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Since my son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, one of my biggest worries has been how he would be perceived and treated by his peers as he grew up in our neurodiverse world.


Although I love his unique way of seeing the world, I’m also aware that his social challenges make his daily life a struggle. At home, my husband and I encourage him to pursue his unique passions while providing the scaffolding of rules, consistency, and order that make him feel safe. But sometimes, a quiet dread fills me as I imagine his future.

We live in a world of complexity and nuance, and nowhere is that more evident than in the social sphere, where autistic kids struggle the most. Social interactions are rarely predictable; they are filled with metaphors, innuendos, subtleties of gesture and tone that neurotypical people take for granted. 

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To overcome their “mindblindness,” kids like my son, who have milder forms of autism, are encouraged to develop social thinking skills—essentially, how to read body language, imagine other people’s thoughts, anticipate reactions, and control their own.

That can be done through classes, play groups, books, videos, and other tools. And although social interactions will always generally be challenging, given these tools, many autistic kids can adapt to and thrive in their social environments. 

My son’s quirks are a fundamental part of who he is, so I also believe that my son should be accepted and embraced for who he is.

For decades, making autistic kids “indistinguishable from their peers” has been the guiding principle behind many therapies and interventions to which autistic kids are exposed. As a parent, I get it.

I don’t want my kid excluded because he hums all the time, or prefers to wear his clothes backwards because they feel better to him, or because he can’t stop talking about his special interests. I also want him to develop genuine, reciprocal relationships with his peers. 

And yet, my son’s quirks are a fundamental part of who he is as a human being, so I also believe that my son should be accepted and embraced for who he is.

Although we can be thankful that autistic kids are no longer institutionalized and wholly excluded from participating in mainstream classrooms and environments, they often continue to be segregated in special ed classrooms, and ignored or bullied by peers who don’t have the skills to communicate or develop meaningful relationships with them.

Neurotypical Kids Aren’t Prepared to Live in an Increasingly Neurodiverse World

This is a mistake.

  • One in 68 people are on the autism spectrum.
  • It’s estimated that 5-10 percent of kids have ADHD.
  • Around 10 percent of the population is dyslexic.

Our kids live in a world where they will have friends, teachers, boyfriends, girlfriends, colleagues, bosses and family members who are on the autism spectrum or have any number of other neurodevelopmental disorders. Like other forms of diversity, exposure to neurodiversity is now a given. And yet, neurotypical kids are not prepared to live in an increasingly neurodiverse world.

We need to equip them with tools to understand how autistic people and other non-neurotypicals experience the world, and how to meaningfully include them in their lives. In celebration of Autism Acceptance Month, I’d like to offer a few ways to get started.  

Neurotypical or NT, an abbreviation of neurologically typical, is a neologism originating in the autistic community as a label for people who are not on the autism spectrum. However, the term eventually became narrowed to refer to those with strictly typical neurology. –  Neurotypical – Wikipedia

Acknowledge difference but emphasize shared humanity

Kids are not the magical color-blind, difference-blind creatures that many people wish they were. Between the ages of 2 and 5, kids start to notice differences in gender, race, and abilities. They also begin reinforcing and shunning deviations from social norms.

The best way to raise accepting and inclusive kids is to acknowledge, talk about, and explain behavior. The behavior of autistic kids, for instance, can range from mildly eccentric—maybe a kid who won’t stop talking about train schedules or outer space, long after the rest of the group has moved on—to more noticeable behaviors, including hand-flapping, rocking back and forth, and meltdowns.

Explain what autism is, acknowledge the behavior and the reasons behind it. For example, hand-flapping, spinning, and other repetitive movements are how many autistic kids self-regulate in response to overwhelming emotions such as excitement or frustration. Talk with your child about how they react to the same emotions.

Do they scream? Jump up and down? Run around? The more kids understand the reasons behind the behaviors, and realize that the expressions are simply different than their own, the the more likely they will be to accept them.

Foster empathy for the differently wired brain

Understanding how my child thinks and experiences his environment is one of the things that has challenged me the most as a parent.

Imagine being dropped into a culture completely different from your own, one that has a radically different sense of humor, expectations around politeness and niceties, how and when to show anger, etc. If you’ve ever had this experience, you know how hard it can be to understand even basic social rules and norms. That’s how autistic people describe their everyday social interactions.

