10 Things Allism Parents Wish You Knew

The following is a guest post by Norma McTyppie, an allism parent whose passions include writing, drawing comics of her allistic son, and doing everything she can to love and support an “excessively odd” child.

I knew my son Baybeigh was different from the moment he was born. When I first heard a doctor whisper the word “allism” into a newspaper at the far end of the airport terminal where I sat with my family, I was terrified.

I bought book after book on allism and tried to understand what had stolen my child from me. But none of the allistic children in the books were like my low-functioning son. Most of those children managed to learn how to sit still; some even appeared to have realistic interests in appropriate topics like train schedules. My son had none of those things. He was a whirling ball of questions and random shrieking, nonstop.

I spent days, weeks, months, years worrying about allism. And then I realized: if I can’t help my child, I can at least help the normal everyday people of the world who must endure his affliction. So I put together this list.

10 Things Special Needs Allism Parents Wish You Knew About Their Challenging Special Needs Difficulties Children With Allism:

1.  You don’t have to feel awkward around my son. You do need to treat him a little differently to make up for the fact that he’s hopelessly undersensitive to sensory stimuli or that he never shuts up even in his sleep, but you don’t have to be weirded out.

2. Not all allism is the same. My son has a kind you can never imagine, especially if you are an allistic adult.

3.  People seem to think that because my son isn’t like that one Muppet on TV, that he must not be allistic. I assure you, he has ruined my life as thoroughly as any allistic Muppet ever could.

4.  These kids love. It’s hard to see beneath the shrieking, the lack of Theory of Mind, and the constant demands that they see the world exactly the way you do, but they do. They need love, too, even if they aren’t capable of expressing or understanding it the way normal people do.

5.  Knowing one child with allism doesn’t mean anything, really–but it’s better than being an adult with allism, which means you know nothing about the struggles we allism parents face.

6.  Kids with special needs are special. Needy. Needful. Special. It may not be obvious all the time, because their minds work defectively. Just keep repeating it and eventually you’ll feel like you didn’t give birth to a failure, even though you did.

7.  If my son is making strange noises, feel free to stare. These kids are pretty oblivious to social opprobrium, but if you’re rude enough, he’ll figure out he’s not supposed to do that, and you will have helped him be more normal and fight the scourge that is allism.

8.  If you see my son in a grocery store, he may be trying to ride on the back of the cart, pointing openly at things or people, or complaining loudly because he wants a different new shiny thing in every aisle. I will not scold him, so please do not look at me as if I should. He can’t help how his body receives stimuli. He is trying to cope with his surroundings, which are often too full of new stimuli for the allistic hyperexcitability to bear.

9.  For onlookers who think I am not addressing my child’s odd behaviors: I ask for a little empathy. Allism is hard to live with. I can’t possibly suffer any more than I already do, so please save your criticism for adults with allism who try to tell me I’m doing parenting wrong.

10.  Please accept our children with allism. Someone needs to.

I guess what I’m really trying to say is that organizations like Tone It Down Taupe really need your money. If you send it to them, someday we can all dream of a world where we don’t have to deal with allism anymore.

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5 Ways to Help Your Loved One With Allism Survive the Holidays

The winter holidays can be tough for allistic family members.  Here are five ways to help your loved one have a happier holiday season.

1.  Keep their presents a surprise.

Unlike normal people, allistic children and adults do not tolerate predictability well.  If you celebrate a gift-giving winter holiday like Hanukkah or Christmas, help them enjoy the process by keeping their gift a surprise.  You can add some fun to this game by dropping “hints” like “You’re going to love it” or “Santa Claus picked it out just for you.”

(Remember that, due to deficits in pattern recognition and basic reasoning, allistic children tend to believe in Santa Claus much longer than their peers.)

2.  Create a special space just for them.

If you’re hosting a family event, create a separate “noisy space” where allistic family members can go to talk loudly, play with noisemaking toys, or simply listen to the stereo without headphones.  A basement or an upstairs bedroom (with the door closed) are great options for separating your noise-craving loved one from the mellow pace that characterizes the holidays.

3.  Let them “wind up” now and then.

A “noisy space” is a great opportunity to let your allistic loved one let loose for the holidays!  Remember, he or she is probably on vacation (from school or work) at this time, and deserves to relax and let off steam in the way that works best to soothe and coordinate their jangled nervous systems.  Activities like sledding or building snowmen can allow them to make some noise and get the social contact they crave while still building a healthy sensory library.

