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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. 

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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Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day, but in many households, it's also the most hectic. Many parents rely on pre-prepared items to cut down on breakfast prep time, and if Jimmy Dean Heat 'n Serve Original Sausage Links are a breakfast hack in your home, you should check your bag.

More than 14 tons of the frozen sausage links are being recalled after consumers found bits of metal in their meat.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced the recall of 23.4-oz. pouches of Jimmy Dean HEAT 'n SERVE Original SAUSAGE LINKS Made with Pork & Turkey with a 'Use By' date of January 31, 2019.

"The product bears case code A6382168, with a time stamp range of 11:58 through 01:49," the FSIS notes.

In a statement posted on its website, Jimmy Dean says "a few consumers contacted the company to say they had found small, string-like fragments of metal in the product. Though the fragments have been found in a very limited number of packages, out of an abundance of caution, CTI is recalling 29,028 pounds of product. Jimmy Dean is closely monitoring this recall and working with CTI to assure proper coordination with the USDA. No injuries have been reported with this recall."

Consumers should check their packages for "the establishment code M19085 or P19085, a 'use by' date of January 31, 2019 and a UPC number of '0-77900-36519-5'," the company says.

According to the FSIS, there have been five consumer complaints of metal pieces in the sausage links, and recalled packages should be thrown away.

If you purchased the recalled sausages and have questions you can call the Jimmy Dean customer service line at (855) 382-3101.

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Flying with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old isn't easy under optimal conditions, and when the kids are tired and cranky, things become even harder.

Many parents are anxious when flying with kids for exactly this reason: If the kids get upset, we worry our fellow passengers will become upset with us, but mom of two Becca Kinsey has a story that proves there are more compassionate people out there than we might think.

In a Facebook post that has now gone viral, Kinsey explains how she was waiting for her flight back from Disney World with her two boys, Wyatt, 2, and James, 5, when things started to go wrong, and the first of three kind women committed an act of kindness that meant so much.

After having to run all over the airport because she'd lost her ID, Kinsey and her boys were in line for security and she was "on the verge of tears because Wyatt was screaming and James was exhausted. Out of the blue, one mom stops the line for security and says 'here, jump in front of me! I know how it is!'" Kinsey wrote in her Facebook post.

Within minutes, 2-year-old Wyatt was asleep on the airport floor. Kinsey was wondering how she would carry him and all the carry-ons when "another mom jumps out of her place in line and says 'hand me everything, I've got it.'"

When Kinsey thanked the second woman and the first who had given up her place in line they told her not to worry, that they were going to make sure she got on her flight.

"The second woman takes evvvverything and helps me get it through security and, on top of all that, she grabs all of it and walks us to the gate to make sure we get on the flight," Kinsey wrote.

Kinsey and her boys boarded, but the journey was hardly over. Wyatt wolk up and started "to scream" at take off, before finally falling back asleep. Kinsey was stressed out and needed a moment to breathe, but she couldn't put Wyatt down.

"After about 45 min, this angel comes to the back and says 'you look like you need a break' and holds Wyatt for the rest of the flight AND walks him all the way to baggage claim, hands him to [Kinsey's husband], hugs me and says "Merry Christmas!!" Kinsey wrote.

👏👏👏

It's a beautiful story about women helping women, and it gets even better because when Kinsey's Facebook post started to go viral she updated it in the hopes of helping other parents take their kids to Disney and experience another form of stress-relief.

"What if everyone that shared the story went to Kidd's Kids and made a $5 donation?! Kidd's Kids take children with life-threatening and life-altering conditions on a 5 day trip to Disney World so they can have a chance to forget at least some of the day to day stressors and get to experience a little magic!!"

As of this writing, Kinsey has raised more than $2,000 for Kidd's Kids and has probably inspired a few people to be kind the next time they see a parent struggling in public.

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Ah, the holidays—full of festive cheer, parties, mistletoe... and complete and utter confusion about how much to tip whom.

Remember: Tipping and giving gifts to the people that help you throughout the year is a great way to show your appreciation, but it's never required. Ultimately, listen to your heart (and your budget) and decide what's right for your family.

Here is our etiquette guide to tipping and gifting everyone on your list.

Teachers

You can decide if you'd like to do a class gift.

  • Ask people to contribute what they can, if they'd like to
  • Sign the gift from the entire class—don't single out the people that weren't able to contribute
  • Idea: a small gift and then a gift card bought with the rest of the money, and a card signed by all the children

...or a personal gift.

  • Amount/value is very up to you—you may factor in how many days/week your child is in school and how much you pay for tuition.
  • Anywhere from $5-$150 has been done.
  • Idea: a personalized tote bag and gift card, with a picture drawn by your child

Babysitters, nannies + au pairs

  • Up to one night's pay for a babysitter
  • Up to one week's pay for a nanny or au pair.
  • Homemade gift from the child

Daycare teachers

  • $25-70/teacher and a card from your child

School bus driver

  • A non-monetary gift of $10-$20 (i.e. a gift card)

Ballet teacher/soccer coach

  • Consider a group gift or personal gift (see teacher gift above)
  • Up to $20 value if doing a personal gift

Mail carrier

  • A gift up to a $20 value, but they are not allowed to receive cash or a gift card that can be exchanged for cash.

UPS/Fed Ex

  • A gift up to a $20 value, depending on the number of packages you get. Avoid cash if possible.

Sanitation workers

  • $10-30 each
  • Make sure you find out if the same people pick up the recycling and the trash—there may be two different teams to think about.

