Buzzing: Autism

In a recent discussion on personal buzz words for books I admitted to fellow BookTuber Acacia Ives that fairy tale re-tellings, specifically appealing to or talking about nerds, and autism are three of the big buzzes for me. When she asked why I realized that maybe my answer would require more than a few lines in the comment section (Mostly because I deleted three paragraphs worth of response before settling on a somewhat lengthy shortened reply).

So why is autism a buzzword for me? I haven’t ever been diagnosed as being on the spectrum, I didn’t grow up with a close friend or family member on the spectrum…so what’s going on?

I honestly cannot tell you when the first hook grabbed me. I can’t remember the first person I met with Autism, though I’m sure there were autistic students in school with me when I was younger. However, I can tell you that I can always remember being interested in the idea of autism. If you aren’t familiar with ASD (Austism Spectrum Disorder) you can find some helpful facts on the webpage for the National Institute for Neurological Disorders and on the Autism Speaks webpage.

For me the idea of autism resonates in a way that most perceived ‘special needs’ do not. I say perceived because I have begun to see autism as merely a different way to see the world. Having spoken to many students and peers with varying levels of ASD, as well as reading articles written by and about those who have been diagnosed, what I’ve found is that a great majority of autistic people find more issue with how people perceive them and with struggling in the ‘normal’ sector of the world than they do with their ‘special need’. To them, the only thing ‘special’ is how hard they have to work when placed beside those of us who don’t think in their type of brain. Yes they might need help discerning things like emotional intent, expressions, and even imagination. However, ‘special needs’ and extreme levels of help are often not what people with ASD really need.

As an author autism both intrigues and frightens me. I love the way autism works, the way the brain works with autism. Each person with ASD has a different tick. It changes, it evolves, it moves with them in ways others disorders and/or illnesses cannot. I am enthralled by the way people with autism work, the way the different levels of autism force people to change and create in order to make their way through the world. The intricacies of beautiful minds that become somewhat of a fear factor for those of us who aren’t forced to live with it. I often write characters who, in my mind, have a touch or more of autism. I never specifically state that, however, because I am afraid writing yet another autistic character who is just a stylized, simplified, watered down version of their true self. A candy coated pill for the ‘normals’ to swallow down and say proudly to each other that they read a story about autism. Or, conversely, an over dramatized, emphatic, in your face autistic character who makes everyone uncomfortable because those are so rare in real life that I would be completely untrue to those I love and who I feel have entrusted me with their significance. You see, that must be it. Autism is a buzzword for me because people I care about, a cousin, some students, a nephew..those people deserve me to care. They deserve for us all to care and to want to understand. That is why I think it Should be a buzzword.

Here, though, is what I do know about why Autism is a buzzword:

  1. It has been used as a scapegoat. 

When I say that it is used as a scapegoat, I’m not just talking about classroom inclusion discussion or lively debates about inoculations. While both of those have been batted around like a tired yarn ball given to a kitten, those aren’t the only things that like to use autism as a main battle point. In fact, when people discuss things like ‘mental retardation’ they like to also bring autism into that mix. While the rise in autistic diagnosis for the past 15 years or so has actually led to a decrease in the diagnosis of ‘intellectually disabled’ the likelihood is that the actual issues haven’t changed, but our abilities for detection have. As our understandings and tests have evolved, our ability to recognize those who learn, comprehend, and develop differently has become slightly more sophisticated. normal-wiring-compared-autistic-wiring

Now take all of that last paragraph and set it aside for a moment because I have also seen a few cases of ‘autistic scapegoating’ while in a teaching capacity that had nothing to do with whether or not a repetitive motion or strict schedule should be allowed in with the ‘normal’ kids (remind me to post about normal sometime…).

For Example: I have seen a student who was placed on academic plans, had ‘special’ classes, etc etc etc due to their ‘severe level of Aspergers Syndrome’ but who only exhibited signs of ASD when they thought about it. That’s right, the only time that student actually showed any discernible signs were basically when they didn’t want to do the classwork or wanted to get out of a project. It turns out that the family had been so insistent that a love for farm animals and interest in horses was a ‘fixation’ that must be a mental issue, the therapist finally gave in and diagnosed it. A new doctor did an examination and declared that said student just needed to be made to follow rules and stop being coddled..and that they had mild Attention Deficit Disorder and should be allowed to work on the family farm more.

