Labels Save Lives

I recognize that there are A LOT of people out there who believe we should stop using labels and simply embrace each other as we are. That’s a lovely thought, but it hasn’t played out in my life in any positive way. The trouble, as I see it, is that our differences make us stronger, therefore, ignoring difference hurts us all. Labels are neutral categories that help us figure out our identities. We keep adding new ones to accommodate differences and that’s ok. Then we assign morality to them. That’s why the meanings behind labels can change over time.

So, how do labels save lives? I’ll give you one way. Labels serve to neatly categorize huge ideas into compact spaces. If I were to ask, “what is autism?” that’s a big question. But, if I offer a list of human traits and ask you to label them as a group, it might be easier. Think about things like sensitivity to stimuli that is neither respected nor understood by the general population because it comes across as too much or too little, focus on more concrete thinking that is straightforward and genuine, and the tendency to experience the double empathy problem. I could make a checklist and say, if you check off 90% of these items, you might just be Autistic. The label is Autistic and the traits are the evidence that point to the label being accurate.

My story is much like that of other late-diagnosed Autistic adults. My parents knew I was Autistic from a young age but could not access diagnostic services for me. So, they ignored it, suppressing my traits through behaviorism. I grew up thinking something was terribly wrong with me. I suffered through bouts of suicidal ideology from a very young age. It felt like no one understood me. I was just too different. So little about my life actually made sense until I went through the autism evaluation process as a parent. The questions that the doctor asked made me realize how many Autistic traits I had possessed all my life. I sought out my own evaluation and ultimately received a diagnosis. I was Autistic. I am Autistic!

This affirmation of my entire life and being changed everything. I knew why I thought the way I did. I knew why I was always a step apart from what others were doing, feeling like some sort of bystander to my own life, manufacturing a façade that allowed me to be the alien behind the mask. I started to join groups for Autistic adults and learned even more about myself. I found camaraderie and purpose. I embraced the social model of disability, noting all the points in my life where forces outside of myself stood in the way of my progress. I recognized the symptoms of trauma within my psyche and came to understand that this trauma was the source of my debilitating anxiety – anxiety, in fact, that I didn’t realize I had until other Autistic people described what anxiety looks like in day-to-day life. Then, I started medication. Finally. After decades of misdiagnoses and drugs that never helped, I got the right medication and the right support.

And, you know what? I no longer descend into suicidal ideation the way I once did. I don’t dwell on the troubling parts of my life and do battle against the little voice in my head telling me it would be easier on me, and everyone else, if I weren’t here. Recently, I had an especially difficult week. One evening, while lying in bed trying to fall asleep, it hit me that I wasn’t perseverating on suicide. It was like there was a bottom under me. I had caught a ledge in my mind and I wasn’t sinking any further. I can’t remember anytime in my life when I’ve felt like this.

So, yes, I fully embrace the labels that describe who I am. I use them in healthy ways to understand myself and connect with the communities that have become literal lifelines for me. And, I reject the idea that labels are bad for us. I hope you understand why.

Curriculum Round-Up 2020-2021

As a fairly new homeschooling parent, I relied a lot on reviews given by other parents. Here is my contribution to all the voices of parents helping parents. I hope this round-up proves helpful to you! Check out my previous articles about our homeschooling journey: Switching From Public School to Homeschool and Can You Homeschool An Autistic Child?

When I first set out to home educate my Pre-Ker, using an eclectic Charlotte Mason approach, I knew that I didn’t want to take an academic route. I wanted to provide minimally structured, play-based learning with plenty of time for self-directed interests. I also wanted to avoid Christian curricula, which probably sounds strange since I’m a clergy wife. The trouble is that I rarely find curriculum authors who share my family’s Orthodox Christian theological perspective. Our theological foundation is fundamentally different from other branches of the Christian family, and I find there’s too much emphasis on things like depravity, shame, and substitutionary atonement that I prefer not to encounter and I certainly don’t want my children to encounter.

While I shuffled things around at the beginning of the year, we ended up settling into a four-day schedule plus unschooling-friendly Fridays. Our Fridays have been wonderful! Following the children’s interests has brought us to interesting places on field trips, informational documentaries on Curiosity Stream (for less than $20 a year!), lots of outdoor play, and new revelations, like the fact we apparently have artistic talent under this roof.

Core Curriculum

Blossom and Root graphic

Blossom and Root Early Years, Volume 2 is a gentle, secular pre-k program with 36 weeks worth of easy-going activities. Each week includes an assignment for nature study, picture and composer study, art project, kitchen classroom, early literacy and math, STEM projects, and read-alouds. This curriculum was a hit! It was slow enough to enjoy savoring, yet robust enough to keep my curious child interested.

I chose Blossom and Root, because I was drawn in by Kristina Garner’s beautiful blog posts, the samples, and testimonials from other parents.

What You Get

This is a pdf resource you must download and either print yourself at home or by a professional. Lots of families choose to bind their copies, but I hole-punched and stored mine in the same binder I use to store my child’s portfolio. Please note that some, but not all, of the pages are numbered to allow flexibility in how you print and store your materials.

When I first purchased this curriculum, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but I assumed I’d see stodgy bullet lists in a neat line down the pages perhaps with some tables thrown in. What I got was more of a cross between a visual schedule and a to-do list. It took a little getting used to as the content is more artistic than orderly, not to say it’s disorderly, because it isn’t. It’s just different. As I went along, I became proficient as quickly flipping and scanning for what I needed to prepare each week.

I opted to use a loop schedule that had all the activities filled out in advance on one-page. Each day, I would note the date on which we completed the activity (or cross out activities we elected not to do). Then, I’d transfer the information into my planner to keep as a record. I plan to do the same thing next year, except that I’m going to pre-print the entire year of activities on a series of loop schedule sheets to make my weekend prep easier.

Pros

This curriculum created such beautiful experiences for my family! I’m not terribly creative when it comes to children’s activities, so it was a delight to come to each new activity and find they were all fun and educational. We used Blossom and Root’s Early Years 2 for music and art study, English language arts, gentle math fundamentals, read-alouds, STEM, nature study, artistic expression, and kitchen classroom. It took only 5-10 minutes per lesson per day, since we didn’t do every single thing every day. So, the time spent one-on-one over the course of the day never exceeded 30 minutes. I highly recommend this curriculum to anyone who is looking for a Charlotte Mason-inspired, gentle, pre-k curriculum for children around the ages of 4-5.

Cons

There really isn’t much I can call a con about this curriculum. If I dig deep, I’ll note two things. 1) I was concerned that it wasn’t as complete as I needed it to be, so I did supplement with two other resources which I’ll note below. The same might be the case for other families, especially those with Autistic children. 2) This curriculum requires A LOT of parental involvement. I had to set everything up each week and then each day. On some days, that felt like a burden as I tried to wrangle my brood and put activities together. That said, it didn’t take long and the activities are brief. We were able to finish all 36 weeks with little difficulty.

Pre-Reading Curriculum

Discover Reading graphic

Discover Reading combines a teacher guide, activity explanations, and sample lessons that give children a start on recognizing sounds, letters, and the words they created. This curriculum promises to help you:

  • grasp and apply Charlotte Mason’s principles
  • develop your child’s skills in phonemic awareness, blending, word-building, visualization, word-analysis and automaticity in word recognition
  • encourage a love for language and stories using interesting activities filled with inspiring ideas
  • find special delight in teaching your unique children

I chose Discover Reading because I wanted a gentle, Charlotte Mason resource for introducing the concepts necessarily to effectively begin reading.

What You Get

This resource is another PDF product that requires you to print the materials and store them in your preferred way.

