Today is April 2nd. Every year on this day the world turns blue - more and more each year. It's encouraging in some ways and perhaps a little discouraging in others.
Discouraging to me because people who are different (and really, who of us isn't different in some way or another) need awareness brought to something before it is acceptable. That's sad to me. We are all different. And that is okay.
Yesterday, while visiting with a friend, her little 16-month old guy was toddling around the house. Every time he came near me, he put his hand on me or leaned against me. He could have put his hand just as easily on the chair or the toy in order to have something to touch. But he didn't. He could have leaned against the couch on the rest of the space that I wasn't in. He chose to lean against me.
I thought about this and about how children really do not have any prejudices or judgments. The only judgement children have is an intuition that tells them if someone is safe and comfortable or not. That's it. There is nothing else that matters. You can be the strangest person and not have a single friend and children will love and adore you and interact with you if you feel safe to them.
Thinking about all of this, I feel a little discouraged that we feel like we need an Autism Awareness Day. It is sad to me that we have been taught and trained to be different than we were when we were born. It reminds me of the words from the song in the play "South Pacific" - the song's purpose was to shed light on ridiculous traditions and hopefully let them be seen for the awful things they were.
Lt. Joe Cable says and sings:
"It's not born in you! It happens after you're born. You've got to be taught to hate and fear. You've got to be taught from year to year. It's got to be drummed in your dear little ear. You've got to be carefully taught! You've got to be taught to be afraid of people whose eyes are oddly made, and people whose skin is a different shade. You've got to be carefully taught. You've got to be taught, before it's too late, before you are six or seven or eight, to hate all the people your relatives hate. You've got to be carefully taught!"
We are taught, generation after generation, to have a prejudice and fear of something. It seems to change depending on the social climate and current world events. But it's still there. Hate. Fear. Different is threatening. Different is unknown and scary. We pass down fear and hate instead of nurturing that beautiful loving, trusting instinct with which we are all born
On the other hand, I feel glad that there is awareness being brought about for people who have legitimate issues that can make them react in ways that seem odd or extreme to others.
This friend I was telling you about, the one I was visiting with yesterday, taught me something that really has changed my life. She taught me, not by her words, but by the way she interacts with me. I have learned that I am the way I am for a reason. It is intentional. The way I think and the way I feel is unique. I see the world in ways that those around me don't. And for this particular friend, my view is lovely. Before I met her, I'd never considered that my view was anything other than different and wrong and needed correcting. I tried for most of my life to see the world the way everyone around me saw it. Only in one-on-one conversations with a trusted few people in my life did I ever share how I saw things. And often, even with those trusted few, my view was answered with what was wrong about it.
This dear friend of mine changed how I feel about myself because she didn't feel the way I've come to expect from everyone around me. She felt more like her little 16-month old guy felt. In emotional/mental ways she would, in effect, lean against me just because I was there or put her hand on me even though there were many other places to rest that hand. She told me, by the way she interacted with me, that my view was beautiful to her. She showed me that how I feel is just right, even if it is different.
My friend taught me by her interactions with me that my brain, being differently wired than many around me, is on purpose. And that purpose is as lovely and unique as I am. It has taken my entire life to feel like I am lovely and unique. And this is the first time I've admitted it to myself or anyone else. But it's true. And it feels really good to see and feel this. I am lovely in my uniqueness. You are lovely in your uniqueness. And wouldn't it be wonderful if we all could feel that way? What a world that would be!
It feels good to know that people cared for by those around them. My hope is that this will carry over. My hope is that when you see a parent struggling with a child in public, rather than assuming it is bad parenting you give them the benefit of the doubt. My hope is that more adults will reach out to those around them in the ways that were instinctive and natural when they were children. My hope is that those who feel different and lonely will know their truth and will find joy in their purposeful existence. My hope is that every person will be able to feel that they are lovely.
So I light it up blue, because to me the color blue brings about healing and hope...the hope that one day this day will be redundant. The hope that every person on this planet will have a friend who makes them feel as good about themselves as my friend has taught me to feel about myself.
The other day I was on FaceBook for a moment and saw a post that really hit me because it spoke to something that has recently (as in, within the last week) shifted within me. For all of my growing up years, I was awkward. I was different. I was the one who didn't fit in. At all. This is the post I saw on FaceBook that prompted me to write this entry on my blog.
