Thursday, April 2, 2020

Autism Answer: World Autism Awareness Day with The Brain Broad - Bringing Us A Way To Learn & Connect With The World from Home




Quarantined and staying home, sheltering in place, not working or working with anxiety, the world is undoubtedly in a state of change. It is going to wake up different.

In the meantime, people like my mom, Dr. Lynette Louise (aka The Brain Broad), people who build their lives and livings out of helping others, are finding creative and powerful ways to reach out to their communities.

Today is World Autism Awareness Day. It is also my mom's birthday. And she has found a safe and wonderful way to celebrate it with you, me, and all our friends!

FIX IT IN FIVE with LYNETTE LOUISE aka THE BRAIN BROAD is her international docu-series, airing on The Autism Channel, highlighting and helping five different families, over the course of five days, in five different countries. Until now seasons one and two (Uganda and USA respectively) were only available to view for anyone with The Autism Channel or available to rent/own via Vimeo on Demand.

However, today she is releasing all five episodes of season one on YouTube. Fall in love with Milly, a single mom in Uganda, and her autistic daughter, Trisca! Get to know them, their unique challenges and brave willingness to learn on camera. Follow Lynette as she teaches and gives tools, learns and reaches out for support, nibbles on grasshoppers. 

Invite the family into your home as they have invited us into theirs. Let's connect and learn and love together in this way! Yes, we are connected to everyone in this world and sometimes it is dangerous. But most of the time, when done with intention and acceptance and understanding, it is life enhancing and beautiful.

A great gift to you this World Autism Awareness Day, and a great gift to The Brain Broad on her birthday, is taking advantage of her offer: Watch FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD. Share it with your family and friends and watch it together while separated. Contact each other to discuss your favorite moments and lessons, and continue on to the next episode.

The world is going to wake up different. We can wait and see in what ways, or we can choose to do our part to shape it inclusively and sustainably.

For my mom's birthday I hope you'll join us in doing the latter.

However you choose to spend your time, I'm sending you love and virtual hugs this World Autism Awareness Day!!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!! 

Here are the Playlists on her YouTube Channel.
https://www.youtube.com/user/lynettellouisel/playlists
 
While you're there, be sure to check out the ABCs of autism playlist. So far we are up to the letter C and all three short videos are freaking FANTASTIC!!!!! 
 
And here is Episode one from Uganda - 
FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD

 
 

Friday, March 27, 2020

My Body - Getting To Know You (aka What I'm Doing At Home)

Well now, things are interesting. (Dear reader, I do not know where you are in time, and I do know that things are always interesting, but this post is being written in March 2020 near the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, so keep that in mind as you read the type of interesting I am referring to and the type of response I'm choosing. Thanks, friend!)

Clearly, I've had all the common thoughts. What a perfect time to shift the world in sustainable ways! What a wonderful reason to consider how we care for each other and rethink our willingness to be inconvenienced! How excellent to connect with and get to really know our children and spouses! And I confess, my daily life is hardly disrupted by staying home. That's what I do. Write, read, dance, sit outside or inside, but all mostly at home. 

I was, however, chewing over a fantastic opportunity my sister had given me to work with her as a production coordinator. I've said yes to projects so far but promised to make a concrete decision on whether I would be her production coordinator and not just accept jobs convenient to me. So far I've always said yes, but just before COVID-19 decided to barricade business as usual, my sister was getting consistent offers that would have me rarely home and working often. Did my hubby and I want that? I promised to decide but was filled with anxiety about doing so.

Then this. Stay at home and shelter in place orders around the world. (Probably my fault. The Universe figured it would call my bluff by saying, "Oh, this is such an important decision and worth so much worry because why? The world will stop turning if you choose wrong? Well then, let me stop everything so you can take your time, lady." Well, in response, I have made decisions. So, ya. Sorry about that! Things should return to healthy, though hopefully not to their usual, soon.) 