The author takes a minimalist approach to the presentation of the materials within the PDF. She uses almost all text, and the rare graphic here and there. It is clean and easy to navigate. I especially appreciated the section called A Scope & Sequence of Sorts as it described how to use the curriculum with children of different ages and abilities.

Each lesson begins with the wise words of Charlotte Mason, herself, followed by preparation tips and materials, and then an explanation of the activity. Little notes from the author are sprinkled throughout the document, helping the homeschool teacher understand how best to regard the child and present the information. Quotes from Charlotte Mason feature prominently across all the activities, placing us modern homeschool teachers in the frame of mind of our educational mentor. Each activity comes with an example of how it may look in real-life application.

Pros

Discover Reading is as Charlotte Mason as you can get. If you are a Charlotte Mason purist, I expect you will love it! For the rest of us, it is a solid and helpful resource. The activities are logical and the progress by building on each other. I enjoyed the simplicity and clarity with which I was able to implement each lesson.

Cons

The biggest con for my family is that it’s pretty dry. It’s not a very fun program to follow. There are some bright spots, but overall, it wasn’t very playful. Perhaps it’s not meant to be. I know that Charlotte Mason took studies seriously and her philosophy involved very intense, very brief lessons… but not until age 6, which is the age at which author, Amy Tuttle, recommends taking a more gently rigorous route with the materials. It just seemed to me that, even for 5 year olds, it was pretty grown-up. Also, one other thing. I’m not sure that this is the best curriculum of its kind for an Autistic child with communication barriers. There were more moments of frustration than joy.

Math Curriculum

Preschool Math at Home graphic

Preschool Math at Home is a very gentle, play-based program to introduce young children to math concepts like counting, numeral recognition, subitizing, comparing quantities and numbers, and addition and subtraction. The lessons take no more than five minutes and you can use whatever you have around the house as manipulatives with great success.

I chose Preschool Math at Home because I loved all the things Kate Snow had to say when she reviewed other math curricula and gave recommendations. Plus, I’ve only heard good things about the Math With Confidence series.

What You Get

This one is a physical book you can get from several bookstores. The publisher, Well-Trained Mind, also sells a PDF version.

This 140 page book is absolutely packed with playful, short activities that build, one to the next. It reads much like a textbook, in the sense that there are chapters and sections, explanations, activities, reviews, sidebar style notations, and end of unit “Is My Child Ready to Move On?” check-ins.

Pros

We thoroughly enjoyed this book! It’s autism-friendly, adaptable, and fun. I was able to communicate concepts to my child that had previously been elusive. If you’re anything like me and you have no idea where to start with early math skills, this is definitely a book to check out. I plan to stick with Kate Snow’s Math With Confidence series as long as we can. I highly recommend this resource!

Cons

There are very few. One thing that stood out to me was that a lot of the activities were very much alike, which helps in terms of building skills, but my child would lose interest with some things we attempted.

Extras

Prodigies Music Lessons graphic

Prodigies Music Lessons are a cost effective (compared to traditional music lessons) way to teach children ages 2-12 the basics of music theory, pitch training & playing a pitched instrument in quick, active video lessons via hand signs, solfege, bells, recorders, ukuleles, and books. According to their website, children will learn:

  • Pitch development through songs, games & activities about the musical notes
  • Rhythmic development through fun call and response songs (like Sweet Beets)
  • Listening & aural comprehension skills with “Name that Note” & other listening games
  • Play their first instrument, either on the Deskbells, xylophone, piano, recorder or Ukulele
  • Cross-curriculum skills like patterning, sequencing, early math & hand-writing
  • Composition skills using composition activities

I chose Prodigies because it was so portable and open-and-go. I was also able to get a slight monthly discount on scholarship due to our financial situation.

What You Get

When you sign up, you get access to the complete streaming library of over 600 videos that can be accessed on ProdigiesMusic.com and through the app, Prodigies Music Lessons (AppleTV, Roku, fireTV, iOS, Android, Chromecast). If you will not be using hand signs or singing along, you will need an instrument.

We chose deskbells. At first, we ordered some from a different website, but found they didn’t match the colors or sounds of the Prodigies lessons. That was a big hassle. We didn’t get refunded. Just store credit. Don’t do that. Then, I went ahead and got a couple sets on the Prodigies site, so my kids didn’t have to share during lessons. Let me stress how very expensive this proposition turned out to be. For two sets of bells, I paid $124, which was only made possible with assistance from my family.

Pros

Prodigies is extremely easy to use! The videos are engaging, simple to follow, and entertaining. If you’re looking for an all around early musical education that will engage your kids, I recommend this service.

Cons

The price. The price. The price! We wouldn’t be using this service without a scholarship. It doesn’t seem like much at $12.99/month, but that’s $156 per year on top of other curriculum you may be using. It’s not cheap. And, the cost of the instruments is going to be a consideration as well. Also, I hadn’t anticipated how rough my kids were going to be on the instruments. They get so amped that they start banging the deskbells into oblivion, so I have to stay right with them. This year, we’ve been following the videos while sitting on the floor of our living room with the bells. Next school year, I’m planning to move to the dining room table (our homeschool hub) and play the videos on our school-only tablet. I’m hoping that will help reduce the potential for destruction.

Salsa graphic

Salsa is a free, award-winning PBS show designed to teach Spanish to children from kindergarten through third grade. It incorporates familiar stories and fairytales, puppets, animation, and live action into 42 slow-paced video lessons. The creators explain that teachers, “do not need to be certified to teach a foreign language or be familiar with Spanish in order to use Salsa. It can be used in the classroom and homeschools and by anyone interested in teaching young kids to speak Spanish. Each video lesson is preceded by a staff development component that acquaints the instructor with the content and the objectives of the lesson, reviews all vocabulary words and demonstrates the correct pronunciation of all Spanish words included in the lesson.”

I chose Salsa mainly because it’s free and I know it passed the academic rigor of the Public Broadcasting Service which is an organization I trust for high-quality children’s education.

What You Get

These free video lessons can be accessed online or via the PBS app on compatible devices. We use our smart tv to watch the episodes. Plus, the Wyoming Department of Education created a scope and sequence guide that’s extremely helpful in creating easy lesson plans using the Salsa videos.

Pros

It’s free! And that means it’s accessible which is important to me. There are 42 lessons that build on each other, but can be watched individually like a regular kids’ tv show. I like that the show seamlessly highlights vocabulary words in each lesson.

Cons

There aren’t any bells and whistles. It’s not exciting or especially engaging. The show looks a bit like something I might have watched as a child back in the 1980s. It’s not a big deal for my family, because we live a slower pace of life anyway, but I could see how it could be considered “boring.”

Final Thoughts

My choices this year weren’t entirely low cost. I know you can conceivably homeschool for near-free, but I don’t have time to ferret out a bunch of free resources. Things will change as I become more comfortable as a homeschooling mom. My curriculum choices this year were beneficial overall. I noticed exceptional (and unexpected, by me) gains as a result of all the good work we did and I’m looking forward to taking a few weeks off this summer to reset for next year. Oh, and those unschooling-friendly Fridays were everything! If you’re looking to maintain a helpful rhythm and avoid burnout as a homeschooler, consider moving to a four-day schedule and unschool on Fridays. It’s been so worth it for us!

Before You Advocate For Gentle Parenting…

A couple weeks ago, I posted a response after seeing the fallout from a post made by Kristen Coggins of @krissycouch where she stated, “You are not a bad parent. You are triggered.”

Gentle parents jumped all over her. This is what I said,

If you felt your parent was a bad parent and this post feels dismissive, I get it. There may not be room for any grace when your wounds are raw from harsh treatment and abuse. You don’t have to be the person who intervenes when you’re so close to trauma, but someone needs to. I wish I had folks in my corner speaking gently to my parents and helping them change their ways even today.

