Why I’m not moving…for now: Autism and family

2019 has had lots of highlights for me. It’s something easy to forget until I scroll through my photos on my phone and see “oh yeah, I was with these friends in these cities doing these things, and at these concerts and these events, and wow this really is a lot”. I also have finally been blessed with a stable year-round job which is going well so far. I feel incredibly blessed for that. The major frustrating story of the year, however, has been repeatedly trying to move to a different location from where I am, and being unsuccessful at that.

One of these failures I have alluded to in a past entry. In June, I found a fellow autistic roommate who I thought was a match, and then we had lunch a couple times and it became clear we had very different visions and would have problems with conflict when we moved to the new place, so I called it off. But a lot of it has been due to simple familial indecision. My sister has been wanting to break up with her partner and move out with me into a separate house.  We have made three separate attempts to do this, once in February and twice this fall. And all three times have failed due to my sister backing out and changing her mind at the last minute.

As you may have seen in my October blog entry, I was really hopeful about this latest time. It fell apart because we ran into some difficulties with our application, and my sister decided this was reason enough to try moving back in with her partner one more time. Whatever I may think of those decisions, I have to focus on my own life and how it affects me and not get too wrapped up in what my sister is doing, which is something my dad has emphasized to me over and over this year. I’ve fallen into a trap a bit this year, although I’m not sure if it’s avoidable or not. The trap is that when you’re about to make a big transition in your life, it’s hard to commit to anything. While we were going to stay in Chattanooga, my sister and I were going to move a significant distance away. “Eh, I won’t worry about exercising now; we’ll live right next to a gym when we move”. “Eh, I won’t get too invested in what’s going on at church right now, because I may have to move far away from it soon anyway”. These are traps that make it hard to live life perpetually in limbo, which it feels like I have been in since February. But now that it’s clear that moving out with my sister is not a reality I am going to be living anytime soon, I need to focus on my own goals. Because I still want to move. And now things may even work out more positively, because I may have more choice over where I can go.

A well-documented issue in modern society has been children staying in their parents’ or family members’ houses much longer than ever before due to financial instability. While this has hit society hard in general, it has especially hit new autistic adults, because in addition to the financial instability that everyone else has, we also have issues with independent living that make it easier just to stay put. Over the past several years, I’ve become adept at seeking out other people with autism both in person and in online communities and I’ve noticed a general pattern: none of us are happy with these situations, be it the parents or the adults with autism themselves. The parents and autistic adults become exasperated with each other, and it drives families apart. It becomes very easy for us to blame our families for our problems. In reality, a lot of us have more control over our own situations than we are giving ourselves credit for, and it is up to us to use it appropriately.

We all have our own gifts. If you’re good at singing, join a singing group. If you’re good at writing, write a book, or join an online writing community. Just do something to improve your connections with the world and with others, and you never know: you might find a friend, you might find a roommate, you might find a job, and you might not. But you have a 0% chance of improving your situation if you don’t at least try to do something for yourself, so it is automatically better to try. And in my case, right after getting the crushing bad news that, yet again, my sister had changed her mind, I had an opportunity to tap into my gifts, because literally the next day, I had an interview with my current online job that I ended up getting. I knew my best shot to improve my situation was do well with the interview and get the job. I was skeptical, because I’d failed to get jobs after dozens of prior interviews. However, I was able to learn from my prior experience and reverse that result this time. And now I will be in a better position moving forward to hopefully get where I want to be.

So, where do I want to go? I don’t know exactly yet. I just started this job Monday, so I want to get adjusted and get in a routine with it first. I know I want to stay in Chattanooga, because I’ve made friends and connections here and find it to be a good location to travel from. And now I don’t even necessarily have to move into an apartment pre-ordained by my sister if I don’t want to. But I do think that I shouldn’t stall too much, and that the time is soon. Wish me well as I figure it out. You too have more control than you think you do. Sometimes, if you focus on what you can do to better your own situation, you can do a lot more than you give yourself credit for. It doesn’t always have to matter what everybody else does.

 

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I got a new job!

So I’ve been gone a bit again, going through a lot of life transitions. While it doesn’t look like I’ll be moving any time in the near future, I am excited to report that I have a new full-time job that I start today.