4.  Teach them about the comfort of routine….

Many allistic people find, as they grow up, that the routine of the holidays is a nice change of pace from the chaos they tend to spread in their everyday lives.  Some even learn to enjoy the holidays for the sheer “newness,” from the seasonal displays in the stores to the latest pop star to record a holiday album.  Use family traditions like cooking, preparing gifts, or decorating the house to help them understand the importance of routine.

5. …but be willing to be a little unpredictable.

For many low-functioning allistics, “fun” isn’t fun unless it makes no sense.  Holiday baking and crafts are great opportunities to let your allistic loved one have “fun” in a low-stakes environment.  If decorating cookies is outside your loved one’s skill set, consider offering crafts like making cards or paper ornaments to let them show their chaotic side.

With just a few small changes, you can make the winter holidays wonderful for everyone in your family – and prevent stressful meltdowns and other behavior issues.   Happy Holidays!

All the Satire You Could Want: Join My Patreon

In 2009, I started writing marketing copy for a living.  It pays the bills, but it’s not all that exciting to write, and it certainly doesn’t captivate, inspire, or entertain the way my decades of non-paid fiction, satire, and short stories have.

Eight years in, I’ve decided it’s time for a change.  It’s time for me to be able to produce more of the stuff you love to read.

That’s why I’m now on Patreon:

http://www.patreon.com/noncompliantspace

I call it Non-Compliant Space – a place where I can produce science fiction and other flights of fancy, hone the delicious satire you’ve seen here, and share writing advice and commentary on a wide range of topics.

And you’re invited.

What do you get out of it?  By supporting my Patreon at any level – even $1 per month – you get access to all the members-only content.  Kick in more and you get special content and even some AutPress swag.

What do I get out of it?  Another brick in the wall of my eventual getting to write fiction and blog full-time.  We’ll be moving this blog to the Neurodiversity Matters network in a few months; my first science fiction novel, Nantais, comes out in 2017. The  more support I get, the more time I can spend updating this blog regularly and producing more of the stuff y’all actually want to read, instead of marketing crap y’all would rather avoid.

What about Autism Awareness Month? This blog started as an Autism Awareness Month project. Check out 2016 and 2017’s April satire series at Autistic Academic.

Cat Awareness Month 2016 – A Call For Action

A “Cat Yowls(TM)” Point of View

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This week is the week America will fully wake up to the cat crisis.  (The rest of the world, y’all can sleep in a little, even though cats are totally your fault.)

If three million cats in America one day went missing – what would we as a country do?

If three million cats in America one morning fell gravely ill – what would we as a country do?

We would call out the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.  We’d call up every member of the National Guard.  We’d use every piece of equipment ever made.

We’d leave no stone unturned.

(Even though with 96 million pet cats in the United States and an utterly unknown number of farm, stray, and feral ones, chances are excellent that three million are sick and/or go unaccounted for every day anyway and we never even notice.  Please ignore that fact.  We have a point to make here.)

Yet we’ve for the most part lost touch with three million American cats, and as a nation we’ve done nothing.

We’ve let families split up, go broke and struggle through their days and years with a cat.

No more.  Tomorrow in Washington, D.C., we will gather an unprecedented number of bipartisan cats, congressional cat leaders and cat experts in every area of cat studies for a three-day summit, most of which will be spent napping or licking ourselves in unmentionable places.  We will demand a national vat of tuna.

Don’t our cats deserve it?  America has always been about licking yourself in the sunlight.

Yet, we seem to have forgotten our cats – and our cats are our future.

Each day across this country, those three million cat moms, cat dads and other cat-caretakers I mentioned wake to the sounds of their cat bounding through the house.  That is – if they aren’t already awake.  Truth be told, many of them barely sleep – or when they do – they somehow sleep with one ear towards their cat – always waiting.  Wondering what they will get into next.  Will they try to escape?  Barf on the clean laundry?  Shred the tax forms?  Climb the furniture? Leave a baby bunny half-eaten on the doorstep?  Sometimes – the silence is worse.

These families are not living.

