Why I Write What I Write

“Where some might see ugliness, I see beauty, at least the potential of it.”

A question many writers and authors get asked is why they write what they write.

You have probably also heard it said that you should write what you know.

I’ll admit, much of the details of what I write isn’t what I know directly — that is, I haven’t experienced it firsthand.  But I can tell you that I know what it is to feel suffering, pain, pleasure, sadness, anger, or any number of emotions.  This is part of the human condition.

Someone once suggested I write about my experience of raising an autistic son.  While I write about this in my blogs, I do not do so in fiction.  Why?  Because it’s too close to home.  I live this reality every day.   When I write, that is my escape.  Why would I want to bring something that has caused me tremendous emotional pain at times into my fiction?  For some writers, this works.  This is therapeutic for them.  It’s not for me, so I’ll stop right here and not address that issue further.

However, what I can say is that I can take my anguish from my own experiences and pour it into my characters.  When I am describing a character whose sadness is so overwhelming that she cannot even find the words, I know this.  She has dropped to the floor like a rag doll, her head flopped forward as tears stream uncontrollably down her face.  Her nose drains.  Her throat is closed up.  She’s shaking, almost convulsing.  This pain runs so deep, her body shudders.

Or the opposite: such elation, such euphoria that she feels like she might very well burst out of her physical body.  The body can’t contain the soul!  It’s the closest thing to flying without feet actually leaving the ground.

The cool thing about writing my experiences with different emotions is that I can show, rather than simply tell, my readers what the character is feeling.  That alone is huge, so what I choose to write about translates into how I write and how I feel I am supposed to write…if that makes sense.

I write what I write mostly based on what I love to read.  Most of the books I read are based in reality.  They take place in this world, not in some fantasy world like Middle Earth or Narnia.  I have read The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia, and I love those stories, but it isn’t the fantasy aspect that spoke to me in them.  It was the hardships the characters went through.  Like anything I read, I am attracted to highly-flawed, even broken, protagonists.  The underdog or even the anti-hero is who I root for.

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I love seeing how these smashed vessels are made whole again, even with pieces missing.  If romance is involved, I adore seeing two such characters come together to create something beautiful by the end of the book.  Again, their love story isn’t perfect.  They won’t live happily ever after, but they will have each other.

I was never the popular girl growing up, although I wouldn’t make the assumption that just because someone is gorgeous, wealthy, and well-known that they are happy.  My experiences in my youth as someone who was ridiculed incessantly for any number of reasons (take your pick — I was too skinny; my parents wouldn’t buy me the “cool” clothes; my dad liked to garbage-pick; I was a nerd; I wore glasses; I didn’t stand up for myself and other reasons I won’t get into) made me drawn toward the characters who were ugly.  Maybe not physically ugly, but they could be.  And I don’t mean so ugly personality-wise that they have no redeeming qualities.  A male character who is simply a jerk and treats women like pieces of meat isn’t someone I am going to root for or write about.  A female character who is a bitch toward everyone just for the fact of being so isn’t someone I’d want to read about, let alone write about.

Where some might see ugliness, I see beauty, at least the potential of it.

I write for my characters.  My characters, in turn, drive the plot.  Flimsy characters that are as flat as a sheet of paper won’t stand up to the trials I will put them through in the story.  My characters need to be believable.  It’s like stepping into another body for a time, learning how that soul operates differently from mine, and listening to the voice that inhabits it.  I am merely a visitor who’s holding a notepad, writing down that character’s story.  The character’s voice is strong enough to tell me what to do, not the other way around.

The stories I love to read are character-driven.  My writing is character-driven.

A part of writing character-driven stories comes with having to do things to characters that hurt me deeply.  I have had to kill off several characters, for example.  It’s heartbreaking every time.  I think one of the saddest character deaths I wrote was a man who was a father-figure to the protagonist in the story.  This guy had given the protagonist, a young man who had made many foolish choices and was trying to rebuild his life, a leg up.  He loved this young man like his own son.  The protagonist adored this older man, and then I killed him.  It’s something that happens often in stories — the mentor figure must die so that the hero can rise to the occasion.

