The Power of You

What makes you or your child unique?

My youngest son and I were discussing the power of self-awareness, advocacy and accepting (even embracing) who you are. Only allow others to treat you how you want to be treated. Don’t think because you have autism that you are any less valuable or that people should treat you any other way than kind and respectful. My son and I talked about the power everyone possesses when they know who they are, and share it with others.

In our world, us neurotypicals (NTs) — not on the autism spectrum — spend much of our life trying to ‘fit it’ in whatever form that takes. Part of what my son benefits from in being on the autism spectrum is that he is unaware of the social norms and pressures peers try to place on each other. He is who he is, and when a peer tries to place a pressure on him, he either ignores it or is confused by it (which typically leads to a discussion at home as to why something happened or why someone acted the way that they did). An example, my son was friends with a girl and liked her for who she was. He wasn’t concerned that she was overweight or that she was a bit ‘louder’ than her peers. He thought she was funny and kind and she seemed very much to like him for him. One of his classmates decided to ‘target’ my son and his friend making a heart shape with his hands and continuing to do so after they had asked him to stop. My son said, “I don’t understand why he was making the heart shape. He acted like I was supposed to be mad about it, but it just really annoyed me. He wouldn’t stop doing it.” I took a guess at what might be going on, “Relationships make many people, particularly us neurotypicals, uncomfortable, and when we see people showing an interest in each other easily, without effort, it can evoke emotions in us — discomfort — either we’re jealous because we like that person and are embarrassed we didn’t act sooner, or we feel pressure to be in a relationship and don’t know how to go about it, or we feel there’s something wrong with who you like and even though that’s that person’s issue they try to put their discomfort on us.” He thought about it for a minute and said, “Well, it still annoyed me.” To which I responded, “Next time, tell them it annoys you. Ask them why they are directing their discomfort at you? I bet anything it will stop them in their tracks, because they likely don’t even realize that’s what they are doing.” This seemed to satisfy my son for the time being.

Being yourself isn’t always easy. Especially when you are young and you get messages from TV, the Internet, movies and peers about how you are ‘supposed’ to act. If you don’t have someone telling you you’re better off just being yourself (and that oh, by the way, most people will find it refreshing and even attractive) you can easily form opinions about how you should act and not be yourself. I’d hate to have that happen to either of my sons, I’m glad my youngest is challenged in being anything other than himself. He’s an inspiration to his brother, my husband and I, his teachers and many of his peers.

How is your child unique? And how are you helping them embrace who they are?

I will be off the next few weeks with Easter and then Spring Break, but will return later in April.

Costumes You Can’t Buy on Amazon

What’s the Halloween costume you’ve worn or made that you’re most proud of and why?

Growing up, I often struggled with what to be for Halloween. As an adult, I wish I could say I was creative with my costumes when I was younger, but my memory tells me otherwise. I was a ballerina one year (not because I fancied being one, but because I already had the outfit from ballet class), a princess or fairy (I recall wearing a blue dress that I loved) another, a funny man one year (I dressed like this because my parents had a silly mask that consisted of glasses with a big nose and a mustache. My dad lent me a hat and a coat that were too big to go along with the outfit. It wasn’t because I wanted to be a funny man, but because we couldn’t come up with anything else), and there may have been a cat or mouse in the mix. My costumes for the most part had little imagination and were pretty uninspired.

My husband, on the other hand, grew up with homemade costumes. One year, he and his brothers went as the Fruit of the Loom guys. I was impressed! I wanted my kids to have memories of better, more inspired costumes. For each of my sons first Halloweens, I put them in white onesies, black pants, used a red oversized scarf and tied it around their waist and put a pirate hat on their head. It was super simple, and easy to take on/off (changing diapers and clothes was a synch). They liked reading the Frog and Toad books, so one year they went as Frog and Toad. I thought, ‘What can I do that’s easy?‘ Inspiration hit me again — I went to Goodwill and found clothes similar to what Frog and Toad would wear. Then I got them wool hats, added two large white puff balls on each cap adorned with small crescent-shaped pieces of black felt (with stick-on back) for the eyes. The kids could take off the hat whenever they wanted — and didn’t seem to mind when we kept asking them to pose together for pictures. 🙂 There were several years where a store came to the rescue. I did attempt to add to the costume. My youngest was a spider one year. He loved jumping with excitement, so I decided he wouldn’t be a regular spider but instead a jumping spider. I set out to make him a spider web on cardboard and use silver glitter for the web, and spelled Jumping Spider (Charlotte’s Web inspiration) in the web. My son loved the spider costume, but not the web. Of course that is what I’d worked on for more time than I’d like to admit. I had attempted to use elastic arm bands so my son could wear the web. My son thought they were really uncomfortable. I got him to wear the web for maybe a minute. Oh well. We’ve had more and less inspired over the years. Some were things the kids loved (Lightning McQueen) or interested in (Ninja, Star Wars), but this year my youngest had a more unique request.

He has had a love of geography that has grown over the last year. He has numerous books on maps, and atlases. When I asked him what he wanted to be for Halloween this year, he said, “a map!” I loved his inspiration but wondered, how am I going to help pull this one off? I found some costume ideas for ‘the world’ online, including globes, but my son was clear “I don’t want to be a globe of the world, I want to be a map.” I came up empty on Amazon. It was clear. There was not going to be a ‘store-to-the-rescue’ kind of costume. I was going to have to put on my creative thinking cap and figure out how we were going to pull off this costume. I ended up finding fabric that’s pattern was a map of the world (and a yard in length — perfect). Then I thought, can I find him a fun ‘worldly’ hat? Or something that looks ‘international’? I went to a costume store and found him a German hat (green with red feather), and a table decoration with flags from around the world. I thought, ‘we’ve got enough for a costume!‘ I didn’t know how it was going to come together, but knew we could figure it out. I got some material for backing for the map fabric, and with my sister’s help, we transformed the map material into a cape of sorts (more like a wrap, but it works). Donned with his hat and flags, we had a costume. I asked my son, “So, what are we going to say your costume is?” Before he could respond, I said, “Oh, I know you’ll be a Man of the World. That means you’re well-traveled and know a lot about the world.” My son quickly responded, “Mom, I’m not a man of the world, I’m a FAN of the world.” He was right, and I couldn’t help but smile.

There is no greater joy then seeing your child be inspired. To see them envision what they want to be — even if it’s just for Halloween.

What does your child want to be this Halloween? How are you helping them achieve their vision for who they want to be?

Full of Disguises

Each October, as Halloween nears, my children pull out their favorite holiday books. Substitute Creature by Chris Gall has become a family favorite. The story is about a substitute teacher that has come to bring order to a class that is out-of-control. The substitute shares tales of children who have misbehaved and the dreadful things that have resulted from their actions to deter his current class. And it is eventually revealed that the substitute used to be mischievous himself when he was his students’ age which results in him having to wear his costume until he can redeem himself. And redeem himself he does. It’s a story of hope, accepting yourself—flaws and all, and living a life you feel good about. It’s about seeing the error of your ways, making amends, and finding your way back home.  My kids love it. We read it almost every night.

Halloween is one of my favorite holidays. Not for the sinister decorations or gore that some may find thrilling. Instead I like the imagination it conjures up and creativity is exposes in all who participate. It never fails, each year I’ll see someone in an original costume that makes me wonder why didn’t I think of that?  Or decorations that pull me.

A Halloween costume can be very revealing, and not in the literal sense (though it can be that too). You can tell who has put effort and thought into their costume and who has not. It allows us to hide behind make-up, a hairdo, outfit or mask. For one night we become someone else. It can be freeing.

It reminds me of the book. How many of us are comfortable in your own skin? How many of us wish we were someone else, even if only temporary?  How do we disguise our true selves? Do some wear disguises each day without knowing it? Are disguises worn to protect ourselves from others? Or protect ourselves from knowing our inner most selves? It can be scary to think about.

The good news is there is hope, just like in the story. As we get comfortable with our true selves, any disguises we are wearing more easily come off. It’s accepting yourself as you are—flaws and all and living the life you were intended. It’s about finding your way back home (perhaps figuratively, but it’s true), living a life free of disguises.

Are you comfortable in your own skin, and sharing your true self with others? Or are you hiding behind a disguise like so many of us?

Happy Halloween.