The good thing about mistakes

My nose is to the grindstone in preparation for the upcoming school year with a NEW textbook and NEW teaching schedule. Whew, that’s a lot of new. And that’s not including Henry’s new teacher, new classroom, new routine, and new friends.

As I tap the keys and make changes to my syllabus (so many that my strained wrist feels like it might actually catch on fire), I wonder what I’m missing. What links are broken. What typos have escaped my attention. What due date was entered incorrectly.

Breathe.

I remind myself it will be ok. The students will catch it, I’ll fix it, and we’ll move on.

This process is not unlike the creation of “big” things — relationships, communities, opportunities. We tap, tap, tap away, but blooming hopes sometimes tangle themselves into knots with weeds of fear, insecurity, and doubt.

If you know what that’s like, I hope you will find comfort in this reminder today:

The art is made in the mistakes

I know I do.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

I don’t want to be a dream-killer.

Have you ever squashed a dream because it seemed beyond your capability? Yeah? I have too.

If you subscribe to my newsletter*, you know I’ve been thinking a lot about calling and how a calling is more than one occupation. While it’s true we’re uniquely designed, I fear many of us fight the dreams God places in our hearts.  We assume if it’s something new, it can’t be real. If we haven’t always wanted it or always been praised for it, we can’t possibly be good at it… right? Sure, Moses couldn’t speak clearly to save his life and God used him anyway, but that was Moses, for goodness sake. I’m not Moses.

Sound familiar?

Henry has a children’s book by Fran Drescher called Being Wendy. Wendy is a little girl living in Boxville, where no one breaks the biggest rule: “The Boxville Way is to choose a box for the rest of your days.” But Wendy doesn’t want to choose a box; she dreams of being an athlete, a guitarist, a diplomat, a writer, and an adventurer. (I’ll let you read it to find out the rest!)

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I almost cried the first time we read Being Wendy. I’m a Box Queen.

In middle school PE we played floor hockey. For the first time in 6 years, PE was fun for me. I’m sure I never did anything to assist or further the game, but for reasons I can’t explain, I loved it.

Soon, it was time for each class to vote on the players for the floor hockey tournament. After years of hating PE, feeling awkward and embarrassed, and being picked last for every team, my class chose me to be a wing. I was stunned. Didn’t they see my “I Play Music, Not Sports” box? Maybe they saw how happy I was when I played and felt sorry for me. Or were they more benevolent than I imagined? Did they see my enjoyment and want to give me that gift? Even more unlikely, did they think I was capable? I didn’t even dare consider it.

A chronic over-feeler, I tormented myself with the decision to play in the tournament. Athleticism wasn’t my box, and putting it on felt awkward. If I accepted the vote, I risked having the school make fun of me. If I didn’t, I risked regret and hurting my friends who had voted for me.

The dumbfounded look on my PE teacher’s face sealed the deal; I chose to play. I didn’t make any great moves I remember fondly all these years later, but I remember smiling as I ran down the court. Afterward, no one laughed or made fun of me to my face. Best of all, no one patted me on the back and told me how proud they were. I was just another kid playing a game. I wasn’t wearing a box at all. No one was.

I wish I could tell you I learned my lesson and never put on another box; I would be lying. I’ve stuffed myself in boxes time and time again. God is now opening my mind to new possibilities. I’m trying to receive these ideas without questioning and doubting. As exciting as these new dreams could (maybe? possibly?) be, I still want to yell, “That’s not my box, God! I can’t do that!”

God gently reminds me of all the other things I said I couldn’t do, like

Move away from home.
Forgive the unforgivable words.
Clean up vomit.
Tolerate an IV in my arm.
Endure one more meltdown with trains flying at my head.

I’ve done a lot of things I never thought my DNA would allow. I bet you have too.

I’m curious. Is there something you’re squashing now? Something slightly exciting but also terrifying? If so, let’s promise to overcome our fears together. Let’s remember my younger self, who played a game of floor hockey, and Wendy, the girl who dared to be more than a box, to dream more than one dream.

