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We Are Like Your Child: The Blog

*To Emma’s Hope Book followers – This post was password protected so that those I quoted could read it first and give their approval before I published.  They have and now it is here for everyone to read!

We Are Like Your Child is a new blog created by a group of people, all of whom have been instrumental in helping me understand autism and what it means to be Autistic.  These are the people I think of as my mentors.  They have helped me more than I can describe.  They are a diverse group in every way, but one.   They all have lived their lives with the same neurology as my daughter.  They are Autistic.  These are the people I often reference when I talk about how our lives changed.  It is their voices, their lives, their stories that have changed mine.  To say I’m excited to introduce their collective blog to all of you, doesn’t really sum up what I’m feeling!  I am grateful.  I am incredibly grateful.

This is exactly the sort of blog I would have devoured, had it existed in 2004 the year Emma was diagnosed.  The year when everything was so terrifying.  The year I began, unsuccessfully, to look for adults who might give me insights into my child’s mind.  We Are Like Your Child is created by those adults.  I will be following eagerly and closely.  Posts so far have included such topics as time agnosia, how one person dealt with having meltdowns as a child, routines and what happens when they are disrupted, and life skills.

A number of the blog’s creators agreed to answer a few of my questions.  (Thank you everyone!)  What follows is a group interview representing the many voices and points of view of its creators.

What is “We Are Like Your Child”?

“We Are Like Your Child is a collective, community blog by disabled, mostly neurodivergent folks.  The name comes from the whole declaration of “You aren’t like my child!  You can X, Y, and Z!” that we hear all too often.  The thing is, my way of doing Z, Y, and X is vastly different from how most people do, because I have a profound inability to do Q, G, and -7 but am absolutely rockin at P, F, and pi or whatever.  So this is kind of a place to write about our self accommodating mechanisms, the workarounds we use to function in a world not even a little built for us.  It’s a collection of coping strategies.  It’s our difficulties.  It’s our strengths.  It’s a collection of awesome people talking about our unique problem solving. ”

“We are more like your children than you know… and while we are all different, we are a roadmap of sorts, a set of guideposts pointing to the many potential directions your child may end up journeying to in the course of their life.”

“There are difficulties and sometimes they are very difficult. I actually do talk about them on tinygracenotes fairly often but since it is in the context of relating to what someone else is asking, perhaps that does not stand out the way it needs to. In this blog, we want to have our stories show that things are sometimes difficult and sometimes very difficult, and yet we live lives.” ~ From the post Lost, Mistimed and Melty.

Why did all of you create this blog?

“The most common stories in the media about disability tend to be inspiration porn or people who have a disability but have never had any problems ever (a subset of inspiration porn) or are the tragedy, doom, gloom narrative.  We are presenting a bit more reality than that.  Reality is sticky and messy and complicated and beautiful and difficult and sparkly all at once.”

“We love your child.  What?  You say we do not know your child?  No, maybe not.  But your child is a member of our tribe, our neuro-tribe, our extended family of those who share similar types of brains and similar ways of being in this world and so we do love your child and we want to try to help the Hard Knocks in their School of Life fall a little softer than they did on us.”

” The number one most important thing to guide you in your journey of parenting an Autistic child is your child.  Listen to your child – really listen.  The number two most important piece of your map in the huge love you have for your child.  Feel that love, feed that love, let that love guide you toward doing the best for your child.  We want to be the third big resource for you.  We are the grown-ups who used to be your child.  We want to help your child.  We want to help you.  We created this place as a bridge between our world and yours where we can meet and conspire.  Our collective job is to make the world a better place for Autistics and , specifically, for the Autistics you know and love.  Let’s work together to make that a reality for all of us.”

Yay!  Who among us doesn’t want to work together to make this world a better place?  I do!  I do!  *Jumps up and down.

Ahem.  My next question:  Who do you want to reach?

“I’m hoping to reach other disabled folks, really.  But I am also hoping to provide a resource for people who know and love disabled kids.  If we’ve tried 8,000 things, none of which are “well don’t be autistic then” and had some success, then maybe that’ll mean some kid doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel.”

“We want to reach other adults who are looking for ways to be in this world that suit their needs better.  We have advice from our own experience.

“We want to reach those who love autistic adults and want to help make their lives better.  We can tell you what kind of help we appreciate and explain why help that is not very helpful is… not very helpful.

“We want to reach parents of Autistic children.  Your child’s diagnosis was not the end of the world!  It was the beginning of a new and beautiful life as a member of our tribe.  Your child is not a tragedy!  Your child is beautiful and we want to rejoice with you in the diagnosis that will help your child get their needs met in ways you never dreamed possible.

“We want to reach anyone who wants to know that the lived experience of autism can be difficult, yes, but can be indescribably beautiful as well. We want to reach anyone who is open to learning about Autistic people and how to accept us, how to live co-operatively with us, or even how to be a happier Autistic yourself.”

The guidelines for submissions can be found ‘here‘, but in addition to what a couple of the creators had to say, I just had to quote from their blog:  “So you think you want to submit to We Are Like Your Child? Great! We want to hear from a large number of people, about how you manage to exist in a world that isn’t made for you, and yet like yourself anyway.”

Who can submit?

“We do not take submissions from not disabled people.  Well, I mean, they can send them, the system won’t explode, but we only print submissions from disabled people.”

“We also don’t print submissions that amount to “I just decided to act normal yay me” or “woe unto me life is terrible bc disability.”  Those markets are pretty saturated.”

Do you encourage people to ask questions?

“Yes!  Please ask questions!  We have a facebook page and we also are all reading comments on the blog itself.”

A wonderful new blog has been born.  Let’s welcome it into the world!

The Blog:  We Are Like Your Child

The Facebook Page:  We Are Like Your Child

Protected: “We Are Like Your Child”

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A(nother) Performer in the Family

I asked Em if it was okay to post the following photographs of her.  She said, “Yeah!  Post on blog!”

“But is it okay to first post on Facebook?” I asked.  And again without hesitation Em gave me an enthusiastic thumbs up.

I have to admit, whenever Em says yes to me, regarding posting an image of her or something she’s said or typed, I feel more than a little ambivalent.   I wonder if she fully understands what it means to post on Facebook or here on the blog, despite my lengthy (and more than one) explanations of what this means, how many people may see it, who those people are or might be.  People remind me of the importance of listening.  And part of listening is to also honor and respect what I hear.   I’m trying to do that, while also trusting my own instincts and hopefully I’m getting it “right” more often than not.

I compare Emma’s response to her older brother’s, who has made it known to us that under no circumstances is he okay having us post his photograph, except on very rare occasions when he’ll shrug and say, “Seriously, Mom?”  There’s usually a moment when he stares at me with a slight grin and then says, “Yeah, okay.”  But my daughter is not like her older brother.  My daughter has a completely different personality.  Emma, adores the spot light.  If there is a stage, she will head for it.  If there’s a microphone, she will grab it, if there’s a crowd she wants to be in front of it, preferably singing.  Emma does not have inhibitions, she does not worry about what others will think or may think.  Emma has that wonderful ability to be herself among strangers and doesn’t modify herself in accordance with what she thinks they may or may not like.  Emma is MY role model!

What follows are the photos I asked Emma if it was okay to post, to which she said cheerfully, “Yes!”

First there was this…

1Em

And then this...
2Em

And finally, this…
3Em

Okay, I don’t know about the rest of you, but for some reason Emma hugging the Vlasic Pickle Mascot makes me tear up… Every. Single. Time.

*A quick side note – the Vlasic Pickle mascot is a stork. Why, you might ask? Well, I googled it and found out that in the ’60’s their tag line was, “the pickle pregnant women crave…”

I have to run, because Emma’s mom is in a flash mob today outside the stock exchange…  yeah, you read that right.  YouTube video to follow…  😀

This… Just This….

Someone spent time creating this page on Facebook… no one stopped them until countless people had seen it.

Hatred

This page has now been removed.  I post it here because the hatred, the sheer toxicity and venom that the person who created this page had to have felt to create this page is what so many of my friends and I have worried about and feared.  This screen shot sums up so much.

I have spent several hours writing and deleting my thoughts on this.  I have decided I cannot write anything more because I have no words.  I have nothing to offer.

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Bloggers, Writers, Autism and a Huge Amount of Hope

When Emma was diagnosed with PDD-NOS (pervasive developmental disorder – not otherwise specified) in 2004, I was lulled into believing it was a temporary condition, nothing that a few years of therapy wouldn’t resolve.  I saw it as a kind of throw away diagnosis, not exactly full-blown autism, more like a mild version of something that resembled Autism, but wasn’t.  Kind of like a bad cold, not exactly a bacterial infection requiring antibiotics, but troublesome never-the-less and we’d have to ride it out.  Besides, I reasoned, just because many of Em’s behavior looked autistic-like, seemed autistic-ish, she probably wasn’t autistic because, well, no one really understood what autism was and so how could she be labeled something that no one understood or really knew what it even meant?  Or so my thinking went.  During this initial period I kept my eye out for any Autistic adults I could find, just in case, you know, she really was autistic, I wanted to know what we might expect.  I found none and concluded that since I couldn’t find any, there must not actually BE any to find.

Still, just on the off-chance I was somehow wrong, I kept looking.  Every now and again I’d find someone, read everything they wrote or said and conclude that my daughter wasn’t really like them or wasn’t like them enough to give me much hope that they were good examples of what she might be like later in life.   (In retrospect, since Em wants to be a singer, I should have been looking for performers who are autistic, but even so, would, most likely, have come to the same conclusion.) By the way, I have never met a neurotypical adult who seemed like an adult version of my neurotypical son, but this thought didn’t occur to me for a great many years.  Despite all of this, my search continued.

In 2005 Em’s PDD-NOS diagnosis officially became “autism”.  As time went on and my thinking continued to change, Emma remained Emma with all her “Autistic-like behaviors” very much in place and I continued to grapple with what this meant.  I wasn’t one of those parents who understood that regardless of her neurology, she was who she was and it was all good.  I bought into the autism is like cancer idea, and therapy was chemo.  (This idea was very popular back in 2004, though I hope it has waned.)  It took me awhile to question this thinking and it took me even longer to see how these beliefs made any “therapeutic” program somewhat reasonable, because, after all, nobody signs up to have chemo and talks about what an enjoyable experience it is.  The idea that Autism is NOT cancer, that this thinking in and of itself leads us down a very dark and dangerous path was something I didn’t come to until much later.

Now fast forward to this morning.  This morning I read a terrific post, The Princess, Her Socks and Her Late Pass on a wonderful blog I’ve begun reading regularly by Aspie Writer called, Twirling Naked in the Street and No-one Noticed, (love that title) which she describes as “A blogged book: Growing up with undiagnosed autism”.  Reading her post about how she hated wearing socks, (so does Emma) how the fabric bunched and the seam on her toes hurt and how the socks had tiny rocks in them that no one else could see or find, kept reminding me of Em.  Aspie Writer recounts how she was always late to class and keeps saying over and over, “I have to see Mr. Hiler for my late pass.”  It is a wonderfully written description about a baffling behavior.  She does such a terrific job describing her actions and words that they made total sense to me.  Not only was I able to identify with her thinking, it gave me a little glimpse into some of Em’s seemingly baffling actions or repeated sentences.

And I was reminded (again) of why reading blogs by Autistic people is of such vital importance to me.  It’s not because I think to myself, oh Emma is going to become this person when she’s an adult.  I don’t assume that because Aspie Writer is married, a mom of 3 and a wonderful writer this will be Emma’s future.  I haven’t met a single adult, autistic or otherwise who seems to be just like either of my children.  How could I?  There wasn’t an adult version of me when I was a child and I’m certainly not an adult version of anyone else’s child.  It’s kind of a ridiculous idea when you stop to think about it.  And yet, that’s what I wanted for all those years when I was searching.  I wanted to find someone who seemed just like Emma was.  I wanted this desperately because I was so fearful of her future.  Yet, all those autistic adults who are not exactly like my daughter  are the very reason I am no longer fearful and why I have so much hope.

Blogs, both the writing of this one and finding those written by Autistics have changed my life.  Blogs are a slice of life, immediate and interactive.  I can read a post and “like” it, comment on it, even though I may or may not get a response from the writer.  I can then tweet the post out, share it on Facebook and engage in a dialogue with the writer if they care to respond.  The immediacy of blogs is compelling, engaging and makes the reader feel more apart of than when reading a book.  Books are wonderful too, but they’re different.  They do not have the interactive element to them that makes blogging so wonderful.  Blogging is very much about “us”.  We, whether as a reader or writer, have the opportunity to become part of the process, a part of “them”.  Another aspect of blogging is – anyone can blog.  You don’t need an agent, you don’t need to even write “well” (though there are many wonderful writers who also blog), you just need to want to write.  So you have a great many people who may never have bothered to look for an agent or publisher, who are writing and because it’s a casual writing form, you also find some amazingly beautiful blogs written with honesty, unedited, raw and complex.

To all the Autistic people who are sharing your stories, your words, your lives, whether by commenting or by having a blog of your own or both, here’s a very loud and heartfelt thank you!  You are making a difference.  You have changed my life.  How does “thank you” even cover the enormity of that?  It doesn’t.

Emma – 2003

Costumes, Halloween and Genetics

Posted on Facebook this morning…

Thankfully this “costume” would not interest either of my children, though Charlie Sheen does hold a certain appeal for my son, just not in the buff.  The costume(s) Emma picked out, ostensibly for Halloween, but will be worn, undoubtedly, on an almost daily basis for the next few years, are due to arrive any day now.  She chose a pink mermaid outfit, complete with magenta feather boa and yes, the tail is covered in sequins.  As a backup she opted for a “Renaissance Princess” costume with faux fur and a veil.  It’s all very King Arthur meets Lady Macbeth-ish.  She whipped right past the costumes for ghouls, ghosts, goblins, zombies and various farm animals.  She hovered over a “Rainbow Witch” costume, but ultimately passed it by, pointing instead to the hot pink butterfly, the “ice Princess” and a costume I couldn’t figure out what exactly it was supposed to be, but looked like a giant multi-colored lollipop with wings or maybe it was a G-rated version of Lady Gaga, it’s hard to say.  I’m grateful Madonna has yet to come onto Emma’s radar, though it could be argued Lady Gaga, one of Emma’s favorite singers, is not so different.  Both appear to favor the cones used as warnings on construction sites for breasts, still trying to work that one out…

Looking back to other generations, it does seem Emma’s love of costumes was shared by several of her ancestors.  Both my grandparents, her great grandparents held “costume” parties.  There are boxes filled with photographs of my grandparents, particularly my grandmother, wearing some pretty outlandish outfits.  My mother has two racks of “costumes” occupying a corner of her project room in her house.  I have in my possession a hilarious photo of my mother dressed as Tweety Bird, but haven’t asked her permission to post it or I would. Evidently a love of drama and dress up runs deep in my family, one might even say it’s genetic.

Emma doesn’t care about the candy, she has no interest in going up to people and saying “trick or treat”;  for Emma it’s all about the costume.  Unlike her brother who sees the costume as a necessary annoyance to getting sugary morsels, sort of like the jacket and tie required at certain restaurants.  I have to say, I’m with Emma on this one, other than an inexplicable craving for that truly dreadful candy corn, (what do they put in that stuff?)  the idea of wandering around strong arming people into giving me treats doesn’t hold much interest.  However it’s right up Nic’s alley.  Each Halloween we debate which weapon in his arsenal he will brandish.  Usually he chooses several and with the inevitable face paint he demands, resembles something out of a spread in National Geographic featuring child soldiers in some war-torn country.  (Yeah, I did just write that.  Moving right along)  Nic finds Emma’s lack of candy enthusiasm absolutely baffling.  And while Emma doesn’t voice her astonishment at her brother’s disinterest in all things costume, I have to wonder that she doesn’t think it… odd.

It began young…

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An Identity Crisis and Other Ramblings

*Warning – This post is written with humor.  If it offends, stop reading immediately and find another post.  There are lots of posts on this blog that are humorless.  Seriously.  Stop.  I mean go.  I mean…

My friend, Ib, (thank god she has returned from her various travels as I have felt decidedly “off” while she’s been away) and I were joking yesterday about the identity crisis I am currently undergoing due to the result I was given from taking the Broader Autism Phenotype test.  I was told “You scored above the cutoff on all three scales. Clearly, you are either autistic or on the broader autistic phenotype.”   It also said something about having an “aloof personality” something I’ve been accused of my whole life.  So I did what any sane human being would do – I retook the test.  This time the results said I had scored above the cutoff on two scales and therefore it was no longer “clear” that I was either autistic or on the broader autistic phenotype, but rather “likely” that I was.

And no.  I do not intend to take it a third time.  However I have resisted (so far) the desire to do a more thorough research of this test, how they are scoring it, exactly who is taking it, etc.  I so want to share my conversation with Ib, but didn’t think to ask if it was okay, so I’ll just share some of the tidbits from me, which is a pity as Ib had the best lines and is hilarious.  Ib is truly one of the funniest people I know, which, given the current view of Autistics being unable to understand irony and sarcasm, makes her so rare, she should be concerned that some autism specialist doesn’t catch wind of this lest they cart her off and stick her in a cage for more thorough examination.  But then those specialists haven’t gone on twitter and read tweets from my friends CoyoteTooth, HardAspie, TwinsMa, or AspieChap, nor have they listened in on FaceBook conversations with Brigianna, Kassiane, Julia, Rachel and countless others, all of whom have the whole sarcasm, appreciation for irony thing down to a science.

But I digress…  So in response to a hilarious, dry comment by Ib about my newly found status/nonstatus/questionable status I wrote:  “Ib… I do love you so.  And you really, really make me laugh, because you have that (oddly nonAutistic) humor, which clearly, despite being saddled with autism, you have managed to hang on to.”

To which she wrote something I cannot repeat.  And then mentioned one of the other myths regarding Autistic children, (it’s always regarding children and not adults because the common perception is that there are no Autistic adults and evidently never will be) which is that they are all so “exceptionally beautiful.”  This is something many have written about in a great many books, memoirs and on every single one of Emma’s reports and evaluations.  Each is prefaced with – “Emma, a beautiful little girl, of 5 years and 2 months, bounded around the classroom, only stopping to pick up a chair, which she hurled against the wall.  She spoke in one or two-word utterances, refused to obey any of the rules….” and the report would continue with the evaluator’s “observations” of Emma’s various activities as one might write about an animal under observation in the zoo.

So I responded to Ibby with this:  “…but that whole “oh they’re angels sent to us from God is crap.  I’ve heard the whole “unusually good looking” thing and I, personally do not see this as the case.  Sure there are lots of cute Autistic kids, there are also lots of really “cute” non Autistic kids.  I mean isn’t this the puppy syndrome?  Most puppies are pretty damn cute.  I think it’s that NTs expect an Autistic kid to look “weird” and so when they don’t they say, “oh she’s an angel, sent to teach us lessons that we’ve still not learned and never will, but while we’re NOT learning them at least we can feel better that the kid is so damn cute.

 SOS – Need Ibby home NOW..  Losing all patience with humanity’s stupidity…..  eeeeeeeeeeee”

Ib then responded with a whole diatribe that was so funny I laughed out loud and she ended said diatribe with the word – “sarcasm.”

I responded:  “I know you identified that last bit with “sarcasm” because now with my newly found identity you are assuming I’ve lost all ability to understand that that was in fact sarcastic.  Richard only this morning pointed that out to me and I tell you, it was an enormous relief to me.  Because now that it seems I am (at the very least) precariously close to being near if not ON the spectrum I will be humorless, incapable of understanding nuances and suddenly, miraculously very good at math, plus my IQ will take a massive leap upwards, for which I am extremely grateful.”

*To all whom I’ve now offended, this was not meant as offensive, but was poking fun at just a few of the ridiculous generalities, assumptions, theories and labels that continue to plague anyone who is Autistic.  And anyway if you reached this far and are still offended you clearly did not read the warning label, which suggests you are not good at following rules, coupled with your inability to see the humor, I therefore encourage you to take the Broader Autism Phenotype test.

My two exceptionally beautiful children (sarcasm, sort of)

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There is Always Hope, Sometimes It’s Hard To Find

Sometimes I feel completely inadequate in the face of our society’s insanity.  Sometimes I wish I weren’t a part of the human race.  Sometimes I feel so much rage at all that’s WRONG with the world, with the mess we’ve made of our planet and each other.  Sometimes I just want to go live in a cave in some part of the world that isn’t inhabited by other people, just me, my husband, my children and a few select others.  I want to build a new world, a new community, a new set of societal rules where minority doesn’t equal less.  Where prejudices weren’t tolerated, where people helped each other without expectations of what they would get in return.  A place where people understood that the reward in helping and being of service to our fellow human beings was in the act of doing and not in the form of monetary gain, gold medals, our names engraved on plaques or statues carved in our likeness.

