The Need for Opportunities

Not many people realize I have autism. It is not a topic that comes up very often in everyday conversations. And I have grown so much in my abilities to communicate and cope with my surroundings that I hardly notice it much of the time. Through all this, I have realized how important it is to have opportunities to learn and grow.

Most people take talking for granted. They see friendship and having conversations throughout the day as normal, everyday occurrences. This is not always the case for someone with a disability or for someone who is a loner or an outcast or even just an introvert. I remember being afraid of my voice as a teenager and young adult because I used it so little that I was constantly afraid it would not come out right when I needed it.

I have grown so much over the last several years because of the opportunities I have been given to communicate with others. I have seen the differences in my abilities to communicate because of the practice I get in communicating. I talk to people constantly at my work and at home with friends and family.

This has not always been the case in my life, and I first started noticing the difference when I visited my sister’s family on a regular basis. I noticed that it was easier to communicate and the words came more readily because I would always talk more when I was with my sister. I would read books aloud to her children. I would be engaged in conversation with the family and extended family. I was given the opportunity to use my voice more in those situations, and it created a notable difference in the rest of my week.

Since that time, I have been given an incredible amount of opportunities to improve my social and communication skills. I was asked to teach a class at church. I translated often at work and conducted orientation meetings for new hires. I gained a best friend that pushed the limits of my communication skills and allowed me to explore the social demands of friendship in ways I never had before. I was constantly using my voice and communicating my needs and using my social skills. They say that practice makes perfect. I am not sure if that is true, but practice definitely makes you better. The more I was able to practice my skills, the better they became.

My point with all of this is that growing up, I went to therapy and had scattered opportunities to learn communication and social skills, but it was not enough. I learned the skills necessary to place an order, ask a question, or do other things that were required of me, but it never came easily. It was a constant battle to communicate my needs and not feel lost in a world that I could not seem to understand. Now, communication and life in general has become much easier to handle. I know how to do things that I never thought possible in my earlier years. And things do come relatively easily.

I don’t know if it would have been possible for me to have more positive social experiences while growing up. I was an outcast and bullied and extremely cautious with who I trusted because of those things. But I hope that the world has changed enough that it is more possible for children today to have these experiences. I hope it is more possible for children with autism to learn social skills by practicing with their peers. I know the importance of those opportunities. I have seen how much of a difference they can make. And I hope we all try a little harder to give people the opportunities they need to become better.

Advertisements

Impossible

I had this insight at church today about Luke 1:37. One translation says, “For with God nothing shall be impossible.” I think it is interesting that it says “shall be” because sometimes things are impossible at the moment, but that doesn’t mean they will always be impossible. God can mold and shape us into a new person that can do what was impossible for who we used to be.

I have done things that were once impossible for me, but are now natural and even easy. I asked for help to do these things. I tried over and over, but I had limitations that I could not overcome by myself. But, then, I changed. I became a new person because people saw something in me that I could not see in myself.

We are so often told that God won’t give us more than we can handle or that all things are possible with God, but the process is not explained very often. God makes us so that we can handle things. Sometimes that is through trials, but I think most often it is through other people. People teach us, change us, and stretch us to become more than we once were. And sometimes it is not a good experience. Sometimes it is difficult, painful, and heartbreaking experiences with people that force us to become better.

I think in the end though, we can find reasons to be grateful for all the growth experiences, even the unpleasant ones. The key is allowing yourself to be changed, so that the impossible can become possible.

No One Cares

I started another job this week and was asked to send a picture of myself for a badge. As I was looking through pictures, trying to find the perfect one, I had the realization that no one really cares what you look like. I mean, more people might pay attention to you if you look a certain way, but the people that matter, the ones that care about you, don’t care if your hair is frizzy or your smile isn’t perfect or you have gained some weight. I noticed that the pictures where I didn’t care what my hair looked like and wasn’t worried about the camera were the happiest ones. Those pictures where I am playing with my niece or hanging out with my best friends or spending time with my family come with the best memories.

We focus so much on being perfect- fixing our hair, losing weight, trying to fake the smile. In the end though, our friends don’t care. Our family still loves us and wants to spend time with us. And although it is good to look presentable and it can feel good to dress up at times, I think it is just as important to enjoy the moment without worrying about anything else. Don’t pass up the party because you can’t decide what to wear. Don’t stay home away from your friends because you feel like you have too many problems. Don’t let life pass you by because you feel overwhelmed by its demands for perfection. It’s not worth being perfect if it keeps you from being happy.