I kind of hated myself for a few days after doing that, but if I can convince my reader to feel the heartbreak of that character’s death, then I have done my job as a writer.

My first story evolved around my late grandma’s life.  I told the story of Hannah, a character loosely based off my grandma, from her birth to her death.  Writing her death was the most realistic thing I’ve written, as that part of the story was based very much on my experience.  From that story, I branched out to exploring other tough topics, like alcoholism, car accidents, illnesses, miscarriages, and simply the inner conflict of the character struggling to figure out who they are.

When someone reads one of my stories and says it made them cry, I know I’m doing an effective job at creating believable characters.  When I read a story, if I don’t care about the characters, I don’t care about the story.

Sometimes I still take a step back and wonder how I can create characters and the worlds they inhabit.  I guess it’s just practice, time, effort, and perseverance.  And listening to what others tell me.  The feedback I get, especially the constructive criticism that tells me what I’m screwing up, is invaluable.  This sort of criticism only serves to improve my writing, so long as I am willing to listen and put it into practice.  And I am.  I do.  I take my writing seriously.

For me, writing is part of my soul, as much a part of me as my children or my husband.  It’s like breathing.  To not write, to me, would be to die a little every day.

At the end of the day, I write because I must.  As for why I write what I write, I will show you rather than tell you with this excerpt from one of my stories:

“We were, neither one of us, one persona or the other, but rather some beautiful, messy, complicated version splattered on a canvas, but a masterpiece painting nonetheless.”


 

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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Poetry Tuesday

My Beauty – Red, White, and Blue

My beauty, she flies for everyone,
In times of rain, in times of sun.
I close my eyes and try
To see beyond each lie,
For falsehood is mud
That longs to cover up the blood —
Blood spilled with each life given
For us and the land we live in.
It’s not a party, but a time to remember,
Every hour, every day, January to December.
Their battle cries in some foreign land
Pierce straight to the heart, begging we understand
That each heartbeat, every breath
Is protected by their death.
Red for the blood poured out with each life,
Blue for the tears wept during the strife,
White for the good they swore to protect,
Billowing proud, though tattered — but without defect.
Her stars spell out victory that came with a price.
This beauty shines of sacrifice.
Millions died, brave and true,
Fighting to honor Red, White, and Blue.

05/29/17
In honor of those who gave all, this Memorial Day and every one.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new poem every Tuesday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

 

Character Friday – Meet Arianna Banks

Every Friday, I will feature a character from one of my books, both published and unpublished.  The character will be presented as if he/she is writing about themselves in a journal entry.

My name is Arianna Banks.  I was born July 23, 1992 in Cleveland, Ohio.  Most of my life, I haven’t stuck with anything long.  I was the kid who grew up an only child, whose parents gave her pretty much anything she wanted.  I tried ballet, tap, sports, martial arts, art classes, horseback riding, you name it, but none of those ever lasted for more than a season.  The same was true with my friends.  I don’t know if it was just bad luck, but every year in school, I had a different best friend.  I was lucky if I kept one for a couple of years.  We’d get in a fight about something, although now that I’m grown up, I forget what most of the fights were about.  I remember thinking my friends were just jealous of me because my parents had a nice enough house, and I had tons of toys and all the latest gadgets.  Most of my “friends” were interested in coming over for what I had as far as things went, but truth be told, I wasn’t that nice of a person.

At school, I became more and more of a loner the older I got.  By middle school, I was one of the losers of the school.  My stuff didn’t seem to matter anymore.  I was bitter and cut myself off from others, but that was when I began writing.  I kept journals, writing my feelings down every moment.  I neglected my homework and my grades in favor of writing my own stories and poetry.  I never thought any of it was any good.  It was dark and angsty.