And while my son is working hard at learning “social thinking” skills to enable him to communicate in appropriate ways with his peers, I’m keenly aware that his peers aren’t necessarily learning “autistic thinking” skills to enable them to meet him where he is, too. In a neurodiverse world, it’s important for neurotypical people to understand, to the extent that we are able, how autistic and other non-neurotypical people perceive the world.

Flipping the tables on perspective-taking is important, because autistic kids become autistic adults.
Flipping the tables on perspective-taking is important, because autistic kids become autistic adults—they are the coworkers and partners that we will work and spend our lives with.

Schools and workplaces need to openly acknowledge autism and other neurodevelopmental disorders in the same way that they acknowledge other kinds of difference. We need a neurodiversity curricula to incorporate readings, discussions, and activities to encourage students not only to understand how neurologically diverse brains are wired, but to develop neurodiverse social skills that promote inclusion and acceptance of non-neurotypical kids.

Our kids are learning to think how neurotypicals do. It’s not too much to ask for some reciprocity.

Explain that communication comes in all different forms

Some kids with autism struggle with language acquisition, and some use very little spoken language at all. However, even so-called “non-verbal” autistic kids communicate. In the same way that deaf people use sign language, non-verbal autistic kids rely on gestures, pictures, and typing.

Kids with milder forms of autism tend to think literally, and can’t understand metaphors or wordplay. This can lead to miscommunication and confusion. If your child has an autistic child in his or her classroom, talk with your child’s teacher about how your child and others in the classroom can best communicate with that child. And if your kid has a friend on the spectrum, explain how to communicate with them directly.

Teach that inclusion, while not always easy, is worthwhile

The autistic brain is unique, capable of recognizing patterns and identifying inconsistencies in logic and flaws in data. The highly visual thinking abilities of some autistic kids makes some of them incredible artists and creative problem solvers. Kids with milder forms of autism often become talented engineers, computer programmers, mathematicians, and musicians.

At the same time, few caregivers or autistic people would argue that living with autism is easy. Many autistic people are extremely sensitive to light, sounds, certain smells, textures, and tastes; they are easily overwhelmed by things are unpredictable and unscheduled. All this makes daily life is a veritable minefield, leading to meltdowns.

One of the misconceptions about autistic kids is that they don’t like to be around other people.
Many parents who have kids on the spectrum don’t tell other parents because they fear their kids will be excluded from parties and playdates, and indeed, this is a common occurrence for many autistic kids. One of the misconceptions about autistic kids is that they don’t like to be around other people.

To be sure, my son often refuses to attend birthday parties because he becomes overwhelmed, and he’s slow to warm up on playdates. He also takes “brain breaks” to read or just tune out. But just like everyone else, my son craves human connection and friendships. He just connects differently, and at his own pace.

If your kid has a friend or sibling on the spectrum, they will undoubtedly experience the highs and lows that come with autism. Teach them that it’s worthwhile to cultivate these relationships—the perspectives and insight they will gain from having an autistic friend or sibling will be unlike any other relationship in their lives.

Resources for Kids

I Love Being My Own Autistic Self
Inside Aspergers, Looking Out
Can I Tell You About Autism?
All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism
Sesame Street and Autism

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When it comes to holiday gifts, we know what you really want, mama. A full night's sleep. Privacy in the bathroom. The opportunity to eat your dinner while it's still hot. Time to wash—and dry!—your hair. A complete wardrobe refresh.


While we can't help with everything on your list (we're still trying to figure out how to get some extra zzz's ourselves), here are 14 gift ideas that'll make you look, if not feel, like a whole new woman. Even when you're sleep deprived.

Gap Cable-Knit Turtleneck Sweater

When winter hits, one of our go-to outfits will be this tunic-length sweater and a pair of leggings. Warm and everyday-friendly, we can get behind that.

$69.95

Gap Cigarette Jeans

These high-waisted straight-leg jeans have secret smoothing panels to hide any lumps and bumps (because really, we've all got 'em).