Best Friends

I was feeling lonely a few days ago because none of the things I was trying to do to spend time with people were working. I had invited people to a conference, movie night, game night, I even organized a committee meeting at church, but no one came to any of it. And I found myself in a lonely and vulnerable spot because I desperately need people, but I am terrible at figuring out how to spend time with them.

In my lowest moment of complete desperation, I got a message from someone thanking me for something I did for them. I broke down because I felt like I was doing everything I could, but I was still alone. And then, after a while, I felt the gentle reassurance that I was doing okay. I mean, I don’t have all the friends I want, and I wish I could spend more time with the friends I do have, but I have the friends I need.

When I was a kid, I prayed every day for a best friend, any friend. I prayed that someone would see me and like me and want to spend time with me. And I got some friends over the years. I only saw them at school or church or things like that, but it was something. And finally, at the age of 20, I got a friend that I could count on, that I felt like loved me, that I felt like wanted to be around me, and that I felt I wouldn’t ruin our friendship with my problems.

It was pretty amazing to feel loved, wanted, needed, important. For the first time since I was a little child, I felt whole. And then I became friends with the most wonderful person. And it was like every bad thing that ever happened to me was okay. I looked back at my life and saw hope in places I had previously seen pain. And it was life changing to feel safe with someone, to trust them with myself, to want to tell them everything. My best friend has been everything to me. She has had a healing impact on my life that I could not be more grateful for.

So, that night when I was feeling utterly alone, I remembered the little girl that just wanted one friend, and I thought, I have the most amazing friends I could ever ask for. I still get lonely. My best friends are farther away from me than I would like, but they still love me. I am still wanted, needed, loved, and safe with someone.

I heard about a school that was trying to ban best friends. They said that it was unfair to those who didn’t have a best friend. I grew up all through school with no best friends, with hardly any friends at all. I ate lunch alone and played alone, and when someone did talk to me, it was usually to get help with something. But I would go through that all again for a best friend. I don’t think you can truly ban best friends, but I would never want that for anyone anyway. As someone who knows what it is like to be jealous of other people’s friendships, I plead with you to never try to prevent a friendship. Teach inclusion, teach children that they do not have to only have one friend, teach children to make best friends with everyone, but don’t prevent that special bond with someone.

Having a best friend has changed my life. With each best friend I had, I became a little less broken, less lonely, less scared, more confident, more secure, more at peace. I think I will probably always have lonely moments. As an extrovert with autism, I simply do not have the capacity to create the friendships I want and participate in the amount of social activities I need to feel completely fulfilled, but I have the relationships I need. I have the friends I need to get through the lonely moments, and that is enough.

The Day I Stopped Hating Myself

I started realizing a little over two years ago just how much I hated myself. Prior to that I thought that I liked myself for the most part but just had some self esteem issues. After suggestions from some friends to make my new year’s goal to love and take care of myself, I realized just how hard this was for me. It was not long before I realized that I had a deep and persistent hatred of myself. I considered myself to be the worst, most worthless person on the earth.

I wasn’t sure what to do with this new knowledge. How do you learn how to love yourself? Where do you start? I decided to start with the people who loved me. If they saw something of worth in me, there had to be something I could love about myself. I wrote on my mirror every single kind thing I could find that someone had said about me. I started out with about 30 adjectives, but got to about 50 after showing friends what I was doing. It was hard to believe all these things about myself, but there was the proof in front of me, written proof that I knew someone thought about me at one point. That was the beginning of a turning point in my life, but there was still a lot of work to do.

A year later, I had grown so much. I was kinder to myself. I was more forgiving of myself. I was not so afraid of myself. But I still hated myself. I messaged a friend one night to ask her what she thought about me selling everything I owned and starting over. This friend is spontaneous and honest and I knew that she would be willing to entertain the thought of me getting rid of everything, but would also tell me if I was being ridiculous or overreacting. We got talking about why I wanted to do this and realized that at the heart of my struggles was an ingrained belief that I was a bad person. But the most interesting thing was that I believed I was a bad person because I could not stop myself from being a good person. I felt unworthy to do good things, but I could not destroy my innate desire to help others.

