Harmony at Halloween: All color of buckets are welcome at our door!

adhd, ASD, atypical, autism, equal rights, equality, inclusion, neurodiversity, parenting, politics, special needs, special needs parenting

Harmony at Halloween: All color of buckets are welcome at our door!

Ever have one of those social media moments where you cringe and want to crawl into an ethernet hole? No? Then you’re not me.

I, with all good intentions and little forethought, shared an article on a social media site and asked for people’s opinions about kids using a blue bucket for trick-or-treating to signify that they are on the spectrum. Why did I do this? I was looking for other’s opinions and genuinely wanted an open discussion about the topic. What I didn’t anticipate, and should have, was a social media clash of politics and high emotions. Some of it was directed at me for even sharing the article but I honestly enjoyed the conversations and it opened my eyes to some perceptions that I hadn’t considered.

For those undoctrinated, there are different colored Halloween jack-o-lantern buckets to indicate if a kid has food allergies, teal buckets for instance, and a growing number of families use blue buckets for kids on the spectrum.

A few angry parents remarked that we might as well use different colored buckets for everything. They probably meant that flippantly but I don’t think that’s a bad idea. If we’re hoping for an inclusive, accepting world then a rainbow of colors in our candy buckets sounds like a fun idea to me. I’m all for people over sharing rather than being silenced for fear of ridicule or shamed into masking their true identity. The only masks we should wear are fun ones. (It’s Halloween after all, not a Republican rally.)

There were a few parents concerned about their kids being stigmatized by using a blue bucket as an invasion of their privacy. I can see that point of view as well; however, the more open I am about my family being neurodivergent the easier time we have in interactions and the more accepted my kids feel. I tell them every day how much love I them and how proud I am of them. To me, they really are super heros. Costumes or not.

Being open about neurodivergence gives others a chance to feel comfortable asking questions and it prepares them for some of my kids’ behavior and it shows that we’re willing to discuss autism with them. We’ve had many moments where we’ve been approached and asked questions and it allows for the conversation that a lot of us hope for as parents. It’s not comfortable all the time but I’d rather the discomfort than make my kids feel like I’m hiding their identity from the world. Autism isn’t soley their identity but it’s a big part of who they are because it affects them physiologically. 

The logical question, on the flip side of this, is do my kids mind me being open about their neurodiversity. It’s a valid question. When it comes to my writing, the rule is that I ask the kids before I post. I review what I’m going to share with them and allow them veto power on what gets posted or published. That includes anything I quote and any photos I share. It’s a hard rule to follow, I won’t lie. There are pics that I gush over and feel a pang of disappointment when they ask me not to share, but I also understand. It’s their image, their identity, and I have to respect their wishes when it comes to sharing.

Much like the developmental stages we’re nearing, my writing has evolved based on the comfort level of what my kids allow me to share. I know the day is coming that they want me to keep everything private and I’ll honor that. Besides, I want to hear what they want to share.

My vote on the color of your bucket, wear and share what you want and celebrate however you feel comfortable. I just know I’ll have four buckets for you when you come to the door: teal for allergies, silver for chocolate, blue for toys, and orange for what I won’t share with you at all and binge eat once the kids are asleep. Happy holiday!

When your kid is more woke than you.

adhd, ASD, atypical, autism, equal rights, equality, inclusion, neurodiversity, parenting, special needs parenting

“Mama?”

“Hmm?”

“Why is it ok for boys not to wear pants?”

I put my phone down and gave her my full attention, “What?”

“Why is it ok for boys not to wear pants?”

My mama-bear-full-red-alert alarm fired off in my brain, “Who was around you without pants on?”

She gave me a funny look and said, “Owen.”

My brain fired off an “all clear” and I relaxed, “Ah, well, yeah…Owen is not fond of wearing pants,” I saw him sit up a little taller but not look my way as a smile crept up on his face, “but we’ve talked about this and HE KNOWS that he’s supposed to wear clothes around you. Right, Owen?”

He giggled, grunted, and made loud car noises as he launched his teddy bear off his cardboard tower.

I smiled and turned back to Leonora, “Is someone else not wearing pants around you?”

She thought about with an expression like someone considering a deep, philosophical question and replied very solemnly, “No, not this week.”

I pulled a face at her and bit my tongue as she continued since she clearly had prepared a narrative on the subject and was putting great effort into getting her point across.

“Girls wear pants or stuff on their bottom,” I wondered what the other “stuff” might be referring to, “but boys can run around without pants on and everyone thinks it’s funny…it’s not fair.”

She was right. Huh, why the hell IS it funny to people but if a girl of her age were to do so people would be uncomfortable or outraged yet it’s still considered funny for boys or men to walk around without pants when they’re at home… Holy $#*!, my daughter is way more woke than me!

“That’s an excellent point. It’s not fair, is it?”

“No.”

I gave her a side hug and asked, “Are you wanting to run around without pants on?”

She pulled away and her eyes widened in shock, “NO.”

“Ok, ok, just curious but you’re right. If someone is being inappropriate and making you uncomfortable it’s ok to say something or get away from them. ESPECIALLY if they don’t have pants on – “

“MA-MaAAAA!”

“Ok, ok, I’m sorry. Just worry about you.”

She hugged me (the best way to shut someone up ever) and ran away.

I watched her as she ran out of the room and wondered to myself, why IS it ok for men to not wear pants around the house?

Just then Owen walked by chanting “butt” and I shook my head and groaned. He looked up at me and smiled with his eyes squeezed shut, his version of eye contact, and I kissed the top of his head. He laughed and ran back to his cardboard fortress.

She was right. Even though the discussions around gender, identity, self governance, and equality had changed and become more open as of late it doesn’t change the reality of there being tangible differences in the smallest nuances in our daily lives. Those subtleties of social norms that our kids pick up on and call out more readily than we do ourselves because they see them for what they are, nonsense. The double standards are so far reaching that they seep into the smallest of interactions to the largest of matters in our lives. In my children’s case, their health.

We struggled to get an accurate diagnosis for our daughter for six years. She’s eight. The crazier part? We only received that because doctors started to listen to me AFTER our five year old son was diagnosed when he was two. Leonora was five at the time. I had already been asking for help to support her for three years at that point. A particular low point was when a pediatrician met with us, seemingly listened, and silently handed me a note on the way out the door with a name of a counselor. When I reviewed my daughter’s paperwork, they had noted that I was an “anxious mother” and that she clearly didn’t show signs of autism.

Autistic women are discriminated against the moment they’re born. Not just because they’re female (check) or because of their race (check) but because all assessments and diagnostic tools are created for men and not women. (I’ll give you a moment to ponder or Google that.)

The bias in the medical and mental health fields overlook girls so often that the assessment and diagnostic tools have still yet to be updated or modified to truly be inclusive of women or girls. Which leaves parents, like myself, hanging with the proverbial question of, “So?…” Yet there’s no reply and only more questions.

We’re fortunate that we found an expert Psychologist and that our daughter now receives the support she needs yet autism is still studied and treated as a mental health issue which it is not. It’s not a disease or disorder to be cured but, in my opinion, a physiological difference that requires a different approach and sensitivity in most aspects of their lives. Just like anybody, my kids want to be accepted and treated equally. Yet, unlike parents of neurotypical kids, I feel as if I’m left with questions that the experts can’t reliably answer.

Will they ever find love and maintain a relationship?

Will my kids ever be able to live independently?

Will they be able to attend college and succeed in getting a degree?

Then again, all parents worry about these things in varying ways because deep down we’re all the same and want the same things. To have friends, to be loved, to be accepted.

Autism’s sex ratio, explained

Righting the gender imbalance in autism studies

https://sparkforautism.org/discover_article/are-girls-with-autism-hiding-in-plain-sight/

https://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is/gender.aspx

https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-016-2872-8

Shadows and votes that go bump in the dark.

adhd, ASD, autism, equal rights, equality, human rights, politics, special needs, special needs parenting, voting rights

“I can’t, mama…I just can’t.”

It was the fourth night in a row that she was having nightmares. She couldn’t bring herself to discuss what they were about but my patience was wearing thin between waking with her brother at 1 a.m. and then her at 3 a.m. then him at 3:15 a.m…. You get the idea.

“Please, sweetheart. You can tell me. You can tell me anything. I’m not going to laugh or get mad. I just want to help.”

She curled her body tightly like a shell and burrowed her head into me. I marveled at how flexible she is and remembered that I once was that pliable. Nothing about me feels the same anymore. The child I was is such a distant memory yet so vivid. It was as if I was merely visiting the body of that child and she was my host. I wasn’t allowed to be a child for very long. With both children, I try to make sure that they don’t feel rushed to be older or attain milestones until they’re ready. Much to my own downfall at times now that we’re returning to co sleeping yet again.

“Maybe in the daytime. When the light is out…” I desisted in pushing for an explanation and realized that it was pointless. We both were exhausted and, whether she knew the cause of her nightmare or not, we were not going to find a solution while struggling to stay awake.

“Ok,” I kissed her head and combed her hair with my fingers trying to detangle the worst of her sleep steamed curls as best I could, “In the daylight. You’re right.”

She probably was having the same nightmares again. Reliving the past. Reliving the monstrous episodes I couldn’t save her from. The hidden dangers that every parent doesn’t want to face. From the small indignities my kids face when people stare at them in the midst of a meltdown to the offensive remarks from educators about them and to them. Then I think of the larger fears and my chest tightens. The abuse she lived through at the hands of others under the guise of “typical” kid behavior. I think about the kids living through such atrocities yet magnified with the brutality of our government inflicting it on them daily as they cage them.

I thought once again of the many families ripped from their children at the border. Of those seeking asylum only to face greater dangers than those they escaped. It makes me sick that we’re expected to continue living our lives in acquiescence to a dictator that risks our safety and liberty with every passing day. What world are we leaving for our children? Who am I to think that my voice or vote matters? Yet I keep trying.

I woke to a knee in the middle of my shoulder blades and resisted the urge to shove whoever was doing so from my body. The sheets were pinned in around me as I pulled loose and rolled out of my bed as silently as possible. It felt like a special martial arts move but I’m sure it looked more like an SNL skit.

My phone flashed red then purple so I knew I had texts and emails from known contacts waiting for me. It wasn’t reassuring. I knew what they most likely were regarding and that no matter how well I explained my point of view I wasn’t going to change their opinion. Normally I would walk away from a futile debate such as this but when it’s regarding your kids you don’t have a choice. More importantly, it’s a fight you can’t turn from. A reminder pinged for me to vote. I nodded to myself and hit “snooze” so it would remind me after breakfast.

There’s some salient truths to me that have become more evident because of my circumstances as a parent but also with the political quagmire we’re living through.

Everyone needs to vote. Each vote needs to count. Everyone deserves equal rights. There is no compromise over these three beliefs.

I mused to myself what might be if the ballots in Oregon didn’t go our way. For the millionth time I worried over our kids losing their services. Their rights being limited yet again. Our insurance premium going sky high, yet again, with no explanation and the discrimination obvious with every denial of service or therapy.

The old floorboards creaked as I tried to sneak to the bathroom and back. The morning temp had suddenly taken on the chill of winter. I welcomed it and yet my body felt so much older this year. I rolled my neck and listened to the internal sound of a cheap tourist rain stick I once was gifted as a kid. It sounded like my vertebrae were tumbling down inside me.

From the dark I heard a giggle and the motion sensor light went off above and behind my head in the hallway as the distinctive pounding footsteps of Owen rang out. He sped past me and threw himself headlong into the bed alongside his sister. I now had a ten inch span of space to try and lay down in if I wanted to attempt to sleep once again. It was almost four in the morning. I sighed, climbed in with my back to them, and pushed back slowly until their little bodies accommodated me. They giggled like it was a game.

Owen popped up like a prairie dog, “OOO! I be right back!”

Our bodies were jarred in every direction as he exploded from the bed and ran into the front room. He returned just as quickly with his thundering little feet. Suddenly the room was lit with the light of his iPad and filled with the sounds of “Big Block Singsong”.

Leonora rolled over and groaned in a whimper. I shifted my body to lay on the opposite side of her so she could sleep. Owen snuggled closer to me and happily held the tablet to share with me.

“Owen, turn it down… please.”

“Ok, ok,… th’orry.”

“It’s ok, baby…. Kindness with each other. Sister hasn’t slept well. Let’s be really quiet.”

“Ooooo…okay…okay….LOOK!! I found favorite!”

He excitedly, and with good intentions, thoughtfully shoved the iPad into my face with one of my few favorite episodes from the show playing. He meant it to be kind but managed to bloody my lip instead.

So many interactions are like this at times. How do I explain? Should I explain? Lately I don’t try to explain anymore unless I have to. A bit of the fight has gone out of me. There’s too many battles in any given day that are physically near me and emotionally around me. Battling schools, battling bullies, battling attitudes. It’s too much sometimes.

I dabbed my lip with some coconut oil as I made their breakfast. The scab would last for a bit. It meant another week of dodging people. It’s too hard to explain my injuries at times. They’re not as frequent as they used to be. How do you explain that your kid hurts you? If you try, the unsolicited advice is overwhelming, hurtful for the most part, and the worst reaction is the incredulity. The disbelief that this toddler is physically abusing you. It’s one of those topics about autism most parents are reluctant to admit or discuss. It’s as if you’re admitting that you’re a failure as a parent.

Owen climbed on my lap later and touched my lip, “OOO, you got an owie!”

“I know. Do you remember how this happened?”

He didn’t respond. I waited for him to look at me. He didn’t, “No.”

“You hit me with the iPad. It was an accident though, I know. Do you remember?”

He leaned against me and grunted with frustration, “YES!”
He pushed away from me in a huff and ran into the other room.
I gave him a minute and followed after him. As I approached his sister’s closet, I could see his bare feet sticking out from underneath her dresses. I smiled and pushed the dresses apart gently, “Hi, buddy.”

His little face smiled up at me and then quickly scrunched up as he covered his face, “No.”

“I’m here when you went to talk, ok? I’ll sit right over here and wait.”

I touched his cheek and sat on the end of the bed.
He scooted towards me without opening his eyes and crawled up on the bed next to me. I began to rub his back and he relaxed against me.

“I know you didn’t mean to hurt me.”

He rolled over and hugged me around my head in his octopus style. I began to cry and he laughed, “No do, mama!”

We both laughed and I wiped my tears away, “I’m just so happy when you hug me.”

He laughed and agreed that I was fortunate in his magnanimous way, “Yeah.”

Leonora looked concerned as I came back into the room, “It’s ok, honey.”

She hugged me tightly, in a whisper, “You ok, mama?”

“Yeah. Mama is fine. Owen is ok too.”

She kept hugging me as we swayed slightly, “Did he mess with my clothes?”

I laughed and with a hint of mischief theatrically mocked, “NO, no way, just the ones he wiped his face on.”

Her eyes were wide as I smiled into them. She growled like a cat and went running in to check her dresses. Laughing, knowing that I was kidding, but checking nonetheless.

I checked my phone and saw that our Governor had won the race and we once again had Kate Brown. I sighed in relief and read over the ballot results once again. I made a silent wish that the rest of the country fair as well and hoped against hope that our country will begin to behave with decency towards each other once again. An article popped up about the children being held in detention centers. History repeating itself.

It wasn’t intended to be aloud but I found myself announcing, “How could anyone deny kids their freedom? How could anyone treat people this way?”

My husband looked at me with sadness, “They don’t think kids deserve any rights.”

I scoffed and shook my head, “No, they don’t think ANY of us deserve equal rights.”

I made the mistake of opening social media only to discover old friends and extended family battling each other over semantics. I’m just happy that they voted and said a wish for all of us that we see a better world for ourselves and our kids.

The right to be safe.

ASD, autism, equal rights, equality, freedom of speech, mental health, motherhood, neurodiversity, parenting, special needs, special needs parenting, Times Up

The article below was written over a year ago. I would like to say things have improved in the world but the most I can say is that things have improved in my daughter’s world.

She spoke up to us, not for the first time, about being bullied and attacked at school so we’re keeping her at home. Sometimes what’s best for our kids isn’t the easiest option but doing what’s right rarely is the smoothest route in life. I hope my kids see monumental changes in their lifetime of better mental healthcare, equal rights created and protected, and an end to sexual violence.

———————————————–

“Mama, why am I so different?”

For some reason I wasn’t expecting this question, not yet, not from my six year old. How can I explain to her and convince her of what I see and believe about her when everyone around her finds fault with her for those same reasons? She speaks softly and melodically. They tell her to speak up. She is achingly vulnerable without any guile and it terrifies me every day that she’ll be hurt by someone. They think it’s wonderful that she’s compliant to authority.

You see, she’s every teacher’s dream. A quiet kid who listens to directions and does everything she can to please them and doesn’t question authority. Yet she’s also the kid that gets forgotten, mistreated, fears speaking out, bullied, misunderstood, and is bewildered by the malice of others.

She “can’t find the words” and hits herself, “I’m a bad girl. I can’t get it right.”

She cries easily. Her feelings are often hurt. She feels so intensely the emotions of others around her that her stomach pains her with anxiety. This is autism in girls. This is what PTSD looks like in kids who have been sexually abused.

I love my daughter and accept everything about her but that doesn’t mean I love her autism, or my son’s, or my husband’s. Watching someone you love struggle to navigate the world is never a pleasant experience when it ends in tears or explosive tantrums. There are days where I feel like an incompetent ringmaster running from lions. Please hold my hat.

My least favorite moment recently was when a therapist asked, in front of my very verbal daughter with sensitive hearing, “How did you explain to her she was autistic?”

Sometimes I wish I could pause the world for my children so I could ream someone without them hearing my obscenities. I managed to bite on the inside of my cheek and ask, “Good question, she can hear you so why don’t you ask her?”

Nora smiled good-naturedly, waiting patiently, as the woman blanched in embarrassment. We continued the appointment and I suffered through yet another barrage of convince-us-your-daughter-is-autistic. It’s a great game, it only costs hundreds of dollars an hour, no one wins, and it always ends with, “Oh, yeah, she is…”

Diagnosis isn’t a one shot deal. It’s a process where you try to convince people of what you’ve observed and they test your ability to stay calm as you struggle to understand what the !$#% is going on with your kid. We’re at the tail end now and facing more therapy as we try to grasp at what we can do to make her life easier.

Accepting your children’s autism has little to do with yourself and more to do with what choices you make for them. Constantly debating when to get out of their way and when to push, when to go mama bear on their behalf, and when to let them struggle. I’ve made mistakes. I’ll make more mistakes. I can only hope my kids know how much I love them. Even if I’m the mom that says !$#% a lot.

“Mama, why am I so different?”

I bit back tears, hugged her, and looked her in the eye, “Because you’re wonderful.”

I took a deep breath for the next part, “You know how Owen and Papa think differently than others?”

She nodded and looked down at her lap. I made a mental note to myself as I noticed she was picking at her hands again and the skin on her lips. I would need to tell the doctor. I took her chin gently and kissed her cheek.

“You think differently too and that’s a good thing.”

——————-

It’s been a year since that moment. We’ve since found a Psychologist and clinic that specialize in helping girls on the spectrum and supporting them with processing trauma. Our neighborhood school refused to acknowledge any of the medical diagnoses or recommendations so now we’re on a new adventure of finding what works for our kids. The road is bumpy but the journey is never boring.

One mom to another.

equal rights, equality, freedom of speech, Me Too, politics, Times Up

My open letter to Ashley Kavanaugh:

Dear Ashley,

I wanted to write to you and let you know that your composure during your husband’s time in front of the cameras is admirable. You were calm, brave, and reserved. My concern, like many parents, is what happens once those cameras have moved on.

As a parent, we worry about the safety and rights of our children. As a parent of children with special needs and one a survivor of assault, I implore you to please be a voice of reason to your husband and others in giving equal rights to all of us. That’s all any of us truly hope for and should expect. The chance to have a say over our own bodies, our health, our lives, the planning of our families.

Respectfully.