Tuesday, November 8, 2016

WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS

Dear Persons,

The recent news of an autistic boy named Chase Coleman being assaulted during a cross country meet, essentially for being Black and autistic, broke my heart. G runs cross country, and although G is not Black or non-verbal I share many of the concerns this boy’s mother had, such as worrying about G getting lost during meets. G’s Sensory Processing Differences (SPD) and other challenges can make running cross country distances and trails a minefield for him, yet he keeps trying, usually with a smile. He also hasn’t digested some of the central customs of the sport, such as being at the starting line with his number pinned to his uniform (don’t ask). 

Like Chase’s mom, I attend all of G’s meets, because I am immensely proud of course - I am sure Chase’s mother believes her son is a real champ, as I do…But I also go to every meet because I want to keep an eye on things.…make sure everything goes okay.

My daughter, Z, also runs cross country in her elementary school. While I try to attend all of her meets as well, I don’t worry about her in the same ways - at all. East Asians (she is of Chinese ethnicity) are not stereotyped in the same ways that people of African descent are, so I don’t worry about her being targeted as a threat (though I do worry about her vulnerability, as most parents of daughters do…). She’s fast as heck and has a great sense of direction, so I don’t worry about her losing her way or her “performance” or confidence…

She’s celebrated on her team, where it sometimes seems my G is merely tolerated. 

You know…the Full Spectrum.

Back to Chase. I was having that feeling that some readers will find familiar where you suspect your child’s very real efforts are not being appreciated, so I decided to write G’s coach a letter (below). I’d just finished writing it when this hit the news: 



Chase was just standing there - and he was attacked! In “self-defense.” As it happens, I have many close friends and family who are people of color and/or autistic. But I like to hope that just because one isn’t related to or close friends with a certain “type” of person doesn’t mean they are “suspect.” Chase’s story reminds me that DIFFERENCE reads, to so many, as DANGER. Thus, children with differences are vulnerable, perhaps none more so than black male children. 

Does it have to be this way? Must difference lead to ASSUMPTIONS? And why are those assumptions usually negative? Let’s just be very logical here: how can a SKIN COLOR or DISABILITY be THREATENING…unless  wholly through ignorance?

And what, exactly, do we mean when we use the word DISABILITY? Believe me - I know it’s complicated. But I’d like to focus on one aspect vis-a-vis Chase Coleman, and my G: For one thing, a difference BECOMES a disability when one is seen as less than, or treated as such, or denied opportunities or inclusion or even basic assumptions around shared and equal humanity BECAUSE OF THAT DIFFERENCE.* 

I know this is a broad definition of disability, but it comes from my and my family and loved ones’ lived experiences. Differences such as SPD and autism are often called “invisible” disabilities, where being Black is (usually) not invisible….Nor is being Black known as a disability per se. But by the definition of this one aspect of disability I am discussing here it may certainly be experienced as such. 

In this context, a disability is something that prevents someone from living their best life, from being their best self, from full self-expression or activity or participation…NOT because of any quality inherent to their being (neurology, skin color, gender, body type or shape, intellectual capacity, LGBTQ status, nationality, ethnicity, age, religion…), but because of the way their environment is designed (for “normal” people) — or because of the attitudes - including ignorance - of others

How wrong is that? 

We, in our communities, need to find ways to celebrate difference, not squash it. We need to help one another see each other as human beings, united in this crazy, hard, wonderful, awful, confusing thing called life. Be curious about each other, rather than thinking we KNOW already who others are because of appearance or labels.

WE need to be Champions of acceptance, understanding, inclusion - for ALL the different kinds of Champs out there!

Dear Readers, if we will not be the champions, who will?

On this deeply fraught election day, where so much is at stake for immigrants, women, people of color, ALL OF US…Here’s one tiny way I have tried to explain G’s differences to so that his unique strengths and challenges will be seen: 

Dear Coach,

I wanted to thank you for working with [G] this fall, for pushing him and expecting the best of him. He has improved immeasurably (from 39 to 27 minutes - and I think he may even do better at the state meet!). He has also grown in confidence.

I wanted to fill you in on a few things about [G], in case they are unclear. You may think he is not taking things as seriously as he should or not working as hard as he can or being as responsible as he should...