I spent most of my twenties and half of my thirties in hiding.  I hid inside my eating disorder.  I drank more alcohol than my body could cope with, I smoked cigarettes, I took drugs, I did anything I could NOT to be present.  Even in those moments when I did manage to show up, I wasn’t really present.  Not completely.  Not really.  I was angry and hated how angry I was.  I was depressed and hated how depressed I was.  I couldn’t face any of it, for so many years, I just couldn’t.  Eventually I became suicidal.  I couldn’t stand the feelings any more.  I was filled with so much rage, I turned it inward and thought the answer was to kill myself.  I remember I fantasized about driving to a state where I could buy a gun.  That was how I wanted it all to end.  I would blow my brains out.  I was seeing a therapist and when I admitted this to him he said, “You have to go to a 12 step program.   You have to find people who are struggling with an eating disorder just as you are.”  When I told him all the reasons why this was not a possibility he leaned forward and said, “What have you got to lose?”  I will never forget that.  I will never forget how he looked at me.  I will never forget the feeling I had when he said those words – “What have you got to lose?”

So I went.  And I hated it.  A bunch of obese people, a couple of anorexics and an assortment of others sitting around talking about how they couldn’t stop eating or starving or obsessing.  I was horrified.  How had I ended up here?  Wasn’t I different?  Wasn’t I better than this?  I remember I looked around that circle of people in that dingy room lit with strands of donated christmas lights, despite the fact that it was March, and the signs with various slogans plastered on the wall – “We came for the vanity and stayed for the sanity”  and “One Day At a Time”  and “Progress not perfection” and I thought to myself, I have entered hell.  This is not what I want.  This is not where I want to be.  I am not one of these people.  I am BETTER than them.  I don’t NEED to be here.

But I stayed.  Because really, where else was I going to go?  I knew what lay outside the door of those rooms.  I knew, left to my own devices, I would binge and puke and rage and cry and binge and puke.  I knew the cycle, I’d been doing it for more than twenty years.  So I kept going to the “meetings” and I bought the literature and people gave me little notes with their phone numbers and hearts on them that I’d promptly throw away, but they kept giving me more notes with more little hearts and more phone numbers and eventually, eventually I called one of these people and they took the time to talk to me.  There were the steps, each one mapped out a way of behaving that was different from the way I lived my life, so I began doing them, never once thinking that those “steps” would become a way to live my life more than a decade later.  There was a great deal of talk about taking the next right action, staying in the present, taking things slowly, changing ingrained behaviors and being of service.  There was talk of “god” and again I felt there was no hope for me.  How could there be?  I didn’t believe.

I have never believed in god, I’ve tried, I just don’t, but I do have faith.  I have faith in human being’s ability to do great things if we are shown how.   Some of us need more help than others.  I’m one of them.  I needed a great deal of patience, support and help.  I needed to have my hand held by those who had once been where I was.  I needed others to show me the way.  I needed to hear about their struggles, I needed to know that I wasn’t alone.

When Emma was diagnosed, I had a road map, instructing me, helping me.  All those meetings spent in dingy basements without heat in the winter or air conditioning in the summer had shown me another way.  I knew, if nothing else, I had to keep showing up.  There were days I didn’t want to.  I’ve done a great number of things I wish I could take back.  I’ve made countless mistakes.  But I know, I know with all my being that hiding, that not showing up, isn’t an option.  So I research, I read, I reach out to Autistics, I listen, I ask questions and I try to learn everything I can so that I can better understand and help my daughter.  In helping my daughter, I am helping myself.  I am helping myself become a better human being.  There are mornings when I wake up and think, What the hell am I doing?  I don’t know how to do this.  I don’t know what the right decision is.  Is this the right school?  Is this the best therapy?   Does she understand?  What would she say if she could communicate her thoughts?  What would she tell me?  

Much of the time I don’t know.  What I do know is that the basic principles and actions that got me free from the grip of my eating disorder are the same actions and principles that help me parent both my children.  Be honest.  Find safe people to talk to.  Have the willingness to show up.  Be present.  Reach out to others.  Ask questions.  Listen.  Really listen.  If I’m overwhelmed, acknowledge that.  Take a break.  Sometimes doing nothing is better than doing something.  But the thing that helps me more than anything else (I know I’ve said this so many times) is to be in conversation with Autistics.  When I am feeling sad or confused, or overwhelmed, or have questions, I reach out to my Autistic friends.  And even when they don’t know the answer to my question, they remind me of what’s possible.  They remind me that my neurotypical take on my daughter is often incorrect.  They remind me of all the misinformation out there.  They remind me of what is important.

So for any of you reading this who are despairing, who feel it’s hopeless, that the divide between your child and you is too great, know this:  There are hundreds and hundreds of verbal and nonverbal Autistic adults who are blogging, on Facebook, on Twitter, they are talking, they are asking to be heard, they are asking to be respected, they are asking for the same rights as any other human being, they are asking to be treated as you would want to be treated.  Reach out to them.  Google, read books, read blogs, get on Twitter and Facebook, do the research, ask questions, make comments.  If you’re suicidal or feeling you can no longer cope, get help.  Get support.  There are a great many organizations like 12-step programs that do not cost anything, but rely solely on donations given voluntarily.  Find the people whose voices resonate and then find more.  Because really, what have you got to lose?

