Friday, May 27, 2016

Autism Answer: From The Beginning (Diversity and Difference)

My two oldest sons, long ago!

From the beginning my oldest son chose to share everything and borrow everything and believe that everything belonged to everyone. 

From the beginning my second oldest son chose to keep his things safe, rarely use things belonging to others unless given clear permission and believe that everything belonged to someone. 

In the beginning they believed these things with passion, but also like children. Today, they still believe these things with passion, but more like men. 

My oldest son has a socialist style and my second oldest son has more of a libertarian style.
They balance me, my boys. They balance this world. 

We need everyone and every style. When we are open and willing, they balance us. 

They can also enrage and blind us, if we choose to let them. 

But my sons have reminded me, from the beginning, that we can always choose to be balanced. 

When they believed these things, even as children, they demanded to be heard and insisted on having their say, but they also found ways to allow balance. There was anger, but there was an innate belief that we all had a right to be who we were. 

From the beginning, my sons were who they are. It has been my privilege to guide, encourage, learn, and shift with them. 

Let's always allow people to be who they are. Let's always choose to discover and grow rather than force and change. 

I believe in integration without the expectation of assimilation. 

It is challenging and mind-expanding and exciting and bewildering. 

It is wonderful and balanced. 

It is how our nature thrives.

Today is a beginning. 

From this beginning, who are we going to be?

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


Monday, May 23, 2016

Autism Answer: On My Brother's Birthday He Is Your Gift

Today my brother, Dar, turns thirty-five!! 

For over a million reasons my life is better because of Dar. For over a million reasons your life can be better because of Dar! 

My mom was drawn to him and adopted him when he was only three. "He's blind and deaf, he's a feral child, he'll go to the institution when there's room for him," they said. 

I stood quietly watching the small skinny boy run around our house and make strange noises. Then I turned my ten year old gaze on my mom and watched her watch him with love, curiosity, and something different - understanding. She seemed to know what he was saying and doing when it seemed clear to me that he wasn't saying or doing anything. 

I was wrong. Dar was saying too much at once and no one but mom could help him communicate it. 

Mom was right. Mom fought to keep him and to prove his value to himself and to the world. 

The Universe brought them together at first, for them. 
Me and Dar

And then it was for me and my siblings, siblings who grew in numbers and who learned to listen and help
each other.

And then it was for you. Because now my mom and brother know how to tell you important things. Tell you, show you, sing it for you, make it deep and emotive, funny and entertaining. 

Together they are telling us all the things we want and need to know. 

Happy birthday, Dar!!!
I love you more!!! 

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

Visit my mom's websites for much more on how their story helps folks like you and me! / 

VIDEO: This music video for my mom's song "Unfinished" stars Dar in the role of himself. This might be the greatest way to celebrate Dar's birthday. Music and my mom are his favorite things! Bonus points if we watch it while eating a stick of butter! tee hee! (Dar really loves butter!!)

Friday, May 13, 2016

Autism Answer: The Audition

Declyn, my youngest son.
My youngest son is no longer autistic. Sure, he still has some of the symptoms that he struggled with when he was young, just no longer to an overwhelming or disabling degree. 

The intense empathy and sensory issues that once ruled his moments and made the work of "passing" a consistent struggle are now simply almost comfortable quirks. Where he once avoided any situation with too many people and their emotions, he now chooses wisely. Where he once vomited all the time and without warning, he now listens to his gut (tee hee!) and rarely looses his lunch. At first he needed our help to find ways that he could "handle" these things, now they are just part of his human condition. Not disabling; alive and aware. He's wonderfully lucky to have an international autism expert, autism mom, and once upon a time autistic individual for a Dramma (aka Grandma)! 

Today my son has an audition. He'll be doing a monologue and singing a song on stage in front of peers and teachers in order to be judged. Sure, he's nervous. Heck, I'm overwhelmingly nervous! Mostly, though, he's excited and prepared. 

Boy, am I happy for him!!! Whether he gets accepted into the theater group or not, this is a beautiful big deal! Only a few years ago I watched him want to audition but spend all of his energy and ideas on instead coming up with reasons why he couldn't. I saw him backslide a bit into his sensory issues. I saw him struggle with regular teenager fears sprinkled with autistic flavoring. 

This year, though, he used the energy and ideas to prepare for the audition. I must admit, he's doing better than I was at his age. When I was sixteen I still used my story mind to avoid such situations. But then, it was easy for me. 

One of the things I've noticed with my autistic loved ones - brothers, sons, mom - is that they have had to figure out social cues and sensory tricks in more specific ways than me, and so they seem to be much smarter in these areas. They question what I don't question, and they take time to understand what I shrug and go along with. And so, when it comes time to go after what they want, they have a skill I avoided having for a long time. They ask the right questions of the world and themselves and decide to understand how to solve them.