Every parent harms their kids. There’s no way around that. This post is speaking to the parents who are consumed with guilt and want to do better. It excuses no one for their abusive behavior. We are still responsible for the pain we inflict no matter our intentions.

So, how do we hold parents accountable and also leave room for the grace required for growth?

Y’all know I can’t stand the phrase “shit parent” and it’s for this exact reason. I’m trying to give parents an alternative, wake them up to their own need for intervention, reorient them to their children’s humanity. And that is what this post is about.

We call ourselves cycle breakers, but let’s not be so limited as to believe those around us who haven’t embraced conscious, gentle parenting aren’t also breaking cycles of their own.

When we box people into impossible standards, we lose them. The most consistent request I receive from readers of this blog is for real-life advice on how to gently parent given their particular life circumstances. [Sidebar: If you aren’t following my Facebook page, please head over and hit that Follow button! Because I don’t talk about my kids on this blog, I don’t have much of a means to provide real-life scenarios, so I use my Facebook page to search for great examples of peaceful parenting and share them there.] I have dear friends who read what I write here, and I have been convicted by some for the way I word things sometimes. I can get so impassioned that I sometimes come across as a harsh critic of anyone who doesn’t parent the way I do. That’s never my intention though. My goal is always to amplify the voices of children who are impacted by the ways we choose to interact with them.

I think it’s helpful for all of us to examine our approach through an anti-childism lens. I’ve written about the rights of children and the freedoms of children in relation to childism and I understand it’s difficult to strike a balance. Not only are we working against the current of modern “wisdom” about children as their parents’ property, but we are dealing with real human individuals who have varying capacities and intelligences. The freedoms we can negotiate for one child may not be the same ones we can negotiate with another. I’ve gotten criticism from more traditional parents that my approach is too lenient and also criticism from free-range parents that my approach is too strict. Again, I’ll note the importance of balance and giving our children what they need to thrive. I want to urge nuance in these conversations because, in excluding parents from what we view as the only right way, we leave them standing in that awful current of modern “wisdom” with no support.

The very idea that there is only one right way derives from the legacy of white supremacy. It’s true that there is right and there is wrong. Domestic violence against children is wrong, for instance. Calls to end spanking are right. However, the way we carry out our efforts to curtail spanking impact different people groups in different ways. If we support laws to arrest parents who spank, we will perpetuate the racist oppression of Black, Brown, and Indigenous Melanated People (BBIMP). If we demand better education and support for parents who spank, we risk harming poor parents who can’t take time off work to receive educational services. Perhaps a better use of the law would be to bring education and support to the workplace through some sort of mandatory federal funding stream that ensures no one will lose out on their income as they learn to make healthier choices. I don’t have the answers and I would much rather hear from the people who would be impacted by such measures.

Now, I’ve noticed some peaceful parenting voices wishing to separate our approach from the quadrant system advanced by Maccoby and Martin, based on the work of Baumrind. From their perspective, gentle parenting functions outside of any traditional understanding of parenting approaches. I recognize the desire to break free from traditional ideas around children, but I disagree. I appreciate the structure of the quadrant system in helping us understand where we are with our children in terms of connection and expectation. We lose a valuable educational tool when we toss it out.

High ConnectionLow Connection
High ExpectationAuthoritative/BalancedAuthoritarian/Domineering
Low ExpectationPermissive/IndulgentUninvolved/Absent

Actually, a true quadrant graphic makes it even more apparent how flexible this system really is. In the following graphic, the blocks are in the same places as the chart above, but the arrows demonstrate how we move throughout the system. You’ll see there is plenty of space to stretch out in the authoritative block. Some gentle parents lean more toward the permissive side and some lean more toward the authoritarian side, but all reside firmly within the high connection/high expectation block.

Source: Kaleido

A fair goal, in my opinion, is to give people the tools they need to plant themselves inside the authoritative block without all the extra criticism. There are some authoritative parents who punish their kids through logical consequences. Y’all know good and well that I am opposed to the use of punishment, but you better believe I’m still going to keep the lines of communication open with these parents. Some of my readers spank their kids and they admit it to me. In emotionally charged moments, they strike out. They know how I feel about it, but they still tell me about their experiences. Many of these same parents credit the things they’ve learned through my, often fraught, experience for the ways in which they’ve changed their perspectives on the relationship between parents and their children. This is a process. I have never met a parent who, with one salvific decision, suddenly became an ideal gentle parent who never, ever harms their kids. I’m a gentle parent and I know I’m doing things that my children will grow up and remember with sadness. I’m not trying to be perfect. I’m trying to be genuine, humble, kind, and open to change.

Let’s keep talking about a different way to parent even in the face of criticism from people who don’t get it and those who don’t want to get it. Let’s give parents a new path even if they aren’t in a place where they can manage it themselves. But, please, stop gatekeeping peaceful parenting and stop telling parents they aren’t doing it right. Who is served by the weaponization of rigid and lofty morality?

We cannot sacrifice parents for their children or children for their parents. Choosing one over the other is not liberation from childism. We fall short when we do not honor both.

Special Needs Aren’t A Thing

Remember when the Massachusetts Supreme Court expelled a student who couldn’t keep up academically with their peers? Or when the Wisconsin Supreme Court refused to educate a student with cerebral palsy, because his teachers and classmates found him gross? Perhaps not, because it was quite some time in the past although, in the scheme of history, it wasn’t really that long ago. The Massachusetts decision came down in 1893 and the Wisconsin decision near the mid-20th century. The history of educating disabled students boggles the mind. Let’s remember that unconscionable discrimination against disabled people was commonplace and accepted during our lifetimes and/or the lifetimes of our parents. We still face inordinate levels of oppression to this day, but now we have laws and self-advocates and allies and nearly 70 years of civil rights wins that shield us from the kind of treatment those who went before us were forced to endure.

It was the Brown v. Board of Education decision in 1954 which dealt the first blow to prejudicial ideologies that denied disabled students their fundamental human right to information access. We owe so much to the Black activists who pushed racial segregation into the laps of the U.S. Supreme Court, spurring the justices to rule unanimously that states do not have the right to deny equal protection of the laws to anyone.

Over the next 19 years, disability advocates made strides toward greater protections for disabled people, gaining wins along the way until the passage of the Rehabilitation Act in 1973, followed soon by the Education for All Handicapped Act (later named Individuals with Disabilities Act or IDEA) in 1975.

The hard-won Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was spurred by the famous Capitol Crawl, a protest involving over 1,000 disabled people who marched from the White House to the U.S. Capitol where dozens of people crawled to the top. Among them was 8-year-old Jennifer Keelan-Chaffins whose resounding words demonstrated the tenacity and power of self-advocacy as she announced, “I’ll take all night if I have to.” If you haven’t yet watched Crip Camp, I strongly recommend it. Crip Camp is a story about the Disability Rights Movement and the emancipation of the disabled.

We’ve come a long way from the days when disabled children were summarily rejected from public spaces because other people were uncomfortable, but we haven’t let go of that discomfort. No, it has shifted. Now, we use euphemisms like “special needs” to describe the unpalatable realities we dance around as a culture. “Special needs” was added to our social lexicon about 30 years ago and was notably codified in the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997.

It is the root of other euphemisms like “special education” which is yet another way we make the segregation of disabled people seem less repulsive than it actually is. Here we are, all these years later, having witnessed the brilliance of disabled students and the hard work of disabled self-advocates. Yet, we still use euphemisms that serve to infantilize all of the aforementioned people. These terms do not honor the sacrifices and the bravery of the disabled self-advocates who paved the way for liberation.

So, questions.

