Autism and Friendship ~ A Classmate’s Perspective

I’ve been doing the weekly autism blog post every April for years now and this was the first time I shared posts written from other people’s perspective. Even though these are all people in my life it was interesting and moving to read their words and see what they see. I’m glad we did it this way and I hope that if you’ve been reading the posts that you’ve enjoyed them as well.

I waffled back and forth a lot before asking the author to share his perspective for this post. The other three were written from the perspective of family member or a long time family friend. Also, all grown ups. But this last one, the last perspective I wanted us to hear, is from one of Sam’s peers.

Community has always been a big deal to Sam and even before he became a student at Trinitas he knew everybody. He would pour over the girls’ yearbooks each year memorizing names and faces. Community has been a big deal for us too as we have walked this journey on the road of autism.  Life with autism is a beautiful complication made easier through the communities of family and friends.
We wouldn’t be where we are with Sam if it hadn’t been for the love and support of the people around us.

It is a whole other blog post to explain what I mean about community and maybe I will write it in the future, but for now let me just make it clear that I am not talking about tolerance. It’s not enough to just have people around you that are willing to overlook or humor certain autistic behaviors. Understanding limitations and taking them into account is one thing, low expectations and excuse making is another.

When I asked the parents of one of Sam’s classmates about writing something for this series I knew it was risky, it felt more vulnerable. But we also trusted this family because we’ve seen the way they’ve raised this young man and the kindness he has always shown Sam. We’ve seen him reach out to try and help Sam deal with a hard minute or just include him in the day to day life at school. (I should note that while I did ask this family to write the blog post specifically it’s not just because he is the only one to treat Sam this way. Thankfully, this is the norm for our school community to varying degrees.)

From Clark ~

Having Sam in my class is both challenging and enjoyable.  You always have to remember that you have to treat him differently and that some things he cannot control.  You have to forgive the things that annoy you and always remember that you are friends.  You cannot laugh at things that are not normal and you cannot allow your other classmates to lead you astray.  Everyone has their highs and lows, Sam is no exception.  While he might struggle in some areas his cartoons are a gift from God.  Where I can only draw stick figures, Sam can create incredible comics and never runs out of clever dialogue with witty puns and plays on words to go with them.  He is very gifted and a good friend.

Short and sweet and to the point, huh? But it so perfectly reflects some truths that I think we can all be reminded of. Loving people, being in relationship with each other whether there is autism or not, requires something from us. We have to be forgiving. We all annoy each other sometimes. We all can be thoughtless or unaware. We need to be willing to see beyond our differences. We need to look for the good in each other.

In a nutshell we all need grace.  This isn’t the first time we’ve seen that life could be a little sweeter if we all lived a little more autistically. 

A Father’s Perspective     A Sister’s Perspective     A Teacher’s Perspective 


Life With Autism ~ A Teacher’s Perspective

We’ve have been extraordinarily blessed that Sam is able to attend the same classical Christian school that his sisters attend. It hasn’t always been this way, we homeschooled until sixth grade. You can read more about the beginning of his Trinitas adventure here.

For today I’d like to share a post written by one of Sam’s teachers. I cannot adequately express how thankful we are by the teachers and godly people that are part of Sam’s life…our life. We are truly rich.

