A Neurodiverse Universe: Parenting a child with autism

As a mother of a child with autism, I have realized how broad the spectrum is. I was in elementary school the first time I heard of autism. I was reading The Baby-Sitter’s Club series (back in the eighties), where one of the girls babysat an autistic girl—a piano prodigy. Though some autistic children have special abilities, keeping in mind that not all do (nor should they have to, as if they need to justify their autism) is vital to not only accept them but appreciate them.


Ultimately, autistic children are just children who want to be loved, have fun, and may know more than they can communicate.


As a homeschooling mom, I’ve learned that part of teaching is not to make my daughter learn how I learned or teach how I was taught but to learn how she learns and then teach accordingly. I’ve learned that autistic children often express themselves differently, even from other autistic children. My daughter may not always tell me she loves me (at least without prompting), but I have recognized that when she asks for a hug, that, to me, is her way of telling me she loves me. I’ve learned to be more precise when asking questions. For example, when we were studying Galileo, and I asked her what Jupiter had four of, instead of moons, she said, “Consonants.” (She might have outsmarted me there!) I’ve learned that I need to understand that she sometimes has reasons for doing what she does. For example, as soon as we entered the accessible stall in a library bathroom, she tried to elope by crawling under the door; it took some strength to keep her with me. At the time, I just thought she was being disobedient. It wasn’t until weeks later, when we visited another public bathroom, that I figured out the hand dryer terrified her due to her sensory issues.


When you have a child with autism, you learn to be more intuitive and know when to extend that extra grace. We learn from them as much as they learn from us.


Learning about autism (and the terminology surrounding it) is ongoing. Some children don’t want to be labeled autistic, while others see their autism as making them unique, but one thing is for certain: We don’t need to fix autistic children because they are not broken.

Micropoetry Monday: Coming of Age

High school graduation night at Mr. Manatee's

When Sydney Cahill’s father died
& left a hole,
she went through that hole,
discovering a door to another dimension—
where she could revisit her childhood:
when her father had written
the Wacky Wildlife series
that had delighted his “little women,”
before her mother, the illustrator,
had lost the gift of capturing those characters
in earthy & metallic hues,
before her hometown had become
a ghost town.
Like a backdoor poet,
she crossed over that threshold—
not as an observer,
but as a participant.
When the memories of her childhood
during those moments
began to disappear,
replaced with her adult memories of them,
she realized that she had to leave her past,
for she was stealing the memories
from the little girl she had once been.

Evan Trotter’s Alma Mater

He had been known as the Big Mac on Campus,
always quoting himself
& speaking of himself in the third person,
impersonating professors
of literature & philosophy,
& being both a public & private nuisance,
without nuance.
But when he met the humble scholar
who didn’t give him the time of day—
unless it was a.m. or p.m.—
he saw,
in her shiny little clock face,
his sizeable width & lack of depth,
his attitude that had been one of latitude
(longitude unknown),
& the tiny town he had thought
would someday be his
that could not be found on any map,
treasure or otherwise.
It was then that he knew
that the little magna cum laude
with the mechanical pencil
piercing her messy bun—
whose I.Q. equaled her E.I.—
was not the woman he wanted
but the woman he wished had wanted him.

The little stranger who lived with her,
who spoke not her mind
but to it,
the little stranger who lived inside her,
whose name was predestined
to be Evan or Emma,
& the tallish, lightish, & unconventionally handsome stranger
who lay beside her,
comprised the strangeness that had become her life.
She stared at the shiny face in the fogged-up bathroom mirror,
whose gray-dawn hair smelled of strawberry shampoo.
Through the mist,
she saw the face of the person she was now
but who would be a stranger ten years from now.
It was like looking into the past
from the future,
for this woman who stared strangely back at her
would be gone then;
every cell in her body would be different.
When she looked at pictures from ten years ago—
before the two little strangers
& the stranger who had given them to her—
she saw,
in herself,
a stranger.

Golden Stars and Silver Linings

Just received another addition to my daughter’s time capsule: a collection of nursery rhymes I wrote after bringing her home from the hospital. When I put together a PowerPoint presentation on Transcendentalism incorporating the pastoral, the picturesque, and the sublime, I used this close-up of my daughter smelling a daisy (my favorite flower) to epitomize the childlike wonder of discovery. @mixbook does such a beautiful job. Unlike another service, my em dashes (and all other punctuation) are preserved in transferring text from Word to the app. As a grammarian, this feature is essential.

Wording our way through homeschooling

I refer to Bananagrams as “Freestyle Scrabble.” The object of most games is to win, but this one is to learn. I love Bananagrams because we’re not spending time calculating scores (not that that wouldn’t be a totally righteous mathy thing to do) but learning words—not just how to spell them but their meanings, definitions, and, if needed, what they look like. We flip an old gameboard (we have a Life gameboard that split), draw seven tiles apiece, and play Bananagrams just like Scrabble, with my tablet on standby if we need to look up a word. If we need to look something up, we go to Dictionary.com (yeah, it’s the Wikipedia of dictionaries, but I like the fun format) and use the speaker to listen to the word. The other evening, I spelled “harp,” so I not only googled an image of one but found a YouTube video to watch and listen to one being played.

Though we only do 16 words, it’s pretty involved. Bananagrams has been a great way to teach prefixes and suffixes and how just adding an e to the end of a word changes its meaning. I also just added a sign language component.

Years ago, when I still lived at home, my dad and I played Scrabble on a CD-ROM. We didn’t like keeping score or looking things up in a paper dictionary (we just wanted to play!). He hardly ever won, took forever (I once read a whole novel during his turns), was totally obsessed over landing on the triple word score squares, and always accused me of “piggybacking” off his words (i.e., scoring more off his words than he did). I’d get annoyed that he never cared what a word meant (so long it was a word) and forced him to listen to me read the definition. Mom used to play with us, but she didn’t have the patience to sit through his turns. I mean, it wasn’t chess!

Winning (for me) was harder when my mom played because she never played defensively (which was also annoying). But, I enjoyed these times with my parents immensely, and that is what I will have with my daughters. How ironic it is that what I used to play on a screen, I am playing the old school way 20 years later.

Micropoetry Monday: Children of the 80s and 90s

Payphone

She mourned that Kristy, Dawn, Claudia, Mary Anne, Stacey,
Jessi, & Mallory
had been pulled into the future via the graphic novel—
a glorified comic book—
for their childhoods didn’t belong in this Post-Millennial world
any more than her adulthood would have belonged in the years
before 24/7 cable news.

He was a gust of hot air,
she, a breath of fresh.
He inspired people to exhale,
she, to inhale.
When they expired,
they knew they had lived
a purpose-driven life,
for they had energized a generation
of stressed-out people
with their deep-breathing exercises.

She missed the days of quiet libraries
rather than “media centers,”
focusing more on STEM
than the humanities
that humanized people,
of getting Christmas cards in the mail
with a 10-dollar bill in them,
and browsing video rental stores
like libraries.
She was born in the perfect time:
no social media or cell phones.
As an adult old enough to handle
an instant audience,
she found her voice in the blogosphere.

Micropoetry Monday: Children of the 80s & 90s

Payphone

When Generation X
met Generation Y,
2019 went out with a bang;
9 ½ months later,
Generation Z was born,
& Gens X & Y,
who had heretofore
watched the ball drop
at midnight,
dropped their ball of fun
in her crib at 8 o’,
wishing they could go out
with a bong.

She had jumped into relationships,
leaped at every opportunity,
& thrown herself into projects
she knew she couldn’t finish.
She was self-destructive in her inability
to focus,
never knowing that she had already met
the right man,
found the perfect opportunity,
started the right project—
she simply hadn’t become
the right person for them . . . yet.

She’d grown up hearing her mom come home every day
& talk about the itch-bay from ork-way,
tell Daddy to shut the front door (when it was already closed),
& get her to come running at the prospect
of indulging in her favorite confection,
only to be told that it was not that kind of fudge,
for it had 4 characters rather than 4 ingredients;
however, when she became a mom,
she realized that motherhood came
with a built-in filter,
with her boss being the ick-day who never shut the fudge up
& where she & hubby went to an in-house ball game twice a week,
where extra innings were based on the quality of the first
& peanuts and Cracker Jack meant something else entirely.

Letter to my daughter

My epistolary poem, “Miss Amelia Skye” (“Dear Amelia”) was just published in Bella Grace magazine. Amy Krause Rosenthal’s book, Dear Girl, was the inspiration behind the format. I have since created a Mixbook of this poem for my daughter (who will be turning 5 months in a few days); this book will go into a time capsule for her to open at the stroke of midnight in the year 2042 (which will make her 21, if my math is correct). 🙂

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Micropoetry Monday: Hymns of Motherhood

Hymns of Motherhood

The Shutterfly Edition

For her,
motherhood was spent
smacking tags on clothes in the store
& plush animals at home,
on spinning pennies
& Minnie Mouse by the tail,
on “crashing the checkers”
of Connect Four,
only for the tray to be filled up again
with what she called gold coins & pepperonis.
Though such activities became
repetitious,
the payoff was in her smile
that lit up her face like a gloriole
& with the laughter that filled a room
with mirth.

She taught her daughter about Dreamland,
Tomorrowland,
& Never-Never Land that was always, always there.
She taught her about the Land of Shuteye Town,
of Oz, Narnia, & Wonderland,
& the Queendom of 40 Winks.
She taught her practical magic
& made realism magical,
which came from the imaginations
of those under the Heaven that was
beyond imagination
& surpassed all understanding.

There were oohs & aahs
over the goos & gahs
as the parents & grandparents
gathered round
in fascination with this new life,
bearing pink, plushy presents,
while the little child who had preceded this life
stood back & watched in the cool shallows,
thinking her star had dimmed
when it had only matured,
not understanding
that her co-existing co-creators
had wanted this life,
in part,
because her ever-so-wonderful life
had come first.