To my Mummy ❤️

It’s been 9 years since you left and my life has changed in ways I never imagined. When you died, I was a new inexperienced mummy fumbling around with everything related to child rearing, but completely focused on my career and driving it forward.

Fast forward 9 years, and I’m 6 years older, many years weirder. I’m Super Mama (but still fumbling), autism advocate, homeschooling mom, blogger and yoga instructor. There is no science or career and career-focused is one of the last phrases that I would ever use to describe myself.

I’ve learnt the value of family and loved ones, the significance of health over wealth. I’ve discovered the ability to find beauty in simplicity and recognized the importance of appreciating every single moment however fleeting it may be. I’ve realized how easy it can be to take those we love for granted, assuming that there will be another day to say sorry or I love you, but then finding out that extra day is gone and will never be back.

When I gave your eulogy, I said that regardless of how tiny the accomplishment, the person who always lauded praises the loudest, was you. Yet I’ve always wondered how you would’ve reacted to the complete 180 that my life has taken.

I hope I’ve made you proud.

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Yes, Professionals CAN be Allies too!

I wish that I could take credit for this post, but my mind would never have captured these sentiments so eloquently. Tracy Hutchinson Wallace has been my guide and rock from day #1. As the other half to our support group Autism Spirit, I have always explained our personalities as 2 sides of a coin… balancing, yet complementing each other. I’m the emotional, heart on my sleeve personality and she’s the pragmatic, educational aspect. But I think we are continuously rubbing off on each other and it results in this. That piece of writing that explains perfectly the logistical issues of the medical model of treating autism while exploring the challenges that can be experienced when the views of #ActualAutistics are pushed to the side.

 

A very brave therapist reached out to me the other day. I say “brave” because I know that my social media self (and me IRL if you are unlucky 😉 ) can be very offputting at times! Anyway, the therapist pointed out that professionals are easy targets for the anger and frustration of parents and disabled communities. They felt that we forget sometimes that they are not just service providers but humans with, often, a significant personal motivation for doing what they do. This was my response…

“Thank you for reaching out. Here’s the thing, you are correct that professionals are seen as service providers. And therein lies the problem. They should behave as if they are PARTNERS and ALLIES, offering supports, accommodations, education AND services to and for Autistics, not neurotypicals. Unfortunately, the medical model of Autism persists in trying to “cure” or “fix” Autistics, despite valid concerns and supporting evidence of the permanent damage inflicted by that attitude. It is disheartening, to put it mildly, to see this attitude demonstrated by a group that is governed by the rule “first do no harm”. It is “privilege” demonstrated in the worst way.

Therapists, as a group, claim to support Autistics, and yet:

  • you still use person-first language and functioning labels
  • you still design, promote and implement methodologies to “help” Autistics be “more” neurotypical
  • you “don’t have a major issue with the information that Autism Speaks puts out, even though that information and the organisation itself promotes an inimical, malignant view of Autism – that’s a disconnect that only neurotypicals can afford to live with
  • you don’t use your influence in the public arena to change attitudes of laymen towards disabilities
  • you don’t support the view that Autistics should be at the centre of, and drivers of Autism research, instead of being marginalized or ignored
    And worst of all:
  • you actively profit from your actions or the lack thereof.

Understand, I too was heading in your professional direction before life laid out another path, so I have no problem with people getting paid. I do not accept, however, getting paid to maintain the status quo, when that state is actively detrimental to your patients. Even professionals with personal knowledge of Autism are guilty of this.

Small wonder that Autistics are hostile – you are helping to make life harder for them, not easier. So, for the most part, you “look fuh what yuh get” as we say in the Trini parlance.

Look, it is commendable that your “deep personal connection” to Autism has inspired you and others to do what you do. From what I understand, #ActualAutistics, more than any other group in the various Autism communities, laud your respect for the privacy of your family members and loved ones. But they don’t need you to “advocate as a regular citizen”. When you do that, you are DELIBERATELY withholding two of your most potent weapons in the fight for Autism acceptance:

  • first, society’s general acceptance and respect for the knowledge and expertise and experiences of medical professionals, and
  • second, for those professionals who are not the primary caregivers, supporters and guardians of Autistics, the extra energy you generally can spare to be allies for ALL Autistics.

Some parental and family allies have the extra spoons to advocate for every Autistic; most don’t, and we could really do with the support and influence wielded by professionals who don’t actively have skin in the game.

If you really want to improve the quality of life for the spectrum of neurodiverse humanity, then don’t just exercise your profession, conduct your therapies and get paid. Instead, listen to actual Autistics, follow their lead in advocacy, make the needs of Autistics the centre of whatever you do and say, and use your privilege wisely. Be an Ally, not an anchor around their necks.”

If you are interested in the work our support group does, please check out this link http://www.facebook.com/autismspirit 

Frustrated, Angry or Tired?

I love my son. I hate being an advocate.

The activism and advocacy part of this journey is something I never went looking for. And as much as I would never want to change my child, I would gladly give this part up in a heartbeat. With every choice I make, my intention is always in the best interests of him.

Advocacy was something forced upon me or maybe I stumbled into it. I didn’t suddenly wake up one morning and decide I’m going to spend hours every single day fighting for basic human rights. I didn’t decide that I would prefer to spend countless hours researching United Nations Conventions and laws applicable to where I live, instead of spending quality time with my son.

I didn’t choose to become a speech therapist, an occupational therapist, a psychologist, a nutritionist, a food therapist, an administrative assistant, a financial planner, a teacher… all self-learnt and without the benefit of years of professional studying and training. All I wanted was to be a mummy.

Unless you’re in our shoes, I’m not sure that you can totally wrap your mind around the fact that being a parent of a child with special needs is tough. And depending on where you live, it can be even more difficult. We wait 15 months or longer for an appointment to diagnose. If we choose to pay privately, we pay in excess of US$1000. There is no publicly available speech or occupational therapy. So we have to pay at least US$50 per session. There is a special needs grant of approximately US$120 monthly. But your eligibility is determined through means testing. So if you have a job or own a house, you are not going to be approved. Disregard the fact that your job is less than minimum wage. Disregard any of your expenses. Disregard that your house was inherited and is little more than a roof over your heads.

We have to hope that we can find a school willing to accept our children and then be faced with the criticism that our children are “disobedient and lack discipline” when the reality is that they are misunderstood and few are willing to go the extra mile to care.

We watch as our children are ignored by “friends and family” who think it’s too much trouble, so they don’t invite us to parties or outings. And then we try, often without success, to pick up the pieces of their broken self-esteem and help them glue those pieces back together.

I’m not frustrated; I passed that stage a long time now. I’m not angry either; it’s a wasted emotion that doesn’t change or improve anything. I’m tired: mentally, physically, emotionally tired! I want to be able to play with my child and spontaneously go to the movies… not plan a half hour trip, 2 days in advance because I have to think what time will have the least people and there won’t be as much noise, but it won’t be very bright outside because it will hurt his eyes and will there be anything that he will eat or is the cinema out of stock of plain cheese pizzas? And trust me when I say that being out of pizza will lead to a meltdown.

There’s my vent and rant of the week. The people who are on the same journey will understand what I’m saying. The people who have not stepped into my shoes will likely scratch their heads and think that I don’t care about my son or I wouldn’t say these things. Some may try to understand and I’ve always believed that if I am able to reach just one person, that counts as a victory. Now I’ll go back to my son and continue to try my best to make this world a better place for him.

F9157FAE-3845-4D88-81D2-2A09246DB5C1Photo credit by THW 💙

Gratitude and Opportunities

My last working day at my corporate job was February 12th 2016. When I made the decision to pursue self-employment, my vision was nothing more than teaching yoga classes and making enough money to ensure that I could feed my son, and occasionally myself. I knew that my environment was toxic and my wellbeing was more important. I also knew that embarking on your own statistically takes 5 years to become successful. In other words, I should not plan on anything more than breaking even and hopefully not eroding all of my savings. I made a conscious decision to ignore the five year statistic since I realistically couldn’t survive for more than three years.

For the first time in my life, ambition went out the window. I thought no further than the following month when I finalized what classes I was teaching. Despite that, my level of gratitude increased. I became more aware of my blessings which didn’t require finances or accumulation of materialistic wealth. And without expectations, I saw opportunities arise that I had never intended.

One year after leaving my job, I started to homeschool my son. Me who lacks any semblance of patience, who felt like pulling my hair out just from doing homework with him, decided to discard the few remaining marbles that I had and prove I was certifiably insane. Fifteen months later, we’re both still alive *bonus points* Has it been without struggles? Of course not! But has it been worth it? Most definitely. I have seen firsthand the changes in his emotional responses and his anxiety. In the past, I was always vocal about the negatives of our school system… the unnecessary pressures coupled with approaches that have been scientifically debunked as beneficial. Now I speak from experience.

While I continued to take yoga one month at a time, I saw huge improvements in our autism advocacy group. I saw our reach expanding almost daily. Our vision has always centered around empowering parents. We believe that parents are the best advocates for their children because who knows your child better than you? And as we have been able to reach more parents, we have also been able to educate a larger portion of the community. How else can you create greater awareness and acceptance if not without the support of those around you?

And then one night around midnight, I decided to start a blog. It seemed like a good idea at the time and five months later, I have over 1000 views and 700 visitors. But bigger than that was the opportunity to have two published articles through The Mighty.

