Thursday, October 30, 2014

Autism Answer: Where We Started

I read a guest post by Sam Sykes, over on Chuck Wendig's blog, and it got me thinking. The post is largely about being embarrassed of our beginnings, being ashamed of where our passions and inspirations originated. 

In my parenting world, some of my inspiration came from Mary Poppins and the movie Annie. Yes, I believed that singing and spoonfuls of sugar and the sun coming out tomorrow was what it took to make a happy home.

I did learn, I'll admit, there is a bit more to it than that!!!! 

But, those beginnings did shape me. Those passions are part of my parenting style. And.... I'm proud of them!! After, of course, years of being embarrassed by them.

The guest post I read, though, was specific to reading and writing. And--again--my beginnings are something I've sometimes tried to hide.

The author who most inspired me was V.C. Andrews. (Ouch! Admitting that feels weird!)

I read Flowers In The Attic at twelve years old and I was reborn. Parts of me felt feelings I didn’t know existed, and parts of me existed that I didn’t know could feel, and thoughts grew in my garden brain that felt as foreign as aliens or decaffeinated coffee.

Who was this author? What was this power that could make me new? Make me more concrete and more malleable, all at once??

I devoured her books for an entire year, wrote her letters and held back tears when she didn’t write back words of surprised admiration for my insightful observations and flowing sentences. Then held back more tears when she didn’t even write back at all.

Eventually I moved on, reading other more eclectic (and less obsessed with incest!) authors.

And I was writing. From the moment I read V.C. Andrews, I was writing. I had to.

So, yes, I’ve been known to throw away answers like “J.D. Salinger” and “John Steinbeck” or “Margaret Laurence” when asked about my beginning; my budding desires to write. Because, seriously…. V.C. Andrews???

Now when I write, I write what I love. I dive in and have so much mother loving fun that I can only imagine changing the world and waking up the feelings and parts of readers around the globe, to thundering appreciation and gifts of caffeinated shade grown organic fair trade coffee!!

My writing isn’t like V.C. Andrews, but the feelings I get and the love I have for the story and tangled emotions my characters fall into are like what she gave me as a twelve year old girl falling in love with the process.

What a foolish thing. To be embarrassed of that.

Don't you think, friends?

So don't be ashamed of your beginnings, in fact remember them proudly! Because it will help you encourage your own children and loved ones to discover passion where they need to. It will help you not judge or worry when you see your daughter moved to tears by an anime drawing you don't understand, or your son rummaging through the cupboards looking for toothpicks and duct tape to build a prop for a random funny video he's just got to put on YouTube.

Our passions grow brighter and more beautiful when given sunlight and room to blossom. As the years pass feel free to toss fertilizer and nutrition at your loved ones, but avoid judgements regarding the items they choose to grow.

Where you started was no more important or better. And where you started gave you exactly what you needed for where you are.

Be proud and excited about that!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)


Random Addition: I hope you know, friends, that I have nothing against V.C. Andrews. Either as a beginning favorite author or a much later favorite author. I'm a true believer in reading and thinking and feeling and trying on the lives of others. V.C. Andrews offers all of that, and more! As a matter of honesty, I named my oldest son Jory, a name I fell in love with while reading the Flowers in the Attic series. I'm forever a fan of my beginnings! Even if I have to remind myself now and then. Hugs, smiles, and love!!!!

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Autism Answer: Trigger Control

I read a fantastic blog post by Caitlin Kelly. In Everything's a Trigger on her Broadside Blog, she mentions "re-branding" our triggers. More specifically, she shares a romantic story of being proposed to by her current husband at a place and time to specifically re-brand her trigger. It's sweet, and it worked!

She encouraged us, her fans and followers, to share our own experiences with triggers and I excitedly shared one of my own successful trigger "re-brands". My comment:

"The movie Little Shop of Horrors with Rick Moranis was a trigger for me. When I was twelve my step-dad had been molesting me. That was hard. However, the soul shattering fear I felt in the exact moment that I told my mom, said the words out loud, was harder. And that movie (a family favorite, at the time) was playing in the adjoining room when I told. The moments following the telling were challenging, and putting the pieces back together proved to be a lot of worthwhile work, but nothing compares to the feeling in the moment I admitted that what was happening was real, and was everyone’s problem. 
But I’ve re-branded the movie by renting it, watching it often, and singing the songs with my sons. The re-branding worked beautifully because being with my boys always makes me feel strong and put together, and watching them point out different favorite parts than the ones my sister and I had adored, encouraged me to see the movie with entirely new eyes!
You have a lovely husband, Caitlin. How wonderful of him to help you re-brand a trigger so romantically!! Hugs!!!" ~~~
Yes, even when I'm hanging out on the web with other friends I use too many exclamation points. They're such fun!!!

