Thursday, August 27, 2015

Autism Answer: Sisters

Me and my sister.

A Memory:
She's begging me to stop but I won't. This is how I like to play Barbies and it's exciting. Her way is boring. She just wants them to change dresses and go to parties, I want them to have backstories and motivations and sex with each other. She tells me I'm gross and she's going to hit me if I don't stop it. I don't care this time, I'll just tell mom if she hits me. She stomps off dramatically and I play by myself. 

A Memory:
We are on an airplane headed to Toronto. Just her and me, holding hands with equal parts excitement and nervousness as the city's beautiful skyline comes into view. It's nighttime and the CN Tower looks like a toy from here. We want to stay in this moment for hours, almost there but not there yet. Visiting our dad is only fun on the surface. We aren't comfortable there and nobody really loves us the way we know mom does. I look at my little sister as she stares out the window and I hope she doesn't try to stand up for herself, or for mom, again. Getting us in trouble with her need to stick up for what's fair and right. I let go of her hand and start tidying up our seats. 

A Memory:
I'm alone on the swings during recess, singing to myself. The sound of all the children playing around me is distracting and makes my voice sound pretty. I see her break from a group of kids, all younger than me, and run in my direction. I try not to notice her, I'm having fun alone. She calls my name and I'm annoyed. She begs me to help, someone my age is bullying them and she told her friends that I would take care of it, that her big sister would step in and make everything alright. I'm afraid of the kids my age so I tell her to go away. Can't she see I'm busy?

A Memory:
She's so comfortable and happy playing with our new brothers. She wraps them in blankets and tries to tell them the rules but none of them understand. They are from families who drank alcohol and hurt each other and they all have disabilities. I don't know why mom adopted them and I don't like learning about them. But she's so comfortable and I don't know my role. She tells them and plays with them and even gets frustrated with them in ways that seem like she doesn't care about disabilities. Does that make me a better big sister? Because I'll be careful and skirt the issues? I don't know my role and she isn't playing with me anymore. 

A Memory:
The teen years. We are like the wind and the leaf. Necessary to each other, dancing together, craving the attention that comes with the unpredictable twists and turns of our pairing but afraid of it also. We don't always know who is the wind or who is the leaf but we always dance, duck and weave, disappear into the piles and gusts of unfamiliar leaves and winds, but find each other again. These memories are more private. They are ours even when they aren't the same. 

A Memory:
I have children and she loves them almost as much as I do. Maybe just as much as I do but differently. She watches me with them and tells me I'm wonderful. I accept her words and the invitations to sleep in her guest room. She pays for everything and I let her. My children love her and I love her and I know how lucky we are to have her. She plays with us the way she taught me to play with our brothers. No judgements, no fear, no careful words or skirting issues. She wraps my boys in blankets and we know we're safe with her. 

A Memory:
Her daughters are beautiful. I will do anything for them because I know she would hurt if they hurt. She is a mom now too and I am overflowing with happiness and fear. I know what this is. Being a mom is all encompassing and the greatest hardest scariest thing in the world. She now has so much more to lose but only because she has so much more to love. I would get off the swing for them; for her. I hope I never have to get off the swing for them.

A Memory:
Our children are playing together and we are sipping coffee. Our husbands don't understand a word we say because we talk too fast and interrupt each other and understand concepts before they are completely explained, but these are the words we came here to say. We didn't know them until we were together, and now that we are together we can know them. They make our lives better. She makes my life better.

A Memory:
We are in a coffee shop and this time I'm buying the coffee. I feel proud and grown up. The barista asks us if we're twins and I love it! My immediate thought is: what a compliment. My next immediate thought is: what if my sister doesn't want to look like me? She's beautiful and I don't think I'm beautiful. Not in the way she is, pressed and perfect in an easy relaxed way. I hardly ever brush my hair and I wear the same clothes three days in a row. I respond quickly with a huge smile and a clap of my hands and a goofy dance and I tell the barista she's made my day. What a compliment to look like her! I am not cool, not like her, but I stepped up and took over before she might have to lie about not wanting to be mistaken for twins. 

