danielleQ to ‘I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers: #AutismPositivity2012

I stumbled upon this blog project that's happening today called "Autism Positivity Day". It came about, as the website says "A couple of weeks ago, someone somewhere googled “I Wish I Didn’t Have Aspergers”.  The phrase popped up in a blogging dashboard and struck the blogger as being particularly sad.  She wished she could have answered.

We don’t know who it was.  We don’t know where he/she lives.  We have no idea if he/she found what he/she was looking for in that search."

As a result, "We are asking every blogger in the autism community to write a message of positivity to #IWishIDidntHaveAspergers.  So that next time that individual (or another) types that sad statement into Google, he or she will find what they need – support, wisdom, and messages of hope from those who understand."

Well, hi. I am a blogger. And I am part of the autism community I suppose, though I don't know if I think of it like that. I am just me, we are just we. Let's start with an introduction.

My name is Danielle. My blog is about all sorts of things, creative things mostly, photography and scrapbooking, food sometimes, family sometimes. Of my three kids, my daughter Sienna, the eldest child at 8 1/2 years old, has Aspergers. Ash, my 6 year old son, has high-functioning autism (the main difference in diagnosis is that Ash has had receptive and expressive language issues from an early age as well as the pragmatics and other elements). My husband, who is 35, also has Aspergers, diagnosed after the kids as a result of reading about Aspergers and recognising himself in the descriptions. Our 2 year old, Cedar, has a developmental paediatrician keeping an eye on him. We are an interesting family, for sure, we have a lot of love, and we have a lot of things to be grateful for.

I don't know who you are, and I don't know why you wish you didn't have Aspergers. It's such a sad thought, and though it may seem to be so logical to you, please don't wish yourself away. While not the sum of your parts, Aspergers is a part of who you are and comes with a beautiful flip side to the challenges you are feeling. I don't personally have Aspergers, I can not claim to share your experience, but I can tell you what I know to be true.

My daughter is so adorable. She is quirky, passionate, creative and fascinating. She looks at things in such interesting ways and is intrigued by details that others don't even notice, or possibilities that never occur to the people around her. I sometimes watch her and see, behind those beautiful eyes is a brain working overtime, seeing so much, absorbing so many nuances of light and sound and colour. She is a work of art. Every day she experiences fear and anxiety, and every day she feels love, excitement and joy. There is at least a moment of everything, and I admire her every day for the way she just keeps on being her amazing self, she is just so much of herself regardless of the perspectives of others or the words of those who don't understand. I feel her pain and sorrow, I experience her warmth and I embrace her enthusiasm. She loves me so much, and I am blessed to know her deeply every single day. She is an incredible girl and she has Aspergers.

When I was a super-emotional and sporadically depressed teenager, I often thought about the depth and intensity with which I experienced things. The black is so black, emotional pain echoes with physical force. When it hurts, instinct tells us to wish the pain away. But knowing that the flip side of that deep experience of life is infinitely valuable, and a kind of balancing force to the difficult side - to see beauty in unique ways, to experience positive emotions with equal intensity, has always been worth it. I would not sacrifice that which makes me who I am, with all the beauty and pain, to be less of myself, for the sake of less intensity of being, because I wouldn't know how to be that person. I don't know how to want that. No one who loves you would want that of you either.

Sometimes it feels natural to wish it away, the core of who you are, to want it to go, and that is the pain speaking, I know. But you have the power to remember, to recall and re-focus. Remind yourself. You are amazing. You have gifts and spirit and a unique view that is irreplaceable. Aspergers gives you strengths and individuality which are awesome possessions. You possess them. Your strengths and interests, they are yours. And they are part of how fabulous you are. Even when you don't feel it to be true, reach out to those who love you and be reminded.