After reading this post I found myself tempted to step into a place of self-pity...this was my life. This is exactly what it looked like. Never invited to play. The last birthday party I was invited to I was 5 years old. (Not as an adult, but up until I was grown and married it was that way.) No one came to my birthday parties either. My sixteenth birthday I invited 25 people. No one came. Not one. On the playground, if I was even allowed to play the game, I was definitely the last one picked. I don't know that I was the first blamed, but I was the last to be listened to. And all I ever wanted was to be included and part of the lives of the people around me.
But, as I read this and noticed my desire to cry and say how sad life is, I remembered what has happened to me this last week. And as I thought about what has shifted and changed for me, I also realized from where the problem stemmed.
The adults in my life and maybe two or three kids I grew up with felt sorry for me. They pitied me because they saw how much my life was hurting my heart. Or, even more likely, they saw what I was missing that they had enjoyed and experienced. They ached for me because I didn't have what they thought was essential to childhood happiness. In their pity they reached out and tried to share in my pain. And because I could feel them, I started to believe that pity = love.
Wouldn't you know, 30 years later, I discover that isn't the truth. Pity ≠ love. Not even close to it. Pity comes from a place of darkness. It comes from a source of doubt, of not believing in me, of not hoping for me. Pity says that I'm not enough. It doesn't tell me that the kids around me are being cruel, it tells me that I'm somehow flawed.
Pity is a burden. And as I grew, when I needed love, I sought out pity. I thought that was love. That's how I understood it and what it always seemed to be.
A couple of years ago I met a woman named Vica. Her daughter was one of my students and Vica very quickly became a dear friend in my life. She taught me many things and she helped me to see that I could be more than I was currently being. She believed in me in a way that no one in my life had before - and certainly far more than I believed in myself.
This was the beginning of a change within me. But I still defined pity as love. And when I didn't feel loved, I sought out pity. And I had no idea I was doing it - I was completely blind to this fact.
Then I met a girl named Erin. She taught me so much about love. Love of myself, mostly. She taught me what it feels like to be loved and not to be pitied. (Don't misunderstand me, I've many people in my life who love me. But I couldn't see it because I have been so accustomed to defining pity as love because of the view from my childhood.) Erin was the first friend I've ever had who was my friend, from the start, because she liked me for me. Not because I did something for her and then she got to know me, but because she genuinely just enjoyed my company. I've many friends who feel that way now. But none of them felt that way from day one. I was an acquired taste for all of them but Erin. And the miracle about this friendship is that when I felt like I needed love and would come asking for pity, she never did give in. She always heard me, had compassion for me, but never pitied me. She continuously loved me, no matter what I did or said. She just brought light and love over and over again.
Then I met Cyrena. She is another friend like Erin - she wanted to be my friend from the beginning. She wanted me in her life and invited me in whole-heartedly. And for the first time in my life I have had experiences of feeling loved, not pitied, in every interaction with this dear friend.
Do you know what I learned from my friends? Pity ≠ love. Love feels so very different from pity.
Love is ennobling, empowering, uplifting, and so many wonderful things. Love breeds hope. Love breeds compassion, not pity. There is such a big difference. Love brings light.
As a child, I had a problem. The more pity I experienced, the more likely it was that I would seek pity. Which meant that I would live far below my potential. I had to. Because if I were to step into the realm of living my life on purpose - if I were to truly let my strength come out and show those who pitied me that what they saw as weaknesses or flaws or frailties that made me different were actually the beautiful pieces of my greatest gifts - if I were to do that, there would no longer be any pity given. I would be awesome. And we don't pity awesome.
If children are pitied when they need to be loved, they will become people who live far below their privileges.
So what does it look like to love instead of pity? I'm going to share a couple of thoughts and I'd love to hear your thoughts as well. Please, please comment and tell me how you feel they are different and what it looks like to be acting out of love vs. pity.
This is all still new to me, so I haven't sorted it out completely. But I know it feels different. I know when I am talking with a person who enjoys me for the sake of me it feels very different than when I am talking with someone who feels sorry for me or who just needs my help. The people who feel sorry for me are, by their bleeding hearts, encouraging me to shrink, to stay small, to give less than I am able because we only pity that which is week and incapable.
When someone loves me, it encourages me to do better, to grow, to become my best and highest self. I am so grateful to my friends Vica, Erin, Cyrena and many others who
came before them who loved me but I couldn't see it. I mistook what was given because I
didn't know what it was.
I still am not sure how to say what it looks like. I just know what I feel coming from others. Pity feels like I have to shrink in order to keep getting what they are giving. Love feels like I can expand and it will keep coming to and growing with me.
I hear people talk all the time about how amazing their kids are, how talented they are, how smart they are, how gifted they are. If you really believe it and feel it, then show it. Don't pity them. Your pity says they aren't enough. It says they're defective. It says they need someone to hover and protect because they are too different to be accepted by anyone for the person they are.
Pity is the worst thing in the world. Don't feel sorry for me. If you believe in me, then it would never even occur to you to pity me. And if you pity me, then you don't really see me as the strong, talented, smart, gifted person that you say I am. Pity only comes from one place...a belief that I can't, I'm not, I'm only, shrinking, shrinking, shrinking. Small, small, small. That is where pity finds it's source.
So next time your loved one comes home and is sad because he was the last one picked for the team or she was not invited to the party, don't let your heart ache. Instead tell them all the good you think and feel about them and build them up. Don't focus on the thing that hurt, that just brings them down. As my good friend, Vica, always says "That which we focus on expands." What do you want to expand? Pity? Or love?
I choose love. And I feel bigger and brighter because of it.
My dear friend shared a song with me several months ago. It was powerful. I loved what words I could understand. And then I forgot about it, until recently.
I wasn't able to stop listening to it for a while. (And those who know me know that says a lot because I am more of a meat and potatoes music kind of person rather than a candy music kind of person.) Then I started thinking more about the song. This song hit my heart in just the right place. So, naturally, I wanted to share my thoughts with you. :)
I don't know about you, but I suddenly felt different after my first time watching this video. I'm learning to speak with my voice instead of the voices of my parents, older siblings, church leaders, friends, etc., etc., etc. This song found a space in my heart that was waiting for permission to have expression. What will it look like after this? I have no idea. But whatever it is, I know this song has made a difference for me.
It's not easy to do the something that the little voice inside keeps pushing me toward. In fact, it's downright scary. Stepping out there, being vulnerable, showing up - it takes a lot. But mostly because I keep worrying about the things that are not in my control. I worry I won't make it. I worry people won't understand me. I worry I won't be able to pay my bills. I worry I'll not be able to help this particular person. I worry I won't get any inspiration and then what? I worry...and worry...and worry...and worry.
Guess what happened when I stopped worrying? I started doing. Imagine that. Bravery isn't really all that difficult. If I tell the other voice in my head (you know, the one that feeds my constant worry) "Thanks for trying to protect me, but I'm good to keep going this way." then suddenly, there's nothing stopping me. I'm the thing I'm afraid of. I'm the worry.
What about you? What is it you were meant to do? What makes you come alive? What thrills you to just think about doing it? What gives you energy, pizzazz, light, movement, desire to work, and thrills? What fills your bucket? If it isn't what you're doing, then why are you doing it?
Recently a friend lent me a book titled "Daring Greatly." I haven't finished it yet. Actually, I've barely begun it. Because after the first few pages, I found myself again. I got to work. I decided to be brave. Which means I haven't had a whole lot of time for reading. But, as Emerson said, "When [we] can read God directly, the hour is too precious to be wasted in other men's
transcripts of their readings. But when the intervals of darkness come, as come they must,
— when the sun is hid, and the stars withdraw their shining, — we repair to the lamps
which were kindled by their ray, to guide our steps to the East again, where the dawn is."
I have read. I have heard. I have understood. I have had my own experience of reading God directly in my life...which has caused me to dare greatly, to be brave.
If you don't know what lights your fire, find out. I dare you. Read other men's transcripts and decide for yourself. Then read God directly - for He is in you and part of you and shines through you. Why settle for lamps when you can have the sun?!
If you know what lights your fire, but you're not doing it...WHY?! How big is your brave? How great do you dare? Be the greatness you are. It's all there, inside you. There's only a small voice of worry, doubt, fear...whatever tone it takes in your head...there's only that one voice stopping you from showing up as your greatest self.
Be brave. Dare greatly. Move boldly. Act
"Do you have any pointers on how to introduce something new into my
children's lives without causing extreme amounts of fit throwing and
contention? I can't seem to figure this one out."
