December 14, 2015


When I first thought about blogging, I thought about it as I spoke with my friend Cynthia, mother to Patricia.  Her daughter is autistic and labeled as special needs. Our daughter, Ainsley, is typical. There is so much noise among adults and social pressure to assign yourself to a parenting camp – whether you are raising a special or typical child.  As our daughters became friends, and as we did as parents, she and I chatted about how vulnerable parenting the way that works for you and your child can feel sometimes. While we both have learned from family members, friends, books, and experts, we feel that when we trust our guts about what our kids need, our guts are usually right on. That doesn’t mean that trusting our guts is always automatic or easy. In fact we talk about how hard it can be to trust our inner voices and our senses about what our unique children need in a given moment.  And even when we do trust our guts, we can still (and likely do) fall short, lose our tempers, and let down our children.
  • How do we best guide our kids?
  • How do we get out of the way and let them experience pain and failure for their personal growth?
  • How do we prevent others (and ourselves) from crushing their spirits?
  • When and how should we advocate and protect them in various settings?
  • How do we embrace just being with our kids? 
Our daughter Ainsley is seven years old, does well academically, and makes friends very easily. That said, she has her own personality and with any personality, there are strengths and challenges. Her emotional intelligence is pretty amazing, and that’s not just coming from her biased mom; we hear it a lot from other adults and even other kids. With that emotional intelligence comes a lot of sensitivity, to which we are learning to respond. 

Cynthia is a single mom and has one heck of a life story. Raised with strong Irish Catholic values and one of six siblings, she has worked as a math teacher, billing in advertising with a pharmaceutical company, helped manage a consignment store, nannied, held different accounting jobs, and she has experienced a lot of loss too.  

Her daughter Patricia is eight and a half years old and is diagnosed with autism. Patricia is happy, sweet, and full of energy and interest in lots of different things. She does well academically and is comfortable approaching people and asking questions. She currently spends part of her time in a special needs classroom with five children and one-to-one instruction, and then the other part of her time with fifteen typical kids and a smaller group of special kids. As Cynthia sees things, Patricia has her feet in both worlds, special and typical. 

Ainsley and Patricia play well together. They are excited that they live in the same neighborhood. Both only-child-children, they appreciate knowing someone else in the same boat.  They are comfortable with one another. They greet each other with excitement, hugging at first sight and again on departure. 

They have a lot in common, and they are also very different. While there are sometimes differences and frustrations that may be attributed to autism (or autistic behaviors), these are no bigger or more difficult than other sorts of differences and frustrations two typical children experience when at play (e.g., sharing, jealousy, misunderstandings, etc.). 

There are many times when I see things in Ainsley and Patricia that fuel my optimism about our future: Like their innate kindness towards and with one another.  And their ability to adapt to one another and find a shared playing rhythm even when each child has her own unique rhythm. 

There other times when I feel deep sadness as Patricia is distracted and misses out on a moment with Ainsley or with the larger world. And there are times when my daughter believes she should parent or direct Patricia, and I see the balance of power, where typical dominates over special, and it worries me not only about Patricia’s future but Ainsley’s too, where those who can more easily dominate and take advantage of those who are more vulnerable do so. 

Overall, Cynthia and I remark on how alike our basic fears and hopes are for our girls.  And our girls regularly demonstrate to us how unimportant a label like autism is to them. 

I write this Blog for me, my close friends, and any others who talk, think, and feel through this parenting stew every day.  n writing this, I get closer to accepting who I am as a person and a parent, without having to label any of it. It is my sincerest wish that as you read this Blog you connect with the content and are empowered to be a person and parent in any and all ways that you feel are authentic.

We are not static. Our children are not static.  Our world is dynamic.  Our needs are dynamic.

We have a lot to learn from each other. And we also have a lot to tune out and ignore.

We are in this together, and also we must find ourselves, as people and parents, on our own.

The title for the Blog, Typical Special Needs, comes from my friend Cynthia. She was talking about how isolating the special needs world can be. And we were talking about how there is no typical special needs child. And there is no un-special typical child.

Every child is different. Every parent is different. We all have typical and special needs.

Labels and tested, researched approaches and techniques are certainly helpful in terms of accessing and sharing information and connecting people to resources. Cynthia has told me about a number of amazing special education teachers and behaviorists who have assisted her and Patricia because of their diagnosis. When Ainsley’s teachers suggested that Ainsley might benefit from checking in with the school counselor sometimes to process her feelings, I was grateful to those teachers, and my husband and I agreed that whenever Ainsley was feeling worried or anxious, it was a sound plan and a fantastic resource to call on our school counselor. Other people caring about our children and connecting them (and us) to resources is good. I’m all for that.

My concern is that as we label children and parents and parenting strategies, we often segregate and isolate. We may even take on mindsets and ways of operating that doom us to see our children, each other, and ourselves in only labeled sorts of ways. As we label, segregate, and isolate, we miss out. We miss out on connecting, learning, and evolving, and even healing misunderstandings and misperceptions about other people, parents and children.

In future posts, I look forward to highlighting people who have taught me a great deal about myself and parenting, and they have done so by modeling, caring, and sharing and not by judging or labeling.

December 10, 2015

Attachment Parenting.  Free Range Parenting.  Ferber Method.  No Cry Sleep Solution. Happiest Baby On the Block.  Dr. Sears.  Vaccination wars.  Pediatrician approved versus parent approved versus grandparent approved methods for feeding, sleeping, disciplining, bonding, and separation.  Lactation specialists and nursing clubs.  Formula feeding dos and dont's.  Cow’s milk or goat’s milk or almond milk or no milk when babies become toddlers.  Approved sippy cups and preschool mandates about how your kid should suck liquids and when and how your kid should poop and pee.

At a time of excitement and uncertainty, we seek community.  We want insight, advice, and support.  Breast or bottle?  Attached or removed?  If I intervene too much, I’ll become a “helicopter” parent.  If I try “free-range,” will I get arrested?

For many of us who eagerly greet parenthood, we are slapped in the face with well intended and sometimes not so well intended people, advice, judgments, and labels.  Others judge us as mothers and fathers, and they judge our kids too.  And most of us are even harder on ourselves.

And it all changes so fast.  What was once the way to introduce peanuts to your child isn’t the way to do it five years later.  What once seemed reasonable science is retracted.  What once seemed sound parent-to-parent advice is publicly damned.

And just when your children are becoming more independent and you're feeling more comfortable, there are daycares and preschools to choose.  Your choices are scrutinized not only by you but by a surprisingly high number of people you didn’t think would ever care so much about where your child attends school or receives care while you’re at work.

As your child enters elementary school, there are new variables, new families, new teachers, new rules and standards, and new ways to engage or disengage with different parent groups, systems, and institutions.  

With regard to our daughter’s educational and extra curricular choices, I often find it hard to determine when she would best be served by me and her dad getting out of the way versus us advocating or strategizing on her behalf.  And our daughter is only in second grade!  I don’t pretend to understand the world of uncertainty that awaits us as she enters adolescence and her teenage years.

Parenting is awesome, and it’s hard too. We all know this. We all get this.  As a fairly privileged white woman in a predominantly affluent community, I know I have it pretty good.  

The labels and systemic stuff that I confront as a parent are a small drop in the bucket compared to what many people of color face, or those whose first language isn’t English, or those who struggle economically, or those with children with diagnosed medical, behavioral, developmental, and psychological conditions.

With this Blog, I hope to share with you some of the lessons I've learned (and many more I am still trying to learn) about acknowledging and also releasing fears related to being a parent and person in this wonderful and sometimes terrifying world. And I hope you will share with me too~