Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Autism Answer: Light My Fire

"Look it up on YouTube," mom suggested, tossing another useless match onto the pile of kindling. 

While my youngest sons grabbed their phones and searched "How do you light a match without the striker" I laughed at myself for having been so overly confident about this skill to begin with. In my own defense, who wouldn't assume that they - a competent grownup - could certainly find a way to light a match, even if it wasn't a "strike anywhere" match, and even if you were without a striker? I suppose I should have gotten a clue when the young State Park employee had been so apologetic about offering me only the matches. But I was a bit busy acting overly confident to compensate for the ridiculous camping mistake of arriving without matches to begin with. I'm not a newbie camper, so I knew better. But it had been a long time since my last camping trip, so I forgot what I knew.

So here we were, watching YouTube videos and trying tricks that weren't working for us; our first morning at the campsite and we were without a fire for coffee. Not okay!

"I'll head over to that RV over there and see if they won't mind lending us a lighter," I offered. Sure, it's been a while since I've gone camping but that doesn't mean I don't remember that one of the greatest joys is meeting new people. So, borrowing a lighter could be a conversation starter as well as a fire starter! (These are the things I tell myself as I justify my forgetfulness. In truth, I'm not much of a conversationalist before my morning coffee. tee hee!)

Well it turns out Jan and Gary, our neighboring campsite couple, were volunteering at the state park. And Jan was more than happy to lend me a lighter. Indeed, she was so friendly and open that even without coffee coursing through my veins we chatted. I learned that she and her husband were living in the RV, and were able to stay onsite free of charge by volunteering as Camp Hosts in the park. Well, I'll be!

"What a brilliant way to live! You know, I have plans to live in my car when all of my sons have moved out," I told her, peeking over at our campsite to see my family still struggling to start a fire. "I'll keep that in mind, volunteering at State Parks in order to have a place to stay. These are the sorts of things I haven't really worked out yet."

"Oh, ya," she added, "I was living in a tiny house when I met my husband. Now that we're retired we're living in our home on wheels. We registered our cars in South Dakota, we have our PO Box there, too...."

"Wait! So, you figured that stuff out too?!" I was amazed! So far all I had done was imagine myself and my computer driving or sleeping or writing in my car, and then showing up at different family members homes for coffee and chat time. Oh, and showers!

Jan told me quite a bit more about how to turn the dream into a reality, adding that she has a blog, Tiny House Times, where she shares a bit about the journey she and her husband are on. Not only that, but she offered me a pamphlet from Your Best Address in South Dakota that had all the info I needed to live on the road while keeping a legitimate address. (My mom, my brothers, my boys and I had lived in an RV for a year, traveling the country and loving life, but we thought we'd have to "finagle" paperwork and legitimacy if we were to live on the road much longer.)

I learned all this, and I still hadn't had coffee!!

I thanked Jan for the lighter and again for the info, truly appreciating her unique ability to let me see what my future could be. I gotta say, it looks kind and happy. And absolutely possible!

With a bounce in my step, one that is generally reserved for after my morning coffee, I excitedly joined my family, borrowed lighter in hand.

While my boys built the fire and my mom prepared the coffee for perking, I told them about Jan and Gary. As we waited for the coffee to darken deliciously I imagined my future again. Living in my car, writing my stories, visiting my family. But now it felt entirely possible and not even overly weird. Lots of people do it! Lots of people live on the road!

Later on that same day I took a quick trip to the nearest store, breathing in the Vermont views and fresh air while imagining my future. My sons pointed out vista and gazed off into themselves in awe, talking about their own futures as well. We knew, this trip was changing us. Well, no. Bringing us more to ourselves. Giving us to us.

We grabbed some simple foods and my son bought himself some Vermont maple syrup. 
And I made sure to pick up a few packages of matches.

Back at the campsite we built a fire, this time using our own tools. 
I soon headed back to the Camp Host site and chatted a bit more with Jan. Gary was there too, so I had the pleasure of meeting and chatting with him a bit as well. I could feel the pull of my family though, wanting to spend as much time as possible with them in this nourishing environment. So I returned the lighter and I thanked her. 
As evening fell and I walked back to my mom, my brother, and my sons, I silently thanked Jan for lighting my fire. Now, though, it was in my hands.

Now, I would light my own fire.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!! 

