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Dear Reader

Dear Reader

Dear Reader,

 

Or should I say, friend? If not friend then surely fellow human, at the bare minimum. Just know that you are more than just a reader of words. You are a fellow soul who found, perhaps, at least some enjoyment from the stories I’ve shared with you.

 

My sincere goal was to share moments from our lives as they intersect with autism and ADHD, and maybe, just MAYBE someone else might find a laugh, or information that would be helpful in their lives. I wanted to show autism in a different light; one that finds laughter and joy in the chaos, one that is not doom and despair, but simply new challenges to overcome with some laugher along the way.

 

It never came to mind to discuss our race, religion, or cultural backgrounds. It was never pertinent to the story. But I tell you now, Dear Reader, that my family is biracial. The particulars  don’t matter, of course, just that we are. The stories you’ve read about Connor, they are about a boy with two races.

 

And so I ask a favor of you now, Dear Reader. If anything I wrote made you laugh, or cry, or look at someone or something in a new light, please allow me this one favor of you. Regardless of how you chose to vote in this election, please reach out and call your state representatives about the President-elect’s appointment of Steve Bannon as his chief of strategy. Please call on your senator or representative to condemn the appointment of a known white nationalist and bigot. Please do this for children like mine, who deserve to have public leaders that respect and celebrate the wonderful diversity of America; diversity that also includes disabilities.

 

The following link is a site with a call script, for those who aren’t sure exactly what to say when calling their government officials. You can also just speak from your heart, as long as your voice is heard.

 

And THIS is the link to a site where you can look up your state’s elected officials.

 

Thank you again, Dear Reader, for spending some of your time here. I think you know me enough by know to know I wouldn’t ask this of you if I didn’t feel it was frighteningly important. So please, share this with others who might also lend a voice.

 

Those who do not share my opinions, I wish you the best on your journey. There is no ill will here, none given, and none taken.

 

All my gratitude,

 

Flannery Sullivan

We Rise

I’m still here.
Are you?

*********

We Rise

Why I’m Lucky To Have A Special Needs Family

Last night I was sitting outside on the porch, enjoying the fresh air and only slightly cool breeze that is a Texas winter, and had a rare, contented moment of thinking, “I love my family. I am SO lucky.”

 

  

For the ordinary person, that wouldn’t be an unusual feeling to have, but having a child with special needs means that sentiment doesn’t fit into society’s narrative of what it’s like to be a special needs family. I should love and be devoted to my family, but I shouldn’t necessarily consider myself lucky.

 

“That’s not true,” you say. “I wouldn’t be surprised to hear someone say they felt lucky in their special needs family.”

 

But way deep down, you know there’s that tiny, dark place where you think, “I feel so lucky to have “healthy” children. I am so grateful they don’t have a disability.” Because to many people, someone with a disability is an “other.” Her child is different from my child.

 

But I tell you, I am lucky. To an extent, most of us special needs families are. This isn’t the part where I say, “We’re not lucky because of the disability, we’re lucky in spite of it.”

 

And I’m not going to run through all the valid attributions of “being lucky to have my child alive” or “being lucky to have a child at all, when many can’t”.

 

What I’m referring to is the unavoidable and essential ability to view things through someone else’s eyes (to the extent that you can). With autism, you must learn very early on how to ferret out the antecedent to a meltdown, or you won’t know how to avoid future meltdowns. Was it a sensory response? Was he overstimulated? Is he coming down with something? Are his clothes uncomfortable? Did the change of routine cause an anxiety overload? You think of little else for days or weeks on end, not because you want to, but because you become obsessed with trying to understand your child.

 

When you’ve finally uncovered that the sound of your hairdryer is causing your child major anxiety, you set about changing the environment so your child won’t be caused distress. Most of us will close doors and get our child noise-canceling earphones. We know that avoiding hairdryers for the rest of their lives isn’t reasonable, but making small, doable changes is reasonable, and you are able relieved to ease your child’s pain by just that small accommodation.