Anyway, it got me reflecting. 

In the world of autism we are surrounded and abused by triggers! Sensory issues, communication challenges and so much more make many of us almost like a walking/running/rolling upcoming disaster. The most common and expected things out in the world beyond our personally renovated and decorated homes can trigger us, or our loved ones, to meltdown or retreat or have anxiety attacks.

But we've also learned that we are responsible for controlling our own triggers. When my brother couldn't hold back from huffing and hitting at the site of knees and elbows, my mom didn't campaign for the world to stop having knees and elbows, or for them to always wear long sleeves and thick pants and NEVER bend in my brother's direction. Instead she was understanding and kind to my brother, while finding a way to help him take control and re-brand that trigger. It took years, but it was worth it.

I can't expect the world to know not to play a song or quote a line from Little Shop of Horrors when I'm around (in fact, today at our town's Parkfest I clapped my hands and cheered as a group of itty-bitty girls performed a dance to the opening number from that movie!) but I could ask my family and friends to understand when hearing it made me go pale and my lips become numb. I could explain and expect understanding when my voice grew small and my world became out of focus.

And I could take control of my trigger by finding a new way and new reason to watch the movie. And I did! And now I love it!!

Yet, in truth, I still fight the initial tummy tumble and shrinking of myself, but it's so short and almost unnoticeable that I can't honestly call it a trigger anymore. It's just something of a memory that I will likely always have. That's okay!

So go ahead and control your triggers! Show and teach your children that they can too! Don't expect it to be quick, and don't ever belittle the very real reaction they are having to the trigger, but encourage and believe they can re-brand!!

Happy Saturday friends!
And now, "It's super tiiii-iiime. Come on, come on..... " 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Autism Answer: A Little Movie I Wrote To Change The World

One of my sons, writing a song.

About ten years ago my four sons were sleeping and I sat up all night writing a movie. I wanted to make the world my boys were growing up in a better place, an intentional open minded and accepting place, and so I wrote Carhopping

I loved it! My family loved it!! I imagined scores of interviews where Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres asked how it was that I could do so much with one movie. They applauded my story telling and sang praise for the new world I had encouraged with my movie! 

Then, I saved Carhopping on a flash drive and went on with my life. 

It was never forgotten because we had all experienced it. I'd written it, my family had read it, and we all had conversations and thoughts because of it. As my hero character says: 

"Once I've imagined it, for me it's real; a memory." ~The Hitchhiker

One of my sons, researching for his screenplay.

But I didn't breathe any more life into it than that. I was content. For a time.... 

Now my sons are teens and young adults, and they are pursuing dreams married with careers. So, to be an example of taking action (and, honestly, because I want to navigate the same worlds my sons do and I'd like to make as many of the mistakes for them as I can, in turn offering them advice and connections so their roads will be slightly less bumpy!) I dusted off my movie and queried producers. A few of them requested the script, and one of them (the brilliant and beautiful Alexia, of Little Studio Films) appreciated my concept so much that she offered to help me make it--well--a real script! You see, I had no idea what I was doing and so my "feature film" was 67 pages of flowery words and intriguing characters who had hardly any connection to each other. Somehow she saw through the blinding "green" of my screenwriting into the depths of my story. 

Thanks to her encouragement I've grown with my characters and deepened our stories. It's not quite there yet, I can feel an "aha" moment watching me from the peripheries, but the script is good. Soon, it'll be great!

One of my sons, writing a video game story line. 

I've learned to value connections, feedback, and friendships with volume! Though, I'll admit, I'm still shy about offering my own feedback (my sons can attest to this truth, I love sharing my thoughts and ideas but struggle to form opinions about what others might do different) however I'm more than happy to give it a try!!

I've discovered that the movie I wrote did change my world, and so it's been exactly the gift I hoped it would be, though I didn't know back then how to imagine a different world and so I gave the power to Jon Stewart and Ellen DeGeneres. This, though, this world of editing, connecting, rethinking, reworking, formatting, and enriching my own understanding has made the world my boys are growing up in a better place. So I've already reached my dreams. 

Now, I get to live them loud!! 

One of my sons, assisting on a production and learning the art of directing. 

Friends, don't forget to take action and trust that you can reach your dreams. Know that, yes, it will likely look different when you get there, but the different (as long as you're willing to see it) will be far more enriching and real. Far more uniquely you!!!!

