Friday, August 15, 2014

Autism Answer: It's Smart To Believe In Humanity

I don't spend too much time focusing on the cruelty or prejudiced in the world, but that doesn't mean I don't see it's effect on my family. 

It also doesn't mean I don't do my darnedest to make a difference. 

There are those who believe that a positive vision and a belief in humanity, a "hippy peace loving tree hugging" mindset if you will, is cute but naive. Not me.
"Hitler's most monstrous legacy is that such faith in culture and in reason will forevermore be naive." ~Max Frankel
I say, no more.

Peace is action oriented and a belief in humanity is smart and savvy. I used to argue that being kind and believing in people was intelligent and proactive, now I just know and live it. Arguing my position (which is not the same as discussing or debating; two important ways to remain clear about my beliefs and consider when they could use an enlightening shift!) only kept me on the defensive and insidiously left me feeling a little bit naive. Oops!

Immersing yourself in the attitudes you're hoping to shift only puts you in the position of fighting the push and pull. I prefer to live and teach and learn tolerance, acceptance, and love with such volume that it invites others to feel the connection and innate intelligence of it, and hopefully join me. 

I prefer to believe that we can make a difference in our lifetime. That we can live in a world that says no to war and yes to equality and peace. I've lived long enough to see change happen, in the world and in myself, so it's smart for me to believe. When my husband was a child he had to use restrooms for blacks and couldn't walk in the front door of restaurants which were for whites only, he had to work twice as hard as his white co-workers to get half the paycheck and couldn't look a white person in the eye. Yet today he is happily married to a white woman, something that was illegal where we live during his childhood. Something he would have been murdered for. Though we still do see the stares and judgments, it's a different world than his childhood one. 

It's not naive for me to focus on that, it's smart. 

And I'm smart enough to know change can happen even quicker than that if we want it to. If we're willing to see our own roles clearly; making adjustments to our own actions and beliefs when necessary. And it will be necessary! We have all been taught by our surroundings, and our surroundings are quite flawed!

I don't know if my way is the best way for the world, but I'm confident that it's the best way for me.

And because it is the best way for me, I'm more able to take action and choose peace among difference. I'm comfortable expecting the folks at the store and in the schools to let go of some silly expectations to make room for my autistic brother's different needs and my son's interesting interests. It's not naive of me to know that my loved ones are worth shifting conveniences for, it's smart! It's true!!

And for those who need to see the intelligence behind focusing on love and connection in order to believe, I'm exampling that peace and forward motion with my fantastically diverse and joyful family! We don't always agree, we often try to change each other's minds, but we respect each and every member as equal and valuable. 

Not because we're naive, but because we're smart and proactive!

It's smart to believe in humanity. 
It's okay to be smart!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Autism Answer: Robin Williams

Some people can't just "buck up". My mom taught me that.

Often she told me, but I didn't believe. So she had to teach me. 

She had to teach me because I didn't know, and thought people like her were just looking for attention or some kind of special acknowledgement of their difference. I thought everyone was like me inside, so I didn't believe in something different. I was wrong. I was dangerous and cruel--though I was sure I was kind. But I couldn't be truly kind because I didn't believe others when they shared their own experiences if they were far and foreign from my own.

I was wrong.

So I speak up consistently with volume and candor to help others understand before it's too late.

Sadly, so sadly, for Robin Williams it is too late. We'll mourn together of course, and feel for his family, but I hope we'll also learn.

~Reach out. 
~Get/offer support. 
~Seek out neurofeedback. 
~Know that there are answers, and you can find them. 
~Don't be afraid to walk away from those who are not supportive, even if they're family.
~Do believe that one amazing friend is healthier than a roomful of poisonous ones.
~Contact people who know the battle but no longer live it. Encourage them to share their answers and then try those answers for yourself or your loved one. Feel free to personalize as you go.
Believe in everyone, but live around only those who help rather than hinder. 

Robin Williams was funny, smart, creative, and a genius. Often this is a recipe for depression, but it doesn't have to be. It really doesn't have to be. Believe that, and your taking a step in the right direction. 

Keep taking those steps.