$79.95

Tiny Tags Gold Skinny Bar Necklace

Whether engraved with a child's name or date of birth, this personalized necklace will become your go-to piece of everyday jewelry.

$135.00

Gap Brushed Pointelle Crew

This wear-with-anything soft pink sweater with delicate eyelet details can be dressed up for work or dressed down for weekend time with the family. Versatility for the win!

$79.95

Gap Flannel Pajama Set

For mamas who sleep warm, this PJ set offers the best of both worlds: cozy flannel and comfy shorts. Plus, it comes with a coordinating eye mask for a blissed-out slumber.

$69.95

Spafinder Gift Card

You can't give the gift of relaxation, per say, but you can give a gift certificate for a massage or spa service, and that's close enough!

$50.00

Gap Stripe Long Sleeve Crewneck

This featherweight long-sleeve tee is the perfect layering piece under hoodies, cardigans, and blazers.

$29.95

Gap Chenille Smartphone Gloves

Gone are the days of removing toasty gloves before accessing our touchscreen devices—thank goodness!

$9.95

Ember Temperature Control Smart Mug

Make multiple trips to the microwave a thing of the past with a app-controlled smart mug that'll keep your coffee or tea at the exact temperature you prefer for up to an hour.

$79.95

Gap Flannel Shirt

Our new favorite flannel boasts an easy-to-wear drapey fit and a flattering curved shirttail hem.

$59.95

Gap Sherpa-Lined Denim Jacket

Stay warm while looking cool in this iconic jean jacket, featuring teddy bear-soft fleece lining and a trendy oversized fit.

$98.00

Gap Crazy Stripe Scarf

Practical and stylish, this cozy scarf adds a pop of color—well, colors—to any winter ensemble.

$39.95

Nixplay Seed Frame

This digital picture frame is perfect for mamas who stay up late scrolling through their phone's photo album to glimpse their kiddos being adorable. By sending them to this smart frame to view throughout the day, you can get a few extra minutes of sleep at night!

$165.00

Gap Crewneck Sweater

Busy mamas will appreciate that this supersoft, super versatile Merino wool sweater is machine washable.

$59.95

This article was sponsored by GAP. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and Mamas.

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There's a lot of discussion about the importance of early education—but what about soft skills like respect and kindness? How can mamas teach children important values like cooperation, gratitude, empathy or politeness?

These values are basic, foundational beliefs that help us know right from wrong, that give balance and meaning to life and that enable us to form community bonds with one another. These soft skills are crucial for kids to learn at any age, and it's important for them to be reinforced, both in the classroom and at home, throughout their childhood.

Here are fundamental ways to build character in your young children:

Kindness

Performing random acts of kindness can have a positive influence on both the individual showing and receiving the kindness. As a family, think of ways that each one of you can show kindness to others. Some ideas may include baking cookies for the mail carrier, donating an unopened toy to a local charity, purchasing canned goods for a homeless shelter or leaving notes and drawings for the neighbors. Include your child in the process so they can see firsthand the joy that kindness can bring to others.

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Responsibility

Children have a strong desire to mimic adult family members. Encourage your child to help complete simple chores in and around the house. Children feel a great sense of accomplishment when they can do their share and feel that sense of responsibility. Two-year-olds will enjoy folding towels, putting books away, putting paper in the recycling box and tending to the garden. Older children may enjoy helping out in the kitchen or with yard work.

Patience

Patience is the ability to demonstrate self-control while waiting for an event to occur. It also refers to the ability to remain calm in the face of frustration. This is a skill which develops in children as they mature. While it is important to practice patience, adults should also be realistic in their expectations, evaluate daily routines and eliminate long periods of wait time from the schedule.

Politeness

Schedule a time when the whole family can sit down together for dinner. Model good manners and encourage older siblings and other members of the family to do the same. Use phrases such as, "Can you please pass the potatoes?" or "Thank you." Be sure to provide your child with guidance, by explaining what to do as opposed to what not to do.

Flexibility

Change your routines at home to encourage children to be flexible in their thinking and to try new things. Try being flexible in the small things: enjoy breakfast for dinner, eat ice cream with a fork, have your child read a bedtime story to you or have a picnic in the living room. Let your child know it is okay to do things in a different way.

