Posted in Autistic Identity, Parenting, School governance, School Leadership

Autistics Make GREAT Moms

This post should be about how much I am insightful about my child’s needs, judging from the title.  And I believe I am good at that sort of thing.  However, this post is not that.  Instead, because I was asked if I was another person’s mother multiple times yesterday, I thought this would be far more interesting to talk about, given the current Autistic community speaking out about being great parents in the wake of #BoycottToSiri.

As the setup to this story, I have a lone 8th grader.  He’s pretty amazing, if I do say so myself, and part of why he’s amazing is how much progress he’s made in the last year and a bit since I came to this school.  He used to be very silent, especially around adults, and took a very long time to read.  His work was adequate at best and he seemed to be behind grade level.

This year, he’s at grade level and can explain things better than most 8th graders in other schools (since we have no basis for comparison here, we have to look elsewhere; this is probably a good thing and less stressful for him anyway).

Because we have a large developmental gap between him and my next youngest student who fits in best with the 4th/5th graders, he likes to work in the office.  This works out fine because 1) we get another person to answer the doorbell, 2) I can teach him in between my work, if he needs it, which frees up the one-room schoolhouse, and 3) we can, when we’re both stressed play Uno or Yu-Gui-Oh, or what have you.  He’s seemed to move along even faster, academically, since now he can choose the order he does things in (being mindful about what time I have that’s free to teach), and he still joins the rest of the class for meals, gym, and art.  He even DIRECTS gym now, teaching the other kids games that country school kids used to play years ago like “Ghosts in the graveyard.”  He learned about this game online.

So, this is my 8th grader, and because there IS such a gap between him and the others, and because he’s going to have learned as much as he can, being in the office with us, he wants to go to another school next year, and we found a charter that is project-based and quite small, with lots of quirky students he should fit in great with.

SO…here’s the story.

Continue reading “Autistics Make GREAT Moms”

Posted in Autistic Identity, Parenting

To Push, or Not to Push: Figuring out How to Parent Autistics

One of the things that’s difficult about being an Autistic parent of an Autistic is knowing how to raise my own kid.

See, my husband and I are Autistics of the generation that, in general, few people knew they were Autistic.  We were the “do it and shut up” generation which meant that we were told to do things the same as our peers whether or not it “felt weird” or “hurt” or otherwise didn’t go as planned.

Obviously that only works so long, and our parents realized, over time, they had pretty weird kids.

[Image: A little blonde girl, aged around 7 or 8, holds her head against a chalkboard with writing on it, and looks down; she has a pink barrette in hair and wears braids. She looks stressed out.]
My husband used to read a lot; using his reading, which is something in white culture is considered an advantage, especially when the child reads books above grade level, to hide.  I used to do the same, but at recess, I’d swing a lot.  A LOT, as in, the whole recess, and use the time on the swings to imagine my fantasy kingdom.  Neither strategy makes a kid a lot of friends.

Side note: hiding to read or playing board games by yourself is considered anti-social in Black culture and you will be harassed and told by the adults to do something else if you use this common Autistic child trick as your escape method.

I got invited to birthday parties when we had to invite everyone, and my asthma and severe allergies meant that I was never going to have to stay overnight in a house with a dog, so I could cut my visits short.

Over time, though, they stopped inviting me, when it was an option not to invite the entire class.  Parties became subtle, and I just assumed no one had them anymore.

Oh, they had them.  They had them, and I wasn’t invited.

Continue reading “To Push, or Not to Push: Figuring out How to Parent Autistics”

Posted in Autistic Identity, Identity, intersectionality, Parenting

I Can’t vs. I Don’t Want to: How the Expectations of Being Female Smother Autistic Women

In Western culture, as women, we are expected to do it all.  We are expected to work outside the home full-time because if we don’t, we’ve betrayed the feminist cause.  We’re also supposed to be perfect mothers, raising our children in perfectly clean homes being fed perfectly balanced meals or we’re a bad mother.  When we get tired about all this and ignore our husbands, we’re bad wives.

The rules also tell us we really ought to be going onto school to get a degree, then an advanced one.  This will not only empower us, but we will advance in our careers.

