The San Francisco Autism Society Deserves Better Leadership than Jill Escher. Here's Why.

Scott Badesch, President
Autism Society
4340 East-West Hwy, Suite 350
Bethesda, Maryland 20814
July 22, 2016
Dear Mr. Badesch,
I am writing to express my alarm over the unprofessional, divisive, and degrading behavior of San Francisco Autism Society President Jill Escher, and to request that the Autism Society reconsider having her lead our regional chapter.

As a fellow Bay Area parent of a high-support autistic teenager, it is extremely distressing to see Ms. Escher use her position and formal SFASA social media to openly push questionable scientific positions, belittle the needs of autistic people who can speak while making them feel excluded from the ASA community, and frame autistic people in general (and her own children specifically) as catastrophes and “damaged,” rather than deserving human beings with specific needs.
Ms. Escher demonstrated all of the positions above in a recent San Francisco AutismSociety blog post, but I'd like to highlight one passage:
“Autism has degenerated into a philosophy and personality identification rather than as the serious mental pathology. When just about anyone with a quirky or acerbic personality can be placed in the same simplistic diagnostic category as my catastrophically disabled nonverbal children, we have a scientific, moral, and practical problem.”
It is horrifying to see the president of a regional Autism Society chapter display such ignorance and ableism about the very population she is supposed to be serving. It is a basic autism understanding that being able to speak does not preclude having intensive support needs in other areas of life.  

It is also not Ms. Escher’s job to decide who qualifies as autistic. As a chapter president of an organization whose guiding principles include supporting “without regard to a person’s age, race, religion, disability, gender, sexual orientation, income level or level of need on the autism spectrum,” it is her duty to support every autistic person in the Bay Area.
And as Ms. Escher has described herself as a “science junkie,” she must be aware of the research indicating that autistic people have dramatically higher-than-non-autistic suicide rates. When an autism organization official who is supposed to be in service to the autistic population dismisses legitimately autistic people as merely “quirky” – when many of those autistic people’s lives never made sense until they received an autism diagnosis, and who don’t feel like they fit anywhere except in the autism communities – she is compounding the feelings of isolation, alienation, and depression that contribute to those elevated suicide rates.

If the Autism Society is to properly support the San Francisco Bay Area region’s autistic people as well as their families, Ms. Escher cannot be allowed to use the SFASA platform to promote her extremely harmful personal opinions and agendas. And it is simply no longer enough for your organization to issue statements that Ms. Escher's writings "are not the positions of the Autism Society."

Thank you for your time,
Shannon Des Roches Rosa
Redwood City, California


Autistic Vampires: Discuss!

Source: Space Jockey Reviews
[image: Headphones-wearing, bloody-mouthed white vampire]
True Blood is my current laundry-time watching, even though it's even sillier than I'd thought possible. A few days ago Iz (whose last day of school ever was today, *sob*) and I recently talked about the infinite directions True Blood silliness takes, and our discussion took an interesting tangent when she asked me what aspects of being a vampire might complicate being autistic. So I asked friends what they thought. And the discussion was so ... delicious (like, Fae blood delicious) that I just have to share some of it here (with permission of the discussants). Feel free to join the conversation!

What Are Some Ways Being An Autistic Vampire Could Be, Well, Complicated?

