Here I Stand, I Can Do No Other

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When our kids were in elementary school, one of the lessons we needed to teach them was the difference between friendly teasing and mean teasing. Sometimes people tease you a little bit because they like you. Other times teasing is malignant.

The last three years have been wearing for our family.

One of the things we had to teach our kids when they were growing up is the difference between friendly teasing and mean teasing. Kids with autism frequently have a difficult time interpreting social cues. That, combined with a tendency toward understanding language literally without benefit of subtext, makes them more vulnerable to to bullying.

I’m seeing a movement among teachers and social workers in public schools to try to limit the behaviors that are defined as “bullying.” Teachers, administrators and social workers have a lot on their plates, and cannot be the constant arbitrators of disputes. Kids are not learning to stand up for themselves, but can stop every unpleasant interaction with the accusation of bullying.

Perhaps they are right, to a point. Not every interaction, or series of interactions, is bullying. Some of it is jockeying for position in the world. We need to learn how to overcome obstacles and attitudes in the world. We need to learn how to get along with those who disagree with us. We need to learn to have compassion for those who have different opinions. And we need to learn to push back against the wrong, to stand up for what is right. We can’t learn to have backbone without some training in standing up for ourselves and others.

I know by personal experience what bullying is. It is constant, relentless, long term. I was bullied relentlessly from kindergarten through halfway through the sixth grade when our family moved to Lowell. I would not be the person that I am without this experience. It has affected me all my life. It had both positive and negative effects.

Because of bullying, I became a voracious reader. I read everything in the house, including the encyclopedias from A to Z. Reading developed the skills I needed to go to college later on. Reading helped me to develop as a writer. Bullying also played a part in my decision to become a Christian. I understood and accepted the work of the cross on my behalf. But I remember thinking that Jesus understood what it was like to be bullied. I was nine.

But that time of bullying in my life also affected me in very negative ways. I developed a shell as a means of protecting myself. I became withdrawn, shy. Depression has been a on and off visitor throughout my life. My third year of college was a complete disaster. Except that it wasn’t. I came close to dropping out. For every class that I passed, I failed one. Every quarter I failed two classes for every two I got Cs in. Before this, my average was a 3.5, and higher in honors classes. I gave up on the church, and told God that I didn’t understand why I had no friends. That was also the year I started counseling, which was life changing. I learned many coping skills and relational skills. At the end of the year, my Jewish counselor said to me, “Don’t give up on God.”

People who knew me before that year of counseling and after, remarked that I was very different. Not outgoing and bubbly by any means, but more open. More friendly. More able to cope.

My experience with bullying has also made me more likely to speak up when I see it. Or hear about it. When my kids were bullied at school or church, if I knew about it, I said something. One problem I have is over reaction. Bullying can fill me with rage. I have to stop myself because that is counter-productive.

So I have spent a couple of years in opposition to Donald Trump. Because he is a bully, plain and simple. He models relentless bullying and I cannot accept this as okay. It’s the same kind of language that my bullies in elementary school used on me. Changing my name to insults, calling me a weakling, throwing stones. President Trump has tweeted just this morning, changing the name of one of his opponents to a swear word. How can this be acceptable to Christians. It is relentless.

Our family has a strong reaction to bullies because we understand from personal experience the kind of relentless bullying our nation has seen modeled from our president. And our reaction is visceral. We’ve had to counsel ourselves and our kids to step back and not attack those who support bullying. We still stand against the bullying we are witnessing. We can do no other.

We voted our repudiation instead. All of us. There should be a cost.

Donald Trump is our president, but we do not look up to him or admire him.

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Wallflower Coping Strategies?

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At our former church several years ago, the pastor preached a heartening message on anxiety and loneliness. At the end of the service, they announced that instead of Sunday School (some congregations call it “Adult Bible Fellowship”), there would be a fellowship time with coffee and treats. I had to stay because I sang in choir for both services, so I went into the fellowship hall with Mary, we got our food, and sat down next to some people. They talked among themselves, but not too us. I tried to edge my way into conversation with the person next to me without much success.