From Mr. Butcher ~

As his brother in Christ, I have known Sam from the time my family joined the local Church congregation where Sam was already a member. His tall, gangly form, impossible to miss, has always been overshadowed by his equally heightened, gangly humor. Sam is the guy I could always count on for a bone-crunching hug, a litany of puns (of which I am most fond), and complete emotional transparency (refreshing and alarming at once). My first experience with Sam as a student was in a typing class, where his understanding of computers and proficiency in typing speed and accuracy eclipsed his fellow classmates. When he wasn’t being required to type lessons on the keyboard, he would often draw cartoons offering visual witticisms that were either related to his own loves, or those of his teachers, or classmates.  
It is unusual to have students who enter into the life of the teacher beyond those unavoidable, and often embarrassing ways, such as noticing verbal ticks or gestural patterns—those teacherly blemishes that become fodder for student amusement. That Sam and I share a love of puns, cartoons, and Star Wars doesn’t hurt, but a great thing about Sam is that he desires to connect his loves and his humor to the material that the teacher desires to present. This year I have Sam in logic—our last class of the day—a subject he loves far less than typing, and yet he brings the same inspirational talent of turning seemingly unrelated academic substance into hilarious visual comic strips and verbal puns is truly unparalleled. In other words, he has an innate desire to make the material into his own existence—not perhaps always in the wisest ways, but most assuredly with genuine interest. The pure delight that Sam exhibits when I put a logical fallacy into the mouth of Yosemite Sam, or when Sam offers me his own example of an Ad Hominem from the masked mouth of Kylo Ren often punctuates our days together.
Sam also exhibits another rare human capacity in those times when his frustration with logic puzzles or with his fellow students overwhelms him. I cannot think of a single instance where Sam wasn’t eager to make things right with me or with his classmates. Granted that his idea of what it means to make something right isn’t always the express image of Christ, Sam is a modern marvel: a man in whom there is no guile. As a teacher, Sam refreshes my joy for what I teach, testifying to the variety of ways in which a subject can compel interest. As a fellow disciple of Christ, Sam reminds me of the value of an honest acknowledgment of good and evil. May all teachers be blessed to have a few students like Sam in their lifetimes!

Learning From Autism ~ A Sister’s Perspective

I am blessed to have a unique relationship with each of my siblings.  However, my relationship with Sam probably stands out the most.  Through the years, as I have watched Sam grow up and go through different phases of life, I have seen that Autism is nothing but unpredictable.  Sam is a completely different person today than the baby who wouldn’t talk or look you in the eye.  Now in all his fifteen years of wisdom he is very opinionated and is constantly vying for your attention, sometimes relentlessly.  
Some of my first memories of Sam are from when he was quite young.  I remember observing that Sam behaved in a different way as a baby than my sisters.  Sam was the kid who poured dish soap all over the kitchen floor, took eggs out of the fridge and smashed them on the floor, and ran across the carpet with chocolate syrup leaving a trail wherever he went.  And while every kid can be mischievous there were just certain things that set Sam apart.  
I remember when I first understood what my parents were saying when they told me Sam had Autism.  To me it meant that he thought and processed things differently than everyone else, but that it wasn’t a bad thing.  I knew that having Autism would be challenging for Sam and for our family, and I couldn’t understand why God had chosen to make Sam this way.  Watching Sam go through this much of his life with Autism has taught me so much and has made me immensely proud to be his sister.  I never thought that there would come a day when Sam would start going to a Classical Christian school and thrive as he has. He has shown me that Autism isn’t an excuse for not giving something your all even though it is harder for you to succeed at something than other people.  Sam’s skills, persistence, and dedication have shown me that Autism truly is unpredictable.

Sam has taught me many other things besides what it means to be Autistic.  His quirky outlook on life and continuous telling of knock-knock jokes has showed me that laughter is a key part of life.  Sam is the master at laughing at himself and refusing to be embarrassed, something I know I am not good at by any means.  Whenever there is a dance floor you can be sure that Sam is right in the middle of it giving it all his white-boy rhythm.  Sam refuses to let how others might perceive him interfere with his enjoyment of life. 
 On a more serious note, Sam has taught me the importance of family.  In his very own way Sam is always there for me whenever I face hard times.  Sam is protective of all of his sisters and is always willing to offer  advice, random and unrelated though it may be.  I am confident that Sam is willing to slay any dragons that come my way, even if it comes in the challenge of a nerf gun war.  I am so thankful that God has brought me closer to my siblings over the years because they are truly my best friends.  

Now that I am twenty years old I am better able to comprehend what it means for Sam to have Autism.  How it will affect his life and ours in challenging and positive ways.  It is hard to say where I think Sam’s life is headed, but I trust that God has a plan for him that is better than any I could ever comprehend.  

