Friday, May 31, 2013

Autism Answer: Lessons in a Zombie Apocalypse!

So, all four of my boys are totally into zombies. My oldest two, who are nineteen and seventeen, are true believers in the inevitable zombie apocalypse. My youngest two, who are fifteen and thirteen, think they're awesome additions in any video game or movie idea! I am a huge fan of any catalyst for conversation with my boys, so I say 'Bring on the Dead!'

When my older guys and I talk about zombies, believe it or not, the conversation can get pretty sophisticated! With natural opportunities to talk about pharmaceuticals, the brain washing of nations, the importance of discovering our own passions and being true to ourselves, and let's not forget the importance of eating only organic and fair trade brain products!! 

With my younger boys we have followed interesting story line ideas and potential movie plots for the entertainment they hope to one day invent. And I have learned that entering and playing in the imaginations of my boys can be both fun and littered with teaching tools!!

So let's never scoff at our children's interests and obsessions! Let's play with them, and guide them and get to know how our kiddos think and what they hope for!! It's not only fun and surprising as a parent, but offers tons of insights into how different yet the same everyone is!!

It's fun to talk about zombies, but I refuse to be one!!

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

We love brains in our family. But we don't eat them! tee hee! 

Autism Answer: The Sibling Connection

As I've often mentioned, I'm no autism expert. Who I am is a sister, daughter and mom of autism, which makes me something of an autism student!

Our home was uniquely balanced. There were eight kids, with four girls who were mostly able older than the four boys who were mostly less able. So us girls became mom's right hand ladies: babysitters, walkers-to-school, sharer of chores and all around brother-helpers. 

Our home was not only uniquely balanced, but also beautifully unique!

The world, and most of our neighbors, never liked us for long. We challenged them to change, to open their minds. My mom never allowed my brothers to be treated as little disabled boys. She expected them to be believed in as boys who were uniquely challenged to learn skills, and that the skills could be learned if the world would allow for unique answers. This, coupled with the very different places my brothers landed on the spectrum, often looked wild and weird. 

Also, the neighbors weren't fond of us teenage girls having noisy parties when mom worked. Oops! 

So siblings hear me when I say, I get it. We are put in a unique position and we don't always like it. We are looked at with pity and distaste and expectations, and don't always like it. But please also hear me when I say, we are the lucky ones! We are put in a unique position. So take advantage and love it! 

Helping my mom teach my brothers has made me a better person, a better daughter, a better sister and a better mom! I learned to see ability where others see none. I learned to follow clues and symptoms in order to find actionable answers! I learned to feel the love returned where others might fear it's lacking!

And now that we are all fully grown, I have four fantastic friends in my brothers. Yes, they sometimes annoy me as I'm sure I annoy them. Yes, they sometimes seem like work to me as I'm sure I seem like work to them. We are siblings. That's what we do. 

And because of each other we are better, happier and more successful. Siblings have a unique opportunity to connect with someone who truly knows them, and who truly loves them for who they are and who they've been. 

No matter who you are or who your sibling is, don't let that opportunity slip away. You may not become best friends in the end, but you can always be best siblings.

Trust me, it's worth it!!!
Hugs, smiles and love!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

My unique and fabulous family!!

Autism Answer: The Dead Cow

One of my sons had a very emotional and sad moment last night. We were driving home when he asked me if it was okay for him to cry. I gave him comfortable permission and drove for a while to the sound of his hurt.

As we neared the house I got his attention by asking,"Hey, hon. You know that dead cow we're about to pass on the side of the road?"

He sniffled a bit, "Ya. So."

"Well, I have an analogy for you. Do you want to hear it?"


"Kay. Remember how the dead cow was so stinky and gross, and we had to roll up our windows and pass it while holding our breath and trying not to look because it made us uncomfortable to see death and vultures? And then after a few days we could still smell it a bit, but we became more interested in looking and talking about what we thought was happening and how long we thought it would take for the earth and other critters to be nourished? And then the smell was gone but the cow was still partially there, so we would get excited to see how much was left and we wondered if the vultures were taking bits and pieces home to their babies? And now we almost forget to look because it's been a while, but we still know and learned and it's become something that we all experienced, but now we're more interested in other things?"

"Yes." My son admitted quietly. His head was still buried in his hoodie, but he had stopped crying and was really listening.

"Well," I explained, "That's kind of like the situation you're in right now with your friends. What happened was hard for everyone, it was an event that everyone felt uncomfortable with and their feelings got stirred up and everyone did things before figuring out even what they wanted to do. And now, it's something that you will all learn from and can choose to discover answers that feel nourishing and will help you know what to do in similar situations down the road. And, like the dead cow, it's not bad or good--just part of life. Soon you won't really even remember it, and neither will your friends. But it will always have happened and always offer lessons and insights. Important ones, even. Does that make sense?"

"Ya, I get it."

My son sat alone in the van for thirty minutes after we got home. I heard him crying and talking to himself. Eventually he came inside and told me,"Mom. I figured out my lesson. When I have kids, I'm going to always ask them if they are comfortable going somewhere, instead of telling them if they should be comfortable or not. Like you do. I'm going to take care of my kids like you take care of us. That's my lesson."

I would love to go and thank that dead cow. He has nourished so much and so many, and helped me plant a seed that is already blossoming beautifully!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

My darling boy.