A Memory:
We are almost two thousand miles away from each other, sipping coffee and talking on the phone. We are sharing the words only we understand and feeling the distance disappear. We love each other in ways only certain types of sisters can understand, and we are lucky. She knows, somehow, that now I would get off the swing for her, despite my fear. I know, somehow, that she would still ask me to, despite my long ago rejection. We talk and talk and sip and talk. We both feel the conversation is unfinished and leaves us with a small emptiness but only because we want more. 

With her, I am given more than enough and I always want more.

Happy birthday to my little sister! 

She has giving me the most, which is why I could comfortably share so much here with you. 

Because we will never run out and could never give it all away. 
Ours is never ending. 

Happy birthday, Brandessa!!!!
I love you so much!!!!

Hugs, smiles, coffee, and love!!

Autism Answers with Tsara Shelton (Facebook)

Me and my sister.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Autism Answer: On The Power Of Joking

"Laughter is joy percolating." ~Lynette Louise, The Brain Broad

Because my mom is both a comedian and an international mental health and brain expert (Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad) I know a few smart things about jokes. 

I came across this fun little article (Married Role-Play from The New Yorker) in my news feed. I have some thoughts.


The Plumber
HUSBAND: So, what seems to be the problem, Miss?
WIFE: My drain is clogged. Clogged bad.
HUSBAND: Oh, yeah? Well, let me see if I can un-clog it.
WIFE: You really think this is a job you can handle?
HUSBAND: There’s no job I can’t handle.
WIFE: (scoffs)
WIFE: I’m just thinking about the porch you’ve been promising to stain for literally a year now.
HUSBAND: Jesus, what the hell does the porch have to do with this?
WIFE: It has everything to do with it!
HUSBAND: You know what, unclog your own goddamned drain!
WIFE: Stain the porch!
Follow THIS LINK to read the rest.

(My thoughts will make slightly more sense if you peek at the article first, but you don't have to. You'll still get my point.)

These scenes are funny because most people accept the viewpoint that being married means letting the monotony of life create friction and fighting. I've been married for fifteen years and none of the jokes in this piece were anything near what I could relate to. 

However, I would have laughed and slapped my knee and said, "Tell me about it!" if those same role-playing distractions (picking up the kids, finishing the porch, etc.) had made the couples lose the sexy mood and get busy with the business of life, rather than snap and fight. If they rushed to pick the kids up from school, absentmindedly still in role playing garb, it would have been hilarious! 

As the piece is now, it's funny, but it's the kind of funny that paints an unnecessary picture of marriage. It will encourage people to believe it's correct or expected to argue and nitpick and holler at each other.

Having said that, I'll admit--I giggled. 

My mom learned early in her comedy career the power of jokes and then taught it to us kids. It's so healthy to have a sense of humor, to laugh freely and often! It's even healthier if we take a look at what we laugh at and why. And then adjust accordingly. We are highly aware of this in the autism and mental health community! My mom has even written a one woman musical comedy show, Crazy to Sane, where inspirational and edgy comedy meet important, revealing, and life altering lessons. (I encourage you to get the CD or Mp3!)

Before I was ever married, this fun article would have made me laugh freely and comfortably, and I would have believed it. Back then, I did believe it. Because of the humor surrounding me, how could I not believe that marriage generally grows into annoyance and name calling?

And because I believed it, I looked down on marriage. And in relationships I often played the role by nitpicking or arguing because that's what seemed supposedly "normal" aka "acceptable and right". Yes, I was young and wrong. But that's when we learn easiest and make most of our connections.   

At the time of this writing I have been happily married for fifteen years, largely because my mom taught us the power of jokes and joking. You see, we can use this power to our advantage! Using laughter purposefully  is not only a healthy way to teach and learn, it's pee-your-pants fun!!

I'll let ya in on a little secret, friends. My husband and I are happily married but it's not because we resonate well organically. The truth is, we don't like each other's opinions much, but we love and respect the place where all of our opinions come from. It's hard to explain, but there it is. We don't want nitpicking or arguing to be normal, for us or for our children, so we don't do it. Instead, we find a way to love the value of learning from someone you just don't agree with! Like reading a really good book from a vastly different perspective, we find each other intriguing and a little bit crazy, maybe even scary, but in a good way. In a way that makes us explore and expand our edges. It's terrifically hard to explain but beautiful nonetheless!

So, friends, let's please remember the power in our jokes! That certainly doesn't mean we should ever be afraid to laugh!! No, no, no! Let's laugh! While we also talk about why we're laughing, and shift when we feel the need. Let's not judge others when they laugh (because goodness knows we ourselves will laugh and have laughed when perhaps we could have instead chosen to learn) but instead chat and discover and share our reasons! 

So feel free to laugh at this article. Feel free to think I'm wrong or ridiculous. But please, also, remember the power of our jokes.

If these married couple role-playing scenes ended the way I imagine, the way that would have been funny to me (with husbands actually cleaning the pool while the wife actually picks up the kids toys, and the sex sometimes getting forgotten--but both parties are comfortable about it) we'd teach another truth of marriage. 

It would still be funny while it painted a picture of collaboration and sharing responsibility: It would paint a picture of love. 

There. Comedy lecture over! 

Here, I've got another sexy joke for ya!

Check out this short stand-up video where The Brain Broad teaches a bit about female anatomy to a misinformed gentleman (?) at the bar. 

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

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Autism Answer: He's Got This

My youngest son and I.

While driving with my youngest son this morning to drop him off at high school (lordy, they're growing up!!) I started asking him about two of the classes he has this year that he was nervous about. 

"Don't," he interrupted. "Don't. When you talk about school I get this nervous burn in the pit of my stomach. I know that you care about my day and stuff but right now, just don't. I need your distracting conversation until I've been going to school a little longer and I'm not so nervous. Don't worry though, I got this."

Well. Okie dokie! So we listened to Jason Derulo and talked about his favorite flavor of Snapple instead.

We moms and dads and sisters and aunts and grandpas want so freaking badly to crawl inside of our loved one's heads and build "healthy, happy, confident" pathways and blanket forts. So, sometimes we (okay, I know I do this but I'm gonna assume some of y'all do it too) try talking and telling and attacking them with the tools and ideas and lessons we hope will build that healthy confident blanket fort in their hearts and heads. 

But our loved one's truly have to build their own unique healthy happy confident blanket forts. If we throw tools and blueprints at them without giving them time to figure out who they are and what style of healthy happy confident blanket fort suits them best, we'll just make a big messy pile of stuff. 

We need to stand back and show them that we believe in them. That we want (desperately!) to share our tools and materials, but that we're also excited to see what tools and materials they discover on their own. What shape and colors their healthy happy confident blanket fort will have. 

 A cool thing about these healthy happy confident blanket forts that we build in our hearts and heads is this: they are not made out of immovable cement or brick. We can change and rearrange and forever share our materials and ideas while we forever discover and invent more!

Of course, I didn't tell my son all of this. We were busy having fun talking about the way a Mango Madness flavored Snapple hits the spot after a hard day of Marching Band practice in the Texas heat. 

So now I know. Mango Madness, Jason Derulo, and Marching Band are in his healthy happy confident blanket fort. Good for him. I've got coffee, Dr. Hook, and writing in mine. 

We're different, and that's good.
He's got this!!

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

The song Declyn and I were rocking out to this morning!!
Straight outta his healthy happy confident blanket fort! 

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Autism Answer: The Great Guest Giveaway, Conversations & Autism, and Stories that Teach!

EDIT: Here it is! The direct link to the episode with my interview!
A NEW SPIN ON AUTISM: ANSWERS! - iPad App for Social Skills and Behind the Curtain Story of Lynette Louise
Hanging with The Brain Broad at a convention in Los Angeles!

I was interviewed for the Great Guest Giveaway segment of the popular podcast A NEW SPIN ON AUTISM: ANSWERS! with Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad. We talked about parenting, writing, and the gift of having a unique point of view. 

