Organization

The Joy of Autism

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Autism spectrum disorder refers to a range of conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communications, as well as by unique strength and differences. As science progressively gets diagnosing individuals our awareness of autism continues to develop and today more than ever, autism spectrum disorder contains as much variance as color wavelengths in the rainbow. Why am I talking about this? Isn’t autism a hot-buttoned word? There are organizations such as Autism Speaks that gives voice to this matter. Why should you care about this topic?

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These are all valid questions and concerns. To be honest have a limited knowledge about autism I learn mostly through osmosis from my wife who is a special education teacher who works closely with students on the autism spectrum. What I can provide is my experiences, albeit limited with autism spectrum disorder. I will use my practical experience with my son who was diagnosed to be on the spectrum in summer 2016 and my year of teaching students with special needs. Here I hope to share the joy autism provided [through my students] and continues to provide [through my son]!

  1. Experience teaching students on the autism spectrum: Lack of interest in class and little to no eye contact was normal for my students that I taught in my sophomore Old and New Testament Scripture classes. Help from both my wife and the special education educators at my school made day to day interactions easier for me and allowed me to better understand my students’ situation. Despite the challenges of teaching students with autism spectrum disorder, joy and strengths become apparent.

a. Questioning: As the year progressed my students learned my teaching style and knew that I enjoyed questions to generate critical thinking. One student in particular who had Asperger’s Syndrome- which is on the autism spectrum, had a penchant for asking a myriad of questions. While some teachers may viewed this as an interrogation, I welcomed my student’s curiosity. All of his questions opened up doorways for discussion. His thinking outside the box was quite beautiful and I wished I thanked him more often for his participation.

b. Clarity: Students that I taught on the autism spectrum had an ability to ask crystal clear, point-blank questions that their peers either failed to recognize or maybe were too self-conscience to ask. I respect that ability to be clear and forthright

c. Honesty: Similar to the joy of being clear, my two students with Asperger’s Syndrome were honest. They made me aware when my lesson was boring or if I needed a better handle on classroom management. At first, I was little hurt by the seeming callousness of their words. It was not after learning more about autism spectrum disorder that I saw the joy in having honesty as a natural inkling. Whenever I doubted my teaching on a tough day, my students on the spectrum assured me I was doing a great job—that reassurance acted as a balm to remedy me through rough days and weeks of teaching!

2. Experience as a father of a child on the autism spectrum: Along with my experience of joys teaching high school students on the autism spectrum is my involvement with my son who is five years old and diagnosed last year. Below are the following hidden joys of autism I discovered as a father

a.Incredible Memory: My son remembers things he did as a 1 and 2 year old. He is a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about lots of topics: animals, dinosaurs, and ninjas to name a few!

b. Beautiful Mind: My wife and I knew we had a special child when our son was speaking in full sentences and knew his alphabet at 15 months. He even used complex sentences complete with subordinating clauses! I am blessed with a child who has language ability many grade levels above his age and he has recently learned and practiced subtraction with double digits numbers on his own.

c. Inconsistencies Noticed: My son is detail oriented and he is quick to remind me of whenever something seems out of place with our daily routine or activity. While some days his frequent corrections bog us down overall this ability to recognize inconsistencies in both life events and logic with serve him well in the future.

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Kaleidoscopes took on a new meaning since I taught high school students and my son was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. The ever-changing images and panoply for hues remind me that despite the daily challenges my students and my son face with having autism, they bring to the world a diversity that colors the world in truly indescribable and joyful ways! I encourage you to discover a kaleidoscope moment today.

Am I Trending Toward Megalomania With this Blog?

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Breaking away from my more theologically oriented topics I normally focus on, today I need to discuss something that I cannot put off any longer. Has this blog made me power hungry? More importantly, am I trending toward megalomania through my writing endeavors on this blog? While it is may be safe to assume I am not a megalomaniac yet, I have my concerns about my past desire for power and control.

1. Obsession or passion?: Whenever I discover an interesting field of study I plunge my heart, mind, and soul into learning the entire subject and am quick to develop an adroitness to that subject. My OCD tendency brings me to the precipice of passion– where I choose between sanity or diving off the edge toward obsession– and seek mastery of a subject. This fine line between the inherent goodness of passion towards a field of study and the danger of obsession is a grave concern I have about whether I am trending toward megalomania with my writing.

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2. Means to Go Down this Path: Along with my inherent natural tendency to fall prey to obsession I have the means to succumb to this darkness—experience with successful writing and free time. I finally pushed through the large world of publishing by getting an article published into a Catholic magazine. What made it official was that I actually got paid an honorarium! Back then I did not have the free time I have now so my means to achieve power and attaining notoriety has never been better.

