Thursday, February 4, 2016

Autism Answer: How Our Kids Are Doing In School Is Not How Our Kids Are Doing

REMINDER: Our children's grades do not tell us how our children are doing. They tell us how our children's grades are doing. 

Sure, they are worth chatting about with our rugrats but good grades do not equal doing good, or vice versa. 

Often I hear parents ask each other: "How are the kids doing?" And far too often I hear a quick response that is some version of: "Great! She's in honor roll this year." or "Awesome! He's finally getting his school work in on time and bringing up his grades." or "Struggling. Her teachers tell me that she doesn't really apply herself or do the work." 

My hope is that we parents will remember to pay attention to how our kids feel about school and what they're actually learning, but we'll easily know that how they are is not about grades. Their grades do tell us a story about our children, they give us an idea of what they struggle with and care about and what their motivators are. But the grades aren't about HOW they're doing. Sure, most of us kind of "get" that but we're losing our grip on how true it is. 

When we run into old friends at the grocery store and they ask: "How are the kids doing?" I hope we'll easily respond with some version of: "Great! She's really into this new idea she has about writing the story for a video game." or "Awesome! He's been telling me all about why he wants to build Eco friendly buildings in busy American cities." or "Struggling. She feels confident about her ideas most days but struggles to like herself. We'll get there though. School is helping, she has a great group of friends and a supportive counselor." 

Some of our children go to school, so ignoring their grades or teacher reports would be silly. But their grades do not tell us how they're doing. 

Our children do. 

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

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Autism Answer: Upon My Death

My flight to California was seriously delayed due to mechanical issues with the plane, and then my connecting flight was delayed for the same reason. And then there was a whole lot of turbulence during the flight, so I wrote a letter to my loved ones in case I died.

Turns out, I didn't die! But, it also turns out that my life and my loved ones are so darned awesome that it's okay if I do die. I love knowing that!

So, if ever I die, this letter is for You.

* * *

Dear You, 

I guess we'll be having coffee and conversation differently now. Knowing us, we'll find a way that'll be funny and uniquely ours! There's something, though, that I want to tell you now. 

I’m not at all scared. 

I’m in awe, amazed, confident, and curious, mostly. Sure, I’m also sad. I will miss you in the deepest way something vital can be missed. Something necessary and worth the possibility of losing. But we’ve missed each other before and though I was sad then, we also discovered important gifts in the absence. We learned and lived things we couldn’t have otherwise learned or lived, because our separation was part of what we were learning from. So I’m sad, but I’m comfortable with that. 

Interestingly, I’m not scared. Not at all.

For me, everything of utmost importance has been done. There is so much I still want to do, so much I still want to experience and create. But everything that I needed to do, all the things that I had decided were the markers of who I had to be, have been done. And you have loved me in the active way that offers hints I did them well. Thank you!

You have the tools, talent, courage, and awareness to live your life well and to live it your way; I know that completely. You’ve proven it over and over and I’ve had the honor of learning from you. You’ll do ever more amazing and unique things in the coming moments. I’m excited to watch from the other dimension! 

I’m curious, too. 

We’re so valuable to and supportive of each other. It’s given us strength and insight. I know it will be lasting, but I don’t know what it will look like now that I’m elsewhere. My imagination can create so many possibilities! I’m curious to see what your imagination and actions create.  

But I’m not scared. Not at all.

I’m surprised. I’ve never feared dying, but, as you know, I’ve often feared being gone from you. I felt a need to show you more, give you more, appreciate you more. Yet I now know that we’ve given more already. And it’s wonderful! What a stellar and wonderful life of abundance!! More has been a delicious and nourishing gift but, like dessert, it’s not necessary. 

Because of this, I’m not scared. Not even a little. 

I’m aware and unworried. I know we still have hurdles, vulnerabilities, and fears. I know we were going to do so much work together; creating and cultivating and expanding our souls. But I’m unworried because of the work we've already done and the supportive web we’ve weaved. Look around us!! The pool of abilities and support is deep! We are part of that and always will be. 

We’ve been invited into everything that gives us happiness and we’ve accepted.

I’m not at all scared. 