When I was younger I questioned why God gave Sam to our family specifically.  Why He thought we were the best fit for a little boy with Autism.  Now every day I am reminded of why our family needs Sam.  God knew exactly what he was doing when he gifted our family with Sam.  
Sometimes I still struggle with the fact that Sam will not have a normal life.  However, Sam finds joy in whatever God gives him to do, as long as it doesn’t include physical labor.  I could not imagine life without a six-foot Autistic brother that hides in the shower to scare me half to death in the mornings.  Sam completes our family in a way that only his Autistic self could.  For me, having an Autistic brother is a reminder that God gives us far greater blessings than we could ever earn or deserve.  

Inconvenient Love

I found some rolls of film a while back. Rolls of used film actually and it has been years since I shot film. Unfortunately, since I found them I have once again lost them. Well, all but two of them so recently I decided to take those two to the camera shop and have them processed.

Honestly, I am not sure how I ever survived as a photographer at all based on what came back. If it weren’t for the fact that I actually have pictures to prove that I could take a picture back then and that people kept letting me take their pictures I wouldn’t believe it.

One of them only had something like two images on it. Not sure what the story is and how I only used just two of the average 24 exposures and then decided to rewind it all as it were but that seems to be exactly what I did.

The other roll though? That had a few gems, dark hard to make out gems, but they were there nonetheless. It took me a few minutes to sort it out and actually figure out where and what I had been photographing.

It was from one of my very first weddings that I ever shot. It was also after I had started shooting digital but apparently I was being all that and shot some details with film too. Apparently, at some point I was satisfied with just the digital files I had shot because these were clearly I wasn’t in a hurry to share these with the world.

I got to thinking about that long ago couple and realized that they have since divorced. It was kind of sad to reconcile the young, happy and in love couple from that day with an older unhappy calling it quits couple they ended up becoming.

As I was questioning how they ended up where they did I realized something.

Loving someone, anyone, is really inconvenient.

Loving people more than we love ourselves, which is how we are called to love, is rarely easy no matter Zac Brown and his band singing otherwise. Loving that way causes problems and disruption to our lives.

Have you read I Corinthians 13 lately? Does any of that sound convenient to you?

I don’t know if it works this way for you but being patient is rarely called for during a time that is convenient for me. As a matter of fact it’s usually the exact opposite, hence the need for patience.

And it is so much easier to be kind when, well, it’s easy. But what about when he just isn’t being considerate about my needs and doesn’t really care that my morning has been less that delightful and he just wants a cup of coffee? A love that shows kindness at that moment and pours a cup of coffee and offers it with a smile is not really convenient.

How convenient is it to not be arrogant or rude when we live in a society that pays homage on a regular basis to the drop the mic kind of slap down?

I don’t know how easy it is for you not to insist on your own way but it’s not always easy for me which means that it can be real inconvenient (Surprise!) for me to not be irritable or resentful.

It’s not always easy to rejoice in right doing when it is so tempting to make ourselves feel better by rejoicing in another’s wrong doing.

It is not always convenient to bear all things, believe all things, hope all things, and endure all things.

While love should be all of those things it isn’t exactly convenient to practice and pursue that kind of love. That kind of inconvenient love requires something from us, of us. It demands our death for the sake of loving those around us.

Because it’s the kind of inconvenient love that will suffer death on a cross.

And that kind of inconvenient love changes who we are so that little bit by little bit we are able to not only recognize that love being shown to us but also allows us to love in the same way.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit,
but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.
Let each of you look not only to his own interest,
but also to the interest of others.
Have this mind among yourselves,
which is yours in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself,
by taking the form of a servant,
being born in the likeness of men.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death,
even death on a cross.
Philippians 2:3-8

Sundays With Sarah #3 ~ Roasted Root Vegetables With Tomatoes and Kale

Actually the post should be titled Sundays With Sarah That Happen On Saturday With Her Sisters.

But that seems rather cumbersome on top of a somewhat long recipe name, don’t you think?

It was the way it actually went down although for the life of me I can’t remember why we asked her to cook on Saturday instead of  Sunday but what I do remember is that she and her sisters were really loud and laughing a lot and there were carrot and parsnip peeling absolutely everywhere.

Sarah is no vegetarian, the girl loves her a good bacon cheeseburger, but she is quite happy to not eat a lot of meat. Rob however needed some protein so we paired her delicious veggies with chicken for a satisfying dinner. It was the first time we had ever eaten parsnips and rutabagas and we all really enjoyed them.

