From fun to fear

It’s been awhile. Longer than I’d like but as we await the birth of our twins, my time has been all over the place. As matter of fact, if I were to be hanging from the last fiber of a rope to survive, I’d wouldn’t be that far off.

This is the story. I’m teaching a new grade, I’m learning an entire new culture of what will be successful and what won’t be. Regardless, it has been a lot of fun, time consuming, and extremely challenging.

Speaking of challenging, we learned something new over these last few weeks. It was hardly on our radar but is alarming to say the least.

The thing is that is has been very easy to focus on the success of everything Sawyer. He had a great summer of conquering his fear of going under the water. He attacked the diving board like it was brick wall by smashing through it. And he did so in a matter of weeks.

This has always been the case in any obstacle. Sawyer gets scared, he works through it, he conquers it, and he moves on.

Unfortunately in the world of Autism, it’s typically onto another topic to perseverate on. Our current fixation is music.

Two things that give Sawyer a lot of excitement is going out to eat and listening to music. He is well known for asking for a little Michael Jackson the moment we get into the car. Or he will be not opposed to a repeat rendition of a Pink tune.

This was a given. What wasn’t a given was his insisting of no music being played in the car anymore. That is if he can’t select the song. So for now, it’s either his play list or nothing.

To make matters more peculiar, he will only have his hands on his ears if he hears music at a restaurant. He will hardly eat and the once bopping of his head while singing is gone.

We watch his face tense up. We watch his food sit. All he does is ask who is singing? If it’s a boy or girl singing? And when can we go?

It’s almost like it happened overnight. What in the world happened? Do we bring headphones with us to dinner? Is it a sensory issue? Is it a loss of control?

I know this as every time you conquer something in Autism, you are onto something new. We were riding high on the summer success, basking in the fun in the sun. Now we are back at ground zero in another pocket of fear.

Bring on the next challenge.

Dear 2nd grade,

Dear 2nd grade,

We are only 4 days into the school year. However, you have been on my mind for many years. I looked up to you as Sawyer began preschool, traveled the halls of kindergarten, and progressed in 1st grade.

Ironically, it was you that scared me all along. I knew there would be a day that Sawyer would be with you. His spirit, his excitement, and his curiosity would enter your world.

So here we are. My fear is real. 2nd grade seems like where old kids reside. Knocking on being 8 years old scares me. Because the more I see Sawyer’s peers, the more I see the difference. He is not like them. And how long will his peers tolerate him being different?

Sawyer enjoys the monkey bars, pretending to hunt for treasures, and repeating tv show openings so he can hear the same theme song. This is where he is developmentally. Though he is 7.5 years old, he behaves more like that of a 5 year old in many ways.

It is charming, cute, and loving. It’s also should be noted that he is making phenomenal progress. His conversations, his reading, his math, and his writing have blossomed. This is exciting.

It’s also a cruel reminder of what is real. Sawyer’s peers are moving on. They are developing as they should.

What was once a collection of acceptance could expire soon. As friendships form, homework begins, and expectations accelerate, I worry.

And I worry. That is my problem. Not Sawyer’s, not his teachers, and not his peers.

So though I welcome 2nd grade into our lives, I do so cautiously. I just want Sawyer to continue his path while I learn to continue to embrace his differences.

Have a great year,


You think you know me?

In 2011, Sawyer was born. I felt like I just wanted to rush him out of the hospital and get on with our family. I wanted no part of what I had already experienced with our two oldest children who were born in 2006 and 2008. That was my mindset.

I was numb to the nurses coming into the room. I was numb to the picture of Sawyer’s foot print. I had morphed into a father who wanted the closing of the curtain of a school play. I had zero appreciation or concept of the moment.

The love was there. Somewhere amongst my lifeless affect, it existed. I didn’t panic. I knew it was a rut. I suffered from just expecting what was to come.

However, it was a missed opportunities that I’ll never get back. I didn’t understand the opportunity of bringing another child into our world simply because I had already been a part of it twice.

What an awful feeling to carry with oneself. Imagine looking back and missing out on what was so precious? To this day, it bothers me.

Fast forward to now and my rut was on me. I’m not the same. Sawyer being autistic opened my eyes. I once would see a blue sky as blue. I now recognize the different shades and what the clouds can appear to be.

As I approached this summer, I was focused on moments. I refused to lose track of the importance of recognizing one.

I have seen a boy who held onto the side of the pool now jump off the diving board.

I have traveled to plays with him as he expresses how excited he is to be there to see a show.

I watched him conquer a zip line up north as he flew above ground like a superhero.

These are successes that would be for anyone regardless of their challenges.

You may have thought you once knew me? However, I am still learning myself.

Why am I autistic?

Why am I autistic?  It’s a loaded question.  It is not one I thought I would hear from Sawyer yet.  Actually,  I still haven’t heard it directly.  It was directed to my wife, Kellie.  She did respond.  In her soft, direct, and in a nurturing way, she was able to share that he was born this way.  His brain just works different.

When Kellie asked if he was OK being autistic? Sawyer said he was and that was fine.  Case closed.  A give and take conversation in a moment.  If there was a hurdle, Kellie jumped over it with him.  She didn’t knock it over nor did she run around it.

