Once, before I had children, when autism was not the subtext of my very existence, I thought I might be happy if I settled down with a nice person and found a job that paid enough that we might have a middle class existence. I, of course, wanted to travel. I wanted bi-annual vacations with my future family, and at least one real designer bag. I thought I might exist like that for many years in a sort-of happy, unassuming state. I would teach other people’s children for what passes for a livable wage and I would raise my own children to be strong and feminist and everything would be just fine. I wanted a little drama in our lives, but just the good kind, like when you see your neighbor being arrested for money laundering or racketeering (what even is racketeering?)
And then autism happened. My beautiful second born was diagnosed and I fell apart and more importantly re-assembled into a most unrecognizable person. Now, I still wanted the aforementioned things in my life but now I wanted more.
I wanted to study autism obsessively so I could prepare my youngest for the world. I did this for awhile but it was less productive than one might think because knowing and doing are so far from each other in this arena it’s almost comical...almost.
I wanted to advocate tirelessly so I could prepare the world for her. But there were times when I did get tired and do get tired so I’ve learned to pace myself on that one.
I wanted to write down everything I thought about, worried about, dreamed about, obsessed about in case there were others out there like us, that might relate in some way. And I began to wear out a little because the confessional narrative is cathartic, sure, but it can also be exhausting.
I wanted to burn it all done and build it back up again so many times I’ve lost count.
I wanted to celebrate autism and respect autism and destroy autism and wrap autism in a bow and deliver it directly to Hell. (Clearly still a penchant for the dramatic)
I began to want bigger things for us, for her. And it surprises me even now that they aren’t all autism related.
I wanted more.
More for her, and more for us. I wanted to remember there was ‘a rest of us’ in all of it.
And that’s what I am currently working on. And that’s enough for right now.
Except, I would still like that designer bag.
I’ve been absent. I know. There is hardly a good reason, except we had a great summer and I didn’t feel the need to document every minute of it. I guess my extended break from the computer can be attributed to spending lots of time doing things instead of thinking about things and if you’re anything like me, you’ll know that getting out of your head for an extended period of time is good for the soul. As a classic, over-thinker, I can sometimes create entirely false scenarios to fret over. For some reason, after forty-one trips around the sun, I don’t even much energy for this kind of thing anymore, and frankly, it’s been liberating.
Having said that, I will say, that I am not done writing, and I am certainly not done sharing, because I get so much more than I give when I tell you guys our story.
So, how about a quick re-cap to get you all caught up:
Things have been good. The girls have been good. Alex and I have been good.
Now some housekeeping:
I’ve been doing some mixed-media art as some of you already know. I’ve even sold some of it to people I’m not related to. It’s been a therapy, much like writing, that helps calm the thoughts. The girls also spend a lot of time creating in our ‘art room’ as we like to call it, because ‘studio’ implies that I think I am a ‘real artist’ and that’s just too much pressure for me.
When I spend time up there, throwing layers of paint and ink and paper down onto paper that is far more expensive than paper ever should be, I work out a lot of things that might plague my already overwhelmed brain.
I guess, I’m curious about what things do that for you?
Alex likes to Fish.
Grace likes to Dance.
Kate likes to make videos.
What do you do?
Anyway, I just wanted to quickly check in and tell you I haven’t disappeared and I shall be back to discuss all those autism-related things that we love to ponder over.
I know you think you’re being cool. And in many ways you are. How refreshing; an establishment that allows pets. You can shop with your Shitzu or have a beer with your Boxer. It’s kinda great, right?
Here’s why this is a problem. Don’t get me wrong, I love animals. In fact, I prefer them to the rest of you if I’m being honest, but here’s why the luxury of having your lizard at the liquor store sucks for some of us.
There are Service Animals in your city that have a very specific skill set and when faced with the smells and antics of other animals it can be extremely distracting and difficult for them to focus on their task.
Now, I know any asshole can throw a “fresh from e-bay” fake service vest on their designer dachshund and claim emotional support, but most of us can sniff those jokers out in a heartbeat.