  1. It is an unknown

The term ‘Autism’ has been around for roughly 105 years. On the WedMD’s A History of Autism page the discussion ranges from early diagnosis, to the combination of schizophrenia and autism, to the use of LSD as a treatment for autism in the 70s, and on to the 1980s and 90s as we slowly began to use behavioral therapy as a way to ‘treat’ autism. All very interesting and enlightening things. All facts that you should check out. However, none of the facts are definitive. Unlike many of the other mental or physical illnesses we deal with, autism has not been completely defined. We cannot pinpoint one or two specific activities that cause or worsen autism. In fact, each case is different.

autism-diagram

What that means for those not dealing with autism is that we have no idea what to do. We don’t know what it is to have that difference in our heads. This means that most of us will be made uncomfortable by the difference. No matter how progressive most people might claim to be, change makes us uncomfortable. Funnily enough, the change that makes us uncomfortable makes them uncomfortable from the other side of it. Think about that next time you encounter someone a little different from yourself.

 

  1. It is on the rise

 

As I mentioned before, the occurrence of an ASD diagnosis is up and rising, mostly because our understanding of the disorder has helped to create more appropriate understandings for people with what would have previous been lumped under the title of  ‘mental retardations’. However, the statement that 1 of 45 children is being diagnosed with some sort of ASD could throw people off. That does seem like an awful lot of newly minted autism sufferers.

 

All of this comes together, in my mind, to show that we are still bumbling through the world of the brain. That we still don’t truly know anything about autism, and that ASD is a term deserving of our buzz.

I didn’t realize that this term held so much importance for me until Acacia asked me that innocent ‘why’ and I hope that I have fired you up a little along the way as well.

Are you an Autism buzz worder? Do you have other buzz words that attract you to things, or repel you from them? Are you a writer that deliberately writes, or doesn’t write, a certain type of character because of things like Autism or tropes on special needs? Leave a comment and lets get a good conversation going!

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Happy NaNoWeen!

HAPPY HALLOWEEN!!!

You know, I look forward to this day every single year. Not just because of the large bags of candy I can purchase without the cashiers giving me strange looks, and not just for the costumes and movies, which I adore, but because the last few days of October turn cool and crisp and stormy…and help build my anticipation for November.

My daughter loves super heroes (like mother like daughter!) and so we have a very super themed costume year. She got a Ninja Turtles costume, then chose to wear her Batgirl outfit instead (totally understandable!) and I…well I cobbled together a few things and became: A SUPER WRITER!!! (theme song to written later).

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As you can see, I have my notebook and pen at the ready in order to catch any stories that might come my way. My boom, bang, conversation bubble leggings are just begging for more super characters, and my masks: every good super hero must protect at least part of their identity, right? (*Side Note* My mother said ‘Oh! You’re a MYSTERY writer!)

You may be asking yourself why in the world I would choose this particular get up for the day…well, there are a couple of reasons. #1 I am a writer, so why not be a SUPER writer (muahaha, you knew that was coming). #2 My 3 year old daughter watches the Super Readers show and said to me one day, “Mama, you’re not just a super reader, YOU ARE A SUPER WRITER!” I liked that. and finally #3 NaNoWriMo begins tomorrow. I am writing a story like I’ve never written before. Not just the content, parts of which will be surprisingly similar to previous stories, I’m afraid, but also the target age group and the way I am putting the novel together. So, I might need to be reminded of my inner superhero by the end of the month, er, weekend.

This will be my 8th year (I believe) to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Most of you probably already know about NaNoWriMo, the month in which people from all over the globe log in their word counts and frantically attempt to reach at least 50,000 words in a single story, or group of works if you’re a rebel. 😉

I have won a few of the past seven years, I have fallen just shy of winning for a couple, and there may have been one or two of them that included a woefully shameful shortcoming (one year I didn’t even hit the ten thousand mark). The stress of everyday life can have a huge effect on your ability or desire to push yourself to write at all, let alone get to the *at least* 1,677 words a day you need to hit 50,000 by the end of the month. So why am telling you this?