3. Pen is Mightier than Sword: This metonymic adage seems to be truer with the passage of time. The inception of the Internet in the late 20th century and the burgeoning of social media allows the pen grow sharper and the sword duller. I am blessed to live in a country where the First Amendment grants the right to freedom of speech. My existence in a social milieu that encourages expression of thoughts leads to the temptation for power in pushing out as many publications and gaining as many followers. To be perfectly frank, I get a sense of happiness when I notice I gain a follower. It pleases me. But I am not satisfied long because I continue to seek to gain more and more prestige and power from the little blog I re-started to months’ ago. I need to beware of wielding one of the greatest weapons of all-time—power of print! If I am not aware of this peril I may plummet to a pitfall I will struggle to escape from.

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Despite my pessimistic language about me teetering on the brink of megalomania I do have reason for hope.

1. Preparedness: My OCD may sometimes lead me toward obsessive and megalomaniac paths but this is a nice benefit to my personality and my autistic tendencies—I always am prepared. Hints at my propensity for organization and planning flashed up during my childhood. Even when playing board game I have a certain readiness about me. For example, whenever my wife and I play the cooperative game Pandemic I usually don the role of the contingency planner. My recognition of my leaning toward megalomania is a good sign I can stop it from coming to fruition!

2. Allies: Being Catholic I have a wealth of resources and allies for me to draw upon for courage and endurance. After completing my first Marian consecration with my wife on the Feast of Our Lady of Fatima, I have gained a new awareness that I may rely on my Holy Mother to bring me closer to God. Secondly, I have a plethora of examples of Catholic saints who struggled with the sin of pride just like myself. St. Paul and St. Jerome are the first that come to mind.

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3. Weapons Against Wickedness: Together with my penchant for strategy and the saints to guide me in battle against megalomania, I have access to an arsenal of weapons guaranteed to defeat this pride I face—the sacraments! First the sacrament of Baptism I received as a baby erased the stain of original sin. I died to sin and became a new creation. Secondly, the sacrament of Confession is especially powerful in my battle against megalomania as through the priest Jesus Christ grants the forgiveness of sin and graces me with strength to carry on anew. The Eucharist is food that fees me on my journey and graces me with Jesus’s own Body and Blood to defeat any sinful inclination. The last sacrament I want to focus on is marriage. While the Eucharist is the most powerful and source of life of the Church, I experience the sacrament of marriage more frequently. My wife and helpmate toward holiness graces me with the gift of perspective and she is like the DC Comics superhero Wonder Woman since she is able to kill any prideful tendency of mine and puts me on the right path toward humility.

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I think one of the main reason I love writing is that I am changed and I seek to change others as well. Going into writing this post I honestly thought I would end on a pessimistic and apocalyptic tone. Somehow I was changed through the process of writing and reflecting on my sources of strength: Jesus, Mary, the saints, sacraments, and my wife. Remember despite the seeming darkness in the world hope will always prevail!

Organized Chaos or Chaotic Order: Which Do I Prefer?

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My son was recently diagnosed with being on the autism spectrum last year and it is highly likely that I myself am on the spectrum as well. Having my son diagnosed has been both a relief and a trial. I received answers for why I think the way I do. Journeying with my son to embrace the joy of autism in addition to learning new opportunities to grow helped me learn and change as a father and spouse. Struggling to adapt to an ever-changing world following college and during my nascent marriage, I fought temptation after temptation to try to control nearly every aspect of my life. My OCD instead of being strength transformed into a fatal flaw. To be clear I have improved on this area of my life, however, it is a temptation that I need to slay each and every day!

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Unless I utilize my daily strategies and pray daily my mind goes into a frenzied state. Distraction, irritability, low patience, struggle to let things go are just a few of the side effects of my condition. I am so detailed-oriented that I could tell you genus of every “tree in the forest” whether it be a “deciduous or a pine” I focus on the minutiae, the seemingly mundane details in life. Led in the right direction my penchant for noticing daily inconsistencies that escape others’ radar will be an amazing skill. During the last few years my search for control and order has led me to find not organized chaos [i.e. life] but rather chaotic order [a self-imposed hell]. C.S. Lewis states this type of mindset best, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”

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The best example that comes to mind to describe the difference between “organized chaos” and “chaotic order” is looking at a piece of art. If you stand closely to a painting and only focus on a portion of the painting it may seem chaotic. Yet by shifting our gaze from the portion to the whole of the painting this seeming chaos focuses into a beautiful organization—similar to the din of instruments in a symphony work to produce harmonious music! I need to pray constantly and rely on the help of others—my wife especially who is a special educator teacher!—give me fortitude to slay my controlling tendencies.

St. Jerome struggled mightily against the sin of anger and sought to have control over thing in his life similar to myself. In fact, Jerome had such a hot-temper that he even pissed off St. Augustine himself! Many times I exhibit similar qualities as the great bible scholar: tactlessness, judgmental words, and low patience. Something that has helped me in the past that I need to get back in the habit is praying the liturgy of the hours. St. Jerome’s most famous quip is, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ”. The divine office incorporates a salubrious mix of the psalms, saintly homilies, and Gospel readings to medicate my soul. Finally, I need to realize that autism is not a disability it is simply a part of whom I am and who my son is. The only defining characteristic I need to focus on it that I am a child of God and caretaker to my family. May anyone you know who is touched by autism realize that it is a gift from our Creator!

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Exactly! Some Thoughts on the Exclamation Point.

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Yes! Thanks!! Awesome! Happy Birthday!!! Hope you have a great weekend! As Ecclesiastes 3:1 says, “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” I would like to add to that quote—there is a time for moderate usage of explanation points too!!!

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Dating back to my days in middle school when we had to diagram sentences I became fascinated by grammar and punctuation. In fact I became so enamored by the em-dash (—)  in 2014 that I considered it the year of punctuation for myself! This subject of punctuation seems sort of trivial especially in comparison to my more recent writing. While likely true, I still think it is an interesting topic and punctuation is a great conservation starter if you are a nerd like myself!

Personally, I think the exclamation point is an overused and tired punctuation mark. Excessive usage leads to a devaluation of its intent at accentuating a statement or fact. In rare cases exclamation marks may lead to relationship troubles! There is a Seinfeld episode where one of the lead characters, Elaine gets into an argument with her boyfriend over his failure to utilize an exclamation mark on a message about her friend having a baby!

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Obviously the above situation is an outlier, but I do think ripple effects occur due to a saturated use of the exclamation point!

  1. Urgency of a message is lost: In the Seinfeld example, Elaine’s boyfriend goes on to explain to her that he uses his exclamation points sparingly—unlike her! If every sentence concludes with an exclamation point, the excitement or urgency of a situation is lost. Similar to overprinting money causes loss of value in the dollar, an overuse of a particular punctuation mark causes it to lose its identity.

 

  1. Diversity is Good: Variety is throughout all of nature. Diversity exists in plants, animals, humans, and in non-living items. The same is true with punctuation! Punctuation mark monopoly leads to predictable and boring writing. Think about the next time you read an article or social media post where the writer only uses or overwhelmingly uses exclamation points. How do you react when reading such writing? I tend to get a little anxious at the surplus of exclamation points! There are intimidating!!!

Now you may be wondering how many exclamation points I have used in this post?! I have purposely tried to overuse this mark to try to make my point!  “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens (Ecclesiastes 3:1). That is definitely true for using exclamation points!!!! The answer the question about how many exclamation marks I used today it is—thirty-one [if you include the picture]!

Which playground game is God’s favorite?

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I will begin today’s post by comparing the structure of the Catholic Church to a somewhat “elementary” thing. Let me give you some word clues. Hopscotch. Foursquare. Kickball. Red Rover. Before I confuse you anymore please let me briefly explain the context to why I am talking about children’s playground games and religion in the same paragraph.

During this past year I worked at a Catholic high school and taught Old and New Testament. On the day we discussed the epic first century saints Peter and Paul, I gave my students a simple analogy. A healthy Catholic Church is likened to a game of tetherball. To better help you understand what I mean precisely with that example please let us first discuss why Peter and Paul are important to Christianity.

Matthew 16:16-19 has Peter clearly stating the identity of Jesus Christ and thereafter he is entrusted with the “keys to the kingdom of Heaven”. Catholics interpret this passage as hard and fast proof for the papacy. To cite Fr. Robert Barron in his book Catholicism [referring to Peter’s special insight], “And this knowledge did not come from Peter’s native intelligence or from an extraordinary education…It came as a gift from God, a special charism of the Holy Spirit.” (p. 121). Thus, God chose a pope from the very beginning to be that stability upon we, as Catholics, can rely on. If the Church had multiple heads its teachings would devolve into something ugly–like the multi-head monster in Greek myth– the hydra. In a similar way, the center-post in a tetherball game provides stability for the game to happen.

Now let’s turn our attention to St. Paul. While the popes enjoy the office of St. Peter and provide stability to the Catholic Church, having this Petrine element alone would make Her teachings dry and rocky. Thus, to balance out the papacy there is a need for theology to make the Church healthy. After Paul’s conversion in Acts 9 until the end of the book, the saint is literally always on the move. As I told my students, “Paul does not have biblical ADD, but rather he was the spark of life that started the early Christian churches”. Citing from Fr. Barron again, “Paul stands for mission, the engagement of the culture and proclamation. Every missionary, teacher, preacher, and theologian, is, in this sense, a son or daughter of Paul.” (p. 141). Paul represents an archetype within the Catholic Church to adapt to different times and cultures. He represents the spunk that enlivens the Church. Going back to the tetherball analogy the rope and ball provide the excitement for the playground game.

A healthy Church needs both structure (papacy) and flexibility (theology). So too does a tetherball game needs the center-post= [representing the papacy/Petrine element] and the rope and ball= [representing theology/Pauline element]. The schoolyard game would be pointless if a center-post did not exist to keep the ball close for the players to bat around, but at the same time a game consisting of only a metal pole would be stagnant and boring– similar to what would have to the Catholic Church without the dynamic element St. Paul brought in the first century and whose memory represents today.

To answer the question from the title: Which playground game is God’s favorite? I would imagine that God has all the time in the world to try them all and find them equally enjoyable, but if I had to venture a guess I would pick tetherball! 🙂