Appreciating What I Want From Life

One of my teaching tactics of last resort  when I had issues with student’s  behaviors I couldn’t change was to ask them what they wanted.

I asked them to tell me about what would be their idea of an ideal experience, in life and in my classroom.

In retrospect it likely shifted something in their thinking by the sheer shock that some adult was genuinely asking them what they wanted.

I suspect that most of my problem students were not getting what they needed no matter how much it appeared they had.

The inability to have needs met is not just painful it can become self perpetuating helplessness.

Because my students trusted me, a simple and authentic question might have given them a glimmer of their power back.

Sometimes I’m brave enough, or just at the point where more disappointment has less of an impact in the overall sense of disappointment, that I ask myself the question.

What do I want?

It might take a while to get past my surface wants to the real ones.

Although it can be very painful to realize that what I want isn’t probable or possible, that pain was really already there, just in a different form.

The form of unmet needs.

Knowing what I want, even when I can’t get it, provides a sense of clarity of purpose.

I can both acknowledge my pain of being unfulfilled and devise a plan to get what I need.

Yes, The Rolling Stones’ song does play in my head at this point. (“You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”)

What I want, or think I want, really is only a clue to what I truly need.

Long Analogy from my own life follows.

I want a way to organize my life that helps me make decisions; tiny decisions and huge ones; some overarching purpose that ties everything together.

I need a replacement for the old motivations that drove me that were so unhealthy and so damaging.

To find what might work now, I have to unpack and appreciate the purpose that the old way served.

When I was masking my autism I had an absolute goal of feeling like I belonged, or like I was connected and not so isolated or alone.

My efforts, my actions, my choices and decisions revolved around achieving that sense of finally finding that way to ‘be’ that made me feel I was enough. (Excellence and perfection would assure that)

If I was good enough others had to accept me, right? (No, but that is for another story)

Jumping from persona to persona when one after the other failed to achieve this acceptance for me was my resilience and determination in action.

I was seeking to fulfill a need for belonging by being accepted.

Rejection or indifference became my ultimate fear and the ultimate punishment.

Knowing I wanted acceptance and a sense of belonging only brought me an intolerable pain in the face of a reality that I could not control.

Autism explained the reasons I couldn’t have this need met by the neuromajority, it didn’t give me the alternative way to have that need met that I first thought it would.

I thought I would find a sense of belonging by being accepted into the ‘autism community’ with all my flaws and realities. I thought I would suddenly be playing by all the rules that got me a safe place to just be me.

Belonging, at its essence is to have something in common, be in a rightful place, but psychological belonging wasn’t so simple.

In many ways I did feel more like I belonged, I had things in common and it felt like the right place, but autistic people are still people and prone to their own likes and dislikes, if not more rigidly.

Every rejection, every disagreement and every point of contention etched away at this precious ‘belonging’.

This is due to my black or white, all or nothing way of seeing the world sometimes. If there were autistic people who really did not like me, really did not understand me and really mischaracterized me I saw it as not really belonging to a community.

I was right back where I was before I discovered the community, fearing every thing I did or said would be cause for someone to reject or hurt me.

Understanding my want clarified how I wasn’t getting it and also outlined what part of that want was actually also a need.

I sought belonging, it’s what I wanted above all, but what I needed was connection.

 

“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”  Brené Brown

When I first began to recognize that it was possible to have my need for connection met, if in some small measure, I thought it was contingent on unconditional acceptance.

It was very confusing to think I had found true connection in the shared experiences of other autistics and still have it end in humiliating rejection.

I realized that if some people, regardless of neurology, didn’t accept me and value me as I am, or even know who I really am, it wasn’t a true connection at all.

It meant that they could believe things about me that hurt or want to hurt me for things they believed, just as everyone always had.

The connection in shared experience, and some shared perspectives was nice, but not enough.

There was nothing in these new connections to survive misunderstandings. There was nothing in these new connections that ensured I wouldn’t be judged.

Connection did not mean absolute connection to everyone, it meant meaningful connection to the people with whom I had enough in common.

What was missing was the deeper connection of shared values, shared understanding and shared beliefs needed in order to thrive, to derive sustenance from the relationship.

In all of this was still the fact that I was still looking outside of myself for validation.