Why am I autistic?

I on the other hand am struggling with my own response.  What if he asks me next? It is like in the movie, Good Will Hunting, when Robin Williams plays the role of a therapist.  As Williams explains to Matt Damon’s character who is a troubled foster child that he doesn’t know the life that he has lived by reading the book, Oliver Twist.

In my case, I can’t answer the question of what Sawyer is asking based on what I have read or been told.

Why am I autistic?

I don’t know the answer.  I don’t search for answers.  I don’t wish for answers.  This is who I am.  However, whatever I am may need to rethink my take.  Sawyer being autistic is who he is.  He is entitled to understanding the why, if that is important to him.

Why am I autistic?

I only see Sawyer.  He is autistic.  His brain works differently than others.  He can see things I can’t see.  He learns in ways that I don’t understand.  He hugs me by leaning into me.  He loves routine.  He loves our family.  He is now showing me how he loves himself.

Why am I autistic?

Sawyer, we will find out together.

Front of the line

Years ago we went to Disney. We watched Sawyer cry, scream, and shake at various points of our vacation. The magic of Disney may have been captured in pictures but there was nothing magical about our trip. It was a week long slugfest as the boy who loved Mickey couldn’t find joy in his park.

It was just a few months later that Sawyer would receive his diagnosis of Autism. Our world of understanding his needs had just begun.

Some of the biggest challenges for Sawyer is large crowds, noise, waiting in line, taking turns, and being allowed to do something himself. As you can imagine, a theme park if not planned accordingly can set him up for failure.

Thankfully, we are aware that most theme parks offer supports for those with special needs. So when we traveled to Story Land up north in New Hampshire, we were set up for the best experience possible.

Sawyer was excited. His vertical leap was at its all time peak from the moment we entered the park. And to enhance his experience, we were given a pass that gave him access to get on rides at the exit line rather than the entrance.

This was a game changer for Sawyer and our family. It’s almost like a golden ticket for a theme park.

So on a nice day, we had no lines, and the kids could go on rides with Sawyer as my wife Kellie and I watched.

All was great. All but our final ride before departing the park. As we had our pass, one of the workers looked at it and said, “well, the line is long enough so I guess this time, you can use it here.”

That was her making it her choice. Sawyer doesn’t have a choice. Kellie in a very direct tone informed her that the pass doesn’t work that way and our kids would be getting on this ride like it was explained to us. The worker didn’t say anything else.

The kids got on the ride. They had fun. We went home.

Here is the heartache of this. We had a great day but one part of our day reminded us of what is our reality. People see Sawyer and don’t see Autism. They don’t see it because he looks like any other kid. However, this doesn’t mean that he doesn’t have special needs.

Nobody made that choice for him. We never thought we would need a pass to be in front of a line.

We had it because he needs it. It’s a support. We just continue to fight for the understanding of the support he needs.

Do the numbers lie?

10 months. That’s a long time. A long time to be with 20 students. A long time to invest in each and everyone of them and their families. It’s a bond that will be with me forever.

That’s a school year. That is teaching. That is my life for 10 months.

When the final day of school comes, it’s received different by everyone. My students are moving on. My once great and powerful Oz voice that existed in September evaporated into a shell of itself in the month of June.

That is the conclusion of the school year for the majority as my two oldest children are ready for an activity filled summer.

My pregnant wife, Kellie, is ready for me to go from Mr. Rubin to just Jon and Dad.

And then there is Sawyer.

Sawyer had the quickest of turnarounds out of all. He finished school, had two days off, and went back to his extended school year without missing a beat.

He loves the small bus. He loves getting on it. He loves working with his teachers. He loves the playground as his giggle echoes across the air while he bounds towards the swing.

He loves coming home as he even gives me a squeeze. I pause when this happens. I don’t get a hug often as it’s typically saved for his mom. However, when he does, I look down on him, kiss his head and embrace the moment.

it’s all glory right now. Or it was until I opened Sawyer’s backpack.

His standardized test results were in his bag. Looking at them made me tilt my head back in forth a bit.

The teacher in me knows that it is only one data point. I’m fine with reading numbers that put him in any average or below average bracket. Test scores don’t define him.

My heartache in this stems more so thinking about how these assessments mean nothing to him.

His numbers attached to his name are just numbers. Those numbers don’t lie at the moment he was working. I’m ok with that. It’s the reality of data.

What is difficult for me with Sawyer is that for someone who doesn’t know him may infer that he is below average and that irks me.

It bothers me because of the amount of effort that it has taken from his teachers. They work they have put in to get him to this point to arrive at answers it such an accomplishment that it trumps the result.

The path was far greater than the result. So the numbers did lie from a certain point of view.

We just have to keep changing the world regardless of what the numbers say.

Holding on

The summer has arrived. The weather is warm. The pollen is a sea of yellow on my dash as my Jeep roof is open. The school year is at its conclusion.

Our first grader is about to embark on another break, which historically has been a tidal wave of challenges.