2002 – Me with Em and Nic

A Conversation in the Car

Because Em has just brought in the timer and set it for ten minutes, this will be quick!  Kind of like speed posting.  (Post on Markram interview will have to wait yet another day!)

I posted the following conversation on Emma’s Hope Book page on Facebook last night.

Driving home from the swimming pool. Nic and Em in the back seat. 

Nic: Em stop it.

Em: Cha, cha, cha

Nic: Mom! Make her stop. She’s doing that just because she knows how much it annoys me!

Em: Cha, Cha, Cha

Me: Turning around to monitor the situation  Okay, Em. What are you doing?

Nic: She’s trying to bug me!

Em: Grinning  Cha, cha, chocolate milk!

Me: Oh my god, that’s hilarious. Richard! Putting my hand on Richard’s shoulder.  Did you hear that?

Richard: What? What happened?  Looks in rearview mirror.

Em: Laughing  Cha, cha, cha, chocolate milk

Nic: She just changed it so you guys wouldn’t make her stop!

Em: Leaning toward Nic, gets right in his face  Cha, cha, cha, chocolate milk!

Nic & Em begin laughing hysterically.

Not only was the above conversation noteworthy because this type of interaction between Nic and Emma is not typical, but it was also worth mentioning because of Em’s increased interest in word play.  I see this in her desire to play Duck, Duck, Goose where she comes up with different word associations.  Sometimes, as in the case of “China boat, china boat, ocean!”  I’m not clear what the word association is, but I no longer doubt that there is one.

Emma eating her cake

Cloud cover over the Rockies

Walter and friends

Paul

A Mess, A Mom & Marriage In That Order

Mess of Me

I was a pretty messed up teenager.  I quickly developed into a very messed up twenty something, who progressed into an even more messed up thirty something.  Taking a breath.  Whoooo.  I’ll spare you the gory details, suffice it to say, I was a mess.  Another breath.  I don’t think I’ll get a great deal of argument from those who knew me then.   In fact, it took me until I was 36 to realize I was far too old to be so confused and such an utter mess.   I found people who had also once been where I now found myself, some worse, some not as bad, but they reached out and pulled me up.  Because of them I learned how to reach out to others.  I learned how to ask for support.  I learned to take suggestions.  I learned how to make amends, not apologies, amends.  I learned that in order to feel better I had to behave better.  I learned that the most important thing I would ever do in my life was to become the type of person I admired and those people all had one thing in common.  They were kind.

Becoming that person meant learning to do small thoughtful acts.  Remember I was a mess.  Doing the obvious, was not my strong suit.  I couldn’t suddenly transform myself into someone else, I had to learn to look for things that I could do to help others.  In the beginning it was things like holding the door for someone, giving up my subway seat to someone else, holding the elevator doors open for someone just entering the building instead of madly jamming my index finger at the “close door” button.   I had to learn how to refrain from letting out an exasperated and audible sigh when someone annoyed me, (still working on that one) I had to learn that sometimes saying nothing was better than saying something. This may sound like common courtesy, but I live in New York City, where holding the elevator doors for someone or relinquishing your subway seat brands you as crazy, (exaggeration) in addition I was a mess, remember, which automatically trumps being polite, thoughtful or kind.  By behaving in a way that engendered smiles and utterances of gratitude I gradually began to feel better about myself.  By helping others, mentoring other people younger than me who were also having a tough time, but who now saw a person they wanted to emulate, I began to feel I was worthy and living a life of value. I learned how to be a part of a larger group and that while I often craved solitude, I found I needed community.

About two years after I was hit with the realization that I was far too old to be such a mess, I met Richard.   We decided we wanted children, had Nic, got married, had Emma and suddenly there we were, five years later, after I had that moment of dawning awareness that there must be more to life than what I’d been living.  So yeah, I’m not a great role model in how to graciously and elegantly enter adulthood, easily taking small manageable steps until one day there you are with an infant, a toddler, and a husband.  But I had a little road map, a kind of guide-book with rules and suggestions, not literally, but figuratively and I was continuing to work on how best to behave in any given situation.  I had phone numbers and emails of people who helped me and of the people I helped too, so I felt fairly certain I could handle whatever might come my way.  But parenting is unlike anything else.

Despite what some people might think, okay strike that, no one is thinking this, but it works as the beginning to the next sentence,  I was not given a super hero’s cape along with matching Lycra body suit with the word MOM in dayglo colors emblazoned across the chest when my son was born.   I did not, after 38 hours of natural child-birth suddenly find I could dash into arbitrary enclosed structures, don my supermom costume and reappear in all my lycraed, daygloed glory with  powers of insight, lightening quick reflexes and the infallible ability to intuit what my son needed and wanted at any given moment of the day or night.  Ditto when my daughter, Emma was born.  No handbook came with either child, carefully guiding me through their very specific needs and issues.  Nic cried and held his small hands over his ears when a siren went by or the subway came to a screeching halt in front of us, Emma screamed from internal discomforts none of us could see for the first few months of her life.  Who knew?  We certainly didn’t.

