Sunday, November 22, 2015

Different children and identity

An LDS person with two children on the autism spectrum asked me both about LDS reactions and about what sorts of things I would be careful about with my young people who are different (kind of, she asked something slightly different but I obtusely missed it and answered that question instead).

My response:

I've actually had mostly good reactions from other LDS people. I once had a relief society president in one of my wards flip out on me about it, but she tearfully apologized for it the next week, giving me a hug. When the book first came out, I read some amazon reviews, etc., and some mormons were a little down on that, said I couldn't really be mormon or had a terrible understanding of mormonism (and I'm sure I didn't understand certain things very well, and my understanding has constantly evolved, but isn't that true of everyone and do we usually judge people because of it?). I have had a couple mormon friends that may not keep in touch with me because of it, or maybe they're just busy and I'm imagining things. Overall the reception within the church has been much better than without the church. To the extent that things got a little ugly here and there (you probably know what I'm talking about), I can sympathize with what people thought they had to do. I think me writing the book put a lot of people in a bad position personally because it came as a surprise and they very naturally perhaps wondered if I am a practiced liar, what did they really know about who I am. They were stuck between feelings that they had to rush in to defend themselves or others or institutions against a perceived threat and the reality that I've always been basically the same person, pre and post book, I'm just much more open now.

If I had advice to give to anyone dealing with children who are different, it would be to try to be very careful to not damage their identity or suggest that they need to be any different than how God created them to be. My current (LDS) therapist says that the best way that we can worship God is to be precisely the being that he created in us. Questions of identity are tricky, of course, because sometimes we associate with attributes that are just coincidentally related to our socialization, experiences, etc. But I think that's all the more reason to be very careful with how we interfere with people's expression of their identities, because we never know what is truly core to who they are.

I'll give you a quick example of what I think to be bad interference. My 5 year old nephew is differently minded. One of the things he does (did) is pull the front part of his hair, particularly when he was thinking analytically (which he loves to do). It drove his mother a little crazy, so she buzzed his hair. I talked to him about it, and he seemed really sad, thought it would take forever for his hair to grow back, and also felt like it was a punishment or because he was bad for pulling his hair. A week later he told his mom, "See, I pull on my lip now like this [demonstrates] because you cut off my hair. And if you cut off my lip, I'll just do this with my ears [plays with ears]." It wasn't accusatory, and it wasn't critical of her. He just realized that there was a reason why he did the things he did, and that they were so important to him that he had already come up with another contingency plan if he lost the ability to do that thing.

My therapist on this topic says that even things that aren't closely associated with identity, like pulling on hair ticks, can still implicate identity in dangerous ways. He says that although things like certain types of anxiety can and should be confronted in people's lives, if you try to get a child to do it at too early of a stage, it will not only affect the anxiety but the child's other aspects of core identity. 


  1. I was under the impression that if a Mormon had a Downs Syndrome
    child, that the child automatically gets into Heaven.
    I read that in the book, "Finding Your Northstar," by?
    M.E. should have the technical part of her blog trobuleshooted. It's
    difficult to post now.

  2. It is great that you are strong enough to answer. I can’t imagine how it feels to raise children with those disorders. I admire those personalities who do not give up having those challenges. By the way I’ve heard that writing positively influences the brain, more information on this topic is here

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  4. I'm worried for M.E.. She's neglecting the blog. I hope everything is O.K.

  5. Mr. Hyde-Are you experiencing Matrix fluctuations again?

  6. I've been busy this week...

    "My current (LDS) therapist says that the best way that we can worship God is to be precisely the being that he created in us."

    Sounds like a remarkable person, M.E. Although I don't believe in God, one of the most powerful learnings I've made in the last few years is that freedom flows from self-acceptance. From self-acceptance, one can learn to fully trust oneself to be ok, and the more one practices, the more one can come to love oneself. This is a kind of joy, a graciousness or gratitude to oneself in contrast to narcissism. And from this place, one can create healthier and more sustainable relationships.

    Your therapist is offering you potent and precious gifts: he's teaching you self acceptance and extending genuine social acceptance. Is that how it feels, M.E.? How is it changing you?

    "But I think that's all the more reason to be very careful with how we interfere with people's expression of their identities, because we never know what is truly core to who they are.

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