Thursday, November 20, 2014


I recently read a book review by a person with sensory processing differences bemoaning a new compilation of essays by people on the spectrum as basically all stuff she’d heard before. It’s true: so many blogs and books are about similar things. Still, as a teacher (of yoga as well as academics), I know full well that it can take a lot of repetition for things to get through to people.

Another point in favor of repetition: Sometimes hearing things slightly differently, or from a different source, makes all the difference. I still remember the first time I really heard a yoga teacher say, “breathe deeply,” despite the fact that I’d probably been instructed to do so a bajillion times before. A particular iteration just might be the one that - finally, truly - gets through to someone.

As well, I applaud the normalization of the conversation itself! Another post about why someone needs earplugs or a weighted blanket or a sensory break?…Sigh? Or be glad that these adaptations are being integrated into the realm of “whatever” (as opposed to “weirdo-land”)?

In that vein, I offer my take on families and friends learning about difference:

A friend posted this question on facebook:
Hey friends, I'd like to know how you talk to your kids about people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. I'm finding the "difference" language, which I generally like and feel is empowering, to be somehow problematic.

[Her son]  knows that there are lots of ways people can be different, that some people are born different and some people look or act different because of something that happens in life (like veterans who use prosthetics). If I know someone's diagnosis (like Down's Syndrome), I use that in a matter-of-fact way, explaining what it is and how it happens.

The issue is when I don't know what someone's difference is diagnosed as, but I want to talk about that person with [son], so he can be sensitive to them. I want him to know it's okay to ask me any questions he might have. I don't see how he can stand up to any bullying of kids who are different if he thinks it's something so shameful we don't talk openly about it.

Thoughts? Advice?

Here’s what I said [combined and slightly edited for clarity]:

Great question and obviously one we deal with for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways in our family. I do agree that a matter-of fact attitude is so important in most observation of others. Anything from "Oh, so and so sometimes shouts," to “Yup, looks like that kid has only one arm…” to “Yes, some people think it is important to wear clothing with a brand name on it,” can be shared in a neutral and implicitly inclusive way. There might be some judgment or question appended – “Does that hurt your ears?” “Do you think brand names are important?” “How do you think she feels if people stare at her?” –  that is likewise implicitly inclusive in that it does not intentionally refer to the “normalcy” of the observed trait.

One major caveat when it comes specifically to “disability:” Many people one might label as disabled might disagree with that label. They might feel they are differently-abled, or even superiorly-abled, or completely normal in their own way….

Because there are two key underlying things here:
how people see themselves
how they are seen by others.

Obviously you want [your son] to know that all beings are worthy of kindness and respect (I hate "tolerance" [although I know it's meant well in theory, I find it condescending in practice]) including himself (who, as a male of color, will have his work cut out for him in some arenas...). This kindness and respect model encompasses both how he sees himself and how he sees others, and naturally integrates how others themselves might want to be seen, right?

What I try to convey is that Everybody is different...and everybody is equally worthy of kindness and respect. Having an autistic kid and a kid of color that's already been kind of an inevitable issue and we have our teachable moments at home as well as on the town. Sometimes they are painful. (And, by the way, there are those rare exceptions to these ideals of neutral observation and kindness and respect for all: those sorry-as$ people who do not treat us or others with kindness and respect [because they are “hurting in their hearts”] need to be treated with kindness and respect from a very long distance…)

I guess this is a long-winded way of saying:
if Everybody is different,
then "different in the way her mind [body, etc] works" or "from a different
culture" (or whatEVER)
becomes simply one difference among an infinite realm of possibility.

It’s a pretty ordinary point for those of us accustomed to daily life with “extraordinary” differences in our midst. But the implications are grand: with everybody being different, there is no homogeneous “normal” against which we all must be judged.


Full Spectrum Mama


  1. I think frank, sensitive dialogue is important. If we explain "differences" to kids in a matter-of-fact way they may start to ebmrace them as simply part of life. Here is how I told my son for the first time about his ASD

    1. Loved the post - highly recommend for any readers...
      Agree, agree, agree...
      I do think there have been really hard moments, but that fundamental normalization of difference, combined with an appreciation of the balancing positives and negatives of each kind of difference AND some of the neutralities...seems to have my guys feeling pretty good about themselves and accepting of all.
      we are heading into teenagerland, though, so stay tuned ;)


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