As you know, [G] has asperger syndrome. Everyone with asperger syndrome is unique, but some of the aspects of it, such as social and motor challenges, are shared by many. 

[G] has something called low muscle tone. This means EVERY physical activity is harder for him because his muscles have to work much harder than they would if he had average or high tone. I'm sure you know what this means, as an athlete yourself, but you likely don't know what it actually feels like. I do - because I had low tone myself as a child. 

Everything my athletic family did (biking, running, soccer) was practically torture for me. In those days no one knew about this stuff. Anyway, I became very athletic over time and somehow overcame that disability.  I have "normal" muscles now for the most part and physical activity feels enjoyable - **completely different** from how it felt when my muscles didn't work efficiently or well. I think this will happen for [G] too, but I speak to you as an athlete who once struggled as [G] does: please understand that running is Literally harder for him than for the other kids.  He's not exaggerating or making drama.

Also, [G] has many motor skills and balance issues. It's very brave for him to get up again and again when he falls many times, sometimes quite badly, every time he runs. I know other kids get hurt from time to time, but [G] is getting hurt practically EVERY time - and he's getting up again and running again

It's also a mixed bag that he feels humiliated when he falls. On the one hand, it's actually social progress for him to realize there is a humiliation factor in falling. At the same time, he now has to weather that humiliation in front of his peers, for things that are out of his control (motor skills, balance). I know his teammates are supportive, but he still feels bad. So it's DOUBLE brave for him to get back out there with both physical and emotional pain.

Finally, I know sometimes [G] can seem flaky, but this is his central disability right now: a lack of executive function. I am less surprised when he misses the bus for a meet, or leaves a shoe (WITH HIS PHONE IN IT) in the port-a-potty where he changed into his uniform, than when he remembers, every single day, his water bottle, his school clothes, his phone…

I want to share with you that the [G] you are seeing mostly keep track of bus times, his stuff, transitions, etc. could never have done this even a year ago. I am happy every day that he keeps track of his stuff. I know it's a "normal" thing to do, but for him it's a huge leap - something that gives me enormous hope for his future.

So even though I know [G] is one of your slowest runners, to me he is a true champion and I am beyond proud of him. Thanks for being part of this amazing growth for him.

Sincerely,
[Full Spectrum Mama]

Thanks and Love, Dear Readers…Now please go VOTE,* if you have not done so.
Full Spectrum Mama



* For a small dose of perspective on just how good humans are at judging the worth of different kinds of people, consider that women in the United States did not have the right to vote until 1920. Yes, 1920!!!! Less than one hundred years ago...









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Tuesday, October 11, 2016

SEE EVERY SPARROW



Dear Persons,

One way to describe Sensory Processing Differences (SPD) is by using a filter metaphor: the sensory and neurological filters of people with SPD filter feelings, experiences, and/or surroundings differently than do the sensory and neurological filters of most people.

Some of our filters filter out more. Sometimes people with this sort of filter are called “seekers,” because they seek more sensory input, or they are called “under-responders,” because they feel/notice/process less sensory input than the average person does. 

Some of our filters filter out less. Sometimes people with this kind of filter are called “avoiders,” because they avoid the overwhelming input that certain contexts produce. They are also sometimes called “over-responders,” because they feel/notice/process more sensory input than is typical. 

Of course, all people have different levels of sensitivity, but these differences are magnified for people with SPD. Many people with SPD live with a mixture of filters, perhaps being extremely sensitive to taste, while craving strong movement (yes, movement is a type of sense, in fact, several sorts of sense - but that’s another post!). 

Sometimes a high level of sensitivity can lead to a sort of sensory shutdown that can look like low level of sensitivity! 

Sensory integration - the seamless intermeshing of the senses, and the “normal” processing thereof - can be challenging for people with SPD. My son G and I both live with a mixture of extra-strong and extra-weak filters. Bright lights and artificial odors can knock me out, but I have severe face-blindness (prosopagnosia) and can trip over my own feet. Lights, smells, even loud sounds don’t phase G - and he shares my face-blindness in abundance - but there are other things of which he takes uncommon notice. 