I’m amazed, grateful, curious, enlightened and deeply loved. And, yes, I’m a little bit sad. 

But I’m not scared. Not at all.

Thank you for that!


xoxo / Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Autism Answer: So You're New To Autism? You're Lucky You Ran Into Me!

Me and my youngest son.

So you've started dating a girl with autism? So you just found out that your son is on the autism spectrum? So you learned that all of those times you felt stranded in a world that doesn't make sense had to do with your not-so-typical brain? So that autistic girl from next door has started to wander into your yard and want your attention? 

You're lucky you ran into me! 

I live a life surrounded by autism. My mom, my brothers, some of my sons, and a few of my friends, all landed in various places on this broad spectrum. Some of my loved ones are no longer diagnosable as autistic, but all of my loved ones remain wonderfully quirky! 

You are lucky! I'm guessing you know this, but I want to reiterate it anyway. I, myself, took too long to understand it. 

The world needs us to have the kinds of conversations that are encouraged because of challenges like autism. I don't mean to glorify or belittle or romanticize the challenges; they are real and they are hard. But almost all of them are problems of a society that is uncomfortable with chaos and inconvenience. Only a few of them are actually because of autism itself. 

Sadly, I didn't know this. I assumed my mom and my brothers were asking too much of themselves and the world, and that the world (when telling them to stop being themselves and to stop trying to be accepted or able) must be right. After all, there is so much more of the world than us! How could it be wrong? 

But I had children, and they stimmed, pulled away from certain types of touch, remained naked and nonverbal for too long despite my efforts. The list is longer. 

By the time I was a mom my brothers had already proven the ever-doubting world and me wrong, time and time again. My mom had patiently showed me, taught me, believed in me until I learned to know in what ways I was wrong. By the time I was a mom I was ready to step up and explain things to the world. 

I started by admitting my own cruelties. That was sometimes hard but always easier than justifying and defending them. Then, I asked the people I love what was going on in their minds and--this is key-- I believed them. When my mom and brothers used to try to tell me about their experiences, I mostly entertained them with nods and pats on the head. Secretly I thought they were being dramatic, not trying hard enough, or just plain not smart enough to make sense. I could give you specific examples (I have many!) but suffice it to say, I was "nice" on the surface and saw them as "other" on the inside. 

But my sons? I couldn't do it. I had to believe in them and be interested in them and truly listen when they told me things. Whether they communicated by moving away or toward things, or eventually with words. 

Because the world looks, smells, feels, and tastes different to everyone, and especially for our autistic loved ones, it's important to trust them to tell us how they feel, what they see, who they are, what they think. It can be hard to understand (my one brother used to complain about all the "poo flakes" flying at him when I asked about his flinching and my other brother doesn't have much language so I've learned to listen to his energy and motions) but it's more than worth it. We all become better people when we learn to do this everywhere in our lives. 

Because of my brothers, and especially because of my mom (who adopted my wonderful brothers despite everyone telling her they were unlovable) my life is better and my eyes are open in beautiful ways. I'm kinder, smarter, and busier sharing wonderful things instead of hiding away from possibilities that are hard to work toward.  

I've learned to listen when people take the time to share their experiences--what it's like to be black in small town Texas, or gay in high school, or Muslim in America, or homeless or autistic or raped by someone everybody loves--and to believe them. Sounds simple and obvious, right? Yet pay attention. Most of us assume we know what other people should feel, we challenge their experiences by telling them, "That's not right, that's not what it is." We do this easily and consistently and it's dangerous and sad.  

So you're lucky you ran into me! Take a deep breath and when the world looks at you or your son or your girlfriend or the neighbor girl with judgements, anger, or pity, try to respond with a kindness and a teaching. Not always, but when you can. I've learned to do this (for the most part) and it's been enlightening! Often people shift when I'm willing to smile and offer a kindness. And when they don't, I go ahead and give them the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps they thought about it later and will be less judgmental next time. Goodness knows I've gone home and thought about things only to grow kinder for the next person! 

