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Autism Life Hacks

Hurricane Redux: Preparing for the Storm


Hurricane Redux: Preparing for the Storm

It seemed a good time to repost our Hurricane Prep tips for anyone with special needs, any caregivers, anyone with anxiety, anyone who is being driven slightly mad by the constant hysteria of every newscast, anyone watching “So You Think You Can Dance” or “MasterChef” and trying to ignore the hurricane tracker in the lower left of your screen…so all of us really.

When the Friday track of Hurricane Dorian showed a direct hit to my house as a Cat 4, I did a lot of deep breathing and repeating Byron Katie’s mantra “I’m a lover of what is.” Then I would notice “what is really'“ — it is sunny and beautiful; it is time for lunch; it is laundry-folding time. There was never a moment on Friday when a Cat 4 was ripping our roof off the house. It was only when I watched the news and lived in the land of what might be that I felt anxiety.

These behaviors along with our Write Out Plan should help not only Henry, who is already eyeing his calendar and saying Hurricane over and over, but will help me. It’s impossible not to be filled with anxiety when you spend five days playing out all the ‘what could happen if’ scenarios.

Hurricane Irma: Write Out Plan

September 8, 2017

With a hurricane, you can see it coming, so it feels like you have some control. But really it's a bizarre state of flux, fear, and fine. This is not easy for anyone, but for someone with autism who relies on consistency, especially in a schedule, it’s really tough.

What Henry and I do to manage the unknown is write out our plan. Here’s our plan for two of our Hurricane days:

Saturday, 9/9: Stay in the apartment. Call Granddad and say Happy Birthday. Charge electronics all day. Have some snacks. Maybe at night we’ll lose power and air conditioning.  Maybe we’ll take the sofa cushions and hang out together in the big bathroom.

Monday, 9/11: Wait for the police to tell us all clear. Call dad and see who has power! Make a plan to go see dad when it’s all clear. That might be Tuesday.  

Henry sat with me to talk it out and then we wrote it down. He took the papers and he’ll likely carry them with him for the whole weekend. Even if we end up in the bathroom with flashlights, pillows, bottled water, and a thermos of coffee with Baileys. We’ll both have some stress moments throughout the weekend so we’ll go back to the papers and look at the plan. We’ll read it out loud. And it will soothe us to see that Tuesday will be different than Sunday.

A friend at work mentioned that her young nephew gets anxiety. We talked about having him create his own Hurricane Preparedness Kit. What does he need to feel safe and in control?  Headphones to keep out the noise? A special blanket or pillow?  A favorite book or toy?  Have him make up that kit and keep it with him throughout the weekend.  Allow him to be in charge of his kit. He can lower his anxiety if he is in charge of what he can actually control.  

And isn’t that really it? This is how to handle the storms of life. We live as if we know what is coming because this day is Wednesday and it goes like this every Wednesday.  Then we see something starting to churn to the South, the wind picks up, we bring in the patio furniture, and bam! We’re in the eye.

A good spiritual storm plan is pretty close to a Florida hurricane plan:

1. Stock up on essentials that keep you hydrated and nourished.

2. Hunker down and have things to do, like a good book to read, so you aren’t looking at the predictions every five minutes.

3. If you need to evacuate, do so patiently and kindly.

4. Write out your vision and hold it close.

4. Re-read the plan and remind yourself that this will pass.

It’s good to have a plan in place long before we’re hit, so we can control what we can control.  So that we remember that by Tuesday, it will be different. 


Fragile: Move With Care


Fragile: Move With Care

When we first moved into the third floor apartment overlooking Shingle Creek and the Mall of the Millenia, we knew it would be a temporary living space. It is an apartment, after all. Sitting on my balcony, sipping coffee and bird-watching at the headwaters to the Everglades has been a joy. Being within walking distance of Macy’s is also a joy but we're ready to move on. 

I thought Henry enjoyed it here, but was also pretty sure that he knew this was not our forever home. When I told him last week that we found a house and we were going to move, I didn’t expect a flat out NO. A frowning, head-shaking NO.  

Then we did all the things you do when you are managing a disorder that dislikes change. I showed him pictures of the house. I let him pick out his room. I showed him the pool and we talked about when he would swim. We created a calendar — packing days, Special Olympics Summer Camp days, staying at Mimi & Granddad’s while the house is painted days, moving days, in the new house day.  A full two months of events, all set out for him.  Then he was excited. Or so I thought.

