Tag Archives: Autism

#SorryNotSorry

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Hellooooo, blends! Greetings from Duck, North Carolina! For the past week, Ian and his family and I have been basking in the glory of the Outer Banks.

I wish I had a series of really cool sunsets or a stingray catches or romantic-artsy pictures to show you, but really I’m just quickly checking in before dinner. I’m just not one of those people who remembers to carry a camera everywhere, or who is quick enough on the draw to capture every memory-worthy moment (#sorrynotsorry).

I apologize that I have been MIA from SWASOV for the past seven days (#sorrynotsorry), but OBX has been calling my name — and I have been answering big time!

I also wish that I had some behemoth healthy-living-while-on-vacation saga to share with you, but what I have really had are endless crab legs swimming in melted butter, maple Duck Donuts, steaks the size of Mini Coopers, local ciders, and a host of other foods that make my normal “diet” shudder with delight.

What I do have to share are a few self-surprises. For starters, Ian — who is beginning a 5k training program for a potential 5k in the fall — and I have run three mornings this week, and I have run four. Truly, before this vacation, I can honestly say I never would have pictured myself (1) setting an alarm to (2) get up early to (3) run (4) on purpose (5) during a beach vacation. Nevertheless, I could not be more proud of him for putting in 30-45 minutes each morning he ran… even if he was cussing and fussing, and I was yelling at him like a Nazi track coach.

Secondly, I have surprised myself by making instinctively healthy breakfast and lunch choices. I have chosen Chobani over a second doughnut, milk over coffee creamer, Quaker Oatmeal Squares over Apple Jacks, salad and hummus over leftover burgers, and (sometimes) baby carrots and celery sticks over endless chips and salsa. I can’t say the same about dinner, especially when fresh seafood was an option 😉

Next, I have surprised myself by reading on the beach for hours a day. Normally, I tend to let the sound of the waves and the warmth of the sun lull me to sleep. No problem there, except that I burn faster than a steak on the grill, and I drowsily sleep the whole beach day away. This week, though, I’ve been reading House Rules by Jodi Picoult, which thus far is absolutely phenomenal. I want to strike that perfect balance between reading as much as possible about a subject that interests me (autism) without growing tired of reading about it (I’m not sure that’s possible).

Lastly, I have surprised myself by being excited about setting an alarm each morning to maximize my day and my time on the beach. Dad, as someone who believes “daylight’s burnin’,” I know you’ll appreciate this one! I literally never would have pegged myself for being someone who would enjoy setting an alarm on vacation…

Anyway, I just wanted to stop by briefly to thank you for stickin’ around while I’ve been gettin’ my tan on, drinking homemade pina coladas on the beach, and (for once) reading for pleasure! After this week, my summer gets crazily busy, but regular posting should resume. Ta ta!

My Comfort Zone

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Stepping outside of my comfort zone is not something I relish doing. However, it’s something I’m almost always really glad I did. As I mentioned, this semester I am beginning my Practicum experience requirement (100 hours) for my Master’s degree. I accepted a position at a school for children and adolescents with emotional and behavioral disturbances that require them to be at least temporarily removed from public schools.

Last Wednesday, I met with my supervising Practicum professor and my on-site supervisor. I was quakin’ in my boots at the prospect of beginning my first real counseling experience — until my on-site supervisor informed me that I’ll be working with the younger children, some of whom have autism. I love working with individuals with autism. My mind immediately flashed to my interview for my internship at the Faison School in 2010. That experience was perhaps the farthest I have ever stepped outside of my comfort zone; I had never before worked with children with autism, nor did I know what the hell I was supposed to be doing. And yet, I survived… and re-applied for two additional summers. And loved every minute of it. If a = b and b = c, then a equals… I can survive this, too!

This morning, when my alarm rudely awakened me at 6:55, I was immediately nervous about beginning Practicum. Then, I checked my email and the news. Due to freezing rain — and this being the state of Virginia, which causes people to compulsively close or delay the schools, as well as forget how to drive, the moment the skies darken — I was asked to arrive at 10:30 instead of 9:00. That relaxed me a bit. Unfortunately, I was awake 3 hours before I needed to be out the door, but it gave me a few extra minutes to linger in a hot shower. I had enough time to drink an extra cup of coffee, pack my lunch without haste, dress and style my hair (which would have been wet had I left at 8:20 instead of 9:55), and even read a few more of the 87 pages assigned in my Tuesday class. Okay, truth be told, I also had time to watch one-and-a-half episodes of Boy Meets World while I got things done around the apartment 😉

With all that unexpected time, I arrived at the school 20 minutes early, relaxed, alert, and prepared. And I had a wonderful first day! It really helped my anxiety that my on-site supervisor is so laid-back and encouraging of self-directedness. She was super flexible about the time and duration of my lunch break, and she encouraged me to simply observe today, to watch and listen without taking detailed notes and to start getting to know the peculiarities of such a unique environment. For the first day of a new “job,” I could not have been more far-removed from my comfort zone; and yet, I felt so genuinely comfortable in my own skin. I think it just goes to show that when I don’t build things up in my head, they aren’t ever as anxiety-producing as I’m anticipating. I’m truly looking forward to going back on Thursday!

Question: What takes you entirely out of your comfort zone? Like or dislike trying new things?

[Thursday — 234g carbohydrates (hoorah for quinoa!), 32g fiber (RDV reached!), 55g protein (RDV reached!), and 28g fat. Friday through Sunday, I did not keep tabs of my nutrition intake due to traveling, unavailability (i.e. Ian cooked dinner Saturday night), and meals eaten at restaurants. The experience of tabulating my nutrition intake without tabulating calories consumed is certainly proving to be interesting.]

