The Colors of Autism

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The creative minds of autistic people experience the world in shapes, colors, and sounds that do not always make sense.  While the words may get jumbled up, the colors do not.  The colors are an expression of feelings and vibrations that an autistic person senses on an intuitive level deep within their being.  While the word “angry” might not mean anything to them, the color red may represent a feeling they know well, but cannot express in words.

My world was enriched by my son, Mikey, who brought more color into my life than any artist’s palette could create.  Mikey experienced the world in living color, and he was drawn to anything visually colorful.  He could feel emotions represented in colors, and he expressed his feelings through his use of color in his artwork.  Blue was his very favorite color; royal blue.  Blue symbolizes spirituality, youth, truth, and peace, and it’s linked to intellect and consciousness.  That pretty well sums up Mikey.  Although he didn’t know what the color blue represented; it represented him.  In fact, blue represented Mikey far better than his label of “autism” did.

I can’t picture Mikey in the summertime without seeing a tie-dyed shirt.  Four years after his death, I can’t look at a tie-dyed shirt without picturing Mikey.  Mikey wore all the colors of the rainbow proudly.  He only wore tans and beiges because they blended in and camouflaged him when he desired to be inconspicuous.  But nine days out of ten, he would grab the most colorful t-shirt out of his closet to wear around the house.  He had his favorites, which I still sleep in:  orange, gold, green, and blue.  The colors shaped his mood, along with the colorful clay he used for modeling objects and the colorful glazes he put on pottery.

One of the greatest gifts to give an autistic child is a kaleidoscope.  It has everything they love: colors, motion, and light.  And it doesn’t require batteries; just a simple twist of the hand and it offers a constantly changing work of art.  Art in motion.  A unique and beautiful version of the wheel.

If you know a child with autism, instead of filling their Easter basket with pastel plastic toys, how about a kaleidoscope instead?  Or how about skipping the pastel eggs in favor of the bright primary colors, or neon colored plastic eggs?  They have plastic eggs in all manners of color combinations nowadays.  Instead of filling the eggs with candy, fill them with different blocks of colorful Sculpey Clay.  It will give their creative minds hours of enjoyment, instead of giving their bodies hyper-active responses to sugar.

And let them dye eggs any way they want them.  Mikey used to leave eggs sitting in dye cups overnight, because he wanted them as dark and richly colored as possible.  Egg dying was one of Mikey’s favorite holiday traditions.  It’s a tradition that autistic kids can enjoy just as much – or more- than other kids.  Remember when you are celebrating holidays, they should be included in the celebrating, which means some of the usual traditions may need modified or skipped altogether.  But it’s their holiday, too.   Wishing everyone a very colorful and wonderful Easter!

 

Winks from Heaven

Mikey seems to be everywhere this month, turning lights on for me, messing with the phones, and I think he is as excited as we are that my daughter, Susie, and son-in-law, Vince, are expecting their first child.  It’s due on August 26th, the day before Mikey’s birthday.  It feels like heaven is returning us a little piece of Mikey, or at least a little person to celebrate.

I have felt Mikey’s presence around me many nights as I’ve stayed up working on a new book.  In fact, Mikey’s sense of humor seemed to push me off in another direction one night, and I sat aside the “serious” book I was working on and started frantically typing about a subject that has both amused and frustrated me:  the passive aggression on Facebook.  Both cell phones and internet chat are great for passive aggressive people, who never want to have a face-to-face conversation.  Mikey also hated that form of communication, which might seem unusual for someone classified as “autistic.”  But Mikey enjoyed people….he just preferred to experience them one at a time.  And he liked them in person, rather than on the phone.  Ironically, the last conversations he had with me, Susie, and his dad, Mike, were all on the phone.

The last year has been eventful with the publishing of Mikey’s book, Grandma Susie’s death, Susie’s marriage, my departure from the daily work-force, Mike’s remarriage, and the big baby news. I wonder how many of those things would have happened in 2012 if Mikey hadn’t died in 2008.  Did the stress of Mikey’s death take years or months off of Grandma Susie’s life?  Would Susie or Mike have gotten married sooner?  I know Mikey’s death threw us all into a tailspin.  I think I would still be messing around with the original book’s manuscript. I know if I had gotten it published, it would certainly be a different book.  I would still be living in Oklahoma with Mikey.  I can hardly imagine myself leaving a sizable regular paycheck, with a roof to provide over Mikey and me.  I don’t know what any of our lives would be like if Mikey was still with us, but I know God doesn’t let us go back and choose the way we would have written the script.  If we are all actors in a play, then we are often the puppets.  We move when God pulls the strings.