The weight of the world is not on your shoulders entirely, so don't feel obligated to always take the time to teach or encourage a thoughtful reaction, but you have been gifted with a unique opportunity. Take advantage of it in creative and comfortable ways!  

You're new to autism which means you'll be interested and curious to learn from others. That's great! Please know: The professionals will try to be helpful but listen first to your autistic loved one. The professionals are lovely but rarely right. And when they are right, when they do believe in unlimited possibilities and putting the goals and motivators of the autistic individual first, when they do prove to you that their ideas and actions are effective and kind, hold onto them and learn with them! Those gems of support are your best bling! 

While you're here I want badly to tell you about all the things my mom* does that can help. I want to tell you about my book that is a collection of stories starring parenting and autism. I want to tell you to hire my mom, watch her shows, read her books. 

And here's the thing. So many of us are going to tell you that. You will meet so many wonderful well meaning people with the perfect book, the perfect therapy, the perfect vitamin, the perfect-whatever. I suggest you listen to them, because they have experience and you don't need to figure it all out alone. But always, always, always take time away from their opinions to think about how it resonates for you and your family.

Your beliefs. Your girlfriend. Your son. Your neighbor. 

And also, friend, take the time to consider what beliefs or motivators you might have that are in your way; hurting your chances for a valuable and successful experience. 

It will surprise you sometimes! We are creatures of our environment and the environment is imperfect. That's okay, because we are also creatures of power and you can make changes. 

Invest in your happiness and agency!

My brothers are now my friends. My sons are my treasures. My mom is my mentor and kindred spirit. My life is diverse and unpredictable and filled with magic and miracles! 
You're lucky you ran into me!

Because of my struggles with society and self, I'm able to share these learnings with you and save you some hardship.  I'm able to explore my mistakes and see that they are indeed valuable. 

I see that it's also me who's lucky. 
I'm lucky I ran into you!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
*My mom is now an international mental health expert (Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad) who travels the world helping families grow healthy, happy and strong. Her international docu-series FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD airs on The Autism Channel (you can check out clips on YouTube or her website Lynette Louise aka THE BRAIN BROAD). She uses neurofeedback and brilliant behavior shifts to help people identify their goals and reach them with impressive speed and comfort. Please visit her websites to learn more. and 

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Autism Answer: In Which I Appreciate You For Reading My Many Words

"When I write I feel like I'm disappearing into more of me" ~Tsara Shelton

Wow, I've written a lot. 
Boy oh boy, I really like to tell you about my family! 

This morning I was thinking about doing a "Throw Back Thursday" thing and sharing an old blog post on Facebook, so I started peeking around at my posts and kept thinking, "Wowza! I really like to write about what's going on with my family. I really like writing what I think. I just keep writing and writing and writing!"

And then I also noticed there have been others peeking at my posts, too. People like you. People who take the time to read what I write (and write and write and write). 

I'm forever grateful to all of you--the one time readers, the sometimes readers, the consistent readers, commenters and sharers--for being here with me while I write, consider, reflect, and giggle at our antics. You've helped me and my boys grow. One of the things my sons love to say when I applaud them for coming up with something funny or something insightful is: "Is that going to be an Autism Answer?"

They say it with a smile. They know that I like to celebrate and share with you, and they like it. 

They're forever grateful to all of you, too! It's through sharing and considering and writing that I truly get comfortable with my parenting. In clearly expressing my thoughts I'm able to own them, and sometimes, change them. 

Have you noticed, friends, that I'm not shy about sharing challenges and hardships? That I'm inclined to offer up my vulnerabilities and mistakes as important moments for learning? And in doing so I've been able to refine and understand and even feel proud of my ability to tell stories with intention. My intention shifts a little as my life shifts, but it's always some version of discovering a useful, kind, and deeply inclusive answer. I tell stories of hurt or failure or cruelty always with a purpose to discover something nourishing. 

I've learned that most of you do that as well. Through your comments and messages I've learned that I'm not at all alone in this. I'd love to sip coffee with all of you one day!! We're so different from each other yet so wonderfully comfortable with that!

