Monday, January 30, 2017

Autism Answer: I Go Walking

What you might have seen:

A forty-something year old woman walking briskly, dancing and singing to herself wearing her brand new headphones and looking like she isn't aware that they're giving the music only to her. You might have seen her stop for a moment to experience the feel and look of a towering pecan tree, and then continue walking and singing happily. Suddenly she looks nervous and begins to cry a little. She trips and almost falls, her happy dancing turned into nervous clumsy crying in an instant.

What you might* have thought:

She seems weird but happy. Harmless, probably. But, whoa! Wait a minute. Her mood shifted so suddenly for no reason, and indeed it did clearly shift. It seems likely that she's unstable and more weird than happy. Wave as you drive by, but don't get to know her. What a strange woman.

*There are so many things you might have thought. Please know that I know my guess is purely invented out of only one of unlimited possibilities. 

What I saw:

The day is bright and cool, the streets are mostly empty except for all of the dogs. With music in my ears and happiness bouncing in my steps, I watch as some dogs bark at me nervously, some seem angry, some ignore me completely but bark and leap at each other. Most of the dogs are in fenced yards, a few roam free, a couple in cages, and some are attached to chains.

What I was thinking:

My heart hurts for some of these dogs but my fear of them is bigger. That one, the one tied to that chain over there by that dog-house, looks so much like the one that bit me last year. How sad that I know these animals are mostly harmless yet I am afraid of each and every one of them. How sad that I know they would be even more harmless if they weren't so often caged or tied up yet I'm relieved that they are. Focus on the music, dance to the tunes, don't let these thoughts or fears wreck your walk. I know! Take the main street home. Less dogs and more people. I gotta ask my brother - who walks all over town all of the time -  how he deals with all these dogs.

What I was thinking when you might have seen me:

This is better! People, smiles, oh look at that tree! I feel less nervous now, but I need to think about this. I should know how to go for a walk without having to babysit my feelings and thoughts so much. There is a bigger answer here, about society and stuff, that I can learn from these dogs. Oh, look! A feather! I'll take that home to Shay. Wait, that dog is pulling its way out of the fence. Shoot, I'll cross the street. Don't be scared, Tsara. Don't be scared. I can't breathe, but I'm passed the house. Peek behind you, make sure it's not coming this way. Oh, shit! It's out! It's looking at me. BAM: a couple of tears and uncontrollable shaking. Just get home. It's okay, the dog is standing there, staying there to keep me away from it's home; its family. What song is this? I don't even know this song, and I don't like this kind of music. How did this get on my playlist?

What I want us to remember:

When we see folks who are weird - happy or not - remember that they are so much more than weird. When we see folks who are different from us - in clothing, habits, beliefs - remember that they are so much more than different. They are an entire story. Stories, really. Unknown to us maybe, but unquestionably filled with emotions and reasons and memories and ideas that are as valuable as our own. No, we don't have to get to know every single one, and some stories are dangerous to invite into our lives, but remember that there is a life story, equally valuable as our own. Also, yes- there are answers about society and stuff, everywhere. And when we find ourselves struggling with extreme emotions - like fear - the answers are asking to be explored. My fear was real and relevant, based on personal experience. But it was also ridiculous and unfair. The dogs were mostly playful, fun, and harmless. Mostly.

Also, friends, please consider adopting a dog only if you're able to give it a fair amount of freedom. That's just a personal plea.

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

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

The Smell Of Hope - Short Story

Hello, friends!

It's been a while since I've participated in a Flash Fiction Challenge. I honestly didn't expect to participate this time, either. Although I certainly planned on stalking - errr, reading - the comment section so I could enjoy the pieces other writers wrote. However, recently something sad happened in our real life and I found myself turning it into complete fiction after being triggered by Chuck's Flash Fiction prompt: Hope in the face of Hopelessness. Kind of deep, right? Well, turns out it was also kind of therapeutic for me. So, once again, thank you Chuck Wendig! 