I was still relying on other people to show me I was enough. Every rejection took away from that.

I sought out and worked toward making closer connections with people who had the shared value that if we did not understand each other or we perceived something in a way that hurt us, we would know that the other person would never intend such a thing and to find a way to work out that misunderstanding.

That is true connection. Having the few people that I know will weather the challenges of a deeper relationship is priceless because it made me realize that it is possible at all to find true connection.

Through these true connections, I feel valued, I feel validated simply by the fact people I respect will stick with me even when it is not easy.

Connection, belonging and validation are not the all same thing but they can feel like they are.

Studies show that autistics are rejected because non-autistics immediately sense there is a difference. This denies connection and belonging and can invalidate.

Being autistic meant I would face my worst fear constantly. It also meant I had no idea of what it felt like to have what I needed or even recognize what It looked like.

Finding like minded people gave me a part of connection and belonging but it wasn’t all of the picture.

I learned from a book by Brene Brown that true belonging was a state where I belonged everywhere and nowhere because I belonged to myself.

It took me what seems like forever puzzling this out, how to feel that I belonged to myself. Yet it was my original state of being before the world told me I did not fit, before I was told in so many ways that I was wrong and my oddness meant I did not belong. I was happily self-contained as a child until I needed something; until my needs were not met.

There was a time that I was happy just being me, but I was alone. I did not have connection and subsequently did not feel that I had value. A common pain I remember distinctly is that if I went away no one would notice.

While it was a huge revelation to realize that this belonging I had always been so hellbent on attaining wasn’t outside of myself at all, it still did not get me what I needed.

Re discovering this state of belonging to myself didn’t get me the connection I needed but it stopped me from looking for it in the wrong places and in the wrong way.

I could know I belonged and still crave connection to others.

The quest became to find out how I found connection.

Brene Brown’s definition above has a continuation. In order to find connection we first have to show up and be seen.

I had spent decades being a construct I created instead of being authentic because it was the only way I got any small part of what I needed.

Remember that my authentic autistic way of being only got me rejected. I did not have anyone who understood me or who appreciated me.

It was reasonable for me to work to change all the things about me that caused me such pain.

Belonging to myself would not erase my fear of rejection because I still needed connection.

Belonging to myself did stop me from looking for unconditional acceptance from everyone.

True Belonging is only a part of the whole of what I need.

When I first achieved that feeling that who I am, how I am is enough simply because it is who and what I am authentically, and I truly want to be the best person I can be it unlocked so much more.

I could risk being authentic with the people who had the common value of looking for the best in a person before writing them off when things became challenging.

It was not really a risk, because they would not see how I was being as anything but what it was, me. Being able to test being authentic this way gave me more confidence to keep being authentic and knowing that the people I had the most chance of really being connected to would be the ones who stuck around.

Everything was in reverse. I did not have to change who I was to be accepted, to belong or to have connection, I needed to be who I was, and accept myself and allow others to see me.

I saw rejection as meaning something was wrong with me instead of seeing that the people who rejected me either had it all wrong or did not have the same values I do.

I wanted to feel safe from rejection and isolation. I thought that this sense of security had to originate with others. I thought if I had enough proof of my value to others it would fix everything. While this security and validation does come from acceptance, connection and belonging, it isn’t for others to give to me, it is a natural by product of self-acceptance, belonging to myself, being authentic and allowing myself to be seen. Appreciating what I want from life leads me to understand what I actually need. 

want for blog

 

 

 

 

 

Where to?

Mornings

I am not a morning person for so many reasons and yet I love the sensory atmosphere of mornings. The soft light, the not yet loud noises (on most days.)

I could have been certain I fully understood everything behind really finding mornings difficult,  from not sleeping well, to anxiety for the demands of a day and even the newer realizations of facing increasing sensory sensitivities as I regain consciousness. There is one more reason that has just become blatantly obvious.

Transitions are hell.

Increasing Executive Functioning challenges and deficits. 

I can’t say if my increase in time blindness and task initiation is completely related to the other brain changes I feel are happening as my hormones deplete in this time of life, I know that the other functions are definitely part of the changes.

My brain has become too tired to juggle multiple things and I have not transitioned into a better framework to keep on top of everything. I also know that not having so many external demands means more initiation is required.

