The Joys (and Terror) of Homeschooling

When we began homeschooling I was absolutely terrified.  I didn’t see how I could do it.  I closed my studio.  I set up a space in our home so that I could continue to run my business.  I told myself we would take each day as though it were one small baby step at a time.  I reminded myself when I began to hyperventilate from panic and fear that I just needed to concentrate on today and not the rest of our lives.  When my anxiety felt too difficult to manage I focused on the next moment.  I wrote lists, I purchased an old fashioned day calendar to write out subjects we would cover each day.  And then I sat down with Emma.  I asked her whether she thought homeschooling was a good idea.

Emma typed, “You believe in me and once creating versions of getting the truth, I am able to go far.”

I said, and I’m not exactly proud of my need for reassurance that she understood, but I said it anyway, “You realize it means you will not go back to school, right?”

Emma wrote, “Yes.  Taking my awesome nice teacher named mom what cabaret kind of life awaits me, I can only guess.”  A little later she wrote, “Know that love teaches more than doubt.”

I asked Emma how she wanted to do all of this.

She typed, “make a schedule mapping out lots of topics both written and spoken.”  Then she shocked me by writing, “sometime I want to learn another language, how about german?”

“Wow!  Seriously?” I asked.

“Yes.”

So here we are some eight months in and we are still finding our footing.  Each day is slightly different.  I still rely heavily on that old fashioned calendar where I fill in what we are working on and for how long.  Every morning I ask Emma for her input as to what she wants to learn.  I still, occasionally, feel I’m not doing enough.  I still, though far less frequently, find myself panicking and wondering how we are going to do this.  I still, though rarely, wonder if what we are teaching is enough.  But through out these last eight months, I have never felt so sure of anything we’ve done as this decision to homeschool.

As many of you know I am no stranger to regret.  Homeschooling is not on that list.  In fact, the only regret I have about homeschooling is that we didn’t do this sooner.

We have been blessed with a couple of wonderful family members who volunteer their time via Skype and one non-family member who teaches Emma literacy.  At the moment Emma is ripping through Act 4 of Romeo and Juliet.  Her sessions with K. are a highlight of her week.  K. tirelessly and enthusiastically comes to our home with new ideas of how Emma can make notes on text so that she can later cite parts of the play to back up her answers to questions like:  “At the end of Act 3, Scene 2, Juliet is of two minds about what has happened.  What are some words that demonstrate her split thinking?”

Together K. and Emma are exploring “writing craft” and delving into language, tension, foreshadowing, story arc and character development.  We use Khan Academy, Brain Pop, books, lots and lots of books and the internet to research and learn, as well as Rosetta Stone for German.  I also am using Duolingo to supplement Rosetta Stone for German, but Emma is not yet able to use it as it relies too much on writing.  The beauty of Rosetta Stone is that it relies on pointing to images to match text primarily.  In addition, we have a Graduate Student who comes to work on art and Emma is taking ceramics, swimming/diving, gymnastics and piano and guitar lessons.

We have created a little nook devoted to various materials we use for lessons and while it’s usually in a state of complete disarray, there is some semblance of order, even if only to me and Emma.  The single most essential item other than the keyboard and stand for the iPad in the photograph below is the Timed Timer.  Without it we would be lost.  Emma explained to me that when I forget to put on the timer she is filled with rising panic and anxiety.  She told me that without a visual timer, “time can stand still, while anxiety pushes all out of its way.”  We now own three different sizes of the Timed Timer, though Emma’s preference is the largest one they have, twelve inches, for our home sessions.

A nook of one's own...

A nook of one’s own…

“The Mean Voice” – Facts vs Feelings

“You get to write about thinking feelings are facts,” Emma typed this morning.  Then she smiled at me, got up, and walked away.

Six months into this whole homeschooling thing and I’m just now starting to figure out how I can work this blog into our busy schedule.  Emma wrote the other day that she would write a blog post once a week or, she thoughtfully added, “suggest topic for you to write about.”  Then last week she wondered if she might ask questions that she hoped readers would want to respond to.  The first of that series with all the wonderfully considerate, insightful and thoughtful comments and answers to her questions from readers, can be read ‘here.’

My goal is to carve out time Tuesday and Thursday to post something on this blog.  Only time will show how well I do with this goal.

But for today, Emma has given me an assignment.  “You get to write about thinking feelings are facts.”  When she typed this sentence I immediately thought of “the mean voice.” This is the voice in my head whose sole purpose seems to be to give a running critique of everything I’m doing and why it’s all wrong.  The Voice is harsh and can be very, very cruel.  It will say things to me that I would never say aloud to another human being, no matter how angry I might be.  The Voice feels real, it says things in a matter-of-fact way that makes me think the words it is saying are true.  When I believe The Voice all joy is deleted.  Any glimmer of hope is snuffed out.  The Voice tells me I suck and whatever I’m doing sucks.

But I’ve come to understand that The Voice is not to be listened to, which is easier thought than done.  It does not tell me the truth, it is mean and it says things that are not based in fact.  I call it “The Voice” but in fact, it is fear.  It is hopelessness.  It is anger.  It is a whole medley of emotions, some of which I cannot even identify or untangle to identify.  The Voice is feelings and it is most certainly not “fact”.

Feelings are not facts.  Feelings are not facts.  This is something someone said to me early on in my addiction recovery.   It was one of those “slogans” that at the time made no sense to me.  Well of course feelings aren’t facts, I remember thinking to myself.  Anyone knows that.   They’re feelings.  But what I didn’t know then and what I still forget now, is that when I’m upset or scared or angry, the conclusions I come to as a result of having those feelings are also not facts.  They are feelings and the two are very, very different.

So for example, if I’m afraid to do something that I really want to do, like write this book that Emma and I are working on together, I feel tremendous fear.   The Voice kicks in and will say things like, “What the hell are you doing?  Why are you even trying to do this?  The last thing the world needs is a book written, even co-written by you.  Who are you to write about your experience with this?  Who do you think you are?  No one wants to read what you think.  You think this will be helpful to someone else?  What kind of narcissistic, self-involved crap is that?  You can’t do this.  You suck.”  If that doesn’t stop me in my tracks The Voice amps it up a notch and gets even more vicious.

