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!!