For a leisurely, Sunday afternoon stroll, we set out for Mill Pond Park as the sky richly turned to sherbet shades. It was mid-May and we knew the park would be vibrant and reverberating with song. By this time in the season, the red-winged blackbirds, catbirds, and red-breasted woodpeckers had returned, noisy neighbors with whom the many mallards, swans, and geese would contend in the reedy marshes and open water. I spotted a Baltimore Oriole, a rare sight in my experience, and I marked it as a lucky day. Little did I know what I would find a short while later.
In the springtime, it was always lively at Mill Pond, which hosted a 1.1-mile paved trail loop around a 100+-year-old body of water, plus a few off-shooting, wandering woodland trails. On days like that one, I expected the park to be busy. Long Islanders, especially in the surrounding area, love to stretch their legs on something other than their suburban streets. Mill Pond Park, and the dedicated Adam D. Rand Memorial Trail, offered a brief respite from the daily bustle, and the opportunity to commune with nature.
On this day, visitors were throwing bread crumbs for the chance to bring the geese closer, and I reached out to caution them how unhealthy this practice was. Normally I wouldn’t say anything, just tsk tsk to myself, but I felt truly compelled to inform. Theyhad to know and I had to tell them.
Rather than bread, it would be much safer to throw lettuce, vegetable scraps, wheat, or oats. Bread, aka junk food for fowls, would have minimal nutritious value compared to the vegetation geese and ducks would normally eat. After eating the bread, geese could easily stop foraging from their natural habitat altogether, creating a kind of selective starvation, impotent dependence on humans, and a serious nutrient imbalance. Then, hungry, seeking out human assistance and eating too much sugar, they were at risk for developing angel wing, a debilitating condition rendering geese flightless. The heavy carbohydrate diet could cause their stomachs to heavily stretch and their wings to grow faster than their bones, which would lead to severe, irreversible deformity. A goose with a twisted wing would not be able to migrate, evade predators, or fly to food or shelter. The same could be said for swans and ducks.
If you love feeding the geese, you would be wise to treat them with care, and with the scientific knowledge our human privilege affords us.
I told the couple as succinctly as possible what I knew to be true. My brief word of caution received naught but a head turn, a callous shrug, and an unceremonious dumping of an entire bag of bread into the awaiting feeding frenzy. The unknowing birds clawed and combatted one another for bites of the poisonous lot. It made my heart ache.
We had expected the park to be busy before we arrived, but after the sorrowful interaction, I longed for solitude. We doubled pace and dove for the more isolated paths, the western acreage. In moments, we found ourselves alone on well-marked trails, crossing small creeks and rediscovering an old, brightly colored, graffitied building previously belonging to Brooklyn City Water Works, before the park was acquired by Nassau County in 1967. The pond was known as Jones Pond then, another name from another era. I allowed myself to be transported, pushing the geese endangerers aside.
It has always amazed me to find separation from the bustle of humanity while being in the middle of a densely populated suburb, near the busy Mill Pond path, and at times merely 25 meters from the Wantagh State Parkway. The Long Island developers, intensely flawed (and worse) in their philosophies, gave us all the gift of nature and the presence of so many pocket parks like this one. Everything in balance, the natural world corrects. I breathed a sigh of relief as we crossed back onto the main loop and made our way back to the car.
The day was not to end just yet, however.
As we made our way back to the seating area near the park entrance, where a waterfall kept a steady current flowing, I gazed across the expanse of skunk cabbage for a last look and one final word of gratitude. And I could not believe the sight.
Seven white herons stood distantly across the pond, each on one leg in the hunter’s stance.
It was a rare joy to see even a single heron on Long Island, and as herons prefer hunting in isolation, they were typically sighted alone. (Occasionally, at the height of mating season, they might be seen in pairs.) A handful of herons appeared yearly at various ponds and lakes across the island. Each time, to see one, I could hardly believe my luck. I’ve perched lakeside and watched them hunt while they’ve stood statuesque in shallow waters. Holding still for hours if necessary, on one, skinny leg, they appeared like a twig to an unsuspecting fish. Then, at the perfect moment, they used their free talons to grab and feed.
The experience was magical. They are beautiful, slender, and graceful creatures. They are cautious and clever predators.
From this distance, I couldn’t identify if they were snowy egrets (a type of heron) or great blue herons – only the color of the legs or beaks would have differentiated the species. I was gawking, bumbling, then noticing no other park patrons noticing this unbelievably rare sight. Normally, one heron at this lake would turn a few heads. How was no one seeing this?
I stood in awe, deeply moved by the seven figures.
In the Wildwood, the heron is the King of Vessels, a patient, lone hunter defending knowledge. He symbolizes self-awareness at the early breaking of dawn. Herons guard the Celtic otherworld, and can be interpreted as guardians, guides, teachers, or supporters. They are associated with problem solving and self-control, but also an overbearing rigidness or dependence on structure.
My thoughts went rampant while my body remained still. Should I interpret these herons as a sign of some kind from the grand universe? Support for my confident strength and instructional abilities which challenged me to confront and educate the strangers? Maybe. Acknowledgment of the guardianship over and empathy for the flock? Maybe. Approval of my self-awareness at the compulsion to separate myself when I became too emotional for the community? Maybe. Admonition for my rigidity and self-control, which frequently led me to personalize something random as perhaps nature’s secret communique? Maybe, noted, and with that, I snapped from my reverie. Whenever, wherever, I found myself seeking symbolic associations, I’ve usually overstayed my visit.
Mill Pond Park offered a brief respite from the daily rush and the opportunity to relax in its healing bounds. It had an experience waiting for walkers, hikers, sitters, observers, travelers, and even the birders like me.
When I arrived home, however, I was startled, wrenched back into those symbolic overtones I’d tried to escape. My reflection greeted me in the hall mirror. It was displaying the proud heron tee I’d donned much earlier that morning. At the park, the connection hadn’t occurred to me.
There were actually eight herons at the pond that day. Seven white herons and one creative, confident, self-aware protector.
I really was wearing this shirt:
(I’m a huge supporter of Curbside Clothing, and I literally own near 20 items from their collection. This is not a sponsored post or tall tale by any means, just a true post from a woman who is profoundly moved by nature and the work of these commissioned artists.)
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Our second month taught us a lot about stamina and resilience in creating a sustainable blog.
Sunshine and the Scientist present: Putting Down Roots and Raking Up Leaves
continues to be a learning experience, an empathetic stomping ground, and a casual experiment.
In the month of May, we published 9 entries, 75% of April’s cache.
This wasn’t a calculated decision. The month of May got away from us, as social and occupational obligations began to add up. We had serious car trouble (another story for another day), which took Sunshine out of the writing running for nearly a week and a half. There was also a very lovely vacation weekend where barely any tech was touched.
By the Numbers
The 9 entries received a total of 114 views from 70 visitors, accessing from 10 countries. While the United States remains the center of our readership base by a factor of 10, we are gaining popularity with readers in Spain and the UK.
With 25% fewer entries, it is encouraging to have had approximately an equal drop in visitors. This is being attributed to a more deliberate social media sharing schedule, and is being interpreted favorably. After two months, there is a trend of approximately 8 visitors per entry, and this is a statistic which will be important moving forward.
Clearly, May was not as good as April in the numbers, as we missed our goals by respective landslides. But like true scientists, we learn by failing.
It appears there was a burst in followers in our first month, but a serious depreciation rate in the second. For this change, we will adjust our goals accordingly.
Comments and likes also depreciated, but this is partially attributable to the significantly decreased presence on the site overall. Many of the comments and likes in our first month were garnered from those pages we stopped in to comment, like, or subscribe to. In focusing more on social sharing, we decreased our previous WordPress Reader presence and thus our impact in our readers’ and potential readers’ view.
An article from April, There’s Something About Lori, about Sunshine’s journey of self-discovery and personal autistic awareness, remained the most popular article on the blog in May.
