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Aran and the Scammers
Outdoors
spiziks

I was at the hardware store--my version of the shoe store--when I received a text from Aran: "I got a call from a computer company saying that there are errors on my laptop. They are getting rid of them, but the bad part is that the charge is $500."

I froze.  This was a scam.  I've heard of it.  I've gotten it.  A guy calls, claims to be from Microsoft, and says there are errors on the computer.  They'll fix them for a fee.  It's an obvious scam, simplicity in itself to spot--unless you're autistic and naturally trusting.

I called Aran.  "Did you give them your debit card number?"

"Yes," he said.

By now I was running toward the door.

"Did you give them your name?"

"Yes."

"Address?"

"Yes."

"Social security number?"

"No."

"Driver's license number?"

"No."

"Tell me exactly what they said, from the beginning."  By now I was speeding home with the phone glued to my ear.

Short version is, a man had told Aran there were errors on his computer and they would fix them for $500.  Aran agreed, and gave them his debit card number (despite my repeated warnings never, ever to do this).  They tried to run the charge, but it was declined--Aran's account won't accept a charge that high.  So they sent him to a web site that would download software to his computer that allowed a technician to control a computer from a distance, if the tech had the password.  Aran was in the process of downloading that software at that moment.

"Shut your computer off," I ordered.  "Unplug it and take the battery out.  Now!"

He said he did.  I pulled into the driveway a few minutes later and ordered him to bring his computer, phone, and debit card up to my office.

"That was an extremely foolish thing to do," I told him.  "Now you're getting a crash course in fraud prevention."

Aran was clearly trying not to freak out and melt down.  While his control was admirable--a few years ago, he would have gone into a panic attack--I had other worries.  I used my computer to log into his bank account while simultaneously calling the bank.  I told them Aran's debit card was compromised and needed to be destroyed.  The technician on the other end said she was seeing a declined charge.

"That's the compromise," I said.  "Kill the card right away and send us a new one."

She said she would.  I ran Aran's current card through the shredder, then changed the password on his bank account, just in case, and explained to Aran what was really going on.

"They're criminals who tricked you," I said.  "They tried to steal your money, and it's lucky you texted me, or they would have done it.  Don't =ever= do this again."

I booted up Aran's computer, disabled the wifi connection, and had a look.  The software seemed to be a third-party thing with legitimate uses. It had been co-opted by the criminals.  It wasn't a virus.  I uninstalled it, deleted the folder, shredded the recycling bin.

Aran's phone rang.  It was a number I didn't recognize.  Aran reached for the phone, but I took it away from him.  "Let me."

A female recorded voice said, "We clean air ducts for you, at a low, low price!  Call now and--"

I clicked off.  Seconds later, the phone rang again.  This number was from Orlando, Florida.  I answered.

"Hello, sir," said a man in a thick Indian accent.  "I am calling from Windows Corporation.  We were repairing errors on your computer and got disconnected."

Holy shit!  They called back?

"Hi," I said.  "Thanks for calling back.  I was wondering--what errors did you find on my computer?"

"We found many errors on your laptop," he said smoothly.  "More than fifty fundamental errors that you need to fix immediately."

"What are they?" I pressed.  "And how did you find them?"

"Our system detected the errors on your laptop."

"How?"

"Did you download the software from [web site]?"

"I did," I lied.

"Did they give you a password?"

"Yeah, it's right here," I lied again.  "How did you detect errors on my computer?"

"We need the password so we can fix the errors on your computer."

The software would grant him remote access to Aran's computer through the Internet, giving him power to download anything and everything from it, including browser history, saved passwords, and the like.  The fact that he was pressing for the password was a good sign--it meant he hadn't actually managed to access Aran's computer, so Aran's data was safe.

"How did you say you detected the errors again?" I said.

Small hesitation.  "Our system looks for such errors and finds them quite easily."

"How did you know it was my computer?"  This was getting interesting now.  I knew he had nothing, but he wasn't going to hang up if he thought he had a sucker on the line, and I was going to make him twist.

"Sir, we need the password for--"

"Right, but how do you know it's my computer?"

"We . . . we tracked it using a unique certificate number that only we can see, so we knew it was yours."