Also, because it was the Great Guest Giveaway, I offered to give away a copy of my book! Which meant, I had to quickly get a copy of my book!

The interview was recorded a few days ago and will be available for our listening pleasure tomorrow. So, I ordered a copy of my book to sign and give to the first person who follows the instructions given to get it. I got the book just in time! It's sitting here beside my computer waiting for me to sign it for ya!

[Have a peek at my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up, here:

The guest who was on before my short segment is Karen Kabaki-Sisto, M.S. CCC-SLP, a certified Speech-Language Pathologist and Applied Behavior Analysis instructor. By the time I called into the show her interview was winding up, but I could feel the awesome energy! She was talking about her invention, "I Can Have Conversations With You!™” , a life-changing social language therapy system for the iPad that helps people with autism make sense of words, gestures, and feelings. It helps them  have confident conversations while building stronger social relationships. My friends, we're all going to learn from and love listening to the experiences and ideas behind this beautiful and passionate guest! 

Of course, we have come to take that for granted with every new episode of A NEW SPIN ON AUTISM: ANSWER! Cool, right?!

I truly hope everyone tunes in. Not just to hear me and the host (who is my mom!) chat and giggle and share stories, and not just to have a chance to get a free copy of my book, and not just to learn from and enjoy Karen Kabaki-Sisto chat about communication and social skills and her autism app, which The Brain Broad sounded really excited about--although those are all good motivators for tuning in.

I also hope you'll tune in to remember why A NEW SPIN ON AUTISM: ANSWERS! is our favorite podcast, with our story-teacher host, The Brain Broad!

And because my mom cares so much about getting this information to families in an entertaining, accessible, and easy to understand and implement way (lucky us!) all episodes are forever fun and forever FREE! 

I'll share the direct link to my show tomorrow, but for now, I encourage you to listen to a few you may have previously missed!
EDIT: Here it is! The direct link to the episode with my interview!
A NEW SPIN ON AUTISM: ANSWERS! - iPad App for Social Skills and Behind the Curtain Story of Lynette Louise

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

                 A New Spin On Autism: Answers! with Lynette Louise aka The Brain Broad!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Autism Answer: Go Set a Watchman - A Personal Book Review

Author’s note: For the past two days I’ve been reading Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee. I am an addict of novel reading and dive in always for the pleasure of living lives different (often drastically) from mine, and for the joy that comes with recognizing our sameness. It was no different with this book; my agenda and intention was clear: to have fun. Despite what I may reveal in the following review please know that I really, truly, and deeply did have fun.

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee
I wonder if this book was manifested by our need for it. 

The story of its discovery and publication is fraught with controversy and distrust, bringing both fear and hope to fans of Harper Lee and her, until now, one published novel To Kill a Mockingbird. Making a mess of the neat and tidy cozy perfection Harper Lee had introduced to the world with the pairing of curious, indelicate, barefoot Scout and her quiet, strong, kind, brave gentleman father, Atticus. 

In Go Set a Watchman we are introduced to Jean Louise Finch, the once upon a time six year old Scout, on her fifth annual visit from her adult life in New York to fictional Maycomb, Alabama, her childhood home. 

The visit finds Jean Louise, and me as a reader, on the edge of a new kind of independence; visions of the playful past, the painful past, and the presumed past grab hold and mess with our ideas of where we come from and who made us. Visions of potential futures fail to excite or fit us. Jean Louise is courted by a lifetime love, surrounded by family who “gets” and celebrates her, yet she’s at a loss to know herself independent of who they are. Especially her father, Atticus. 
The country, too, is in the midst of fighting for a new kind of independence, a new kind of knowing itself. And for the first part of the book I found nothing but nostalgic joy and empathy for the woman who is trying to discover herself as a woman, amidst change and political turmoil. 