I actually was lucky enough to get two separate job offers last week, something incredible to me after having hundreds of job application processes in a row go unsuccessfully. One job was writing entries for a Spanish/English dictionary (talk about a perfect fit for me). The other was working for a remote jobs website and finding valid (read: not scam) jobs for them to post and then writing short descriptions that make it easier for people to find those jobs via search. I ended up picking the jobs website because: 1) They offered first (last Wednesday vs last Thursday); 2) they offer more stable year-round hours than the dictionary job would. While it would have been theoretically possible to take both jobs on at once as the dictionary writing is only a part-time role, I decided not to overwhelm myself.

I am excited to take on this new role primarily because it will be the first stable year-round job I’ve had. I will no longer have to rely on sporadic test scoring income and schedules, where I work myself to death in the spring because I know that there will be no work available at all for several months once the middle of June arrives. I am also excited because it fits my skill set. I enjoyed doing the work sample that was required as part of this application process. One thing I’ve found through applying to hundreds of jobs is that it is almost like a puzzle. A lot of jobs bury the important information 2 pages into their listing, and in doing so they make it difficult for the most qualified people to actually find a job that fits them. I’ve adapted, read thousands of job listings, and become good at figuring out which jobs really are the best fits for me to apply to. Now I will be able to help others do the same, because I will be writing summaries that list the most important information in a job listing and really let people know what they are getting into before they apply. I’ve also encountered a couple scam jobs in my search, and I’m excited to work for a company that actively makes it easier for people to avoid scams, as scams are especially prominent in the remote/work-from-home world.

Since I moved to Maryland, I have pretty much spent considerable time every single non-holiday on job sites looking for jobs in Maryland, Chattanooga, or remotely. I’ve been lucky enough to get 12 interviews, but the first 10 did not lead to offers. A lot of the interviews that did not lead to offers were in person. I’m not a great interview in person, because as discussed in other places in this blog, I don’t make a glowing first impression. I stim a lot, especially when I’m nervous about meeting new people, and I don’t answer questions from the employer in a way that best sells myself. I’ve discovered one flaw in the way I answer questions that I try to address: I usually only directly answer what the employer asks me, and it takes me anywhere from 30 seconds to a minute to do that. But that’s not what most employers want. Most employers are fine with me discussing my qualifications for 5-7 minutes as long as I do it in an organized, relevant way and directly answer their question somewhere in there. When I ask most employers questions at the end of interviews, that is how they answer them; making the mental jump that that is how they want me to answer them too and then training myself to do it has been difficult. I wouldn’t say I was even that successful in these interviews. In my second interview for this job, it lasted 30 minutes and I would say my interviewer was the one talking for at least 20 of those minutes. I need to do a better job at controlling my “time of possession”. But I’m glad it ultimately didn’t matter. I think the big difference was that, because they weren’t interviewing me in person, the interviewers only had to focus on the quality of my answers. I also was less stressed because they didn’t have to view me in person, which made me give better answers anyway. Sometimes in life, when we aren’t skilled at something, we just need to find workarounds. And hopefully I have found a workaround by obtaining this job.

I look forward to updating more regularly now that I have this job, because my schedule will start to be more regimented and less chaotic. I’m going to back off the Upwork freelance work for a while until I get a new routine established. My hours will be completely flexible once training ends, which is perfect for me. I look forward to settling into a job that is a better fit for me. Hopefully, once I get settled into this major life change, it will then be possible for me to reconsider moving. The story behind moving and why I am not doing that right now will likely be my next entry.

 

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Life update: Keeping busy and learning to stand up for myself

