Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Social Lists

I’m a list person.
 I’ve always been, even as a kid. The birthday wish lists and Christmas lists turned into what to pack on basketball and track trips, grade breakdowns in my classes (I need to get a 93% on the US History test if I want to keep the A in class), etc. In college it turned to grocery lists and still grade breakdowns and daily schedules. As a teacher it was lists of student names: which kids I was specifically focusing on that day, for whatever reason. And as a mother, I have my daily lists of to do’s.
I’m a list person.
I went to an autism conference this April. April was a hard month for me. It was about two weeks before I pulled Race out of the school he was attending (another story for another day).  I had been sinking into that place again, that place within myself I go to cry and worry. That place I go when I don’t have a plan and have to turn to my Lorazepam to sleep at night. It’s the place I go when I have nothing on my list.
So on this specific Saturday in April, I drove up the mountain to Flagstaff. It was snowing. I didn’t know if I’d be able to get down the hill by the end of the day, but I didn’t care. I was running from that place within myself, desperately seeking answers. \
I went through the day at the conference. I saw a lot of familiar faces and met a lot of great people. I went to every breakout topic that applied to our family. It was all great, helpful information. Some new information, much I’ve heard before; but not what I was needing. Nothing that was pulling me out of that hopeless state. And then I walked into David Hamrick’s “Sleep Issues for People with Autism.” Because the “ABC’s of Autism” and “how to take meaningful data and write objective IEP goals” were sounding exhausting at the time. And the crazy thing was, I went in there knowing Race doesn’t have sleep issues. Thank goodness. I hear so many kids on the spectrum do. So, why was I walking into this class? Well, the presenter sounded interesting. David Hamrick was a 32-year old man with high-functioning autism and worked as a meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C.  I wanted to meet him.
I watched him as he presented. And I fought back the tears the entire time. It was like fast forwarding time 25 years and seeing Race standing before a group of people talking about one of his obsessions. In the case of Mr. Hamrick, it was his job: studying and creating weather maps. It was so fascinating. He spoke with such clarity, but he never looked anyone in the eye. People filed in with snacks because it was late in the day, and he let us know the sound of people chewing their food gives him anxiety. His ears were sensitive, his hearing was on overdrive. Just like Race. He smiled all the time; just like Race. And really, the hour that I spent in there, only about 10 minutes covered sleep issues for people on the spectrum. The rest of the time, he talked about his work and his lists.
He was a list person.
His first list was called, Etiquette Fundamentals. And it went like this:
Manners 101:
·         Hold the door for a lady
·         If you ask, you pay
·         Be on time for a date
·         Don’t walk ahead
·         Turn off your cell phone
·         Call when you say you will
·         No sudden romantic advances
Manners 102:
·         Offer your coat to a lady if she is cold
·         Help a lady with her seat
·         Leave a 15-20% tip
·         Don’t dominate the conversation
·         Share your umbrella
·         Drive safely
·         Never use car horn when you arrive
Mr. Hamrick made lists for every social situation he might encounter in his day. The lists were amazing. And I instantly knew why I needed to be sitting in “Sleep Issues for People with Autism.”

So now, Race and I sit down together before we go somewhere and make a social list. And we add to the list as we run into social obstacles.  Our first list was easy:
How to Handle Your Anger:
1.      Stop. Count to ten. Take a deep breath, or walk away until you have calmed down.
2.      Say. What’s wrong. Use your words to say what you don’t like.
3.      Tell. What you would like to have happen.
Race carries this list in his pocket. And it helps.
Another list:
Social Rules at the Pool:
·         Walk
·         Pay attention to splashing. Some people don’t like it. Watch their expression.
·         Don’t hang on people.
·         No diving in the shallow end
·         Playing pool games with other kids: what kind of game is it, who is playing the game, ask to play with them and their toy. What if they say no?
Even though the last one, Playing pool games, probably sounds a bit jumbled and may not make sense, it is very helpful to Race and I. For example, what kind of game is it? Race has to pay attention to, are they playing tag? Are they playing keep away? Are they playing catch? If they’re playing catch, I’m not going to take the ball and run with it am I?
The lists have been helping. We have them for Tae Kwon Do, Church, Library, etc. They help because Race is a visual learner. And he memorizes. So the time we take to sit and write out a list helps put those abstract social concepts into a concrete way of looking at them. And we add to the list as needed, like if we had a social incident at the pool. Before we head out the door to the pool the next day, we pack our list and he reads it to me on the drive over.
So now, Race is a list person. We’ll use the strategy until it doesn’t work anymore.
 If that day ever comes.

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