We humans, we come with baggage.  Some have more than others.  Me, I came with a couple of steamer trunks, but I also had that well-worn guide-book from when I was such a mess and couldn’t figure out whether it was better to keep sleeping or wake up and do something.  It was and is my lifeline.  It’s expanded to include lists of blogs, twitter contacts and Facebook friends all of whom I can reach out to.   You see, I now have hundreds of people I can interact with and these people are my community, my tribe.  Sometimes we behave badly, sometimes we don’t agree.  But I know hiding is no longer an option.  Checking out doesn’t work.  The only way out is by staying in.  I know I’m not alone.  I’ve learned that it’s perfectly reasonable to not know or understand something and this is something I have learned from my Autistic friends, the beauty in asking for clarification.  It’s okay to not understand as long as you are willing and want to understand.

There is a great deal of talk about Autistic children.  There is a tremendous amount of fear that if we miss that critical period of our child’s first five years, all is lost.  But we humans have a tendency to grow and progress throughout our lives.  Some perhaps more than others.  I cannot speak for others, but I can speak for myself.  I am not the person I was in my teens, my twenties or even my thirties.  I figure as long as I keep my mind curious, my ideas open to alternate views and continually engage in conversation I will not stop progressing.  There is always hope.

((((((Emma)))))), Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Other Joys

When you look at the title to this post do you read it to mean – Hugging Emma, Facebook, Twitter, Blogs and Other Joys?

(If you answered yes, you are correct.  ((((Insert name)))) = Hugging.  The more parentheses, the bigger the hug.)

Within the autism community where Facebook reigns as the ultimate gathering place, the use of emoticons, ways of expressing emotions and physical actions, are commonplace.  I would argue that within the autism community the use of emoticons is more prevalent than within the neuromajority population.  But I need verification from my Autistic friends before I make such a statement.  It’s a thought based on my observations and interactions.  Which, by the way, speaks as much against Simon Baron-Cohen‘s various theories about Autists lacking empathy and a desire for interactions as it does to the level of support, gestures of kindness and friendships that are developed and maintained over the internet.  (I just submitted an amended version of my recent post – An Empathic Debunking of the Theory of Mind – to Huffington Post so he’s very much on my mind these days.  I’ll give an update when I see if and when it’s been published over there.)

Facebook, a crowded virtual space where conversations overlap, people you’ve never met interject themselves into a conversation before moving on, friendships are formed, rekindled and developed, strangers “poke” you to say hi, even if the only connection you have is that you both occupy space in that crazy mosh pit that Facebook single-handedly created.  If you think about it in these terms, Linkedin has a more conservative, suit and tie required at the door feel to it, I haven’t figured out where twitter falls in all of this, maybe it’s akin to speed dating, while blogs are the mothership, making the insanity over at Facebook all the more raucous and surprising.

It must be said, I hated Facebook when it began.  I refused to join, I felt indignant when people would discuss their “friends” or about something that had gone “viral.”  Who cares?  Who has the time?   I scoffed.  This is just a bunch of people with way too much time on their hands.   And then I would settle back to my tenth game of Spider, while reminding myself that I really should get some sleep.  But eventually I joined.  For business reasons, I told myself.  This is a pattern for me.  I observe, remain on the side lines, dip a toe in the murky waters, sit back, observe some more and then dive head first into the deep end, blissfully unaware of any rocks that may lurk under the surface.  I’m not encouraging this approach, it’s just an honest assessment of what I have a tendency to do.

Yesterday I was a mess.  For those of you who reached out, thank you.  I was teetering on the edge, trying to keep it together, not doing a great job, but doing my best to work, taking on one small task at a time.  And then my friend stepped in and held out her virtual hand.  (((((( Insert Name ))))))  Like a life line, she held her hand out and gently pulled me off the ledge.   Lots of emoticons were used.  I’m not fluent in emoticon, but she’s been a kind and patient teacher.  Did I mention she’s Autistic, not that it matters, except that it does, if only for this reason:  Autistics aren’t suppose to be like that.  That’s what we neurotypicals are taught.  Right?  It’s what all those autism specialists tell us, right?

She sat with me, literally, while I wept.  ((((((((((Insert my friend’s name)))))))))   She said all the right things and by the time we both went back to work, I was laughing.  But wait, that can’t be right.  She must not be autistic, because she doesn’t fit the mold.  Right?  Isn’t that what we do when someone defies a stereotype, instead of re-examining the stereotype, we relabel the person?  Can we all agree to toss this insane theory about Autists lacking empathy, lacking a desire for interaction and friendship?  Can we please just stop it?  Imagine if you tried to reach out to someone, only to have them reject you because of some mistaken idea they had about who you are and how you are supposed to behave?

Which brings me back to Emma.  My beautiful daughter.  I don’t know if she’s already aware of these stereotypes and how they apply to her.  My guess is, she is.  It’s one of the many things I wish I could control and change.  But I cannot.  What I can do is make sure she knows that I am here, supporting her, encouraging her, with my arms open for those times when she needs to feel them wrapped around her securely in loving embrace, just as my friend did to me yesterday.

(((((((Emma)))))))

Autism, AutCom, Huffington Post, Podcasts, Sprinkler Parks and Tea Parties

It was a jam-packed weekend.  Sunday Nic and Emma played together in one of the many sprinkler parks dotting this amazing city we are fortunate enough to call home.  (Not the sprinkler park.  Home, as in New York city… okay, you know what?  Never mind.  Just look at the adorable photograph.)