Clearly he had never heard of an IP number.  I certainly wasn't going to explain it to him.  "That's not how it works," I said, and added to the lie with, "I work in IT, and I know better.  What errors did you find?"

This didn't faze him in the slightest.  "We need to upload the software to tell you exactly.  Do you have the password?"

"Where are you calling from?" I said abruptly.

"Me?  I'm calling from Las Vegas."

"Oh?  That's weird.  The phone says you're calling from Orlando, Florida, and your accent says you're from India.  So where are you REALLY calling from?"

"I have an accent, yes, because I am a student," he said quickly.  "I am studying in Las Vegas and working."

"Working as a technician for Windows," I said, "while your phone line says you're in Florida.  You're lying.  But your accent is really sexy.  I'll bet you're cute.  Are you cute?"

Here Aran folded his arms and glared at me.

Without missing a beat, the guy said, "Would you like to talk to my supervisor?"

"Sure. I'll bet he's cute, too."

"I'll put you on hold.  Ten seconds."

He put me on hold.  I hung up.  About a minute later, the phone rang again.  It was another guy with an Indian accent.  Now I was getting warmed up.  We went through much the same conversation as before, with me asking what the errors were and how he had found my computer and him evading but unwilling to hang up.  I also dangled the password in front of him, which I think was driving him crazy.

"Are you married?" I asked.

"Not yet," he said.  "Do you have the--"

"Because I'll bet you'd make some lucky man a really sexy husband.  Do they allow that in India?  It's legal in Florida.  If that's where you are, you big, hairy Indian liar you.  How long have you been scamming people?"

"Sir, this is no scam."

"Sure, it is.  We both know it.  But as long as I have this password on my screen, you won't dare hang up.  Meanwhile, we've canceled that debit card and changed all our passwords while I was distracting you with talk.  And the longer I keep you on the phone, the less time you'll spend scamming someone else."

"May I put you on hold?  Ten seconds."

"Sure.  Don't be long, though, sexy--I might forget that password."

He put me on hold.  I hung up.  This time I blocked the phone number.

I handed the phone back to Aran.  "Never, EVER give your debit card to ANYONE before you ask me.  Got it?"

"Yes."


ASD Students and My Classroom
Outdoors
spiziks
The Wherever School District has three high schools.  One of them houses a special education program for students with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  Last spring, the district announced that, for various reasons, the program was being moved to Nameless High School, where I teach.  Most of the students would be in a self-contained classroom, but a chunk of them would be mainstreamed into neuro-typical classrooms.

Last month, I was in Nameless High School.  So much to do!  Desks to arrange, lessons to plan, copies to run.  By coincidence, the school was running an orientation week for certain students, letting them get the feel for the building, figure out where the classrooms were, and so on.  As a result, I got a steady stream of students wandering into my room.  I greeted each of them, and several I immediately recognized as autistic.

When the trickle died away, I asked around and learned the orientation was for special education students, especially those in the ASD program.  Looks like I'm pegged to be the ASD English teacher.

This happens to me a lot.  Once the counseling office learned my son is autistic, I became the go-to teacher for placing autistic students, on the grounds that I have special, insider knowledge about autism, and that I'll be especially sympathetic to ASD students.

There's a certain amount of truth to this.  After raising Aran, I have a certain amount of specialized information about the way he thinks, and by extension, other autists.  However, autists vary wildly in their needs.  Some want to be touched, other's can't bear it.  Some have sensory overload problems, others don't.  Some love to read, others hate it.  Just like neuro-typical kids.  But autistic teens are often harder to reach, and you have to speak in certain ways.  As one example, figurative language is often difficult, and you have to avoid using it in everyday speech.  This is the exact opposite to someone like me, who spins stories for a living.  I create and use figurative language in my speaking as a way to interest my classes, and I'm very good at it.  This skill is actually a detriment in a room full of autists.  I accidentally panicked Aran more than once with it, in fact, and now I'll have several Arans.  It will make for a challenging year.

However, that's the way it is, and the students need someone who knows what's going on, so I'm it.  When I realized what was happening, I examined my room and gave it some thought.  Sharyl, my co-teacher, happened by at that moment, and I discussed it with her.