I went into his room to give him a suitcase and noticed that he’d taken all the pillows and blankets off his bed. They were in the walk-in closet on the floor, arranged like a little sleeping cave.  Or maybe a cocoon. I’m hoping for a cocoon. 

Henry’s behavior got me thinking about my response to moving into our dream home with a writing room just for me. I thought I was doing great -- I'm excited! Then I noticed that I wasn’t sleeping very well. I was eating dinner, not meals exactly, but fists full of Cheez-its.  Every few hours I was snapping, “Where the hell are my glasses?!” 

I asked my husband to go look in Henry’s closet and tell me what he thought. He surveyed the tent-cave and said, “It’s ok. I’m nervous too.”  The mighty Egyptian man is nervous too.

Because that’s what we are when we make a change in life. Even though I am thrilled, my system — my body, my central nervous system, my emotions — are in a whirl. I don’t have autism, so I know how to cope. I pin home decor on Pinterest, cram Cheez-its and snap about the location of my glasses (you guessed it -- on top of my head. Every time.) Healthy? Maybe not, but socially acceptable. 

I want to be like Henry and know when I need to curl up on the closet floor. It’s ok to take time to be overwhelmed. Overwhelmed is a state, and it happens to my system, whether I like it or not.  Being overwhelmed isn’t a reflection of my truth or who I am and that's what it is for Henry.  A state that requires care. 


Autism Life Hack #7 How Deepak Chopra Saw My Essence. Hint: He looked.


Autism Life Hack #7 How Deepak Chopra Saw My Essence. Hint: He looked.

Dr. Deepak Chopra  came to Dr. Phillips Center last year and did a talk on his latest book, You Are The Universe.  My role was to help with the VIP book signing and take photos for social media. I was in our event room with the VIP guests who were having a glass of wine and a nosh, waiting on Deepak…which sounds like the title to a play.

I had strict orders about when Dr. Chopra was to be back to his dressing room.  So, I organized the book signing to give everyone a nice moment with him within our schedule. At 5 minutes to 7 p.m. Deepak Chopra arrived with several of the arts center staff, all directors and senior directors, mostly in charge of production. 

When Deepak entered the room, I turned and looked him in the eye.  I went towards him with my hand extended.  He looked me in the eye. As we shook hands I said, “Dr. Chopra, I’m Alice and our group is excited to meet you.  I understand you need to be backstage at 7:30 so I’m going to make sure you leave this room at 7:25.”

“Wonderful, Alice, I’m Deepak,” said Dr. Chopra. “Now, I have a video for the opening of the show that I really want to use.  I know it’s last minute but can I have someone email it to you and we can use it?”

Now, I’m not in production. I was there to take one photo on my phone for Instagram.  He just rode up the elevator with any number of people there to help him.  I have no idea why he didn’t mention this idea to them.  But here’s what I do know.  I know me.  I’m a performer and I am a leader. I am a presence. I know my energy is large and that often people respond to me as if I’m in charge.  A couple in the Paris airport once had me direct them to their terminal, in French. I speak very little French, and I’d never been in that airport before but I got them where they needed to go. So, I get that about me.

While I believe that Deepak Chopra, this master of awareness, met my presence, knew me and knew I was the one to get this task done for him, what I also know is that I looked him in the eye and told him my name.  He looked me in the eye and did the same.

Autism Life Hack #7 is Good Eye Contact! Henry worked on this in early intervention days when he was in Pre-K.  I would hold his face towards mine.  I would point to my eyes and say, “Give me good eye contact.”  In later years, he learned more subtle forms, more mature forms.  In High School, he’s very obviously been working on shaking hands and greeting people.  If you’re in the line at Walmart with us, watch out.  You’re about to have a beaming face invade your personal space with an outstretched hand and hear, “Hi, I’m Henry, what’s your name?”  (We’ll work on personal space soon, I promise.)

Yes, I would like to think that Deepak Chopra saw my essence and identified me as the one who would make something happen. Because it pleases my soul, I’m going to believe that my spirt rose up to meet his spirit, they communed, and I was known and heard and he was known and heard.

Very likely though, he responded to me because we shared good eye contact and greeted each other with our names.  He got his video for the opening of his talk because I said yes and then passed it off to one of the people he rode up in the elevator with.  Then Deepak and I went through our meet & greet plans for maximum efficiency and personal connection with his guests. He was backstage by 7:30.

Whether it’s a spiritual communion or a simple acknowledged request, it usually starts with good eye contact.  You can start practicing Autism Life Hack #7 today! I promise it will change your life.