Friday, August 30, 2013

Dear Readers,

I am sorry to inform you that Full Spectrum Mama is taking a little “vacation.”

It seems that when she picked up her children from school yesterday -- having spent the day in a panic attack on the toilet – and both children declared the first day of school “TOTALLY AWESOME,” FSM had a small nervous breakdown and had to be carted away in the Mombulance* to a “’Special’ Place” in order to have a surgical ECG** reduction. 

I am sure she will be in very good company with all the other First-Day Extrapolator-Catastrophizers, along with your general Extrapolator-Catastrophizer population.

Partial/incomplete Monochrome Persona (PiMP), Guest Writer/Troubleshooter

Thursday, August 29, 2013

...And a Small “Boo”

Maybe that “double yay” was a little disingenuous. And disingenuous is Full Spectrum Mama’s LEAST favorite thing.

The truth is, drop-off for the first day of school was devastating and I’ve spent the entire day sick to my stomach.

All summer long, I have been coaching both children (for different-slices-of-spectrum reasons) to spend their first days at their new school observing and listening. We have discussed at length how much there is to learn from taking a step back and proceeding with care. How great it might be to get to know people and what is expected of you before charging forth.

Yet when I circled back to check in on G on the swarming playground, he was standing alone and shouting at the top of his lungs. Kids were already avoiding him, five minutes in.

When I tried to stop him he said he’d made a friend and needed to find him, though G, not surprisingly, wasn’t “sure what he looked like.” I sure hope that’s true, that he’d made a friend and all, but I suspect he wasn’t going about his friend-finding in the most effective fashion. In sensory-overload situations G tends to get super-flappy, as some of us do.

Cheers and prayers for all of us first-day-of-schoolers (workers, etc.) – it’s sense-y and people-y out there!

Full Spectrum Mama

“Do you attend this scholarly institution?” or, “Do I know you?” or, Shifting Gears IV*

One minute I’m making good-natured fun of my son; the next I am realizing we share a ridiculous amount of stuff I didn’t even know about prior to becoming his mother. Obviously, learning about ourselves is NOT the main point of parenting (!), but it sure is a side effect!

Take face blindness (prosopagnosia). I always thought I was “bad with names” or “not really great at recognizing people I don’t know well.” I assumed that everybody was pretty much the same in this regard, that it would take anyone months or, more likely, years to even begin to distinguish, for example, between the fifteen or so medium-sized, slightly sporty/preppy mothers at school with shoulder-length dirty blonde hair. Hey, if not for my flashy/freaky clothing I could be one of them and I still can’t tell them apart.

But I guess everyone else...can?

Face blindness is common in people on the autism spectrum and presents in a range of degrees, in this as well as in the general population. G’s is somewhat more severe than mine, but I know he will develop coping mechanisms. In any case, if G sees someone dressed like me with hair like mine and pinky-beige skin, he will think it is me. His mother. He might figure out pretty quickly, from other cues like voice or not being recognized, if he’s got the wrong Mom, but there are moments like that, and many similar…

Age is a tough one for him, especially because he doesn’t really care about it; Gender he usually gets (though that can be fluid, which he is totally comfortable with…). But once gender is clear, other aspects are fuzzy. The boys in his old fifth grade class, all of Caucasian descent, to me were basically either stringy or pudgy at this age, and I could not tell them apart aside from that. With a few exceptions, G seemed to feel the same.

Both G and I saw the diversity at his new school as potentially a big boost in this area, especially as compared to his profoundly homogenous prior school.

Or take another commonality: vocabulary and formality of speech. Watching G interact with his peers has taught me that most people of all ages speak much more casually than we do. By the time I realized how this might impact G, we were already far too deep into a lifetime of reading old-fashioned books to backtrack.

Here’s a little vignette that illustrates both qualities, face blindness and unintentionally hifalutin speech:

We went to check out the kids’ new school a few days ago. There were two upper elementary school age looking boys riding bikes around the playground in the company of a young man in his upper teens or early twenties.

G approached the man. “Do you attend this school?” he asked.

“No, but my friends here do,” the man replied.

G got right up in one of their faces (which one? Not sure. They looked the same to me!) and asked, “What can you tell me about this school of yours?”

“I dunno, regular stuff,” the kid said, in regular kid fashion. “We eat pizza, play on the playground…have lunch…”

“Thank you very much,” said my son. “I appreciate your input.”

