's the source of housing funding?" I asked, more than a little unhappy that I knew to ask this question.  "Section 8?  Medicaid?"

"I honestly have no idea," she admitted.  "But they'll be able to tell you."

The new agency, it turned out, only accepts intake appointments between 10 AM and 1 PM on certain days of the week, meaning I would have to take an entire day off work to take Aran in.  I simply can't do that after losing an entire week of work to upcoming surgery.  I was forced to cast far ahead and make an appointment in late December, when I'm on winter break.

I'm trying to be hopeful about this and having a hard time of it.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Aran registered to vote for this election. It was easy enough--we downloaded the form on-line and dropped it off at the county clerk's office (rather than waiting at the Secretary of State's office).  A week later, his voter registration card arrived.  Then we applied for an absentee ballot for him, since Aran waiting in line to vote would be all kinds of problematic.

When it arrived, he filled it out and sent it in.  And now Aran has done his duty as a citizen!
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
I spent several hours yesterday dealing with the Oakland County Mental Health Authority (instead of writing, like I was supposed to). It involved answering questions, tracking down documents, scanning to PDF, emailing, writing letters, and more. But the initial news doesn't seem to be good. According to the case worker, Aran may not be eligible for assisted living. If they turn him down, I don't know what I'll do.

I'm waiting to hear back, now that I've sent over the documents they want.  And I'm hoping.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Earlier this week, Aran and I met with a woman named Miriam at the Oakland Macomb Disability Network.  She asked us what kind of housing might best suit Aran, and I learned that Medicaid covers the cost--it wouldn't come out of his SSI money.

Wow.  Okay.

Aran needs to be in a shared home, not in an apartment by himself.  He needs to have other people who will interact with him.  But he also needs independence, to be on his own.  In other words, assisted living with roommates.

Miriam clicked around on her computer and generated a long list of facilities in our area, printed it out, and gave it to me.  I should start at the top and start calling to see who has vacancies and what kind of residents they accept, she said.  Okay.

Today, I started calling.  At the first place, I got voice mail.  Left a message.  At the second place, I got voice mail.  Left a message.  The third place had no vacancies.  Fourth place--voicemail!  Does anyone answer the damn phone?  After leaving seven messages, I got hold of one factility who asked why on earth I was calling.

"You aren't supposed to be calling yourself," she said.  "You're supposed to be working with Macomb Oakland Regional Center. You do an intake with them, and they find out who has vacancies and what residents they work with.  I'm not actually allowed to register you.  I don't know why the woman you talked with gave you that list.  That's not how it operates.  She should know that."

What the hell?  I spent an hour on the phone chasing down bind trails?  I wasn't happy about this.

She gave me the number for the MORC.  I called it.

Voicemail.  I left a message.

I stopped calling other facilities.  I also called Miriam.  Voicemail!  I left her a message.  So I'm guessing tomorrow I'll get a lot of calls.

I'd better.

ETA

This morning I talked to MORC. They said there's yet ANOTHER agency I have to talk to: Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority.  Aran has to do an intake with them, THEN he can do an intake with MORC, THEN they can start looking at housing.

I called OCCMHA.  The woman there took some basic information and said someone named Sharon would call in the next business day or two.  Jesus.  How many intakes and meetings and agencies does this take?

Then Miriam from the Disability Network called.  She said she'd never heard of all these steps before.  WTF?  The people =I'd= talked to sounded like all this stuff was long-established ground, gone over hundreds of times.  But this was new to Miriam.

Now I'm waiting again . . .
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)

I am speechless with anger over this:

https://www.yahoo.com/news/helping-autistic-man-black-therapist-shot-florida-police-044231095.html

The short version is, an autistic man with a truck was sitting in a Miami street, and his aid worker was trying to convince him to come inside.  The autistic man was white.  The aid worker was black.  Someone called the police and reported that an armed man was threatening suicde.  Two white police officers arrived.  They started shouting at the aid worker to lay face-down on the ground while his patient continued to play with the toy truck in the street. The aid worker, who was sitting down, lay on his back with his arms up and shouted that he was a medical technician at a group home, that the man next to him had a toy truck, that he was trying to help, that no one was armed.