  • Do we believe disabled people are human?
  • Do all people deserve to have their needs met in the most effective way for them?
  • Are accommodations and solutions a reasonable request, especially considering how helpful to society many our innovations have become? Think about how many parents use wheelchair access ramps for their strollers and sign language with their infants and toddlers to improve communication.

If you answered yes to these questions, then you must implicitly understand that meeting the needs of disabled people is no different from meeting the needs of anyone. We all require accommodations throughout our lives, sometimes a lot of them and sometimes not. The needs of disabled people are neither special nor exceptional. They are human needs and they should be met in the most dignified manner possible.

If you must use the term “special” in order to communicate within this ableist society, please find other ways to disrupt the system. I myself have used terms like “special education” in contrast to “general education” when advocating for my children or talking about specific programs at specific schools. I get it. Ableist terminology that’s so embedded in our lives is hard to part with. So, try to incorporate better terms. The best one for us, as far as I’m concerned, is “disabled.” And, keep this in mind when it comes time to be an ally: Accommodations for disabled people are not a special request. They are a civil right.

Should Happiness Be The Goal?

It can be so tempting to hope our kids are happy and to create an environment with a goal of fostering happiness in our children. It seems reasonable, right? Everyone wants their kids to be happy. My husband and I talk about this topic a lot. We find such joy in seeing our children squeal merrily as they play. I had been meaning to write about happiness when a post crossed my Facebook feed and I realized the right time had come.

In order to foster our children’s good mental health, we have to become comfortable (or at the very least, intentionally coexist) with their range of emotions. Children need to know that feeling sad, angry, defeated, and furious is all part of an appropriate, completely human experience. Many of us find holding space for these emotions difficult, because we were never afforded the same respect and grace by our own parents. That learning curve can be steep. It may even be made more difficult as we work to reparent ourselves and embrace all the ways we feel about any given situation. Emotions are crucial barometers for how we feel, but they are completely subjective. They can change over time and even in the present depending on how hungry we are! Hangriness is completely real. Let me tell you…

So, if we aren’t explicitly fostering happiness and are instead working toward helping our children avoid floundering as they experience their big emotions, what else can we do to support this kind of growth? I have an answer for this that comes from my own upbringing of all places. As a child, the adults around me drilled into my head the importance of finding “peace in the Lord.” I couldn’t fathom what that meant, at the time, because I had no peace at all. My childhood was chaotic, scary, and unpredictable. I was an Autistic child who didn’t know I was Autistic. As such, I was left to fend for myself from a desperately young age without understanding what my true needs were. Preaching peace is a lot different from experiencing peace.

What is peace anyway? The way I experience it as an adult is as a stable grounding no matter what kind of storm is happening in my mind. It’s fragile though. I can lose the peace and descend into the realm of despair and suicidality quick as a wink. I have to be incredibly intentional to acknowledge the crashing waves of emotion and then let them recede into calm. I got here through many years of many different kinds of therapies. Altogether, the therapists taught me how to cope and how to remain grounded even as my mind started to dysregulate. My husband could tell stories about how different I am now than I was when we first got married. I was explosive, unstable, and driven by my emotions in a way that verged on abusiveness toward those around me. Whatever “calm” people saw from me on the outside was mostly a series of shutdowns and a lot of freezing as a trauma response. I wavered between being completely reserved and roaring at people in anguish.

These many years later, I have found my source of peace through prayer and meditation. I’m further helped by taking medication that decreases the impact of anxiety. I’m never doing great, but I’m okay most of the time. I can only imagine who I might have been without the spanking, slapping, yelling, mocking, and the rest of the oppressive childism I experienced. While emotions do carry me away sometimes still, I have a place to return to, deep in my being, that reminds me who I am.

And, that is also what I hope for my children. I want them to build for themselves an unshakeable sense of self that is impermeable to the whims of a racist, classist, sexist, and ableist culture that wants to try to mold them into the most consumable people they can be. So, I bear with them through their emotions. I draw them close when they are feeling their worst. And, in the process, I find that they are even better than I am at identifying what makes them happy and seeking it out in a nonjudgmental way. They don’t seek happiness as a reward for success. To them, happiness is just a pleasant way to regard the experiences they encounter in life. It’s not an emotional high they compulsively pursue.

If you share similar desires for your children to be at peace no matter what is happening around them, keep these tips in mind:

  1. Help your children wind down and be still by spending time in nature, watching the wind blow through the trees and the little ants dutifully storing away their food.
  2. Accept all emotions in any form they come by guarding your child in a safe space even if they need to thrash and move to get the feelings out.
  3. Find ways for your children to address the needs they see in the world. Let them “be the change” so that they know hope is real.
  4. Honor your children’s agency and autonomy, and accept that they are your equals in humanity and rights, even as they may not have the life experience needed to make the wisest decisions about how they exercise their freedoms.
  5. Model self-care and healthy boundaries. Children learn what to expect from others by watching what we do.
  6. Be intentional with your language. Examine how you speak to your children. Do you praise them based on your expectations rather than affirming their own decisions? Do you use the dreaded “but” with them that negates anything you say thereafter? Do you tell them what not to do instead of telling them what to do?
  7. Speak respectfully about yourself too. Reject diet culture and embrace your body the way it is. Celebrate yourself for the accomplishments that make you proud. Avoid using negative (typically ableist) language like calling yourself st*pid.

I Need A Break From These Kids

…and other things parents say. When I was a child, my mother was very open about wanting to get some distance from me. She would mournfully say she wanted to “go home.” In time, I came to understand that “home” was heaven. In other words, she wanted to die and be as far away from me as possible. I’m sure many parents can relate to the feeling of wanting to escape. But, let me speak for the kids. The more I understood what she really meant, the more anxious I became. I would try to alter my own behavior, as a young child, to try to keep her from feeling bad. The more she pulled away, the more urgently I felt the need for connection.

Those wounds haven’t healed. So, when I see parents openly talking about getting away from their children, it scratches at those scabs. I see it online and wonder if the kids can feel their parents pulling away like I did. I see it in person too and I know the children are listening, because I listened. I write this not to shame parents or suggest that we don’t need alone time to recuperate and center ourselves.

We absolutely do need that time. Every person, adult and child alike, needs time to do the things that energize us to take on the challenges of life. Setting aside time to do this is a healthful behavior. Encouraging our kids to do the same prepares them for a lifetime of positive self-care. But, making our kids the reason we need a break – rather than our own very human need for time spent alone away from adult responsibility – may end up remaining with our children into adulthood, like it has for me. It’s not the kids that are the problem. The problem is trying to pour from an empty cup.

It is always positive for children to see us set healthy boundaries in a gentle way with them. It can be as simple as “I’m starting to run out of emotional energy and I need a little time to recharge. I’ll be ready to paint with you then! Give me about 20 minutes and I’ll be right back with you. I love you!” Try to let your kids know what you need and then make sure take your own boundaries seriously. That’s how they’ll learn to do it themselves.

This past weekend was Mother’s Day and the half-joking, half-exasperated posts online about life-draining children abounded. It’s so uncomfortable for me to see; people relishing the time they have away from their kids to feel “complete again.” I have to wonder how these parents might feel if someone were to say the same thing about them.

I ask you to receive this as a vulnerable insight and not as a criticism; to remain available and connected with your children without laying the responsibility of your mental health at their feet; to find the things that genuinely recharge you and seek them out; to model positive self-care; to recognize the importance of knowing when it’s time to disconnect and recover; and to frame the problem not as one’s children but as a valid need for sustenance of spirit.

