On Special Education—Field trips

In my school, field trips would be incredibly important and would be strongly emphasized. We would go on a field trip every month without fail. We would not go to a park or a fast food place but to a museum or a job site or a nonprofit center and do some service. There is nothing that makes me feel better as someone with some needs that I can’t provide for myself than to be able to give something back to someone else. That would be a requirement at my school. We might not be able to do much but we would all do something. Field trips are important because it helps you see the real world and to absorb things from being in different environments. That is how I have learned a lot of new things even if no one else knew that I was learning. When we get to experience new things, it triggers curiosity and that improves our brain function. It’s not rocket science. A rocket science museum would be very cool, though!

On Special Education—Extracurricular activities

I realize that my physical body is stronger than many others with special needs. It is a blessing that I don’t take for granted. I love to run and hike and try new adventures. Being outside does wonders for my brain and decreases my anxiety by about a thousand percent. I suspect that is not unique to me. Even if I couldn’t run, I would want to be outside as much as possible. When I am indoors at school, the sounds are really amplified and hard to block out. The fluorescent lights hum and have subtle waves in the lighting that is distracting. The air conditioner or heater is usually too cold or too hot. Classrooms are honestly not the best learning environment, at least for me. In my school, we would be outside as much as possible. Ideal would be an outside patio with some climate control but still open to the fresh air and natural light. We would spend an hour each day doing some sort of outdoor activity where we get our bodies moving. That would look different for different kids based on their physical abilities. I would think that if I were unable to walk that being pushed around the track would still feel great and I would want to do that every day. Everybody can move their body somehow, even if someone is doing it for you. The mind needs that sensory input, I believe, to be at its best.

On Special Education—Curriculum

Why is it that those who created the curriculum for special education think that we students with disabilities have zero ambition? I can’t understand how they think that all we want to do each day is another stupid set of meaningless tasks that do nothing for our futures. How does a fifty-piece puzzle help me contribute to society? I’m now really good at puzzles. Too bad there aren’t jobs out there that just want you to do puzzles all day. What that is is a time-filler so the teachers can have a break from trying to teach us something interesting or useful. You can’t get away with that in a regular classroom so why is it acceptable in special education? Because we don’t talk back and just do what we’re told or we get carted out of the room because we’re having a “tantrum.” I can tell you that all of the curriculum-developers and teachers would have behavior problems too if they were in our shoes and couldn’t tell anyone. What is the harm in spending puzzle-time reading us some classic books of literature or teaching us lessons from history instead? How could that possibly be less productive than giving us mundane tasks that kindergarten kids can do? I want to learn, not be babysat! In my special-needs curriculum, puzzles would be outlawed and we would read—a lot! I think you would find a classroom of quieter kids with fewer behavior problems that would go home each day feeling a bit more educated. Isn’t that why we are supposed to go to school? Aaron.

On Special Education—Communication

In my first post on this subject, I mentioned that I feel like my experience in special ed has been a waste of my abilities intellectually. The main reason for that is because of my inability to communicate completely independently. Because I can’t speak fluently or just sit in front of a computer and type out my thoughts without help, no one believed that I was in there and understanding everything that was going on around me. I learned how to communicate through a program run by a lady named Soma at her office when I was fifteen using a pencil and a stencil board. My initial conversations were brief because it was a painfully-slow method of pointing out one letter at a time, waiting for her to write that letter down and then choosing the next letter. During my twenty-minute sessions, I could only complete a few sentences. My dad figured out how to make it work on an iPad and that opened up my world. Over the five years since, I have become much faster at it and have become more effective at expressing what is in my brain. It has taken hours and hours of practice and a lot of patience but I feel like now I can truly communicate. But, there is a problem. For me to type, I must hold onto someone’s hand. I don’t understand it either but unless I do that, my mind is jumbled and I can’t focus my thoughts well enough to construct coherent sentences. I’m working on fixing this but haven’t figured it out yet. And, I can’t just sit with anybody and type. Again, I don’t know why. If it is someone that makes me nervous or if I feel like I’m being judged or graded, my mind goes blank. My parents have put in the time to make it really comfortable for me to type with them. My dad especially has worked with me a ton and it comes really easy when I type with him. We have even just finished writing a book of my experience with faith and have submitted it to a publisher. We’re still waiting to hear back, so my fingers are crossed that it will be available to the public soon. Anyway, at school, no one has taken the time that it would require for me to feel comfortable typing with them. So, nobody believes I can do it like my parents tell them I can. It is super frustrating because instead of learning age-appropriate things, I have been stuck at elementary-level material since I was in elementary school. I am so tired of counting coins that I could go crazy. Maybe I am not going to be a cashier! Let’s move on! How about teaching me something I’m actually interested in like history or literature or psychology? That would require some belief on their part that I was understanding those concepts. And would require a lot of dedicated time working on communication in the way that I have learned how to communicate. If I were teaching a class full of autistic children, […]

