My son is 9 years old, going to be 10 very soon. We have a lot of history together within this short amount of time. Most of it has been good, but sometimes it has been a struggle. We have had our own "cultural" battles, language barriers, and role differences. Throughout it all, we have found things, within ourselves, we would've never knew existed. Patience has graced me tenfold, meanwhile; Chris has learned what it means to be a family. Bringing another child into this world, Hope (his sister/my daughter), has truly defined the meaning of Yin Yang.
Family means something different for everyone. The only thing all might agree on: a family is a social unit. Generally, it's a consanguinity, a bloodline of sorts together within one dwelling. Although, some may say blood doesn't matter, it's whoever is there for you. I'd like to say family is learned, but speaking from experience, "Leave It To Beaver", my parents were not. I can't even say the "Adams Family" summed it up. Probably more like, "Modern Family" on alcohol. Lot's of it. On my father's side, since I'm a product of divorce doesn't have a show to explain the complexities of those family dynamics. He was a provider, and liked by many, didn't drink, smoke, do drugs, but loved his women. Three divorces and four marriages probably say it all. How I understood what a functional, healthy family unit was to be, is through the grace of God and watching many, "Leave It To Beaver's".
When Chris, my special son, entered this world, no word/phrase/show/movie could ever come close to exemplifying it. Fast forward to when my daughter was born, Chris didn't see this as a "delight" or "blessing". Imagine a child, who has had your full attention now having it diverted in another direction. Any child would show signs of angst. Being as he has Autism, the issue of having a beautiful bundle of joy, as his sibling, was more like someone just killed his cat. Add to which, as Hope got older, she showed her beautiful soul. Funny, sweet, loving, listened attentively, and followed rules to a T. Everyone complimenting on her beauty, cuteness, and overall pleasing demeanor. Obviously, her behavior was polar opposite of Chris's.
One would think this would make Chris feel eliminated. Maybe at first it might have. Working with Chris, allowed him to become very boastful, looking people in the eye, and even giving hugs. Hope, would shy away when strangers said, "Hi". She clung to me as if the world was falling out from our feet. As they have grown together, Hope has opened up to others. Ironically, she does this only when her brother is around. In the same token, Chris has learned to be patient, less loud at times, and become a helper. I don't know when it began, but I do know how it is now. He went from complaining, "That baby is eating my toys. Her slobber is gross and stinks", to "Hope, come play with me". What began as contrary forces, became complimentary.
Having Chris didn't just help Hope. Having Hope didn't just aid Chris. Chris has actually become an interconnected interdependent force within my life. We have given rise to each other, as we interrelate to one another. Not only has my patience been extended ten-fold, but it the simplest things, that most could probably do with their eyes closed; I have a problem with.
For example: I walk into a grocery store with the children. An hour later, I am leaving out the same door I came in. One problemo. I have no idea where I've parked the car. Maybe it's the fact that I just spent 250.00 dollars. Walked up and down isles with children whining, complaining, and asking for half the store. Maybe it's the unloading, waiting for cashier to scan, and then loading them back into the cart. Or how I wished I could find the designer for the registers and totally erase that floor plan. C'mon, putting candy, pop, and silly toys right there, where you are waiting; knowing the children have minutes to scan the candy and have their mouth water! Ugh! By the time I am leaving, I have no clue where I parked. Sure as I'm typing this, Chris, my special son, remembers exactly where my car is. Even though he was partially taking my brain away from focusing, he didn't lose focus at all when it mattered.
It has been these little things, in which I noticed but Chris just simply understood. Almost an unwritten, unspoken, and accepted ideal of family. As we pulled up today, from running to the store, Chris said, "We have a good family, right?!" He said it as a question, but very confidently. Almost as if he was reminding me. Reminding all of us. Russel M. Nelson once said, "A Saint is tolerant and is attentive to the pleadings of other human beings, not only spoken messages but to unspoken messages as well." I'm not saying Chris is a Saint, but darn near close to it. Yin Yang is also relevant. Leave It To Beaver, has nothing on us!
As a society, we rely on verbal and nonverbal communication to: listen, respond, act, or understand another. Even though we don't always say what we mean, our verbal communication is decently direct. If we are hiding something, this is generally shown through non-verbal communication. Our body postures, hand gestures, facial expressions, and eye contact/lack there of, are often tail-tell signs about someone or how they feel. Some say these gestures regulate social interactions. People with Autism usually have an impairment in all areas(aka symptoms), but the most acknowledged one is lack-of-eye-contact.
Lacking eye-to eye contact can mean, but not limited to: deception, hesitation, embarrassment, insecure, lack of respect or rejection from the one averting eye contact. It's also averted within confession booths or psychiatrists's offices. Ever notice how the couch is placed to reduce eye contact between patient and therapist? How about a confessional booth? You cannot truly look into the priest's eyes. Why is this? Usually, when a person talks about a shameful/embarrassing moment or they are reflecting, it's easier not to have "all eyes on you" feeling. I suppose this is why there is a negative connotation when averting eye contact. Maybe this is why many people are beginning to question "why" those with Autism have this "symptom".
Let us now look at the reasons why neurotypicals have eye contact. It's used for feedback or to hand over the conversation. An approval of sorts. Some are thought to be more honest or believable. Holding eye contact is used to persuade and encourage. It's also believed that the longer one holds a gaze, the personal relationship is more important than what's actually being said. Ironically, our special children don't hold much emphasis on titles or relationships. This doesn't mean they can't have empathy, but words have limited meaning to them earlier on. Non verbal cues mean that much more. The problem is, they don't place the same connotation behind the non verbal cues as we do.
I cannot specify for each child out there as to why they don't look someone in the eye. I can however, talk about my son. Because I understood, very early on, non-verbal cues meant more than words to Chris, I began watching his. Whenever he was angry or impatient, he would hand flap. What we call the "monkey". His arms would go up to his ears, in fists, and begin a side-to-side motion. In his earlier years, he made a monkey-like sound, "ooh-ooh, ehh-ehh." His eyebrows would frown and his face would freeze. Like a robot having a malfunction. This led me to understand that when I frowned my brow, he would pick up on the non-verbal cue, which meant I was not happy. Just because he couldn't see himself in the mirror, didn't mean he couldn't understand the face he was making. Him frowning showed a specific feeling, so if I did, that meant the same within his world.
