Saturday, February 28, 2015

Autism Answer: Sensory Issues and #TheDress

There's something I keep thinking about today, thanks to ‪#‎TheDress‬. 

You know, the dress that has families and friends and co-workers seeing different colors and wondering, "What's the trick"?

My mom (international mental health and autism expert Lynette Louise, The Brain Broad) used to see sound as color. Certain piano notes would shimmer a lovely shade of blue. Other people I know on the autism spectrum have myriad sensory issues which is why they see, hear, feel, smell, and taste things differently than those around them. 

I know this, and I try to remember this, and I care about this. 

Yet, when I was looking at the dress and seeing white and gold, and my sons were looking at the dress and seeing blue.... I was playfully frustrated and honestly confused. I know what I'm seeing! 

And even though I understand (some) of the science behind it all, I'm still deep down confused. I mean.... look at the dress! It's white and gold!!! Anyway....

If I can be confused and even a bit annoyed while so much of the internet is agreeing with me that it's confusing and worth talking about, how must it feel to be alone? To see and feel and smell and taste and hear differently while everyone tells you your "wrong"? While people who truly love you say, "Stop talking about it, just trust me. You're wrong."

I think I'm going to try and remember this dress for that reason. 

For those moments when I feel myself assuming my mom just wants attention, or I catch myself teaching my son why he's wrong about the way a song hurts his ears, or when I hear myself telling my brother to stop flinching because he's wrong and there are not brown flakes flying in his face. In those moments I'll remember this dress.  

I'm going to remember it for another reason as well. In those moments when I worry that being divided means we can never be united. When I fear that our clashing cultures can't ever find a way to harmonize. In those moments I'll remember this dress. Because, although everyone had fun arguing about the color, and although many of us were truly shocked at the honest strangeness of looking at the same thing and seeing it different, we were united in our willingness to wonder and be curious and ask why. We were united in our comfort with laughing at this strangeness. In those moments I'll also remember this dress.

You know the dress I'm talking about, right friends?

The w
hite and gold one!! tee hee!

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

The Dress: I see white and gold I tell ya!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Autism Answer: I Am Not Brave (Though I Do Brave Things)

I am not brave.

Often people will tell me that I am. Because I comfortably share many ugly mistakes I've made and offer my memories to strangers without filters or make-up or dressing them up.

I put my moments and beliefs out there naked often, and often they are unusual or controversial. But I am not brave.

Instead, I am surrounded by so much support and love that sharing my mean mistakes and odd truths is simply not frightening. Well, not overly frightening. Sometimes I am a little bit brave.

Now and then I'm attacked for my stories and thoughts. These attacks are rare, but have been harsh. I don't enjoy them, but I always always always learn something from them. Whether it's because I'm challenged to clarify my meaning (I've made friendly conversation with people who were initially offended and in return offensive) or because it reminds me that our different beliefs--which I encourage myself to accept and appreciate--can clash and become explosive. Or even just as a reminder that while I live surrounded by kindness, there are millions of others who do not.

I am mostly lovingly encouraged to share my stories. Family, friends, and my online community is filled with folks who find beauty in flaws that blossom into open minds and new seasons of understanding. Even when my beliefs are not agreed with or even forgiven, I'm encouraged. I am not brave, I'm encouraged.

And because of this the attacks feel mostly like bee stings. They hurt for a bit, and invite me to think about the nature of bees along with their value. I am not brave, but I am supported and loved and encouraged, which is why I easily do brave things.

I am not brave, but I am forever grateful! And I have decided that more than teaching my sons to be brave, I want to make doing brave things easy.

Yes, sometimes we, my sons and I, also have to be brave. Or we're asked to be brave. But when most of the time our brave things are made easy, then being asked to be brave now and then is not asking a lot. Rather, we're being invited to step outside the edges of our comfort zone where the magic of clashing and complimenting ideas and beliefs mingle and mix and explode into new things.

I am not brave. But because my mom had to be consistently brave, lacking support and kindness for much of her life, I value bravery. Her bravery saved our lives. And because I value bravery I step outside the edges of my comfort zone. I "do" brave when I've had enough coffee and the weather is just right. Or when I'm placed in a position where it's required. Then I also do my best to be brave. 

So for those of you who are forced by circumstance to be brave, I applaud you and love you and offer you my support. And for those of us who are surrounded by so much support that being brave is hardly needed I encourage us to continue sharing our mistakes and moments with open minds and honesty.