This piece appears in my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up, along with many more stories of forever discovering who I am while exploring my relationships with the people I'm surrounded by. I invite you to read the book while sipping coffee with the people you're surrounded by! It's totally a coffee and conversation kind of book. Hugs! ~Tsara

Thursday, May 30, 2013

Autism Answer: Showing Love

Who’d have thought fear of rejection was something parents would have to worry about with their kids? But for many parents of autism (and autistic individuals themselves!) it's a common concern. That’s because in trying to show love our way, we often bump into their challenges, get pushed away and feel rejected. Unfortunately, many parents--out of respect for their children--stop showing. Don’t! Instead, become an investigator of clues and discover how you and your child can share your love comfortably! 

With both of my youngest boys I had to play this game of discovering their unique affirmations of love, while helping them overcome challenges and sensory issues. And by letting me play this game and loving me for it, my boys helped me discover some of my own unique affirmations of love as well!!

For me, the struggle of feeling loved by my children was short lived and illuminating. There are so many different ways that people show love!!!

Because of the autism in my life, and the love of my fantastic and wildly different family, I am able to see and feel love easily, even when offered unconventionally! I bet you are too! And that, my friends, is only one of the fabulous gifts offered in a life loving autism!

Hugs, smiles and love!!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Autism Answer: He said/She said

My husband is suspicious of the world. I embrace it. 

When my youngest brother first started getting to know the world on his own, there were many who saw his social awkwardness and hard core honesty as a target on his head. He was taken advantage of, stolen from and tricked often. One point for hubby. 

Others who watched him work his butt off looking for work, and get easily confused with bill paying saw him as a struggling newbie adult and stepped in to help, offering work or words of wisdom. One point for me.

When my two youngest sons (ages 14 & 12) were walking a pretty girl home from school a while ago, much fun and flirting ensued! The girl's uncle noticed and came barreling out of his house shirtless and hollering obscenities at my frightened boys. He warned them that he had a gun and wasn't above hitting a minor if they ever touched his niece... yadda, yadda. One point for my hubby. 

Together my boys talked about how they had felt and why they didn't think people should talk to others that way. By the time they got to me and told me what had happened they'd decided that the girl's uncle had overreacted and had been mean, but that it was because he was trying to protect someone he loves. They decided they would never do what he did, talk to kids that way, but they understood why he had. They would do their flirting at the school from now on! One point for me, I think!

My husband wants us to always protect our kids, drive them everywhere, worry about who they're dating and make sure they aren't being taken advantage of. I want to give our kids tools and opportunities, freedom and trust. My husband wants them to say no to peer pressure. I want them to say no to self doubt and yes to their hearts.

My husband and I want exactly the same things. We just disagree about how to get those things--often!! We want our kids to be healthy, safe, happy and successful. We want it so bad that we are willing to spend our lives arguing our points and insisting we are heard. And because we both respect each other, and know absolutely that we both want the same things, we do it with passion, but without anger... thought sometimes my intense need to parent my way does get us pretty close!

My point? If you are lucky enough to have loved ones, if you are lucky enough to have people in your world who want happiness, success and health for you and those around you, try to remember to always see from those intentions. Hopefully you'll still feel passionate about going after it your own way, but seeing the sameness has a way of reminding us just how many people are on our side! It's wonderful to feel that connection and support!!

Hugs, smiles and love everyone!!!!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Autism Answer: My Birthmark

So, I have this little birthmark on the back of my left hand. It's brown, band-aid shaped and pretty noticeable. I'll be honest, I kinda like it!

One of the things I adore about my birthmark is that it encourages some of the most interesting reactions from strangers! When I offer my hand to be stamped for example, sometimes people stamp carefully beside the birthmark, or very softly on it, or cringe and ask for my other hand please, or just simply stamp and move on. I have never, ever minded any one of these reactions! I am always thrilled to giggle and explain why it's no big deal, just a birthmark. Not contagious or painful. Every time (so far!) the person has been made slightly more comfortable because of my comfort, and often tells me that the birthmark is cute!

Okay, so I know that my birthmark is not at all the same as being autistic or loving someone with autism. Autism challenges a person to experience the world in ways that most others can't understand; the environment looks and feels and behaves different for people on the autism spectrum, making our moments considerably contrasting even when we are standing side by side. 

So why the hay am I telling you about my silly birthmark?

Well, because it has always been my comfort and lack of feeling offended that makes my birthmark a cute addition to the world of me. When people shy away from it, I know full well that they just don't know what it is or how they should react to it. So, I comfortably tell them! When people avoid looking or admitting that they see it, I totally get it! I've been the person trying not to stare or ask questions in an attempt to be accepting. 

In other words, if you are comfortable when explaining your challenges or your children's challenges, it will help others feel comfortable too. And if you choose not to be offended when people are challenged to know how to behave around you (my autistic brother can't stand the condescendingly kind strangers and usually gets wildly noisy for their benefit!) and instead offer some suggestions, then more and more people will not only become comfortable, but also willing to ask questions with honest interest and a hope to help!

So, my birthmark is nothing like autism. But living with autism has helped me feel very comfortable with all the reactions it gets while offering kind explanation. Which, fantastically, has helped me be comfortable sharing what I know about the autism in my family!!