Hugs, smiles, and love.

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

My mom (Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD) who also lived with depression--and now travels the globe treating it effectively--loves this movie with Robin Williams. 
I'm betting Robin loved it too.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Autism Answer: A Back-to-School Must Have!

Just the other day my sixteen year old son said to me,"Mom, everyone should be given a copy of The WingMaker for back-to-school. That way they'll start off the year with a good attitude toward each other."

What a brilliant point!! 

The WingMaker, by Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD (aka my mom!) is a rhyming picture book written for both younger and older audiences--layered with fun and insights that reveal themselves accordingly. It's the true story of a girl with cerebral palsy and her desire to play and be a bigger part of her own world. Her mom is challenged to believe in her, for fear of false hope, until a fabulous therapist (called Happy-Ness!) shows up. When mom explains that the little girl can't talk or play or walk, Happy-Ness declares,"Well that's okay. Maybe we'll pretend she can day upon day." Recreating!

And just as skills and play are learned, and life is full of living, grief visits in the form of a death. Once again we are reminded about challenge, and then offered gifts for actively handling it, learning from it, and living life fully once again.
Enjoy this beautiful book trailer for The WingMaker
with both the author (my mom!!) and her son--my brother!

The book encourages an attitude of belief, acceptance, and fun. It also examples healthy ways to deal with hurt and grief. For students it's a lovely way to begin the year, seeing their peers--regardless of ability--as equals and valuable. And gifting them with ways to grow healthy in the face of hardships.

Start the school year off with The WingMaker. While you're at it, go ahead and encourage your local school to buy in bulk for every student!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

The WingMaker: by Lynette Louise
A beautiful tale that inspires you to play, feel,
imagine, and believe!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Autism Answer: Co-Parenting with Marge Simpson

I am a very happy person. I have a habit of liking pretty much every day and every moment with all my soul. Yet, strangely, my favorite songs are lyrically depressing, raw or sexually charged. Somehow I seem to sing and dance that darker side of me out. It got me thinking about censorship and how so many parents won't let their kids listen to the same music that my boys and I love. This diary has nothing to do with music... it's about censorship... but it was conceived after too much coffee and listening to Sober by P!NK 


I have never been a fan of censorship.  Maybe it’s because I’m Canadian.  Maybe it’s because I want an excuse to watch Family Guy with my children.  I’m not sure. But being the mother of four boys, I have certainly noticed my ideas and opinions change over the years. Usually coming full circle until I believe them again with reason and intention.

When my boys were very little I wouldn’t let them watch Power Rangers or play most video games because I’m not a fan of violence. And though I don't like censorship I figured if I didn’t have cable in the house or buy video game systems I wasn’t truly censoring, just creating an age appropriate environment.  I still believe that’s true and I put a lot of energy into creating my environment.  

But one day I went to the intermediate school to have lunch with my then ten year old son, only to overhear him alienating himself by lying about the shows and games he watched in order to fit in. Of course, since he didn’t really watch or play those games, his lies made no sense and he looked foolish. I found myself over lunch asking him to be comfortable with the truth, to find something else in common with his peers, and I started going on and on about the value of difference.  

However, I knew that he resorted to lies because he felt he had nothing in common with his peers, their lives and imaginative play seemed to revolve only around Power Rangers and Call of Duty, and for a child that spends seven hours a day in school it’s pretty important that he learn some way to feel like he has something to offer. My heart broke for him and I caved--completely!  Eventually (because I couldn’t stand watching Power Rangers) we moved onto adult comedies like Family Guy and The Simpsons. There was a little excitement in all of us knowing that we were being naughty.  We laughed together and as I explained over-their-head jokes I found myself in a beautiful teaching position. Explaining the sophisticated concepts not only brought us closer together, but encouraged my boys to feel comfortable exploring sophisticated concepts! And doing it with the satire from kinda inappropriate but totally cool shows (and songs) gave my sons a willingness to truly listen and share with me.

Thanks Seth MacFarlane!  Thanks Matt Groening!