Question: What would it take for you to get started today? And why are you waiting? Maybe we can help each other. Write me a note here or on Facebook.

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New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

Listen: What does your life tell you?

“What’s your favorite color, Meredith?”

Every girl around the little wooden table had answered pink. The florescent light shone on me like a suspected criminal. I would not say pink if my life depended on it. I would not be like everyone else.

“Purple.”

//

I delight in the slightly odd. The unusual. The quirky. I clap my hands and guffaw over Napoleon Dynamite.

You cannot peel me away from 60 Minutes if they feature a savant like Stephen WiltshireJoey AlexanderRex Lewis-ClackDerek ParaviciniDaniel Tammet.

I admire those who march to their own beat. The kid who wears her own carefully curated, mismatched outfits. The teenager practicing karate or learning code or taking flight lessons, while his friends are at the football game. The students in my class a teeny bit different from the rest, not with bravado or falseness, but unapologetically and quietly. The adult who pursued the uncommon career and achieved success, despite the odds against her.

I guess it’s really no surprise I’m fascinated by neurodiversity. It’s certainly no surprise to me, not now, that my son has autism. No, I didn’t have visions before he was born. God didn’t send me a special word.

But it makes sense, doesn’t it?

//

People like to say “if it is meant to be, it will happen,” for which I find no evidence in the Bible. What I do see is God using all things for good; nothing escapes his notice. The tragic, the painful, and even the evil can be used for his purposes. King David and Paul immediately come to mind.

And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

Romans 8:28, KJV

My life experiences are uniquely suited to parenting Henry. When I listen to my life, today is less a one-shot experience and more a culmination of every moment before it.

Last fall I completed the One Life Maps, “life mapping tools to help you recognize and respond to God in your story.”  Understand I am compressing 8 weeks worth of material here, but I want to share some tips I learned:

  • Jot down all the important experiences, good and bad, of your past. (These can be collections of moments, like spending every Sunday afternoon with your grandparents, or one-time experiences, like the first time a girl or boy broke your heart.)
  • What made you feel most alive? 
  • What drained or grieved you – and how did you respond?
  • What themes emerge in your activities and dreams?

Question: What does your life tell you?  I would love to hear what you’re thinking. Write me a note here, via email, or on Facebook.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

Let’s play dominos: How to do more than hope for change.

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It was dark, probably past my usual bed time.

After a long evening at a school event, I drove home two African-American male classmates. I dropped off the first, sitting in the passenger seat, and the second declined to take his friend’s now vacant seat.

“You can sit up front,” I offered cheerfully.

“No, that’s not right,” he replied softly.

My heart ached.

He asked me to wait just a minute as I pulled up to his house and he ran inside. He came back with a few dollars for gas money, pressing it into my hand and insisting I take it. What am I?, I thought. His chauffeur? Aren’t we friends?

My aching heart split.

//

By now, most of America knows what happened in Miami last Monday. Charles Kinsey, a black man, was shot while lying on his back with hands in the air, attempting to calm a nonverbal autistic man sitting in the street. An incorrect 911 tip suggested Arnaldo Rios, the autistic man, was armed and suicidal. Kinsey called out, “All he has is a toy truck in his hand – a toy truck. I’m a behavioral therapist at the group home.”  He pleaded for Arnaldo to be still and continued to cry out there was no need for guns. Apparently, none of that mattered. The officer shot anyway.

At first glance, this was one more in a long string of white officers shooting black men. Later, the officer said he was aiming for the (unarmed, unthreatening) autistic patient. Like that would be better.

I’m not anti-authority or anti-gun. I’m anti-carelessness and anti-ego, and I’m terrified of the trigger-happy.

We talk to Henry about law enforcement, about how they take care of us and keep us safe. About how they patrol our neighborhood to keep the bad guys out. About how he can trust them.

Can he?

Can I? He doesn’t have a paid aide. I’m it. Keith is it. If he has a tantrum in Whole Foods, we are the ones who will be there.