Discipline Your Wives

Sometimes women do take things too far. Even though they’re adults, it can be appropriate for men to discipline their wives as necessary. These modern day liberals love to cry “domestic violence” but what happens between man and wife should remain between them in private. It’s important to always try a gentle approach first, but a slap or a light beating should be considered as a final resort if a woman absolutely refuses to listen. Sometimes you have to get loud to be heard and, as long as a man doesn’t leave bruises, disciplining a woman can help improve a marriage.

And, that’s exactly how some of these folks sound defending spanking as a legitimate approach to disciplining children. I based that super heteronormative, violent, and absurd paragraph on what I’ve read of the real “domestic discipline” that goes on in some fundamentalist, Christian homes. When I tell y’all it’s off the wall… gracious.

All of that nonsense leads me into this continuing nonsense. A friend of mine, who is actually not opposed to corporal punishment entirely, sent me this screenshot to work through what she read. In fact, she asked in advance if it would be triggering for me to read about pro-spanking efforts. I’ve been in a pretty good place of late, so I agreed to view her screenshot out of burning curiosity. It’s so over-the-top as to be nearly unbelievable. (And, my friend promptly left the group, because this was too much for her.)

Identifying information removed for the safety of the children.

Image Description: Facebook post in a group for parents who “discipline” shows two teen/tween boys standing under a tent in the woods. The original poster says, “Good morning .. when is a child to old to go over lap for spanking. What position is appropriate for them?” The first response is “lay on his bed or the sofia” and the second is “Over the knee is the best position in my…” and trails off. Presumably, the rest of the comment says “opinion.” No other replies are visible.

Can we talk about how disgusting this is? It’s bad enough that people are hitting little kids, but now you’ve got a whole group of parents trying to work out the physics of spanking teenagers?? It seriously gives me the creeps. As a reminder, the buttocks are an EROGENOUS zone and there is a whole bundle of nerves in the lower back, all of which are impacted by spanking.

Hitting a child on their butt- spanking- can conflate pleasure and pain for children. Attention, is attention, is attention- it doesn’t matter if it’s positive or negative. It is ALL processed the same in the brain. So if your child is attention seeking and the way they know how to get it is through acting out- resulting in a spanking, what do you think that’s going to do them neurologically? It’s confusing as hell and has documented consequences into adulthood. And to add to that- even relatively moderate blows to the lower end of the spinal column send shock waves along the length of the spine. There are cases of children who have permanent nerve damage from spanking, and even DEATH- and not from severe beatings either. Several of the cases I read were classified as “mild paddlings.” 

Source: https://www.allanarobinson.com/why-corporal-punishment-is-unacceptable-in-2018/

I’m just so skeeved out by this. I was spanked well into my double-digit years before my mother moved on to more “mature” methods like slapping me across the face. Y’all gotta stop this mess. It’s abusive, ugly, and cruel.

“My Kids Are Fine” Hurts So Much

It takes everything in me not to go off when I see parents in denial about the impacts of their “discipline” methods (read: punishment, since discipline means to teach), shaming and hitting most of all. I have no desire to cut down or berate any parent. My concern comes from my own childhood wounds. Seeing what passes as effective discipline often sends my heart rate soaring as my brain pulls up those decades old experiences with punishment. I find it hard to bear the flippancy of people who announce, “my kids are fine.”

I have had to leave many a conversation in person and on social media, because they so deeply trigger my C-PTSD. And, as bad as it gets for me, I can still move through life mostly successful in the things I attempt to do. All sorts of people are subject to very bad experiences and they grow up to live what appear to be pretty typical adult lives.

Doesn’t mean they are fine.

Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) like bullying, spanking, sexual violence, and the like significantly and negatively impact us. We have objective evidence of this fact. If a parent is harming their kids on a daily basis, those babies are not fine. Not by a long shot. What they are is survivors. And, the brains of survivors do what they must to get by.

When children chronically experience ACEs, they will typically fight, run away, freeze up, or give in. These are the basic human responses to trauma. They are involuntary and protective.

Write up in text below image
Source: SpiritualSelfHelp.com

The graphic above explains that “most people have one or two dominant stress responses that they typically fall back into as their main mode of reacting to stressful triggers and situations, or perceived threats” and details the four stress responses as follows:

C-PTSD: The Four Stress Responses

Fight

  • Self-preservation at all costs
  • Explosive temper and outbursts
  • Aggressive, angry behavior
  • Controls others
  • Bully
  • Can’t ‘hear’ other points of view
  • A pronounced sense of entitlement
  • Demands perfection from others
  • Dictatorial tendencies

Typically mislabeled as:

  • Narcissist
  • Sociopath
  • Conduct disorder

Flight

  • Obsessive and/or compulsive behavior
  • Feelings of panic and anxiety
  • Rushing around
  • Over-worrying
  • Workaholic
  • Can’t sit still, can’t relax
  • Tries to micromanage situations and other people
  • Always on the go, busy doing things
  • Wants things to be perfect
  • Overachiever

Typically mislabeled as:

  • OCD
  • Bipolar
  • ADHD
  • Panic disorder
  • Mood disorder

Freeze

  • Spacing out
  • Feeling unreal
  • Hibernating
  • Isolating the self from the outside world
  • Couch potato
  • Disassociates
  • Brain fog
  • Difficulties making decisions, acting on decisions
  • Achievement-phobic
  • Wants to hide from the world
  • Feels dead, lifeless

Typically mislabeled as:

  • Clinical depression
  • Schizophrenia
  • ADD
  • DID

Fawn

  • People pleasing
  • Scared to say what they really think
  • talks about “the other” instead of themselves
  • Flatters others to avoid conflict
  • Angel of mercy
  • Overcaring
  • Sucker
  • Can’t stand up for the self, say no
  • Easily exploited by others
  • Hugely concerned with social standing and acceptance, fitting in
  • Yes person

Typically mislabeled as:

  • Codependent
  • Victim

The vast majority of people who experience consistent, harmful punishment, such as spanking, will experience one or more of these stress responses throughout their lives. We run into trouble when these responses are so present in our lives that they come to be viewed as a part of our personality or as a disorder for which we need intervention. And, it begins in childhood when parents claim “my kids are fine” when, in reality, their children are experiencing an obvious stress response. If we see any of the signs of stress responses in our children, we must be willing to seek help from a mental health professional who can assess what is happening and provide tools for healing.

I experienced harsh punishment as a child, which seems to be unnervingly common for Autistic children. Our behavior is misunderstood and traditional punishment often doesn’t work as intended, so the harshness escalates. Add to that the bullying and exclusion we undergo, and it’s difficult to make it through childhood without deep wounds. My fall backs are fight and flight. I shift between rage and debilitating anxiety as I encounter even minor stressors.

Recently, I felt like punching my husband and walking out after he ate some food I had been saving for myself. I was absolutely infuriated. Heart racing, chest hot, bristly feeling skin. Over a little snack. I don’t want to be this way. It’s not healthy. And, despite years of therapy and an entire professional toolkit of coping mechanisms, my brain refuses to give up these stress responses I developed as a child. But, the reality is that I am improving every year through meditation, reparenting myself, and, yes, even the work of peaceful parenting.

So, I ask every parent to stop saying “my kids are fine” unless you know for a fact that they are. And, if they aren’t, help them. Please.

Parenting Gently While Neurodivergent

It’s Autistic Acceptance and Appreciation Month, and I am here for it all month long. So, my first article in the month of April had to be something for my neurokin.

Acceptance is appreciation, and the high value of appreciation is such that to appreciate appreciation seems to be the fundamental prerequisite for survival. Mankind will not die for lack of information; it may perish for lack of appreciation.