Ash, my middle child, is so fantastic. Along with his bewilderment at much of what goes on in the world comes infectious enthusiasm and eagerness to embrace the people he comes across, in all their variety. He shares his love of pirates with all he meets, and was saying to me just today "I don't know why I like pirates but I just love them so much" while we discussed the relative merits of treasure maps, ships and swords. He has a smile to light up the day, and experiences the ups and downs of his emotions with dramatic intensity. So many days are the "best day ever" for some small detail he has such appreciation for, even if it disappears minutes later. He embraces things that other people would barely notice, or just shrug off. Where other boys are embarrassed to display themselves so honestly, Ash is abundant in personality and quirky uniqueness, jumping out of his skin to just be himself, regardless of what anyone else might think. To worry about that just never occurs to him. The negatives of his autism are vastly outweighed by the power of what a fantastic person he is. He works so hard, and feels so much, everyday. I am blessed to receive his adoration and beautiful warmth in each day that I know him. He is amazing. And he has autism.

While a positive message, this is not a rose-coloured glasses post. Life is full-on for these kids. They spend their days trying to decode the world around them, and sometimes this doesn't work so well. Things get broken, others don't understand, they don't understand and their hearts are damaged piece by tiny piece when people say hurtful things. They take people at face value, they take words spoken very literally, and are not always rewarded for their open trust. They worry, they fear, they cry. But they always win. They remain passionately, intensely themselves and they remain incredibly loved and supported by their dad and I. We wouldn't want anybody to change who they are inside. Because they are brilliant human beings.

I don't exactly remember meeting my husband, as we were on the fringes of one another's radar growing up. I remember getting to know him on the Wednesday bus home from school, when he would also be on the bus on his day off from work. He would be returning home from Adelaide, where he would have bought at least one new drum and bass cd. He spoke passionately about his music, and shared his love of beats with me. He would comment on the Shakespeare plays I'd be reading for my English studies. We would talk a little and then a little bit more, and then we wouldn't stop talking. At other times, too, and so it grew. I always found him interesting, and loved that he was different from other people, just as I felt I was, though in different ways. Now we've been married for 13 years.

Ben is incredibly intelligent, and technology is his area of expertise and passion. Just as he counted the beats per minute of every song while making mixtapes when we were young, he pays attention to each technological detail around us. We laugh at some of his quirks, his 'Sheldon chair' and microwave rotation calculation, just as we laugh at the paint in my hair and, well, pretty much whatever. He has travelled, learned new things, adapted to new jobs and gotten to know new people again and again. In parenting, he observes and embraces and considers how best to support these amazing people we are caring for. And he loves me so much, so much that even after all these years I feel self-conscious about inspiring his devotion. But I don't doubt it.

Aspergers? Yes, it's there. It's here. It's part of our home. Regardless of autism, or because of it, I don't know. But I do know three things: I am never bored. We have love. And I am grateful.

Fabulous Autumn day - sneak peek

It was a lovely day for an Autumn session in the Pirianda Gardens yesterday. This family was a lot of fun :) We started in their backyard to include their sweet dog in a couple of shots!

Paint and pieces of things

On Wednesday it was a public holiday, so I decided to make it a painting day.

I put out all my paints and the kids paints and some inks and crayons etc on the kitchen table, found some paper and brushes and smocks. I also had some canvas panels set aside to be used for the 'Not the Archies' project, which I had registered myself, Sienna and Ash for. So we did painting, and portraits. It was a nice way to spend a day, though the kids lasted about half the day before pottering about doing other things. Scroll down for the artwork :)

Here are a few scrapbooking projects I've complete for Aussie Scrap Source recently.... the first one was for the Trends post on quilting. The second layout features Echo Park products, and the cards were for the Thank You cards feature... Click over to check out the rest of the blog posts, there is much inspiration to be had!


So these - below - are the portraits we painted. Sienna was painting Imogen. She began on paper and did the painting on the right, but then wrote a little note that "It's too hard" and put it in front of me looking a bit upset. While I was encouraging, she was frustrated at not being able to paint how she would like, but perked up when she started creating simpler drawings. So she ended up painting this larger piece of Imogen with a kite.