Anyway, speaking of my sister, yesterday something happened with her that gave me another idea of what I should do with this time at home. Keep in mind, my home is an empty nest. It is me and my husband alone. Our youngest son visits from University - two hours away - sometimes, but with our other children and family members and grandchildren living in California, it is mostly just us. So when my sister thanked me in a text for making a dermatologist appointment for her that resulted in a suspected melanoma biopsy (my dad died from Melanoma and my entire family history is saturated with cancer) I had a thought. 

You see, we knew to make that appointment because we recognized a mole on her body misbehaving. The mole we were concerned about was on her stomach. Turned out, though, that it was a mole on her butt that was the true concern. 

Well now. We don't really spend much time looking at her butt, so we may never have noticed that! 

This isn't the first time I've thought about how unfamiliar I am with my own body. It's not even the first time I've thought about it in relation to the dangers of not knowing my body. But it is the first time I've thought about it while our town is under stay-at-home orders and the health of our community is at the forefront of the collective consciousness reminding us that our responsibility to health is in our hands. 

So, I am spending this time getting to know my body. It's freaking hot here in Texas, so rather than turn on the air conditioner constantly I am walking around in minimal clothes. No one will be coming over for a visit, I don't have to quickly get dressed and head out to run errands,  this is a good time for this. 

I'm not going to walk around minimally dressed all day every day. But I plan to do it as often as is comfortable (well, it's not comfortable because I'm unfamiliar with my body this way, but I am old enough and experienced enough to know it will become comfortable) and to stop shying away from looking. I have moles and stretchmarks and cellulite and, boy, do I have hairy legs! But I need to know this. I need to have answers when asked about my body as usual, and I am responsible for recognizing changes or possible problems.

So, ya. That's one of the fun and important things I am doing with this time. 

Feel free to join me! 

Once you get over the awkwardness of being exposed it actually feels quite surprising and free! My hair tickles my back often and it's nice. The air on my skin - even though it is only indoor air - is soft and unpredictable. Being physically distant from our fellow humans leaves time to experience the touch of air and water. Sure, air and water touched me before but I rarely took the time to experience it. How about you?

Regardless of whether or not you are interested in, able to, or even in need of, getting to know your body during this time, I hope you'll join me in doing something proactive regarding your health and the health of our world. I honestly believe it helps contain and even corral our anxieties during an uncertain time. 

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






Monday, March 23, 2020

Short Story - Inside

I wrote this piece last year in response to a photo prompt offered by Blank Spaces Magazine (be sure to check them out, fellow Canadians!). Though my submission was not a winner in the competition it was a winner for me. Writing it urged me past a place I was stuck staying in myself. 

It is certainly specific to me. Hence, I didn't plan to share it. I couldn't quite see how it would be of interest to you.

However, now that many of us in the world are practicing some sort of staying inside, it feels a little relevant. It is about being inside, all the way inside, and exploring. 

The image I'm using here is not the one that inspired the piece (I don't have permission to use that pic I imagine) but it is equally as much a self-portrait for me and it works. The only edit I had to make in order to use it was getting rid of the word "snow". 

Whether or not this piece has any relevance to you I hope you can feel the value of taking time inside. Of exploring all the styles of ourselves and the memories we make and the rooms we build that we sometimes refuse to leave, regardless of what other memories or rooms we could be taking time to create and experience. For me, a big one is simply my sons growing up. Seriously, I couldn't wait for it until it happened and then I didn't know how to live with it. Now, I do. 

And largely because I wrote this.

I hope you are equally able to take advantage of time inside.

Happy reading, friends!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)




Inside


I was sent here – brought here? – as some form of punishment. Banished with the expectation of reflection. Yet, I can see no punishment in this.

The beauty is breathtaking! 

Literally, my breath stops often here and I feel it being accepted as a gift by This Place. I want to give it, too. Give my breath away. However, so far I haven’t. 

Just as my vision distorts and the pain that exists on my peripheries (quiet pain, a reminder of where I am not) begins to fade, I pull the breath back to me, back into me. 

This Place returns it gracefully. It seems to have no agenda.

And so I spend much of my time attempting to reflect. I would say I spend many days, but it is always some form of day and night here. The passing of time counted in how many things I’ve thought rather than calendar or clock. 