I am telling you about this because whether or not I won a year, I still wrote. I still discovered at least a few of the beautiful words that lurked deep in the dark recesses of my heart and mind. I still made connections, I still worked hard, and I still reminded myself of my dreams. Yes, even if I failed it wasn’t really a failure because I can look back and see where I was, how far I’ve come, and even the steps I’ve taken to secure the hopes I had way back when. I hope that you are all able to find a way to do that for whatever your hopes and dreams are! No matter the stress or upheaval such an intense month might cause, the rewards, in my opinion, outweigh any issues that I’ve come across so far. I have made year long writing buddies, learned amazing things about my craft (and myself), and found even better ways to annoy my friends and family! (YAY NANO!!)

If you would like to learn more about NaNoWriMo, visit http://www.nanowrimo.org

If you are (or will be) participating this year and would like to add me as a writing buddy, go for it! I’m known as writerbaby13

If you would like to be kept apprised of my writing progress and/or the story I’m going to be pushing through this year, keep it tuned in to this blog or check out http://www.facebook.com/TyreeTomes (don’t forget to ‘like’ the page…and keep checking both sites!)

Author vs. Writer

Today I want to talk to you about something that has been bothering me, eating at me really, for a few weeks now. Actually, that isn’t accurate. This issue has been bothering me for over a year and every time I think I’m finally over it, every time I think I’ve acclimated myself to it, I realize that I was wrong and it still bothers me. “What could this issue be?” I’m sure you’re all asking yourselves what I’m up in arms about. Well I’ll tell you: the use of the words author and writer to mean very different things. Such as ‘well I’m a writer, but not an author.” Or “how would you advise someone who is aspiring to become an author.” etc. 

Almost every day I see an interview or comment in which someone is referred to as ‘aspiring’ to be an author, or in which someone defines that moment wherein they became an author as the time they finally published something, etc.

Not to be rude or anything, but I completely disagree! To be an author does not mean that you have published and to be a writer does not mean that you have not. What it means is that you have accepted in yourself the fact that you are who you are, and the way you do that is through telling stories in whatever form of wordsmithery you’ve chosen.

I find it so frustrating to be talking with someone who says “oh you’re a writer/author, what would you say to an ASPIRING author?”

I say there is no such thing unless you haven’t started yet. When you write, you’re a writer. When you’re a writer, you’re an author. The first time you completed the first poem or short story that had anything of your own ideas in it, sometime back in about 1st grade or so, you became an author. In fact, according to the writing process taught to our students, you became a ‘published’ author by turning in a completed work to be read and reviewed by your intended audience (the teacher). So get that concern out of your head. You’ve been there a while.

Dictionary.com defines an author as a person who writes a novel, poem, essay, etc.; the composer of literary work, as distinguished from a compiler, translator, editor, or copyist. As well as, the literary production or productions of a writer: the maker of anything; creator; originator:

The same site defines a writer as a person engaged in writing books, articles, stories, etc., especially as an occupation or profession; an author or journalist. AND a person who commits his or her thoughts, ideas, etc., to writing :

Not to be too sarcastic here but: OH LOOK, an author writes and a writer writes. No where here does it say “An author is a person who is published and you can only use this title when you have an agent, a traditional publisher, a set of editors, and a personal illustrator.” No, it says an author is a person who ‘writes.’ A writer is a person engaged in writing.

They are one and the same everyone! SO please, stop giving advice to ‘aspiring authors’ or “writers looking to become authors.” If you write, you are already both.

I understand that calling someone a ‘beginning writer or author’ is a little less elegant and Jr. author probably isn’t the thing either, but for the love of words, let’s find something that works to show that they are starting out without implying that they don’t actually write!

For the record, I have been an author for my entire life and a writer since i learned the alphabet…not that anyone can read my handwriting any better now than when I was 3. I had poetry officially published a few times throughout jr. High and High school, but didn’t ‘officially’ publish in 2012. That means I’m aspiring to learn more, not that I’m an aspiring author. See the difference?