Ash's portraits were both of Ben, he really got into it and was quite happily painting away without much angst at all, which was great. I love his big piece :)


I ended up doing a quick practice piece on paper of my friend Nadya and was going for a fairly loose style, thinking I may end up doing something a bit abstract, but then changed to a photo of Imogen for the larger piece just because I love the dreamy feel of her expression and the light background. It ended up being quite impressionistic. I dropped the three canvas panel portraits off to Healesville this morning.

On Tuesday afternoon, I went to Monbulk College and taught a mixed media workshop to the year 12 Photo Media class there. Carli Wilson, of Barnaby & Wilson Photography, teaches there and had asked me to come in. It was really fun and interesting, the kids seemed to really enjoy themselves, and I might be teaching another to year 11s soon.

I went to an AIPP print critique night on Tuesday evening, which was pretty confronting as much as it was very interesting, quite educational and a little bit frustrating. I really loved seeing the variety of styles and genres shot, and came away looking with a bit more interest at my nature and travel shots instead of just focusing on portraits. I might talk about that later, I have thoughts that are still mulling and developing over this whole professional awards season thingy, I'm still not clear on how I feel about my place in it. And it's not over until June, so we'll see.

And now I am meant to be making a lasagna for tomorrow's dinner, since I will be out doing a photo session in the afternoon (weather going well). But I'm procrastinating :P Chicken and leeks, here I come...

Big sale and new cards

Over at Curious Bazaar we are having a HUGE card and print sale! Most cards and prints are 50% off, and postcard sets are 40% off at just $6 for 6 postcards plus a free 7th postcard.

Why not take the chance to browse the store for some gorgeous gift ideas and check out this gorgeous new release range of cards from Medieval Mirage...

Enter the code PAPERSALE at checkout to receive free shipping for cards and prints! As always, enter LOCAL for free local delivery or pickup :)

The Mundane and the Rollercoaster

It's been a week of not-much and also quite-a-lot around here.

Sienna has had a cough all week, she had the first day of term at home but then managed two days at school, enough to fit in the quintessential play date with her best friend :) Unfortunately she spent yesterday throwing her little guts up all day, but she seems a lot chirpier today and has her appetite back. I've also had some sort of fatigue-fuzzy headed sort of virus thingy so it's pretty much been a quiet week at home, not doing a lot or getting a lot done, for that matter.

Scored 75 - Family Category
On the other hand, a lot of Monday and Tuesday was spent with the laptop open watching the AIPP VIC awards judging on livestream, making occasional notes and baking carrot cupcakes. I joined the AIPP (Australian Institute of Professional Photography) at the end of last year, which means I will be an 'Emerging Member' for two years before I'm eligible to be an 'Accredited' member. Anyway, anyway, I entered the VIC awards and was very excited to receive two silver awards, one for an image I entered in the 'Family' category and one in the 'Weddings' category.

Scored 73 - Family Category

According to the AIPP newsletter, "A Silver Award is considered to be a high standard of professional skill. The judges are looking for something exemplary, something that is over and beyond what we do on a day to day basis. For this reason, many very good professional photographs don't get a Silver Award, not because they don't reach an acceptable standard, rather because they didn't excite or impress other professional photographers who probably shoot the same type of work on a daily basis."

Scored 73 - Wedding Category

So now I have something new in my arsenal against my own sense of inadequacy (that comes and goes), which is always useful. I have a level of peer recognition that may be useful for marketing purposes, perhaps. I entered 9 images, 2 got Silver Awards, 6 got scores in the 70s ("acceptable to very good professional standard") and 1 in the 60s (needs improvement). I also got a far better idea of what sort of images connect with the judges and what technical aspects / style aspects tend to be viewed well (or, not very well). I watched hours of judging and sometimes found myself astonished at results, while at other times I understood them completely.