 

In short (lie; this is terribly verbose), you learn how to critically examine cause and effect, and analyze the interactions of different experiences on mood and behavior. Because you have to.

 

This brings me to my hypothesis: most “typical” people don’t have to think in those terms on a constant basis. I would venture that the “average” person goes about their day, giving little thought to whether the sound their shoes make on the tile floor is bothersome to someone, or whether they’ve properly prepared to use their hairdryer.

 

The reason this acquired necessity makes us lucky is because it gives us an enhanced way of viewing the world. You many not understand why that enhancement is as valuable as it is, so I’ll try to illustrate it.

 

Imagine if you worked at a convenience store, and one evening a young ethnic man comes in and holds a gun to your head, demanding all the money you have in the cash register.

 

Now, some of you would try to calmly do as he asks, hoping and praying that he just doesn’t kill you. Some of you might actually try to fight him, or grab for a weapon behind the counter. Either way, no matter which way you responded, you would probably feel angry and want him put in prison for a long time. He’s a criminal. He’s a scumbag who steals from hardworking people instead of getting a job.

 

And maybe he is those things. But how many people would take the step beyond to wonder what conditions came together to make up this man’s life, leading him to commit those crimes? And to have the wherewithal to know that asking those questions, caring about those possible conditions enough to give them careful thought, doesn’t mean you’re excusing the behavior, or the need for a consequence. On the contrary, having those thoughts leads to discussions. And discussions lead to careful inquiry about important circumstances that shape people’s lives, like poverty, racism, classism, disability, gender identification, sexuality, family dynamics, community, and health resources.

 

The next step in this process is to consider: if we know that human beings growing up in certain environments are more likely to have some kind of negative outcome, which ultimately affects society as a whole, then how do we begin making changes right now that will create positive long-term effects in our country? With the knowledge of how conditions shape human behavior, do we reconsider how we approach the big topics we wrestle with as a nation, like wage equality, access to women’s health services, investing in impoverished communities, mental health services, and access to higher education? Do we look at the utter failure of our prison systems to “rehabilitate” criminals, as evidenced by the high rate of recidivism? Do we think about whether spending federal dollars upfront to avoid future criminal behavior by investing in people and their environments, rather than spending it to house them endlessly in prisons that are perpetually bursting at the seams? Do we then apply this advanced level of critical thinking to the choices we make politically?

 

 

As exhausting as it may be to analyze things to this extent, it’s the very reason I feel lucky to have a special needs family. The training I got from my son has given me a lot more anxiety, that’s true. But it’s also given me the ability to think far ahead about the cause and effect of conditions on human beings. And it’s given me the invaluable knowledge that it’s essential to our long-term survival to see the kinds of changes needed to elevate us as a species, rather than remaining unconcerned for those “other” people until they come to us to commit a crime.

 

I am lucky. My life and my thoughts are infinitely more challenging and complex, and it’s worth it. If it wasn’t for my son, maybe I would be someone who thinks we need more guns, more prisons, more walls, more police, more us vs. them.

 

Instead, I’m someone who wants more access to healthcare, more education about diversity, more community centers, more access to housing for the homeless, more benefits for veterans, more mental health resources, more kindness, more love — because I know that these are the kinds of supports that shape positive outcomes that ultimately affect all of us.

 

In this season of holidays and politics, I hope you all find yourself with loved ones that make you feel lucky, while you also consider (perhaps a little differently) what each of the politicians want us to have more of in our country and communities.

 

  
* It’s possible I only followed the first part of these instructions. 

I’m Not in the Band, Yet

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I’m Not in the Band, Yet

The thing most interesting about relationships is how they come in all sizes, shapes, and sounds. When I think about social media, I don’t immediately conjure thoughts of finding deep, meaningful relationships with strangers. The flaw in that comes from thinking of fellow human beings as “strangers.” Social media is words; words accompanied by something visual. In the words, though, is that person’s life – – their pain and fear and hope, their prejudices and self-doubt, their very bones, either strong and whole or forever weakened by many breaks, large and small. For me, their words have a sound, a musical style. In something as short as a Facebook status update, I know the musical accompaniment of your life. Your writing tells me.