Abraham Joshua Heschel

As a neurodivergent parent, do you nearly buckle under the strain of:

  • Seeming to be a step behind in planning and preparation even when you try your best?
  • Having difficulty fitting into social situations with other parents?
  • Struggling with the chaos and uncertainty of parenting?
  • Getting frustrated as chores fall by the wayside and responsibilities get neglected?
  • Doing your best to remember the things you want to remember?
  • Experiencing sensory overload on a regular basis?
  • Feeling like your temper is always set at 99 about to hit 100?
  • Managing your own needs while addressing the needs of your children?
  • Facing burnout, meltdown, or shut down?
  • Running out of spoons by breakfast?

Let me stop you right there and say, welcome, you are definitely in the right place. I feel like I am a whole, entire, hot mess all the time even when people on the outside looking in tell me it appears like I have everything together. The only reason there seems to be any semblance of order is because I become more and more rigid the more control I lose over a situation. But, the more I try to get things under control, the worse the situation becomes. It’s defeating. The smallest things set me off and I feel like there’s no escape. Taking a little time off here and there doesn’t help, because my brain won’t stop going. All I do is worry. I’ve had to start taking medication to get my brain to slow down enough to sleep. I had reached a critical point where I was about to go downhill fast and I had to save myself.

Ironically, I’m great in an actual crisis. Totally calm and clearheaded, but I fall apart completely in the aftermath and shutdown for days. Somehow, everyday life wrecks me and, even with coping skills, it’s a struggle. Then, I went and became a mom. My stress level went to about 5,000% and my coping skills barely cut it most days. I want you to know that I get it.

So, in the midst of all these difficulties, why bother to attempt peaceful parenting? This one’s easy. An aspect of my Autistic brain – that seems to be fairly common among Autistic people – is deep empathy that results in a strong orientation toward justice. The more I’ve gotten to know myself and embrace my neurology, the less tolerance I’ve had for cruelty, and children bear the brunt of so much cruelty. Laws in the United States protecting children are weak at best and children become outlets for their parents frustrations. I can’t take it. I can’t watch the videos that go around where children are being harmed in some way. It’s too much for me now. So, with my own kids, that need to treat them with decency and respect planted itself front and center in my mind. It’s an inherent imperative now. But, it’s a serious challenge to remain conscious about my parenting when my brain is in turmoil trying to survive this neurotypical world.

That’s why I have fallen back on my natural inclination toward patterns, routines, scripts, and formulas to give my children the very best I have. All my life, I have felt like there’s a virtual rolodex (I know I’m dating myself here) where I record information I need. Then, when I need it, that rolodex goes flying through the cards and lands on exactly what I need. I don’t see the rolodex in my mind eye, but I feel it. When I write articles for this blog, I often do so from that perspective. My pieces are how-tos. “Do it this exact way and see how it goes. Then adjust as needed.” I love step-by-step instructions, like the Three Rs and the Five Essential Steps of Emotion Coaching.

I want for peaceful parenting to be accessible to my neurokin. I don’t want y’all to see it as an amorphous concept that’s impossible to implement. A helpful goal is to put together a mental toolkit of step-by-step plans for how to address different issues and use those as a frame around which to pin your thoughts and intentions. For me, it has become almost second nature to call one of my solutions to mind when my children are having a hard time. Having a plan I can actually follow-through on helps me feel confident and calmer than I otherwise would.

Here’s a collection of Peace I Give articles that I hope will offer you a start on building your own tool kit:

My heart is with you, my neurokin, as you work toward building the resilience in your kids that they will need to brave a world that does not center their best interests.

Boundaries Vs Limits

I write about peaceful parenting, but I’m far from an expert at it. I’m learning every day just like you. I enjoy teasing out new knowledge from things I’ve already learned. It recently dawned on me that two words I’ve been using interchangeably, boundaries and limits, actual have separate meanings. Digging into the difference has helped me better acknowledge my own needs.

Diffsense.com explains that boundaries are a “dividing line or location between two areas” whereas limits are “a restriction.” In terms of relationships, boundaries are the points of resistance between two people as beautifully embodied in this quote by Prentis Hemphill:

Boundaries are the distance at which I can love you and me simultaneously.

Prentis Hemphill

Without boundaries, we risk trampling each other’s needs. I struggle a great deal with people touching my face. The sensory experience feels smothering, so my loved ones know to avoid my face. However, my children do not understand how uncomfortable the experience is for me and they regularly breach this boundary. As a result, I find myself struggling to maintain my calm which makes me less effective as a peaceful parent and in need of greater amounts of self-care. Children simply don’t get it. That’s why it’s so important for us to recognize and honor their boundaries. There will come a time when my kids will finally understand why this particular boundary matters so much to me. And, when they figure it out, they’ll know what to do because of how I’ve treated them throughout their lives. I don’t hug them without consent, force them to eat, demand that they treat me as an unimpeachable authority, or hurt them to prove a point. These are boundaries that allow my children to trust and respect me.

Limits, on the other hand, are the lines within which children can safely move. The space between me, as their mother, and the limit out ahead of us is their “yes space.” Limits change as children grow in maturity and capacity. They are the clearly marked guides to ensure my children’s health and safety. Yes, they may play in the yard. No, they may not run into the street in front of a car. As a peaceful parent, I do my best to find ways to say yes instead of no and to minimize both demands and limits. My goal is to give my children as much access to the world as they can enjoy safely, while leaving plenty of room for risky play which children inherently need. One of the most crucial reasons I don’t fall back onto punishment is because there are so few instances where punishment would be necessary. My kids don’t cross lines because there aren’t many lines to cross.

We need as many boundaries as necessary to feel safe in our relationships. And, as few limits as necessary to keep our children healthy and safe. Once I realized that, it changed my perspective on how to relate to my children, my husband, and everyone else in my life.

Ok, We Need To Talk About Abortion

So, let’s do it. Why would I bring this up on my peaceful parenting blog? Because the way we approach abortion has everything to do with our worldview and the example we set for our children. And, it determines how we will treat our children if they choose abortion for themselves.

With more and more states all but banning abortion, I keep finding myself in discussions with Christian friends and family about how best to address this matter. As a reminder, I’m a Christian clergy wife and seminary trained in my own right, which I don’t discuss often on this blog because it organically permeates my peaceful parenting experience. It’s simply part of my identity.

I don’t talk much about my stance on abortion either, because, frankly, it’s not that important, but for this post, I’ll tell you. I believe that humans are precious at all stages. It doesn’t matter to me when life or personhood begins, because I honor human existence from conception to the grave.

I also recognize that my position doesn’t really reflect my own Christian tradition. Jewish law dictates that a fetus is not considered a person until it is born and that life is associated with emergence from the womb. This understanding would have been inherent in the teaching Jesus received, in case you were not aware.

I have no issue with other people’s perspectives on when personhood or life should be recognized. My vision of our shared future involves continued reduction in the rate of abortion as much as possible while honoring those who are pregnant and facing a very difficult decision.

Here’s what I know for sure. Legislating abortion won’t make it go away. Abortion is older than recorded history, y’all. I think anti-abortionists know deep down that their efforts to criminalize these procedures won’t do anything but impose their sensibilities onto everyone else. They must know that banning abortion doesn’t reduce the rate of abortion and may, in fact, have the opposite effect.

If Christians really want to make an impact effectively, the way forward is clear.