  • Maf Vosburgh: [Leo's] green straws would come in handy. 
  • Corina Becker: I don't know True Blood, so I can only go off general mythos and various LARPs:
    • LARP: unless you have certain powers, food literally turns to ash in your mouth.  
    • General mythos: well, there goes sun bathing
    • Extra sensory stuff. So many extra sensory stuff. Plus aura reading stuff. 
    • Hair cuts don't stay. It regrows each night. semi-mythos/LARP. On the other hand, there are powers to make people not see you, so...
    • Emily Paige Ballou: Yeah, if I recall correctly, vampires are supposed to have super senses independent of being autistic. So an autistic vampire....
  • Matt Carey: I think of the hungry tiger of Oz. Too nice too eat others. What about the hungry vampire of Aus? A sensory aversion to the texture or taste of blood?
  • Emily Paige Ballou: Sensory challenges. Blood has a really distinctive consistency and scent, which may be difficult for an autistic vampire ... as well as the necessity of being very close to people in an intimate way for the purposes of biting them... 
  • Matt Carey: How about the difficulty of using hypnotic eyes when you don't like to make eye contact?
  • Emily Paige Ballou:Also an autistic vampire might also have a very rigid moral code which would make the whole biting people thing problematic. You might have to come up with some kind of consensual blood-sharing agreement.
    • Shannon Des Roches Rosa: This was Iz's concern. 
    • Emily Paige Ballou: I mean, there are people who'd probably be into that ... but I don't know how much you want to explain *that* to her yet... 
    • ...and the probability of being able to find those people in some of the darker corners of the internet. 
    • Shannon Des Roches Rosa: Well, she'll probably read this thread. But I'm guessing she'd find it interesting, from an intellectual perspective. 
    • Christine Langager: Maybe all of the Cullens are Autistic vampires! grin emoticon
    • Corina Lynn Becker: Yeeeeeeeaaaaah, I'm pretty sure I LARP with some of those people ...  nice people, but I'm not going near some of their conversations.
    • Emily Paige Ballou to Christine Langager: That book would've been better that way. wink emoticon. 
    • Christine Langager: Not much can be improved when it's already near-perfection as is 🤓 
    • Emily Paige Ballou: ;P 
    • Rory Patton: Their moral code may well include having the right to bite others because their own self preservation is more important and besides some people deserve to get bitten (I have a list).
  • Emily Paige Ballou: Vampires are supposed to be very seductive, but we tend to be bad at flirting.
  • Jessica Banks: I have major food texture issues, and the thought of having to drink something as thick as blood makes me gag. Also, I'm not a champion sleeper, but I think I could dig that dead from dawn to dusk thing.
  • Sunday Stilwell: My two vampires would probably love sleeping in a coffin ... all that tight, deep pressure in an enclosed space with cushy pillows.
  • Maf Vosburgh: Leo could keep the same catch-phrase, "Can I have a bite?".
  • Ruti Regan: My thought is: this is a question for Tumblr.
  • Zoe Cannon: An autistic vampire who has trouble with interaction might have trouble luring victims.
  • Zoe Cannon: A long-lived vampire might infodump about the previous eras they've lived through, and correct errors in historical fiction/movies/nonfiction.
    • Emily Paige Ballou: ...and thus be in constant danger of giving away their secret.
    • Corina Lynn Becker: or just be that really really really really really obnoxious history major.
  • Steve Silberman: In-depth research on the varietal nuances of various blood types.
  • Julia Bascom: Light sensitivity!
  • Elizabeth Noemie Bartmess: Difficulty navigating vampire status hierarchies.
  • Zoe Cannon: A vampire with a special interest in vampirism trying not to talk about it too much because it might look suspicious.
  • Elizabeth Noemie Bartmess: Difficulty adjusting to fashion trends + longer life -> clothing decades/centuries out of date.
  • Zoe Cannon: A vampire with taste sensitivities who can only stand to drink certain blood types.
    • Emily Paige Ballou: Oh my god, there are all kinds of immunological factors that probably affect the way blood tastes to a hypersensitive autistic vampire.
  • Alex Forshaw: Unconventional sleep pattern, not a "morning person".
    • Emily Paige Ballou: A vampire with N24 syndrome could really have problems ... if you have trouble getting up on time at night, but you're always racing against daylight...
  • Kevix Mark: can there be a Buffy The Vampire Slayer reimagining with Autistic vampires?
  • Matt Carey: Could a vampire have a pet bat and call it Squawkers McGaw?
  • Corina Lynn Becker: if you're a vampire with a sire and other vampires, there is often some resemblance of vampire society, which means a whole 'nother set of social rules and rituals (literal and not) to learn, with other members from all sorts of time periods, soooooooooo democracy not always a thing.
  • Seymour Rosa: Bats are naturals at flappause. So there's that.


High School Graduation Looms

Iz, at 20 months, and her cousin Danielle, age two
[image: two laughing white toddler girls]
I am in denial about Iz and her cousin Danielle graduating from high school next week. And both going to colleges that, while still in this time zone, are also not very close by.

Our girl has chosen to spend her last official summer at home working a lot, and also going to a few concerts. Pretty sure that's what I did, the summer before I went to UCLA. I may have also gone to the beach a lot, which was an option in the sunny SoCal of my youth, but not so much here near San Francisco, where everything coastal is foggy, rocky, shark-ridden, rip tide-beset, or some combination of the four. I suspect she will go hiking instead.

