Monday, May 21, 2018

Autism Answer: Candid Book (written by ME!) Offers a Unique and Intimate Narrative on Parenting, Autism, and Growing Up

Recently I was honored with a request. 

I have been a fan of Disabled World (both the website and the twitter page) for a few years now. I love the global nature of the information and am deeply grateful for the helpful, thoughtful, readable, and carefully curated content. Encouraging us to have empathy without pity while bringing us news about programs, studies, and entertainment that moves society as a whole forward, together.

In fact, it was one of the first places I sent the Press Release to when my mom began offering her one woman musical comedy show, Crazy to Sane, free to venues and events every year in the month of April (Autism Awareness Month) and I felt a surge of pride when the release was published on their site. I decided it meant I must have also managed a healthy mix of usefulness and thoughtfulness! Yea, me! :D Check that out here: Autism Awareness: Music, Comedy, and Brain Science

So you can imagine my thrill at being asked by the admin of Disabled World for information on my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up, for their website. 
(Go ahead, imagine it. I'll wait ... ... ... Fun, right?!!) 

The offer was a good opportunity to update the press release I had written when my book was first published. And, of course, to retweet, share, post, and otherwise show off that there is now a picture of me and my book on a website I'm a fan of. That's always a treat that goes well with coffee!! 

Here's an excerpt of the story. I encourage you to visit Disabled World to read it in it's entirety. Be sure to click around and check out all the valuable content while you're there! Oh, and follow the site on Twitter:  @DisabledWorld

From Disabled World: 

"Tsara Shelton is the oldest of eight children - six were adopted, and four came into the home with several diagnosis such as autism and fetal alcohol syndrome. She is also the daughter of renowned international brain change expert Dr. Lynette Louise, aka The Brain Broad, a single mom who brought up her brood with creativity (they traveled North America learning geography and performing inspirational comedy in prisons for almost a year) and a powerful belief in their abilities.

Having grown up in a home overflowing with out of the box characters and a ferocious love for family, the author was in a unique position to observe culture and society. Tsara was born with a typical brain and typical tendencies that were consistently and beautifully challenged by a not so typical family and lifestyle."

Read the article here: Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself by Tsara Shelton 

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Have a peek at me nervously talking a bit more about my book in this short video: 


Oh, and if you have news to share with the disability community, I encourage you to submit to Disabled World! (Submission info is easily found on the website.)

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

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Autism Answer: This Is America - Considered (Guest Post by Declyn Shelton)

My youngest son, Declyn, is a staff writer for his school paper. Recently he wrote an opinion piece on the popular and disturbing and brilliant and artistic music video for This is America by Childish Gambino (Donald Glover). However, one of his colleague's wrote an article about the video, and the significant online discussions regarding the many meanings represented, before he submitted his. (I higly recommend reading her piece, it's fantastic: "This Really Is... America" by Jazmin Morales) So, since the school paper isn't planning to publish Declyn's article, I asked if I could publish it as a guest post. 

Lucky us, he said yes!

So, here it is friends. 
You're welcome. :D  

This is America - Considered

Donald Glover (a.k.a. Childish Gambino) does it again! He has displayed a culturally impactful message with his latest release of the "This is America" music video.  In the video, he depicts the costumed horrors of society from church shootings to the notorious Jim Crow. Through his strange facial expressions and movements, he does an accurate – and chilling - impersonation of the Jim Crow caricature. 

This video is a narration of how the world has all these terrible things that have
happened and are happening that we aren't, and shouldn't be, blind to.  He shows so many injustices that have occurred or are occurring while dancing to keep the audience interested and distracted from the horrors.

This music video should hopefully cause an upsurge in awareness of terrible events that may happen in our future. Not just "we know about that" but an actual awareness of the danger our distractions and inaction, and even our coping strategies, allow. With this video, Glover offers a story of America that is hard to express in words but is powerfully shown.

I asked a close friend of mine, as someone who hadn't listened to Gambino before, what she thought of the video and she said, "I loved the video, I kept watching it over and over! It is the kind of video that you watch repeatedly to find something new each time you see it."

I have no idea what Glover will do next, but I am very impressed by the message he has portrayed with his latest work.
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Watch the music video here: Childish Gambino - This is America 

Friday, April 27, 2018

Autism Answer: About Last Night


I made myself a peppermint tea (shhh! don't tell coffee) in my favorite to-go mug, kissed my exhausted hard working hubby on the cheek, and headed out the door.

I decided to pick up Declyn's farther away friend first. Declyn's theatre class was putting on their first annual talent show and I was picking up two of his friends to bring to the event.