Article on Brain Fog and Menopause

Life in Transition

Because I am still so burned out and because my health concerns can still disable me completely I have severely reduced any outside demands in my life while I recover and work on being more mentally and physically healthy and resilient.

So these days when I do not have anywhere I must go or anything that I absolutely must do I end up waking up and feeling that my day is a blank slate.

It isn’t really, I have chores and goals and way more things to do than I could actually finish in a lifetime, but I sit here looking for something to do.

As much as I imagined this would be bliss when I had no chance of not working or having demands, this is not bliss, its blank. It just feels wrong. I am disappointing myself in my reveling in freedom.

It is as if I am getting into a hired car that can take me anywhere, the driver has asked me “Where to?” and I truly can not choose. 532FFEC2-CF8E-44B9-9C77-3C850C06C59D[2841]

Takeaways from ‘Spectrum Women, Walking to the Beat of Autism’ Chapter 9- Independence by Barb Cook

One of the gifts I attribute to my autistic mind is this nearly inexplicable ability to see connections. It’s an immediate knowing how one thing is related to another and that things can be followed along these connections to create a matrix of All things.

I call this the ability to tap into intuition and the interconnectedness of the universe and as such, it is not unique to me so much as a natural condition of my brain and not one I must cultivate, albeit one I did not trust.

Because others around me did not see the connections I saw and I had no way to explain it to them, the expression of my views and perspectives were dismissed and I learned to discount them.

That is why, yesterday when I decided it was time I picked back up the book Spectrum Women I can clearly say this was the absolute right time for me to read the chapter I have now read.

This is where I am in my journey. I am plotting a new course to independence. Not in the way of first setting out to establish and manage a household, but to truly be independent in my identity. I am finally ready to do what it takes to stop looking outside of myself for validation.

I see clearly now what happened along the way that did not work. As independently minded as I acted in not allowing anyone in, or in not knowing how to ask for help, I truly was not capable.

Because the way I learn is through my own experiences of discovering, I have to learn on my own. I can’t trust words or contextual content to explain. That meant I completely missed important aspects, particularly life lessons, that were only available via direct instruction or via comprehension of context.

As far as what to do with my life, I pretty much winged it all. I did things because they were what was expected or because they were what others had done; with absolutely no sense of real autonomy. It was like filling in the blanks on the exam of life by sneaking peeks at everyone else’s work; the only one cheated was me.

Independence by Barb Cook- Chapter 9

Finding your own way to what works, for work and for life is very individual.

By presenting highlights from along her path, her misconceptions that were altered by her reality as well as the detours that were out of her control that demanded that she change her ideas, Barb outlines the important aspects of finding the way to independence.

From being trapped, confused and angry with no concept of where to go from there or how to get there she set her sight on owning a motorbike. The achievement of that goal became the catalyst that set things in motion as well as giving her confidence that she had the ability to affect change in her life.

That motorbike led to a connection to others whom she could relate to that gave her the sense of belonging she had never thought she would find.

Recounting many pitfalls and failures and attempts to get it to work, Barb pinpoints the causes of each; naiveté and never seeing the hidden agendas of others, anxiety, stress and sensory overload, executive functioning challenges of organization are only a few.

pg 125
“Almost 19, I still had no skills in how to go about finding my own place.”

Not being able to find the right, safe, stable, comfortable and manageable space to live means not having one of the very basic human needs met. Without this, any other challenges become exponentially harder.

All of the practical instructions on how to adult are not so easy to glean with the autistic way of perceiving and learning, it relies on skills that do not come naturally when executive functions are not working as assumed.

Barb lays out all of these practical skills and ways to attain them that works with how the autistic mind assimilates new knowledge.

The very first step, and one that I also knew I needed on my own journey to a new kind of independence, is outlined in one quote.

pg 128

“What do I want? What will make me happy?”

 

As simple as this is, I have struggled with this same question for months because piggybacked on it is “what is reasonably attainable?”

It is the next quotes that address this part.

Pg 129

“An independent life is one that makes you happy, however you achieve it.”

“What you need is a life that makes you feel whole as a person, one that you embrace and makes you smile when you enter each day”

Dr. Garnett concludes

Dr. Garnett reorganizes the lesson learned from Barb’s example into guidelines.

