I am about to wade into a splash pool of controversy. A very small, shallow pool but still not a comfortable place for me. Recently there was an article called Pathetic in Pink making its rounds on Facebook, penned by a woman who does NOT like the colour pink, or princesses or small, blonde, white girls. I won’t include the article because it is, I believe inappropriate and hateful. The message is aggressive and the figurative language is used as a tool to express disgust. The subject of this woman’s tirade is children, a specific group of children, but children none the less. I was bothered by this article … a lot.
People who know me may think it is because I am a proud, pink wearing, tiara owning, mother of a blonde girl, kinda gal, and at first I wondered that too. But then I realized that I really could care less about someone else's opinion on the colour pink or any other colour for that matter. There is a cacophony of pink bashing articles these days. It is the new craze. Do I think it is worth discussion? Not really. But then every one has their own soap box.
What really bothered me about this article is the judgement. The choice this woman has made to judge others, even worse, judge other’s children based on appearance, based on what she thinks their lives are like. As an autism mom I know what it feels like to have my child judged. To see the looks and to recognize that someone is having a very negative thought about someone so precious to me. The sting of judgment is not a feeling any parent should have. It is not a feeling that should be directed at any child. I realize that this author was going for effect. That she was trying to stir controversy, get people talking. That she was using hyperbole to make a point. I get hyperbole. I love hyperbole. I have the word hyperbole set in pink diamonds across my tiara. I AM THE QUEEN OF HYPERBOLE. But those reasons do not negate responsibility. As women and mothers we have a responsibility to build other woman and children up not tear them down. It is time that we stop being such a judgey society. And if we can't manage to do that for other adults at least we should try to not judge children. Any children! All children!
I feel this woman’s hurt coming though her harsh words. She talks about the judgement her own daughter has faced. I feel for her, we have shared that pain. But sadly one of the gifts this kind of adversity often gives you is empathy and compassion for others. She did not seem to get this gift. Perhaps it was wrapped in pink and she wouldn't open it.
A diagnosis of ASD is made based on observable behaviours, but in recent years scientists are also able to learn more by looking at the brain through scans and post-mortem exams. Some studies suggest that the amygdala in individuals with autism is bigger and has more activity than in neuro-typical brains. More brain activity may sound like a good thing but in this case not so much. The amygdala is what I like to call the panic room. It is where the urge to fight or flight resides. It is a necessary part of the brain for survival but when overly activated it can cause a lot of anxiety.
Have you ever walked down a dark alley and heard footsteps behind you? Ok first of all what are you doing? GET OUT OF THE ALLEY!! Stay safe and avoid the dark alleys. But if you have or have simply watched some one do it on TV (much more sensible) you know that feeling. You might feel sweaty, your heart may race, you may feel ready to jump out of your skin. All in all not super pleasant. This is how our kids are feeling a great deal of the time and not just in dark alleys, but also in school, in restaurants, in Wal-Mart (Oh Lordy, especially in Wal-Mart). This is why we sometimes see behaviors like aggression or running. This is fight or flight. Our children are simply responding to the perceived threat. It is biology.
I don’t like to brag but my child’s amygdala seems to be super advanced. I mean really, really big. I am surprised she can lift her head. So she lives in a state of fight or flight most of the time. We have not been able to “fix” this and believe me it continues to be a problem but I have tried a couple of things that has helped. First and foremost I have tried to educate those around her. It is important that teachers understand the reason for the behaviours that may result from my daughter’s “super brain”. I have found that giving her a safe place to run has helped.
During Hurricane Igor her amygdala was majorly fired up so I created a little storm shelter, a relaxing corner, that she could run too when that need over took her. I have clients who have places in the school that they can go to when the need to run is too strong to rein in. Of course we work on strategies to help a child calm before this need kicks in but sometimes that doesn’t work. This is why it is important to think ahead and provide a safe harbour. In terms of the fight reflex, it is hard to fight with yourself. So my advice is step away from the amygdala. Let the child calm down. Do not try to physically engage at this time (unless you have found a deep pressure activity that works for your child or obviously if your child’s safety is at risk).
These are not foolproof ideas and it is a work in progress in my home and many of the homes I know. But understanding how the brain works helps us understand our children and better understanding makes our brains a little more super too.
Does your child have a super amygdala? Want to brag/lament/muse about it here. Go ahead, I love it when parents share.
This week little Johnny/Joanie/Hayley is going back to school (even though I am in denial).
This makes me feel a little nervous (I have been having school nightmares for weeks and I think my hair may be falling out)
I can be brave about Johnny/Joanie/ Hayley going back to school (wine can help).
I can prepare the teachers with a little write up (plus multiple meetings, emails, and a bribe if necessary)
I can prepare by purchasing school supplies (and cutting the tags off all the most comfortable clothes I could find, laminating visuals, purchasing sensory equipment, preparing multiple social stories and upping my medications).
My friends and family will be so proud that I am coping with this (when and if that day ever comes, right now they are barely tolerating my rantings).
My child will be so proud that I am coping with this (my child couldn’t care less and really has enough concerns about going back of his or her own to worry about).
I will be so proud of myself for coping (if I manage to let go of the back of my child’s coat with out school staff having to intervene I will reward myself with a martini and a whole cake).
It is going to be a great year (it probably will be but I will still be like this again next September ☺ ).
Paulette Moore is a mother of two, wife of one, and autism consultant of many.