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

Autism Answer: Pumpkin in the Pancakes!/Part 2

When I share our family life with the world I'm excited to share the stories with fun and laughter. Even when I tone it down and get serious, it's my nature to always tell the story with the lessons and love of humanity coloring my narrative. I don't lie, I choose my telling with intention. 

The truth, however, could be seen with much less happiness. It is true that my mom had to fight and cry with teachers and professionals, neighbors and parents, even her own family (when I was molested by her third husband, my grandma suggested mom send me away). My mom has been living on her own and fighting for fairness since she was fifteen, and when she became the adopted parent of four autistic boys and eventually two homeless teenage girls the majority of the world chose to see her as controlling, manipulative, a giver of false hopes (because she believed in my brothers' ability to learn), vain (because she's pretty), and even crazy. 

When others couldn't handle my brothers, their own lives or even their own kids, they would hand them over to my mom and then want to see her as 'bad' because she could do it, and they couldn't. These are a small number of the ingredients that are part of our family's recipe. My mom ALWAYS remembered to add love, laughter, life lessons, an unfaltering belief that we could meet the challenges presented to us, and an intense sense of fairness and kindness. These ingredients were festive and bright colored. They added emotional stability and nourishment. 

They are the reason I share our truth, and quite possibly your truth, with quirky posts or tree-hugging-lover-of-all- humanity rose colored glasses. 

The way I see it, if I'm going to serve my guests breakfast, it's best to put pumpkins in the pancakes!

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


Autism Answer: Pumpkin in the Pancakes!

My mom was charged with raising and teaching eight of us. With a house full of disabilities and teenagers, that's asking an awful lot! There wasn't any time to spare when it came to getting those all important lessons in, and so my mom would take advantage of every moment. 

Watching a movie together? She'd pick with intention and teach with laughter. Driving to school? She'd take a different route and teach flexibility in routine while singing 'Boom Boom, ain't it great to be... CRAZY!" Making lunches? We would each have a 'buddy' and have to do the chore together, teaching and learning from each other. 

This morning I was making pancakes and I decided to sneak a little bit of organic pumpkin into the mix. My way of adding a festive flavor and tons of Vitamin A. As I passed out breakfast to my adorable boys I realized that I had become my mother. Mixing health and festivity into a simple breakfast.

I was proud!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad and family!!
Mom and us, my first son!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Autism Answer: Why I'm uncomfortable with your autism and how it can make the world a better place

When I meet you and you hear that my brothers were autistic or that my mom is global autism expert Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad, you may excitedly share with me "I'm autistic!" or " My daughter has autism!" and in that moment, you will be introduced to a label of my own. I have a fear of letting people down. Suddenly, I may begin to avoid eye contact, stutter a little bit and remember the sweet potato I left in the oven. I may run away because I'm afraid that otherwise you will walk away clucking "She doesn't know a thing about autism, she was talking so loud to my son!" or " what kind of expert must her mom be, she doesn't know anything about chelation!" By running away I have essentially proven my fear to be right, and let you down. Now, I don't really do this anymore. The truth is now when we meet my fear of letting you down will pop-up, but I have given myself the habit of rolling my eyes at it and asking with curiosity and interest how autism has affected your life. At this point the fear sulks off and I am totally engaged in learning from you. But I used to avoid eye contact and feel you looking at me. It was painful, like having fire ants biting my skin. 

There are so many reasons I think it's useful to share this truth. I'll point out a few favorites! 

1. When we're different than most of the people around us, we tend to meet them not  in their comfort zone. Just the nature of who we are--autistic, gay, burnt, missing limbs, Canadian, black at a Toadies concert (my hubby can tell you all about that one!)-- when we are not surrounded by many like us, we challenge people to step out of their comfort zones. I think it's important to remember this so we know we are meeting the world from that angle. Definitely don't just shrug it off and say, "Oh well. They are uncomfortable. My bad!" But know that they are, allow for that, and raise the bar!

2. When we're different than most of the people around us, we are not in our comfort zone. Of course, when we are surrounded by folks who are different than us, we are none-to comfy either! Keep that in mind as you hear your thoughts. When you hear yourself judge the people and their reactions, when you find yourself worrying about how you come across or how you're being judged... remember that you're feeling slightly challenged and therefore stressed. So hear your thoughts and know them, but then take time to evaluate them when feeling less nervous and defensive. 

3. Give people the benefit of the doubt. In my case, when we met and I nervously stuttered an excuse to go away for fear of letting you down, we both missed out on a wonderful chance for friendship and autism learnings. But I was aware of that. I went home and thought about the mistake I made and tried to figure out why I made it. I knew I could do better. We all know that lots of people will go home and justify their actions by thinking "did you see the way she was flicking her fingers? So rude!" or "Did you see what he let his kid get away with in the grocery store? What is this world coming to?!". But even more people are walking away feeling confused and trying to figure out why they feel the way they feel. Even more people are planning on doing better next time.  

4. Example this self-examination yourself! When you were overwhelmed in the restaurant and started stimming, perhaps the stares of strangers hurt you. Don't go home and think about how mean the world is to judge you and your difference. Think about why you allowed the stares to hurt you. Give yourself control over your emotions. People stare at each other all the time, sometimes because we look especially pretty that day or because we look familiar, or because we are making them nervous. Explore your own feelings and discover how you can take control so perhaps next time you'll feel comfortable enough to explain to others what you are doing and why. Stepping outside of our comfort zone is a wonderful way to discover ourselves. When we feel uncomfortable we want to blame, others or ourselves, but we have just been given an opportunity to see ourselves clearly. Autism challenges people to step outside their comfort zone. And if we raise our expectations, for ourselves and others, we are offering the world a chance to stop worrying about the opinions of others, and to truly discover themselves. This is both beautiful and frightfully lacking. Let's change that! 