After realizing all that I believed about myself and working to discover what made me believe these thoughts, I made a breakthrough. I still remember the first time I did something kind for another person and didn’t hate myself for it. I came home happy. I didn’t want to die. I didn’t cry myself to sleep that night. I dropped off the little box full of stuff for a friend and felt proud of myself. It was the most amazing feeling ever to not feel like a failure for doing something good. That was the first night I didn’t feel like I still hated myself.

I still have days where I question my worth. I have days where I wonder why my friends stay friends with me. I still have times where I don’t like myself for something I have done. But I no longer have those nights where I just curl up on the floor and want to die because I tried to be myself. And every day of waking up not hating myself is a beautiful day.

The Cure for Autism

It is amazing to me how much things can change in a year. With everything that has happened this year, I feel like much more time has passed. I look back at who I was 10 years ago and laugh at my selfishness and childish thoughts. I wonder how anyone put up with my whining and shortsighted views. I look back 5 years ago and am amazed at how much I have grown since then. I look back at two years ago and can hardly believe the healing and help and hope that has come into my life since then.

Two years ago, I posted about how I wanted to experience friendship like the love I had for others. I wanted to learn to love better and to love myself. I had grown to be strong and intelligent, resilient to the trials life would bring, but I was haunted by loneliness. Loneliness was a familiar friend, and many nights were spent in the deepest despair of want for human interaction.

I am not lonely anymore. That is the most beautiful statement in the world. I do not feel lonely anymore. I never thought this was possible for me. For so many years, I longed for a single person to see me and want to be more than a situational friend. It wasn’t until college that I felt like I had friends outside of church or school or activities. At that time, I was still getting used to the idea of having friends, and I messed up more times than I care to relate. But a little over two years ago, I started to really feel wanted. I started to have people I could call friends. I started to believe in hope.

I feel so blessed. I have felt love beyond my capacity to comprehend. I feel wanted, needed, important, and safe- most of all, safe. Two years ago, I was terrified of everything I was doing. I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to people that I had no idea how to communicate with and doing things for others that scared me almost to death. Every day felt like walking around with my heart in my hands, hoping that it wouldn’t get crushed along the way.

But those sleepless nights and silent tears and debilitating anxiety led to the most wonderful friends a person could imagine. All my loneliness, all my pain and suffering, seem like nothing now compared to the love and protection I feel. I feel overflowing gratitude for my friends and for all that I have learned. I feel healed, whole, loved.

I can text someone when I want to talk. I can say hello to someone I recognize when I see them in a store or on the street. I can ask for help. I can tell people how I feel without feeling awkward or out of place. I can hug people or let someone give me a massage. I can relax. I can be myself.

No one knows how far I have come, but it is impossible for anyone to miss the progress I have made. Everyone who knew me before can see how I have changed. We talk about milestones in autism- being able to talk, looking someone in the eye, communicating a need, but the most important milestones are the ones that make you want to be you.

I learned how to do everything I was supposed to do at an early age. I analyzed people to the point where I knew how to appear normal. No one would guess that I have autism, unless it was one of those rare moments when I made a mistake. But despite my capacity to fit in, I could never find the capability to belong.

My milestones are hope, love, and belonging. If there is a “cure” for autism, this is it- hope, love, and belonging. All I ever wanted was to feel like I have a place in this world. I wanted to feel like I belong, that I am wanted here. I wanted to feel like autism wasn’t a wall that kept out love. You want to find the cure for autism? This is it- love, accept, embrace, help. After that, everything else will just fall into place.

Celebrating Christ’s Birth

It is no secret that I am not fond of birthdays. There are years that I would like to avoid my birthday altogether. However, as we talked today in church about Christ’s birthday. I thought about what Christmas represents.

Christmas is a day to remember Christ. So, how would he want us to remember Him? By giving of ourselves- giving to others, helping others, loving others. That is how Christ spent His life. In truth, the birth of Jesus was a gift from both Christ and the Father. Jesus gave us the gift of His life- of becoming mortal so that He could save us, serve us, and show us how to live like Him. And the Father gave us the gift of His Son.

I think that the Spirit of Christmas is the perfect way to celebrate Christ’s birthday because we strive to do exactly what He did in His mortal life- give, love, serve. I hope my birthday can help people remember those things, too. But I am grateful for the perfect example to celebrate with “peace on earth, goodwill to men.”