Empathy

Children are beginning to understand different emotions and that others have feelings. Throughout their childhood, talk about their feelings and share one's own feeling with them as well. By taking the time to listen to how children are feeling, you will demonstrate to them that you care and reinforce with them that you fully understand how they are feeling.

Cooperation

Coordinate playdates or take your children to events where they can practice introducing themselves to other children, and potentially with adults. Find games and other activities that require turn-taking and sharing.

Gratitude

Encourage your child to spend five minutes every day listing the things they are grateful for. This could be done together just before bedtime or after dinner.

Respect

As parents, our goal is to teach children to recognize that even though people have different likes and dislikes or beliefs and ideas, they must treat each other with manners and positivity. Respect should be shown when sharing, cleaning up, and listening to others. Always teach and model the Golden Rule: treat others the way you would like to be treated. Also remind children that respect can be shown towards things in the classroom. Treating materials and toys correctly shows appreciation for the things we have.
Learn + Play

Medical researchers and providers consider a woman's postpartum period to be up to 12 months after the delivery of baby, but too often, health insurance doesn't see it the same way. Nearly half of the births in the United States are covered by Medicaid or the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and while the babies who are born during these births are eligible for Medicaid or CHIP for a year, their mothers often lose their coverage 60 days after delivering their child. There is clear data showing 70% of new moms will have at least one health complication within a year of giving birth.

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This week, members of Congress' Subcommittee on Health met to mark up H.R. 4996, the "Helping Medicaid Offer Maternity Services (MOMS) Act of 2019, and it was favorably forwarded to the full Committee.

What does this mean? It means that while this bill still has a ways to go before it potentially becomes law, its success would see states get the option to provide 12 months of continuous coverage postpartum coverage to mothers on Medicaid. This would save lives.

As we at Motherly have said many times, it takes a considerable amount of time and energy to heal from birth. A mother may not be healed 60 days out from delivering. She may still require medical care for perinatal mood disorders, breast issues like thrush and mastitis, diabetes, and the consequences of traumatic births, like severe vaginal tearing.

Cutting off Medicaid when her baby is only 2 months old makes mom and baby vulnerable, and the Helping Moms Act could protect families from dire consequences.

The United States has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, and according to the CDC, "about 700 women die each year in the United States as a result of pregnancy or delivery complications." This is not okay, and while H.R. 4996 is not yet signed into law this bill could help change this. It could help address the racial disparities that see so many Black mothers and Native American mothers dying from preventable causes in the first year of motherhood.

A report from nine American maternal mortality review committees found that there were three leading causes of death that occurred between 43 days and one year postpartum: cardiomyopathy (32.4%), mental health conditions (16.2%), and embolism (10.8%) and multiple state maternal mortality review committees have recommended extending Medicaid coverage to one year postpartum in order to prevent these deaths.

Basically, making sure that moms have have continuous access to health care the year after a birth means doctors can spot issues with things like depression, heart disease and high blood pressure at regular check-ups and treat these conditions before they become fatal.

The Helping Moms Act is a step forward in the fight for maternal health and it proves that maternal health is truly a bipartisan issue. Republicans and Democrats alike recognize the value in providing support for mothers during the postpartum period.

The Helping MOMS Act was was introduced by Democratic Congresswoman Robin Kelly of Illinois, chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Health Braintrust. It was co-lead by Texas Republican Michael Burgess (who is also a medical doctor), as well as Georgia Republican Buddy Carter, Washington Republicans Jaime Herrera Beutler and Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ayanna Pressley from Massachusettes and Lauren Underwood of Illinois (both Democrats).

"Incentivizing postpartum Medicaid expansion is a critical first step in preventing maternal deaths by ensuring new moms can see their doctor. I'm proud that my colleagues, on both sides of the aisle, came together to put an end to the sad reality of American moms dying while growing their families," said Kelly. "We can't allow the perfect to be the enemy of the good. This is a good, bipartisan first step, but it must be the first of many."

It doesn't matter what your political stripes, reducing America's maternal mortality stats should be a priority.

News

Whether you're having a low-key Friendsgiving with your closest friends or prepping to host your first big Thanksgiving dinner with both families, figuring out all of the menu details can be the most overwhelming step. How much should I cook? What ingredients do I need? How does one actually cook a turkey this big?

