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.”

——————-

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.

A label saved us.

ASD, autism, equality, motherhood, neurodiversity, parenting, special needs, Uncategorized

After a lifetime of fighting labels I’ve come full circle and now accept them daily without any hesitation because doing so means giving my kids access to services they wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve fought hard for the few resources we receive despite the stereotype that kids with special needs get “lots of freebies”. (No, actually they don’t, Janice. Screw you and your spin class too.)

It also means being labeled myself in the process. “Mother of a child with special needs”, doesn’t really roll of the tongue but is far less hurtful than hearing others whisper as you pass, “She’s that mom with that kid in special ed.”

A friend of mine who is a mom to a kid with special needs (see how wordy that is?), said to me, “I feel like not having a diagnosis is one of the worst feelings.”

Yes, I knew immediately what she meant. That awareness that there are issues but not being able to name them. Knowing that your child needs help but not being able to ask for it because you’re not even sure what support they need to be able to get along with other kids because you’re not even sure what your kid is experiencing. You’re shut out when they’re nonverbal and left out in the cold once they can speak and have emotional meltdowns where they can’t explain to you what their world is like. It’s that feeling of struggling to speak to someone in another language. You’re trying to communicate what you need and relieved when they finally understand. Even if they can’t, or won’t, help you. That’s what it’s like being a parent of a kid with special needs. Alone and marginalized.

These past seven years have been many moments of feeling like a tourist struggling to understand a map in a foreign language. Of knowing the reality of what I saw my children experiencing yet not being believed. Minimized, dismissed, marginalized, ridiculed for speaking out. Told by professionals that I need counseling while my child ripped the doctor’s office apart and crumpled into tears, stimming, inconsolable only until they calmed themselves by rubbing their fingers together rhythmically. The doctor left the room and a nurse returned asking us to reschedule. They wouldn’t look at us or speak to us on the way out. The waiting room full of people stared and Owen grasped on to me to avoid their eyes. Nora calls it “the mean faces moment”. It’s the same moment we experience at school performances, restaurants, buses,…we’ve gotten used to consoling them and rushing them out to head off the impending meltdown all while shielding them from the prying eye contact of strangers. It’s as if our kid is allergic to direct stares and we’re rushing him out of the glare from others.

This month, after five years of being told I was imagining things, and even being told so after my son and husband were diagnosed, came the moment where someone listened. A doctor finally diagnosed our daughter. This doctor, she gave me the gift of clarity, my daughter the chance to be understood, our family the resources we need to move forward in supporting her, and me a light amidst the darkness – literally.

The day I met our daughter’s new doctor I was a jumble of nerves. I was prepared with my stack of folders, with all of my notes and lists to fully explain my daughter to her and defend my observations. I did all of this because I’ve learned the hard way. Every teacher, therapist, pediatrician, counselor, doctor of any type, and so-called experts have tried to talk me out of believing in what I knew to be true. My daughter was struggling. That morning I drove sweaty palmed and jittering in my seat high on too much caffeine to make up for a sleepless night of rehearsing questions in my head like I was preparing for a job interview.

The drive was plugged into my GPS even though I was pretty certain as to where the office was. Even with traffic, I arrived fifteen minutes early and patted myself on the back while I searched for a restroom. As luck would have it again, there was one just outside the entrance to the doctor’s office within the building and I dashed in. As the exterior door closed, I happened to catch out of the corner of my eye that they had a motion light much like the one we have at home in our basement. I passed through another door into where the stalls were located and went about my business. As my cheeks hit the paper liner a not-so-funny thing happened. The lights went out. Someone must have just left right before I came in and the light didn’t trigger for me but instead, went out.

My first thought was that someone was playing a joke but then I really panicked and my PTSD kicked in.

What if someone was attacking me?

What if the electricity was out in this windowless building? What if I can’t get out?

How long am I going to be sitting here waiting for someone to come in to use this bathroom out of this huge office park?