As my motto reminds me: "Autism asks challenging questions, begs us to think outside the box and then, Autism Answers!" The stuff that makes us think differently and learn from difference invites us to meet in the place where forgotten answers wait to be re-discovered and where new ideas wait to be created and considered. We, friends, are not afraid to spend some time in those places, sharing seeds of thought that grow into unusual but purely organic truths. 

So, thank-you. Thank-you for letting me share with you and thank you for sharing with me. Our seeds and thoughts have already grown into beautiful things. I'm unable to see it all, but I only have to look at my sons to know the beauty of it. 

Now, with no further ado, a Throw Back Thursday blog post! This one is a few years old and it's a lovely example of how we're always growing. It's the story of my husband's first time ever visit to a new state at over sixty years old, and how my then four year old nieces explored a new kind of relationship with their rarely seen uncle Milton. 

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

Monday, January 18, 2016

Autism Answer: I Love Buying Used Books - Should I?

I've recently grappled a bit for an answer to a question. 

I love to buy used books. But lately I've been wondering, should I?

Most of my life I've read used books; I love the worn look and feel, and I love the extra dimension of knowing I'm not the first to turn those pages and feel feelings, and I like the recycling aspect. I love to buy new sometimes as well but I've almost never been able to afford it. For years and years this love of worn books has worked perfectly for me. 

Then eBooks happened and I promptly harrumphed them. No smell! No tactile pleasure! No walking past a finished read displayed on my overflowing book piles reminding me of past feelings and lives! 

Yet, how many trees are saved by eBooks? I know that the technology creates problems for nature, but could it be as bad as producing so many physical books? 

And things also changed for me when I became an author myself. I realized, suddenly, that all those delicious books I'd bought or borrowed second hand were not feeding the author. I was falling in love with their sweat, tears, and deep creations but I wasn't paying them for it. 

Hmmmmmm..... I had to rethink a bit.  

Now, though, I've done some rethinking. And I have my answer.

I'm aware that I will likely shift my answer eventually, or at the least I'll rethink it again when new things are introduced for my consideration and understanding*. But for now I'm confident with where I am. 

I will continue to buy or borrow used books. Because it's a form of recycling, because it's a pleasure I crave and deserve, and because as an author I want, more than anything, for people to read and share my book. Sure, I hope I'll make a little money. I like food and coffee and whatever it takes to visit my sons in California. Usually those things take money. 

But when I imagine what I want most of all, it's the sharing of my stories. I love imagining someone years from now stumbling on my book in the dark quiet corner of their local thrift store and being invited into the pages! I'm energized by the possibility that they may even want to share that experience with someone else! 

Besides, when I read a book that I bought at a second hand book store or borrowed from my local library, people see it! People who may never have heard of the book get a look at it and see me enjoying it and, in a way, I'm giving it a little free advertising! 

The one thing I do different now, after my rethinking, is when I love a book, I make sure to take the time to write a review. 

Usually on Amazon but sometimes also here on my blog or elsewhere. Sure, even before this rethinking I often planned to leave a review for the sake of other readers, but I was lazy about it. I'd do it only when it was convenient. It never occurred to me that the author themselves would appreciate my review. I always had them on such a pedestal that I thought little ol' me was a voice that would offer no interest. 

Oops! Authors do care! Not about me but about all of us who read. 

I know that viscerally, now. 

So, thank-you for being here with me while I asked myself this question so that I could have a fun reason to articulate an answer. 

I hope you have a favorite way to read, borrow, and buy books too!!  

Hugs, smiles, and love!! 
Most of these were bought used.
*EDIT: A comment on Google Plus by the lovely Rachel Clark just offered more for our consideration. Apparently our technology--eReaders, mobile phones, gaming systems etc.--contain Conflict Minerals, mined in eastern Congo and fueling violent causes in the area while profiting folks who are far from the conflict. I am not a researcher but, sadly, this seems likely.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Autism Answer: My Nieces Are The Greatest Gift - Reflections on their Birthday #Twins

My youngest nieces and my youngest son.

My youngest nieces are six today!!!!! 

I love them soooooooooooo much! They are the most delightful little people I've had the pleasure of spending time with. They are uncommonly happy and comfortable. They are loving and funny and delighted by life. They are heroes! 