A view in Vermont.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Autism Answer: Nature's Feedback

"When I spend time in nature there is nothing telling me I can be more beautiful, more successful, more intelligent, more appropriate, more relevant. I just am." ~Me 

Everywhere we look, everywhere we listen, there are billboards, commercials, literature, and story topics telling us "Seven Tips For Being Better At This" and "Ten Ways To Look More Beautiful Like That" and "Become More Successful By Doing These Things" or "Be Like These Smart Famous People With These Five Changes" or "Know Your Worth With This Trending New Thing" and "Find Happiness By Doing This." So, everywhere we look, everywhere we listen, we're being told we can be better, it's assumed we want to be better, we're told what better is. 

There are many ways I've learned to mostly quiet the noise and, instead, know that I am better and that I am successful and that I am continuing to grow ever more so as I live my life with love, purpose, and an open mind.

But nothing is quite as quick and healing for me as nature. The entire sensory experience reminds me that I am enough. That I am no more and no less relevant or successful or beautiful or appropriate than I need to be. My habits and quirks fit just fine. My looks are equally uninteresting and perfect. I breath, experience, and contribute to the surroundings successfully. It's quite simple, really. I am there and I am alive and I am thoughtful. My intelligence isn't questioned. The trees, the birds, the snakes, the spiders, the weeds, the seeds and fruits don't ask me to explain. My mind wanders and I know enough; am smart enough. If a trick of nature captures me unaware and I am hurt of killed it is not a waste, I am not a waste. I remain part of the story. Beautiful enough, successful enough, relevant, and intelligent. 

I don't expect nature to do all of this for everyone, of course. But I do hope with all of my heart that everyone has a place where they get all of this. For me it's nature (and dancing). For you, perhaps, it's building or cooking. Singing or golf. 

But if you don't have something or somewhere that consistently gives you this feeling, this "you are absolutely completely perfectly more than enough" feeling, then I encourage you to find it. 

For me it's nature and dancing. 

Feel free to try starting there! 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!! 

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

NOTE: I invite you to enjoy this video where I sit in one of my favorite sneaky outdoor spots (a surprisingly wild area just behind my home) and tell a story/poem. The story itself is a tribute to both nature and stories. Hugs, smiles, and love!!!


Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Autism Answer: Little Things That Change The World

My sons at the movies!
I had a conversation recently with a friend of mine. She was wondering how it is that all of my boys are so intentional in their thinking, and proactive about going after their dreams with open eyes and a willingness to see the system and society for what it is, while her sons seem uninterested, unhappy, and in need of medication. Heck, my youngest son wants to be both a game designer and the leader of a revolution when he grows up! 

So, I told her about how much I love watching movies with my sons.

We choose what we watch with purpose. We have limited access to television outside of our DVD player, and I have always encouraged a way of watching and experiencing movies that's different than my friend. We use storytelling to point out when characters are letting themselves be led, and when they are seeing things for what they are, and when they are afraid of change and the work involved.

We talk about movies and then relate them to our lives. We have so much fun! But we also learn to become our own storytellers, directors, producers... 

Me watching movies with my sons seems small, and it is. But in the end, it's not. And because I know not to expect my few acts to make all of the difference, I'm able to always keep on doing and speaking and sharing. I don't feel overwhelmed (too often!) or overly self-important, and I'm also willing to see where my actions do make a difference. In my world, in our world, but mostly with my sons. 

And, of course, watching movies with my kids is only one example of the small things I do. I do so many small things that most become simple habits, and then I add more small things... it's a wonderful loop!

So when my friend wonders why my sons have grown to be intentional, aware, awake, and (mostly) happy, I mention these small things that change the world. But then I remind her that in truth, they are who they are because that's who they choose to be.

So if we truly want to know why, we have to ask them! 

Parenting is a chaotic and important mix of mattering so much - our choices create the environment our children become themselves in - yet they will become themselves. And so, we are also not the deciders. When we know this completely it can be a little bit frightening (okay, sometimes a lot frightening!) but it is also a relief. It's not our job to make our children become something, it is our job to nourish and allow them to become themselves. As with nature, we can pollute and harm or nourish and care; either way, a lemon tree is a lemon tree. 

I will continue to forever do the little things that change the world, and I will do my best to be sure the little things are healthy. And when I feel like I don't know for sure what healthy choices are best to make, I can now ask my grown sons! Because, as my friend pointed out, they are amazingly aware, intentional, and filled with ideas!