There were other moments like this in which I noticed. If he felt hurt or was feeling some type of pain, he would avert eye contact. It was a fluke how I noticed this. We were watching, Hatchi, a movie about a dog. He wasn't even 2 and half years old. He didn't understand the word, "death", let alone any aspect of it previous to this movie. When the dog died, the movie showed clips of "Hatchi's" past life with his owner until that moment in the present. Chris, walked away and didn't have any irregular motion. When I walked up to him, bent down, and tried looking at him, he pulled away. He actually tried hitting me. It was at that moment, I realized, "holy crap, he understood the dog died." How was it that a non-verbal Autistic child, understood something so powerful from pictures on a screen? The answer hit me like a ton of bricks. If a child cannot speak, but only think. A child can only hold images instead of words to meaning. He can understand better, deeper, and faster than most adults can.
Chris was not distracted from outside noise. Nor was he holding a word to a meaning. This meant he could see the picture more clearly than someone who takes those things into consideration, willingly or not. From that moment on, I began to teach him sign language and watch my facial expressions, my posture, walk, hand gestures, and eye contact.
Another thing I realized, is the more I entered his world and allowed him to show/teach me, the more he maintained eye contact with me. Once he made eye contact, I would break away before him so he felt like he was in control. Kind of like bowing your head to a dog that wants to chew your face off. Or a person who wants to fight you. Most of the time, if you walk away, avert eye contact, or lower your eyes, the other person/animal doesn't feel conflict.
Why our Autistic children feel it's a negative thing to avert eye contact is not the issue. The real issue is when they do it. If you figure out when they do it, you can then flip the script and teach them the "social norm" of eye contact. Actually, the "monkey" I spoke of earlier in the post, Chris has since changed the reasoning. Now, he does it when there is too much "fun" or "exciting" stimuli. Like crashing a car on Roblox or we are going to a "party" (aka, friend's house, b-day party, vacation, any fun spot for children).
Now, that he is verbal, we have discussed the noise that comes with it. He has actually found a way to limit/eliminate the noise. The arm gestures and face freeze is still there, but I don't think he has much control over that. His brain has too much power over his body. He has made the verbal obey his command. Chris, also, looks strangers in the eyes. Due to us hugging to show we enjoy one another's company or like/love another, he now hugs strangers, too. I guess we can't win all the non-verbal battles!
Paulo Coelho once said, "No one can lie. No one can hide anything, when he looks directly into someone's eyes." Maybe our special children can see those things we hide. Maybe, they refuse to see it. My personal favorite, which has enhanced my life and his is, "Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts."
Culture has to be learned; it is not part of our biological makeup, but our biological makeup makes cultures possible. (Eitzen & Zinn, 1998) Yet, ironically, the American culture is still divided into three major racial subcultures. Out of those three, the two prevailing subcultures are African - American and Caucasian. There has been a 400 year battle between the two subcultures. Although many African - Americans are accepted as 1st class citizens, the struggle still continues; the struggle is still a prevalence, in the one community for which we are to bond together.
I ran across Mikki Kendall's post and at first was taken aback. At first glance I thought she was downplaying the apparent growing issue in America. The fact that 1-88 children have Autism and that number has since tripled within the last few years. Why wouldn't people assume a "tantrum" is now a "meltdown".? That the boy on the train has Autism!
So, I read some more. I suppose curiosity took a hold of me! What could this woman possibly say to rectify her initial statement? There it was, in black and white. "I can say with some authority a black kid on the spectrum having that same issue wouldn't get half as much patience nor would his parent." Mikki Kendall was right! I couldn't argue with her in the least bit. She absolutely subsided my shock in her initial statement.
Here is why. As a college graduate, Anthropology was my favorite subject. I aced my Ethnography. Believe me, when I say, my Professor didn't give A's easily. I recalled the lessons on culture, subculture, history of pretty much everyone (even the tribe Collin Turnbull observed). One thing that always stuck out was how Macionis stated that: values, beliefs, behaviors, and material objects form people's way of life. An African - American subculture definitely has distinctive customs, values, norms, and lifestyles, music, dance, and self expressions - in which separate them from the other part of the world.
This is not to say anything negative about their subculture but rather explain further as to why this is. Many theorists and psychologist have formulated ideals as to why. The biggest one has been slavery. Before you role your eyes, don't focus on the "slavery" aspect, but rather the specific culture that was learned based on the premise that assimilation into the mainstream would go against everything their history has taught them. Heck, it is being taught to Caucasian children as we speak. The hurdles, tribulations, racism, and much more they have endured. Not to mention, African - Americans have truthfully been around the "American" culture the longest, for which they have suffered the most. Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King didn't go with the mainstream, they went against!
Now, I am not saying they are suffering now, but am saying the subculture is real. It is there because history has made it so. So, if Eitzen & ZInn are correct (which many use this as the backbone in their thinking), ask yourself one question. What is the culture in which the African - American community has learned? You can believe your sweet butt, I went on a crusade to find out!
I asked several African-American women, born and raised here, what is it they learned when it came to rearing children. They all came from different backgrounds and had different educational levels. I didn't want any bias in my findings. Although, there were a lot of variables, one thing stood out! It was almost as shocking as when I first read Mikki Kendall's first tweet.
In the African - American community, there has been something passed down from generation to generation. It seems as if, "they have a boy, but raising a man. No crying, whining, or lying. Especially to your mom". The mother is to be respected first, but the older a woman you are (within the family), the utmost respect is to be given.
Another thing is that social acceptence is less needed. Even though they value "labled" clothing lines, it is not to gain acceptance or understanding from peers outside their subculture. Basically, if you aren't African - American, who cares if you like what they wear.
The last thing I found interesting was they seem to know: the loudness, possibly crude, or seemingly unfeeling they might seem to outsider when disciplining their children. For them, disciplining behind closed doors didn't matter much. You did the wrong deed, your punishment will fit the crime, regardless of where they are.
With that being said, the subculture of the African - American community is real! It truthfully doesn't matter where it stems but felt it might help to bring a better understanding as to the differences between the two sub-cultures. Especially when rearing children. If you are Caucasian, be honest with yourself. Would you spank your child in front of everyone? A portion of us might answer yes, but in reality, we think it, but don't do it.
That is exactly why Mikki was correct. Her observation of how other's perceive African - American's was spot on. Since most, in another sub-culture stereotype African - Americans, they would think that boy was just "acting up". Not understanding, he could be on the Spectrum as well.
