On being an Autistic Jew: Grief

Here are my reasons for starting this blog:

  1. To show others on the autism spectrum that they’re not alone.
  2. To help parents and educators if they have a child in their lives with autism
  3. To the supposed “Normal” people who just know someone with Autism realize that no two people with Autism are the same.

Now I’m not a mental health counselor or a priest. Just an anonymous guy on the internet making the world a better place by trying to provide hope.

Grief is something we all have to deal with but the way we do on a day to day basis. It’s something we all face. There’s a huge difference between feeling sad and feeling grief. Grief does come from being sad. You can feel sad but not grief. Case in point:

4 years ago Robin Williams committed suicide. Sure I was sad but I never knew him so it was sad but no grief.

Four years ago I made a friend who was a nurse from my synagogue. She had two estranged daughters who wanted nothing to do with her. She met me and it felt like I was her missing son. From elementary school to high school my parents fought for my education, in college I wanted to put myself in the driver’s seat and not rely on my parents and be treated like an equal. I was and I wasn’t.

After my dog Fuzzy died I vowed to finish my degree. I was recognized for student leadership and in student leadership I was treated like an equal but when I was getting my degree, not so much. I don’t want to mention the instructor told me, “All people with Autism are the same.” I should have reported it but I didn’t. Partially because I was scared and confused at why someone would say that.

Anyway back on track enough digressing. My friend who was a nurse went to the same synagogue. I have a lot of fond memories of her being a warm compassionate person. Then at the tail end of April I receive a phone call that no person should receive. Well 2. I received a phone call and the person who told me that she was with g-d now. I felt like someone had assassinated my friend. Suicide is something should have to deal with. It hurts the victims .

The victims are the ones who suffer the most. I won’t go into too many details about my friend but that’s something for September. I texted my best friend and his response was “NOOOOOO! I AM SO SORRY SAM!!! :(” my other friend l told him over the phone and I told him it was a suicide and got a, “People die! Be a man and get over it.” my job coach said the exact same thing.

It was around this time I needed to have a little faith in g-d. It was hard because the old rabbi from my synagogue was retired and the junior one from my Bar Mitzvah, I hadn’t tracked down but my mom told me to contact the cantor. Instead of saying, “Be an adult and get over it.” I got this, “You’re going to feel like crap for a while and that’s ok.” Around the first anniversary of the death, I got back in touch with the junior rabbi from my Bar Mitzvah.

As a young adult, the junior rabbi felt more like someone you could sit around roasting marshmallows with. In fact, one of my memories of him was at a Jewish summer camp and he discussed Mi Chamocha. For those of you who aren’t Jewish, Mi Chamocha translates to “Who is like you?” the Junior Rabbi said that these words weren’t said by Moses but by a man named Nakhshone. I’m sure I could spell it in Hebrew but my computer doesn’t have a Hebrew translation. Anyhow, after the first year anniversary of the death, I told myself I should find things to remember my friend by. Her favorite movie, things she did etc.

As the second anniversary came and went a movie came out called Won’t You Be My Neighbor? A documentary about Fred Rogers. After leaving the theater, I left the theater feeling better about life. Mr. Rogers might have been ordained by the Presbyterian church but he didn’t let his religious beliefs be the deciding factor of the show. I think Mr. Rogers might secretly be Yoda. I’m kidding but in all honesty if you are feeling grief, talk to a counselor, tell some friends you care about. Being an “adult” means you’re honest about how you feel. If you haven’t seen it. Here’s a link to the trailer. I’ll wait for you guys to finish the blog before I continue

 

If you haven’t seen this movie, It will hit you where you live. I’m not going to lie, this movie had to compete with Avengers infinity war because even though this came out two months after, this movie was not only what I needed to help recover from my aunt’s death but my friend’s suicide too.

If you are grieving, I highly suggest talking to the people you truly care about and you feel like they care about you. Let them know about a death, If they love you, they won’t have you wave a magic wand to feel better. They will tell you they are sorry for your loss and ask if you want to talk about it. You can heal from a bike injury. Grieving is like having a metal plate put in after a surgery. Your wounds heal but there will always be a scar.

