Sunday, October 15, 2017

Autism Answer: No Means No - And Even More, You Need Permission

Me, thinking.

"What did I do? How did I screw up again? What is it about me? Why am I so weak and pathetic?"

Those are the things I wondered every time I was sexually harassed, molested, or raped.

"Well, it was only boob touching, it was only rubbing my bum, it wasn't me screaming and fighting and getting punched and stuff."

Those are the things I said when loved ones encouraged me to tell, to bring the incidents to the attention of authorities.

"No means no. Even if you think it's a game, even if nobody is screaming, no means no. Every time. Not only that, you need to get permission. You need to be told yes. Every time."

That was the thing a judge said when I did go to court, when I did listen to my sister and my mom and go to authorities.

It was a huge, huge, huge important thing. Because, you see, I hadn't known. My rapist hadn't known. We were equally surprised to learn it. I had felt certain that my promises of sexual interest the weeks before gave me next to no rights that day he showed up with a friend. I believed my tears and quiet pleas of, "no, I changed my mind," were, as my rapist said, unfair and invalid.

I had heard, of course, that no means no. I had heard it before that day. But I hadn't believed it. Not until that judge said it with such clarity from his important place in that room. 

I listen, we all listen, to authority and power in a different way than we listen outside of it.

When authority and power takes advantage, sexually and otherwise, we hear it different. We believe it different.We expect different things from ourselves and the people around us.

By that same token, though, when authority and power chooses to teach, example, and insist on equality, on kindness, on speaking up, we hear it different. We believe it different. We expect different things from ourselves and the people around us. 

I would like to say that when I left that court room I never blamed myself again. I'd like even more to say that I never had reason to wonder who's fault harassment and sexual abuse were. I can't say that. 

It still happened. In this world, where the culture is one that breeds a belief in "boys will be boys" and "what a cock tease" and "way to go man, high five" and "well, you shouldn't have been alone with him" it's more likely to happen than not, I fear. 

I can tell you, however, that I knew now that no means no. I knew that people had no right to touch my boobs or my bum without me telling them yes. And I knew I had no right to do such things to others without their permission. 

I can tell you that I started expecting different things from the world, and I started walking away and telling authorities when things were inappropriate. I had learned that sometimes people just don't know that what they are doing is wrong, and when they do know I have a right and responsibility to speak up so it might not happen to others.

"What did I do? How did I screw up again? What is it about me? Why am I so weak and pathetic?" This is one reason people don't tell when they are abused or harassed.But there are many others. Losing our jobs, thinking it's normal, knowing that other stronger women have been through more and handled it, these are a few other reasons. And there are more. 

Some people don't tell because they don't have the ability to. In the world of disability sexual abuse and harassment is a big problem. Also, pedophilia is a big problem. Disabled people and children are already too often taught by society that they ought to shut up and do what they are told. Often they are treated as less than or as lucky to be taken care of in the first place. Often, they just don't have the ability to speak at all because of their disability or young, young, young age. 

I wish I could gather everyone into that courtroom with me, everyone in the world, and we could listen together in the same way I listened that day. I wish everyone could hear, the way I heard - with conviction and belief and life changing tectonic plate shifting clarity - what I heard that judge say. 
  
"No means no. Even if you think it's a game, even if nobody is screaming, no means no. Every time. Not only that, you need to get permission. You need to be told yes. Every time."


If you ever catch yourself, as the done-to or the doer, justifying by thinking these sorts of things: 

"Well, it was only boob touching, it was only bum rubbing, it wasn't screaming and fighting and getting punched and stuff."

And there was not permission given, no clear "yes" offered, then something went wrong. (And where disabled people are concerned "yes" can be not enough, depending on the disability, and where children are concerned, just NO.)

Don't hate yourself. But take steps to change it. Reach out and apologize or admit your cruelty if you were the doer, talk to the safest person for you, in your situation, if you are the done-to. 

Sex and sexuality are interesting and exciting and filled with valuable fun, love, learning, and exploration. I encourage you to do the work of making sure it is done carefully and mindfully. 