Of course, it would still be kick-ass awesome to be interviewed by Jon Stewart!! Giggle!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!!
Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)
Folks interested in reading my screenplay, or sharing one of their own, visit my profile on Stage 32!

Friday, October 10, 2014

Autism Answer: The Flaws and Hopes of an (Extra)Ordinary Family!

One of my boys had a really rough few hours yesterday. Really rough. 

I waited a while (sooooooo hard for me!) before offering too much advice. But when he looked ready, and had invited me to hang out in his room, I sat down on the floor beside him, snuggled in and said offhandedly: 

"You know hun, when you're extraordinary and different, when you're the kind of person who sees things others don't and believes things with the kind of passion that you do, you just won't fit in often. The systems and charts are invented for the most common, and you won't fit. You just won't. And often it'll be hard for you, especially as a teenager but even beyond. Yet, please, always know that you are needed and appreciated. You are exactly what the world needs right now--I'm not trying to put too much pressure on you, but know that. Own that. And when it's hard or hurts to be so extraordinary, snuggle me. Even when you're forty!"

My son gave me one of his extraordinary smiles, poked my cheeks as he always does, and snuggled while we chatted.

After about an hour had passed I headed into the living room where my husband was sulking because he wants to be able to forever protect our children from hurt. He wants our words and examples to be enough. I sat with him on the couch and snuggled in. Stroking his strong, protective arms I admitted:

"Me too. I really do, babe. I guide and follow and example and insist, all because I want to give our boys everything they need to make every moment of their lives feel successful and happy. But we know better, even if we don't want to know better. Every moment of their lives is a step in the direction of success, as long as they choose to see that eventually. We can't make it never hurt, and we can't make it always easy, but we can make it our plan to always give them what we can. To always plant those seeds--so many seeds!--and bask them in rays of hope and love and support so that some of them will blossom. That's what we can do, and babe (here I looked into my husband's sad eyes) that is what we always do. No guilt, okay?"

My husband gave a sigh of understanding, though he didn't entirely allow himself to let go. That's okay. Looking for what more we can do as parents is why we're so connected to our sons and to each other. Sometimes it's why we hurt when we don't have to, and why we cloud our own judgement with a little bit of guilt or self-importance now and then, but that only serves to make us excellent human examples for our children, with flaws and a willingness to see them. So again, a bit of good parenting lives in our mistakes.

After saying lengthy goodnights to our teen sons, my hubby and I went to bed last night comfortable and confident that our lives are fantastic, and we are lucky.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Autism Answer: Declyn's Homework

*Declyn wanted me to share his homework with you. He was told to write an essay on what it would be like if he were from ancient Rome and had been suddenly transported to modern America. I think it's pretty awesome when my boys want to share their stuff with you!! It lets me know that I'm not wrong in feeling like we're all connected, like we're one big fantastical family, in the world and especially here on Autism Answers!! So without further ado, Declyn's homework!*


by Declyn Shelton 

     I wasn't always a lawyer for the U.S. I was once a consul, a man of power. I controlled armies, and now I'm being controlled by superiors. Believe me when I say I had power. Whenever I wanted to attack, I would just say it. The biggest problem was Thane, my best friend, who was also a consul; how was I to know that he had magic? I trusted him, but I knew that all he wanted was to rule. My first mistake was to let him get close when I knew his intentions. I was about to make a very important decision that may have made Rome the most powerful nation. I was just about to announce the plan when Thane wanted to talk. Thane said,"Let me ask you something. Are your morals just, or are they wrong? Tell me when you return." In a flash my old life was gone, but a new one began.

     I was lost in a place where everyone was skinny in tight leggings, known as skinny jeans. It was as if everything the Romans achieved was for nothing. All we wanted was the world under one banner. I was surprised, but mostly cautious, due to the change. All I want is to understand how the world has changed, because the wars didn't. The way we fight and what we fight for are the same: religion, power, and land. The culture is not near what it used to be, it used to be about the Gods, but now it's God, Allah, Buddah...etc. One God, that's the most popular of the beliefs here. The way he gives hope is amazing. In Rome we had no hope, but seeing the people of this America is worthwhile. I will try to explain the differences the best I can, but it won't be perfect. I will start with education. 

     The education of Rome was very limited to specific genders. Girls were only taught to read and write, with is very unfair. Here girls have just as much education as boys, more if they want. In this generation so many people gain the ability to learn all important aspects: math, spelling, languages, and much more. In my time only boys were taught about society and the army. I was surprised when I found out most boys don't know how to wield a sword. I was even more shocked with the numbering system. They can count to millions and beyond. 

