Thursday, December 31, 2015

WINTER LIGHT: ALL IS CALM, ALL IS BRIGHT


As the days lengthen, though many of us are in the deepest part of winter, may we all seek to spread a Full Spectrum of acceptance.

May we celebrate and embrace our differences, advocate for ourselves and others, and live our lives as superheroes - vanquishing intolerance, ignorance, oppression...any force or person or group who tries to keep their fellow beings down or hinders their shine!

May we glow with engaged, empathetic love.

May we wisely understand that in light, ALL colors are contained – just as all shapes, sizes, abilities, neurologies, sexualities, ethnicities...make up the whole of our world.  

Oh, and may we each and every one be blessed with a heaping dose of perspective.

Wishing you warmth and health in the New Year, with much love,
Full Spectrum Mama

Monday, December 21, 2015

FULL FRONTAL - A NEURO-MOMENT

“You need to be your teens’ ‘frontal lobes’ until their brains are fully wired.”

  
I found this quote, from The Teenage Brain by Frances Jensen, in an 8/31/15 New Yorker article, “The Terrible Teens: What’s wrong with them?” by the highly-respected Elizabeth Kolbert (all following quotes are from this article unless otherwise specified). Kolbert usually writes searing, devastating pieces on global warming and the environment, but apparently she’s also the mother of three teenage sons, and so had a personal interest in this subject as well. Frances Jensen is herself “a mother, an author, and a neurologist,” who has two sons who have now graduated from their respective (very good) colleges. We will leave aside the question of how these two mothers are so incredibly accomplished, naturally doing so in a totally unbitter way, and now proceed to discuss how and why something is “wrong” with teenage brains.

...Something is wrong with teenage brains. And what that is, is: teens are not yet fully-brained.

This is news?

Even Aristotle (~384-322 BCE) felt that the young are lacking wisdom or even the capacity for reason. In his Nichomachean Ethics, he wrote that youth are so “inexperienced,” and “tend[ing] to follow his [sic] passions” that “studying [here, reason and philosophy] will be vain and unprofitable.”

But Kolbert, Jensen, et al bring the science: Apparently, everything we think of as mature, wise, balanced, reasonable, “civilized, intelligent,” comes from our frontal and prefrontal lobes. Since brain development has been determined to start in the rear sections of the brain and move forward, these areas are the very last to mature. In fact, according to MIT.edu and many other sources, full brain maturity may not occur until far into the 20s, usually around 25 years of age. The BBC News, among others, extends this into the early 30s.

In teens, the frontal and prefrontal lobes of the brain are not yet completely integrated or connected with other more impulsive or pleasure-oriented parts of brain, the latter of which are in fullest-ever force during these years. Usually, in full-brainers such as ourselves, the frontal and prefrontal lobes will “check on impulses originating in other parts of the brain.” For teens, who are still developing those links, checks and balances are rare to nonexistent. Since these front bits of the brain are also the seat of executive function – “responsible for planning, for self-awareness, and for judgment”—organization and follow-through are also at a low point.

Now imagine all of this plus atypical neurological development. In certain ways, aspects of autism and other neurodiverse ways of being such as ADHD, may resemble - or partially overlap with - or exacerbate! - the typical teenage brain.

What I really, really want to know is: Does this mean my son may actually someday develop some sense? I do and will celebrate all of his other quirkinesses and differences, but the sheer dangerousness of his unique developmental status in this area, combined with the natural teen/20s[/30s] propensity toward rash, foolish, irresponsible behavior, is alarming. At some point, he needs - for his own safety and independence - to somehow make, integrate, and strengthen those neural connections.

In any case, allistic or neurodiverse, teens also quite blatantly lack some of the central capacities we regard as integral to prudent, productive, safe human existence.

As solutions, Jensen and Kolbert recommend the following hi-tech tools:
            * “near constant hectoring,”
            * “scare tactics:” telling terrible cautionary tales at every opportunity, and
* calling other parents to make sure your teens are never alone at their houses, either (representative teen quote following this strategy: “Why even have kids if you are going to do that?”),
...in order to:
* force our kids into faking or parroting some modicum of executive function, responsibility, and do-right,
* supervise teens’ every move, since they are personally incapable of judgment, and, most importantly, to,
* frighten our kids into not doing all the stupid things they are naturally prone to doing.