There are many different tips out there that are suggested by therapists, doctors, families, etc. The most common seems to give plenty of time for adjustment and talk about it often to help them readjust to the new information in their lives.
What happens when there isn't time though? What do you do then?
It partially depends on what is being introduced. Is it something different the children will have to do? (i.e. chore changes, schedule changes, changes at school, etc.) Or is it something that is being introduced to them that throws of the balance? (i.e. a move, a new baby, a sibling going to camp, etc.)
If the change is something that is going to change the way your child lives daily life, then the first thing is to remember to provide choices. They are very adamant about their agency and ability to decide for themselves, so let them. If they would rather deal with the natural consequences, then that is what they choose. Even if they don't like the consequences, if you remind them that you offered a choice and this is what they chose and said they would be okay accepting the consequences, the arguments and tempers are generally minimal. These children have an extremely strong moral fiber and if you remind them that they gave their word on something, they will keep it unless under extreme circumstances - or if you let the fit get so far before you help them back to the logic they chose.
For instance. Let us say that Sam wants to play outside. You got home late from errands and lunch is going to be late. You want to send him outside to play while you make lunch, thinking it will be a nice diversion and hoping he doesn't realize how hungry he is. But you also know that once Sam is outside, it is really hard to get him to come back in the house, no matter what.
So you say, "Sam, I'll give you two choices. You can stay in the house and help me get lunch ready and then go outside after we eat. Or you can go outside and play (at this point he has already headed for the door. Make sure he hears the rest of your condition)....or you can go outside and play if you come inside when you are called. SO you can stay in here and help me and then play or play and then come in without arguing or crying when it is time for lunch. Which do you choose?"
Sam chooses to go out now. When lunch is ready, Sam is so engrossed in what he's doing that you have to call several times. You give him the tried-and-true 5 minute warning that he needs to come in. But he does not. You go to the door and say "Sam, your 5 minutes is over. It's time to come in and eat." Sam does not move from the insect he is watching with wonder. (There is an addendum post, if you will, about not responding the minute you speak. It was too much to put right here. Look for it to follow in a day or two.)
What to do?
At this point there are several options depending on what is most important that Sam learn. You can drag him in....I find this to be barbaric and only resort to it when it is absolutely necessary.
You can remind Sam about the deal that had been made. Sometimes this simple reminder is enough to get him moving. If it is not enough, then natural consequences come into effect. You let Sam know that because he is not keeping his word, that next time he will not have a choice.
Yes this is a little harder and will possibly cause a fit next time, but it is not something to eschew. If you compromise on the compromise, Sam will continue to run the house. If you hold him to his choice, he learns that his choices have consequences. This will not only help him make better choices in the future, but will allow him to make mistakes as a child, when the costs are much less severe.
One day Sam will be grown. One day he will have to make choices without you there to guide and direct. The ability to make a good decision will be developed because he will know that he has choice and accountability. If you negate the accountability part you are setting him up to fail as an adult. His choices in the future will have consequences that you will not be there to save him from. And the choices as an adult have much higher stakes.
So when it's time to come in and Sam does not, remember that he is a very clever being. Remember that he prizes his sovereign rule over his own life more than anything else. He does not like to be told what to do, he likes to be asked to do it. If he chooses not to do it, let him know the consequences. And then, no matter the fit, stick to those consequences.
On that note, I do not suggest a consequence like having to go to his room. Then we get into physical force which is another issue. Physically picking up the child should always be avoided and only be a last resort - not just when your patience is gone, but truly a LAST resort.
Natural consequences are much better. What happens when Sam breaks his word to you? He loses your trust. How does he get it back? He starts keeping his word again. Explain this logic to him. He will understand. And if he wants back the ability to choose, he will be happy to keep his word, and may even point out to you that he is doing it.
If you must send him to his room, give him the choice to walk there on his own. If her refuses to go and is screaming and crying, then wait for a moment of breath. "Sam you have two choices. You can be carried to your room by me, or you can walk to your room. I'll give you the count of ___ to decide." (Always give the positive choice last, so it is what his mind dwells on more.) I usually use a count of 3 or 5, depending on how severely the child is into the fit. If he is screaming and crying a lot more, then I give a little more time for him to calm down and understand what I am saying.