People have suggested imagining a volume control dial and mentally visualizing turning the volume down.  Others have suggested saying, Thank you for your thoughts and then doing the thing I’m terrified of doing anyway.  Others have said – just don’t listen to it or don’t believe it.  But none of that has had much impact or made a difference.  Logically I know this voice isn’t real.  It’s in my head.  I know it isn’t some divine, all-knowing voice.  I know it is mean.  I know all these things, but when the emotions come it is like being pulled under and the energy it takes to keep my head above the water, the energy it takes to just breathe is exhausting and sometimes, most of the time, I don’t feel able to fight it.

When I was an active addict The Voice told me to go and eat.  Go ahead it would say.  Oh go on, you deserve it, The Voice would encourage.  You’ve had a tough day, give yourself a treat, eat a dozen doughnuts.  If I fought it, it only got louder and more insistent.  Oh go on, GO ON!  And I would.  I couldn’t refuse.  I felt out of control and helpless.  I felt unable to stop.  Now, almost two decades later, I know to “out” that particular voice.  I know to tell on it.  The Voice doesn’t like that.  And saying to another human being who understands, who can identify, who can say – oh yeah…  wow, I so get that – is often all it takes now to give me that moment of grace so that I can pull away and not do that thing that will hurt me, the thing that it’s telling me to do.

While The Voice is usually no longer the boss of me when it comes to food and compulsive over-eating, it has never completely gone away.  It crops up when I least expect it.  It tells me things about myself that make me feel awful.  It makes me believe it’s telling me THE TRUTH.  I’m fifty four years old and I still find myself believing The Voice, not about food and eating, but about other things, healthy things I want to do or accomplish.  There’s another slogan used in addiction recovery – Progress not perfection.  And I am making progress, but it is very, very slow.  And to be honest, far slower than I’d like.  But then if I gauge myself from where I once was, the progress has been nothing short of miraculous, so maybe the next post will be about – progress, not perfection!  Unless Emma has another idea, that is…

I’m turning Emma’s topic over to all of you – “…write about thinking feelings are facts.”

The Mean Voice

The Mean Voice

Sensory Assaults

My friend Bridget wasn’t feeling great.  She felt off-balance and couldn’t walk and it was making it difficult for her to talk.  And then she told me the carpeting made her dizzy.  I hadn’t noticed the carpeting, but when she said this to me, I realized the pattern of the carpet was like an op-art nightmare, in sharp contrasting hues, the repetitive pattern was eye-catching and I suddenly wondered how I could have blocked it out.  But, you see, I had.  The carpet wasn’t a problem until she mentioned it and then I couldn’t not see it.  In addition, there was a plexiglass barrier that gave the sensation of being in an infinity pool, without any of the relaxation involved.  It was as though the carpeting spilled over the edge and disappeared into an abyss.  It was disconcerting and even frightening.

I held out the crook of my arm, the way a blind man in New York City taught me to do, years ago.  A stranger, he’d asked if I could help him cross a busy intersection.  At the time I was carrying my son in a Kelty pack on my back and had my then infant daughter in a snuggly.  When I offered my hand to the man, he told me it was easier for him if I crooked my arm and he then held that, it was more stable, but also gave him the ability to control his own movement more.  Bridget took my arm and we were able to make our way to the elevators without mishap.

It was like pain, you don’t realize how awful it is until it’s gone, and then you’re filled with indescribable relief that makes you hyper aware and surprised by just how bad the pain had been.  Afterwards you wonder how you managed it.  Realizations are like that.  Once you have them they’re impossible to undo or un-think or un-feel.  This is how it is with autism too.

A few months ago I was waiting for the cashier to ring up my groceries.  Suddenly a load bang sounded.  Without meaning to I jumped and turned toward the sound.  It was another cashier smacking a paper bag open.  She was smiling and the cashier next to her did the same thing.  Other cashiers began to laugh and followed by banging their bags open.  I was furious.  The noise felt intolerable.  I wondered what I might say to make them stop.  I went through various scenarios in my mind, from yelling obscenities, to self-righteous indignation, to calling the manager.  And then they stopped.  The deafening sound that felt like a physical assault ended and I realized I’d been holding my breath.

As I walked home with my groceries I thought about how angry I’d gotten and how my body froze and then I thought about how awful it would be if I was assaulted, bombarded with intolerable sounds all the time or lighting that had a similar effect and suddenly, very suddenly, I understood something I had not understood before.  I understood what people meant when they suggested that sensory issues can affect one’s actions, or as they say when referring to autism – how sensory issues can result in “behaviors”.

Had the banging noise continued in the grocery store I would have said something, and it would not have been kind or thoughtful or restrained.  I would have had “behaviors” as a direct result of that awful noise.  Had someone told me to calm down I would have been even more furious.  My actions would most certainly have been viewed as over reacting or needlessly extreme.

Had I not been present when my friend Bridget told me how awful she felt and that she needed to sit down for a second and then told me why, I would not have noticed the awful carpeting nor would I have understood how the pattern of a carpet could disrupt one’s equilibrium so much so that one might lose the ability to speak.  These are the things I am learning.  These are the things that make the difference between understanding, and maybe even being able to do something helpful and not.

An Innocent Paper Bag...

An Innocent Paper Bag…

Actions Taken and Puberty

“Actions taken that get responses you don’t want.”

This was what Emma typed in response to my question, what should we write about on the blog today?

Emma proposed making one blog entry a week, possibly asking for readers to answer some of her questions, but before we could continue, she had a  few concerns.

“Would thinking about stressful times cause upset?”  she typed.

I said that it might, but we could put a trigger warning above with the topic so that if the topic was something specific, people would be warned and could stop reading.  As I said this to her I marveled at her endless compassion and concern for other people’s feelings.  Then I said I believed that sometimes it can be helpful to know you aren’t alone in feeling and thinking things that you don’t necessarily know others feel and think, at least this has been my experience.

We discussed the experience of going through puberty and how adults will often talk about their children and what they believe they are going through, but not about their own experience of going through puberty.  “Maybe we should ask people to share their memory of puberty and what was the most difficult part about that period of their life?” I suggested.

Emma wrote, “You can ask and please say that if this question causes stress to not answer and next week I will ask a fun question.”

“That is such a thoughtful and kind thing to say, Emma,” I told her.

Before we ask for other people to share their experiences with either of these questions, Emma and I asked Richard to talk about “actions taken that get responses you don’t want.”

Richard said, “I put work out into the world, like my book and I want people to enjoy it, but some people say all kinds of nasty things, or let’s say I wrote a blog post and my intention is to be helpful to Autistic people and advocate for them, but because I’m not Autistic and I am highly opinionated, maybe I write things that are actually offensive to the very people I’ve meant to help.”

