Issue No. 52, April 2014

“Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others, even
the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.”

~ Desiderata


Autism: one word, many truths. What’s yours?

An unhappy emailer wants me to rewrite Ten Things after “getting the story from real autistic people” rather than “assuming half of it.” Of course, the inference that my son’s autism and the 8,o00 days we’ve spent together isn’t real raises my mother-bear hackles. The writer further scolded me with “here’s a little unknown timbit [sic] too, people with autism are all different.”

That each person with autism is unique is not a little known tidbit; it’s a given. In the Preface to my book, I wrote that my Ten Things “won’t and can’t possibly apply in total to all children with autism. Rather, you will see these characteristics in degree that varies from child to child, and from hour to hour, day to day, and year to year in an individual child.”

The chasm between my views and experiences and those of my emailer illustrate the truth about autism—that there are few absolutes truths. How could there be?

I’ve  known young people with autism who have many friends, a few friends, no friends. People with autism who are nonverbal and some don’t know how or when to stop talking. People with autism who are highly gifted in music, and some who are tone deaf. Some, talented artists while others struggle to hold a pencil or brush. Some challenged by significant gross motor and vestibular issues while others enjoy competitive sports and outdoor adventures.

Here are three of my truths about autism:

Your truth is the truth you inhabit.

Your truth does not negate the truths of others, or vice versa.

Your truth can change over time. This does not make either truth less genuine.

A speech therapist I know once mused, “I honestly think that a lot of people never make it out of that middle-school stage of quasi-concrete-abstract thinking, and that’s why we’re in the messes we’re in, around the world, all the time. So many people don’t seem to have the capacity or maybe the nurturing to understand that things aren’t black and white, and that change happens. That you can get inside someone else’s head and think about things the way they do, and that might even change your own ideas.”

Or your own truths.

Autism—one word, many truths. What’s yours?

© 2014 Ellen Notbohm




Of Star Trek and autism and what little girls and boys are made of

In my pre-cable TV college days, there was a black-and-white TV in our dorm’s common room. It was on 24 hours a day, and to my memory, it received only one channel, and that channel aired only two programs, Star Trek (original series) and The Big Valley. You could stroll through the room at any hour of the day or night and one or the other of those shows would be flickering away. I never latched onto The Big Valley, but by the end of that school year, I had seen every Star Trek episode multiple times. I still use the word g’rups to refer to adults, still employ the Spock-esque commentary “Fascinating” for life’s oddities both logical and illogical, still give people the Vulcan salute and hope that they live long and perspire. Uhhhh . . . that is, prosper.

Bryce enjoyed the Star Trek movies and knows well my story of the perpetual-loop TV episodes, so last summer we made our way through all them, via Netflix. When we came to the installment titled “What Little Girls are Made of,” I asked if he was familiar with the sugar-and-spice-and-everything-nice rhyme.

He wasn’t, and once enlightened, took a dim view of it.

He recalled too many close encounters with “mean girls.”

“Girls,” he said, “are made of atoms. Like everyone else.”

Then he wondered how a metaphor as ridiculous as sugar-and-spice came to be.

Then he wondered how much a role his autism played in his response.

Then we laughed about whether it wasn’t his autism, but perhaps he was part Vulcan, because “Girls are made of atoms” seemed like something Mr. Spock would say.

Our pediatrician, Dr. John Springer, had thoughts about what little girls and boys are made of that entertain me to this day. “Once upon a time little girls were made of sugar and spice and everything nice; little boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails. What exactly is a snip?” he wrote in an essay about developing strength. “The children I know are nearly 100% puppy dog tails, both boys and girls. Who needs sugar and spice? It melts in the rain or even if you sweat.”

Bryce was right, of course, in that girls (and boys) are composed of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, calcium, and phosphorus and a number of other trace elements. But all little girls and boys also contain elements that don’t appear on a periodic chart, and can’t be measured in molecules. Star Trek doesn’t specifically tell us whether the crew of the Enterprise encountered autism in beings throughout the universe. I’d like to think that 300 years from now, societal integration of individuals with autism will have reached galactic levels. I like to imagine that James T. Kirk, ever the humanitarian, might have made notes in his captain’s log about what little girls and boys with autism are made of:

There is more, far more, to these young ones than meets the eye . . . or the ear . . . or the fingertips.

They sense much more than they express.

They mirror our words, and our behavior, in a manner that should give us pause.

They may say little, but when we are able to travel the inroad to communicate with them, we find emotions just like our own that run just as deeply, values and convictions just as closely held. We find fantastic ideas waiting to be revealed, seeds of talents needing only our nurturing to bloom. “Only . . .”

In every one of these little boys and girls lies the capacity to achieve more than he or she is able to do now.

They give new meaning to our mission to boldly go where we have never gone before.

© 2014 Ellen Notbohm




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This month’s reads


“Autism Awareness is Not Enough”

What does autism “awareness” mean to you? Better question—what does it mean to those who think autism doesn’t touch them?

Autism awareness is no longer enough for me. Awareness that doesn’t result in action clangs hollow. A society can be as aware of autism as they are of the weather but if, like the old weather cliché, everyone grumbles but nobody does anything about it, awareness may then turn divisive and destructive, driving our children with autism farther to the edges of community. It’s time to move from awareness to action. . .

For Children with Autism, Being Social Begins with Thinking Social

We can be blunt with each other here. Kids with autism or Asperger’s frequently stand out as social oddballs. The heartbreak it causes, to the child and to the parent, stirs in many parents an intense need to fix that facet of their child. If social competence was a physiological function, we could throw medication, nutrition, exercise or physical therapy at it and make it happen. If kids with autism were curious, outgoing, motivated learners, we could cultivate social intelligence curriculum-style. . .

Autism Misconceptions for Smarties

Merriam-Webster defines a smarty as “a person who thinks and behaves as if s/he knows everything,” while a dummy is “a stupid person.” As an autism parent, the smarties vex me more than the so-called dummies. . Today, despite notable advances in education, therapy and medicine, we still joust daily with autism myths and fallacies. Let’s knock down a few here . . .


Downloadable PDF summaries of Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew and Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew now available on my website.

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Excerpts from all my books are on my website, including full chapters from Ten Things Every Child with Autism Wishes You Knew and Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes You Knew.

©2014 Ellen Notbohm | Third Variation Strategies