There is not much worse than being lonely in public, which is far different than being alone in public. I can sit at a table in a coffee shop with a book or notepad and be perfectly happy if no one bothers me. However, except for the cost, I would rather have a root canal than be lonely in a crowd. At least the dentist gives me drugs to relax me beforehand.

A few years ago, I went to a fund raiser where I sat alone at a table with Mary. All the other tables were filled up, or people were saving chairs for their friends. The missionary we supported was there with his family. Finally, he came over to talk to us for a little bit, and then some late comers sat at our table. I went home from that meeting feeling that I had failed again. Sitting at that table alone with Mary was not a very good strategy for meeting people. Yet sitting down at a table with people already there resulted in being told that seats are being saved. There is no place for you. I find it hard to make either choice. I usually hope that someone will have mercy on us. Someone who is talkative.

I have been a Wall flower all my life. Reserved, shy, introverted. and at times terrified. When I was younger I was pathologically shy. I would shake if a young man sat at the table where I and my roommates were eating. I took an honors psychology course when I was in college, and I was able to conclude that I was shy, but there were no solutions offered.

I’ve read Dale Carnegie’s famous book, “How to Make Friends and Influence People,” and it has helped somewhat. Over the years my battle with shyness and a tendency to sit alone has improved.

However, at almost 60, I am still battling shyness. Standing at the wall and waiting to be invited to the dance. I recently walked out of a noisy weight watchers meeting because they were all talking to each other and no one was talking to me, even though I introduced myself to a couple of people. I’m going to a different meeting now and someone I know from church is there. That is very helpful.

We have now been at our new church for just over a year, and I wish I could change this about myself. Ralph is better at making friends that I am. Our church has something called “Life Groups” – which are made up of groups of three to four women or men (of the same sex) which meet twice a month for prayer, encouragement, discipleship, and study. This has helped me to know a few people more deeply. A plus for me. We are older now, so we don’t have a lot in common with the younger families in the church. Even in our old church, raising kids with autism often left us isolated. We just didn’t do the same things as other families. They went to little league and sports; we went to therapeutic horseback riding.

If you have any wallflower coping strategies, I would be happy to hear them. We joined a new Adult Bible Fellowship a few weeks ago, so we are starting over with getting to know people there. I am planning to go to a writers retreat in May where I will be spending extended time with a group of people I barely know. Some of them I met in critique groups before Ralph’s health failed. So I have some challenges ahead.

Ann Kilter

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Character and Determination

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When Marie graduated from high school, the state rehabilitation agency sent her to a day long series of evaluations to assess whether my plan to take her to college was an appropriate use of state funds.

The report was devastating. 20+ pages long. I read it tearfully. However, I had read many similar reports about Marie throughout her education.

Some of her teachers in middle school and high school had honestly looked at her weaknesses, but they also looked at her strengths. She started reading at 15 through intensive instruction. The first novel she read was THE LORD OF THE RINGS at 16.

And she had an affinity for numbers. Her teachers encouraged this. In high school, she finished a 2-year course in computerized accounting in one year at the KCTC. She worked hard.

The Michigan Rehab neuropsych testing concluded that she could take beginning college classes like remedial English and beginning accounting classes, but she wouldn’t be able to pass advanced accounting classes. Even if she passed advanced accounting classes, she likely wouldn’t graduate. Even if she graduated, because of her autism, she wouldn’t be able to interact with clients.

Her sister, Patty, said to me at the time, that test does not measure hard work or determination. It doesn’t measure character.

So the fall of 2005, Marie started taking classes at GRCC. We signed her up for disability services at the college. She did well in all of her accounting classes and needed tutoring in language based courses. She graduated from community college in 2008 with an associate degree in accounting. We encouraged her to go to Davenport for her bachelor’s degree. She graduated from Davenport in 2010.

The neuropsych testing was correct in forecasting her difficulty in finding full-time work. She got interviews. But never the job. I surmise that the interviewers knew something was off. She didn’t make eye contact, her voice was very soft, she still had residual speech issues.

After a year of this, she looked up volunteer organizations, and found a volunteer position at Mel Trotter in accounts receivable. She volunteered without fail for a year. Her boss told her that if she volunteered for a year they would hire her part time. They hired her that fall. She worked full time during the giving season October through December and one or two afternoons a week for the rest of the year, for three years. And she continued to look for work and got interviews, but never a job.

