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Autism Spectrum Disorder: Allow the Unexpected to Happen

Updated on July 27, 2013

In a search for purposeful living, Kati and I interviewed by Skype from California for the position of houseparents at an agency home in New England. The interviewer said, "Sometimes our clients need to be held."

I replied, "We hug people, it's our nature to hug."

To which the agency responded, "I mean, consumers have to be brought to the ground and held there. The young man you will be with definitely does not want to be hugged. You have to be careful how you touch him."

That set the tone. The two weeks of training consisted mostly of practicing to subdue a fighting person, put them on the ground and keep them there, and to fill in paperwork.

Maybe it should have been a red flag. Sure, the further we went in training the more our minds were filled with anxious questions. Still recovering from the shock of being robbed on the Canary Islands, my passport and wallet gone, with all the ramifications that followed, we felt our options were limited. This position included a place to live, and we had hearts to serve.

The living space was a dark, dank basement apartment. Called 'Wood Pond' by the agency, the house was between the woods and a pond thirty miles from their office. Black mold crept from the walls, and mushrooms sprang up like a forest in the muddy lawn.

The client, a vigorous male in his twenties with autism, had a certain notoriety for causing more incident write-ups than any other person in the state. He punched holes through walls and butted his head through windows, as a matter of behavior and generally with only minor injuries to himself -- but it terrorized the people around him. When he was a resident in another agency's facility, one caregiver would lock herself into a closet to protect herself from him.

Kati and I had done energy healing with light touch, and care-giving for the elderly and people with disabilities or dementia. We felt misplaced in a setting of aggression, but were determined to see it through as a couple team, as we had done so well on previous assignments. The young man we will call Steve took us places we'd not been before.

Kati and 'Steve.' The unfocused view expresses the sense we felt in many moments.
Kati and 'Steve.' The unfocused view expresses the sense we felt in many moments. | Source
Kati and 'Steve' walking in a more 'normal' moment.
Kati and 'Steve' walking in a more 'normal' moment. | Source
A shattered side window after the incident described.
A shattered side window after the incident described. | Source
'Steve' mowing the lawn.
'Steve' mowing the lawn. | Source
In the playground. Normalcy and high drama/trauma were interwoven.
In the playground. Normalcy and high drama/trauma were interwoven. | Source

Two weeks after starting, Kati and I walked across a parking lot with Steve between us, our arms linked together with his as we were trained. We were headed into a game arcade. Steve had been asking to go to the arcade using his special vocabulary, but the morning shift had told him "no." They felt he was showing signs of agitation and had experienced in the past public incidents with him. One had received a concussion from his head butting.

Then we, as 'the new couple' came onto shift and thought, "Why not." We had been given a mandate by the agency to bring Steve into the public on outings and decided to take the plunge. Bolstered by our recent success with Steve, we prepared the van and drove with him to the arcade. On the way, he began showing signs of aggression, but since we were taking him to a place he dearly wanted to go, we cautiously went ahead.

As we walked, Steve began shaking his head violently. I made the mistake of telling him that if he did not stop, we could not go in. That is when Steve broke out of our linked arms. He hit himself in the head full force with his closed fist while leaping high and straight into the air. Shaken, we ran after him. To us, it was a very odd experience -- as if time was altered and everything was in slow motion. Steve ran to a van similar to the one he rode in, put his head against a side window, tapped once and then 'phooom!" put his head through the tempered glass (see photo, taken shortly after the incident.)

Pieces shattered onto the pavement. Steve moved wildly and we attempted to calm him -- with little effect. As it happened, next to the arcade is a martial arts studio. The owner and a student walked to the scene and asked us if we would like help. We both uttered a relieved "yes!"

Skillfully, the master and student calmed Steve and maneuvered him to the ground. The couple called the agency and 911. In time, Steve was seen by a doctor for a minor cut on the head. Though his behavior was affected for days afterward, it is hard to say who was the most traumatized, we or him.

We covered our own trauma and continued with the assignment through many high-stress hours. We wrote incident reports weekly. As the end of our term with Steve approached and summer turned to fall, I went outside with him to mow the wild lawn. Once Steve got into mowing, the hard part was to get him to stop. It seemed the vibrating handle was soothing to him, and he tended to mow into the forest, over leaves, branches and stones.

On this day, I started the mower with Steve watching, then motioned for him to take the handle. He did, then let go and the mower stopped. This routine was repeated a few times. Then Steve wanted to touch me on the arm. I had reservations (fear, really) at first but surrendered to the divine. Steve wrapped his arms around me and held me in a hug close to his heart. Kati stood watching from the doorway. To her it seemed the long embrace, which lasted about ten minutes, was empowered from above.

For the month after this happening, to the time of our departure, there were no more incidents of violence.

During the work with Steve, I reached a deeper connection to my whole self and started drawing new designs of the symbolic art of Emanate Presence. The designs are shown on the Emanate Presence web site at

I realized the healing presence when two souls greet each other with a hug.

The three videos below present exceptional stories of people with autism.


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