Yet the beauty and scope of This Place don’t encourage reflection from me so much as it demands exploration. Oh, not so much of the adventurous treasure hunting kind. More of a curious probing and bringing to life. Well, there is adventure and treasure in that. 

Inside I am warm and cozy. The coffee here is always perfectly percolated, even though I don’t remember ever perking it. In fact, that is something I’ve never been good at. Choosing instead to own drip coffee makers even though percolated coffee is my favorite. I’ve always been someone who will accept what is good rather than risk ruining it in hopes of making something better. 

I enter new rooms often. Coffee wrapped in my hands, tapping my ring on the mug – I’m wearing my ring here, I hear. 

I consider first the room’s d├ęcor. Aside from the kitchen and living room, which are styled in a way I imagine many would expect if walking up to this house, rustic with a fireplace and area rugs, other rooms are surprisingly decorated. 

I call the room at the top of the stairs Angry Teenager. Black, metal, dangerous, on edge. I go there for that feeling. Of course, as I explore, items reveal themselves that invite more complexity. Scribbled hopeful poetry, an Anne Murray CD, a picture book of only cute kittens. 

The Princess room – prettified with fairies and forest animals - rarely calls to me but I’ve visited more than once. Creating, as I do here, backstories for the room and its occupant. 

Now that I think about it, I guess it isn’t true that I’m not called to reflect here. It’s just that my reflections are always imbedded in my inventions. Backstories – invented or experienced - and explorations guide my reflections. 

Other than the kitchen-living room combo, it’s The Boy’s room I spend most of my time in. (If you know me you may have been surprised I didn’t say the library. Of which, in This Place, there are a few! But, no. You aren’t surprised. If you know me.)

The Boy’s room is also upstairs, on the opposite side of the living room. It has a window that reaches slightly away from the house and I know that’s dangerous, calling as it does for adventure that moves away. But I also approve, and think it’s just the right amount of danger and away.

Oh, how I love imagining and remembering stories in there!

The toys are familiar (Admittedly, everything in This Place is familiar. For a person who craves creating I’ve never been good at inventing things that are wildly different from what I live with or know well. Rearranging, working with what is familiar, that’s my forte.) and I play, while bringing The Boys to mind. 

Confession: This is a place where I am only alone, can only be alone, and I don’t mind that for now. Eventually I’ll want more. My own ideas are limited without diverse others to add and elucidate. Also, I do crave The Boys. I’m aware, in a reluctant way, my desire for them when they are no longer available is why I am here. 

Right now, though, I’m looking outside. Telling this while I stare out at the trees. (Of course, trees. A little on the nose! In many ways my imagination is truly lazy.) I feel the pain on the periphery and allow it, not for the first time, to wrap around me. 

It is only when the pain is pervasive that I can exist simultaneously in This Place and That Place. I’m able to feel and hear and sometimes even see everything and all of it at once. I can only hold onto this for a short moment, like trying to hold onto the splendor of having an epiphany. Or an orgasm. 

I think I must not let the pain get its hooks in me or I will be stolen from This Place entirely. I’m sure of it. 

I’m not sure I want that. 

But something is happening. As I’m doing this telling, feeling a desire to explain, have it make sense, I can’t ignore what I’ve been trying not to know. 

If I go back to That Place, I will be stolen from This Place. But also, This Place will be with me. 

True, I won’t likely be sent – brought? – here in this way. But This Place is me. A self-portrait. Nothing more or less magical than that. 

And That Place, where the pain waits, is where The Boys are. Well, no. That is the point. Where they no longer are. 

There, they are men. 

None live home with me, snuggling, fighting, playing, sniffling, reaching always ultimately in my direction and me in theirs. 

But in This Place I am only alone, can only be alone. (Let the breath go: stay!)

And the pain in That Place is where the people are. (Embrace the pain: return!)

I did this to myself. I banished myself. 

I brought myself here. 

I must choose. 

Myself.


Monday, November 18, 2019

Autism Answer: What Is A Good Day?