     The world knows of our actions, I have read about them in history books. Our education hasn't ended it just became so much more. In Rome the boys were rarely interested in politics, but now they are all taught it in school.  

     The economy is much different, compared to ours. The U.S. uses paper, they use it as a form of currency. If it's not paper it's numbers whizzing through the air in a technological sense. Yeah, I know, I'm using worlds like "technological", but that's because I've been here for so long. In Rome we used coins made of silver denarius. Most Romans were farmers, some were slaves owned by rich people, and there were soldiers who brought in the money. The Roman economy was mainly agricultural. The new generation's economy is so diverse that agriculture isn't as important as before. The new economic advances have allowed exponential growth of the world's technology and connections. I believe that the new economy has been the cause of people gaining new cultures and connections, finding new people to care about. The new economy is truly "one leap for mankind". 

     I could go on about all of the changes, and yet it seems unimportant. Everyone I've met in this new generation is looking for the same things we were--power, family, riches, new ideas, alliances--and some people find it while others never do. I don't know what answer I will have for Thane if he ever brings me back to the time we shared. He asked me if my morals were just or were they wrong. But I think I've learned that my morals are both just AND wrong. So I'm doing the best I can with the time I have, it doesn't really matter when. 

# # #

The Time Travelling Author!
Funny, I didn't know Greyhound had destinations that included
time travel. I mean, I know we changed time zones and all....
tee hee!

*Pretty good essay, huh? He wrote it while I was out of town and the only part I had any hand in helping him with was his closing paragraph. The whole thing was finished and already handed in to his teacher before I even got to read it.*

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

Friday, October 3, 2014

Short Story~ To Try

*Author's Note: This short story is my answer to Chuck Wendig's Flash Fiction Challenge. I chose the sentence "I really did try." suggested by Marshskpop. I've never done this before, but my goodness it's fun!! I hope you'll consider picking a sentence and building a story around it as well. Thanks for the challenge Chuck!!!!!


I really did try. 

The sentence was vivid and inviting. I could almost feel the evening air and hear the familiar sounds of the forest. In one sentence my dad had created a world; a situation I could feel, a place I could see, and a character I wanted to explore. The sentence was lovely. 

But it was too lovely. The ease with which my dad had jotted it down on the back of a Scrabble score sheet, the way he let it go and offered it to me as though there were many more where that came from served as proof that I was inadequate. A wanna be. A fool with an impossible dream.

If my dad's sentence spoke volumes to me, my look must have spoken equally loud to my dad. The conversation that followed was somewhat stilted, serving to highlight the authentic nature of our silent exchange. 

"That's really good, dad." I had offered, avoiding eye contact. 

"Well," he coughed, "I could come up with a different one if you want."

"No, no," I stammered, "but maybe I'll just try this later." I was rereading the sentence now, again simultaneously admiring and despising it. 

"Maybe you can have something for me when I see you next month? It doesn't have to be perfect, kiddo. Just something, so you can start working toward what you want."

"Maybe...." I muttered.

My dad took a sip of his beer and returned his attention to the ball game on TV. The Toronto Blue Jays were winning so my step-brother was doing some sort of goofy dance on the couch without getting yelled at. I'd noticed during my last few visits that he was getting smart about when to pull his antics. If the Jays were winning he could get away with just about anything, which is powerfully freeing for a six year old boy. 

I, on the other hand, was fourteen and busy feeling a pressure to impress my dad as a grown-up, whether or not the Jays were winning.

But admitting that I wanted badly to be a writer may have been too much. Too soon. 

My dad had been thrilled, and at first that made me beam with pride! However, it wasn't long before his passion colored my pride with fear. I wanted to be a writer, but I didn't know if I could. What if my stories were forever lacking in emotion, or lacking characters that lived and breathed in the heart of readers? What if, as had proven to be a habit, they remained forever unfinished?

When I dared to foolishly admit this last worry out loud, a look I recognized came over my dad. I saw him blanch and become pained, but then he quickly looked excited and filled with air. Had I imagined a fear of not finishing on him, too? There was no time for me to wonder further because he had an idea. 

"I have an idea!" he announced. And while looking for a piece of paper--finally settling on the back of a scrabble score sheet he'd been using during an ongoing game he was playing with his latest wife-- he spilled passion in the form of sharing his idea all over the room. My step-brother even stopped playing with his Ninja Turtles to listen. "I'll write a sentence, one sentence, and you build a story around it. Don't think too hard, don't try to make it perfect, but finish it. That's the most important part! Now, I know you love to read those long impressive novels, but don't try to make yours anything like those. Just make it your own. And please, finish it!"