The past month and a half has been incredibly stressful. I’ve had a lot on my plate at once, between trying to move, picking up a bunch of freelance work, and stepping into some new duties with our Chattanooga autism group. Let’s start with the good. I’ve really enjoyed working more with the autism center. When Scott Kramer (who I wrote an entry about a month ago) passed away, it left a huge void of lots of tasks that needed to be done. While a few people had helped him with these tasks in the past, he did so much work that no one person could possibly fill his shoes. So we delegated tasks. I’ve been mostly in charge of helping with the Facebook page, running events on social media, and also helping to coordinate our social events (outside of the support group). I also put a bit of time into creating a new brochure for the Chattanooga Autism Center to use at conferences now that Scott had passed away. The social media work comes naturally to me, but the brochure was a bit of a challenge. While figuring out what I wanted to say on the brochure was easy enough, my design skills aren’t great, even using a template. I tried to finish my draft of the brochure early enough that other people would have time to do some last-minute design touchups, and thankfully this happened. When you’re autistic, knowing your strengths and weaknesses is important. I got tasked with putting together the brochure because I’m the best writer in my group; however, the brochure also required some design expertise that I found myself a bit lacking in. Consequently, I made sure to allow space for others to help me with that part of the brochure.

Speaking of playing to my strengths, a friend recommended that I try the website Upwork.com because he knew another friend that had made quick, easy money editing another person’s paper on there. I gave it a try and I would highly recommend it to anyone with autism who has a marketable skill, and I will probably write a future entry on that. For me, my marketable skills are writing and editing, although I’ve been focusing mostly on editing so far. The way it works is someone will make a proposal and it can be anything from “I need this 1 5-page paper edited and I’ll pay you $5 for it” to “I need a series of papers edited over several months, and I’ll pay you $11/hour for them”. You negotiate terms and agree to a contract, but to save tax confusion, all your payments are consolidated through the Upwork platform. I started off with a bunch of smaller “editing 5-page paper” tasks and earned a bunch of quick money, and later was able to secure an interview for a longer-term task (although I did not get that job).

The site makes me optimistic for the future. I’ve begun to feel like I’m at an impasse in my job search, and the site has finally given me a way to build my editing resume and portfolio which should make it easier to get jobs in the future. It’s also given me an opportunity to get longer-term jobs, and once I move, I look forward to applying to more and hopefully getting one. Since I don’t drive, I’m especially happy to find a remote opportunity that builds my resume, and the fact it supplements my essay-scoring money nicely is just icing on the cake. It’s been a bit overwhelming at times, though. The best way to get started on Upwork is to submit a high volume of applications and hope somebody is willing to take a chance with someone with not as much experience. This works great until 4 people respond “yes” all on the same day, and suddenly you’re scrambling to crank out a high volume of work in a short period of time. Combined with moving, this feast-or-famine type of work has been a bit stressful, but it’s also been rewarding.

Moving, however, has been a bit more up and down. My sister and her partner are splitting up, and as a result of that my sister is moving and wants me to move with her. We found a good set of apartments that’s on a bus line, in a more walkable neighborhood, and closer to downtown Chattanooga than I currently am, which are three attributes that will all make it easier for me to get around. However, we’ve hit a bunch of snags along the way. I even had a security deposit put down on an apartment and power turned on, and then had to turn around and turn the electricity off and fight to get my security deposit back. This has been quite stressful. I also thought we were going to be moving in February, and then that also didn’t happen at the last minute, and that has made me paranoid and stressed about this move, especially when yet another false start happened. Since that false start, however, my sister and I have made some positive steps, and I’m confident we’ll be moving sometime in November, hopefully November 1.

Having to be harsh and a bit nasty about getting my security deposit back is not something that came easy to me. I’m a sensitive person who gets heavily affected whenever people are stern with me, which is part of why living at my brother’s didn’t work out so well. I really try to be as diplomatic and nice to people as I can all the time, and sometimes this results in me getting walked all over. As a person with autism, I’ve found my margin of error with people is already small to begin with, and so my general reasoning has been “why risk angering them even more by being stern when I ca just be nice all the time?” When I found out that we weren’t moving, though, I had had enough. I needed to express my unhappiness, and it was an incredibly difficult thing for me to do. Thankfully, unlike February, the speed bump seems to be only temporary this time, so I am holding out hope that things will come together soon. Once I do move, I am excited about the new flexibility and opportunities I will have.

So now that I’ve caught up, I can hopefully get back to updating more regularly. It has truly been a crazy month, between the unpredictable freelancing and moving situations. In September, I also felt pressure to scramble and apply for a bunch of jobs, knowing that things could potentially be financially tight with the oncoming move, and that is another thing that caused stress. Thankfully, that is another issue that appears to not be as bad as I anticipated. As a strongly analytical introvert, I am always worrying and trying to create a contingency plan for the contingency plan, and this past month has given me a lot of things to legitimately worry about. However, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel now, and I’m looking forward to moving on to some new opportunities.