Inspired by the Inspiring

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Yesterday, my parents and I attended a morning service at a church that was not our own so we could hear my godsister, Mallory, speak about the missionary work she has been doing in Uganda for the past 18 months. Though she is, in fact, a missionary, she doesn’t like to be referred to as a missionary because she’s just doing God’s will where He has called her to serve. She has sacrificed a lot — seeing her family, spending time with friends, worldly possessions, a first-world lifestyle, things most of us don’t even realize we take for granted — in order to do the work she believes God has called her to carry out.

Now, I don’t usually get super-religious or super-political on Le Blogge because I’m not a believer in forcing others to read about my political agenda or my beliefs about certain laws or even my religious tenets. But I am a firm believer in Christianity, and just because I don’t blatantly paste it everywhere doesn’t mean I make a secret of it.

Anyway, the way Mallory got wrapped up (for over an hour, I might add) talking about the humbling and uplifting work she has done in Africa with the “street children” of Uganda and her calling to serve got me thinking… What’s my calling? What is God’s purpose for me? I’ve asked myself this question many times before, and I’ve never received what I would consider to be an answer. (It took me an exceptionally long time to learn that “no” is an answer, too.) I’ve always enjoyed the quote, “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans,” as I believe that God has plans for me I may not yet have even imagined. I don’t think that God has in mind for me to give up everything (material) I have in this world and serve in a poverty-stricken, HIV-ridden, danger-imminent country thousands of miles away — a thought I’m not brave enough to stomach, let alone carry out. I think God may have plans for me closer to home.

During my junior year at Longwood, I was searching for a place to complete my mandatory internship experience. Most LU students fulfill their internship requirement during the summer after their junior year, but time was ticking by, and I still didn’t have a location in mind. One day, as I was probably panicking in a cold sweat in front of my computer, feverishly researching Richmond-area internship opportunities, my mom reminded me that my sister had completed a one-week sample internship in high school at the Faison School for Autism and that she had loved it. Then we both remembered that one of my mom’s dearest friends had a daughter currently working at Faison. Without any hesitation, I whipped out an email to the then-Director of Personnel and Hiring, inquiring about internship opportunities. Not only did he respond positively and with information that set my frenzied mind at ease, he immediately offered me an interview date and the possibility of 35 paid hours per week! I knew that I had struck gold even before I interviewed, but afterward, I felt incredible. I felt purpose-driven and useful and interested — something I hadn’t experienced at my previous thinkless Abercrombie or Aeropostale or Holiday Barn jobs. I didn’t know the first thing about autism, and I was frank about my inexperience and my lack of knowledge in my interview, but what I lacked in those areas, I made up for in hopefulness and willingness.

My first summer at Faison was 2010, and it was the learning experience of a lifetime. I learned more about autism and about myself than I would have thought possible. I learned that I can be patient. I can present the statement, Point to the green block, 40 times if necessary before a student responds. I can absorb sign language without being aware that I am learning. I can assist in an emergency on a spontaneous five-person team when necessary. I can handle poop and puke with an iron stomach when necessary. I can refrain from texting for an entire seven-hour workday — something I would not have thought possible for my 21-year-old self (hell, something I might not find possible now). You get the point. Bottom line, I loved working at the Faison School, and I fell in love with autism. As strange as that sentiment might sound, I could not get the quirks and personalities and orderliness and spontaneity of those kids out of my head.

With my acceptance to graduate school the following spring came the obviousness of the next step: I needed a job that would hire me for less than half of May, all of June, all of July, and half of August. I returned to the Faison hiring body to determine my fate. Sure enough, they were able to hire me for another summer, and they even threw a small raise my way! (In truth, everyone who was hired that summer made what I made.) I enjoyed that second summer even more than I had enjoyed my first — all new (to me) kids, all new ages, all new behaviors, all new (to me) coworkers… same old passion for what I was doing. I was terribly sad to leave on the last day of summer school. I vowed then and there that if possible, I would return for a third summer.

Sure enough, I was rehired for the summer of 2012 in another entirely new setting. This time, instead of parceling out the summer students into already established classrooms, the powers that be decided to lump all of the summer school teachers and the summer students into one newly formed classroom. I admit, I had my misgivings about the system, but it worked beautifully. Every single day, I was impressed with the patience my coworkers demonstrated, the way people stepped in to help in emergencies without being asked, the way people volunteered for clean-up duties without hesitating, the flexibility and tolerance for change my coworkers displayed, and the hilarity we experienced on a daily basis. I truly would not have thought it possible to love each passing summer at Faison more than the one preceding it.

Now, here I am after three summers at the Faison School for Autism, preparing to begin a Practicum in two weeks at a day-treatment school for behaviorally- and emotionally-disturbed children and adolescents, some of whom have autism. I’m considering earning a certificate in Autism Spectrum Disorder Studies from the school where my fiance is studying medicine. Loving autism is a part of me now. It’s wormed its way into my soul and stolen my heart.

I think I have the answer for which I’ve been searching: maybe God’s purpose for me is loving and working with this misunderstood and rapidly-growing population. I don’t know for sure what God’s mission is for me as a future counselor, but I know that I have a passion for autism and for those individuals and families affected by it. I know that He placed this love and passion in my heart for a reason, and that He will guide me on His mission for me. I owe this realization to my godsister, who inspired me by speaking about homeless African orphans…

If you’d like to read more about my godsister’s work in Uganda, I’ve provided the link to her group’s most recent blog post. Or, if you’d like to learn more about the Faison School, here is the homepage.