I'm sorry if we met and I hurt your feelings or let you down. I promise, I am learning to live up to my expectations and not let myself down. And I promise to chat with you about it next time we meet for coffee and cheesecake!

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

Autism Answer: On loving the autism outing!!

Spending the day at the zoo with my boys is guaranteed to challenge, surprise and exhaust us. What fun!! After a trip not too long ago, I wrote this:

When we first got there I spent a surprising amount of time reminding everyone about appropriate public behavior and language. Then it was the boys turn to roll their eyes and remind me that counting the strangely large number of testicles on the male lion may not be appropriate. Later, some of us sat back and giggled as Shay asked the gift shop employees questions ranging from 'why are the alligators just laying there' to 'how often are you allowed to go to the restroom when you're supposed to be working?' My youngest, Declyn, who struggles intensely with crowds, did an amazing job of suggesting we go home constantly rather than just running to the exit while accusing me of not loving him. We hung out at the mall afterward where my teenage son bought himself the coolest tie; it has a man running from zombies on it. We got home in great moods with laughter (and not zombies!) following us loudly in the door. 

There were probably a few folks pointing and staring at my obnoxious, question asking, testicle counting crew--but I was so busy having fun and looking at us too, that I never noticed!!

                                                       *                                           *                                                    *

Not every single outing is filled with such comfortable fun, but ever single outing is filled with opportunities to learn and teach and encourage others to be comfortable with us. I try hard not to shy away from the autism outing, but rather choose to love it!! 

My brothers would have been better off had I learned this sooner, but what matters most is that I did learn it and that I share it and show it to my kids. My boys have many fabulous autism outing stories to share from adventures with their uncles! As a matter of fact, one of my sons did a whole series of Autism Answers on my Facebook page about them!! 

So love the autism outing (while respecting the challenge for the autistic loved one!) so that you and your family and your community can be forever blessed with the gift of each other!

Hugs, smiles and love friends!!!!!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Autism Answer: Crazy Lynette!

Author's Note: Years ago, during a conversation about their growing-up years, I overheard my mom's childhood friend--her best friend!--refer to her as Crazy Lynette, and I just assumed that's what the kids had called her. I recently learned that my assumption was totally wrong, as assumptions very often are. But... I'd already written this little love note! So, I'm sharing it anyway!! 

My mom has a one woman musical comedy show called CRAZY TO SANE where she shares with humor, honesty and toe-tapping tunes her lifetime of learning from, living with, being challenged by and teaching to broken brains. Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad (my mommy!) does not have any one label, she grew up getting plenty thrown at her, but the one that stuck was crazy. Crazy Lynette! 

Somehow, Crazy Lynette has been able to: raise eight kids on her own, guide three of the four autistic ones off the spectrum, travel the globe working in the homes of struggling families who welcome her with open arms and grateful tears, speak and perform for professionals on autism and the efficacy of neurofeedback, write books and music, host popular podcasts, create/host and film the international reality series FIX IT IN FIVE with LYNETTE LOUISE aka THE BRAIN BROAD which airs on The Autism Channel, and can be rented or owned via Vimeo On Demand, is doubly board certified in neurofeedback and is getting her doctorate. That's just the tip of the iceberg! 

She is happy, lovely, strong, and addicted to staying young. I don't know if she's crazy. She's absolutely different, a little bit weird, but if she's crazy then I want to remember to always keep a little crazy in my world!

'Brainiac' is one of my favorite songs off of her CRAZY TO SANE cd. I'll include the video in this post. Please, check it out! It makes me feel like I understand my mom, brothers and the myriad of other people I know who struggle with depression, ADHD, autism, tourette's etc. It also reminds me of how I used to feel when my kids were small and I wasn't getting any sleep!

Everyone should have a little Crazy Lynette in their lives!! If you don't have one of your own, feel free to borrow mine! tee hee!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 


Autism Answer: Passion is Power!

Finding something you are passionate about and then doing, talking or fighting for it makes us feel big and valid. We do it all the time in the world of special needs. We are powerfully passionate about our hopes and expectations when it comes to our kids and ourselves. We write, make signs, create and join groups and then become a force for change! 

Passion can look lots of different ways. Anger, excitement, wild abandon... etc. I think it's a good idea to try and keep our passion positive. It feels great, it looks enticing and much more inviting to those we are hoping to share our passions with; it has more power! (The science behind this can be seen in the Disney movie Monsters Inc. tee hee!)

And don't forget that the autism in your world--whether it is your own autism or a loved ones!--will invite passions that our world could truly learn from! Autism is a challenging whole brain disorder, which we should try to understand and guide toward healing, but it is also a very different perspective. Seeing and feeling things differently can be painful, but with acceptance and a willingness to learn from each other, it can also be very insightful!

The power of passion is a renewable energy source!

So bring on the passion with a smile and a curious nature!!

Hugs, smiles and love!!!