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A tribute to Scott Kramer

This past Friday, we lost a great man when Scott Kramer, the program director of the GCA Center for Adult Autism, passed away due to cancer. Today’s entry is in tribute to him.

When I first decided to move from Maryland to Chattanooga, one of my primary incentives for moving was knowing that there was an autism support group already built into the Chattanooga community. As someone who has lived in both North Carolina and Maryland, I know that resources for adults with autism are simply not common at all throughout the United States, and what Chattanooga had seemed to be unique. If you asked Scott about his vision when he founded the center, he would tell you very plainly that often resources and assistance stopped for adults with autism simply stopped when they reached a certain age, and his goal was to fill in the gaps. After spending a year living in Chattanooga, I can say with certainty he has done an incredible job of that.

While adults with autism are looking for therapy and life coaching advice, sometimes they are simply just looking for a friend. The monthly support group meetings that Scott started helped do just that. While sometimes our meetings would have guest speakers that provided valuable information, frequently our meetings served as a simple opportunity for adults with autism from the area to chat with each other about their lives and have the opportunity to make friends without judgment. As someone who has struggled to make friends throughout his life, this was especially valuable when I first moved. We talk about everything from our interests in cars, books and music to helping each other through difficult life situations such as moving or getting laid off from a job. Scott did a tremendous job facilitating these meetings, often just letting the conversation flow but knowing when he needed to step in to get the conversation back on track. In addition to this resource, the GCA also worked together with the Chattanooga Autism Center to put on the Chattanooga Autism Conference and Adult Autism Symposium. Both conferences were a tremendous resource for me, filled with guest speakers, helpful talks and chances to get to know other people with autism. The Chattanooga Autism Conference also provided education about autism for teachers and parents that sorely needed it. Shortly after I first moved here, Scott began working with others to expand the reach of autism resources beyond Chattanooga as well, and now similar groups in Atlanta, North Georgia, and Johnson City, TN are well established.

Beyond Scott’s work, in June I was also lucky enough to get to know him as a friend. I had an opportunity to move in with a potential roommate that ended up not working out, and Scott provided me with the guidance to move through what could have been a difficult situation quickly and easily. He was always so quick to respond to e-mails and texts, even while undergoing weekly chemotherapy during the last year of his life. He personally believed in each person that he met, and he strived to bring out the best in them. Since so many people struggle to understand adults with autism and don’t really give them a chance to prove themselves, his personal involvement in our lives was incredibly valuable to us all.

Scott stayed busy right through the end of summer 2019 helping put on the Symposium in July and continuing to be an advocate for autism in the community. While his work will live on and the support groups and conferences that he helped to create will continue under different leadership, we will have big shoes to fill. We will all miss you, Scott.

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Flashback: A sample of my 5th grade writing

I decided to do something a bit out of left field for this week’s entry, especially since I haven’t done a lot of “fun” entries lately – things have been quite serious in my life. Because my mom saved everything I ever did or every form she ever filled out that was relevant to me, I’ve been lucky enough to hold on to a lot of writing I did when I was in elementary school (yes, I was nerdy enough to do lots of writing outside of school that had nothing to do with any assignments). I encountered a bunch of this writing recently when going through old files trying desperately to find my original birth certificate, and I decided to pick out a few of what I thought the “better” snippets were to share with you all. When I was in elementary school, my reading and writing skills were especially advanced for my age. I was ambitious and occasionally attempted to use vocabulary words far above my grade level and sometimes used them awkwardly or unsuccessfully, and I have left them in here, but I wanted this writing to serve as a snapshot of what an autistic 5th grader’s life is like. One of these snippets is funny, as I write it from the perspective of a sub commenting back to my 5th grade teacher Ms. Brown on how our class behaved, which is exactly something I would do in 5th grade as I related much better to adults than kids at that time. The other two entries are more serious. One focuses on the struggles I had moving to a new state (North Carolina) in 5th grade after growing up to New York and struggling to make friends, and the general autistic struggle to make friends. The final entry is a poem about loss that was likely inspired by one of my mom’s short-lived boyfriends during this time period. All three of them were written while I was in 5th grade in 1998. I hope you enjoy!

Entry 1 – October 30, 1998

All in all, it was a pretty good day with the sub, but here’s what the sub has to say.

Class Report by Ms. Martin

The class was pretty good today. There were a few bad apples among the bunch, but overall it was a great day.

We went to the Thomas Edison assembly. They did very well there. We came back and had math. The class worked diligently on your packet, though not all of the packets were completed. The mystery pictures went well also.

No talking during DEAR time.

We watched the video on the Revolutionary War. I told the class the topic might be dry, but it was need-to-know stuff.

Another blue in PE.

Shining Stars: Gina, Katrina, Jared, Kristen J., Sarah

Challenges:

-Joey kept revealing toys and money and I kept taking them from him repeatedly.

-I made Joey, Andy, and Brandon flip cards for running down the 4th and 5th grade hallway.

-Andy, Ryan and Travis were quite talkative.

For a Friday and it being the day before Halloween, it was a good day.

Entry 2 – October 25, 1998

The past few weeks have been “The Days That The Bulldozers Came” at home. I am getting faulted over every which thing, my stress level has been high with occurrences at school, and everything has happened to me at once. There have been a few good moments mixed in with the bad, but those good moments are so hard to relish in comparison.

Today is the day I let my feelings out, and the only secluded place I can do it is in my diary. There have been a number of injustices happening to me around the house, as I have said already, including:

  1. Things are just too unfair. People should know by now, particularly those who live in my household, what my personality is like. They should know that I am sensitive and get hyper easily. Several occurrences happen around this house, and there’s things that I have absolutely zilch control over, and everybody else has a say in. Maybe it’s because I am the youngest, I don’t know, but things just add up one by one, and they leave no breathing room.
  2. My niece Amber is becoming more of a trouble to me than I thought she would be in the first place. Amber seems to be the perfect one, the enviable model, and I have to tolerate that. Jealousy starts seeping in, and pretty soon she’s Michael Jordan or somebody! It has gotten to be this way over a brief period of time, and many of her belongings are on my wishlist. She also has friends and they get into conversations that are seemingly too adult for any of us to cope with. She also has a totally enviable number of friends. But to top that all off, what has Amber done to hurt me in the first place? Absolutely nothing. This is the reply I always get.
  3. And lastly, there are just too darned many people that like to hang around this place. Everybody except stupid me has friends, and they come over, and they bring their own friends along, and pretty soon the place is a madhouse! It’s packed. I can’t stand large crowds, or any of these friends who are taking away from my space, privacy, and tolerance, and also my perspective on who these people are, because they always seem to act differently, and not be themselves around their friends.

Entry 3 – Unknown Date, 1998: a poem called “Ever Since You Said Goodbye”

Ever since you said goodbye,

Life’s been so much harder to live.

The steppingstone of my life was knocked down,

It was demolished,

It was razed.

Nothing could take that place unless you come back again.

A while before you went away,

We fell into a puddle of indifference,

A muddy, sticky puddle which would be hard to release.

And one day I woke up and you were gone.

Haven’t seen you since then.

I know you might just call me on the phone,

Someday, but I’m not home,

Leave a message and I’ll call back as soon as I can.

This gets forgotten, the burdens of daily life,

All the pain and strife,

Endured.

Maybe one day I’ll be home.

 

Ever since you said goodbye,

I’ve had to carry that missing piece of you on my shoulders.

Maybe you’ll come back someday,

That would be a pleasure parade.

Connections were straying between us,

And I knew something would break out if one of us didn’t leave.

I didn’t want it to happen this way, though.

I’m waiting with open arms for you to make a return journey.

The operator on the phone said that you were in town.

Anything can happen.

 

Ever since you said goodbye,

You may feel like you’re neglected.

But you’re not.

I think of you probably about twice as much as you think of me.

I hope you return someday.

Ever since you said goodbye,

Life hasn’t made much difference.

Nothing to look forward to when I come home,

No cheeks to kiss.

Ever since you said goodbye,

Life’s been meaningless for both of us.

The fundamental purpose of this song

Is to get you back to where you belong.

 

 

 

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Social media and autism: It’s a trap!

While many of us have become dependent on social media in 2019, it can have long-term negative psychological impacts. This goes double for autistic people. Why is that? Because social media allows us to see only the carefully curated highlights of a person’s life. People are quick to post photos of weddings or parties they’ve attended or vacations to exotic locales. They’re quick to post exciting news of getting a new job. They’re not as quick to post about losing a job, about having trouble getting a job, or about having a quiet Friday night inside the house while people they thought were their “friends” attend a party that they’re not invited to.

This is especially difficult for autistic people because they inherently have a disorder that makes it less likely they will be able to get married or have a job or be in a financial situation where they can afford to take vacations. They see everyone else’s posts and can only think about how they are falling behind. When the reality isn’t that simple. Yes, if these people with autism were on a level playing field with everyone else, maybe then they could feel like they were falling behind. But they’re not.

As someone who just turned 31, I’m part of a generation that has been exposed to social media since we were all roughly college age. We thankfully did not have to deal with the tumult that social media inflicts upon middle and high schoolers, which can be especially vicious for those who do not feel like they are “part of the group”, like people with autism. But I’ve noticed a change in focus of my social media “newsfeed” over time. In college, as you might expect, things were largely focused on those parties, those opportunities to study and take vacations abroad, and the excitement of landing first jobs out of college. But now that everyone’s grown up and realized how demanding life in the American workforce can be, things are more mixed. It’s a mix of the omnipresent wedding and vacation photos and meme and joke posts about how hard the working life can be. But in the past couple weeks, I’ve noticed a third kind of post. Three separate autistic friends have posted long in-depth posts lamenting the state of their lives. One has been trying to get a job for 4 years since graduate school and feels suicidal. Another has found work at a fast food restaurant, but is frustrated that they cannot even get an interview for a job with their skill set. And a third not only does not have a job, but is being severely taken advantage of by their family, yet has no way to escape the situation.

When I read these posts, part of me sympathizes and part of me doesn’t even know what to say. I have come close several times in the past few weeks to either making a social media post or post on this blog that is similar to these rants. I have a job, but I need a better paying one to reach my current goal of what I want my living situation to be. My family situation at my home is less than desirable, and I don’t currently see an easy ending or escape. I realize when I think about writing these posts that the reason we turn to social media is because we’ve been so programmed by being exposed to everyone else’s success that it makes our failures feel even worse.

Having autism is the ultimate “gray area” disorder. Someone who is paralyzed below the waist knows they will never be able to walk. It is a handicap on the level that I could not imagine, and I am blessed every day to have the ability to walk. It is, however, black and white. Autism is all gray. Autism is “I really trust everyone and I’m capable of holding a basic conversation so I think I can make friends, until suddenly one day I realize I’m not getting invited anywhere and I don’t have them anymore”. Autism is “I have good and bad days and I’m really terrible at interviews, but maybe on this one day I can practice hard enough, be just good enough and have a person that’s just understanding enough on the other end that I can get a job”. Autism is “I’m really bad at putting my belt on my pants, but maybe if I put dozens of hours of practice in and have several different people show me how to do it, I can eventually learn”. To repeat, it’s all gray. The door is never shut (and thank goodness for that), but there are days when the crack is really small.

Since social media does an excellent job of shoving everyone else’s accomplishments in our face, my only advice is to this: celebrate your own accomplishments and accept your differences. People who are paralyzed below the waist must accept the fact that they can’t walk for the rest of their lives. Sometimes autistic people try to be someone they’re not, and it’s like trying to walk on a broken leg. Celebrate what you CAN do instead. If you can sing well l, join a choir. If you can write, putting your private writing online is easier than ever these days (and I would be glad to answer any questions about that). If you enjoy coding, code a program based on your interests for fun – my autistic friend did this, and it ultimately got him a job. If you’re lucky enough to have a friend, having 1 great friend can often be equally as hard for you as finding 20 great friends is for another person, so recognize that and appreciate it. Don’t use your limitations as an excuse to never try new things, but realize that you have to put lots of effort into your life and there are times when you do manage to walk on a broken leg. And don’t let seeing a constant stream of the highlights of everyone else’s life on social media drag you down. If you must delete social media to avoid it, do that. You know what you are capable of, so set realistic goals for yourself and celebrate when you reach them. And most importantly, while social media makes it especially easy to fall in this trap, don’t focus on the deficits.

 

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The importance of community: How church has helped me thrive

This week I want to talk about my church experiences throughout my life. This entry doesn’t focus on the religious aspects of church at all, however; it instead focuses on the importance of church as a community. I feel especially strongly that every person is entitled to their own religious beliefs or non-beliefs. If you’re not religious and are reading this entry, this entry also can be about the importance of establishing a routine and finding a group of people you can meet with to get out of the house every week. For me personally, church has been the center of my support network ever since I was young, but there are many places to find support networks. Without church, I would not be nearly the same person I am today.

Growing up, church was just something we did as a family. It was not an option; I was expected to be there every Sunday. There may have been a point in my life in high school where it would have become an option, but by that point I was committed to it. For me, church was a place of safety. I’ve found throughout my life that, despite the stodgy reputation of churchgoers as people who adhere to many rules, people have been less judgmental about my disability in church than anywhere else. My disabilities are obvious between the “stimming”, my occasional clothing malfunctions (including the ever-present collar that needs to be adjusted), and my lack of communication skills at times, but people have been nothing but warm and accepting. Church camps in high school were really my only trips overnight with other people my age. I always felt like I fit in there. Thankfully, I am blessed with musical talents that have caused me to sing in choirs since I was in high school, which has made me at least feel like I’m contributing something positive, but I’ve gotten the sense that even if I weren’t contributing those things, the love and support would still be there.

In North Carolina in my late teens and early 20’s, church took on a new role. When I needed to move in the middle of the school year at college due to the difficult situations I encountered there, my church pastor was right there helping me move. And shortly after I graduated college when my mom passed away, the church was more incredibly supportive than could be imagined. It wasn’t just attending the funeral and supporting my family and me that week, although both of those things were appreciated. It was people stepping in and making sure I had what I needed at church for many years after my mom passed away. It was throwing a housewarming party for me with many gifts when I finally had the chance to move into my own apartment. It was throwing a goodbye party when I unfortunately had to move away from North Carolina in 2017. I will forever be thankful for the impact my church had on my life during this time. I was lonely, struggling, and at times dealing with difficult family situations, and the church stepped in and truly embraced me, giving me everything I needed to keep pushing forward.

Now in Tennessee, I’m finding the same thing to be true. I go to a church where the pastor especially embraces helping the less fortunate in her messages, and the church community truly lives that message out with the way they treat me and others. I’m fitting in to the family in many of the same ways I did before, and I’ve found another safe place where people don’t judge me. After receiving so much kindness from others, I’m trying to find a way to give back, too. Church is a great place to go to learn how to treat others. When I get the opportunity to compliment other people or do something that will make their day better, I do it. Life has been incredibly difficult lately, as my recent blog entries attest; family situations are making home life a challenge. Church is still one thing I look forward to every week, and I try to make it something for others to look forward to as well. Furthermore, if you’re attending a church where you feel judged and don’t feel comfortable, you are attending the wrong church. Church families with welcoming and accepting people are out there everywhere, and if you feel like you aren’t in one now, even the smallest communities have many church options.

To add a final point, one of the most difficult parts of being an adult with autism is the loneliness. People with autism have the same desire to make friends that other people do, and even the same desire for romantic relationships. They know supposedly what the steps are, but they can’t perform those steps, which is so frustrating. Many people with autism don’t drive or have a job, and the amount of times they leave the house per week is limited. However, finding a stabilizing force is important. Whether it be going to church or finding a weekly meeting of a group about something you’re interested in, it’s important to develop a routine of interacting with a community of others. The hardest part is going that first week. It’s never easy. I went to several churches in both Maryland and Tennessee before picking one, and even the first couple months after I made “the choice” could be hard as I got to slowly know people and stretched my comfort zone. But the day I woke up and realized I had a supportive network was an incredibly rewarding day. If you commit yourself to joining a community, I promise that day will eventually happen.

 

 

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