This was followed by What We Learned Rebuilding, an in-depth look at the lessons Sunshine and the Scientist collected while rebuilding the front porch deck, regarding construction techniques and relationship building.
The Scientist would like me to add that while Sunshine called us “novices” in the entry, he is very adept and familiar with tools and hardware, and has (re)constructed decks before. Sunshine was the true novice during the build, and please know the article was written mostly from her perspective.
The Scientist has also since begun work in a laboratory where he uses power tools and crafting materials all the time, and we cannot wait to share with you more about his new profession in a future entry.
Please, Stop Asking Kids this One Question was the third most popular entry, informed by Sunshine’s years of working with autistic children and incorporating her unusual, yet accurate, observations as an atypical, neurodiverse woman. While the Scientist finds the blog entry to be gripping and informative, Sunshine believes it was likely too lengthy for the message it hopes to communicate, which is simply: Never ask a “did you tell” question to a child when you know, and they know you know, the answer. Click the link above for anecdotal and descriptive explanations.
Less popular was the Modern Retellings series, debuting on Friday afternoons, and currently featuring the titles The Fox and the Briefcase,The Snapchat Gnat, and Friendly, Feathered Competition. The series is intent on communicating Aesop’s fables in 2-minutes-or-less, in more technologically savvy allegories. Despite its reception, the series will continue into June, because it is something we believe is vital and currently missing from our cultural discourse.
Setting Goals for June
The goals for May were simple, and somewhat qualitative:
Increase reach, reception, and enhance discourse
Publish 15 entries, plus Stats and Goals
Use feedback to enhance article content
In an effort to continue to thrive at any new commitment, attainable goals are necessary. Failing to meet a goal provides a learning opportunity, and the chance to reset and refocus with intention.
Keeping this in mind, in the month of June, we aim to:
– Publish 2 Science and nature entries, 1 Relationship-building entry, 3 Modern Retellings entries, and perhaps at least 1 update, among others, with an ideal of 10 (this month +1)
– Increase activity by seeking out further interactions through the WordPress reader
– Maintain current levels of social link sharing to maintain and promote readership
…Wait, one more thing!
The most informative and most critical article we wrote this month was Tick Tock, Ticks are Hungry. Sunshine and the Scientist strongly encourage you to know the risk of ticks in your area and to take all necessary precautions. Check out your local, county, and state park websites for relevant information, and skim through the list we’ve cultivated to assert safe practices. Did you know ticks are arachnids who grow a pair of legs each year? Did you know they don’t fly or jump, but attach to bodies that brush by their outstretched, leafy perch? All that and more in the article linked above.
My partner and I are busy working professionals, working nine to five while cultivating side hustles, keeping house, landscaping, staying fit, eating healthfully, and raising cats. We’re Busy. And yet, just about every week, we make time to head down to the local pool hall and play a few games. It keeps our relationship strong.
[Skip to the next heading if you’re familiar with the basics. Or read on to read as I summarize a rule book in a couple of paragraphs. ]
If you’ve never played pool before, I’m going to give an amateur description of the game play and rules. One person racks, which means sets up the balls. The rack is a triangle formation of 10 balls, the 8 ball being the most important to keep in the center position. The other person will break using a cue stick, meaning attempt to hit the white cue ball into this formation, hard enough break up the balls, but not so hard the cue ball flies off the table. If the breaker gets one in, they’re entitled to aim the cue ball toward any other ball other than the 8 toward any pocket (that’s the cup or hole where the ball falls.) If the breaker doesn’t get one in on the break, or if they do and miss their second shot, the table is Open.
The racking person now has a chance to hit the cue ball into any (not the 8) ball they like. Once either person makes a shot in after the break, they will either be stripes or solids (or high ball/low ball based on the numbers on the ball), depending on which they got in. The players take turns, shooting until they miss, until all of their solids or stripes are in. Once the colored balls are in, the player can shoot on the 8.
If one accidently moves a ball, accidently sinks the cue ball, or does a number of other things, that’s a scratch. Other person can put the cue where ever they want behind the starting line to start their turn. If the 8 ball goes in out of order, as in before all of the solids or all of the stripes are in, game over, that player loses. My partner and I also call our shots, so if the ball goes into a pocket we made by mistake or didn’t announce ahead of time, lose a turn. And if the 8 ball goes into a pocket we didn’t call, game over, that’s losing. And if a player sinks the cue while missing the shot on the 8, that’s ball-in-hand, meaning the other person can set up the cue anywhere they like. If the first player scratches while sinking the 8, that’s game over, and how statistically I beat my partner most nights.
That’s probably good enough for background.
Partners & Competitors
It’s a game you can play alone, but it strengthens the partnership.
One thing we have consistently found is that we are excellent partners in life. We divide the chores. We plan with consideration. He help and trust each other without question. We are able to support one another through nearly every difficulty, and one of us is always able to take the lead in difficult moments to get us to where we need to be.
But we’re also incredibly competitive, and that’s not something that goes well with partnership typically. If we didn’t play pool, we would get overly supportive of one another, sappy, sweet, take each other too seriously, and generally miss out on the fun of competition. We love to compete, and pool gives us a way of doing it in a confined and specific way where no one is taking themselves too seriously.
In the past, we’ve also played in weekly leagues in doubles rounds. This is a different way of channeling both our partnership instinct and our need for competition. We’ve learned how to set each other up while defending against the other pair, how to support one another with the right praise at the right time, and we’re pretty unstoppable in most local doubles matches.
Trash Talk Motivates
On the off chance that either of us decides to trash talk the other in the fun spirit of competition, typically the receiver of the trashing rises to prove the other wrong. I’ve trashed my partner’s play many times with the idea of motivating him to shoot better- and I always regret it because of how quickly he proves me wrong.
Clearing the Mind
Meditation in Precision
No matter what has happened during the work day, we leave it at the door. (We’ve sat in the car outside the hall a number of times to vent before the play.) We have an unspoken agreement that we do not discuss work or other stressors during the game. First, it’s a game best played quietly and in a focused manner. The chatterer could throw either person off. Second, I have no desire to ruin my partner’s mood when I’ve had a bad workday and we’re in a relaxed setting. We need time to decompress away from the stressors, not around them.. Third, the simple act of lining up the cue, focusing the energy, creating a delicate force, and choosing the proper angles is meditative. During our most skilled games, we’re likely not talking much at all. The silence is sweet. We’re meditating in precise movements.
Geometry is Wild
It’s hard to deny how cool math and physics can be.
Those angles I mentioned? At first, as an amateur player, I saw the balls straight on. But I’ve never played a game with a clear straightaway shot on every turn. In the beginning, it was all defense. How can I hide this cue ball or make it more difficult at the very least? Then, as I developed skills, I started to see banks (hitting the ball against the side or rail of the table) and combinations (hitting one ball into another ball to knock it in.) My growing comfort and increasing finesse has led me to learning about how spin (English) on the cue can move the ball in otherwise seemingly impossible ways. My partner is working on Masse’ — curving the cue around something to his what he’s aiming at. The more we play, the more we see see the options, angles, and possibilities. We’re developing a kind of second sight. Geometry (seeing the angles) and physics (understanding force) are undeniably necessary and totally cool in this setting. And often, it is the lightest of touch that is needed- a lesson my partner and I both have absorbed over time.
Progress is Possible
The act of playing is practice enough to get comfortable.
Like with other things, the more we play, the better we get. And even if I’m having an off-night, not able to see straight or find the force I need, e.g., there is still the growing sensation that practice makes progress. Not every hobby has perceivable levels of difficulty on which to measure ability. In this game, the way we play, it’s not about winning and losing, it’s about shooting the shot.
Also Winning and Losing
We don’t keep an ongoing record, but it’s nice to win the night.