Autism Answer: Parenting, Guilt and Getting over it!

Parenting, parenting, parenting.... sick of me yet? Here I go again!

My oldest son is nineteen, completely on his own and responsible for himself, yet I still catch myself seeing his struggles and feeling regret for the many (and I mean many!) times I could have stepped up as a mom and challenged him to learn these skills when he was home. But, I didn't. I see him making mistakes that I could have taught him not to make when he was still my little boy, living with me. I'm not only talking about stuff that I tried to teach or I just didn't think of either. I'm talking also about things that I knew I could have done, but for one reason or another chose not to. I know that guilt is a pretty useless and insidious feeling, but there it is! I don't mind feeling it for a moment, as a way of being honest with myself, as long as I then try to learn from it. AND I talk to my son about it. Not in an apologetic way, but in a comfortable here's what we can learn now kind of way. 

I figure that once all four of my boys have moved out and have families of their own, I'll have this whole parenting thing figured out! No wonder so many in-laws and grandparents are annoying and constantly giving unwanted advice! That's when we finally know what to do!

I think what I'm saying is, no matter what we've done or choose to do as parents, later we will see things we could have done differently. Always. So, let's forgive ourselves and be proud for doing what we think is right today!  

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Autism Answer: They didn't like my Kind Around Here

Many years ago, when my boys were still small--one kicking from inside my belly!--and I was less comfortable with myself, Child Services threatened to take my kids away. My oldest son, who was six at the time, had decided to take his brother, who was four--and naked!--for a walk to Dairy Queen. Never mind that we live in the middle of nowhere, eight miles from town. Actually, he had thought of that and so--just to keep them safe--brought the dog. 

Of course, they didn't make it to Dairy Queen. I was going out of my mind searching the property for them. The hiking trails. The pond. I had no idea which direction they had gone! Finally I found them at the end of our country road, about a mile away from our house, where a man was standing near them looking angrily around for a parent. I thanked him, I cried, and for the benefit of the man who's anger made me nervous, I yelled at my kids. 

This incident led to police talks, family service worker talks, and a meeting at our small town court house where I sat surrounded by angry men and women who told me all of the things I was doing wrong as a parent, who tried to blame my mom for asking me to help with my autistic brothers (when in truth she was helping me by inviting me to live with her!) and, when I finally got the courage to argue the truth of their groundless charges, one man looked me in the eye and said plainly,"We don't like your kind around here. So, if one of those kids ever gets hurt out on your mom's property, we'll take them away."

I'll be honest, I'm not exactly sure what my kind is. Canadian? Free spirited? My oldest boys are half Arabian, is that it? The baby in my belly was mixed race, my fiance was black, is that what they meant? My brothers were autistic, could that be it? Kids out of wedlock, did that offend them? I didn't ask for clarification, it was enough to know that being me meant we would be watched closely and openly judged. 

I spent the next year walking around in a fog of stress, afraid to parent my kids my way, and unsure of how to do it theirs. I felt the stares of strangers as pinpricks on my skin and hid away. Eventually I just ran away. Put my kids in the car and with the help of my mom financially, took off. I left my new husband. My kids left school. I stayed away only for a couple of months, but I used that time wisely. I got back in touch with my kids and with myself. I got comfortable parenting while away, knowing that the eyes watching were not those of the people watching only to see the wrong. 

When I came back home I felt different. The social workers kept calling but I was no longer unsure of myself. I think they felt the difference, because then they changed. Eventually, I made friends and got comfortable in the town. Eventually, my boys joined clubs and sports teams and became part of this town and it's story. Eventually, my brothers got licenses and girlfriends and some even moved out of this town as independent men. 

Sometimes I wonder who changed who. Sometimes I wonder if being told that they don't like my kind encouraged me to discover who I was so that I could make sure that at least I liked me. (Though I am certain there are kinder ways to encourage self-discovery.) Or did I instead surprised them into learning that they actually can like my kind? Or was it--and this is most likely--a combination of both? 

I'm not sure. What I am sure of is that being told 'my kind' is wrong or bad, hurt. I became afraid to try. I wasted time trying to be something I'm not--without fully understanding what I should be--in order to please others. I became uncomfortable with everyone in my world, even my own fantastic children.

That's not okay. Let's never tell anyone, with our words or actions, that we don't like their kind. That memory is strong and scary and I have never been so uncomfortable and afraid for so long in my life. Yet, that was nothing compared to what my autistic brothers have gone through. And so very many others who are gay, have special needs, a certain religion, colored skin, political views etc.

It isn't necessary to be friends with everyone, or agree with everyone, in order to create a world of acceptance. But it IS necessary to accept everyone. Reach out and help when you can, and always accept. 

They didn't like my kind around here. But now, many of them do. 

Hugs, smiles and love!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Autism Answer: "I have a low self-esteem and my elbow hurts."

One morning not too long ago, my youngest son got up at six AM, made himself some breakfast, got dressed, brushed his teeth, deodorized and combed his hair. Then he stepped outside to play with the dogs. That was when I knew he was struggling with going to school.

Declyn is not for sure autistic, but he struggles intensely with social transitions. He brings home report cards with all A's, he is popular with his peers as well as with his teachers. Everyone just loves him! But very often the stress of being that guy surrounds him like a fog and he just can't see his way out. School, of course, is the biggest challenge for him socially, but it is apparent in other areas as well. Halloween is hard. Each new doorway of social interaction exhausting him emotionally. Playlands and parties are also hit or miss.