Am writing about beaches as a form of postponing thinking about graduation. I don't understand how the arrival of this milestone happened so quickly. It's addling. It's upsetting. It's too much. Any advice on handling this transition (for me, not her) would be welcomed.

We also have to think what to do about Iz's room: Turn it back into my office, or go the AirBNB route?


The Best of April (A.K.A. Autism's Hellmouth Month)

Everyone who has anything to do with autism activism or other kinds of associated consciousness-raising tends to get steamrolled by April. Not only during the month itself, but in the weeks leading up to Everything Autism-And-April-Related. It certainly doesn't leave much space for personal journaling, and it's exhausting -- especially for people who don't have a whole lot of spoons (Disability community vernacular for available energy units), to begin with.

HowEVER: Much goodness happened this month, in case you missed it:

Steve Silberman gave the UN's World Autism Awareness Day opening keynote (video, TED provided a transcript.) An excerpt:
"Talking about autism as a common form of disability that deserves lifelong support and accommodations is very different from the ways the subject is usually discussed. Typically, autism is framed as a something new and fearful under the sun, a historical aberration, the unique disorder of our uniquely disordered modern world. But the comprehensive examination of autism’s history I undertook in NeuroTribes reveals that people on the spectrum have been part of the fabric of the human community for a very long time."

[video description: White man with salt-and-pepper hair and glasses sitting at a desk at the
United Nations, behind a digital placard reading "Steve Silberman," reading aloud
about the necessity of autism acceptance.]

Other Excellent Autism-y Things That Happened This April:
And at TPGA, we observed Autism Acceptance Month by "featuring accounts from autistic people about the differences accommodations (or lack thereof) make in their lives." Here's who wrote what:

Leo sitting in a chair as he pleases, damn it.
[image: White teenager with short brown hair
sitting in a car's front passenger seat
with his legs crossed and folded.]
  1. Mandy Klein talked about how it feels when one's ability to function fluctuates, but is not recognized or accommodated.
  2. Sara Luterman described the "frequent adjustments" that are necessary for her to be properly accommodated at her workplace
  3. Kathryn Hedges wrote about how noisy environments can disrupt her ability to process and function
  4. Henny Kupferstein talked about how her own autistic insights helped her guide her friend Ethan into creating videos that demonstrate his autistic perspectives, as well as accommodations that work for him.
  5. M. Kelter emphasized why listening -- really listening -- to autistic people about their experiences is a crucial accommodation, even when it's a work in progress. 
  6. We interviewed author Corinne Duyvis about her new science fiction novel On The Edge of Gone, in which a biracial, autistic, cat-loving teen girl is forced to fight for the accommodations she needs during a post-comet strike apocalypse.
  7. Queerability founder Kris Guin let us feature their poem about embracing acceptance, the spectrums of intersectionality, and rejecting shame.
  8. Aiyana Bailin described how small accommodations changes, specifically choices regarding chairs, can have "huge results." 
  9. Savannah Logsdon-Breakstone mused on getting comfortable with asking for crucial accommodations -- and setting one's own boundaries about those supports.
  10. Mel Baggs took on the assumption that all kids should be able to work and play in groups -- and that kids who can't cope with group scenarios are just being difficult.
  11. Autisticmotherland opined on what professionals need to know about supporting -- and diagnosing -- autistic parents of autistic children. 
  12. Tito Martin-Nemtin talked about the difference his noise-canceling headphones make in his ability to simply be in the outside world, without being completely overwhelmed. 
  13. Christine Langager described the frustration of often being excluded from autistic and autism-and-parenting communities when by definition one belongs to both.
  14. Sara M. Acevedo discussed how her well being depends significantly on not being exposed to scented products, yet how infrequently those accessibility rights and accommodation needs are taken seriously, viewed respectfully -- or met.   
  15. John Elder Robison talked about why accommodation is important, yet may not be enough to help autistic people like him with co-occuring conditions such as anxiety. 
  16. Emily Paige Ballou, Olley Edwards, Patricia George, Christine Langager, and Siobhan Travers (Nez Perce) highlighted the under-recognition of autistic girls, the long- and short-term effects of going without supports and accommodations, and what autistic girls and actually need to succeed and be happy. 
  17. Carly Jones (Olley Edwards) outlined her "Top five understandings previous Autistic generations did not have, that the next Autistic generation must have as standard."
  18. Amanda Forest Vivian talked about why, no, she really can't use a phone -- and how reluctant other people can be to respect and accommodate her on this matter.
  19. Kate emphasized why autism researchers need to better understand and accommodate autistic people, if they want more autistic participants in their studies.
  20. And Finn Gardiner talks about being the "truest, best self" he can be, tackling the "politics of shame head-on," and recognizing "that I could live with my autistic, black, queer, trans self without guilt just for being alive.
[image: selfie of three white females making goofy faces.]
On the personal journaling side, April was action-packed (this is a euphemism. I'm f***ing exhausted). The kids, of course, had asynchronous Spring Breaks. But at least the girls' break coincided. So we three XXs took a road trip to attend a admitted students orientation, and confirm that yes, Iz really does want to go to a college in a different state -- which I am still processing. Here we three are, blocking Mt. Shasta and its eponymous, not-totally-drained (first time in so many years), lake.

