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!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Autism Answer: My Weird And Wonderful Mom

Author's Note: I was honored with an invitation to write a guest post for the brave and inclusive Jennifer Margulis. I truly hope you'll take a moment to read that post HERE. But for you I have also taken the time to share an edited (with my audience in mind) version of that post here for you!  Read, share, talk about it with your network.  And, if you have the inclination, I'd love you to also read my guest post. It's kind of fun to see the sameness in the posts along with the differences. Some of the stories and ideas I share here with you are different from the ones I share there. It's a fun reminder that we can often tell the same story differently, depending on our audience. GUEST POST: What Having A "Weird" Mom Herself Taught This Mama About Children's Health  Happy reading! ~Tsara


Now, not everyone was blessed with a weird and wonderful mom. I know this. 

But I was, and it is my honor to share a little bit about her with you. She is someone who insisted on exploring her own organic oddities - despite being alone in this endeavor and consistently fighting the adults in her world who were working hard to stomp out those oddities - to create something wonderful from scratch. My mom can help those of you who weren't given the gift of someone like her in your lives. She can help you discover the value of organic oddities in yourself and your loved ones. You can do what I do, let her be your weird and wonderful teacher! 

My suggestion: Don't miss any opportunity to learn a few things from the people who stand out. 

You can do that here if you'd like. Join me. Have a seat while I pour the coffee. Hmmmmm... there's no pie but I found a few pieces of dark chocolate. Have a nibble and lean in, get comfy. I'd like to tell you a bit about my mom. 

Oh, my weirdly wonderful mom! She is an endless series of stories I love to tell. I promise, though, to try to keep this telling interesting and on point.

My mom grew up as the “black sheep” in her family. Her strangeness (eventually mom would be diagnosed as ‘Historically Asperger’s’) was uniquely frustrating, and the abuse my grandparents doled out to all of their kids was particularly harsh for mom. From the earliest age, my mom promised herself that she would grow up to have several children, and she would treat them with fairness. My sister and I were lucky recipients of mom’s love and fairness. However, that love's intensity was a little much for our small group and – after having to have a hysterectomy – my mom adopted six more children. Four boys and, later, two homeless teenage girls. So there were eventually eight kids altogether: Four older girls and four younger boys. All four of my brothers had multiple brain disorders, and they all also landed in various places on the autism spectrum. 

My mom was married for the third time when she adopted my brothers. And though that marriage lasted longer than her first two (she was married to my step-dad for nine years) that one also fell apart. So, in truth, my mom was pretty much always a single mother. A single mother with eight unusual kids. 

We moved a lot. My mom was clever that way. We were always interesting to our neighbors and just when we were becoming annoyances, mom found a “great opportunity!” for us, and we’d move. So our most common experience as a family (thanks to mom’s kind deception) was that we were interesting, and living a life of great opportunities. This is just one example of how my mom’s weirdness was wonderful. She rarely considered parenting the way she saw parenting being done by others, and instead parented in the way it would work out for the largest number of her children. 

This bothered most schools and professionals to a surprising degree! My mom insisted on finding people who could follow her lead. People who would look at her children – particularly my brothers – and be creatively willing to teach or understand them from where they were, while believing they could learn. And when they couldn’t be creative she wanted them to at least be open to her suggestions. However, systems and schools are not set up for creativity and outliers. So, mom insisted on looking for ever more “great opportunities!” while creatively teaching us herself. 

This is another way my mom was weird: From the moment she met my brothers she saw them as completely capable; albeit, differently so. 

So, filled with love and leadership for a strange batch of children, my mom educated herself in uncommon ways. Always willing to look where the clues directed her, even though she was almost always sent off alone into areas that were taped off from the public, mom made her own trails. But it was in those places that my mom unearthed the uncommon answers that helped her uncommon children. All eight of us kids have grown beyond statistics and the possibilities offered to us by professionals. Particularly my four brothers. Three are independent men and my most challenged brother lives with mom in California. 

My mom – Lynette Louise (aka “The Brain Broad”) – now travels the world as a mental health expert specializing in autism. She is a speaker and an author. She is a comedian and a singer/songwriter. She is a renowned practitioner and consultant. She continues to make waves and invite controversy. Mom’s most important project is her international autism docu-series FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD (which airs on The Autism Channel). In the show, simply put, she brings cameras with her to work and shows audiences why her weirdly wonderful ways work to help grow healthier families, regardless of culture.

Admittedly, my mom's weird ways often put our family at odds with the world. And for me, a shy type, that was sometimes a problem. But problems are an important part of solutions and my problem of being loved too loud was one that added a filter of everlasting value to my childhood. 

My experience of growing up was thus: We moved, often. We sang, often. We hurt, often. We laughed, often-est. It was necessary. My brothers were challenged and challenging. My mom had little to no help and when she was offered help in the form of social workers or babysitters they generally took on an adversarial role, looking to see what my mom was doing wrong rather than looking to see how they could simply help. (Later, as an adult, I would discover the unfortunate commonness of this. It was a sad realization. But I did feel less like my mom was such a weird mom and more like she was a strong mom, unwilling to bend for the sake of getting along with people who were wrong about her kids.) 

The greatest example of how fun and strange my childhood was is the year my mom took us on a North American Prison Tour. 

My brothers were being bullied in school, learning no academics and only dangerous social skills. Us four teenage girls were in different stages of wild and with so many children to take care of mom needed a way to get us all in one place while teaching us. Well, she had recently recorded her first musical CD (Sing Me A Song…Please!) so a brilliant idea was hatched. We would perform an inspirational comedy musical for prisoners! 

With help from a local mechanic she got her hands on a big cargo van (we kids christened it “The Disco Van” because of its red coat of paint with the fancy silver stripe) and after much writing, rehearsing, and planning, all eight of us kids climbed into The Disco Van and headed out. During this time my brothers learned more (reading, geography, math, navigating, etc) than they had their entire school careers. My sisters and I learned that people in prison were not to be feared or emulated, they were simply people. We also learned we didn’t want to end up there. We simultaneously fell in love with the crowds while decidedly making new choices for our own futures. It was brilliant! 

My childhood was fun, hard, and exactly what I needed.

A Recent Visit With Mom: In February my mom flew to Dallas with one of my nieces so they could see STOMP at the Dallas Theatre. Excitedly I grabbed my youngest brother (he lives in the same small town I do) and my two youngest sons and we met them at their hotel. We had so much fun! As is our habit we sipped coffee, chatted, and laughed. 

Our family is a motley mismatched crew – all sizes, colors, sexual identities, and abilities – but we are so comfortable and happy together! A group of us can almost always be found huddled together around coffee and conversation, although you never know what group. My sister, my nieces, my sons, my mom, my brothers, we move from one place to the next, sometimes these ones living with that one, or that one staying with this one, but always we work well as a team. 

It’s a wonderful thing my mom has built! 

And it was all grown purposely out of the weird and wonderful organic oddities that is my mom's soil. 

Oh, I see you didn't finish up the chocolate. Well, I'll eat that last piece then, thank you. Would you like me to top off your coffee? 

And, while we're here, do you have a story about a weird and wonderful person in your life? Is it you? 

I hope you'll share. It's your turn to talk, I've got chocolate on my teeth. Giggle!

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


If you would like to share more of my stories with me I invite you to read my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning From Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up. So far, folks are enjoying it!  Here are a few customer review excerpts I pulled from Amazon

"Tsara Shelton’s book of essays and stories, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself, is a lovely elaboration on the author’s lifelong pursuit of learning to know and love herself. She seems, even from childhood, to have been uniquely gifted at loving others, seeing past outward appearances and personalities into the inner selves of people. Her honesty and empathy, patience and optimism seem to extend from those around her to her reader." ~Linda Aldridge 

"I read this book in one day because I couldn't put it down! As soon as I was done I passed it on to my best friend and said, "Read this!" Tsara's collection of stories are so varied yet all unveil perseverance for joy, family and self. Her family tree is fascinating! Autism is a major through line in the book, and having so many friends with children on the spectrum gave me perspective, knowledge and tools that will help me be a better friend and empathetic person all around. Tsara's descriptive language paints such vivid images of scenes from her life. It's incredible that she is so open and truly lets you into her soul. I would describe this as a book of hope." ~Jess

"I've been carrying this wonderful book around with me for the past several months, enjoying it in each perfect story-reading moment life has gifted to me! I've found the stories inside to be inspiring, thought-provoking, heart-warming, laughter-inducing, deepest-parts-of-my-soul-touching, and more! Indeed, it's been quite nourishing, and I've absolutely loved reading it." ~Rachel Clark

"Rather awesome to find such an author whose understanding of stories are fundamental to the way we process and experience life events and the feelings that surround them. What a pleasurable read this book is. These stories encapsulate life’s memorable moments and enduring lessons. When such a talented writer harnesses the power of literature and uses it to develop positive lessons and family values our world becomes a more beautiful place to live together in." ~Relena 

"A parent extraordinaire. A coffee sipper, a writer of wisdom, a singer of songs. A free spirit with gypsy in her soul who carries you along with her wonderful stories." ~Sara Luker (Autism Sara)

"............................................................. lovely family..................................... the greatest writing................... stories of her kids are adorable........................... reading felt like having deep conversation with a true friend.......  " ~You (Or, you know, something like that. ;D ) 

BONUS: My book loves to travel!

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!!