Knowing who you are, your limits of tolerance, what you are capable of doing on your own, and who as well as how to ask for assistance is absolutely necessary.

Use your passions as inspirations and for fueling the motivation even in the uncertain times.

Find people who can be support, even if it is only in the sense that they are people who you feel comfortable being yourself around to provide that sense of belonging and connection.

It is especially important to guard against excluding people because of black and white judgments. Being able to look past disagreements on perspectives and opinions is essential.

While naiveté can be a big issue, it is important to work at learning to detect untrustworthy people who appear to do good things and trustworthy people who don’t share your perspectives. Accept the bad in a good person and understand the balance.

Study up on ways to be aware of safety and be safe.

Learn how to manage money

Understand your personal sensory needs when considering living spaces.

Negotiate expectations with anyone you must share a space with.

Realize that substances such as alcohol and drugs can further impede executive functioning and mental clarity making things that much harder.

Do your best not to make everything that goes wrong a personal statement about your overall competence, ability or worth but as a learning experience to be used to pick back up again.

Be prepared, and expect failure to be part of the process.

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Appreciating a Clever Mind at the Center of Resilience

 

Sometimes the things I have done to survive in the past look unhealthy in retrospect. I’m learning to look at them differently. Not as desperate acts but as the efforts of a clever mind to have my real needs met.

Hindsight is not 20/20.

I don’t have the full picture now of what I did not know then, and no idea how much of an impact that lack of knowledge had on my decisions.

Even if it was a strong negative emotion like fear that clouded my vision, it remains that I didn’t know better. If I had known better, I would have done better.

I found ways to get what I needed and if there was collateral damage it was just what had to be.

This came to me today as I realized someone else might have put me in a position I had put others in. I know people had tried to explain it to me in terms of how it impacted them at the time, but It made no sense to me then.

I know why my clever mind did this seemingly unhealthy thing, but only because I see the situation that made it necessary so clearly now.

This is not me placing any blame, that would be useless, it is all just fact for me now.

For whatever reason I never felt understood it remains that it meant I did not have a steady support system. Luckily, understanding is not a prerequisite for love and acceptance.

I did have the unconditional love and acceptance of my husband. An interesting thing about unconditional love is that it does not need to understand, comprehend,  have things explained or make sense, that would be conditional; love just accepts.

While love and acceptance are at the core of so many other psychological needs they do not fulfill all of them alone so much as act as a catalyst.

The idea that I wasn’t really known made me fear that once I was known that love might be rescinded.

This left me still desperate to be understood.

I sought understanding like it was necessary for my survival. In some respects it is.

Connection is a human need. Connection cannot happen without true understanding.

Seeking understanding was the same as seeking connection. As soon as someone showed me a sliver of understanding I latched on looking for more. Without realizing it, I relied on the supply of understanding, I came to expect that this was my source for this need.

I did not register that this individual was not made to provide me with constant accurate understanding. They always “let me down” in one way or another, eventually.

The alternative then was to feel it was impossible to have my needs met and in between sources I did feel completely incapable of being understood; utterly isolated.

Now the internet has allowed me to have some more connection in that I see in others expressions of how it is for them a kind of reciprocal understanding. This is such a relief. I came to rely on this steady stream of understanding.

In some ways I put some people on very wobbly pedestals as beacons of understanding.

Accepting internet friends as my source is still a risky business in so many ways. People are often not physically or mentally available.  If I come to rely on another person or persons to understand everything about me I am asking for the impossible. Even among those I have gotten to know better I have had to remind myself not to be afraid that one misunderstanding signals the end of all connection.

Unfortunately black and white thinking made me believe that if I had not been understood on something basic to who I was, that it not only negated all other past understanding and connection but had me in fear of never trusting in the future.

Seeking understanding was not a mistake or unhealthy pursuit, it was in the way I went about it that was problematic.

In all of this I give my clever mind the credit it is due. I have found a way to meet a need. The slivers of understanding and connection in the past kept me going many times and the bad times in between could have been all of the time without them.

My resourcefulness fed resilience. My mind found ways to get me what I needed. It is important to remember this when hindsight has me judging my past actions negatively.

