I have two somewhat politically incorrect things to say.
1. I am tired of hearing Temple Grandin’s advice about parenting. Don’t get me wrong–I think Ms. Grandin is an incredible woman, person, scientist. I have enormous respect for her insight, intellect, and accomplishments. But she is not a parent. (And she’s not in an intimate relationship–not judging! Just saying. Relationships are the compost pile of self-discovery. When they’re healthy, they’re roomy and rich, teaming with worms that help break everything down. When they’re unhealthy, they literally stink.) She’s got oodles of fantastically important things to share but when it comes to parenting advice, unless you live with your spectrum kid, I’m not keen on listening. It’s just not a good use of my time. Or energy.
2. I’m no longer interested in the debates in the ‘Autism Community.’ Again, don’t get me wrong: Lively discussion is important. Diversity is essential. The sharing of experiences that are different from mine is critical. Acceptance, education, respect, access to services, I’m for all of it. But the debates, the positions–even the ones I agree with, are ultimately unhelpful for me because they are too limited in scope, ie, there’s a way that they create separation and divides even as they are often working hard to bring people together.
But mostly it’s because those discussions don’t actually do anything to strengthen my ability to bring my most authentic, creative, and resilient self to myself, my son, and the challenges that arise in my life on a daily basis.
And that’s what matters most to me, finding my way back to presence and open-heartedness when I’ve been triggered, which (again!) happens on a near daily basis.
What can I say? It’s trigger central over here.
When I’m triggered, I lose access to a huge amount of my abilities. I just do. So does Tito. So does Dave. It’s like doors to different rooms in the brain slam shut like in the movies when the child in the department store goes missing–slam–slam–slam–slam. Secure the perimeters. Sound the alarm. The amygdala jumps into fight/flight/freeze because it/the brain/we react as if our very survival has been threatened. I’ve come to see that investigating the triggers is how I find my way back.
I used to think the goal was to reduce this sort of reaction, get less triggered, be less anxious, scared, angry, etc., reduce the _______ and increase the ______ because one is ‘bad’ and the other ‘good’. I don’t think that way anymore. Feelings are feelings. They just are. Like Aspergers and sunshine and thunderstorms and the moon. Any judgment about them, any story, comes from my mind which attaches to a feeling quickly judged as something to grab or something to cast off.
I now see them all as doors, doors that lead me back to me, through a process that begins with opening to whatever is there, not resisting or fighting. That can only happen if I stop, breath, inquire.
Emotional regulation. Self-regulation. I’m convinced this is the key.
I’ve long been attuned to issues of emotional regulation as forward movement in our house centers around whether or not Tito is feeling ‘in balance’ or ‘out of balance.’ But my big hit-myself-in-the-head moment was at the CPS (Collaborative Problem Solving) training this past January: All of us, not just our kids, are only able to access our skills (and here I’m talking about a host of things including social-emotional intelligence, cognitive flexibility, sensory processing, executive functioning) when we are regulated. We talk a lot about helping our kids, with transitions, with overwhelm, with confusion, with frustration, but we don’t talk enough about what happens inside of us, the parents.
If we all would be willing to greet our own ‘stuff’ with compassion, and to listen under the words other people speak for the feelings that are bubbling there, if we all set our GPS for points of connection and relatedness, there would be no need for discussions of whether or not Autism is a disability or ability, a difference or disorder. Forgive me if it sounds as if I am about to break into a chorus of Kumbaya, but I am communicating from a keenly pragmatic place. If we all did that, if we all were willing to question our thoughts, our judgments, our stories, and then drop out of our heads and into our bodies to listen for what we are feeling and needing, we would discover that truly, we are all in the same boats, at times able, at times, disabled.
Look, I’m not trying to take anything away from anyone. My perspective has shifted and, as a consequence, ev-e-ry-thing is seen through this new lens. Things are orders of magnitude simpler. And orders of magnitude harder. But absolutely one hundred percent where I want to put my time and energy.
Tito has Aspergers and ADD. I don’t have either. But we are dealing with the same brain/body balance thing. In fact, I contend that there is no one who is not dealing with this, to some degree.
Can you imagine how amazing it would be if we all got on that page?