The biggest success has been the growth of my yoga classes.  My yoga mama said to me last week “you’re growing a business. What’s your future plans? What’s your vision?” And my initial response was “What business? No I’m not. I’m simply teaching yoga classes”. I also thought “this is adulting again! Somebody save me!” But after the initial shock, I realized the legitimacy of her statements. Without even trying, I went from a single regular client and two inconsistent ones to six regulars and additional jobs emerging daily.

Did I write this as a boastful chronicle of my successes? Nope. It’s a truthful but abbreviated narrative of the last two years. March 2018 was the first month that I felt financially secure in my decision to give up an established career of over fifteen years and two degrees that took me seven years to complete. This is an account of how my life changed when I stripped away all the non-essentials and found gratitude in less… when I changed my perspective from planning the next ten years of my life to instead a recognition of living and appreciating the moment.

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My present list of achievements includes…

  1. Super Mommy (where is the flying cape emoji when you need it?)
  2. Yoga Lady 😉🕉
  3. Homeschooling Extraordinaire 🤓
  4. Autism Advocate 💙
  5. Social Media Butterfly with a Purpose📱
  6. Blogger 💻
  7. Writer 📝

We are guaranteed this moment and nothing more. Make sure you make the most of it 😉

Why I Hate April

April is Autism Awareness month. Last year I remembered an intense sense of dread and depression about two weeks in and I found it necessary to remove myself from the usual social media channels that I would frequent. I anticipate this year will be no different. Allow me to explain…

The ongoing battle as to what color, hashtag and symbol should reign supreme

When my son was first diagnosed, almost five years ago, one of the first organizations that I came across was Autism Speaks. It took almost a year before I learnt how vilified this organization was by the vast majority of the autism community. To my understanding, the color blue and the puzzle piece symbol were largely instituted by Autism Speaks and remain irrevocably linked to this organization. A full explanation of all the controversies with Autism Speaks would require its own separate blog post. But it can be simply stated that if you use the color blue, the hashtag #lightitupblue or the puzzle piece to indicate your support for autistics, you will be categorized as a supporter of the organization.

This places me in an awkward position. My son’s favorite color is blue and he connects with the explanation of the puzzle piece. As he gets older, his views may change and if they do, my support of him as an autistic will also change. In the meantime, I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place. I’m expected to support autistics by using #redinstead and the infinity symbol. But not support my son who is autistic and the reason behind all of my efforts and advocacy since it is automatically assumed that if I use the color blue I’m supporting Autism Speaks, which could not be further from the truth.

Awareness vs Acceptance

Another recurring sore point is the argument of which is more important… awareness or acceptance? People are encouraged to support #AutismAcceptance and constantly told that #AutismAwareness isn’t enough and to eschew awareness. The comments on social media are often brutal.

But here’s my thought process… when my son was diagnosed, he was the first official autistic person I knew and that extended also to most members of our family. I was then tasked with having to explain exactly what autism is and there are several members of my very large extended family who have limited education. I had to break this down to bare basics. How can I press for acceptance to individuals who have no understanding of the situation? It quite simply doesn’t make sense. So as much as awareness has grown, I believe it is still a crucial aspect towards achieving acceptance.

Autism awareness month is every month

Look out in April for the multitude of posts proclaiming “every day is autism awareness day in my house” and “autism awareness month is also January, February, March, May, etc”. Here’s the thing… my son is autistic and yes, we live with autism every single day. But the average person doesn’t. And while I want that person to figuratively walk in my shoes or my son’s and understand the challenges we face and how they might be able to support better, I want them to live the life that they have been dealt. That means every day will not be autism awareness day in their household and every month will not be autism awareness month either. By having a specific time, conversations are created with those who are outside the community and I believe that is the major route towards acceptance.

Person-first vs identity-first

This argument tends to intensify during April. Let’s explain first… person-first language is where the person comes before the condition e.g. my son with autism. Identity-first language places the condition e.g. my autistic son.

Going back to when we first received the diagnosis, we were encouraged to use person-first language. The essence of this approach is that we recognize the individual most importantly and I value that viewpoint. Truthfully though, I always found that it seemed very wordy and not particularly fluent. However, this wasn’t about me so I continued.

The turning point happened about a year later when my son described himself as autistic. We sat down and spoke about the two different ways of describing autism and I asked him which he preferred. His response was what guided me to switch to identity-first. Aside from him also thinking that person-first language was superfluous and wordy, he said to me “won’t I always be autistic? Isn’t this a part of me for life?” And he’s right. There are many more aspects to his life and personality but autism shapes a lot of them. We choose to celebrate autism so why not allow it to be forefront in who he is.

Here’s my issue… when individuals are berated and belittled for their choice of language. If someone uses person-first, they shouldn’t be criticized for that unless it is clear that their decision to do so is from a malicious intent. The larger autistic community prefers identity-first, but there are some who don’t. And that should be respected without needing justification.

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I hope this April will be different… a month when we can show greater respect and tolerance for all of the different ways that autism is represented. And if not 2018, maybe the following year.