Saturday, August 5, 2017

Autism Answer: The Freedom Of Parallel Play

A Lesson That Lasted - The Story: 

Three of my four sons were enjoying a moment of imaginative play. Toy soldiers, wooden train parts, and various kitchen utensils surrounded them; a world of their creation. 

My fourth son, only months old, snuggled into my chest enjoying a post-feeding coma of contentment. 

Everything in my world was – particularly in that moment- exactly what I’d always wanted. Rather than put my baby down I held on, watched the boys create together and allowed my thoughts a parallel moment of free play. 

“The train broke! The robot escaped!” I heard my oldest son announce to his smitten brothers, breaking into my quiet imaginings with a loud crash of his own. 

Suddenly, and with great force, I was struck by a fear so real my entire body stiffened. 

Tightening my hug on the small body in my arms I bravely allowed the scary thought to present itself: “Children, my children, have their own thoughts, imaginations, and beliefs. My love and lessons can be shared but never forced.”

Sure, I had known this already, but never with such life altering clarity. 

As my boys manipulated their world of toys I teased out this truth and declared a parenting promise to myself. “My job,” I decided, “is to guide them. To be genuinely interested in what they want and who they are. Not to teach or applaud only my version of them.”

My body relaxed, my hug softened, my moment resumed.

To any onlooker, nothing had happened. 

But that moment of parenting aligned me. Who I am (less “leader,” more “helper”) and what I believe (we are all born uniquely capable) became a parenting statement I could put into action. 

I watched my sons play. The game hadn’t changed but my style of interest in it had. Still holding the baby, I joined my boys in their toys and asked them to show me around. 

________________       The End    _____________________

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I encourage you to discover the freedom of parallel play. Of being together with the understanding that we can share each other's plans and pictures and scripts, but that we can never entirely know another person. It's easy to get lost in the mess of wanting our loved ones to think the things we believe they should think, or to invest their time in the pursuits we feel are most necessary, or to behave in the ways we are inclined to consider best. But there is freedom and kindness when we let go of that. Don't let go of guiding, teaching, and learning; but let go of believing that your job isn't done until your children, students, friends, and spouses, see things your way. 

Enjoy and learn and teach and connect and find yourself in the freedom of parallel play!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!


Friday, July 28, 2017

Autism Answer: Diversity Matters

 [dih-vur-si-tee, dahy-]
noun, plural diversities.
1.the state or fact of being diverse; difference; unlikeness:
diversity of opinion.
2.variety; multiformity.
3.the inclusion of individuals representing more than one national origin, color, religion, socioeconomic stratum, sexual orientation, etc.:
diversity in the workplace.
4.a point of difference.
*Definition borrowed from

Diversity matters. 

Diversity is valuable and rewarding. Diversity is necessary for a sustainable world.

It also challenges us. It, quite rightly, can trigger nervousness and fear. That's okay. It's not wrong to feel nervous or unsure, but we are safer when we are aware of ourselves and our reasons in those moments. Diversity and difference stretches, reveals, and shows us things we are unlikely, and often unable, to understand on our own. This is an important place to be; where new perspectives and possibilities live. Often we will choose to walk away; often we will choose to change and stay. Let that nervousness wake you up, don't let it make your decisions for you. 

Seek diversity! Go out of your way to find it! In your films, friends, and books. Don't be afraid of seeking it on purpose. It feels weird at first to seek, specifically, a film from another culture. It feels like you're being prejudice or creepy almost, when you ask for books or blogs written by people you will likely label incorrectly because, right now, you don't know them well enough to know how to ask. It almost feels inappropriate in the beginning, to go looking for stories about things you don't like.

Do it anyway! Watch foreign films, read books written by writers with opposite-than-you views of the world, make friends with people you are inconvenienced by. Do it all with an open mind. 

Often, you won't stay friends, or you won't fall in love with the films, or you won't feel compelled to share the content, or you won't be captivated and changed by the books. But sometimes, you will.

It's for the sometimes that we need diversity. Because the sometimes becomes us. We teach our children and loved ones from the sometimes. Sometimes is memorable. And so we are inclined to share it.
We humans are a fantastic balance of different and same. We are unique, we crave different sensory stimulus and we work with different abilities and we believe in different reasons. But we are also very much the same. Love, acceptance, freedom, food, shelter. We crave these. In different ways, and different types, but we are all pretty much the same under, under, under it all. 

This is fascinating stuff! This is sustainable and necessary to appreciate and explore! 

Diversity matters, friends. 

Seek it! Appreciate it! Don't be mad at yourself when you fear it, but don't let the fear do more than wake your awareness. Fear is not useless, friends! It's a tool. Use it well! 

Make a new friend, seek a unique story, explore a culture you catch yourself judging without experiencing. Get to know something new! 

It's important.
It matters. 

Have a fantastic and diverse weekend, friends!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Autism Answer: New Life, New Roles, and Home

On a shuttle headed to the airport thinking about home.