Good morning.

What makes that morning cup of coffee so delightful?

Besides its wonderful flavor, I mean. 

Those of us who delight in this simple ritual agree, there is more to it than "yummy." 

For me, I believe it is partly about the potential in the day ahead, unencumbered by the weight of all others. Other yesterdays and tomorrows. I sip my morning brew mostly in the moment but embracing, also, potential and possibility.  In short, while I sip I am quietly aware that today - though I'm not usually thinking about the day ahead - could be a good day. 

*Sip*

So, what makes a good day? Well, for me I think it's one where I got things done, moved projects forward. No, that's not it. 

*Sip*

Hmmm.

*Sip*

Maybe a good day is one where I played a part in helping things get done. No, that's not right either. I often feel I've had a good day when I didn't even do much at all. When I've barely done a thing to.... oh, wait! I know!

For me, it's been a good day when I like the choices I made. When the things I chose to do, the ways I chose to react, to things big and small, are choices I'm happy about. Whether it's eating or not eating another cookie, agreeing to do something that scares me but helps my husband out, putting down a good book in order to help my brother with a letter he's writing to his favorite car company, or not paying a bill because that money could be used to help one of my children who is doing an amazing job of being responsible but is still coming up short with his rent. 

Another example of a choice I'm happy with that is helping me have a good day: writing this post! I often have a thought I want to untangle by writing it down with the intention of sharing, using the power of editing and rewriting and the necessity of clarity to unravel all the perspectives and possibilities jockeying for position in order to see things as they are, in my personal opinion. I can kind of do this when I write something for me alone, but I do it much better when I imagine someone other than me reading it. I become less lazy and insist on taking the important step at considering every angle I've heard or read about, rather than just telling myself something I want to hear. I am better for me when I imagine you.

But even knowing this I will often not write. I'll think the ever common, "Who cares what I think? Who am I to think people want to read about the ramblings in my head?" This, I know, is not legitimate. This is an excuse. 

Particularly since I know that me writing it for you is largely about writing it better, not writing it because I think you need to know. And writing better takes more out of me. It's harder. So, I let my "Who cares what I think?" excuse work. Because there is enough truth in it that I can easily use it. It even sounds humble. Hah! I love a justification that puts itself on a pedestal by pretending it's humble.  

*Sip*

The truth is, you won't read it if you don't want to. But if I imagine you reading it, I'll work harder and make it better and discover more important points that help me have a good day. 

And a good day, for me, is a day where I like the choices I made. 

Wow! That's cool. It means I have the power to make all my days good. To remember what I've discovered here and use it. Admittedly, I know myself well enough to guess I probably won't always have good days or make all choices I'm happy with, even with this knowledge and clarity. But I also know myself well enough to know I mostly will! 

I'll continue to have mostly good days.

And now I'll know why!

Well, that was illuminating. I think I'll have one more cup. 

*Sip*

What do you like about your morning cup of coffee?

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




Monday, October 28, 2019

Autism Answer: My Sustainable Halloween Tip - Use What You Have And Discuss Disabilities

 
Pictured: My youngest brother, Rye, holding my second oldest son, Tyran. Halloween, 1996

Firstly, I encourage you to read the article I wrote several years ago for Dr. Lynette Louise ("The Brain Broad") that includes incredibly valuable and important tips here: Halloween: The Holiday Made for Autism (With These Important Tips)


Secondly, a reporter was asking for a sustainable Halloween tip the other day. Well, as you know, I'm totally into sustainability. It's groovy, man! Not only is it groovy, it will help us stay alive and not live harmful, cruel lives in the meantime. 

So, I'd love to share my tip with you as well! Because I want us to stay alive and not live harmful, cruel lives in the meantime.