I am not brave, but I invite you to join me in continuing to do brave things.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

For a deeper dive into some of the brave things I do, check out my book Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up. A book, I've been told, I was "brave" to write. Though I still suggest that I am not brave, my book is a brave thing I did.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Autism Answer: Ugly Words and Beautiful Intentions

I am aware of my words and choose them thoughtfully. There are sometimes meanings I don't intend, or prejudices I might not know I'm instigating, living within the words I use. Over the years I've adjusted and revamped and renovated my language. And I plan to continue.

But also, I try to be non-judgmental about the words others use. I share what I believe about words, but always assume the best. There are probable kindnesses and possible struggles and mystery intentions I am unaware of coming from the speaker. 
For a person who is newly communicating, a lecture on the words they choose is the last thing they might need. For a person who struggles to grasp sophisticated ideas, there is a beautiful and simple message I may lose out on if I focus too intensely on specific words. For a person who grew up surrounded by bigotry, there may be verbal habits distracting me from recognizing a lovely person breaking from an ugly culture.
I know many people with the most beautiful intentions and supreme challenges who would easily be frightened out of trying to voice their thoughts had I lectured them on word choice.

These are the same people who have taught me the most, and made my life infinitely better.

I will always share my opinions and insights on what I believe words can do. I don't shy away from sharing my insights when I hear someone turn an ugly phrase or produce a demeaning sentence. But my loved ones have taught me to do so with kindness and without assumption.

We are all living here in this world together, and not one of us has it all figured out. So let's be engaged, interested, and intentional. Let's describe it in words we choose thoughtfully, and together we can live a life of discovery and growth.

Which, I suspect, is what we'd do if we had it all figured out.

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Autism Answer: Our Culture of Difference

My husband's reaction to our son's insightful essay was adorable.

Our youngest son brought home an essay he wrote at school, and knowing how much I love reading his (and his brothers') essays, he dropped it dramatically on my desk. "Here you go mom. You're welcome!" He spun away with a flourish and hid away in his room, as is his fourteen year old habit.

I read the essay, titled "My Culture, My Life" by Declyn Shelton, and loved it. As my hubby walked in the door, oil stained red rag and wrench in hand, I welcomed him home by reading the first paragraphs out loud. 

I read:

"My culture is influenced by so many people, my personality, and where I'm from. Each is an aspect of my life that define who I am.

The way my family is diversified helps me understand how much an individual can impact a life. My mom and my dad are two separate races, but love each other just the same. This shows me that race doesn't matter. It's the feelings you have for one another that does. Not all of my brothers have the same dad. My brothers Jory and Tyran have the same dad, but my other brother Shay has a different dad. This shows me that brothers are formed with bonding time not blood. My uncles are brothers, but have different families and ethnicity and different disabilities. This shows me that family is the closest bond ever.

My family shows me the path, but what I do and how I act shows me the direction. I'm kind and caring. I'll help those who need it because I don't mind going out of my way to help others. I show sentimentality to others by listening, helping, and treating others with respect."

I looked at my husband at this point and enjoyed purely his look of amazement. You see, he knows our children are brilliant and insightful, but he's not a reader. He's never read their ideas, so he's rarely experienced the boiled down poetic clarity of their brilliance.

"Did he get a one hundred grade on that?" he asked, feeling certain that the answer would be yes.

"A ninety-eight!" I answered with pride.

"What? That's a one hundred for sure. The teacher made a mistake. How could that not be a one hundred grade?"

I giggled and said, "Well, there are a few spelling mistakes and grammatical errors. And a ninety-eight is practically a one hundred."

But my hubby wasn't laughing. "Do you think it's a mistake? The idea is a one hundred, grammar and spelling isn't as important as the idea."

I was loving this. "I agree, actually that's exactly what my book is about. But grammar and spelling are what he's being taught. Presenting his ideas in the clearest way, so they are understood and accepted by the largest numbers, that sort of thing."

"I sure hope it's not a prejudice thing," I heard him grumble. "That's a one hundred grade essay for sure."

I considered going on with my explanation. I considered explaining my honest belief that the teacher gave him the right grade and for the right reasons.

But I didn't. Because my hubby was also right. And it was beautiful to hear him say the things he was saying. Our son was hiding in his room but I heard him turn down the music, and I knew he was listening. I knew he was beaming.

We all were right.

And I believe that is why Declyn's essay is so insightful, and why Declyn is so kind and caring. Because he is surrounded by support and people who value each other and seek ways to highlight each others strengths.