But if we advance in our careers, who will care for our homes, children, and husbands?

In this way, women in general are overwhelmed in our culture.

[Image: a white, middle-aged woman sits with her head in her hands. She wears a red shirt, and has brown hair. She looks overwhelmed.]
But let’s add Autism into the mix.

As an Autistic mother of an Autistic child, I had a lot of problems when I dragged my kid in public because that’s what you do.

I worried that he’d run around.  I worried he’d run away.  I’d worry people were judging me because of my kid and whatever it would be that he’d do.

And I’d get insanely pissed off at things like how the library has all these self-checkouts which are supposed to be “helpful” but unless you have a kid who wants to help you check out books, you cannot both mind a child AND do your own checking out.

Unless you let watching the child go.

That seems to be the path neurotypicals around me were taking.  They just figured, they were kids and they’d do what they did.

Of course, their kids running around doing whatever they want annoyed me, giving me sensory overload, while I was trying to manage my own son’s sensory overload because of their kids running around causing all the drama.

But for some reason they didn’t ever seem to worry about what people thought about their kids running around like little monsters.

They didn’t seem to, or have to, worry that someone might come to their home to take their child away because their child was being raised by a Disabled parent.

That is a thing, you know.  In some states simply being Disabled is enough for child welfare to take your kids from you.

And they could move on after the wretched experience at the library and not obsess over it, thinking and planning about how it would be better the next time if I only…

See, one of the gifts-that-can-be-a-curse about Autism in women is we’re super-empathetic.  Many of us can literally sense all the feelings around us and we cannot shut them out.  You know all the old people at the library by which I mean all of the adults who do not have kids with them?  They’re all judging you because you’re not minding your kids and letting them run around.

We feel that; neurotypicals shut it out.

Unfortunately we also obsess over things: we plan conversations for hours before we have them, and we mull over things that happen to us over and over again, trying to figure out what it was that we did wrong.

Because we learned a long time ago, that WE did wrong.  It’s always us.

Continue reading “I Can’t vs. I Don’t Want to: How the Expectations of Being Female Smother Autistic Women”

Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity, Parenting

The Mother of Privilege: Greenlighting Eugenics Through Mama Drama

[Image: A scientific dropper pours black images of people from a dropper with greenish water into a waiting blue beaker; many other test tubes are lined up, and empty, in the background.]
In Autism circles, we talk a lot about the Autism Mother.  Typically, this person writes a blog and/or publishes posts on Facebook or Twitter to tell anyone who will listen about how his or her child was robbed from them due to Autism.  Many of them insist it was the MMR vaccine, but others, who feel a bit more enlightened by science, are taken in by the Autism Speaks mantra about how Autism is a growing epidemic.

An epidemic that must be stopped at all costs.

For some background on why we get irritated with the Autism MomTM  syndrome, visit this link to learn more about the Autist who created this term and why we take issue with these moms (or dads).

See, part of the reason why we get annoyed by these parents is because they make the narrative always about them.  When you’re a parent, though, isn’t it supposed to be about your kid and what he or she needs, and not about what you as the parent needs?  But for some reason, society allows this inverted family structure to continue: mom’s life sucks because of her child’s very existence.

You don’t get to do that with other issues without someone doing a PSA about it.  I vaguely remember they do Public Service Announcements about not emotionally abusing your kids that are basically just this narrative: children hear you; don’t hurt your children by what you say.  The words “I wish you were never born” come to mind…anyone else remember this ad that used to play?

Anyway, despite the fact that we’ve been told for years that this emotional abuse through words is wrong, for some reason, society gives these moms a “pass.”

And the thing of it is, the longer they whine and complain and are given all sorts of pats-on-the-back about how hard their lives supposedly are…that’s when the Eugenics monster shows up again, trying to pull us Autistics out of the gene pool so as to make neurotypicals’ lives better.