I truly hope my son is accepted into the theater group today. But regardless, he's certainly won the role of AMAZING YOUNG MAN in the movie of LIFE!! 

Good luck and congratulations, Declyn!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

UPDATE: He got into the theater group!! He sang Beth by Kiss, and here's a peek at him working on his monologue. A scene from FAST TIMES AT RIDGEMONT HIGH. Enjoy! 


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Autism Answer: Lifting Up The World With Important Work

Me and Shay

"I think humans have bruised the earth with pollution and disappointment." ~Shay (when he was about 14)

My second youngest son, Shay, is looking for a job. He wants to pitch in around the house financially and he wants to save up enough money ($600) to take a bartending course and get his bartending license, like my dad.

The other day we were driving through town after having picked up a job application from the local Dairy Queen. It sat on his lap only partially filled out, a grey-ish paper with identifying questions that asked hardly anything about who he actually is. Looking out the window and seeming to daydream, he sighed and admitted a feeling to me.

"I don't think I can get any of these jobs, mom. I need a job that lifts up the world. Working at a gas station or fast food place doesn't do that. Look at Dramma. She travels the whole world helping people. I want to do good, I want to lift up the world."

Boy, oh, boy, did I get it! I struggled for years with that conundrum! Unfortunately, I never voiced the issue. I only let it poison my opinions of myself and others. Luckily, my son said something to me so I was able to share what I now know.

"Honey, I get it. I really, really do! But please know that being happy and liking who you are means you are lifting up the world. Having an open mind and a willingness to listen to people share their thoughts is lifting up the world. Thinking about our home and wanting to pitch in, and wanting to follow your dream of working nights as a bartender who creates games and makes movies is lifting up the world. It's not about the job you have, honey, it's about who you are that lifts up the world. You may get a job at the local donut shop (my first job!) and discover that people there are happier when they have you to talk to. You might be happier having them to talk to. You'll learn things about working that give you ideas for the movies and games you want to write. You might discover a passion of yours that you've never explored, or you may just beam with such pride at making your own money and working at our community bakery that you grow confident and more aware of yourself. These are just small examples of lifting up the world!"

He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I guess. But my brain is so different and I have important things to say to the world. If I just have a regular job, where they ask questions like 'what is your gender and ethnicity and social security number' how can I lift up the world using my ideas? How can I be like Dramma and tell people about autism and not being prejudiced and stuff?"

Holding my long hair in my hand to keep it from whipping in my eyes, enjoying too much the wind playing with us through the open window to solve the problem by closing it, I easily answered, "It's during your life and work that you meet people to learn from and teach to. Conversations happen at work, problems need to be solved, ideas are shared. Trust me, Shay, important lifting up the world work is easy if you don't think you have to separate it from the work of living."  

Adjusting his glasses he shrugged. "That makes sense."

Giving him a sly sideways glance from my perch in the driver's seat I teased. "You're already lifting up the world, you know. But don't worry, kiddo, this important work you're interested in lasts a lifetime. You'll never be out of a job! You'll always have work to do!"

We chuckled and my son finished filling out the job application on his lap. Looking for a job that comes also with a paycheck. tee hee!

Hugs, smiles, and love!! <==== My sons' website!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

UPDATE: Shay has his first job interview this Friday!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Autism Answer: Keep Writing!

Writing Advice For New Writers From A Writer Who Freaking Loves Writing
aka Me 
Keep writing! <---- Most important!

While you write get clear about the reasons you're writing. To share your story, to hone a craft, to meet like-minded groups of people, to make money, to change the world, to figure yourself out. There are never-ending reasons for writing and they are all valuable. Own those reasons and discover new ones!

And then, keep writing. Pay attention to feedback but don't let it be louder than your own thoughts and reasons. Writing is vulnerable work, allow yourself to be vulnerable but don't allow yourself to be beat up. Notice consistent feedback more than noisy or obnoxious feedback, and then decide whether or not it's important to you. Revisit your reason for writing, check in. 

Sometimes you'll feel stuck. Your writing will feel redundant and your stories uninteresting. You can quit, if you want. But if you keep writing you'll find a newness surface, almost certainly! I used to roll my eyes when my mom was teaching my brothers. I'd see her show them the same things over and over and over again and watch her get excited by the tiniest shift in ability. Thankfully my mom didn't allow my eye-rolling or my brothers' slowness deter her. She loved them too much for that. One day, those skills came. Sometimes it was all at once, like a tipping point. Other times it was over such a long period of time that I would suddenly realize, "Wait! He does that now. When did I start to take that for granted?" My writing is not an autistic brother, but autism taught me this truth of belief and persistence which, it turns out, works in my writing! It will be the same for you. If you don't quit. If instead you keep writing.

