Hello friends! I’m sharing this article because the writer explains what happens to also be my reason that I don’t use the “person-centered language” I was taught 20 years ago in special education classes when referring to my child. You may have already noticed that I consistently say “my son is autistic” instead of “my son has autism”.

I have often been corrected by kindhearted, well-intentioned people so it is clear that more information is generally needed about the reasons for these deliberate language choices.

The bottom line is that individuals decide the language used about them. My son (and most of the autism community) proudly claims “autistic” as one of many appropriate descriptors so that’s that.

As the writer states, there are disability communities (Down Syndrome is mentioned) where person-centered language is preferred and so I would advise to just stay connected and always defer to the preference of the community.

Please click here to read this excellent article by Kaylene George.

If you’re interested in reading more, the same writer previously went into some depth about some similar ideas here.

And since I have your attention, please don’t support Autism Speaks. There are many better advocacy organizations that have autistic people in leadership and that actually aim to support instead of change autistic people. The ones closest to our family that could use your dollars more are The Iowa City Autism Community and the Autism Society of Iowa.

Film Release

Copy of Cinema.jpgOur 11 year old son Atticus has been very busy. He decided some months ago that he wanted to create a live action version of one of his favorite fairy tales. When he decides something, so mote it be.

Atticus is the star of this new film version of Jack & the Beanstalk. He is also the scriptwriter/editor, the director, the cinematographer, the costumer, the prop master, the film editor, and the composer/performer of the musical score. His beloved accordion teacher Jill VanDorpe worked closely with him as a coach on this project and she does a beautiful job of playing Jack’s Mother.

Atticus expertly cast his father as the Giant (don’t miss his impeccable death scene!), his brother Liam as The Creepy Old Man (wearing my favorite costume in the film), and me as the Cow (who looks uncannily like a panda) and also as the Giant’s Wife.

Atticus has created a website that links directly to his YouTube channel to make viewing the film as easy and accessible as possible.

Please consider taking ten minutes from your day to view his film and to leave him some encouragement. You will be glad that you did. We are very grateful for your support of our young artist.


Joe and I are so grateful to everyone who came and participated in our talk Attunement; Unschooling with Autism this morning.

Here are some related resources that have been very helpful for us:

1) The Sliver by Lori Pickert

2) Allowing Your Highly Sensitive Child to Shine with Unschooling by Anne Ohman

Please feel free to find me on Facebook. We look forward to continuing the conversation.

Growing Up Together

Several months ago, my children and I met some new friends. We had many things in common and so we planned a few outings for the children to get to know one another. After meeting several times, our friends came over to our house for a play date. The children played together. The other mother extended an invitation to their house to play in the future. Minutes later, however, the temperature between us had changed because my son’s meltdown scared one of her children.

A meltdown isn’t the same thing as a tantrum, for the record. If you’re unclear on the difference, there are many excellent articles already written on that subject.

We are fortunate that the meltdowns we experience as part of our son’s autism are not violent. Even so, experiencing a very loud meltdown can be alarming to a child who isn’t accustomed. We don’t punish our son for having meltdowns and all legitimate modern research on autism supports that approach. Instead, we work with him on trying to avoid triggers and also on picking up the pieces and moving on once a meltdown occurs.

After the play date, the other mother texted me to say that she felt that she needed to protect her children. She didn’t criticize my approach to navigating the meltdown but she did repeatedly reinforce her position that she feels it is her responsibility to protect her children. From mine.

I think she was coming from a place of love and I do agree that protection is one of the responsibilities of parenting. Still, it stung. It still stings.

The play date at their house never did materialize. I sent a text a week or so later inviting them on a hike but she didn’t respond and I haven’t heard from her since. I’ve been stewing on this for a couple of months now.

It turns out that stewing is as fun as is productive (which is to say, not at all) so I’ve recently turned my attention instead to our many wonderful friends who celebrate and embrace my children for who they are and who never make us feel that we should make excuses for neurodiversity. We are blessed by these friendships and I appreciate them, possibly even more so because of the rejection we sometimes face.

What is different about these friends that they don’t struggle to love us as we are?

The most charitable conclusion that I’ve come to about that disappointing play date is that parents are generally doing the best they can but sometimes people just need more resources. For that reason, I was really encouraged to find these booklets by the Indiana Resource Center for Autism. There’s one designed for elementary-aged school children  (PDF link) and another designed for teens (PDF link). The booklets were created because “classmates of a student with an ASD need information about autism . This information should be provided in a respectful manner and without stigmatizing the student on the autism spectrum.”

I have found both booklets to be really helpful and I recommend them to you. Please, let’s all just love each other the best we can.

Thank you, TCR!

We had a wonderful audience last night at Theatre Cedar Rapids for our benefit concert for “Just Right for Me!”, TCR’s theatre arts class designed for autistic children.

If you weren’t able to attend but you’d like to make a donation to the cause, visit the TCR donation page and indicate in the “Notes” text box that your donation is for “Just Right for Me via The Beggarmen”.

Thanks to all the awesome people that we worked with at TCR to make this concert happen, especially Artistic Director Leslie Charipar, Scenic Artist and Props Master Daniel Kelchen, Education Director Zach Parker, Community Relations Specialist Josie Rozum, House Manager Jody Lippman, Sound Engineer Ben Cyr and Technical Director Kyle Leinneweber.

Extra special thanks to Peggy Somerville and James Trainor. Peggy and James are the extraordinarily patient and creative teachers of “Just Right for Me!” whose superb teaching inspired us to donate our time and energy to this excellent cause.

