What You Need to Know After Your Kid is Diagnosed Autistic

A note from Lil Helper:

Hi all! Caitlin here and so thrilled to introduce today’s guest blogger, Alix. I met Alix through a local story time program, and quickly knew they were an expert on all things early childhood education. Alix has taught me so much about gender identity, inclusion, and autism, and I’m thrilled to feature their unique voice on autism pride on our Lil Helper blog! Welcome, Alix!

One thing to learn: a rainbow infinity symbol is a more positive symbol for autism than a blue puzzle piece. Photo Credit: Megan L.

June 18 is Autism Pride Day

Wait, what? Isn’t April Autism Awareness Month?

Traditionally, the big organizations that focus on autism push “autism awareness” every April. They just want to make money. They’re looking to cure us–to rid us of something inherent in the way we think and process the world. Ultimately, they’re looking to eradicate autism, and I beg you to listen to autistics themselves–we would like to exist, please, and celebrate our own existence.

April is an exhausting month for autistics, because we’re speaking out against organizations like Autism Speaks that have huge budgets but employ very few actually autistic people. They pity us and our families, and tell our parents that it’s sad and disappointing that we’re autistic because we have so many limitations. Check out the hashtag #actuallyautistic on social media if you’d like to hear from us directly about our experiences!

June, on the other hand, is already a pride month, and autistic people are disproportionately members of the LGBTQ+ community–possibly because we don’t see any point in traditional social rules about gender or orientation. In fact, most of the autistics I know are transgender or nonbinary, like me. It’s really common for autistics to just not fit in with their assigned gender at birth, the same way we don’t seem to fit in anywhere.

Alix teaching at Camp Dragonfly.

So, awareness? I think we’re all plenty aware that autism exists in 2021, the way we’re aware that ADHD exists. Funny enough, both of these things are best described as “neurotypes,” not mental illnesses or disorders. They may, according to the person who’s dealing with them, be disabilities, but that depends on how disabling the environment around them is–NOT how “high or low functioning” the person is. Looking at disability as an environmental issue rather than a medical one is called “the social model of disability,” and it helps us create environments that support disabled people better rather than just exclude them.

In fact, functioning labels do us all a disservice. You might read my writing or meet me at work and think wow, they’re really high-functioning! Look how articulate they are! They can drive and everything! They have a university degree! Yeah… well, when you put me in the high-functioning box, what happens when I have a meltdown because the pizza toppings aren’t the ones I expected to have, or three people talked at once? Aren’t I supposed to be able to handle that? “High-functioning” autistics don’t get enough support, and “low-functioning” autistics don’t get enough respect.

Speaking of language, I am autistic. I’m not a “person with autism,” no matter what an organization tells you about Person-First Language (PFL). PFL’s mission is to remind allistics (non-autistic people) that we’re human, which is honestly pretty dehumanizing. If you need a reminder that I’m a human being, I don’t think language is going to be enough. In internet polls, the wider the audience, the higher the ratio of autistics who prefer Identity-First Language–that is, I’m autistic. The last poll I saw had 80% of us preferring it.

This is because autism is the way I think, the lens through which I see the world. If you took it away, I don’t have any idea what sort of “me” would be left. I don’t know what I’d enjoy, what I’d think about, or even how I’d think about it. The literal sparkles and spiciness that my brain feels when I’m engaged in a topic that interests me are things I’m told allistics don’t feel, and I can’t imagine that existence. I’d probably have less dyspraxia–more hand-eye coordination, better motor skills–but I wouldn’t trade that for a brain without sparkles, not for a million dollars.

Why listen to me?

Excellent question. I’m not a doctor. But I am an educator, and for years I was told that was impossible because there was clearly something “wrong” with me. In high school, I was diagnosed with OCD. I twitched and fidgeted, was utterly dependent on routine, couldn’t handle long days, loved children but could hardly speak to adults. I still have trouble speaking the “language” of adults–I can come off as rude without meaning to at all, and I try to warn people about it now.