Despite what I said above, it’s also about winning and losing. Of course it is. My partner and I look at the game one shot at a time, and then a series of games at a time. We give praise freely for the great shots, but we don’t suffer the loss of the individual games. (My first game is always a practice game, unless I win, then it counts.) We play best of 5 or 7, and whoever loses buys dinner or drives home. The reward is irrelevant, but it adds a fun twist to our night. Then the next time we get to the table, usually the one who won will be sure to mention their greatest shot from the previous game. And it makes the one who lost all the more fired up to win this time around.
A Uniquely Individual Sport
How you play is how You play.
My bridge (how I balance the cue on my left hand to aim with my right) is strange. Most people balance their cue in between their thumb and forefinger, but me — I feel more comfortable shooting between my index and middle finger. I have long hands, and I feel I have more stability if I use my spidery fingers to this end. And at the pool hall, no one will ever give me any stress about not doing it “right”, whatever that means. Whether its how you stand, how you approach the table, your hand positions, your aim, the way you see the game, the kinds of shots you take or any other facet of the game — no one is ever going to stop you unless you’re breaking a specific rule. There’s no right or wrong way to play, at least not at this level, and there’s a freedom in developing style and technique in an expectation vacuum. It’s cathartic in a world that is typically full of people telling other people what to do and not to do. (Professionals have thoroughly developed techniques and thoughtfully considered approaches, but we’re just a couple of weeknight players.)
Help is Fine Too
If the game isn’t that serious, ask the question.
How many times have I asked my partner — not as a competitor but as a friend — what do you think I should do here? I respect the way he plays and his eye for the game, and sometimes, if I’m in a pickle between two options, I’ll ask him to step outside the game and look with me, as a teammate. Sometimes he’ll tell me that I don’t have a clear shot, because of how he left the table. Sometimes, he’ll weigh in specifically based on what he sees. And I don’t always take his advice. Sometimes, after he weighs in, I realize (like calling the coin flip in the air) that I’ve already made my decision. And since we play different games, different styles, different techniques — the respect is mutual. I don’t have to take his advice, but I’m free to ask it.
10 Lessons Learned
Always shoot your shot and aim to shoot well.
Respect your opponent as if they were yourself.
Silence is golden.
Meditation can be active.
Try and see all the angles.
A delicate hand beats a heavy hand most of the time.
Practice makes progress.
Mistakes are not setbacks.
Schedule play dates, especially as an adult and leave your troubles at the door.
Respect the rules and earn respect.
Find Your Table
It might not be pool.
The healthiest thing we’ve done as partners is add a competitive outlet to an otherwise supportive set-up. I can’t recommend enough that all partners do the same. Your thing might not be pool (we also love a few challenging board games for similar reasons) but whatever it is, your partnership outlet should be the following things:
A medium where you feel both competitive and supportive of one another
A forum that requires concentration, focus, or the honing of a skill
An activity that can connect to other enjoyable aspects of life
A hobby with delineated progress and achievement levels
A fun, playful, enjoyable, not-too-serious time
An equal balance of procedure and free choice
A place either person can ask for or provide assistance
Something you can laugh about together
Something that can sweep you up in the moment
Something that feels right for you both
How do you and your partner destress as a team and strengthen your skills?
[TLDR: For the Quick Summary, please scroll to the Summary heading.]
Read on for the explanation.
Every parent I’ve ever met wants the best for their kid and parenting is a nonstop job. Parents work long hours, have big hearts, and push their kids to have the very best quality of life they can imagine. While working in-home with autistic kids, I always integrated family members into our sessions — they’d provide support long after I’d gone home for the night. I used my experience and training to give families the building blocks to strengthen their family ties and grow together.
The adage is true; It takes a village.
So now, it is with the best of intentions and my sincerest appreciation for our shared responsibilities that I bring something to your attention:
There is one question we need to stop asking.
I hear The Question so frequently that I honestly wonder about its ubiquity. How did we, as a culture, land on this one question as a means to an end?
It’s a simple and well-intentioned question that steps on its own toes, so to speak. It gets in its own way. Bites its own tongue. Circular reasons itself out of meaningfulness. Causes exactly what it’s attempting to prevent.
In real time, I’m powerless to stop it from being asked. The Question, this one small, well-meant colloquial adult-asks-kid scenario is so annoyingly antithetical to its purpose that I’m dedicating an entire entry to it (one that has been cut down from near-6k words.) It has the opposite effect for which it is meant. It reinforces the behavior intended to be changed.
How is the question raised?
Setting the Scene — Scenario
Jo and I are sitting at their dining room table. Jo is 10 years old, loves to play soccer, use metallic ink pens, and is intensely passionate about narrow interests. They have been diagnosed with co-morbid learning and communication delays. I visit their house several times a week, for a few hours at a time as a “tutor” and I “teach” social skills.
To this end, I use mirroring and modeling techniques, based on the iso-principle, to artificially match their energy and affect for pairing in the relationship. (Over time, I’ll use the technique less.) For now, it helps create a friendly foundation on which to build a learning environment. It also lets me briefly assess and evaluate the appropriate direction for today’s session in particular. There are many potential activities for us, but it’s Jo’s engagement that guides the choice. The session COULD be wacky and wildly energetic, replete with games, songs, and stories. Or, like today, it could be a quiet and reserved approach.
Opening Lines — The Lead Up
Jo is not making eye contact, their hands are down, and their shoulders are drooping. After knowing Jo a few months, I’ve come to expect the ebb and flow (aka dysregulation) of Jo’s emotions and I’ve consistently encouraged them to do what feels comfortable in any given moment.
Jo has unique social and communication needs. They‘re learning how to speak with people (not at them), how to empathize with others, and how to create friendships from incidental connections. They will practice with me, in routine and naturalistic ways, small skills that add up to big strides with me and then slowly generalized to others. My responsibility is to present the complexity of skills into easily manageable, repeatable, and quantifiable behaviors, then guide them to chain the skills together in useful, less mechanistic ways. I don’t expect Jo to learn all of these skills at once. For today, it’s okay if they can’t make eye contact. It’s okay if we sit quietly together for a few minutes without speaking, if they cannot return my greeting, or if they cannot respond to any question I ask. These are the most important skills I’m hoping to model, and we have all of our time together to practice them.
Even if Jo and I have achieved a richly engaging conversation in the past, I don’t anticipate or push for one. Jo is growing their understanding of back-and-forth social exchanges. In the meantime, I know through experience that there’s no sense in forcing them to interact. Over time, I’ll use reinforcement, repetition, role play, singing, game play, and other techniques, to teach this complex task which comes naturally to some, but not so to others.
Enter Mom and the Question of the Ages
Le had greeted me at the door and shown me into the room where Jo waits. She stands in the doorway as Jo and I take our places at the table, hovering expectantly as many moms do. After a beat, she begins shifting her weight uncomfortably as she recognizes what I’ve mentioned: Jo’s disengagement.
Le’s main goal for having me here is to enhance Jo’s communication abilities and the quality of their social interactions. She wants them to make friends more easily. She is very eager to see them communicate with others the way they only seem to communicate with her. Jo CAN talk, after all, but they sometimes struggle to speak genuinely with anyone other than Le. She’s concerned about their daily interactions, especially with adolescence on the horizon. I’ve done my best to educate Le to moderate her expectations. Her relationship with them will always be unique. They are actually very typical for a neurodivergent kid. These skills can take time, and it’s time we must all be ready for.
Let’s Begin — Jo and Me (and apparently, Le)
While I stack my notebooks and pull out my metallic pens, I can sense Le’s discomfort and anticipation. Jo may sense it too. It’s not helping Jo in the slightest.
I model for Le while also seeking Jo’s engagement. I prompt Jo, softly, patiently.
How was your day, Jo?
Good, Jo continues looking at their lap.
What would you like to talk about?
I did something fun today.
Can I tell you about my fun day?
In my head, I’m figuring out the path for this session. I’m using questions to provide opportunities. I’m evaluating the day’s objectives, informed by the overall communication goal and the presenting affect. Given their reserved responses, I’m planning to move to a medium with less conversation, like a worksheet, a music intervention, or a game. It will take the spotlight pressure off.