Continue reading “The Mother of Privilege: Greenlighting Eugenics Through Mama Drama”

Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity, Parenting, Self-Care

Assistive Technology Can be Ugly: Focus on Aesthetics, not Bully-Potential, to Build a New World

The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism recently posted a great deal on ear defenders (ear muffs, headphones without plug-ins) from Boing Boing at its Facebook group.  The deal is still there for a few days, and I snapped up 5 for my students at school.  By the way, leave and come back until they give you 10% off on your first order.  It almost paid for my shipping which was $9.95 on 5 of them, the maximum it would sell me at a time.

[Image: Those big, bulky but effective and ever-prevalent ear defenders from 3M. They’re oversized and yellow. If your head is large, they might not work since they’re not adjustable, but they’re reasonably comfortable. But they are bulky. And that yellow makes SURE people can see them on your ears. But heck, they work and Amazon can get them to you quickly.  We have two pairs around here.]

Anyway, some “helpful parent” was complaining about how ugly and bulky they are and that it’s basically license to get your kid bullied as a result.  Later, she said, not realizing I was trying to help her not come off as a jerk, that there would be plenty of times it would be “inappropriate” to wear these headphones because of the bulk.  She kept silencing the voice of 1) a more experienced Autism Mama than her (me; my kid is clearly older) and 2) MOST importantly, an ACTUAL AUTISTIC PERSON.  Yeah, she’s new to this game.

She kept backpedaling to defend herself, rather than realize she was normalizing a systemic problem with society rather than focusing on her child’s needs.

Here’s why she’s wrong and how you can make the same point without enabling bullying or accepting the cruddy world we all of us are forced to live in.

Continue reading “Assistive Technology Can be Ugly: Focus on Aesthetics, not Bully-Potential, to Build a New World”

Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity, Parenting

Why “You Do You” is Not Okay When it Comes to Vaccines

[Image: A white, male medical person in blue scrubs with a stethoscope around his neck brandishes a vaccine at you.  He’s got white gloves on and is like a scary-funny boogeyman.  He’s going to “get you” if you don’t watch out!]
Every so often in Catholic circles, you get the mom “helpfully” posting the link of the vaccines which have as a source aborted fetal tissue, or so the argument goes.  They claim you cannot vaccinate your child with that version, and that since there isn’t a great MMR alternative, you should never get that.

I completely and fully respect the parent when it comes to decisions about whether or not to vaccinate.  I believe the parent, not the government, should decide on what is best for his or her own child.

However, let’s take that stance apart a moment.

I believe in parent decisions because I am a Catholic school principal and I believe that if the government could, it would shut down my school.  We have had to fight for our right to exist as a school, and there are even Supreme Court decisions that are involved in a parent’s right to educate their own children as they see fit.

HOWEVER, there are also court decisions regarding whether you can force others to listen to your opinion, whether that opinion be well-reasoned, or, well, kind of nutty.

And you can’t.

Here’s the exchange that was ticking me off today:

Continue reading “Why “You Do You” is Not Okay When it Comes to Vaccines”

Posted in Advocacy, Autistic Identity, Identity, Neurodiversity, Parenting, Teaching

We Know Our Own: How Being Steeped in Autistic Culture Can Help You (Or Your Child) to Finally Feel Better!

A parent of a former student called me to check in.  He’s had a hard time since he left.  I agreed to talk to the psychologist about our experiences with him.

I can’t reveal too much (as usual!) about the details, but suffice it to say, if I believed in functional labels (high-functioning/low-functioning), I would say, absolutely, that he was a “high-functioning” Autistic (for new people to the site, I DO NOT BELIEVE in these labels, but I will say he is very skilled at masking; the labels I only mention to serve a point as to how people who others believe are “high functioning” can be overlooked even though there is no such thing as “high functioning”).  He’s been skilled at masking his Autism since he was in a tiny school until this year, and as the demands of moving into the tween years get harder, he’s struggling in and out of school.  He’s one of those problematic types who is both academically gifted and Disabled, which the public schools have historically had a heck of a time with.

The psychologist was not impressed with my observations.  I suspect she will discount them, not recognizing what it looks like to be an Autistic who does not have “Educational Autism” (fancy language in schools for “too good at school to get help”).  Without a corresponding academic struggle, he will not be diagnosed and they will continue to wonder what’s “wrong” with him.