Sawyer needs routine. It’s not wise to challenge that. He does his best waking up, having breakfast, getting dressed, and going to school. Not having that structure tends to be a challenge for him.

Thankfully for him, he will begin his extended school year in a matter of weeks. I will take him to school by myself. I will pick him up with Oscar the pug per his request.

Oscar will cry as we wait in the pick up line until he sees Sawyer. Sawyer will giggle while pointing to Oscar. And Michael Jackson’s Black or White may be his first song request when he sits.

We will discuss a plan the night before about his following day. We will go over his plan in the morning before I drop him off.

Though exhausting at times, this is who he is. He needs to know about what will be happening. It’s as redundant as my kitchen sink piling up with dishes. I hate doing dishes.

The real kicker this summer is the road work going on outside our home. At any given moment, a road route could change. Though this may seem a non issue, try explaining that to Sawyer.

He has his own map. He has his way to get somewhere. He needs to know when work will be complete. He will perseverate on this day after day after day.

So though the excitement is in the air, I need to be realistic with what is to come. He and I are holding on to our seats for another summer.

What if

I don’t know what happened but I woke up one day as an adult. I had three children and twins on the way. I haven’t seen my brother in 8 years. My parents live in different states. I have no living grandparents.

Years ago, a guy at my gym used to respond when I asked him how he was doing by telling me that he had a wife, three kids, and a mortgage. He was 40. I was 23.

I’m now him plus more.

I don’t know his story. I struggle at times to figure out my own.

I see what I have. I see what I have lost. I see what I continue to gain.

That’s life.

I do worry about the what if though. It keeps me up at times.

What if Sawyer doesn’t make friends? Will his life be that of a loner who is known as Autistic? Will the label be with him regardless of his progress?

What if he decides to be independent even if he isn’t ready? How will my wife Kellie and I navigate the world of an Autistic adult?

What if there is no Kellie and I? How will Sawyer self advocate when he needs support? How will his siblings guide him and work together?

These are all unknowns and aspects of our life that we need to plan for.

These are just a few because once I start rolling, there is no stop.

There are nights when this starts at 9 and I see the clock at 10,11, and 12.

I envision every scenario. It’s almost like a freeze frame of a movie that I’m not holding the controls to.

That’s my reality. That’s my fears. That’s my honesty.

That’s my what if.

Homework Hero

After dinner, as the table cleared, as the homework came out, as the pencil took to the page, I almost raced to my phone to take a picture.

I didn’t. I sat. I watched. I just let my eyes track Sawyer’s every move.

I observed his recognition of numbers. I watched him add incorrectly. I listened to his scream when my wife Kellie, took out the plastic bear counters to assist him.

I saw it. He did it. He wasn’t thrilled about it but the job was done.

However, there was no picture. I have noticed that a picture would have displayed the process of success, which was only a fraction of the truth.

Yes, I’m proud of how hard Sawyer works. He shows his resilient drive in all of his being.

Autism may be a part of Sawyer’s delays, his ability to communicate, and his struggles to learn like others but it has never robbed him of his desire to work. He is a worker.

So Sawyer worked through his addition problems. Mission accomplished.

Fast forward to his reading where he had this read a sentence, find a picture, follow the instructions, and color the correct section.

There was no problem getting his materials as he ran downstairs to get his markers.

His feet slammed on the wooden stairs on his way back up.

Then there were tears when he felt like he ruined his paper as he recognized a mistake.

We aren’t talking a few tears, we are talking the opposing team watching a basket at the buzzer of a high school state championship type tears.

The shouts, the screams, the end of the world.

However, the noise, the sadness, the eruption ended. Sawyer went back at it. He moved forward. He continues to be the homework hero.

The 10th hole

My grandfather was an avid golfer. Though he has been gone for nearly 20 years, I find pieces of his legacy in the most unexpected places.

Sawyer’s middle name is Irvin after my grandfather. He was my hero. He was my everything. Life just loved him as much as he loved life.

Like Sawyer, Irv was one of a kind. He would go at pace of his own. His life was his interests. His agenda was what he wanted to do and if you wanted to see him, you either went with him or waited.

Sawyer has bow ties whereas Irv had the checkered plaid pants. Irv controlled a conversation based on his knowledge. Twenty plus years later, so does Sawyer.

Irv and I spoke about how to swing a club and life lessons that always seemed to be wrapped around a sports metaphor as we would hit golf balls.

Sawyer and I speak about what he did during his day. However, he changes subjects when he just doesn’t want to talk but rather ask scripted questions like, “were your kids good listeners today?”

Yes, Sawyer loves to ask me about my school day and my students.

Just like with Irv, I tried everything to gear our conversation towards new things and it would always come back to him.

During the present day, I’m always attempting to generate new conversation with Sawyer and go off his script. However, Sawyer isn’t very flexible.

Neither of them are or were.

However, I find this odd comfort in my realization. It seems that once I turned 40 last year, I started to see a lot of Irv in Sawyer. And it just wasn’t the moniker on paper.

For the first 9 holes of my life, I never thought there would be a person like Irv. However, on my 10th hole, I have met him again in Sawyer. I’m thankful to be on the course.