family, Parenting, reading, Young Adult fiction

Why Adults Should Absolutely Read YA

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Well, nothing like going in, guns blazing, with a hot topic discussion post at the start of the year!

First, how are you all? Did you survive the holidays? Thinking about emerging from the turkey dinner stupor to face the world? Still hiding under piles of discarded wrapping paper with bows and tinsel stuck in your hair?

Well, however you find yourself, I shall welcome you back! Let’s get right to it, then!

A few weeks ago, I read part of a rather irksome/disturbing thread on social media; the jist is that there are a lot of people over the age of 21 who strongly feel that anyone who is old enough to legally drink, get married, join the military, and live on their own should not be reading Young Adult fiction.

Excuse me?? Number one, when were the Reading Police established?! Number two, what is wrong with teachers, parents, pediatricians, school counselors and adolescent therapists knowing what our kids are reading?

And even more, what about those authors who write what our kids will be reading? How can they possibly know what their audience is interested in, or lacking, if they don’t connect with 12-17-year-olds?

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Years ago, parents could just let their kids pick up a novel from the YA/juvenile section in the bookstore or library, and be pretty confident that the content would be acceptable for their age. There were plenty of authors that tackled tough subjects like death, disease, drug use, sex before marriage with tact and in a way of presenting facts and both sides of the debate.

Nowadays teen readers are apparently told to go get stoned, get physically intimate, drive too fast, skip school, turn the air blue with their language. Don’t any of these authors have kids themselves?! Would they really want their own precious darlings behaving this way?

As a parent and a YA author myself, I take this responsibility very seriously. I’m not at all naive — I’m totally aware that nowadays many adults consider kids knowing all kinds of sexual lifestyles, swear words, and various political views to not be a bad thing. Well, I — an informed adult — disagree. It’s one thing to be well-educated; it’s another to instill harmful perspectives on young minds that are still forming their views and ambitions.

Warning: The Invisible Moth is officially jumping on her soapbox.

Encouraging teenagers to wait to have sex because they are too special to give their body to just anyone is showing we love them and believe in them to become solid, confident, well-adjusted future wives and husbands. Telling them the consequences of unprotected sex reinforces that we want them to remain healthy and emotionally whole. 

Warning them against using drugs and too much alcohol helps them develop self-care habits that could last a lifetime. Discipline and high self-esteem will provide our future doctors, teachers, parents, leaders with the power to change society, for the better, for generations to come. Showing them that a clean path can also be fun sets them on course for a productive, respect-filled life. 

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Okay, stepping off the soapbox.

Now, here’s why the idea of anyone “grown-up” reading YA is silly is just: HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA.

1.) YA fiction is simply FUN. Since most children/adolescents aren’t past the point of wanting to believe — at least a little — in mythical creatures or flying cars or that you can access another world through your closet, the possibilities in a YA book are endless. 

What adult in the 21st century (with reality being so damn hard most of the time) wants to only read about fictional characters whining that they can’t get a date? Who cares?! Get out of your own grumpy head and go read about storming the castle and saving the endangered race of beautiful talking unicorns! Dream about being a hero! Don’t lose that passion!

2.) YA fiction provides an escape. Yes, most of us know very well that animals don’t really speak human, hypogriffs aren’t legal pets, and we’ll probably never get to live in a magical library. So?? Let us pretend for a few hours!

Children who regularly use their imagination often grow into big people who invent new technology, new medicines, the prototypes for hovercars, more effective academic systems, tools and inventions that make our lives better. LET US IMAGINE.

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3.) Parents and teens reading together is valuable. In recent years, too many high-schoolers don’t communicate or bond with their elders. Yes, this is a problem, trust me. Concurrently reading the same book or series with your 14-year-old is important. Find a subject that interests you both, and take it from there.

White Fang and I have both read and discussed Harry Potter, Warriors, The Illuminae Files, and Beaumont and Beasley, among others. This activity also gives you a great starting point for discussing tough issues, and encouraging your kids to do their research and develop their own points of view.

4.) Not all of us with a certain date on our birth certificates enjoy reading stuff aimed at that age group. I flatout find most murder mysteries/romances/spy thrillers downright formulaic and dull. Yes, I know that I’m somewhat of a square peg in a round hole in this instance. But it’s a fact, and it’s not changing anytime soon.

