The Incredible 10-year-old Advocate I Met at the Sprayground

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(Description of top image: A young boy with brown hair and a smile on his face leaning his head lovingly against his mom, who has awesome purple hair and is wearing a “Panic! At the Disco” shirt.)

This is what advocacy looks like. I recently had the privilege to meet this exceptional young man who is going to change the world. Actually, he is already changing the world.

It was a hot summer day so I took my two children to a local sprayground. We brought some toys to play with in the water, including a bright beach ball. My youngest son and I tried several times to get the bach ball to float on top of the water jets that came out of the ground, but we weren’t having much luck. Another little boy came over and started trying to help, striking up a conversation with me in the process. His name was Xander. My own son got bored and walked away, but my new friend and I kept trying, laughing at each failed attempt. Finally, after several tries, we accomplished our goal and let out a cheer.

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Image description: An orange and white beach ball that is being held above the ground by the jets of water beneath it.

Soon after we were able to get the ball in the air, however, Xander’s little brother knocked it down. He obviously enjoyed manipulating the water flow and watching the ball fall to the ground. Again. And again. And again. His fun was different from the one we had in mind, but he was still having fun.

His repetitive, single-minded behavior seemed familiar to me. What was even more familiar was the fact that he was so focused on what he was doing that he didn’t seem to his hear his older brother when he protested, “Stop!”

“Sorry about that,” Xander apologized, “He’s ADHD.”

I braced myself for what was going to come next, because I mistakenly thought that he was about to disparage his brother and his behavior. As the mother of an autistic child, and as a neurodivergent individual myself, I get sad when I hear family members talking down to or about their loved one.

I shouldn’t have worried.

Xander continued talking, “He’s not a bad kid, he’s just ADHD. He doesn’t hear me when I talk to him. Well, he can sometimes hear me, but he processes differently. He’s, like, a Windows phone in an Android world.”

“I get it!” I replied.

“You do?” Xander asked, incredulously. “I’m glad you get it. Some people don’t understand. They think he’s a bad kid, but he’s just different. There’s nothing wrong with that, though. But one time some people called the police on us. They don’t get it.”

Other people may not “get it,” but it was obvious that young Xander did. It was also obvious that he was being raised in a household where acceptance was actively taught. I stood there listening to him wishing I had a photographic memory. I wanted to remember exactly every word this remarkable young man said to me. His way of speaking about his brother was so incredibly heartfelt and supportive that it made my heart and my eyes swell. I was amazed that he had the bravery to talk to an adult to explain and support his brother. He cared very much about making sure that I understood his brother and didn’t judge him unfairly.  Continue reading

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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Continue reading

The Healing Hands of our Children Can Save This Broken World

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Far too many frightening things happen in our world, and recent violent events weigh heavy on my heart. These events cause concern about what the future will bring for not just the world but for my own children. It also makes me wonder what, if anything, I should tell them about the harsh stories in the news.

One afternoon I was out running errands with my oldest son, and checked my phone after pulling into a parking space. I saw a news alert that the number of dead from a horrifying attack had just been raised. Without thinking about it, an “OH NO!” escaped my lips. Then I sat in stunned silence, overwhelmed with worry about the state of our broken world. The world my children will inherit.

From the backseat I heard a small, concerned voice. “What is it, Mommy?”

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I had a choice to make. Part of me wanted him to stay innocent and pure. To keep believing in the goodness of his fellow human beings. The other part of me wanted him to know that there is evil out there and he must be on guard against it. Should I keep protecting him from the harsh realities of this world we live in, or was he old enough to understand?

I took a deep breath, and began speaking with a shaky voice, Continue reading

Can Our Children Heal This Broken World?

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There have been a lot of frightening things happening in the world the past few weeks. Recent events like those in Beirut, Paris, Mali, and the ongoing situation in Syria all weigh heavy on my heart. They cause me to worry about what the future will bring for my children. It also makes me wonder what, if anything, I should tell them about the harsh stories in the news.

One recent afternoon I was out running errands with my oldest son, and checked my phone after pulling into a parking space. I saw a news alert that the number of dead from a horrifying attack had just been raised. Without thinking about it, an “OH NO!” escaped my lips. Then I sat in stunned silence, overwhelmed with worry about the state of our broken world. The world my children will inherit.

From the backseat I heard a small, concerned voice. “What is it, Mommy?”

I had a choice to make. Part of me wanted him to stay innocent and pure. To keep believing in the goodness of his fellow human beings. The other part of me wanted him to know that there is evil out there and he must be on guard against it. Should I keep protecting him from the harsh realities of this world we live in, or is he old enough to understand? Continue reading

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