One of the most wonderful things about G is that he notices every single bird in our environment. Not just your cardinals and goldfinches, but every pigeon - “Look! A pigeon!” “Another pigeon!” and every single sparrow we pass on the street - “Oh mom - do you see those cute sparrows?” “Hey, guys - a sparrow!” “There’s a sparrow under that car!” etc. 

Some people dismiss this constant-noticing, or rib him good-naturedly about it (“Wow, a sparrow!”), and it’s sometimes inconvenient and time-consuming, but I celebrate it with all my heart.

Imagine a world where every individual person was noticed and appreciated, no matter how similar, no matter how different. Imagine a culture in which everybody took the time, made the effort, to really see every single other person. I dare to think such things as gossip, bullying, stereotyping…all those evils that come from pre-judging others and from not seeing each individual as equal and worthy in their own way…would disappear.  

G doesn’t filter out every sparrow as just another instance of a drab bird among many. Instead he enjoys a sense of wonder for each tiny miracle of sparrow individuality. 

What if we all tried to see every sparrow? 




Love,
Full Spectrum Mama





Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!
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Tuesday, September 13, 2016

"MOTHER APPEARS DISHEVELED"

Dear Persons,

I was listening to NPR not long ago and ended up sobbing in the car. Again. The segment that got me this time was on voting rights (read it, and possibly weep, here), and how in many states persons who have appointed guardians do not have the right to vote. Whether to apply for guardianship of my son is probably the question I struggle most with on a day to day basis (followed closely by even more terrifying questions about what will happen to him when I am gone). The thought of my brilliant, politically-engaged son being unable to vote was one more tally in the non-guardianship column. I want to always err on the side of presuming competence, yet I always want my child to be able to, you know, live...sometimes despite himself.

I mention this not because this matter is resolved, but to point out that for parents with atypical children, and for people of difference in general, the world out there (your basic radio show, and so on) can be a bit of a minefield.

I have many friends – who I still speak to! – who like to say “Oh, it’s hard being the parent of any kid.” Sure, I will give you that. And I will gladly agree we most of us love our kids the same agonizing, rapturous, heart-expanding amount. But I am not Full Spectrum Mama for nothing: I have one typically-developing child and one who is developmentally and neurologically atypical and I can assure you it is not the same kind of hard! When your child develops differently there may be taken-for-granted, essential life skills that he or she may develop late...or never.

The idea that G will “grow out of it” – whatever “it” is – is thus often meaningless and certainly not reassuring.  For example, all his life G – despite assiduous and almost-constant attempts on my part to change this - has used his clothing as a combination napkin/tablecloth while eating. And that’s when he notices he has food on his face or hands...which he usually doesn’t. In the scheme of things, I’d like to think of this as minor – I mean, G is extraordinarily KIND and FUNNY and SMART – yet how will this be viewed by a potential employer? Or partner? (And no, I do not mean typical sloppiness, my “all kids have challenges/all boys are slobs” friends.)

Or perhaps your child is or you are (as am I) at the other end of the noticing/reacting spectrum and barely able to function because of obsessive compulsive (OCD) needs and/or sensory overload from crumbs and the like?

Maybe G’s table manners will improve someday. Maybe someday I will be able to ignore a single crumb on my finger. But sensory processing differences (SPD) and other neurological differences are often integral to who we are, part of our very biology. Neurodiverse and differently-abled persons may develop neurological, practical, and/or emotional strategies to function in a world that was not designed for them – and sometimes doesn’t make sense - but there is much we will never “grow out” of...

My conservative yet highly clinical estimate is that I worry about G a million, billion, gazillion times more than Z, my typically-developing, typically-abled daughter, even though she has had her issues as all children do...

I usually write more from the perspective of a child advocate, or in efforts to spread awareness and acceptance of difference. This time, I wanted to write about what the parents I know who have children with extraordinary challenges feel like a lot of the time, both to acknowledge and honor them (us) and to spread awareness on this front.

I am not complaining – my child brings me extraordinary wonder and joy every minute of every day – I am explaining.