To be honest this piece is more for me than for you. I do hope you'll read it and get something beautiful (and hopeful!) out of it, but I admit I can't be entirely sure. What I do know is that it has given me something important. I love that about the freedom in fiction! You get to take advantage, create what you need, without guilt. 

I invite you to read my short story. When you're finished feel free to join me in the comment section over on Chucks blog where I'll be sipping coffee and reading several other flash fiction stories! Hugs, smiles, and love!! ~Tsara


The Smell Of Hope

The pain is physical, deep, dark colors, existing everywhere, specifically nowhere, all-encompassing, too much; too much.

She can’t - it can’t -  please!

Her new husband must have taken the phone out of her hands because she’s using both of them to scratch deep marks into her skin. Nails digging deep into her upper arms with the intention of releasing blood like she used to. Arms wrapped around herself and holding her tight, holding her together, as her mom used to.

But never again.

How? Why? A car crash? After everything, and, well, everything, it was a car crash?

Deja pulls herself into the fetal position with great effort and feels, from far away, her husband lay a blanket on her as she holds herself, and their baby – fetal, inside her – together.


Dreams will be Deja’s comfort. Always able to use dreams selfishly, mixing memory with need for her purposes, a place where being blind isn’t disabling and her style of sight is perfectly suited. Dreams have always been Deja’s strongest sense. She calls to them now.


Her mom is standing strong as a brick wall blocking the doorway. Deja wants to smell the food cooking in the kitchen but it’s her own sour sweat and vomit that invade her nostrils. “Got drunk during the day,” mom said, matter of fact. Disappointed. “The world is dark to me no matter what time it is,” Deja retorted. Foolishly.

Usually black as night Deja’s mom turns pale when angry, people have said. Deja imagines she’s pale now.

Deja just wants her to give a little, to understand. It’s not as if she’s doing drugs and living on the street. She’s drinking, partying, just like other girls her age. It’s not so easy to pull off being like other girls her age. Why can’t her mom give a little?

Now she’s holding her, mom is. Deja is crying on the ground, cuts all over her legs, they’re in the yard. Even after she’d stolen from her mom, disrespected her with venomous sarcasm and lies – cleverly mixing in truth in dangerous and cruel ways – her mom is holding her, loving her, keeping her together.

The cuts, Deja gave those to herself. Cutting to avoid a pain she couldn’t identify or ignore. Nobody had hurt her really, she’d never been raped or abused or molested, there was no reason for her emotional anguish. Her disability wasn’t overly disabling. No, she didn’t have a reason. Deja felt a pain that came from herself but she wasn’t doing it to herself. It was just there.

So, she cut. She drank. She stole. She fought. She found ways to push the uncontrolled pain down by living on the edge or inflicting pain she could identify and explain.

Her mom wouldn’t allow it and stood strong and fierce. Yet this day, that day, certain days, she understood Deja’s readiness to feel love, to feel support, and she would give it.

Now they are in Deja’s rented room. Deja and her mom healing. Together. With the pleasure and power of dreaming, a year’s worth of connecting and revealing and explaining and admitting sit with them in that room. Deja knows now about her mom’s rape and the abuse she suffered before Deja was ever born. They have explored how, maybe, possibly, Deja’s mom had passed the pain onto her. Unwillingly and unknowingly. Insidious and subliminal. Deja admits that the unexplained pain has receded. Replaced with purpose. With love. With hope. With perspective.

She is getting married.

She is going to be a mom.

Dreaming still, Deja is holding her husband’s hand. His hand is holding hers. Her black skin and his dark brown skin complimenting and outlining each other; and though she can’t see it she has imagined it as he’s described it. The way they fit together is clear to her but more entertaining the way he tells it. She lifts their hands to her face and smells them; together.

Deja’s mom is standing in a doorway smiling; beaming. She’s a big woman but her expectations for the future are bigger. Filling more than the doorway.