On Special Education

In five more months, my time in public school special education will be over. I have some mixed feelings about this. On one hand, I will miss my teachers and the routine of getting on the bus each morning and having a scheduled day. On the other hand, the last thirteen years has been a waste of time from an intellectual perspective. When I entered the public school system in the second grade, I was looking forward to being around other kids and learning some new things. The previous five years of my life had been spent doing full-time ABA therapy, mostly in my house. ABA gave me some useful skills but I hated the learning method. Breaking everything down into its simplest parts and then repeating over and over teaches you those steps but it doesn’t teach you how to learn on your own. Plus, it’s incredibly boring! I quit trying after so many years of it. My mind was beyond the mundane things that I was being forced to repeat day-in and day-out. So, I stopped making progress and my parents started looking for another option. We decided to try the public school and see how I did. That is when my world of IEPs and underachieving began. I want to be clear from the beginning that my criticism is not targeted at the teachers and support staff, as I found them all to be kind and dedicated to us. But, the system is flawed and the insistence by the administrators to use easily measurable metrics that are all evidence-based stifles the creativity of the teachers and causes damage to the students. The data that was collected month-to-month and presented at the IEPs never represented my ability or my intellect. The problem with autism is not intellectual capacity, it is communication. That is my disability. I am quite capable of learning things on my own and absorbing information from my surroundings. That is how I know what I know, not from any of the formal lessons that I was given in the special-ed classroom. I am writing this on my blog in the hope that someone out there will read it and have the desire and resources to do things a different way, with the kids in mind, not a certain percentage of data points that need to be met each year so that the school continues to get its funding from the government. I will be writing a series of blog posts about my thoughts and ideas. Please forward it on to anyone that you think might find it useful or helpful. I want to use my brain and my relatively-recent ability to communicate to help change things for other kids in my situation. Hopefully, I can make a difference somehow.

My mom and me

Today is my mom’s birthday.  Birthdays are not her favorite day because it just means she is getting older.  But I want to use this day to give a tribute to my mom whom I love and respect more than anyone in the world.  My mom is the most unselfish person that I know.  She always sacrifices her own needs first and makes sure that everyone else in our family is happy before she thinks about herself.  The most amazing quality that my mom has is how she make me feel better when I am having a bad day.  She has a sensitive radar that is always on high alert and can read my moods better than anyone else.  When I’m feeling down, she give me a hug and a smile and lets me know that she understands and that she loves me.  My mom has been through a ton just raising me and never gives up or stops trying.  She is my hero and my best friend.  I love her with all of my heart and know that God is preparing an incredible mansion for her in heaven that she is building brick by brick through her loving acts of kindness every day in this life.  I love you, Mom!