Not to mention the statistics on African - American children being diagnosed with ASD is only 1-98. This gap could be from many issues. One, that has been discussed but not widely understood is the lack of reporting. Is the culture of African - Americans preventing the lack of reporting? I know in some cultures, it is forbidden to allow outsiders to know anything about their life. Why is so hard to believe that with all the criticism and racial tension, many would not want to report their child as having ASD? Just another thing to add to the list of what others think is wrong with them!
It could also be the lack of medical coverage. Considering there is a large amount of the African - American people in despair compared to Caucasians. One will never know until more people want to actually figure this out. Apprently, we as Americans want to discover life on other planets, yet don't want to take the time out to figure out the ones living here.
Having Autism or a child with a form of disability is hard. It's even harder to be looked down upon as if you are a bad parent or your child is problematic. As a community, we are supposed to ban together. We are supposed to: help, guide, understand, and accept one another, because the outsiders cannot. How can we call ourselves a community if we allow prejudice, stereotypes, and stigmas to get in the way of having empathy or compassion? I bet some don't know that the regressive rate for an African - American Autistic child is 2x as often than Caucasian! Why? Because it didn't pertain to your immediate culture!
Please, let us open our eyes. Let us redefine our community. Let us redefine culture as we know it. A subculture is : a part of a culture sharing characteristics in which distinguish from the broader one. Wouldn't the child with Autism on the train share the same characteristics regardless of race? Wouldn't the parent want the same compassion and understanding as the other? Even though the African - American subculture might not have the same need for social acceptance as Caucasian, they are still deserving of it!
The moment you came into my life, I knew God had a plan
He knew I was to be your biggest fan
He saw your issues
Felt all your pain
Understood the strain your soul was to endure
But, He made sure I would be there to sustain
The tumultuous storm that would fill your brain
Thousands of child abductions, car accidents, rapes, murders, molesting, shootings, and riots happen each year. Over 1 million children are abducted specifically for child trafficking. Approximately 160K children miss school each year due to fear. Fear of being bullied. American schools harbor almost 2 million bullies and it's said the victim numbers are more, reaching a whopping 2.7 million children. Children under 14, the leading cause of death has been suicide. At one time, children ages 10-14, their suicide rate was down. It has now jumped up 50 percent in the last 3 decades. It is no wonder why our biggest want, as a parent, is to protect our children. To have a "special need child", the protection rate almost triples. Not only do we battle outside extremities we have battles in our immediate circle.
Since Chris was born, I have battled many people on his behalf. Friends have left my side and many arguments between my fiance and I have stemmed, because of Chris's behavior. The first time I ever went to battle with a "friend", was when Chris was almost 5 years old. We came over for a cookout the night before. Not only did I purchase the food with my own money, but cooked for several others as well. Bedtime came and I put all the children to sleep, including hers.
The next morning, I awoke to her oldest daughter panicked. Her sister was not awake and the bus was going to be here shortly. She said her mother would not wake up. Immediately, I rushed up the stairs, praying she was not dead. Upon seeing her breath, I knew she would wish she was dead. Apparently, the alcohol from the night before was seeping through her pores. I ushered the little girl out of the room and explained I would get her sister to school. To let the office know, she would be late.
So, my morning was spent: waking her sister up (no easy task), getting her fed/dressed for school, and driving for a half an hour. I had no clue where I was going. Never get directions from a seven year old. Finally, I found a jogger that set me to the right path. I went back to my "friends" place, to leave a note explaining the morning. Upon leaving, my car wouldn't start. Dead battery! Needless to say, morning came and went. It was now 12:30 p.m. As I started feeding my son the leftovers from last night, Ms. -Look - Who - Went - On - Binder was now awake. An hour in, my son motioned he was done with food. I took the plate away and threw the rest out.
Next thing I know, I'm bombarded with, "What? You aren't going to make him finish that? What the (bleep)?!" Without blinking an eye, my son starts to hand flap. He didn't know much aggression from me, therefore; my "friend's" aggressive outburst made my son uncomfortable. He said, "I quit". That was his way of saying, 'I'm done'. She then retorted with, "I don't give a shit if you quit, you just wasted food." Out of all the words to repeat, of course my son chose, "shit". He said it probably seven times. He was saying it loud and proud while clapping his hands. Great, a new word he thinks is fun to say.
Wouldn't you know it, my "friend" got mad at me. "See, you aren't doing anything. You let him do what he wants, when he wants, and now he is making fun of me." It was at that moment, I put her on blast. I mean, seriously, this wasn't the first time I took her child to school because she couldn't hold to a three - beer minimum. Not to mention, I bought the food. Why should she care? Add insult to injury, her lovely profanity was new to Chris. Now. I had to find a way to explain it's a bad word and don't say it anymore. Worst part was, I still needed a jump for my car!
There have been other times, not so volatile, in which other friends have made negative comments. It's usually out of fear or not understanding. The tried and true friends. The ones that understand who Chris is. Those are my friends who usually say, "I don't know how you do this." I also hear, "You are doing a great job, don't let anyone say anything different." Actually, I had someone who only met us twice say, "Your kids are great. I love Chris's hugs. I can tell you are a good mother."
I will say, though, when it comes to my fiance and I, it can be rough at times. We have argued about the time I spend with Chris. Not only does that eliminate time with my fiance, but our daughter as well. She is so patient and sweet. Sometimes, I have to focus on Chris because he can be the opposite at times. It's like a fireman's job. Are you going to run into a building that's on fire to save people? Or are you going to grab a coffee at the shop next store and pretend it's a glowing hearth, coming from a fireplace?
The worst argument we had is when he said, "What is it about him?" I was actually stunned for a second. I could've put him on blast, too. That day, though, I walked away. I sat and thought, how could a grown man not understand? Has been sleeping the last several years? Does he not understand the battles I've gone against? Now, he wants to pick a battle with me? Later, when I had calmed down, I went in and said, "He's my son, that's what it is with him. For you to question anything, as if you are a five -year old not getting your way, is beyond me. He's my son and if you can't handle this, I guess we're done."
God gave me children to: guide, love, cherish, and protect. I am only one person, so my protection only covers so much ground. We are human. To error is only human. I, as a parent, make mistakes like anyone else. There is no manual that comes with our children. No extended warranty stating our children can be fixed if broken. We get them, "As Is". I wouldn't change it for the world. I will however, protect my children from any and all harm within my power! I will always side with my children when they don't know better, but an adult does! I will turn my back on anyone who doesn't understand and respect that! Because I've held steadfast in my thinking on this matter, no one has since asked, "What is it about him?" They already know the answer!
it allows us to see all the intricate parts of a whole
,A disorder : This can be - a confused or messy state. In the medical sense, the meaning is more politically correct. It means that if you have a mental/physical condition that is not normal or healthy, but doesn't lead to death, it's only a disorder. Really, you are just what we call today, "a hot mess".
