Friday, July 15, 2016

Autism Answer: Put Yourself On Hold And Listen

Thinking about how the character feels.

When I read a novel I don't question the character's feelings. I don't read the description and think "that's not right at all, you didn't feel that way, you're just trying to get attention" or any such thing.

Instead, I put how I imagine I would feel on hold while I wear the feelings of the character. When the novel is well written I almost always think things like "that's not how I would have felt, how interesting and eye opening, I never thought of it that way" and I put the book down for a moment to marinate in the new feelings and conclusions of things. 

Why, then, did I have to teach myself to do this also when real life people tell me how they feel in certain situations? Why did I want to tell my autistic brothers that they are WRONG about their feelings, and that I was the expert? 

They would tell me with words or actions that certain things hurt (u-turns in the car, for example) and that other things felt good (certain songs played over and over and over, for example) and I would tell them with my words or actions that they were wrong and they had to get over it. 

Sure, I thought I was "teaching" but I didn't first take the time to believe them about their feelings. I couldn't imagine a u-turn hurting, and I knew that we didn't mean to hurt him with a u-turn, and so I didn't take the time to put myself on hold and imagine being him. And when a brother needed to hear the same song over and over and over, crying and begging with looks of desperation while dragging me to the music player for the song again and again, I assumed he needed to "get over it" and thought I was teaching when I didn't press play. Oh, I knew that certain songs could make us feel good, but I also knew that I could easily handle it if others didn't want to hear the song that made me feel good, so I thought my brother needed to learn that too. I didn't take the time to imagine myself as someone different than me, as someone challenged like my brother. 

Yet it was always so easy for me when I read novels. In fact, the reason I have always loved to read novels is exactly for that. That feeling I get when characters come to different conclusions than I would or have different feelings about things than I would or are treated differently than I am and they open my eyes to infinite and new possibilities!

I also love novels for those moments when the character feels exactly how I've felt. When the story takes place in a world of events and people I've never experienced or known yet the author reminds me that we are all in emotional need of the same things. I love that! I think things like "oh, that's exactly how I've felt, I could never find the perfect way to describe it, I'm highlighting that" and I'm newly invested in the character who is also mostly different from me. 

I don't know why it took me long, but my life is better because I've learned to do that with the real life people in my world, too.

I'm so grateful to my brothers for forgiving my mistakes. And I'm even more grateful that they continue to share with me their feelings and let me imagine myself as them. 

Now when we teach each other (because we do want to learn how to feel comfortable with u-turns and different songs) it's from a place of knowing they are the expert of their feelings. A place where I imagine myself as them. A place of caring and curiosity and understanding. 

And that has made all the difference. 

Please, friends, when people tell you about their experience of the world - the way they feel, the way they're treated, the things that help them - take the time to put yourself on hold for a moment and imagine their truth. Believe them, listen, and imagine. 

Then put the book down for a moment, sit in the silence together, while you let that truth marinate. And together you can explore ways to be happier, healthier, and safer. 

From the place where you validate and value the experiences and feelings of each other.
It makes all the difference!

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

My brother

Monday, July 11, 2016

Autism Answer: I Don't Know What It's Like To Be You

Rain in my yard

Right now I live in a poor neighborhood in a small, old, run down trailer house with my black much older than me mechanic husband, my big white gay son, my anti-social overly passionate mixed-race son, and my book reading white skinned woman hippie self. I sit and have coffee in my kitchen (avoiding the holes in the floor) with my socially struggling once-upon-a-time autistic brother. Together we talk often about how much we miss my brown skinned half Arab older sons who have moved away to another state.

I rarely notice all of that. Mostly, I live in my house with my family and hang out with my brother. 

But I would be lying if I didn't admit that I've changed and grown because of learning from
My hubby working with our boys
the experiences my black mechanic older husband shares with me, and the situations my white gay son tells me he's been in, and the reasons my overly passionate mixed-race son reveals for his anti-social behavior. My once-upon-a-time autistic brother relates realities that might have remained unknown to me while my brown skinned boys make choices to not grow their beards when certain racial tensions are high.  I'm certain, too, that my family has shifted when hearing me share stories of my book reading hippie-woman experiences.

Meanwhile, we've all learned things with and because of our neighbors who deal with poverty in vastly different ways. 

We are all different and should never try to change that. 

I believe in integration without the expectation of assimilation.

But we are all the same, too. We are all one race of alive beings on one alive planet. We all live together, and that's not negotiable. We can choose to do so with curious interest and love, or with mistrust and judgements. It's completely and totally up to us. 