Autists are often easily distracted because their brains don't filter out sensory information as handily as neuro-typical brians do.  The sensation of your socks gently rubbing against your feet quickly disappears from your awareness after you put your shoes on, but many autists are continually aware of it.  You can examine and then ignore a painting on the wall, but an autist will notice it again and again and again.

In order to cut down on distractions, I'm going to cover the windows that look out into the hallway.  (This is against school policy, but I'll get an exception.)  I usually put up a great many posters in my room--more potential distractions--but I'll cut back until I know what the distraction threshold of my students is.  I always tell my students what the plan for the day is at the beginning of class, but now I'll get into the habit of putting my entire lesson plan on the board--autists don't handle surprises well and they do better when they know exactly what's coming up.

At Sharyl's suggestion, I also put a decompression zone in the back corner of my room.  Autists sometimes get overloaded and can be pushed into a meltdown.  A safe, low-sensory area is often helpful to let them decompress.  I pushed my two rolling cabinets around to wall off the corner and make a little alcove.  Then I put down a blank gray rug (my classroom has a busy checkerboard carpet) and added two low chairs--a soft, squeezy beanbag-type arm chair for autists who need some reassurance, and a stark, web-style lawn chair for autists who need to feel less restricted.  I bought two sets of ear protectors and hooks to hang them from, along with some baby wipes to clean them with.  On the floor I put a lamp with a calm, low-watt bulb.  Later, I'll put up a sign that says, "Safety Zone" or something.  There!  Students who get overloaded can slip back to the Safety Zone and wind down before they melt down.

I worry, though, about the impact on the neuro-typical students.  The class can't be all about the ASD kids.  It's about bringing the ASD students into the neuro-typical world, with help.  It's a fine line to walk.

Aran Leaving: Photos
Outdoors
spiziks
For some reason, the blog entry about Aran leaving wouldn't post with photos, so I posted without. Here's a link to the entry at my own blog, with photos:

http://spiziks.livejournal.com/470479.html

And more photos at my Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/steven.piziks/posts/10153563862117170

Aran Leaving, Leaving Aran
Outdoors
spiziks
Aran has moved out.

Saturday we packed everything up: his clothes, his room, the stuff we'd bought for his dorm.  The major purchases included a small fridge and a small microwave.  (I had already called the school to find out who his roommate would be in order to learn what his roomie might already have, but housing said they assigned rooms when people arrived, so there was no way to know.)  The truck was filled!

We did have a small difficulty.  The Michigan Career and Technical Institute (MCTI) is located in western Michigan, and the only move-in day was Monday, August 24.  The memorial for Darwin's father, who died a few months ago, was going to be held on the same afternoon in northern Michigan.  We decided to handle it by driving to western Michigan on Sunday, spending the night, and arriving at MCTI as early as possible.  From there, we would drive up to the memorial.  It would make for a long day, but it'd be doable.

So off we went.  Sunday night we rented out the attic of the Hall House bed and breakast.  Darwin and I like B&B's way better than hotels.  They're more comfortable, you get breakfast, and they're often about the same as a motel.  The Hall House was built in the 20s and was beautifully restored.  The attic had been renovated into a suite with a bedroom, bathroom, kitchenette, and two more beds tucked under the eaves.  We liked it very much.  Maksim was in heaven!

I didn't sleep well.  I don't think Aran did, either.  We were both too nervous.  Aran has been worrying about what are, to me, odd things.  He worried about how to pack his room and what clothes he should take.  A major worry for him has been how he'll get quarters for the washing machine.  None of his worries included how he would get along at the new school or if he'd miss people back home.

My worries =have= included such things.  I often wonder how my worries would be different if he weren't autistic.  I =know= MCTI is set up for students with autism and other disabilities, but I still worry.

At any rate, we rose in the morning, had a delicious breakfast (Maksim was in heaven again), and headed out.  When we arrived at MCTI (which is literally in the middle of a cornfield), it took some hunting to find the registration area. Although we were there by 9:10, the line had already grown long.

The registration process consisted of several stations spaced around the main academic building.  Aran, who had spent a week there one summer to suss the place out, already knew his way around.  I hung back and let him handle the registration.  I only spoke up once, when it was clear he didn't understand something.  There was also a brief medical interview at the med center, where I also spoke, but that was it.