A disease: This means you have a particular abnormal condition. Basically, it's a particular disorder. A disorder of a STRUCTURE or FUNCTION that affects part or all of an ORGANISM. Again, it's not healthy, but doesn't always lead to death. You are a "hot mess", but it could lead to death.
A disability: As an ORGANISM, otherwise known as a human being, CANNOT engage in any substantial (whatever that entails), gainful activity. I suppose gainful and substantial would mean you CANNOT contribute to society as they WANT you to. You cannot perform these acts because you have ANY mental or physical (non - particular) impairment (for me, this means same as condition). It's not a specific genre of your mental or physical impairment, BUT .....and here is the huge BUT.....it CAN BE expected to result in death OR can be/will be/is expected to last NOT LESS THAN 1 YEAR....and CONTINUE FOR AN UNDETERMINED AMOUNT OF TIME.
As if a disease or disorder HAS an amount of time in which one can say, "Hey, at five years, this disorder is done, but won't result in death. Yet a disease might kill you within five years. Ironically, they act as if a disability is biggest unknown within the 3 D's: Disorder, Disease, and Disability. When in fact, medically speaking, it DOESN'T specify if it can/would kill you, but only EXEMPLIFIES you would not be a human being (organism) worthy of being here. I mean, if you can't act right, conform to social norms, or gain any money for the economy: what good are you?
What I just wrote is how people process the medical definitions and conform it to their own ideals/perceptions/judgments. The first three letters in all three words is DIS. Since most words form from the Latin word, it means: APART/AWAY. Those two words have a negative connotation. If you are apart from something, it means you are not functioning because your thoughts are possibly on what is not with you. If you have a half glass of milk, it is not whole. Wow, that's a negative feel. Again, all up to perception about: IS THE GLASS HALF EMPTY OR FULL? The problem is, no one works at FULL CAPACITY, but we all like to believe we can/do/must.
Truth be told, since 1925, the word DIS meant weak in the head. People today have used it as a slang term to mean: disrespect, belittle someone, criticize, or putting someone down. Ironically, this is even found in a subculture of rap, way after 1925. In Scandinavia, the word DISSER(plural form), meant a lady or a female deity. Apparently, Scandinavia had a low opinion of woman. Maybe that's where America gets their thing about woman being less than a male? But like Kermit the Frog sipping on tea, "I don't know anything about that."
It's truly NO wonder why the 3 D's: disorder, disease, and disability hold a negative connotation.
I'm going to be bold, though. I want you to know the word ASSIMILATION. This means to understand the PROCESS of UNDERSTANDING information or ideas. Why do I want you to know this word? Well, ask yourself this question instead. How much do our special children understand information or ideas? Now, ask yourself another question. How well does EVERYONE understand EVERYTHING?
We are all NOT equal in all areas of knowledge. Some of us know a lot in Science. Where they might falter in Math. One may understand emotional, while another understands mental. Sure, they can go hand in hand like branches off a tree. Is it always so, that one aspect will always lead to another for some? No one can say yes, for certain. If you can state a "yes", you are either God or have done it yourself. Doubt you are a God, but rather a narcissist If you have, well then good for you. You are now using yourself as a yardstick in which to compare others to. In a religious sense, you are judging. I may be a Minister, and gone to college! Nowhere, did I read either is excepted. Instead, ponder this: where one area grows brilliance, another will lack. We all strive to be/have/not lack/become the master. Yet, are we truly supposed to understand it all? Are we to become the master? Or merely admire in the beauty of the complexity?
So, I want you to ask yourselves, yet, another question. Does everyone have to understand ALL areas of EVERY genre to fully: be productive in their lives, help others, show a different perspective, and to contribute something to society? Doesn't all parts make a whole? When you cook, do you just add the same of everything to make it taste good? Are you a master at everything? Could you ever be? No, you couldn't be a master at everything! You only try to be a master in your own domain.
You can be a garbage man and still help others. I'm no garbage picker -upper, but if my trash isn't picked up, I would live with maggots. Can I teach my daughter to ride a bike without a manufacturer of the vessel? No! Maybe you understand engineering and could make the bike, but ask yourself another question. Which would you rather do: make the bike or teach your daughter to ride? It doesn't matter if you can do both, but only what you TRULY want to do.
We may not like the opinions, thoughts, actions, or understanding of another. This is no excuse to say what they can contribute is less than another. We have no right to say, the pencil pusher behind a desk is less than the farmer and visa versa. Just as we can't say that one of the 3 D's is greater or less than one who understood assimilation. We definitely CANNOT say they WON'T contribute something to society either. Even in negativity, we can develop something positive. We understand more!
The Amber Alert, was conceived because a lady named, Donna Whitson, had her child abducted. This is a negative or horrible event. According to what I read, there was a similar abduction, prior with friend of the family, Marc Klass. Had an Amber Alert happened, maybe the car and person would've been recognized. Considering the neighbor of Donna had witnessed the entire event. Why do I bring this up? It's something horrible that happened.
Could you imagine the death of your child, which could've been prevented? Well, in 2014, out of 173 abductors, it was founded that 152 cases involved the Amber Alert. Basically, 21 cases had no bearing on the Amber Alert! I don't know much about statistics (although I've taken the course), but those seem like the Amber Alert was more positive than negative. It HAD an impact on society! Also, in 20 cases, the children were recovered within 2-3 hours. There are many statistics, but the fact is: Amber's death has helped to saved thousands of other children. If that's not finding something positive within a negative, I don't know what is!
I'm NOT sitting here saying our "special children" are negative impacts on society. I am saying that within each tantrum, patience is learned and understood to a greater degree. I am saying that no matter which DIS, out of the three, our children hold something viable to the economy and growth of such. That the stigma/stereotype/and ignorant use of the Scandinavian/Latin definition has proclaimed either a death sentence, no death but a "hot mess", or not worthy of our time and effort is NOT RIGHT. Our children, regardless of the term, ARE worthy of attention as those who have assimilated.
You all say you believe in God or at least mankind surviving harmoniously to sustain the unknown amount of time. Why is it, that EVERYONE cannot contribute to that?
