A badge or a burden: the trauma we carry

adhd, ASD, atypical, autism, Complex PTSD, Homeschooling, mental health, motherhood, neurodiversity, parenting, PTSD, special education, special needs, special needs parenting, trauma

My friend phoned me to tell me what I expected. Her mother had been placed in hospice only days before but I knew. We only called each other when it was too hard to write what we needed to say or we needed to hear each other’s voices. Her mom was gone.

I sat in silence and thought about her family and my own. Trying to imagine what my friend was feeling at that moment. Thinking of how many struggles she had endured in so little time. How the length of our friendship was colored by so many of those for us both. I began summarizing in my head all of those traumas in my own life and began with the one that my family thought was amusing and I found painful still. Our move to Oregon (but that’s a story for another time) and touched upon the one that truly shaped me from that day forward.

I’ve had PTSD since I was six. It began the moment I watched our family home burn to the ground. Frozen in place, listening to the sounds of my mother screaming and keening. I would like to say things improved from there but they didn’t. So I learned to expect another crisis around every corner and that good luck was for other people. It took years to unlearn this thinking, a diagnosis of Complex PTSD
, and the acceptance that we all have our sorrows and come 1through life wearing our setbacks as a badge or a burden.

The layers of trauma changed in variety over the years. The moments compressed into me like the striation marks in the earth. Ever changing, ever present, and unbidden. Once a source of shame and now simply marks on my body like the remnants of pregnancy or aging. Something I can acknowledge and feel a sense of achievement from or something I can hide and only deepen the pain brought on by seeing them in an unkind light.

Listening to those dark, ugly voices of criticism in my low moments can dtill happen but I’ve learned to question those voices and quiet them with kindness for myself. Those same voices that lurked throughout my childhood are now gone but the memory of them haunt me like tinny piped music. I can choose to escape them or confront them but I acknowledge that the hurt from those people marked me but hasn’t marred me.

Now, as a mother, I feel as if I have a new terrain of PTSD. The terrain of trauma sustained by my children. The bullying, the attacks, the judgement.

Accepting my children’s neurodivergence wasn’t difficult. Accepting the treatment they receive from others is something I have to fight on a daily basis at times and it can feel insurmountable. From strangers to doctors, to teachers to extended family, we’ve had a litany of interactions where we’ve had to navigate the misunderstandings around autism and tolerate or battle the misconceptions people have of autistic people.

Whether you’re neurotypical or neurodivergent, misunderstandings happen constantly but the difference is that I can process this and respond whereas my kids, by in large, cannot. The lag time in processing in combination with their trauma compounds into a snarl of frustration that results in simply being overwhelmed to the point that they shut down or melt down. Many of us can relate to this feeling but not to the extreme that they experience. Their experience is our version of being tongue-tied amplified by the thousands. Take that feeling and color it with trauma and they end up blaming themselves for not being able to keep up or join in a mundane conversation.

It was during one of these interactions recently that I had an epiphany. Because autistic or otherwise, trauma colors our filter of the world for better or worse and that filter never leaves us but can unexpectedly be a strength. For instance, and I’ll freely admit I’m biased, my kids are the most thoughtful and forgiving souls I’ve ever met. They will go out of their way to be kind to others and generous to a fault. Their struggles to find and keep friends haven’t hurt them but made them more empathetic towards others. Maybe a little too intensely at times, but all and all, to their betterment.

After three long years of trying to make public general education work for both of our kids we made the hard decision last year to place our son in a self-contained classroom and opt out of school completely for our daughter and it’s been the best decision we could have made for either of them. I had many doubts seeing that I knew little about special education three years ago and never intended to homeschool and was always an advocate for public schools. Especially the strong belief of staying in your neighborhood school yet when that school doesn’t want your child to attend, and makes it clear that they are not willing to accommodate them, you’re not left with many choices.

I feared that she would be socially isolated, bored, or – worse – regress if we homeschooled. To my relief, none of that was true. Except for she admittedly became lonely until we found independent studies and activities for her to join with like-minded kids. (It’s no easy feat to find other eight year olds who want to read history books and knit. We found the first and the second request was met by her making friends with the “Chicks with Sticks” club at her grandmother’s assisted living facility.)

We allowed her to unschool for a year and then gradually added academic structure back into her life. It’s made a world of difference not only for her but our entire family. It reinstilled her confidence and renewed my hope in her being able to attain an education and a sense of fulfillment. Her trauma can be a source of learning and not an impediment to her growth.

For me, the nightmares don’t go away. I’ll never feel comfortable sitting with my back to a room full of strangers. I’ll never stop worrying that the horrors that befell me might befall my own children. Yet I know that they can not only survive but thrive, not in spite of, but possibly because of those challenges and have a deeper sense of kindness to show from their scars.

https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/treat/essentials/complex_ptsd.asp

When acceptance isn’t accommodated

adhd, ASD, atypical, autism, equality, neurodiversity, parenting, special education, special needs

As a parent, your expectations about your life change the moment you realize that you’re bringing another life into the world that will be dependent upon you. Then your child is diagnosed as special needs and that additional responsibility shifts your expectations yet again. The word “accommodate” gains a different definition with the weight of its legal ramifications and societal implications. It denotes battles with educators. It signifies the appeal you make to family and friends to accept you and your children.

I went through a grieving process with each diagnosis for my son, then husband, then daughter. Each with its own set of revelations, challenges, and eventual adjustment. At first, I struggled to explain to others our circumstances hoping for acceptance in hopes of them staying in our lives. Then I realized that I couldn’t expect them to understand what they didn’t want to acknowledge. I can’t expect them to accommodate us any more than they can expect us to be neurotypical.

After so many last minute cancellations, or change in plans, people stop inviting you. The phone calls stop because they can’t hear you over the meltdowns in the background. They don’t want to deal with your kid but they don’t have the courage to tell you. The diagnosis is a downer to them and they don’t want to hear about it. They maybe see the signs of it in themselves or their kid and don’t want to discuss the topic lest they have to face it in their own life. They don’t believe in the diagnosis of autism. We’ve heard it all and all of it delivered with equal measures of good intentions and ignorance.

“They look normal are you sure they’re autistic?”
“Have you tried…?”
“Maybe they’ll grow out of it…?”
“We’re so sorry. Well, at least they’re not sick…”

The hardest days are the ones where no one is willing to accept them including myself. When I’m not accommodating them by being unreasonable. Now I don’t try to convince others what I know to be the truth. My kids are amazing.

If atypical means intelligent, polite, opinionated, creative, sensitive, and loving then I’ll take it over neurotypical any day. I can only assume that neurotypical should have the negative connotation since most of the kids who’ve abused, bullied, or traumatized my kids are considered “normal” .

With every passing year, I find myself adapting to yet another seismic shift in my perception of my family and struggling to find my footing. Yet the most painful is the trauma my kids have had to suffer. A close second is the loss of those I’ve cared about who won’t accept them. Their lack of accommodation cuts the deepest of all.

The true acceptance I hope for is that anyone who claims to love someone who is neurodiverse will learn enough about their condition to show them that they care and that they will always accommodate them in their heart.