I’m sorry, could you say that again?

We all have a few things in common here. I, like many of you, am an author. Many of you, like myself, are bibliophiles. A couple of you are only following my blog because you’re friends with my cousin and she signed you up…that’s fine. I like her too. Whether you are a writer, a reader, a talker, or all of the above, today’s topic will have impacted your life in some way. That’s right, I’m talking about amputation.

Ok, ok, I’m not really talking about amputation. That is a topic that I am not qualified in any way to speak on (though I’m sure I could come up with something horribly inaccurate to say). Today I want us to talk about the importance of  Word Choice.

How did I get to amputation from word choices? I’m glad you asked! This morning my mother watched me walking down the stairs and said, “Punk (that’s ME!) I need to hem your legs.” Now, I know that she meant the legs on my palazzo pants. They are a smidge too long for me and probably could benefit from hemming. However, my automatic response was “No thank you, I’m already short enough!”

Why did I respond like that? What is it that triggered the knee jerk sass? Well, as you probably already figured out, it was her phrasing. When she said ‘legs’ instead of ‘pants’ the sentence completely changed its meaning. My days are often filled with little incidences like this one. After all, I have a toddler who is just learning the importance of word choice and has not quite figured out the differences between words like him/he or her/she. I find myself automatically correcting her word choices several times a day (she either doesn’t mind or just doesn’t listen to me. Both are fairly believable with that Monkey.)

The thing is, I don’t just correct my family or friends. I find myself correcting, well, myself a lot. I will stop mid-sentence to try out several differing words in order to find the one most suitable. I will forget what I’m trying to write out, causing frustration and despair in my pressurized brain, because I stopped to experiment with word choice. (Word of advice…leave word choice experimentation to the second or third draft/revision process!).

Sometimes I even stop enjoying a great book because I get caught up in the odd turns of phrase or misguided word choices in one sentence. Does this ever happen to you?

There are, of course, ways to go about fixing the issue. The most popular way seems to just be turning a deaf ear and uncaring eye to the words themselves. Let the words fall as they may and ignore the oddities. That works for some people, but what about those of us that get the ‘niggling’ feeling. Those of us whose subconsciouses will chew at the issue for days until it suddenly has an ‘AHA’ moment? A great vocabulary will help, as will the knowledge that sometimes words just won’t sound the way you think they should.

Speaking of word choices, have you read or heard anything lately that really stood out to you? A book or song you LOVE, a quote you can’t get out of your head? Leave a comment and share that with us! I can’t wait to see what you’ve got!

I’m off to read about a little bookshop in Paris. May your inspiration ne’er cease to flow and your words always fall in the right place!

Writing Affirmation in the Classroom

I AM an author I KNOW how to WRITE The WORDS LIVE in ME And My Story WILL BE AWESOME

I AM an author
I KNOW how to WRITE
The WORDS LIVE in ME
And My Story WILL BE AWESOME

I just wanted to pop today and share a little piece of joy with you. I currently have 83 students in my 5th grade writing program. Our state test is this coming Tuesday. We (meaning me) are starting to really feel the pressure. So today, before beginning our practice test, I am leading my students in two ‘echo’ exercises. #1 is our (almost) daily tradition of S.W.B.A.T. (Students WILL Be Able To…) followed by the lesson’s standard. For example, my board today states “S.W.B.A.T. – Follow a Prompt and Write a Narrative.”

After that rousing chorus, as the students are turning to begin their work, I am calling their attention back to the other side of the board and leading them in the echo of “I AM an AUTHOR! I KNOW how to WRITE! The WORDS LIVE IN ME! MY STORY WILL BE AWESOME!”

Each class is given the opportunity to repeat this after me 3 times. The first time they are hesitant, not really sure what I’m doing. The second time they are slightly more confident but still not so sure of themselves and their abilities. The third time though…OH THE THIRD TIME! Their voices ring proud, strong, and true and you can just tell that they know what is what now. They are enthusiastic, they are pumped, and THEY ARE AUTHORS!

It is an amazing thing to see and hear and I am so very proud of each and every one of my kids. So proud, in fact, that I took a few moments out of an unexpected ‘free’ period to announce it to you!