Count me in: I never thought I would be this kind of parent but, given what I’ve learned and experienced so far, I agree with them on every level. They admit, however – and I agree with this, too - that not only were/are their teens’ immediate responses “not always encouraging,” but that there is “no empirical evidence” that any of this works.

Nonetheless, it’s all we’ve got. So, for the next 8-20 years, you may call me “Full Frontal Mama.”

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama



Tuesday, December 8, 2015

IS IT TOUCHING?


I just finished reading Little Women to G and Z. That book is way longer than I remembered - and – seriously?! - emotionally grueling. As had happened throughout Little Women, but on an even more snot-filled, ugly-crying level, I began to lose it as I tried to read those last pages aloud. The closing bit, where Marmee says, even after all the poverty and hardship, and even though her daughter Beth died (sorry if I am giving anything away here), “Oh, my girls, however long you may live, I can never wish you a greater happiness than this!” And she says this simply because they are all together...I can’t even type it without sobbing.

As I read to her, as she often does, Z observed my emotional reaction and asked, “Mom, is it touching?”

Honey, to me, just about EVERYTHING is touching.

You can just look at my red, blotchy, slimy face – or your brother’s: Yes. It’s touching. When a bird lets another bird go ahead of it at the birdfeeder? Touching. Something on the radio about helping people? We will probably at a minimum get misty-eyed. When there’s a video of a baby seal? Touching. Human interest piece in People magazine at the dentist? All those interspecies friendship books? Elderly people holding hands? Yes. Anything to do with animals, life, death, romance, family, and so forth is fair game for being touching.

At the same time, on my own, I’ve been dipping into The Highly Sensitive Person, in which I was *stunned* to read that 42% of people describe themselves as “not sensitive at all.” And here I’d always thought everybody was just better at managing their feelings and reactions than I was – because there was something wrong with me. Something weak, or ignorant, or lame; a lack in me which rendered me less adept than the majority of people...People who didn’t seem to cry or laugh quite as readily, people for whom interacting with others, for example, seemed to be much more clear cut, less laden with strong, overwhelming feelings, and MUCH less daunting...

I’d assumed everybody was “like me” and that it was my “fault” for being unable to “master” my feelings and reactions. Now I see another healing, liberating spectrum! I wouldn’t quite put my Z in the “not sensitive at all” category, but on a sensitivity spectrum we clearly occupy different spaces. And this holds true for her sensory processing as well: she’s impervious to hunger, noise, lack of sleep, etc. in a way that’s inconceivable to the SPD-ers* in the family.

In Figure I, I’ve charted approximations of our family sensitivity levels relative to one another (P=Pardner, Z=my daughter, G=my son, F=me). This is obviously simplifying and generalizing, but it also clearly indicates a Full Spectrum of sensitivities just within one family.


Figure I – Touching Chart: From Squishing-Touching to Not Touching

Knowing that others have different sorts and levels of sensitivity, doesn’t mean we ourselves necessarily should attempt to change our own feelings and reactions – even if we are able (?). But that knowledge opens our eyes to possibilities of different perspectives - and perspective, as I tell my philosophy students, is the key to a lot. It’s marvelous to see how we all shine in different ways. It’s intriguing for me to imagine the experience of not sobbing at the drop of a hat; for Z, learning about things that are “touching” is inspiring her to find her own tender spots.

Guess the Full Spectrums will keep learning from each other.

We just started By the Shores of Silver Lake. You know, the Laura Ingalls Wilder where Mary goes blind and Jack, their loyal, loving dog dies? It’s going to be you-know-what.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama

* SPD-ers: people with sensory processing differences





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!


Wednesday, November 25, 2015

THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT


Are you having an idyllic Thanksgiving? Food perfect? Healthy, too? Moderate?