Cleaning person

  • Up to one week's pay

Hair stylist

  • Up to the cost of one haircut/style

Dog walker

  • Up to one week's pay

Doorman

  • $15-80 each depending on number of doormen

Boss/Co-workers

  • You are not required to give your boss a gift. In some instances, it may be inappropriate to do so—so you'll have to think about what seems right for you
  • Never give cash
  • Consider giving an office gift—bring coffee or donuts to the office for everyone, buy an assortment of teas for the staff lounge, replace the microwave that everyone hates, etc
  • Organize an office Secret Santa—it's a great way to boost morale and have fun, without needing to decide who to buy for. (Hint: We love Elftser for easy Secret Santa organizing!)

Neighbors

Hey mama,

It's the time of year again.

You know what I'm talking about. From Halloween to New Years Eve, where all the sweets and treats come out in full force, and it seems like the universe is plotting to take you down.

You may feel overwhelmed by the weight of it all. After all, history has taught you that you can't make it through the holiday season successfully.

Maybe you can't get by without eating all the holiday treats and feeling like a failure. Maybe you end the holidays vowing to be a better person and start the New Year on the latest detox diet. You are all too familiar with the guilt and shame that comes with holiday eating cycle and how this robs you of joy of the season.

You may have managed to contain some element of self-control over the year. Maybe you carefully avoid those treats that you know you can't simply eat one of, or maybe you've skipped dessert and stayed clear from all the sweets. Maybe you've felt like you're doing well on your latest diet and are worried about how this incoming holiday treat wave will sabotage your success.

Whatever you're worried about, the fear is real and paralyzing, taking up that precious mental space as your thoughts are consumed about food and your body.

It may be hard to think about anything else when you mind is controlled by the rules that dictate what you should and shouldn't be eating. Maybe seeing your spouse or kids eat those holiday treats creates more anxiety for you and sends you on the brink of losing your mind as these food issues become all consuming.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself, where is this fear coming from and why is it controlling your life?

Do you ever feel like a failure at eating because you inhaled that bag of fun-sized candy bars or scarfed through a dessert faster than anyone could say, "Trick or Treat?"

Are you embarrassed that something as normal as food feels like such a struggle?

Does overeating or an emotional eating episode send you on a downward tailspin in self-loathing?

How many times have you stepped on the scale, only to feel miserable about yourself for the rest of the day?

I want to let you in on a secret.

You are not failing, mama.

That desire to eat all the holiday foods or binge on sweets doesn't mean that you've screwed up or that you have no self-control.

You're not a failure for wanting to eat all the things you don't normally let yourself eat or for breaking all the food rules you've set in place to give you more "control."

You don't need more willpower, another diet or more ways to become disciplined.

What you need, sweet mama, is permission.

Permission to eat those foods that you crave every year, like a slice of your Grandmother's special holiday dish or the piece of pumpkin cheesecake everyone's eating at your office party.

Permission to decorate holiday cookies with your kids and actually enjoy eating one too, not pretend like you don't want one, only to eat a plateful once they've gone to bed.

Permission to actually keep food in its proper place, so it's not stealing your joy, energy and mental space.

And you know what?

When you've given yourself permission to eat, including all those sweets and treats that are normally off-limits, they suddenly lose their power over you. And when food doesn't have power over you, you will have freedom to live a life that isn't bound by what you can and cannot eat.

Let me tell you something else: feeling like a failure around food is NOT your fault. It doesn't mean you don't have enough self-control or will power. There is nothing wrong with you.

What's to blame are the abundance of food rules: unrealistic food rules that make you feel unnecessarily guilty for eating or shameful in your body. (i.e: "Don't eat sugar", "Don't eat carbohydrates", "That's not allowed on the diet", "Don't eat anything too high in fat", "Don't eat after 6pm", "Don't eat all day if you're having a big meal at night").

You are not the problem.

Food rules, diets, etc. THAT is what is wrong.

You weren't made to live or thrive under a list of rules of what you should or shouldn't eat. It's not an issue of self-control.

The truth is that trying to follow a diet or a rigid set of food rules is like trying to negotiate with your toddler—you just can't win. And it's not for lack of trying, it's that the rules of the game are created for you to fail. So why try to play a game where the odds are against you?

You can opt-out of diet culture NOW to enjoy a truly peaceful holiday season that doesn't end with self-loathing or a New Year's resolution to diet and start the cycle all over again. Because the truth is, there are no good and bad foods or rules you are have to follow. When you can let go of all those judgments and emotional hang-ups that you've attached to eating, you learn to trust yourself to make your own choices and view food for what is really is - just food.

So choose being present over being perfect with the way you eat (because no such thing exists anyway). Calm the food chaos by giving yourself permission to eat, taste, and celebrate.

Enjoy the treats, if that is what your body is craving. Take back for yourself what all the obscure food rules and dieting have taken away from you all these years. Take in the memories, the flavors of the season - because you deserve it.

This holiday season, commit to putting yourself on a new path, one that doesn't end in self-destruction.

Give yourself permission, not only to eat, but to embrace a new way of living that isn't defined by your body size or what you can or cannot eat.

You can choose food freedom over food rules, and by doing so, you are choosing to live. You are choosing to be present for your children and experience the moments and memories that might otherwise be missed when your mind is imprisoned by food rules.

It's never too late, mama. The time to start is now.

Remember—you are not failing. Start by giving yourself permission today.

Originally posted on Crystal Karges.

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