Those of us with who are different, or have children with differences – or both! – have to navigate more-complicated, often “inappropriate*” (to us!) environments and interactions – environments and interactions that may feel overwhelming, cruel, arbitrary, opaque -- almost all the time. In a very real sense, the “problem” is the world, not our kids/us.

My Meeting Friend became my dearest and most-cherished support-network-of-one when mutual friends who knew our children kept suggesting we connect, and then our paths kept crossing en route to and from Meetings, therapies, etc. etc. My Meeting Friend was once at a Meeting – of which one has exponentially more with an atypical child (and yes I know this from personal Full Spectrum experience) – and glanced over at what one of the “professionals” there to evaluate and assess her son had written on a pad and read, “Mother appears disheveled.”

Now this is a mother who has willingly and bravely made changes and sacrifices for her child beyond what most could even imagine. That very day alone I am positive she had already cooked several different healthy breakfasts taking all individual food allergies into account, carefully planned out ways for both of her children to have their own kinds of successes (including – egads! – athletic successes!!!!) and learning experiences, gone to great lengths to ensure social interactions and a beneficial sensory diet for her son, written several emails regarding grades, social situations, IEP, 504,etc.,  made sure her other child felt “just as important,” oh - and worked at her job...** With a smile on her face.

I am impressed she even had clothes on after what she has been through. But there that note was -- amidst, I am sure, other stuff (such as “EXCELLENT parenting!” and “Kid is PERFECT, just a WEENSY bit unsuited to the average boring old, sensory-/social-nightmare classroom”)  --  ...”Mother appears disheveled.”




Figure I – Disheveled Mother


...Ya think? And I wasn’t there at that particular Meeting, but I do know that she has had the grace to laugh about it ever since.

My friends, do you appear disheveled or know someone who does? From crying in the car, maybe? Are you disheveled on the inside even if you appear “heveled” on the outside? You are in good company.

Much Love,
Full Spectrum Mama



* “Inappropriate” is such a trigger word for many on the spectrum. There are a lot of “normal” things we find “inappropriate,” believe me (and there is no monolithic “we” in either neurodiverse or neurotypical contexts!). Nonetheless our children are often told, especially in school, that X, Y, or Z is “inappropriate”...One hopes that some consideration is given to the possibility that people who perceive and process differently may have different standards – and not always assume that neurotypical standards are the correct and appropriate ones. 

** How do I know these things? Because I know my Meeting Friend. But also because I and most other parents I know who have children with differences do these types of things Every Day. I just wrote a letter to G’s teachers and “learning specialist” while I wrote this footnote.





Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!



Tuesday, August 9, 2016

HIGH SCHOOL PRAYERS


This post is a sequel to MIDDLE SCHOOL PRAYERS. I revisited that post while preparing this one, and found that it’s pretty much 100% still relevant.

Similarly, I would use the same disclaimer: basically: please feel free to substitute institutions (workplace? family? elementary school?), gender (I’ve occasionally written “he” because the child in question is my son, but I mean these prayers to be INCLUSIVE), labels, and language (God? Great Spirit? Goddess? People?) that feel right to you if you feel moved to share these prayers.




Dear Universe,

Thank you for my child’s safe passage through Middle School with our sanity relatively intact. If it’s not too greedy, I would like to add on to my Middle School Prayers list. Following, please find a number of additional Prayers more specific to High School:





1. May my child not get lost in a larger setting. 








2. May my child not get anybody pregnant (for biological                 girls, please substitute “get pregnant”).











3. May I dole out the RIGHT amount of freedom to                     my child.









4. May my child always know deep down how much he                   (she) is loved.






Pretty simple requests -- and all probably shared by most parents and guardians of High Schoolers-to-be, right?

Yet, as a parent of a child on the autism spectrum with sensory processing differences (SPD), each Prayer has multiple layers for my family, as they must for so many families with significant differences. Please, dear readers and dear Universe, allow me to elaborate –

1. About the not-getting-lost bit. My child is one of the deepest, smartest people I know. He can read ANYTHING. But write? Not so much. Focus? Similar, unless we are discussing a special interest. Dyspraxia, SPD, and a general lack of executive function make mainstream school environments and requirements highly challenging for my child.

