Tag Archives: self esteem

What I Want For My Children

As a parent I want to protect my children.  I want to shield them from hatred and cruelty and the kind of rage that leads people to abandon their principles in favor of power.  I want them to make mistakes, dust themselves off, learn from them and not be crushed by them.  I want to protect them from self-hatred.  I want to protect them from pain.  I don’t want them to suffer.

I want them to flourish.  I want them to know happiness, and the beauty of falling in love.  I want them to know the immeasurable joy friendship brings.  I want them to feel that indescribably delicious sensation of doing something for another human being, not because it’s expected, or because they’ve been asked to, or because they will be thanked or appreciated, or because they expect anything in return, but because it’s “right” to do so.  I want them to understand, truly understand what it feels like to believe in themselves, to feel good about who they are and what they can accomplish in this life.  And I want them to realize the connection between giving and generosity and having self-respect.

I want them to have options in life.  I want them to have the space, energy and luxury to find the things that captivate them, and I want them to be able to follow those interests.  I want them to know that when they are fearful, they will not be consumed by it.  I want them to be secure enough to stand up for themselves, to push back, to say no when they see others doing things they disagree with.  I want them to have that option.  I want them to feel the joy of being consumed by an interest.  I want them to know what it is like to be in this world and to feel safe, that wherever they are, they are not alone.

I want them to know they are loved and cherished.  I want them to know they are unique and yet the same as everyone else.  They are not superior, nor are the inferior, they are one of many, yet each has something special to contribute to mankind and this world. As a child, we used to go camping and my father would instruct us to pick up any trash we found.  We would strenuously object.  “Why do we have to pick up other people’s trash?  I didn’t leave this garbage here!”  And he would always say the same thing, “We leave a place better than we found it.”

This is what I want for my children.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Framed Sky

Shame, Addiction & Autism

“We all have shame.  We all have good and bad, dark and light, inside of us.  But if we don’t come to terms with our shame, our struggles, we start believing that there’s something wrong with us – that we’re bad, flawed, not good enough – and even worse, we start acting on those beliefs. If we want to be fully engaged, to be connected, we have to be vulnerable.  In order to be vulnerable, we need to develop resilience to shame.” ~ Daring Greatly by Brené Brown

I’ve written about shame before.  A couple of commenters on my last post about shame told me to watch Brené Brown’s TED talks on vulnerability and shame, which I did.  B. Brown also has several books, Daring Greatly, is the one I’m currently reading, where she writes, “A sense of worthiness inspires us to be vulnerable, share openly, and persevere.  Shame keeps us small, resentful, and afraid.”

Shame is something I am intimate with.  I don’t know many addicts who aren’t.  I’ve written about addiction and specifically having an eating disorder ‘here‘, ‘here‘ and ‘here‘.  The self-betrayal implicit in addictive behavior exacerbates the pre-existing shame, creating depression and self-loathing.  Attempts to alleviate those feelings with addictive behavior only fuels them.  Shame heaped upon more shame is not a recipe for happiness or success.  Ignoring shame, trying to bury it, and trying harder to not feel it, doesn’t work either.

There have been a number of studies suggesting a link between addictive behavior and autism.  I don’t find this surprising given how feelings of alienation, isolation and fractured self-worth all contribute to wanting to seek refuge and escape. Except the thing we are trying to escape from is often ourselves.  Many of us have internalized our shame, particularly those of us who tend toward perfectionism.  Add to this obsessive tendencies, a desire to be loved, wanting to fit in, believing we are “less than” and addiction can feel like a perfect fit and the only way we can survive in a hostile, unaccepting world.

Oddly, we, as a society, tend to attribute laziness and a lack of will power as the reason people eat too much, drink too much or spend more money than they make.  Similarly, people seem to think autism is a choice or at least the behaviors associated with autism are.  These people apparently believe Autistic people can  “lose” their “autism” if they can just be trained to hide their “problem” behaviors or the things they do that make them obviously Autistic.  Many Autistic people talk about being scolded and punished when they were unable to produce the results expected of them when told they needed to “try harder.”  Trying harder will usually make the person feel more terrible about themselves.

I worry about a culture that is conditioned to believe we must ‘train’ our Autistic children to behave in ways that most cannot, or cannot without a massive cost to their self-esteem.  I worry about “autism treatments” and “therapies” whose underlying message is that our children are not okay.  I worry about what our children are internalizing.  I worry about addiction, depression, suicidal ideation, and how those things get set in motion at a very young age from feeling we are “bad,” not worthy and less than. I worry that because many do not understand autism is a neurological wiring, or do not take into account the experience so many Autistic people are describing, we are raising fearful children, filled with shame for who they are as human beings.  Instead of helping our children flourish, encouraging them to be all they can be, we are trying to make them into something they cannot be.