Everybody you’d ideally want to see alive, and present, and getting along?

Yes? Then you might want to read no further. Your seasonal gratitude is clearly appropriate.

However, for some of us humans, this is the time of year when we may be particularly inclined to draw our attention to THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT, where the inappropriate, the maudlin, the whiney, the greedy, the brutally honest, and the heart wrenching are all welcome to be COMPLAINED, once a year, in our famous COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT post, coming up in January.

Accordingly, I, Partial (incomplete) Monochrome Persona (PiMP), am once again soliciting COMPLAINTS on behalf of Full Spectrum Mama for THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT.

Have you any COMPLAINTS? We at THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT welcome ALL acceptable COMPLAINTS -- from first-world to “special” stuff about “special needs” to devastating -- with the understanding that the COMPLAINING, and thereby sharing, of COMPLAINTS may lead to a certain degree of liberation and/or solidarity.

More specifics and sorts of COMPLAINTS can be found here, here, and here.

Full Spectrum Mama herself has generously offered the following acceptable COMPLAINT, which gently skirts the border between first-world and genuine: "Because I've spent any free moments during the last few months working on my book proposal, I haven't been posting as much as I'd like and I feel lame."

Please send your COMPLAINTS to:
jineffable@gmail.com.

Sincerely,
Partial/incomplete Monochrome Persona
Factotum, THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT
Guest writer/Troubleshooter @ Full Spectrum Mama




Tuesday, November 10, 2015

PLEASE DON’T SAY YOU’RE SORRY...


Please don’t say you’re sorry when I tell you my son is autistic.

It’s like telling me you are sorry that my child is Black, or female, or was adopted: just plain wrong. Sure there are things about being a woman or person of color or autistic or having been adopted that stink, but none of them are intrinsic to the person living those qualities. They’re judgments and discriminations that are inflicted externally, not – at least not originally or inevitably - embodied.

My children are veritable rainbows of their own unique glory, neither defined nor necessarily limited by any one particular trait.

Just like everybody else.



Figure I – Veritable Rainbows of their own Unique Glory (with Partial Labeling for Instructional Purposes Only)

That is all.

Thanks and 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!






Friday, October 30, 2015

KID KOAN II

How do you get your child to successfully complete their homework with minimum damage to family life?


To ponder:
On the Mystery of Not-Knowing:
What do you do when your bright child can understand and is assigned advanced math and science but still doesn’t spell, punctuate, space words properly, write on lines, focus, care, keep track of work, or have any detectible executive function OR discipline? When, in addition, s/he gets increasingly angry or tearful when you merely try to get him/her to do homework?

To ponder:
On the Virtue of “Helping:”
My friend over at Runaway Mama cracked me up with this one: The Homework Hokey Pokey:
I read, relating, laughing, crying, and commented as follows:
Homework right now, it's fair to say, is almost ruining my relationship with my son. That dance [her “homework hokey pokey”] is entirely too familiar. The balance is so much harder and feels more crucial when your child has learning and neurological differences...He'd be failing without oversight (MAJOR oversight) and yet is highly intelligent. I try to make sure he DOES and HANDS IN his homework, without ever doing it FOR HIM. If that makes sense...That alone is practically a full time job...
Yuck.

To ponder:
On Validation, as a Sort of Loving-Kindness (Metta) Meditation, from the Asperger Experts (a duo of young gentlemen on the spectrum who tell it like it is {from their points of view} and advise families):
What we want is for our support systems to step in and actually support us by validating our struggles... INSTEAD of always trying to "fix" the situation.
How do you validate someone?
You listen to them.
You hear them.
You take them where they're at instead of asking them to be somewhere or something they're not.
You stop what you're doing and become available for them.
This does not mean offering advice. This means simply listening. 
Period. The end.
I LOOOVE me some Asperger Experts. But this homework situation unquestionably needs “fixing.” When they advise parents – AKA “support systems” -- to listen deeply, to validate, and we do so...Do we then get to do the “homework hokey pokey”? I will keep listening, but how will that get my son to begin to take some initiative with his homework and not fail eighth grade? Surely he is validated by now; in fact, I sometimes think an overabundance of self-esteem is part of the problem.