As individuals and as society - which is made up of individuals who teach each other - we have the responsibility and power to tell the story of who we are and how we live together. Stories need controversy and obstacles to be intriguing, but they do not need "bad guys". (Although, if you want a story with bad guys you need not look further than most large man-made systems and corporations. As they grow they become dangerous.)

I live in a poor neighborhood with my diverse family. Together we share with each other how we experience the world. Although our beliefs often clash, always they are valid and valuable. 

The story of my life is filled with controversy, love, worry, life, death, hope, hurt, and diversity. There are not "bad guys" in my story to distract from the stuff that matters most to me; there are flavors and feelings.  

However, I'll admit that my husband believes in bad guys, so his story does include them. Yet we live together and let our clashing beliefs make a music we can both dance to. We find ways to harmonize and change both of our stories by sharing and shifting together. 

It's not always easy. But that's why I know we don't need bad guys to fill our world with interesting twists and turns! Loving each other and insisting on learning together is filled with intrigue and interesting plot twists!

The goal is not to pretend we aren't different. We are! And it's fascinating! The goal, or my goal at least, is to explore those differences from where we are the same. Where we remember that we are all equally valuable living beings with the same need to be free, accepted, and honored. We all eat, breathe, bleed, think, hope, dream, hurt, and love. But we are all born different, and become different, and are treated different, too.

The people I live with don't know what it's like to be a woman because they aren't women. I don't know what it's like to be a black man in small town Texas. I don't know what it's like to be a young gay man here, either. Or mixed race and passionately sensitive. I can barely imagine how it is to grow up autistic in a world that pities and fears cognitive disabilities and I have no clue what it means to walk around in brown skin with a handsome Arab face in America. But we can do our best to tell each other and listen, and to make necessary changes. We can, and we must. 

We can, we must, and I do. 

I get it wrong, but I do it anyway, hoping to get it right. 

Which is a place where we are all the same. 
We're all hoping to get it right.

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

My husband teaching our youngest son.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Autism Answer: Say YES! Then Find Your Way To Make It Happen

Okay, this is cool!!

My mom (international autism & parenting expert Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad ) often tells me how much she loves her families. <----- That's what she calls her "clients". 

Although she can't tell me much about them (confidentiality and all that jazz) I feel as though they are my family, too. After all, the love and learning mom gets from and gives to them, she brings home to us. So, they are certainly my brothers and sisters! 

Often mom will talk passionately and with awe about the creative ideas her families come up with to hire her. Several families pitching in, or tying it in with a family vacation, or saving on travel by hiring her when she's in the area, or agreeing to be on camera for her international series FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD. A series that has, by the way, brought her more families! 

So when I ran across this Go Fund Me campaign created by Tamis Baron, a woman in California who is having my mom do a workshop in her home, I fell in love with yet another sister! She is hoping to help her nearly 90 year old dad and other family members, and also to give the gift of my mom to her community. From the campaign description: 

"He was diagnosed first with schizophrenia in his 50s and then rediagnosed with ADHD in his 60s. At 87 they were hell bent on diagnosing him with Dementia. I lived with him for a while the last 2 years and my experience was that, although he was slow in thinking and had short term memory issues, he acted more like people I knew who were Autistic. So I went on a quest for answers looking for something that fit."

This is a brilliant woman who knew she wanted to do the In Home Parenting Program, knew it was going to help a heap of people in her family and community, and knew it would be the most fun way to learn. So, she said YES and booked it! Now, she's finding her way to make it happen. 

Read More Here: Autism ASD Speaker and Workshop

*If you live in California, specifically around Sonoma County, you can also attend the workshop!*

Please have a peek at the campaign and share it with your social network. Of course, it would be wonderful if you could contribute. But even more than that I want to share with you a community of people who say YES and then make it happen.  

And I love it most of all when what they say YES to is the love, play, and neurofeedback that my mom brings to families around the world!!! 

Tamis has also created this Facebook Page, Autism ASD Speaker and Workshop, so folks can learn more about the event, choose to attend, ask questions, and chat about what they learn. It's a public page so head on over and LIKE it!

This is one small and important example of how every one of us can say YES to the things our guts and souls tell us we want/need, and then find creative ways to make those things happen. My mom did it for us kids all of our lives and we have grown happy and successful because of it. Despite every single thing in our lives seeming to say NO my mom knew when to say YES anyway, and then make it happen. 

I love watching other people do that too! 