At this point, he knows the consequences of his choice. With almost every child, the first time I had to carry them to their rooms. They didn't believe I would do it, because it seems so very belittling and humiliating to them that they can't believe I would stoop that low. And it hurts my own sensitivities to do it. But after the first time, they usually choose to walk to their room on their own because they know I will follow through if they don't. Again, this should be the last resort though.
I'm sorry I'm very long-winded. I'm trying to sort out all that I want to say as I go along. Almost done.
More than anything, preserve his right to choose. I cannot explain how very, very precious this is to him. He values it more than almost anything. If you take away his freedom of choice, he will fight you tooth and nail and come to resent you. If you offer choices and show the consequences of those choices, he will learn to make wise choices. And usually when he is butting up against you, he has a reason. Ask. His logic may not be sound to you, but it is to him. He is choosing something because, from his perspective, what he is doing is more important than what you are asking him to do. If he feels you understand his logic and you think he still needs to do something, he is more likely to listen to you.
If Sam has felt restricted for years, it may take a little time for him to come around...there will be a period of testing to see if this is for real or if this is just a trick. Does he really get to choose, or is this some new kind of discipline a new therapist has suggested that will soon go away with the new therapist and the new suggestions? He wants to see that you mean what you say and that you don't say it unless you mean it.
Give them the opportunity to make good choices and help them see the
consequences. It will not be the end of fits today. But you will see
the fits diminish and become less severe when they happen. I have found the
fits come more often when they feel they have no choices in their own
lives. Give them choices and watch what they do with them. They are
fierce about their right to choose for themselves. Guide them, don't
crush them. Give them the sight you have from living years longer
in this state than they have, and let them choose. Remember today's
consequences are far more preferable to the consequences of adulthood.
Recognize their ability to reason and choose and respect their right to
make choices. They will learn much faster, I promise. And they will
learn to choose well as time goes on. You're job is to help them see the choices they are making, not to make the choices for them.
My cousin asked a question, for curiosities sake, about what it is like to have dyslexia. I thought I would copy and paste my answer here, since dyslexia almost always accompanies the spectrum gifts.
Your eyes, upon first glance, can't tell the difference between mirror letters (such as b,d). When reading, your eyes will easily pick up letters or words from other areas and put them in the sentence you're reading...which is why reading glasses often help those who have dyslexia, they magnify it, which lessens the chances of putting things in that don't belong. Reading with a blank paper or the blank side of a ruler covering the other words helps as well.
Basically it's confusing because your brain doesn't know you're mixing things up when you're too little to comprehend sentence structure and meaning. Then when you are old enough to understand things and you read aloud (like morning scriptures in my house) you realize that your verses always sound different and you keep getting corrected and you're not exactly sure why.... :) It's confusing. I would read exactly what my eyes saw, get corrected, read it again and it would be different. I think that helped me develop the idea that if I read a book I didn't like enough times, the ending might change. ;)
Then you figure it out, or a doctor figures it out and then you retrain your eyes to start over again and try desperately hard to remember that you need to look twice to make certain that "b" you see is really a b and not a d. And when reading aloud you take extra care to follow the one line at a time. And when writing, you try really hard to keep the letters straight in a line, instead of writing them all over the place because that's how your brain picks them up. You know. Basically you have to THINK when everyone else can just do. That's all. :)
But the good part is, it's great training to live a life of intention and purpose. Most people don't live life consciously because they are used to just doing and it is hard work to live a life of intention. But when EVERYTHING takes intention to do properly, you learn that it's just normal to think all day long. And once you've retrained yourself on one thing, you have also developed the habit of being consciously aware of every moment of your day. It is hard to stop. SO you focus on something else. I suppose that makes the disability, for those who overcome it, more of a super-ability developer. :) Yay us!
I have a dear friend named Kaylene. She and I met years ago, when she was first married. We lived about 3 duplexes down from each other and a wonderful friendship grew in our little homes. Over the years we have kept in touch as I move around the country. She is probably one of the few people who actually have had every one of my addresses and phone numbers written down (outside of my Father and siblings, of course).
I distinctly remember, after about my third move, she told me she was going to start writing my address and number in pencil because they always changed in six months or so. We both still laugh at that. Sometimes our contact only happens when I move and I'm calling to give her my new info. Other times we talk a couple of times a month and still other times we will talk a couple of days a week. It just depends on life and where we are.
But this is one of those friendships that you know, no matter what or why, when the phone rings and it is Kaylene on the other side, I am always delighted to hear from her. This was the case not long ago. I think I called her - I don't rightly remember. We've both called each other over the last month or so and I forget which call this particular conversation came from. But I suppose that doesn't matter.
We were talking, that's what matters. :) ANYHOW. Kaylene is a wonderful mother of, what I may safely describe now as, a brood of children. And I adore her for it. She is real and honest and works hard and has bad days and sometimes falls short of what she hopes for the day and is hard on herself and.....well. She's like the rest of you - a good parent who works much harder than is fair and is rewarded much less than she deserves.
So when she told me about her new way of keeping her list, I had to borrow it. I love the sense of accomplishment and enjoyment it allows this very hard-working mom to enjoy without guilt.
Here is her marvelous answer to a mother's never ending list of things to do.
She told me about how frustrated she was with her list. There was always more to accomplish on it than she could get done in a single day and it never left her time for any sort of break or down time. When she did take time to relax, she always felt the guilt and pressure of her list weighing down on her and what should have been a time of recuperation became a time of judgement and condemnation. So she decided to do her list differently.
Now, when she begins her day, her paper is blank. As she works, she writes what she has accomplished. When she reaches ten things, it is then time for her to enjoy some leisure time. She has accomplished all ten things on her list and thus can enjoy her relaxation without guilt or pressure. Genius, isn't it?! She calls it her "Ta Da!" list. I think it is marvelous. So much so, that I wanted to share it with all of you. For certainly no family or parents work harder than those who have full-time care of a special needs child.
So get a little pocket sized notebook. Number your ten things, and then write down your list as you have accomplished it. The interesting thing that both Kaylene and I have discovered is that we are both so excited to write something down on our list that we get to work much sooner and with much more gusto. Because the list is one of accomplishment and has a reward at the end of it, it is a positive experience that makes me feel better about myself rather than condemning me. I used to feel like a worthless wretch when, after working hard all day, my list still had things that were needing to be accomplished and were added to tomorrow's list....it was exhausting, draining, frustrating, and depressing. NOW? I feel so great about myself and usually cycle through my list twice in a day. I accomplish my ten things. I take some time to do whatever, and then I feel so energized, I go and accomplish ten more things and then relax through the evening.
You will find that you accomplish more throughout your day, enjoy your downtime more, and feel better about yourself. It is lovely. Go ahead. Give yourself permission to enjoy those breaks you so richly deserve. THANK YOU Kaylene...I know I enjoy my breaks so much more and I no longer feel guilty in doing so. *singing* "TA DA!"
Now, in Kaylene's words:
CONTRIBUTION TO THE WORLD: I was going to announce my brilliant idea to
all my FB friends but Tara beat me to it. :) I finally go tired of being defeated by the "TO DO" list and decided
to change my approach. I now have a "TA DA!" list. This list doesn't
have any items left at the end of the day to feel guilty about. With so
many children I found that I could NEVER get everything on my "to do"
list completed so I quit making one. Now I make a list of my
accomplished tasks each day. These can be simple or monumental (taking
the trash out counts but so does cleaning the oven).
I should add... the length of
each Ta-Da! list should vary by situation. A working mom shouldn't try
to get 10 items done when she gets home from work and a mom that has all
her children in school may be able to get many more than ten items in a
day. Just do what's realistic for each person. That way the list
doesn't become a burden.
Once I complete ten
things I get to have ME time. I can read, scrapbook, watch a movie, go
shopping (if I want to take three kids along) or do whatever. The great
thing is that is GUILT FREE time. I can relax and not think about the
items on my "to do" list that aren't done. I find that at the end of the
day I feel happy and successful instead of discouraged. Another bonus
is that my house is cleaner. I've discovered that most of the clutter
came from little things like mail that needed to be sorted or a stack of
items that needed to be taken downstairs. Now I don't put those things
off because often they take five minutes or less and I get to write
something on my list. My phone calls get made and clothing mended with
regularity because it gets me to my free time faster. Brilliant huh? AND I
feel great. So go start your “TA DA!” list. Give yourself credit for
all those things you DO and stop torturing yourself with
never-get-done-lists. HAPPY DAY!