The next day, Noodle and I were talking about a college friend of hers who “got religion.’

“Did you anticipate this propensity throughout prior interactions?” I queried.

Now, Noodle being Noodle, she didn’t blink an eye. But I burst out laughing. I mean, who am I to worry about my son making friends on the playground?

Soanyway, amidst this huge shifting of gears -- today being the first day of school -- I am happy to report that the very first two kids G met in his new class BOTH had “differences” from the white, able-bodied, neurotypical norm in which we were previously immersed. This will make them easier for G to recognize and, perhaps more importantly, will also render G himself less “different” in the scheme of things.

Double yay!

Full Spectrum Mama

 * Shifting Gears I ( was the most polarizing post I ever wrote. In Shifting Gears II (unpublished), I couldn’t help but perpetuate that polarization. Then, in Shifting Gears III (unpublished), I began to try to break it down and make it a spectrum rather than a bifurcation. But I had to…ahem…shift gears for the new school year!!!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Quick Brown Fox Jumped over the Lazy Dogz

On the final day of camp there was a performance by all the children. An acquaintance who has an eleven-year old daughter with a mild attachment disorder (the daughter, like Z, was adopted) was in the audience. Before the show, this mother and I sat slumped next to each other, sharing knowing sighs and stories of power struggles while our daughters prepared to rule the stage.

“It’s like with [her daughter’s name], we always say, if you ask her does she want an apple or a banana she will say, ‘Can I have an orange?’”

“Oh yes, I said. “That’s Z all over. And it NEVER ENDS. That’s what’s so tiring!”

“I know,” she replied. “And people will say, ‘oh, that’s just normal’ but it’s not; it’s so much more.”

I shared the story of being at a fundraiser where a friend was selling jewelry. We had gone to a previous fundraiser and the friend had been charmed into giving Z not one, but TWO beautiful and valuable Svarovski crystal bracelets. This time, as we approached the house, I told Z that she was not to accept any jewelry from my friend. I explained that Friend Ayi (auntie) was trying to raise money to cover her bills, which were mounting because of serious health problems. Z agreed.

“Since we don’t have enough to contribute to buy ANY jewelry,” I added, “we will simply make a donation and keep her company.”

Somehow, though, Z found herself with two bracelets in front of her. This time, at least, the bracelets were less valuable, less likely to garner real money for this family in need than the other baubles scattered over the table. It seems, unsurprisingly, that Friend Ayi simply could not resist the adorableness and apparent giftworthiness of such a fetching child. As my daughter looked winningly at me in front of a bunch of people, I finally caved in and told her she could make a choice of one of the two bracelets.

“Hmm,” she thought for awhile, tapping her chin. Then, pointing at a very costly, bedazzling necklace she asked, “Can I have that one instead?”

She and I had a good laugh over that one. We both knew everyone else at the party thought Z was simply being cute, and that is a part of it…said part being rooted in such Will to Power, such persistence…It was nice to just sit with someone who knows.

Wanna know someone else who knows? Z. She could persuade almost anyone about almost anything. Children are particularly vulnerable. In fact, one of her classmates last year informed his mother that Z knows “EVERYTHING.”

We were at dinner the other day with the Full Spectrum Grandparents and somehow the sentence “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dogs” came up. We talked about how it uses every letter in the alphabet and how great it was for practicing writing or keyboarding.

“It has to be 'dogz' with a 'z,'” Z informed us in a very confident, professional-sounding tone. “Because the alphabet does not end with ‘s.’ Everybody knows that.”

It’s a potentially perilous combination, Z’s desire for total control with her appearance of total knowledge. We just keep hoping she will use it for the greater good.

Over and out, dogz,
Full Spectrum Mama

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Manly Skipping

For some reason - something about bilateral movement? The importance of crossing the midline? A vague association with the importance of crawling before walking??  – I’ve long had the unshared (by him) notion that G needed to learn how to skip. His little sister and I have been trying to teach him for years. The fact that Z always tells him she “looks like a fairy” when she is skipping does not help.*

G recently, finally, learned to skip. But he puts his own spin on it, just to make sure he doesn’t look like his sister. Or a fairy.

He balls up his fists and swings his arms in a mighty way, furrows his brow a bit and keeps shoulders low, knees high.

Watching him, I called out that I liked his “Manly Skipping,” a.k.a. “Macho Skipping.” This being Vermont, the epicenter of all liberalitude and progressiveness, of course I was being a bit tongue-in-cheek.