I asked Richard if this had really happened to him or if the last part was hypothetical.

“It’s hypothetical, but I certainly am capable of doing something like that.  People can do all kinds of things with good intentions that don’t get great responses.  To me the question is – what if you do things that you think are going to be helpful to yourself and other people and they aren’t and they aren’t appreciated either.”

I told Emma I would write about my experience with both these questions, so beginning with the first – actions taken that get responses you don’t want.

Saying something that is taken in a way I didn’t mean, particularly if it causes upset, anger or comes across as offensive.  There have been times when I’ve said something and not realized it was offensive until much later, but there have been other times when I’ve said something or asked a question and it’s been taken as meaning more than simply information gathering.

Puberty…

One of the things I really love about this question is that it’s one of those topics people don’t often talk about, at least not with any personal specifics unless it’s about someone else (often without that person’s permission) or in small groups.  So here’s the trigger warning – if the topic of puberty causes you stress, stop reading, otherwise, please join in and share a memory or an experience of going through puberty.  What was it like?  What was most challenging?  Please keep this about your own experience.  If you want to remain anonymous, you can always send your comment to the blog email address:  emmashopeblog@gmail.com or you can DM us on Emma’s Hope Book Facebook page.

We asked Richard to start things off: (insert smiley face here)

“It was the late sixties and early seventies and I became obsessed with – when will I have cool looking sideburns? –  I remember doing drawings of sideburns and imagining what my sideburns could look like.  I remember a lot of thinking about sideburns. They were emblematic of becoming a man.”

Okay, so I can’t really ask readers to share if I’m not willing to do the same, so here goes:

One of the more troubling memories I have of puberty was when I began to develop breasts and wanting to have them because most of the girls in my class already did and I was taunted by the boys at my school for not having any breasts.  They would yell, “hey flatsy!” at me when they passed me in the hallway or whisper it to me during recess.

But I also hated that I was developing them.  I had both feelings at once.  There was shame about my body for not looking like the other girls, but also fear and shame that I would.  I remember lying on my stomach at night, thinking this might limit or reduce their growth, only to put small wads of kleenex in my “training” bra to see what I would look like once I had them.

The larger issue, though I don’t think I was aware of it at the time, was the conflict of growing older and being excited by this, yet part of me wanted to stay a kid. And there was terror too.  I was going to say “fear,” but it was more than fear, it was real terror at the idea of looking more adult like and less kid like, coupled with growing into a woman’s body and not liking the attention that elicited, which interestingly enough ties this answer to Emma’s first question about – “actions taken that get responses you don’t want”  and very much encapsulates the essence of all that was problematic and difficult for me about puberty.

We’re turning these questions over to all of you now…

1.  Actions taken that get responses you don’t want

2. Puberty – what was your experience or a memory of that time in your life?

PubertyBoy2

The Horrifying Events that Changed A Young Man’s Life

There’s a young man, his name is Reginald.  Everyone calls him Neli.  He was on the high school wrestling team, wore a key on a chain around his neck, liked to hold three playing cards, loved his hoodie, repeated “television and movie lines ” and carried a “string that he runs through his fingers.” He was described as being shy and he liked going to his local library, which was two miles from his home.  But one day none of that mattered.  One day someone saw Neli sitting on the grass outside the library waiting for it to open.  They called the police, reporting a “suspicious male, wearing a hoodie, possibly in possession of a gun.

Neli is black.

Neli is also Autistic.

All the schools within a few miles of the library “went on lockdown.”  SWAT teams were called in.  That’s at least five schools, though one report said it was eight.  Five schools.  Eight schools.  Lock down.  SWAT team.  All because an anonymous source said they saw someone suspicious sitting outside a library.

Suspicious could mean any number of things.  Maybe it means someone who moves differently, keeps their head down, stares at their feet, doesn’t look you in the eye when you speak to them or doesn’t answer you at all when you ask them a question.  Maybe they rock back and forth as they stand or sit, maybe it means they run a piece of string through their fingers or maybe they twirl it around and around the way my daughter does.

Neli was found, frisked and was unarmed.  This is where the story should have ended.  It is at this point that the situation should have been diffused.  This is where the person who had the ability to calm things down could have, but chose not to.  Maybe a parent, teacher, someone in the community who knew him, who could have vouched for him might have stepped in.  Except the school resource officer who approached Neli and frisked him, did know him or at least had seen him at his high school.  Whatever he knew or didn’t know wasn’t helpful as Neli’s life was about to get much, much worse.  Neli was forced down over the hood of a car and told he was being taken in.

According to one report Neli cried, “I didn’t do anything wrong!” The arresting officer replied, “You don’t have to – Welcome to Stafford County.”  Then he held a gun to Neli’s head and said, “I will blow your head off, nigger.” Neli fought back and in doing so the officer was hurt.

The jury deliberated for three days, found Neli guilty of “assaulting a police officer among other charges” and recommended a sentence of ten and a half years.

Ten and a half years.

The judge disagreed and sentenced Reginald Latson to two years in prison with time served.  Except Reginald had done nothing wrong.  Except that ONE YEAR in prison for seeming “suspicious” to someone is not justice.

“Suspicious” could mean someone who utters lines from a favorite movie or says something that is considered out of context or not relevant to the conversation.  Or maybe suspicious means “not white” and when combined with any of these other things this results in people imagining there’s a weapon as well.  Or maybe not being white is all it takes.  But one thing is certain, being viewed “suspicious” and black and Autistic in today’s world can get you locked up, sentenced by a jury of your peers to ten and a half years, put in solitary confinement for most of your time in prison, and when you’re broken, when you give up the will to live and try to kill yourself, it’s enough reason to put you in a straight jacket, restrain you for hours, hours in a chair, and then slap you with another charge to make sure you never get out of prison.

The Bazelon Center wrote before sentencing last week:

 This counterproductive and inhumane cycle continues with charges Latson is scheduled to face this week stemming from an altercation with a prison guard that occurred when he was being moved to a crisis cell while in psychiatric crisis and suicidal.  There was no serious injury to anyone in this incident other than Latson, who was shot with a Taser and bound for hours in a restraint chair.  Nonetheless, a new felony prosecution was initiated.

As I write this Neli has been sentenced to another six months in prison.  This is beyond unacceptable.  Neli should never have been charged to begin with.  None of this should have happened.  But it did.