Often before school Declyn will step outside and play with our dogs in order to wake up his social soul. I think this is a beautiful way for him to transition, and it almost always works. I adore watching him run around as I sip coffee and peek with pleasure out our wall sized window. What a vision: our wooded yard, overgrown nature and Declyn, laughing and feeling free! 

Every once in a while, however, this trick doesn't work and he comes in still feeling nervous and afraid of letting people down--letting himself down--at school.

This particular morning was one of those. After a week long holiday, hanging comfortably with family, it wasn't a huge surprise. 

Sometimes I make him go anyway, trusting him to learn from stepping out of his comfort zone. By the end of the day he's happy and comfortable. And sometimes, I let him stay home. Giving him an opportunity to feel in control of his own life, and letting him know that I understand his struggles are real. It's always a balancing act, and I get very nervous that I'll fall over, lose my balance and pull him with me! But all the lessons are important. He can handle it, and it is real, and he should have some control!

This day, when Declyn came in after playing with the dogs, he looked at me and said, "I just can't go to school today. I have low self-esteem and my elbow hurts."

Ya, so he stayed home. He sat behind me while I worked, reading his book. Comfortable and relaxed. 

His elbow healed rather quickly! And though his self-esteem will continue to ebb and flow, Declyn has an open communication and a respectful relationship with it. He is wonderfully willing to look at it honestly and give it the attention and direction it deserves!

Hugs, smiles and love!!!!!!

Declyn with his sister's dog. I don't have a pic of him with our dogs
because they are far too free and fast! 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Autism Answer: Teaching Trust in our Children's (and our own) Choices!

It's easy for us parents to accidentally teach our children that they are not to be trusted to make their own choices. Because we love them we tell them what to do and how to do it. We say no to soda because it's bad for them, we say bed by nine because it's good for them, we say only one hour of games because we want to take care of their bodies and minds.

Often our kids argue and beg us to change our rules, but we kindly explain and stand our ground. We love them, and this is why we have these guidelines. 

Sometimes, when our children's challenges challenge us, we become even louder and stricter with the rules. Because we love our children and want to keep them safe, and don't want them to be made fun of or bullied, we tell them how to act and what to say. 

But sometimes, when our children have challenges that challenge us, we are stretched and encouraged to get creative and re-think our rules. Why only one hour of games? Why not play with her for two hours and see what she's getting from playing, and why she loves it so much? Why bed at nine? Maybe he will gain more skills and feel more comfortable if he learns life-skills at home rather than at school, and he can sleep with his body's natural rhythm.

We need rules and guidelines to function as a society, and as a family. But we need to remember that they are an invention of ours, and not nearly as important as the people we are inventing them for. Our autistic loved ones especially need us to remember this!

Our children need to know that they can be trusted to make some of their own choices. Otherwise, they will struggle for many years to confidently do so.

My mom taught all eight of us kids this--the ones with and without special needs-- by trusting us and making us responsible for consequences, both intended and un. Desired and not. 

And now, as the mother of four teenage boys, I do the same. Though I struggle and am afraid and forget sometimes (as I share in this guest post I was invited to write for Homestyle Mama (with a side of autism)...) I teach trust in my children and myself by trusting and letting go. I teach focusing on intention and reasons by focusing on intention and sharing my reasons. And by often, together, re-thinking intention and reasons. 

1 in 50 people with autism (or whatever the numbers are when you're reading this!) remind us to re-think our rules and conveniences, remind us to think for ourselves rather than just doing what comes next because we think it's supposed to come next. This can be a beautiful blessing if we let it! 

Let's let it!!

Hugs, smiles and love!!!!

Autism Answer: A skimpy red dress. (Why not? It's Friday!)

Anyone can wear a skimpy red dress. And when he/she chooses to wear that dress, they are communicating something. However, if you assume you know exactly what it is that they are trying to say by wearing that dress, you just might make a fool of yourself, hurt someone's feelings or plain and simply miss out on a fun opportunity!

One person may be wearing it because she feels sexy and wants others to notice, another because he knows the color looks good or it'll keep him from drinking too much. Yet another person may have chosen it because he was dared, and another may be wearing it because her friend bought it for her and she feels obligated. I know that if I was wearing it, it would be because I don't ever, ever buy or wear dresses, so on the odd occasion when I absolutely have to wear one, I borrow from my sexy sister! 

You can get an idea of what someone is trying to say when wearing the skimpy red dress if you pay attention to how they wear it. If you remember to allow the body language to be part of the story, you will more likely be successful at reading between the lines. But still, never assume you know. 

So the next time you run into someone wearing a skimpy red dress (or mittens in summer, or headphones attached to no music, or ten times too much makeup or backwards shorts and mismatched socks...) rather than assume you know that they are trampy or crazy or autistic or scary or lonely, take the time to let them tell you who they are!! Or if that opportunity doesn't present itself, allow the story you make up in your mind to be fantastic and fun--in a kind way!! 

There are many, many ways to communicate. As those of us in the autism community know, often words are elusive and challenging. But regardless of the tools we use to connect, always remember to do so inclusively and with kindness! Let the communication be a connection, rather than an internal monologue of assumptions and guesses.