It's because of them that they are who they are. It's because they choose to be curious and happy and passionate. It's because they like the way it feels to get attention from their smiles and songs.

But it's also because of us that they are who they are. My sons, my mom, myself, their sisters, their dad, and--most of all--their mom, my sister. So many people who treat them with interest and respect. So many people who light up at the sight and sound of them. 

And it's because of each other. Being twins, they've been at each others side since before the beginning. They have a deep connection that is unusual for most people; a true gift when you are able to have it. I'm quite sure I have it with their mom, my sister.

At the end of the day, though, it doesn't matter why my youngest nieces are such delightful, loving, happy, comfortable people. Although, sure, it's clever to consider it. It's clever to want to take advantage of a thing so we can reuse it elsewhere. Mostly, though, we don't wonder why. 

We're busy celebrating it! Encouraging it! Playing and dancing and laughing and snuggling with it!! 

Which, of course, is a feedback loop I recognize as why my nieces probably keep on growing comfortable, happy, and confident.

My nieces are the greatest gift we could ever hope for on their birthday. 

Happy birthday to my gorgeous little heroes!

Aunt T loves you and misses you like crazy!!!!
Hugs, smiles, and love!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

PHOTO: by Jory Shelton
This is a pic of my two oldest sons and my two youngest nieces. My boys aren't twins but most people think they are.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Autism Answer: Do You Have A Book Like This In Your Home?

"MIRACLES ARE MADE leads you on an incredible emotional journey. Lynette Louise is an amazing woman who brings love, inspiration and hope to families of children on the autistic spectrum. A must read for every parent!" ~Alisa Wolf, M.Ed. -SPED, Executive Director/Founder Actors for Autism 
Me and a book I love about a family I love; mine.

MIRACLES ARE MADE: A Real Life Guide to Autism still holds a place as one of my all time favorite books. Written by my mom I confess, I expected to roll my eyes and think things like "That's so mom." or "Who cares about us?" or "That story again?!"

But, no. I was moved, taught, guided, and newly in love with my adventurous pioneering family. Things that nobody would do because nobody was doing it, my mom did! She held our hands, kept a loving eye on how we were affected, and shifted course when her attentive and strange mind knew it was necessary. She always knew before things became a problem.

So, yes! It's "So mom," and thank goodness! Her out of the box brain, with the visions and the fairness and the love, love, love for all children, is unusual and beautiful and So Mom!

"Who cares about us?" We should! She reminds us why our unique family is uniquely valuable! Not because we're "cooler" or "better" but because we did it different, and it worked! 

"That story again?" The one where my brothers were said, by everyone who proposed to want to help them, to be useless and sad and pathetic and unhelpable yet my mom refused to see or understand such foolishness. And so she helped them, in unique ways that are not taught elsewhere, to never believe they (or anyone) is useless, sad, pathetic, or unhelpable. That story? Again! Please! 

"The parent is inevitably left as the final arbiter of what is good for the child, the final judge of what is and isn't helping. MIRACLES ARE MADE gives them the necessary background, and backbone, to level the playing field in the face of so many therapeutic options." ~Seigfried Othmer, Ph.D., Chief Scientist of the EEG Institute, President of the Brian Othmer Foundation, Author of ADD: The 20-Hour Solution

And she tells so many other stories! New ones I never knew from clients around the globe who she helped make their own miracles! Families with autism, Parkinson's, depression, ADHD, strokes, seizure disorders and much more. 

"In MIRACLES ARE MADE, my mom has shared with passion, humor and intelligence our lifetime of learning. The therapies, struggles and mistakes made along the road to independence for three of my four autistic brothers have become a gift for other moms. Other sisters. Other families. This book is a gift for anyone who spends any time at all with children!" ~Tsara Shelton, Writer & Coffee Sipper, Author of Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up 

MIRACLES ARE MADE: A Real Life Guide to Autism is a book about autism, love, family, neurofeedback, diversity, raising the bar and creative ideas. It's a book that I pick up and peruse again and again for inspiration and insight. 

I hope you have a book like that in your home!

If not, I invite you to take a peek at these:
Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)