So the police officers shot the aid worker.

It "only" hit his leg.  He's expected to be out of the hospital soon.  The officer is on administrative (read, "paid") leave.  When asked why he shot the worker, the officer replied, "I don't know."

Actually, we do know.  The officer is white, the aid worker is black, and the officer is racist.  Oh, if asked, he'd deny it six ways to Saturn, but it's true nonetheless.  Let me put it this way: if the aid worker had been white, does anyone honestly think the officer would have fired?

Obviously not.

I also wonder--the officer shot at the aid worker WHEN THE AUTISTIC MAN WAS RIGHT THERE.  The officer shot at one civilian when a second civilian was in the area.  If the officer had missed, the autistic man could have been injured or killed as well.

But it goes on.  Someone else caught more vidoe here:

http://www.miamiherald.com/news/local/crime/article90905442.html

The cops have the autistic man flat on his face in handcuffs while they frisk him.  I'm trying to imagine the awful trauma.  If this happened to Aran, I can't imagine how long it would take him to recover.

When you put your loved one into group living, you do it with the hope that they'll be safe, and that the police will protect them, not terrorize them and shoot the staff hired to help them.  The police in this country howl that they're being miscast as monsters, but over and over and over we see stuff like this.  What else are we to think?

If the cops want the public's good will, the officer who pulled the trigger will be fired, with malice, and never allowed to enter law enforcement again, and it will happen with great fanfare so everyone hears about it while the officer in question slinks away in disgrace while his fellow officers turn their backs on him.

But that won't happen, will it?  He was a white officer who shot a black man.  He'll be back on the beat within a week.

stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Aran needs a place to live.  He is, of course, able to live here as long as he needs to.  He pays room and board out of his SSI benefits, and he's not difficult to live with at all.

However, he does want to live on his own.  I've come to the reluctant conclusion that he'll probably never have a fully self-supporting job.  It's difficult to say this, and I still hope things will be otherwise one day, but I can't see how he'd even get past the interview.  It looks like he's going to live on a combination of SSI and part-time minimum wage work.

These sources of income, however, won't pay for housing.  They simply won't.  SSI pays $733 per month.  That won't make rent on any kind of place in Oakland County or the surrounding areas.  So he has to be in some kind of subsidized program.

He has a social worker, a very nice lady named Anita, but her office works slowly.  I suspect it's more from overwork than carelessness--social workers are perennially overburdened with cases.  We've been emailing me, and she said she sent a copy of Aran's file to the Disability Network for Oakland and Macomb Counties.  A while later, a woman named Miriam called me to talk about his case.  Aran needs to live with room mates and have an aide check on him a couple-three times a week.  Miriam said she make some calls.

Now we're waiting.

Meanwhile, his job coordinator Pauline called about getting him his job at Kroger back.  He'd even be able to work Monday through Friday, with no weekends.  This was kind of a sticking point for Aran--he got it into his head that can't work weekends because he has to go see Kala on weekends and because people aren't supposed to work weekends.  At a grocery store, this is problematic, since wekeends are their busiest times.  I explained to Aran, using my best Autism Dad voice, that a lot of people work weekends.  His grandmother (a nurse) worked weekends for decades.  I work weekends as a writer.  Firefighters and police work weekends.  He agreed this is true, but he was still unhappy about the idea.  But now Kroger has said he can work weekdays, and he's happy.

I was hoping we could find gardening and lawn work for him to do, since that's what he trained for at MCTI.  There's a volunteer organization in the area that mows lawns for shut-ins, and I'm thinking Aran should get involved with them.  It would be a social thing for him, and it would get him out of the house more, and get him into the community.  It would also build a resume and keep his lawn skills sharp.  Since he'll only be working part-time at Kroger, he'll have time for this.  When I talked to him about it, he seemed tentative but willing.  We need to know what his Kroger schedule will be first, though.