 

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Vines cling as part of their adaptation to survive.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Appreciating the Expectations

As I sit typing this on the third day of a new year I think how all of my thoughts today are stacking up like wooden nesting dolls; all of similar shape and feature yet not quite the same.

The interconnectedness is both thrilling and terrifying in its seeming infinity.

I sit typing my thoughts and delving even deeper while simultaneously thinking I told myself today would not be one spent in my head.

Expectations; how I hate to love that word.

Expectation is another form of the dreaded, avoided, should.

In December expectations were lovely as they took the form of hope. Hope that I will truly get it “right” this time, I finally have the approach and mindset that will work to create my “best life”. ( oh boy what expectations are rooted in excitement)

Come New Years Day, the all important “symbol of all that will be”. How this day goes shall all days go.. um no. That is so unhealthy, drop that thought. Oh, but I wish that worked.

From the minute I became conscious on new year’s day my thoughts were at all out war, is it a wonder that it took only hours to have me on the precipice of meltdown?

Let us dissect this from the beginning, because of course I need to know why.

The battle of white in the form of positivity, and black in the form of negativity was an even match until cognitive distortion snuck in.

When things went wrong, as they typically do, I respected my frustration.

When I picked up the full bag of English muffins upside down and they fell out onto the floor, with one rolling off across the room to rest behind the cat food bowls and one underneath the cabinet, I respected the feelings of loss and the pain of lack of control. While I was thinking to handle these negative feelings the one that seeped in was that this was what my life would be all about; not being able to control loss. I knew it was there lurking, and infecting me but beside a glance and a waving off, I left it unchallenged.

These are the negative connotations of ‘Expectations’.

As the day progressed, each mishap that occurred was another hit to my confidence. Accidents represent the ultimate lack of control. Frustration from this kind of thing is a major trigger for me and I don’t move on and recover from each happenstance so much as bury the feeling and go on.

I fought valiantly on countering each negative thought and feeling of dread with “no this means nothing more than this”. Really wished that worked to banish them instead of burying them.

These feelings of inadequacy, joined its compadres in black and their various minions developing from the regular course of a day spent interacting with others.

The continuing burial of  frustrations built up like some festering lump under a carpet in my mind; eventually morphing into a veritable monster that sprouted from such an evil seed left to be nurtured by darkness.

By mid afternoon the side of the Black claimed victory as I lost my battle with the negative thoughts and I surrendered to meltdown.

I retreated to my sanctuary , and wrote of my dire feelings to share my shame with some trusted autistic individuals. I do this now, not with the aim of seeking help or counsel but in exposing these dark thoughts to the light. The simple act of acceptance and the informed reminders that these feelings of dread do not last are often enough for the side of the white to rally. Armed with the hope and expectations, ( remember how I love to hate them) that these feelings would pass the light allowed me to move past the incapacitating distress.

While I was weepy and sad and close to the edge the rest of the day I was able to continue to show up in my life and get through the tasks I had set.

The next day brought different challenges and I moved through them as well but my health became a major issue meaning I had no time or energy to devote to the brain power needed  to deal in applying my new framework of an intentionally lived life.

A Retrospective view

So much importance was woven into the fiber of “The Day”.

I was seeing things from a pressured point of view fed by the power of expectations that days earlier had been the source of joy.

I had not had a meltdown of any significance in quite a while and not even minor ones during the whole season of Christmas. It is 50/50 dread and expectation when I go a long time like this. I did not want to see a meltdown as eventually inevitable, the pressure to hold one off wasn’t helping, but having it happen should not have been a surprise.

If I had stopped to remember that last year I would have been happy for the opposite of what I was now disappointed over it might have helped my perspective. Back then, I would have been quite relieved for one day without meltdown among the many.

As I bring myself back to my intention and my word of intent for 2019 I find myself applying the concept of appreciation in my battle over the absolutes of  black and white thinking.

I appreciate and respect how challenging it was to my neurology to be so frustrated and particularly on a day I had given such significance to my ability to control my new life.

I appreciate and respect how I fought the negative feelings with determination not to see them as omens and signs of utter incompetence.

I appreciate that when I did become overwhelmed I retreated to my sanctuary spot to collect my thoughts with compassion in seeking understanding of what they were trying to communicate and not to indulge in them.

I learned to appreciate and respect that my thoughts were communicating how I had given too much significance to this one day of the year and how I had allowed hope fueled expectations to become pressuring ones.

I came to appreciate and recognize that these negative things are but one moment in my year of living better and signify nothing more than the opportunity to challenge my old perceptions and demonstrate how they do not control me.

I appreciated and recognized that the continuing waves of pain and sadness that persisted the entire day and longer were not so much evidence of the futility as signs of hope because I had the good bits in between to signify, define and contain them.

The interconnectedness of it all

Looking at all of this with my intent word of appreciation I recall that another of its synonyms is gratitude.

That the year of the flood was one of seeing the light in the dark. My will and my hope was sustained by finding the good inside of the bad, and bad as a counterbalance to reveal the good; ultimately seeing all the good that could not have come into being without the bad.

These recurring themes of light and dark, good and bad, appreciation, respect and gratitude spanning years helps me bring into alignment that there is more to the way things are laid out than what can be strictly random.

It is soothing to find such a thing that allows me to apply a rhyme and reason or in more simpler terms, a form of why. For if things are connected and flow there is a logic and a  why in the pattern of repetition. It happens as it does because it is as it has happened and it spirals.

Metaphor of Titanium White

For background on this theme of seeking a lighter shade of grey this post originally appeared on my facebook page- Black and White thinking; a Lighter Shade of Grey
If appreciation is my tube of titanium white pigment, and I can use it to squeeze just a touch of white into my blackest bleak thoughts, I make the change to a lighter shade of grey.
Adding the positive brings me out of the absolutes, and where there is not an absolute there is room for hope and the possibility of a shift more towards good.

 

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Black and White thinking; a Lighter Shade of Grey

There are many paths to mixing shades of grey. You can start with the middle shade that is exactly half black and exactly half white, or begin at either end and add a touch of each opposite.
Not thinking in absolutes might be one of my hardest challenges, especially when I’m overwhelmed.
But why, when I’m fully capable of understanding the need for grey areas does my preference for the dramatic persist?
I do have a love for the vibrant, for the unambiguous and the blatantly clear.
To comprehend the grey is work. Work that starts with leaving off loving the easier and more familiar.
While the extremes of good, represented by the light are highlights in life, the dark, or negativity, can make things appear bleak and dire, dragging me down.
I get my motivation from my need to be lighter as I seek to gradually add white to my darkest thoughts to achieve lighter and lighter shades of grey.
I love the dramatic clarity of black and white. It’s not that I can’t see the grey, but to see it I must leave off loving the vibrant for the murky waters of ambiguity and approximation.
To make this effort I must understand the value of thinking in grey at all.

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*Takeaways Series* #11 Chapter 8 – A Real Parent by Samantha Craft

A personal note on me, and my parenting

Part of why there is such a gap in my series is that this chapter caused me to take a really long look at my identity as a parent.

I am at a mostly “Empty Nest” stage as my youngest has one toehold under our roof as he spreads his wings. Mid sophomore year at a large university quite far from us, he relies very little on my guidance.  My oldest has graduated college and has a rewarding job that keeps her busy on the other side of the country to me. I love that she still insists she values my input and wants me in her life but I find myself seeking her counsel more often than not.

While both my technically adult children have helped me in some of my pondering on my parenting of late, my son’s  last word on the matter of my success or failure at this point mirrors my own pragmatism when he says “you really can’t say yet that you are a successful parent because one of us could still mess up at any moment”. This is not a reflection of his opinion on my parenting so much as a result of a person who grew up in an era where schools and buildings had to have their names changed due to reputation damming revelations even when named for people decades posthumously. It might also be a reflection on the fact that there is no clear time when parenting seems to stop. I do not intend to be done until I am no longer on this earth, as I see my role of parent as one for life.

One thing is clear, my offspring do not need me in many of the ways that they used to need me and that has freed me to think about my own needs. Parenting has been less of a focus. It might feel incredibly different from all the other stages of their life and mine, but it is absolutely the same in the way of feeling my way through on instinct.

At first, I approached reading this chapter before I examined my life as a parent. I panicked thinking “what if her account makes me realize I have done it all wrong”? Then I panicked thinking my kids turned out pretty great “what if I think everything she says is all wrong, how will I write anything”? All this panic and I did not process anything at all as I read it the first time through.

I did not go around it by skipping chapters, I went through. So here we are about one month after my last Takeaway. I have read the chapter twice in entirety and several parts many times more.

I am shocked at how similar I parented. Of course, I relate, why do I not know this, as I have related to every single Spectrum author so far at least on some level.

It would be a shorter list to note our differences than our similarities.

I can surmise that my upbringing and experiences of being parented were very different, so our similar philosophies are intriguing.

For one, I have major baggage. At 53,  I am still sorting out the neglectful, obviously abusive and inconsistent parenting mess that was my formative years. Writing that feels beyond guilt-inducing, shaming, painful, and angering to me. Part of me bought into the fact that most parents do the very best they can with what they know, the other says no one can be so oblivious to the cruelty as to treat someone that way, or as seemingly ignorant to the damage when they appear otherwise well-informed. Is my mother an ignorant innocent or egregiously cruel? No one, not even she, knows the answer.

Like so much of my life, I was sleepwalking on my part when the decision was made to become parents. It did not feel that passive at the time because that was my life. For me, it was just another “because it was what was done”. It was incredibly uncomfortable having such monumental and world-changing choices on my hands in creating a new human and sending them off into the world. Fool or Angel, in spite of my fear,  I rushed in.

I went back to study for my teaching certification when my youngest was 2 years old. I learned in my Educational Psychology, and Adolescent Psychology classes that while parenting styles could be somewhat assessed the only sure thing was that inconsistent parenting was the absolute worst with authoritarian parenting without emotional security coming in a close second to worst.

Being consistently inconsistent is my life’s catchphrase. Perhaps it is best that I did not realize the alarming fact that if the above premise was true, my parenting could be worse than my own parent’s approach; I solidly believed in the power of unconditional love.   What I learned from my experience is that the Socratic principle “the only true wisdom is knowing you know nothing”  applies to parenting as well. If I thought I knew how to parent, that would have been disastrous. It was having to stay on my mental and emotional toes to tune in, to meet the real needs as they arose, to make decisions based on actual contextual facts, to follow my gut instinct and intuition and let fierce unconditional love be my ever guiding principle that was the real “universal guide” to parenting. As individual as each child, each situation, each day, no specific rules ever applied to anything, much less everything.

Due to my own social failures, I was terrified of raising a girl. I simply knew I could not guide her in the ways of it. In the end, I parented a girl who was not happy with the societal expectations of a girl through her own thinking and no intentional influence of my own. Not only were we on the same page, but she had the confidence I lacked to buck the system. It was like a do-over for me to see her succeed. That did cause some unhealthy anxiety on my part, I often directed her in ways that I see now were conformity; to her extreme credit, she resisted. I was so fortunate in her ability to take her own reins quite early. This was an 8-year-old girl who resented that she had to do girl scout nonsense because the girly girls were in charge and that it made no sense that she could not join boy scouts and learn “real skills”. In this, there could have not been a more clear contrast to my efforts to fit in and mimic what others cared about. Is her confidence to be herself a measure of my success? We can not know.

In teaching at the school that my kids attended my parenting was on much more clear display than anyone would want. Sentiments like the one surrounding girl scouts were not kept to ourselves. I caught so much criticism and flak, overtly as well as covertly, but never backed down. In this, perhaps I modeled some confidence. In parenting from the heart, I was firm in my belief that no one else knew how to parent my children; I was adamantly secure in that fact.

A Real Parent

I see Samantha’s chapter as divided into four areas of thought, that somewhat overlap her titled subdivisions. It made more sense to me to follow my grouping when expressing myself so I have used my four divisions and included her titles where I find them to be useful to provide correlation.

Unique Personal Circumstances

She begins with her accounts of her unique situation and lifestyle of raising children with higher demands on her limited personal resources both due to her circumstances and the particular individual challenges.  These are tales of found strength, resourcefulness and ingenuity on the backbone of pure autistic determination. I do not believe I could have handled her situation at all. For any parent who has had challenges, I can only see this as a fact that challenges can be met and overcome.

Reflections on Particular Choices and Actions

In her personal reflections on the actions that she took in the circumstances, she provides an analysis of the reasons for success.

Under the heading of “Adaptation and order” Samantha explains how while she turned to extreme planning to ease anxiety, she learned she could manage without any planning if she needed.

Personally, I tried, but I could never keep up extreme planning. I falsely believed that I was a flexible person in my approach but I was simply unaware of how I had actually planned for every conceivable scenario in my over-thinking well enough to have anticipated nearly every circumstance as they arose. It was not me being flexible so much as having considered ahead what I would do in that circumstance.

In “The importance of humor and logic” Samantha recounts how humor and logic are essential counterpoints to her challenges.

pg 113

“Although I struggle in some areas, such as my need to plan and ever-present anxiety, I am often able to view my own life experiences through the lens of humor and logic to improve my outlook.”

One of my strategies in the most extreme uncontrollable circumstances is to stop and comprehend absurdities in the situation. I laugh in the face of what can be seen as small tragedies to some but where there really are no options for better. A completed project falling into a muddy puddle, the baking dish for an all in one meal shattering in the oven, at that moment you can scream, cry or bust out laughing and honestly the laughter is the best.

We don’t get to choose our emotional reactions, in parenting we get gut-punched, and especially being autistics who do not handle changes well, nor ever really naturally have the complete grasp on emotional regulation.  To survive, we must adopt strategies to respond in appropriate ways in the moment where our kids are concerned.  A kid who presents, or for whom life presents, an unexpected challenge, and choice, especially if it seems against our own values, requires a supreme effort to extract our own ego from the equation. Logic is a great help in gaining perspective and seeing things from a non-emotional, impersonal,  point of view.

Personal Philosophies

In “Uniquely you” and “Free thinkers and authority” Samantha presents her personal underlying philosophies on parenting.

pg 114

“My care for my children extends into upholding their ability to make their own choices and to find their own way.”

This mirrors my philosophy of autonomy,  my unique children communicated to me what their needs were. Sometimes they needed me to be the boundary setter, to spell out the parameters, to say no when they were not sure. Conversely, sometimes they needed me to approve and respect when they broke those boundaries by making a different, yet fully informed choice. To be less abstract, in some instances they did not allow my anxiety in the form of reason against or for activities and commitments to hold them back.

Samantha expresses this same concept when she says that she did not allow her own personal struggles to stifle her children’s opportunity for growth and experience. In a neurology that almost always comes with fear and anxiety built in, this is a particular challenge.

pg 115

“I don’t feel like the boss and I don’t feel like a friend. Because I can easily see the gray area between right and wrong. I am susceptible to a flexible outlook and influenced by differing opinions. Compromise, collaboration, joint problem-solving are familiar and instinctual. Firmness and the concept of “my way or the highway” are foreign ideals.”

I could have written the above quote in its entirety.

Evidence of ideals in her sons as indicators of a job well done.

In “Mama bear and moving forward” and ” Miraculous Seeds” Samantha expresses through self-reflection and comparison of her ideals and those character traits and actions she sees in her sons,  if parenting is to be judged by the ability to instill in others that which we most value,  her method of parenting has been a success.

In conclusion

In the same way that being autistic presents different strengths and challenges to anyone it also presents the same to our ability to parent. The answer is always in the balance.

No one can say that autistic parents do not have all that it takes to parent, and that possibly we are better suited to parent an unpredictable child or one with needs we may not understand than those that have rigid ideas of “normal”.

What anyone reading this, parent or not, would do best to take away is what I think I have concluded correctly that Samantha and I agree is the most essential truth; good/successful parenting is different for each child.

Beyond providing the safety of a positive nurturing attention, meeting physical and emotional needs of a child, the only “universal” rule is to love fiercely and unconditionally enough to respect that child’s intrinsic autonomy and take direction from them in understanding what their needs are and how they are met.

Dr. Michele Garnett’s summary of Chapter 8

One of the advantages that Dr. Garnett points out struck me as a profound accolade.

If a mother makes parenting her special or intense interest she will be relentless in her passionate determination to research, understand and implement every bit of information. The pitfalls are that this perfectionism and idealism can turn on her.

pg 118

“She stretches herself to confront and master sensory and social challenges for the sake of her children, where her natural reaction would be to shy away.”

Dr. Garnett includes wonderfully detailed lists of the strengths and challenges quite often displayed in autistics who take on parenthood.

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