Autism asks challenging questions, begs us to think outside the box and then...Autism Answers! Musings, shared family stories, book reviews, and short fiction. My posts are rarely specifically about autism or parenting. They are, however, almost always stories grown from the fertile and organic thinking soil that can be found where the two come together.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
*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. www.lynettelouise.com and www.brainbody.net