I love this photo of Emma because it captures her in all her Emma-ness!

Emma - 2002

“People Have to Listen”

Stop Hurting Kids is a campaign to “end restraint and seclusion abuse in schools.”  Restraint and Seclusion: Hear Our Stories is a 27 minute film by documentary filmmaker, Dan Habib.   Creator of Including Samuel and Who Cares About Kelsey?  Dan Habib is “Filmmaker in Residence at the Institute on Disability at the University of New Hampshire.”  The transcript of Restraint and Seclusion is available here.

For those of you who do not have the time or inclination to watch the film, here are a few quotes from it, which I hope will serve to pique your interest enough to watch the film in its entirety.  Because this is happening all around us, because this could be one of our children, because we, as a society, must become aware of what is going on, because without awareness and protest this will continue, because prejudice and brutality are not the answer, because as Barb Rentenbach continues to remind us, I might be you, because as my daughter, Emma has said on numerous occasions, “People have to listen.  Mommy, people do not listen to Emma.”

“The National Disability Rights Network reported that in recent years, the misuse of restraint and seclusion has resulted in hundreds of deaths and thousands of injuries.”

Peyton Goddard – “It was bruted power jired by purses wrongfully called teachers trying to beat I. This war wasted my rest. The sweet in I evaporated out.”

Helena – “He slammed me up against the wall, arm barred me across the throat and lifted up so I couldn’t breathe. And then whispered, “How am I supposed to talk to you nice and slow so you can understand?”

Wil Beaudoin – “One particular day we went to see my son and we were going to give him a haircut. So, we took off his shirt and he was covered with bruises and abrasions, fifteen to twenty on his body…everywhere.”

Peyton Goddard – “Fright opted I timid, silent and unable to fight back. Telling myself sweet lies that the tortures did not matter.”

Brianna – “I did not have a speech-generating device. Good evaluation would have made that happen. I tried to tell my mother. She did not understand me or she thought the teachers knew everything.” 

Peyton Goddard – “Try to see potent powerful potentials in each pierced person. There you will free their gifts. There I can feel I’m treasured. There nary I’m fret. I’m ready. Are you? Try please.”

Larry Bissonnette, Peyton Goddard and Tracy Thresher at TASH



Encouraging a Sense of Self Worth

When I was in eighth grade I had a “Wellness” class given by a classmate’s mother who had been a child actor and model.  The boys were separated out and taken to (presumably) a similar class given by a male equivalent. (I have to wonder now, where exactly did they go?  Who was the male equivalent?  At the time, I never thought to ask.)  All the eighth grade girls sat in a circle on the ground in front of this woman who stood before us in all her coiffed, fine featured, perfumed glory, wearing an oh-so-chic, red pants suit (this was the early ’70’s) and looking like she had just walked off a shoot for the cover of a fashion magazine.  (Which, in fact, she had.)

I felt completely inadequate in comparison and all the more so as I sat listening to her glowing accounts of what she did for exercise, the wholesome meals she ate and her disciplined daily use of various emollients.  I remember falling into despair as I listened to her, not only because I didn’t know what emollients were, or couldn’t imagine a life that did not include glazed jelly doughnuts, but because everything about her was foreign to me, forget that hers was not a life I had ever thought about having, let alone wanting.  But as I sat there I was aware that I should want to be just like her.  She represented all that was beautiful and unobtainable and I, in direct contrast, represented all that was wanting.  I’ve never forgotten her.

When I gave birth to each of my children, the one thing I wanted more than anything else was to make sure they never felt ashamed of themselves.  I wanted to make sure they felt supported, loved and valued for who they were, exactly as they were.  I wanted to be sure I cheered them on, to model for them kindness, generosity, compassion and good work ethics.  I swore to myself I would do my best to respect them and to listen to them.  And then we were given Emma’s diagnosis and suddenly those goals took a back seat to the goal of her being “mainstreamed” and “indistinguishable from her peers.”  Those two goals rammed up against my desire for her to feel self-love, self-acceptance, self-worth.  For a couple of years I lost my way.  In my desperation I allowed others to dictate what I should do and what I should want for my daughter.  I forgot that my early goals for her were more important than anything else.

I began to look for an Autistic adult who I could imagine my daughter might be like.  I wanted to find someone who might represent a possibility of what I might expect.  I read what books I could find, written by Autistic adults, but concluded these adults were much “higher” functioning than my child.   It wasn’t until later that someone pointed out these adults who had written and had published books, were at least twenty years older than my daughter and therefore had more than twenty years of learning, experience and growth that my daughter had not had the advantage of.  Undeterred, I kept looking anyway.  Even when I found someone who seemed to have similar language challenges, their upbringing differed greatly, their interests led them in other directions, I could never quite imagine my daughter growing up to be just like them.