While I don’t necessarily want to read about being in high school, either, there are plenty more fantasy and speculative fiction choices among the YA sections than the adult. Plus lots of fantasy YA authors still take care to keep their language and explicit content to a minimum, whereas for adults, apparently ALL the barriers have come down. That just isn’t my thing.

5.) If you don’t have a long attention span or not much free time to read, novels aimed at juveniles are usually less than 400 pages long. This is a big deal for me, since my spare time is certainly limited, and if I can make it to the end of the paragraph without losing my place, then, wow, it’s an awesome evening!

Also, since I currently carry all my library books literally on my back, there is just no way in Hades I’m attempting to haul the latest 650-page New York Times bestsellers. No way, sir.

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6.) Whether it’s my personality, my mindset, worldview or whatever, I simply relate better to characters in YA. If you present me with an adult character who’s narrating about whether they can squeeze in an extra 10 minutes at the gym, or if they interpreted the fine print in their car lease properly, I will be either falling asleep or using the book as a footstool.

Whereas, show me the elf who’s hoping to return the enchanted sword to its sacred mountain before the kraken’s released, and I’m on the edge of my seat. Any night I spend reading Warriors will result in big stupid grins and lots of tears on my face. Finding out a secret about a beloved Clan cat will resonate with me for months.

7.) Reading about characters who aren’t jaded yet, full of hope and plans and enthusiasm, makes you want to have that again. Remember when you were in kindergarten, and making an extra blanket into a cape was the most natural thing? When you looked to the skies with an unending sense of wanting more?

Go for that, whether you’re 25, or 30, or 40.

Save the unicorns! Rescue the flying cats! Storm the castle!

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Autism, family, Parenting

Runt, Inc.

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Years ago, when White Fang was little, we referred to him as “the Runt.” Obviously he grew out of physically or emotionally fitting that title, yet we still fondly remember. We joked that the name of our family business (which we do not have) should be Runt, Inc.

Now we do actually have a Runt once again. But interestingly, we don’t refer to Muffin that way. It’s like White Fang secured that term so concretely in our memories that we never even considered applying it to Muffin.

Yet in so many ways Muffin does fit the idea of “a runt.” He was tiny when he was born, and he’s still a pretty little guy. However, White Fang certainly taught us that “runts” are not to be underestimated.

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White Fang was diagnosed ASD at age 4. He couldn’t speak proper words or sentences then. He needed occupational therapy and went to a special needs preschool for a year. He only graduated from speech therapy in 6th grade.

But he’s also spent those years learning to play percussion, singing in chorus, making the honor roll, and now he’s a programmer in training.

Muffin spent the first week of his life in the NICU. He still has to go to physical and speech therapy, and has fought hard to be as mobile as he is. He survived jaundice, acid reflux, lazy eye (and its surgery).

White Fang has sensory issues with texture, smell, and taste that mean he’s not a fun person to cook for. But he’s a master at changing diapers.

He and Muffin already have a very strong brotherly bond. I already know they will be there for each other in ways I can’t even imagine yet. White Fang knows what it’s like to have a rough start in life, and that you don’t have to let that define you. Muffin only knows his big brother takes care of him and plays with him and looks out for him. But he loves White Fang, too; and to Muffin, the ASD is normal. I have a feeling he’ll have White Fang’s back in ways we can’t even imagine yet.

So, yeah, don’t underestimate the runts.

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Autism, family, Parenting, reading, writing

The Indistinct Howls and Grumbling Edition

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Seriously, this is what you people most want to read about? Well, I guess I asked for it when I included it as an option in the latest Twitter poll… But, sigh… And, well, I suppose this post is off to a good start.

