Wednesday, October 22, 2014


Pardner grew up in predominantly African-American neighborhoods. I was born in Panama and grew up spending time in Panama City and the Darien jungle town of La Palma (and in the interior, in smaller indigenous villages), usually being the only white person around besides my father. My godfather was an Emberá Cacique (the Emberá are the indigenous people of that region; Cacique means chief). The population in La Palma consists largely of Darienistas – descendants of escaped African slaves.

So Z’s New England-based family is a lot less super-White-rooted than most two-White-parented families around these parts….But that still doesn’t quite explain why she thinks she’s Black.

Z was adopted from China and is of – so far as I know and can tell – entirely Chinese ethnicity. When she was a baby I often thought she looked as if she could have been Emberá, but this resemblance has diminished as she has grown older.  In any case, I’ve always made sure to have positive representations (books, music, art) of people of all shapes, sizes, abilities, neurologies, and skin tones around the house. I try to celebrate a variety of cultures and perspectives. My goal has been not so much to make Z aware of being special (because she is Chinese, or was adopted, or…) but to teach –sometimes without explicitly doing so – that all people are inherently valuable.

For example, here are her favorite dolls:


Figure I – Z’s Full Spectrum of Dolls

“Cinderelly,” far right, is a little hard to explain. Something involving Grandparents and a very headstrong young lady. Otherwise, as you can see, we have a very inclusive and diverse doll family. “Donna Poodle Itchy,” center, who is of Chinese descent, is Z’s favorite doll baby, but she loves them all. And, I suppose, feels ethnically connected with them all as well: she knows she is from China, her parents are White, and she is, apparently, Black-identified.

 I’ve heard her telling people several times, “There were only two Black kids at [her old school]. Me and [Black person].”

And check out this Thank-You card she – who has warm beige-toned skin - made for her best friend, who is from West Africa and has very dark brown skin:

                             Figure II – Thank You Card (Self-Portrait by Z, with her Best Friend)

Many, many moons ago, I worked at a fabulous organization called New Jersey S.E.E.D.S.  with the man I (along with his four sons, and I bet a few others like me whose lives he’s touched deeply) am now privileged to call “Dad.”* There was a student in our program who was half Black and half Chinese and called herself “Blackinese.” I’ve never forgotten the pride this student had in her voice when she explained her heritage, nor the excellent word she used to encapsulate that heritage.

I’ve been reluctant to too-strongly correct Z on her identification with other people of color of (speaking generally) a different color because it does seem to be a very positive thing for her. She is privileged to live among many terrific role models of all sorts, and in a progressive, inclusive community where being a person of color is a plus (ideally, in my humble opinion, it should be a neutral, butanyway…).

So I guess she’s just Blackinese.

Full Spectrum Mama

* Here’s what this wonderful man said when I asked him how he identifies himself ethnically as I began this post:

Hi [FSM],

Jesse Washington once asked me to describe my race in six words. I answered, “Race is a fiction; I’m black.”  

I do not say African-American because all of us come from Africa, some simply left the Motherland later than my ancestors did.  If we are simply African apes my ethnicity is special because I identify most with blacks worldwide.


Tuesday, October 14, 2014


Every time we have a Silent Contest (a.k.a. “Mom’s only time to not hear talking all day”), G brings up the time his sister and cousin stole his french fries at a diner with his Full Spectrum Grandparents. Apparently, he’d been trying to win $2 in a table-wide Silent Contest (apparently, grandparents also like quiet moments), and was unable to protest the theft because of the need to be Silent.

So, naturally, he’d prefer NOT to have a Silent Contest, because he is still traumatized by The Incident. Which happened at least four years ago.

I tell this story because, well, I get it. Some of us with sensory processing differences are extremely sensitive emotionally as well as sensorially. And – whether through our senses or emotions – when we feel things, we feel them more deeply and intensely than the average person, so that sometimes they are unbearable…and sometimes they are unforgettable.

I think of it like grooves on a record (remember those? C’mon hipsters!): the original grooves are deeper, as they are more strongly felt; the grooves that remain over time are worn away more slowly, if at all, because of their original depth. Literally, though, it’s the neural connections experiencing and recalling these feelings/events that are more robust. This might account at least partially for G’s and my eidetic memories, with which we are able to visually recall whole swathes of text or things we’ve seen or heard (transformed into text, for me).

At the same time, the processing and memory space taken up by these strong feelings seems to preclude the remembering of – or paying attention to - whole other piles of things. We may seem flaky, or physically uncomfortable, or socially awkward. We may get lost – directionally or in other ways. Sorry!  Brain full!

When I was a little girl, every time I would get hurt I would say, “Hurtaself…AGAIN!” Even then, I associated pain with previous pain, and strongly recalled other injuries, because they really, really hurt. (I remember{ed} the good stuff too – that’s now one reason I remember to write thank-you notes! – but that’s another story.)

                    Figure I – “Hurtaself again,” Adult Stubbed Toe Example

Think I’m being dramatic? Last year I had one of those cavities where you chew the wrong way and you fall down in agony before even having the time to think about it. I went to a local dentist and he could not numb the tooth. I went to an Ivy-affiliated dentist several hours away who was likewise unable to numb the tooth. The fancy dentist told me my tooth was “enervated,” meaning that the nerves associated with the tooth were many and widely dispersed and thus it was impossible to eradicate the feeling in that tooth. I would need to go under general anesthesia to get this tooth fixed (both dentists were able to put temporary “band-aids” on the tooth). 

Enervated. In general terms it means to make weak or lessen someone. But in teeth it results in Feeling More. That sounds about right for just about everything in SPD land.

Full Spectrum Mama

Thursday, October 9, 2014


For Nephy.

My gal Fern came last weekend with her two-month-old baby who was adopted at birth. He is a mellow little dude, easily soothed. Spending time with him, I was reminded of my babies when they were little babies, and both of how precious, intense and full-of-feelings that time is and of how very widely it can vary.

I was not reminded of my babies themselves, though, because I never had any baby like that.

Both of my babies were on the high, high needs end of the spectrum. Although we did not know it at the time, G was already experiencing the difficulties of sensory processing differences and cried relentlessly. He seemed genuinely uncomfortable much of the time. (Bonus, he hated feeling wet so much that he basically potty trained himself really, really early!)

We were similarly unaware of this at the time, but Z came to me in full-on attachment-disordered mode. I couldn’t put her down for TWO YEARS. She would scream in a way that set me on edge (this is called non-attachment-promoting crying, and sounds angry rather than helpless-babyesque) at the slightest threat of separation.

We were all snuggling together peacefully – baby, kids and I --- when Z asked, “Was I like Nephy [what we started called the baby pre-adoption, short for nephew] when I was a baby, Mama?”

“Um….Not really.” I had to think for a moment before speaking. “I loved you very much, just like Fern loves Nephy…But…you were not a mellow dude. You wanted to be held all the time and got very loud and angry if I wasn’t holding you.”

“Oh Mama, we must have been really connected!” she exclaimed.

Er…Not what I I’d’ve said…but…Yes!

“Yes, sweety.”

Full Spectrum Mama

Monday, September 29, 2014


Two weeks into this semester of Comparative Religion, a student called out at the end of class, “Dr. [Full Spectrum Mama], this is kind of a funny question but…are you [G]’s mom?”

It turns out that this fellow was one of G’s counsellors at a wilderness camp he attended this past summer. Because they hike up into the woods for camp, I hadn’t met some of the counsellors (the ones who were waiting mysteriously up at the Hogan every day).

My student, having watched me for two three-hour classes, said I “look and act exactly like [G],” so he “just had to ask.”

This gave me so much hope, because I am – despite my differences or because of them or some mixture thereof – totally fine. I don’t worry about me. But I DO worry about my son. And sometimes people think I over-identify with him, but this is because 1. I get him – profoundly, and, 2. I want him to be okay in the end, as I am.

I always tell people I was almost exactly like G at his age, but female, and people who’ve known me only as an adult don’t believe me, basically because they think G is  “more autistic” than they think I would have been. But I know, and I remember.

Heck, forget being “okay like I am” I would like to see – and do, often, see – G as being okay in different ways. And I would love for G to surpass me in the neurological department and anywhere else. Isn’t any parent glad to see their child out-do them? It seems like that would be a very visceral survival thing. Differences are welcome and celebrated in our family as well! When I see Z shining in her acrobatics class, doing things I can’t even imagine doing, I am beyond proud.

In addition to neurological and physical differences, we need to take into account temporal differences: when people presume that G will stay just as he is, rather than growing as I have and then some, I find it highly botherous.

In any case, G’s strengths and challenges resonate deeply with me, though I always try to respect his separateness and unique personhood. I currently am having an opportunity to distinguish between us in a major capacity, because…

The beginning of Middle School has been a breeze.

…Did I even just write that?

I have spent the last two to twelve years (depending on how you measure it) worrying about Middle School for my son -- at first because Middle School is usually dreadful; later, and in this mode much more assiduously, because of his social challenges.

Seventh grade was a low point in my life. There are a variety of reasons for this, but my social challenges would rank up there near or at the top. I was so painfully shy in my new school that I was unable to say hi to people. I didn’t want to insult them by implying that they knew me. But people took this as my being snobby! And that’s just one example!

Trust me - it was ghastly.

G has had some challenges, to be sure. The adjustment to lockers was…epic, and most of my concerns in Middle School Prayers remain relevant.  But the bottom line is he walks out of school every day waving casually: “Heeeeyy, so-and-so,” “Yo, dudette”…And people…reply?