What you’ll need:
3 lbs of root vegetables, peeled and chopped  ~ Sarah used parsnips, carrots, rutabaga, and potatoes 
1/2 cups chopped onion
1 head of garlic, separated and peeled
6 TBS olive oil, divided
1 tsp kosher salt
1 heaping TBS tomato paste
1 28 ounce can whole peeled tomatoes
2 generous cups of green leafy vegetable ~ she used kale

What you’ll do:
Heat the oven to 450 degrees.
Mix together all of the vegetables (except the onion) and garlic in a roasting pan.
Toss with 3 TBS olive oil.
Sprinkle with salt.
Roast for approximately 45 minutes, stirring half way through.
While the veggies are roasting heat the remaining 3 TBS of olive oil in a dutch oven or large sauce pan.
Saute the onions.
Add the tomato paste and cook for about one minute.
Using your hands tear the canned tomatoes into large pieces and add them to the pot.
Add the remaining liquid from the can.
Add your seasoning and simmer on low heat until your vegetables are done roasting.
Toss in the kale and cook until wilted, about 5 minutes
Stir in the root vegetables and serve!

Hey, did you know we made a Pinterest board to keep Sarah’s recipes organized and easy to find? We did and you can follow it here!

Pinterest Test Kitchen #86 ~ Chocolate Pisatchio Baklava

So, I am going to begin this post with a disclaimer. Actually more of a qualification. To me there is a necessary distinction that is, upon occasion, important to make. There is sometimes a difference between homemade and made from scratch. I realize this may seem like splitting hairs but for today’s recipe I felt it important to note.

Because I made baklava, y’all!

Now if I said I made it from scratch that would imply I had made everything from scratch…including the filo dough. But, while I did use store bought filo dough sheets, I did actually make the baklava. And can I say that never have I made such a nerve racking dessert in my life? Seriously, it’s not that baklava is necessarily that difficult to make but oh, my goodness I have never been so tense while baking anything ever! Those paper thin sheets are tedious to use but the result was a big hit at our teacher luncheon and worth every moment. Our kids’ school has some amazing teachers and I was really happy to do something out of the norm in appreciation for all they do.

Baklava is an impressive looking dessert and while not really complicated it is time consuming. All those layers! This is the original recipe I used although I did not make mine as thick as hers. She used a 9×13 dish and I layered mine in a jelly roll pan. I liked it better because I did not need to cut the filo dough to fit the pan but in hindsight I probably would have used less syrup so that it was not quite as wet although hers look pretty moist in her pictures too.

What you’ll need for the syrup
1 cup water
1 cup sugar
4/5 cup honey

What you’ll do:
Combine all ingredients in a medium saucepan.

Bring to a boil.
Turn heat to low and allow to simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Remove from heat and set aside to cool completely before using.

(Trust me, it will have plenty of time to cool while you butter and layer your filo sheets with your chocolate mixture!)

What you’ll need for the baklava itself:
1 package filo dough sheets
1 stick of butter, melted (I actually used almost two sticks)
9 ounces dark chocolate chips
9 ounces pistachios or nuts of your choice, finely chopped
1 TBS cinnamon
What you’ll do:
Toss together the chocolate chips, nuts, and cinnamon.
Set aside.
Unwrap your filo sheets and cover them with a damp towel. This is a very important step so don’t skip it, it makes the filo sheets easier to work with.
Butter your pan.

Next, butter and stack eight dough sheets. 
(Remember, I was using a larger pan so essentially I was making two stacks side by side.)

Spread half of the nut mixture over the stacked sheets.
Butter the next sheet of dough on both sides and then continue buttering and stacking three more sheets.
Top with the remaining nut mixture.
Butter the next sheet of dough, again on both sides, and then continue buttering and stacking seven more sheets.
Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into squares. 

Because I wanted a more traditional look I then cut each square diagonally so I had a bunch of triangles.

At this point I got really excited because it pretty much looked like baklava…yay me!

Bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, uncovered.
Cover with aluminum foil and continue to bake for another 25 minutes.
Immediately pour the cold syrup over the whole pan and allow it to cool. 
I loosely covered mine and let it sit all night.

It was, like I said, one of the most intense things I have ever made but I have got to be honest I was beyond thrilled and feeling so very accomplished when it all came together and tasted good!

Autism As A Super Power

A father’s perspective ~

The other day while mowing the lawn, Sam rode up next to me on his bike and interrupted me with some urgency. “Dad,” he asked earnestly, “do you think I’m extraordinary?”

As his question echoed in my head, I flashed back to when Sam was just a little boy, a boy who could barely run down the hallway without careening into the walls, bouncing from one side to the next like a drunk exaggerating every movement as an overcompensation for the last one. To the little boy who watched one Barney video over and over until one day, suddenly and without any obvious reason, he totally came unhinged as Barney sang Pop Goes the Weasel. To my son who, when desperately out of sorts and unable to control his emotions, would find calm as I struck his back with firm and forceful pats. To my only son who would never be the son I hoped for when the ultrasound revealed he was a boy.

From the moment of his birth I knew something was different about Sam, something not “normal.” I watched him as he lay silently in the clear plastic container they put new babies in, staring into the room as though he could see something the rest of us couldn’t. He simultaneously seemed impervious to the world around him and to absorb it completely. It was a look I would continue to see as he passed from infant to toddler to child to young man. As he grew it was clear that he was not going to develop into what I had expected, but as I watched him mature it became clear to me that this boy – my boy – was something truly special. I had set my sights for a son way too low.

Like most dads, I suppose, my ideal for my son was that he would be a better, faster, stronger version of me. I’d massage out of him all of my shortcomings. He would be all that I had fallen short of, and I could finally realize my true self through him. The son I got was so much more glorious than that. While frequently challenging, Sam is as close to pure as I can imagine. While he is undeniably my son (my quirkiness and his are strikingly similar), his guilelessness, his Kramer-like commitment to doing everything with full-on enthusiasm, and his uncanny sense of humor show him to be so much more than I could ever hope to be.

Sam is a joy factory. He is funny, smart, and has an eye for the world that is truly unique. He is unburdened by self-consciousness, which enables him to observe the world around him rather than being consumed with how the world sees him. His take on the world is often black and white, but his capacity for acceptance of others is awe-inspiring.

A person with autism certainly filters and processes the world differently, but there are times when I think the whole world would benefit from being more like Sam. I know I would.

So when Sam asked, “Dad, do you think I’m extraordinary,” my response was simply, “Yes, son. You are extraordinary.”

Looking Down The Road

I recently read an article written by a mom who was giving advice to her daughter. It seems her daughter had seen a girl in her class having her bra strap snapped by some boy and was wondering how she should handle it if she ever found herself in that situation. The mother’s advice? Punch the boy in the throat.

The comments to her blog post were pretty split down the middle as to whether or not she was giving the right advice…some were cheering her on in teaching her daughter how to defend and protect herself while others felt she was championing violence altogether.

I decided to ask my love how he wished our daughters to handle the situation. His response?

Punch the boy in the throat.

Now, let me say that I am utterly convinced that my girls, at this point in their life, will not have to deal with this kind of thing. We know our community well enough to feel comfortable that none of the boys or young men in their circles would ever consider such a thing. We also know that our daughters will not always be in such a well known well protected community.

We do want them to know how to handle themselves and we certainly want them to know what is acceptable behavior and what is not and how they should demand to be treated. We would hope that as much as humanly possible they will choose communities where that kind of behavior would not be present. However, as our oldest is already in public college she knows that that kind of behavior would not seem out of place in that arena.

Thankfully, we have a friend who is a police officer and he has taught Sarah several different ways that she can defend herself. She knows how to literally box some one’s ears, how to gouge eyes out, and how to aim for a wind pipe with the intent to break it. Next month she will probably take the self defense class the college offers.

But I think the self defense training begins waaaaay earlier and it doesn’t look like what most of us would consider self defense training.

The first step in self defense is to teach our daughters not to wink at sin. This means that we teach them to recognize the sin in their own life and deal with it. Because if they have a clear picture of sin and what it is then they can see when they are being sinned against. When a young man steps out of line either in his actions or with his words we want our girls to be uncomfortable with it and to know that a line has been crossed. This is important because at some point it’s not flirting it’s moving into dangerous territory that leaves them vulnerable and at risk. If they’re ok with letting simple seemingly innocent touches or lingering glances or borderline conversation slide by they are less likely to respond appropriately or quickly enough when the realization comes that they’ve gone further than they thought.

I mentioned wanting our girls to be uncomfortable around certain behavior but we also want them to be uncomfortable in certain situations. Claire is only nine years old but I want her to be uncomfortable if she finds herself in certain situations. If I send her out to the van because we’re preparing to leave church one evening but get caught up in a conversation that delays me I don’t want her to be comfortable with being the only girl outside with all the boys, or even worse, just another boy. Not because I am concerned that the boys are going to take advantage of her or behave inappropriately towards her, not at all. But if she is comfortable being alone with one of the boys in the dark parking lot of our church at nine years old,  the odds are she will not be uncomfortable being alone with a boy in a dark parking lot of our church when she is twelve or thirteen. And that becomes very, very dangerous for her.

A wise friend once told me when we were speaking about modesty in general and bathing suits in particular that you should start out the way you plan to continue. It would be unwise as a parent to allow a certain behavior or practice for a certain time and then choose at some arbitrary time to decide that behavior is no longer allowed. If you don’t want a five year old who runs around out of control then don’t allow your two year old to run around utterly out of control.

It’s a kind of parenting that is very deliberate and has one eye already looking down the road. It’s not easy all of the time and can make other people uncomfortable as if you are calling their parenting into question.

It may sound callous but I am not really concerned with how someone else is raising their kids. Not because I just don’t care but because I know my children won’t always been in what we would consider ideal or perfect situations or communities.

And I want my girls to carry themselves in such a manner that a young man would think twice before snapping her bra strap.

And if he can’t see that she isn’t the kind of girl that would be okay with having her bra snapped then I want her to know how to punch him in the throat.

He’s Fifteen Now

And I just don’t know what to do with that.

I mean, he’s fifteen! That just seems so grown to me.

He shaves on a regular basis now. He’s right at six feet tall and his feet are huge. Finding pants that are small enough to fit his skinny self and long enough has been just about impossible. And when I come close they are only the right length for about two seconds because he is always growing.
Like most teenage boys he eats a lot. He has also suddenly decided that texting is the coolest thing ever. Usually just to Rob or Sarah though and it is quite fun to go back and read his conversations.
Can you guess from that mischievous grin what his favorite emoji is?
It has been a really interesting year with Sam. He is growing and maturing in ways that are surprisingly typical but because it’s Sam…well, I guess interesting is the best word. Complex? A beautiful struggle? An emotional roller coaster? Hysterically funny at times? Oh, yeah, it’s all that. 
Mario is still a favorite and he never misses the opportunity to make “the jump”.
The most interesting change to come about has been Sam coming to understand appropriate vs inappropriate content in movies and other culture experiences. It’s like a light bulb has gone off and he is understanding things that up to now just kind of passed over his head. Needless to say we are having some interesting conversations around our house.
Despite all of the changes he is experiencing some things are, at the core, the same. His love for Legos has remained steadfast although it different now. For Christmas he got the biggest set he has ever put together. Over 800 pieces and he was so excited! Until he started putting it together and something went wrong. For the first time he was frustrated and not enjoying it. We convinced him to stop and try again the next day. When he woke up he took everything completely apart and started over. A few hours later he had the thing assembled and was pretty pleased with himself. He has since taken it apart again and boxed it up saying that he’ll build it again next Christmas. Not sure what the deal is there but as often is the case we will just have to wait and see.
We surprised him with his very own brand new bike for his birthday and he was thrilled. He asks to ride every single day and will stay out riding for hours at a time.
His since of humor is by turns infectious and obnoxious. I’m guessing that’s the teenage boy thing again.
This boy of ours brings so much richness to our lives. The joy we’ve known in the fifteen years since his birth is beyond words and we’re so grateful for who he is and who he is becoming. I know we will be all the better for the man God is shaping him to be.