Here’s what I’ve been grumbling about lately:

Muffin has been bingeing Dreamworks movies, particularly How to Train Your Dragon and the Ice Age series. He is presently obsessed with dragons. (I can hear some of you applauding his good taste.) I love dragons, too, and Ice Age. But every once in a while, it would be really nice for him to stop interchanging the discs at a nearly frantic pace, and watch something else for a little bit, maybe…

My writer’s playlist has run dry, feels hackneyed, and my ears are tired of it. Not that I’m never going to listen to any of these songs again. It’s just that, right now, I want something different, and I’m rather finnicky when it comes to selecting stuff like music…

I can’t seem to finish my tea while it’s still hot. It used to be mostly because of children, but nowadays it appears to have become its own thing. Groan…

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Work is progressing on Volume 2. Some of that results in lots of mumblings and complaints to self and the occasional howl…

I’m practically stalking my Goodreads page, hoping for amazing stats on Volume 1. It is being well-received, and there are some impending reviews which I know are going to be good. More than 170 people have entered my Goodreads giveaway (which ends Wednesday), and for a debut author, this is truly incredible. I guess I’m a little worried about this planing off, though, and that definitely results in howling…

I’ve hit a reading slump. I’ve knocked everything new off my TBR, except for Dawn of the Clans, which I don’t feel like starting right now. None of the new releases this spring are grabbing my attention, and this is generating a vaguely unsettling feeling…

The season finale of Riverdale was last week. This is now one of the only TV shows I regularly watch. Honestly, I don’t mind having to wait for the new season, I’m not 12. But the realization hit me that by October, by the time all the new episodes will be premiering, a whole lot will most likely be different in my life…

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Muffin will be starting preschool by the fall, if not before. While this is all good, because he’ll be able to receive all his services in one place, and I’ll certainly have more time to write, or even think about going back to teaching dance, it still means a big upheaval in our daily lives. That creates howling for a bunch of reasons…

As I think about the future, the fact that White Fang will be in high school in September is also not far from my mind. WHAT. HOW. DID. THIS. HAPPEN. I swear he was Muffin’s age just last month. Okay, it was more than 10 years ago. I am old. More than that, I just… How did he become so much his own person, who has this mind and personality and life that I’m learning about as we go — rather than being the expert on my small child? Because he grew up and discovered who he is and what he’s into, that’s why — and isn’t that what I tried so hard for over a decade to achieve? Insert wolf impression here…

My husband finally started reading Volume 1. Yes, it is among the great ironic moments of my life that some of the last people to read my first release are my immediate family. But the reason this is so momentuous for me is because my husband does not read fantasy or speculative fiction at all. (He once picked up a Frank Peretti novel circa 1995, and never finished it.) I’ve had to explain to him what a TARDIS is, that “faery” is a correct spelling, and the significance of Shroedinger’s Cat. He is so not a geek. Anyway, the fact that he got through the Prologue of Volume 1 and said, “This is really good!”, has intense personal meaning.

A-owwwwwwwwww…

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There are also some big personal things happening for a few people I know, and this gets to me, because I want to be able to help, and in some instances, I just can’t. Either I don’t live close enough, or it’s not my place to step in, and there’s really not much I can do other than stand back and watch developments unfold. I am a do-er, I like to participate in situations resolving, and know that it’s all going well. Especially when it concerns people I care about. So this is a tough bit.

A-owwwwwww…

Anyone have time to post a glowing review of Volume 1 to make me feel better?

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Autism, Children's Health, community, family, Parenting, The Invisible Moth

Mind the Gap

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Note: As usual with my more serious discussion posts, I have attempted to soften the blow with some very lovely pictures.

Do we all know what “mind the gap” means? When you step onto a train, and there’s a space between the edge of the platform and where the actual floor of the train car begins? And they have signs and warnings, “Mind the gap,” because they don’t want anyone to accidentally get hurt?

The reason I chose that title for this post came from thinking about things where there are major gaps between one issue and another, gaps that really need to be bridged if we’re going to get anywhere.

So, when I was a young mother, and had a primary-grades child diagnosed with autism, I heard a lot about how autism was “bad.” It would create major obstacles for him in school, in future life, in trying to get a job, get married, have a career, function on his own in society.

And, feeling an immense amount of society-induced guilt, I tried my hardest to get my child to change his natural behavior. Encouraged him not to stim (even though it cut back on anxiety), forced him to try to conform, insisted he not spend too much time alone.

After a couple of years, I saw that none of this was working. And more than that, it was beginning to dawn on me that I was reliving a dangerous pattern.

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When I was young, I behaved differently than my peers, and I was told not to. Teachers felt my desire to play alone, to engage in solitary pursuits, was harmful. I was instructed to read less and take up more interactive hobbies, try a sport, join a club.