We are long past the point of hoping for change. We cannot trust our loved ones will survive if they #handsupdontshoot. We are now at the point we must act.

I can’t change the systemic problems of racism or ableism, but I can use what I’ve been given to fight for small changes. You can too. We can watch the obstacles fall like dominos.

//

We’ve come a long way since the evening my classmate refused to sit in the front seat of my car. We have a long way to go.

I know I went a little dark and stormy today. This doesn’t feel like delight, does it? So, here’s what I will delight in: the power to act. Here are my action steps. I hope you will act too.

  1. Contact local first responders, encouraging them to utilize training resources such as Experience Autism.
  2. Contact TEACCH and our local chapter of the Autism Society to inquire about a Be Safe Interactive Movie Screening.
  3. Continue to encourage positive, authentic interactions between our family and people of color. No token friends here, but real relationships.
New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

When you feel numb

I want to feel something.

When the nightly news drips with blood, I want to feel. Instead, I am numb.

My mind reels from the inhumane way we are treating each other. Reason and logic tell me the news is barbaric, unthinkable; still, I feel nothing. I am not shocked, nor surprised. I haven’t cried. I haven’t felt the anguish, the pang in my heart others mention. I’m overexposed and desensitized.

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Too many shootings have extinguished my emotional response. 7575 gun-related deaths already in 2016. How can one feel the same punch-in-the-gut shock every time? I pray for a shift in America’s consciousness, yet I don’t have faith my prayers will be answered. I believe we are hopeless here.

This should not be.

I need saving from myself, my inability to believe. Psalm 121 is my answer.

I lift my eyes unto the hills. Where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, Maker of heaven and earth. 

The Lord who made everything, from subatomic matter to Mount Everest, can certainly create a new heart in me. Psalm 51:

Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. 

So, I pray. I pray for the families of the slain, believing God will bring peace that surpasses understanding through the presence of the Spirit. And I pray for me, believing God can transform me through the renewing of my mind. (Romans 12:2).

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

What You Need to Have the Best Summer Ever

Last year I realized what a lot of people already knew. Summer is a trickster.

She serves a plate of wide-open freedom with a side of strangling expectations.

Other parents ask what camps Henry is doing. None, I answer and then fumble through an unsolicited explanation.

(Why is it so hard for me to remember that “no” is a complete sentence?)

They ask where we’re going on vacation. Well, Georgia, then the beach, then Forest City, then Keith and I to the beach, then I pray we get a month of no highways. 

Wow, you guys are busy, they say. But most weekdays we’re loosey-goosey, I counter.

(Why do I feel they’re judging?)

Why is it so hard to stand firm in our family’s decisions, to not apologize, to remember we made them thoughtfully and prayerfully?

Because I want to manage others’ opinions of me.

Ouch. There, I said it. Picture me wincing as I type these words. I’m ashamed to say it, but there’s the truth. I want you to approve of me. What makes this so crazy, impossibly hard is the fact all of you have different ideas and ideals. One family’s perfect summer is another’s nightmare.

(Obviously, I’m not just talking about summer.)

So, if I want to make Friend A like me, I’ll have to enroll Henry in 5 weeks of Spanish camp. And if I want Friend B to like me, I’ll have to make a fairy garden with him. And if I want Friend C to like me… You get the idea.

Thank goodness, I have a merciful God, a grounding center, to keep me in check. I don’t want to make all those people happy more than I want to plan the best summer for my trio.

In our home, we can’t drift into June expecting everything to be perfect if we figure it out day by day. We don’t work that way. All three of us need:

  1. Daily goals and a loose routine.
  2. Events to anticipate.
  3. Time to nest and decompress.

These are Dangel family truths, proven through time and experience. When I feel flustered, revisiting them usually shows me what is awry.

