Friday, March 28, 2014


In all of my classes, especially those on ethics, I teach students about the decision-making processes we must undergo as philosophical thinkers addressing issues and making choices. One of the key pieces of this process is a model I use as a sort of flow chart for figuring out what we know and do not know about a given situation. Presumably, these different pieces of information will combine to give us a more holistic approach to solving the wide range of conundra we broach in class and in our lives.

Some of the questions in the model include:
            What are the facts in this situation?

            What information is missing?

            A la Donald Rumsfeld, are there "unknown unknowns," i.e. things we don't know that we do not know? (Of course there are, sweetie!)
             Insofar as we can determine them, what are the assumptions and biases involved?
Are there unconscious assumptions and biases at play as well?

            Who holds the power? Who gets to make the decisions about, on the one hand,
possible courses of action,
             and, on the other,
which information is available/public/”true” vs. which information is privileged/private?    
             Who are the stakeholders? Who benefits? Who may not benefit – or be adversely affected?
             What is the heart component? How do the parties involved feel?

I try to use these questions when I write, much as I do in teaching.

As far as writing as a spectrum-y writer with my own particular quirks, strengths and weaknesses, I have to also ask myself where that might figure into the equation. For example, last week I attended an “Autism & Asperger’s Expo.” I ran into a colleague there and he looked puzzled to see me. I explained that I have a son who is on the spectrum and who was attending a Pragmatic Language/Social Skills Group located in the same building. At this news, he looked, so far as I could tell, shocked and dismayed. But, as I had barely recognized him in the first place (see: prosopagnosia), I certainly cannot trust my assessment of his expression. I do know for a fact that he said, quite appropriately, “I didn’t know that” – and that’s all I can reliably report.

In another instance, I had incomplete information and told a story that was based on the information I had that in the end was not true to what had actually happened due to missing infomation. This post, about a family who seemed to have been inadvertently “outed” as having an autistic member, really resonated with  people and parents with a variety of personal and family differences as a common aspect of our lived experience. What had actually happened emerged as slightly but significantly different from what I had reported. The server in question, who happens to read this here blog (? I feel honored!), had mentioned to Pardner that – actually! –
1.                          the Dad of the family had been distant, detached and fidgeting with his iPhone most of dinner (therefore he was not suddenly alienated in some way by feeling labeled), and
2.                          the family had itself volunteered the name of the school the son was visiting (and therefore the server had not presumed).

I was chagrined. I spoke about it with a few people, all of whom said stuff like, “Oh, the story’s so true that the facts are almost irrelevant,” or “It’s all relative, anyway.” I (lovingly) disagreed. While it is true that families and individuals with differences can potentially have relatively more challenging interactions than “normal” people, and that this may well have been a painful experience for said family for whatever reason, what really happened really does matter. I take it as my responsibility to make that very clear, in this scenario and beyond.

Information is always partial. As writers, we know this fact full well. Some non-fiction writers even embrace it in pursuit of polemical points. This partiality of knowledge holds for all writing, including that which is considered “objective.” At the same time, I do believe in Truth. There can be unknown or temporarily-disputed facts, and different perspectives on the same truth, but I am not, never have been, never will be a relativist. I am always happy to clarify, or to add other perspectives, whether or not they are in tune with my own, so long as they add to the truth and honesty of a piece. In short, I, along with most writers I respect, aim our endeavors toward truth, at some times getting closer than others…

In this case, the parties concerned were totally bighearted about my getting it not-quite-right: I believe the server’s actual words were, “Oh, I get it! I just don’t want you and [Full Spectrum Mama] to think I am an insensitive bimbo.” Heck to the no.