The final station was the dorm.  The housing lady asked Aran a few questions.  Did he consider himself a quiet, private person, or a social, louder person?  (Quiet.)  Did he want a room by himself (she could put him in one, but couldn't guarantee it would stay solo) or with someone else?  (He wanted to be with a roommate, a little to my surprise.)  And finally, did he want to room with a new person like himself, or an older, experienced student?  (New.)

She clicked around, gave him his room key, and told him his roommate's name was Christopher.  Okay, then.

We arrived at the room to find Christopher and his family already there.  Introductions were made all around, and then we started hauling.  Christopher had brought a refrigerator but not a microwave, so we decided to use Christopher's fridge and Aran's microwave.  (I could easily return Aran's fridge.)  There!  It was much moving of boxes and suitcases and unpacking and making up beds.  The halls bustled with other students and families moving into other rooms as well.

The room was carpeted. This was a surprise, too.  When Aran attended camp, the room he stayed in had a bare tile floor, so we'd brought a big floor rug for him.  Fortunately, this would also be easy to return.

At last, Aran was mostly moved in.  He was only about halfway unpacked, but he could do it on his own.  Besides, if we unpacked for him, he might not find stuff.

We took the empty suitcases and boxes down to the truck and I got a final picture. We said good-bye, and I acted like I wasn't upset, and Aran simply walked away.

I needed a moment before we could drive off.  Since Monday, I've gotten five terse text messages from him, all of them in response to questions from me.

Aran spent most of his time at home in his room, but he was always there, and the houses feels a lot emptier with him gone.

Aran's Long Good-Bye
Outdoors
spiziks
Aran is leaving.

Registration for Michigan Career and Technical Institute starts this Monday.  It's two and a half hours away, so we're leaving Sunday, spending the night in nearby Kalamazoo, and driving the rest of the way so we can arrive at 9:00 AM.  I'm trying not to freak out.

This is a natural event, but it's still fraught with more than the usual kid-is-flying-the-nest drama for me.  Yes, of course it's because he's autistic.  How well will he handle living so far away from home, in a new environment, where he's unfamiliar with . . . well, everything?  How will he handle room mate conflicts?  His classes?  Getting to town?  (MCTI is 20 minutes from Plainwell, the closest town, and the Institute runs a shuttle bus.)  Will he be lonely?  How will he handle that?

My biggest fear is that he'll get embroiled in some problem or mistake and be unable to extricate himself.  I won't be there to help.  Yes, he can call, but I'm not always available by phone.

Anyway.  Today we rounded up odds and ends he still needed--sheets, a storage locker, a throw rug, a bath mat, a pile of snacks.  We already bought a little fridge and microwave.  If his room mate (we have no way to find out who it'll be) brings them as well, we'll just return the extras.

Packing begins on Saturday.

Aran and the Destruction of the Cobalt
Outdoors
spiziks
I sent Aran down to a store in Northville for a few groceries because he needed some practice driving on the highway, and Northville is a short highway drive away.  About 45 minutes after he left, my phone rang and the caller ID showed it was Aran.  I was immediately frightened in the worst way.  But I told myself maybe he got confused about something he was supposed to get at the store.  Nervous, I picked up.

Aran's voice.  He was very frightened and upset.  "I crashed," he said.

I was half frantic now.  "Are you all right?"

"Yeah."

"Were you hurt?"

"No.  I crashed."

I was trying to stay calm.  "Where are you?"

He was at a nearby roundabout near our house that receives a huge amount of traffic due to a construction zone that was routing everything through an intersection that wasn't built to handle it well.  Once I'd established that no one, especially Aran, had been hurt, I told Aran I would be there quickly, and I got into the truck.

At the roundabout, I found a royal mess.  Traffic was backing up, and the police hadn't arrived yet.  I parked on the berm and found Aran.  He was completely freaked.  The Cobalt was a total loss.  The front was totally destroyed.  A big gouge was taken out of the passenger door.  The driver door was bent.  A number of other people were standing about.  An SUV and a delivery truck had pulled over as well.  The SUV had a slightly crumpled bumper.  The delivery truck wasn't damaged at all.

I got Aran calmed down a little more and asked him, "Did you hit the other person, or did the other person hit you?"