So now we're in the waiting phase. Waiting to hear about the job.  Waiting to hear about housing.  Waiting to know about the volunteer work.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Just now I got a call from the Disability Network for Oakland and Macomb Counties.  I've been trying to get Aran on their radar for weeks, and finally we seem to be.  The woman I spoke with has Aran's file now, and she asked what kind of housing we were looking for: a lone apartment, an apartment with roommates, a group home, what?

Aran wants to live with people so he can have some friends.  I agreed that he needs to live with people as well, since his default setting seems to be holing up in his room and interacting with people as little as possible.  Roommates or group living would force him to be at least a little social.  An aide who can check on him from time to time (two times a week or so) would also be necessary.  I'll check on him, of course, but I won't be around forever.

I also brought up Section 8 housing--Aran is eligible for it--but the woman said that no places were taking applications for Section 8 housing available right now.  I didn't know this kind of thing was limited.  Huh.

The woman, who was quite friendly, said she would make some phone calls and get back to me.  We'll see what happens . . .
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
I'll assume you already know what Pokemon Go is.  It has invaded our house, but this time it was by my choice, not the boys'.

My son Aran (age 19) is autistic and doesn't like to leave the house, so I'm always looking for ways to haul him outdoors.  He's a Pokemon fan, and I urged him to download the game.  He did, with some reluctance, and I had to put it on my phone in order to persuade him.

My youngest Maksim (age 14) scorned the game as stupid.

I took Aran outside to test the game.  We wandered around the subdivision, looking for Pokemon and collecting what few we were able to find.  Aran became more intrigued.  He has an encyclopedic knowledge of every single Pokemon in existence, along with what forms each evolves into, what powers and weaknesses they have, what combat moves they use, and what group each belongs to.  He could recognize any of them at a glance.  It was like walking through a trackless jungle with a field guide who knew every plant and animal.

I found it kind of fun.  The real-world/game-world merge gives the game an immediacy that other games don't have.  It's like running to Zombies Run!, when I can pretend I'm somewhere else in my own neighborhood.  It's interesting to spot the little monsters in real places and know that other people are doing it, too.

Later, I had to run errands.  I took my phone with me and left the Pokemon Go app running.  (I didn't use it while I was driving.)  I discovered several gyms and Pokespots in the area.  Pokespots, for the uninitiated, are local landmarks that grant you little prizes if you stop at them.  I picked up more Pokemon and hit the spots for stuff.  Halfway through my errands, I stopped at home and made Aran come with me.  When he discovered the Pokespots and gyms, he became much more interested.  We gathered enough stuff to boost us up to Level 5, but the local gyms were already boosted up way high, and we couldn't do much with them.

We showed Maksim how it all worked when we got home, and he allowed that the game might have some appeal.  In the evening, he casually asked if maybe he and I could go out and about.  I gravely asserted we could.

I drove Maksim around for a bit, and we stopped at the closest gym, which happens to occupy a 7-11.  Maksim wanted a pop, so we also went inside.  There was something of a line at the machine, and among the people, I saw two young teen boys with Pokemon Go on their cell phones.

A bit later, Maksim found a park with three (!) Pokespots in it.  As I headed down the driveway, I saw a parked car with two middle-aged men in it.  Both had Pokemon Go on their cell phones.  In the parking lot, a thirteen-year-old boy and his sixteen-year-old brother were climbing into a car, both with Pokemon Go showing.  A young woman sat in her car tapping at her Pokemon Go, and two other guys wandered in circles around the park with their phones.

Maksim hit the three Pokespots, then spent considerable time catching fireflies in the summer night air.

My final verdict?

First, there will be (have already been) detractors to the game.  Good heavens!  People are playing a popular video game!  It's popular, so it must be awful.  People are looking at their phones!  This always happens to anything popular, but it never diminishes the thing's popularity.

Second, anything that gets people outside and walking about and talking to each other is a plus.  This is a real-world version of World of Warcraft or City of Heroes, but it gets the players away from their consoles and strolling about outside.  Awesome!  Kudos to Niantic.

One disadvantage to the game is that the Pokemon, Pokespots, and gyms all cluster in more populated areas or in places like shopping malls and parks and such.  If you're a kid living in a subdivision quite some distance from a decent population center, you're out of luck.  Where we live, you have to drive to get to anything major.