My parents encouraged me to make friends, but I stopped trying.  I had one friend in high school — Lori Miller.  She was in marching band with me, the only extracurricular I’d stuck with.  I didn’t enjoy playing the clarinet, except that it was the one thing my mom insisted I keep doing because she had also played the clarinet when she was growing up.  She told me time and again that music had been her life — that playing the clarinet in band had gained her lots of great friends, and they’d bonded and joked together while in marching band.  Lori and I were always the last and second last chairs.  We dyed our hair black, dressed in black, and wore thick dark eyeliner.  I guess we were Goth or Emo or something.

When I finally graduated, I enrolled in the community college.  I had no clue what I wanted to do.  I worked at various fast food restaurants and chain stores.  I changed my major every semester.  After four years of what should’ve taken two years, I got my associate’s degree.  Lori and I had lost touch in this time, as she’d gone off to college after high school and hadn’t looked back.  Being Facebook friends hardly seemed to matter.

Also during college, I began hanging out with Brad.  He’d worked at the movie theater with me.  His parents were disgustingly rich, but he didn’t care about that.  Most of the time, he didn’t even have a job.  He’d worked at the theater to get free movies, but that had lasted all of a summer.  I’m not sure what I saw in Brad except that he actually talked to me.  He told me he found me interesting, that I wasn’t like other girls.  Whatever that meant.  We didn’t really date in the usual sense.  He hardly took me out anywhere, but we hung around his house and sometimes mine.  And yeah, we had sex.  Whenever Brad called, I came.  Maybe it was finally feeling useful, like I belonged to someone and had a purpose.  It was stupid, but I was caught up in that messy relationship for two years.

I should mention that I kept writing all through high school and college, but I never shared it with my parents or Brad or anyone.

I finally got it in my head to go to beauty school.  It was one option I hadn’t tried yet, and my fascination with hair color and alternative beauty (think body piercings) made me want to give it a shot.  I began working at the receptionist desk at a salon and spa and got into beauty school.  Things seemed to be going fine.  I was interested in beauty school enough to stick with it for a few months.

But then my parents died in a plane crash while flying to Europe to celebrate their anniversary.  It was for their twenty-fifth, but they didn’t go until a year later due to my dad’s crazy travel schedule for his job.  He was a national salesman for the construction industry.  If they’d gone last year, none of this would’ve happened, right?  They’d still be alive.  The shock of it all took me over the edge.  I was already pretty used to being alone, so what was the loss of two of the people who loved me the most?  I got more piercings and dyed my hair bright red.  (My hair hadn’t been its natural color of a drab brown in years.) I moved in with my nana.  I was in denial, afraid to confront the pain.

I should take a moment to mention my dear, awesome nana.  I can’t believe I haven’t yet!  Anyway, she was always close to our little family when I was growing up.  She’s a spitfire.  She seems younger than she is, and she’s health-conscious, sharp, but sweet and totally devoted.  So, rather than live on my own, she invited me to live with her.  Although I wouldn’t have had a problem living on my own due the compensation received from the airline and the inheritance left to me, I affected her offer.  Deep down, I was tired of being so alone.

A month after their deaths, their loss finally hit me full force.  I broke down in front of Nana.  She told me about her own mother, Lorna Blake, and how she’d also lost her parents.  I guess my great-grandma had lived in isolation with a severe cause of depression for years until she’d met and married my great-grandpa.  I knew I didn’t want to be like that.

I had some choices to make.  I knew I’d always been a disappointment to my parents because I couldn’t settle on anything.  On a whim, I quit my job and beauty school.  It wasn’t what I really wanted.  Losing my parents, I knew how life was short.  I needed my life to start having some meaning instead of just wandering from job to job or friend to friend.  I left Brad, finally fed up with his crap.  I’d become a shell, doing whatever he wished.  I wasn’t really living.  That needed to change.

Nana tried to warn me that I was making too many changes too quickly, but I wouldn’t hear of it. One good thing during this time was my friendship with Kelly from the salon.  She turned out to be the real deal.  Somehow, she’d seen something worthwhile in me, and we became steadfast friends.

Another crazy, spontaneous change: I called a number I’d found in the McDonald’s parking lot on a fence about a job opportunity.  That’s how I found out about a company called Affection for the Afflicted.  They were a telemarketing company that claimed to raise money to help those in Africa who were suffering.  Finally, a purpose, I thought!  This seemed like an amazing opportunity, so I took the job and began training.

Turns out I was very good at telemarketing.  The more calls I made in a certain amount of time and the more money I raised for the charity, the bigger my paycheck was.  I had money rolling in in buckets.  Money wasn’t the problem.

I also met Marc Arnold at work.  Unlike Brad, he was very different.  He was blonde-haired and blue-eyed, trendy, and was into theatre.  He sought me out right away, claiming to be fascinated by me.  He was outgoing, brutally honest, and deep.  But as much as I wanted to be open with Marc, my self-consciousness held me back.  We were like oil and water more often than not, but imagine this: The water is dyed blue, and the oil is dyed red.  When you shake up the container holding them, they do mix (sort of) for a while. They create beautiful patterns, complementing each other.

All this while, my writing slowly came alive in the uncertainty of my career choice and romance (or lack of it).  I was trying to build my future, but the question was: What was I building it on? What role, if any, did Marc play in that? Was my job really the answer to my need to find fulfillment?

And in the midst of all this, Brad wasn’t gone yet.

Like my great-grandfather who was a writer and an author, I felt the tug to put the pen to the page, that incessant discomfort and thrill that pulled at my heartstrings.

Where does my story go? I’m a writer.  I should know these things, but one thing any writer will tell you is that their characters dictate the story more than the writer. What does that mean for me?

Arianna is the protagonist of my unpublished and current work-in-progress story, Arianna. 

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new character bio every Friday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

 

 

Poetry Tuesday

Tuesday is the day I share one of my poems with you.

Beyond Words, written 03/14/15

Words, perhaps preformed, fall from lips before their time,
The truth in them still hidden in cracks,
Where fall the lies away;
In the fullness of time, truth forms itself to completion,
Its transcendent quality grasping,
Then holding firmly beyond words.

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Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

Character Friday: Meet Lorna Ashford

Every Friday, I will feature a character from one of my books, both published and unpublished.  The character will be presented as if he/she is writing about themselves in a journal entry.

If you looked at my birth certificate, you’d read that my name is Laura Elaine Ashford and that I was born on February 29, 1916 to Elaine Miller Ashford and Charles Ashford. So, why do I go by Lorna? Few people know that my name is actually Laura. Only my best friend since I was a child, Macy Grace Wells, knows my real name. Well, that’s not entirely true now. My parents died in a car accident on June 21, 1937 as they were going out to celebrate their 25th anniversary. I was left to raise my younger brother, Chucky. He was only 13. Chucky knew my real name, but he’s gone now, too, so I guess I don’t really count him anymore. You see, he was drafted in 1942 to serve in the war.

1943 was a crazy year in my life. I’d finally sold my childhood home after Chucky was drafted, getting rid of most of the furniture and other possessions inside it. I burned all the old photographs except the one from my parents’ wedding. I remember looking at that picture, seeing how happy my mom and dad were, as I was helping Mom get ready for her special date with Dad on the night they died. I told myself I was starting over and moved into a new house.

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I’d been so used to having only myself as company for years that I was in serious denial about the depth of my grief. I’m not unattractive with my heart-shaped face, dark eyes, and brown, wavy hair, even though I’m not that tall at only 5 feet, 4 inches. But personality-wise, I was ugly. I still don’t know how Macy didn’t give up on me. Thank God she didn’t. Speaking of God, I was angry at him for a long time, blaming him for my parents’ death, thinking he could’ve stopped it if he wanted to.
I had a decent job as a first grade teacher. I had a new house. Surely I could move on and put the past behind me.