We didn’t always know I was autistic, because I was assigned female at birth. And little girls who have huge vocabularies aren’t what doctors look for. Even now, it’s harder for girls, people of colour, LGBTQ+ people, and people without class and money privilege to access a diagnosis. Look on tv–autistics are skinny white men who have savant skills, amazing gifts, usually in the realm of science. Doctors are still looking for little white boys who like trains and memorize facts. Little girls who study blending in with their peers so as not to get bullied, care way too much about following the rules, and mouth all the words to their favorite movies (which they watch every day) aren’t even checked out for autism–they’re “quirky” or “gifted.” Until they “gift” themselves right into a spot at university, where suddenly they burn out like a dying star.

When I was asked to actually study and work, I realized that I’d been coasting on my autistic skills my entire life–for example, I read by picking up a paragraph, taking a picture of the important words in my head, and moving onto the next paragraph. I can plow through books this way–IF I know what they’re about. But if I have to really put my mind to studying something brand new, that’s a skill I never learned, because everything academic always came so easily to me. (This experience is not universal to autistics. No experience is. The saying is, if you’ve met one autistic, you’ve met one autistic. We’re not all geniuses, and that stereotype is what makes me feel like a disappointment so much of the time.)

One of the things that comes easily to me is understanding children. Their language makes perfect sense to me: the way their feelings are so obvious, and the solutions are too. I know what kids need to hear, to be reassured or encouraged. I know how to tell when information is too hard for a kid to digest, and how to pick it apart to make it accessible. I love to teach science, history, myths, and early literacy. I have a ton of games and lessons at the ready, time-tested and kid-approved, because I know how kids like to learn.

Alix sparked a love of songs, reading, and games in Caitlin’s daughter at a very early age.

High-functioning, right? Ask me to introduce myself to a stranger. That palm-to-palm of shaking hands (pre-COVID, of course) makes me literally want to throw up. It’s like being asked to lift up my shirt and touch stomachs. Palms are intimate and I’ll never understand why we’re still doing this. Pandemic isolation has been such a relief in this way–I don’t think I’ll ever be able to force myself to be quite as social as I could be before now.

Why your autistic or neurodivergent kid will be totally ok

The big advertising campaigns for “awareness” are all doom and gloom–how to mitigate the tragedy of your child’s disorder. Look, the only tragedy is treating someone like their life is a tragedy. When my partner, my mom, and I all realized that I was autistic–and I was 30-something by the time we clued in–suddenly we realized that the things we’d been doing to push me to act more like a human weren’t what I needed at all.

Alix, age 2, waving a birthday card.

I’m not a subpar human. I’m terrible at acting allistic. But I’m an excellent autistic. And once I realized that, I could play to my strengths instead of constantly fighting my limitations.

Example: Socializing with adults is really hard for me. But instead of pushing myself to keep trying social situations, now I recognize when I need a day off from talking to people in order to recharge. And even parties CAN work for me, if I set my expectations. I know I’ll need allies there that know me, a quiet place to go if I’m overwhelmed, food that my brain recognizes as food (which in high-stress situations is pretty much just chicken nuggets and pasta), and a couple of fidget toys in my bag. I can do really stressful things, just only a little at a time, and I’ll need to rest afterwards.

This shift in “I’m not broken; I’m just autistic” came relatively late in my life, so I’m begging you to save your kids the trouble. For years I tried to force myself into that allistic box. I’d have gotten as much use out of university if I’d just sat down in a room with a stack of books and read them all–going to class with hundreds of people daily was an impossible task. I taught in school after school before finally realizing that organizations have unspoken rules that they will never be able to fully explain to me before I break them, because allistics don’t even know what they are.

Lots of parents worry that by labelling their child, they limit them. And to that, I say, have you ever seen a cat in a box? If a cat needs to be in a box, they’ll stay there. But no amount of shoving a cat into a box can make them want to be there. The same goes for diagnoses. If autism isn’t the right one, you’ll know because it won’t fit. But if that cat really needs to be in that box, you won’t be able to keep them out. Trying to make an autistic kid into an allistic kid is like trying to shove a cat into a box. Let us be ourselves, and let us thrive as who we are and develop the skills we actually have.

If you’re interested in learning more, the #actuallyautistic hashtag on Twitter is a great place to start. Amythest Schaber’s “Ask An Autistic” YouTube channel is absolutely essential watching, and Facebook pages like “This is autistic culture,” and “Sounds autistic, I’m in” are also awesome communities. Basically, listen to autistics about autism. Doesn’t sound that hard, does it?