And then, keep writing! Sometimes you'll feel certain that you suck and other times you'll feel certain that you're the greatest thing ever. That's what it is to be an artist; that's what it is to be human. Artists ache to understand and translate what it is to be human, you will ache. You will learn every shade of ache. I encourage you to have a few writer friends who "get it." When you have too much to say and when you have nothing to say, when you're drowning in self-doubt or lost in self-importance, it helps to know folks who get it.

Writing is work. Sometimes, though, you won't be writing. When you aren't writing don't call it "writer's block." Instead you can call it gathering! Or find a word that feels less like a block and more like a renewing. Fresh ideas and plot twists introduce themselves to you when you take time away from the ones already in your head. Writing happens when you write, but unique experiences happen when you're living. Experiences are the foundation of writing. Words are used to show, share, and explore experiences. Embrace them! 

And then, when the inspiration strikes or you've been away from it long enough, start writing! Sometimes you'll be inspired so strongly that you won't be able to do anything but keep writing. Other times, you'll have to put pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and just push. Just write. Don't worry, just write. The ideas start to happen as we get them rolling. When they don't, keep writing! They will!

Keep writing, every day or every week or every month. Remember your reason. Some reasons (like making money) mean that you'll have to be more aware of how often you write and about what you write and where to submit your writing. But other reasons allow for more freedom in these areas. Neither one is inherently better or worse for writing, as long as you keep writing! 

Writing is personal work and you'll discover secrets of yourself while you're at it. Including secret writing advice that will work specifically for you, and perhaps for writers like you. Keep writing, discover those secrets! 

But one piece of writing advice works for all of us who want to be writing. One piece of writing advice is free and available to you now. 

Keep Writing!  <----- Again, the most important part!

Happy writing, friends!!
Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Autism Answer: Mother's Day, Hands Off Step-Mom Edition

My step-daughter and her boys.

I have three step-daughters but only one of my step-daughters was still a child when I married my husband. So, because two were already adults I don't really feel like a "step-mom" to them, but with the youngest I do. 

However, she is no longer a child. She is now the mother of two fabulous and funny boys! 

The other day I sent her this message:
"You know, I was just telling your dad that even though you and I are different styles of "mom" one thing we have in common is how freaking much we love our kids. It's written all over your face and soaked into the sound of your voice, as it is with me.

I hope you have a lovely Mother's Day planned for yourself!!

And her reply included this bit:
"Thank you to being a part of my life, not to be funny but i put your white girl Canadian twist to my parenting. And a Lil of my mom's white girl hood lol I love you so much. That's why I have so many pictures and books like you and Inspire my boys to think big and that they can be whatever they want to be. They can be a leader not a follower."

Now, that might not seem like much. 
But for me it meant the world!! 

When I married her dad I made a promise to myself that I would be a loving but "hands off" kind of step-mom. As a mom myself I knew that I wouldn't be comfortable overly sharing my own sons. I knew her mom wouldn't want to have me step in too obnoxiously. Also, I knew that it wasn't my privilege to step in obnoxiously, it was her mom's privileged. My step-daughter spent a lot of time with me and I loved to take her places and give her the gift of my love and my beliefs and my ideas when I could. My mom and my sister did as well. But I always remained somewhat on the sidelines. It seemed right. 

Sometimes, though, I worried that she'd think I didn't care. I am entirely different from her family. I live and love in ways that my step-daughter is unused to and I was afraid she wouldn't recognize. 

One of the greatest gifts my step-daughter has given me is letting me love her my own way. But now that greatest gift has grown bigger with her telling me that my way was not lost; that she felt it and held on to it. 

Some step-moms have a bigger role to play. When their children live with them or when the birth mom is largely absent, and you deserve to be hugely celebrated!!

But I think this post is mostly for those step-moms with a less sturdy and obvious role, with a more fluttering and inconsistent and almost unknowable role. The hands off step-mom, I guess!

For all you hands off step-moms out there, know that you have a beautiful and important role. Sometimes it's a really hard role, to step back and allow the parenting to happen with you gathering and giving from the sidelines. But you matter and your gifts are felt, your willingness to step in only sometimes doesn't mean you are forgotten but rather that you are kind enough not to take over. 

And for all of you step-children with step-moms and step-dads who are hands on or hands off, know that you are loved! Know that you are our world, even when it looks differently to you. We will certainly get stuff wrong, we might step in when we should step out, or step away when we should step up, but we know we're lucky to have you and want more than anything to do right by you. 

My step-daughter gave me a delicious gift the other day. She let me know that she felt my love, even as it fluttered about uncertainly. She offered me the opportunity to thank her for letting me know. 

And she takes care of her boys. Admittedly, in ways that sometimes makes me want to cringe, but with a love that is pure and real and willing, with a love that makes me proud of her and happy for her sons. 