If we struggle with comparison syndrome or wanting people to approve our plans or even general discouragement, it’s time to think through our family truths. Whether you’re a family of one or twelve, I guarantee you have core characteristics. Want to try? These questions may help:

  1. What makes us happy?
  2. What drains and/or frustrates us?
  3. What do we require to function at our best?

I’m not suggesting we eliminate everything that frustrates and do only what makes us happy. (I mean, there is such a thing as too much chocolate cake.) These are just truths to guide our decisions.

Summer can choke with disappointment thicker than her sticky heat. We don’t have to let her. I wish you the best July and August ever. I hope you love your summer.

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More resources:

If you want to dig even deeper, Tsh Oxenreider suggests writing a Family Purpose Statement. Admittedly, I haven’t tried this, but I think it’s a stellar idea.

Marian Vischer wrote “How to Receive Your Own Summer Life,” a post I think will resonate with a lot of women. Whether you’re tired of looking at others’ vacation pictures or overwhelmed by violent news stories, she writes for you.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

We need solidarity.

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On Tuesday of last week, between pilates maneuvers, we swapped stories about natural disasters.

I recalled one bad tornado of my childhood. Only one neighbor had a basement, so several families gathered there to ride out the storm. I remember feeling excited – all my friends were there, playing games. Only the parent seemed nervous.  I secretly wished for more tornadoes.

I’ve tried to explain this before, but it always sounds odd to my ears. Does anyone understand what I mean? Do I sound like a crazy fool bent on destruction?

On Wednesday I caught my breath as I read these words:

The sheer predictability of life in an American suburb left me hoping – somewhat irresponsibly – for a hurricane or tornado or something that would require us to all band together to survive. Something that would make us feel like a tribe. What I wanted wasn’t destruction and mayhem but the opposite: solidarity.

[…]

… for many people – war feels better than peace and hardship can turn out to be a great blessing and disasters are sometimes remembered more fondly than weddings or tropical vacations. Humans don’t mind hardship, in fact they thrive on it; what they mind is not feeling necessary. Modern society has perfected the art of making people not feel necessary.

-Sebastian Junger, TRIBE, xiv, xvii

//

My first experiences with this seemingly odd solidarity were family funerals. Gathered with folks I didn’t see on a regular basis, eating wonderful food, sharing stories, and even laughing, I felt comforted, happy, and loved. I would wonder why we didn’t do this more often and then catch myself. Oh, right. Somebody died.

I continued to feel this internal conflict over the years:

Watching cliques break open and grieve together after the death of a high school classmate.

Observing the outpouring of love and camaraderie after 9/11. The beauty was almost too much to bear; it seemed our hearts couldn’t contain it.

Passing the hours in the brightly decorated hospital room, where my young friend recovered from transplants for a leukemia relapse.  I saw her in her darkest, bleakest hours, but I remember the time as full of laughs, prayers, family, friends, Andy Griffith, and even a visit from Jeff Foxworthy.

Waiting with loved ones, old and new, as a surgeon operated on the heart of my friend’s days-old daughter. Praying together, believing together. Seeing miracles together.

//

By looking at the problem of how we treat veterans, Junger takes the bold stance that we are not made to do life alone. Even the most introverted among us need people. We need to love and be loved. We need to experience all of life’s feelings together. We need not always be together, not suffocatingly so, but all humans need other humans.

Every technology grants us the opportunity for good or evil. Certainly, the internet has given us much for which to be thankful. Unfortunately, it can also drive us inward. We can have 1000 online friends and none in the flesh. Everything we need can be ordered or summoned at the touch of a button, eliminating almost all human contact. But… is this what we really need?

I don’t think so, and I don’t think you do either. So, here’s what I suggest. In the next week, strive to connect to other people. In real life. Make it your mission to show love, kindness, appreciation, and genuine concern for the people you see each day – the familiar and the strangers. Look for opportunities and they will reveal themselves to you. I promise.