I found myself getting excited, despite my fears and doubts. What my dad said made sense! Take a story from start to finish first, then dissect and edit and explore it's potential. 

But then, he wrote the sentence. 

"It wasn't really rain, it was a cold drizzle, night was falling fast enough I knew I wouldn't make it out of the forest before dark; I'd have to turn back now or stay the night in this cave--for me, the choice was easy."

He just wrote it. Hardly a moments thought and yet I could feel the cold drizzle and breathe the forest air. The floor of the cave was cold beneath my bare feet. 

When my mom picked me up that night I had every intention of starting my story before bed. 

I really did try. 

* * *

His death two weeks ago was expected, but the loss hurt nonetheless. As my sons studied algebra and French in school, I finally gathered the strength to explore my dad's history. 

I was going through the papers in his desk when I found it. Not hidden away in some secret compartment, or wrapped in an envelope with a note to it's eventual discoverer, but tossed in with the pens, business cards, and paper clips. 

A small notebook with the outline to a novel he'd planned on writing. 

A novel that he'd started, but never finished. 

"I am my father's child," I whispered to the world, hugging the notepad to my chest and shaking my head. 

Looking back down at his outline I remembered the sentence he'd offered me nearly twenty years earlier. Before I could finish wondering if I'd find it in his outline I'd already discovered that it was not there. 

He'd given it to me and he'd let me keep it. I had started to do something with it, I recalled.

I really did try.

Or did I? Did my dad?

Or did we try to try, and instead offer up fears disguised as reasons and justifications? We had kids, jobs, bills, baseball games, all in the way of finishing paragraphs and stories and imaginings. 

We'd seen them as in the way, but really we could see them as reasons to finish. 

I put my dad's outline in an envelope and addressed it to my step-brother. His punk rock band was into writing songs about government conspiracies and lesbian sexpots so I thought he might use dad's story for inspiration. Maybe even finish it as a song. 

My sons came home from school and went through more of my dad's belongings with me, loving especially the Toronto Blue Jays stickers, and insisting on sleeping with them glued to their cheeks. 

After saying goodnight to my boys I sat purposefully before my clunky computer, sipping a freshly brewed cup of coffee. 

"It wasn't really rain, it was a cold drizzle, night was falling fast enough I knew I wouldn't make it out of the forest before dark; I'd have to turn back now or stay the night in this cave--for me, the choice was easy."

And, this time, I really did try. 

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Autism Answer: And That, My Friends, Is Parenting

I picked my son up from school today and he started talking to me before he'd even folded his newly manlike body into the backseat.

"Mom, when I'm sixteen can you please talk to me a lot? Talk to me like you do now, you know, about how I feel and stuff. Right now I'm fourteen so if we just keep talking like we do, and you keep trying, even when I act like I don't want you to, I'll probably stay used to it so that when I'm sixteen it'll help me."

I laughed at the strength of his request. His sixteen year old brother, who was sitting beside me and had been quite relieved to have our own "comfortable" conversation about his day interrupted by his brother, looked back at him with concern. "Don't encourage her!" his entire being seemed to plead.

"Of course I'll talk to you like we do now when you're sixteen! I can't help myself, I'm so darned interested in you and your brothers!! Why on earth are you asking?"

"I looked it up after school today," he replied, struggling to get his seat-belt on simultaneous to shrugging out of his backpack. "Sixteen is an age where a lot of kids commit suicide. If you keep talking to me like you do now, I won't be one of those kids."

Well, the whole car went from silly laughter to serious thoughtfulness in that moment. We were quiet and reflective. We had a mess of thoughts my boys and I--different I'm sure, but equally impressive--until I broke the silence with a question. With a little forced bounce in my manner I asked,"Why were you looking that up?"

"No reason," was his reply. And then he jumped topics with ease, as youngsters often do, and asked his brother about the new shirt he was wearing. "It's pretty orange!" he observed.

The brothers started chatting and I sat in the irony of the moment. My son jumped in the car almost pleading me to talk to him about "how he feels and stuff", and then just left me hanging when I did.

Totally teenager! And I know well that if I pressed him too hard for an answer he'd never want me to talk to him about it again. So I'll spend the week sneaking that same question into different disguises until I have enough of a portrait to put together an almost clear picture.

And that, my friends, is parenting. 

We can't know our kids precisely, but we can honor and respect them entirely. And we can care enough to sit in the irony. 

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)