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

 Check out this video Tamis (the event creator) made of her dad - who was diagnosed with Asperger's two years ago. And then consider contributing to the event. Perhaps you can even meet Tamis and her dad at the event by attending it yourself! 

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Autism Answer: Being Married (The Value of Commitment)

I have been happily married for sixteen years now. And honestly, although seemingly not much changed in our relationship after we took our vows, one important all encompassing life altering thing did.

Being married meant, to me, that I had made a choice. That now we would find a way to make it work. 

As girlfriend and boyfriend there was this feeling that I was "trying something on, seeing how it fit" and so I was only partially committed. Part of me was still being critical and curious; focusing on how the relationship made me feel while staying open to the possibility of something better. However, once we decided to get married I became happily and passionately committed! 

Much like being a mom (with my sons I never wondered if I should break up when our relationship was challenging, instead I found ways to make life work smoothly again) being married has meant approaching problems with an absolute desire to figure something out. It's honestly been life changing! 

Thanks to my marriage, I can now do this quite easily in all of my relationships. 
My husband and I are absolutely different, so obviously different, in fact, that we are constantly asked how on earth we ended up together. In conversation my hubby and I hardly ever agree on anything! We don't even like any of the same foods. In almost every aspect of our long, lovely marriage together, we don't agree. 

This has taught me to seek the sameness underneath. 

In my marriage it's a strong love of family, a deep respect for each other, and a desire to love and be loved for who we are, not who we might become. 

With everyone in the world there are sameness's. A need to be loved and understood, a desire to protect ourselves and our loved ones, a feeling of individuality along with one of connectedness. These are some places where pretty much all of us are the same. Being married to someone so different from me has helped me seek these sameness's rather than immediately "break up" with or disregard people because of the clashing differences that sit on top. 

I am committed; to myself, in my marriage, as a mom, in my love with nature, and to most of the people I meet.  

I don't believe that being married is the only way to learn this important life lesson, of course. It can be learned as a parent, employee, community volunteer, or business owner. I could go on and on. 

The point is: I encourage all of us to see the value in commitment. Not only to our spouses and friends, but to every being on our struggling planet. When we're committed, when we aren't wondering if we should "break up" with our problems or inconveniences, we have an impressive capacity to create effective solutions. Our problems become less problematic when we know that they are a puzzle we can solve, if we commit ourselves.

For sixteen years I have tried to get my husband to see the importance of organic foods and the value of turning off the tv, while he as tried to convince me that humans are naturally cruel and that there are good reasons to judge people who dress too sexy. The list of things we still debate and passionately disagree on is longer than you can likely imagine.

But although my husband and I don't agree on much, we do agree on this: We have been happily married for sixteen years. 

Not because we are the same and not because we don't talk about our differences. But because we are committed to making it work; for both of us. 
There are many things I like about being married. 

That most of all!

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

Edit: Sometimes we commit to a marriage or relationship and not the people in it, and that is a dangerous mistake. Unhappiness and abuse are almost always the result. But when we commit to people, when we choose carefully the ones we keep close, the value of seeking sameness remains clear. And, friends, walking away can take great commitment! When my sons move out, when I leave an abusive friend, when I say no to helping my step-daughter, this takes great commitment to myself and our sameness! I trust they can find what they need elsewhere, as I can

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Autism Answer: A Pack of Cigarettes

The evening was warm and the parking lot was busy with visitors grabbing random items before the store closed for the night. I sat in my car people watching and waiting for Shay,
Shay and Soda
my eighteen year old son, to come out of the local dollar store where he, too, was grabbing random items. 

A typical summer night in small town Texas, I was enjoying the appearance of so many perfectly cast characters - the accents, the unhealthy and unkempt appearances, the comfortable hollering, the stereotypical segregation, the stereotypical integration - and musing at the ways I fit right in. 

I smiled as my son exited the store and headed in my direction. Now here was someone who rarely, regardless of location, fit in! 

Over six feet tall and three hundred pounds he's made for standing out. But more than that, his constant awareness of his own social awkwardness creates habits and energy that are universally distracting. 

I love him so much!

As Shay folded all of himself into our small SUV, I looked apprehensively toward his grocery bag. 

"Don't worry," he said, "I also got Skittles. That's not soda!"

I laughed. He knew exactly what my fear was. He's addicted to soda and I can't stand the stuff. We make jokes that if I could build a time machine I'd use it to hinder the invention of soda while he would use it to stop wars in imaginative (and impossible!) ways. I think we're both onto something!

However, it wasn't the purchase of soda (which was also in his bag) that created interesting conversation. It was the pack of cigarettes. 

