Friday, April 27, 2018

Autism Answer: About Last Night


I made myself a peppermint tea (shhh! don't tell coffee) in my favorite to-go mug, kissed my exhausted hard working hubby on the cheek, and headed out the door.

I decided to pick up Declyn's farther away friend first. Declyn's theatre class was putting on their first annual talent show and I was picking up two of his friends to bring to the event.

I was sipping and singing and enjoying the short drive deep into the green trees. As is always the case when headed out to this boy's home, I saw critters and majestic mammals. The early evening was beautiful. I felt happy and open.

My son's friend was waiting for me when I arrived and thanked me as he climbed into the car. I let him know it was my pleasure to gather an audience for the show. I love showing off the theatre kids!

As we headed back toward town to pick up friend number two, we chatted.

ME: You're a senior also, right? Are you excited to graduate? Do have mixed feelings about the transition?

FRIEND: I'm excited. I've never really had friends. I'm kind of an outsider or an outcast.

ME: Well, you've got your group now. The boys spend every weekend at your house till 3AM almost without fail!

FRIEND: Ya, that's now. I've moved a lot and always tried to get a group together to play D&D (Dungeons and Dragons). Finally, I have this group.

ME: *Giggling* Well, you found yourself a great group of outsiders here!

FRIEND: Ya, they're all that way. Declyn is funny, too. He has the look and talents of the popular kids, you know? And he does mostly fit in with them but he's an outsider, too. Because he has almost everything they do except, well, he's not an asshole. Oh, sorry for the language!

ME: No problem! You just told me my son is not an asshole. You don't have to be too careful with your language to tell me that. I'll take it presented however you want to present it!

FRIEND: That makes sense. I was wondering, why do you write about autism? I heard you say to someone that you sometimes write about autism.

ME: Well, I have a lot of autistic family members and I've learned a lot about life and listening and actually truly caring about our differences because of it. And since I love to write, it's one of the things I write about.

FRIEND: That's neat. Hey, autism isn't a bad thing though, right? From my limited understanding it's kind of a serious focus on things that make them smarter and know more about it.

ME: I believe you're referring to the interests or perseverations. And you're right, autism isn't a bad thing but it does mean certain things are harder. And the interests you're talking about can mean a lot of different things in different people. Some interests are really hard to use well, and tend to interrupt an ability to follow conversation in common ways. Or even, sometimes, just to be happy. For some folks it's not too intense, for others it's really disruptive and hard. In my family there are so many styles and I've learned to see the similarities while noticing the vast differences.

FRIEND: Declyn said he used to have autism.

ME: Ya, he's lucky that my mom is who she is! She helped us work on his sensory issues and eye contact challenges in such fun and kind ways. And he doesn't seem to have autism anymore. The social challenges were the longest lasting, I think. No, sensory too.

FRIEND: I have a strong memory of a time I made a mean joke around one of my other friends who had autism, before I knew he had autism.

ME: Oh, boy. Kiddo. we all have those. Maybe not specific to autism, but the times we were mean.

FRIEND: Well. We were playing D&D and I made a joke about a choice someone made. I was like, "What, is your character autistic?" And then my friend was like, "You know, that's not a nice joke. Did you know that I'm autistic?" And - my brother has it on video actually - I just sat there. Stone-faced. I didn't know what to say!

ME: Ya, we've all made comments or jokes that are accidentally cruel. I think it's a willingness to listen to people and their reasons when they point it out that helps us grow thoughtful. But we don't know what we don't know, so it's bound to happen to all of us. Particularly when we're young.

FRIEND: Well, I had noticed that my friend had weird habits and, I don't know, was just kind of strange I guess? But we all kind of were, like I said, I'm an outcast. But I'd noticed it on him more. So I probably should have known better.

ME: Seriously, don't beat yourself up. I made similar mistakes all the time and my brothers were autitstic so I had every opportuntiy to know better. It's good to remember, but don't feel overly guilty, you know?

We pulled up to the next friend's house. This friend has been Declyn's best friend since pre-K. As he came up to my car wearing his usual wide almost goofy grin, I felt a moment of pure happiness. Almost as though the car-ride conversation was being given a comfortable closer.