"She hit me," he said.

I tried to get more details from him, but it was difficult.  Even under normal circumstances, this would have been a challenge, let alone now.

At this point, one of the delivery truck drivers came forward and introduced himself.  "She hit him," he said, gesturing at a teenaged girl standing off to one side with a woman who was, I assume, her mother and father.  "She was entered the roundabout while he was leaving it and ran straight into him.  He spun completely around and hit me."

Some more questioning turned up the fact that the other driver thought that Aran, who was in an inner lane of the roundabout, was required to keep going around the roundabout, when actually the arrows on the lane clearly pointed out that he could exit it.  The girl assumed Aran would keep going, so she entered the roundabout, but Aran left it, so she rammed straight into him.

I was furious, but trying to keep it under control here.  The car was a total loss, and the insurance coverage on it wouldn't pay for full repair or replacement.  This girl screwed up hugely, but her little SUV gets a tender little crumple while Aran's vehicle is utterly destroyed.  Not only that, a whisker in either direction, and Aran would have been dead.  It makes me shake just typing this.

Meanwhile, there was a screech of tires and another SUV sideswiped the rear bumper of a Rite Aid semi truck.  Both of them pulled over just ahead of our accident.  There was a third accident 120 degrees counter-clockwise around the roundabout as well.

The police arrived.  A burly officer took statements from everyone and, as expected, cited the girl with failure to yield.  Aran was not cited.  The car was towed away.

I spent considerable time with Aran reassuring him that the accident was not his fault and that he did everything correctly, even the police said so.  I, however, didn't sleep that night or last night.  I was dealing with huge freak-out myself.

Now I'm dealing with the car.  After some research, I learned that the  local NPR station will take a donation of a car even its totaled, which will get me more in a tax deduction than a cash payment from a salvage yard, so I filled out the on-line forms for that.  Monday I'll make the final arrangements.

Meanwhile, Aran won't have a car at MCTI when he leaves in two weeks.

I'm very angry at the other driver.  She made a very basic mistake that destroyed Aran's car and nearly killed him while she got off with a ticket and a crumpled bumper.  This is exceedingly unfair.  If there were real justice in the system, she'd have to swap cars with us.

I'm telling myself that if Aran =had= died, I'd be thrilled to have him back and deal with the (relatively simple) car donations and assorted other headaches.  I'm glad he wasn't hurt.

Aran's Driving Tests
Outdoors
spiziks
Several weeks ago, Aran went in for his first driving test.  I had Kala take him to the testing grounds because I can't handle watching this kind of thing.

He didn't even make it out of the parking lot--they asked him to back into a parking space, which confused him terribly.  (I'm not sure why this is on the Mcihigan driving test. I've never come across a situation in which I was forced to back INTO a parking space.  Out, yes.  In, no.)  The parallel parking section he was perfectly able to do, but he'd practiced with our truck and our big trash container as markers, and the test uses tiny cones.

At home, I drilled him on the parking and the backing, using Maksim's soccer cones, until Aran was tired and sweaty from cranking the wheel around.  A week later, he tried again.  This time he aced the parking lot, but out in the street, he went for a yellow light that turned red.  That ended the test.  I wasn't happy with him over that.  Not only does he know better, each test costs $50.

I told him he was paying for the next test.

After he got back from Camp Grace Bentley, a summer camp for autists and other people with challenges, he signed up for a third test.  This time . . . he passed!

He and Kala stood in line for a little over an hour at the Secretary of State's office and finally got it.  Woo hoo!

Prom Night, 2015
Outdoors
spiziks
I got home from work at 3:00 and found Aran in his tuxedo.

"Hey, buddy!" I said, setting down my briefcase.  "How long have you been wearing that?"

"About an hour," he said.

He was totally ready to go.

There were a few details--cufflinks, button covers, suspenders, stuff he'd never dealt with before.  But when it was done, he was looking really good!

His grandparents arrived at 4:00.  They wanted to see him off, too.  His grandmother helped with the boutonnière, and we took more photos.  Nicole, his date, texted to say she was on her way.  They were going in a group of four total, and I didn't know if we were going to have the whole group over or just Nicole, but it would be fine either way.