Yesterday, Richard and I spent the entire day at the Upublish BEA conference, which was pretty amazing.  Richard’s any-day-now-soon-to-be-listed-on-Amazon-five-star-Clarion-reviewed-amazing-genre-straddling-thriller, The Book Of Paul, will be available for public consumption soon and so this was a particularly relevant conference for him, and me as I am working on my book about Autism, our family and Emma.  I know – do we really need another book about autism?  I’m thinking we do, particularly after reading some of the comments on my most recent piece on Huffington Post, The Depiction of Autism and Why it Matters.
Meanwhile the wonderfully fun and up-for -anything Jackie, adored by both our children, took the kids to various parks and swimming.  She then invited Emma to a tea party celebrating her arrival to New York five years ago.  (This is the kind of thing we New Yorkers do, throw parties to celebrate our moving to this wonderful city of ours.)
Emma, thrilled with any event that affords her the opportunity to wear one of her pretty dresses, was extremely pleased.
Meanwhile halfway through the Upublish conference, I received an email inviting me to speak at the upcoming AutCom conference this October, which will be held in Maryland this year.  I am honored and look forward to it!
Friday afternoon my piece The Depiction of Autism and Why it Matters was published on the Huffington Post.  By Sunday it was getting some attention on Facebook and so they bumped it up on HuffPo, giving it a more prominent place on their Health News home page.  A large number of Autists commented, for which I am grateful, both for their perspective and support, but also because, as one of my favorite people, Ibby said, “You’ve found your daughter’s people.”
Finally, the interview I gave on Friday (my first podcast!) with Bryn Johnson of WebTalkRadio – Business Cafe – When a Passion Leads to a Business with guest Ariane Zurcher  is now available for your listening pleasure.  The first half is about business and being an entrepreneur and the second is almost exclusively about this blog and autism.

Imagine What it is Like to be Autistic

The last 72 hours has seen a whirlwind of activity regarding the Autism Positivity 2012 Flash Blog and those words “I wish I didn’t have Aspergers.”  It has been incredible to witness.  To recap  –  A group of bloggers devoted days of their time and energy to come up with and create the Autism Positivity Flash Blog.  They then reached out to all the bloggers they knew, asking for each to contribute something.  New contributions were posted every 15 minutes on the last day of April, with more trickling in after that. I don’t know what the total ended up being, but it was well over 115 contributions.  As a result of their efforts, a whole community of Autistics, Aspergers, Parents of Autistics and Parents of Aspergers were galvanized and inspired to come together in support of any Autist who has ever felt – marginalized, less than, misunderstood, ignored or alone – even if for only a minute.  It was an incredible show of strength in numbers, of people working together, of a diverse and vibrant community uniting and reaching out to another (anonymous) human being.

Yesterday, Genisa, the person who typed those words commented on the piece I’d submitted to Huffington Post.   Because the Huffington Post limits comments to 250 words, you have to break your comment down into segments and submit each segment, hoping they’ll be published in the order you submitted.  As both Genisa and I found out, this was not what actually occurred.  HuffPo moderates all comments that come in and because of the massive numbers of comments they are (I’m sure) quickly overwhelmed with content they cannot keep up with.  So Part 2 of my 3-part response was never published at all, and part 5 of Genisa’s comment wasn’t either.  It was incredibly frustrating and I felt somewhat horrified when I realized that people were going to read just the last part of a very personal comment and one which made me feel incredibly vulnerable to misinterpretation that I’d written in response to Genisa’s.  About four hours later the first part of my comment was eventually published, which still did little to mitigate my frustration.  (Someone on Facebook suggested those lost comments end up with all those random single socks that somehow never make it into the light of day between the washing machine and dryer.  I kind of love that!)

Genisa wrote in frustration – “I am noticing a pattern here. They are only posting the first and last of cont. posting. I had to post 6 posts to get all of what I wanted to say out. How can anyone understand what I said if all they post is the beginning and end of what I was trying to say? It is leaving out all of the details, the important stuff. This is how it is every day living with Aspergers. I tend to not ever get the whole message people try to tell me, because I am so focused on the details. But when most of it is left out, I just don’t get any of it.”

“This is how it is every day living with Aspergers.”  The analogy being drawn between the frustration of not fully getting everything someone is saying, whole chunks of  what is being said are erased, and trying to make sense of it all anyway, while being expected to respond was so powerful to me.  I thought –  What if it was this way when you tried to express yourself as well?  What if you had a whole idea, something you wanted to relate to another person, but then had to submit it (say it) in short segments, yet it came out scrambled and not in the right order with some of what you wanted to say not coming out at all?  What if this was your constant experience in attempting to communicate with others?  Imagine if every time you had a conversation with someone this was your experience in both receiving information and giving?  Imagine how incredibly frustrating that would be.  Imagine if this happened not once, when you could shrug it off knowing that it was a one time annoyance and while irritating not an ongoing problem, but each and every time you spoke.  Imagine that your experience of communicating was to have people routinely misunderstand you or respond to the last part of what you’d said without hearing or understanding the first part.  Imagine if when people spoke to you, you lost portions of what they were saying.  Imagine what it would be like to ask them to repeat themselves and have them lose their patience with you.  Imagine if you were scolded, ridiculed, called names and punished for not giving an appropriate response.  Just imagine how that would make you feel.

Can you imagine?

For my latest piece in the Huffington Post, click ‘here
 Anyone can contribute!  To be a part of the change, contribute to the Autism Positivity Blog click ‘here