Monday, July 28, 2014


As anyone who deals closely with female children knows, young girls can be difficult. There isn’t a whole lot of “sisterhood” in upper elementary school, it’s more “survival of the fittest.” And Z is fit, oh yes, very fit.

Accordingly, that social piece is not a big fear for me, which is nice because for Spectrum Child Sr. it’s worrisome enough for two. But some of my major concerns about Z are nonetheless directly related to girlhood. I see her acting “cute” and using a demanding yet “girly” voice to get what she wants from lots of other people and it makes me uncomfortable. The undercurrent of my very visceral reactions to Z’s “bratty,” “manipulative,” “sneaky,” “spoiled” behavior always seemed to me to be apprehension about her Attachment Disorder and how it might affect her and make her act in these ways. But my darling friend Wise Ayi recognized a deeper source and schooled me on the root of these concerns.

I was telling Wise Ayi about a particular interaction of Z’s that I had observed and how it set me on edge and – I felt – reinforced Z’s unhealthy, Attachment-Disorder-related manipulative tendencies.

“Whoever that was with [Z] isn’t a feminist. That’s what was really getting to you,” Wise Ayi explained. Her words sank in with revelatory force, opening up a full-to-exploding can o’ worms.

I flashed on a big ol’ worm: the memory of being at a celebratory dinner when Z’s brother G got his Orange Belt in Tae Kwon Do. This was a huge occasion for G and I had invited my ex, who at the time was dating a very skinny woman with a 13-year old daughter who’d recently become alarmingly thin. We ordered scallion pancakes and my ex’s ex – in front of both of our daughters (and my son) – started going off about how they were “So fattening” and “all that saturated fat…” 

I was furious! All I was able to spit out at the time was “Some fats are good for you!” but I was steaming for days over the prospect of ex's ex “infecting” Z with that kind of body consciousness. It was my first intense encounter – I live in a very progressive community – with the idea that Z could be indoctrinated into such destructive aspects of “normal” girl culture as healthy girls seeing themselves as (and being seen as) “fat,” as diets and appearance taking center stage in girls’ lives.  

But here in the manipulative, “cutesy” behavior we were talking about demeanor, not exactly appearance – a more subtle thing, but another worm nonetheless.

Wise Ayi was right, as she often is...When Z is “sassy,” when she ends all her statements so they sound like questions, when she strikes a pose after speaking, she is implicitly buying into the construct that that is how girls get what they want. And it makes me cringe, -- partly because of the Attachment Disorder aspect, but much more, I now realize, because I am a feminist. Apparently, these affectations don’t make non-feminists cringe – but I think they should.

We all suffer when one half of the population is taught to be cute in order to get their way rather than owning their power.

Admittedly, in a way, this is a form of misogyny on my part, in that I don’t want Z to use “feminine wiles” to get what she wants. On the flip, non-mysogynistic side of this stance, I want her to succeed on her own formidable skills and merit.

I don’t want my daughter’s power to be gendered any more than it inherently will be by others – especially by her own actions.

“Feminist” should not be a dirty word or an insult, though it is taken as such by many. But “bitch” sure is. The voice of misogyny calls women in power “bitches.” Misogynous culture trains women with one insidious tentacle to be coy and “sassy” -- while with another it slaps them down for just such behavior.

Is it too idealistic or naive to hope that a straightforward, strong person of any gender might avoid the moniker “bitch”?


Still, I want my daughter’s voice and actions to be as strong as her heart and mind. And I want her to CHOOSE her voice, even to subvert stereotypes -- not be trained by those around her to be “cute,” or celebrated and rewarded for being coquettish or cunning. And if she gets called the F-word or the B-word along the way, I want her to have the true meaning of the F-word – the knowledge (and the endeavor to disseminate this knowledge) that women are equal to men, and deserve to be treated as such – to fall back on… whatever she chooses to call herself.

Something funny happened on the way to this can of worms: I realized that “girly” behavior and Attachment-Disordered behavior have something extremely important in common:
The impulse to get what you need by any means necessary. In case you can’t. In case you don’t “deserve” it. 
So, along with a strong voice, I want for my daughter
the inner knowledge to take root and to animate her voice and heart

that she does deserve

that she can do

anything and everything.

Full Spectrum Mama

Thursday, July 17, 2014


G’s latest invention is a Lego Boggart game. Boggarts are a type of magical beast in the Harry Potter books known for taking the shape of your greatest fear. In The Prisoner of Azkaban, the students learn how to conquer boggarts by facing one who is kept temporarily in a wardrobe in the teachers’ lounge.

G attached a spinning tube to a play board. You spin the spinner around and something appears -- “like the boggart coming out of the wardrobe.”  G spun the “wardrobe” to reveal a headless Lego guy mounted on the back with a scrap of paper that said “[G]” on it.

“That’s your greatest fear, Mom: a headless or dead [G].”

GULP. Yes.

I love my children equally. But Z will trounce anyone or anything that gets in her way, while G has a more tender, awkward way in the world. So I don’t really worry about Z’s survival. Whereas G could trip over his own foot and fall off a cliff, and he’d be yelling “Love you, Mama!” as he fell, just for example, not that I am actually thinking of this scenario.

Then another spin: “This one is [Z’s] greatest fear: a dead Mama.”