Is Middle School better than it used to be? How can isolating children in one place at their most antisocial, brutal stage, while combining students from several elementary schools so that they are naturally forced to jockey for position and, therefore, usually, inclined to identify scapegoats, ever be good?

My seventh-grader rates every day an 8 or 9. His innate positivity?...Cluelessness? New and improved brand of Middle School?  I’m surprised – but I’ll take it!

As G headed to school today, his hands were wrapped in a homemade “Mega Master Mega Evolution” Bracelet for his imaginary Pokemon (Figure I).

          Figure I - "Hey Pokemon fans out there: this is [G], the Mega Master!" (Caption courtesy of G)

“[G],” I said gently, “you might want to leave that at home.”

“No way, mom[Friend A{awkward, sweet guy}] and [Friend B{goofasurus maximus darling boy}]* will like it, and I don’t care about anybody else.”

I am so proud, and relieved beyond measure. Now what should I think about?

Full Spectrum Mama

* That's, count 'em, two friends. Two friends! 

Thursday, September 25, 2014


It’s that special time of the year again when Partial (incomplete) Monochrome Persona (PiMP) begins to solicit COMPLAINTS on behalf of Full Spectrum Mama for THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT. Last year, we published COMPLAINTS of a very wide-ranging and accepting sort, in hopes that, by being COMPLAINED, said COMPLAINTS were rendered slightly less itchy, lonely, peculiar, injustice-esque, throbbing, tender,  and/or badbadbad.

New for 2014: a handy dandy COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT button, at right, where COMPLAINTS may be submitted year-round!

You will know it by its custom-designed "depressing rainbow" illustration, courtesy of Full Spectrum Daughter, Z:

COMPLAINTS received by early January will be eligible for the 2015 COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT post. As always, this commiserative, inclusive solicitation is not meant to imply that THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT is “open.”

Yours Truly,

Wednesday, September 17, 2014


I know an Argher and an Activist when I see one, and, once in awhile, I am going to need to give a shout out to someone who really Arghed and Activised the heck out of something.

The first Full Spectrum Argher and Activist Award goes to a 14-year-old kid who happens to be on the spectrum and happens also to be a badass knight in not-gonna-take-it-anymore armor in Bay Village, Ohio who bravely came forward and called out the people who played a (warning: graphic and disturbing) TERRIBLE ALS Bucket Challenge prank on him.

Some people just can't get right....but some CAN! Bravo,  courageous one.

Please show your support at this Give Forward site.

Full Spectrum Mama

Tuesday, September 9, 2014



We are at a party. I am having a good time because I am emotionally prepared, have had my one allotted beer, and know lots of people. Z is fine, as always. G is careening around, reminding me of Brownian Motion, not connecting.

He’s basically gorging on sweets and walking in circles around the perimeter of the party.

I know he feels overwhelmed, maybe lonely too.

                                                  Figure I – What a Party Can Feel Like with SPD


G is swinging on a vine outside the party.

“That kid is weird,” says a young white girl, maybe 7 or 8 years old. Her two companions, same general description, nod their heads.

Why? WHY IS MY KID WEIRD? What did he do? Seems to me this vine-swinging is the most “normal” thing he’s done all night.


G wants to leave, as he has from our moment of arrival. I try to buy some time outside. A family - mother, father and child - are standing nearby. The father takes the child, gets in the car and leaves. From the child’s posture, I sense exhaustion.  

“Too much?” I ask the mother.

“Yes,” she says.

“Sensory processing differences?” I wonder aloud, not entirely sure why…just a gut feeling…

”Oh yeah - ___ [her child] is definitely spectrumy.”

(Note: While not everyone with Sensory Processing Disorder {SPD -- which I prefer to call “Sensory Processing Differences,” by the way} is on the autism spectrum, most people on the spectrum do have Sensory Processing Differences. Both ASDs {autism spectrum disorders – though I do take issue with “disorders” in this label as well [another post!]} and SPDs share the aspect of being neurological – vs emotional or psychological – differences.)

But back to “spectrumy:” Yay.

Now we can talk. And we do. Our kids were in different grades at the same school, which is why we looked familiar to one another. At this party, while my G was blundering awkwardly around, her child was getting and expressing an overwhelmed feeling in other ways.

So we have this great bonding conversation about the kids’ social lives and our home lives and all...

…And then she says, “I wish I’d’ve just let ____ bring a book. Then this all would have been totally fine.”

“Whoah,” I shake my head. “G wanted to bring his book too, and I just wanted him to try this and be here, try to connect and talk to people and practice social skills…you know? And it’s been pretty rough…WHY DIDN”T WE JUST LET THEM BRING THEIR BOOKS?”

We sad-smile at each other.

They could have sat together, reading. I bet they would’ve been totally happy, not careening or leaving. I bet they would’ve had the best time.

Next time.

                                      Figure II – What having a Book at a Party Can Feel Like with SPD

Full Spectrum Mama