An Autistic Announcement

Many people who know me well already know this because I’ve been increasingly open about it, but I want to make a general, public post about autism so here goes.

Around two years ago I received an autism diagnosis. For those who are surprised, please read this.

Knowing I’m autistic is not a bad thing. In fact, this is the single most helpful thing I’ve ever learned about myself. There will be many links in this post if you also want more information.

You may want to read Nick Walker’s What is autism? to start with. Here’s an introduction geared towards a newly diagnosed child if you would prefer a simpler explanation in very clear language.

Being autistic explains my life. Every struggle, every confused moment, everything. I’m not interested in rehashing my history so you’ll just have to trust me about this. The diagnostic process took months and involved a thorough and harrowing look into my past and then-present struggles.

I’m going to make a list for the rest of the post. These are some important things to know if you care about me, especially as April “Autism Bewareness” Month approaches:

  • I use identity-first language. I’m autistic. I don’t “have” or “live with” autism. If you want to learn more, this post looks at the significance of language choice and has links to commentary on all sides of the person-first vs identity-first debate. This brief post (with a nifty comic to illustrate the point) effectively sums up my thoughts about the issue.
  • I struggle a great deal with communicating clearly in person even when I seem to be communicating just fine. If you’re not sure what I mean, please ask for clarification rather than making assumptions. I may need a moment or two to process what you’re saying, especially if you say something unexpected. I may then need another moment or two (or even years, in extreme cases) in order to figure out how to turn my response into words. Sometimes I can’t talk effectively or at all and this may cut a conversation short. I almost always prefer conversing via text (online, email, etc) rather than via spoken word.
  • I often get overwhelmed very quickly when socializing and/or in a situation with a lot of sensory input and it can take me a while to respond to texts, emails, and private messages. I’m also terrible about getting together with people in person. Please don’t take such delays personally.
  • I’m not interested in having anything to do with puzzle pieces, lighting it up blue, Autism $peaks, or ABA. I don’t particularly want to be tagged in or sent posts about those things either, especially in April when that rhetoric is unavoidable to begin with.
  • I do not use functioning labels (such as “high functioning” and “low functioning”) because I’ve found they are not helpful, can be harmful, and aren’t accurate anyhow. Some days are easier for me than others and if you see me out and about then it’s probably a pretty decent day.
  • If you have an autistic child or think you may be autistic yourself and want help sifting through the available information, please contact me privately. I’m usually happy to send you specific links and/or chat with you about your situation as I feel able. I’ve read/saved hundreds of links, have read dozens of books relating to autism (mostly from other autistic perspectives), and I love sharing autism information with people who are sincerely interested in learning more.
  • I’d rather you directly ask me questions about autism than use google because most top google sources are written by non-autistic people and often don’t accurately reflect the experiences of #ActuallyAutistic people. I co-founded a local autistic advocacy/support group and post autism information regularly on the group’s Facebook page, which you can follow, if you’d like.

Thank you for reading ❤

~B.

Advertisements

Learning to Read While Unschooling

A couple weeks ago my newly-turned 6 year old decided to learn how to read. 

Now, this didn’t come completely out of the blue. She’s been making some noise about wanting to learn how to read for several months, but every other time I had sat down with her to work on letter sounds it had quickly become clear that she wasn’t quite ready. 

This time was different. 

This time she approached me with a plan. 

First, she folded up a piece of paper and asked me to write the alphabet — with both “big” and “little” letters — for her. I obliged and went back to doing whatever I had been doing. About ten minutes later, she came back with several folded pieces of paper and informed me that she needed help stapling them together so that it could be her reading book.

We got the reading book all stapled and she asked me to spell out the title “*6 Year Old’s Name* Reading Book” so she could write it on the front. She’s known how to read and write her name for a while so all those letters were fine, but she didn’t know what most of the others even looked like. I discovered at this point why she had wanted the alphabet written out: every unknown letter I told her to write, she would look up by singing the alphabet song and pointing at each letter in the alphabet until she came to the correct one. 

At this point I was beginning to pay a bit more attention. 