Um, whoah. The label now reads “Mom.”

Right again! It’s becoming clear that G is a LOT more perceptive than he lets on, or than he – not being a verbal processor -- can express.

Z’s greatest fear may well be losing me, as she is a most devoted daughter despite some of the challenges of our relationship. I am struck lately by how little she resents me, in spite of my (attachment-disorder-dictated) extraordinarily strict boundaries and constant monitoring. I am all over her like white on rice (I guess in our household I should say brown on rice) to make sure she feels safe, stays within important boundaries, and does right. And – unlike many strangers and even loved ones who look askance at therapeutic parenting -- mini-girlfriend just gets it. She knows her Mama does this all for her. She knows she needs it, maybe even better than I do. And she loves and respects me above all.

“And here’s mine, Mom…Mom?”

I’m still speechless.

“Here, look!”

I dare to peek: his scrap reads, “pokemon never existed.”

                                                     Figure I – “pokemon never existed.”

“And don’t worry, Mom. I made the spell to fix everything!” says G. Then, as he learned to from the book, he declares, “Riddikulus!”

Another turn, and the clasp on the side of the tube holds a scrap with a funny face.

                                                                 Figure II – “Riddikulus!”

Harry and his friends know the trick with your greatest fears is to make them funny.

Apparently, so does my son.

Full Spectrum Mama

Tuesday, July 8, 2014


After reading my last Sensory Blog Hop post, Whistle Nose, our friend Noodle Ayi (Auntie Noodle) talked about how part of having a hard time naming and interpreting emotions (Alexithymia) is also related to not knowing how emotions feel in our bodies.

Huh? Hadn’t even thought about that! For the Full Spectrums who are on the Autism end of our spectrum, both of whom have Sensory Processing Differences, knowing how an emotion feels in our body AND having a feeling at the same time AND functioning will be a lifelong project.

Here’s a recent example: G’s Graduation from 6th Grade, about which I’d been very apprehensive, primarily because I thought I would humiliate him with my sentimental sobbing. What actually happened was VERY Sensory, but also unexpected.

G cried, ceaselessly through his entire graduation ceremony. Big blubbery tears, shaking, trying to stop, humiliated, heaving, producing copious liquid from nose and eyes.…on the stage.

Figure I- G: SPD/ASD Child: 
Heat Plus Feelings (Crying) Equals Full Brain

To stop crying would have taken some extra capacity he simply did not have, what with the Heat and the Crying/Feelings.

Z – our resident Neurotypical, who’s also on the no-nonsense end of the spectrum -- asked, repeatedly, “Why is he crying?” Not so much with scorn but sheer bewilderment.

I didn’t cry at all.

Figure II – FSM: SPD/ASD Mother: Heat Plus Feelings (Psychicly Messaging G to Try to Stop Crying Plus, Especially, to Stop Overtly Wiping Giant Gobs of Snot on His Arm) Equals Full Brain

To cry would have taken some extra capacity I just didn’t have, what with the Heat and the Sweetie-Can-You-Stop Feelings. 

All my energy was channeled into trying to get him to calm down and breathe – complete with “useful” facial cues – and to stop, just - PLEASE, for your own sake son! -- with the snot.

So many adults came up to me afterwards and said how touching his crying was, one spoke of his “pure heart,” but I know he felt terrible. It couldn’t have been a big status-builder with his peers.

G’s an old sap from a long line of softhearted saps, and this event was overwhelming on a myriad of levels. Being hyper-empathetic, I think he was feeling and expressing what so many in that room were feeling and not expressing. And it was a huge year for him, finally feeling like he belonged, in unprecedented ways.

Most of all, the heat in that room was so overwhelming that for both of us it was almost impossible to function. I am sure it was awful for everybody, no question, but with Sensory Processing Differences the brain simply cannot prioritize in the “normal” way.

Heat plus another thing? That is IT.

Then G got REALLY SICK. Fever, nausea…I think the latter might have had to do with his eating four desserts during the “refreshments” part, but I genuinely think the fever was his feelings in his body. This scared me, because I, too, get my feelings in my body – and I ended up with rheumatoid arthritis, one of the few diseases known by western, mainstream medicine to be in many cases the result of trauma.

In these ways SPD is so closely linked to our emotions. If we can better process our feelings, we will be exponentially healthier – body and mind.

But if you take even just this one little scenario, Heat plus Tears or Not-Tears were maximum-capacity situations for us. Noodle Ayi’s sage thoughts around figuring out how emotions feel in our bodies were one order above where we sat, blubbering and not blubbering, in that hot room.

There was no
“how does my body feel right now?”
never mind
“what is this emotion my body is feeling?”
never, never mind
“I am feeling this way, which represents…”

For some people with Sensory Processing Differences, even ONE of those factors might be enough, as in: Heat = Full Brain = Go Home, or Big Feeling = Full Brain = Tantrum.

So you can see where it might be nice to have strategies to manage all sorts of scenarios involving, oh, life. It could be extremely helpful to be able to use another tool to discern how we are feeling, from the way our bodies are feeling.

The first step for our Full Spectrum family, though, has been to acknowledge and begin to understand how we process experiences in ways we could not fathom before knowing we had Sensory Processing Differences.

I’m feeling….hopeful?

Full Spectrum Mama