But as I came to the part of the book I had been excitedly anticipating, having read warnings and mixed feelings on this supposedly new Atticus, this racist not-the-hero we fell in love with from To Kill a Mockingbird Atticus, I was sent reeling into a similar past of my own. I had been confidently prepared to go along for the ride of the disappointing discovery and empowering understanding that comes with shedding childish notions of right and wrong, good people and bad people. But I hadn’t been prepared to feel and remember it. 

Jean Louise secretly observes Atticus--the man who raised her and gave her every reason to know herself as right and good-- at a meeting surrounded by men advocating for the opposite of everything she believed he believed, and therefore she believed. The Citizens' Council is made up of almost all of Maycomb's prominent men speaking about the need for segregation, the dangers of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), the inability of the Negro to vote in the best interest of the country, all things she was convinced he was morally opposed to. The group of men include not only Atticus but also her lifelong beau.

As Jean Louise felt herself die, I was transported back to my own past where I, too, was left lost and broken and completely alone. When my step-dad, the man who loved my mother and gave me every reason to know I was safe, molested me I was tossed into turmoil and cut off from everyone I loved and everything my experiences had told me to believe.  

I had to put the book down, I had to breathe slowly and remember the chaotic beauty and messy important lessons we had been nearly forced to learn. There are those who choose not to learn, but we did, and I chose to put my faith in Jean Louise to find similar answers. 

Picking up the novel again I was thrown into her world, one of the privilege that comes with being the white daughter of a lawyer, especially of Atticus Finch, but of disability too. Being color blind her whole life had always made Scout different from her peers, but like with most invisible disabilities the difference was small at first. Quirky and strange, but acceptable. As Scout grew the differences amounted to misunderstandings and made up morals. Jean Louise had grown into a young woman who had learned it all wrong and now had to make sense of everyone in her life being a lie. Including herself. 

I held on tight while she bounced from family member to family member searching for what she was missing, seeking an explanation for her difference. I thought of so many people I love who, via their differences and disabilities, have been able to teach me truths I may have not otherwise known, and I applauded her and begged her to see her value. To see herself.

I felt angry, uncertain, thoughtful, and angry again. My dear readers, there is no way to read this book without feeling angry. With so many clashing ideologies and strong morals, there is no one who will be left out!

It would have been easier to put the book down. 

It would have been easier for Jean Louise to give herself over to the prejudice-pretending-to-be-polite interests of Maycomb.

No, it wouldn’t have. Not in the long run. 

So we ventured on, Jean Louise and I.  

With the support and push of her loved ones, Scout let go. With uncertainty and a naked new freedom Jean Louise forced herself into her own form of individuality. 

This is, I believe, what we must do as a society. 

We must grow up a notch. 

Scout was right to put her faith in Atticus. He was consistent and kind and offered his children freedom. He always had time for them and he was a strong, honest, anchor. 

Like Scout, I was right to put my faith in my step-father. It gave me years of comfort and the joy of watching my mom be loved. My sister and I felt confident and safe. 

Like Scout, as fans of To Kill a Mockingbird we were right to put the hero, Atticus, on a pedestal. It grew us comfortably in the right direction. 

But we must be Jean Louise now. We must open our eyes and see how we’ve been fooling ourselves while we’ve been fooled. We must see that our painful past is playing with us, teasing us into thinking things like: “We” gave “them” what “they” said “they” wanted and look what “they” do. 
Like Jean Louise we must hurt and fear and let go of the beliefs we thought were our own and with uncertainty stand naked inventing a new freedom to think differently and form our own inclusive individuality. 

This is the messy part. 

But it’s already messy, isn’t it?

So, like Go Set a Watchman, let’s do it now. Let’s not wait until we’re perfectly edited and let's not pay too much attention to our controversial and unknowable backstory. 

I recommend reading both Go Set a Watchman and To Kill a Mockingbird, in any order. 

The author, Harper Lee, is a woman both before and completely of her time. 

“What was incidental to the issue in our War Between the States is incidental to the issue in the war we’re in now, and is incidental to the issue in your own private war.” ~Uncle John Hale Finch, Go Set a Watchman 

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Autism Answer: Missing Person - Disappearing Into a Book


That's right, friends! I am willfully being whisked away to a place and time where I do not belong. I'm entering the ideas and opinions and moments of others; though, admittedly, I can't help but bring me along to manipulate and assume and interpret those ideas and moments. 

I got a new book! 
Powerful stuff!

Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee came for me in the mail today. This is a book I've been anticipating and imagining. A book I've been hungry for. 

So please, for our safety, do not send in a rescue team! When my body is in bed but my distant looks and moody movements seem unrecognizable, do not attempt to retrieve me. During the delicate moments of tangling the book's ideas and characters with myself, I remain consistently on the brink of something that ebbs and flows, tickles and pinches, entices and teases. It's pure and beautiful and painful and powerfully fun! 

To be yanked away too quickly could make me lose it entirely. 
(Yes, I was thinking that too: Kinda like an orgasm.)
(Oh, you weren't thinking that? Oops! Well, maybe you need to read better books?)

A new book - explored and devoured by others, crafted and conceived by another, discussed and debated by many, and yet I'm going in alone. 

So do not worry and please forgive my absence. Know that though I am missing, I am truly here as well! Growing and tingling and feeling and imagining and thinking and, of course, drinking coffee. And going pee. Then finding a new comfy spot to read and sigh and think and feel and relive the disappointing joys of young womanhood, defiant and barefoot, with Jean Louise Finch (aka Scout) in Maycomb, Alabama.

Oh, and if you don't mind, could someone feed my kids and put on a load of laundry while I'm gone? Thanks! tee hee!

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

Me snuggling my new book in bed!

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Autism Answer: His Motivators and Mine - A Collaboration

My son, Shay, loves to talk and talk and talk.... 

His "thought train" refuses to stay on the track. Any passengers that choose to board are gifted with surprises and views that they never ever could have imagined on their own. They are in for a treat, as long as they don't mind going along for the ride and having hardly any say in what stops are made or what direction is taken!

With Shay there is a lot of me teaching the art of conversation (you know, where all parties are invited to contribute meaningfully) and him teaching me the art of letting magic and dragons and wings and deeply imaginative adventure surround us. 

It's fabulous and fun! But, sometimes, when I'm teaching the art of collaboration and conversation, I fear I'll stifle his creativity and unique mind. I want him to learn to listen and contribute and allow during conversation but if I stop him from taking over and talking too often I may cause harm. 

When I'm teaching back and forth type chatting I explain that, unfortunately, our world has little patience for listening to people talk almost entirely about the wild world in their brain. 

Or, does it?

No. I know better than that! 

This world adores books and movies and stories that are told masterfully! And my son is doing more than talk, he's also writing a book, a movie, and a short film. 

 Brilliantly, for those times when he needs to talk at us rather than with us, he has created his own YouTube channel. A place to talk and talk and talk and take us along on his "thought train" where we can choose to tune in when we want to. 


 Enjoy this video (in which I make a cameo appearance!) from Shay's channel where the video just stops (at around four minutes) because it thinks he's talking too much. tee hee!
He's growing to know when to listen, when to add his own ideas, when to dictate dialogue for his film into a recorder, and when to pull out his phone and make a video. 

Shay's ideas are indeed strange! How lucky this world is to have people like him, willing to stand out and seem odd and explore the unique and organic stories that grow where few of us have the ability (or courage) to travel.

One of these days, not too many years in the future I'm certain, we'll be able to see and read his ideas--not as sporadic tid-bits and snap shots, but as well crafted fully imagined books and movies. 

I know better than to rush him. I won't let him sit around avoiding or fearing, but I know well the value of enjoying the ride and learning the skills and not feeling overwhelming pressure. A little pressure, yes. But not overwhelming. 

So, for now, I'll keep teaching the art of shared conversation while I also listen to his magic mind. A collaboration of his motivators and mine. 

It's all so exciting!! 

And, for those moments when I just wanna celebrate Shay and not care about teaching or waiting till his stories are masterfully crafted, there's YouTube!!!

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