Scored 75 - Portrait Category

It is so subjective, in that opinions and emotions are involved, also fantastic because very experienced and technically advanced experts are involved, and a great learning experience either way. I've still gone through the "maybe I'll quit photography" phases this week, among other conflicted thought processes, but will keep plodding along for now. I know myself well enough to know that self-condemnation is inevitable, I've just got to refocus and keep going. It applies to housework, parenting, gardening, scrapbooking and pretty much anything I get my hands on, LOL, so it's part of the process. Process of living? Dreaming, perhaps? Anyway.

Scored 75 - Wedding Category
Scored 75 - Portrait Category

Now, I get to consider whether I will enter the APPAs with those Silver images or not...I plan on attending a 'Print Critique' at the AIPP - a step which really should have come before these awards, but I was a bit slap-happy about entering to be honest - to help me decide about that next week.

I've also uploaded this new recipe to Season with Saltbush - click over to have a look. It's easy and can be adjusted to use conventional herbs if you don't have any native ones in your pantry. And, speaking of subjectivity, this recipe and image was submitted to TasteSpotting and rejected for "composition, lighting" but at the same time was accepted by FoodGawker and got 364 favourites in 2 days, the highest of any of my recipes. Like most things, it just needs the right audience.

Ahoy! Pirate Festival

Yesterday we headed out to Grantville, on the way to Philip Island (and just over an hour from here) for their annual Pirate Festival. They have a pirate-themed mini golf all year around and a native animal park. For the day, they had all sorts of activities and games, not to mention lots of people dressed up all pirate-like!

Sienna won the 'Best Dressed Pirate Wench' trophy for the 6-9 year age group. She did look very cute and pretty, and it probably didn't hurt that she was the smallest in the category ;) She also got to go on stage later on to help hold the big snake they had on display.

This was a rather more gross version of Bobbin for apples, with actual pieces of raw squid skewered into the apples! Motivated by a chocolate gold coin reward, both Sienna and Ash grabbed an apple with their teeth.

The face painting was a little bit challenging. First Ash just found it really difficult to communicate what he wanted, a simple design he'd chosen out of the example book, and I had to tell that face painting artist that he had autism just so she would stop talking for a minute and let Ash focus, lol. I don't often feel the need to mention autism to strangers, but apparently face painting is a bit fraught with emotion and communication difficulties! Ash was happy about it, he just needed a moment of reassurance to put the words together.

Sienna went to the other face-painter and asked for the dragon face, it was a design she had also chosen out of the example book. What we didn't realise is that this second face painter didn't paint from the example book, and her idea of a dragon face was quite different from the example. She was a talented painter, but added some sort of horns and fangs, as well as covering Sienna's entire face instead of just around the eyes. When she showed Sienna in the mirror, Sienna got really upset, so I left Ash to finish up on his own and went to see what was happening. Again, I had to say that Sienna has aspergers just to get the lady to stop talking for a minute, the painter kept saying that she didn't know there was a book, all painters are different and that most kids realise that all painters are different, that kids should know that. Um, ok, so it was a little like reassuring two children, really, since the painter was all offended. It was a misunderstanding, I explained that Sienna was expecting the picture she'd seen, we had no way of knowing that the book we were handed was only for one of the painters (or, for that matter, which painter). I explained to Sienna that the lady didn't realise, that the colours looked fabulous, but pulled her away repeating that we have baby wipes and that I will fix it for her, which understandably didn't impress the painter. Phew! Anyway, I wiped off the fangs and horns areas, and limited the green dragon paint to around the eyes like a mask, convinced Sienna that she looked like a beautiful lizard and we moved on to the animal park area with everyone in a good mood.

Cedar loved the kangaroos, it was so funny. He just kept running around saying "big rabbits!" and peering into their faces. He has seen kangaroos before but not up close and tame like these. The kids all had fun feeding them. We also checked out the koalas, dingos, wombats, tasmanian devils, peacocks and some other birds, an alpaca, a goat and a donkey. It was a nice relaxed end to a busy day.