A massive number of people have been working hard to gain Neli’s release.  At this moment it could not be easier to do something that could help.  If you only have a moment, sign this petition that my friend Kerima Cevik of the blog Intersected started.

Please.  It literally takes less than 60 seconds to add your signature to this petition.

Grant a pardon to Reginald Cornelius “Neli” Latson

If you have more time, please contact the Governor’s office directly Phone: 804-786-2211; via email by clicking here or on Twitter @GovernorVA and add your voice to thousands of others.

Neli Latson before his arrest

Neli Latson before his arrest

Obsessive Compulsive Urges

Increasingly I am uneasy about writing on this blog unless Emma is an active participant.  In other words, no longer can I sit down and write something the way I once did four or five days a week, even if it is about autism in the most general sense of the word, without Emma giving her views.  After all, this is her neurology (and her blog) and not mine.  I can write about how our different neurologies intersect, even overlap at times, but without her weighing in, I am left feeling so uncomfortable I just can’t do it.

So…

I just read Emma this paragraph and this is what she typed:

“You can continue, giving an example of how you cope with your obsessive-compulsive urges and ask others to share their experiences with this too.”

“Oh,” I said, a little surprised by where this was headed, “I wasn’t thinking about writing about that.”

But you see, this is the thing…  I have another blog, Where Art and Life Meet, and that’s the blog where I can write about whatever I feel like, but this one…  this one bearing my daughter’s name…  this one is hers, not mine.  So every time I write something on Emma’s Hope Book I am a guest and I’m hyper aware of that.  I am here only because Emma has given me permission to be.

So this morning Emma has asked me to write about coping with my “obsessive-compulsive urges” and so I will.

When I think about the things I become obsessive-compulsive about it is less about a particular thing and more about anxiety, worry and stress.  It is the process that occurs in my brain that reminds me of a scratch on a vinyl record causing the needle to skip, playing the same  few notes over and over again until someone comes, lifts the arm with the needle and allows the song to continue.  My mind gets caught in the skip and it can get stuck there with just about anything, a word misspoken, a misunderstanding, an idea of something I did, but wished I’d done differently, or something I’d like to do but haven’t, I can get stuck on a conversation, something that was said to me that hurt my feelings, or something I said that I worry might have hurt another or it might be something I want to do, but have not yet accomplished.

The worst times for my obsessive thinking are in the evening hours or late at night.  There is always anxiety, often stress, combined with worry and as I spiral, it often feels as though I were falling down through blackness, bouncing from one awful thought to the next, unable to grab onto anything to steady or break my fall.  It feels terrifying and there’s an aspect of feeling completely out of control and yet trying desperately to regain control of not just myself, but of all my surroundings.

Over the years I’ve learned some tricks that mitigate how bad things get with varying degrees of success.  The first is to remind myself as I’m falling into the blackness that these are just fears and feelings and not facts.  I can listen to them, but remind myself that they will wear themselves out eventually and I do not need to believe them.  Listening and believing are two separate things.  This sounds much easier than it is.  Sometimes reminding myself of this helps and I’m able to detach enough that I can calm myself but often it does not.

Sometimes the best I can do is identify the obsessive-compulsive thought, label it, accept that I’m having it and sit tight until it passes.  When I was in a particularly dark place many years ago, I would outright lie to myself.  I used to tell myself that for the next five minutes I would not give in to the compulsion, but after the timer went off, I could do whatever it was.  Then the timer would go off and I’d set it for another five minutes, promising myself again the same thing until the urges passed.

Some other things I’ve done that have been intermittently helpful are talking to others who understand and who are also obsessive-compulsive, meditation, writing, reading, taking a walk, exercise, or learning something new, like studying a new language, some sort of mindless activity like knitting or crocheting.

Obsessive thinking, the kind where your mind feels as though it were spinning out of control, where you go from one stressor to the next like a pin ball, ricocheting from one thought to the next then finally calming yourself down only to have your mind latch on to another dreadful thought, is a private kind of hell that if you’ve never experienced this, you cannot really have any idea what it’s like.  It’s a feeling of desperation, horror and self betrayal all rolled up into one.   And the self talk usually makes it worse because the self talk can be so brutal and cruel.

Emma has asked that I invite others to share their experience with “obsessive compulsive urgings” and so I am.  Please keep in mind sharing your experience with obsessive compulsive thinking and what has or hasn’t worked for you is not the same as advice giving.  Advice giving can be annoying, particularly if the person giving the advice takes on an attitude of superiority.  This is not the place for that.

ocdcycle

Friendships

“Both of us writing this post is fine.  We are working together,”  Emma typed just now.

But first a short explanation is needed:  Twice a week Emma has an in person typed “chat” with her friend, Joey.  Yesterday’s chat was a little different because the person Joey usually writes with on Mondays was ill, so I asked Joey if he’d be okay with me holding the keyboard for both him and Emma.  He gave me the go-ahead and so I alternated between them, each taking a turn to type.

During their chat, Emma did what she often does, which is talk out loud.   Often she will talk about things that happened in the past, as in, “Maddy needs to sit down.  Maddy wasn’t nice to Emma” or it can be about the future as in, “chat with Joey,  get groceries, German, Math, Skype call with Granma, see Daddy, have dinner, sleep, wake-up, Skype call with Dr. C….” Emma wrote, “When my brain gets busy it remembers things that have been said to me or what I have heard.”  I wrote about this recently – Scripts – A Communication Bridge

As Emma and Joey typed with each other, Emma said aloud her nickname for Joey – JoeyAllison.  This is a nickname Emma came up with a few months ago when Joey unexpectedly appeared in the same place that someone named Allison had been, the last time we were in the building.

What follows is their chat, which they both agreed to share on this blog (I added punctuation to clarify with Emma’s approval):

J:  I begin this, you go next, not Monday schedule threw me.

(J. has a daily schedule and his and Emma’s “chat” wasn’t listed for Monday.)

E:  How was your thanksgiving?

J:  Good food I like, how about yours?

E:   Thanksgiving in two parts is the best way to celebrate holiday of gratitude.

(Emma kept saying out loud “JoeyAllison”)

J:  Liking nickname not much, but tolerating since hoping you will find another more likable.

E:   Joeyallison is etched into my brain, so hard to overwrite, but I will try.

J:   Knowing you make an effort helps, thanks.