Jo turns to see Le hovering in the corner by the door. They look up at her, avoiding my gaze completely. (They are nonverbally seeking assistance.) Seeing their head turn, in the way of most well-meaning parents, Le rushes to Jo’s aid and inadvertently asks the most nonfunctional yet somehow pervasive question.
I try and signal Le not to speak, knowing the question is coming, but without rudely cutting her off, there’s nothing I can do. I silently observe Le as she, with the best intentions, reinforces Jo’s communication strife.
The Question that Answers Itself
“Did you tell Lori about … ?” Le prompts.
It’s a common phrasing. Meaningless in this situation, yet we use it regularly. It’s an error that sets my teeth on edge. It does nothing to help the child break out of their shell or learn appropriate interactions. It doesn’t enhance the therapeutic relationship. It doesn’t model natural conversation and it doesn’t encourage social exploration. But, as I’ve said, Le’s mistake is a mistake we all make from time to time with kids. Le already knows the answer, and Jo knows she knows.
You Already Know
Whatever follows the question doesn’t matter.
Did you tell Lori about the field trip you went on yesterday?
Did you tell Grandma whathappened over the weekend?
Did you tell your friend where we went after football practice?
Did you tell your teacher about your new shoes?
Did you tell [person][event/thing/action]?
And so on.
Varying Responses with Only One Result
“Did you tell Lori about the field trip?“
Jo, like most kids, responds by sitting quietly without responding. Jo, in a difficult moment, has successfully passed the communication reins to Le, and will now have Le lead the conversation.
Jo looks self-conscious. The thing they didn’t mention is red ink on the page. Jo hasn’t said anything at all, their mom knows it, and yet, their mom has put them in a situation to either say “no” or not respond at all. The question does not open a line of dialog — it creates an end point.
To incorporate the framing of the question, I turn my body toward her saying something to the effect of, “Jo will tell me when they’re ready,” and then turn back to Jo and ask a direct, potentially related, question. Whatever I ask will be open-ended enough to allow Jo the agency of responding, as Le has already removed the agency of choosing a subject. I might ask something like:
Jo, where did you go on your field trip?
Who was on the field trip with you?
Did you take a bus with your class, or ride in a car?
Unfortunately for Jo, Le feels tired of Jo not responding, and wants to show them what to do. Before I can leave space and ask Jo a direct question, Le jumps in again:
You went to the museum, right? Tell Lori about the museum, and what your teacher said.”
In every case that I’ve seen using the “Did you tell…” framing followed by an additional piece of information, every kid, just like Jo, repeats back whatever was said and falls silent again. Jo:
We went to a museum.
This isn’t a natural conversation, and Jo doesn’t even have a starring role in it. I can ask whatever I want now, Jo will likely only shrug or look back to Le. Over time, Jo and Le have adapted this likely unconscious routine, where Jo has difficulty initiating, Le fills in the blanks, and Jo parrots back a response enough to appease me, or any adult Jo is expected to talk to.
An Easy Mistake with Lasting Consequences
In an effort to persuade Jo to begin talking, Le is fabricatinga situation for them to rely on another person to start talking.
In this instance, Le is not teaching them to speak. She is speaking for Jo in a somewhat condescending way. Perhaps Jo doesn’t want to discuss the field trip with me, or perhaps there’s something else on their mind. Maybe they were waiting on a better time to bring it up, or maybe they just didn’t want to talk at all. Le has removed Jo’s agency, likely in response to their own discomfort with our mutual silence.
It’s completely well-intentioned. It’s also detrimental. Le may be the person who saves her friends from awkward conversations at cocktail parties, but her child is also relying heavily on her to do so every day.
If you’re not sure why “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” is bad, here are 4 glaring issues I’ve seen in practice.
1. “You KNOW I didn’t”
“Did you tell…?” No, and you know it! Le knows Jo has not told me this story, she’s been standing there the whole time! In no way does this resemble a natural, conversational style. Issue 1: Modeling Unnatural Interaction
2. Insinuating “You should/could have mentioned…”
“Did you tell…?” In natural conversational style, the way most of us would respond to being asked this question would be to say “No I didn’t tell…” followed by actually telling or giving a reason why we haven’t told yet.
Jo doesn’t have a natural conversational style; it’s why they’re working with me. By asking this, Le is expecting Jo to have mastered this part of dialog we take for granted, insinuating they should have mentioned the thing, and holding Jo to a test they can likely at this stage only fail. Issue 2: Setting the Bar Too High While Simultaneously Acknowledging It’s Unreached
3. “Don’t put me on the spot!”
The self-awareness required to answer the question correctly is almost always accompanied by feelings of shyness, discomfort, or poor self-esteem. Le put Jo on the spot to discuss something they picked, and does so repeatedly on a regular basis. After this interaction with me, Jo typically lashes out in anger, at agreed upon boundaries or at themselves.
“Did you tell…?”
“Man, why didn’t I think of telling them about that?” or “I didn’t want to mention that — but now I guess we have to talk about it.”
Issue 3: Creating Feelings of Inadequacy or Poor Self-Esteem
4. “What do I do now?”
“Did you tell…?” is a prompt that reinforces the dependent relationship, and the more it’s used, the more deeply it’s entrenched in their interactions. Jo will wait to be prompted by Le to speak, and will rely on Le for the appropriate topic in any given moment. What will Jo do when Le is not around? Perhaps, lead the conversation alone, but in my experience, if this is a routine occurrence, Jo will clam up or wait to be directed when Le is not around. And who will Jo take prompts from? Potentially, anyone. Issue 4: Conditioning Unwanted Behavior
Show, Don’t Tell
Every adult who interacts with Jo has a responsibility to model natural conversation, so that Jo is able to begin to implement what they learn in our sessions. If Le feels like she must jump in, she can say to me, “Jo went on a field trip today. Maybe they’ll tell you about that when they’re ready.”
Jo’s responsibility is to communicate to the best of their ability, whatever that may be today. They do not need to make me feel comfortable, to act outside of their nature perform for me. They may or may not be aware that communication is even expected, which is completely and totally okay.
It’s my responsibility to show and not tell how I start conversations, what topics are good jumping-off points, and the mechanisms by which our language is figurative, inferential, casual, and anticipatory.
Recapping the Question Not to Ask
When asking “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” you are inadvertently and with the best of intentions:
Modeling an Unnatural Communication Style
Setting an Unnecessary, yet Unintended, High Expectation
Putting a Spotlight on an Uncomfortable Moment
Conditioning Dependence in Social Settings
An Addendum for Minimally Verbal Children
“Minimally Verbal”, or occasionally “Nonverbal”, is the descriptive term therapists use for those who use functional language minimally (if at all).
The Question is Still Problematic
For the minimally verbal, “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” is potentially even more detrimental. For functionally verbal children like Jo, the question is problematic for all the reasons listed above. For minimally verbal children with difficulties processing or understanding language, the question reinforces the wrong idea. In this instance, following
Did you tell Lori we went to the park?
will frequently be answered with either an incorrect answer or an echo.
Did you tell Lori we went to the park? “Yes.” No, you didn’t. Tell Lori we went to the park.
Did you tell Lori we went to the park? “the Park.”
The responses are not functional. The child doesn’t understand what is being asked. In most cases, parents then respond positively —
“The park.” “Yes! That’s right! We went to the park!”
Functionally, the child sees a happy parent and hears praise. The child will now be conditioned to respond the same way following each “Did you” question.
Did you eat lunch? “Yes. Eat lunch.”
Did you eat gorilla for lunch? “Yes.”
Did the lunch person help you with your lunchbox? “Lunchbox.”
Did you know you forgot your lunch? “Yes.” But did they know?
It is truly amazing to watch as minimally verbal children begin to process language with more specific intervention. For some, with exposure to more concise and deliberate language patterns, start they begin to parse through sentence structure and notice jokes, inference, etc. Did you eat gorilla for lunch? “Yes………Noooooo….” Their faces light up with an inkling of confidence and a dawning of understanding. Not everyone will get to this point of understanding, however.