So I tried. And I was miserable. I couldn’t understand some of the social cues, and that made me sad and mad, and that led to worse inner experiences, because I couldn’t understand or deal with all the emotions I felt.

So I gave up trying. By the time I was a young adult, I just wanted to be left alone to behave how I wanted to.

Then White Fang’s father — and a bunch of other stuff — happened. Not only did it change my life forever (because White Fang was born), but it also started me on a path of self-discovery.

Having a child that shares the same spectrum I inhabit, but doesn’t rest on the same space I do, and only occasionally visits, has made part of this path more complicated. One of my first questions was — if it was so easy to diagnose him, why not me? What’s the big difference?

It turns out there are many, many women who are now adults that either were suspected of being ASD as children and weren’t diagnosed, or were considered “in an introvert or geek phase,” and therefore passed over for diagnosis. 20 years ago, most psychologists in North America were looking for autism based only on a very specific set of criteria; so if a female child wasn’t showing significant language delays, or regularly made eye contact or was able to tolerate social interaction, they were deemed “probably not autistic.”

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This idea was totally wrong.

Mind the gap…

Though we’ve entered a new age of research regarding autism, I truly don’t think we’re yet at a new age of how we approach and understand ASD. Quite honestly, it concerns me. I want my kids to grow up in a world where differences from the norm are accepted, where ways they perceive and react to life is just viewed as part of the whole grand human experience.

I don’t want my son to be told he can’t go to this or that church because he’s an abomination that “needs to be cured”. I don’t want him and his future wife to be told that, since they “run the risk” of having a child on the spectrum, they should engage in pre-natal genetic testing that may “help” them decide whether or not to bring this life into the world.

Mind the gap…

I don’t want Muffin coming of age in a culture where he has to constantly shout into the void that his brother is not a freak. I don’t want to live out my remaining days surrounded by neighbors and acquaintances that keep giving me funny looks, or determine my value as a person by how many public events I attend. I want to know that the struggles and achievements of Temple Grandin, Cynthia Kim, myself, mean something good for the future.

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Most of all, I want to know that for whatever purpose God put me on this Earth, with autism, it has been served.

“Sometimes even shooting stars find wishes that missed their marks… But when the night gets too dark, and the road home seems too far… We’ll see the sun come up again… We will climb higher than we’ve been… We’ve got a fire that burns within” — Dragonhearted (by Try Hard Ninja and Captain Sparklez)

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Autism, books, children's fiction, family, Fantasy fiction, Parenting, reading, Young Adult fiction

How to Successfully Raise a Second Generation Bookdragon

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(And, what the heck is up with my super long titles these days?…)

This is an important issue, something that we need to consider when we venture into parenthood and spawn — er, bring our lovely sons and daughters into the world. (Yes, I really mean “lovely” while I have a toddler literally pawing at me to obtain a restricted object.)

Anyway, when we (meaning people who value reading) have a family, the idea is that we want to pass this love on to our own children. And how should we do that? Well, of course there’s reading to them when they’re still too young to understand not to chew on books. And encouraging them to visit libraries (once they’re old enough to rein it before they destroy the whole building). And once they are old enough, to choose something to read. Not just the assigned stuff for school, but something for fun.

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Now, with my oldest, I have successfully created a monster. (Yes, I meant to say it like that.) When he was in 4th grade or so, White Fang was growing a bit tired of the juvenile fiction he was accustomed to (he’d already gone through Harry Potter, and didn’t care for Percy Jackson or A Series of Unfortunate Events). So, in an effort to make sure boredom stayed away, I went on the hunt for a long series with an age-appropriate target audience. After wearing holes in the carpet at my local library, I discovered Warriors.

Warriors is brilliant. It has action, mystery, friendship, love, family, and plenty of death. (Don’t worry, nothing too gory.) Cats die all the time — in battle, from sickness, from being on the wrong side of a human road, from something going wrong with having kittens, and sometimes, even just from old age. So while I wouldn’t recommend it for your 6-year-old, I can confidently state (just Google “Warriors fan art”) that middle-schoolers and up love this series.

And this epic is perfect for breeding good bookworm habits (that will one day turn against us). The series requires an attention span, remembering what happens from one book to the next, analyzing character motivations, and even “shipping” their favorite couples or potential relationships.