Winter is coming

I am looking forward to winter this year. It is beautiful here when it snows and I actually enjoy the colder temperatures. I love how snow makes everything seem fresh and clean. And I’m excited to take some trips up to Grand Lake and go cross country skiing. I tried it last year and really enjoyed it. I am trying to do new things and to also stay in good shape and cross country skiing is great exercise. I think I could get good at it if I work at it. Downhill skiing is fun but I’m having a hard time learning how to turn. It’s kind of an important skill, you know. For cross country skiing, you just have to keep your skis in the tracks and keep moving. I am good at moving! Aaron

Making progress

So far, I have not made much progress typing on my own. But, my dad and mom are now trying a new method. Instead of holding their hand, they are now just holding my forearm. It is way harder for me because I can’t control my movements as easily but I think it is a good next step. When I try it on my own, my mind just becomes jumbled. I don’t get it, but that is what happens. For some reason, I need that physical connection with someone for my brain to focus. I am really tired of autism. I won’t give up though. What else can I do but keep trying? Thanks for listening. Aaron.

My brain drives me crazy

So, I’m trying really hard to improve my independence and being able to write without holding someone’s hand is going to be the key to that. Once I can do that, I think my life is going to change. I don’t know why I can’t do it. It makes me feel mad and frustrated with myself but I just have to keep trying. I think that it is like my marathon training. At first, I had to hold onto a rope to be able to keep running but now I can do it by myself with a reasonably solid pace. I’m still holding onto the “rope” with my writing but I just need to keep training and eventually, I should be able to do it on my own as well. My brain drives me crazy, though. Why can’t I just do it? I know that I’m capable. How long will it take? I have no idea. Aaron.

New Heights

Last Saturday, I ran my second marathon.  I established a new personal best of 4:01:28 which I feel really good about.  I was going for four hours which I just missed, but it was still about twenty five minutes faster than my first marathon.  I am happy because we pretty much only stopped at the aid stations and an occasional five-second mental break.  This is way better for me because I normally need to stop running about every ten minutes.  But, now I know that I can push through and that gives me confidence.  From here, I just need to keep getting faster when I am running.  I am also happy because I got to spend the weekend with my dad and my brother, Ben.  Ben ran the marathon with us and killed it with a time of 2:54.  That was good enough for the win and qualifies him for Boston.  My dad also found out that there is a Boston-qualifying time for disabilities including autism of 6 hours, so I’m also a Boston Qualifier!  And my dad has qualified before too.  Now, he needs to run one by himself so he can qualify again.  Then, we’ll shoot for Boston 2020.  How cool would that be?  I am grateful to be able to run and to set ambitious goals.  I have good examples in my family to follow.  Thanks Dad and Ben for letting me be part of that world with you.  It is a life-saver for me. Aaron    

Just catching up

It has been a long time since I wrote in my blog but I haven’t been idle. Since my last post, I have written a book about my journey of faith as a disabled person. I’m hopeful that since I kind of felt inspired to write it that Heavenly Father will open a door for it to be published. I’m glad to be done with that project and to have accomplished that goal. Now I am just going to focus on writing in the blog and trying to improve in various other ways. My dad and I are getting ready to run another marathon. I wanted to do it in a place that I have never been before so we are going to Illinois in September. We aren’t as well trained this year because we’ve had a busy summer but we should get through it. I was hoping to break the four-hour mark but we will have to see if the high-altitude training in Colorado will compensate for the fewer training runs. I hope so. And, this week we start another year in school. This will be my last year in the transitions program before I have to figure out what the next phase in life will be. So, I hope to make the most of it. Thanks for listening to me think out loud. I didn’t really have a theme for this post. I just wanted to get started again with something. I’ll think about something more interesting for next time. Until then, have a good end of summer. Aaron.

When I think about Easter. . .