"Wait, what?! You bought cigarettes? Why?" I was surprised, but also had a feeling I knew the answer. 

"Well," Shay explained, adjusting his glasses, "I think I can use them to make friends. I know people might want to hang out with me if I say 'Hey, want a smoke?' because smokers are motivated by the addiction."

I had guessed right. "That's what I thought you were thinking. You know, that's not the healthiest way to make friends. Plus, you can't smoke them in or around our house, you know that." 

"Well, duh! I wasn't going to sit outside with a cigarette and hope people would just show up. I'll message them on Facebook or something."

"Oh, brother!" I didn't say anything more about the cigarettes on the drive home. We had the windows open and were enjoying the night air; our silence was comfortable.

This is an ongoing conversation I have with Shay. Making friends is hard for him so he has often devised some strange plan to buy them. Or as he says: "I'm not buying friends, mom. This isn't slavery. I'm buying friendship." So, although I do rack my brain for different ways I can help him make different friends, I didn't feel overly freaked out by this new episode. 

As we arrived home Shay opened the door for me and said, "You know, you should be glad about this. I'm eighteen and this is the first time I've ever bought cigarettes. Most teenagers mess with this stuff a lot sooner than me!"

I laughed and admitted, "Your dad and I do talk often about how amazing you and your brother are. We've hardly had any worries with drugs and alcohol when it comes to you and Declyn. Plus," I added, "you're not even planning on smoking them yourself."

We carried our stuff into the kitchen and he started to pull the pack of cigarettes out of his pocket. "What do you think of this kind...." 

I pushed his hand away and said, "I don't want to see them. Put them back." 

Shay smiled. "I love our family. You know? I mean, I just bought cigarettes and instead of yelling or getting all angry you said you don't want to see them. And you told me reasons you don't like it. But we talked, you know? We didn't yell."

"Ya, I like that about us too. But if you buy soda one more time I'm going to lose it!" playfully half yelled. 

Shay booped my nose and squished my cheek (two of his favorite stims) and then headed to his bedroom. 

I thought about the pack of cigarettes. I thought about the "friends" I knew he was messaging. I thought about the new job he has and his struggle with coworkers and customers. 

And I thought about how awesome it is that he's doing so well! He comes home from a nine hour day at work and tells me the things he and his coworkers are figuring out about each other. He seems comfortable talking about, what he calls, "his issues" with folks at work and breaking it down. He doesn't seem too eager to offer excuses but rather more interested in telling his tale. Explaining, not excusing. And, yes, as all my adult sons are wonderfully willing to do, he expects to be accepted. 

My son is still trying to buy friendship, but I have a confidence that it won't be long before that changes. You see, there are places where he will fit in. Places that are more metropolitan, diverse, and artistic.

For a young gay man with social awkwardness and a refusal to keep himself under wraps, small town Texas isn't that place. But he's saving up to get his bartending license (like my dad!) and he's planning to work and live in a city with a more theatrical flair. 

Sure, he'll always be unique. But I'm absolutely confident that he can find an environment where his uniqueness is a compliment to the uniqueness he surrounds himself with. 

I crawled into bed beside my husband and snuggled his strong sexy arm. I didn't tell him about the pack of cigarettes. I know he won't have as easy a time understanding as I do. 

I tell my hubby most things, but there are a few things I keep to myself. 

You see, I have my own way of buying friendship. 

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

Me and Shay at the movies

Monday, June 20, 2016

Autism Answer: Telling Your Story

Image by Books for the Soul

"Storytellers are powerful and we are all storytellers." ~Me 

Telling your story takes a million* different forms. The things you say to yourself in your head, the actions you take in private and public, the way you describe your day to a friend, the songs you love, the posts you write, the people you choose to accept and invite into your life and the lives of your loved ones. 

For me, telling my story has included literally telling it as a story. Writing it in a book, answering interview questions, and telling it on video. 

As I've shared with you often, I started telling it before I knew exactly how. But as I continued, my story became clearer to me and easier to share. My beliefs and dreams gained clarity and came true. My writing took shape and I learned when to be pithy and when to take long strides with words.

I learned with absolute certainty that I will always be learning, and I learned to love that!

And as my sons have grown older and begun to truly do the same, to start living and telling their story - the story of who they are and what they want - before they're good at it, I'm even more certain that it was a good idea! Because, like me, I'm watching them grow gifted while they compose. I see the shifts they make in who they choose to be and I applaud as they surprise me with plot twists and character motivations I never saw coming. 