My Sustainable Halloween Tip: 

Use what you have. Play dress-up rather than buying a costume. This is not only sustainable, but fun! Also, if you or your children have a disability or sensitivity, Halloween is an annual opportunity to dress-up and introduce yourself to the neighbors with your challenges in mind. Explain why you always wear the noise-canceling headphones that you cleverly included in your costume (or equally cleverly, kept incongruent to your costume), or ask for help reaching the inaccessible door while discussing how it affects your daily life, or share a story about a unique issue you have due to lack of sight or hearing. Sustainability is about making choices that can be sustained. Hence, not purchasing a costume but rather using what already is, as well as bringing your unique issues and needs out into the world on a day when doorknocking and chit-chatting is expected and encouraged, addresses sustainability both for the environment and for our culture.

My Sustainable Halloween Example: 


 
Pictured: My sister, one of my brothers (Dar), and me, dressed as a gypsy, pirate, and homeless drunk respectively, Halloween 1987ish. 

Everything we are wearing was found in mom's closet or around the house. My brother, Dar, wasn't expected to say "Trick-or-Treat" but mom did encourage him to walk up to each door, hold out his pillowcase, and offer some sort of nod or gesture of appreciation for each piece of candy. Every year Dar got more comfortable with the tradition and neighbors learned to be more comfortable with us. Dar is over 30 years old now and sometimes goes out on Halloween with his nieces and nephews and other times stays home to hand out candy. Again, it is a fantastic time of year to introduce himself and his differences to folks while feeling fun and a little less conspicuous than usual.


Sustainability matters. Taking advantage of opportunities to be sustainable with purpose and inclusion is powerful. I highly recommend it!

Have a fun, safe, sustainable, inclusive, informative, and spooky Halloween, friends!

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

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Autism Answer: The Work Of Making Better Memories

 
My least favorite memories are the ones where I was a jerk. 

So I remind myself, in those moments where I'm tempted to be impatient, unthoughtful, or unwilling to be inconvenienced, that the moment happens now but the memory remains. 

It's absolutely worth it, every time, to take a breath and encourage myself to be better, to take the time to see what I honestly think is my best move; my most useful and kind action (and, admittedly, that can be not helping someone or walking away, but it doesn't mean being cranky, mean, or unwilling to be uncomfortable or inconvenienced) and to do that. Regardless of what good excuse I may have for being lazy about doing what I think is the right thing. Too many times in my past I have hidden behind fear of being unliked, fear of backing the wrong horse, worry about looking naive or stupid, annoyance at feeling inconvenienced or too often needed, and with those as my excuses or reasons, I made memories I am stuck remembering. They are not memories I enjoy. 

It's always worth it to take the time to do what I think is actually the best kindest truest action. When I remember those choices, even later as I learn many of them were not kind or best, I don't dislike the memory because it is a memory of doing what I thought was right. 

Let's always try to do the work of giving ourselves better memories. The moment is important but fleeting. The memory stays and informs us as we tell the story of what kind of person we are. 

It's always worth it to do the work, to forgive ourselves when we didn't, and to get better and better at making sure we do.

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

Friday, October 11, 2019

Short Story: Clara




Clara 

The first time The Power happened to Clara she was rocking in her chair, tiny toes barely able to touch the ground, dark eyes closed to the mean world. And though The Power built up in her and felt directly connected to her imagination, the imagining of horrible things happening in return to the man who had been hurting her, she hadn’t made The Power happen. The Power happened to her, she was pretty sure of that. Like so many things happened to her.


She hadn’t been rocking in her chair, though, when the news of what The Power had done found her. She had been hiding at the top of the stairs in her dress, little legs hugged to her chest, head down on her knees, the dress hiding as much of her as possible. She was often hiding in her clothes but they had proven to be an easily penetrated fortress. The news of what had happened to her uncle floated up the stairs dressed in her mother’s grieving voice. “He’s lost his ability to move his entire body?! How? How? How did he fall down the stairs? He lives alone for crying out loud! No toys to trip over, no people to push him! He says he was pushed? By who? The ghost of our father? Well, I suppose I wouldn’t put it past him.” And then the sound of grown-up whispers and talk. Clara had stayed at the top of the stairs a little longer before retreating to her bedroom where she stood motionless for a while longer in her doorway, staring at the small rocking chair.