Those boys are loved and they know they are loved!

And that is what a mother's first and most important job is. All of us moms. We will forever be working on the rest of that parenting stuff, but loving our kids and letting them know they are loved is our first and most important job.

For those of us who have step-moms and birth-moms and step-children and adopted children and birth children, well, we are lucky! We have plenty of ideas and love to work with!

Happy Mother's Day to every kind of mom!!!

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

My step-daughter and some of our boys. Too many years ago!

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Autism Answer: Lessons from my Dad; Accepting the Baton and Running with it.

Author's Note: Several years ago I was invited to share a guest post for a blog that explored living after a loved one has died. Linda Della Donna is the author of A Gift of Love: A Widow's Memoir and it was her Griefnet blog, which she has since abandoned. So I thought it would be fun to share that guest post here with you! When I wrote this post I didn't have a blog of my own, and now I do. When I wrote this post I had not yet published my book, now I have. That's pretty wonderful, all things considered!

Me and my dad

Lessons from My Dad: Accepting the Baton and Running with it

When we discovered that my dad had one year or less to live, I packed my kids into the car and we headed from Texas to California, where the majority of my family is, and where my dad wanted to spend most of his remaining time. I enrolled my boys in school once we got to Cali so that we would be enjoying life with as much normalcy as possible, not just sitting around and staring at my slowly deteriorating dad. We stayed with my mom (who was divorced from my father but remained his best friend) and so did my dad. 

Between my sister, mom, and I we all changed bandages, talked him through pain, laughed, cried, and explored fears together. When my dad went to Buffalo, NY for IL2 treatments in hopes of beating the cancer, my mom and I took turns going with him while my sister (who was pregnant with twins and could not fly) wrote the daily report and emailed all of my dad’s friends and family. For the last three months of his life my dad was in Canada with my two younger brothers and his other ex-wife, who then took care of him until he was admitted into hospice. My mom and sister (who had given birth to two lovely little ladies by then!) 
My sister, my dad, and one of the twins.
also went to Canada and truly did most of the taking care (sorry brothers!). Perhaps because they had been doing it for so long already, but probably because they are just stronger people. 

Before dad died he agreed with us that in lieu of a traditional funeral, he would be best remembered at a family gathering flowing with coffee and laughter. My dad’s happiest moments—and indeed he spent all other moments contriving such gatherings!—were when family was together, watching our children play and gabbing over never-ending cups of coffee. 

After my dad died I was going through my desk, which had been his, and found an outline to the book he wanted to write. Dad and I had often talked about the novels we wanted to write and why. 

We also shared justifications, fears and excuses for not writing. Finding dad’s outline did more than remind me that if I didn’t go ahead and begin the books, my ideas, and characters—whom I had come to love—would one day die with me. It also brought back how much time we had spent feeding our fears and justifying our justifications. I realized that we hadn’t been merely procrastinating, but had actually been creating a bigger and bigger mess to navigate when it came time to put pen to paper; or finger to keyboard. That ‘aha’ moment breathed life into a belief in myself, as well as the characters I had come to love, living in my mind waiting until I was ready to tell their story!

My dad’s death offered me another important insight. When dad learned he was going to die, he had some unresolved issues with old workmates and friends. Things he felt needed to be said if he wanted to leave this world unencumbered and with a light heart. Unfortunately, one of the people he wanted desperately to make peace with was unavailable, and so my dad did the best he could and made peace with himself. He was left feeling unsatisfied. Not because he hadn’t been forgiven by the other person, but because he hadn’t been able to express himself at all. This is a reminder to me that we should take care of these unresolved feelings as soon as we know that they are there. We’ve all made mistakes. We have all screwed somebody over or treated someone poorly. I think it’s a healthy exercise to make amends when there is life in our step and children we are being examples for. It isn’t so that we can be forgiven by others, but so that we can know we stepped up and accepted ourselves.

My dad procrastinated and lived with the desire to step up. I’ve decided to always step up, and live with the desire to run ahead! 

I was asked recently what I consider to be the greatest way to remember a loved one. I loved the question and the excuse to articulate an answer! I think the greatest way to remember a loved one is to love. Love life, love people, love desperation, love challenge, love music, love pain, love laughter. Love. The alternate is a fear of love. A fear of being hoodwinked, of loss, of good times turning bad. If death teaches us one thing it’s that good times sometimes do turn bad, we will lose and feel pain, so LOVE in the meantime! 

When I think of my dad I remember with a smile, and live with love. I think he’d like that!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

My mom and dad, bringing up a family together as the best of friends.

Please enjoy this film my mom made starring family, friends, and a myriad of amazing volunteers! Living with Lynette is an autism comedy starring crew, actors, and more with autism, bi-polar and even cancer. My dad was amazing in this! Happy laughing and loving!