Well, friends, I've made it home. 

I flew alone, from Texas to California, and I spent a month there. Going to California for the summer is not unusual for me, as most of you know. My mom and sister and nieces and a couple of my brothers and a couple of my sons all live there. But going alone is rare. My youngest sons almost always join me.

And, certainly, going to California in order to be there with my oldest son and his wife while they have their first baby is new! My first granddaughter! 

It. Was. Fantastical. 

Talk about new! A new life, a new role for me, a new role for my son, new roles for everyone!

Birth is always miraculous. And when it happens to your family, when it's personal, it changes and effects and shifts your world. It discombobulates and redefines and renews your sense of self and purpose. 

It's spectacular and beautiful and exhausting and invigorating. 

It's life; new, remembered, shared, shifted, edited, and all-encompassing.

All of our roles are being redefined and built fresh. And all because of one perfectly tiny little girl.

Our perfectly tiny little girl! 

It's good to be home, but I also miss her and the intensity of it all. 

But, it's good to be home. With my husband and younger sons. With my books and my bed and my coffee maker. It's good to be home. 

And my granddaughter's home is her mommy and daddy. (Boy, she's got a beautifully loving home!) So my new role includes the necessity of me leaving, of me going home. As her grandma, as my son's mom, I want to get out of the way while my granddaughter explores and demands from and helps build her new home. I want that for her and for her mom and for her daddy. 

Her daddy: my son: their home.

It feels not long ago that I was his home. 

New roles for all of us, friends! New roles, yes, but consistently and always we are one great big strong supportive loving family!! 

Don't believe me? Here, let me show you!!! 

(Sneaky "check out my pictures" segue! tee hee!)

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!! 
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

Daddy and daughter

My sister, her two youngest daughters, and my granddaughter. New roles!
Grandma time for me!
My mom, The Brain Broad, loving her great-grandma role! 
My brother, Dar, wondering if maybe THIS time he'll have clear language first. :D
My second oldest son relishing his role as uncle!
The new family - Home

It's nice to love your home. Sweet dreams!

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Autism Answer: Being Present (Lessons From My Granddaughter)

With my granddaughter

Holding my granddaughter I am often transported back in time. The feel of her is similar to my sons. 

Also, it's new and special.

With my sons, I was less present. I wondered differently; I wondered with worry. Not much, but some. I worried most about my own inabilities, the cruelties of the world, and their possible eventual self-esteem issues.

With my granddaughter I am different. I wonder, I watch, I allow, I enjoy, but I'm not worried. I am too present for worry.

Life will be hers, her way. The world will have its protests and power struggles, the semantics of things will be argued and replaced, the education she receives will be imperfect.

But I'm not worried. I'm ready.

I'm comfortable in a new way. With my granddaughter, that is.

But for her mom and dad, for my son and my daughter-in-law, I'm finding little previously unexposed worries. Like, how will I help them through the millions of little mistakes, scares, and disagreements I expect - from experience - are waiting down the line? Waiting for them in the near future. Moments that make a parent feel so, so, so alone even when there are gazillions of others admitting to similar moments.

Yet, as I share these thoughts with you I feel a truth. I'm ready for this also. I'll let go of expecting and hold on to experience.

I've already seen, in only a short week, overwhelming reasons to let go of worry. My son is in love with his new family, deeply in love with his new daughter. His wife is strong, smart, and loving. They have both been wanting exactly this their entire lives.

So I'll be present. Not only with my gorgeous granddaughter but with my son and his wife also.

A lesson I have tried to example and teach to my own children becoming truly mine, brought to me as a gift from my granddaughter. Being present.

I'm not worried. I'm ready.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Friday, June 9, 2017

Autism Answer: Expanding My Edges - A Leadership Role Nervously Executed

Author's Note: Following is a piece I wrote in response to the prompt "Stepping Outside of your Comfort Zone". I want to share it here with you specifically because this is an issue we struggle with in the world of autism. It is commonly understood that a comfort zone is somewhat more necessary for folks with autism. It is also extremely important that we continue to expand our edges, regardless of how extreme our challenges are. I have a hard time with this but my mom is brilliant at it! She is so deeply respectful of the person that her ability to expect more and raise the bar, while completely and actively acknowledging and caring about the challenge of it, gives her a special gift. I have tried hard to learn this balance from her. 

What I believe is that if we do our best to love the person completely and care about their wholeness, whether the person is ourselves or a loved one, we'll be able to help expand edges and step outside of comfort zones without harming or pushing too hard. We'll make mistakes, sure. We'll push when we should pull back, and we'll allow when perhaps we should have nudged, but I think our understanding and respect for the wholeness will help us make few mistakes. I believe that.

So, here is a story of me pushing myself to expand my edges. Dive in and get uncomfortable with me, friends! ~Tsara

 A Leadership Role Nervously Executed
“I don’t know anything about baseball but I have the time, so I can coach the t-ball team if someone will give me pointers,” I forced myself to say.

