Category Archives: mainstreaming

Tips for Parents: Creating Resources and Educational Opportunities for Students with Autism who Type

Guest post by Tracy Kedar

I have been asked many times by parents how to develop resources to support their children with autism who communicate by typing in order to access a regular education, or how to find supportive agencies or how to create other services where they live. I wish there was an easy answer. Each resource we have out here took legwork and advocacy work by someone, as I’m sure so many of you have already experienced and accomplished, and we have a long way to go! Based on the kinds of questions I often receive, what I can offer are some tips  that hopefully will help parents in developing resources where  they live.

School:

The general education system is still not set up for typers. By and large, unless you encounter an extremely rare and open-minded individual in your school, or others have blazed the trail before you, you will virtually never walk into a school that is familiar with autism or ready to integrate autistic students into general education classes Thus, parents are, as always, thrust into the role of advocate for their child and become de facto outreach educators regarding autism to the schools. Since so many special educators have been taught that students with autism have low cognition, parents of autistic children who have broken through the communication barrier and who are trying to get their children into general education, must come to IEP meetings armed with evidence of their child’s ability. Often times those early meetings are emotionally challenging for parents because panels may be biased or even hostile. However, films of their child typing, reports and assessments from private, preferably school-district-recognized, augmentative communication specialists, psychologists, and others, which show their child’s true capacity, may help.

Beyond this, parents may need to be ready to explain that their child has a legal right to be educated, according to federal law, in the least restrictive environment, despite communicating in a different modality and sometimes displaying odd behavior. Since many people have never even heard that a nonverbal autistic person can communicate by typing, parents can help the IEP team by reassuring them that with a trained aide for behavioral support and as a communication partner, autistic people have successfully been integrated into general education and have done well.

With luck, there will be in attendance at the IEP meeting someone from the school who recognizes that the child is truly communicating and who consequently recommends allowing the child to enter regular classes, but this may not be the case. If it seems necessary, parents may want to invite independent professionals to the IEP as well, such as augmentative communication specialists, educational psychologists, and so on, who can help advocate on behalf of your child’s abilities. Though there may be no one in your area specializing in, or even familiar with testing autistic kids who use typing to communicate, just finding someone open-minded may be good enough.

From our own experience, when Ido was young and I was trying to get him out of autism class, I searched for an educational psychologist who was willing to let him be tested while he answered questions via letter board. I found someone who was willing to try. She carefully observed throughout the testing to make sure he was communicating without being manipulated or prompted, however, she had no prior experience testing a child who communicated in this modality. Other parents looking for someone to do an assessment are eager to hear who can do a fair or adequate job and word may spread among parents that this person is capable of testing a nonverbal typer.

Should a school refuse to allow an autistic student to be integrated in spite of educational psychological evaluations and films demonstrating ability and aptitude at age appropriate level, then in some instances parents may be compelled to seek additional support. It is generally better to not have legal professionals (lawyers, paralegals) in the room in the introductory meetings since at that early stage you are trying to educate school personnel and forge a partnership. However, if you determine that it is necessary, it may be helpful to convey that you are consulting with a legal professional and are aware of your child’s legal rights. A lawyer’s presence may be useful in future meetings but is certainly not the place to start as teamwork and a non-adversarial relationship is always best, if possible.

Once a child is out of the autism class and mainstreamed, the student often finds the academics to be an easier hurdle than the learning to sit still and control his body, emotions and impulses all day. Because these are self-control skills, many students begin mainstreaming gradually, perhaps leaving an autism classroom for only a few periods a day until the self-control improves. For example, in Ido’s middle school there was a self-contained autism class where he sat when not in general education classes, though he did independent study there for the other academic classes he was missing. His integration began gradually. In 6th grade he went only to two general education classes, math and science, and as he learned how to function in a regular class he was able to last longer and longer. By 7th grade he was mainstreamed for three classes and by 8th grade the school recommended that he be on a full general education schedule, which he maintained throughout high school.