How smart of me to make them that way! tee hee!

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


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Autism Answer: Never Stop Never Stopping (aka My Brother Got Married)

My mom sat in my youngest brother's apartment, surrounded by boxes and the musty smelling papers we had just carried out of her storage unit. This alone, according to many of the papers, should be impossible. According to adoption papers, school reports, and various other paperwork professionals had composed over the years, my brothers had no such future - with their own apartments and ability to invite mom over for the night - available to them. 

Of course, there were also papers surrounding my mom that insisted this future was indeed possible, even probable. All of them written by mom herself. 

I was exhausted and about to say goodbye, craving my bed but also hesitant to leave this moment of memory surfing behind. "I'd better get home," I explained for the benefit of explaining, "we've got a long drive to Vermont. We wouldn't want to be late for Chance's wedding." 

My mom looked up from her pile of pictures past and smiled at me from a time far away. "Never stop never stopping," she quoted. Her newest favorite line from the fun movie Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping matches her nature in an uncanny and perfect way. It is her ability to never stop never stopping that helped us get to this point, where everything she has said and promised and believed in is reality. 

Me and my brother on the night before his wedding. My youngest son is peeking over my shoulder.

Never stop never stopping is why we were planning a trip to my brother's wedding. My brother, who is a sergeant and, now, a husband. My brother, who offered to pick people up from the airport and feed anyone who needed feeding and do whatever it took to be sure we had comfortable fun. My brother, who has always imagined himself as a husband and important army guy, and who was encouraged by my unrealistic mother to aim his angry ways in a direction that might shift him from anger to passion. My unrealistic mother and my challenged brother worked together to make it real. Years and years and years my mom never stopped never stopping, and insisted he see his worth and use his intensity in healthy ways. And for years and years and years my brother never stopped never stopping, stuck in his own self he continued to find ways to make his challenges less challenging and to target his passion carefully and with purpose. 

Surrounding my mom like a fog our past was made present, and I could feel the impressive power behind never stopping. During our younger years my mom had no proof that it would work. Everyone told her that my brothers were beyond such possibilities and she had no real way to prove them wrong. What she did have, and what she did rely on, was the knowledge that giving in and giving up because possibilities might not be possible was not a better way. Better to never stop never stopping in the direction of a dream than to never stop never stopping in a dark tunnel with few desired goals. 

My brother, the one getting married, knew what he wanted and who he wanted to be; so, my mom chose to believe in him. Sure, it seemed far fetched and unrealistic. Sure, people rolled their eyes and clucked their tongues. But they were doing that anyway.

My sister and my brother before the wedding ceremony.

So I kissed my mom and left her there on my little brother's couch, the little brother who was supposed to end up unable to take care of himself. The little brother who had instead never stopped never stopping and bought his own plane ticket to our brother's wedding and was excited about the upcoming adventure. The little brother who told me: "You know what I noticed? I'm not at all jealous that Chance is getting married. I'm just happy for him." 

My mom, my brother, and my new sister in law!

Heading back to my own home and leaving mom and my brother behind in the mess of paperwork and memories, I reminded myself to never stop never stopping. No matter what we want in life, no matter what our kids and spouses want in life, it's truly that easy to make it happen. And that hard. And that chaotic. And that simple. 

My brother is a married man with a beautiful wife and the job of his dreams. It was unrealistic until it was real. 

Mr. and Mrs. Shelton

Go ahead and have unrealistic goals, friends! Encourage your loved ones to do the same!

Have fun with it,
and never stop never stopping!

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


*Have a peek at this video my brother and my mom put together. He talks candidly about some of his challenges and the value of never stopping. Oh, ya, and he uses a lot of profanity. So.... language warning! 


Friday, August 19, 2016

Autism Answer: The Cruelty In My Kindness (aka Never Give Up)

Not long enough ago I was like too many others. I assumed that people with severe cognitive challenges or neurodevelopmental disorders were to be taken care of as different and unable; the more challenged they were, the less like me I thought of them as. Sure, I knew they had thoughts and stuff, but I couldn't imagine that we ever had anything in common or that their ideas might be related to desires common with the majority of us. 

But because I was "nice" I wouldn't name call or bully or make fun of people with disorders, disabilities, and challenges.  Nope, not me! I would nervously take care of them and take them to the park. Easily slipping into conversations with the people I met there, explaining why this brother of mine or this person I was volunteering my time with was behaving the way they were. I'd go ahead and make up reasons because I didn't think there were any real understandable reasons. Together my new friend and I would smile condescendingly at the person I had been nice enough to bring to the park. 