Censorship is an interesting issue. As with most things, when I find myself wondering about the rights and wrongs on a global or national level,  I have a bad habit of seeing everyone’s point.  And so I bring it in, look at it from an in- my- home point of view.  Being the mom who let her kids watch South Park, I was finding myself in the position of explaining my choices often; to moms who would never let their children watch anything that wasn’t purely educational, to dads who were buying their young boys porn, and to every type of parenting choice in between. I think the answer, both at home and globally, comes down to personal responsibility and personal beliefs. Doesn’t everything??

As with so many of my learnings, I had an Ahaaaa moment while watching a brilliant episode of The Simpsons.

Marge (the beautiful mom with blue hair) is fighting the powers that be in order to get Itchy and Scratchy (an extremely violent cartoon) off the air.  When eventually she succeeds, all is ridiculously wholesome in Springfield.  Kids are flying kites, reading books and sharing their marbles. Then a group of protesters show up at Marge’s door asking her to join them in their attempt to stop Michelangelo’s David from being borrowed by their local museum. Imagine the giggles and jokes in bad taste their children would suffer coming head to head with David’s stone penis! Marge refuses to help the group, believing that bringing culture to the children would be a healthy kind of nudity, and when asked how she can be all for one form of censorship but not another she concedes, "Well… I guess I can’t." Marge then goes home and lets her kids watch infinite amounts of Itchy and Scratchy.

As with all of our mothers I learned from her example, and then made my own adjustments to fit my own beliefs.

I don’t believe the world has a right to tell me or my children what we can or can’t watch.  Just as I would never tell one mom that if she wants a good relationship with her kids she has to watch Family Guy.  Or how I would never let my own kids watch porn--of course, being all teenagers now I know they do, I just don’t let them! It bothers me that everywhere my nieces look they see half naked skinny girls selling beer or jeans and I worry they’ll think they have to look (and act) that way to be accepted.  But I don’t think a rule or regulation can decide what is or isn’t okay.    

It’s about being responsible for what you do or don’t choose to do or see as a family. Just because Itchy and Scratchy is back on the air doesn’t mean you have to let your kids watch it. If your gut tells you don’t, then don’t.  But explain why to your kids, and know they will probably see it elsewhere (my house?) so keep an open line of communication so they may share with you what they did do or see and how it made them feel.  

An example: My son came home from a friend's house once and seemed a little distant. Eventually he told me that his friend had stabbed a possum to death because that’s just what that family did when they caught one. It had made him uncomfortable and even though he didn’t participate, he had watched and wasn’t brave enough to speak out. This was a big opportunity to talk about the differences in families and beliefs, and how it feels when we don’t step up or walk away from things that make us personally uncomfortable. We also talked about what he could do the next time.

Rather than blame the world for offering these images and shows (which, as I mentioned, may be a gift for another family), talk with your friends and family about what you believe and why you make the choices you make. Have debates and discussions with each other that offer insights, keeping always in mind the truth that what you teach your friends, family, and self with spill out into the world with a similar passion and energy.

Marge seemed to think:  If you can’t beat them, give up.

Others say: If you can’t beat them, join them.

I like: Stop looking at them, have some cheese and crackers and discover yourselves! Together.

Nixon: Lead Singer for Framing Hanley
I took my son to a rock concert with swear words on a school night
 and we were this close to the stage.
Even hung out with the band for a bit afterward.
You might not feel comfortable doing that, so don't.
But I do, and did!
And that's okay!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Autism Answer: A Movie with Uncle Milton

"My husband has never ever in all of his sixty two years been outside of Texas. He's also never spent more than one night away from home. 
Tomorrow we are taking a drive to California, staying there for five days, and then driving home. He's nervous, then excited, then nervous again. But he's going to do it.
It's never too late to try new things, or to believe in a person's ability to handle--and hopefully enjoy!--them.
My hubby is going to feel so fabulous about himself when we get home!!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!"
That was the post on my Facebook Page, about a week ago. 

My husband and my nieces, hanging out and watching a movie,
in California!

When we first got to California one of my four year old nieces couldn't stop looking at my husband. She'd only met him once before as an infant and his very dark skin, different look, and unfamiliar ways were interesting to her. Though she was playing happily with me her eyes were consistently looking toward her Uncle Milton. 