So, because I know it’s just what everybody was waiting for, I have developed a model for writing creative non-fiction that suits my goals for integrity and transparency:

                              Figure I – Venn Diagram of Ideal Non-Fiction Writing Composition

Full Spectrum Mama is an Anonymous blog, with the vast majority of readers reading from afar. Yet I believe there is a sort of trust inherent in the blogger-reader relationship that I would never intentionally violate by deliberating lying or writing with bad intentions. So I have also crafted this handy diagram of unsavory elements that are never welcome in this blog:

 Figure II – Relativism and Known/Intentional/Conscious Bias en route to Finding Another Blog to Colonize

Full Spectrum Mama

Wednesday, March 19, 2014


Parents who have children who were adopted from orphanages often have to ‘teach’ their children to acknowledge pain to themselves and to express pain to others. Although Z came into our family at only nine months of age, she had already learned not to react to her body being hurt, or to express hunger or thirst through a baby’s only language (tears).

Instead, she expressed herself primarily through screaming if being put down at any time. Once she found someone to hold her at length, a single person devoted only to her and her brother (to whom she was immediately attached as well), she was not about to be abandoned. This was particularly acute during her first weeks with her family, during which not only did she demand to be held at all times but also to be walked around while being held, resulting in SEVERE sleep deprivation for all concerned.

Arriving home, we embarked upon a plan. I had heard that children whose most basic needs for comfort have not been met may present a range of developmental and emotional challenges and I had bright ideas to “fix” some of these potential issues. Reacting to pain came first: a strategy of exaggerated response to any possible injury quickly taught Z that if something happened to her that potentially did not feel good, and there was someone nearby to help, she could get a response to her feelings and be the beneficiary of comfort measures, such as an ice pack or the proverbial band-aid.

To this day, though, Z doesn’t even blink an eye at pain when she thinks no one is looking! I have watched from the kitchen window as she has fallen – hard, or been accidently but vigorously wacked with something from afar by her clueless brother. She never makes a sound…or even a face. I wonder: did she somehow never develop some important aspect of the neurology to feel pain because of those early months of neglect? Is she just brave as heck? Does she feel the pain, but less?

G and I, being highly sensitive personages, have to work really hard not to scream when we, like, step on a stray drop of water (no - really), so this is definitely a germane question in the Full Spectrum family.

Whereas a casual hidden observer could probably catch G or I writhing privately in agony several times a day, I’d wager that observer would never see the same in Z. Z has learned that public expression of discomfort leads to results, but when there is nothing to “gain” by reacting, she seems to have decided not to waste her energy.

Similarly, she doesn’t seem to notice hunger or thirst unless in the environs of potential indulgers, in which case she will avail herself of various and sundry treats. G and I, within an hour or two of not eating, invariably find ourselves starving, even trembling, with hunger. Much longer and we become vague, lightheaded, nauseous. I happen to be hypoglycemic, and G may be too; perhaps equally significant is the fact that we both had our needs met as infants. Our physiology (sensitive) and our early environments (sensitive to our needs) matched. 

Z, in contrast, seems to be able to function indefinitely without eating, unless food is offered to her. That is, her energy stays high, her focus sharp, her spirits strong -- whether she eats regularly or not…[Obviously, I haven’t performed experiments on her, I am going on seven+ years of observation.] It’s hard to imagine she could be experiencing hunger in the profound and extreme way that G and I do and still function so well, but, as must be asked vis-à-vis her pain, doesn’t she feel some hunger? She knows her situation now is one in which her needs can be met, and yet she still self-limits on those needs…unless – and this is a real possibility -- her physiology just really is that different.

That her response varies so widely according to context potentially indicates a reduced sensitivity to her own body’s cues and/or a self-imposed (conscious or un-) denial of self-nurturing and/or a really advanced mastery of social capital. Would Z be more sensitive overall, and therefore more vulnerable, had she been nurtured differently in her first months?

People sometimes ask me to blurb their books or products or blogs on this blog and I recently agreed to read a novel about reactive attachment disorder (RAD) by a reader named Michelle Weidenbenner. Her book is called Scattered Links ( and it is about a Russian orphan’s journey. I haven’t finished it (and it seems to have some Christian undertones, which may be a plus or a minus or neutral for different readers), so I haven’t yet got a blurb. I was struck powerfully, though, by this sentence from the preface, which is written in the orphan’s voice:

“We never learn how to ask for what we need because when we do, no one listens.”

