Here's my latest article in the September issue of Family Times magazine.
Transforming Tragedies: An effort to build resilience to trauma in school
Everyone experiences distressing events in their lives. You’ve probably heard about trauma, the emotional response to these events. Our emotional reactions to these events can have long term effects on the way we think, make decisions and relate to others. Developing resilience—our ability to cope with stress—makes responding to adversity easier.
Ever been helped by someone so intent on helping you that they can't see that they're actually trampling you? Some days this feels like the story of my life. Between well meaning friends and family and dysfunctional institutional structures I often feel that my life must be like the running of the bulls in Spain. Some days I'm the bull, other days I'm a runner. In either case I'm never quite sure what the crowd of on lookers is excited about. Are they cheering for my escape or my capture? Are they looking to see if I gore someone or get gored myself? I don't know.
So where am I going with this? Should you dear reader find yourself in a place to help someone who is essentially in their own bull run make that person's experiences the center of the help you offer. Like the runner staying just a few steps ahead of a frightened bull, and the frightened bull trying to get away from the crowd, people needing help have little or no use for lectures. A well executed extraction plan and a clear path forward? Bring it.
Warrior mom is a fashionable feel-good way to refer to mothers caring for their autistic children. I've earned the warrior mom title from others for my efforts on behalf of my children. Being labeled a warrior mom has always felt strange. What I do as a mother is not above and beyond the call of motherhood. To me, it's parenting 101, make sure the kids get what they need to thrive.
Being a warrior suggests two things to me. The first is that there is something or someone to defend. I can appreciate the recognition that as a mother, a big part of my purpose is to protect my children when needed and correct unjust treatment against them. The second is that there's an enemy to fight on behalf of my children. Again, I can appreciate the recognition that there are valid threats to my children that must be actively opposed.
I'm a big fan of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. The stories are chockful of epic battles between good and evil, where ordinary people become warriors and fight to save the day. Think of those Pevensie kids running around Narnia and taking to the battlefield for the showdown with the White Witch. Spoiler alert, not everyone in the story recognized who the real enemy was at the start.
When people use the term warrior mom, I often get the sense that they aren't clear about who the enemy is or what must be protected. I've seen parents of autistic children present themselves as being in an epic battle to fight off the autism in their children. It reminds me of the misguided allies of the White Witch in Narnia who feared the coming of summer. Autism doesn't need to be portrayed as an enemy, and it's not something anyone needs to fight against. Perceiving it as such changes what people choose to protect and defend in their children's lives.
So who, or what, do I perceive as my target when I'm doing things that earn me the warrior mom title? I'm always clear that my advocacy is about changing systems and attitudes that make life unnecessarily difficult for my autistic children and the rest of my family. Unbending and punitive policies and practices? Yup, I defend my children against those. Misinformation and factual errors? Definitely fighting back against that. Inadequate services and supports? Those are the bane of my existence, like the mythical Hydra monster of Greek legend. Autism? Not so much.
Treating autism as an enemy makes about as much sense as treating nearsightedness as an enemy. I'm nearsighted and rather than fight against the shape of my eye that makes things blurry, I adapt. My glasses and contact lenses bring images into focus so that I can see where I'm going and what I'm doing. There's no angst involved. I accept that the shape of my eye means blurry vision unaided.
Autism is not the enemy. Just like other traits that I have no control over, I talk about it, and I adapt to it. I've taught my children to do the same. The last thing I want is for them to believe that such an intimate part of them is an enemy.
I take a general what happens if I do this approach to life. It keeps things interesting.