Then, all of a sudden, in a major collision of past and present, I realized: Manly Skipping looks just like…MOSHING!

Welp, for what it’s worth, that’s what I got this week.

Happy Summer!

Full Spectrum Mama

* As you might remember from a past post, according to G fairies aren’t real. Except the Tooth Fairy.

Thursday, August 1, 2013


This note in Z’s handwriting was in the last round of paper recycling:

“Dear evryone,
how know me
my family thinks that I don’t beylong on this family.
they hayt me”

I brought it up the day after I found it. Obviously lots to talk about. But the first item of discussion regarded the top line(s).

“So…with ‘Dear everyone’…do you think you meant everyone on earth?” I wondered.

She shrugged. Knowing Z, that was quite possible.

We pored over the next line, which neither of us could decipher. And since Z did not remember writing the note, we were left to speculate.

Suddenly Z figured it out: she meant 
“Dear everyone
who knows me”!

Oh, right. That’s all.

“When do you think you might have written this?” I asked.

“When I was mad?”

“Why were you mad?”

“I dunno.”

“Do you think maybe it was because you did something you shouldn’t have done and got busted and had consequences?”

“Maybe.” (Reluctantly.)



“Do you think you got in trouble because we hate you and don’t think you belong in this family or because of something you – who we love and who belongs in this family - did?”

“Because of something I did?”

“Yes! That’s right!” Then, to be sure, I asked, “Do you ever feel like we hate you or you don’t belong when you are not angry…like if you are sad or even just on a regular day?”


But is getting mad really the key issue here? I thought not: “…Honey, do you ever feel upset because you were adopted?”

“No!!!!”…expressed with No hesitation.


That was a few days ago.

Last night, Z was sent to bed after dinner because of Fresh Attitude toward her brother and mother, despite several extra chances. She had a giant tantrum, with lots of banging and throwing, and then she fell asleep. Later, as I went upstairs to tuck in her brother, I found this note on the landing:

“Dear Mama and [G].
i am relly sorry that I have been Bad for a long time.
i going to triy to be good but i don’t thik i can.
i love you both

The note was heartrending. No one has to my knowledge ever told Z she was BAD! Plus, we always tell her she can do ANYTHING! It didn’t seem to me that she was making excuses  either – she genuinely thought she might well be unable to “be good.”

A thoughtful reader JUST sent me this timely link: . We love and celebrate Z’s power; we never ask her to be “nice.” We only ask that she treat the people around her with basic kindness (different from niceness!) and respect. Sure, sometimes this doesn’t happen for a variety of reasons, some of them “normal” and some of them “disordered.” Nonetheless, she’s a terrific kid! How has she come to believe – at least in that moment – that she is fundamentally and irreparably “Bad”? 

Into the night, while practicing meditation, while trying unsuccessfully to sleep, I kept asking myself, “What does she need? Does she need me to be kind and encouraging? Strict and boundary-setting?” I thought of different people I know and how they might approach the situation. Wise people. Clever people.

And then I thought of all the people I know who, like Z, question their place in the world and their own abilities.

For so many of us, the worst struggle we encounter is that with ourselves. I see it with my students all the time: some students start strong and then lose steam without family support or the confidence that they can follow through; others begin with resistance, with the attitude that they lack whatever it takes to learn. It’s not always possible for teachers to reach students in these positions, hard as we may try. Feelings of trust (of self and others) and belonging can be elusive in ways that are positively debilitating, especially for people with questions about their place in their families and peer groups. Ideally, the basis for healthy self-acceptance and –confidence and trust is established at home and in those early relationships

If only I could figure out how to approach Z’s notes and her feelings of not being able to be good, not belonging, being “Bad,” maybe I could spare her the persistence of some of these grueling conditions into adulthood. Unconditional love and acceptance are always the way, right? But does Z need “cut-the-malarky-and-just-be-good-y” unconditional love or “I-acknowledge-your-deep-inner-pain-y” unconditional love? Both? Something else?

…these are among the many questions I asked myself before finally nodding off…

Wouldn’t you know it, all our energy this morning went to getting out of the house, so what I did after all that ruminating was: nothing.

Then, moments ago, I got an email from a family member* suggesting the CTFD Method, which seems enticing (

Dear everyone
who is reading this 
if you have The Answer, 
please do let us know. 

Full Spectrum Mama

* Who is currently still alive, having sent the link in an all-inclusive group email.