I’m talking about the real deal here. The Assistance Dog International Certified, professionally trained Service-Dogs that spent years perfecting their skills before they were even placed with an individual.
I should know. My daughter has one. His name is Oakley, and he’s a National Service Dogs graduate and the most beautiful ninety pounds of Labrador you ever did see.
If you want to know more about how what Oakley does for my daughter you can read this, or this, or even this. But for the purposes of this manifesto you’ll have to take my word that he’s crucial to our family and every time you decide you can’t possible have a cappuccino without your Corgi you might be making life just a little more difficult for someone who struggles to navigate the world in some way.
This is not me calling you out for bad behaviour. Before Oakley joined our family, I thought the idea of bringing my cat every where I went was heaven. I’m just simply letting you know that what might seem like a great idea could very possibly be a barrier for some pretty awesome people.
I wanted to say: “Don’t you dare look at her like that, you little assholes”, but instead I ushered her away.
I wanted to say: “Don’t you dare look at her like that, you little assholes”, but instead I ushered her away.
I suppose I should give you some background.
Kate had some birthday money to spend this past weekend. She wanted to go shopping, so off we went. She dressed herself, which, if you’re the parent of a child with autism, is a total fucking win, but her choices are not exactly typical.
Kate chose hot pink leotards and refused to add a skirt even when I explained to her that leotards technically are not pants. She added a ‘too small’ t-shirt and finished off the look with a flowered headband worthy of a royal wedding. She was ready to go, and choosing my battles wisely, I ushered her to the van and off we went.
She often wears costumes and dresses herself according to current interests, like her decision to wear a 'cowboy' get-up to her most recent birthday. Most of us, love this about her.
We entered the craft store, because she is obsessed with these little hard plastic animals they carry and she was interested in adding to her collection.
She browsed their selection and chatted happily to herself while I waited in the aisle for her to choose her prize.
I glanced up when two girls, maybe a year or two older than Miss Kate, though they would not know that because she is tall for her age, were standing at the end of the aisle, staring at my girl. Normally, I don’t spend time reading the micro-expressions of tweens but their disdain was clear. They snickered and stared.
Now, I’ve worked with children for my entire career and I knew these girls would never show disdain for a visibly disabled child. They would be the first to offer to push a wheelchair, or spend recess helping our most obviously vulnerable children. They, and their parents, would pride themselves on how selfless these little girls are to their classmate with down syndrome or how kindly they offer to play with the non-verbal kiddo in their class. When these things are not really selfless at all, but often an attempt to gain recognition for their efforts. These same children, when faced with a child that is not visibly different but exhibit minor characteristics or interests different than their own, will often recoil, because, to them, to be a little different is a very serious 'social sin' and acknowledging this allows them permanent membership to a very elite club.
I became fiercely protective of Kate, as any parent will do, and walked over to my girl, trying to block their view. They would bond over their mutual contempt for a peer that missed the mark on fashion, or age-level toys, or any of the strict social structure these girls have built for themselves.
Miss Kate, oblivious to her mean-girl counterparts, continued to try out each and every plastic animal on the shelf, complete with animal noises and grand gestures.
The girls giggled and walked away.
I actually wanted to scream in the faces of small children at the craft store for staring at my girl like she was, in some way, “wrong”. I wanted them to turn and run in fear of this crazy woman who might, at any time, unload her giant basket of overpriced art supplies, right on their smug little heads.
Wait, that didn’t feel right. Why, on earth, would a relatively even-tempered Kindergarten teacher, like myself, ever wish to scream in the faces of a couple of entitled little monst...okay, I’m clearly still angry. They were just little girls. They were just little girls who saw something that made them stare, and maybe they couldn’t help themselves, because maybe their world is so rigidly constructed by social media, and youtubers and whatever else pre-teens worship, that they couldn’t manage to hide their snide little expressions when they saw and eight year old that didn’t quite look or behave like the status-quo.
It didn’t make me feel better.
Kate was no worse for wear, as usual. The kid is bullet-proof, I swear. But on that day, I wasn’t.