This is Deja’s dream but she doesn’t recognize the doorway. It feels different, smells unusual. But her mom, her mom she recognizes.


Deja’s dreams are memories, filled in with a selfish need to stay with mom. Deja knows she can sleep forever. She’s considered it before; long before. Is now the time to consider it again? For her mom and her baby and herself? There’s no hope now for the future with mom. No hope here. It was snatched; stolen; killed; crashed.


Arden watches his new wife sleep for a few more moments. He feels lost and scared. His wife and baby are the future he is prepared and excited for. Only recently has he been man enough to love them for the sake of them, not only for how they make him feel about himself. Not only for how they fit into his plan of things. Creative job, check. Reliable car, check. Home, rented - but check. Wife, check. Kids, on the way - and check.

But this; can he do this? How? He is already feeling a need to talk about how this will affect him. He thought he was man enough, but now he wonders. He’s being tested too soon; too soon.

Arden steps into the kitchen and pulls his phone from the charger. He stares at it and considers the people he can call. Mom, dad, brothers, sister, friends – what can they say? What can they do?

Arden thinks about his mother-in-law who he barely knew. Would she even know what to do? What to say?

Well, he can’t call her now, can he?

Arden is not the type to get angry but he’s angry at himself now, for not feeling a deeper sadness. He’s mostly fuzzy and stressed. He’s nervous. He wants to do this right but, more than that, he doesn’t want to do this wrong. It’s tempting to focus on himself.

What do you do for your pregnant wife when her mom suddenly dies? How do you be a good husband, a good father, a good man, then?

Arden gets himself a glass of water and fills Deja’s favorite water bottle with sweat tea.
Gathering his art supplies from the tiny living room he heads quietly confused back to their bedroom.


The pain is too real and keeps waking Deja. Her dreams are beginning to feel like home and she wants to live in them. Mom is there. Her baby is born. Arden is showing his cartoons to the kids, describing them to her, reading the stories and jokes to everyone. There are several kids now and she dreams her family is growing. But then pain comes and informs the dream; influences it. Someone goes missing. One of the kids, her husband, a friend; interestingly, never her mom.

Her mom is gone in this world, not that one.

Deja’s eyes flit open and Arden feeds her water, tea, fruit, corn bread. Deja can’t see it and doesn’t taste it but she is nourished by it.

Sometimes Arden isn’t there. She guesses he’s at work. That’s when she knows she could do it. Sleep with her baby forever. When Arden isn’t there she imagines him crying over them and telling a sad story, a story of his blind wife and their baby-to-be, and getting comfort from his family and co-workers. She imagines him writing an award winning film, getting over them, remembering fondly while getting on with his life. She imagines it’s easier for him.

But then he’s there again.

She smells him before she hears him. He’s being careful and quiet but his smell is loud. He smells like outside. Like coffee and popcorn. Like soap and detergent. He smells like hope.

It bothers her. It comforts her. She’s sobbing again.


Arden has fallen asleep behind her, holding her and the baby; all three of them in the fetal position.

Deja is between sleep and awake, in that other dimension, not sure which direction she wants to travel.

The baby flutters in her belly.

Her mom laughs in her dream.

Deja hears breathing and smells hope.

Arden kisses the back of her head and sleepily rubs her belly. His beard scratches her neck and she smells his morning breath.

Her mom is over there; waiting in the dreams; in the other dimension.

Her mom is staying there.

And Deja will visit.

But Deja is staying here.

Where her vision is created out of sounds, tastes, energy, smells, touch, and imagination.

Deja will stay here with her new husband and their baby. They’ll build a distinctly different future than originally planned out of the pain and rubble of the car crash; they’ll be honest about what pieces to throw away and which ones to keep. They’ll try to be, anyway.

Deja is staying here.

Where it smells like hope.

# # #

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Autism Answer: A Resume For Personal Planning And Reflection

Working with my eighteen-year-old son on his resume was a surprisingly wonderful way to learn more about how he sees himself and what he wants for his future.

It also offered some organic opportunities for me to suggest slight shifts and to help him highlight qualities he can be proud of.

"Don't lie on your resume," I explained, "but take the time to show how even your challenges are part of why you'll be a good employee."

"I don't think daydreaming makes me a good employee," he pointed out.

"No, but you daydream because you have an interest in stories and people. So, let them know that you have an interest in people which makes you helpful and a good listener most of the time; then if you want you can admit that sometimes you daydream."

"That's true," he realized. "What about that thing you always bug me about? That I move too slow."

His sly grin was no match for my ability to spin everything into a positive! To add a little perspective! "You mean the thing about you moving slowly because you're careful? Because you don't want to risk making a mistake by rushing? That thing?" Ha!

He nodded and realized that is also true. Part of the truth, but still true.

His resume is an honest reflection of him for his potential employers. And it has reflected himself to himself, also. Writing it meant thinking about who he is, what kind of job he really wants, and who he wants to be.

It meant focusing on his strengths which reminded him to focus on his strengths. 
It was fun!

Well, not the part where we had to actually type it on the computer and learn formatting and stuff. That wasn't fun.

But talking about it and planning it and imagining bringing it to the places he wants to work was fun!

And like I always say, it's deeply important to love the work you do although it's necessary to remember there will be aspects you don't enjoy. Like learning to format documents and stuff. So I guess even that was fun because I got to example loving my work (helping my sons) while doing the aspect I don't love without complaint (formatting).

Errrrr.... don't tell him I complained. Kay?
tee hee!!

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

 P.S. If you are looking for someone to work nights, especially bartending in a not too busy bar or working at a hotel desk, I know a handsome young man who would love an interview! :D

Friday, January 13, 2017

Autism Answer: Werewolves and Anxiety

Walking into the high school with my second youngest son (on our way to watch my youngest son perform) he stopped suddenly and squished my cheek.

"I think I figured out why I love werewolves so much."

"Umm... okay."

We started walking again, heading with the crowd toward the ticket sale line, and he explained. "As soon as we started walking toward the school I could feel my anxiety rise, my body felt nervous and fuzzy. Then when we walked in I felt a shift, a change, and I even noticed my body move like in the movies when people change forms, become the wolf. My anxiety has always been like that. I feel it coming, and then I feel myself change no matter how hard I try not to. I can't control it." 

I stared at him for a minute. As he had explained his theory I'd watched his body move subtly like werewolves in movies. It was fascinating! Insightful, scary, enlightening; useful!

"Wow, that makes so much sense! Do you feel the anxiety now?"

"Oh, yes. Always at this school." He turned at looked straight into my eyes. "Always at this school."

By now we had made it to the front of the line. I purchased our tickets, exchanged a few excited words about the upcoming show with the mom volunteer, and then held my son's hand as we headed into the theater. 

"Well, I'll tell your brother how much his show meant to you. That you were willing to risk staying in your werewolf form for him. But if you need to leave at any point just tell me. For now, you can control the anxiety - or 'the wolf' - by choosing your environment."

"Thanks, mom." 

He looked relaxed. He held my hand. 

We enjoyed the show.

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

My son and I, at the show!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Autism Answer: Acting - A Place For His Gifts/Challenges

Declyn / Kenickie

DECLYN: "Could you feel it? Could you feel Kenickie's sadness when Rizzo pushed him away? Was I showing the hurt?"

My son played the role of Kenickie in our local high school's production of Grease. It was amazing! My son was brilliant and so was the entire cast and crew.

ME: "Yes, Declyn, I could. You did great."

When he was younger his hyper-empathy made him afraid to be out in the world. He hugged my leg tight and felt all the feelings. Sometimes it would be wonderful for him, particularly since I was sensitive to his sensitivities so chose our outings carefully, and mostly joy and comfort would be felt. However, too often other people's feelings of hurt or fear would be taken on by him. And so he avoided crowds - playlands and birthday parties, and he built (with purpose) an exhausting persona he could wear to school. A place where the passions run wild; unpredictable and caged into an unnatural setting.

DECLYN: "I don't know, I think I can do better. I didn't fully feel it this time. Kenickie acts cool, but he's really hurt."

Over the years he (with only a tiny bit of guidance from me and the many other grown-ups in his world) has found ways to best handle and even take advantage of his hyper-empathy. Leadership roles help because he can take over and push his uplifting belief in everyone onto the group. Of course, he's a teenager so this is sometimes done in an unbalanced way, but the idea is sound.

ME: "Well, you know I'll be at all three performances so I'll let you know if we feel it different as an audience next time."

But the role of actor seems to suit him gorgeously! He can channel that hyper-empathy, examine it, wear it on stage, and then cast it off at the end of the show. Even though his empathy isn't easily cast off (or he would likely have learned to do that long ago) he can consider moments of overwhelming emotion shared from others as learnings, as research. As an actor, you do feel other's feelings. You feel them and you harness them and you show them. Then, you put them away.

DECLYN: "Thanks! It's not as challenging as it could have been. The girl playing Rizzo is good so it makes it easier for me."

Acting could be a dangerous thing for someone with his social challenge - a hyper-empathy mixed with a strong feeling of self-importance - but it can also be a brilliant place for exploring and channeling and using his passion wisely.

ME: "Ya, you have a great cast! It's fantastic to see how well you all work together. The way you help each other shine."

As a mom watching her youngest son sort out who he is and how to make the best of that, well, I'm overwhelmed with love, happiness, and gratitude to watch him choose to make acting brilliant for himself.

Also, I'm totally lucky to have been in the audience for Grease (three times!!) and can't wait for their next production!!

I hope with all of my heart that you and your loved ones are always able to discover ways to bring out the best in your gifts/challenges!!

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

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Autism Answer: Ask For The Why Of Actions

A Thought While Sipping Coffee: 

When I see adults talking to children with an attitude of, "I am the boss of you and you're only being 'good' when you do as I say," I can feel like I'm lost and alone and unsure of what action I should take, and I often feel like crying. 

Yet, when I see adults talking to children with an attitude of, "I've learned things about living that I want to show you and you know things I want to remember," I feel a connection and beauty, like I've met a kindred spirit; and I also often feel like crying. 

We tend to do a lot of the same things for different reasons (crying, for example) so don't be shy about asking - yourself and your loved ones - for the 'why' of a behavior or action. 

Also, allow yourself and your loved ones the freedom to discover the answer of why over time. 

"Remember, the timetable is arbitrary. There is no point at which a child must be done and done is an illusion.” ~Lynette Louise (aka The Brain Broad)
Some of the most important things I've learned about myself, my loved ones, and society in general, came while exploring the why of seemingly odd behaviors or actions. Autism, as we well know, invites some interesting actions! Yet always, when my interest is authentic and my communication open, we can figure out a why. And always, it's revealing and surprising. 

So ask for the why of actions. Even with family and friends who struggle to communicate. Take time and have fun with it! Be honestly interested and listen creatively. I'm not good at understanding my brother's words, but over the years I've learned so much about him. Admittedly, with help from our mom - but that's part of listening and being honestly interested. My brother talks to me and tells me the why of his actions; often the why of his actions is an attempt to talk to me. 

Communication and action are one and the same. But we don't all speak the same action-language. 

So, ask for the why. The foundation of the action.
If I'm crying, go ahead and ask why.
If my brother is jumping and screaming, go ahead and ask why.
In exploring why we learn so much.
We connect and we learn. 
About ourselves and each other.

PERSONAL REQUEST: When you're talking to kids I hope you'll consider an attitude of, "I've learned things about living that I want to show you and you know things I want to remember." I truly think it's a great way to talk to kids. 

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