E:  I don’t mean to hurt your feelings.   It’s meant in friendship.

Later Joey’s mom told me Joey’s middle name, which is oddly similar to the name Emma has taken to calling him.  I told Emma what his middle name was and she said it out loud several times, as though she were trying it out and then said, “good.”  Then she typed, “I will call Joey by his first and middle name to his face, if my mouth obeys, because he’s my friend while secretly saying JoeyAllison to myself.”

Friendship

Autism ≠ Developmental Delay

There were few things that led us more astray than the idea of autism being a developmental delay.  Last week Emma wrote, “Autism is not a developmental delay, rather it is a different road entirely.” I was reminded of this last night as I watched a video from 2006 when we took Emma, who was then four-years old, to meet the late Stanley Greenspan.  (This post is not about Stanley Greenspan or his method.  His name is brought up only because of the video that inspired this post.)

Watching that video last night was brutal.  The private hell of regret is a cruel place to linger.  Emma described her experience of watching the video last night as “wading into the marsh of worry and fear, but quiet love was there even when the days were dark.”   In typical Emma-fashion she generously and compassionately reminded me that it was not all an unmitigated hell.  Unable to communicate her complex and insightful thoughts with spoken language, she languished for years in an abyss of being constantly underestimated and misunderstood.  Because people assumed  she spoke what she intended and meant, she was penalized for the words she managed to utter.  “Do you want to go fast or slow?”  “Do you want to stop or go?”  “Do you want to open the door or close it?”

Again and again the video shows us making assumptions about her actions.  We assume she has no interest in engaging.  We assume she doesn’t want to spend time with us.  We assume she is “in her own world.”  We make assumptions and we behave according to those mistaken beliefs.  We believed each word was a milestone, paving the way for more language acquisition.  We believed it made sense.  Lay the foundation, create a strong base of words for more to follow…  Use your words, use your words, use your words…

The assumption that her spoken language represented her comprehension and intelligence and therefore we needed to push for more was never disputed.  This idea of a developmental delay bled into every single aspect of her being.  It was believed that her speech was delayed, as were her fine and gross motor skills.  Therapies were structured around this concept.  All held the promise that if we did intensive, ongoing therapy she would one day, catch up, particularly if we did this during that brief window of opportunity, before she turned three, and then four, maybe if we were lucky, we hoped, the window would still remain open at five, what about six?  At the time we didn’t question any of this.  Had we known then that she probably already knew how to read, had we understood that what she said, was not representative of her intelligence or indicative of what she understood or knew, if we’d known that autism was not a developmental delay, but rather a “different road entirely”, it would have changed the path we proceeded down.

As it was, we did not know.  We listened to the many professionals we consulted.  Well meaning professionals, often incredibly kind and thoughtful, a few even brilliant, but none, not a single one ever mentioned the concept of a body/mind disconnect or how that might apply to our daughter.  It never once occurred to me that maybe, just maybe what she said was not what she intended to say.  It did not enter my mind that when she didn’t answer a question it was because she knew the answer, but couldn’t say the words, this thought, this idea was not something I even knew to consider.  We would learn about all of this much, much later and when we did hear these ideas, it came from the most unexpected source – our own daughter, Emma.  Not only was she the person we least expected to enlighten us, but she did so, not through spoken language, but by typing.  Eight years ago, I don’t know that I would have believed any of this, let alone that Emma would write about all of this in such detail, as she has in these posts:

Emma’s Presentation

Tomorrow’s Presentation

“Rethinking Your Beliefs About Autism”

When the Body Does not Obey the Mind

Parents who are just getting a diagnosis for their young children have so many more resources available to them than we had in 2004.  The most important being, blogs written by Autistic people of all ages, non-speakers, speakers, semi-speakers and everyone in between.  It is the writings and friendships I now am fortunate enough to enjoy, that have helped me more than anything else.  One day I hope the professionals parents are introduced to will be Autistic professionals.

My friend Bridget of the blog, It’s Bridget’s Word said to me, “The ‘delay’ concept is a trap. Development is not linear no matter how many folk whose livelihood depends on timetables try to make it.”

Cynthia Kim, author of Nerdy, Shy and Socially Inappropriate ,  I Think I Might be Autistic, the blog Musings of An Aspie and owner of StimTastic said, “That waiting to catch up feeling is so insidious and one that I subconsciously lived with for a long time.”

My friend Ibby, educator and author of the blog, Tiny Grace Notes, who is like family to me, said, “Speaking now as an education professor: “developmental delay” is an actual category under the IDEA which is not allowed to be used after the age of eight. The purpose of it was to give people with conditions in which they might “catch up” a chance to do so, and the doctors more time to pinpoint their diagnostics if not. If you look at the lists for most states of what conditions might cause “developmental delay” to be diagnosed before age 5 (as it has to be in most states) it makes some sense as being this sort of thing. Autism is not a “delay” but a condition causing atypical (as opposed to delayed but still on the same track of typical) development.”

Ibby added, “In short, this is not only dangerous and unhelpful but technically ignorant even if separated from the consequences.”

So what are the consequences of believing autism is a developmental delay?

Well, for us it meant constantly comparing our daughter to her non autistic peers (using their development, and not hers, as the ideal).  It meant pursuing all kinds of therapies that never questioned the push for spoken language.  It meant not considering AAC devices, because she “had language.”  It meant encouraging my daughter to “use your words.”  It meant asking her to focus on things that made it impossible for her to concentrate on what was being taught.  It meant looking at her through the lens of deficits, so much so that they became blinders shutting out everything else.

There are so many things Emma can do, that I cannot.  Her mind, as she so beautifully described it, is a “wonder, channel changing, multi-screened on fast forward” thing of beauty that defies all limits placed upon it.  My daughter amazes me every, single day.  As always, Emma said it best and it bears repeating, “Autism is not a developmental delay, rather it is a different road entirely” and what an amazing road it is!

Emma - 2006

Emma – 2006

Advice for Parents With a Newly-Diagnosed Autistic Child – By Rina

The other day I read a wonderful piece of advice written by Rina, a friend of mine, who is Autistic.  Rina’s thoughts were what I wish I’d been told when Emma was first diagnosed, so I asked Rina if I could share them and she, very generously, gave me permission.  Rina’s words also reminded me of Kamila and Henry Markram’s Intense World Theory for Autism, which was the first “theory” I read that finally made any sense to me or even remotely reflected back what I was seeing in my child.