I immediately was drawn to my strange neighbor because he had only rocks in his yard and seemed a hermit who was crazy (he talked to himself outside). With Macy’s help, I managed to pull myself out of my depression some after my move. I started painting, although it looked more like splatters of paint on a canvas than anything. I have no artistic ability. I do love to read, however. My favorite books are by B.R. Stevenson. I made a new friend at work, Angela Sunshine. Yes, that really was her name.
All this new positivity gave me the courage to confront my neighbor, Tristan Blake. He was so confusing. He didn’t talk much at first and seemed to have a short temper. He was no doubt hiding more than just his face behind his beard, long hair, and large glasses, but what stood out to me the most was his sadness. He was a widower. His house was stuck in time from when his wife died, like his own tomb.  It was like he was the only living thing among death, including his rocks. But before I knew it, I was falling for him.  He helped me in many ways, yet he denied his kindness and generosity.  He was an enigma.

So, how does our story end?  Well, that would be spoiling it.  Tristan and I are two of a kind in many ways, both struggling with our grief and afraid to let it go and embrace a new life of love.

Lorna is the protagonist of my unpublished story, Lorna versus Laura.  Look for it later this year.

Like what you’ve read?  Please subscribe to my blog, where I will post a new character bio every Friday!

Also, check out my novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, now available for only $2.99 on Amazon: Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful

 

Autism – More than Just Awareness

 

April is Autism Awareness Month.  Autism Speaks, an advocacy program, began back in 2005 and created Autism Awareness Month.  Every April 2, this awareness program/campaign/whatever you want to call it kicks off with buildings worldwide lit in blue, people wearing blue, and just blue, blue, blue everywhere to “light it up blue.”  This is great, but as a mom of an autistic son, I can tell you that for many on the outside, it’s easy to celebrate Autism Awareness Month like it’s something fun, like a fad, or because it seems like the cool thing to do.  For those on the inside, it’s a different sort of celebration, a party that you sometimes wish you weren’t invited to.

I get the impression with many of these awareness campaigns that we need to go deeper than just wearing a certain color and creating awareness.  That’s a good start, but for those directly affected by the condition (whatever it may be — there are awareness campaigns for almost anything, like October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month), awareness is not enough.  Some of us are all too aware.  Those who are affected live it out every day of their lives, whether the person has the condition him- or herself or it’s a close loved one.

Let me be clear: There is nothing cool about celebrating Autism Awareness Month if all you wish to do is participate halfheartedly in something that’s widespread.  Autism is serious.  It’s no joke.  While we do want to celebrate those who have autism, I wish to distinguish between celebrating individuals and celebrating as if you were invited to a Super Bowl party.  There is a world of difference.

Before I go further, I would like to direct your attention to my two previous blogs related to autism.  It will help you understanding better my son’s and my own experiences.  They can be found here: Blessings in Disguise – What Raising a Child with Autism Has Taught Me and You Don’t Know What Goes on Behind Closed Doors – Raising a Child with Autism.

Now that you’re back, let’s continue.  There is a popular video on YouTube called Welcome to Holland.  Its purpose is to help you understand that it’s okay to take a different route when raising a child with special needs, even though this wasn’t what you signed up for.  The video goes something like this: You board a plane to take a trip to Italy, but when you step off, you find out you’re in Holland.  At first, you’re confused and angry because you were supposed to be in Italy.  That was the plan.  But as you start to look around Holland, even though it’s different than Italy and not what you expected, it has plenty of its own treasures.  It has tulips and windmills, for example.  So, the point of this metaphor is to find the beauty in your unexpected trip with raising a special needs kid.

There is comfort in this for some.  At times, it brings me peace.  When things are going relatively well with my son, Luke, it’s easy to celebrate the small victories he makes.  I value his differences from a typical child.