About the Author

Alix (they/them) is an autistic early childhood educator whose gender is nonbinary and whose special interests include Middle English, our solar system, the TV series and book Good Omens, and ancient mythology. Their partner B (he/him) is an incredibly patient paramedic and together, they have two dogs, four cats, and 42 plants. Their toddler friend Aileen’s mom asked them to write this article about autism for Lil Helper parents and they are very excited to help neurotypical parents support autistic kids!


Single Parent: One Dad & Daughter Share Perspective

I never noticed that I was raised by a single parent until I hit adulthood. It is only now that I’m aware of this difference between myself and others, as people will on occasion ask “I noticed you talk about your Dad a lot but you never mention your mom, why is that?” Which is sort of one of those questions I’m not sure why people feel falls into the category of small talk. Like asking people if they are pregnant or when they will have kids. Not your story to dig for. But the answer is pretty simple, I talk about my Dad so much because I was raised by a single parent.

A Daughter’s Point of View

My parents divorced the summer before I started 7th Grade, so my perspective on it was what you’d expect from a teen. Parents divorcing is typically painful for kids, and add in having to change schools, and messy feelings about a mom who wasn’t healthy enough to be a positive part of my life, there was a lot of angst.

As a kid going through parents divorcing, I had tunnel vision. I could only see my own struggles. I was focused on my own sadness over leaving my friends and fears at starting a new school. I was angry at my mom for the role she played. But when I looked at my Dad, I didn’t see a single parent, I just saw someone who loved my fiercely. Wholeheartedly and without conditions.

What I didn’t see, was the struggles that came with the divorce. Financial, emotional, logistically, my Dad did it all in stride. Or at least he protected me so well that I never had to worry about those adult issues. Working full time, conquering the crock pot, managing slumber parties, encouraging me to try everything I showed any interest in, never missing an important event, he did it all.

Sometimes I wish my mom was present, usually before big life events. I remember at my wedding wishing that my mom would be there. I remember feeling anxious during my first pregnancy wishing she was there to hold my hand. But when I look backwards to the memories, I don’t remember her absence. I remember my Dad always being there when I needed him. I remember him picking me up from work at my first job. I remember him letting me occasionally miss school to eat ice cream and pick out new tropical fish for our tanks. I remember him beaming as he held my daughter for the first time.

My Dad and I at my wedding.

Recently, I asked him what he remembers, how he’d describe his experience as a single parent. This is what he said.

Single Parent: Dad’s Perspective

My wife and I had two children, a boy and a girl, born two years apart. Shortly after the birth of our son, my wife was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This put some strain on our relationship and after the birth of our daughter my wife’s condition deteriorated further. I found myself trying to care for her and meet the needs of two young children. To some degree, I might have even then been regarded as a single parent although I never thought of myself as anything other than “Dad”. Later, circumstances led to my wife leaving us and I was alone with my children.

I do not like the term “single parent”. To me it gives the connotation of being a victim and proclaims a certain “woe is me”. I will not think of myself in such terms! I was and am just “Dad”. Whether it was rushing to get to a karate class with my son or picking my daughter up from Sparks, I was just looking after my kids. We had fun together. My son loves basketball so shooting hoops made for good memories. I taught my daughter to play chess and found that soon she was far better than me. Now meals were sometimes a challenge but thanks to a slow cooker and several kinds of packaged instant rice (which we called fancy rice), we all managed. And Christmas eve became a special memory for all of us as we watched a movie and had shrimp, a box of chocolates and coke – not good nutrition maybe but good fun! Buying a grade 8 graduation dress was an adventure as was teaching them both to drive.

Would I have rather raised my kids as part of a “Mom and Dad” team? Yes! Sometimes however, life does not work out to the ideal picture in one’s mind, so you make the best of things. I still have two great kids, I still have more good memories than bad, and I am still just “Dad” although now I am “Grampa” too.

Promoted to “Grampa”.