If you believe a minimally verbal child is either repeating the last word or responding yes or no without truly understanding to a Did you question, remove the prompt from your vocabulary until the child has more of an understanding of Yes/No, Present/Past, and until “You did, You didn’t” is more readily understood.
Other Suggestions for Avoiding the “Did You” Question
Give the therapist or teacher a head’s up. Prior to the session, email/call/text, out of the child’s earshot, and give the details about the child’s day. A good therapist will hear that a child was excited to buy new shoes and will guide the conversation naturally in that direction to allow the child the opportunity for success — if they want to, are able to, and feel comfortable doing so.
Write it down with your child! For children with communication deficits, a small bullet journal of potential conversation topics can go a long way. Each night, have the child think back to what was notable about the day — trips, events, funny moments, fights, whatever they might want to talk about. Write a small reminder for each, or draw a small picture, and then get in the habit of having that book available during the session and beyond. The act of reflecting on a regular basis will help the child to understand what is expected when someone asks “What did you do today?” or “What do you want to talk about?”
If you feel you must prompt, then change up the question. Give a gentle verbal reminder that does not begin with “Did you tell…” There are a lot of ways to do this. Use names and speak plainly so it is clear who is talking to who and ask questions that lead in a specific, but open direction, rather than yes/no.
Lori, yesterday Jo and I went shopping.
Jo, Lori wants to hear about your new shoes.
Lori, you have GOT to hear about this. Jo, tell Lori about our trip to the mall.
Jo, it looks like Lori is wearing new sneakers — you and Lori have that in common. What can you ask her about her sneakers?
These prompts aren’t ideal because they still create boundaries to Jo developing their own natural conversational style, but these prompts are infinitely better than the defeating “did you” prompt.
4. Simply, let it go. That’s right. Just let it go. Let the therapist work. Let the child make progress. Let the moment proceed all on its own. Let everyone sit in what is perceived to be an uncomfortable silence. What made your child excited yesterday, may currently not have the same effect. It was a special moment for the two of you, but not necessarily something to talk about. Perhaps once the session is over, the child will point out that special thing, or wait for the therapist to notice.
If there’s no way to prompt the therapist privately or prompt your child in an open-ended manner, ask yourself — how necessary is my intervention in this moment? Can I let this go? Typically, yes, yes you can.
Prompting a child with the question “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” is not a functional conversation starter.
It may actually be creating a major problem in the child’s developing communication skills.
By asking the question “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” you may be:
Modeling an Unnatural Communication Style
Setting an Unnecessary, yet Unintended, High Expectation
Putting a Spotlight on an Uncomfortable Moment
Conditioning Dependence in Social Settings
4. Instead, replace “Did you tell [person] about [thing]?” try:
Contact the people the child is going to be talking to ahead of time, so they know what to ask about directly.
Help the child keep a bulleted or pictorial reflection journal as a conversational assistant.
Use a gentle, different verbal reminder, and be open to the child’s answer even if it isn’t on your intended topic.
Let the topic go.
No promises, but…
Jo is a special kid. They’re gifted in their own way. Sometimes they’re quiet, sometimes very engaging. You may not even know what they are capable of. If you let them develop without prodding, you’ll be amazed at the potential they have. Trust me when I tell you, it will be worth the wait when you hear him learn new skills, gain confidence, and begin to engage others with ease.
I would love to hear your comments, questions, additions, or anecdotes.
Leave a line below or share this post with someone who may benefit.
Sunshine and the Scientist present: Putting Down Roots and Raking Up Leaves
has been garnering a lot of support and well wishes. We’re new to blogging and we’re hoping to be here for a long time. For the sake of perspective, here is the recap on April…
In the month of April, we published 12 entries, predominantly authored by Sunshine, as the Scientist finishes up his current research efforts.
(Sunshine is looking forward to sharing all of the Scientist’s work, explaining data regarding lead contamination in suburban areas of Long Island, where we live and work. The Scientist is looking forward to a long nap and a mint chocolate chip ice cream sundae.)
By the Numbers
The 12 entries received a total of 226 views from 90 visitors, from 13 different countries, as far-reaching as New Zealand, Japan, Romania, Finland, and Germany, to name a few. Those entries enabled us to gain 17 subscribers, for a total of 17 *first month data here*.
Stats are so important when looking at anything, really, but especially when working toward a goal.
It is our hope to publish at least once every two days in the month of May, continuing to share a variety of articles and stories, from our personal and professional lives, citing our sources and speaking truthfully. Gaining 17 subscribers in a month is the benchmark, so when rounding out May, we hope to have 2s+1 or 35 to be exact.
Our all-time visitors count is 125, and as 17 subscribers are 13.6% of those visitors, we hope to increase our subscribing rate to 15% of viewers in the next month. This will be accomplished through more effective tagging and more intentionally curated content.
On a more qualitative note, some articles were stellar, unexpected crowd favorites, while others did not get as much attention as hoped.
There’s Something About Lori received the most views and likes, and as it is about the personal journey of recognizing one’s autism (Sunshine’s autism), the reception is greatly appreciated.
Transorted in the Cold, April Rain was another unexpectedly well-received piece, considering it was written reflexively with very little care put into outlining or planning.
Less well-received was the entry published giving some basic advice to parents (With Kids, the Importance of Being Literal), which flipped the script of Sunshine’s life being autistic to showing the main lesson learned from helping autistic kids. It’s a niche audience.
Goals for May
Increase reach, reception, and enhance discourse
Publish 15 entries, plus Stats and Goals
Use feedback to enhance article content
Connect with Us
Please subscribe, follow, contact, and connect. The writing is improved by the opinings and critical receptions of others.
As a former teacher and therapist, who worked in-home with kids and their families, I primarily assessed social and communication skills. With the support of a team, I facilitated lessons, sessions, and experiences designed to assist in the learning process. The treatment plans for each child were as unique as the children themselves, as were the strategies and methods of structuring sessions. No two sessions, even with the same kid, were ever identical.
When You Teach Kids, They Teach You
There were many things I learned from this work that I intend to share over time, but one lesson remains with me on a daily basis. It informs my incidental interactions with children (and even adults) and has strengthened my own social capital and confidence. It’s a lesson that’s apparent where ever parents interact with their children — shopping in the grocery store, walking through the park, driving in the car, getting ready for bed.
It may sound like a trivial piece of advice. It may seem obvious. However, I can promise, if you dedicate more attention to this one tenet, you will see positive results.
Say what you mean and mean what you say.
I Mean Literally
This was the lesson I repeated to parents again and again- parents who struggled to limit screen time, to hold a firm bedtime rule, to navigate dinner table disagreements, among other difficulties. Say exactly what you mean.
Often the things that seem obvious to adults are not actually obvious at all.
Before I offend anyone, I’m not saying there’s never a time not to tell the truth to kids, or that by speaking literally everything will be different. Modeling what you expect from kids is critical in their development. By being literal, you’re showing them that you expect their words to hold weight too. And awareness of the potential to miscommunicate across a language comprehension divide is huge — and knowing their comprehension level is key. Like so many of us who speak conversationally with kids, what is said, what is meant, and what is heard could be three different truths.
When I worked with kids who struggled with figurative language, autistic children and others, I learned to hone in on phrases that were confusing, vague, or misleading. Some subjects came up in more often than others.
“Just a second, I’ll be right there!” Parent calls out when Child requests help from the other room.
Does Child understand that Parent means actually now, or a minute, a few minutes, ten minutes? Maybe, if this is a constant in the dialogue.
But does the literal clocked time of “a second” in this context shift based on the scenario, time of day, type of request, reigning emotion? Likely.
Will the child use the same technique back at their parent when they’re about to miss the bus, when they’re late to brush their teeth, when they don’t want to stop playing a game, or whenever it feels as if they’re stalling? Definitely.
The parent models. The child follows.