I was sipping and singing and enjoying the short drive deep into the green trees. As is always the case when headed out to this boy's home, I saw critters and majestic mammals. The early evening was beautiful. I felt happy and open.

My son's friend was waiting for me when I arrived and thanked me as he climbed into the car. I let him know it was my pleasure to gather an audience for the show. I love showing off the theatre kids!

As we headed back toward town to pick up friend number two, we chatted.

ME: You're a senior also, right? Are you excited to graduate? Do have mixed feelings about the transition?

FRIEND: I'm excited. I've never really had friends. I'm kind of an outsider or an outcast.

ME: Well, you've got your group now. The boys spend every weekend at your house till 3AM almost without fail!

FRIEND: Ya, that's now. I've moved a lot and always tried to get a group together to play D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). Finally, I have this group.

ME: *Giggling* Well, you found yourself a great group of outsiders here!

FRIEND: Ya, they're all that way. Declyn is funny, too. He has the look and talents of the popular kids, you know? And he does mostly fit in with them but he's an outsider, too. Because he has almost everything they do except, well, he's not an asshole. Oh, sorry for the language!

ME: No problem! You just told me my son is not an asshole. You don't have to be too careful with your language to tell me that. I'll take it presented however you want to present it!

FRIEND: That makes sense. I was wondering, why do you write about autism? I heard you say to someone that you sometimes write about autism.

ME: Well, I have a lot of autistic family members and I've learned a lot about life and listening and actually truly caring about our differences because of it. And since I love to write, it's one of the things I write about.

FRIEND: That's neat. Hey, autism isn't a bad thing though, right? From my limited understanding it's kind of a serious focus on things that make them smarter and know more about it.

ME: I believe you're referring to the interests or perseverations. And you're right, autism isn't a bad thing but it does mean certain things are harder. And the interests you're talking about can mean a lot of different things in different people. Some interests are really hard to use well, and tend to interrupt an ability to follow conversation in common ways. Or even, sometimes, just to be happy. For some folks it's not too intense, for others it's really disruptive and hard. In my family there are so many styles and I've learned to see the similarities while noticing the vast differences.

FRIEND: Declyn said he used to have autism.

ME: Ya, he's lucky that my mom is who she is! She helped us work on his sensory issues and eye contact challenges in such fun and kind ways. And he doesn't seem to have autism anymore. The social challenges were the longest lasting, I think. No, sensory too.

FRIEND: I have a strong memory of a time I made a mean joke around one of my other friends who had autism, before I knew he had autism.

ME: Oh, boy. Kiddo. we all have those. Maybe not specific to autism, but the times we were mean.

FRIEND: Well. We were playing D&D and I made a joke about a choice someone made. I was like, "What, is your character autistic?" And then my friend was like, "You know, that's not a nice joke. Did you know that I'm autistic?" And - my brother has it on video actually - I just sat there. Stone-faced. I didn't know what to say!

ME: Ya, we've all made comments or jokes that are accidentally cruel. I think it's a willingness to listen to people and their reasons when they point it out that helps us grow thoughtful. But we don't know what we don't know, so it's bound to happen to all of us. Particularly when we're young.

FRIEND: Well, I had noticed that my friend had weird habits and, I don't know, was just kind of strange I guess? But we all kind of were, like I said, I'm an outcast. But I'd noticed it on him more. So I probably should have known better.

ME: Seriously, don't beat yourself up. I made similar mistakes all the time and my brothers were autitstic so I had every opportuntiy to know better. It's good to remember, but don't feel overly guilty, you know?

We pulled up to the next friend's house. This friend has been Declyn's best friend since pre-K. As he came up to my car wearing his usual wide almost goofy grin, I felt a moment of pure happiness. Almost as though the car-ride conversation was being given a comfortable closer.

This friend of Declyn's had been pulled out of school to be homeschooled. Largely because of his outcast ways. He and Declyn were being bullied by their Christian peers for their intense interest in Greek mythology and the Greek Gods. Declyn struggled for a few months, but told me he wanted to stay in school. We dealt with it that way, knowing that we were working with the goal of staying. His friend, on the other hand, worked on it with a different goal. And so he worked on it with his mom and they chose leaving.

They both were supported by parents and went the direction of their goals. It's a beautiful thing!

But last night his friend came back to the school - and it was his eighteenth birthday! - to watch his friend, my son, dance on stage in a talent show, senior scholarship fundraiser. And at the end of the night, my son took the mic and sang happy birthday to his friend.

My son drove his outsider friends home, with me - his mom, who has always felt on the edges of society - in the passenger seat.