Even if that means grumbling about mistakes and possible prejudice now and then when someone doesn't get one hundred percent.

Anyway, I remember when Jory was a baby and I had almost the exact same thoughts after he didn't win a cutest baby contest. I knew it was because someone else had connections, or they didn't want a brown baby winning, or a young single mom rubbed the judges the wrong way. I wasn't angry, just certain.

Sometimes it's okay to be silly and certain.

So I kept my mouth shut and enjoyed my husband's disagreement about the grade, and his swelled pride at our son's brilliance.

Because, even though the teacher's grade was fair, my husband was also right.

In our son's words, "Culture is influenced by so many people. Each is an aspect of life..."

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


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Autism Answer: Fix it in Five, At Home

My youngest son and I were just snuggling on the bed and making silly jokes. It was fun. And then....

ME: I wonder if Dramma (my mom, his grandma) made it to Israel.

DECLYN: Is she doing her show there? Fix it in Five?

ME: You bet. This episode will be different than the other ones because it's a big family.

DECLYN: No matter what kind of family it is, Dramma will be amazing. I'm pretty sure she's the smartest person to help families. And her documentary show is probably the best one ever made.

ME: I think that too!! I love that you agree!!

DECLYN: Well, it's obvious. She loves all of the people she works with and she always knows how to help them. She goes all over the world because she wants to help them, not for ratings or whatever.

ME: That's all true. Plus, she's fun to watch and is an awesome storyteller.

DECLYN: And, she always has that big brain with her. It's fun to look at.

We were quiet and reflective for a moment. Then I admitted...

ME: I bet Dramma would love some good ratings though!

DECLYN: Then the whole world would be singing her catchy theme song!

We snuggled a bit more and imagined a world where everyone played with each other for healthy brain growth, and sang catchy brain tunes while driving!!

Hugs, smiles, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook) 

 Have a peek at this trailer for FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD. I hope you like the catchy tune!!!!
Update: For a limited time (Until Feb. 22, 2015) you can purchase the Director's cut, Season One of FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD!!! Follow this link to learn more, friends!!!!

SIX HOURS OF SHOW!!!! Never before seen footage! Director's Cut, Season One

Author's Note: Be sure to sign up for my mom's monthly updates so you can stay in The Loop! I happen to know (largely because I put together the newsletter!) there there is a fantastic upcoming announcement for folks in The Loop. I really hope you're one of them!!! Sign up HERE!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Autism Answer: Good Listeners with Good Ideas

My sixteen year old son called me yesterday to let off some steam. He was walking home from school (which he left early because a teacher's aide was driving him nutty!) and he called to talk to me about the situation. To explain his reasoning. He had asked her to please stop treating him like a six year old child and she'd responded as though to a six year old child. So, he left. At the end of the talk he thanked me for being such a good listener with good ideas, and for being such a good mom.

My eighteen year old son called me yesterday as he was walking to the store to grab a treat for his ex-girlfriend, whom he lives with. He's moving out soon and she broke down crying. Her tears fell on him along with apologies, admissions of guilt, sudden insights of his kindnesses, and hope for a different outcome. My son held her, and though he made no promises for the future, he insisted on going out to get her her favorite sandwich. At the end of the talk he thanked me for being such a good listener with good ideas, and for being such a good mom.

I miss my sons when they are gone. Allowing them to find themselves has too often meant encouraging them to leave me. A lot of the time I feel on the verge of breaking, because they are so far away and I can't know that they are always happy or safe.

I called my twenty-one year old son yesterday as I was driving to pick his youngest brother up from school. I shared with him my feelings of vulnerability and how they are tied with my own fears of growing up. I know who to be when I'm mothering my sons, but I feel lost and untethered when they aren't here to need me. I told him how important I know it is for me to find myself, to discover a me that grows comfortably in this new phase of our lives, and how I'm mostly confident that I've done exactly that. Until certain songs come on the radio, or Family Guy quotes hit me unexpected, and then I'm filled with a missing of them so huge I can't hide from it. At the end of the talk I thanked him for being such a good listener with good ideas, and for being such a sweet son.

When my boys were little I wanted to teach listening, caring, supporting, and believing in each other. I had strong ideas that guiding my children was best done by example.

Now that they're bigger, they've helped me know that I was right!

So, I'm going to keep on loving my work, insisting on kindness, and being a good listener with good ideas.

That's how I'm going to try to always be a good mom.

(And hopefully the radio stations around here will not smack me in the heart too often by playing old Three Days Grace songs!)
tee hee!

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