We have to change the culture around this issue. We have to be not afraid to ask for sex while we aren't afraid to say no. We have to teach each other that it is never ever okay to push or force or sneak in unwelcome touches. 

No means no. And even more, you need permission. 

It's simple, really. 
Let's make sure everyone gets the memo. 
Let's change the culture.  

We've got to.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!
__________________________________________________________
For more on this topic I suggest this article by my mom, Lynette Louise ("The Brain Broad"): When I Was Easy To Rape It Was Still Rape

As well as my mom's survivor spotlight on RAINN (Rape Abuse Incest National Network): 

Survivor Spotlight Domestic Violence Awareness Month 

Also consider checking out this documentary that my mom was a part of: HUSH: Hollywood's Uncovered Sexual Harassment 

Or even purchase a copy of my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up where I talk candidly about being molested by my step-father and mention being groped by a fellow co-worker as well as threatened by a creepy phone repair man. I also tell the story of me raping a boyfriend. As is my habit I tell these stories with an eye on answers and hope. It is my intention to always tell the difficult stories, to not hide from them, while seeking helpful nuggets of wisdom and suggestions for change. My success rate is yet to be determined. Actually, scratch that. I am successful because my home and my life and my mind are healthy, happy, and safe. :D
 

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Autism Answer: Long Distance Grandma

My granddaughter

"Trust me, lovely, you don't want to make those choices. Not yet, anyway."

I was chatting with my daughter-in-law, my granddaughter was sleeping in her car-seat, safely buckled in the backseat of my car. We were in no hurry, heading to the high school with plenty of time to spare, the conversation had wandered into "mistakes we make when we're young parents" territory.

This is my domain. This is a landscape I understand well.

"I know," my daughter-in-law was characteristically agreeing with me, unwilling to disagree out of politeness. This is another habit I understand all too well.

I had only four days to spend with these two. I had flown them from California to visit me in Texas - first time flying for both my daughter-in-law and my granddaughter - and I was getting in every second of snuggles, chatting, and connecting that I possibly could. 

"You remind me of me, in many ways. I used to drive without a license, I used to drive without registering or insuring my car. Until I went to jail. Until I found myself unable to get home to my own children because I was, apparently, a "bad guy" needing to be locked up."

"The system is all wrong," my daughter-in-law, who had been a foster kid since the age of seven, was following the train of thought I had laid down for her. The system, authority, laws. I knew this was a track we could travel together in order to bring us to the place where her recent choices would make a stop at the station of my once-upon-a-time choices and I could offer her a ticket to a new and safer destination.

"Tell me about it," I organically agreed. "Protesting and civil disobedience are necessary to change a broken system. But your job right now, your biggest job right now, is to always come home to your daughter." As if on cue, my granddaughter made a sweet cooing sound in her sleep. My heart fluttered and I smiled. My daughter-in-law smiled, too. "And, anyway, something else I learned back when I was your age, making similar mistakes. Some of those laws and rules are valid. Sometimes, we're avoiding them, not justifiably refusing them." She was nodding and I was nodding and we both knew how real that statement was.  

"So," I continued, "take less chances, for now. Tie up loose ends, do dreaded paperwork, make choices that are not outside of laws, though they can certainly dance on the edges." We laughed. I had previously been telling her about my own belief in giving my sons freedom when they were little and how it had often put me in the position of being stared at and tsk tsked by strangers and acquaintances. Sure, my boys were practically naked in the backseat of the car, but they were legally buckled. Dancing on the edges of the rules!

"But," I promised her with passion, "as a long distance grandma I can partake in some important civil disobedience. Don't you worry, I plan to! There are so many places where the system needs changing, where the rules are put in place for reasons that are sometimes understandable but in practice they don't work. They harm people. Not only that, but in the places where it's not the laws or rules that are in the way but a cultural indifference or cruelty, I can step up there too! Fearless, that's what I hope I can be. For you, and for my granddaughter."

I have a feeling that at this point I had lost my daughter-in-law's interest, but not my own. 

This is something I'd thought about before, the necessity of treading carefully so that we can always come home to our children when they are young, along with the necessity of carefully and cleverly, thoughtfully and purposefully, stepping onto less safe ground when insisting on social or political change as they grow older and no longer need us at home.