Instead, it is much more effective to be direct and honest as often as possible. Here are some examples:
“I will be there in 2 minutes. Please wait for me downstairs and we can talk then.”
“Dinner is in 13 minutes. In 6 minutes, I’m going to ask you to set the table.”
“YouTube time is limited to 45 minutes today and then I will hold your phone while you put your shoes on.”
Time Awareness is Learned, Not Intuited
Many of the parents I worked with reported that their child had ‘no sense of time’. This wasn’t referring to clock reading (although that is also a typical cause of parental concern), but Time Awareness — the ability to mentally track or estimate a specific amount of time in between two events.
It came up in a lot of “behavioral” situations when parents described their kids’ behavior. For example, they woke up for school, hit snooze, and demanded five more minutes repeatedly. It led to lateness, arguments, unruliness, and general angst. It started the day off poorly and was something of a routine. Now what?
Some kids learned time awareness faster than others. It could be picked up through game play, curiosity, recreational sports, or music play. But not every child learned it at the same speed, if at all. And there were strategies I used to help children learn this critical skill. (I’ll explain those strategies in a later entry.) Suffice it to say, time awareness was something that could be learned. To start, parents should focus on modeling expectation and using direct language.
The change to literal time language will be critical. One success story stands out in my mind.
Jim was a 12-yr-old soccer player and liked to watch videos of kids playing soccer and doing soccer tricks on his phone. Liked to might be an understatement. Watching these and other types of videos was getting in the way of dinnertime, homework, and bedtime routines. Despite his mom’s typical prompting (something like “off the phone, now”), he could not or would not put the phone down.
After working with me (and me teaching his parents), Jim started using more direct language, asking for “3 more minutes” on a video (because he became aware of the time remaining), much to his mom’s delight. Before, Mom would say “Now,” and he would repeat or parrot phrases like “be right there,” “I’m coming,” “just a second,” which had become a refrain that meant nothing literally. One video would play into the next and Jim couldn’t understand that he wasn’t actually ‘right there’ at all. Mom replaced Now with Soon with 5 minutes and at the end of this video, giving more lead time and appropriate prompting, and Jim learned to be much more aware and direct.
Time as a Vague Command
“You’re in time-out until I say so.”
If the child is too young to understand time, this is an arbitrary, flexible, and mostly meaningless statement. When will you say so? Now? Is it over yet? Are we there yet? The child likely complains the entire time, asks to get up, moves around. If there is a lesson to be learned with the time-out, or if it was intended to assist in calming, the focus has shifted entirely to the child demanding to be free and ramping up emotionally in louder ways.
If this was the experience of a time-out, time-outs may not have been effective at all, as some parents communicated to me. If utilized with literalexactness and intention, however, time-outs can be incredibly effective.
Time-Outs Require Practiced, Calm Directions for Calming Results
Instead of until I say so, a better approach to proffer a time-out is:
“It is not okay to [explain undesirable behavior calmly]. Sit -describe location- for -exact time in minutes-, and then time-out will be over and [desired behavior].”
Then set a visible timer — a digital timer, a kitchen timer, a marked analog clock, even an hour glass — and donotrespond to the child until the time frame has passed. If they leave the seat, silently steer them back and reset the timer. Ignore yelling, name-calling, and other verbal time-out demands. (Silence was never requested in the time-out directions. If quiet is an important part of the time-out, and the child is capable of being quiet, make that expectation clear in the directions as well.)
It is vital that the language used to initiate the time-out is delivered calmly and directly. A rule was broken, and there is a measurable consequence to breaking it.
Likely, the first attempt will be like the previous, but with repeated effort on a parent’s part, this can work wonders.
It’s also important to adjust the time given accordingly for the child’s abilities and for the particular misdeed. Depending on the child, sitting for a full 60-seconds might require a lot of focus, and that minute could suffice as a starter time-out. Time-outs should fit the child’s developmental ability, the delivered instruction, and the circumstance of the misbehavior — in that order.
Additionally, some kids are truly not able to sit in time-out, or time-out may not be appropriate, and different tactics and techniques may be required. Consult with a care professional for appropriate alternatives. It is never okay to use physical discipline. Do not ever restrain, spank, or harm a child as a consequence or punishment- research and human decency have shown us how harmful and ineffective those parental choices can be.
Hate & Love
“I really hate my boss for making me work late today.”
Hate is a very strong emotion, especially in a child’s mind, though we use it colloquially in all sorts of situations. It represents the pinnacle of anger and dislike. Unfortunately, unlike on scripted TV, kids don’t usually ask, “Do you really hate your boss?” offering a family-friendly opportunity for the parent to explain more in-depth. Hate becomes a less-than-powerful word, hosting many meanings, when modeled in this way.
Then, when the child is in a class with a teacher who assigns homework, the language erupts forcefully, I hate you, Mx Soandso, and I hate school! While it wasn’t the parent’s intention, they’ve helped pattern their child’s behavior, and now the kid’s relationship to their learning environment suffers as a result.
Exact language is carried with a child into every part of their world.
“I love this show, it’s the best!”
Love is also a strong word, perhaps the strongest of the positive emotions. The people, animals, and objects we LOVE are those we care for and never wish to part from. Some children may understand inherently that when their parents tells them they love them, they love in a different way than when they say theylovetrue crime dramas, but other children may not.
Then the problem may arise like this:
Parent: It’s time to get into bed.
Child: But I LOVE this show.
It gets more complicated when parents insist verbally that their child loves or hates something. Most children have volatile emotions — primarily because their brains are still developing sensory processing, emotional processing, coping patterns, and comprehension structures. A child may seem to hate something one day, but love it the next, and needs the modeled leeway to move freely through these states as they begin to use newly forming reasoning skills. If a child has a strong reaction to a certain toy, love and hate may not really be the issue. Try not to assign a word the child hasn’t used or one emotion may be cross-comprehended as something else entirely.
Take this example from my caseload:
Ray was given a toy truck with flashing lights and loud sounds for her 4th birthday. She had asked for it many times at the store and her Dads wanted her to enjoy it as much as she seemed to want it. She played with the truck a few times and really seemed to enjoy it. Then, a week after her birthday, Dad Bryan offered the truck to her, pressing the button to flash the lights and make the sounds, and Ray began to scream.
Bryan responded with You hate this? I thought you loved this? You love this truck. Then he pressed the buttons again hoping Ray would react differently. Ray became inconsolable. Bryan said, I guess you hate this, then took the toy away, and told Dad Mike that the child hated the toy and started to joke openly around the house about how fickle little Ray was about gifts. In actuality, Ray’s reaction likely had little to do with the toy itself.
Mike understood that Ray’s reactions aren’t always tied to the things we think they are. He told Bryan, Okay, we’ll play with this toy another day, in earshot of Ray. Then Mike left the truck in the toy room and offered something different to Ray, this time a truck without lights or sounds. Mike assumed that Ray’s reaction was not specifically tied to ‘loving’ or ‘hating’ the toy.
Mike was right. The next day, Ray was feverish. The day she hated the truck was the day she was developing an ear infection, with no outward sign. When she recovered, Mike and Bryan offered the truck toy again, and Ray accepted it gleefully, as though the screaming had never happened.
Instead of love and hate for less-than situations, use like and dislike where appropriate, and give reasoning whenever possible.
Shades of preference are best developed early and modeled often.
Instead of loving this show and hating my boss:
“I dislike working late because I miss spending time with you.”
“I like watching this show because …”
In this way, modeling more exact language and more patterned reasoning skills develops a hierarchy of preference. Love and hate should be reserved for the most extreme and literal circumstances.
When it comes to identifying a child’s preference, instead of you love and you hate in assumption, better phrases are:
“It seems you don’t want this truck today.”
“When I talk to you and you don’t answer, I feel sad. It seems that you enjoy your phone, but I love talking with you.”
The language we use is full of exaggerations, allusions, and shades of meaning. The interpretation and comprehension of the words we say varies widely — for cultural, developmental, and personal reasons, among others.