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White Fang has certainly lived up to all of this, and more. He has read over 50 books (including some of the novellas and manga) in the Warriors “canon,” knows some of the YouTube fan videos by heart, used to be involved in one of the roleplaying games, started his own fan community, and has decided just what needs to happen next in the newest series.

Last week, I pre-ordered the third instalment in A Vision of Shadows, so that it would arrive on release day (just like a good bookdragon parent), and when it showed up in his room, he proceeded to stay up late reading the first 100 pages. That’s a good boy.

However, this type of behavior can breed obsession. While there are much worse things than Warriors that he could be fixating on, he’s a bit predisposed to getting slightly obsessed, anyway, and he needs to have other stuff going on in his life. Like, friends, school, sleep, balanced meals…

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And — just to prove what a truly bookdragon parent I am — since he has almost completed his TBR (yes, I’m serious), and Shattered Sky was nearly the last item on it as of January 2017… Yes, I am freaking out a little here. Because I am not made of money, and I cannot order the rest of the TBR right now, and at the rate he’s going, Shattered Sky will reach its place on the shelf before this spring break is out…

See what I mean about the plan backfiring? Here I am, thinking it’d be just great to have someone else in the family who shares my passions, and then…

And in terms of sharing the fandom, I will not be able to read Shattered Sky until he finishes it. But I currently have my own TBR, and A Vision of Shadows #3 is a bit further down it. So I will be behind him, again. (I’ve been playing catch-up with Warriors forever.)

And he’s already told me something that happened, drat it.

I have officially created a monster.

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Children's Health, family, Fantasy fiction, Mental Health, Parenting, reading, Science fiction, Young Adult fiction

The Importance of Not Jumping on the Bandwagon

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Am I really dating myself here? Does anyone even use this phrase anymore? Can someone under the age of 30 even tell me what it means? (By the way, I truly hope all these answers are yes…)

Anyway, just in case you don’t know, the term “jumping on the bandwagon” refers to just blindly following the latest big thing — if I say “trend,” will that make sense across the demographics?  The idea is that it’s considered a negative behavior, that people who just run with every new thing to come along — without stopping to evaluate whether they really agree with it — isn’t smart, or healthy, or beneficial.

I see the logic of that. For example, it can definitely be dangerous to go bungee jumping or cliff diving without proper supervision or equipment, just because “everybody’s doing it.” But, to get on track for the feel of this blog, and its usual sentiments, what does this mean for books?

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Let’s say you’re a reader, a writer, or both. If you don’t live under a rock inside your personal library and keep up with new publications every year, you’ll start to see trends emerge every now and then. A strong example I can pinpoint right away is The Hunger Games. After it had been on the bestseller list for several months, with a movie deal in the works and merchandise popping up everywhere, YA trilogies along a similar theme/concept were released at a rapid-fire rate. The Maze Runner, Divergent, Legend, The 5th Wave, Delirium, Matched, Uglies — while their individual stories were very different (from THG and from each other)they were all riding high on the wave of “dystopian future/teens in danger/overthrowing a totalitarian government is hot right now.”

Before anyone gets mad at me, I’m not for a minute suggesting any of these weren’t well-written books simply because they were part of a “trend.” Hardly. Whether I think these series were worth reading or not goes straight back to my criteria for determining a good book — fun, sensible plot; well-developed characters; realistic scenarios; relatable motivations. That’s how I evaluate every new release I’ve added to my TBR.

Here’s where my concern gets applied — many, many readers (especially teens, who are impressionable) chose to read most or all of these series simply because they were popular.  And this created quite an issue among parents who felt some of these trilogies were just not appropriate for their 15, 14, 13-year-olds. (Having read at least one book from almost every single set, I wholeheartedly concur that they’re not.)

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As parents, readers, and writers, we need to be aware of the necessity of putting our foot down when we feel trends have gotten out of control. As writers, we can pen novels with more age-appropriate plots, language, and morals we actually want our kids to adhere to. (Vital note: Love triangles are not only tiresome and unrealistic in fiction, but they often glamorize unhealthy behavior, such as obsessing over your attraction to a narcissistic individual to the point of shutting out the rest of the world. Not cool to send that message to teenagers, folks. Eating and sleeping and having non-vampire/alien/criminal/promiscuous friends is important.)