“And let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:24-25, emphasis mine)

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful.” (Colossians 3:13-15, emphasis mine)

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

Doing Good Is Simple: My resolve and my review

“Many so-called Christians are no longer for compassion; the brokenness of the world does not break them. These Christians would prefer to picket all of the world’s problems. They want to be known more for what they’re against rather than what they are for. They carry hate around like a weapon ready to destroy whoever is in their way. In their eyes, the world is black and white, and if you’re on the wrong side, or even in the middle, you’re an enemy not worthy of compassion until you conform to their views. They don’t care about solving problems by showing love, having compassion, and seeking justice.

Often we Christians have become such bad news to those outside of our faith that they cannot even fathom that we serve a gracious God who is full of compassion. In our fight for truth, we have covered up grace. For many, you have to be fully right or you are fully out. But those people are not my people, and those people are not God’s people!”

– Chris Marlow, Doing Simple is Good, p. 106-107

After reading all 204 pages, these are the words I keep thinking about. I don’t want to be known as the graceless so-called Christian who stood against everything and stood for no one. I don’t want to be the person who goes to church and says she loves Jesus, yet lives like she doesn’t know the first thing about him.

Jesus healed, fed, wept over, and died for everyone. He touched the unclean. He befriended liars. He broke bread with sinners. As Marlow says in reference to Matthew 9:36, “Jesus had compassion on the crowd. He could sense their pain and suffering. He did not demand them to change or be different (in this moment). He did not even have an opinion on why they were suffering. He just had compassion.”

Jesus loved first. He didn’t ask the sinners to repent before he loved them. If the King of Kings could do this, I know we can too. Instead of hating everyone of a different opinion or political party or lifestyle, we can love them. We can show compassion for their brokenness, their pain, their illness, or their poverty. I’m as broken as anyone, but my family and my church still love me. My God still loves me. Because I have been loved first, I must love. Because I have been given life, I must give life. Because I have been shown compassion, I must show compassion – even to my enemies.

I have to be honest; I didn’t expect this from Marlow’s book. In the first four chapters, I read about how doing good is not always easy, but it is always simple. I read about how ordinary people can make significant changes in the world by using the gifts, skills, and resources they already have in more creative ways. Rather than feel helpless and throw up our hands, we can do small things that actually help the orphans, the hungry, the slaves. This is such good news! Isn’t this what we all want to hear? That we can really make a difference? That even if we aren’t called to be the CEO, the visionary, or the entrepreneur, our lives are still useful and needed?

Believe me, all of that made made the book powerful enough. I circled and underlined a bunch. But, beginning with chapter 5, “Not Just Good on Paper: Good is People, Not Projects,” Marlow jumps my toes. He challenges me to remember all people are loved by God, and my life will not demonstrate this Truth if I profess to be a Christian but don’t show love:

We can prove truth by showing grace and being broken to a point where our compassion is so deep, our love is so strong, our willingness to lay down our lives for our neighbor, a stranger, the orphan, widow, or alien is so evident that folks have no possible way to avoid a love so deep and meaningful. They must face it head-on.

My prayer is that each of you, my loved ones and my readers, will join me as I renew my resolve to follow Micah 6:8 – do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God. I am not suggesting we loosen our morals, but rather that we show the world why we have morals in the first place. There’s a Man behind our why, and his name is Jesus. Madeleine L’Engle wrote in 1980 that “perhaps for our day the best translation of love is the name of Jesus, and that will tell us everything about love we need to know.”

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* I recommend Chris Marlow’s book, Doing Good is Simple, which will be available for purchase on August 2. I know you’ll be blessed, inspired, and moved to action. I am not compensated for my recommendation. I did receive an advance copy to review.

 

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

The Secret to Better Memories

It’s raining.

Henry and I are on the screened porch, enjoying the moderate temperature and the sound of the rain, waiting on Dad to come home.

The chickens next door are cuddled under the coop; the birds who frequent our feeders are hiding; we haven’t seen the deer all day.

Dusk is calm, cool, and peaceful.

We relax. We giggle. Henry sings a tune. He holds out his arm. “Can I have a hug?”