When I think about Easter, I think about Christ at the tomb after he had emerged with a resurrected body and before he had risen to heaven to be with Heavenly Father. I love that it was so important to him that he show himself to Mary before he left to complete the mission. To me, that shows about how much he loves each of us. He knew that Mary was grieving and that she was there early to show her respect by preparing his body. I assume that she wasn’t the only one that was going to be involved in that process. But she was there by herself probably after another sleepless night, mourning her Savior and friend. I love that it was her that saw him first because she was there trying to serve him. It wasn’t Peter or any of the other apostles. In fact, Thomas had to be convinced of her story. I love how Christ rewarded her for her faith. I love how she had so much love for him that she pled for his body when she thought it was stolen. I love how Christ was so kind to her. I love how Christ gently spoke her name and revealed his identity. I think Christ will reveal himself to us in the same way as we humbly serve him with an eye of faith. I love the example of Mary and that is what I’m going to focus on this Easter. Aaron

A new year’s resolution

It is 2018 and I have been thinking about what I want to accomplish this year. First is to begin my service mission. It has been slower than I expected to get started but hopefully it will happen soon. That is my biggest goal for the year. But as part of that, I want to get better at writing and speaking so that I can gain more independence. I really would love to eventually live in my own place but I know that I have a long way to go to get to that point so I need to really focus on it as much as I can. Maybe my missionary service will give me good chances to practice some of those skills. Maybe I can bless others in the meantime too. I also want to run another marathon and do it under four hours. I think I can achieve that. I hope to climb a couple more fourteeners this year too. Over three years now, my goals have sure gotten bigger. I’m glad for being able to reach new heights. Aaron.

Time for Christmas

Today, I have been pondering about how mankind has become so dependent on technology to function. Hardly a minute is spent away from our phones or IPads or our computers. I know that these things are useful and in many ways have improved our lives. In fact, without them, I would be unable to even share my voice so I am not calling anybody out. But, how much of the time that we spend looking up needless information could we use in a better way. In my world, I find that if I look at something too much, I can’t get it out of my head. So, I need to be selective about what I look at. I want to fill my brain with things that are worth perseverating about. This time of year is my favorite. I love the lights and the trees and the presents. I love Christmas music. I love snow on the mountains. But, what I really love most is the story of the Savior’s birth. I love to imagine that I was there, in the manger, when the shepherds came and the angels sang his praises. For unto us a child is born. Unto us. We were watching from heaven, I believe. Maybe we were part of the angelic choir. I love to think that I could sing and shout for joy before my voice was taken away by autism. These are the things that I choose to perseverate about this month. Not Donald Trump or North Korea or who is being accused of sexual assault. To me, Christ fixes all of that. I plan on focusing my energy on Him. Love Aaron.

My Light the World video

Last September, the missionary department from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints asked me if they could tell my story as part of this year’s Christmas campaign called Light the World.  They thought that my efforts to deal with my disability would be able to inspire others to think more about Christ and to focus more on Him during the holiday season.  I agreed to it because, although I’m naturally a shy person, I feel strongly that Heavenly Father has a plan for me to use my challenges to help others overcome their own difficulties.  It was weird to have a camera in my face for a whole day but the crew was super nice and made it as easy on me as possible.  The video turned out very well and I like it.  It is weird to see myself on the internet, I must admit, but it’s for a good cause so I’m okay with it.  I really do hope that my story can help someone out there who is struggling with their faith and wondering if God is really there.  I can testify that He is and that He loves us.  I love Him and I love the Savior.  I am thankful for my testimony of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  If any of you who read this blog would like to know more about our church, please contact me on Facebook and we can chat.  I will tell you what I know and will help you find the missionaries in your area. Love, Aaron https://www.mormon.org/christmas/25-ways-25-days/day-19 #LighttheWorld

The newest Jepson

This week, my family got a new addition. He is a really cute puppy that we have named Jack. He is part Australian Shepherd and part poodle. It’s called an Aussiedoodle. Every dog is a doodle these days, it seems. We are just another doodle family. But, our doodle is the best! I really love it. It follows me everywhere I go and I’m excited for when it’s a little bigger and can go running with me. That is why we decided on this particular breed because they are bred for herding cows and sheep and are really athletic. And the poodle is just to be trendy, I guess. No, actually, it’s so it won’t shed as much. Anyway, we are going to try to train it as a service dog for me so I can take it everywhere with me to decrease my anxiety in public places. I love it already and I’m really not a huge fan of most dogs. But, this one is different because it’s going to become my best friend. Welcome to the family, Jack! I love you! Aaron. Dog trainer and now a two legged cow.