Often, we expect that kids will understand our meaning — catch the drift — read between the lines — and this expectation leads to strife and future miscommunication, often patterned early by parents and repeated later by their children.
Nothing is permanent, however. I’ve seen many times how a willing parent, attending to their exact words, can literally change the relationship they have with their child, reduce angst, and improve communication.
It may take weeks but it is worth the effort for the ones you love and the reactions you hate.
Unfortunately, and with a heavy heart, I need to inform you that we will Not be able to attend today’s event. 💔 Sunshine and the Scientist were both vaccinated and are now both suffering the feverish, aching, fluish effects. We feel it would be irresponsible to try and attend. I cannot stress how upset I am- I am passionate about Autism Awareness, fundraising for community programs like Play4Autism, and always uplifted to meet and provide resources for neurodivergent parents and children alike.
Saying that, however, the resources we prepared will be available online soon for download and we are itching for the next event, whenever that will be.
I’ve been relatively quiet on the blogosphere this week for a very cool reason – it’s festival season! I thought I’d jump on to let you know where my voice has been.
Last week, I received word that an event originally scheduled for March 2020 was being rescheduled for this coming Saturday. In light of that, I’ve had to shift gears away from my writing and toward festival prep.
This Saturday, April 24th at the Shops at Atlas Park in Richmond Hill, Queens I’ll have a table set up at…
The 3rd Annual Autism Awareness Action Day
Play4Autism is an awesome organization helping to promote social engagement and self-esteem in autistic kids. They teach skills through physical play and activity, and they are focused on creating team-building opportunities for kids to feel like part of the community. Learn more about them here.
The 3rd Annual Autism Awareness Action Day is sure to be a fun-filled day of music, games, carnival activities, food and drink, raffles, and vendors – vendors like me! The event will be held at the Shops at Atlas Park in Richmond Hill, Queens from 12-5pm.
What’s there to prepare?
Even though I had a year to prepare for festival season, there’s something about the week before that always sparks fresh ideas. The creativity soars – especially on deadline!
Maddie is a girl on a mission who is not afraid to get messy and make mistakes. When an invitation arrives, Maddie dreams up a new outfit to wear – but she’s never made anything like that before! Follow Maddie in this 32p. illustrated, rhyming picture book as she designs the dress of her dreams.
Based on the author’s time working with autistic girls, Maddie Steiner, Fashion Designer is really a story of persevering and accepting imperfection as part of the process. It was inspired by clothes-loving girls who worked really hard and struggled to see the value in their work if something was not quite how they imagined it. Hand-drawn illustrations by Aaron Hover, engineer, add fun and jokes that hopefully make you want to read it again and again. (Not a long read, but recommended ages 8-12. $9.99)
2. I’m creating resources, resources, resources! At the Autism Awareness Event, I’ll be giving away a sampling of worksheets designed to assist in developing basic pattern recognition, hand-eye coordination, and communication skills. After the event, all of the worksheets (and more!) will be available for sale (with free samples) on the Kid Lit Motivates TeachersPayTeachers store site.
3. I’m putting the finishing touches on some homemade Ribbon Dancers for sale at the festival as well! They’re sure to be a hit with the movers and shakers attending the festival! ($5)
All proceeds from the sale of Maddie Steiner, Fashion Designer, resource pages and ribbon dancers will be used to fund the next book in the Maddie Steiner universe: Maddie’s School Reboot (title may change.)
4. I’m preparing for our Ribbon of Reading, where festival-goers will add a unique, decorated link to the Chain of Hope, answering the question: What do you love to read about in books?
5. I’m making my signs and packing my bag! Excited to debut my spring table layout, with some finishing touches that are made to be eye-catching.
Will I See You There?
Sunshine and the Scientist will be representing Kid Lit Motivates and are excited to meet everyone who stops by. It’s been so long since we’ve been out and about – we can’t wait for this festival energy!
This is an introduction to who we are, which will continue evolving each day just as we do, from the perspective of Sunshine.
The Scientist has been working at ‘doing the thing’. Therefore, Sunshine’s voice has been thus dominant on the blog. Not so forever.
Who are Sunshine and the Scientist?
We’re a matched set, a team, partners in thought.
We’re a pair of thinkers who enjoy the written word.
We’re real people with real ideas, struggles, and abilities.
We love nature, travel, cooking/baking, gardening, carpentry, playing pool, lighting actual and metaphorical fires, and promoting kindness, truth, justice, empathy, integrity, scientific method, and education.
What do you hope to accomplish by blogging?
We aim to be a beacon of truth, practical optimism, and integrity for any who appreciate our Words.
We are always looking for collaborative partners who have similar goals.
What topics will you blog on?
Sunshine is a logical extremist with a penchant for emotional framing.
The Scientist is an emotional centrist with a penchant for structured, direct framing.
Together we’ll consider our thoughts.
We’ll address those thoughts individually, independently, contrastingly, or as a unified team.
We’ll place those thoughts in greater contexts concerning relationships, personal development, scientific rigor, universal truth, etc.
We’ll always seek to make the entries accessible and open up dialog opportunities with our readers.
Who do you think will be interested in reading?
It is hard to say who might be interested. Are you?
When we talk to people, we often find that we have more to say on any given topic than anyone is interested to hear.
Additionally, the forums and venues open to us are not always appropriate for meandering ponderings.
If you enjoy our work or feel provoked by it – there it is – our audience.
What do you hope to accomplish with your blog?
Sunshine and the Scientist have often been told that we should write books. We believe with the focus aid of an online public forum, we’ll be able to narrow down exactly which book(s) we should be writing.
There is always little doubt for most people who meet me that I am… different. Statistically and by all accounts, it’s true, I’m different. Finding out what makes me different has been a lifelong pursuit, and I finally, after 30 years, have it figured out.
There’s an insurmountable distance that exists between me and other people. I’ve known about, sensed it, felt it as far back as I can remember. I was always aware that I was set apart, different, odd, off…but as a kid I never knew what it was.
(Why do we cite our childhood knowledge as though it holds some great key to our future potential? We may have asked great questions, but we likely didn’t have many correct answers then. We likely still don’t. As a kid, I probably understood this better than I do now.)
Whatever made me different was the cause of the distance.
As a studious observer of human behavior (in retrospect, that says a lot), I went through phases of understanding. I did everything I could to label my difference, alter it, address it, and hopefully, find ways to get closer to people. What made me different from everyone else?
I was unlike the others because I was…
I towered over my peers for a time, but at 5’9″ the height difference wasn’t really the difference. We put so much weight in height as children. Adults make such a big deal out of it. It was just my earliest understanding of the world.
smarter than average.
These last two were observations made by my parents when I started asking them for the answer. As neither my mom nor my dad had close friends, they didn’t seem to be the best ones to be giving advice on the matter. People like smart, pretty people, don’t they?
not dressing like other girls.
Oh, this had my attention for years. In an upper middle class neighborhood with working middle class parents, designer tags were coveted and, with extreme rarity, procured from second-hand shops.
I was aware of the financial difficulties of spending several hours’ pay on a sweatshirt, especially one that made you a walking billboard, but I thought wearing it might make me fit in. One Christmas, I put nothing on my list except for this very particularly chosen sweatshirt from A&F, maroon with white lettering, expecting no other gifts but this suburban peer uniform. I received a bright red Champion sweatshirt — before Champion was retro-chic — along with a ton of other gifts, and a lecture on the importance of not becoming a shill to corporate advertising. Merry Merry.
I went through a phase where I did everything I could to dress strangely, thinking it was …I don’t know, punk or something. That didn’t help either. Just ask the other cheerleaders, MY TEAMMATES, who shunned me.
It was never the clothing, despite my best childhood and teenage guesses. Even when I was able to finally adjust my wardrobe the way I wanted, spending my first two full-time working paychecks on a Brand New Me, I was left with the Same Old Feeling of Otherness.
Maybe I was different because I was…
not hanging with the cool kids.