I do understand that for many people finding themselves solely responsible for their children can be most trying. Often finances are problematic and support for the single parent can be hard to find. It can be difficult, and you have to recognize that what might have been your hopes and dreams has to take a backseat to loving and nurturing the dreams and aspirations of your children. I am not suggesting that you need be a martyr; I am merely suggesting that you signed on to be a parent which is the toughest job of all but also the most rewarding when you look back over your life.

Advice for those Entering Single Parent Life

There is really only one thing you need to know about how to get through single parent life. Whether you are dealing with joint custody, the death of a co-parent, or an absentee parent, you as a single parent have one job. Love your kid, and love them fiercely.

The days I imagine were some of the most challenging for my Dad, are some of my fondest. I’m sure no single Dad looks forward to dealing with his daughter’s first period on his own, but I will never forget my loving Dad picking me up from a sleepover with EVERY MENTSRUAL PRODUCT POSSIBLE. I felt a wonderful mix of embarrassment and love, and gratitude as we said very little but he let me turn up the music and sing like always, like it was no big deal his backseat had half a pharmacy aisle in it.

I didn’t need perfect, I needed an adult who obviously cared about me and wanted to do whatever they could to support me.

And isn’t that all any of us really needs?


About the Author

Caitlin lives in Alberta with her husband, 2 little girls, and too many animals cause she is a sucker for a rescue. When she's not chasing kids and changing fluff bums she spends her time crocheting, gardening, and binging true crime docs.


How To Overcome Mess And Declutter With Kids

I am forever trying to be a “minimalist” which means I am constantly decluttering. We recently found out we are moving to another country for the next 3 years and I’ve had to be more extreme about this because we simply cannot take all our things with us. If you’ve ever tried declutter or clean anything while your kids run around, you know it is a disaster that ends in frustration and sometimes tears.

I won’t lie, I love organizing. I want everything to have a home and only go in it’s home. I don’t mind a lot of things or even mess from when kids play but at the end of the day I want everything in its home. My kids don’t give a fuck where anything goes. What are homes? They don’t care. They put blocks in my couch and Legos in the dog bowl and store their favorite books in the microwave of their play kitchen. Still, I have to declutter because our move is happening. Some of the things I’ve found most useful in my efforts to declutter are:

Make a Declutter List

This is always my first order of business. I always make a list of what areas I want/need to declutter. Sometimes I add mini lists to my lists. I’ll include an example:

Example of lists and “mini lists”

Choose a Starting Point

Now that you have your super spiffy list, what are you going to do with it? You decide where is the best place to start. I always start somewhere I can close off like the bathroom or the pantry so if I don’t finish, it won’t be in my way all day taunting me. I usually just number my lists to make it easy for myself to prioritize. I start with the areas I can do quickly. For example:

After brainstorming, number by priority.

Commit to Small Areas

You don’t need to do it all at once. The best method I have found is choosing small portions to begin with. For example, if I’m doing the bathroom, I will start under the sink or the vanity so I can see progress quickly and continue to feel motivated. This is what works for me. Others may prefer to do the entire bathroom at once but my kids simply do not allow me to do that so I go slow and steady.

Set a Declutter Timeline

After I make my list and decide what is a priority I give each thing an estimate of time so I know where I should be with my decluttering. I try to give myself an extra day or two for each just in case I can’t do it one day or simply don’t feel like it.

Teach Your Family Where Things Live Now

This is one I had to learn the hard way. I forgot to tell my family where I had moved things to in the kitchen and then someone unloaded the dishwasher and everything went where it was before and everyone was confused. Learn from me, give your family a tour of the new system after your declutter.

Need a new storage system while you declutter? Check out Lil Helper bags, we’ve got a bag for every need and 10 ways to use them here.

Photo Credit: Katie F.

I know everyone’s decluttering works differently. This is what I have found works for me and my family. What are some tips and tricks that work for you when you declutter?


About the Author

Jessica is a Latinx mom to a boy and a girl. She currently lives in California with her husband, babies, and a super cuddly pup. She has many hobbies but her favorites include dancing, hiking, and true crime podcasts.


World Ocean Day: How You Can Help Save Our Oceans Now

At Lil Helper, it’s no secret we care about the environment. From cloth diapers, to reusable snack bags and menstrual products, we are all about reducing waste. That’s why, for World Ocean Day, we wanted to spotlight an organization doing great work to protect the environment. We talked to Natasha Tucker, Executive Director of Plastic Oceans Canada, about what we can all do to help save our Oceans now. Here is what she had to say.