Add in a major life transition, a much larger student body, and MUCH less in-class paraprofessional support, and we have what feels to me like a perfect recipe for my child getting lost, falling between the cracks, getting shunted through...

During the High School Transition Meeting, when his case manager kept saying, “We see that all the time” to concerns raised by his Middle School Team, it did feel reassuring, but it also felt like G was being stereotyped. Like any child, G is an individual and I hope for him to continue to be seen as one in High School. I’m not sure yet what “success” will look like for my G – will he reach his academic potential in this setting? will he want and/or be able to go to college? – but I want him to have the chance to reach for it. I want him to know he is known.

Dear Universe, may our children find their own healthy, rewarding ways of learning, growing, and interacting in High School. May they be treated fairly, and may they be accepted and cared about for who they truly are by staff, teachers, and their fellow students.


2. Re: pregnancy.You know how all teenagers have lots and lots of hormones and very, very little sense? Well, imagine all the hormones with way less sense than that, even. Kind of makes ya nervous, right?

Then, dear Universe, we are on the same page. May our children have the opportunity to continue being children just a while longer, please.


3. Freedom. The vast majority of parents fully expect their children to be independent at some point. A small minority know with certainty that their child will never live on his or her own. We are in-between, and it’s a tough place to be. I want to do right by my child, who is still in the very beginning stages of developing life skills like judgment, executive function, common sense, perseverance. I want to respect him – and he’s very worthy of that respect, with all his wonderfulness and brilliance and perfection (said his mom). But I also need to make sure he doesn’t make irredeemable mistakes while these life skills are still emerging. And I need to be vigilant for the long term should some of those skills never emerge.

The transition into High School feels like the first time I will really, finally need to begin to actually figure out how our family will tackle these weighty issues.

Will G ever drive? I’m not sure. Should he? Probably not, at least any time soon! (I didn’t drive until my late thirties...) Will he desperately want to? Probably.

Will G ever be able to live on his own? Probably not without some help, whether from a case manager or partner. But I am not sure! He’s surprised me before with huge developmental and personal growth. I know he envisions an independent life for himself, but I also know he has no idea what that would entail. I’ll need to begin looking into guardianship options fairly soon if it seems like he won’t live on his own.

There are significant financial resources for some people with some disabilities. Would G feel insulted by the suggestion that he cannot create his own success on neurotypical world terms or glad to be able to focus on his interests? The huge part of me that has enormous respect for G dreads even raising this matter with him. Yet...when he tells me things like “there’s no reason to cut toenails” or I watch him approximate his idea of how a chore really should be done – and he has many original ideas about regular stuff like this every day – I cannot imagine him keeping a job or household. If he doesn’t “get it,” he’s not interested – so I imagine the key in the long term will be for him to be invested in daily life in such a way that such things as cutting toenails (and other hygiene matters), paying bills, putting in time earning a living, etc. will make sense and feel compelling to him on a level where he can achieve these basic skills. Here’s hoping High School will instill some good habits in this regard.

And then there’s the question of what will happen to him after I am gone if he can’t live on his own post-High School and into adulthood, which is the deepest, most constant fear of all of us with children (including grown children) who can’t necessarily navigate the neurotypical world in typical ways.

Whew – I am glad High school is four years long!

Dear Universe, may my child always have a safe home – where he learns, where he lives - where he is free to be himself.


4. On Love: Recently, my behavior generally gets interpreted by my teen in one of two ways: I am either invasive and embarrassing (smothering) or I’m uncaring and have hurt his feelings (abandonment). I can’t win. This is developmentally appropriate (see above hormones, lack of sense, etc.), but the combination of extra social and academic challenges he will experience make his feeling consistently loved even more of a priority. This, even as his interpretations and perspective are inflected by different ways of interpreting/perceiving my intentions, feelings, and actions - and those of others around him. It remains to be seen how this dynamic will play out in High School.

Dear Universe, despite his developmentally-appropriate sour attitude and unique, quirky ways of processing interactions, may my child know he is loved – enormously – exactly as he is as he makes his way into and through High School.


Dear Universe, for all the children privileged to be going back to school, and for ALL children, I wish these good things and more.  


Love,
Full Spectrum Mama




Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo!