But we’re not Wiccan, though all the books seem to be.

February 4, 2014 in Witchtastic by Meredith Spies

I’ve been looking for books about parenting pagan children, specifically male-identified children. There’s several books about family-oriented rituals (for Wiccans or Wiccan-based trads), fewer books about rites of passage for (Wiccan-identifying) cis-male children, and a heap of books about coming of age for cis-females, about rites and rituals for cis-females. We’ve been toying with the idea of writing a book about raising SN pagan children, with ideas for rituals and sabbats using what we’ve learned being Spawn’s parents, but have been met with blank stares and slightly agog expressions when we explain no, we’re not raising him Wiccan. Wicca is an awesome and amazing path for many people, but it’s just not our path. So I’d like to ask y’all, who are reading, what would you like to see in a general Pagan families book, when it comes to Special Needs families on a Pagan path? What sort of things would you like to see focusing on son-identifying members of the family that do not involve the tropes of hunting/killing or Native American appropriated rites?

Sensory seeking/avoiding in rituals?

Interactive activities for gatherings?

Special topics for sabbats and esbats (or holy days and moon based observances)?

How do we introduce the concepts of gods and the supernatural to SN kids?

Y’all tell me what you’d like to see and get the ball rolling…

Long time, no post… (or, “Why you need to advocate even at your child’s doctor/therapists’ office”)

January 20, 2014 in Witchtastic by Meredith Spies

It’s been over a month since my last post here. Holidays happened, both pagan and not, birthdays happened, and time got crazy. The stress of the season, usually pretty intense for neurotypical people, was borderline overwhelming for the Spawn and, for the first time in two years, he missed one of his speech therapy sessions not due to illness but due to a meltdown as we got ready to leave for the session.

This incident brought something to light I have not had to think of in a while: Doctors, therapists…sometimes they are not going to understand what is going on with a neuroatypical kid. They know textbooks, studies done by fellow NT folks who view the world, and the NAs in it, through NT lenses and are shocked and amazed and disbelieving of the realities of the NT world. It’s easy to get into the feeling of “Safe space” when you are with a doctor or therapist whom you trust and your child trusts and has given great care to your child thus far, which means it’s also easy to be blindsided by sudden displays of ignorance or intolerance.

I called Spawn’s therapist to let her know we wouldn’t be making it. The receptionist asked why and I explained he was having a meltdown and what it was. Silence. “Hello?” She sighed loudly and said “If you’d spank him, this mess wouldn’t happen.” Uh, what? First, why suggest how to parent to any parent, second, WHAT? I took a deep breath and reiterated the problem and she sighed again and said “That’s not a valid reason. Just shove him in the car and get to your appointment.” I hung up, too angry to respond. An hour later, I received an email notice that we were considered a “no show” as I had not called to cancel.

Yes, I called to complain about her attitude and behavior.

No, they weren’t helpful.

“Meltdowns are just an excuse,” the manager said. His therapist said “Well, he’s usually so happy. He’s just having a bratty day and you should have brought him!”

No, listen, meltdowns aren’t a temper tantrum. The term “meltdown” is so apt, it’s scary. And you can read all about it in ASD literature and studies. Do you mean to tell me that a team of medical professionals and paraprofessionals is going to disregard the problems of a swath of society because it does not fit their personal, neurotypical experience of working with people on the spectrum?

Yes, yes they are.

So what does this mean? It means we go in to his next appointment with hand outs from medical journals, from parent organizations, and articles written by NA people. It means we request and require a meeting with the involved parties to discuss their actions and why they are mistaken about NA behavior.

It also means that I had a splash of cold water in my face to remind me that advocating for my child while he is still too young to advocate for himself is 24/7, both in the Pagan community and the medical one.

Next column: oobleck, gack, and making messes for sensory fun

How to be a good host for a neuroatypical person

November 25, 2013 in Parenting, Witchtastic by Meredith Spies

Many people complain “Why should we make THEM comfortable?” The “them” in this case being a person with neuroatypicalities. There is a pervasive and ableist misconception and belief that a NA person can “make themselves act normal” or is just “acting out” or can be ignored, forced to fit a mold… And so on. If you are going to host a NA person or a family with a NA child not just for the holidays but any event, be it a family get-together or a ritual, circle, or holiday, it is important to recognize ableist beliefs and practices most of us have been raised with, and recognize they are harmful and reductive. If you are not willing to acknowledge there will be needs that must be met, that it is not according “special privileges,” and it is not “allowing bad behavior”, then you need to admit that you are not going to welcome this person (and probably their families and friends) into your home. Better to make it known you are ableist before the fact.

Things to know when having a person with neuroatypicalities in your home:

Stimming happens. Deal with it. It is not meant to annoy you or “get attention”. It is a fact of life for many NA people, especially those with Autism. It is not a slight against you or a joke.

Sensory needs can differ greatly from a neurotypical person’s needs. Some NA people may be sensitive to sound, taste, texture, visual input… And some may seek it out. Most people with these needs have family who are aware, or, if they are old enough, are aware themselves, about how to meet the needs in a safe way. They will most likely bring supplies or something to meet the needs with them in the case of oral motor input and sometimes texture/touch, but if not, ask if there is anything you can do to help or if there is something that will aide in meeting the needs you have on hand.

Some people who are NA have “volume issues.” Many people from ‘outside’ think the person is attention seeking or hyper or poorly disciplined. The fact is, sometimes there’s no volume control. Loud speech, verbal stims (chirping, squeaking, shouting, singing), things like scripting (reciting memorized lines or scenes from movies, commercials, t.v. shows, conversations…) offer the NA person an outlet for feelings, communication and are basically a way to convey what they are feeling. “Shushing” them or rolling your eyes or asking if they can “keep it down” or “stop it” are not helpful nor conducive to healthy experiences.

This may sound horrible to a lot of people but it’s frankly just a situation. Not all NA people have these issues, not all of these issues are on the “severe” end of the spectrum, but those that are… just are.

The only tip you really need for playing host to a neuroatypical person for any reason is: don’t be a jerk. Accept they are different and you will not be able to force them or beg them to “be normal” for a situation and if you feel you cannot handle having this person at your event, no matter what it is, be open about that and know that you are being ableist (“but it’ll ruin the ritual! dinner! drum circle!” sounds acceptable to most people when talking about someone with a NA issue but try substituting any other problem or adjective and see how that sounds: “They have blond hair! They’ll ruin the dinner! They’re Jewish! They’ll ruin drum circle! They’re Buddhist! The ritual will be ruined!”).

Knowing when to say “no”

November 11, 2013 in Parenting, Witchtastic by Meredith Spies

Twice a year, the Pagan community in my state holds a massive camp out–once for Beltane, once for Samhain (Using Wiccan holidays for simplicity of naming, even though most of the attendees, myself included, are not Wiccan. The names are the most publicly accessible, however.) I have rarely missed a camp out until recently. It was time to start packing, start getting ready, and the you know what started hitting the fan. The car was messed up, the schedule was too tight with my SO getting back from out of town the day the camp out started, and Spawn…well, Spawn.

Expressing my stress to some friends, Spawn and I were offered a ride to the camp out, and it turned out that my SO’s flight home was changed to a day earlier (not because of the camp out kvetching but just as a matter of course with the trip). But there was still Spawn. We always try to presume competence. We don’t treat him as “less than” or as some delicate hothouse flower “special needs angel”… but we also know his limits, or some of them anyway.

We know that he has sensory issues.

We know that he has nascent OCD.

We know that he has communication issues.

We know that…well. We know our child. And we know that he’s changing every day but he is not going to wake up tomorrow and be a Neurotypical kid. He is not going to outgrow his Autism or his neuro issues (As some people seem to think will happen–I know they are trying to make themselves feel better, because who wants to think of a child with a disability having a permanent disability?). He is not going to “shhhhh” when he is excited and loud. He is not going to have “quiet hands” when he stims…

Three days before the camp out, which would be packed with people (some years, it’s into the hundreds), I had a long think. Was taking Spawn on the camp out the best decision for him? For us? To be honest, the discomfort of other people at being confronted by the reality of a special needs child did not occur to me until someone asked if that was why I decided not to go. What did influence my decision was the fact my child has needs that cannot be met easily or well on a camp out right now. He doesn’t know how to create a new safe space when overwhelmed. He doesn’t know how to handle overwhelming numbers of people, or sudden noises that don’t stop (the bands that play, discordant drumming, drunk people in other camps being loud at night). I fretted over the decision, I changed my mind a dozen times or more, but I knew, in my heart of hearts, I had to say no, had to back out.

Maybe next year, when he’s hopefully a bit more able to handle social situations, when he’s in a different place developmentally… maybe then. But for now, I am learning when to say “no” and not force experiences on my child before he is ready, and learning when to say “okay” because he is the one ready and it’s not me wanting it to be so.

My son the pharaoh

October 28, 2013 in Parenting, Witchtastic by Meredith Spies

Spawn has a wide variety of interests. Dinosaurs, planes, trains, robots, animals of all sorts, running as fast as he can on open grass,climbing things, outer space (especially Mars)…and ancient Egypt. We aren’t sure what started this last one, but he is obsessed. He is barely verbal but he can tell you about King Tut (a mega favorite), Pharaohs, mummies, pyramids, the great Sphinx, Cairo, Luxor, the Nile, Egypt was two kingdoms, and gods. Oh, the gods! Folks ask if we’re coaching him on this part but no, not even a little. Neither my path nor Spawn’s father’s path are of Khemetic origin and no one we are close to has discussed this aspect with him. But Spawn adores the Egyptian gods, and the fact pharaohs were “gods on earth.”

Conversations we’ve had in the last week with total strangers include: “Yes, my son just called himself King Tut and said he was a god…why do you ask?”, “Hmmm? Oh, no, he said ‘Isis’ not “ice cream,” and “Well, no, we don’t mind…we’re Pagan. Yes, Pagan…No,not like Wicker Man…” Spawn is fascinated by anything Egyptian and it is a combination of a child’s wonder and the single-minded determination of an ASD kiddo to immerse themselves in a topic until they are glutted with it and know all they feel there is to know about it. We have pictures of him playing king while wearing a t-shirt for a Nemes crown, we have staged pretend digs in the living room while he exclaims over “tombs” and “Oh, no! Mummies are dead!” We are starting to use his interest like we do the other ones, and create lesson plans for homeschool in the mundane topics of math and reading as well as include this in his Pagan 101 lessons. We even found that we could bring in his sensory boxes–sand just like the Egyptian desert! Hard sided pyramids! Water like the Nile!

Will he always be on an Egyptian kick? Maybe, maybe now. All I know is that, right now, while I have friends who talk about their little ones having their first altar, making their first goddess dedication, making their own wand… I have an amazing kiddo who is currently trying to convince one of our cats to sit still so the kitty can have a temple dedicated, and my kid is wearing his t-shirt like a Nemes crown and telling me all about Horus. And I am so thankful that we are able to nurture this interest and use it as a teaching tool in so many areas of his life.

No apologies…

October 14, 2013 in Witchtastic by Meredith Spies

I’ve written before about the misperception that the Pagan community is somehow “better” than the larger one around us, that Pagans are accepting of everything and everyone, et cetera. We’re all human, and presuming our faith paths make us somehow better than others is just what many of us complain about when interacting with non-Pagans. I’m reminded of this fallacy today because, over the weekend, I had the opportunity to make a choice. Do I apologize for my child to get out of a messy situation, or do I stand my ground?

Easy.

Stand my ground. Defend him, always. But it wasn’t always a clear choice for me. Not because I don’t love my child more than anything in this universe, more than the entire universe combined, but because I hate confrontation. Rather, hated, past tense. Now, I don’t seek it out but I am not going to back down.

It started with a very simple trip to the zoo with his Spiral Scout group. They are amazing people and my kiddo thrives being part of this circle. The leaders and other parents are great and the kids don’t mind a bit that he’s different. His best friend (as much as one can have a best friend at three) is part of the group, too, and that just makes it extra special for him. The problem came afterwards. We left the trip a bit early because he was very tired and starting to stim in a way which indicates impending stress meltdown. We made our goodbyes and headed out, but he reminded me (oh, did he remind me!) that I’d promised a ride on the park’s train before heading home. We headed over (it’s a very calming thing for him, this train) to the ticket spot, Spawn was still stimming and being very loud compared to the other kids in the area. Most folks looked away uncomfortably, some gave sympathetic smiles and nods (ah, the secret sign of SN families everywhere). But one…one family… Well.

“You shouldn’t bring that mess out in public.”

Pause Pardon me?

“If he can’t act normal…”

Well. It went downhill from there. A twisting feeling in my gut said apologize and get the eff out of Dodge, we were drawing some stares and a few onlookers thanks to the person’s VERY loud voice and my son’s increasingly frantic stimming. Just twenty feet from the tickets, though… “He is acting normal, for him.”

“He’s acting retarded.”

Deep breath. “He’s not acting retarded. Mental retardation is an entirely different and outmoded diagnosis. Unless you’re a medical professional who has examined my son, you have no right to make pronouncements, especially in public.” Turn and walk off, shaking. He called out a name after us, but Spawn could see the train, the tickets…

He loved the train ride. If he remembers the incident with the jerk, he’s not saying. He loved the zoo trip, seeing his fellow Scouts… And I’m not going to apologize for his behavior that was harming no one and nothing.

Autistic Hoya has, on their site today, unapologetic cards giving information about Autism. Instead of the ones you can find online already that say apologetic things about the behaviors, these are straightforward and explain that the bearer has ASD and might do some things (listed out) and this is how NOT to interact (listed out). I highly recommend them.

Snow Globe Season! Kind of!

September 16, 2013 in Parenting, Witchtastic by Meredith Spies

Spawn adores, loves and is fascinated by water. And glitter. And, by extension, snow globes. We decided to make our own this past week as an extension of sensory play and letting him extend his own creativity and problem solving skills.

We used super glue, dollar store plastic bags of dinos, farm animals and toy cars, a metric a**load of glitter, some veggie glycerin, water, and whatever jars I could find in the kitchen (though, if you want to be uniform and fancy, you could buy jars in a flat from the grocery or save up jars specifically for this purpose).

The problem solving experiments came early. Spawn had to decide which figures fit which jars when attached to the lids. We took some time playing with that, being alternately silly and frustrated and serious. When he decided which figures he wanted in which “snow globe” (and had to be reminded that the lid/base could only hold one, maybe two figures depending on the figure size and the lid diameter), I would glue the figure into place and we set it aside to fully cure.

For the water/glitter portion, we did more experimenting, which Spawn loved. He said he was a “Science guy”. We added water to the jars, then put the “base” on to see how much it elevated the level inside. Once we’d sussed out each one to his satisfaction (and cleaned up a LOT of slop-over!), we added a few drops of veggie glycerin to each jar of water, then the glitter. Spawn chose which glitter went with which base depending on color and some metrics he didn’t share with us but apparently took quite a bit of consideration. We closed the jars up with the base/lid and let his dad seal the edges with a bead of super glue. Spawn’s been shaking the “snow globes” like crazy for days now and they’ve become a soothing mechanism as well as an outlet for frustration and a focal point for quiet time for him, out of his choice.

They’re not perfect (already some are leaking a bit) but they are easy to repair, cost very little to make, and had some great lessons and conversation starters for the kiddo. Not only did we get to work on colors and problem solving, we also started learning measuring skills, reinforced counting, and provided some tools for his sensory diet and box!

Presuming Competence (and happiness, and enjoyment)

September 2, 2013 in Parenting, Witchtastic by Meredith Spies

There is a lot of talk in the SN community, particularly with Autism families and families with DD-NOD in their ranks, about presuming competence. For a long time, it was assumed, even by (especially by) medical professionals, that kids with a diagnosis weren’t competent. Kids (and later, teens and adults) were treated like they were stupid, essentially. Like they couldn’t do the most basic of things or understand things a typical person might. It happens even within families. A big example happened with us just this past week.

We went overseas.

Yep. Packed up Spawn, got on a plane for 8-10 hours, and flew to Europe.
.
Meep.

I read everything I could about travel with kids, travel with SN kids, ordered cards explaining Autism, geared up for fights and melt downs and spending a week at our friend’s house in Germany trying to explain neuroatypicality to people while my child went into a tailspin.

I forgot to presume competence. And happiness. And enjoyment.

Spawn adored flying. He loved it more than his father, who is an aviation nut and works in the industry. Spawn spent the 8 hour flight there chattering, cheering, showing his toys the view out our window, and generally being happy as a clam. Not one sign of the expected meltdown or panic. The flight home? Same deal but add in a three hour nap that began before we even finished take off. He was happy during the trip, too, save for one or two “wanna see grandma and grandpa!” wibbles but…he’s three. What three year old doesn’t get tired and frustrated?

The cards never left my bag. The wristband with “I have Autism” never came out. My claws stayed sheathed. People who had questions or snide comments said their piece and if I could answer, I did. If they were rude, my friend (a native to the place we were visiting), told them to step off, and we moved along.

I forgot to presume competence. To presume being a kid.

And now, with major festival season coming up, with rituals lining up for us to attend, with carnivals and circles and Spiral Scout meetings, I have a huge reminder–this is not a lodestone on my son’s neck, or mine. Don’t assume he is going to be upset, or stressed, or unhappy. Presume competence. Presume happiness. Presume enjoyment.

Avatar of Kara by Kara

Build-an-altar: Candles

August 23, 2013 in Getting Crafty, Updates by Kara

 

 

Hello there! I thought we could take the next couple of posts to talk about how to decorate your altar in a way that is meaningful to you and your family. When I first started practicing my altar was full of all of the things that the books said I needed to have–the space looked more like a junk shop than a dedicated space to magical work. As I moved from state to state and from singledom to familyhood, my altar evolved to suit the needs of my life and my family. The space is now much less cluttered and more accessible to little hands.

The first project we will do is candle holders. When my kids were very little, we marked the quarters with painted rocks. Now that they are old enough to light candles I have added them back to the altar.

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We are going to be working with smaller candle sticks. Kids really enjoy when things are “their sized”.

Gather your supplies

  • 5 small candlesticks (from Bayer Wood Products
  • White acrylic craft paint
  • ModPodge
  • paint brush
  • glitter: red, yellow, green, blue, purple

 

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Lay down some paper on your work station so that you don’t get paint/modpodge/glitter everywhere.

Start by painting your candlesticks white and letting them dry.

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Once those are dry, paint the ModPodge on. Shake glitter over the WET ModPodge. Set aside to dry.

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I placed a sheet of printer paper underneath to catch excess glitter. Then I just folded the paper into a funnel and poured the excess back into the glitter shaker.

Once your candlesticks have dried, paint another layer of ModPodge over the glitter. This prevents glitter from leaping off of the candlesticks and getting all over everything.

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If you are not a fan of glitter, you can always just paint your candlesticks. I left the top of the cups glitter-free because there will be the inevitable wax drips that need cleaning off from time to time.

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I’ll show you our Mabon altar next month and talk you through the rest of the altar staples. We will Get Crafty as we continue to build an altar that suits our needs.

They just keep setting up boxes and we keep stepping around them…

August 5, 2013 in Parenting, Witchtastic by Meredith Spies

On paper, it sounds like Spawn is Super Special Snowflake: Special needs, homeschooled, Pagan… People see or hear these identifiers and assume he isn’t like a typical kid, that he doesn’t play or rough house or get sulky or have upsets or get bed times or pretty much do anything another three year old would do. In the smaller Pagan community, these aren’t so unusual. But in the bigger community–his ST and OT sessions, playgroups, etc… It’s like playing whack-a-mole with labels.

Usually, there’s some overlap in the situation. At ST/OT, they look at us blankly when they find out he’s homeschooled and Pagan, or are reminded some how (like when Spawn signed, for the better part of an hour ‘god is a girl’ over and over again–we’d just been discussing different ways to see the powers that be, and some names for them, the night before), and when they ask if he does this at the public school district’s preschool for special needs kids program (a thoroughly useless and borderline abusive situation which relies on teaching the kids to be quiet and sit still, despite stimming needs and other situations and really just aims to put them in life skills classes so they can learn to be greeters at big box stores) and we tell them no, he’s homeschooled, we usually end up explaining, thoroughly, our reasons for homemschool and assuring them that yes, his neurologist knows and is fully supportive and wishes more parents would homeschool their kids (his own were in private school). To be fair, his primary therapists know all of this and no longer think it’s unusual or odd.

At homeschool meet ups, it’s the special needs and Pagan boxes they want to cram him and us into. We don’t fit the super hippie crunchy granola image, we don’t fit the Charmed image, and he’s not a little Rain Man or Forrest Gump. Homeschool meet ups don’t last long, for us.

It goes on from there, and we used to be offended and angry and militant about re-educating the “stupidity”. But as Spawn has gotten older, and we’ve learned more ourselves, and seen what boxes we’ve been using for others, we’ve taken a different approach. We’re unapologetic. We rarely explain, unless asked or the need specifically arises. We don’t enter a situation and make the announcement ‘This is *Spawn’s real name*. He has Autism’ like we used to feel was necessary to stem any coming issues. Now, we step around the boxes. We let him be three. We let him be himself and try to gently and sometimes not so gently remind people that our parenting choices are *ours*, that some things are none of their business, and we’ll answer honestly interested questions but anything more than that… I have a box they can stuff it in.