Finally, she just said it. "I can't stop looking!"

We all had a laugh and chatted a bit about how different he is from the rest of us. Then, we played some more--and she was much less distracted. Sometimes, you just have to talk about it. Comfortably and with no judgement.

My other four year old niece didn't seem to find her Uncle Milton overly interesting, though she too saw his differences. She played with me distraction free. She then tolerated the conversation we were having with her sister while waiting patiently to show off her impressive throwing and catching skills some more.

It's okay that some of us stand out as odd or different in certain situations. It's okay to want to talk about it. And it's a wonderful way to take advantage of honest curiosity while cultivating a joy and interest in difference, rather than fear or judgements.

It's also okay if we don't find it distracting or overly interesting. Don't stop everything to explain a difference or strangeness if it isn't needing attention. We can accidentally turn a comfortable visit into a confusing one that way! While also running the risk of teaching our children to focus on difference as an issue needing to be explained.

Acceptance doesn't mean not seeing difference, it means knowing that everyone is equally valuable while seeing it! 

By the end of our visit, once my hubby and my nieces had gotten to know each other and explored common interests, they enjoyed sitting around watching The Avengers while chatting about The Hulk and his green skin!

Without question, my husband had a fantastic first trip outside of Texas and enjoyed a few much deserved days surrounded by adorableness and fun!!!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

My hubby and I with three of our four boys.
Random Complaint: I was so busy having fun I forgot
to take a picture of everyone.
Guess we'll have to go back!!

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Autism Answer: Discover Your Personal Parenting Style

There were so many things I didn't know as a young mom. 

There were struggles and hurts that I lived with, most often because I felt confused and lost while searching for the "right" way to be a mom, the way that would "look" smart and loving and strong and compassionate.  

Recently, I was asked what kind of advice I would give to a new mother. 

Well, in truth I would want to talk her ear off!!! Parenting has made me a happier person but only after learning so many important truths, and so I'd want to shove those truths down her throat with passion and well-intentioned ferocity!!

But, of course, I'd be feeding her the nutrition that was needed for me to be a comfortable happy parent. The perfect blend of ingredients in my parenting smoothie would not necessarily gift her with the happiness and parenting passions I now enjoy. 

However, they also might! Heck, it's highly likely that at least one or two of the delicious truths I found on the journey to discover my personal parenting style will taste just right for other young moms (and dads) out there. 

And so, in the interest of creating a concoction of possible nourishment for moms and dads who are lacking in the same parenting vitamins and minerals I once was, I'll offer the basket of goodies that I would give the "me" of many years ago if given the chance!

Discover your own personal parenting style.

Don't worry about how it looks to others. Don't get tangled in feelings or worries about how it looks to other moms, teachers, counselors, or baseball coaches. They will often judge you and have opinions, you're right about that, but they also don't have all of the answers. And they certainly don't have your answers! 

Having said that, please don't be afraid to listen or learn from those you trust and love. You don't have to be the one with all of the good ideas, even if you kinda feel like you do. They're your children, aren't they? Doesn't that mean that you should always know what to do and how to do it? Doesn't that mean that if someone else has a great idea about how to help your child try new foods or practice language or wear clothes, that you are not a good mom? NOPE! A good parent stays true to her beliefs and style, while learning from the millions of others who also have beliefs and style. Show your children that it's beautiful to allow others to pitch in! Show them the art of learning from each other!!

Personal Example: Don't be surprised when your four year old begins to use language--to speak!-- because you accepted an idea that came not from you, but from your mom. While your son is talking, you won't care whose idea it was! (Of course, now he's sixteen and won't stop talking.... tee hee!)

Find the mom you love being, and don't resist the truth that she'll change over time. Embrace your own style, and adore the way your children will encourage you to change it. Parenting is a life long ever evolving journey, and you'll do your best work if you choose to love it and discover the treasure of you along the way!

Bonus Tip: It's not a good idea to view our parenting successes (or failures) through the successes (or failures) of our children. Their successes (and failures) are their own.