I've heard, incidentally, that the Detroit Zoo is a veritable orgy of everything Pokemon Go, including Pikachu. Maybe we'll schedule a visit.

Yes, I'm aware of the potential security bug with the Google sign-in.  (This is why I had the boys use their school Google accounts, which has no email or much of anything else attached.)  I'm assuming Niantic has been alerted to the problem and will address it soon.

I declare this one a win.

stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
I'm making Aran cook with me more.  He needs to learn how to do more than macaroni and cheese or micowaved burritos.  Today's menu was a barbecue chicken dinner--a complicated endeavor, but I made him forge ahead.

I had him peeling potatoes and showed him how to set them for boiling and mashing, then got him to chop broccoli for steaming.  We also did up some fruit salad.  The main thing here was knife skills.  He's learning to rock the knife instead of moving it up and down.

For barbecued chicken, the danger is always that the chicken will dry out on the girll before it's finished.  The secret is to not actually barbecue it.  Instead, poach the pieces in salted water for 12 minutes or so, until they're done.  Drain (reserve the broth for later use, if you've a mind), and then drop onto a hot grill with your favorite sauce for two minutes or so per side.  Remove and eat.  The chicken will come out tender and juicy and flavorful.  This is what we did.

It was a delicious meal!

Aran will need to make this and similar dishes several times to cement them in his head and hands, so cooking will have to be a daily thing with him.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
When Darwin's family is visiting--or when we're visiting Darwin's family--good-bye lasts forever.  The announcement, "Well, we need to get going.  Thanks for having us over," is a signal on all sides to start a brand new conversation that will last at least fifteen more minutes.  Once I finally manage to drag Drawin out the door, at least one person will follow us out to the car to continue talking, adding another ten minutes or so.  All in all, it takes about half an hour to say good-bye.

It drives me crazy.  My own family does a rather shorter good-bye of hugs all around and perhaps an escort to the car, or perhaps not.  There's usually at least one reminder: "Do you have everything?" or "Don't forget next week we're ________."  And we're off.

I pionted this out to Darwin, who laughed.  "It's totally true," he said.  "My family always does a long good-bye.  My mother did that, and now we all do it.  I think no one really wants to actually say good-bye."

And then there's Aran.

"I'm leaving now," he says.  "Good-bye."

And if you don't catch him quickly for a hug, the door shuts and he's gone.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
We've been looking for a car for Aran for a while.  The difficulty has really been that by "we," I mean "I," since Aran is at school and can't look for a car on his own.

I looked at this car and that car, but none of them impressed me or reassured me.  Like most people, I greatly dislike buying cars, especially used ones, because you just have no way of knowing if it'll turn into a money sink or not.  So I remained wary.

Then one day my mother called.  She was buying a new car and wanted to trade in her Prius during the transaction.  However, if we were still looking for a car with Aran, she thought we might want to buy it instead.

Yes.  Yes, we did.  It was a good car.  I knew its history.  And--hybrid!

We settled on price and then arranged for delivery.  My mother lives about two hours away, so we met halfway between her place and mine at Tony's Restaurant in Birch Run.

Tony's is most famous for its huge portions of deep fried bacon.  And it's always busy.  It didn't help that there was a gun show just up the road that day.  As we followed the greeter to our table, I coudln't help wondering how many people were carrying.  A number of them looked like they would draw on anyone who touched their bacon platters.

Incidentally, Tony's goes through 11,000 pounds of bacon per week.  That's 286 tons per year, or all the bacon from from 57,200 pigs (assuming a robust 10 pounds of bacon per pig).

Anyway, we found my mother and her husband Gene and had a very nice lunch together, then went outside to get Aran's new car.  Aran was both excited and nervous, though anyone who didn't know him wouldn't have realized it.

Since the car is a hybrid, everything is electric.  Even the gear lever is a switch.  Aran drove it around the parking lot a few times to get a feel for things, and then we headed off.  I rode with Aran while Darwin followed in the other car.

Aran was nervous at the wheel.  He's never been a happy driver, and the accident with the Cobalt threw him badly.  However, after about twenty minutes he calmed down.  We got home without incident.