These are moments I hoped for when summer loomed darkly on our horizon, when the final day of school was drawing near and memories of the last, tumultuous summer threatened to ruin the present.

These are moments I’ve relished all my life and dreamed of sharing with him. Summer thunder. Huddling indoors. Peering out at the sky and trees.

How do we make these memories happen? Do we orchestrate them? Plan them? Organize them?

No, we awake to the moment. We live fully present, keenly aware that all is precious and all is fleeting.

Whatever you are enduring or celebrating in this season, know this: it will pass. Embrace all that you are, all that is here, all that is now. Know that this hour, this day, this summer will not last. It will soon be your memory.

What do you want the memory to be?

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.

The 4 Secrets of Greatness (and the hardest one for an advocate)

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Henry and I love reading the adventures of Jack and Annie in The Magic Tree House book series. In the last one, the brother-sister duo was rewarded by Merlin in Camelot for learning the fourth and final secret of greatness. According to Merlin, the four secrets of greatness are:

  1. Humility
  2. Hard work
  3. Meaning and purpose
  4. Enthusiasm

As I waited for Henry to fall asleep, his arms wound around my neck, I pondered the times I’ve had all of these and when I’ve fallen short. Interestingly, in every instance of failure I could identify one or more of the 4 elements lacking.

When I gave a sloppy audition for a piano scholarship at Furman? Lack of purpose and enthusiasm. (I loved piano but didn’t want a piano scholarship.)

When I fumbled through questions about one poem on my oral exam? Lack of hard work and enthusiasm. (Ugh, hated that poem.)

What about relationships? I notice when I’m not exhibiting “greatness” as a mother, wife, or friend, I’m usually lacking humility or enthusiasm.

One of my biggest goals right now is to be a great advocate for folks on the spectrum. I don’t want to be their voice, but I want to help others understand them as best I can. Perhaps I can be a bit of a translator. For example, Henry has a classmate whose mother doesn’t speak English. Her voice is as important as anyone’s, but at times her child must convey her thoughts to others who do not speak their native language. Is he capturing every nuance of his mother’s communication? Probably not, but he’s doing his best in the language that both he and the other person understand. Follow me?

The difference, of course, is that I’m not autistic. Henry’s friend can speak both English and Spanish, but I only “speak” neurotypical. What I can do is try to see the world through Henry’s eyes. Notice I didn’t say I can do it 100% correctly every time; I said try, and I can do that better than almost any non-autistic person I know. Next to Keith, I know Henry best. Herein lies the rub, though. The minute I assume I understand everything, I have lost my credibility.  The most difficult secret of greatness to achieve, at least in the advocacy role, is humility.

In my observations of other advocates, I find hard work, meaning and purpose, and enthusiasm are constants. The inherent passion of an advocate almost guarantees those qualities. What I see more sparingly is a willingness to admit not knowing everything, a desire to know more, and a readiness to admit when we’re wrong.

If I am to be Henry’s best advocate, I have to remember that’s all I am. I am not him. I am his student. Books and lectures and academic studies are also my teachers, but he is my best teacher, if only I will observe and reflect.

I beg you, then, to remind yourself – often – that I am no autism expert. I am simply an eager learner. And while I am as much of an expert on Henry Dangel as one could ever be, Henry is the best expert on Henry.

We’re beginning to see some of this expert emerge, to our great relief and delight. The most exciting statements come out of his mouth, such as why he doesn’t like showers and why he hated the last page of Hello, Wally! when he was 3 years old. The best insights are yet to come. As I read accounts from adults on the spectrum, I smile with anticipation for all the things he will one day tell us. Look out, world. Here he comes.

New here? Glad you made it! I write about my unique joys and challenges as Mom to Henry, a smart, tender, quick­-witted, train-loving, autistic 8-­year­-old with an infectious smile. I long to encourage autism parents and empower all to see inclusivity doesn’t have to be difficult - it can be beautiful. Like what you see? Sign up here to receive news and occasional freebies just for insiders.