Back when I began blogging and was more active, I made my way around to other blogs, commenting and meeting new people. I was breathless at all the new, exciting sounds, the music blaring from every corner. Over here was one of my favorites, a blog with a soft, sad melody playing very low, buried under the sounds of lively, friendly folk music. So many of the people are tone-deaf to the low sound, it goes by unnoticed. But I hear it.

Just over there is another favorite, writing so pure and honest, I feel pierced through the heart with the heat of its light. Each time it takes my breath away, but I come back again and again because I need the pain to remind me how much better I could be.

Right here, though, is one that encompasses us all. The music blares out over the high stone walls of Good Day, Regular People,  drawing us all in together where, at 7:00 a.m. on a crisp, sunny morning, we can’t help but all fall in line behind Alexandra Rosa’s big band as it bounces and jerks its way down Disneyland’s Main Street.

Her music draws us together, the ziiiiiiiip of the trombone, the rapid tap-tap-tap of the drums. We enjoy the gifts of our lives, sometimes dancing in sync with others, sometimes pulling away to let our hearts guide our own dance. As with life, there will always be a downbeat in the music, for just a moment, before the nudging wind-up into the next upbeat. In those moments, our breathing stops and our heart stops beating as the joy and happiness is ripped from our bodies, we struggle to keep moving, to keep up, to not lie down there with our tears and die.

But the upbeat brings us back, we jerk as we throw ourselves back into the procession, letting our souls be lifted again by the trombones, our hopes bouncing around atop the colorful balloons that bob and weave through the parade. Someone takes a needle with huge, bright red string, as thick as shoelaces, and with big, wide stitches they sew up the pieces that remain of our hearts, something we can squeeze and rest our cheek on as we smile and laugh, our feet moving in time with the beat.

It’s true I wish my own music was this pure, this full of goodness and joy, but it’s enough to know that someone else’s is. Maybe if I spend enough time here, my own music will begin to change. I’m deaf to my own music, but I know it must be something like the music to Smells Like Teen Spirit. Not that we don’t need that music, too, but I suppose the entire purpose of its existence is to want to be the big band music.

The cafe is just over there to the left, red and pink and white carnations in tall milk glass vases on every outdoor table. My favorite flower, I can smell them as we all bounce by, thinking maybe I should have stopped there a moment for some of their ice cream. But another time…I’m sure I’ll be back this way again.

As we approach the round-about, I smile and wonder how many times the bandleader will circle around it before heading down the main turnoff. I want to explore down each street that intersects it, but I’m afraid if I do the band may move on without me. I must come back, there’s a gorgeous emporium right over there, and a bookshop across the street. Maybe when I do, I’ll finally be ready to buy that enormous red hat with all the feathers.

As we make our way back along Main Street, I realize suddenly that the crowd is thinning out, there seem to be fewer of us following the band to the end of the line. It’s easier to make out individual faces now, and we smile at each other knowing we will stay to the end, we simply can’t give up the joy of the music.

Finally we all hear the change in the music, the subtle winding down of the tempo, like the trombone is running out of gas and sputtering as it takes us to our destination. And as we turn to take a final look back down Main Street, we see brightly colored balloons along the sidewalk storefronts, and further down the street you can make out someone in blue-striped overalls quietly sweeping aside the bits of life’s atrocities into a tidy rubbish bin, destined to return to the earth where time will bury our sins.

Such gratitude I have for this gift of music, given by strangers. Strangers that flow together, clashing like cymbals, accompanying each other in jam sessions, playing a long, slow dirge for those we miss. As for me, I’m not in the band quite yet.

I’m worse at what I do best
And for this gift I feel blessed
Our little group has always been
And always will until the end
– Kurt Cobain

The Reason I Broke Up With Hillary Clinton

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You don’t have to agree completely with someone’s politics to admire them and the valuable work they’ve done. Hillary Clinton has had a major impact on women’s rights and social issues. I’ve considered myself a fan, supporter, even a friend (I cannot confirm that she is aware of my existence).