Rina told me she self-diagnosed early in 2007 after reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and was formally diagnosed in 2009.  Rina wrote, “…knowing this about myself has been the revelation of my life. I am exponentially happier, healthier, and more confident since learning this about myself. Now I understand myself!” A little later as we were discussing this post, Rina said, “I was over 40 when I discovered I was autistic, so I spent a large part of my life just thinking I was broken, weird, wrong…” Then she wrote,  “I was bullied terribly in public school, like most of our tribe, it demolished my self-esteem, I was depressed and suicidal…but not now. I am autistic and proud, awesome and I know it!”

I read Rina’s advice to parents to Emma before posting here.  Emma typed, “It nicely states what is important.”  So with that endorsement, here you go and thank you Rina for allowing me to reprint your words.

“You know what? I have lots of thoughts, and I’ve had them for a while, about what I’d like to tell parents of newly-diagnosed autistic children. Maybe I’m talking out of my ass. But this is what I’d tell them. (assuming a boy in this example, for ease of writing…)

Your child is autistic. His brain is wired differently than yours. Autism is a disability. He will have challenges, but with the proper supports, he will have a happy, healthy, fulfilling life.

He will follow his own developmental schedule. Ignore the usual “markers”. Throw them out the window. They will be of no use to you.

Try to remember, always, that your son is experiencing the world in far more detail, and with far more intensity, than you are. It will take a lot of time for him to learn to regulate sensory input. His experience of the world (meaning sights, smells, sounds, peoples’ energy, conversation, others’ expectations of him) will overwhelm him on a daily basis. Have compassion for your son. He will be unlike any other child, even any other autistic child. If you pay close attention, with a compassionate open mind, he will tell you what he needs.

There are four things that can be of most help to your son, especially while he is very young: quiet, calm, consistency, and comfort. More than any recommended (and expensive) therapies, these will be of most help to your son. He may have repetitive and/or sensory-rich behaviors, such as rocking, squeezing a favorite toy, repeating favorite words–these help him to find some order in the chaos of the world–if they do not harm him or others, please allow him these behaviors, no questions asked. If they embarrass you–well, quite honestly, that’s your problem and you need to find a way to deal with it.

If your son is nonverbal or semi-verbal, trust me that he is looking for ways to communicate with you. Behavior *is* communication. If there is behavior that upsets you, that seems tantrum-like, there are probably reasons in the environment, there are things that are causing your son pain–again: try to make his world quiet, calm, consistent, and comfortable.

Consistency: I cannot emphasize how important this is. If days cannot be consistent, give your son warning whenever something unexpected is going to happen. I am an adult, and it is still one of my stated accommodations that I need a head’s up whenever something new comes along, or I need a break so I can process the change. If you’re planning to take him along to his sibling’s baseball practice, to stop by a friend’s house, to go to a yard sale, whatever…plan in advance, tell him about it, tell him what to expect and how long it will last. You know what, I think this is common courtesy. Understand what your son needs and be courteous by giving it to him!”

compassion-energy

An Autistic Child is Murdered

Another Autistic child has been murdered by one of his parents.  This time it is a six-year old, little boy named London McCabe.  London joins a growing list of Autistic children who have been murdered in recent years.

A psychology professor who runs an “education” group for mothers of autistic children in California said, “quite frankly, I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often.”

Wow.

“I am surprised this doesn’t happen more often.”

The casual nature of this comment stunned me.

She then went on to say, “These children are really unable to be in a reciprocal relationship and the moms don’t really experience the love that comes back from a child — the bonding is mitigated.”  This horrifying statement is untrue, but beyond that, the suggestion that if our feelings are not reciprocated, it makes sense that we become murderous, is to make us so narcissistic, so incredibly monstrous as to be unbelievable.   This is Bruno Bettelheim’s famous “refrigerator mother” theory reapplied to Autistic children and it is just as awful in this new version as it was in the original.

Most Autistic children feel love for their parents, just as most non-autistic children do.  Even when their parents behave horribly toward them, even when they’ve been treated with contempt, ignored, bullied, ridiculed and publicly shamed by those who say they love them, even then, most children still love their parents.  As they grow older many may have more complicated feelings of despair, abandonment, become distrustful, anxious and terrified.  The idea that Autistic children do not feel intensely is an outrageously, misinformed idea.  Just because someone does not reciprocate in a way non-autistics understand, recognize or expect does not mean the feelings do not exist. 

It is extremely disturbing to read such a statement coming from someone who is treated with deference and as though she is an authoritative voice on the topic of autism and Autistic people.  This professor is one of a number of people who has a degree in psychology and has made inaccurate, misinformed and mistaken statements about autism and Autistic people, yet none stop to ask what the psychological damage is to the Autistic children and adults they demonize with their incorrect statements, not to mention the impact such statements have on a misinformed public.  Unfortunately, few seem to be asking any questions about any of this or even bothering to find out if such statements are true, including the newspaper that published her comments.

There is an increasing number of Autistic men, women, teens and even younger people who are writing about their experience of life, their relationships and the world.  I am surprised when I meet someone in the field of autism who does not follow at least some of the blogs so many Autistic people are writing.  The Resources page of Emma’s Hope Book has dozens of links to Autistic people’s writing.  The first 28 blogs listed are written by non-speaking Autistics.  One of those people is my daughter, Emma.  After a presentation Emma gave in New York City a few months ago, she and I had the following conversation:

Emma:  I hope people will question what they have been told.
Ariane:  I do too.
Emma:  Horrible ideas about people, cause many to do terrible things…
A little later in that same conversation, Emma typed, “Worry and fear are fueled by furious words spoken harshly.  Humor soothes, shining sunny rays spreading hope.”

As the mother of an Autistic daughter who cannot communicate fluently with spoken language, but communicates beautifully by typing, I am continuously shocked by the inaccurate information that is rampant on the topic of autism and Autistic people.  Yesterday Emma typed, “Understanding that all human beings want connection is natural and fundamentally human.”  And last week Emma wrote, “The people of this world need to be exposed to difference and then shown compassion for their ignorance and limited thinking.”

For people who do not have the ability to communicate with spoken language and/or have sensory issues that impact each individual differently, expecting them to respond the way people who do not have any problem speaking and have never been assaulted by their environment, is relying on a false idea.  It is this false idea that continues to misrepresent so many.  It is this false idea that serves to hurt Autistic people.