In the spring of 2014 she told me that she was going to go in a different direction. Goodwill in collaboration with Peckham Industries was offering a course leading to IT certification. She was going to an interview for the program next week. Would I take her? Of course, I said. The job opportunity was at a call center at Peckham Industries.

So she started the course in August 2014. In October 2014, Ralph was hospitalized for bowel obstruction and emergency bowel resection surgery due to a tumor. Our Sunday school class stepped in and provided transportation so that Marie could finish her course. They also took Patty to her TA job at Cornerstone University. This was what we desperately needed. God provided this through his people. Ephesians 2:10 in action.

Marie passed the certification course on the first try. She went through the interview process, including an interview with the FBI for security clearance, and was hired with the first group of hires for Peckham Industries’ call center to provide tech support for the USDA forest service. They also have contracts for Visa tech support.

She has been working for Peckham for 3 1/2 years. Two years ago, she bought the condo we live in with her. She is now taking courses at the community college for a computer programming associates while working full time. She is getting straight A’s.

Marie’s life is testimony to the goodness of God. And the accumulation of all the good works performed by hundreds of people on her behalf and our behalf. This didn’t happen by accident.

*****

For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Ephesians 2:1013906724_10153813157811381_3887460422324417653_n

Don’t Get Me Started – A Rant About Grammar, Punctuation & Spelling

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The rules of grammar are a scientific description of how language works, a product of observation.

At my last dental appointment, my dental hygienist invited me to poke fun at people who make spelling, grammar, and punctuation mistakes. “Doesn’t it bug you when…” I refused the invitation by talking about Marie’s severe learning disabilities.

Marie and my husband, Ralph, struggle with writing and spelling, but are very good at diagramming sentences and understanding the “rules” (scientific description) of grammar. They are both math minded. My mother couldn’t spell to save her life, but she did make the best white bread I have ever tasted. My sister struggled in school. She had an undiagnosed learning disability, and suffered for it all the way through school. So I get defensive for my people, when those who are language gifted throw stones at those who struggle.

I love to write and have been doing so since elementary school. However, even though my major in college was English literature with a minor in linguistics, I wasn’t very interested in grammar. I took an English grammar class in college, and struggled to get a B. It was BORING. I was good at writing, punctuation, and spelling due to all the reading I did as a young person, along with practice; but I wasn’t very interested in the scientific description of language. It wasn’t until I took a business English class when I was studying for my associate in legal office administration that I gained a firm grasp on the grammatical rules of the English language.

I do not judge anyone on their use of language, spelling, and punctuation. I am not a grammar Nazi, though I sometimes joke about it. I’ve known too many people for whom this is a life long struggle; and no matter how much they try, improvement is a very slow process. Language is so complicated.

For some of us, competency in writing comes easy. It’s a gift. But for others, it’s a struggle. It is possible to improve over the long haul. I’ve witnessed this with Marie. She never stops learning and she doesn’t give up easily. She told me this morning that she understands the rules of grammar very well, even though she struggles with writing and spelling.

One of the reasons Marie doesn’t use Facebook is due to her spelling deficit. That’s probably true of a lot of people who don’t use Facebook. Here’s the thing, though; it’s easy to throw shade toward those who struggle with language on Facebook because it’s all so very visible, and make the assumption that they’re stupid. But here’s another thing; Marie is kind and rarely complains about anything. Academically, her strengths are in math and logic related subjects like accounting, grammar, and programming. Her major in college was accounting. In high school she completed a two year computerized accounting class in one year. She is now working on a two year degree in programming at the community college, and she is getting straight A’s.

So don’t ask me to judge people based on their skill in using English. You’ll get a failing grade from me and an earful. We all have strengths and weaknesses and we all have something to contribute. And I complain too much and am not always kind.

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Exceptionally Forward

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There are times in my life when my boldness has been completely out of character for the personality I was born into.

I am currently in the process of writing a grant application for my church. Our church building is over 50 years old. First, the sanctuary was built with classrooms in the basement. Then the family center with additional classrooms and a gym was added later, at the bottom of a hill,  with a connection through the basement of the sanctuary. There was an intention to build an elevator at a later date. However, that congregation dissolved before it could be done.