But I know him.  I knew him last year, and I also knew that his mom wanted him to stay with us this year since she knew he was finally, finally making progress both academically and socially.  He struggled at school for years not because he didn’t know all the things but because he lacked the executive function to turn materials in, or the impulse control to do what he was told.

He made so much progress he was three years ahead on standardized tests by the time I was done with him…in less than a year.

And yes, we were actually able to measure him on standardized tests; I’d reduced the stress enough that he was taking them seriously and able to focus on them.

Lest you think I’m bragging about being a miracle worker, let’s be perfectly clear: I didn’t DO anything…but I let him be himself and reduced his stress levels.  I removed the meaningless hoops of homework for the sake of homework and requiring my kids to sit in a desk, not move, and not talk.  And I listened to him, and argued and debated with him.

I treated him like a human being.

Continue reading “We Know Our Own: How Being Steeped in Autistic Culture Can Help You (Or Your Child) to Finally Feel Better!”

Posted in Parenting, Self-Care

Bad Advice: Autistics and Sleep

My little guy stayed up all night again last night.  He’ll sleep eventually, either later today or tonight.  One of the beauties of homeschooling is we can just work around these phases.

They do happen to kids who are traditionally-schooled, too.  They just have to deal with it (sadly) and go to school in their increasingly zombified states.  I imagine a fair number of times they have meltdowns at school.  (Speaking of meltdowns, I’ll repost something on those soon.  The brief version is they LOOK like tantrums, but unlike tantrums, they cannot be controlled by the Autistic.)

[Image: A British Shorthair with Siamese-like Markings (Black ears, paws, parts of the face, with whiter upper arms and head) sleeps on a sofa. This is a close-up of the cat’s face and front paws as he snuggles against the cream fabric that has orange and yellow capped-mushrooms on it;] image from Pixabay

The last time we went through this no-sleeping or limited sleeping phase was a few weeks ago.  In the middle of it, his neurologist’s office sent us an e-mail that I found bordering on offensive about trying to keep a routine to avoid sleep problems.  You see, the experts believe that if we keep a routine going then somehow, magically, our Autistic kids will sleep.  They think if we take away screens a million hours before bedtime, our kids will sleep better.  This is true, perhaps, of neurotypicals, but the amount of screen time our son has each day (Microsoft sends me an e-mail each week with the total of our son’s computer time) doesn’t seem to correlate at all with his sleep.  Take a moment and think over your own, adult life.  Do you always have a predictable routine, or not?  Doesn’t life happen?  Do some of your insomnia nights connect to being on the computer all night, but others just…happen?

It’s worth noting that sometimes when our bodies are growing, we either sleep a lot more or a lot less.  When my little guy was younger, he slept more.  Now, it seems, he sleeps less.  We also noticed, in speaking with my aunt who has a probably Autistic daughter around my child’s age, that the days she uses less executive function, she stays up later.  The more choices she has to make, the more she sleeps.  She used to sleep very early, like around 7 p.m. when she was traditionally-schooled, but since she’s been homeschooled, she’s calmer and gets a whole lot more schoolwork done…but some nights, she just can’t sleep.

So it can’t be JUST about routine.

Why should we keep our Autistic kids in a bubble of routine, exactly?

Continue reading “Bad Advice: Autistics and Sleep”

Posted in Autistic Identity, Parenting

Empathy and the Autistic: Learning the Words to Match the Feelings

While this post is from my archives and happened about a year ago, other than the fact that my husband no longer works with many neurotypicals, this post is effectively still true.  Hope it helps someone!

Funny thing happened that got me thinking.  Technically, a pair of funny things, close enough together for me to notice this.

Empathy is a skill people are somewhat overtly taught as a way of telling people you care about them.  This empathy thing matters a LOT to neurotypicals.  I remember learning about it in the (quite fabulous) book How to Talk so Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Faber and Mazlish, which can ordinarily be quite helpful.  I say ordinarily, because a lot of people are neurotypicals and expect this.  Or, they’re Neurodivergent types like me who have been socialized to believe that this empathy stuff indicates caring.

