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!

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

Learning the kaleidoscope.

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

Remember when you were little and you first looked through the kaleidoscope? You might have wondered if you were doing it right. Maybe you didn’t see the appeal right off the bat and played with it for a moment only to discard it and realize later that you had the source of endless magical awe and delight within that rinky-dink cardboard tube of plastic colored chips and a mirror.

I still have moments of realizing I’m looking at things the wrong way round. That I’ve been missing out on joyous whimsy just by looking through the proverbial kaleidoscope in my grasp. The view of the world my children happen to possess. So often it can be maddening and seem impossible to slow down enough to see things from their perspective yet when I force myself to do so I rarely regret the decision.

It was one of those moments that I realized that staring at traffic isn’t half bad.

It was one of the last times we ever attempted to do a family outing together as a group. We’ve since realized that splitting up into separate groups is not only easier but seems to accommodate everyone so that the outing is enjoyable as opposed to surviving an undertaking. In truth, there’s only so many simultaneous meltdowns I can handle at once and I’m outnumbered. We all have to take turns being crazy around here and it’s never my turn.

It was at such a family outing that Owen had melted down and I offered to leave the museum exhibit so that my respective nerds could continue to play with the robots. We sat in silence next to each other on the bench. I offered what I could to help calm Owen down but he kept shifting down the bench away from me and I was afraid he would bolt into the busy crowd just down the stairs. Always a fear with someone on the spectrum who has a tendency to wander off. (And by wander I mean sprint headlong with no plan as to where he’s going and refuses to respond to his name or warnings of his imminent danger, see “elopement”.)

He scooted once more as a woman stepped sideways as she read the display plaques for an exhibit mounted across the walkway from us. The board was mostly translucent with images sporadically mounted but the view behind the display only partially interrupted. Owen had no interest in the logging history of Oregon or the earthquakes that have come and gone but the traffic of I-5 and the bridges we could see from our bench were as compelling as that exhibit was to the woman. Every step she took obscured his view. He was silently jockeying for position to view his traffic like a Mr. Bean episode.

I leaned down, pulled his headphones away, and quietly explained to him he could sit on my lap to see better or we could walk over to the window. He thrashed in confusion and frustration for a moment. I took his hand and walked him over and let him rest his head against the cool glass wall. He sighed. His shoulders relaxed. I played bodyguard and prevented people from pushing through or against him. He held my hand and started shouting out the trucks and sights that caught his eye. It’s his way of including me and I joined in to show I appreciated it but something wondrous happened. I started pointing ones out to him.

He spotted the colors and types of vehicles and I would point out the funny dog sticking its head out of the back of the car. The RV with the mismatched doors. The funny sign on the beer truck. The flow of the traffic was soothing. It became not all that unlike staring at waves.

He leaned against my leg and I stroked his hair. I knelt down next to him and he hugged me. In a small, weary voice, “I want to go home.”

We waited a few more minutes for his father and sister, loaded up, and headed out. It was the last time I took him to OMSI. I was looking through the wrong end of the kaleidoscope. He doesn’t want the loud, new, crowded exhibits or the cool play structures if it means dealing with crowds. He wants space, quiet, and room to explore on his own.

It’s difficult to find things for our family to do as a group so I’ve stopped trying, for now. I’m human though, it’s disappointing and frustrating. There’s moments where I think of something I’ve been wanting and waiting to do with them, show them, experience with them only to remember yet again that it’ll be too painful or overwhelming for them with their sensory issues. I guess it’s no different than a neurotypical parent disagreeing with their NT child over an interest. You like what you like.

I’ve learned to do outings with my kids one-on-one. If I let them come up with the ideas we all have a better time and the view can be surprisingly magical. So for my daughter it’s train rides, theatres, museums, parks when they’re not crowded, and quiet grown up restaurants. For Owen? It’s anything fast and sparsely populated whether he’s riding it or watching it from afar. I’m grateful they both like riding the train, amusement rides, but mostly that they share with me what they see.

Snowgasm

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

Oh Portland, you silly worrywart of a city. Two inches of snow of unexpected snow, at best, and the whole world shuts down. I don’t mind. I love the snow and become as giddy as the kids as I await them to fling back the curtains and cry, “SNOW!”

We drag our one sled down to the neighborhood park for the “big hill”. This is a big deal for many reasons. Namely, it means taking on the complicated social skills of other children in the frenetic manic of snow. Not an easy fete for kids on the spectrum at any moment much less in the face of the delirium brought on by rare and wondrous precipitation. In my head, I call it snowgasming.

The first of many is the “sticking together” and “not running off” rule. This equated to them chasing each other down the hill as they took turns pushing each other on the sled.

I loved watching Owen run down the hill at the end of one of the rough descents to rescue “‘sista!”, ala-Parenthood (the movie), from the neighborhood bullies.

She didn’t need it though. She simply stood up and stared at them innocently. They looked up at me and I gave them “the look”. Ckenched snowballs were dropped and they walked away in a huff.

Owen held up a snowball and I hollered, “Rule #3!”

He yelled back, “I being kind!!!”

He scowled, dropped it, and growled at them. When they laughed in response he looked at me with wounded pride.

I tried to reassure him but it wasn’t enough. The boys’ parents were busy talking to each other and refused to make eye contact. I wasn’t going to let this ruin our day.

The bullies approached us again moments later, the parents didn’t intervene, and I calmly walked towards them to block their approach towards my kids and said in a low voice, “Get away from us.”

They muttered to each other and dropped the snowballs.

I looked over at Owen and he was staring at the ground smiling.

Leonora asked on the way home, “Why are some kids mean to me?”

I was honest, “It’s not you. Some people choose to be unkind because they don’t know any better, because they want to, or because they’re unhappy and want others to feel as badly.”

She smiled and asked, “Can you tell me a funny story?”

Her shorthand for changing the subject and asking me to make her laugh. It’s her way of coping when something upsets her. We bond over funny stories. Humor saves us all. That and remembering how magical snow can be for us all.

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.

Amazing Things Do Happen

ASD, atypical, autism, inclusion, neurodiversity, parenting, special needs, special needs parenting

“Am I autistic?”
“Yes, honey,” I push a lock of hair behind her ear and watch the emotions flick across her face before she smiles knowingly, “Are you autistic?”
“Nope.”
“Can you tell me what it means again?”
“Sure.”
“Can you tell the other kids at Girl Scouts?”

I was stunned, proud, and bewildered yet again by this kid. This girl that never ceases to amaze me with her kindness, sensitivity, thoughtfulness, vulnerability, and, yes, her many wounds from the mistreatment of others. She desperately wants to fit in and be accepted yet many days this world doesn’t seem to be meant for her and it goes out of its way to show her so.

We watched a video recently, Amazing Things Happen. It popped up as a recommendation in my YouTube feed and my faith in the internet was restored. What a fantastic piece of work and a way to explain autism to kids, not only about themselves, but to others that want to understand how it feels. The first time we watched it she turned to me and said, “Can we watch it again?”

After the second time, she asked, “Can we show this to the other kids?”
“Yeah, is it accurate? Is this how you feel?”
She hugged me and whispered into my body, “It’s how I feel all the time.”

I cried not because I felt pity for her or any other kid that experiences the world as she does. I cried, like so many days, because I don’t see the world as she does and I struggle to understand how or to protect from the people that would abuse her because of this. What she senses eludes me at times and I’m trying to help someone that doesn’t need help but for the world to stop judging and imposing their expectations on her. To just stop. Stop being so loud, so demanding, so imposing, so much of everything.

Many have shared with me once that they’re offended by the puzzle piece symbol. The Autism Speaks rainbow puzzle piece has become ubiquitous with awareness around autism but the symbol itself has a negative connotation of implying that a person with autism is a “puzzle” to be solved, to be cured. This negative perception is only heightened by its origin of Autism Speaks creating its use seeing that they have come under fire from the society of autism for only investing towards a cure. A contentious outlook from those that believe autism is not a disease or disorder requiring a cure.

It’s unfortunate that so many parents use the puzzle symbol with wholly good intentions to represent the struggles that their children face and I understand why they identify with its use. They want to belong to a movement of awareness and for that I don’t blame or judge them. But, for me, I prefer the rainbow infinity symbol that represents neurodiversity and the acceptance of autism. Yet the use of either symbol doesn’t offend me or change my opinion towards the subject of autism or the people I love that are diagnosed. To me, it’s undeniably a large part of who they are and a physiological difference they have from others; however, it is only one aspect of them and not their entire identity.

So how do you explain all of that in terms that a neurotypical, average kid can understand? How do you create an activity analogous to autism to illustrate how autism feels to a child?

Well, that is exactly what we’ve undertaken these past two weeks. We’ve been preparing a presentation for my daughter’s Girl Scout troop and practicing answering questions that might come up. As we were eating lunch together, I asked her if she wanted to watch the video again today. She said yes and we watched it companionably in silence. It ended and I asked, like I do every time now, “Again?”

She smiled and said, “Yes,” with a giggle.

I hesitated and asked, “Nora, what does it feel like to be autistic?”

My throat tightened and I secretly hoped that she would share with me and not be upset with my question. That her feelings weren’t hurt by me pushing and prying a little further so that she would let me in to her world. Yet again, I was astounded by her insight that always seems to come unexpectedly and at an angle I could never predict.

“It feels amazing. I’m different but so is everyone else.”

Amazing Things Happen: http://amazingthingshappen.tv/?projects=amazing-things-happen

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.

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).

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.