To ponder:
On the Universal Nature of Universal Design:
Is it possible that Universal Design is not as universal as it is intended to be? This question comes up in my own teaching: which “malfunctions” in the homework department stem from learning differences per se, which are a result of executive function challenges, and which arise from sheer triflingness? And how on earth do we distinguish between these, as students, as parents, as teachers????

To ponder:
On the Practice of Email:
When you are emailing about homework with your son’s case manager [Thank you, C, you are an angel!], at length, more than once, on a Saturday night, is it too much?

Deep, Responsive Thought:
Yes.


Was that scary enough for Halloween? If you’d prefer, you can read about and even justify holiday candy consumption here.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama




Thursday, October 22, 2015

IS DEVELOPING THIS SKILL: BALANCE(S) EDITION


The fall semester brings my favorite season and also, this year, an unexpected bout of teaching Intro Phil, which class only enrolled after registration closed so I was rather unprepared, the class that is by far the hardest class I teach because there’s no room whatsoever for winging it and I have to think “deep thoughts” and understand them, at least momentarily, so it takes a ton of prep, which is hard since I did not think I was teaching and took on other work, and even I don’t know where this sentence is going.

Frankly – and perhaps the above is indicative of this, hmm? -- my life generally feels out of balance, especially because of the difficulty of earning a living in a rural area while raising two high-needs kids. I’ve taken some steps to try to remedy this, but the biggest one was going to be firmly establishing a new, wildly lucrative line of work (Ramp up the editing? Finish book proposal and become publishing sensation? Teacher coaching???) this semester while I wasn’t teaching.

Oh well.

My Laotong (old same, best friend) recently shared some thoughts on balance. She said one of her wise teachers once told her that stable, even balance is a myth. That to really accomplish something you need to pour everything into that bucket, rather than trying to just dribble a little so your other bucket(s) stay(s) evenly filled. Except. If I pour any more energy into my career there just won’t be anything left for my family...and meanwhile my career is a hodgepodge that’s confusing even to me.

It’s also time for G’s three year evaluation. At times like this -- with multiple daily emails, calls, written correspondences, meetings... -- parenting my older child alone feels like another full-time job. Our last three-year eval was a Battle Royale about which I wrote in PROCESS, REPRESENT, TOOT, so grueling I am loathe to even recall it. But recall – and strategize - I must. His current school is proposing more testing, including adding testing for ADHD, which I thought was ruled out by/folded into his autism diagnosis years ago. Their explanation is that with more results they will be able to develop more tools for helping G succeed as he heads into high school next year.*

But I have to balance the school’s need for testing, documentation, and tools with how much G hates testing, how vulnerable he is to feeling singled-out, how much time this barrage of testing will take away from his much-needed academics. And we also must, at the same time, make sure their assessments reflect how G really behaves in real life contexts (he’s great at social skills in a two or three person small group environment, for example; outside of that, not so much; there’s a similar disparity for academics).

I need to try to get the right balance between the labels/tools/testing bucket and the acceptance bucket. And it’s hard to even know how to find that balance when I am facing piles like that in Figure I in addition to my work piles (not pictured).


Figure I -
The Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning
The Social and Atypical Behavior Questionnaire
The NICHQ Vanderbilt Assessment Scale
The Behavior Assessment System for Children, Second Edition



Figure II –
Closeup, Random

When you see such a plethora of tests you cannot help but think as to how this is your child's LIFE! The answers to these questions will be used to evaluate a human being, your beloved child.

You want them to be accepted and celebrated as they are, as well as situated in school so as to best Learn. You wonder how the oversimplifications of what feels like millions of multiple choice or scaled (always-often-sometimes-never, and so on, see Figure II) questions  can possibly reflect your child, and pray the testing will somehow be helpful.

You never, ever, ever want your child to read these generalized forms that aim to identify, problematize (so as to receive services), and label (ditto) and feel bad about him or herself, or judged, or reduced to a standardized series of questions and answers.