How could I be distant from my peers because I’m distant from my peers? Social invitations are like dominos. I believed if I got invited to one more party or sleepover or special event, maybe, just maybe, I’d be invited to the next one. Maybe this time, they’d make me one of the group.
It never happened. I got my hopes up countless times for nothing. There would be no Babysitter’s Club for me. I was even bullied by kids in the DRAMA CLUB, who are always portrayed to be so welcoming of every misfit and reject…except for whatever my problem was.
not as wealthy as those in my neighborhood.
This would stay with me through my college years. I believed I was different, in part, because I was working 3 jobs to pay for textbooks for my 18 credit semesters, so I could graduate in 4, instead of 4.5, years, so I could quickly get a job and start paying back what many of my peers were being gifted on their birthdays, holidays, and graduation days. In a capitalist society, cash is king. My busy schedule might have caused me to turn down a hangout or two, but it wasn’t my lack of funds that made me different.
I made it my mission to save up for culturally relevant things, while militantly demanding financial independence from my parents. I’d never have the kind of scratch to get into fancy clubs or go on beachside vacations-not like I’d want to-not really.) So I flipped the money script.
There were plenty of people who didn’t value wealth like that, and maybe I could fit with them. I sought out the cheapest way to get a usable phone and still pay the least for my monthly plan. I bragged about my $10 purses and the pencil case I’d been using since grade school. I scrounged and saved. I flipped the money script. I was frugal, but that wasn’t enough to fit in either.
Whatever the difference was, it had nothing to do with economics.
Maybe the reason I felt apart from my peers was because I was…
suffering greasy hair, bangs or no bangs, an inability to tan, not as skinny as a model, and had other cosmetic concerns.
It turns out you can combat greasy hair by using sulfate-free shampoo and giving yourself a week of oily misery. Bangs are a nightmare to keep shapely and to grow back out. That’s a common concern, though. As far as my inability to tan, sure, I hated looking pasty and splotchy in the sun for 5 months out of the year, but is that really a reason I couldn’t keep a friendship going? My weight fluctuated wildly but never really gave me any peace. Even while I lamented these parts of myself, I knew that whatever was putting space between me and my peers, it was bigger than physical appearance.
raised by tough, but loving parents.
This is something most teens go through, I think, so it couldn’t be the thing that made me different. The fact that my parents had no interest in friendship, however, keeping only distant pen-pals and work friends on their lists — that should have been a clue.
prone to vomiting and other nervous stomach conditions.
This one likely did set me apart, but as I’d learn later, it was only another facet of the reason I am different. One grand and sincere apology to anyone who ever sat near me or invited me to a party, and was then disgusted by the results. And let me assure one person in particular, I did not throw up on your mother’s brand new leather boots on purpose, but really, who has kids chop up onions to make their own lunch at a birthday party in a poorly ventilated room? Seems like a disaster waiting to happen, and that disaster was nausea.
The thinking continued.
For years, I consulted with peers and professionals. I started seeing therapists, who assured me I was imagining the distance between me and those I wanted to befriend. Socializing with me became a giant mysterious jack-in-the-box — turn the crank, listen to my off-key tune, and wait for the wrong thing to shoot out of my mouth and scare the person across from me.
What did the people say? I was someone who…
thinks too much, talks too much, expects too much, falls for anything, uses too much sarcasm, is way too passionate, is way too driven, annoys the hell out of everyone, criticizes everyone, is unpredictably attractive one minute and unattractive the next, has unreasonable expectations, and is too smart for my own good.
These are all things I was told when I asked for advice. I took Every Single Opinion to heart. I considered. I adjusted, calibrated, overcompensated and recalibrated, and still… the differences remained. The distance between myself and the people around me loomed.
I carried this weight within me. It chipped away at me. I’d think I had the answer, change something or sacrifice something, and yet, the weight of the question was with me endlessly.
I was definitely…
in possession of a pattern-loving brain that seeks out differences.
Ah ha! Wait, no, other people are pattern-seeking too. That’s not the difference.
But by this point in my self-discovery, I was starting to see a significant pattern and I was making strides at socializing…
The people I was closest with, most attracted to, able to almost bridge the divide with — they were all autistic, or had been labeled autistic by someone and had chosen to throw off that label later.
I had a special way of communicating with autistic people, who seemed to appreciate my direct language, my analysis skills, my ability to empathize and understand their stories, my odd sense of humor. So, drumroll please…. I must go to work with them! I’d specialize in being a therapist for autistic individuals. I hadn’t found a calling, and now I had! Surely, this was thing putting distance between me and everyone else.
I was just a late bloomer.
No again. It was at this point that perhaps anyone other than me might have realized where this was going. Not I. I held on to this, unsettled. I remained in the dark about myself and continued to struggle.
I hit wall after wall trying to connect with people, suffering friend breakups and romantic breakups on a regular basis. I had a new best friend every 6 months, a new boyfriend about once a year. There was a frightening, sickening regularity about the cycle that I couldn’t help but notice.
Instead, I threw myself into my work and convinced myself for a time that I didn’t need anyone else, that I was just likely a loner, that I was built on a Randian philosophy, and that someday I would find my mountaintop, settle down within its most elevated peak, drink tea, and read books.
Alas, my work life was no better than my personal life. I was a competent therapist working with children with disabilities and children on the spectrum, but I couldn’t communicate the simplest things to their parents, teachers, or paras. My supervisors all gave up trying to explain to me that personal boundaries were necessary for self-care — I would take every case home with me, I carried those kids with me all the time. I lost night after night of sleep designing more and more unique interventions, games, strategies and exercises for my dwindling client pool. I was even more fun at parties as I droned on about behavioral cues and how our current system didn’t really help all the kids who needed it. So many people flew under the radar that needed additional help. So many people, like me.
Eventually I quit the field, burned out way before my time, and spent the next years trying to figure out what my life was even worth. If the herd did not want me, perhaps a culling was in order. I cut myself off. The phone never rang.
It was in this time of deep isolation and despair that I found the answer, MY ANSWER, while reflecting over some of the stories I’d read and some of the teenagers I’d worked with. Like a train just leaving the station, I started writing everything I could think of that made me different, all my quirks and character traits, a much, much longer list than this essay would allow. There was a single question now, a different question, a question pounding in my mind day and night, a track that kept leading me forward.
Was I … neurodivergent?
Quickly, obsessively, and with little regard for anything else, I digested as much information on females with autism as I could. At the time, what little was known was anecdotal and nonspecific, posted in the blogs of pioneer weirdos like me. In college, I’d been taught THE RESEARCH, which I never knew was incredibly gender biased. It wasn’t that only boys were autistic. It was that for a long time boys were the only ones identified. There was an entire subset of personality traits, behaviors, and feelings that had been totally disregarded.
MY PERSONALITY TRAITS. MY BEHAVIORS. MY FEELINGS.
I finally had my answer.
I was an incredibly verbal, socially mimicking female, obsessed with being accepted by my peers. I had trouble making and keeping social connections. I was academically gifted but somehow, intangibly, lacking. I struggled with some aspects of executive function and was savant-like in others. I had many of the same physical attributes and associated maladies. I literally fit the bill.
Once I’d accepted my label, a lot of things began to make sense.
(I know that the puzzle piece symbolism is insulting to many autistic people and I understand that. We aren’t missing anything. For me, autism was the missing puzzle piece I’d been searching for, the answer to my ceaseless questioning, the reason for the divide.)
The “atypical” label made me fit, and it fit me. It brought me to find people, entire communities of people, that I could get along with, people I could understand, people who wanted to befriend me. It helped me explain why so many of my friendships and relationships had failed, why the feedback had been so variable, why I’d lived with this obsession gurgling under the surface for decades, desperate to make itself known.
I always had a sense that I was different from most people. I sit at the far end of many bell curves staring out in wonder at the standard deviations. I’d tell you about how I met my partner, how I made my first best friends, and how I’ve thrived in the knowledge, but…I diverge.