What more can I say about grief? Just remember to help others who are grieving, I want to propose a challenge to everyone. After you finish reading this blog, say to 5 people who you don’t know well or would like to get to know better, “Have a nice day.” You’ll feel better

Have a Nice day

Sam

On being an Autistic Jew: Grief

On being an Autistic Jew – What is a sensory overload

This is something that’s really important if you have someone with Autism. I was diagnosed when there was still the split between Asperger Syndrome and Autism. Now it’s just Autism Spectrum Disorder. I digress though.

As I said I have a vision loss so I hear and smell everything. My sense of touch is very acute. So what exactly happens? Imagine walking down the street just minding your own business. You hear, a woman talking on her cell phone, you see the guy eating a bag of chips nearby, or you’re at a party, so many people talking at once. The music is playing in the background, the clinking of glasses. This wouldn’t bother someone who is “Normal”. But to those on the spectrum, it would.

Over the years I’ve learned how to control this. I’ve learned how to make eye contact as to appear normal but my self loathing of wanting to be Normal has disappeared. For me, I was kicked out of several groups of Autism for being too friendly. All my life, I’ve been different.

Sensory overloads cannot be avoided but there are things that can help:

Noise canceling headphones

You can also distract yourself. Try to think about something you like. For me, I’m an aspiring jack of all trades. I’ve trained myself for the most part to handle sensory overloads. Some are more difficult than others. If you have one, I urge you to find someplace quiet. Then take 3 deep breaths and count to ten

Don’t take the path I did during my teenage years and see Autism as a curse. It wasn’t until I was 24 that I felt like I could come into my own. Only YOU, know what YOU want out of life so let’s go from there next time. Let’s talk about what I want.

 

On being an Autistic Jew – What is a sensory overload

On being an Autistic Jew – Advice

For those of you on the spectrum you need to remember you can’t choose who your family members are but you can only carve your path. I didn’t like getting my associate’s because I wasn’t treated like an equal. Even among my peers. That’s why I only had 5 friends by the time I graduated and my ex’s takeover of my degree. Only YOU can be your own life. Don’t let anyone manipulate you into doing their work.

I have a lot of goals in my life and the best thing you can do is ask yourself is what do YOU want?

On being an Autistic Jew – Advice

On being an Autistic Jew: Part 5: High School

Throughout Middle School and even in High School, I was bullied. I even had bullies in my synagogue. Because of this, I thought I was an idiot and wanted to be “Normal”. I ask you, what is Normal? High School itself was a mixed bag because I was all over the place. The Rabbi reminded me over and over that there’s no shame in being smart. The summer before I entered my freshman year was quite fascinating.

I had a camp counselor who helped me feel better about myself somewhat. Because of all the bullying, I thought I was an idiot. I was self loathing and self involved. I just wanted to be “normal”. But what is normal?

On August 25, 2003 I was interviewed on NPR and in my Freshman year,I also lettered in skiing. I was there full time but I felt like I wasn’t being challenged. I told my parents. The most important piece of advice I can give to teenage autistic crowd is be your own advocate. Make your voice heard! This pretty much goes for anyone.

What was I interviewed for? Well I have a collection of action figures that stretches back to over 3000 pieces. Do I want to keep collecting? Only if the right woman comes along. I am an autistic MAN not a boy.

During my teenage years I hated myself but I was self involved and just wanted to be normal. These were the days when there was still a split between Asperger Syndrome and Autism. Now Autism Spectrum Disorder is an umbrella term and there’s a wide range for people. Now if I could give some autistic teenagers some advice it’s this:

There will be hardships and it will be difficult but you need to keep up with your studies but high school only happens once. So after you’re done, you have nothing to worry about with getting a diploma. It isn’t worth it to drop out. Don’t let the bullies bother you.

My freshman year I lettered in skiing at the private school and wanted to be normal. But what is normal? The gym teacher at that private school was a bit of a bully. He lead his classes and made fun of students constantly and it was clear he did it just for the paycheck. I was targeted constantly. I had a few friends but I felt like I wasn’t being challenged

So if you asked me what my favorite subjects were in high school they were: English, Spanish, American Government, Health and Drama.

During my freshman year I also attended an event called Pizza and Peace, it was a talk with Ghandi’s Grandson and it was all about him and his grandfather’s work. I was thoroughly impressed.

So as someone who’s always looking to improve and be challenged, I walked away with a lot that day.