Now, generally speaking, when my children have difficulties with something and get frustrated, we take a break. I don’t push them to continue, although I do encourage them a great deal. Every single time, it’s been about six months before they’re ready to try again and at that point they often find the previously difficult skill to be ridiculously easy. 

At this point it had only been a couple of months since her last serious reading attempt and it had been very frustrating for her. I put it down, fully anticipating that we wouldn’t see a marked improvement in her reading readiness for around six months, so when she first approached me this time, I began the process without being attached to any significant outcomes. 

But here she was! Proactively creating her own method for learning how to read and write on her own terms.

Then she informed me that she was ready to read “those books on [my] iPad.” The “those books” she referred to are the New Alphabetti books from ProgressivePhonics.com. I had been very impressed with them a couple months previously when we had first looked at them together. She had been less impressed, but now was insistent that she was going to read and that she wanted to read those books. Now.

Okay, then! We sat down with the iPad as soon as I got the 2 year old occupied with his building blocks. 

I immediately noticed a difference in my 6 year old’s readiness. 

Instead of needing constant help and reminders the way she had a couple months ago, she was remembering the letter sounds on her own. When we came to a new word that she hadn’t learned before, she sounded it out and then painstakingly wrote it down in her “reading notebook” before we continued. 

At the end of the book, she insisted on reading the next one right away! 

My 6 year old simply created her own reading program — including copywork — on her own terms and based on what she needed in order to learn how to read. 

When she finished the second book, we mutually decided that we should wait until the next day to begin the third. At that point she informed me that her goal is to participate in National Novel Writing Month this November with her two older sisters and me. 

I couldn’t be any prouder. 

Between my oldest two children, I already have a computer programmer, a gymnast, a musician, a ballerina, and two authors. I cannot wait to find out what interests this third child decides to pursue! I only hope that we’re able to continue supporting them all in whatever ways they need us to as they grow and find more interests or refine the ones they already have. 

Homeschooling, Responsibility, and Educational “Gaps”

An excellent post, “What If,” showed up in my Facebook news feed today. It’s about the “what if” questions that “interest led” homeschoolers typically get asked and it reminded me of a discussion I had many years ago – almost a decade now, actually – when my oldest was a baby.

I happened to tell a woman at the local La Leche League meeting that we were planning to homeschool because I had been homeschooled myself and had loved it. In response she told me that she didn’t think she would be able to handle shouldering ALL the responsibility for her children’s education and that she would be too worried about ensuring that there weren’t any “gaps” in their education since she, being only one person, couldn’t possibly know everything that her children might potentially need to know.

She asked me how I thought I could handle that immense amount of pressure.

I thought for a few moments before responding because these weren’t issues I had considered before. In the spirit of the other article and before giving you my responses, I’ll put her statements into the “what if” format.

*What if you fail to teach them everything they need to learn? <- which is also assuming that all the educational responsibility is on the homeschooling parent.

I told her that, first of all, my children’s education wouldn’t all be on me…. because homeschoolers, in my experience, are often encouraged to go out and find mentors or classes in the community to help them pursue their specific interests if the parents cannot teach them adequately or to a more advanced level in that area.

In my own homeschooling life, by middle school I was primarily interested in music and music education so I took piano lessons and was allowed to attend band classes at the local public middle and high schools. By high school, I was well on my way to learning multiple band instruments. By my sophomore year I was attending five separate band classes as well as assisting the high school band director in multiple ways – sorting sheet music, cataloging the music library, tutoring other students, and generally trying to be helpful.

All of that extra music focus was in addition to the usual school subjects that I continued doing through high school. Attending the music classes was also my own idea to start with, helped along by the ample encouragement I received from my parents. I had attended a piano teacher training course and was teaching my own young piano students by the time I was 16 years old.

My parents, on their own, could not have helped me advance as far in instrumental music and music education as I eventually advanced, and yet I managed to advance that far by finding an adult mentor (my band director, whom I still see fairly often on Facebook) and well over a hundred peer mentors and mentees (fellow band geeks, unite!) as well as eventually choosing to major in Music Education at an excellent college.

