Daddy Didn’t Kill Jesus

Yup, that’s what we talked about at dinner tonight. All because our 11-year-old was convinced that I was guilty of deicide. She didn’t use that word, but she sure meant it. So how did she come to make such an accuastion? Simple: She has Asperger syndrome. And that means that she fixates on small details and makes huge conclusions from them. It means that she can’t see the forest for these off-kilter trees. It means that she makes connections that most people don’t make–creative, occasionally dark connections that only an aspie brain would come up with. Here’s what happened:

Yesterday, we went to our church’s Good Friday service, where we all read from the Passion according to St. John. One characteristic about John’s retelling of Jesus’ death is his use of the shorthand “the Jews” when he talks about Jesus’ enemies. It was “the Jews” who arrested him in the garden. It was “the Jews” who cried out, “Crucify him!” And it was “the Jews” who told Pilate, “We have no king but Caesar.”

So instead of getting the big picture of why Jesus died and the promise of his resurrection, my daughter fixated on John’s use of “the Jews.” She spent the rest of the service slumped over, with a grim scowl on her face. I let it go, knowing from bitter experience that if I tried to ask what was wrong, I would be risking more drama than would be wise at the moment.

Afterward, as we were walking to our car, she voiced the same theology that folks like St. John Chrysostom and St. Augustine held: All Jews are bad because they killed Jesus. Only now it was personal. You see, one of her best friends is Jewish. So she was convinced that she had to scold her friend and get her to apologize, if not convert and become a Catholic like us so she could go to confession.

I assured her that her friend had nothing to do with Jesus’ death and that she surely wouldn’t have been shouting for Jesus’ crucifixion if she were there. I promised that God doesn’t hate the Jews, either. In fact, he loves her  friend and her whole family.

I thought all was well–until she brought it up at dinner again tonight. The same question. The same implication of her friend. The same thoughts about the Jews. She just couldn’t get it out of her mind. Katie tried to deflect the issue by telling her that it was the Romans who put Jesus to death, not the Jews.

So what did my girl conclude? That Italians were to blame.

And who’s Italian? I am.

And what does that make her? Half-Italian.

So she slapped herself in the forehead a few times. Then she picked up a pizza box (we had carry-out for dinner) and began punching the overdone picture of an Italian chef on it. Then she pointed an accusing finger at me. “You!” she shouted angrily. “You killed Jesus!”

“Daddy didn’t kill Jesus,” Katie said, back pedaling as fast as she could. “And neither did you. And neither did your friend. But if you really want to go there, then think about this: In a sense, we all killed Jesus. It was our sin that put him on the cross. But you know what? He let it happen because he loves us. He let them crucify him so that he could forgive us and open heaven for us. So don’t feel bad. And don’t blame anyone. Just thank him for what he did, and be glad that he did it for you.” My girl just rolled her eyes. “If you say so,” she said, unconvinced.

I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of this. I’m sure it will spring up again, unannounced and unexpected. That, too, is what an aspie brain does. Its fixations come and go, but they never quite disappear. But at least for now, the crisis have been averted, and I’m off the hook.

I think.

I hope.

Happy Easter, everyone!

What Not to Say

I really enjoyed reading a post, over at Autism Island, called “50 Things You Should Not Say to Autism Parents.” While Katie and I have not experienced all fifty, we can certainly identify with a number of them. A few really stuck out for me, so I thought I’d repost them and offer some comments.

He just needs to apply himself more. We hear this often at our school. We have been told that one or another of our ASD kids is just “lazy” or “making poor choices.” One teacher went so far as to say, “Well, not all kids are cut out for school,” and then suggested that we should just settle for the Cs and Ds that kid was getting. Usually this was in the context of our being denied services that we knew our kids needed.