Marathon man

This past weekend, I accomplished a major goal of mine. My dad and I completed my first full marathon! It is such a great feeling to set an epic goal and then to achieve it. I love to break through those barriers that some put up for people with disabilities. The race was in a beautiful area in southern Utah called Goblin Valley State Park. It is full of cool red rock formations that stand in the middle of this big valley surrounded by red rock cliffs. We hiked through the valley the day before the race. It was really cool. It would be fun to spend more time in there. You could definitely get lost among the goblins. The next day was race day. We got up early, had some breakfast and headed to the park. I got pretty excited at the beginning and took off sprinting at the starting gun. My brother Ben saw the video and said I looked like The Flash. That was pretty funny. Anyway, my dad reeled me in and we found our pace. The first six and half miles of the race was on a paved road with some rolling hills. It wasn’t too bad and I felt pretty good. I like to break down the big goal of 26.2 miles into smaller ten-minute goals. It makes it easier for me. So, every ten minutes, we stopped running and walked for twenty seconds or so. I loved the feeling of ticking off those miles in my head. Pretty soon, the route turned more challenging. It became a dirt jeep road with lots of sand and rocks and some steep climbs. The views were amazing, though. You could see forever out across these incredible vistas that reminded me of what I imagine the Grand Canyon would look like. I loved that part of the race. But, we reached the halfway point and had to turn around. I was still feeling alright through the trip back on the dirt road. When we hit the pavement again, my legs were starting to hurt. My dad kept encouraging me through it though. He said that this was the part that everyone dreads. They call it “the wall”. But he said if we can get through those next couple of miles, then we’d be home free. I loved those words because I knew I could do a couple more miles. The next few miles were definitely tough but we kept plowing ahead and made it through them and still kept up a pretty good pace. As we started up a long climb in the last few miles, my dad saw the guy who was in the lead of the race. I couldn’t believe it when my dad said that we were going to catch him and win the race. My dad was getting really excited for me and his enthusiasm helped me kick it in. We caught the guy with about two miles to go. I was really tired at that point though, but my dad wouldn’t let me quit. We kept plugging away until I could see […]

Top ten things that I wished I could have told my parents when I was younger

My dad suggested that I write a post about what I wished I could have told them when I was young and unable to communicate. He thought that a lot of parents might want to hear that. So, I’m going to write it as a list. My top ten list for autism. 1. Mom, please don’t cry. I know that you are so worried about me but be assured that I’m going to be ok. My life won’t be what you had dreamed of for me but I’ll still find a way to make it be a meaningful one. 2. Mom, thank you. I see the effort that you put in every day in trying to help me and I am so appreciative that I have a mother who cares so much. You have given up your life and sometimes your happiness for me and I cannot ever repay you. 3. Mom and Dad, you need to go out on a date. Both of your lives revolve around mine too much. Take care of each other too. 4. Mom and Dad, stop and smell the roses. You both can do things for yourselves sometimes. I’ll still be here and will still be autistic, even if I do get that extra therapy session tonight. 5. I just want to eat some real pizza! Quit trying to give me the cardboard box! I appreciate the effort, though, and know it is in my best interest. 6. Ben, I am sorry that we can’t go outside and play like normal siblings. I’m sure you feel gypped and so do I. I’m always watching you though. I love you so much and am so thankful that you are my brother. You make me laugh on the inside, even if I’m not laughing on the outside. I do get all of your jokes. 7. Ben, you are an awesome brother. You are kind and patient and have also sacrificed your life in many ways for mine. Be proud of how you’ve handled it all. 8. Dad, thanks for always pushing me to do normal things as much as I can. I love it when we go running, hiking, skiing, biking, backpacking. It is when I feel the least autistic. Those are the best moments. 9. Thank you for teaching me about God. That is the only way I’m getting through this. And yes, I am listening to what you are saying. Each time I look away, I’m very frequently trying harder to concentrate on hearing your words. I can’t look at you and hear you at the same time. So try not to force that. 10. I do like to be hugged and touched even if I turn away. Again, I just can’t make my body hug back all of the time. Bonus 11. I must have some down time every day to recharge my battery. Without it, I can’t function. Give me that opportunity no matter how late it is. 12. Don’t ever give up on teaching me things. I’ll get it, it just takes longer. 13. After I learn something, help me practice […]