Hillary (Hillsy, I call her) sends me a lot of emails. I just got this one a couple of days ago:

Flannery — 

The seventeen Republican candidates for president have attacked me and this team every single day, all summer long.
You’ve seen it on TV and read it in the papers — they’re trying to make a little news by smearing my name.

The closer we get to the primary, the worse it’s going to get. I need you with me in this fight.

There are serious issues at stake in this election. Working families need a raise, women deserve equal pay, students need more access to affordable, higher education.

We’re on the right side of this, and our opponents know it. So while the other side tries to muddy the conversation and drag us down, we’ll keep growing an organization that can withstand attacks and advocate for everyday Americans.

But I can’t fight back without you. We’ve set a goal of 20,000 grassroots donations by the end of the month. Chip in $1 or more before then if you’re with me:
https://www.hillaryclinton.com/august-deadline/

Thank you,

Hillary

I decided it was time to be honest with my old pal. I replied honestly to her email but, fearing an incompetent staff member may misplace it, I thought it prudent to publish my response someplace where she might see it.

I’m sorry, Hillary. I was with you…I was with you at your book signing here in Austin. I was with you when you announced you were running.

But then…

Bernie.

He came along and said the things I’ve been hoping you would say. He came along and chose not to play the politics game. He chose to take a stand about the big issues, no matter what the Republicans might say.

And even many of them are inspired by him.

I’m sorry, Hillary. I love the work you’ve done for women’s rights, not just here, but globally. I love the idea of you as our first woman President. 

But I’m sick of the backdoor deals. The corporate interests. I need someone that speaks for my family, and the millions like us who are fighting tooth and nail to hold onto a lower middle class existence. We want a society that’s more equitable and progressive. We want a society where millions of us aren’t one paycheck away from poverty. We want a society where ALL people are valued equally, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion (or non religion), age, sexual orientation, or disability.

And this time, that’s not you.

But I would still love to have lunch, if the offer is still on the table, per your last email.

Best wishes,

Flannery Sullivan

I hope she calls me about lunch. I’d love to talk to her about overhauling our education system, our prison  system, our political system. The “systems” seem to be breaking down, and Bernie will need all the help he can get to replace them with newer ones that will serve us as we continue to evolve as a global community.

Hillsy, call me. I’ll meet you at the Cheesecake Factory any day you’re free. 

United Airlines, Autism, and Discrimination

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Eggs can be so mean.

Eggs can be so mean.

 

For days now the dominant story in my feed is about the family  who was escorted off a United Airlines flight because their autistic daughter was perceived as a potential threat to passenger safety. The family is now suing the airline for discrimination.

 

I’m sick of reading about this, mostly because everybody has an opinion they want to share. Was it discrimination? Was the mom being too demanding? Who’s to blame?

 

Who cares? If you weren’t there to hear the 30-minute discussion between the mother and the flight attendant, then your opinion is pointless. If you aren’t an autistic person, or the parent of an autistic person, then your opinion is pointless.

 

Don’t despair! There are LOTS of newsworthy things to ponder and pontificate about. To make it easy, I thought I’d make a list of things that would make for great conversations about autism:

 

1. You could talk about all the fantastic autistic people you work with at your job.

 

2. You could talk about all the excellent supported living options available for disabled people.

 

3.  You could talk about your favorite autistic authors and poets.

 

4. You could talk about the great work your autistic community leaders are doing in your area.

 

5. You could talk about how much they celebrate diversity at your child’s school, and how diligently they educate ALL the children about different abilities.

 

6. You can talk about the insight you’ve gained about disability rights and equality from your autistic friends.

 

7.  You can talk about how your local police and fire departments have special training to support autistic people. As a bonus, you can talk about how well they support people with mental illness.

 

8.  You can talk about the neighborhood watch you created that pays particular attention to the fact that one of the neighborhood children is autistic and has wandered on a few occasions.