Our success is born out of a willingness to make the work fun while never (okay, rarely!) backing down from the challenging choices that must be made. When we choose to back down and justify, that is our failure. So choose to do the work, while offering gratitude freely along the way! (The "me" of years ago had a hard time with this one, wanting to justify and give up when challenging choices had to be made)

Once I learned these things, and chose to consistently live them, I became a happier person. 

Parenting has made me a happier person, and in truth it boils down to one simple reason. 

Parenting gave me the strength to learn exactly who I am, what I believe, and to live my life with kind confidence because that's what I ask of my children. 

As they've grown, so have I. While playing with them and chatting with them I've blossomed and have encouraged them to do the same. 

And because all four of my sons are different people, I've learned to love and appreciate the value of differing--even sometimes clashing!--ideas and beliefs. 

In this way I've become a curious and interested friend, wife, and sibling with a willingness to seek different perspectives without the need to change them. And because I see the world with eyes that value difference, I see beauty. There is no question that being a mom has made me happier, because I want my boys to seek and see happiness. 

It didn't happen in one year, or even two, but eventually I found my personal parenting style

And when I found that, I found my personal style

I found me!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Autism Answer: Acceptance And Tolerance, In My Home

I grew up in a home with a comfortable culture of acceptance and tolerance. Different races, neurologies, sexual orientations, and even histories--many of my family members were adopted and came with stories from genres different than our own--made up my family of many siblings and a (mostly) single and dating mom.

This is good! This was a wonderful thing! But it also invited me to see the world with the assumption that acceptance and tolerance were the norm. And though this is also good--allowing me to engage with the world always expecting myself and my loved ones to be treated as valuable equals--it's also a lie that I would have to do mental gymnastics to prove true in many situations.

And then I moved to a small town in Texas. With my hippy ideas, colorful children, and eventually a black husband twenty-three years older than me, I quickly learned that my family is special and that a culture of acceptance and tolerance was less common than I'd imagined. No amount of mental gymnastics, regardless of how limber I might be (and if I'm being honest, I'm not so limber!), could hide the fact that being gay, mixed race, autistic, tree hugging, natural healing, and so much more was something that might challenge people. Honestly, and here my naiveté will show, I believed that stories of proud prejudice were only in the movies.

Luckily I grew up in a home filled with acceptance and tolerance, and so people with a culture of prejudice are valuable and equal in my heart. Living surrounded by such different (and sometimes dangerous) views hasn't changed my mind or made me less open, acceptance and tolerance are still my go-to, but I am much more vocal about my personal reasons and beliefs.

And being accepting doesn't at all mean not asking for change! I have expected, insisted on, and been surprised by so many of the changes in myself over the years that I can ask for and encourage change in the world around me without judgment! I can keep an open mind and take a long, honest look at the change I'm hoping for when it's challenged by others.

Because the culture I grew up in is so different from the culture I live in now, I'm aware of the feelings and confusion and struggle me and my family are for the many people drastically different from us. Because they were that for me. I had to discover and explore and learn their history and beliefs in order to understand, and it took me years. I changed in ways I'm proud of because of it. 

I am excited and curious to see how this culture of acceptance and tolerance in our home, mixed with a less accepting culture in our town, will affect my sons in the long run. They are amazing young men with brilliant ideas and the desire to be purposeful and important in the world. So I know all four of them will shine some kind of amazing light on issues. I adore watching it all evolve and grow!

Like my mom, I create a culture in my home with intention. Unlike my mom, I choose to live in a culture that clashes with my own. So far, I'm loving how it looks on us, and appreciate the rich soil for organic thought that can be found were ideas and beliefs challenge each other.

And when my two oldest sons chose to leave, looking for a culture that was more comfortable, I was also proud--though curious about my own choices. Yet, even then I chose to stay here. Truly, it's good for me--at the moment.

We are one world with a gazillion cultures. I'm choosing mine with intention, while learning from and appreciating the ones I refuse. 

In my home, however, no matter where or when I live, there will be acceptance and tolerance. In my manner, in my words, and in the way I choose to evolve. 

It's my favorite way to live!!!

Living a life of acceptance and tolerance,
it's the most fun for me!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)