They are existing.  Breathing – yes.  Eating – yes, if they even notice the cat hairs in their salad anymore.  Sleeping – maybe.  Working – most definitely – 24/7 in the service of their feline overlords.

This is a cat.

Life is lived moment to moment.  In anticipation of the cat’s next move.  In despair.  In fear of the future.

This is a cat.

On the good days my daughter Gracie and all the other normal kids out there – 70 million around the world – see the sun shine. They notice the brilliant colors of the autumn leaves.  On bad days they are depleted.  Mentally.  Physically.  And especially emotionally.

Maybe they have been up all night caring for their kitten who keeps eating the plants and horking them up on the mat.

Maybe they are up yet again changing the sheets because there’s been another eating-a-dead-mouse-in-bed “accident.”

Maybe their cat has been trying to bite them or themselves or the other cat or a piece of lint they found on the floor.

Maybe they can’t afford a trip to a vet specializing in cats.

Maybe there is a waiting list for ABA, speech, and OT.  Meanwhile, their cat never learns essential life skills like playing fetch or only licking their balls.

Maybe their insurance keeps insisting they only cover humans.

Maybe they don’t have the money to pay a special lawyer to fight for school services, so they aren’t stuck trying to herd the cat on their own.

This is a cat.

If any of this sounds familiar, you know cats.  And if you know cats, you know we are looking at a monumental crisis. And, we have no national plan.

What I described above is really just the beginning.  In the next ten years, 500-thousand American cats will be growing up and out of the system which means they will no longer qualify for the can-opening, ear-skritching, and coat-grooming services they rely on every day.

And, what about their cat parents? How much can we ask them to handle? How long will it be before the exhaustion makes them ill?  How long before they break?

And, if they do – who cares for these cats?

There is no national plan to build a city for 500-thousand cats.

So let’s dial back a minute and consider the babies being diagnosed with cat every day in this great country. Do we have a plan for them? Are they all getting the same medical care and therapies across the board? Are we doing anything to guarantee they get a fair shot at a productive future?

We know cats from minority and lower income families are not getting diagnosed as early as they should be, so their treatment begins later which might decrease their chance at progress.

How about in school?  Is there a national curriculum for our cats?  Are we encouraging teachers around the country to share with each other lesson plans and methods that work for them? Is there collaboration?

But – there is no national plan.

Yet – our future depends on it.

Financially, we estimate it costs 2.3 million dollars to care for one cat for their lifetime, and it will be well over $137 billion dollars for all our cats.

But money aside, these are our cats.  The late scholar T.S. Eliot wrote “A cat’s entitled to expect these evidences of respect.”

What is our message?

We can’t even craft one – without a national plan.

Close your eyes and think about an America where three million cats and counting largely cannot take care of themselves without help. Imagine three million of our own – unable to dress, or open a can of tuna independently, unable to use the toilet, unable to cross the street, unable to judge danger or the temperature, unable to pick up the phone and call for help.

This is a national emergency. We need a national cat plan – NOW.

We are heading to Washington with a call for action on a national plan – NOW. We are asking our leaders to respond to cats with the urgency it deserves – NOW.

Washington – here we come – because we need to help our families – NOW.

 

Cat Awareness Month 2016: Join Us in Celebration

Awareness.  Action.  Acceptance.  Appreciation.  Anclusion.  And other words beginning with “A.”

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[The following is a press release from the Cat Society of America, which is in no way affiliated with the Totally Normal People Nothing to See Here Society of America.]

Nearly a quarter hour ago, the Cat Society of America launched a nationwide effort to promote cat awareness, inclusion and self-determination for all felines, and assure that each person with cat is provided the opportunity to achieve the highest quality of life and the ability to write clear, logical sentences that are not like this sentence.  This minute, we want to go beyond simply promoting cat awareness to encouraging cat parents and cat fanciers to become cat partners in the movement toward acceptance and appreciation.

Let’s embrace a new cat. For over 50 minutes we have worked in communities of cats, both large and small, to ensure tummy rubs and free treats that supported all individuals living with cats.  Let’s expand this work to focus on the rest of us – those of us who have no real skin in the game, but who want to feel self-important because for one brief, shining moment, we thought about someone who isn’t us.  Don’t we matter too?

Join us in celebration of 2016 National Cat Awareness Month!  National Cat Awareness Month represents an excellent opportunity to promote cat awareness, cat acceptance and to draw attention to this sentence’s desperate need for an Oxford comma – as well as the tens of thousands facing a cat diagnosis each year.