My hands began to shake and I quickly tried to find my phone in my purse. My phone fell out of my hands and went rolling across the floor. I began to cry. I was trapped in a bathroom coffin just waiting for someone to open the door to trigger the light or rescue me. At least my pants were up.

Then I noticed the stack of folders I had brought. One of them was a notebook I had bought when Nora was back-to-school shopping. It had a glow-in-the-dark cover and it was peaking its corner out from the bottom of the pile. I scrambled for it and managed to find my phone not far from the stack of paper and turned the flashlight feature on. The door was five feet away but it might as well have been fifty feet. I tried to pull myself together and managed to get into the doctor’s waiting room with acceptable decorum. A well meaning doctor walked in and made eye contact and I fell apart. She offered me water and patted my arm.

We went into her office and I did as I usually do when I’m embarrassed, I cracked jokes. We both were laughing within seconds of me being seated and she made one herself, “Well, I better be able to give you a correct diagnosis. It’s the least I can do after trapping you in my bathroom.” She took my stack of notes and we discussed Nora’s history. I cried some more. She listened. We agreed to meet again and that I would bring Nora with me next time. She promised me that we would sort out everything and help my daughter. I sat in my car afterwards and cried until I could see clearly enough to drive.

I returned with Nora two days later. The doctor greeted us and shocked me when I thought I could no longer be shocked. She didn’t need to do further testing. Most of it had been done previously based on the notes we requested and I hadn’t been informed of those tests or the results. The school knew all along. They had labeled her with autism themselves but didn’t want to acknowledge it because they would have to help her if they did.

The doctor reviewed Nora’s artwork, books she had constructed, and listened to her stories. She looked at me levelly and announced, “Your daughter is amazing.” I swallowed back tears and welcomed the hug as Nora sensed my emotion before I felt it and came to embrace me, “It’s ok, mama.” I set the stack of paperwork aside with the doctor’s summary and pulled her onto my lap.

“You’re right, baby. Everything is going to be ok now.”

Acceptance is a far off destination.

adhd, ASD, autism, equality, motherhood, neurodiversity, parenting, special needs, Uncategorized

Cathexis. Definition, the concentration of mental energy on one particular person, idea, or object (especially to an unhealthy degree).

I’d never heard of this word until yesterday. It’s an accurate label for this phase of my life and for the many parents, like myself, that have kids with special needs.

It takes a dedication and level of commitment that no one can prepare you for. Much like the all encompassing weight of stress and worry over their well-being and future if you’re not there to care for them some day. The fear that they’ll never be independent. That your life will end too soon and fall short of the length that they need you. Is there a greater fear than your child dying? For me, yes, the fear that I’ll leave them alone in the world unprepared, or incapable, to care for themselves.

Parenting kids with special needs becomes a vocation that seems only achievable if you throw yourself fully into researching on their behalf and supporting your kid as much as possible. I’m reminded by well meaning, unintentionally insensitive folks, that I really need to focus on “self care” and “get out more”. As if care workers are sprouting on the vine and all of them are willing to watch my kids overnight. Strange, but most sitters don’t want to stay over to watch two kids on the spectrum. One of which has ADHD and likes to wake up throughout the night to sing and scream demands while he rattles his baby gate. Quite often dragging his baby bottle against the bars like an inmate with a tin cup begging for water. Funny that.

Here’s another truth, it’s lonely. Even if you find other parents to kids with special needs that commonality makes it difficult to congregate. It’s difficult enough with small kids to have a conversation but with our kids we might not even make it to the door or we’re occupied with keeping them from running off, melting down, or some combination so maintaining a conversation beyond exchanging names is an accomplishment.

Autism Awareness month, for most of us, is bullshit.

What we need is acceptance. What is required to make that possible is equality.

Acceptance for our kids within families; because, yes, extended families are known for shunning you once your child is diagnosed. I’ve experienced this first hand and have had many arguments to explain that certain stereotypes are untrue and, no, us accommodating your preference of food is not the same as us asking you to make an “accommodation” of putting up baby gates before we visit so our son isn’t injured or elope out the door.