In my children’s lives right now, finding mentors/classes involves them attending ballet classes and roller skating lessons – which are interests that are also beyond the scope of most public/private schools. We’ve been involved in co-ops in the past for subjects as diverse as art and science. As they find more and different interests that I don’t know enough about to assist them in learning, we will help and/or encourage them to find classes or mentors for those interests as well. Naturally, their musical interests have been well covered by my own knowledge and experiences so far 🙂

*What if your children have significant gaps in their educations because you yourself can’t possibly know everything they need to know?

In response to that part, I simply asked that person I was talking to if she thought her (public school) education had been without gaps and she seemed to suddenly understand. Oh, NO education is without gaps. Right. In fact, she told me that the gaps in her education were part of the reason she was concerned about having the responsibility for her children’s potential educational gaps, which is completely understandable.

We talked a bit more about how there really isn’t any way of ensuring that there won’t be educational “gaps” because even if someone is taught everything in the world in the most effective way possible, they aren’t going to be able to remember every single thing. There will still be gaps no matter how rigorous the curriculum is or how well-trained the teacher is.

I explained so many years ago that the most important thing to me then, as well as now, is that I help to set my children up for a life full of learning. I will do everything in my power to help them learn the basics so that they have a good foundation. I will facilitate and encourage them in everything they want or need to learn. Ultimately, though, I will consider their early learning to be a success if they retain and build upon their innate love for learning and knowledge of how to learn because then they will be able to fill in those inevitable “gaps” as they want or need to do.

My parents, especially my father, modeled a love of learning to me throughout my life that has carried me through numerous interests and jobs. They cultivated my love of learning and I cannot think of a single day when I haven’t learned something new and enjoyed the process. I have easily been able to fill my educational gaps every time it has become clear that there was a gap that needed to be filled. That ability has been priceless to me.

That is what I want for my children.

Disclaimer: I do not speak for all homeschoolers, only for myself. There are many different reasons out there for homeschooling and many other types of homeschoolers that may or may not fit within the scope of this post.

Homebirth Cesarean

I’m particularly excited about the new (and only) Homebirth Cesarean book and workbook that just came out. I don’t have my copies yet, but I have many dear friends who have experienced homebirth cesareans and I’ve been listening to and learning from them for many years now. My own copies of the books will be arriving shortly, but I wanted to write based on my own experiences and what I’ve learned so far, before I read the books. For a review of the book, I recommend checking out this article: http://commonhealth.wbur.org/2015/03/what-to-expect-when-youre-birthing-at-home-a-c-section-possibly

If you aren’t familiar with the term “homebirth cesarean,” there’s a good, albeit unfortunate, reason for that: the term hasn’t been around for very long, oddly enough. The reality of homebirth cesareans has been around for quite some time, but until recently virtually nobody was talking about them and there certainly wasn’t a specific term for them.

A “homebirth cesarean” is, put quite simply, a homebirth that requires hospital transport and then a subsequent cesarean section. Nobody is actually having cesareans at home (as far as I know).

This special term is necessary because, in our (USA) society, it takes a specific type of commitment and belief in the benefits of out of hospital birth in order to even consider a home birth. Usually the women who plan homebirths are extremely involved in the natural/home birth community and, in the pushback against unnecessary birth interventions, this community has had a tendency to demonize interventive births and hasn’t always managed to differentiate between necessary interventions and routine interventions.

Many natural birth advocates have seemed to forget that — although it’s true that the vast majority of births don’t require much, if any, intervention and it’s also true that it’s better to let things progress naturally when everything is normal and going well — every modern birth intervention has a time and a place when they’re appropriate to use. These birth interventions can be extremely necessary and even life-saving depending on the situation. In the name of “positive thinking” women are often actively discouraged from considering the possibility that there could be complications during their births. Homebirth transports in general tend to be all but a completely taboo topic in many natural birth circles.

Coming from that community it’s easy to see how a very medical birth of any type, let alone the ultimate of interventive births — a cesarean — can be perceived as a failure. The questions about what the mom, midwife, and/or doula “could’ve done differently” to “avoid” or “prevent” a surgical birth are all too common from the natural birth community, as are the well-meaning but ultimately dismissive comments about “well at least you have a healthy baby” from those outside of the natural birth community.