What is Plastic Oceans Canada?

Plastic Oceans Canada is an extension of the international organization, Plastic Oceans, based out of the US.  To date, there are 5 branches, including the Canadian and US branches as well as in Mexico, Chile and Europe. The organization began in 2016 when a documentary, A Plastic Ocean, was released. The organization's mission is to inform, inspire, and incite action to solve plastic pollution by focusing on four key pillars; activism, advocacy, education and science.

What Can People Do to Help Protect the Ocean?

There are so many ways to help protect the oceans. I'll break it down by our four pillars:

Activism

Get involved with shoreline cleanups, even if you don't live near a "shore". All drains run to our waterways and any litter can easily find its way to water as well. Shoreline cleanups do not necessarily need to be organized events. If you're out for a walk, bring along some gloves and a container and pick up what you see along the way. Bonus points if your container is reusable, and you try to recycle or repurpose your findings! As the saying goes, one man's trash is another man's treasure! By doing this, you're actually contributing to promoting a circular economy and diverting this waste from the landfill (where, let's be honest, it is destined to end up back in our environment).

Photo Credit: Megan L. A pair of tongs and LH Wetbag make for an easy way to include the kids in clean ups

Eliminate single-use plastics from your life by making more sustainable swaps. My biggest piece of advice is to do this one by one as it's needed instead of a big (overwhelming!) overhaul. Need a new toothbrush? Grab a bamboo one with compostable bristles! Ran out of shampoo/conditioner/soap? There are so many local makers who make fantastic, package-free alternatives. We are so lucky to live in a time where plastic packaging is becoming less and less, let's keep speaking up with our dollars to advocate for more of this!

Be mindful of the food you consume, specifically fish. As many are aware due to the recent sensational documentary, Seaspiracy, the fishing industry has a long way to go when it comes to balancing the health of our oceans and sustainable business practices.

Support new circular economy initiatives dedicated to creating change on a mass scale by encouraging large corporations to focus on reusable packaging.

Support the initiatives of Plastic Oceans Canada by making a monthly or one-time donation

Advocacy

Speak up to your officials in your area about the harmful effects of single-use plastic. You can even draft letters to MP's, local restaurants and dental clinics here

Vote for single-use plastic elimination with your dollar by choosing more sustainable, plastic-free options whenever possible

When it comes time to vote, educate yourself on the agendas of the politicians and vote accordingly for those focused on protecting our environment.

Education

Become aware of the harmful effects of single-use plastics and how to avoid them. Here's a little crash course!

If you're looking for ways to create your own alternative products at home, there are many recipes online to do so.

For example, check out how to create your own composting system at home here.

Science

Trust in the people who have dedicated their professions to solving this problem through tireless study and research. These are the experts we need to be listening to!

Why can’t I just recycle my plastic? Isn’t that enough?

Recycling plastic initially was seen as a way to use plastic once and know it was getting reused. However, with recent studies showing that less than 10% of plastics actually get recycled this is simply not an effective way to manage our plastics. The value of plastic varies depending on a variety of factors such as how many times it has been recycled, type of plastic, and even the color. As a result, many "undesirable" plastics are doomed for a life in landfill, or worse, in our oceans.

With 90% of the world's plastic not being recycled, it is often carried to our environment through the wind. This is critical to remember as even if you do your best to recycle plastics, think that only 1 of every 10 items will actually be recycled, and the rest has a very good chance of ending up in our environment. This is why we suggest recycling as the very last resort, and instead focusing on refusal of plastics when possible, and reduction.

The Ocean Impacts Us All

Photo Credit: Erica C.

Many people feel that they need to live near the ocean to be connected to it, but we are all connected to the ocean in some way. The ocean is full of mysterious creatures, expansive ecosystems and is key to our livelihood as humans. A healthy ocean directly impacts our ability to lead healthy lives as humans and the more polluted it becomes, the more devastating the effects on humankind.

Together, we can create a healthier ocean for a healthier you


Want to learn more about how you can help save our oceans? Check out our tips on simple, single use swaps here, and Plastic Oceans Canada for more information.