I suppose the disdain for: what we lack, what we never have been, never want to be, think lesser of, and thank God we are not; these ARE the things that DON'T allow us to see that the broken glass, is of a whole. We may not be able to see all the intricate parts. Hell, half of us can't or won't understand them. For some, if we mend that broken glass it's never the same. Truth is, it is just as bright and beautiful as before. It just has a different look!
There are hundreds of stigmas out in the world today. Are you a felon? Have you ever filed for bankruptcy? Some of us can say, no, while others have the unfortunate disgrace that follows them throughout their life from answering yes to those questions. They feel as if they cannot blossom or be given a fair shake in life. That is generally the exact reason we are apprehensive about diagnosing our special children. The fear that a stigma will follow them for the rest of their life.
I remember the moment I saw my son was different. The delays he showed, the hand flapping, the not crying when he pooped the diaper, the not mimicking my facial expressions, lack of eye contact, extreme sensitivity to almost all his senses, and much more. As time went on, the signs and symptoms showing he was 'special' progressively increased in intensity. He would scream when I put certain clothes on him. He didn't want to participate in games with other children. Chris was different and as a parent, I had a decision to make. To have doctors look him over or not.
On one hand, if I found a doctor to diagnose him, I felt life for Chris was over. Whatever his diagnosis would be, I knew it was attached to him for life. Hundreds of questions swirled my brain. How many doctors would he need? How many drugs would they put him on? Would he have to be placed in a facility? If so, would he care or understand? Will he be able to ride a bike? Will he ever be able to drive a car? Would he ever have a girlfriend or be able to have children? That lead me to, Oh no, how am I going to talk about the birds and bees to him? It was even the simple things I questioned, that most of us as parents take for granted.
I also hated the fact he would be a guinea pig to the pharmaceutical conglomerate. Being as I had my Core A & B and studied pharmaceuticals for an insurance company, I understood much about drugs. It was a simple equation. The more disorders/diseases he had, the more drugs he would be on. His age/height/weight deemed the dosage throughout his life. Not to mention the side affects for all drugs should make everyone wince. Here, you will not have anxiety! But....you will have anal leakage, thoughts of suicide, uncontrollable outbursts, hypotension/hypertension, and irregular heart-beat. That's o.k. because you won't care about being in big crowds!
As if all those things weren't enough, I worried about: insurance, how much for things insurance won't cover, will he bond with his doctors, and school. Having a child that was ten years older than him and an a-typical child, I worried but not even to the same level as my 'special' son.
Come to find out, my worries have been given validity. Other parents saw my child's behavior and questioned my parenting skills. Some children gave the looks and whispers. You know the ones, that kid is weird. Even without the diagnosis, people still held their own opinions! They still formulated ideas in their mind as to "why" my son was "that way".
To have my son diagnosed was the hardest step being a "parent of a special need child". I combated the idea more frequently than not. Once I did, though, a whole new world opened up. There was now a slew of people to help with my son's issues. Groups came looking for me to partake in. Instead of feeling like he had leprosy, he now felt the right kind of "different".
Don't get me wrong, it has been a battle. Finding doctors that actually listened to my thoughts and feelings about medication was excruciating. One therapist diagnosed my son from Autism to Schizophrenia and everything in between. This brought on a battle all within it's own right. Some places did not want to provide therapy to Chris because he didn't just have "Autism" as his diagnosis. It was definitely a conundrum at times.
Since I was never the type of person to have a stigma attached, the impact weighed greatly on my shoulders for my son. Reading the 'Scarlet Letter' didn't prepare me any better or worse for my son's disabilities, and how others would react to them. Like Hester Prynne, I shut myself and son from the rest of the world. Once I realized the stigma was there regardless of there being a diagnosis or not, I decided to wear my scarlet letter! Ever since then, I have wore it proudly and don't care what stone is thrown our way.
My son has been like a caterpillar. He hasn't fully bloomed and received his wings. One thing is for certain. Once he blossoms into a butterfly, everyone will admire his colors and beauty. Allowing him to be diagnosed has actually allowed some leniency in the medical, academic, and social world. The stigma is still there but it is excepted and being understood more and more each day.
Going to the library means mommy receives a breather. Gigantic computers sprawling a corner room for children to play Roblox. Hundreds of do-it-yourself toys are there for any child to pick up and play. Somehow, being in the library, all the children form a common bond. The bond of solace. In a hushed voice, they can: play, banter, tinker on toys, read, Lego crafts, and much more. It wasn't until I ventured towards my comfy- cornered chair, I realized relaxation was not upon me.
A round table with four chairs are placed in front of my solace chair. Usually, no one uses that table. I think it's because the chairs are uncomfortable and only books surround that area. Kids tend to shy away from the corner unless they are looking for Dr. Suess and series books. That is why it's perfect. I'm in the kid section of the library, but just far enough away when: Mr.-Oh-So-Cute poops his pants, I'm not able to smell a thing. Today was different. The round table was in use.
At first glance, I thought it was a sweet family of four. A little boy, young girl, male and female figure seemed to be playing a game. I'm in luck, I think to myself. Soon, the little boy will tire or the parents will from playing a child game. Nope! I was wrong. Guessing if I hadn't left my glasses at home, I would've noticed the game was really, Occupational Therapy. Plopping down, I turn to plug in my computer and phone. This time it was much harder. In order for me to do so, I must: turn around, scoot the chair out, plug it in, and turn around to sit down. Here, I stand, in a multi-colored sun dress and flip flops, trying to do this without sticking my butt in the back of a little girls head.
Yes, I managed just fine. Next thing you know, I have to dig in my sac: to break out the papers in which my dog, Gunner, so nicely divided up with his teeth. Let's just say, I wasn't the quietest thing in that corner. I felt like I was seven years old again. Sneaking potato chips into my room before dinner. Hoping that each time the bag opened or I crunched a chip, no one would here. Needless to say, everyone took a gander my way.
Politely, I smiled and paused for a brief second as if I had gotten scolded. As I did, an Occupational Therapist was trying to teach a little boy to tie shoes. Her method was different. For one, she used a small screen on her phone. The poor kid had to keep focusing on the video and forgetting where he was on the actual string. Pausing the video, she then tells him, "Criss-Cross, Applesauce, form a loop and take it high in the sky. Then drop it back down again, through the tunnel, and pull." Um, what? I'm lost, up in the sky and pull what, where?