I’ve done a lot of traveling to promote the book and I’ve met a lot of interesting and wonderful people.  Mikey seems to inspire everyone who reads his story, and it makes my heart swell when people share their stories with me.  It’s like getting postcards from heaven when I open my email box and read stories inspired by Mikey.  So thank you, to all who have shared your stories with me!

Christmases Past

As always, I’m breathing a little sigh of relief now that Christmas Day has passed.  Spending the day with my daughter always keeps me afloat, but the sadness always comes in the waning hours after presents have been unwrapped, food has been stored away, cheerful goodbyes have been said, and I’m all alone with my thoughts.

Staring blankly at the twinkling lights of my tree, I’m suddenly swept back into Christmases past.  I see little Mikey’s face lit up with excitement over a new remote control car.  I see Susie’s tussled blonde locks cascading over a new pink nightgown, hunkered down with her new Barbie house which she has carefully set up under the tree, now barren of wrapped presents. Both kids keeping an eye on the new Disney video that Santa brought, while playing with their new toys.  And me, collapsed on the couch after an all-night assembling episode kept me from getting more than a couple of hours of sleep before Susie scampered out of her bed to wake Mikey and the rest of us at 4 a.m.

“Mikey!  Santa Claus came!”  Susie would rouse her little brother, and both kids would come bounding down the stairs in jubilation.  Mike and I would mumble a garbled agreement over who was going to make the coffee or get the camera.

I remember sitting on the couch at the end of Christmas day and feeling contented and joyful and tired.  And worried.  Always worried about the future.  Always wishing Christmas vacation could go on forever and Mikey didn’t have to go back to school. I hated Mikey going back to school more than Mikey hated it himself.  The teasing kids, the thoughtless remarks from some of the teachers, the stress of wondering if Mikey was actually learning the material he was supposed to be learning for his age.  Continually worrying about the future, which I believed would stretch out before me with years and years of Christmases with Mikey.

I go back to those Christmases past in my mind, and I wish I could tell that young mother to stop worrying and just enjoy living in that joyful moment.  And I’m struck by how death teaches us how to really live.

Oklahoma welcomed Mikey’s story today, with interviews in both Tulsa and Oklahoma City.

The tragedy in Connecticut continues to raise many questions in the national consciousness.  One of those questions stems from the fear that is now associated with Asperger’s Syndrome. I have done my best to be a voice for all of those on the autism spectrum and distill the fears in those who are less educated on the disorder. Yes, it’s a wide spectrum; from severely handicapped to highly functioning successful individuals.  In my eyes, it is all autism, and there never needed to be a different label that memorialized Dr. Asperger.  To separate the high from the lower functioning created an even bigger stigma for those considered “autistic.”  Mikey considered himself autistic, although his newer official label was Asperger’s.  He was as highly functioning as you will find – and still be truly affected with autism.  They have over-used the Asperger’s label to the point that it’s become a catch-all for every child with a learning disability that acts a little bit anti-social.  Mikey, on the other hand, exhibited every single symptom of autism, and there were about 13 different criteria if memory serves me.  Symptoms such as :

  • Possessing no fear of real danger, but fearing things they shouldn’t.  What does that look like in a 3 year old?  In Mikey, it meant he tried to make his great escape when I was traveling down the interstate at 60 m.p.h.. I heard the telltale sound of the door handle and glanced back to see Mikey had somehow wriggled out of his car seat and was preparing to jump out the door of the car onto the busy highway.  That wasn’t scary looking to him.  And yet, he would scream bloody murder if you tried to take him on an elevator.
  • Obsession with spinning objects.  Sorry folks, but obsession doesn’t mean a child’s autistic just because they enjoy watching a spinning top for 30 minutes.  In Mikey, it meant if he was awake for four hours, 3 1/2 of those hours were spent with his eyes glued on a tape in the VCR or some other spinning object.  It meant if you took away the spinning object, a full blown tantrum would ensue.  Obsession means they CAN’T live without occupying themselves with it 24/7.

I could continue listing symptoms of classic autism, but I’d rather list the positive things that came out of today:

  •  I discovered “hardened” reporters have huge hearts, and their hearts bleed for their community members in distress
  • I found an audience is ready to hear a message from someone such as myself, who is more of a bridge between traditional Christianity and Metaphysics, with a splash of Hinduism
  • I discovered people never forget tragedies, never forget the names of the perpetrators, but often forget the names of the victims

 Let us never forget.