Everyone at the ballpark looked at me with unreadable expressions. “I’ve seen her around but don’t know who she is” and “thank goodness she’ll do it” and “should we let her do it” were ingredients I imagined in those expressions – logical, but perhaps invented by my own knowledge of who I was and who I wasn’t.

I could barely breathe and felt my lips go numb with nervousness as the coaches – now including me – headed into the small concession building to choose our players.

Who was this me I was being? I knew why I was forcing myself to volunteer but not who it would make me into. Although at nearly thirty years old I knew that who I would become was entirely up to me. I think that’s what scared me most. Knowing it was up to me.

I had always been a shy, temporary “helper” type. Growing up in a large loving family filled with disabilities (my mom is addicted to taking the lead and has always adopted people who needed someone to fight for them) we moved towns every two years, being sure to keep neighbors from growing too resentful of us. My mom was clever that way, taking advantage of our novelty and leaving when it had worn off. The experience for us kids was that we felt almost always interesting and likable.

However, it also gave me a feeling of being temporary. This was purely my own doing because shyness was a companion that traveled with me everywhere, and in each new neighborhood I would attempt to overcome it in different ways. Knowing that whoever I chose to be in this new place could be completely rewritten at the next one. I wasn’t lying about who I was exactly, just trying out different versions of myself.

But being temporary meant never taking the lead or becoming necessary. Shyness was temporary’s accomplice in this regard. And so I eventually defined myself everywhere as a helper, an assistant, a person who catches the stuff that falls out of the basket while walking behind a leader.

So, why was I offering to coach a t-ball team in my small town? Talk about stepping outside of my comfort zone!

Well, that was the point you see. I had watched my oldest son quit his baseball team as soon as it took him out of his comfort zone. He had been so naturally talented in the beginning that there was no work involved, only fun. Then the teams grew bigger and more challenging and my oldest son was no longer easily one of the best players. So, rather than work on his skill and try to become a more permanent part of the team, he quit. And I had known that as a role model I’d failed him. I was still failing him.

So when my youngest son asked to sign up for t-ball I made a quiet promise to myself to step up and play a bigger role in the game and in this town.

I guess The Universe heard and decided to test me. It turned out that they didn’t just need active parents, they needed another coach in order to accommodate all the kids who had signed up. I pushed those words, “I can do it,” out with force, wanting so very badly not to do it. Hoping that they wouldn’t accept my offer so I could pat myself on the back for being willing to take the lead without ever having to do so.

Well, I had to do so.

After choosing our players (the other coaches recognized most of the names on the list while I just called out whichever name was easiest for my nervous vision to see) we headed out of the small building, back into the Texas heat. “I really don’t know much about baseball,” I repeated to the woman who was running things.

“Don’t worry, it’s easy,” she offered. “I’ll give you everything you need. Thanks for volunteering.”

I nodded and walked toward my four sons who were playing wild and free with friends. They were between the ages of six and twelve and needed a mom who would not be temporary. A mom who was willing to try on a leadership role in this town that was, for them, home.

They hadn’t grown up moving every two years but instead had lived in this small Texas town for as long as they could remember. Their schools, friends, birthday parties, dance classes, and baseball teams were all here.

So I gathered my boys and took them home, filling my trunk with t-ball equipment and carrying a list of players and phone numbers. I spent the night afraid of messing up and writing a kids song about getting around the bases. About doing your best and having fun.

I tried to believe in my song.

What a fraud I felt like the next day when calling parents to introduce myself as coach! It took me two hours to phone ten numbers, frightened and nervous before each new introduction. I would pick up the phone, press a number, hang it up, go pee, pace the hall, try again, hang up. Everyone was friendly and just wanted to know where the first practice was but I wanted to know how on earth I was going to be a leader. Me? I’m a helper, I’m temporary, I don’t belong with all eyes on me.

But when I met all of the kids on the first day of practice I knew I could have fun. They were adorable! They loved my song, although I never did teach anyone how to play ball. I never quite figured it out myself.

What I did do was ask for help from other parents, show up for every practice and every game, step into the role of coach without any talent but with a willingness to do the work every single day, accepting the nervousness and fear. It never went away and it barely lessened, but I didn’t give up or quit.

I stepped into the leadership role and did a terrible job. It was fantastic!

Taking on a leadership role didn’t transform me into a natural leader but it did help me define and understand the value of my role as helper. When I reached out for help as a coach, when those parents pitched in and showed the kids what it meant to be in the outfield, I had more room in my schedule to listen and learn and take over in other areas. We were, by far, the worst team on the roster. But we had fun and got to know each other.

I am often recognized and chatted with at the post office and local grocery store. I don’t feel temporary anymore.

But most importantly, without hypocrisy I am able to push my sons outside of their comfort zone; and I am equally able to empathize and understand the challenge of it.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!