The next day he had to go back to MCTI.  Aran wasn't ready to drive two and a half hours by himself, so I rode with him again while Darwin followed.  The Prius also doesn't have a built-in GPS, so I installed the one from my truck on the grounds that Aran is familiar with it.  I would buy a new one later.

Aran acquitted himself perfectly well on the long drive, including a rest stop, and we got all the to MCTI just fine.  We helped him unload and left him there.

With his car.

That he'll have to drive back by himself.

I'm trying not to hyper-ventilate.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)

I was at the hardware store--my version of the shoe store--when I received a text from Aran: "I got a call from a computer company saying that there are errors on my laptop. They are getting rid of them, but the bad part is that the charge is $500."

I froze.  This was a scam.  I've heard of it.  I've gotten it.  A guy calls, claims to be from Microsoft, and says there are errors on the computer.  They'll fix them for a fee.  It's an obvious scam, simplicity in itself to spot--unless you're autistic and naturally trusting.

I called Aran.  "Did you give them your debit card number?"

"Yes," he said.

By now I was running toward the door.

Read more... )


stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Aran is back home for the moment. MCTI decided he needed to take some "catch-up" classes his first term there, you see, while they also tested him to see what kind of program he might be best suited for.  I told them Aran didn't need catch-up classes.  "Well, we gave him some diagnostic tests," said his enrollment person, "and the tests said--"

"That he doesn't take tests very well," I finished for her.  "He graduated high school with a 3.26 GPA, and his last two years, he got very little in the way of accommodation.  You should know by now that autists don't test well."

Nevertheless, they put him in their Step-Up program.  I rolled my eyes and let it go.  One term wouldn't make a difference and it would give Aran a term to get used to MCTI.

But then Aran called me on Tuesday.  He had completed the Step-Up stuff very quickly (no, really?), and the program he was going to enroll in doesn't start until the winter term, which begins the first week of February.  "So I need to come home now."

"When is now?" I asked.

"By Friday," he said.

So I had to drop everything and run out to get him.

This isn't a small task.  MCTI is nearly three hours away, one way.  Not only that, we would have to move everything out of Aran's dorm room to bring home.

In the end, I had to take the day off work.  I didn't want to, but it just wasn't feasible to teach all day, then drive a total of six hours, plus load and haul time.

And lo, it was done.  Aran is home, and will be until February.
stevenpiziks: (Cup)
On Tuesday I decided to pause a moment in my English 9 classes to talk about autism.

As I've mentioned before, I have several autistic students this year.  Some are diagnosed autistic, others are clearly autistic but, for one reason or another, not officially labeled that by the school, though they're still special education students.  They fall under "speech and language impaired."

Anyway, they're all in my classes, and I know the neuro-typical students have noticed, so I figured we needed to talk about it.

"We're going to take a few moments now," I said, "so that we can talk about autism.  Some people are familiar with autism, and others aren't . . . "

I gave a little explanation about what autism is and the fact that my son Aran is autistic and talked about some of the challenges autistic people face, along with some of their strengths.

"It's okay to talk about autism, including with autistic people," I said.  "A lot of times we're told it's rude to talk about differences, like if someone is in a wheelchair or wears a hearing aid or has other challenges, but it's perfectly all right to talk about this and ask questions, especially if you're trying to understand better.  More and more people are being recognized as autistic all the time, so it's good for all of us to know what it's about."

The autistic students in the room weren't at all shy about adding their own information and experiences, and they seemed glad to see that their condition was recognized and discussed in class.  (I'm imaginging some of them going home and saying, "We talked about autism in English class today!")

Overall, the discussion went enormously well, and I think it helped the neuro-typical students understand a lot better who these students were and what was happening with them.
stevenpiziks: (Autism)
The Wherever School District has three high schools.  One of them houses a special education program for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Last spring, the district announced that, for various reasons, the program was being moved to Nameless High School, where I teach.  Most of the students would be in a self-contained classroom, but a chunk of them would be mainstreamed into neuro-typical classrooms.