The Beggarmen in Concert at Theatre Cedar Rapids

I am delighted to invite you to experience our traditional Irish band The Beggarmen in a concert that will be taking place on the set of Irish playwright Conor McPherson‘s “The Weir” at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

The last time I performed on TCR‘s Grandon Stage this past summer, I was a barefoot and pigtailed fiddler playing in a coal mine with an unparalleled bluegrass-y band: Matt Brooks on guitar and dobro, David Ollinger on bass, and Greg “Bucket” Kanz ripping it up on his unique and personally constructed drum kit.

The coal mine now lives only in our memories. TCR’s Scenic Artist and Props Master Daniel Kelchen has transformed the Grandon into a traditional Irish pub in a fictional rural Irish town that resembles rural towns in McPherson’s grandfather’s home county of Leitrim. Incidentally, or perhaps not at all, Leitrim is only 45 miles away from my mother’s home county of Cavan.

The connections don’t end there, not remotely, because all of the proceeds from this concert will go toward a scholarship fund for TCR’s Just Right for Me class, the theatre arts class for  autistic children that our son Atticus enjoys and that I recently wrote about.

There are so many reasons that I want you to attend this concert, not the least of which is that I am so grateful to Theatre Cedar Rapids for consistently providing a breadth of opportunities for people of all ages and abilities to come together to experience the magic of theatre.

This same sense of community runs very deep in our efforts as a band to connect people to music that tells a story and that keeps a beautiful cultural tradition thriving as it has for centuries.

Please join us for what is sincerely a once in a lifetime opportunity to promote community through art. Sunday, November 8 at 6 pm.

And spread the word!

Into the Woods

I’m not a medical professional. Once upon a time, I was a board-certified music therapist but I let my board certification lapse when I had two babies in two years. Daycare wasn’t remotely affordable for one baby, let alone two.

When I was doing my music therapy internship, I did work briefly with some autistic children but all of my observations here are really coming as the mother of one specific autistic son.

So you know what they say…

If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.

That’s my disclaimer. Having said that, my anecdata (i.e. my focus group of precisely one 8 year old and a few of his friends) lately has me wondering if there’s something inherent to musical theatre that is appealing to the autistic mind.

My son has been taking an amazing class this fall at a theatre in the neighboring city. The class is called Just Right for Me and it’s an acting class for autistic children. When I mention this class in passing, there are two main reactions to the concept of teaching theatre techniques to autistic children. People who don’t have much interaction with autism say “What? Wow! What will they think of next?!” and people who know and love someone autistic say “That’s perfect.”

We don’t have anything like this class in the town where we live so it’s a little bit of a drive every Saturday morning. I could quantify the drive in minutes or miles but it would be more relevant to tell you that, if one happened to be listening to the Broadway cast album of Sondheim and Lapine’s “Into the Woods”, it would take Act One to get there and Act Two to return home.

I thought I knew “Into the Woods” pretty well already because I’ve played in the pit for it more than once and I’ve seen it multiple times but I was wrong. I’m so often wrong.

Careful the wish you make, wishes are children
Careful the path they take, wishes come true,
not free…

The music stops abruptly. He has the iPod in the backseat with him and is in charge of the controls.
“Wishes are what?” comes from the backseat.
“Wishes are children…” I sing back to him.
“Children? Jack and Little Red are the children. They’re not wishes.”
I start to explain “It’s a metaphor. He’s saying that you can’t control a wish once it…” The music starts again. He doesn’t want my metaphor right now. Metaphors wear him out.

I try again later as we pull off the highway. The music has stopped and his face is pressed against the window.
“Have you ever gone into the woods, honey?”
“You mean Grasshopper Trail?”
“No, I mean…can you think of anything that you’ve done that has been like a journey?”

A long silence and then the orchestra is pounding out those quarter notes at the beginning of Act One.

I wish! More than anything, more than life!

He started the cast album over from the beginning again. My clumsy questions won’t lead us to enlightenment on my tidy timeline but the conversation isn’t over either. The woods will wait for us and we will always return. Over and over is how we do everything.

Wheelhouse, Population 1

My students, both the ones I gave birth to and the ones who come to me for a musical education, are used to me using sports analogies to illustrate ideas about technique and practice. We all have a good laugh about this instructional tendency of mine because I am the last person you would find doing any sort of sportsing.

By Mike Rosenthal at VectorBelly

Imagine my utter lack of surprise to discover that the term wheelhouse, which I use a LOT, was popularized by baseball, meaning “the zone that is most advantageous for a batter to hit a home run“.

Now that we’re several years into this homeschooling adventure, the one area in which I feel like I have wasted the most energy is trying to convince other people that our parenting choices are not negative reflections of any other parenting choices.

Homeschooling is my wheelhouse. Public and private schooling , for separate and entirely personal reasons, are not. If I wasn’t a professional musician with a strange and varied work schedule; if my son wasn’t autistic; if my financial situation were different; if if if… who knows what my wheelhouse would be.

Sarah Mackenzie‘s guest post at Simple Homeschool (excerpted from Sarah‘s book Homeschooling From Rest; A Homeschooler’s Guide to Unshakeable Peace) has inspired me to consider how I am loading my metaphorical pack as we begin our homeschooling journey this fall. The thing that weighs me down the most, that makes each step leaden instead of light, is making excuses for my wheelhouse.

I know that it will take some vigilance on my part to make sure that this habit of mine doesn’t sneak back in with each well meaning question from a stranger (or often, from a friend) but I dedicate this post to my desire to hold that precious vacated space open for what truly nourishes us on this journey.