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Stuck in New York Unable to Set Limits

Wed, Nov 18th, 2009

This is a story from about 12 years ago.

One day one of the guys in the office asked me if I would drive to NY with him to help retrieve his car that broke down a few weeks ago. I said sure, as I usually didn't have much going on outside of my training. We drove to NY in his grandmother's mini-van. You know the one that has the fake wood siding with the rest of the exterior being white. We went out to a few places and then went to get his car. He tried a few times to get it running but couldn't. After getting back in the car, he told me that we would drive back to MA but asked me if he could stop by a friends house for a minute and get some money he was owed. This was my first clue that I missed completely. He said I'll be right back, can you wait here? Like an idiot, I said "sure." About TWO HOURS LATER he came back. He was a bit flustered, he went through his wallet and got the rest of his money and ran back into the apartment. I think I got it at that point, I hope because I can't remember the exact sequence of events. A little while later a guy came up to my window. I was a bit nervous as I was in NY at 11 oclock at night and someone I didn't know was coming up to talk to me. I opened the window a little and he immediately spoke to me. "Your friend's got it bad up there." "He's doing drugs?" I naively asked. "Crack." He answered. "He asked me to come down and see if you wanted a soda. I'm out here keeping a watch for them, do you want a soda?" "Now, I know this is going to make you wonder about me but I was really thirsty at that point, so I accepted the soda offer and ordered a coke. He came back a few minutes later, and started chatting with me. "Yeah, I've been up there to Sheffield with him, we partied all week long."Jesus, I thought. I came to work with kids with autism in the middle of nowhere in MA, and now I'm in NY talking to crack dealers because of it. I asked if my friend was going to come out, and he said, "I'll try to get him out for you."

I don't know why I felt so comfortable sitting in the car in this strange neighborhood, but I drifted off to sleep. I was awakened a while later by the police. They had noticed me sitting there. One of them banged on the window with his flashlight and startled me awake. I rolled down the window and he said, "What are you doing here?" "waiting for my friend.""Do you know where you are?" he said. "No.""You're in Harlem!" he stated. "And you should get out of here!""......" I said. The police moved on and a little while later my friend came by again. He was a real mess by this point. "Do you have any money?" he asked in a panic. "I said "no." On my 700 a month I received, I never had any money. It's hard to imagine I actually paid rent out of this. "I know you have money." He said. "Just give it me.""I assured him that I had nothing. "

After my friend went back the dealer's helper came by again. "I couldn't get him out of there, they have his wallet and his watch. If you give me $20 I can get him out of there." Now this part is even hard for me to type, and you're probably thinking that I gave him the $20, but it's even worse. I said. "I don't have $20." (I really didn't have it) I said I might have $20 in the bank but I would need to go to the ATM. He told me to go get it and come back. He was trying to give directions and saw my confusion. "If you want, I can go with you to the bank and show you where it is." I know, I can't believe it either but I said, "Okay" and unlocked the door to let him in.

There I was. driving through NY with a crack dealer to get some money to pay my friends drug debt. I couldn't leave him! Cut me a little slack! We arrived at the ATM and I put my card in. I soon found out, as I kept pretty bad track of my account, that there was about $6.00 in my account. I came back to the car and reported to the dealer that I was indeed broke in every way. He didn't have much of a reaction, and was probably shocked to see someone so pitiful. The crack dealer and I drove back to Harlem together. He of coarse said, "I don't know if I can get him out." The moment you the reader have been waiting for."Tell him I'm leaving.""I will wait ten minutes and then I am driving back to MA. "okay. "said the crack mediator as he is now getting directions everybody.

Ten minutes passed, what's your guess? No sign of him. You and every person I have told this story to can't believe I am still there at this point. BUT, I set a limit. I wanted to tell a story that would make the reader or the parent of a child desperate to set limits after reading it. I turned the key and started the engine. I slowly pulled the car out from being parallel parked checking my mirror one last time. No sign of him. It was hard, but I drove away, checking my mirror repeatedly, hoping he would run out. Still no sign, I had to accept the fact that I was leaving this person in Harlem with drug dealers, no wallet, and no money. I decided to check my mirror one last time because I was now turning off the street. I have never seen someone run so fast. Here came my friend running for the van at lightning speed.

I think there is a point to this story other than sharing I am nuts. Notice what happened when I finally set a limit. Now this guy doesn't have autism but what can we learn from this. When I set the limit, it was a little more than ten minutes, as he caught me at the end of the block after leaving at exactly the ten minute mark. You also have to realize that we arrived there around 9pm and it was now light out. Now, like I said before you are probably wondering why I didn't set a limit before. My difficulty with setting limits is the answer. Why don't you set certain limits with your child. Is your answer, autism or Asperger's Syndrome? If it is, you will not be able to change anything until you change your answer.

It seems so trivial when we speak of, setting limits. Maybe we need a different term, like defining your relationship. I had defined my relationship with my fellow crack addict as, he can do crack all night and I will wait patiently in the car. Also, if he runs out of money and has to give his watch and wallet as collateral in order to keep getting high, I will pay that debt for him, while waiting. Pretty nice service isn't it, but don't forget, I did get a coke out of it. This is how I defined my relationship, how do you want to define yours? I hope you can learn from my mistakes but for those of you who are saying, "drug addiction is different from autism, this doesn't help me." You are limiting your growth and using the difference of the topics as an excuse. You always want to ask yourself, "how can I grow?"

But let's talk about autism, after all I have spent 15 years working with children on the spectrum and their parents. The relationships I have come across in my work have been defined in very similar ways. Being a parent myself, I know with or without autism, we are plagued by the undying need to help our children and setting limits never looks like help.

Children want all sorts of things their way, that's one of the things that keeps them on the spectrum. Children I work with want to use everybody's stuff whenever they want. So social skills are difficult but what goes along with that is a lack of social desire when that means asking permission. A classic child trait that is extenuated by asd's. Children I see, take just about everything they can from their parents or siblings, from clothes, to computers, to toys. So over the years they create this life that is all about themselves. They equally try to gain every other liberty they can; their own schedule, when they eat, where they eat. "My daughter eats away from the table at 5 instead of 6 and only eats pasta or waffles." "my child doesn't leave the computer or his room even to eat dinner." "My child refuses to go to school." "my child freaks out unless I follow the exact sequence every day." These are common stories I hear, where out of frustration and hopelessness, parents adapt to their children.

Parents of children on the spectrum are only doing what everybody else in the world is doing, they are trying to keep the peace, make their children happy, and decrease frustration. All of us humans are susceptable to this and we allow too much for this reason. As I have been guilty of this myself as a parent, I'm sure most parents are. We put up with things we don't want to put up with so we don't have to feel frustrated. It is difficult to let our emotions just be, we have to constantly manage them and this is where we get into trouble.

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