You know what? They're better at telling their own story than I was at their age!! They are entirely aware of the influences our culture and our relationships have on us, and they are confident in their own abilities to make personal choices regarding what influences to accept and enhance, and which ones they want to abandon and reveal for what they are. 

 "I AM -- the two most powerful words in the world, for whatever we put after them becomes our reality." ~Susan Howson

My sons amaze me! And I truly believe that part of their confidence comes from watching me do it, too. Seeing me tell my story and explore my own direction and beliefs, fumbling and tentative at first; growing eventually stronger and more confident, trying always to remain open minded and aware of the effect my story is having on our environment.  

I believe that my willingness to make mistakes while telling the story of me, my openness while tweaking and revising who I am and how my story goes, gave my sons something to work with. An example of how it's done. 

I also believe that my absolute happiness in being the teller of my story has given my sons an example of why they want to do it!

"I love stories and I love growing up. I love learning the same lessons over and over with more intention and a wider vision." ~Me 

Tell your story, friends! 
Be the composer of you.

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

 *In case you were doing the math, I do realize that my examples didn't quite add up to a million; I was merely supplying a small sample. tee hee!

Friday, June 10, 2016

Autism Answer: A Girl Desperate For A Boy

Often I feel like a girl desperate for a boy. 

Well, for four boys. 

They are busy, they have lives, they are growing up. They don't have the time or the inclination to talk to their mom every moment or to tell her what they're feeling twice a day. 

And though I'm happy that they don't need me, and I'm glad that they're handling their lives, and I love that they like me enough to chat with me often, suggesting new songs, movies, and various other things - I want them to let me know their ideas and feelings almost all the time. 

And so, I approach them with questions. I push them to hang out with me and dig deep into their thoughts, despite their hints that they'd rather talk to their peers. Or they'd rather keep it to themselves, talk it out with themselves. The ones who live far away, I call them. I leave messages with weakly invented "reasons" that I needed to call them. I pretend I'm fine and it's no big deal if they don't call me back. Then I call them back and say, wait, actually there's this other thing too, so can you call me back. I get embarrassed of being annoying and call again to apologize. Then I worry that I'm pushing them away, so I call them to ask. 

In those moments I feel like a girl desperate for a boy. 

And like that girl I'm aware that I need to let go. I'm surrounded by a thick fog of that awareness. But the fog makes it hard to breathe; and I think if only they would tell me one more thing they're thinking or feeling I could find my way out. I could see and breathe just enough, and then I'd put on my big girl pants and do the rest myself. 

But they are busy and aren't always available. And I worry that I've bothered them. And I worry that they are hurt and need me. And I worry that they've misunderstood a social interaction and need me to explain, before they get themselves beat up by an angry person who misunderstood the misunderstanding. And then I worry that I'm a girl desperate for a boy and I need to stop or I'll push them ever farther and farther away. 

Indeed, I am a girl desperate for her boys. I am also a girl in transition, just as they are boys in transition. They need to let me go and navigate this phase of figuring out who they want to be and how they want to live their adult lives. And I need to let them do that without me. 

I should call them and tell them that! tee hee!

Parents: We were always meant to let go. Some of our children may live with us forever but we still have to learn to let go. It's not as simple as it sounds, and for the children that live with us it's almost harder. Letting go when they are right in front of you makes that girl desperate for a boy syndrome harder to beat! But wait, when they're far away it's harder too. Not ever being able to see or touch them can drive you're imagination to insane levels of mischief. So, it's always harder I guess.

Children: We parents are trying. We are, we are, we are. You want us to save you when we can't and you want us to leave you alone when we can't. Not yet, anyway. Go ahead and push us away a little bit. Some of us need you to. Don't be too rough, but be firm. We're learning from you, too. Now more than ever. 

Families: Every time we get through a phase we enter a new one. Let's approach them together, even when that means it's time to be separate. Let's feel and know and understand each other at those precipices. It's intoxicating, exciting, frightening, and important. 

Like a girl desperate for a boy, some of us will get through this transition faster and others will take a little longer. But I promise, we can have fun getting through this, having gathered valuable and delightful and brand new learnings to show off on the other end. 

We'll need them - the brand new learnings and the memories of doing it together even when separate - for whatever the next phase is.

I'm ready to be past this girl desperate for a boy phase. 

I hope the next one is the abundant cups of coffee and books, phase! Oooohhh!! I'm going to call my boys and see if they want to have an abundant cups of coffee and books phase with me! <---- Yup. Still in the girl desperate for a boy phase! giggle!

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

A rare moment surrounded by my boys!