I think we have all felt like outsiders or outcasts at times. And for many of us an inkling of that is just right. After all, we are all alone and only ourselves and "outside" to some degree. But for many of us, we are even farther outside, it's harder to find our groups or to connect.

But it happens. And when it does, it's a beautiful thing to watch!

Much like how watching my son dance is a beautiful thing to watch.

Oh, what's that? You'd like to see for yourself. Well, I thought you'd never ask! (Errrr.... you did want to ask but I wouldn't stop talking? Sorry about that! tee hee!)
Here's that dance you waited patiently through my story for! 

Happy Friday, friends!!
Outcasts, popular kids, and everyone in-between!! 

BTW: The video straightens out after the first few seconds.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Autism Answer: Suggestions For Taking Action This Autism Awareness & Acceptance month (April)

My brother bowling thanks to volunteers.

Straight up, I admit it, most of these suggestions are going to include links to something my mom (Dr. Lynette Louise, known as "The Brain Broad") made. But that's because my suggestions are awesome and so is the stuff my mom makes. 

So, let's dive into some awesome suggestions, shall we?

Oh, and by the way, happy April!!

Okay, let's begin: 

1) Watch the international docu-series FIX IT IN FIVE with LYNETTE LOUISE aka THE BRAIN BROAD! Both seasons one and two (Uganda and USA, respectively) are available free on The Autism Channel and Women's Broadcast Network. Also you can rent or own the show via Vimeo On Demand (This is my favorite way to watch the show! Though it costs money it also means you have access anytime from any device. It is a great way to revisit and review new lessons, enjoy the show with friends, or have a screening in your community!)  

Oh, what's that? You have no idea what FIX IT IN FIVE is? Well, I'm sorry to hear that! Basically, it's an idea hatched out of Lynette’s desire to share her tools of change with thousands of families worldwide. No biggie.

Dr. Lynette Louise is invited into homes around the world where she teaches important attitudinal shifts and brain science to families struggling with brain disorders. Hundreds of children, parents, aunts, and grandpas have benefited from her passion and neurofeedback equipment. According to Lynette, “That’s not enough!” 

By offering her services as a docu-series she is able to give families willing to be on camera a free five day life-changing therapy marathon. At the same time audiences are gifted with answers, entertainment and an exampling of living life with creativity and intention. So, you know, a way to make the world a more understanding, safe, and fun place for people of all types. That's all. :D 

Follow this link for more info, videos, and links for viewing the show: FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD

2) Watch a film, listen to music, or read a book written by, starring, or otherwise created by someone with autism. Now, yes, I'm going to specifically link to stuff my mom has made (she herself is Historically Asperger's and also she casts autistic actors, as well as other neurodiverse cast and crew, in her projects) but the point is the most important part. You don't have to watch or read or rock out to my mom's stuff so long as you purposely seek art created by and performed by autistics. For example, my mom's stuff!  

Here are three specific suggestions:

a) Living with Lynette - Available for viewing is the pilot episode of Living with Lynette, a show she created with the plan to always hire neurodiverse actors, writers, and crew. In this episode, all of the actors have the diagnosis attributed to them. Also, I play "Sherry" the neighbor with an addiction to having too many carreers. I admit, I don't actually have that problem. Unless you count my addiction to reading which gives me the opportunty to IMAGINE having all kinds of carreers! 

Follow this link to watch Living with Lynette free on YouTube: Living with Lynette 

b) Crazy to Sane - My mom wrote and performed this one-woman musical comedy about her life quite a few years ago. The show is about healing herself and her family from the traumas of abuse, while also healing their brains. Autism, abuse, adoption, parenting, and healing are the main themes while laughter and music are the delivery system. Crazy to Sane has been performed around the world and regardless of language or culture it always brings audiences to their feet with tears, gratitude, and a desire to sing along! 

You can purchase the show CD (digital or physical CD) and watch music videos here: Crazy to Sane

c) Miracles are Made: A Real Life Guide To Autism - Miracles are Made is a real life guide, written from the happenings of real life. In Miracles Are Made my mom not only shares stories from her personal and professional life, but also illuminates the whys and the wherefores of the social climate parents find themselves in when coping with autism. So whether you have autism in your immidiate world or not, it offers a glimpse into how we, as people in the world, are all affecting each other. And then, by highlighting neurofeedback and the plasticity of the brain, she offers valuable solutions. She teaches us how to make the best of what is possible and recreate the healings she has been fortunate enough to facilitate. As a reader you come away understanding how to understand autism. You come away knowing what to do.