On our way, we drove through Ashland, Oregon with the intention of cheerfully harassing local anti-vaxxers -- but for some reason they weren't wearing signage, so we didn't know who they were and had to instead put our energies into a local scrumptious Indian buffet. We also listened to All The Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, which as unabashed nerdlings, they loved (note to other parents: there are a few sexy sex scenes, and lots of salty language). Though Iz asked for occasional breaks to listen to podcasts about cyber security, how political caucuses work, and the very real corporate and bureaucratic conspiracies behind lead poisoning, because that's the kind of stuff she wants to study next year.

Leo's spring break was just me and him, running around to his favorite regional aquariums, and then down to his grandmother's place in San Diego. You wouldn't catch me in this chilly water, but he got to be beachside four times in two days, and was never less than delighted.

Leo at Windansea Beach
[image: white teenager wading into the surf.]
Anyhow. Goodbye, April. I am glad you only happen once each year, as much adventuring as we all had. I would be perfectly happy to nap through May.


When The Wrong People Write About Autism: A (Preview) Review of In A Different Key

I've been trying to write a review of the new autism book In A Different Key and its media treatment for nearly two months. So here is an unbridled, frustrated, disappointed preview of my forthcoming, more measured, but no less critical long-form critique. (I live-tweeted while reading the book if you want to see my specific grievances.)

My primary issue is that In A Different Key (IADK) is so misleading, so harmful -- and presents so many outdated ableist messages about autism and autistic people as facts -- that it's hard to pick a starting point. I feel like Kevin Kline's Otto from A Fish Called Wanda, who, in practicing apologizing to John Cleese's Archie, starts out gritted-teeth polite, then erupts in expletives.

Another matter is that, as high profile mainstream media figures who use personal connections to autistic family members to validate their positions as autism authorities, authors John Donvan and Caren Zucker have for the most part openly ignored criticisms about their book. Which would make one think perhaps they're not aware, or not listening. However, my personal experience, as both senior editor of Thinking Person's Guide to Autism and as a commenter on their public editorials, is that they are keeping a close watch on all public responses to their book, and reaching out through back channels to react to, counter, or even censor criticism. Which is ... kind of the opposite of what I'd expect from mainstream media representatives. (Or maybe not, given the workplace intolerability that led to Melissa Harris-Perry leaving MSNBC.) So it's not as though they haven't been told, or heard, that  IADK is mostly getting autism wrong.

My third concern is that, as someone whose family appears in In A Different Key's more compassionate, respectful, and accurate predecessor NeuroTribes, it would be easy to dismiss my criticisms of Donvan & Zucker's book as personal or party-line bias. Except anyone who follows my work knows I'd criticize this hurtful book regardless: as (again) senior editor of Thinking Person's Guide to Autism, as the parent of an autistic teenager who deserves better than the faux-compassion and lack of understanding shown by Donvan and Zucker, and as someone who listens to autistic people themselves about autism. It's distressing to watch Donvan and Zucker actively ignore the ways in which autistic self-advocates are taking the lead and changing the world for the better -- not just for the "high functioning"autistics and neurodiversity movement leaders Zucker and Donvan ignorantly or willfully characterize as being so unlike my high-support son, but for autistic people of all ages and abilities.