Without my glasses, I couldn't see a thing, but heard the kid's frustration. The dad and daughter get up and walk away. So, the therapist acknowledged his aggravation level climbing and placed another fake shoe in front of him. The string was a different color. I'm assuming they went back a level. They finish up without the little boy able to tie a shoelace. Truth be told, I'm not surprised. The lady had no enthusiasm towards the lesson, the screen as small as his hand, and she's got this kid doing sky tricks with laces.
Don't get me wrong, I understand repetition works well with our special children, but this was nuts. It wasn't working. Another little secret, I overheard the whole conversation. This was a year in therapy. In my opinion, try another technique. If you can't tell, I'm a little irritated about the whole thing. I wanted to blurt out, "Hey sweetie, you're doing great. I hear you keep forgetting the loopy -loo and sky high trick. I would, too. Here, try this." But, we all know how well that would've gone over.
Within a few minutes, the lesson was over. Next, was potty time. She and the boy leave and up walks the father and daughter duo. If I wasn't P-Oed then, I was when they got back. As a previous social worker, I know my ethics! This lady must've missed a few. Here, she sits and begins digressing about "potty time". Me, I would've asked, "Would you prefer we go somewhere private?" Her, nope, she began blurting out all the things they did, what the little boy said, and how 15 minutes in the bathroom did nothing.
Well, after what I just engulfed through my ears, it's another, "DUH" from my thoughts. She had the boy stand in the mirror with paper towels around and stand in the sink? I'm no engineer, but how she got that boy (at least 38in) in the sink, without possibly peeing on himself, is NOT possible. Do explain how looking at yourself peeing is going to help? Yes, there's your winky! No, we don't aim it at ourselves, but down at our feet! I mean, think future-wise alone. This boy would now make an association to pee in a sink if a urinal is occupied. Can anyone imagine that headline? "1st Grader gets suspended after exposing himself and urinating in a sink".
I got up and had to walk away. I felt like calling her employee, which is branded on her shirt, and giving them a piece of my mind. Instead, I did like any rational person and go check on my children. Who, by the way, were perfectly in bliss conversing and typing away. I walked around as if I had a purpose. Figuring ten minutes is enough time to close the bathroom happenings, I went back to my computer.
I was wrong again. This time, the father was explaining things. Isn't that supposed to happen before therapy? Where you tell the therapist issues your child has but have no understanding why!! A year, folks. A year in therapy and he had this problem last year. It surfaced again two months ago! I almost went off again. Well, looks to me as there is an inconsistency in therapy. Meaning at home! If your son did well during the school year, comes home and has the issue again, well what are you as a parent NOT doing.
There is even a point where the father says, "...it's all public bathrooms but at home he's fine". Well, then, maybe figure out why public bathrooms? The sound? The fact others can come and go? The fact that he's peeing in a sink? The fact that somewhere in two months, someone didn't do something with this child. What concerned me was the father's statement, "I know it's nothing psychological". As a past social worker, I would've retorted with, "What makes you think that?" What did this therapist say?
"Well, I will see if there's any books for next week. "
That's it? Books? Aside from another fact, we are filled in a room with books, I'm wondering what books she means. Not once did she walk up to a librarian and ask, "Can you point me in the potty training books?" Were they for her to study? Or for that little boy to connect with?! I'm no therapist, although I have been to my son, but I feel there is something lacking here. It's common sense. That my friend, cannot be found in any book known to man.
Instead of shouting out to the people in front of me, I will do it here.
One: try cheerios and make it fun.
Two: try using soothing sounds through headphones while he sits on the toilet
Three: If that fails, try giving him those, kid's click- view finder as he sits, while running water
Four: Pretend you are going while singing a potty dance song. Then ask him to try. Reward when done.
Five: If none of those didn't work, you're not finding out the underlining meaning as to why PUBLIC BATHROOMS are an issue. Which means, dear Freud, there is something psychological.
So, what did I learn today in the library? There are still people out there with no common sense. There are still people with careers but hold to no ethics. The library is not always my sanctuary. I should've taken my glasses. I would've seen OT going on and went the opposite direction. As per me digressing about this situation being "unethical", or as some might say, "calling the kettle black", I laugh.
One: I am not his therapist
Two: Ignorance needs to be stopped and this is the only way I know how
Three: Everyone can learn something from someone. This story should teach everyone - something.
Crocodile Dundee went on a walk-a-bouts, in New York, all the time. He also carried a knife that could cut through steel, wrestled crocodiles, and was a fictitious character. The first time my son, Chris, went on a walk-a-bout, he was five years old. Crocodile Dundee, Chris was not. The irony of the situation was, Chris, went in the middle of the night but was highly afraid of the dark. I don't believe there is a worst fear than hearing a knock at the door, in the middle of the night. My heart dropped into my feet, paralyzing everything in my body.
I had put Chris to bed, like any other night. My boyfriend was in the bathroom, tending to his nightly ritual of toilet, bath, and teeth. Sitting in the dark, looking up at nothing, I began to hear the heavy breathing of the children. Once, that happened, I knew snoring was coming next. Feeling relaxed, I began to fall asleep. I couldn't tell you how long I was asleep for, however; I can tell you, the banging on the door shot me out of bed like a cannon ball.
I grasped the wall because my feet felt heavy. Immediately, I felt like throwing up, not even knowing why. Looking around the pitch -black room, nothing out of place stood out. I still heard snoring, but the water in the bathroom was no longer running. I called out to my boyfriend as I began towards the front door. You know the feeling when you're not quite awake, but pull yourself together as if you just had a pot of coffee? Adjusting clothing, wiping the drool stains, and slapping my face, I opened the door.
Feeling as if I was in a nightmare doesn't describe what I saw before me. My five year old, in his pull-up with a blanket wrapped around him stood there, with my neighbor behind him. "I found something that I believe belongs to you", he said. I was shaking my head and words wouldn't escape my lips. I was in shock. I didn't know if I should be angry, sad, scared, or what. I actually felt all those feelings and more. Thank goodness my boyfriend came out because he talked for me.
Come to find out, my son was on a walk-a-bout. Not just any walk-a-bout, either. He was determined to get to his uncle's house! During this time, Chris was also picking up trash along the way. Yes, you read correctly. Picking up trash! See, my boyfriend has this habit of helping the environment. He will pick up trash or recyclables and find their proper place. So, I suppose, my son was on a mission to save earth on his way to his uncle's house.