Acceptance in our communities. I can’t count how many times we’ve had to bodily remove our kids from an event or a public space because of others being rude or insensitive and triggering a meltdown that we then couldn’t avoid because of their presence. Insult to injury, those same people want to argue about our parenting while we’re trying to calm our child or, worse, continue to stare and trigger our child as if they’re baiting them into acting out. The mumbled agressions as we leave as the cowards then feel brave enough to comment to our retreating backs.

“If I had a kid like that I wouldn’t take them out of the house.”

“Why don’t you tell that kid to shut up?”

“Some people really need to learn how to parent.”

“That kid just doesn’t belong her.”

“If that was my kid I would spank him.”

We’re limited as to where we can take our children. We know that most places won’t accommodate us and not to expect it even if they have in the past. Many times we’ve had to leave places with our kids in tears because we couldn’t stay. The line was too long and no one would help us, the sound was too high and they wouldn’t turn it down, the restaurant was too busy and we couldn’t get a table in a quiet spot,… We’ve become accustomed to being discriminated against. Our kids have internalized their otherness and anything we say to bolster them up against it is futile to heal the wound of being rejected. We try our best and keep asking for accommodations but every day feels more and more like a gerbil wheel of failure. I’m chasing cheese that I can see and smell but never reach.

Accommodations are a form of acceptance in action. Awareness simply means you know about a condition or topic. Awareness means that you know when discrimination is occurring but acceptance is doing something about it and creating equity for others.

Equality is allowing my child to attend his neighborhood school so he can make friends in his community and be accepted as a member of that community, yet we’ve been turned away not once but twice. I have two separate drop offs and pick ups for my kids every day.

Equality is a place at the table, equity is having a functional chair.

For instance, my daughter’s school has ADA accessible entrances but half of the door buttons are malfunctioned so if you’re wheelchair bound you have to wait for someone to open the door. The school by law is up to code for ADA standards yet they chose to house the children with special needs on the second floor so they have to use an elevator to access their classroom when there’s ample space on the first floor for their class. Yet that would be mean them being visible to other students and part of the daily community. A community that they entered into after most likely a long battle on their parents part because I’ve yet to win that battle for my son who is not allowed to attend the same school as his sister.

Even if I was to get my son into the neighborhood school, they like many others, make it very clear that they do not accept children with special needs. They are aware, they will accommodate them begrudgingly by law, but they do not accept them as equal to all other students. It’s not as if a sign is posted telling them to “go home” but it’s unmistakable when every area of a school is geared towards able students and kids with special needs are excluded.

So often children with special needs are shoved off into inadequate classrooms and corners. Given “sensory corners” to sit in and calm down when they are overwhelmed. The clear message being that it’s their problem, their fault, for being over stimulated not that the class needs to be reminded to keep their volume down or that the space needs to be reconfigured. The child with sensory issues is told to put on headphones and sit in a corner. It sets them apart and reminds them that they are different and unaccepted.

School assemblies and celebrations, a flood of students all talking at once in a high ceiling gym without a single student with special needs or disability in sight. Every week or month appointed for awareness around Developmental Disabilities, Autism, or a physical condition goes unrecognized as children make decorations for other events for more important to the rest of the school to acknowledge like Presidents Day or a “Fun Run”.

The cathexis of my existence is my children. That might seem unhealthy or unwarranted to some. To that I say, do you feel accepted? Do your children fear being excluded at every moment of their life? Do they feel unwanted in their own classroom? Can you leave the house and experience moments as a family, together, without fear of being discriminated against and turned away?

I’ll continue on with my cathexis until all the chairs at the table are functional and every person has a place.

I don’t love autism.

adhd, ASD, autism, motherhood, neurodiversity, parenting, politics, special needs

“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?

I love my family but I hate how they are treated by others. It makes me hateful towards their autism as if it’s an invisible villain stealing our happiness.

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.

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. You’re special.”