Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Autism Answer: Our Example Is More Than What We Do While Our Children Watch


One of my granddaughters sweeping

Our kids do learn from our example. I know they do. But.... 
Working hard while they watch doesn't mean they're learning to work hard. Reading great literature while they climb all over us on the couch doesn't mean they're learning the value of great reading. Maintaining a comfortably clean environment in their presence doesn't mean they are learning to do the same. 
Our example is more than what we do while our children watch.
It is also how we include them in what we're doing, it is how we explain our reasons for doing what we do, it is the ways in which we guide them to try, to join us, to tell us their reasons. 
It is our own attempts at meeting them half way that help them more honestly notice us and our example.
Regardless of our children's abilities, styles, basic personalities, they are learning from our example. But that does not mean we can simply do things we think are good while they watch. Because what they are seeing when they watch is not actually the thing we are doing. 
What our children see is themselves. Particularly our children with sensory issues and social challenges. They are contending first with themselves, and what they see of our example grows out from there. 
If I keep a clean house but don't show them why or how, my children will not likely learn to keep a clean house but, instead, will likely learn (from my example) that they should expect a house to be kept clean for them. (Don't worry, I did not do that. A clean house? Ha!!) 
So, yes. It's nice to know that if we work at always being a good example for our children they will learn from it. But it's important to know that what they will learn is always up to them, and that the only guaranteed bonus of setting a good example is that we ourselves will be someone we believe is a good example, and we will be able to remember having done that for ourselves and our children. 
Our children do learn from our example.
Even if what they learn is to throw my books away because when I am reading great literature on the couch I am not doing a good job of paying attention to them.
Hugs, smiles, and love!!!
An example of what learning from example can look like from my own childhood: 
My mom raised a lot of kids. I am the oldest of eight and not only did mom raise all eight of us on her own, she often allowed for others to live with us while she helped them raise up as well. People with disabilities, people who were severing themselves from abuse, people who were simply unhoused, mom was always open to finding ways they could help each other. In this environment, mom expected us to all pitch in. Us kids were often delegated to the work of keeping the house going; cleaning, lunch making, putting brothers to bed. In the meantime, what I saw was my mom doing the important work. The work of helping people with challenges, writing articles or shows meant to change the world, finding work that was inclusive and would pay enough to feed, house, and clothe our family. Mom also did most of the housework, but I didn't actually notice that. I wasn't watching that. I was growing an opinion that housework can be done by anyone but the important work, the stuff that matters, is done by someone special. Someone who sees what others don't see. My opinion was bolstered by the fact that I did not see what my mom saw, until I listened to her explain and teach it, and then - yes - I would see her insights exampled in the results. 

I know she was not exampling "people who spend time cleaning the house are not special people with wisdom and important ideas" but as time went on I began to develop that belief from her example. I grew to feel less than when I would clean, I started to think mess was a sign of brilliance, but I also did not have the courage or even the ideas for the other work my mom did. For a lot of years, I just sort of stayed in mess and played with my kids and worried I was not wise or important. Luckily, I also learned from mom's example that being a mom who is all in, a mom who is entirely into the role and willing to do the work of becoming better along the way, is important and wise. So, ultimately, I grew beautifully. In part because of mom's example and in part because of how I saw myself while learning from it.

Wednesday, August 2, 2023

Autism Answer: Not Too Shy To Tell You


My mom w/one of her grandchildren

I was terrifically shy as a little girl. 
I was considered quiet and polite by adults, for the most part. Being shy often means being quiet and polite. Being polite does require an amount of social effort, challenging for a shy person, but it is less effort than dealing with the attention of not having been polite. 
As with many things I didn't like about myself as a girl, I would often blame my mom. My hairy arms? Her fault, clearly. I mean, who has a baby with a hairy man when they obviously know that will put the child at risk of one day being a girl with hairy arms being told to wear a t-shirt in P.E.? I mean, c'mon. It's just selfish really. Darn moms. Am I right? 
Anyway, one day I made the mistake of politely mentioning to my mom that my debilitating shyness was, no offense, her fault. (We were in the car and she was asking me to go into the store to purchase something and I was too scared and shy and whining at her that it was her fault and she was a terrible mom.)
Mom patiently encouraged me to go, pushed me with just enough force to let me notice that it was ME being a big baby and that she was not cruel and was only encouraging my growth. I got madder at her for that. 
"If I ever have a kid as shy as me," I snapped at her, "I will put them in situations where they have to talk to people so they get practice and won't be shy! I'll do it from the start! I'll make them ask for directions and order food and talk to everyone so much they won't ever have a chance to be this shy!!" 
I don't remember, to be honest, if I walked into the store that day. But I do remember mom pointing out that she was doing exactly that by asking me to go into the store. She was creating the situation for me to practice not being shy. I remember the horrible feeling in my stomach when I realized what I'd done and what I'd basically asked her to keep doing. 
That was so many years ago. Since then I have performed on stages, been on camera, ordered pizza, talked to immigration officers, been interviewed about my ideas on the phone and on video, asked for directions from strangers over and over. So much of that has been at the request of my mom. Sometimes the request is a fairly forceful request; a request bordering on a demand. Sometimes it is simply a request that requires my willingness to be lost and ask for directions. (MOM: can you drop my headshots off at my agent's house? It is a brown house on such and such road between so and so and so and so street in Toronto. By a KFC. I think there is a window? ME: Lots of houses have windows. MOM: Yes, but this one, I think, has a really big window. ME: Okay.)
I am still foundationaly shy. I am still deeply happy alone, I'm desirous of being anonymous, I naturally avoid company more than seek it. And no matter how many times my mom puts me in the position of doing so, I still cannot make cold calls.
But I am not devastatingly shy; debilitatingly shy. And I tell you what, I definitely was. 
My mom needed my help. She had eight of us kids, she was a single mom, my siblings and I were all challenging and challenged in a variety of uncommon ways, I am the oldest. She needed my help. Had she not pushed me to be less shy, I would have been less help. 
And of all the things I am today it is being helpful, being an assistant, being a right hand man, that I find consistent joy in. It is how I make my money and a place I find purpose. 
I am grateful to my mom for pushing me.
That doesn't mean I enjoy it.
But I truly am grateful. 
And I'm not too shy to tell her I blame her.
(Though maybe with less whining this time?)