Mothers who experience homebirth cesareans not only have to deal with the loss of their preferred birthplace and type, but often also the loss of the support of the community that had previously encouraged them in their homebirth plans. Instead of feeling supported and validated, they are often viewed as examples of home birth “failures” —  cautionary tales of what “not to do” or instead threats to the viewpoint that birth is overall a safe experience if not interfered with.

The reality, however, is that there are no guarantees in birth. You can do everything “right” and still have an unexpected or undesirable outcome. Planning a home birth doesn’t necessarily mean you will birth at home or avoid a cesarean. Safe hospital transport options and the availability of cesareans when needed are integral to helping home birth remain a safe option.

Unfortunately, the emotional fallout from a home birth transport can be devastating even when the mom and baby are healthy in the end and I believe that the natural and home birth movements are partly to blame for that fallout by not acknowledging and talking with expecting moms about the potential for this to happen.

On the hospital side, respectful reception of moms and babies who transport would go a long way as well. However, as doulas and (student) midwives and natural birth advocates, we have to begin and continue to listen to moms who have transported for cesareans, to talk about the reality of transports, and to talk about the reality that cesareans are life-saving operations when they become necessary.

Cesareans aren’t something to avoid at all costs and they don’t signify a failure of women or of home/natural birth. A cesarean is far from the worst birth outcome and sometimes it’s the best outcome.

My Children Talk to Strangers

Yes. You read that title correctly. In fact, my children are encouraged to talk to strangers under most circumstances.

Today I took all four children (by myself – whew!) to a local grocery store where they have a children eat free night once a week. While I was waiting for our food at the deli, my children asked and were given permission by me to go and sit down in the seating area, with the general admonitions to stay together and to actually stay sitting once they found a place to sit.

So, anyhow, when our food was ready I paid for it and headed over to the seating area to find my 6 year old daughter chatting happily with a lady who was wearing her baby in a ring sling, the way I wear my little babies. I smiled at both the lady and my daughter while I continued about 10 feet away to the table where my other daughters were sitting, waiting expectantly for their food, which I delivered to them while also half listening to my 6 year old talking to the lady about her baby brother.

About five minutes later, my 6 year old joined us at our table and began eating. When they were all settled in with their food, my 8 year old started telling me about the lady they had talked to so I asked them a few questions. We have talked a bit about strangers, but I don’t really teach about “stranger danger” and I wanted my girls to have an opportunity to evaluate why they all had felt comfortable talking to this lady.

My first question: “Why did you feel comfortable and safe talking to the lady with the baby?”

I got several different answers, “Because she seemed nice.” “She had a baby.” “I liked her.”

Great! I told them that listening to that feeling inside them is one of the most important things they can do when deciding whether or not to talk to someone. I reminded them that any adult – not just a stranger – who asks them for help or tells them to do something without telling me, is probably not safe and they should let me know immediately about anyone who does those things. I reminded them that if they ever do get that feeling about someone, then they should, what? “Tell you or Papa!” there was a chorus of voices answering that question. That was an easy one.

I want my children to be comfortable interacting with people in public. They will be doing that for the rest of their lives, after all. Besides, anyone can become “not a stranger” simply by introducing themselves and it isn’t just “strangers” who are dangerous for children. Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

That last point bears repeating: Most of the time, children are abused by people who are very well known to them and to their parents.

Because of that, I want my children to be very attuned to their “gut feelings” about people. We don’t force our children to hug or even to talk to people whom they are uncomfortable hugging or talking to. They have ownership over their bodies and they need to be able to say “no” now in order to effectively say “no” when they’re older and maybe getting pressured by dates or meeting people who might not have their best interests at heart.

So far, so good. This lesson about trusting their intuitions and watching out for “tricky” adults, along with the many other lessons they’ve had about “secret touching” and the teachings of proper terminology for body parts will hopefully help my children both in the short and long runs as they navigate a sometimes hostile world.