  1. Step back from efforts at banning abortion.
  2. Provide all forms of birth control at no cost via taxpayer funds, since different forms work better for different people.
  3. Make it easier to get tubal ligations and other such procedures that are currently difficult to obtain.
  4. Champion universal basic income, universal healthcare, guaranteed housing, no cost college, childcare support and subsidies, and a minimum wage increase. In other words, if you truly believe in the sanctity of life, then you must honor it no matter the socioeconomic status of the family.
  5. Stop elevating virginity as having value in and of itself separate from the human being it is attached to. Virginity is a harmful construct that has no scientific basis and has been used for millennia for the purpose of subjugation. There are plenty of reasons to delay sex that don’t involve losing one’s worth.
  6. Stop shaming childbirth “out of wedlock.” If you want these children to live and be loved, stop punishing those who choose to raise the children they deliver.
  7. End abstinence-only sex education. While this approach may be understandable for faith-based communities, it is not an effective public health strategy and, in fact, research shows its limited effectiveness, particularly as a result of seismic shifts in our understanding of sex and gender.
  8. Support a cultural reorientation toward keeping families together by reducing reliance on foster care and adoption. So many of the reasons children get separated from their first families can be mitigated by a caring society.
  9. Choose anti-racism. For all the outcries over the differences in rates of abortion between white and marginalized people, you’d think the natural response would be to take action to end racism. Somehow, that is not the case.
  10. Leave people alone when they have an abortion. This one is simple. Just stop harassing and belittling them. Focus your efforts on 1-9 with a healthy dose of empathy and understanding.

If you are a Christian who is serious about taking steps to reduce the need for abortion, which is the most effective way to achieve the goal of the anti-abortion movement, then please get to work. If you’re here to bluster about, please step aside and let the rest of us serve all people with Christian love and respect.

No, Love, Your Child Doesn’t Need ABA

I see y’all out there. Parents trying to do your very best for your Autistic kids. You talk about how much ABA has helped your child and how you don’t know what you would have done without it. You say that you couldn’t possibly have done what your BCBA or RBT has accomplished. You truly believe that you, the person who knows your child the very best, don’t have what it takes to give your child the world. But, oh Love, you do! You honestly do.

The ABA industry systematically chips away at our confidence in our own instincts and abilities. With those scary prognoses and extensive treatment plans, how could we ever give our child what ABA can? From that perspective, it’s true. We don’t have the skill set to do what a BCBA or an RBT can do. For some parents, that will mean putting a child into ABA and trusting professionals with their care. For others, it will mean getting trained yourself so that you too can use behaviorism to manage your child’s actions. There’s another choice though. A less expensive and time consuming choice. A better choice.

A few days ago, occupational therapist, Greg Santucci, wrote about a fundamental flaw in the concept of ABA, one that we parents need to understand:

So, if the antecedent doesn’t really happen right before a behavior occurs, but rather results from a combination of factors that can stretch back days or even years, how could a BCBA or an RBT possibly recognize what’s wrong? How could they possibly know everything you know? You, Love. You saw what happened when your child’s favorite toy broke last week. You offered comfort and validation, but you knew your child felt grief, so you gave them space to mourn. Then, over the weekend, you saw your child’s energy revving up and you knew they needed to go outside, but rain changed your plans. So, you did your best to help your child get all that energy out while inside the house, but you could see a storm brewing. You have always been there. You are the safe space.

Now, it’s a new week and it’s time for ABA. Your child feels great stress from compounding factors that occurred well before the session. Then what happens? Your child refuses fulfill a demand and they get ignored. As they struggle without the support of a trusted adult, they get punished via planned ignoring for mourning their favorite toy and for needing outside time. ABA works because it crushes children into compliance no matter how they feel or what they need.

You can decide right now never to go back. Never to put your child into a situation where their behavior defines how they will be treated. You can give your child the exact support they need because you experience it all with them. You know when things get hard and how your child needs comforting. You can move past managing behaviors and instead coach emotions, helping your child feel and bear through the difficult times. And, those really difficult situations, like a child running into the street? Change the environment. Use a locking harness to make sure your child stays close to you when cars present a danger. Practice road safety with games like Red Light, Green Light in a safe location. Tell your child stories about how cars can hurt us, seeing the consequences from a child’s perspective. “If you get hit by a car, you won’t get to eat jelly beans until you get better because the car will hurt you!”

With emotion coaching and controlling the environment, you won’t need behavior management at all, and you certainly won’t need ABA. You can do this. You have all the skills already from your years of practice as a parent. Don’t let these medical professionals tell you that you don’t have what it takes. They are lying to you.

Learn strategies for how best to support your Autistic child by following these links:

Have you read An Advocate’s Guidebook for Caregivers of Autistic Kids?

Wisdom From Ye’kuana Mothers That We All Need

As I lean into unschooling a little more bit by bit, I’ve started reading literature about the approach to better understand the lifestyle. I recently picked up Unschooling: A Lifestyle of Learning by Sara McGrath. It’s not a long book, but it’s rich with experience and insight that one can put into practice immediately. McGrath’s book did more than educate me on unschooling, though. She also introduced me to some concepts that I knew innately, but had not yet spelled out. In particular, she touched on the Continuum Concept from Jean Liedloff from her 1975 book of the same name. Liedloff developed the concept after observing the differences in the way Indigenous South American Ye’kuana mothers treated their children in contrast to what she had become accustomed to in her white western upbringing. On the site continuum-concept.org, a description of the Continuum Concept makes clear the expectations of both parent and child. I will post the description here in full so as not to lose anything in translation. (Content Warning: Jean Liedloff’s work contains references to harmful conceptions of what constitutes “civilized” culture.)

According to Jean Liedloff, the continuum concept is the idea that in order to achieve optimal physical, mental and emotional development, human beings — especially babies — require the kind of experience to which our species adapted during the long process of our evolution. For an infant, these include such experiences as…

• constant physical contact with his mother (or another familiar caregiver as needed) from birth;
• sleeping in his parents’ bed, in constant physical contact, until he leaves of his own volition;
• breastfeeding “on cue” — nursing in response to his own body’s signals;
• being constantly carried in arms or otherwise in contact with someone, usually his mother, and allowed to observe (or nurse, or sleep) while the person carrying him goes about his or her business — until the infant begins creeping, then crawling on his own impulse, usually at six to eight months;
• having caregivers immediately respond to his signals (squirming, crying, etc.), without judgment, displeasure, or invalidation of his needs, yet showing no undue concern nor making him the constant center of attention;
• sensing (and fulfilling) his elders’ expectations that he is innately social and cooperative and has strong self-preservation instincts, and that he is welcome and worthy.

In contrast, a baby subjected to modern Western childbirth and child-care practices often experiences…

• traumatic separation from his mother at birth due to medical intervention and placement in maternity wards, in physical isolation except for the sound of other crying newborns, with the majority of male babies further traumatized by medically unnecessary circumcision surgery;
• at home, sleeping alone and isolated, often after “crying himself to sleep”;
• scheduled feeding, with his natural nursing impulses often ignored or “pacified”;
• being excluded and separated from normal adult activities, relegated for hours on end to a nursery, crib or playpen where he is inadequately stimulated by toys and other inanimate objects;
• caregivers often ignoring, discouraging, belittling or even punishing him when he cries or otherwise signals his needs; or else responding with excessive concern and anxiety, making him the center of attention;
• sensing (and conforming to) his caregivers’ expectations that he is incapable of self-preservation, is innately antisocial, and cannot learn correct behavior without strict controls, threats and a variety of manipulative “parenting techniques” that undermine his exquisitely evolved learning process.

Evolution has not prepared the human infant for this kind of experience. He cannot comprehend why his desperate cries for the fulfillment of his innate expectations go unanswered, and he develops a sense of wrongness and shame about himself and his desires. If, however, his continuum expectations are fulfilled — precisely at first, with more variation possible as he matures — he will exhibit a natural state of self-assuredness, well-being and joy. Infants whose continuum needs are fulfilled during the early, in-arms phase grow up to have greater self-esteem and become more independent than those whose cries go unanswered for fear of “spoiling” them or making them too dependent.