Ouch, ouch, ouch!

Friends, I was in the position to grow and share and teach the world so many times, but I was never up for the task. Though, if you asked me at the time I would have thought myself teaching kindness. 

And, you know, it's not like I didn't have anyone showing me otherwise. My mom has always, always, always exampled and taught and explained the error of my ways; the error of so many people's ways. Yet, because she was not the norm, because her belief in the abilities, feelings, and similarities that cognitively challenged adults and children have to everyone else in the world was rarely agreed to, I chose to nod at my mom with equal parts worry and condescension. 

Slowly, slowly, slowly I began to see the truth behind my mom's teachings and the cruelty of my supposed kindness. That doesn't feel good, you know? Revealing yourself to have been taking the easy road at the expense of others. Because for a lot of years that's what I was doing. People would applaud my patience and I wouldn't have to make them uncomfortable the way mom did, by insisting they treat all people as equals. 

Slowly, slowly, slowly is not great. But it's better than never. And I am different now, though not always comfortably so. The good news is that my new uncomfortable-ness comes from knowing that my challenged loved ones and friends are equal to me and are not "other" or even very different. If my brain was behaving similarly to theirs, I would likely make similar choices as them. So, I feel nervous because I want to be their friend but I don't have a great track record for understanding how. 

In time, I hope to get over this uncomfortable-ness that I am proud of. Because I plan to keep on practicing. 

Don't give up on anyone, friends! Your children, your spouse, your neighbor, yourself.

Slowly isn't always as wonderful as now, but it is wonderful.

And slowly can sometimes equally as wonderful, when it's consistent and coupled with the intention of gathering so much love and learning along the way. 

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

*If you're interested in learning more about my family, and their contributions to my journey of discovery and growing up, I invite you to get a copy of my book Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up (Available at Amazon, Archway Publishing, Barnes & Noble, BAM, Powell's, and more. Or check your local library! Request it, even!) 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Autism Answer: Fix It In Five At My Friend's House

Pre-Show Discovery: 
FIX IT IN FIVE with LYNETTE LOUISE aka THE BRAIN BROAD, Season Two, is FREE on The Autism Channel, available to anyone with a Roku box. Unfortunately, I don't have a Roku box. (Fortunately, I do own season one digitally so I still get to be a legit Fix it in Fiver!)

But guess what? I'm hanging out at my friend's house in Colorado for a week and she has a Roku box!!!

Not only am I going to watch season two (episodes one, two, and three), but I'm going to watch it with a friend!!! We're going to chat and consider and debate and take action and implement new techniques in our separate homes, together! 

Watching FIX IT IN FIVE is always fun, surprising, enlightening, and emotional. But I bet watching it with a friend, someone to share 'AHA' moments with, will be even more fun, surprising, enlightening, and emotional! 

Wooooo hooooo!!! 

If you've been watching season two already, don't give me any spoilers! And if you haven't, maybe check if your friend has a Roku box! It's a must see series!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Post-Show Discovery: 
My friend and her husband sat with me on their L-shaped couch as we prepared to figure out how to watch The Autism Channel on the Roku Box. Seventeen seconds later, we were on The Autism Channel! (It's really easy!)

Immediately we saw my mom among the new and popular shows. One click, and we were watching Fix it in Five with Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad. Her energy (and my brother's energy - he has a cameo!) filled the Colorado living room. It was fantastic!

Soon, through the magic of television, Roku boxes, and intimate direction/editing, we were transported to a living room in California, sipping coffee and learning behavior techniques with a family who was struggling with disappointment because dad had made an excuse not to show up. 

Bam, we were feeling and thinking and understanding and caring. 

And learning. 

We watched the rest of the episode in fits and starts; pausing to discuss thoughts and ideas and aha moments. We felt ourselves fall easily in love with the family on the screen and comfortably trust my mom (aka The Brain Broad) to guide us in our discoveries. 

It. Was. Awesome. 

Yet, there's more!

