Calling All Revolutionaries: Families for Freedom

It has been difficult to find families who want to work on a new revolutionary way to provide a full life for their adult children with autism, perhaps because we have been looking for adults that are just beginning the transition process. The children are still in school and the parents are satisfied with what they are doing and receiving for services; having worked to get it right, they are making progress and perhaps even seeing the positive changes that can come with maturity and stability.

The nightmare experience of seeing all that progress disappear into the maw that is adult services has not yet occurred.

Last week I attended an invigorating “brainstorming” session about planning the future of the autism programming for the new agency that I am working with for Lily’s new life.  I was amazed to be invited and even more astounded that “Families” was the first on everyone’s list of values. So often in my three and a half-year experience with the adult system the parents are ignored or “yessed” in meetings. The attitude is one of “us” and “them”. How refreshing and encouraging to meet this very sincere group that I hope soon to be an even more active member of.

Today, looking out over the shining blue of the bay with the puffy clouds and the dappled sand, I wonder whether the first English, French and Viking settlers to these shores thought about the physical beauty surrounding them as they pulled in their nets and laid out the fish to dry in the sun.

Were they too busy working to survive to be awestruck by the colors of the sunrise after so many days of rain and fog?

Did the wildflowers blowing in the breeze ease the ache of their backs as they gathered wood for the winter and plowed and seeded the garden?

Here in the Northeastern United States, with long, cold winters of bleak landscape and hungry wildlife, we treasure the few short weeks of spring and summer, hoarding days spent fishing, gardening, hiking and sailing, or perhaps simply sitting on a rock, gazing out at the beauty.

We know what man has done to nature as well; we have the contrast of the cities and industrial pollution versus the sea, woods and farms and appreciate all the more what we still have seeing it next to the examples of destruction.

The First People, or Native Americans or Indians or whatever you wish to call them in your culture, appreciated the sustaining value of the natural world around them and protecting it has prominence in their religions and way of life. They knew this truth without need to compare with the absence of nature; it puzzles me sometimes why we seem to need to miss something after it is already gone.

Missing our school experience that treated our daughter as a whole person, and having the experience of seeing her regress under a program that sees her as flawed and broken, to be managed like unwanted refuse, we have become acutely aware of the destruction around us and wish to reclaim and rebuild her world to more closely resemble what we had before.

We will build a new world based on the rights that Americans hold to be self-evident, a revolutionary new world, dedicated to the rights of ALL people to happiness and freedom.

Perhaps we need to look for our families amongst those who have seen the future, instead of those who are have not yet experienced the destruction.

Examining Life: Adults with Autism Part 4-JOY

This is how Lily demonstrates distress.

Loud noises, particularly high pitched girl’s voices, particularly one of her house mates who makes cockatoo noises when she is stressed, will elicit hair pulling. It begins as a little tug at her hair, not to pull but to communicate her anxiety. If the stressor continues and Lily becomes overwhelmed, the full-blown hair pull will result. Next comes ripping out the hair, pounding the face and blood curdling screams, followed by pounding the head on the floor and kicking of feet, followed by racing toward anyone standing nearby her to grab them in a death grip and bite them while ripping out their throat and hair and head butting them.

Lily rarely gets beyond the hair tug stage now because we have had to resort to medication to help her with anxiety.

It would seem to me that the most prudent thing to do is to prevent this cascade of anxiety in the first place.

So why, despite many people objecting, including parents (me), staff, Department of Developmental Services service coordinator and many others, did the management of the Agency that runs Lily’s group home/residential program move the young woman in with Lily who makes extremely loud cockatoo noises on a regular basis? And why do they make Lily ride in the van with her AND WORK WITH HER EVERYDAY? Why did they put their needs over and above Lily’s needs in making this assignment?

This issue was my last straw in trying to work with this agency.

Now I am working with another agency and other like-minded parents to put together a house that Lily can go home to without  anxiety. Now we can hope to work on making opportunities for Lily to experience JOY.

For Lily,  joy could be running up the stairs and jumping into my bed, snuggling under the down comforter with a happy squeal.

As for me, I try to make every moment count and find joy in everyday things: the many shades of grey at the Maine Coast, with the sky and fog and the water and the shingles on my house merging into one.

What gives you joy?

Examining the unexamined life of an adult with autism: Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts examining the question of what I think might lead to a happy and fulfilling life for my adult autistic daughter, Lily.

The first and most essential basis for a happy life is that ones basic needs of food and water, shelter and warmth, health and safety should be adequately met. Some might argue that these are Human Rights and I think we would agree that they are at least American Rights. (For some reason Republicans are now balking at the idea that Health is a human right but this is relatively new. Richard Nixon practically invented Health Care Reform).

Because Lily has little sense of self-protection or awareness of danger, she needs people who care about her to watch over her at all times and they need to be trained and vigilant. They must help her prepare food and must be trained in adequate nutrition on a small food budget and how to prepare foods safely. The staff help her care for her house and keep it clean. They drive her to and fro in a van and take her into the community. They keep her safe from harm and keep her from harming herself.

Staff who work with Lily must also be watchful and aware of subtle changes in behavior that might indicate a medical problem and be active in searching out the cause.  New “behavior” is not just a “behavior”; but, might indicate a physical or emotional problem. They must take her to the appropriate health care provider for evaluation, (providing they can find one willing to care for a nonverbal autistic person on Medicaid).

I think basic needs must be met first before expanding upon the other areas of life that enhance happiness and fulfillment. Maybe some ascetics and monks can claim happiness and fulfillment on an empty belly, but not most and not my Lily.

There are adult persons with autism who need less support in these areas of  basic need but they might still need help for a number of years managing life in a more independent living arrangement.

Unfortunately, when communities and states need to cut budgets for social services because the tax rate is so low, lower than it has ever been in this country, too low to maintain our standards of living, too low to provide for basic needs for the elderly and disabled, the already low wages paid to direct care workers in these support service industries are so low that the quality of direct care workers suffers.

I am dealing with these issues of poor quality staff and unmet basic needs every day now. Although it is frustrating that Lily is not being challenged to learn skills or even maintain skills, the more pressing problems are adequate nutrition and safety.

Why does our society now value keeping money in the pockets of the rich  over basic human rights for the disabled, the elderly and the very, very poor?

Happy and Fulfilling Life for a Person with Autism

What makes a happy and fulfilling life for a person with autism? What makes a life fulfilling and happy for a person without autism?

The theme of what it takes to make a happy and fulfilling life is not a new one. When my loyal reader asked what I think would make a happy life for my daughter Lily, I made a list of areas that I consider essential components of life to explore and examine.

  • Basic needs
  • Learning and growth
  • Fun and recreation
  • Joy
  • Spiritual
  • Creative
  • Family and Friends: Relationships

As I have written before in these pages, I am not satisfied with Lily’s adult program. I do not think it meets her needs in any of the above areas. My task, as I see it now, is to examine these areas and develop a program that does meet her needs. I have done similar exercises for my own life at times when I was unhappy or felt unfulfilled. The examination can be fun and very enlightening.

Remember that not getting what you want is sometimes a wonderful stroke of luck. 

—The 14th Dalai Lama