Issue No. 28, January 2011

“I didn’t fail 1000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1000 steps.” ~ Thomas Alva Edison

“No Whining on the Yacht”

This motto has been making the rounds in my hometown. I like it, and I’m going to use it. Of course I don’t own a yacht, have never even been aboard one. We do have an inflatable raft lurking somewhere in the garage; does that count?

“No whining on the yacht” is no more than a snarky, imperious update of the more gently worded advice I’ve been espousing for years. Focus more on what you have than what you don’t have, more on what you can do than what you can’t do. Don’t waste time on what-might-have-been or if-only. Is the glass half full or half empty?

The most attitudinally-astute of us may have lived our whole lives with a half-full glass in our hands, but it’s no insurance against a year like 2010, the wreckage from which my family is emerging. The glass is half-full, but right before our eyes, the size of the glass changed (I could barely get my hand around it), as did the color of the glass (and its contents—no one could drink something of such an unmentionable color). Gremlins and cooties lurked in the murk in the glass and chipped the rim all around. A hairline crack in the base promised t0 drain the half full glass slowly but persistently. I made four trips to the Emergency Room in 2010, three different hospitals, three times driving son, husband and mother, once in an ambulance with my son on the stretcher. My brother, the fulcrum of our family, fought a fight against pancreatic cancer for which the word “courageous” doesn’t even come close. I spoke at his funeral (or, I’m told I did). I was able to do it only by removing my glasses so I couldn’t see the hundreds of faces.

Bryce and his late great Uncle Rob, on the family yacht at
Todd Lake, Oregon, 1997. One of my all-time favorite photos.

In between all this we lived for months, as too many do these days, with the uncertainty and diminished resources of unemployment, my husband’s and my son’s. Amid all that swirled around me, three books, in various stages of development, lay stagnant on my desk. For a writer, that’s unemployment.

So if ever I were going to whine on the yacht, it would be now. Get up a chorus of tired four-year-olds, lonesome dogs and dental drills, and do it ten-part disharmony.

But I can’t.  In the worst of times, we always learn something about ourselves. In this case, it’s one of the few things that have brought me any comfort this year: I’m not bitter. In thinking back over my life and its challenges and tribulations, I realize that I have never been bitter about anything. This year redefined grief, terror, helplessness and exhaustion for me. But not bitterness. In one of my earliest essays for Autism Asperger’s Digest, I wrote: 

A friend once asked me, what do you think is the secret of your success?

It’s no secret. It is just this: As much as possible, accept your situation without bitterness. Play the cards you drew with grace and optimism. Bitterness can be a formidable foe; overcoming it can be a daily exercise. Some of us make it, some of us don’t. 

I once spent some time with a father whose mantra was, “Because of autism, I can’t have a relationship with my son. How do you think I feel knowing that he’ll probably end up in prison?”  I talked and reasoned away the afternoon, begging him to see that he was setting up a self-fulfilling prophecy. Couldn’t he take one baby step out, imagining a different outcome for his belligerent but very bright child—ten minutes of floor time, coming to school once a month, finding a restaurant only the two of them liked? He loved his son but to the child it no doubt felt conditional, dependent upon a certain kind of behavior, even if there were organic reasons why he could not comply. In the end, they both lost out. This dad could not move beyond his bitterness and grief. Grief is real. But getting stuck in that grief—that is the true tragedy.

I may be below deck on the yacht for a while more, but that doesn’t make it less of a yacht or less buoyant, an anchored mooring for my new half-full glass.  Mark found good work, our home was never in danger, we didn’t lose our life savings, Bryce will graduate in June at the top of his class. My pencil is finding its way back to paper. It scribbled a few New Year’s thoughts. Here they are (originally posted on Facebook, 1/1/11):

Ten Somethings for 2011

What the heck is a Something? Well, that will be up to you. But here's what these Somethings are not: not "resolutions," not in any particular order, not any more or any less interesting or compelling on July 18 or October 7 as on January 1. Neither simplistic nor complex, unless you make them so.

We know the universe to be constantly expanding, and we're all hostage to that ride, in degrees of willingness and comfort. Expansiveness, within your personal degree of willingness, is what these Somethings aspire to bring about. Any day of the year.

Grow something . . . not necessarily in soil

Clean something . . . tangible, spiritual, metaphorical, political

Read something . . . you normally ignore

Sing something . . . in a different language; feel how it deepens the music

Write something . . . with a pencil

Choose something as a totem . . . if one hasn’t already chosen you.

Listen . . . Seek silence; hear yourself think something

Love something . . . that you don’t already love 

Let something go . . . before it takes something meaningful from you


Let something go . . . knowing that it will return as something meaningful

What’s New

After a year’s hiatus, I’m happy to be returning to Autism Asperger’s Digest as a regular contributor. In my new column, Perspective: Rethink, Reframe, Relate, I’ll take up  issues within autism,  from the microcosm of the family to more global attitudes, and put them through an alternative lens. See you in the March-April issue.

“Home is where life with autism is most real, where we nurture the skills needed for different three Rs—Real life, Real love, Real character.” Beginning this month, I’m tweeting a quote a day from The Autism Trail Guide: Postcards from the Road Less Traveled, a great way to get to know my quietest book. Don’t the quiet ones often provoke the deepest thoughts? Follow me at EllenNotbohm on Twitter

“Creating Positive School Partnerships” appears in the current issue of Healing magazine, a publication of KidsPeace. I’ve been a regular contributor to Healing for the five years and am continually impressed and humbled by their hands-on programs and all-around commitment to the behavioral and mental health needs of children.  Also in the current issue are excellent articles on bullying, how to talk to children about gender issues, and how the virtual classroom can offer a safe path back to education for traumatized children. Healing has also named 1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s as one of their “High Five” notable books. Subscribe to Healing online here.

Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew has been published in Vietnamese. See my website for a full list of translations of my work in both article-length and full book.

Join the discussion

Lively discussions unfold every week on my Facebook author page. Find me and readers from more than twenty countries and add your voice to these important topics, and more.

How much paraeducator assistance is enough? Kindergarten boot camps, yea or nay? Do “stealth health” recipes promote good eating habits? Is any publicity for the cause good publicity?

Ten Things I Want my High School Senior with Autism to Know

Teaching self-regulation

Seeing our children’s attempts to communicate

Book excerpts on website

Cick here for book excerpts

Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew
from Chapter 8: Please Help Me with Social Interactions

Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew
In its entirety, Chapter 3: I Think Differently

1001 Great Ideas for Teaching and Raising Children with Autism or Asperger’s, 2nd edition
"What We Miss in Misbehavior” and "Game Plan for Meltdowns"

The Autism Trail Guide: Postcards from the Road Less Traveled
NEW! “The Power of a Cookie”

Newsletter archive: if you are new to our newsletter community, please visit the newsletter archive on my website and browse some popular past features at my newsletter archive

If you’ve read my books and feel inclined to share your thoughts with others, please consider posting a review on my book pages at It’s easy to do and you don’t have to post your real name.

Please forward this newsletter to anyone you feel might share an interest in our kids with autism. New subscribers can sign up at here.

©2011 Ellen Notbohm | Third Variation Strategies

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