As soon as we finished watching the show, my friend's family showed up. Her mom, sisters, nieces and nephew. We played and laughed in a new way; the visit had been tinted with a fresh energy and desire to connect deeply through play and openness. It was thrilling! The adults sang songs together, we got down on the floor with the kids and explored our authentic interest in them, and we watched some funny videos on YouTube. It was almost the same as every other time I've hung out with my friend's family, but the new ideas presented in FIX IT IN FIVE were showing themselves in the ways me, my friend, and her husband played. Soon they showed themselves in the entire family with the way they responded to our playfulness. 

Yet, there's more!

That night my friend and I sat up chatting until 4AM. We agreed, explored, disagreed, debated, and supported each other. We didn't talk about my mom's show, but the show was there; part of us. 

One concept - the one about how we often instigate violence - was important for us that night. We shifted it and renovated it for our purposes, and we felt on the precipice of a necessary understanding. My friend's oldest son is going through something right now and we knew the answer to how she could help him lay in there somewhere. However, in our fatigue we merely tap danced around it, creating a momentum with our movements that tickled and fluttered the answer we were looking for, never quite giving it the gust of wind it needed to fly straight into our line of understanding. And we were deliriously and deliciously tired, so we did need it to announce itself on a gust of wind! Seeing it from our sleepy peripheries was not an option.

But the next morning my friend spent a little more time than usual in her bedroom. When she finally joined me on her couch (where I was sleeping for the week) it was with an energy of forward motion and happiness. After our evening of tap dancing (go ahead and imagine a couple of middle aged ladies with zero tap dancing experience tap dance. Funny, right? We totally should have done that! Alas, we were merely tap dancing around a learning. But that's fun, too!) some sleep and dreams had given her the gust of understanding she needed. After spending time texting with her son, forward motion (for her and him) and goals and self-confidence and appreciation came flooding to the surface. They had figured stuff out!

We watched one episode of FIX IT IN FIVE with LYNETTE LOUISE aka THE BRAIN BROAD on The Autism Channel together. One. And it did so much for us! Because the show is what it is and because we are who we are

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
It's A Wrap:
Obviously I want to sing it out to the whole world: Watch FIX IT IN FIVE! It's the answer to everything for everyone, plus it's fun! But I know better. I know that the true lesson has to do with choosing what we watch with purpose, being willing to shift and learn with an open mind, and sitting up all night with a good friend sipping coffee. (That last one might be for me. tee hee!) 

But it's also true that some shows, some books, some places, some individuals, have a way with sharing important information and ideas that resonates and helps a majority of people. And that, my friends, is what I promise FIX IT IN FIVE with LYNETTE LOUISE aka THE BRAIN BROAD, is. That's what it can and does do. 

I encourage you to watch it; alone, with friends, with family, and at school! 

Maybe even sit up all night sipping coffee and tap dancing with friends to solidify your learnings! Giggle!

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

Enjoy this short trailer for season two of FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD!

Friday, July 29, 2016

Autism Answer: We Create (Story & Video)

A little girl,
She imagines herself in nature. 
Living in her, singing with her, 
in tune with her. 

she imagines she can turn herself into a cat
and play in the trees she loves so much. 

As she imagines, she becomes. 
More in love with nature,
adopting a curiously catlike style.

Storytellers are powerful
and we are all storytellers.
We imagine, we tell, we choose;
we create. 

A young lady,
she hangs out with comedians in comedy clubs.
She's fascinated by the men and women her mom dates,
and their easy acceptance of her family.

she dates men whose diversity goes unnoticed by her
but is pointed out to her by her friends. 

As she hangs out, she chooses.
Who she wants to be in relationships,
what jokes she believes in laughing at.
Storytellers are powerful
and we are all storytellers. 
We imagine, we tell, we choose;
we create.

A woman,
she writes stories made up from the ideas and personalities in her mind. 
Sometimes telling stories about her gay son, her brown sons, her black husband, her autistic brothers. 

when she writes stories she explores difference 
from sameness.

As she writes, she creates. 
Her world of ideas and memories, 
stories to be re-imagined by an audience of strangers.  

Storytellers are powerful
and we are all storytellers. 
We imagine, we tell, we choose;
we create.

We experience our world in the way we tell it.
We create our experiences in the way we narrate them to ourselves and others. 
Our choices tell a story. 

Storytellers are powerful
and we are all storytellers.
We imagine, we tell, we choose;
we create.

                         We create. 


I ventured to my favorite spot in the woods behind our house and made this video of me reciting We Create. Watching the video is kind of like joining me hidden here in the trees, but with a bonus! You don't have to be eaten alive by mosquitoes! tee hee!

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