See Different, Be Different: Thoughts on Neurodiversity and More

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I was recently asked to speak at at Autism Awareness Month event that was held by the exceptional education department of our local school system, and the audience was parents of autistic children. This is the transcript from that event, and is basically most of what I want to say about autism and neurodiversity all crammed into one post. But first some disclaimers: I am not perfect, I screw up all the time, and am still fumbling my way through this parenting thing.

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I am also not an “expert,” nor am I Autistic, although I am neurodivergent. I am a mom and an advocate and a writer,  and I learn through experience, by asking a lot of questions, and by doing a lot of research.

My perspective may also be different than yours, but one thing I have learned along this journey is to not devalue someone else’s opinion just because their situation isn’t the same as my own. We should be open to considering one another’s viewpoints. We also should avoid the danger of turning this into a competition of whose struggles are worse, and unfortunately we have all seen that happen.

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(Image is inspired by the post “20 Things That Parenting a Child With Special Needs has Taught Me About Life in General.”)

We ourselves may have fallen prey to the dangers of comparison, by saying things like, “Well, at least your child can…”, or “You don’t know what it’s like to…” Friends, let me warn you that kind of thinking is a trap. Parenting is hard, I know that. Some days are exhausting and even sad. Life in general can be hard, and living with any sort of disability can be hard. But we are all in this together, and no matter where we are, or where our children are in the journey, we can learn from one another. Then when we get weary we have each other for support.

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One way I try to help encourage other parents and support the Neurodiverse community is by writing and sharing my voice. I hope to help make the world a safer place for those who are different. I want to help de-stigmatize DIFFERENT. Because without our differences, the world would be VERY boring. Different is the new normal!

So I came up with the slogan: See Different, Be Different (image at top of post). Different is not bad, it’s not broken, or as Temple Grandin says, different is not less.

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People I Want to be More Like in 2016

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Instead of making resolutions this year I have decided to try and emulate some people that I admire. This is a reflection on some of their positive qualities that I think make the world a better place, and I know I would be a better person if I was more like these unique individuals.

I want to feel free to be unapologetically, enthusiastically myself just like my youngest son does.

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They say, “Be yourself, ” and “Dance like no one is watching.” That is what is embodied in this picture. My 4th-grade son is awesome. He is also Autistic. (No, that is not an offensive term. Please read this information if you are unfamiliar with Identity-First language.)

This picture was taken during his older brother’s 5th-grade music performance. Younger brother had seen the performance, complete with choreography, earlier in the day during  a school assembly. By the time the PTA meeting rolled around that night he had somehow memorized most of the songs AND the corresponding movements. After seeing it only ONCE. The unique way his brain absorbs information astounds me! So he sat there in the audience and participated in the performance, singing and dancing right along with the 5th graders. It was AWESOME. He didn’t care what the people sitting around him thought. He didn’t care that he wasn’t supposed to. He just did, and loved every moment of it. And he ROCKED it. I need more of that in my life. I briefly thought about the possibility of asking him to stop in case he was disturbing those around him. I decided against it since he was doing the same as the children on stage, AND I felt it was important that he feel free to express himself. I didn’t want to squelch his indomitable, exuberant, creative spirit that bubbles out of him. It brings me, and others, great joy.

I want to have a heart full of compassion and kindness like my oldest son.

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Autism and Self-Advocacy: Trusting that my son can speak for himself

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My son has been on this earth for over 9 years, and Autism is an integral part of the person that he is. It has helped shape him into a unique individual who perceives the world in fascinating ways. He sees things I would never see. Autism has also presented him with some challenges. I still recall so vividly the first time he asked me, “What is Autism?” I tried to be empowering with my answer but also honest about how it may cause him to have to work harder at some things. The conversation helped him understand himself better and why he feels frustrated at times. He also became excited about his “special brain” (as he calls it), and he has embraced his Autistic identity.