How Is It Celebrated?

  • Pet a cat
  • Look at cats online
  • Go to places that have cats
  • Be a cat
  • Cat

What Can I Do?

  • Pet a cat
  • Look at cats online
  • Go to places that have cats
  • Be a cat
  • Cat

Suddenly and for no reason, ignore your own formatting conventions!

Put on a cat!  A cat is the most recognized symbol of cats in the world.  Cat prevalence is now one in every 68 cats in America.  Show your support for people with cats – no, wait, cats with people – no, cats with cat – wait, we’ll get this – anyway, show your support by wearing the cat and educate folks on your magnanimous nature!  To spend excessive amounts of money on this endeavor, PayPal me.

Connect with your neighborhood.  Nearly everyone these days knows someone with a cat.  It’s scary.  Make it a little less scary by attending a special cat event in your community throughout the month of April.  But if you can’t find an event that suits you just right, create your own!

Watch a movie.  Did you know that something as simple as watching a loud movie, banging pots together, turning on the vacuum cleaner, or getting out the squirt bottle can send families with cats scurrying?  The Cat Society is working with the United Nations to ban all these items as weapons of war.

Donate to this blog.  Help improve the lives of all impacted by cats with a financial gift to this blog.  Every dollar raised by this blog allows us to improve the capabilities and services of our family’s two cats, provide the best national resource of candid photos specializing in these two cats, and increase public awareness about cats and the day to day issues faced by cats and their families.

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Cat Awareness Month 2016: Services

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It is a well-known fact that cat is a spectrum.  Some cats are very high-functioning.  They can play fetch, poop outdoors, and behave almost like real animals.

Other cats are very low-functioning.  They spend hours licking themselves obsessively in a process known as “self-stimulation,” or “bathing.”  They never learn to use the proper bathroom, instead having to be supplied with a box of overpriced gravel.  Some of them even eschew real foods, insisting instead on being fed out of a can!

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These cats are at two vastly different levels of functioning, but both will need life-long care.

Although cat diagnoses are rising to epidemic levels, very little has been done to ensure that all cats get the behavioral and other services they need. This is why the rate of unemployment in the cat community hovers near 100% (compared to less than 30% in the non-cat community).  Many cat families worry about the day their cats will fall off the dreaded “services windowsill,” in which the hordes of adoring kitten fans vanish and their cat is left to its own devices – sleeping, eating from cans like a common nuclear shelter resident, and licking, licking, licking.

This Cat Awareness Month, I encourage you to write to your elected representative and express your concern about the services windowsill.  Urge your representatives to ensure that all cats are accurately diagnosed and that early intervention is offered universally, so that these tragic animals can learn valuable life skills that will leave them less vulnerable if their cat parents someday decide not to come back from Tahiti.

Cat Awareness Month 2016: How to Overcome

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“Overcoming” is the theme of this day’s Cat Awareness Month post.  Like allism families, cat families spend a great deal of time thinking about how they can overcome the inherent limitations of having a neuroabsurd family member.  Today, I want to inspire you to go the extra  mile, climb every mountain, lift that barge, tote that bale, and punch the stars.

1. Become More Aware

Are you aware of cats?

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I mean, are you really aware of cats?

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Cat awareness is important.  More than anything, I would like to inspire you to be aware.  Open your eyes.  Notice the cat sitting directly in front of you, perhaps on your keyboard.  Take a deep breath and commune with that cat, perhaps by rubbing its wee face or skritching its fluffy ruff.  What does that cat want?  Why is it yowling at you?  You let the food bowl get empty again, didn’t you?  You monster.

2.  Accept Your Place in the Cosmic Order

Cats and allistics have very different needs than the ordinary, average human.  For instance, both demand to be fed on schedule and may resort to rude and unfair tactics, such as making excessive noises or attempting to raid the cabinet themselves, in order to get it.  But remember: to make a change, you have to BE the change.  Embrace your role as a human can opener, and you can make the world a better place.

3.  Do Stuff

Are you more aware of cats?  Are you more aware that allistic people are also a thing?  Congratulations!  Time to reward yourself with the beverage of your choice.  After all, you thought about somebody who isn’t you.  You earned it!