The psychology professor told NBC News that mothers do not have the experience of their love returned by their child.   “That is one of the most difficult things for mothers” she told the reporter.

If this were true, it would be hard.  Years ago, when I once believed a great many things about my daughter, that I now know are not true, it was an awful feeling.  But it is far worse to be that child who loves, but is believed incapable of love.  It is far worse to be so thoroughly misunderstood, to be constantly misrepresented in public, to be thought so problematic that people sympathize with the mother who murders you… that is far more horrific than anything I will ever experience in this world.

London McCabe

London McCabe

Ideas, Insights and Discovery

This morning I had an idea, which turned out to be something I thought was a good idea, only to find that what might seem like a good idea to me, is not necessarily a good idea to my daughter, and the reasons why were not something that ever occurred to me.

I am continually surprised by the insights Emma, so patiently, gives me and am reminded again and again that my assumptions limit my views.  Thank you Emma for giving me permission to post our conversation.

Ariane:  I thought we could begin the day by discussing who you might like to interview and about what topic?

Emma:  Is the way here, thinking, knowing, and asking about another, helpful?

Ariane:  I think it’s interesting and certainly can be helpful to get to know other people’s experiences of life.  Asking is a great way to understand another’s perspective.  Who would you like to interview?

Emma: Using questions to sing truths meaningfully speaks to all.

Ariane:  That’s so true!  Music is a universal language that can transcend words.

Emma:  What did those we cannot ask, say?

Ariane:  Who are you thinking of, Emma?

Emma:  Those who cannot speak and have no one who believes in their ability to communicate in other ways.

Ariane:  Here’s the thing though, we can ask.  We may not get an answer we understand, but we can still ask and I think that’s the beginning, right?  We ask anyway and then do everything we can to understand the answer, even if it’s not in spoken language or in ways we understand at first.

Emma:  Understanding that all human beings want connection is natural and fundamentally human.

Ariane:  I agree.  So Em, what was it like before you were able to type?

Emma:  Days bloated with tears, frustration, anxiety and raging questions that only made daily living harder.

Ariane:  Ah…  can you tell me more?

Emma:  Thinking and wanting to ask questions, but knowing the words would come out wrong was too painful, best to silence asking than to be in the smothering feelings of tremendous frustration.

Ariane:  I imagine interviewing someone must be hard, even now that you can type.  Would you say that’s true?

Emma:  Sometimes ease is not an option.

Ariane:  You do not need to ask any questions unless you choose to, Emma, I wasn’t considering any of this when I first introduced the idea.  I’m sorry.  What else should we do right now?

Emma:  How about a conversation using music and no words?

Ariane:  Great idea!

Some of the instruments Emma chose for us to use in our "conversation."

Some of the instruments Emma chose for us to use in our “conversation.”

An Interview with Emma About Halloween

What follows is an interview I did with Emma regarding her thoughts about Halloween.

Ariane:  What do you like best about Halloween?

Emma:  The excitement of dressing up in costumes with no attention paid for oddities.

Ariane:  There were a great many people out.  What was it like to be among such large crowds of people?

Emma:  Wanting to be a part of the crowd and not necessarily the same.  There is acceptance in that.

Ariane:  Did you like going from house to house and interacting with the people?

Emma:  Yes, I like having one day when I am not penalized by strangers for being me.

Ariane:  What else about Halloween that you like or do not like?

Emma:  I mostly enjoy being with so many, on a night when individuality is celebrated.

Family Photo - Halloween 2014

Family Photo: (from left to right) Ariane, Emma, Richard & N. – Halloween 2014

Heading out while it's still light...

Heading out while it’s still light…

Many others had the same idea...

Many others had the same idea…

Richard terrified small children everywhere.

Richard takes a seat.  It’s hard work being this frightening.

A night when individuality is celebrated.  (Random stranger who was happy to pose with dogs.)

A night when individuality is celebrated. (Random stranger who was happy to pose with dogs.)

The dead rises… and gives out candy to all who ask.

The dead rises… and gives out candy to all who ask.

Heading home...

Heading home…

Happy Halloween!

For Halloween Richard is going to be a ghoul-ish executioner, complete with bloodied axe and lots of pseudo leather and chains.  We live in Chelsea.  He’s a big hit.  Nic will be a kind of adorable bunny gone rogue.  His pink bunny costume is covered in splattered blood and the bunny head makes it clear that the bunny has gone from prey to predator.  I will be a gangster. Yes I have the plastic tommy gun and black and white patent leather heels that match my black and white pinstriped suit and black fedora.  The only thing missing will be the platinum white hair, I’m sticking with my grey-blonde, thank you very much.  And Emma decided to be a wicked witch, complete with her “witchy-witchy” shoes, black and green striped knee socks, black witch’s dress, sort of like the one in the Broadway show – Wicked and black witch’s hat with black tulle, it’s all very witchy elegance at its finest.

When I asked Emma if she wanted to paint her face green, she looked somewhat horrified by the idea and then typed, “No thanks.”  She’s very polite.

Merlin does not need a costume and will go as is.

IMG_3246

Halloween is a big deal here in New York City.  The halloween parade draws tens of thousands of people and our block is impossible to get to with all the police, crowds of people and barricades.  I would be happy to get dressed up and stay home, answer the door to the few children in our building who might ring the door bell and hand out treats.  However I am the only one who feels this way when it comes to going out for Halloween.

Even though I’m not big on the actual going from door to door and making my way through the crowds of people part of halloween, I do love preparing for Halloween.  I wrote a post about some of this on my other blog, Where Art and Life Meet and posted lots of wonderful photographs of pumpkin carving, halloween wreaths and halloween treats.  So for all you crafts and art lovers, go look at the photographs I posted.

I will end this post with a photograph of one of the many pumpkins we carved last weekend.  This one was made by Richard.  He did not use his executioner’s axe.

A Grinning Pumpkin made by Richard Long

A Grinning Pumpkin made by Richard Long

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: an opinion by Richard Long

Magnificent.

That’s my one word review.  If you want a more detailed critical analysis of the play’s many virtues (the few shortcomings can be filed in the nit-picky drawer), check out Ben Brantley’s New York Times review. I agree with his assessment almost point for point, though I was offended by some of his phrasing, like his description of Christopher, the play’s teenage autistic protagonist as: “a parent’s nightmare.”

That aside, Brantley does a wonderful job describing the exceptional direction, lighting, set design, sound design, choreography, and tour de force acting of Alex Sharp in the role of Christopher. Plus, there’s a great slide show! And a video!