Last month, I was in Nameless High School.  So much to do!  Desks to arrange, lessons to plan, copies to run.  By coincidence, the school was running an orientation week for certain students, letting them get the feel for the building, figure out where the classrooms were, and so on.  As a result, I got a steady stream of students wandering into my room.  I greeted each of them, and several I immediately recognized as autistic.

When the trickle died away, I asked around and learned the orientation was for special education students, especially those in the ASD program.  Looks like I'm pegged to be the ASD English teacher.

This happens to me a lot.  Once the counseling office learned my son is autistic, I became the go-to teacher for placing autistic students, on the grounds that I have special, insider knowledge about autism, and that I'll be especially sympathetic to ASD students.

There's a certain amount of truth to this.  After raising Aran, I have a certain amount of specialized information about the way he thinks, and by extension, other autists.  However, autists vary wildly in their needs.  Some want to be touched, other's can't bear it.  Some have sensory overload problems, others don't.  Some love to read, others hate it.  Just like neuro-typical kids.  But autistic teens are often harder to reach, and you have to speak in certain ways.  As one example, figurative language is often difficult, and you have to avoid using it in everyday speech.  This is the exact opposite to someone like me, who spins stories for a living.  I create and use figurative language in my speaking as a way to interest my classes, and I'm very good at it.  This skill is actually a detriment in a room full of autists.  I accidentally panicked Aran more than once with it, in fact, and now I'll have several Arans.  It will make for a challenging year.

However, that's the way it is, and the students need someone who knows what's going on, so I'm it.  When I realized what was happening, I examined my room and gave it some thought.  Sharyl, my co-teacher, happened by at that moment, and I discussed it with her.

Autists are often easily distracted because their brains don't filter out sensory information as handily as neuro-typical brians do.  The sensation of your socks gently rubbing against your feet quickly disappears from your awareness after you put your shoes on, but many autists are continually aware of it.  You can examine and then ignore a painting on the wall, but an autist will notice it again and again and again.

In order to cut down on distractions, I'm going to cover the windows that look out into the hallway.  (This is against school policy, but I'll get an exception.)  I usually put up a great many posters in my room--more potential distractions--but I'll cut back until I know what the distraction threshold of my students is.  I always tell my students what the plan for the day is at the beginning of class, but now I'll get into the habit of putting my lesson plan on the board--autists don't handle surprises well and they better when they know exactly what's coming up.

At Sharyl's suggestion, I also put a decompression zone in the back corner of my room.  Autists sometimes get overloaded and can be pushed into a meltdown.  A safe, low-sensory area is often helpful to let them decompress.  I pushed my two rolling cabinets around to wall off the corner and make a little alcove.  Then I put down a blank gray rug (my classroom has a busy checkerboard carpet) and added two low chairs--a soft, squeezy beanbag-type arm chair for autists who need some reassurance, and a stark, web-style lawn chair for autists who need to feel less restricted.  I bought two sets of ear protectors and hooks to hang them from, along with some baby wipes to clean them with.  On the floor I put a lamp with a calm, low-watt bulb.  Later, I'll put up a sign that says, "Safety Zone" or something.  There!  Students who get overloaded can slip back to the Safety Zone and wind down before they melt down.

I worry, though, about the impact on the neuro-typical students.  The class can't be all about the ASD kids.  It's about bringing the ASD students into the neuro-typical world, with help.  It's a fine line to walk.
stevenpiziks: (Outdoors)
Yesterday we drove Aran back to MCTI.  Man, what a drive! It's two and a half hours each way, plus time for lunch and a gas-up.  When we arrived, we also paused there long enough to find out how Aran could use the shuttle bus into Plainwell so he could get to a store. From there, we also learned there's a bi-weekly movie run to a theater and a weekly run to a shopping mall.

Because MCTI is on a lake, the place has several opportunities for water recreation.  There's kayaking, pontoon boating, swimming, and fishing (complete with gutting station and kitchen for cooking).  We should have brought swimming gear for ourselves--no one would have minded if we'd gone in.  This was where we learned that Aran had already gone kayaking, something he'd never done before in his life.  Cool!

And then it was the long drive back.  Whew!

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