Because our children, our grandchildren, our planet and our fellow living beings, will always need and rely on each other. But we don't always have to play it safe.

As a long distance grandma I have the responsibility and the freedom to go the distance. I live far away and I can see far away, too. Years and intention have given me that. Listening and telling have given me that. Travel and stability have given me that.

"Anyway," I said as we pulled into the high school parking lot, picking my youngest son up from his Leadership meeting, "just take the paperwork one step at a time. Let me know when I can help. Don't forget, just because I'm a long distance grandma doesn't mean I can't get on the phone or online and help you with whatever needs doing."

My daughter-in-law gave me a smile and a thank you. She reminded me that I had just finished helping her with one of the very things she had been avoiding, and I reminded her that I would happily do it again.

My granddaughter stayed sleeping in her car-seat. Safely buckled and trusting.

Trusting us.

We're going to prove to her that by trusting us she's making the right choice.

Her mom and dad will come home to her, and I will step into the world and ask it to be a better, safer, kinder, heathier place for her. 

I'm a long distance grandma. 
I'll go the distance. 

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

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Autism Answer: Video Games And Social Skills - Years Later

 
My youngest son playing video games.

 
My youngest son was on the phone with a college admissions woman the other day. She asked him a bit about himself, including why he wanted to be a video game developer.

"Well," he explained without hesitation, "I used to have autism when I was little, and social situations were really hard for me. I mean, really hard. I felt everyone's feelings and couldn't handle it, it hurt to be so confused and caring, so I just tried to avoid it. It was really hard." 

I continued to pretend to be working on my computer as he sighed and sacrificed a moment, offering silence in honor of the memory. The woman on the other line waited for my son to complete his answer.

He began again with enthusiasm. "But then I discovered video games and I practiced being social with characters. I felt the feelings still, but I felt like I had a different kind of control in there, I was more able to try new things because video games gave me a sense of purpose - you know, missions and stuff - but they also gave me room to figure out social skills. My empathy could cause fear and hurt for me in video games too, but I handled it better and found ways to take action better. You know, because it was a game. And then I practiced what I learned in the games with my friends at school. It took a lot of years but now I'm way better with my social skills and social stuff in general. And I still use games when I need to find that balance again. If I could give that kind of acceptance and place to learn confidence to even just one other person struggling to feel comfortable with the world, if I could do that for just one other person, creating video games would be worth it."

I couldn't hear what the woman on the other end of the line was saying in response to his explation because I moved into the other room and closed my eyes and felt feelings. 

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

RANDOM INSIDER ADDITION: As Declyn's mom I feel qualified to tell you that his story, his explation of learning social skills with the help of video games, is true. But also, it isn't. At least, it isn't the whole truth. I mean, yes, he did use the games in the way described, but he also used them to meet fellow gamers in the non-virtual world. He also had brothers to practice social skills and gaming with. He also had me, encouraging and allowing and guiding and helping him choose specific games. He also had other interests and skills that helped. I know you already understand that there is always much more to any story, but I wanted to take the time to add this addendum anyway because so many of our kids are attracted to video games. We can use them as a tool, but it takes purpose and work. Declyn did the work. With a little help from his environment, a few mistakes along the way, and then reframing, regrouping, and remembering the goal, he did the work of using video games well. I think it's of value to keep that in mind. Regardless of our passions, they can be explored and taken advantage of in healthy ways but they can also trap us in less than healthy, even dangerous, ways. It's of value to keep this in mind when we allow ourselves and our loved ones freedom with our interests and passions. Let's keep an eye on a healthy goal.

BONUS RANDOM ADDITION: My son is seriously interested in that college he was talking to, it's one of his top picks, and we're going to an open house on Saturday.  
_______________________________________

I'd love to share more of our journey with you! As a mom, sibling, and daughter of autism I have learned and grown so much. Feel free to bounce around my blog, read posts that interest you, or purchase my book, Spinning In Circles And Learning From Myself: A Collection Of Stories That Slowly Grow Up wherein I have gathered a few of my favorites that I feel example and explore (candidly, so you'll go to some uncomfortable places with me) life lessons, hurt, mistakes, and most importantly, insistant joy, thoughtful answers, and intentional storytelling. Have a peek at the customer reviews on Amazon to learn what others are saying about the stories. So far, it's been spectacularly rewarding and humbling! 