To learn more about Miracles are Made and mom's other books, follow this link: BOOKS by Lynette Louise

3) Enter to win a signed copy of my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself, which is being given away FREE (for folks in the USA) by The Perfect Piece this Autism Awareness Month! (Okay, this one isn't exactly something my mom made but it is a book of stories about my life which, no surprise, includes a lot of stuff about mom. And, if we're getting technical, my mom made me and I made the book so, I guess it is still something she made! Giggle!) Head on over to The Perfect Piece, send in a pic that represents what autism means in your life (get creative! Have fun!) and it will be posted on The Perfect Piece social media accounts. Likes on your picture get you points, so be sure to tell your friends to hit that like button! Also, there are several other ways to gain points beyond that. Be sure the visit the page and ask questions! Then, when you win, you can read my book, love it, and tell everyone you know about it. Now, I am not autistic. However, as you know, I have grown-up surrounded by autism. So I like to think my book is a candid (and kind) perspective of growing-up alongside autism. 

4) Ask about autism. Thoughtfully and with kind curiosity and interest. Open yourself up to believing and understanding and mostly listening. And, again, ask. Be sure to largely ask autistics. Listen to and learn from parents and experts who aren't autistic also, but largely ask autistics. If you aren't comfortable or certain how or who to ask, begin with the internet. But PLEASE be kind, careful, and clear in your searches. I admit that there's a lot of debate and high emotion in the autism community. How to say it (autistic or has autism?) how to talk about it (a gift, a curse, a sickness, a style) how to represent your support (a puzzle piece, the color blue, light it up, the infinity sign) etc, but in my experience the most important part is to care, to listen, and to truly take steps to understand the reasons for the debates more than the conclusions people come to. The reasons are where the important seeds can be found. 

One place you can learn a bit more about autism is, wait for it.... my mom's autism and neurofeedback site!! Brain and Body. (Phew! I almost didn't mention stuff my mom makes there. Close one. tee hee!) 

To learn about autism and neurofeedback follow these links: Brain and Body - Autism information | Brain and Body - What is Neurofeedback? | Brain and Body - Autism & Neurofeedback 

5) Join autism groups, read articles, volunteer at a church, school, workplace, anywhere that includes folks on the spectrum of autism. If you are making a movie or if you own a business, hire people with autism. IMPORTANT: Take an extra moment to rethink the way you've been thinking about that guy that you see acting strangely in your local store or the parent you see allowing behaviors you don't understand. Be kind and interested, not judgemental and afraid.  (No links to stuff my mom made here, but I'm being entirely honest when I tell you that my mom wished for this more than anything when she was raising eight kids on her own, six adopted and four on the autism spectrum. She wished for, more than anything, less judgement. She taught us the value of this and asked that we always do our best to example it. We try.) 

Those are my suggestions for taking action this Autism Awareness And Acceptance Month! Maybe share this post around so that others can take action with you. Add suggestions of your own when you share it! 

Have fun, get creative, be kind, and let's promise ourselves to teach at least one new thing and to learn at least one new thing this April.

We'll meet back here in May and share our results!!

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

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Autism Answer: The Top Three Reasons I Take A Selfie (What About You?)

When my sons were little I took selfie-like pics of me with them often. Back then I didn't have access to digital pics or social media. So, I would take three or four in the hopes that one turned out alright ("alright" meaing that I captured the mood I was after and we don't look too unkempt, or - in the case of me personally - like a mean cackling witch) and then wait a month or two until I could afford to have the photos developed to find out how I did. In most cases, I threw away a few of these photos keeping only the ones I mostly liked for our photo album. (Back then a photo album was a physical thing. Boy, I'm old! tee hee!)

Anyway, now that I can use my phone to snap as many pics as I want at no extra cost while knowing how simple it is to delete the ones that don't work, I still sometimes take selfie-style photos with my son. Also, with my nieces and siblings and friends and my granddaughter! I love especially when I can capture the mood of our moments together! Some I share on social media, most I keep for myself and my family to scroll through when the moment calls for it.

But now, with my access to digital photos and social media, along with my new role of sometimes marketer, I also take a lot of selfies. Simply, a picture of me. Not only that, but I take pictures of myself to share with others. It feels weird, I admit, taking a bunch of pics of myself and then looking for the one that works. It's a little bit embarassing even, and I always look around furtively in hopes that no one will see me. So, why do I do it? 

Well, good question. I was wondering that myself! So I thought about it and discovered that these are the three most common reasons I take selfies. 