As readers, we can support authors/publishers who are getting this idea. Recently I’ve seen an expansion in MG fiction, to include more serious topics (more serious than failing a math test), but keeping the discussion at a level many 12 – 14-year-olds would relate to developmentally, along with clean language and non-gory fight scenes, and romance limited to a first crush or parents getting remarried. There’s finally beginning to be a move towards separating New Adult from Young Adult. (I complained about this a while ago. My guess is I wasn’t the only one standing on the soapbox with a megaphone.)

It is important to teach our kids to think for themselves. But how can we do that if we’re always checking the hashtags, downloading something based solely on the hashtag, not stopping for a minute in the bookstore to scan through the paperback our 6th-grader just handed us?

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Autism, Children's Health, community, family, Mental Health, Parenting, Psychology

Sorry, But… (Not Sorry)…

…this post is going to be more serious than usual.

But it’s time.

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So, after years of struggling with the systems of public schools, healthcare, and supposed advocates for autism awareness, I’ve discovered something that simultaneously sheds a lot of light on this issue, and breaks my heart and makes me rage like a mother bear.

It turns out that bullying, while strongly discouraged, is not actually against the law in this country. (Well, that really explains things at all levels of society…) It also means that people who are supposedly protected under the law from discrimination, because we have a developmental disorder that results in challenges in daily life, still are forced to put up with a ridiculous amount of idiot behavior from intolerant jerks — and legally, we’re supposed to stand there and take it.

It is now more obvious to me than ever before that we do not live in a more advanced, more understanding, more accepting culture than we did 100, 50, or even 20 years ago. While science, technology, and how confusing instruction manuals are certainly are light years ahead from a century ago, it appears our mindsets, attitudes, and social perspectives are still in the sewers from ages past.

If we live in a world where we can cure diseases, predict natural disasters, communicate with people the other side of the globe with one mouse click — and still see anything that’s different from what we’re accustomed to as something that needs to be labeled a problem and eradicated from our presence… Then we haven’t learned anything about anything since the beginning of time.

My oldest son has autism. He didn’t ask for it, he probably wouldn’t have it if he had a choice. Recently I started the process of getting evaluated for autism spectrum disorders. My lifelong symptoms strongly indicate this is where I am, in medical terms. But the major reason he and I both have a problem with it is because of how the rest of the world treats us.

The world sees us as a diagnosis, a label, a set of complications to be tackled and removed. Not as actual, living, breathing, thinking, feeling human beings. How we see things and life, how we process experiences, how we view those around us, is as normal for us as how you live is normal for you. We are not a leaky faucet, a flat tire, a broken porch step that “just needs to be fixed and everything will be fine.”

Stop treating us like objective problems, and stop being so arrogant as to assume you can solve the situation by telling us to “be normal.” Quit thinking you’re better than us because your brain is wired in the “average” way. Shut up about what you think we should feel and say and do.

Changing medical technology and practice will only get us so far if the people administering or encouraging this treatment don’t change their ideas about why it’s necessary or not necessary. Enacting laws to protect someone’s physical and civil rights will only do so much unless employers, teachers, students, and other parents actually consider them valid and follow them. Those of us with autism don’t need more “neurotypical” people trying to establish regulations that may or may not help our educational progress — especially without consulting us as to what would actually help.

I live in an area where autism awareness is very low. Despite my son having had an IEP (or Individualized Educational Plan) since kindergarten, the number of teachers, students, and staff who still react with shock that he’s on the spectrum is disgustingly high. When he begins to have a sensory meltdown because of bullying (either by a peer or by an adult), he’s often ridiculed, “made an example” out of, or gossiped about. People are allowed to tell him he should be dead, or locked up in a psych ward, or hiding in the woods with the other animals (these are all true, tragically), and they face no consequences.

If there really is a God, and there really is a Heaven and a Hell, then, quite frankly, I know where I hope those people are going.

The only way we will prove that we humans truly have advanced, truly are a higher intellectual species, that we really are better than the aliens in far-off galaxies, is to decide that just because something or someone is different doesn’t mean it’s wrong. That when we’re presented with a person or situation that’s outside of our comfort zone, it means we need to expand our comfort zone. That when we encounter something we don’t understand yet, we start trying to understand it.

When we see autism as simply another facet of the human experience.

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