Searching for Autistic adults who might be a version of my daughter was grounded in a desire to calm my fears.  It was a misguided attempt to comfort myself.  By saying – well this person is speaking so clearly, able to have their needs known and heard, therefore perhaps my daughter will be able to one day do the same, I was hoping to quell my worries.  A shared neurology with random people does not mean anything more than it does to compare my shared non Autistic neurology with the same. Without meaning to I was replicating that “wellness” class over and over only now it was my daughter I imagined sitting cross-legged on the ground looking up at someone she would never grow up to be like.  This or that person is not an adult replica of my daughter any more than that woman teaching the Wellness class was an adult version of me.

I want and hope my daughter will feel empowered to be who she is without amendment.  The best way I can ensure she feel empowered is by listening to her, honoring her, celebrating and embracing her, exactly as she is in this moment.  I must give her the support she needs to communicate,  show her the different methods she can use to communicate so she knows she has choices and believe in her.  And there’s another piece to this, which is this – my issue of self-worth, with not being that fine featured, delicate nosed, thin hipped, flat chested version of ideal woman I grew up believing meant happiness, is mine to work through and not my daughter’s.  This may seem obvious to many of you, but it is something I must remind myself of.  I have to ask myself often, is this my issue or hers?  Comparing Emma to adults, to any adult is most definitely my issue and it is one I am trying hard not to pass along to her.


An Ode To My Daughter

Dearest One,

When you were first born I had an idea about you, it was an idea I have come back to, all these years later, it was an idea that was more right than wrong.  You were very much your own person right from that first moment you drew breath.  I remember marveling at your strength and independence.  I knew almost nothing about autism.  I hadn’t taken the idea of independence and remolded it as “autism” yet, only to rework that idea back to its original concept later.  I saw you and appreciated you for who I saw you to be.  Defiant, independent, strong, determined and silly.  Even as a baby you loved to laugh and appreciated silliness in all its various forms.  You loved playing peek-a-boo and being thrown in the air.  Those first eighteen months, before I knew words like “vestibular”, “proprioceptive”, “stimming”, “perseverative”, “echolalia” and all the other words that threatened to push you from center stage, making you less you and more an example of a diagnosis weighted with other’s learned opinions, I was in awe of you.

Words have power, but words can confuse, they blinded me for many years, I became caught up in what they meant or what others thought they meant and as a result was less able to appreciate you.  I used to wield those words as though they were weapons banishing what was, into something else, something undefinable, something “other”, something I wanted to find a way to control or remove.

As a baby before I knew those other words, you were in a state of either bliss or agitation.  I use to watch you with wonder and admiration.  You were distressed by the lights and the air seemed to hurt you, as though it scraped against your skin.  You liked being swaddled tightly in one of the soft baby blankets I had bought for your arrival.  You slept almost constantly those first two weeks.  Then your deep slumber was interrupted by internal discomforts I could not guess or see.  You greeted these intrusions with indignation, howls of distress and I felt a helplessness I had not known could exist.  A helplessness borne from not knowing; watching, but not able to intervene, hearing, but unable to understand.  I tried to comfort you, but my understanding of what comfort meant was not the same as yours and so your teaching began.  You have been so very patient with me, dearest one.  You have never given up on me.

You have painstakingly tried to communicate in a language that does not come naturally to you.  You have met me more than half way.  You have tried over and over to help me understand and you’ve never stopped.  It has taken me a long time to learn some very basic things about you, things you’ve been telling me ever since you were born, but that I couldn’t understand.  Things I still forget, but  I’m getting better at listening to you and understanding that words are not the only way a human being communicates.  I am getting better at hearing you.  I have learned to listen to your behavior as though it were a conversation, because it is how you reach out, it is the way you connect.  I am learning to lean into you, to not try to do a word-for-word interpretation of your verbal utterances, but to try to feel the meaning of what you are doing or saying.

You are Autistic.  Do not let other’s interpretation of that word define you, rather help others understand that you define it.  Make your mark in this world by continuing to believe in yourself.  Continue to stand up for yourself.  Advocate. Let your voice be heard.  “Actions speak louder than words,” people say, but they don’t seem to apply that to you and others who cannot and do not rely solely on language.  Those people need to be taught, because actions DO speak louder than words if we can learn to listen to them.

You, my beautiful daughter, are kind and good and honest and talented and funny and caring and sensitive and yes, Autistic.  Be proud of your neurology, but do not allow others to limit you because of it.  Do not allow someone’s idea of what that means to encroach on who you are or how you perceive yourself.  You are Autistic and you are my daughter.  It could be argued that both come with a great deal of baggage, but both also come with many wonders and advantages.  Concentrate on the positives, lean into them, and make your way.  Reach out to me, grab my hand, together we are stronger than we are alone.

I am so proud of you.

Richard, Em & Me – 2010