I do feel like I need to draw out at least one major fail on the authors' part now, though: their stance on ABA therapy, and contrast it with the same topic's more nuanced, better-researched, and empathetic coverage in NeuroTribes.

Donvan and Zucker recently appeared on The New Yorker's Radio Hour (at 44:10, no transcript), talking about their book. In addition to claiming IADK is all about the compassion and acceptance and need for autistic-friendly spaces NeuroTribes actually demonstrates (which felt very much like politicians stealing  buzzwords from more successful rivals), and Zucker asserting "you can't call the person who's banging their head against the wall, or who can't care for himself, the same guy who has a PhD" (which would be news to supported living autistic PhD holders who self-injure, and reduces head-banging to a self-contained inscrutable problem rather than evidence that something is awry with the autistic person), John Donvan had this to say about ABA therapy:
"We do know that behavioral treaments, which are very intense and very expensive, can ameliorate some of the more limiting behaviors."
It's not like legitimate critiques of ABA are hard to find. Autistic researcher Michelle Dawson (dismissed by Ducker and Zonvan in IADK as a "former postal worker") wrote The Misbehavior of Behaviorists in 2004. Contemporary accounts of ABA traumatizing autistic children -- especially those whose motor planning disabilities do not allow them to demonstrate competence in ABA settings -- as well as those of disillusioned ABA therapists, are widely available. Yet Donvan and Zucker endorse ABA. Why? I suspect it's IADK's almost exclusive focus on how autism affects parents and caregivers rather than autistic people -- but maybe they'll respond here, and tell us.

Here, in contrast, is an excerpt from NeuroTribes about the function of "limiting behaviors," and the nastiness of ABA's design to eliminate them:
"Researchers would eventually discover that autistic people stim to reduce anxiety—and also simply because it feels good. In fact, harmless forms of self-stimulation (like flapping and fidgeting) may facilitate learning by freeing up executive-functioning resources that would otherwise be devoted to suppressing them. For Lovaas, however, self-injury, self-stimulation, and echolalia were all of a piece and equally ripe for extinction. Alone in his lab with his team of devoted grad students and experimental subjects in no position to complain, he began seeking means of punishment that could get past a review board."
Short version: Don't read In A Different Key. It's not a good book about autism. Read NeuroTribes instead, if you care about the past, present, future -- and feelings -- of autistic people themselves.



Writing from my phone, from Disneyland. Where our entire family of five visited, together, for the first time ... Ever. Because life is complicated. We are having the best time and feeling grateful.

Also: Star Tours now has The Force Awakens material. Leo recently saw TFA; it was his first-ever live action movie theater viewing. So he was doubly excited, as was his mother. We've only been on Star Tours twice so far, but I expect that number to climb today, a February Monday, when the park is not so crowded.

Also, the new disability pass system is great! Details to come.

Happy Leaping, all. We're more inching back to happiness in our family; this trip has made a big difference.


All Done January

Not a great month. Happy to see it go away, and no encores, please. Though cool things got done this month; you can look at my Stuff I Did for Jan 2016 if you want to know what they were.

My mom stayed with us for much of January, which was a blessing and a delight, and for which I was grateful. So was Seymour, since the two of them like to have conversations all day long, while I am more sparing with my chosen social interactions.

[image: Black-and-white kitten sleeping on a red blanket]
Definitely a month in which I am grateful for cats. Especially the new kitty, Twist. I LOVE HIM SO MUCH. He is a bonafide puppy-kitty: he fetches and everything. Sleeps on my chest, or head. Yowls if I dare to be on the other side of a closed door. Purrs like a lawn mower. Happy to be held like a sack, upside down, whatever. The other cats are dealing with the interloper, grudgingly. No matter how stressful things are, snuggling with a cat always makes me happy. HE IS WONDERFUL. He is sitting on my shoulder and purring right now.

Iz is still pondering college(s), Leo is getting many compliments on the latest additions to his cheeky t-shirts, and Mali has a new shorter 'do that makes her look like a perky bespectacled plasma ball and apparently compels everyone to touch her curls. That's pretty much all I have to report.

On to February. Please.


Adios, 2015

Learning Speed Scrabble: Part of Mali's Grifter Training
[image: Three white people playing Scrabble
on a bright red table.]