But let me be brutally honest.  There are many days when I hate Holland.  I hate autism.  I hate what it does to my son, the hold it has on him.  It breaks my heart to see him suffer where others don’t.  I want to say, “This isn’t the same thing as just stepping off a plane and finding out you’re somewhere else that’s equally beautiful!  I’ve arrived in Antarctica!”

I can only speak from my experience, so please don’t think that what I say applies to everyone across the spectrum.  While high-functioning autistic people are usually able to contribute to society as adults, they will always have their own set of challenges.  I do not dismiss someone who is high-functioning or raising a high-functioning autistic child as having it easy at all.  But my experiences do not deal with a high-functioning autistic child, so I will not be further addressing that.

luke_toothless_smile

Luke was diagnosed as moderate to severely autistic when he was not quite three.  Because he was still very young, I believed he might outgrow the diagnosis.  I thought he could, if not catch up with his peers, at least reach a point where he would be capable of forming longer sentences instead of phrases, that he would be able to answer questions (not just by rote), or that he would be able to tell us how he’s feeling and why.  In those early days, I told people his condition was mild to moderate.  I didn’t want to face the seemingly bleak reality that his autism was
more severe than we thought.

As he’s gotten older (he’s now seven and a half years old), progress has been made, but it hasn’t gone the way I’d hoped five years ago.  There I go again, getting my hopes up as a parent, and coming away with the stabbing feeling that this isn’t going the way I wanted.  It’s hard.  I mean, really hard, to swallow that large pill of a serious diagnosis that scrapes all the way down and then settles in the stomach like a lead ball.

But admitting this as truth to myself and then to others was the first step of my own awareness of Luke’s true condition.  Awareness was the starting point.  Then came the challenge of acceptance.  Acceptance, unlike awareness — at least for me — is a constant journey.  The road is sometimes clear and straight.  Days are going well.  Luke is happy.

But then night falls.  The path makes a sharp, unexpected turn.  Fog sets in.  Sometimes the road even drops out from under me completely.  I’m left gripping on for my life, like trying to keep my head above water and not drown.  Days are awful.  Luke is angry, sad, or any number of bad emotions.

See, acceptance is harder than awareness.  Acceptance is difficult for those who are closest to a loved one who has autism.  It’s a challenge for some who have autism and know it.  Let me be clear: I accept my son for who he is, regardless of his autism.  His condition does not define him.  It’s part of who he is, but it is not him.  What I struggle to accept is him having autism — what it does to him, how it makes him feel or act, the challenges it gives him.

So, imagine how hard it can be for others on the outside to accept autism (or any condition).  It’s easy to say you accept autism, that it’s a real thing that exists, but I’m going deeper here.  People need to be accepting of individuals who have autism.  That’s where awareness only goes so far.  That’s where the party we’re celebrating goes from Super Bowl to something more: celebrating the unique abilities and qualities of people who have autism.

I can take this further by saying that accepting those who have any mental or physical condition/diagnosis or developmental delay is vital.  Raising an autistic child has made me more aware across the board when it comes to seeing people for themselves and not their conditions.  Like we all have different abilities and talents, quirks, nitpicks, tastes, or anything, those are parts of us, but not all of us.  If I say I am a mom, it’s part of me, but not my entire identity.  If I say Luke has autism, it’s part of him, not his whole person.

This awareness has brought more compassion into my heart, a desire to understand as best as I can where other people are coming from.  Instead of judgment, I choose to embrace compassion.  This world has enough judgment.