We have an emotional connection to this church building. We met and were married in this church building. Our kids were all in the nursery. That church dissolved a year after we moved to a different area of the city. It was very upsetting and sad. Several small congregations occupied the building without much success after that. When we moved back to the area, we discovered that there was a new congregation there and the church parking lot was full on Sundays. So we decided to check it out. We have been attending since June and have noticed some very wonderful things about this congregation.

This church has had a strong ministry to orphans – particularly those who are medically fragile.  Many of their families have adopted.  And several others are consistently providing foster care for children in need.  This is an under-served and often neglected population.  This project would allow those with disabilities to access classrooms for Bible study and fully enter into the life of the church.  They have also partnered with Olivia’s Gift – a local home for developmentally disabled adults.  Our congregation serves there on Thursday evenings by playing music, reading to the residents, etc.  They have tried to bring the residents to our facility for Sunday services but accessibility has been a challenge.

Our church also has an African Refugee Church that meets at around 1:00 pm. There are many Chinese students who come. There is an English as a second language ministry. And several members work with New Creation Ministries doing Bible correspondence courses with prisoners.

Before we came, our church had been planning to build an elevator to the classroom areas and family center, along with a broader foyer and wider stairs. As it stands now, a person in a wheelchair or using a cane would have to go back to their car and be driven down the hill to get to the classroom area of the church. Or be carried down the stairs. These options are cumbersome and embarrassing. Many newcomers would just give up. The gospel is for everyone, not just those who can navigate the stairs.

I have witnessed church members carrying the wheelchair of a young man down the stairs.

So the pastor of the church ask if I would be willing to explore grant possibilities. I said yes. That is exceptionally forward of me.

It is not like me to go to strangers and try to convince them to hand over money even for a good cause. I was never much good at selling girl scout cookies, even though they practically sell themselves. I am not a sales person; I take after my dad in that regard. He has had many side careers over the years, none of which were successful, and some of which cost him quite a bit of money with lackluster return at best.

I was extremely shy when I went away to college. When a boy came to sit at my table with my friends, I would shake; I was so nervous. I wish I had been braver when I was in college. Maybe I would have been able to raise money from organizations to attend a semester in England. Nah. I would have been shaking in my boots.

However, there have been moments in my life that defy my natural tendencies.

After I graduated from college, I decided to attend this church which was halfway between my job and my parents’ house because the services were earlier. The first Sunday, my husband’s friend introduced himself to me, and then introduced me to my future husband. After church, the crowd was so thick that we were stuck at the back, and had to talk to each other until the crowd dispersed. He was shy. So was I. But here is the exceptionally forward part. That Wednesday night, this shy person went to prayer meeting and noticed that he was sitting alone. By himself. I inexplicably walked up to him and asked if the seat next to him was empty. He said yes. I sat down. He didn’t look at me the entire meeting. But afterward we went out for cokes at the local baptist college. (There wasn’t much available at that time near the church). And the rest, as they say, is history.

After our kids were placed in special education, I also did some things I probably wouldn’t have done if not for autism. If not for my kids.

I went to a board meeting to speak up for the kindergarten teacher who was going to be reduced to part-time. I was shaking, but I said, looking at one of the board members who also had a son in kindergarten, “My son has special needs and is very disruptive in his classrooms. Do you think it’s a good idea to put a child like him in a class of 30 kindergartners? Or would it be less expensive to put him in a specialized class in another district.” That was exceptionally forward of me. The teacher kept her full time job…and was an excellent teacher to my son.

I spoke at public comment sessions for special education, I went to conferences. I spoke to rooms full of day care providers on taking care of children with special needs. I spoke to college students in child development classes regarding what it was like to raise a child with autism.

I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I did it anyway. For the kids. And by the grace and power of God, who helped me speak to groups of people.

So I am feeling like this venture of writing for grants is also exceptionally forward of me. But it is for others.   And I am having a bit of writer’s block about it. But I have been collecting the attachments. And writing out my thoughts. Hoping to come up with a theme to make our request more powerful. Would you pray for me in this.

Ann