What can I add to the conversation? Well, I’m the father of a soon-to-be-teenage autistic girl, an avid theatergoer, extremely opinionated, harshly critical and always correct. Most pertinently, I’m a person.

One of the things that bugs me about many fictional works with autistic characters is the implied or stated assertion that a specific autistic character represents all autistic people. When Christopher says he thinks that “metaphor” is nonsense early in the play, I admit that I rankled a bit, thinking something along the lines of: Oh, so this playwright thinks all autistic people think and talk with absolute literalism! Emma clearly loves metaphor and uses it very skillfully! Then I clamped down on my kneejerk reaction and recognized that the author was telling Christopher’s truth, not Emma’s. Christopher was a person.

In or out of the theater, I’m really annoyed by the ASD label and the gross misrepresentations of autistic people with cookie cutter characteristics which are total nonsense, particularly when used to define a group comprised of millions of individuals: Lack of empathy and compassion. Literal thinking. I could just as easily write an essay describing the “symptoms” of NASD (Non-Autistic Spectrum Disorder): self-obsessed, easily bored, oblivious to their surroundings, ruthlessly ambitious (or woefully apathetic), etc. etc. etc.

Given the amount of buzz this play is generating, I’m certain most people in the audience knew that the main character was autistic. What assumptions were packed in their bias baggage when they walked in the theater? What new assumptions were bulging out the sides when they walked out? Did they go away thinking Christopher was Autism personified, the spectrum poster boy? I have no idea. Did they automatically assume that the characters of Christopher’s father and mother represented every father of every autistic kid? I certainly hope not.

My own bias baggage was bursting at the seams before the play began. I was hoping for the best (a dear and very generous friend had given us the tickets and I wanted to rave about how wonderful it was) but I braced myself for the worst: the usual onslaught of tired and untrue generalizations about autism. I was very pleasantly surprised that the words “autism” and “autistic” were never spoken by any character. The audience is told that Christopher is in a special-education type school, but there are no teachers or doctors hammering home his diagnosis.

I was relieved that many of my “autistic cliché” buttons remained unpushed, yet there were some scenes that were especially difficult for me, like when Christopher ridicules the non-speaking and more severely disabled kids in his class, calling them “stupid” and “lazy.” I found that very upsetting, since Emma would be one of the kids he underestimates in such a demeaning way. However, I was able to see that viewpoint as Christopher’s truth (or the author/playwright projecting himself into Christopher’s character), which made it less personally offensive. It did hurt to hear things like that, but the pain I experienced was much less than the anguish I felt when Christopher learns how deeply his father has betrayed him.

As the parent of an autistic person, the scenes of Christopher’s journey to London by himself were the most harrowing. Looking back now, I wonder if my experience was really so much different than others in the audience. Perhaps some of them were also parents of autistics, and knew firsthand how terrifying it is to lose sight of your child in a crowd, knowing he or she will be overwhelmed and/or confused by sensory bombardment, or worse, that your child will be unable to speak well enough to tell anyone who their parents are, or where they live.

I’m quite sure that many of the audience members were parents of non-autistics. Maybe they also knew how terrifying it was to lose their children, even though their kids didn’t have sensory or speech issues. And even if they had never experienced that kind of loss as parent, it wouldn’t be hard to imagine it. A lost child is every parent’s worst nightmare (not having an autistic child, Mr. Brantley).

I doubt that this type of situation would be difficult to imagine for people who weren’t parents at all, and never will be. Haven’t we all had a childhood experience of being lost and alone? Don’t we still fear it as adults?

I’m not sure whether these distinctions between audience members really matter, outside of one’s ability to openly experience the inner lives and outward circumstances of the characters. All the characters in this and every well-written play represent some aspect of our shared humanity. Most people can relate in some way to well-drawn characters (even the monsters), because their essential humanity or lack of humanity speaks to our own felt and imagined worlds.

It is mentioned on a few occasions in the play that Christopher, “doesn’t like to be touched.” As Emma’s father, I know how painful it feels to not be able to hug Emma when she’s crying after an injury or upset. I want to comfort her (and myself, if I’m being honest). But Emma doesn’t want me to hug her like that. It makes her feel even more distressed. So yes, I felt that pain acutely every time it happened in the play–and it happened a lot. But again, I suspect that people who never had a parenting experience like mine felt a high degree of empathy (with both Christopher and his parents) when he pushed away his too-huggy mother and father.

One of my favorite recurring elements in the play was a tender hand-touching-hand routine between Christopher and his parents. It was clear that they had developed this interaction as a means of conveying their mutual love, concern, understanding and trust. I wonder what our world would be like if we were obliged to communicate without words when we were hurt or upset–where only a simple, silent pressing of palm against palm had to convey all our thoughts and emotions. I suspect it would be a helpful improvement, at least for us “talkers,” as Emma refers to non-autistic people like myself.

I so often get into trouble with words. Yet as a writer, as well as a person, spoken language is my primary communication toolbox. Emma has said that she doesn’t think in words. I still don’t fully understand what that means, how Emma really does think, or perceive the world, but I imagine it’s more like Christopher than myself.

“I see everything!” Christopher exclaims on the train to London, as scenes of the countryside flash by in the windows. Then he describes everything he sees at an accelerating pace, building to a crescendo of overwhelming sound, light and sensation. Fortunately for all of us, theater isn’t limited to words. Nor was the playwright Simon Stephens and the director Marianne Elliott, who did a spectacular job of utilizing every aspect of the form, to not only entertain, but to touch us as deeply and intimately as two palms pressed silently together.

Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, TheEthel Barrymore Theatre

“Mistaken Beliefs People Have”

I asked Emma what she wanted to write about this afternoon during her writing session.  She typed, “Deconstructing the mistaken beliefs people have.”

I encouraged her to continue and asked what she was thinking of specifically.  She typed, “Mostly what people think they understand there cannot be, when talking about autism, creating lots of bad ideas that attract unoriginal therapies we must put up with.”

“Wow!  Keep going,” I urged.

“Actors playing roles the audience greets with enthusiasm, but an autistic person who doesn’t speak as expected, or at all, is booed off stages throughout the world.”

“Such a great point,” I said.

Emma typed, “The people of this world need to be exposed to difference and then shown compassion for their ignorance and limited thinking.”

She smiled and then typed, “Put it on the blog!”

And so I am.

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