You have to go to the bathroom many times while filling them out.

Or maybe that’s just me?

Consider that while I try to find balance in testing and school in general for my son, the time this effort takes shifts the aforementioned balance I am trying to find in work...and the balance I am trying to find with my zooming into teen-land-three-years-early (she just turned 10!) daughter...

I need less in the bucket that holds stuff like me crying in the bathroom for an hour because I suddenly find out there’s a random, last-minute half-day and my schedule is so precariously micro-scheduled that this puts me over the edge. That’s a balance that’s too delicate!

When I look around me, I see that I am not alone in feeling unbalanced. Perhaps that’s because I now know – thankfully! – a lot of other families and people who fill a Full Spectrum of their own. But it’s not just them. As my fall 2015 Intro Phil students say, this system is hard.  It’s impossible for most of us to do as Aristotle advised and become a “happy philosopher,” spending your time reasoning and pondering...

But we get up every day and go after that elusive balance, don’t we? Perhaps that’s what balance is in the real world? 

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


*What?

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

ACTIVISM AND ADVOCACY FOR ALL


In honor of GraceLee Boggs.

Stop. If you only have three minutes, please read the above profile of an astounding and inspiring woman instead. Otherwise, read about her and then come back. Please and thank you.

I’d been writing this post on advocacy and activism (topics dear to the Full Spectrum heart) when I heard that Grace Lee Boggs had passed. A fellow Mawrtyr (graduate of Bryn Mawr College: Ms. Boggs was a Bryn Mawr Ph.D.), she was known for a lifelong commitment to justice and equality for ALL. In a time in which all of the following combinations were practically unimaginable, she was a *Chinese-American *female *scholar married to a *Black man. She was a lifelong feminist, worked hard for labor and the environment and her community, and advocated powerfully and effectively for universal civil rights –HUMAN RIGHTS.

My original post explored how we come to activism: how I’ve watched people with cancer (or loved ones with cancer) become cancer activists, people with sensory processing differences become SPD activists, autistic people and their families and loved ones become autism activists...

But my main point was and is that I believe and hope that people whose hearts and minds are opened up by the particular, personal injustices of the world are inclined to open those hearts and minds further to include the desire for justice, fairness, equality, and inclusion for ALL. Grace Lee Boggs represented this beautiful tendency.

She had the vision to see the humanity and worth in all people. Knowing what I know of that vision, I know implicitly that she would have embraced the concept that autistic and neurodiverse people are inherently worthy of equal rights and respect, and that families of mixed ethnicity are simply, and fully, families, and that people with sensory processing differences experience the world in completely valid ways, and...and...

Perhaps it’s this little word, “and,” that’s key. We choose “and” instead of “or:” because there are enough rights to go around. We don’t have to choose whether it’s race OR ability OR sexuality OR identity OR whatever particular “type” that “gets” to have rights.

We ALL do. 

Those with big, generous hearts remind us of the world's potential, sometimes-hidden bigness and generosity, even when it is hard for others to see. Those of us with growing hearts can look to people like Grace Lee Boggs and take hope. 



Figure I – When We Become Rainbows of Inclusion in a Sometimes Limited-Vision World

I’ve wondered why some people come to activism on their own, through a strong sense of more generalized compassion, or whether most come only through experiences of difference, discrimination, challenge...

I’ve also considered how – let’s face it – TIRING it can be to see injustice everywhere, never mind to combat it with all you’ve got. Grace Lee Boggs (okay, she didn’t have children; however she did care a great deal about them!) managed to truly live her commitment to justice for 100 years!

What is your cause? Particular, universal, or both...? And even when you don’t have the time or energy or opportunity to advocate, activate, etc., do you have a broader vision of who should be considered fully equal and human and why? I dare to hope so.

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!





Monday, September 28, 2015

DEAR PERSONS

Dear Persons,

Z has always laughed every time she hears or reads the word “persons.”