 

9.  You could talk about your son or daughter’s autistic friends that hang out at your house all the time.

 

10.  You could talk about all the times you’ve offered support to friends with autistic children; your offers of babysitting, friendship, or just a friendly ear.

 

If you can’t talk about these topics because they don’t exist, then maybe that’s a great place to start a conversation about autism. Or perhaps exploring some of these options will give you more insight into disability and discrimination. Or maybe you’re a white male and already have a lot of knowledge and opinions about discrimination. That’s great! We definitely don’t have enough white men talking about discrimination. Or women’s reproductive rights, for that matter.

 

Either way, perhaps making sweeping assumptions about an incident that just lends a negative stereotype to autism families only really serves in taking away attention from more pressing issues.

 

Issues like autistic children being bullied at higher rates than non-disabled children.

 

Issues like family supports that are terribly lacking in many communities.

 

Issues like higher rates of depression among autistic people.

 

Issues like aging out of support services.

 

If you really want to talk about autism and discrimination, contact me. Better yet, contact one of the many autistic bloggers who write about this topic.

 

You know who they are, right?

 

10 Things Autism Families Want Teachers to Know

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Parents of autistic children want the same things other parents want for their typically developing children. We want our kids to learn, grow, and be nurtured in a quality school with good teachers. We also want our children to have the supports necessary to give them equal footing (to the extent possible) in the classroom.

 

Although there are federal and state laws in place to guarantee the rights of our children to receive free appropriate education in the least restrictive environment, most people would be surprised to know how much support varies from one school district to another.

 

While we hammer out the details of the IEP for our kids each year, we know the truth is that success often hinges on how capable and willing the teacher is to teaching our children in a way that respects their differences.

 

Special needs parents talk to each other a LOT, and there are some universal truths that we want teachers to know.

 

1. We don’t punish our child when we he gets a math problem wrong. Please don’t punish him for making mistakes with social skills and behavior. Help him learn those skills in a positive way, not a punitive way.

 

2. Just because you’ve heard of Temple Grandin or John Elder Robison doesn’t mean you know everything you need to know about autism. Parents can offer a wealth of knowledge and resources, so try and be receptive.

 

3. I know you’re very busy managing the needs of all the children in your class. I realize that my child’s needs are sometimes greater than those of other children. If you communicate with me frequently, I can help you make things more manageable.

 

4. Behavior is communication. Instead of reacting, take a moment and figure out what is being communicated by the behavior.

 

5. If you feel the need to tell me that my child argues with you or speaks to you like you’re equals, then you don’t know enough about autism yet. Ditto if you tell me my child was playing in the bathroom sink.

 

6. Read the IEP and behavior plan and follow them. Parents agonize over getting the supports right for our children and we don’t appreciate IEP violations. Neither do your administrators.

 

7. Try and remember that we are utterly exhausted and often feel like a giant, exposed nerve. We know we shouldn’t have to fight to get our kids the supports they need in school, yet we end up doing it year after year.

 

8. We know the value of a good teacher more than anyone, and we will bring you gifts throughout the year to keep you happy.

 

9. We also know pretty quickly if we’re dealing with a teacher that isn’t inclined to do more than absolutely necessary to help our child learn. It will be a long, unpleasant year for you.

 

10. Our children are much more sensitive and aware than you may think they are. We would really appreciate it if you can help them feel accepted and part of the group, instead of different.

 .

There are so many talented, caring teachers out there, but there are just as many who aren’t as knowledgeable about autism and special needs as they could be. Parents want to work with you to make it a successful year. A big part of that is respecting our child’s differences and understanding that they don’t have to be like everyone else to be valued.

 

Make no mistake, there is a lot of effort and learning involved in supporting our kids. But most parents will make it worth your while by plying you with coffee, cookies, and Target gift cards.

 

My kid was arguing with another student in class and instead of doling out punishment you distracted him and redirected him to something else? I really hope you like brownies.

 

If parents and teachers engage in a partnership of learning, we can help make every year successful for our kids. Remember that they’re working hard just to get through the day and they need to trust that you will help support them. We need to trust that, too.

 

All Children Can Learn

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