I promise you, if you EVER see me in a skimpy red dress, I will be more than happy to laugh with you, so that you don't feel so tempted to laugh at me!! That's what I get for having a sexy sister!! tee hee!

Have a fantastic Friday friends!!!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Autism Answer: Unmasking Under-Man!!!

Who is Under-Man? He is my brother, Dar, and he is one heck of a superhero!!

A thirty-one year old, newly verbal lowish functioning autistic man. His superhero name? Under-Man!! His superpower? Taking every item in the house and tucking it under... anything! The couch, the beds, the tables and dressers... can't find the car keys? Look under! 

Guess what else has been tucked under. A life of convenience and simplicity. Oh, we have those days, certainly, and they are lovely! But thanks to my brother and his superpower (which we have chosen to use for good) there is no need for a life where things stay where we put them or lessons are learned the first time around. 

And as with every superhero, my brother has gifted the lives of many, frightened a few, and angered some, while struggling with his own superpower. And like only the luckiest superheroes, my brother is surrounded by those who know and love him entirely, and who will walk to the ends of the earth and back to help him feel comfortable in his skin, so he can just be Dar. Saving lives and living happy by being himself, comfortably!

Hugs, smiles and love my fellow superhero sidekicks and helpers!!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

It's a brother! It's a son! It's a friend! It's a bowling buddy! No,'s Under-Man!!
Ummm...and all of those other things, plus a lot more!! xoxo

Autism Answer: A Message in a Message!

Not long ago my thirty-two year old newly verbal autistic brother left a message on our answering machine. Declyn, Shay and I gathered around the machine and listened several times, discussing and debating what we each believed my brother was saying.

Not a single one of us ever considered that maybe he wasn't saying anything and was only making sounds because my mom had handed him the phone. 

This, in my once-upon-a-time-I-rolled-my-eyes-when-mom-said-he-was-trying-to-talk opinion, is the most beautiful message in his message!

Regardless of whether he was saying,"Go on plane, home." or "Tell to Shay, love." or any other combination of words we thought we heard on that machine, we all knew that he was telling us something. We all knew that he was struggling with clarity, not with intelligence, motivation or ability. 

My brother left us a most beautiful message on our answering machine last night!!!

Hugs, smiles and love!!

*Authors Note: Today is Dar's birthday, and there is no better way to celebrate my brother's birthday than by sharing this video! Music is one of his favorite things, and he's always wanted to be an actor. Well... this video has music, celebrities and was my brother's acting debut!!! The song is called 'Unfinished' by Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad, and is a gift for autism families.

Please enjoy!!! See if you recognize any of the celebs! 

Autism Answer: Thank-you Dear Lady at the 99 Cent Store!

Authors note: Today is Dar's birthday! He's thirty-two... man, that makes me old!! My mom adopted Dar when he was three, the agency asking her to please just keep him until there was a bed available at the institution. Luckily, my mom falls in love easily, and he became my first adopted brother. Also, the first person I ever met with autism. Dar, my brother, has blessed our lives and the lives of countless others ever since. Happy birthday Dar!!!!

My brother, Dar, is a handsome and huge thirty-one year old autistic man. A couple of years ago he and I were in the 99 Cent Store, shopping for groceries, and happily hurrying so we could go pick my boys up from school. Suddenly, my brother made a dash toward the dairy section. 

Standing next to the milk and butter he clapped his hands loudly, jumped up and down and screamed for joy! I giggled and asked him to please celebrate a little bit quieter. Then I noticed the old woman standing just behind me. She had her hand on her heart and her face was pale and ashen looking. "Are you okay?" I asked her, feeling concerned. "Yes," she answered with a crooked half-smile, "your friend almost gave me a heart attack." I apologized for my brother's surprising behavior while my brother smiled at her and showed her the butter in his hand. She was already looking healthier as she smiled at Dar. "It's fine. But I really did almost have a heart attack. I've just gotten out of the hospital for heart problems!" She gave a little giggle and continued with her shopping, as we continued with ours.

That is a very strong memory of mine. The woman had been kind, and she could have died! Yet she seemed to believe that neither her quality of life, nor my brothers, was more important than the other. We should all do our best to be considerate of the world around us. All of us. It's not only up to the world to be considerate of my autistic brother, and it's not only up to my brother to be considerate of the world. My brother is learning, and he is challenging others to do the same. 

Thank-you so much to the lady at the 99 Cent Store!! We remember you often, and I'm so glad you did not have a heart attack that day! 

Hugs, smiles and love!

My mom, Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad, singing & working on words with Dar!
Dar, we love  you more than words!!! xoxoxo

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Autism Answer: Metallica Magic! (Rockin' the Autism Answer!)

"Adapt to the unknown..." ~Metallica

I've seen Metallica live in concert a few times. They are amazing! True performers! Which is why I immediately became an active concert goer. Living for and loving the feeling I'd get when Metallica rocked the stage!

What I learned as an audience member is that not all performers are equal. Some draw you in with such intense talent and energy that you can't help but be fully interested. You trust that they'll give you what you want and you become an active, avid listener! And sometimes, as is the case with Metallica, a head banger! However, when the performer is nervous or rude or tentative, the audience feels that energy and becomes uncomfortable and less interested. When I'm at a great show, I never see fights or cruel hecklers take over... the audience is too sucked into the performer to fight or heckle! But when the show is less than stellar, fights and heckles happen. 