A Proud Mama Moment

My oldest daughter, my just-turned-eight year old, received everything she asked for on her birthday this year. Spoiled? Maybe. Although, given what she asked for, I feel as though I’m the spoiled one.

She asked for a dictionary and  a snake reference book. We found her two reptile books because there didn’t seem to be any that were only about snakes. She has absolutely loved and used them all since her birthday and I’m just as pleased as can be that she loves reading and learning as much as she does!

This is my child who was barely reading more than the words “cat” and “dog” a year and a half ago and who has devoured books as varied as Mrs. Piggle Wiggle, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Secret Garden, and Tennis Shoes in the past year.

I love seeing how much she loves learning and I love talking to her about the books I loved to read when I was her age!

I used to love reading reference books when I was her age too, and I still do, actually 🙂

birthday books

Judging Parents by Their Own Behavior

20131129-093702.jpg

Subtitle: Parents Behaving Badly

There’s a trend in our society that has always bothered me somewhat. We compliment parents when their children are well-behaved and we, likewise, condemn them when their children are ill behaved. Given that nobody can completely control anyone else’s behavior, why aren’t we judging the parents on their own behavior instead of on the behavior of their children?

Yes, parents absolutely do need to be teaching their children how to behave in public and how to handle themselves in various situations, but the idea that one person (even a parent) either can or should have such complete control over another person (even a child)’s behavior is just a bit troubling to me. Teaching someone is not the same thing as controlling them is and when we judge parents by their children’s behavior, there seems to be an implicit assumption that the parents should be controlling those children and keeping them under control!

Before even mentioning any practical issues regarding children and their behavior in public, I think that it’s important to recognize that children are people too. They have good days and bad days. They have days when they eat too much sugar, too little food, or miss a nap and go bonkers in the grocery store or other public place. Children, just like adults, are prone to lose their tempers, get grumpy, become frustrated, and lash out.

Children also possess far less impulse control than adults do, which is why it rather puzzles me that we, as a society, seem to expect children to behave even better in public than we expect their parents to behave.

Often, children’s inappropriate behavior is precipitated by an unwise decision on the part of the parents (like taking a young child shopping during naptime), but we should hold the parents accountable for their unfortunate decision rather than the reaction of their child to the parents’ ill conceived decision (a possible meltdown or tantrum during the aforementioned naptime shopping trip).

Truly, I think that this expectation, that parents should be “in control” or “controlling” their children’s behavior causes a lot of bad behavior on the part of parents themselves. In an effort to show their children as well as everyone around them that they are “in control” or “doing something about” their children’s bad behavior, parents will often resort to threats or even physical violence against their children.

Public threats and physical violence are not something that we tolerate from any other group of people other than parents when the threats and physical violence (spanking) are directed at their children.

Why is this? Why is it socially acceptable for parents to lose their tempers and threaten and yell at or even hit their children in public?

I think it’s because we, as a society, also believe that such threats and violence establish the parents’ appearance of “control” over their children, which is more acceptable to us than seeing children behaving like children and being taught respectfully how to behave in public or being removed from a situation when it has proven to be too much for them at this time.

I think that it would be more productive for parents to be judged by their own behavior. I’d far rather see a parent calmly handling the issue of a tantrum-ing child in public, trying to figure out the underlying issue and treating the child with respect, than to see a parent lose control themselves while dealing with an out of control child.

How can we expect children to exhibit self-control in public most or all of the time when we, as parents, cannot even exhibit perfect self-control in public all of the time?

Practically speaking, I don’t believe we can.

I think that we need to have more grace and patience for children in public situations. I think that we need to recognize that they are people and that when their basic needs aren’t met, they are going to react badly to situations, just as any adult would except more so because they don’t have the impulse control or experience to handle situations as well as adults should be able to.

I think that we need to better support parents in teaching their children with grace and patience so that they don’t feel the need to react in a heavy-handed manner to their children’s childish behavior, whether in public or private.

In somewhat related news, I rather enjoyed this article by the Onion this week. Sometimes there’s just so much truth in satire… 😉

Previous Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: