The team at Special Needs Book Review is hoping you will enjoy reading our interview with Tsara Shelton, a mom of four, writer of musings, and daughter of autism expert Lynette Louise. I enjoyed her book Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up like I enjoy reading everything Tsara writes from her Facebook posts to her email messages. This woman has a lot to share with readers and she has the gift of writing that makes you want to read it.
Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up by Tsara Shelton is not like most of the other books about special needs we write about but Tsara Shelton’s collection of stories will give you lots to think about. This author is my daughter’s age but she seems to be wise beyond her years. Her life experiences are so different than anything I can ever imagine. Tsara explains it beautifully when she wrote, “Remember, it takes all kinds of personalities to make up a functional and exciting world! Just because we don’t understand one doesn’t make it wrong or bad, just different.”
Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself is not a special needs parenting book but Tsara writes about growing up with family members on the autism spectrum and raising her four children some who are on the autism spectrum. As the oldest of eight children, she discusses in detail her childhood in Toronto, Ontario, and how she learned to live thanks to her brothers and her mother–all on the autism spectrum.
Lorna: Congratulations on your book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up. Before telling us about your book, tell us about what you have learned about autism from your siblings, your mom, and now your children.
<<Tsara Shelton: Wow! That’s a question I could have fun exploring and answering for hours. Being an autism sibling, mom, and the daughter of international autism expert Lynette Louise, I actually have had fun answering it for hours.
Almost always it brings me to the same place, to the same basic lesson. People with autism live in a world that behaves differently and is almost impossible for most of us to imagine. Environments and people feel, smell, react, look, and taste different; sounds can have color, tastes can have shapes, hugs can cause pain. What I’ve learned is that the world behaves differently for people on the spectrum, but they are not different. When we connect consistently with them, when we focus on the familiar and universal desires to be understood, appreciated, and guided in the direction we want to grow, not the direction we think we’re supposed to grow, we all benefit. >>
Lorna: When asked, “What is your book, Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up about?” What do you answer?
<<Tsara Shelton: It largely depends on how much coffee I’ve had. Giggle! No Coffee: Oh, it’s this boring thing about things I think. Too Much Coffee: It’s an important conversation with the world that will change the way we see and believe in love and diversity while teaching everyone to love themselves!! The Right Amount Of Coffee: It’s a collection of stories and thoughts I’ve published over the past ten year that highlight our need, as a society, to connect with each other more openly and with less judgements, and to connect with ourselves authentically as well. It’s about a girl growing up and discovering herself in a challenging world alongside her weird and wonderful family.
There is such value in telling our stories and revealing ourselves over time, in being willing to see our mistakes as steps in a beautiful direction, and opening ourselves up to listening and learning from diverse people, who are also in some unknown yet valuable place in their story. My book is about my journey to do exactly that.
However, my oldest son may have said it best. “Mom’s book should be called Listening to Tsara Think,” because, in honesty, that’s what it is. I hide nothing, fear nothing, and share everything.>>
Lorna: “Learning from Myself”…what do those words mean? Please elaborate.
<<Tsara Shelton: Thank-you for asking this, Lorna. I feel strongly that too many of us either forget who we once were or dwell dangerously on it. Both habits are unfortunate. I find that by diving into the me I once was and telling her story with intention, I’m given so many gifts. When my intention is to understand her, I find myself understanding so many others as well, others who might be making similar mistakes. When my intention is to explain her, I find myself uncovering beliefs I’ve harbored, often unknowingly, and being given an opportunity to examine them. I make it a rule to always have the intention of loving her, and I find myself giving that gift to others who are struggling with things I once struggled with. Learning from myself means digging deep and knowing who I am, discovering my personal beliefs, not the ones I feel like the world is feeding me. I love learning from others, I’m addicted to reaching out and gathering stories from people who have experiences I could never have, but I like to always also bring every gift I’m given inside, into myself, where I can tinker and toy with it all. Make it my own. >>
Lorna: You have a gift with words. I always enjoy reading what you write from your book, Facebook posts, blog posts, etc. How has your love of writing evolved? Have you always loved writing and how did the urge to write a book manifest itself?
<<Tsara Shelton: Thank-you so much! I’m touched and honored that you would say that! I have always loved stories and began reading novels at an early age. I craved the feelings I would get from exploring character’s lives and their reasons for things. It wasn’t long before I wanted to create and explore those feelings myself as a writer. In school and at home I wrote often and got accustomed to the accolades and applause of the grownups. But once they started giving me tips and creative feedback, I got shy and afraid. I stopped writing for others. It’s easy when everyone tells you you’re good at something, but when they want to help you raise the bar for yourself, well—it can get scary.
So I stopped writing for a while (although I’ve never stopped narrating my own life like a writer in my head) and became my mom’s helper. While I put my own writing growth on hold I learned how to offer tips and creative feedback to my brothers (who were on the autism spectrum when mom adopted them) and then to my sons (the youngest two having symptoms of autism at an early age) and watched in awe as they accepted, comfortably, our critiques and suggestions. I watched them blossom because they believed in it and because they trusted us.
Soon, I did the same with my writing. Mom stepped up again with an idea, me writing for her, and I got started. I learned to hear the support in the feedback, the belief in me that was inherent in creative criticism. I’d seen my brothers blossom because of it and knew I could too. And once I felt that I had blossomed, it seemed natural to put together a book of proof for others who may want to do the same. For people who may need to see it first, as I did. >>
<<Tsara Shelton: I wrote this book for my sons. I wrote this book hoping it would go out into the world and fix it for them. Make it open to diversity, comfortable with mistakes, inclined to listen rather than preach and judge.
I wrote this book with impossible expectations, and that’s okay, because I wrote this book with the purpose of teaching my sons the value and power of impossible expectations. I heard everyone tell my mom that my brothers would end up in institutions, and I saw my mom choose instead impossible expectations, and I saw them become comfortable independent men. I know the real value of impossible expectations.
I also wrote the book to show my sons, and myself, what it means to follow and believe in our dreams. Because my sons are now mostly men, and I want them to follow and believe in their dreams. I want it bad enough to do it myself.>>
Lorna: What comments about your book have you received that have made the effort worth all the work involved?
<<Tsara Shelton: Honestly, every comment has made the effort worth all of the work. Every comment has made me smile, think, take notes, or consider something I hadn’t. I’m always left with a feeling of wonder at how my life, my stories, have somehow resonated or offered an insight. Writing is lonely work, I spend hours with my thoughts and tweak sentences meant to most accurately share them. I’m humbled, honored, and filled with gratitude every time someone takes a moment to share their thoughts and feelings about my writing with me.
However, one specific passage from a letter I received does stand out. I’ve gotten versions of this comment elsewhere and I always love it because it tells me that my book does what I love books to do. “The way you open up about yourself is so moving, and the insights you offer are so inspiring and incredibly helpful. To be honest with you, your stories are so personal, and your teaching is so useful, that I feel like I made a new friend!” If my book doesn’t change the world and make it less judgmental, at least it can be a friend. That is a beautiful thing.>>
Lorna: What are a few things in our society that could change and this would make the lives of individuals with autism so much better?
<<Tsara Shelton: I can think of a few things that would make the lives of individuals with autism better. They would also make the lives of everyone else better. Although, we’d have to be willing to make a few changes that will feel inconvenient at first.
Being willing to be inconvenienced is a big wish I have for our society. We’re so busy systematizing and rule making and organizing that we get overly uncomfortable with being inconvenienced. I’ve done it myself, too often. Rather than take the time to work with my brothers on an issue, like when I wanted to make them stop hiding my shoes or eating the butter or ripping the calendar, I would only try to make them stop. Their habits would be inconvenient and so I’d make the mistake of trying to change them, rather than work with them.
Once I learned this and became comfortable with being inconvenienced, I got a bigger gift. One that would benefit everyone in society, and I say this with uncharacteristic confidence! We’ve got to stop judging and comparing. We’ve got to stop assuming that our way is the right way. We’ve got to start celebrating and expecting diversity.
We’ve got to get comfortable with the world looking like the set of The Muppet Show. When I go to the store and look around I hardly see diversity. And I know that it exists, but it’s uncomfortable going out in public. This isn’t only true of our disabled loved ones, either. My husband is black and I am white and we’re stared at for going out together. I haven’t seen a gay couple holding hands and strolling through the produce isle in my small town, ever. The covers of magazines don’t show me beautiful aging women, and I see amputees only when people want to pull my heartstrings. If we would stop judging and comparing, if we would stop assuming our way is the right way, if we were inclined to celebrate and expect diversity, more people would be comfortable sharing their lives with us. We would all benefit. If my son could poke my cheek in public without everyone tsk, tsking, the world would benefit more often by the brilliance of his mind. Because he would feel less afraid to share it. If my brother could clap and jump in celebration of the butter I’ve put in our grocery cart without everyone pulling their small children closer to them, the world would benefit more often by the brilliance of his soft smile because he would be more inclined to offer it.
I would love to live in a world that is messy, inconvenient, colorful, magical, and diverse. The sensory challenges this might cause for some of us will be easily overshadowed by our willingness to accept and help each other through it.>>
Lorna: Thank you so much for sending us your book to review and for agreeing to take part in our Author Interview Series. We appreciate your support and comments on our Facebook posts. All the best to you and yours!
<<Tsara Shelton: Thank-you so much for taking the time to chat with me, Lorna! I love discovering new books and authors via your site and your honest reviews. It’s a true honor to be among them. Hugs!>>
Follow Tsara Shelton:
- Spinning in Circles and Learning from Myself: A Collection of Stories that Slowly Grow Up by Tsara Shelton Amazon.com Amazon.ca
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