Courtesy of Continuum-Concept.org

Liedloff further explains that, as a child grows up in Ye’kuana culture, they become integrated into the lives of the people. Ye’kuana adults do not center or dote on children. Instead, adults focus on adult activities, pausing as needed to connect with their children. As a result, children gain autonomy, self-reliance, and intrinsic motivation. Indigenous cultures consistently emerge as the originators of responsive, respectful parenting. Stories from around the world tell of communities where young children do not cry, because the adults immediately meet their needs. In the west, we believed we knew better and we sought to overwhelm evolution toward a more efficient society. In doing so, we have lost sight of our humanity.

Such a lifestyle evades many USAian parents who find themselves forced into a multiple income scenario due to the greed of the billionaires who control the means of production. We can choose to care for our children or we can starve, but choose we must. In my family, we choose responsiveness. In doing so, our children do not fall to the ground at toy stores kicking and screaming in frustration and not because we don’t allow it. To the contrary, we acknowledge and validate all expressions of emotion in our family. My children simply don’t tantrum, because it doesn’t occur to them to do so. They know we value and accept their perspectives, thus they needn’t get loud for us to hear them.

I encourage you to find ways to choose responsiveness, patience, and belonging whenever possible in the spirit of Ye’kuana mothers who understand human development far better than our so-called learned experts.

Can You Homeschool An Autistic Child?

As someone who came through traditional brick-and-mortar schooling, I had been conditioned to view education through a particular lens. Degreed and licensed teachers are necessary for learning to occur. Only specially trained instructors can “break through” to disabled kids. Children at each grade level should be fairly close to each other in ability and, if they aren’t, they should be removed to a separate class or school so they can learn at their own pace. That’s where I started.

Now I understand that traditional school is its own bubble. Are degreed and licensed teachers necessary? Yes, absolutely, because they are experts at navigating the system on behalf of students and their caregivers. They serve a dual role of teacher and liaison. They understand classroom management. They have other teachers nearby to help them work through challenges. They have the resources of the school system at their disposal. Yet, there was a time when teachers in the U.S. were much more similar to homeschooling parents than schoolroom teachers. So, we know there’s a distinction to be made.

To answer the title question in no uncertain terms, yes, absolutely, you can homeschool an Autistic child, even in spite of ABA practitioners and “experts” who are sure they know our children better than we do. When I first started homeschooling, I had no idea what I was doing. I have taught all the way up through college and tutored in the past, but the idea of being solely responsible for my own children’s education was daunting. I figured Special Education teachers had some magic I didn’t have. They knew something… were something… that I couldn’t access. After all, I have no formal education in the field.

I scoured the internet for information on how to teach Autistic children and found lots of specialized resources that dealt mostly with learning theory and behaviorism. That couldn’t be right, I thought. But then, how do you teach an Autistic child? I found some Facebook groups and read a bunch of posts on the topic. As I read, I realized that these actual homeschoolers were saying something unfathomable to me at the time. Teach Autistic students the same way you teach any other student. If you want to get a curriculum, do it. If you want to let your child lead the way, go for it. Embrace your child’s interests and utilize them as pathways to learning. Wow, I thought. That sounds almost too easy. (That, of course, was rationality peaking through ableism.) As my understanding has evolved, I have come to realize that teaching is secondary. Learning is an experience that the child has. It’s not something that a teacher can demand or enforce. We can only facilitate it. I have also learned that it’s completely ok to go at my child’s pace. If a child is strong in math and needs support in reading, well, that child is strong in math and needs support in reading then. We don’t have to try to force a child to advance in a predictable way based on age or ability. We really, truly can teach to the level of our kids no matter what that level might be. We homeschoolers can genuinely tailor education to our children in a way that leads to unfrustrated success.

As a homeschooler, I am strongly oriented toward both Charlotte Mason and child-led learning/unschooling, so I found a Charlotte Mason-inspired curriculum and got started on the year. Turns out, those homeschoolers were right. The incomparable benefit of homeschooling is that, at home, we can teach our child rather than teaching to the test. We determine the pace and the material. We know how much to challenge without leading to burnout. And, we have extraordinary flexibility to give our kids the breaks and attention they need to excel. I have vowed not to talk about my children specifically anymore in this blog and I will honor that vow. Suffice it to say, homeschooling has led to gains at a rate unmatched by public school. That is not a dig at public school teachers who are truly a national treasure. Honestly, it’s a dig at our entire educational system in the U.S. It is outdated, clumsy, racist, ableist, and expensive for no reason. Children have a right to a suitable education that doesn’t steamroll them to oblivion.

If you are approaching a point where you feel strongly that your Autistic child needs the freedom and support of a homeschool education, I am here to tell you that you can do it and you can succeed. It takes effort of course and lots of self-education. Ready to go? Check out these links to get started. (Beware of ableism in the Facebook groups. It’s hard to get away from.)

Switching from Public School to Homeschool (Peace I Give post)

Can You Homeschool Your Autistic Child? (Blog post)

Learning Challenges: For SEA Homeschoolers Members (Facebook group)

Unschooling Every Family: Embracing Neurodivergent and Disabled Learners (Facebook group)

Atypical Unschooling: defining our own norm (Facebook group)

Special Needs Homeschooling the Charlotte Mason Way (Facebook group)

Homeschooling Special (Needs) Kids (Facebook group)

Where Black Students Excel

One of the things whiteness affords me is access to conversations I don’t want to be having. The tiring ones that I know I’m responsible to engage in by virtue of my privilege, my understanding of the stakes, and a moral imperative to betray white supremacy. So, when I see (and hear) white people denying the existence of systemic racism and chalking up the documented differences in opportunity and outcome between white people and Black, Indigenous, and people of color to personal failings, I’m compelled to seek out airtight responses that will destabilize their worldview. I need them upset and unsure, because that’s where growth starts.

To this end, I’ve been following a piece of evidence that popped up on my radar not too long ago. Something that has actually been known for years, but isn’t widely known among white people. First, Black families are among the fastest-growing populations withdrawing their children to homeschool.

And, second? Many Black homeschooled children are earning test scores higher than their white counterparts at public schools. Let me put that plainly: Homeschooling virtually eliminates the so-called “achievement gap” between Black students and white students. The reasons for the success of these children are myriad and understandable.

  1. Targeted, customized education benefits ALL children.
  2. Black kids are intelligent, despite what white supremacist institutions would have us believe.
  3. When Black kids are not subject to constant racism, they excel.
  4. Decentering whiteness and white history gives Black children a connection to the past and a vision for the future.

And, we know this is the case because, when Black homeschooled children were measured against Black public schooled children, the homeschooled cohort were found to have achieved reading scores FORTY-TWO percentage points higher than their peers, even when controlling for gender and socioeconomic status. Black parents are decisive in their reasoning for homeschooling. A 2015 study in the Journal of School Choice found that the top five reasons Black parents give for choosing homeschooling are:

  1. Providing religious or moral instruction.
  2. Transmitting their worldview to their children.
  3. Developing strong family relationships.
  4. Individualizing education.
  5. Accomplishing more academically than in conventional schools.

Please take note that the first three reasons given are not academic in nature. These parents brought their babies home to build them up, guard their hearts, and give them space to breathe and just be. Most of the parents who are homeschooling do not have education credentials, as is the case for most homeschool teachers. Degreed and certified teachers have an important role in our educational system, but they do not hold the keys to education.

I think about reparations a lot as a white person from a very long line of white people in the United States who have benefitted tremendously from exploitation. And, I wonder what impact we’d have on the future if Black families suddenly became entitled to a guaranteed living stipend to stay home and educate their kids. And, that is exactly the query I want to pose to people who claim systemic racism doesn’t exist. (But the answer is not what a lot of white people want to think about.)