After thanking my neighbor for having saving my son and hugging Chris so tight, my nerves began to calm a little. I stayed up all night trying to figure out the answers to the: why, how, and what questions that swirled in my brain. Why did he leave? How did he get past everyone? How come he was not afraid of walking by himself? How was a boy, who has me turn on all lights before he walks into a room, not afraid of the dark outside? I pondered all this while camping out in front of the door. I may have fallen asleep prior to his walk-a-bout, but did not get sleep afterwards.
Of course, everyone woke up bright-eyed and busy-tailed, and here I was straining to stay awake. Coffee was my best friend that entire day! I went to the store, bought chain locks and alarms. Asking Chris what provoked him to partake in a walk-a-bout, was like talking to a brick wall. He kept saying, "Want to see uncle". A light bulb finally went off. Chris is like a train that cannot be derailed. His focus was to see his uncle. Nothing was going to stop him. Not the dark, being by himself, leaving his security, or even being chased by my neighbor and his partying friends.
Even though the house was like Fort Knox after all this, worry still penetrated my brain from time to time. Today, Chris asks to leave and since that night, never went on a walk-a-bout again! I haven't had chain locks or alarms on my doors since he was seven years old. Why? He showed me that would never happen again. I truly believe that the way my heart was in my feet, he understood the pang of, "I shouldn't be doing this", afterwards.
Unfortunately, this is the case with our special children. They act first, then sometimes understand later. For some, the later part might be too late. For those who have felt the impact of our children's walk-a-bout, I truly feel for you. For others who haven't yet, please continue to read. You may feel as if, "This will never happen me". You may even say, "I never let my child out of my sight, so I don't need to worry". I don't mean to scare, but only educate. The reality is, it can happen, regardless of what you believe. I watched my son all the time. I believed him to be asleep, which allowed me to doze off.
Today, there are more technology tools for parents with special need children. At the time of my son's walk-a-bout, there were none. I would suggest, for newbie parents of a special need child, taking heed on the technology out there. Use a tracking device, put a chain and alarm on the front door, and be one step ahead of your children at all times. Your children are watching you as you do them.
Having raised another child previous, I never would have dreamed my son would leave in the middle of the night. He had watched me, watching him for years. He knew my pattern as I had observed his. You may not want to believe this, but years later, I realized something. My boyfriend, now fiance, was in the bathroom the entire time. He heard the front door open, but thought nothing of it, because he heard it open and close again. This meant, Chris opened/closed the door and waited. Since no one came, he did it again, figuring the coast was clear. My boyfriend thought it was me getting something from my car. Chris had waited for me to fall asleep. He has a pervasive developmental delay, but is no dummy. His focus was all he needed to do what he wanted.
Chris loves the movie, Jurassic Park. Do you know what his favorite dinosaur is? Blue, the Velociraptor. As a writer, I know the best way to write a book is for other's to relate to the character. Why does Chris relate to that dinosaur? No, he doesn't have talons that can shred, like Dundee's knife. He doesn't run very fast, either. Chris related because Jurassic Park deemed these animals intelligent. I believe the guy who fed these dinosaurs, in the 1st movie, said, "They are extremely smart. They watch everything and find the faults in things".
Chris watched my pattern as I had done his. Autistic children seem to have a math inside their heads, before understanding to count. Patterns are what they enjoy. Why wouldn't they watch your pattern as a parent? I'm here to tell you, that without a doubt, they are watching. They are focusing on your every move and weakness. One day, they could possibly calculate your next move to ensure their focus is played out. I never want anyone to feel how I did, the night my son went on a walk-a-bout.
This is why, I have decided my second book in the series, "What's This Thing Called Safety", will be free to the first ten people who request it. I truly believe this story will reach the hearts of our special children. This will aid them in understanding the importance of safety. Below, I have given a sneak-peak at the illustrations not finalized) and an insert from the book. You be the judge and see if this book will help your child.
I really don't understand this at all. My mom keeps telling me things every time I fall. "Wear your helmet, watch where you walk, and try not to scrape your knees on that rock!"
I keep hearing these words, "safety first". It's usually when I'm at my worst. I don't understand what it means. Mommy keeps telling me to work as a team. Listen to her direction and follow her lead.
As a youngster, I was always taught to introduce a person to another. The polite thing to do was add a glowing tid- bit of information about them. Almost like giving a book review but only stating the positive. For some reason, though, all that knowledge went out the window when I realized my son was different. It used to feel as if I was in an AA Meeting. “Here is my son Chris. He has Autism, a PDD (Non specified), slight heart condition, possible KBG syndrome, and high sensory issues.” In a way, I was apologizing for my son’s behavior before it was even evident.
Years ago, the introduction was much worse and very detailed. I basically was saying sorry for a behavior my son might show and then blamed it on the disorders and diseases. I assume the reason was because knowledge was limited and not readily understood. I was also used to answering, “what’s wrong with your son”. I also noticed the judging looks thrown my way, when Chris had a meltdown at a restaurant.
I can recall the day I stopped apologizing. The day, I finally hit a wall from all the negativity. Chris was mid-year through Kindergarten, had OT/Speech therapies, and too many transitions that occurred. Picking him up from school was horrid. It took a half an hour to calm him down, just to make it out to the car. Normally, I would’ve gone home and become a hermit, however; we needed to eat and definitely needed toilet paper.
On the drive there, I carefully envisioned the store layout and my plan of action. Yes, this was like a general mapping out a battle plan. Ten minutes of grabbing items, Chris inside the cart, and my one year old in a chest snuggy; I fly to the “do it yourself register’. I spot an opening, rush the cart there, and begin scanning.
Ding. Ding. In between the Dings, I kept placing Chris back into the cart. My daughter, in the snuggy, thought I was playing a game because she laughed each time it occurred. Little did she understand, this was a meltdown not a fun, ha ha type of game mommy was playing. Finally, relief began to set in. I saw the pay button and slid my card as fast as my wrist would move. Unfortunately, relief sat in way too early because the register began singing an awful tune. You would have thought I broke the darn thing by the sound it made.
Next thing I knew, the attendant was being notified. By the look on her face, one could concur she was not happy. She walks up and coarsely says, “You can only use cash at this register. Can’t you see the sign?”“HMM, no. Sorry, I didn’t. Where is the sign?”, is all I could muster at the moment. Chris was continuing to get worse and the longer we stood there, I knew the volcano was bound to erupt. The attendant extends her hand way up in the air and yells, “See! Do you see it now?”