This friend of Declyn's had been pulled out of school to be homeschooled. Largely because of his outcast ways. He and Declyn were being bullied by their Christian peers for their intense interest in Greek mythology and the Greek Gods. Declyn struggled for a few months, but told me he wanted to stay in school. We dealt with it that way, knowing that we were working with the goal of staying. His friend, on the other hand, worked on it with a different goal. And so he worked on it with his mom and they chose leaving.

They both were supported by parents and went the direction of their goals. It's a beautiful thing!

But last night his friend came back to the school - and it was his eighteenth birthday! - to watch his friend, my son, dance on stage in a talent show, senior scholarship fundraiser. And at the end of the night, my son took the mic and sang happy birthday to his friend.

My son drove his outsider friends home, with me - his mom, who has always felt on the edges of society - in the passenger seat.

I think we have all felt like outsiders or outcasts at times. And for many of us an inkling of that is just right. After all, we are all alone and only ourselves and "outside" to some degree. But for many of us, we are even farther outside, it's harder to find our groups or to connect.

But it happens. And when it does, it's a beautiful thing to watch!

Much like how watching my son dance is a beautiful thing to watch.

Oh, what's that? You'd like to see for yourself. Well, I thought you'd never ask! (Errrr.... you did want to ask but I wouldn't stop talking? Sorry about that! tee hee!)
Here's that dance you waited patiently through my story for! 

Happy Friday, friends!!
Outcasts, popular kids, and everyone in-between!! 

BTW: The video straightens out after the first few seconds.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Autism Answer: Suggestions For Taking Action This Autism Awareness & Acceptance month (April)

My brother bowling thanks to volunteers.

Straight up, I admit it, most of these suggestions are going to include links to something my mom (Dr. Lynette Louise, known as "The Brain Broad") made. But that's because my suggestions are awesome and so is the stuff my mom makes. 

So, let's dive into some awesome suggestions, shall we?

Oh, and by the way, happy April!!

Okay, let's begin: 

1) Watch the international docu-series FIX IT IN FIVE with LYNETTE LOUISE aka THE BRAIN BROAD! Both seasons one and two (Uganda and USA, respectively) are available free on The Autism Channel and Women's Broadcast Network. Also you can rent or own the show via Vimeo On Demand (This is my favorite way to watch the show! Though it costs money it also means you have access anytime from any device. It is a great way to revisit and review new lessons, enjoy the show with friends, or have a screening in your community!)  

Oh, what's that? You have no idea what FIX IT IN FIVE is? Well, I'm sorry to hear that! Basically, it's an idea hatched out of Lynette’s desire to share her tools of change with thousands of families worldwide. No biggie.

Dr. Lynette Louise is invited into homes around the world where she teaches important attitudinal shifts and brain science to families struggling with brain disorders. Hundreds of children, parents, aunts, and grandpas have benefited from her passion and neurofeedback equipment. According to Lynette, “That’s not enough!” 

By offering her services as a docu-series she is able to give families willing to be on camera a free five day life-changing therapy marathon. At the same time audiences are gifted with answers, entertainment and an exampling of living life with creativity and intention. So, you know, a way to make the world a more understanding, safe, and fun place for people of all types. That's all. :D 

Follow this link for more info, videos, and links for viewing the show: FIX IT IN FIVE with THE BRAIN BROAD

2) Watch a film, listen to music, or read a book written by, starring, or otherwise created by someone with autism. Now, yes, I'm going to specifically link to stuff my mom has made (she herself is Historically Asperger's and also she casts autistic actors, as well as other neurodiverse cast and crew, in her projects) but the point is the most important part. You don't have to watch or read or rock out to my mom's stuff so long as you purposely seek art created by and performed by autistics. For example, my mom's stuff!  

Here are three specific suggestions:

a) Living with Lynette - Available for viewing is the pilot episode of Living with Lynette, a show she created with the plan to always hire neurodiverse actors, writers, and crew. In this episode, all of the actors have the diagnosis attributed to them. Also, I play "Sherry" the neighbor with an addiction to having too many carreers. I admit, I don't actually have that problem. Unless you count my addiction to reading which gives me the opportunty to IMAGINE having all kinds of carreers! 

Follow this link to watch Living with Lynette free on YouTube: Living with Lynette 

b) Crazy to Sane - My mom wrote and performed this one-woman musical comedy about her life quite a few years ago. The show is about healing herself and her family from the traumas of abuse, while also healing their brains. Autism, abuse, adoption, parenting, and healing are the main themes while laughter and music are the delivery system. Crazy to Sane has been performed around the world and regardless of language or culture it always brings audiences to their feet with tears, gratitude, and a desire to sing along! 

You can purchase the show CD (digital or physical CD) and watch music videos here: Crazy to Sane

c) Miracles are Made: A Real Life Guide To Autism - Miracles are Made is a real life guide, written from the happenings of real life. In Miracles Are Made my mom not only shares stories from her personal and professional life, but also illuminates the whys and the wherefores of the social climate parents find themselves in when coping with autism. So whether you have autism in your immidiate world or not, it offers a glimpse into how we, as people in the world, are all affecting each other. And then, by highlighting neurofeedback and the plasticity of the brain, she offers valuable solutions. She teaches us how to make the best of what is possible and recreate the healings she has been fortunate enough to facilitate. As a reader you come away understanding how to understand autism. You come away knowing what to do.

To learn more about Miracles are Made and mom's other books, follow this link: BOOKS by Lynette Louise

3) Enter to win a signed copy of my book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself, which is being given away FREE (for folks in the USA) by The Perfect Piece this Autism Awareness Month! (Okay, this one isn't exactly something my mom made but it is a book of stories about my life which, no surprise, includes a lot of stuff about mom. And, if we're getting technical, my mom made me and I made the book so, I guess it is still something she made! Giggle!) Head on over to The Perfect Piece, send in a pic that represents what autism means in your life (get creative! Have fun!) and it will be posted on The Perfect Piece social media accounts. Likes on your picture get you points, so be sure to tell your friends to hit that like button! Also, there are several other ways to gain points beyond that. Be sure the visit the page and ask questions! Then, when you win, you can read my book, love it, and tell everyone you know about it. Now, I am not autistic. However, as you know, I have grown-up surrounded by autism. So I like to think my book is a candid (and kind) perspective of growing-up alongside autism. 

4) Ask about autism. Thoughtfully and with kind curiosity and interest. Open yourself up to believing and understanding and mostly listening. And, again, ask. Be sure to largely ask autistics. Listen to and learn from parents and experts who aren't autistic also, but largely ask autistics. If you aren't comfortable or certain how or who to ask, begin with the internet. But PLEASE be kind, careful, and clear in your searches. I admit that there's a lot of debate and high emotion in the autism community. How to say it (autistic or has autism?) how to talk about it (a gift, a curse, a sickness, a style) how to represent your support (a puzzle piece, the color blue, light it up, the infinity sign) etc, but in my experience the most important part is to care, to listen, and to truly take steps to understand the reasons for the debates more than the conclusions people come to. The reasons are where the important seeds can be found. 

One place you can learn a bit more about autism is, wait for it.... my mom's autism and neurofeedback site!! Brain and Body. (Phew! I almost didn't mention stuff my mom makes there. Close one. tee hee!) 

To learn about autism and neurofeedback follow these links: Brain and Body - Autism information | Brain and Body - What is Neurofeedback? | Brain and Body - Autism & Neurofeedback 

5) Join autism groups, read articles, volunteer at a church, school, workplace, anywhere that includes folks on the spectrum of autism. If you are making a movie or if you own a business, hire people with autism. IMPORTANT: Take an extra moment to rethink the way you've been thinking about that guy that you see acting strangely in your local store or the parent you see allowing behaviors you don't understand. Be kind and interested, not judgemental and afraid.  (No links to stuff my mom made here, but I'm being entirely honest when I tell you that my mom wished for this more than anything when she was raising eight kids on her own, six adopted and four on the autism spectrum. She wished for, more than anything, less judgement. She taught us the value of this and asked that we always do our best to example it. We try.) 

Those are my suggestions for taking action this Autism Awareness And Acceptance Month! Maybe share this post around so that others can take action with you. Add suggestions of your own when you share it! 

Have fun, get creative, be kind, and let's promise ourselves to teach at least one new thing and to learn at least one new thing this April.

We'll meet back here in May and share our results!!

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