That child who is freaking out in the store may be throwing a tantrum because he didn’t get the toy he wanted, but he also might be having a sensory-induced meltdown that’s beyond his control.  He might be autistic and overwhelmed by the bright lights or the noises in the environment.  If he’s hungry or tired, the effects of that are far worse than for a typical person.  Think of how irritable you can be when you’re hungry or tired.  Now imagine it for an autistic person, especially a child who has limited (or no) verbal ability to express himself.  All he can do is scream.  He might kick, hit, bang his head, throw things, or scratch.  He can hurt himself and others.  He feels like his world is ending.  Like there is no escape.  All is blackness.  That is a meltdown.  Until it passes, you stand there, helpless.  As a mother, it rips my heart a little every time.

Some days, I hold it together and can handle meltdowns in stride.  It’s part of my life.  It’s nothing new or unexpected.

Some days, those dark ones I described above, I fall apart, too.  I have disciplined my autistic son for having a meltdown, despite it being beyond his control.  I have yelled, cried, screamed.  I then go into my closet and sob, the guilt setting in.  I did it again.  I failed to be a good mother.

But you know what?  I don’t really fail.  Because even when that tough road tries to knock me down, I get back up.  I am a fighter.  My son is a fighter.  I advocate.  I never give up.  Never.  Ever.  Giving up is the only way to fail.

The road to acceptance is taken with every step of advocacy.  Awareness started the journey.  Advocacy keeps you and me going.  I am the voice for my son, Luke, because he can’t be.  I write these blogs to share my experience because I will keep fighting for awareness, acceptance, and advocacy.

We have been down the road of therapies and medications.  There have been unreturned phone calls from doctors.  There have been stubborn employees in the school transportation office.  There have been people who have stared.  I see the judgment in their eyes, but my concern is and always will be fighting for my son.  I have called the right people to get answers and demanded the respect of getting in touch with the doctor.  I have taken my transportation concerns to the special education department and gotten a solution within hours.  I have resorted to begging with a secretary to see what’s taking the doctor so long, because my son is about to lose it in that waiting room, and waiting more than fifteen minutes past our appointment time is not acceptable.

That is empowering.  To fight, to stand up, to be strong even when it hurts, that is powerful.

So, there have been pitfalls.  There have been people who have made our journey tedious, but the vast majority of people we’ve encountered have been kind, generous, and understanding.

The most recent example of this was during spring break at the Y.  I had signed Luke up for the Y’s spring sports camp.  I was unsure of how it would go over because this camp is not aimed at special needs kids, unlike any other camp Luke has previously attended.  The director welcomed him to attend, and if it didn’t work out, that would be okay.

Because we are members of the Y, I stayed and worked out for a couple of hours after dropping Luke off at camp.  The environment was simply too overwhelming for him.  The noise level of twenty kids running around screaming in the gym drove him to the breaking point.  The result was not pretty.  His meltdown was one of the most intense I’ve seen since we got him on a medication to help with his irritability (which had been causing severe, frequent meltdowns for months).  I couldn’t blame him in the least.  After ten excruciating minutes, he calmed enough for me to hold him in my lap, but he didn’t want to leave me.  We sat in the gym for the next hour, but he was done.  The director and the other employees were all understanding and nice.  I was given a full refund.  They were genuine with Luke, too, seeing him as a person worthy of attention and respect.  They high-fived him, greeted him, called him “buddy,” and smiled at him.

While I say that awareness, acceptance, and advocacy are all vital to helping those on the outside to understand autistic individuals better, to value them, to respect them, and to love them, my overall experience has been positive in this regard.  Society has made good progress over the years with opening the eyes and hearts of typical people to those who have some sort of condition.

There is still ignorance, misunderstanding, fear, and disrespect in the community, however.  The simple act of calling someone “dumb” or “stupid” or the R-word is demeaning.  Even in jest, it is not funny.  Anyone who judges a person who has increased difficulty learning, socializing, or with life skills has missed a crucial mark of what it means to have their humanity.

Every person is worthy of love, respect, and understanding.  Their conditions do not define them.

Autism is just one of many conditions.  Let us be more than aware autism exists.  Let us truly accept those who have it and work toward a better future of increased opportunities and happiness for them.

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