Please keep in mind all of the kids across the states, and the world, who are about to start taking these tests. Encourage those you can and think of those you can’t. Sometimes a little affirmation goes a long way.

Torture

Words softly whispered in the back of my mind.
Quiet and quick, so sneaky and swift,
I can’t catch them.
What torture is this? Leaving me aching,
Like a lover gone too soon.
Leaving me still longing to be held.

What fresh smack of the whip is this?
There they go again!
Circling, taunting, whispering:
There goes my story.
Not blocked, but not written either.

How can I write what I can’t catch?

Aside

 

 

 

Professor Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore[ from J.K. Rowling’s immensely popular and amazing hit, Harry Potter, is one of my favorite characters from all of literature…and he’s pretty smart too! I often quote Dumbledore to myself, or to friends and family, and today I am quoting him to you. Here for your enjoyment are my top 3 favorite Dumbledore quotes (decoratively pulled from my Pinterest account). This was a difficult choice, as he has so many wonderful quotes, so if you have other Dumbledore sayings you prefer I would love to hear them!

"Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real?" -Albus Dumbledore There have been times in my life when I struggled to pull myself out of my head. The worlds and stories there are gripping and, to me at least, at times just as real as the ‘real’ world around me. I suppose that is why this Dumbledore quote has always resonated with me. Do you have that problem?

 

Harry Potter Dumbledore quote Art Pint Wall Art by geeksleeksheek As an author, a teacher, a mother, and a big mouth sass machine this quote both lifts me up and knocks me down every time I read it. He’s right of course (well, I suppose Ms. Rowling is right, as she wrote Albus Dumbledore’s lines for him) but sometimes we all forget the truth in this. Do you know the feeling?

 

Albums dumbledore quoteFinally, this quote has helped me deal with sadness, depression, and frustrations…whether my own or those belonging to my friends and family…by reminding me that life goes on, happiness is a daily choice, and it is up to us to be open to the light. We have to choose to flip the ‘switch’. I would love to have this around a light switch someday…perhaps in my writer’s loft when we get the lights set up. Where would you put it?

 

 

Mad Monday

Ok, so I’ve been a little behind the past few days. Or a lot behind…either way you look at it though, I missed Short Story Sunday yesterday. Here is what I meant to post before I forgot. I hope you enjoy it!

 

 

“Ok students, today will be our very first,” pause for effect, “MAD MONDAY!!”

“ooh, are we like, going like, sale shopping?” the nasal, high pitched teen voice grated on her ears. UGH! How in the world did they talk her in to teaching high school kids?

“No, Maureen, we’re going to talk about words like MAD.” Ms. Travers took a deep breath, “They’re called Multiple Meaning Words also known as homophones or homonyms. Does anyone remember their middle school English lessons about these??” She waits a beat, expecting at least the greasy haired, too-much-Axe-wearing, coke bottle glasses, wolverine t-shirted nerd in the corner to answer appropriately, as he usually did, but even Steven (call me The Ice) was silent. “Come on guys – multiple meaning words have what??”

“Umm…” the twins looked as if they were trying to use their telepathy to collectively read the teacher’s book, which Rebecca Travers had left carelessly flipped open on her desk. She didn’t need it for etymology lessons after all.

“Ladies and gentlemen, M.M.W.s have more than one meaning! Like the word, “MAD” which can mean several different things. Sharlot, would you give me a meaning for the word ‘mad’ please?”

“Umm, like, big sales. You know, like, mad mad mad savings?” Sharlot was more concerned with how the bridge of her nose looked in comparison to her new shirt and lipstick combination than she was with the actual question, but she obviously wouldn’t have known anyway.

“What about mad like angry. Like the Hulk gets mad and then BAM the hot guy turns into a big green unstoppable killing force.” The quiet blond girl in the corner, what was her name??? OH,

“Good job Anial,” where do parents come up with these names? *Face Palm!* hastag – craycray “Mad often means that someone is angry, although I believe Bruce Banner is just always raging inside and doesn’t really have to get mad…and before you start goggling and giggling at my obvious nerdy cool status, Yes I love comics and the Avengers, Loki rocks, and we need to move on through the lesson. And Anial, Bruce Banner is awesome but I’m a little concerned with how excited you were about the unstoppable killing force part…”

“I like to feel safe,” The tiny little sprite smiled innocently.