But, don't worry, mama—HelloFresh is lending a helping hand this year with their Thanksgiving box in collaboration with Jessica Alba. Because you already have enough on your plate (and we're not talking stuffing).


Here are the details. You can choose from two Thanksgiving boxes: Turkey ($152) or beef tenderloin ($132). The turkey box serves 8-10 people while the beef one will serve 4-6 and both are $6.99 to ship. We got to try both and they're equally delicious so you can't go wrong with either one, but the turkey does require a 4-day thaw period so keep that in mind. And if you're wondering what the sides are, here's a sneak peek:

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  • Garlic mashed potatoes
  • Green bean casserole with crispy onions
  • Ciabatta stuffing with chick sausage and cranberries
  • Cranberry sauce with orange, ginger and cinnamon
  • Apple ginger crisp with cinnamon pecan crumble

While someone still has to do the actual cooking, it's designed to take the stress out of Thanksgiving dinner so you can focus on spending time with your loved ones (or watching Hallmark Christmas movies). You don't have to worry about grocery shopping, portion sizes, recipe curation or forgetting that essential thing you needed to make the meal perfect. Everything is super simple to make from start to finish—it even comes with a cooking timeline.

Orders are open through November 21 and can be delivered anytime through November 24. Even better? You don't need a subscription to order.


ORDER A BOX

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My mother's death propelled me to start the process of becoming a parent as a 43-year-old single woman. As my connection to her remained strong in spirit after her death, I was ready to experience the same bond with my own child. I began the journey with Intra Uterine Insemination (IUI), and after three failed attempts at getting pregnant, I decided to adopt.

The adoption process is a lengthy and humbling one—one that includes fingerprints, background checks, references, classes, doing a profile of yourself and your life that birth parents eventually use to choose adoptive families.

After my application was approved, a young couple chose me just a month later. I couldn't believe my fortune. But I had to get to work and prepare the house for my baby's arrival. I bought the best of everything—bassinets, clothes, diapers, car seats… the list goes on. I told close friends and family that it was finally happening.

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But all of this was in vain. The day I was supposed to pick my daughter up, I learned that the birth parents had changed their minds. They no longer wanted to give their daughter up for adoption. As time passed, it was difficult to endure no interest from potential parents but the faith in believing what is meant to be continued. To increase my potential, I enrolled with a second adoption agency.

A few months later, as I was getting ready to try IVF for the first time, I received a phone call to let me know that a woman had selected me to adopt her child. So I opted out of IVF and found myself in a hospital delivery room with the birth mother, assisting her in the delivery of MY child. It was a boy! I was so thrilled, and he was just adorable.

After six years of losses and disappointments, I was able to bring him home and awaited the final word that the mother and father have given the needed consent. I was getting ready to watch the Super Bowl with him dressed in football gear, I got a phone call.

Once again, the adoption agency informed me that the birth mother had changed her mind. That evening, I had to return the baby to his birth mom. I was heartbroken, and my hopes were shattered.

What now? Going back to IVF meant starting from scratch, and that would take a minimum of six months before being able to really start getting pregnant. I was 49 years old, and the clock was ticking. I really wanted to be a mom by the age of 50.

I was in Chicago, recovering from a collapsed lung, when I received yet another phone call from the adoption agency. An expecting mom had chosen me and had already signed over all of her rights. This little girl was mine. For real, this time. But I had to get to Southern New Jersey by Thursday to pick her up from the hospital.

After negotiating with my doctor to give me the green light to leave while recovering from my condition, I hopped on a train, and 22 hours later, I arrived to New York City in a massive snow storm. I took longer than expected to get to her, but after navigating the icy roads of New Jersey, I met my daughter!

She is now 2 years old, and she has changed my life in ways that just can't be fully described. What I can say is that I now understand my mother's love even more and her devotion to me and my siblings, and as I am sharing the same with my daughter, my bond to my mother keeps on growing.

Becoming a mom at 49 was never what I had envisioned. But whether you are trying to conceive or have decided to adopt a child, the road to becoming a parent is rarely easy. I know that inner strength and believing in what was meant to be kept me moving forward.

Life
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