This isn’t a cautionary tale. Most kids are great. Especially this latest generation of kids who are educated in an inclusive classroom. There are still a few, though; a few you’ll come across on the long way that will crush you with their repugnance, and they will remind us that we still have so much work to do.
It’s her birthday next week. She’ll be eight. A little older, a little taller and a little more obviously behind her peers.
It’s not that she isn’t smart, you know. Maybe she’s not at grade-level, but I’m one teacher that will tell you that matters none at all.
The fact is, she is smart in so many ways. And I couldn’t be more proud.
It’s the social stuff that gets her. It’s so damn confusing for her, and her peers are getting less and less patient.
Don’t get me wrong, there are a core few that have the patience of Saints. These little ones will gently explain some very obscure playground rules to a very frustrated little girl. She'll rarely go with the flow, because the 'rules' likely sound 'all wrong' to her, and she'll let you know.
There are others, though; others that don’t have the patience and nor should they. They are just children, after all, and they are trying their best to navigate the complicated web of playground decree and they may not have time to explain its intricacies to Kate.
I can see them getting tired of her rigid moral code. I can see them scrunching their noses and deciding it might be ‘too much work’ to play with her.
That’s far harder to witness than a poor spelling test or lowered reading level.
Now, I know, I have friends who wish this was their problem. Friends who are working on toileting and self-harm. I want you to know that I fully appreciate that our concerns are not theirs and I am hopeful for them and grateful, too. There are never words to explain this divide because no one's worries need be diminished but let's be real. If you're working on toileting, than the playground is going to be a lot further down your list. I get that.
The social stuff is everything to us. Absolutely everything. The curriculum has it all wrong. A new generation of kids, kids like mine, are growing up unable to intuitively pick up on what the collective has deemed appropriate social behavior. These poor souls are left to work on numbers and letters and other such nonsense when they have yet to make a friend, accept an injustice or read an emotion on another’s face. How sad, that we are failing a whole demographic at once. How short-sighted of us.
I suppose, I’ll hop off the soapbox, for now. I know I have little authority to talk about much more than my own daughter’s experience. (But if you read me at all, you’ll know I often take liberties I shouldn’t).
Kate has made herself popular, among her school mates to some extent. She walks around with a Prince of a dog, a dog she considers her very best friend, after all, and her self-confidence has drawn many to her side. But these are friends of a superficial kind and she is growing older and yearning for more.
She deserves a meaningful peer connection and she is struggling to find that, right now.
I want to help her. Her team wants to help.
So we try with social thinking therapy, and speech therapy and occupational therapy, among other things.
And she’s come so far. She really has.
There are just times I can see her wishing she could find a way to fit into these strange and exclusive groups, with their unwritten rules and their pricey social memberships.
I can see it in her slumped shoulders, a posture she wasn’t capable of this time last year. I can see it in the way she is beginning to hang back. There was a time she would rush toward any time of potential fun.
Now, don’t be too sad for MIss Kate. She is quite fond of herself, and most times, considers these exclusions the loss of the group members that reject her and not her own.
I’m thankful for that.
It’s just that someday; she might see it a little differently, and those cracks are starting to show, and that is one of my greatest fears.
Happy Birthday my girl.
As always, if you'd like to send Kate a birthday card, you can forward it to:
27 Wellington Row
Saint John, NB
I know, I run on the angry side, anyway. Just this week I've been driven to irrational anger twice. Once when I saw a grown woman feed her husband from her plate, and then when I saw a car-dealership use the term 'lady-driven'. This is different though. This version of anger I am about to explain is a little more dangerous because someone is trying to fuck with our children and I don't have to tell you that WE won't have it.
There is an actual website, nay a movement, that is attempting to convince parents of children with autism to inject them with small doses of the vaccines they believe are the cause of autism in order to eradicate autism. It's as foolish as it sounds, I promise.
Now, you can go to that website and read until your blood boils but when it comes to something this dangerous I think we have a greater responsibility to do something about it. Tell everyone you know about these crazy assholes before they really cause some damage.
This pseudo-science fuckery is a dangerous propaganda that could reach some very afraid, and uninformed parents. These "Doctors" are masquerading as experts and it's up to us to call them out for their supreme bullshit.
I'm using this blog to share with as many people as I can, that this website and those like it, are formidable.
For the love of Jonas Salk (a REAL doctor, by the way), do not let these people infect our population with their bizarre methods and alarming disinformation.
And, furthermore, don't let some salesman pretend that a lady can't drive the shit out of any car she damn well pleases!
I suppose I could have written about this topic long ago. Maybe I did. I don’t have the energy to check back but if this is redundant, well, I don’t really care.
Autism and Getting Sick
It’s no secret that autism can be challenging for both the individual rocking the autism and their families. If you’ve read anything by me, you’ve seen me run the gamut of emotions surrounding autism, from ‘I hate you autism, you fickle bitch’, to ‘I love autism because it makes her who she is’, to ‘I was told there would be cake and this whole thing is bullshit’, so you won’t be surprised when I say something that might not be as kosher, as you’d like.
There are times when children with autism get sick (and in my experience, it is not often, because these children have a very high pain tolerance and manage to dodge much of the illnesses that afflict the rest of us) and when they are sick (not a serious illness, of course) they sort of “slow-down”, if you will, and frankly, there is a small part of us that might enjoy that, just a little.
Relax Margaret. I am NOT saying that I enjoy it when my child gets sick. In fact, Miss Kate just spent eight days with a fever that had her refusing to eat and it was one of the scariest times we’ve had with her.
I’m actually talking about those little ‘bugs’ that take us out for a day or two. The times when Kate has one of those, she actually moves at a “regular speed”, and likes to cuddle a little, and sometimes she slows down her manic speech patterns and can tell me something that happened to her. So, yeah, I enjoy those parts of it.
Maybe you still think I’ve crossed a line, so you can forward your hate mail directly to my ass because I don’t care.
It happened this weekend. I’ve been thinking we could go a little longer without her recognizing any sort of deficit or difference that would make her feel less than amazing. Our Kate, as many of you know, has a fairly strong self-esteem. She’ll be eight years old next month and for so long we laughed with her when she announced her superiority in topics like Ninja-fighting, cat-farming, masterpiece-painting and other number of things, to anyone that might listen. We revelled in her confidence because we knew she might someday be made to feel bad about all of things that make her so amazing. We knew that soon enough the world wouldn't let her hold onto that self-love as corny as it sounds.
It started with this simple sentence:
“One more time, Mama?”
Sounds harmless, I know, but when Kate says that little phrase to me or to anyone, it is really the first time in her eight years that she is noticing that she is not following along with the rest of us. By the time she decides to use this little phrase she has already asked you to repeat yourself enough times that she is tentative to ask again. This is new for Kate. The tentative bit, the nervous bit. She wants you to repeat yourself, but her hope is that you will say it again in a way she can understand this time and she won't have to keep asking. It is such a grown-up reaction and mixed with my pride at her maturity is the heartbreak that she might ever feel less than her perfect little self. Her little face, with its giant blue eyes and impossible blonde hair bears a look so unnatural to our Kate. It’s a combination of sadness and embarrassment and it's absolutely crushing.
Confusion is not new for Kate. Don’t get me wrong. It’s been the Hallmark of her version of autism for a very long time. Kate’s moments of confusion have, until now, been manifesting in anger at the other person or the situation because her confidence had not allowed her to believe she could be wrong, or lost. Her fortitude prevented her from accepting she was anything but top-shelf and we liked it that way. Sure, at times, those that didn’t know her might think she was due to be knocked down a few pegs, but I invite those people now to look into her eyes as she realizes for the first time that she is different and not everyone is going to be okay with that.
It’s a moment many parents of children with exceptional needs, will eventually go through. There will be some who reach it early, and some later, and some will wish this was their problem to have, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
So when she’s out and about and she says to you. “One more time?” please be patient and reassuring and help her understand because she’s working really hard to come to terms with her new reality and frankly, so are we.