“Ok, moving on…there’s another possible meaning here. Does anyone know what it is?” Rebecca Travers searched the small classroom, thankfully they had only given her the students in need of a little extra English help for their college admits…although some of them really gave her doubts as to their ability to enter college at all. Didn’t they have some sort of force field to keep the morons out? “Morry?”

“Crazy,” Moriarty, Morry for short, looked up as menacingly as he could from under his bright red mop of frizz and tried to growl the word, ending on a squeak, “Mad means that someone is insane.”

“Very nicely done sir,” Ms. Travers smiled, wondering again why in the world his parents would name him after a famous literary villain. “What other words can you think of that have multiple meanings?”

“Fag,” The lone student on the left side of the room suddenly yelled out his answer, causing titters to erupt among the other six, “My grandpa calls his cigarettes fags, but my Uncle calls our neighbors the same thing. I guess they smoke a lot.” He shrugged with a smirk, “You know.”

“Thank you Franklynn,” Rebecca sighed, here comes another migraine. “Anyone else?? ANYONE?”

 

“Ate and eight,” Fredrico March saved the day, his white skin and pale features belying the exotic moniker. “Like, I ate a sandwich for breakfast before coming to school at eight.”

“That’s a homophone, girls and boys! Thank you FredricoMarch,” he insisted his name be run together in such a way. “What else??”

“GAS!” Sharlot chirped proudly, obviously not used to having an answer show up that was handed to her on a silver platter. “Gas like you put in the car OR it can be like, you know,” titter titter, giggle, laughter, “YOU KNOW, like, GAS.”

“Thank you for that.” Rebecca Travers calmly surveyed the quickly dissolving classroom structure as each student tried to gas out their fellows. Picking up her purse and grabbing a clothespin from her desk, the teacher pinned her nose, slung her bag over her shoulder, and walked out. Closing the locked door behind her, Ms. Travers deliberately walked down to the principal’s office and rapped once, sharply, on the door. “I’m ready to go back now Mr. P.”

“Are you sure Becca?” Mr. Princeton, the principal, looked up with his big sad eyes and slightly pointy ears, looking like a jolly mix of dwarf and elf. “This was your chance to change things for the better.”

“I’ve locked my students in the classroom as they try to stink each other out with farts and belches,” Rebecca laid her school keys down, “Please, let me just go back. Maybe change isn’t always a good thing.”

“If you’re sure that you’re ready then,” Mr. P stood and pulled his lab coat from a hidden cabinet hook. “I’ll take you back to your room.”

“Thank you sir.”

“It’s not a problem. We here at Shady Hill know that sometimes people just need a good rest.”

 

StoryTellers

I can’t be certain when it happened. Perhaps in utero or perhaps before. Whatever and/or whenever doesn’t really matter now though. From my first memories, I have always been interested in stories and those who tell them. According to my parents, I was born telling stories and just never stopped. Now, in my late twenties and with a toddler of my own, I smile at the stories of my early tales and gladly pass on the knowledge of words. She seems to have a knack for tale telling herself!

I inherited my love of words from a book-a-holic mother and a ministerial father. My father and I share a facebook page and an encompassing identity of being the authors and overseers of Tyree Tomes. All for the love a good story.

In some ancient cultures, the story tellers were considered high up in the societal standings. Some travelled from town to town sharing news and trifles with villagers. Some even passed their profession down through the generations like we have, like some pass down being carpenters or school teachers (which, incidentally, we also do!). However, being an orator, or story teller, has always been a somewhat solitary practice. You must live inside yourself and the characters you create, that precludes much interaction from the outside.

However, with today’s technologies, we have created blogs, forums, communities, and social media pages to share our works, converse, and tell stories to one another. All of our tastes are different, our writing styles range the poles, but we pass on the profession, just like each generation before us did. The travelling is a lot easier now a-days though.