Happy reading!
~Tsara 

Saturday, September 9, 2017

Autism Answer: When Leadership Is Thrust Upon You, Learn


Me graduating kindergarten
"Tsara is thoughtful and quiet. I enjoyed having her in my class." ~Elementary School Teachers
I am naturally nervous with attention from people I have been taught, or I have chosen to learn, to consider more-than-my-equal. And so I quickly learned to stay quiet, be polite, and do as asked around adults or people with some sort of authority, real or imagined. That is why teachers always loved having me in their class. Until they didn't. Because I could only keep up the kind, quiet, do what they say with no questions asked charade for so long. 

Eventually (in my early teens) I felt a growing understanding that what I wanted and who I was mattered equally to what they wanted and who they were. But I was at a loss at how to make this shift. So I became moody and withdrawn (around adults and teachers that is, I was quite an obnoxious flirt with my friends!) until I became gone. Skipping class was my M.O. 

I tell you this only to help you understand just how improbable it always was that I would step into any leadership role. 

But as the oldest sister of a wildly weird rag-tag bunch of kids, labels of the professional kind and of the thrown-at-you-by uncomfortable peers and nosy inconvenienced neighbors kind, I found myself slowly (and reluctantly) advocating, explaining, and exampling the need for understanding, kindness, and expectations. 

In other words, I became a leader. 

My story, of course, is not unique or unfamiliar. Some people (like my mom) are born with a clear vision of how they want the world to behave and jump up on the nearest soap-box to preach, teach, and even beg. But many of us are more comfortable in an audience; in almost any audience at first. 

As we grow to know ourselves better we begin to be purposeful when choosing in what audience we are comfortable being. But still, audience. I am an assistant at heart but I have learned to assist only those I believe in assisting; those that help me connect with myself and my desire to play a purposeful role in the world. 

But as simple as this sounds, choosing a leader or choosing a group or choosing a team, and choosing well, takes skill. In point of fact, it takes Leadership skill. 

And so I learned to be a better leader. I learned and I continue to learn. 

As parents, friends, activists, advocates, siblings, and teachers, I hope you also learn and continue to learn. 

 “A Natural Leader naturally knows how to build herself using the world around her and the raw material of her personage. A Learned Leader learns to do the same. In the end, you can’t tell one from the other. So learn.” ~Lynette Louise (The Brain Broad)
 
LET'S ALWAYS REMEMBER: 

As advocates, we need to hone and refine and enhance our Leadership skills. 

As I mentioned, many of us have had the work of "advocate" thrust upon us because of our passion, love, and view of things that comes from a different perspective. 

Admittedly, large portions of us (example: me) are uncomfortable or unsure in a leadership role. Though, we do our best. We speak or write or attend meetings or example and explain for our neighbors - and we hope that we are having an effect.

With this in mind I am obligated and excited to tell you about an upcoming event, back by popular demand!
 
Please, I encourage you, I encourage us, to take advantage (if possible) of the upcoming Annual Leadership Summit - Albany (Nov. 2-3) and, more specifically, of Lynette Louise (The Brain Broad) who is one of the renowned speakers for the event. 

And even more specifically, attend her cost-free "after party" where she'll host a gathering of folks interested in mental health and/or brain science, especially as it relates to Leadership, parenting, teaching, activism, and advocacy.

Share this with your friends, groups, and networks! 

Better yet, attend this with your friends, groups, and networks!

Lynette is only one of the fabulous speakers who are presenting at the event. Don't miss out!






More info and links here: Recognize, Choose, and Become Better Leaders with Lessons from The Brain Broad

As advocates and team builders for our children, as educators and teachers for other people's children, as parents and siblings in our home, Leadership skills - particularly when taught by a special needs team builder, educator, teacher, and parent - are always necessary and valuable. 

Plus, the event is healthy fun!





 “Ideas don’t grow simply because they have been planted. They must fall on fertile soil.”~Lynette Louise (The Brain Broad)


Take steps to be sure your brain-soil is fertalized for the healthiest ideas! 


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


 P.S: I understand that attending an event can be overly challenging or even impossible. Sometimes an event comes along that we know, we know, we must do all we can to make happen. (Like the time I took my sons to see Mariana's Trench in Dallas, TX and so we ate cheap off-brand noodles every day for a month, or the time I went to New York for a Publicity Summit and I could only eat what was offered free in hotel lobbies the entire trip.) Those are the things we do and we never regret. 

But when an event comes along and we know we want to go, and we know it would be good for us, but we also know that it's not quite exactly worth the sacrifices or challenges at the time, we let it go. I get it. I do that, too.

So, here's the next best thing! If the Annual Leadership Summit America - Albany, NY isn't going to happen for you, no worries! Use that same Leadership skill (the one that determined this was not the event you would attend) to purchase Lynette's Leadership book! It's filled with fabulous, insightful, surprising, actionable, and weirdly exciting Leadership Lessons! Follow this link for more about the book: http://www.lynettelouise.com/book/

And if you are attending the event, bring a copy of the book with you! Lynette can sign it if you'd like, plus it will give you a head-start on learning Leadership skills that you can then build on. You're such a clever leader for thinking of that! ;D

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Autism Answer: An Overthinking Fiasco In My Head

Waiting at the airport.

Well, here's a silly thing my thinking decided to do to me.

Saturday morning I drove two hours in the rain, north to Dallas, thinking with my heart about Houston and the many other cities in my state I knew were busily and anxiously, preparing for Hurricane Harvey and the challenging days ahead. It was a mixed up drive of emotions because while I was hurting and hoping for them I was thrilled for me. You see, I was heading to the airport so I could get on a plane and fly to my sister's house. I was playing the role of surprise birthday gift for her and not shy about the truth that it felt like a huge gift to me! I freaking LOVE hanging out with my sister!!

I arrived at the remote airport parking without incident, aside from the roller coaster ride of feelings, parked my car and looked around at my fellow parking passengers. We were all pulling luggage out of our cars, holding random items over our heads to protect ourselves from the momentarily light rain, and shyly smiling at each other, the way strangers often do. I couldn't help but notice one small family, an elderly man and woman with a young adult man. The young man was clearly ticcing or stimming. "Well, look at that!" I thought.*

*I often find myself having a conversation with my mom (Lynette Louise, The Brain Broad, international autism and mental health expert) about how rarely we see people out and about in the world with any visible challenges, unless they are with an obvious group or school. This is so, so, so, so unfortunate! For everyone! We should absolutely see and meet and learn to be comfortable with all sorts of differences and challenges, and all sorts of differences and challenges should feel accepted and invited into the world. We would grow, change, and shift. Our environment would learn to include everyone. 

We all boarded the shuttle together, and the small family sat near me. What I presumed to be mom and dad sat in the seat directly in front while what I presumed to be son sat directly beside me, leaving one seat between us.

I was a little bit excited. As we sat and began the short jaunt to the airport I saw the tics progress, and the young man voiced concern that we would not find the airport. After comfortable consolation from his maybe-mom he stimmed excitedly and pointed out directions, smacking the seat rhythmically. I heard the what-I-think-was-dad gentleman quietly ask whether the young man had remembered his medication.

Soon, and this is the silly thing my thinking decided to do to me, I went from excited to uncomfortable. You see, I wanted badly to find a way to SHOW my acceptance and comfort with the stims and tics. I wanted the family to FEEL relaxed and okay with the stims and tics. I wanted ME to be part of that.

However, there was no natural opportunity for me to say anything at all. And, funnily, my intense desire to show and share comfort was bothering me uncomfortably and making me wish we weren't riding together. Oops!

Noticing myself and my thoughts I shook my head and smiled. Wow, was I being silly! Time to stop that! For the last minute of our short ride, I was able to relax, be comfortable, and allow the ride its simple joy.

I was on my way to see my sister!! I was sitting with several strangers on their way to continue, begin, or invent their own adventures! What fine, comfortable, fun.