By the end of my Freshman year, I felt like I wasn’t being challenged at the private school. So my father had me take electives at the private school and all my core classes Math, English, and Spanish were taken at Brightmont Academy but in those days it was called EA2. EA2 The Educational Advancement Academy was really helpful and for once I felt smart. I started taking Spanish through them and it really helped. I never liked Math. One of the stereotypes with Autistics is we love Math and computers. Not always the case.

Ruth Wilson, the director of Brightmont always applauded me for marching to my own drum. I’ve always been this way and when I turned 16, I started writing my own comedy. Yes, I’m a comedian.

Sophomore year of high school was an interesting time in my life.Ruth treated me like an equal even though I was a minor and yes I am political too. When I was at the private school I wanted to be respected by the teachers but I felt that I wasn’t. So what were some of the highlights?

While Ruth was impressed by my unique nature, I just wanted to be like everyone else. Unfortunately I wouldn’t be. During my Sophomore year we had the 3rd Anniversary of 9/11. I was invited by someone else in my synagogue to speak in front of people at an interfaith service. That’s where I broke the news to my best friend that I’m on the spectrum. I’ll never forget this night.

Now, it wasn’t until I was 21, that I realized I’m a rare breed. But during the interfaith service, there were two Christian girls who spoke, their pastor, the Rabbi from my synagogue, A muslim kid and me. Everybody was thanking me for my speech. It felt great. I had to deal with teen drama on the way home though.

So after my sophomore year of high school I left the private school and brightmont. I went to public school and although I was in special ed classes I had a few friends. As usual I had teen drama. The summer before I entered, the school psychologist tested me and my vocabulary is 95% above average. The school psychologist set me up with a peer and history would repeat itself in college.

My Junior year I practically took over the school. I did a presentation on Asperger Syndrome. My health teacher was impressed at how thorough it was. She even left a voicemail on my parents’ answering machine. I was the first president of my school’s multi-cultural club and even was in a comedy competition. So by senior year everyone knew who I was.

After graduation my parents divorced and it left me scared and confused. But would I go to college? Yes I would. I have an associates but we’ll talk about that as my memoir continues…

On being an Autistic Jew: Part 5: High School

On being an Autistic Jew Part 4 – Bar Mitzvah

Ok so now we’re going to be diving into my past and I’ll delve deeper about it because it helped shape who I am. High School and Middle School my depression was at its highest point. Teenage years are a pain in the neck for ANYONE! Since I was 9, My aspiration was to be a comedian who owned his own Restaurant with Joke Shop, Candy Shop, Bakery, Ice Cream Parlor that would show movies. I’d have a stage to do my comedy.

So when a Jewish boy gets to be about 11-12, It’s time for Bar Mitzvah Training. Girls can start as early as 12. All the preparation is a test. It’s not easy because you’re slowly transitioning into adulthood and puberty is very cruel. You also have to give a speech. Rabbis Jim Mirel and Michael Latz were the Rabbis at my synagogue at the time of my Bar Mitzvah. Mirel was the Senior and Latz the Junior and unfortunately he left after a year.

Mirel is retired now. Eventually I started the History of The Simpsons. So we’ll touch more on that later.

For me my Bar Mitzvah and the portion of the Torah was all about rules and boundaries. Because of this I consider myself a pretty mature person. Though my inner 13 year old is still alive. I know we talked a bit about my life but for all other young Jewish Autistics this is for you

  • The day will come – Just be patient
  • The Rabbi is there to guide you
  • YOU are In charge of the service
  • It’s all about your battle with puberty (joke)

The Service is usually depends on the length of the Saturday Service at your synagogue. For the parents of your autistic child:

  • Each one is different
  • You know your child

When I was called to the Torah, I still remember the first 3 words of my portion:

“Ki Ani Adonai” I am g-d, but it being about rules and boundaries… As I got into middle school my depression got worse and when I was 14, Autism was presented to me again but I still wanted to be a comedian. I did get it officially when I was 17 but that’s beside the point.

The most important point I can give in preparing for a Bar/Bat Mitzvah is…

Don’t give up! I’m not the most religious Jew but I will tell you \that it’s worth going through.

So It helped shape me.

We’ll talk further about high school even though we touched on it in Part 1: I’m going to give advice because Education is the most important thing.

Until my next one folks…

Sam

On being an Autistic Jew Part 4 – Bar Mitzvah