If you like to color, or even if you don't (you're probably just not doing it right and I invite you come hang with me and do it with wine and friends and at least one great topic of conversation) Fantomorphia by Kerby Rosanes has got to be your next purchase.
I've been a long term fan of Kerby Rosanes insanely intricate illustrations, but now that I get to add my own touch with my favorite art supplies, I am am sold.
This may sound lame to you. but I have Friday night blocked out so I can spend a well-deserved hour (or two) with a bottle of Merlot and some new gel pens and you're all invited.
It’s been a long winter. A winter that’s refusing to recede to a muddy Spring and instead sends us Nor'easter after Nor'Easter to remind us who’s boss. We surrender, of course, but what else could we do. I suppose we could stand outside and yell ‘Screw You’’ at the sky or something of that nature but it would unlikely change our circumstances. So, instead, we Canadians settle in for the last ‘big one’.
It’s fine, really. It’s just fine!
Anyway, enough of that. I’m writing today because I fell apart, once again, after exiting the pediatrician's office and the saddest part of that sentence is that no one is surprised, least of all me.
You’ll be pleased to know that I made it to my van. It’s really the best place to cry. It’s the only time I am alone and if I put my sunglasses on the guy at the coffee drive through can hardly tell, or maybe he can and that’s why he keeps putting cream in my friggin’ coffee!.
Back to the van; Oh, if the airbags could talk, the story they would tell of an over-caffeinated, middle-aged mom, who alternates between loudly reliving her middle school years, loudly listening to The Cult, and crying into her steering wheel because parenting is a lot harder than everyone said it would be.
Now, I don’t mean to paint myself as a pathetic, blubbering parenting failure, because I also suck at other aspects of my life. Kidding, I kid! Relax. I have some things totally figured out; like how many episodes of Forensic Files I can fit in on any given evening or how to remember to compliment my husband’s cooking skills so he keeps preparing our amazing meals and I’ve even recently realized that painting, along with writing, are excellent ways to express myself because swearing at the sky wasn’t working for me.
That’s quite the useless preamble, isn’t it? After all, you come here to read my thoughts on autism and all things related and here I am spewing some confessions that you may or may not be interested in. Ah well, that’s the beauty of writing one’s own blog. I make the rules. Look at my lazy title, for example. And today, I feel like writing whatever crosses my mind as my fingers sweep across this keyboard. How is that different from any other day, you ask?
Fuck if I know.
The reason I opened this page on google docs today is because I spent the morning with Kate’s pediatrician. (Can anyone spell that right, first try? Sheesh). She’s joining the Co-Morbid club with a second diagnosis of ADHD. Neither Alex or I, were shocked, and it certainly doesn’t change our rock star little girl, at all, but there was something about discussing the things that are hard for Kate that got me. It’s never the label, or the potential medications or strategies or any of the good and helpful suggestions that we hear, that get stuck in my brain. It’s the fact that her Dad and I spent the better part of an hour describing how Kate has a hard time with this, and this and sometimes this and almost always this.
It hurts. It’s unnatural and the parents of kids with exceptional needs do it for a goddamn living.
I held it together, though. Until we walked out to the parking lot and parted ways and Alex, said “are you okay? Do you want to talk about anything before we head back to work?” And I with my Irish indignance, said “No, I’m fine. See you at supper.” And then I proceeded to walk back to my van and cry. I didn’t cry long, because I am an old pro now, sad as that may seem. I cried a little and then I drove with fogged up sunglasses back to work.
Before I made it to work I pulled into the grocery store and ran in and bought Kate a little Monster Truck toy she has been eyeing and I bought her sister some silly putty and I tucked them away in my purse like they are some sort of consolation prize for having an emotionally fluid mother.
I’ll give them their little prizes tonight and hug them extra hard because things are good and we are lucky and I’ll try and remember that even when James* puts cream in my coffee.
So, hey ADHD parents, and adults. Is there a secret word to join this club?
*Names have been changed to protect slack-ass drive-thru employees.
Happy Mail to:
27 Wellington Row
Saint John, NB
Grace and Kate's mom. (Shanell)