Kala came over, too, and she arrived just in time.  Nicole and the other couple (Ashley and Seth) drove up minutes later.  Show time!

Aran showed perfect manners and made introductions all around.  It was nice to meet Nicole at last, as well as Ashley and Seth.  Their parents all came, too, for the photo op, so it was a lot of introductions.  Aran gave Nicole her corsage and kissed her hand, which everyone loved.  We took a few photos out front, then shifted to our back deck, which is very photogenic with its woodsy backdrop.  Hundreds and hundreds of photos followed, both serious and silly.  The men were handsome, the women were beautiful.


I posted the photos on my Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/steven.piziks/media_set?set=a.10153300905812170.1073741837.640037169&type=1&pnref=story

And then it was time to leave.  They drove off, leaving the parents behind.

Time passed.

Aran eventually arrived back home, none the worse for the wear.  He'd had a wonderful time.  He said he danced quite a lot and everyone thought he was an amazing dancer, and he and Nicole had played the arcade and casino games, and there was a DJ and they'd had their picture taken.

And now the tuxedo is back in the rental bag, awaiting return.

Next up: graduation.

Prom Role-Play
Outdoors
spiziks
Prom is this Thursday.  Aran needed to know what to do, so I set up a role-play for him.  The hapless Darwin was roped into playing Nicole, Aran's prom date.

Nicole is actually driving (Aran doesn't have his license), so a few things will be reversed.  She'll be picking him up, for example.  So I sent Darwin-as-Nicole out to the front porch and had him ring the bell to begin.  We went through Aran answering the door, introducing her to the family, giving her the corsage, complimenting her dress ("You can never tell her often enough that she looks nice," I told him), taking pictures, and escorting her to the car, where they pretended to drive to prom.  (Aran has a tendency to stride off on his own when he's ready to go somewhere, and I had to remind him that he could never abandon Nicole.  He has to keep her in mind.)

"You can say, 'I'll get the door' when you arrive," I told him, "even though she's driving. You get out and open the door for her."

I set a formal place setting at the table, and had Aran escort Nicole inside, get her seated (pulling out her chair for her), checking for the drinks station, asking if Nicole wanted something to drink, and going through a formal dinner with multiple courses.

After dinner, I had him ask Nicole what she wanted to do next.  "Would you like to dance?  Or get our picture taken?  Or play the casino games?" (The prom will have poker tables set up for prizes.)  And we went through how to do those things as well.

When prom ended, we went through how to leave--escorting Nicole to the door and to the car, driving home, thanking her for the evening, and so on.

Then we went through it again.

The second time through, Aran showed beautiful manners.  He'll be a fine escort at prom!

A Promise, with Hooters
Outdoors
spiziks
You don't break a promise to someone with autism.

When Aran was eight years old, he was in the car with Melva and Roger, his Granny and Popa.  They drove past a Hooters restaurant, and Aran, intrigued by the owl, pointed and asked what it was.

"Er . . . that's a restaurant," Granny said.

"I want to eat there," Aran said.

"I'll take you there when you turn eighteen," chuckled Popa.

Time passed . . .

About a week ago, Aran announced that Popa was taking him to Hooters.  This brought my head around.  "Huh?"

"Yeah.  He said he would take me to Hooters when I turned eighteen, and I'm eighteen on Wednesday."

"Oh," I said, a little confused.  This was the first I'd heard of this, and Roger isn't the type of guy who hangs out at Hooters, let alone offers to take his teenaged grandson there.  I got hold of Roger and Melva, who had already heard from Aran about the issue, and Melva relayed the story.

"Ten YEARS ago?" I spluttered.

"Has he ever mentioned this to you?" Melva asked.

"Not even once."

"He was really insistent that Popa had promised to take him," she said.

Huh.  So when Aran was eight, Roger made an off-hand remark, and now . . . well, guess where Aran and his grandfather are right at this moment.**

Dearie, dearie me.





**Actually, the Hooters that used to be relatively near us closed down several years ago, and the closest one is now an hour's drive away.  Fortunately, if that's the right word, a similar establishment called The Tilted Kilt opened in its place, and Aran deemed this an acceptable substitute.  The mind boggles at what they'll do when Popa tells them Aran has just turned eighteen.

?

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