Funny how The Power had found her there, rocking in that new chair. The chair given to her by the man who had been hurting her. “Just for you, because you’re special. I don’t give gifts but you’re so special, Clara.” That had confused her at the time.



Well, now she understood what was special. The Power.


But that was almost two years ago. The Power had found Clara several times since then, always when she was rocking in the chair, and always when she was imagining a scene that returned the hurt to them. She would rock slowly, close her eyes and first remember the things they did that hurt her, and in remembering she would hurt again, but then she would flip the scene and find a way for the hurt to be happening to them. Like how she had imagined her uncle reaching the top of the stairs but instead of him coming to her in her room, she imagined him tripping at the top and falling backwards, falling and banging painfully each step downward, and downward a long way because in her imagination she was enjoying each painful hit and smash on the stairs, and then she imagined him laying at the bottom crying up in pain but no one could hear him – no one would hear him – and she imagined he couldn’t move to defend himself as bugs and worms and parasites and all kind of tiny monsters crawled all over him.


She did that after the other men had hurt her, too. Different accidents, but always ones that returned the hurt and left them feeling trapped in some way.


So far, it had been only men that hurt her. Though when she had reached out to her mom for help, telling her that her uncle touched her button (that’s what she was told the private place nobody was supposed to talk about was called) her mom had laughed and said, “Too bad he doesn’t take care of his own buttons. I end up mending his clothes as well as yours.” So, no ladies had hurt her but they hadn’t helped her either. Only The Power helped when the men hurt her.


Well, no. It hadn’t been only men. Sometimes it was boys that were almost men.


Once she realized The Power wanted to use her she had tried to encourage the men and boys. Trick them, sort of. Using the things taught to her by the mean men, using the things they did to her and noticing when they would want to do it, she started trying to make it happen. Instead of only hiding in her clothes (she still hid in her clothes often, wrapping herself up and keeping herself buried away) she now also used her clothes as props when playing the game. It was a game. It became easier for her when she thought of it that way. She would play sometimes when at the park or in church. She played the game at her school and with the neighbors. If the men or boys didn’t leave her alone, they lost.


It was pretty easy to win this game. But even though she was winning every time they touched her, she also felt like she was losing. It scared her and hurt her and filled her with hate and anger at herself for playing the game. The problem was that when she didn’t play the game she was still scared that they might play the game with her. She was always scared. When she played on purpose, though, even though she didn’t like it, she was prepared and at least a little bit important. She was making something happen.


When it did, she would go to her rocking chair and let The Power come. But even there, she was beginning to wonder how much was her own fault. She didn’t feel bad when the people got hurt the way she imagined, that was part of the game. But she realized that The Power only happened to her in her rocking chair, and it was her choosing to go to the rocking chair and imagine the accidents happening.


But if it wasn’t the right thing to do, The Power wouldn’t have come to her.  Isn’t that true? Clara would wonder. At seven years old she had learned that what she used to think when she was only five – that you can’t help what happens to you – was childish thinking. We almost always have some sort of power.


And since The Power was happening to her, maybe it would be right for her to use it to help others.

That’s when she had an idea.


Perhaps The Power was given to her – a small girl, so young – in order to stop all the boys before they became men, before they hurt the girls.


She thought of Todd, the boy who lived next door. He was her age and they had played together since before she could remember. His dad had an accident only a few months ago; an axe had gone straight to the bone of his thigh while in his tool shed and the infection had set in strong and fast. He’d lost his leg in a matter of months. But Todd had always been nice
and never acted like they were boy/girl. He instead acted like they were just friends. Yet, one day he would get older. One day he might turn mean like so many of the others.


Clara decided she would watch him closely, play the game with him, and if he ever did anything at all, anything that was like the others, she would see that as a sign. She would use The Power first on him, and then on all the boys in the neighborhood. Before they could hurt someone.


Why wait until they had done the worst of it when she could stop it before anyone got hurt?


Now that she had a plan, a feeling of knowing what her role was, Clara skipped into the living room and asked her mom if she could go outside in the summer heat to play with the boy next door.