 

[Image: Book cover of the Faber & Mazlish book. It’s yellow with two conversation bubbles on it]
My husband’s boss recently tried to empathize by telling him that she got “anxiety,” too, and my teacher tried to empathize by saying everyone hates construction and driving in the rain in the dark.  Well, yes, these are true facts, but they disregard our Disability as no big deal.  I get that commonalities are a way to bring us together, but if you’re actually saying the panic you get from driving in the rain, in the dark, will stay with you for hours upon arriving home, rendering you potentially unfit for work in the morning, okay, you get it.

But I suspect that’s not what you meant.

But it wasn’t my teacher, or my husband’s boss’ fault.  This is what we’ve all been taught to do: to focus on what makes us same.

This comes along with the idea of “empathy” where, even if we can’t sympathize (know what someone else is feeling), we can try to imagine ourselves in your shoes and go with it.

After coming to terms with my Autistic self, I realized that I don’t really give a damn about empathy (or even sympathy) because both assume that my FEELINGS are what I want validated.  I know that feelings are feelings; they are neither right nor wrong; rather, they just are.  This is the post in which I unpack empathy.

Continue reading “Empathy and the Autistic: Learning the Words to Match the Feelings”

Posted in Advocacy, Parenting

Megaphones, Not Warriors: The “Autism Parents” We REALLY Need

 

[Image: The monument of Motherland Calls in Mamayev Kurgan memorial complex in Volgograd (former Stalingrad), Russia.; the statue is on a hill of green grass; it’s a woman with a flowing toga-style dress reaching one arm back. The other arm is raised to the sky, with a sword. The question is, is she asking her followers what they want to do or telling them?]
This piece is from one I published last fall or winter.  The words I wrote then are even more relevant to me as I work to create a school for people like me (and Disabled people not like me).

 

When you talk about creating a school that’s inclusive, you get nay-sayers talking about people pulling knives on kids.  Yes, I guess that’s a risk, but I see us more as a sanctuary for people who have been victimized by other educational alternatives.  You know the type (many of you ARE the type!)…someone made you sit in a chair at a desk and you hurt so much you couldn’t focus on your work.  You’d rather stand or sit or lie down or whatever, but that wasn’t allowed.  Or maybe you have to move, just a little bit, and you just need someone to help you find a movement that doesn’t distract others while it helps you to focus.  Or maybe you learn at a different pace, faster and/or slower than the norm.

But the worst group are the ones who insist kids need to live in the real world sooner, than later.  They need more kids around or they’ll get worse.

Without revealing too much, I lost a young teen this way quite recently.  The so-called experts said he needed more kids.  The so-called experts aren’t Autistic, nor do they have ADHD.  I do.  I know him better than they ever can.  He needs more kids around the way a fish needs to take a walk on land.  Maybe he will in the future, sure.  But he needs for now to love himself so much that he can self-advocate and thereby choose his society and advocate for what he needs for himself when he is ready.  Anyway, I don’t blame his parents.  They’re scared.  Experts scare people.

I will note that he, himself, seemed to want to stay with us, which was support for my opinion.  He was worried about leaving my school and what would I say, which was sweet.  Had he himself said he wanted to try this, I’d tell him hey, let us know if you need anything!  We’ll be here praying for you so you can have a great school year!  But he didn’t, and the mom didn’t, either.  She was afraid, not excited.  She was afraid.

That’s part of why I wrote this piece, too.  Warrior Moms have a source and so often they’re bad experts, and the real underlying motive of an Autism Mom isn’t narcissism (though it often looks like that for many layers…), it’s fear.  These experts who make money off of our suffering are the real problem.   Here’s a repeat of that post where I explored more effective parent advocacy.

 

It’s popular for parents of Disabled children to proudly call themselves “Warriors.”  Common usage in the Autism community is “Autism Mom” or “Autism Dad” or “Autism Warrior Mom” (etc.).  And I get it; I’m the parent of a Neurodivergent child, too, but in the Disability community, we tend to frown on this usage.  Let me unpack a little bit of the problem with this perspective and provide some tips for how you can adjust your thinking to be the best advocate you can be.

 

Continue reading “Megaphones, Not Warriors: The “Autism Parents” We REALLY Need”