Without missing a beat, Chris makes a gesture with his finger. This was not a loving display of affection, either! Then, a phrase of utter disgust escaped his lips. I truly didn’t know what to be appalled at, Chris’s reaction or her action. Standing there, giggling baby and all, I almost apologized. Before I could respond, the attendant began screaming at me.
” Are you going to let him do that? Oh my God, what kind of mother are you?”
I closed my eyes briefly, and once I opened them, I could feel many eyes on us. I felt like we were at a circus but instead of being spectators, we were now the entertainment. In my head I could hear the announcer saying, “step on up. Catch a glimpse of the family before you. Pictures and videos are optional”. It was at that moment, I decided to stop apologizing and told that lady exactly how I felt. She didn’t know my son or the day he had. She had no understanding of the turmoil that filled his ears or the tornado in his mind that occurred from entering the store. She obviously had no clue what type of mother I was, let alone grasped the concept of customer service. There also was a huge lack of management because in order to be face to face with the sign; one would have to be the jolly green giant. Needless to say, this was the day I stopped apologizing for my son and began being his biggest advocate.
Ironically, years later I noticed myself in another parent. My son was at karate class. A mother came in, disheveled and clearly frustrated. Her son was adamant about not wearing part of his uniform. The more she tried to reason with him, the louder and more obtuse he became. Since we were in close proximity, practically a reach out and touch the other, I noticed the fear in her face; the fear was, “what is this lady thinking? Oh, gosh, I want to run and hide”. I even heard her mumble, “it shouldn’t be this hard”. I saw fear leave her face and replaced with relief once I said, “no it shouldn’t be, but it sometimes it is. You are fine, it’s safe here”.
She came to thank me and unloaded much off her shoulders. It was as if all the years she endured people judging her and her son, managed to flood out within a half an hour. I realized then, that she like me, address our child’s issues in private. We felt as if our heads are on a chopping block when we venture out in public. If I don’t do this or say that, my head is destined to be cut off. The reality is, I determine if that chopping block is actually there. I have the power to determine if others have a say or not.
My son is definitely different! There is no excuse for some of the reactions he has. Sometimes, I don’t see a rhyme or reason to his madness. I do know, he has no buffers, restraints, or limitations. Honestly, I admire those aspects, to a point. Sometimes, when I’m faced with long lines, unruly people, or just frustrated with situations I can relate to my son. The difference between him and I is: I keep my thoughts hidden but he shares his, the positive and not so great ones, too.
I can truly understand why some people have issues with my son’s actions or reactions. I am not saying I agree with anyone who judges my son or I. Just simply saying, they need more knowledge. I used to think, they need to walk a few minutes in my shoes! Now, I simply pose a question with one. “Have you ever wanted to say or do something, but didn’t because you were taught not to?” So far, the answer has always been the same, “yes”. I then retort with, “well, my son has been taught too, but sometimes his brain gets a virus, like a computer. It shuts down and sometimes won’t work properly”. Needless to say, either people are intrigued or leave it alone. I have also learned to pick and chose my battles. Some are worth fighting over and others not even close!
As I sit in the two car garage, looking at the bikes, I begin to laugh. The giggles have taken hold so much so, my other half walks out to see the ruckus. As I begin to digress about what made me laugh, he walks away - not understanding a word I said. Ironically, it was not until moments later, I would comprehend the magnitude those giggles would enlighten me.
Three bikes stand before me. One of which, a male-designed bike, I ride with my children. Looking at the bikes for males only, their names are:
1. Huffy, "Street Heat"
2. Rampage, "Thruster 2.0"
3. Tunova, "Giant"
One may wonder, at this point, if I don't deserve a white jacket with arms that fasten in back, tightly. Please be patient. I promise, in due time my revelation will be seen.
Taking another look around, I spot my daughters brand-new birthday bike. Hot pink and purple with streamers coming out the handlebars. The name on this bike is, Rallye, "Glitter". That is what made me laugh! When comparing the bikes, the PR and marketing groups sure knew words and colors promoting the sexes. Something I never looked at when purchasing a bike. Either it was comfortable and my style or no, it wasn't. The word, "glitter", sure did feminize the bike a whole lot more than "street heat". Wouldn't you know it, the bike I ride is Rampage, "Thruster 2.0". Tell me you aren't at least smiling by now?
Pondering if this is just a fluke, I meandered outside where my daughter's other two bikes were. Each bike was for varying ages. Needless to say, the comparison solidified why I laughed. The names are:
1. Magna, "Princess Pearl"
2. Huffy, "Sea Sprite"
These bikes showed me the distinct and ignorant propaganda behind purchasing items. I suppose that is what draws children to wanting a certain bike. I doubt my daughter would like an all black and green bike called, Huffy, "Road Rage". No, almost all the bikes she picked were some form of pink, purple, and had light-feminizing names. Of course, being a self-publishing author; the perception of marketing is what I noticed first and laughed at.
It wasn't until moments later, I realized this pertained to my "special need" son, Chris. Although the Huffy, "Street Heat", was purchased specifically for him; he chose to ride the hot-pink, Magna, "Princess Pearl" more times than I care to count. He rode it until the chain broke apart. Other children in the neighborhood either laughed at him or questioned him, "why don't you ride your bike". He would just shrug his shoulders and say, "because I like this one".
Some of you reading may question if he's not, "light in the loafers", but I highly doubt that. He definitely swoons around the girls in the neighborhood and broadcasts his thoughts on their beauty at every opportunity. Regardless, I would love him the same. The point is, my son doesn't care if he rides a pink, multicolored, bike that has 'princess' written across the bar. The same as I don't care that I ride an orange-brown bike called Thruster.
My son, Chris, was taught to not care about labels. I never wanted him to conform but, rather respect social norms. Understand their purpose, yet still enjoy life. He showed me that by riding the, 'Princess Pearl', he's understood decent values.
You see, my son was never supposed to ride a bike. When he finally chose to, at age 8, it was like Forest Gump and his running. Chris just kept cycling. Many bumps, bruises, cuts, and gashes later; Chris has shown me he feels free from everything, just by riding the bike. The bike is just the mode to make it happen.
Male bikes may: look aerodynamic, have manly colors, and stylish seats, but comfort for a long distance ride to freedom, doesn't know: colors, shapes, or sizes. All my son knows is his mode of comfort and feeling free is the determination. Labels need NOT apply, either!