At the beginning of our journey I was the one who spoke and advocated for him. As he grew older we began to tell his story together. One of the ways we did that was by starting a yearly ritual of explaining Autism to his classmates. He and I decided together what we wanted to share. I was so proud of him and his 1st grade classmates when I first watched them have a honest conversation about being different. You are never too young to learn to be kind and accepting of one another!  Continue reading

The Top Five Autism-Related Posts from Seriously Not Boring

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Another Autism Awareness/Acceptance/Action month is drawing to a close, and I hope that everyone’s efforts made a difference. This world becomes a better place every time someone new reads about Autism and learns to be more accepting. To close out the month here are this page’s Top Five posts about Autism in the hopes that you might find them helpful. These are the topics that seem to have resonated the most with readers, even years later. I feel honored and overwhelmed that when we share our journey it has the potential to help others.

#5. Autism, Meltdowns, and the Unexpected Kindness of Strangers in a Supermarket. Many years ago, when the Ninjas were very small, we were new to the Autism world and spent a lot of time feeling confused and overwhelmed. A difficult incident happened in a grocery store, but the graciousness and compassion showed to us by the employees there helped us through it. I wrote this piece for the Parents Magazine special needs blog. NOTE: This is a change from the original article that was featured at #5. Because reasons.

#4. The Talk: How I explained my son’s Autism diagnosis to him.

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There is no shame in Autism. When my son was old enough I wanted to explain his unique brain to him in a positive way, because how you do it is incredibly important and can affect a child’s self-image for the rest of their life. I wrote: “… I had to be very careful with my words and how I presented Autism. There is still so much stigma in attached to special needs, or even to simply being different (not in my mind, but society seems to feel otherwise). I didn’t want him to see himself as flawed, or view his diagnosis as restrictive, limiting his expectations of what he could achieve in life. I did not want the truth to be damaging. I wanted it to be illuminative and empowering. I hoped that having knowledge of Autism would improve his understanding of how his brain works and help him be more patient with himself.” A version of this story also appeared on the website The MightyContinue reading

When A Writer Is Blocked

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On Monday I have my very first deadline for my very first article for the Special-needs blog at parents.com. I also have performance anxiety. And Pinkeye, but that is a whole other thing.

I intended to have this article written several weeks earlier. I even started it a month ago. But then I had a sick kid, sick ME, the start of Autism Acceptance month, sick kid again, class parties (I was a sucker and volunteered to be room mom), Easter, Spring Break, sick kid again again, loss of a loved one and subsequent arrangements and gatherings, sick ME again (with pinkeye that I caught taking the sick kid to the doctor)… and on and on. You get the drift. Basically, LIFE.

When I woke up today I was EXHAUSTED. It was the very first day in three weeks that I felt like I could sit and catch my breath. Except that I have a pile of laundry, a sink full of dirty dishes, and a house in otherwise total disarray. And then I realized that if I want to get any feedback from the editor, before my article is due on Monday, I have to finish it today so she can read it before she goes home for the weekend.

I really want her feedback because I feel an immense amount of self-imposed pressure to write the Best. Article. EVERRRR.

I was thrilled when I was offered the opportunity to have an occasional featured post on the Parents website. It was exactly what I had hoped for and had been working towards. Then about an hour later I was absolutely terrified. Terrified that I wouldn’t be good enough, and that people might laugh at me because there are other writers out there that are better than me. I worried I would make grammatical mistakes and look foolish. Most of all, I was afraid that I wouldn’t be able to think of anything to write, or that the words I did write wouldn’t be worth reading.

Why do we punish ourselves so much with self-doubt? And why is it, even when we have an opportunity in front of us that we find incredibly exciting, we are so willing to let all the other mess of life get in the way of accomplishing our goals?

Oh, and why is it that I have been inspired to write SEVERAL posts this week that are thoughtful and compelling (if I do say so myself), but still can’t finish the one I most want to do???

ENOUGH, I say. I’m going to go grab another cup of coffee and then I’m going to write.

I am going to finish that article. I am also going to have to trust that, even though it will NOT be the “best article ever,” somehow it WILL make the world a better place.

My words matter, because they come from my heart.

Wish me luck!

(Image is of a coffee cup, pen, and paper. All are shrouded in shadow. Just like my thoughts.)

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