The problem with this statement is that there is a lack of understanding that a lot of kids with ASD, especially the highly verbal ones, tend to seem so much more “together” on the outside than they really are. Teachers and guidance counselors don’t get how hard the kids are working to maintain this image, even as they struggle in whatever subject happens to be their weakness. They “look so normal” that it’s easy to think that they’re unmotivated. But on the inside, they are a bundle of anxieties, worries, and frustrations–something that only we parents get to see once our kids come home and are in a safe environment where they can let it out.

He doesn’t have autism, he has discipline problems. We got a variation on this one from a visitor to our church one Sunday. The kids were having a particularly hard time focusing and were feeding off each other’s sensitivities. After Mass, this fellow walked past us and muttered (loud enough so I could hear), “Those children need discipline.” He didn’t say it to my face. He didn’t offer any other words of advice or understanding. He didn’t ask any questions or try to get to know us. Just a drive-by shooting. In a house of worship. Nice.

Discipline isn’t the issue for ASD kids as much as it is sensory overload. Kids on the spectrum are trying to process everything coming at them, and for many, the need to “act out” is pretty high–especially when the environment is stressful. When this happens, the last thing you want to do is discipline your child, as if he or she were willfully misbehaving. That only adds to the kid’s sense of otherness and raises the risk of anxiety and depression. The better response is to help the kid calm down or to give him a safe place where he can expend all that excess energy–or to help him find a more socially acceptable way to de-stress.

Are you sure he has autism? He seems fine to me. To which we often reply (in our heads, of course), “Come spend a couple of days at our house. Then we’ll talk.

Again, “seeming fine” is something people on the spectrum spend a lot of time and energy doing. Many have gotten really good at it, but it is exhausting.

Please trust us parents. Please don’t think we’re paranoid or overly anxious. When a parent says “My child has autism,” believe them. Ninety-nine percent of the time, there is a valid diagnosis behind this statement–a diagnosis made by a trained psychologist with far more years of education in this field than you have. Ninety-nine percent of the time, that diagnosis was made after scared and concerned parents brought their child to this professional because they could tell that something just wasn’t right.

No one wants to hear “Your child has autism.” No one wants to face such an uncertain future. Chances are, we did not come to this diagnosis joyfully or eagerly. More likely, we came kicking and screaming, hoping it was something else, something that could be grown out of or medicated away. Chances are, too, that we don’t relish having to tell people about it, but that we do so reluctantly and only when necessary.

I hope I don’t sound too defensive or combative. My goal is not to complain. It’s to give a little window into the challenges we face as parents of ASD kids. I know that oftentimes these comments come from good hearts and innocent intentions. I know, too, that as awareness and acceptance increases, statements like these will decrease. That’s why I’m sharing this. The more people understand autism and the way it affects a family, the better.

Make Me Go Blue!

Okay, here’s the deal, and the real reason why I’ve called this blog Autism Blues. Katie and the kids and I are going to be walking for autism research at the end of September, and we want to raise funds for the walk. We did this two years ago, and raised over $500.00 for Autism Speaks. Not too shabby, if you ask me. But this time, we’re setting a much higher goal. We want to go over the $1,500.00 mark.

Sound impossible? Well, there are two reasons why I’m not worried–a logical reason and a fun reason.

Here’s the logical reason: Two years ago, we were relatively late in signing up and letting folks know about the walk. We didn’t get the word out too well, and so not enough of our friends knew about it. So we’re starting pretty early this year, and we’re going to make sure everyone knows about the challenge. Makes sense, right?

But we all know that logic can take us only so far. So I’m sweetening the deal with a dare. Actually, I’m going to dare you to dare me. If you can get me over the $1,500.00 mark, I promise to dye my hair blue for the walk. Not the whole head, mind you, but a big blue puzzle piece right on the side of my head. That’s right: If I raise enough money, I’ll go blue for autism research. I’ll post photos and maybe even a video on this site so you all can see it. And who knows? I may even keep it in for the whole week after the walk!

So what do you think? Are you gonna dare me to go blue? Then click on this link, which will take you to the secure donation website. And check back here for updates on the donation totals.