Good bye, 2015! We are spending our evening playing Speed Scrabble. Or, some of us are. Others of us don't do board games and are writing (possibly while watching favorite movies with fellow Scrabble non-enthusiasts) in anticipation of counting down the clock with some fine, fine drinks later. Others just may be working on college applications.

But before the drinks start flowing, I have some final personal and general wishes for 2015:

1) That those of us who have been involved in advocacy and activism for a while never forget that people (disabled and non-disabled) who come from outside the autism and disability acceptance and rights models often need time to absorb what is and isn't ableist and hurtful. I've said this many times: but I don't know where I'd be without so many patient but firm role models and friends. I started out from an f'd up place, I'd like to think I do better now, and I know I'm not alone in either space. We need to be careful about who we call out, and allow people who make mistakes the opportunity to learn from them.

2) That we can successfully support Leo in his AAC endeavors. He finally has a full set up. Finally. It's all on us now, in terms of success outside school (he has fantastic support at school).

3) That Iz is happy with her college options, that I don't freak out when she leaves, and that her transition to independence is less hairy than mine was (I had some magnificent implosions in college, which is a subject for another post). She's been accepted to a couple of good places already, which comforts her greatly.

4) That Mali continues to enjoy life as a happy cello-playing, karate-loving nerdling. That the nerdling pod she joined in her new middle school continues to be a source of humor, solidarity, strength, and confidence -- the kind of group middle school misfit literary characters tend to long for.

5) That everyone subscribes to Seymour's unbelievably cool Deep Look video series on YouTube. It's a collaboration between KQED Science and PBS Digital Studios, about "exploring big scientific mysteries by going incredibly small."

6) That at least some of you consider becoming Shot@Life Champions, and joining me at the Champion Summit in Washington DC at the end of March -- "gaining the skills needed to effectively advocate for the protection of children worldwide by providing life-saving vaccines where they are most needed." And meeting extremely cool people, and getting to lobby on Capitol Hill!

There's a lot more, but that's a start. Happy 2016, everyone -- and here's hoping your own wishes bear fruit.  


And Boy, Are Our Arms Tired

[Image: White teenage boy and mother, both wearing
bathing suits, with the ocean and rocks of
Cabo San Lucas in the background.]

We just got back from a week in Cabo San Lucas, a Thanksgiving week spent with most of both sides of our family, and one in which we successfully dodged all massive feast preparation responsibilities yet still managed to have our pants feel quite a bit tighter upon returning home. Success!

This was our family's second time in Cabo, and it was, for the most part, a happy repeat of our glorious first visit. Leo swam, and then swam some more. He and his sisters got to hang out with grandparents, uncles, and cousins. Mali even parasailed, and Iz, she of the newly minted driving license, went ATVing with her dad.

Mali also turned eleven on not-Thanksgiving day (as we were in Mexico), and got to celebrate with fourteen family members plus talented local musicians singing her Feliz Cumpleaños. (She'll have a proper LARP birthday party in a couple of weeks.)

Even though we brought food with us and shopped for groceries, it wasn't always easy to manage Leo's doctor-prescribed low sugar/fat diet, or exercise as much as he should. He got a lot of pizza and fries. But, hey, vacation, and worth him being happy most of the time. We can help him  pick up slack now that we're back in drizzly cold reality.

The only part of our trip that really sucked for Leo was traveling back home. Tickets for Cabo during the high season might as well be studded with rubies, which means direct flights were unrealistic for us. And even if you buy your tickets six months ahead of time, which we did, there's no guarantee of being able to seat a party of five in the most Leo-friendly way. He was a good sport, though. Despite the baby with the constant, grinding-gears crying on the first flight. (Not the baby's fault, as I reminded Mali.)

By the time we were hustled off that plane and into crowded, noisy, standing-room-only buses to LAX Immigration and Customs Leo'd had all he could take. Iz took one look at the crowds and lines and asked if we could please please please get Leo accommodations, so ... I asked. And the Customs folks immediately (immediately!) assigned us personal escorts who walked us to the front of all three check points. I typically loathe everything about LAX, but their Customs folks? They are my new favorite people. Thank you, LAX customs people.