I finally sat her down and explained to her that “persons” is a word that has a deep and complicated history. That personhood was for many millennia and in many places reserved for only a certain type of people, such as men, or landowners, or white people, or people of a certain caste or religious faith or neurology...

I explained that even though it might seem silly or old-fashioned when you read or hear that word, it’s a strong word that carries a lot of goodness and respect. That she, as a female of Chinese descent, might -- in many settings over the course of history --  not have been considered a Full Person. That even now she will not necessarily earn as much as a man, or be accorded equal respect.

We are reading Malala Yousafzai’s autobiography, I AM MALALA, together, and she is learning how hard life can be for girls and women in many parts of the world. She has already experienced instances of racism at school. Knowing she’s a Full Person gives her grounding and power to stick up for herself.

This conversation inspired me to begin starting my posts with “Dear Persons,” because my readers are dear to me, and because they are all Full Persons.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama





Friday, September 18, 2015

DETECTIVE WORK

The Full Spectrums went to see a movie a few weeks ago, which is, in itself, a rarity. We went with my Meeting Friend and her family, and chose the only movie that was playing in a matinee, Mr. Holmes.

During a sad, moving part of the movie where Sherlock is really, really old and feeble and decrepit and does something pathetic, Z suddenly laughed aloud. I cringed. Perhaps she was uncomfortable, but it just felt very awkward and inappropriate...I tried to convince myself it was a mistake, but it happened again a few minutes later during a similar part. Everyone else in the theater was quiet...real quiet.  

“Good luck getting old,” said my Meeting Friend as we left the theater. As we always do, my dear MF and I looked for the bright side: “She’s very practical and realistic!” we assured one another; “Great sense of the absurd!”

On another note, the Full Spectrum children are very into any and all Secret Agent/Detective-y stuff, and were absolutely fascinated by the way Sherlock Holmes can detect things about people just through observation. As we walked back to the car, I asked them what Sherlock Holmes could know about them just by using his powers of discernment.

Z answered immediately:”That I’m a sister, and that I was adopted.”

All G had to say was, “That I’m awesome!” [See forthcoming post, “AND MODEST, TOO.”]

I wanted to hear more from both children, though I found Z’s response quite touching, so I told them, “For me, I think Sherlock Holmes could tell that I am a mother, wife, and artist. Those are the most important things to me.”

“I’m awesome,” G repeated.

“I’m mean,” said Z. Though it’s sometimes true, I don’t think mean is who Z is. I looked at her skeptically. “Well...I can be mean,” she amended.

“Don’t you want to change that?”

“What do you mean?” One thing that IS who Z is is a master obfuscator.

“Don’t you want to not be mean?”

She paused. For a while. “...Yeah.”

“Do you think you can change? I do! You’re just a kid still!”

“I think” – very matter-of-fact – “I will always be a little bit mean.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know, but I can tell I always will.”

“Well...that is something you will always have to work on then,” I assured her. “I know you can do that.”

“Huh?”

Hmm. Guess that conversation was over. (WHO, exactly, is in control all up in here?)

When I started writing this blog, I did not know anyone “like us;” I felt alienated, alone, and, much worse, so confused about parenting my two very different – from each other, from the “norm” -- children.

I felt like a failure in the most important role I’d ever had: motherhood.

I did not know, back in the day, that Z’s seemingly cruel laughter, her obfuscation, her self-proclaimed meanness are all attachment-disordered behaviors. I would have blamed myself for not raising her to be kind...I would have blamed her for being unkind and manipulative.

A number of factors (my own kinds of detective work: reading, researching, developing an online community, meeting others through the blog, finding a good specialist in attachment disorders, having a Meeting Friend) have helped me to become someone who is able to share the fruits of my detective work  in hopes of reaching people who feel as I have felt in the past (confused, alone) and feel now in the present (confused, alone, AND inspired, connected, and – every so often – just a little wise in my old age).

As for Z, if I were to name a third fundamental aspect of her identity that Sherlock Holmes might have discerned, I would say that she has a fabulous, quite broad sense of humor. That may be her, and OUR, saving grace.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama