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.

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“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.”

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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.

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Just trying to pass as happy.

adhd, ASD, atypical, autism, mental health, motherhood, neurodiversity, parenting, politics, special needs

“What does that say Owen?”
“It say “happy” like me. Like Owen.”
“Wow! That’s great reading, baby!”

I bit back tears of joy and hugged him, “That makes mama so happy to hear that you’re happy.”
“Mama, ok?”
“Yes, baby, sometimes people cry when they’re happy.”
He looked confused and laughed at me, “Mama, silly.”

The conversation spiralled from there when I asked him to wear clothes but despite that I teared up. It was the first time he had said he was “happy” before. It was the first time he had verbally identified his emotions to me.

How many times have we been told that he wouldn’t be the child we have today? How many moments did I despair of not hearing his voice only to wish at moments now that the echolalia would let up for the day? How many of the past predictions am I grateful are wrong and how many of them might still someday be true? There’s so many conflicting emotions in an average day that I find myself spinning and waiting at the center of it all feeling my ears rings from the din.

He’s a happy kid yet a mercurial one. His emotions are always lurking just under the surface like an alligator waiting to lunge or a dolphin surging with joy.

The further we go along the less I understand or feel confident in the research about my kids and the more sure I am of knowing them. I know that they will change the moment I feel I have a grip on the phase they’re in currently. I know that experts are all too often wrong and biased by their own experience. The child they perceive is not the one I know. I know that my kids ache. That it’s possible to be happy in the moment yet carry a deep sadness that is waiting just at the edges like an interloper photo bombing the imaginary picture of your expectations. I see it in their eyes when other kids move away from them and disclude them. I see it when they watch others play and talk themselves out of joining because it’s too loud, too crowded, or too overwhelming.

I ache for them when I see their silent struggle and I rankle when I hear other adults minimize this and their feelings.

“They just need to get out there and play…”
“My kid struggles with that too…”
“Maybe if you…”
“Wow, your kid is REALLY sensitive…”
“Yeah, kids sure can be mean…”
“Well, you know, everybody seems to have autism nowadays…”
“Kids will be kids…”
“Isn’t that just how boys are though?”
“Temper tantrums, huh? Yeah, mine have them too…”
“It must be hard to be like that…”

Yes, it is hard to be like “this”, ignorant stranger. If by “this” you mean that it’s hard to suffer people sharing their unsolicited opinions about my parenting as I try to help my kid through a full-blow sensory meltdown as they hover and ask questions causing my kid the further pain of shaming them in public by drawing attention to their discomfort. Pecking at me with comments and questions like a mosquito feasting at me with abandon. Judging me and my child simultaneously all while trying to be understanding of my plight which implies that you are superior since you have so many nuggets of wisdom to share with me while my child pummels me and screams.

Then there’s my daughter whose meltdowns are typically silent. The agony is in her eyes and stooped posture as other children stare and whisper, push past her, refuse to speak to her, skip over choosing her for games, or demand to know “what’s wrong” with her as she further shuts down. She forces herself to smile, make eye contact even when it hurts, pulls at her hands and lips to stop herself from stimming, and panics over every word and how she enunciates it only to make herself stutter and stammer more pronounced. I see it before I hear her as I go to pick her up from a three hour day camp. I watch her in the backseat as she stares out the window singing along to a musical that she’s memorized by heart.

She’s trying to pass as happy. She desperately wants to be liked and accepted. Yes, just like your child but, no, she is not like yours. Yours is neurotypical, mine is many labels but ultimately judged as atypical by others. To me, they both are as exotic as an undiscovered species stumbled upon in an unknown world and I’m fumbling through their language.

I love them exactly as they are and hope for a day that people stop pressuring them to pass as anything but themselves. Wouldn’t we all love for that? I know that’s where most of the advice and questions come from so I smile, answer candidly, and keep grasping myself at trying to pass as happy even when I am not.

When you’re a parent of a child with autism there’s the additional expectation of being their champion from others. There are moments where I don’t feel strong enough for that mantle. I just want someone to tell me it’s ok to be a mess that day. I just want someone to see me and tell me I’m not alone in feeling that it’s fucked up but that’s probably too much to expect. We’re all trying to pass as happy in our own way.

It takes one moment.

mental health, politics, Times Up

“What?! Anthony Bourdain? Oh no! Why?!”

I said this aloud to myself as I read the news. My daughter looked up at me and asked, “What, mama?”

“Oh…,” how do you answer that a writer and celebrity chef you looked up to had suddenly died by suicide? How much do you share with a seven year old?

“A man I once met, who I looked up to, passed away because of mental illness.”

“He had a sickness in his brain?”

“I think so, baby. That’s what some people are saying but they don’t know.”

She thought about this and startled me with an insight only the young possess, “Did you see the sickness when you met him?”

I was at a loss for words. Not uncommon in her presence, “Honestly, no. He was gracious, funny, full of life, and generous. He bought silly grown up drinks for everyone and told stories….Not in a million years would I have thought…”

I trailed off as it hit me that maybe it isn’t shocking at all. We so often think we know someone, whether it’s family or an idol, and yet we only know them as well as we can. We see what they share of themselves and not the struggle or darkness laying below the surface of pleasantries. How often is there ever a clear reason as to why someone succumbs to suicide? How many of us judge them, reasoning that it’s a choice and label it “committing suicide”? As opposed to, what I’ve narrowly missed myself so many times, a moment of illness and despair.

My parental brain ached for his daughter, his ex-wife, his siblings,… One of my worst fears is having a loved one pass from suicide. No matter how angry or shitty the interaction, I always try to end the conversation with “I love you”, unless they’ve hung up. Then I text.

Because you never know if it’s the last time you’ll speak. You never know what someone else is battling in life. It’s not easy, but I try to forgive even when I can’t forget. I try to teach my kids the same. I try to show others the kindness I hope is in us all and rankle at the intolerance of others. Sometimes all it takes is one kind word to save someone’s life.

How many times have I been saved?

How many moments was I close to doing the same?

What are the words that can magically help?

Little arms hugged me and looked up at me, “You want a tissue?”

I laughed, “No, I’m good.”

She was looking at me intently.
“You want to play Minecraft, huh?”
Giggles, “Uh-huh.”

She dashed away with her tablet and I watched her retreat. As parents, how do we avoid this fate? How do we help our kids be healthy mentally?

I tapped her on the shoulder and she looked up at me with slight annoyance, “Can I talk to you for a minute?”

“Ok.”

She crawled onto my lap and, not for the last time, I thought about how this might be the last time she would do this. She’s growing so quickly and I’m fortunate to be a witness to her evolve. I pet her hair and murmured, “I’ll always listen when you ask for help and you can always come to me. I’ll never stop loving you, no matter what.”

She sighed, hugged me, and stared intently into my face, “Will you help me with my house?”

Damn you, Minecraft.

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).