1) I'm Not A Good Enough Photographer To Capture Mood with Inanimate Objects

This one comes up mostly when I'm trying to get a good picture of a book. Books are freaking beautiful! They stir emotions and possiblity in me, and every time I'm reading a
Coffee and a book.
new one I want to share it with the world. Partly as a way to share book suggestions with followers and partly as a way to show folks what I'm reading so they can chime in with comments if they know the book or the author and have thoughts to share. But, now and then, I also try to get pics of other objecst that stir a mood in me. Headphones, pencils, coffee, etc. However, the mood stirred in me that I want to share I can rarely capture. Enter the selfie. It's easier for me to model the mood (while holding the book, wearing the headphones, nibbling the pencil, you get it) than it is to use lighting, props, and filters to create the image that evokes the feelings. So, the most common reason I take selfies is because I'm not a great photographer but I want badly to share something well. Hence, I put myself in the pic and model the mood and pose with the item (again, most often a book) because I don't - yet! - want badly enough to learn the skill of photography. 


2) I Want To Accompany My Words With An Image But I Don't Know The Rules 

I'll want to post a story or a thought, or I'll want to tell folks about one of my mom's books or shows or interviews, and I want to use an image to capture attention as well as add
Coffee and one of my mom's books!

personality to the post. But I don't know what the rules are exactly about copyright, privacy, etc. If I take a photo that includes a business logo or storefront, how much freedom do I have to post? If there is a person in the picture but I write a thought or opinion that goes against their values, is that fair? If I want to use photos from photo sharing sites, I often have to pay and always have to understand exactly what each copyright rule means and how to fairly use the image - creative commons, fair use, yadda yadda, I'm not confident I understand the meanings. So, I just take a photo of me or something I made. And then I give me permission to use it. 


3) I Think My Hair Looks Particularly Cool And Want It To Be Seen

Ya, that happens sometimes. Not often, but sometimes. I'll walk by a window, see my
Check out my hair!
reflection and think that my hair is looking pretty awesome. Then I'll notice for a moment that I live a very quiet life with not many people around. There's my hubby and my youngest son. Sometimes my brother stops by. But that's about it. I work from home and even the hours that I volunteer are mostly done on my computer. So, I'll take a selfie and post it! Admittedly, I don't say, "I think my hair looks cool," in the post, I almost always come up with something else to mention. Also, I don't sit around wondering if other people think my hair looks cool, that's not really the point. I just post and think, neat! I captured the cool way my hair is falling today! How fun! 

So, there we have it. The three most common reasons I take a selfie. I mainly wanted to share with you because I think it's fun. But also, I think it's valuable to take the time to notice what we do and why we do it. Also, selfies are far more common now than they were when I first started taking them with my 110 film cartridge. So I think it's a healthy excersise to consider our reasons. I hear people assume that it's to show off our awesome lives or to get attention by trying to look attractive and then hoping for likes and comments. Sure, some people probably do that some of the time. And if we catch ourselves doing that, serving images of ourselves and our activities up to the virutual world in hopes of some validation of sorts, well, we would do well to think about that. Maybe make a change. I don't think that's safe or healthy. 

But I think a great many of us take selfies (and share our lives, our opinions, our talents) for such a wide variety of reasons that it's worth thinking about. 

In fact, today is an important day with a small tie-in, I think. While I'm writing a silly fun post about taking pictures of myself, millions of people are marching around the world with the intention of changing American gun laws. This important movement (which, full disclosure, I support) was largely started by a traumatized group of teens from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, recent victim of a mass shooting. 

Now, these young people have been outspoken, well organized, and clear of message from the beginning. There are, of course, many reasons why these students have been capable of
Wondering about what we do and why we do it, for our grandchildren.
speaking with strength and clarity, but I'm quite sure one of the reasons they are comfortable speaking on camera and able to market their message well is, well, the selfie-style time they are growing up in. Taking a video of yourself and posting it online, with the possiblitiy of who knows how many seeing it, is how they're growing up. Taking a picture of yourself and then posting it - for reasons healthy and un - is how they've grown up. Hashtagging to find a target audience, and also to create a memorable meaningful slogan, is how they've grown up. And, sadly, school shooter drills is, too. So the successful turnout and attention of this weekend's  #MarchForOurLives is probably in part due to the selfie generation taking the time to think about the reasons for selfies. And, of course, due to the fact that it's a just cause to march for. 

So, I wanted to write about why I take selfies because it's fun. But also, as it is with most things, there is something valuable in it. 

Do you ever take selfies? 
If so, do you share them? 
With your family or on social media? 

Have you every wondered?
It might be a good thing to know.  

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