Ummm.... how is this an autism answer??? Well.... it's a big one actually!!!

When you're playing with and teaching your children, do it with Metallica magic!! Be so exciting, interesting, enthralling, involved and intensely interested in your audience and their reactions that they can't help but get sucked in!! Don't be afraid to be fun and loud or soft and sincere!! Whatever you are doing, do it with all of your energy and love, and let it pull your loved ones closer to you so that they aren't made uncomfortable and distracted. 

Of course, Metallica is not on stage 24/7. But guess what? They are always Metallica. So that means that when they aren't performing, they're following! They check in with their fans and other similar performers, they become an active audience themselves and follow the interests and expectations of the people they plan to perform for. You can do that too! When you're not "on" you can follow and question and check in with your children! 

My mom taught me all of this long ago. She is both an autism expert and performer--and a mom extraordinaire! She used these techniques when parenting all eight of us kids (six adopted, four on the autism spectrum) and I absolutely do too!  I'm more of the follower than the performer-- while my mom was always more the performer than follower--but as long as you remember to do both, it's not important that you be more one than the other. Just be who you are with passion and know your audience! Metallica doesn't run around checking out what Justin Bieber fans are into or try to perform like him... they aren't him! (Thank goodness for me!!)

And guess what? I LOVE parenting!! And my kids think I'm awesome!! 

Hugs, smiles, and love!

"Fade to Black..."

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Autism Answer: What I saw in the Moment

"Mom," Declyn spoke softly, standing at my bedroom door. "I know you are tired, but I think you will want to come share this moment with us."

And with those words, crackling with twelve-year old puberty straight into my heart, the moment began!

I headed with him into our TV room, where my fifteen year old son was already watching a DVD. I could hear the laughter and music of the home video before I saw it, and was smiling from the sounds of my mom and my autistic brother's joy. On the screen my mom was prompting Dar to say the line 'Nice song'. He was in his twenties (making the video over ten years old!) and trying to learn language and other skills (including acting!) by creating movies with my mom and other volunteer helpers. 

For over an hour I watched adult men and women of all types join my mom and brother, wearing bunny ears and goofy hats and Santa suits. They pretended to be his girlfriend, or on an airplane or at a picnic or singing karaoke. In every mini-movie, my brother Dar was the star while my mother prompted and played. She would remind him of his line and everyone would wait with energetic silence while he tried and tried, until they would cheer with vigor at sounds that were so very close to the prompted word! 

What I saw in that moment were my youngest children cheering their uncle who was up on the screen. They were feeling a nostalgia for his sounds and missing him. They were recognizing some language and talking about how lucky my older two boys are, since they get to live in California with Uncle Dar. What I saw on the screen were people I didn't even know playing with passion, singing silly songs and having a blast. I saw my dad, who is no longer with us, cheering on my brother--whom he had only just begun to know when this filming was done. 

What I saw in every scene was my brother in the role of leader while my mom encouraged him to lead. 

What I saw in the moment that Declyn invited me to enjoy was pure happiness and fun. And while I watched it, I felt it. 

Don't ever forget the importance of your moments!! Make them fantastic, fun and inclusive!!! 

Hugs, smiles and love!!

Autism Answer: Sometimes People we Love Die

Sometimes people we love die. When my dad was dying, our whole family got together and finished projects with him, talked about everything and anything with him, leaving no kindness or question buried. Leaving no amount of love un-felt. 

But sometimes people we love die and we don't see it coming. Sometimes we're left with questions unanswered and words unsaid. I recently lost a close friend suddenly, and have felt a bit like I don't know how to feel. 

Then last night I came across something I wrote around this time last year, when my son's friend lost a loved one suddenly. They are my words, so obviously I already know this stuff, yet in the fog of my own feelings I had forgotten. I read:

"Right now my son is on his way to the funeral of a three year old boy who died from a Christmas day fire. I want to be able to do more for this family than give them clothes and spare change, but I don't know what. Perhaps the best we can do is remember to love our lives and truly live them, with passion, curiosity and intention. Perhaps the greatest way to honor those who have died and those who have lost loved ones is to remember to truly live. I have a son who growls when I walk in the room unexpectedly, but he's here. I have a brother who leaves poo on the toilet and hides our shoes, but he's here. For 2012 I will continue to live life with all my heart, love people with all my heart and dance to the challenging rhythm of life, with all my heart. Have a wonderful New Year everyone! Let's continue to find the answers hidden in the questions!"

I guess that can be considered my New Years Resolution. And looking back through the year, I have to say I've (mostly!) kept it. I will miss my friend, very much. But I'm not going to worry about things left unsaid, or looming questions that will forever be unanswered.

We should always do our best to be honest and free in conversation--and I have. It's impossible to imagine that we have said all of the things all of the time, or done the right things for all of the people all of the time, but when we truly try, then I think we are truly living. And that is something we can do for those we love and those we have lost. 

I'm pretty sure my friend knows all the things his family and friends are wishing they had said. I like believing that. It's unrealistic to imagine that we can live a life where nothing is ever unsaid. But it isn't unrealistic to mean what we do say, and live life honestly. 

Sometimes people we love die. And for them, we can live! 

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

(Sorry... not an autism answer so much as me needing to share. Thanks for being here!!)