Being Autistic

Everyone with autism is not the same so I don’t know how my experience will compare with others. But, I can tell you what it is like for me. When I was really young, I didn’t really know that I was different. I just knew that my parents were worried about me and started me working with all types of therapies and interventions. It was really tiring for me to have to work that hard all of the time but it is probably why I am able to function at my current level and I can look back on it and appreciate what my parents sacrificed to help me progress. I can remember how very clouded my brain felt all of the time with an occasional moment of clarity that was always short-lived. My brain was constantly racing and I could always hear a lot of background noise that made it really hard to concentrate on what people were telling me to do. The only thing that helped me to be able to focus was to cover my ears and not look at anyone in the face. I know that is not socially acceptable but it’s how I got through life. I also tried to control my immediate environment the best that I knew how by surrounding myself with favorite toys and objects. For me, that was Toy Story toys. That movie came out right as I was developing signs of autism and it got stuck in my brain. And, even to this day, I have a hard time thinking about anything else. I really am quite sick of Buzz and Woody but I can’t seem to let go entirely. Just throwing the toys away doesn’t help so I don’t think that is the answer. My dad would do that sometimes but it just made it worse for me. I think that as my autism gets less severe, my link to Toy Story also becomes less intense. I guess it is like a kind of lab test of sorts. Anyway, as I have gotten older, my brain has definitely improved. I don’t have as much noise in my head so I can focus for longer. I still deal with a lot of issues though. Anxiety is probably the biggest of those. I deal with that by being outside as much as possible. That really helps me especially if I can run around or jump on the trampoline. If I don’t get that time in, then I’m in much worse shape. The hardest thing for me now about having autism is that I can see all of the things that other people my age are doing and I’m still pretty dependent on my parents for everything. That really sucks. I really want to have my own life but I don’t know if that is in the cards for me. That is a hard reality to face. I love my family but wish I could be more independent from them. But each year, I’m improving so who knows? That’s all for this post. I’ll write a separate post about what advice I […]

A simple truth

I learned an important lesson in the general conference of our church this weekend. The leaders of our church, who we consider as prophets, seers and revelators give inspired messages to the members of the church about topics that they feel that Heavenly Father wants us to know. Yesterday, one of these leaders gave a great talk about how we should be heeding the advice of the prophet, Thomas S. Monson, and studying the Book of Mormon every day. That leader is very likely going to be the next prophet and his name is Russell M. Nelson. I was impressed that even someone of his stature in the church is humble enough to take the message from the prophet and look for ways to improve his own study of the scriptures. The Book of Mormon is the words of ancient prophets that were led from Jerusalem to the American continent. They received revelation about Jesus Christ and his gospel just like the prophets in the Old World, whose words were recorded as the Bible. Our first prophet of the latter days, Joseph Smith, was given the ancient record from the Americas and translated them by the gift and power of God. It teaches the gospel of Christ in a simple and pure way without the confusion and contradictions that sometimes exist in the Bible. The Book of Mormon is a companion to the Bible and works together with it to bring the complete truth back to the light that once existed in the Bible before much of it was lost in translation and by men who chose to remove some of the plain and precious truths. I know that the Book of Mormon is true and that we will become closer to God by reading it more than any other book on earth. I look forward to also doing a better job of studying it daily. Thanks for listening to my beliefs even if some of you likely believe differently. I hope that you will at least consider reading the Book of Mormon after reading this blog post. I know that if you will read with real intent and with sincerity of heart and will ask God if it is true, you will feel it strongly in your heart and you will also know that what I am saying is right. If you take me up on this challenge, please write me back and let me know how it goes. Thanks Aaron.