I’d never connected Z’s inability to acknowledge pain or hunger with her inability to ask for what she needs or wants. Z’s refusal to ask for things comes across as regal, but it’s at base a survival strategy, a sad concession to a disappointing start.

The other day we saw a “Wild Women Don’t Get the Blues” bumper sticker and Z asked what it meant. I explained that women have often been taught to do as they are told and that doing so, just for the sake of obedience, makes women unhappy. Women should follow their own dreams and beliefs, I told her, and then they won’t get “the blues.” But sometimes the other people who make the rules -- and the other people who follow the rules -- don’t like when you make your own rules, and they might call you “wild” or “different” or “crazy,” even. And that’s okay, because you will be happier -- and stronger -- for following your own heart.

Of course, she’s still too young to make up her own rules. And I assured her I still get to boss her around for a Long Time. But I want her to know, and I will continue to say to her:  if something (or someone!) hurts you, or if you are hungry for something, speak up, my daughter!!!! How we feel – in our hearts, our bellies, our bodies, our beliefs – matters. YOU MATTER.

Now, let’s eat!

Full Spectrum Mama

Tuesday, March 11, 2014


 I was talking with a very close friend about a crisis* G had in school last week and, after I’d been blabbing for some time, she said, “Well, you’re so focused on his autism what with the blog and everything, and, you know, all kids have struggles…”

Oh dear…Is that what people think, that for us it’s all blog and/or autism? To clarify, I have three jobs now. So it’s a privilege to think about this darling blog for even a fraction of a moment. Second, this conversation had nothing to do with the blog [until now, anyway] or G’s having asperger’s. Did I mention autism during my diarrhea of the mouth**? No. This – all this I had been sharing with her about what happened at school, which incident was very painful -- was

This was, maybe, partly, also, being a child of a tough divorce. But autism? Not so much. The main crisis-inducer here was, again: being 12.  Luckily, we are good enough friends that we were able to clarify our respective perspectives well and move on, but it sure got me thinking…

Is 12 the hardest age? My vote is yes.  You are still so young, but bravely trying to be “grown-up.” You are sullen, self-loathing, monosyllabic; while also still wanting and needing to be taken care of and adored. You are still extremely cute and squeezable, yet you are, at times, a jerk. Other times, you are sweet as sunshine. Then: jerk! Sunshine. Sunshine. Jerk.

It’s SO moody at 12.

Your peers are starting to have serious interest in whoever they might be interested in romantically; and, although you might not be quite there yet, you feel it stirring. And it’s confusing.  Watching G sometimes, one can almost see the new feelings and hormones moving inside him, moving him, like the sap running in trees this time of year.

At 12, most kids won’t admit to still liking to play…and yet they do still like to play, in private or at home with younger siblings.

Sure, maybe for G, he’s a bit developmentally behind his peers, but being 12 is something that happens to most people at some point, whether they are 11 or 13 or…

Being 12 is, for G, about knowing soon you will have to put away your stuffies.

Figure I – G has a LOT of stuffies. His treasured seals [one is a manatee, oops!] are in front.***

Being 12, for G, also means still being enough of a little one to offer your best stuffies to your mom when she is sick.

      Figure II – Healing Stuffies, Blanco and Blancli, on Mama’s Pillow****

Being both of these is tender, and raw, and HUGE.

Sometimes things in the Full Spectrum household are pretty near idyllic, and sometimes they are decidedly not. Sometimes that non-idyllic situation has to do with autism or an attachment disorder or something else entirely…Sometimes, for pure awfulness as well as the occasional marvel, being 12 is enough.

Full Spectrum Mama

* Yes, I do use this word advisedly.

** I know I promised less diarrhea-focused writing; this is diarrhea of the mouth.

*** Please, those of you for whom this blog is not anonymous, DO NOT SHOW THESE PHOTOS TO YOUR 12 YEAR OLDS!

**** None of these stuffies will be gotten rid of. It’s possible they will “belong” to G’s younger sister in future, or move to FSM’s bed (shh, pardner doesn’t know about this), or be given to deserving, saintly little ones in great need.