Another strategy we found useful was to hire a private tutor to work on grade level material not taught in the autism class before Ido was mainstreamed into general education so that he could get used to do doing regular coursework. He was sitting in the remedial autism class at school all day, but we hired a graduate student in education (not special education) with no prior exposure to autism, whose lesson plans no doubt helped ready Ido for general education. Another advantage is that each of these people, formerly unfamiliar with nonverbal autism and typing to communicate, becomes part of a wider network of support and may in turn provide support to other parents and students.

It is important to note that for most of the typers we know, they didn’t walk into a school that had a program ready to mainstream an autistic student. Since Ido was the first mainstreamed, nonverbal autistic student in every school he attended, this was a completely new experience for teachers and administrators. It is important to know that individual people can make a huge difference. We were helped enormously in middle school by an open-minded administrator, an assistant principal, who was willing to work with us and be supportive to Ido in the school setting. As he told me, “I always just assumed he was smart and just communicated in a different way.” By presuming competence he helped forge a path for success. This was a pleasant surprise. We saw how, by his lead, he influenced others in the school to be receptive to having a student with autism in regular classes.

To help smooth out potential obstacles, prior to the beginning of the school year I met with the administrators to explain who Ido was, how he communicated, his abilities and challenges, and I did the same with all of his teachers after contacting them by email. Ido came to these introductions and introduced himself to the teachers. This is an essential step. Many teachers have never met a person with autism before. They may know nothing about autism. They have huge classes and they already feel overwhelmed and harried, so they need to know that they have someone to bring their questions to, whether it’s the parent, aide, administrator or inclusion teacher. With a good collaborative relationship, supportive administrators can help place the child with teachers they know will be the most open and capable. Many teachers rise to the challenge admirably and really embrace educating the student with autism. They are great gifts to our children. Other teachers accept the presence of our kids with no special passion for reaching out. No problem. They educate them and accept them as they do any other student. Each of these teachers becomes a resource for those students with autism who follow.

There are, however, some teachers who are a terrible fit. They may resent the child’s presence, do not know how to deal with autistic behavior including disruptive noises, outbursts or poor impulse control, be poor teachers in general, or they may exhibit hostile skepticism. In certain instances, finding a different teacher may be warranted. Teachers should be encouraged to observe the child communicating and answering questions to put their mind at ease and to reassure them that the student is doing his own work. From our experience, the more independently the child is able to communicate, the more receptive the response. In our experience, the majority of teachers I met were cooperative and some were outstanding. .However, in spite of all your efforts, you may still encounter people in the schools who are less open-minded, or who are convinced a nonverbal, autistic child does not belong in general education. It is never easy being a pioneer, and unfortunately, both parents and the student have to be ready for these challenges and for the difficult people who make the process tougher, whether teacher or administrator.

Parents may find that certain systems are unfixable. When Ido started high school, after a successful middle school experience, he initially went to our local high school hoping to continue his positive experience. This school proved to be a bad fit. A few administrators created a hostile climate for disabled students. Since it is hard enough having autism, no student deserves to be bullied by administrators and made to feel unwelcome at school, in addition to their everyday challenges. I concluded that the administrators of this school were not reasonable or compassionate people who were willing to work with me, but rather, were obstructionist and mean-spirited. I realized that because of this, the environment could not be changed for the better for Ido. I felt that the hostile climate was sufficiently bad that I had to remove him from the school and find another high school with a more welcoming attitude that would be willing to enroll him midyear.

The second nearby high school I found did not have any experience mainstreaming autistic students into the general education classes. Ido was the first. But they had a different attitude of, “let’s try,” “let’s make it work,” and significantly, they had respect for the student. This enabled him to thrive. What happens without planning, then, is that word of mouth spreads among parents to avoid the first school and to look into the second, and so perhaps more typers enroll in the second school and none into the first. But, it is not as if a program of integration, training, or special services for the students with autism existed or exists in that school. Rather, it is a school with some kind people willing to give a student with autism who types a chance to be educated and it becomes an option for parents looking for resources.

One friend of mine was having terrible experiences with a teacher/administrator in her son’s elementary school. The mom is a strong advocate but it became clear that she was dealing with a closed-system, much like Ido’s first high school, which didn’t want things to work out. Staying in schools like this is actually harmful to our kids. She was struggling to cooperate with an individual who had strong negative biases toward her son’s abilities and who would not, and possibly could not, change. As painful as it may be to see people who reject or underestimate our children, sometimes we simply have to recognize a hostile system and not continue to bang our heads against the wall trying to fix things. It becomes essential in these circumstances to look for greener pastures elsewhere. After changing schools, this little boy is now thriving in his new school where he is fully integrated and welcomed. Once again, this life-changing experience was made possible simply thanks to a few open-minded individuals in the new school who his mom reached out to and who were willing to listen and learn and the negative experience was shaped by one powerful individual in the first school.

The bottom line is that a successful general education school experience is created one teacher, one counselor, and one administrator at a time and parents must reach out to all of them. One of our most successful collaborative relationships was with a teacher who initially was skeptical of Ido’s abilities. To her great credit, she came to our home, observed Ido typing and changed from being someone I feared might impede his progress to an indispensable ally and supporter who has since helped other students with autism who type in the school setting. Outreach is incredibly important. Some people are open to change and some are not. One individual, like this wonderful teacher, can help foster a successful experience for your child, and for those who follow, at school by influencing other staff.

Agencies:

Beyond schools, our children get help from autism agencies, which provide their aides, adaptive skills training, and other services. There are only a few agencies in our area that are eager to support kids with autism who type. They do not specialize in this population, though they are interested in exploring it more. They became enthusiastic after they got a client who was a student with autism who typed and who had a parent who educated and advocated to the agency staff or supervisor. 100% of the agency staff did not get behind the concept. Rather, once again, a few individuals got on board. In many instances, these are individuals who have no particular expertise or training in typers or typing to communicate, nor did they know initially how to support the children and their communication. However, significantly, certain individuals on their staff showed a willingness to listen to parents, to observe how the students learned, and finally, an openness to learning more. I know several parents who even trained agency staff who were working with their kids on communication techniques and strategies, planting a seed of interest and helping their own children as well. Once again, parent led and parent generated advocacy coupled with a few open-minded individuals in an agency, can begin to make a systemic change. Families that follow will enter into an agency that is more receptive, thanks to the efforts of these motivated parents. I will confess that I stayed on far too long with an agency that had a very inconsistent ability to support Ido. I urge you not to make the same mistake!

Other Resources:

As you look for the supports your child needs, it may take some time to find the right match. When we wanted someone to help Ido with fitness, he worked with three trainers over the span of a few years. The first did a very good job but had no interest in specializing in autism and moved on to other things. Still, he was able to help Ido with fitness and it was a positive experience for both. The trainer who followed him was clearly not excited about trying to help a person with autism get fit, so the search continued. We found Ido’s third trainer, Mike Ramirez, through a friend, a mother of a child with autism. She said Mike had worked with her son through an autism agency for years but on a personal level was a Cross-Fit devotee and fitness buff. For Mike, putting these two hats together, autism and fitness, was ideal and he decided that what he wanted to do professionally was to concentrate on the fitness of kids with special needs. Ultimately, he created his own company to do so. What I am saying is that if no Mike exists where you are now, remember, Mike’s program didn’t exist here either when we started! Ido was the first kid he trained, but from word of mouth other parents began to request a service that he was good at and interested in providing. As Mike says, his services are parent driven and the parents, in many instances, are driven by the demands of their kids who type. Once our kids can communicate, they can tell us what they want to learn and then motivation is much higher.

Whether the person is a tutor, a running coach, a fitness trainer, a piano teacher, an art teacher or any of the many talented professionals who may not have originally been familiar with autism, or who may be familiar with autism but never thought to teach these particular skills, resources can be created for your children and community in this way. Once our kids type they can let us know what they want or need.

Networking:

Finally, finding like-minded parents is crucial. I can’t begin to list the good tips I got from other parents and hope that I have been able to do the same for them.

Creating options, advocating and being brave pioneers walking into the unknown is what the reality is for those of us now on the forefront of creating educational opportunities for our kids with autism who type. Our children bravely walk into the classroom ready to take on those opportunities in spite of the challenges they face, but change is still one child, one parent and one educator at a time. One by one, with each person forging a path for those who follow, we can move mountains.

Good luck to all pioneers!

 

Words from the Parent Panel at Spectrum of Opportunity Conference

Here is another speech from the Spectrum of Opportunity conference at Cal Lutheran University. This is a speech from the parent panel. My good friend’s mother, Barbara Johnson, had the courage to tell her story. Her son was with me in remedial autism class when we were small and no one knew how much was inside. I am happy to say he is at last able to express his thoughts. His story tells parents to not give up, even if your kid has grown to adulthood.

Good afternoon.  My name is Barbara Johnson and I have the
privilege of being the mother of two sons, Chad and Connor Johnson,
both of whom have autism.  My son, Chad, is the focus of my speaking
today however, because he is typing with a keyboard and his IPad
utilizing the Proloquo voice feedback word program for communication
and academics.

I was asked to speak today because Chad basically started typing
meaningful communication and academics at 18 years old. He is now
20.  Chad did began typing earlier with me and with his home therapy
program provided by Verdugo Hills Autism Project using an Alpha
Smart keyboard,  but most of the typing consisted of nouns– usually
what we were having for dinner, or his name, address and phone
number.  He did not progress much from there, because looking back
now I believe we were not emphasizing the typing enough.

Chad had been using PECS most of his time at home and in
school because it seemed to be the only form of communication other
than verbal that appeared to connect with him and what he also
initiated with.  He tried typing and sign language when he was very
young, but these forms of communication at the time did not seem to
register well.  I truly believed they did not make sense to him.

I was informed by the experts, that Chad had severe receptive language
difficulties and that was the reason why he would not always respond
correctly to ABA drills or requests I made of him.  The many books
and articles I researched only backed up this theory.  It was described
to me with the analogy of a radio receiving static, sometimes the
message comes through, and sometimes it doesn’t.  I have never
doubted Chad’s intelligence, and I have always known he is extremely
bright.

If only I had realized Chad’s body was not responding to what his
brain was telling him to do, this theory of receptive language problems
would not have shaped how I pursued his education and therapy.
What is so ironic and upsetting is that a great deal of Chad’s learning
had been and continues to be auditory; he has understood everything
all along.  The experts were wrong, I was wrong.

I have dear friends in Tami Barmache and Tracy Kedar who
encouraged me to pursue the typing communication with Chad.  I still
had my doubts because of past experience, but I started to inquire
more.  The pivotal moment for me that changed my perspective was
speaking directly with Ido Kedar.  Chad and Ido have been friends
since they were about 6 years old. They both met in an autism class in
elementary school.   I was talking and crying to Tami and Tracy about
pursuing the typing and I was feeling like I had failed Chad and had him
on the wrong path for years.  Ido approached and typed on a letter
board to me that I was a very good mother to Chad and I had been
given the wrong information, that is was not my fault.  Well, I totally
broke down after that, but it changed things forever for me and for
Chad.

The meaningful typing initially started at school with the assistance
of Verdugo Hill’s BID, Cheryl Umali and BII, Jim Rodehaver.  Chad
has used the letter board and IPad, but he prefers the IPad because
he can see what he is typing and can also utilize the word bank.  He
required a great deal of support in the beginning, but over time the
support has greatly diminished. Tracy Kedar also worked with Chad using the letter board to teach him to point independently without being touched.  This helped Chad have more ease with the keyboard with less support.  Chad also
receives communication therapy once a week through REACH with
Katie Anawalt and Lindsey Goodrich.

For the first time Chad is fully included in general education in high school.  He is on an alternate curriculum. However, so far he has not had modifications in the academics, only accommodations for his typing and additional time requirements.

Chad was previously in the autism class for almost his entire
education, mainstreaming only for electives or going to a vocational
campus for a job skills program for a couple of periods during the day.
Ever since Chad started the academic general education curriculum
this last August, his writing has greatly improved surprising everyone
around him.

I have tried to encourage other parents to investigate typing for their
children because it has been life changing for our family.  For the first
time, my husband Chris and I are hearing Chad’s voice and his
opinions.  We do not have to guess anymore what he wants, we can
ask him and he can reply.  Many parents have conveyed to me that
Chad, Ido and Dillan are exceptional and their child cannot do the
same.  Every child with autism is exceptional because they are the
bravest souls I have ever met, but Chad, Ido and Dillan are no
different from your children, students, or clients.  Other people with
autism can also be successful using typing communication; they just
have to be exposed to the same opportunities. Most of all, you have to
believe in their intelligence, perceptiveness, understanding of
language, concepts, and emotions. Do not let their physicality get in
the way of you believing in them.

In closing I am going to read something Chad wrote in his government
class that I believe says it all.

A cause that is very important that I think of is the rights of people
without voices.  I have autism and I don’t talk.  That makes it hard for
people to know I can think and learn.  So I and other do not get true
education.  We cannot help ourselves to speak up.  But we
deserve a fair chance to learn real knowledge.

Challenge

Every day of my life I face a kind of moral dilemma. My autism makes self control very difficult. It takes more effort to sit still in class than to do the intellectual work. I have big personal goals for myself. I prefer to have a full life than a hidden, bored one in some remedial class like most other severely autistic people. It is my mission to help them get an education too. None of this is a dilemma. I am clear on my goals, but I struggle morally with my inner forces. My body is programmed in a different way than typical people. It has internal orders that differ from my mind’s intentions. My struggle to control myself is to be kind to others, thoughtful of the space of others and not disruptive in class. Each day I remind myself to do this because it is the right thing to do in spite of how hard it is to accomplish.

Back to School

First day of school tomorrow. I will have English, Spanish, World History, Algebra 2, Biology, plus an elective and PE. It will be a busy, hard year. More than anything, I’m excited to be returning to school. My old math teacher is the same, and my new teachers seem really nice and tolerant of me. It is nice to learn in school. I value the opportunity.

My New School

My high school is a really nice place. The change between my current school and my old school is huge. Last semester I felt miserable. I knew the school did not want me there. They never lifted a finger to be kind or help me feel easy or relaxed. It was so stressful it is hard to describe.  I won’t go into details, but the administration was really making my life intolerable when all I wanted to do was access a normal education.
The fact is being disabled is hard enough without being rejected or made to feel awful about a disability you can’t get rid of. So the difference between that kind of environment and my current school is striking. The administration is kind and happy to have me there. The teachers really are respectful of me and nice to my aide. My stomach is not nauseous when I go to school now. I feel at home, so now I can just learn like everyone else.
My realization is that the attitude of the administration is incredibly important to a school’s culture. For some reason, my old school has a better reputation and is thought of as a better school out in the community. I know I’m in Honors classes so I am around the most motivated students, but my observation is that it isn’t better in instruction, friendliness, or student behavior. It is better at hassling disabled students though, and does have a reputation for that. The new school is like a hidden school because everyone wants to get their kids in the other one and I think this one is much better. Irony, for sure.

If They Were in My Old School

Tomorrow I start over in my high school. I transferred mid-year to a new school. I was very miserable in my old high school. I won’t elaborate now on what happened or why I had to go to have a happy high school experience. I got lucky. Two days before the semester ended my parents were able to get me into a new school. I think it will be a much more welcoming environment.

I wonder how my old high school would have treated Stephen Hawking, or Helen Keller, or Erik Weihenmayer if they had been students there. The first two were communication impaired and required one on one assistance. Helen fingerspelled her ideas into Annie Sullivan’s hand. She was independently thinking, not writing, in her earlier years. Would she have been accused of not doing her own work? Would they have resented her noises and too visible disability? Stephen Hawking is needing a lot of support. Would he be seen as an expensive burden, or worth giving the trained help he needs? Erik Weihenmayer is blind. Who knows? He might hurt himself.

The reason I bring up these three amazing individuals is not to compare myself with them but to imagine how my old high school would have treated them in the years they were different, severely challenged in a big high school environment, but not famous yet. I think it is easy to know the answer. Maybe they would have decided enough is enough like I did.
Onward and upward. It is time to start over.

Starting Over

I went to check out another high school today. They had Open House. I think many of you have read about how difficult my high school has been. It started rough, in part because I had an unprepared aide who was not ready to work with a grown kid. I am tall and strong, so I am not easy like a small elementary school kid. I was also overwhelmed by the size of the school and the number of students. It was incredible how many came out of the rooms when the bell rang. Finally, it was pretty clear to me the school was worried about my early behavior when I was overwhelmed. It was unfortunate because I did great in middle school. Not perfect, but better each year.

In high school I started improving steadily too but I think my less than stellar start has affected the ability of some folks to see my improvement. Still, I get excellent grades and I try very hard to excel. Now I have my old, trusty, terrific aide, Cathy, all year (yay), and a wonderful new aide in training for next year. I was at the end of my rope a month ago. I came home from school in a sort of panic. I pleaded to find me another school because I felt unwelcome. My mom began looking and found some possibilities but I wasn’t eligible for different reasons, usually residence issues. She found one possibility I visited today but we don’t know if I can transfer mid-year. Oh wow- it had a horse and goats and sheep, but it also had friendly people and a warm and welcoming administrator. Cross your fingers for me.

I decided to overlook the fact that I feel unwelcome now in my current school. This has helped me relax and I can see I feel calmer. It also helps me mature. This challenge of my high school made me grow and get tougher but I am still eager to move on to a smaller, warmer school.

My Friend in Middle School

I was thinking about my friend who is autistic and starting middle school. He is a smart guy but he isn’t educated in a scholastic sense because he was kept for years in an autism classroom. Now in middle school he is starting to go to a regular class for one period. He is overwhelmed and scared and being watched. It is hard to be scared and overwhelmed and scrutinized. In his case he suffers more because he can’t communicate with his one-on-one. It’s a struggle to do the work if you can’t communicate and you’ve never sat through a regular class before.

But in spite of this, he is smart and he deserves a chance to learn. He isn’t learning anything in his autism class. I mean, if you couldn’t talk and I stuck you in a pre-school class year after year, how would you like it? It’s not a matter of he needs to be normal before he can start to be taught, because he will wait forever. He needs to learn how to learn. No one showed him this lecture format before. Imagine moving from toddler class to middle school with no preparation. Then the school is inferring that he really isn’t ready.

It was my experience too, and to some extent, it still is. I am over the days of proving I am smart, but not over the days of scrutiny. To be autistic means you have to prove yourself over and over. I sometimes imagine how my scrutinizers would like me scrutinizing them. I think we who work to emerge from autism need to get a little more empathy and a lot less judgments. The disabled can do a lot but we fight not only our disability, we fight prejudice, of sorts. I accept it. I’m used to it, but it’s new for this boy. I wish him and his wonderful mom strength and perseverance.

Letter to My Teachers

Dear Teachers;

I started High School with several big challenges. The challenges are why I am easily the most different kid you have in your classes. I have a serious neurological difference. Recently a neuroscientist I know told me that it is theorized that autistic people have a surplus of neurons. Our brains don’t prune properly. The result is a communication interference between thought and action. This is why I don’t speak with my mouth or why my writing is messy. It is also why I am impulsive or emotional with poor brakes. It is awful for me to sometimes be the follower of my actions. I am struggling daily to master them.

The second challenge is attacks of anxiety. In autism we often are anxious, nervous, and worried. That’s when things are good. In real stress we sometimes are overwhelmed. Starting High School was really overwhelming and I lost my self-control. I am trying so hard to do well and I hope you see I am improving. I regret any disruption I caused and I will try to be a more relaxed student in the future.

One additional stress was that I was not with the right aide at the start of the school year. I think I need to work on finding good matches who help me stay calm. I have this now with Cathy. I did not have that before so I became stressed and even frightened.

I want you all to know that my education is a thing I value very much. It is challenging to be the only autistic kid like me in school. I know other students have autism but they are verbal or with less severe symptoms. Now I struggle to show that people like me can be educated too. I think the vast majority of people with my degree of autism have only a simple and very basic education of alphabet, arithmetic, and not much more. It was my good fortune that I was able to learn to communicate on letter board or computer with my one finger. Thanks to that, my education is possible. It liberated me from total isolation.

I know you are all busy and I appreciate you welcoming me to your classes. I realize you may get worried about whether I do my own work. I do all the thinking work but I don’t do the hand-writing. I invite you to watch me on my letter board and see for yourself how it is done. I have had several teachers do this. It is helpful to see I work on my own assignments, moving my own arm, and not being manipulated. I would be happy to show you any time you wish to observe.

Sincerely,

Ido

The Importance of Calm Assistance

I can imagine I wasn’t the only freshman who was nervous starting high school. I could see they were also scared. I saw they were lost trying to find their way around, and lots of them were shorter than the older kids. Just like them I was nervous and had a hard time in school. I hope I am not sounding whiny when I say I can’t cover up my feelings in the same way most people do.

This week I watched the blind athlete, Erik Weihenmayer, compete on the adventure race TV program, Expedition Impossible. I wrote how his race was harder because he did it blind. His teammate, Ike, had a serious injury. His race was harder too. They came in second in spite of it. I never saw them stop in self pity or expect the race to be made easier for them. The victory was that they did so well. I would love to meet them. I think it is a triumph because Erik is showing people that being disabled doesn’t mean not living fully.

He is a lucky man because he met Jeff. Jeff is his climbing partner; his eyes in a way. I would love to have a guide like Jeff to help me in my challenges too. He is optimistic and positive and calm so everyone else stays optimistic, positive and calm- and motivated. I have had the pleasure of some terrific support in school. The reason I can accomplish the goals I have set is thanks to people like Cathy, Katie, and others. I see how their relaxed demeanor helps me. It’s important because I am nervous in school.

This year I had a nervous aide for five miserable days. She was not a relaxed woman at all. I saw how everything got her tense. I saw how small things became big things because she over-reacted to them. I saw how she made my mom worried and me panicky.

I think Erik needs calm, thinking Jeff to achieve his great accomplishments, like climbing Mt. Everest. Someone who leads with tension really hurts morale. I see it blocks thought too. It becomes about how they feel, not about working things through. I am sensitive to people’s state of mind. I think nervous energy is transferred one to the other. In autism we are all easily flustered, so a person working with autistic people needs to be a calm type.

Besides being a calm type, Jeff was also a leader because he got his team to work hard. No Limits was a sort of ambitious group. No one wanted to let his teammates down. So, I meander in my flow of thoughts and I reach this conclusion: Ike and Jeff respected and believed in Erik. They believed he could do it even though he was blind. They went on the adventure for joy, and the experience, not just to win. By their support of Erik, he was able to achieve amazing things. It didn’t seem to be a bother to Jeff. He did it in stride. He would advise, “Duck here”, “Rock on the right”, and so on. So Erik was calm and secure to the extent he could be.

As I said earlier, in high school all freshmen are anxious. The school is so big and intimidating. In autism we all have anxiety issues when it’s good, so when we are scared it is so much worse. If we are also being monitored by people with notepads, it is even more anxiety provoking. And if our support is not a relaxed person, guess what happens?

Helen Keller had a calm Annie Sullivan to support her endeavors. The people who assist the disabled must be a special type of person. I have mostly been lucky. I am eager to begin the next phase of my high school experience with a friend at my side helping me. Life’s journey is always filled with new lessons.