We disembarked and I shrugged my big beige hobo bag onto my shoulder, thanked the shuttle driver and smiled at my fellow travelers. Heading to the security line I thought about my thoughts.

On the drive in my car, I had thought quietly and anxiously about the folks being devastated by the hurricane, while at the same time I had thought noisily and happily about my sister and her family.

On the shuttle, I had wanted to show my comfort to the point of being uncomfortable.

Suddenly I heard my youngest son's voice in my head, remembering something he'd said to me only hours before. "I feel duplicitous sometimes. I'll say I think one thing, then I'll say I think a completely opposite thing. But, the thing is, I do think both of those things in different ways. I'm not lying."

We're all duplicitous. We're all incongruent to some degree. But at the base of our contradictions is, I believe, a relatable and solid reason. The branches of how we behave and react to our reasons don't always look like they are grown from the same root but, usually, they are.

In my case, during my drive and shuttle ride, I just wanted to actively love people and play a role. That's really all. But as I tried to make that happen, the desire itself got in the way. 

Showing my comfort by staying comfortable is a far better action than anxiously trying to find a way to show my comfort!

Boarding the plane and pulling a book out of my bag I giggled. It's a gift to truly listen to my thoughts and follow them to their roots. It helps me know and even edit myself. It also helps me empathize and assume thoughtfulness in others.

But, also, sometimes I just want a break from listening to me. So, I opened my novel and began to read. I decided to let someone else tell me stories for a while.

Of course, I couldn't help but hear myself think about the things I was being told to think about in the story. Aaaahhhh... the fun of it all!

I like to find the answers in the overthinking fiascos in my head. Thoughtful, surprising, kindly intentioned answers. 

Feel free to join me in that beautiful chaos! 


Happy 40th birthday to my fabulous sister!
I hope we get to be each other's gifts again soon!


Hugs, smiles, and love!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)
My sister and me on her birthday!

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Autism Answer: The Freedom Of Parallel Play



A Lesson That Lasted - The Story: 


Three of my four sons were enjoying a moment of imaginative play. Toy soldiers, wooden train parts, and various kitchen utensils surrounded them; a world of their creation. 

My fourth son, only months old, snuggled into my chest enjoying a post-feeding coma of contentment. 

Everything in my world was – particularly in that moment- exactly what I’d always wanted. Rather than put my baby down I held on, watched the boys create together and allowed my thoughts a parallel moment of free play. 

“The train broke! The robot escaped!” I heard my oldest son announce to his smitten brothers, breaking into my quiet imaginings with a loud crash of his own. 

Suddenly, and with great force, I was struck by a fear so real my entire body stiffened. 

Tightening my hug on the small body in my arms I bravely allowed the scary thought to present itself: “Children, my children, have their own thoughts, imaginations, and beliefs. My love and lessons can be shared but never forced.”

Sure, I had known this already, but never with such life altering clarity. 

As my boys manipulated their world of toys I teased out this truth and declared a parenting promise to myself. “My job,” I decided, “is to guide them. To be genuinely interested in what they want and who they are. Not to teach or applaud only my version of them.”

My body relaxed, my hug softened, my moment resumed.

To any onlooker, nothing had happened. 

But that moment of parenting aligned me. Who I am (less “leader,” more “helper”) and what I believe (we are all born uniquely capable) became a parenting statement I could put into action. 

I watched my sons play. The game hadn’t changed but my style of interest in it had. Still holding the baby, I joined my boys in their toys and asked them to show me around. 

________________       The End    _____________________

AUTHOR'S NOTE: I encourage you to discover the freedom of parallel play. Of being together with the understanding that we can share each other's plans and pictures and scripts, but that we can never entirely know another person. It's easy to get lost in the mess of wanting our loved ones to think the things we believe they should think, or to invest their time in the pursuits we feel are most necessary, or to behave in the ways we are inclined to consider best. But there is freedom and kindness when we let go of that. Don't let go of guiding, teaching, and learning; but let go of believing that your job isn't done until your children, students, friends, and spouses, see things your way. 

Enjoy and learn and teach and connect and find yourself in the freedom of parallel play!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!