[image: selfie of a red-haired white woman
lying in bed with a black-and-white kitten
snuggled next to her head.]
And now we are home. With our new kitten Twist from Wonder Cat Rescue and KitTea Cafe who missed us SO MUCH. He was lovingly tended in our absence by our friend Ep who texted us videos of him purring in her lap and meowing plaintively. We were up for half of our first night home, being purringly smothered by kitten fur and flatulence.

Being home means being back to the usual. Which means confronting realities both big and small. Like the escalating 'tudes of these three tweens and teens who share (and methodically destroy) our home.

I am sad about not having little kids any more. Little kids are fun. Big kids are fun, too. Teenagers are more like cats, in their unpredictable willingness to be fun, or do as asked. If you ever have anyone tell you that autistic people don't learn from their environment, send them to me so they can explain why my younger teen, Leo, has taken to dodging any chore requests with "I need to use the bathroom!" followed by an extended disappearance -- exactly as his sisters do. I'll wait.


Happy 15th to Our Resident Dude

Low fat low sugar cupcakes --
that Leo graciously ate anyhow
[image: yellow cupcakes with piped
chocolate frosting.]
Leo's 15th birthday was two days ago. There was much cupcaking, over three birthday events over two days -- which meant three iterations of being sung Happy Birthday, which Leo looooved.

He also enjoyed the cupcakes I made for him even though they were from a low sugar, low fat recipe. I ate one, and it wasn't ... awful. One of Leo's friends needed the "tangy" chocolate frosting scraped from his tongue, so intense was his NOOOO reaction. But Leo, selective though he is, tends to accommodate items in the 'sweets' category. Possibly because, as a friend of ours who is on a diet similar to Leo's said: after a few months of doing without, anything even remotely sweet and luscious tastes like fudge.

Here are the three birthday celebrations held in honor of our very loved and extremely pleased teen dude:

At the traditional local bouncy house party palace:
[image: white teen boy with curly
brown hair, sitting in a colorful
room and blowing out a candle
on a cupcake.]

In his classroom at school:
[image: white teen boy with curly brown hair, sitting at a table
and smiling a the camera, next to a be-candled cupcake.]

And at home with his loving family of smartasses:
[image: white teen boy with curly brown hair,
about to blow out a cupcake birthday candle,
while a white bespectacled tween girl
does "rabbit ears" fingers behind his head,
& a white teen girl hugs a black-and-white cat.]

Our family had so much fun celebrating Leo's birthday with him, his classmates, and his friends -- it's never a bad thing to be around contagious joy. But Leo's actual birthday also had bittersweet overtones for me, as I spent much of the day moderating TPGA FB comments about the murder of autistic teen Dustin Hicks, at the hands of his mother. And it looks as though, like my former self, his mother was a biomedical/pseudoscience cure-seeker, as Matt Carey writes at Left Brain/Right Brain.

Dustin and Leo are not that far apart in age. If I'd still been emotionally invested in the misinformation-based belief that autism is an injury and that Leo could be cured if only I found the right potion, how different would all our lives be right now? Would I feel like a failure as a parent? Would Leo's birthdays be thinly disguised pity parties? Would any parties actually be about and for him?

Or would I still be part of those toxic communities that consider publicly complaining about and degrading autistic children "honesty" instead of degradation? If I got openly and deeply depressed about Leo not being "cured," would those community members commiserate with me, or dismiss my depression signs as "what autism mamas are like," instead of helping me find real, and realistic, resources to help us both? Would I internalize stories of parents who considered murder their only option when they failed to "fix" their kids, watch the misguided and horrifying public outpourings of support for those parents' "burdens," and be influenced by them?

I hope not. I hope I'd be as disgusted by people who talk about what a "loving mom" Dustin's murderer was as I am today, and as upset when people insist that these crimes happen because of lack of services, rather than because our society devalues the lives of people like Leo.


But back to our dude. Yesterday I took him sock shopping, because we wanted to keep that party atmosphere going. He chose a ten pack of these Florida grandpa black ankle socks. I asked several times if that was really what he wanted, and he never wavered.

A male family friend who embodies hip young male coolness assured us that black socks really are where it's at these days, and that no one wears white socks. His sister Iz insists the problem is not the socks, it's the Crocs.

Whatever. Leo gets to wear what he wants. Though I might just walk a few paces behind him, in public.

[image: close up of the feet and ankles of a white dude
wearing black ankle socks with olive green Crocs.]

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