Friday, January 18, 2013

the rainbow connection...

'Rainbows are visions,
but only illusions -
rainbows have nothing to hide...'


What are they exactly?  I mean, we can all look up the meaning of the word 'rainbow' in the dictionary, and come up with the following:

Rainbow:  noun
     1.  a bow or arc of prismatic colors appearing in the heavens opposite the sun and caused by the refraction and reflection of the sun's rays in drops of rain.
     2.  any brightly multicolored arrangement or display.

When I was in art school, we talked a lot about color and color theory... what makes up color (light) - how to create color.  Additive, subtractive... there's more to color theory than one thinks!  At this point, you may be asking yourself - what does this have to do with anything?  Well, whenever I think of rainbows I think of lovely, magical things:  unicorns, fields of daisies, and cures for all my blues.

baby unicorn fixing my day with rainbows

The word spectrum conjures up a different image for me:  Pink Floyd's 'Dark Side of the Moon'.

album cover:  pink floyd, 'dark side of the moon'

What does this all boil down to?

Yesterday Emma and I had 'The Talk'. 

No, not that talk... the birds and the bees talk - (spare me that one a few more months, please). But 'The Talk'.  The Autism Talk.  

Emma's eleven years old.  Up until yesterday she has never really known she is autistic.  It's not that we've hidden her diagnosis from her - we've always talked about autism.  We've just never made a big deal out of it.  It is what it is.

Emma is who she is.

I suppose I always thought the day would come when Emma would start asking questions... when she would want to know why.  Why she didn't have as many playmates as her sister, or why some things were challenging for her.  However, the closer I look, these are the questions I was expecting Emma to ask.  You see, Emma has always seen herself as the 'big sister'.  She has never seen herself as being different or having 'deficits'.  She has always seen herself as Fran's role model, just as Isabella has been hers.

I digress.

Emma is starting a medication monitoring program next week to help with her ADD.  It's important to her father and I that she understand why she will be taking medicine.  So, yesterday after school we sat down, (Emma, Fran and myself) and talked about ADD.  Attention Deficit Disorder.  I told them it's basically what keeps one from completing a task, homework or even a thought (in Emma's case, we fondly call it the 'Bob Effect' - Bob being our cat - but that's a story for a different time). 

I explain to Emma she has ADD, and let Fran know the reason we call her 'The Night Crawler' when we put her to bed is because she has ADHD - Attention Deficit-Hyperactivity Disorder.  As Emma soaks up this information, Fran of course, starts popping in her chair like a bag of popcorn!

'Calm down Night Crawler - it's no big deal.'

Both of them giggle... all is good - they're cool.  No problem.

Next on the list is Dyslexia.  Since the time we learned of it, Fran has known she is Dyslexic.  But, I want them to understand... how ADD and ADHD is a part of who they are, like Dyslexia is a part of who Fran is.  It doesn't make them different, it just creates challenges when it comes to certain aspects of learning.

With the groundwork set, it's time to about Autism.

Round 1 (ask a question):

'Baby,' I ask her - 'you've heard your dad and I talk about Autism before.... do you know what Autism is?'  I look at Emma expectantly, as if she's going to give me the low-down on autism.

She gives me the look.  You know, the 'What are you talking about, lady?' look.

Hmmm.  Okay - I'm not good at this... I never have been.  When it came time to give Isabella 'The Talk' (yes, the birds and the bees talk), my husband and I did it while we had her trapped in the car for a three hour drive.  Side note - BEST TIME EVER to give your kid 'The Talk'!
A.)  They can't go anywhere
B.)  You don't have to look them in the eye
C.)  Everyone's trapped!

Round 2 (let's be logical):

 'What is Autism?' I ask.  Simplifying things, I continue:  'Well, Emma - like ADD, ADHD and Dyslexia, Autism is a disorder - a disorder where you processes things differently than others.  Just like Fran is Dyslexic and it's a part of who she is, you're Autistic and it's a part of who you are.'  This is met with some growing anxiety and blinking of the eyes.

...You process things differently...'  Think mama!  We are a family of visual learners... why not give a visual example?

Round 3 (rainbows):

'Babe, - do you like rainbows?'

Her eyes light up... are you kidding me?  She LOVES rainbows!  (I mean, like her mother she thinks rainbows are magical and solve all your problems... see above)  When Emma thinks 'rainbows', she goes all out and thinks of all her favorite things:  Ponies AND rainbows - what could be better?

rainbow dash

AND, with her new found love of 'Adventuretime' - princesses get added into the mix as well.

lady rainicorn

The point is - rainbows are cool.  Rainbow Dash and Lady Rainicorn are pretty darn awesome!

So, I start again, this time explaining:  

'Do you know another word to describe a 'rainbow' is 'spectrum'?  Well, Autism is part of a spectrum (insert rainbow)... a spectrum where people on it have strengths and challenges.  Strengths may be in writing, mathematics, memorization or even art... or, challenges with communication, processing information, socializing.  You my dear have strengths, but you also have some challenges - you process things differently, so this gives you a place on the spectrum - or on the rainbow.'

After telling her this, she want to know where...  Where is she on the rainbow?      

Of course she does.

So, we create a make believe rainbow and find her place on the spectrum.  As we do so, we talk about her strengths... her challenges.  We talk about her love of animals - horses especially... her unequivalent empathy to all living creatures...  her artistic abilities... her beautiful spirit and soul.  We move on to some of her challenges:  her struggles with communication... her self-proclaimed 'shyness' with people... her difficulty with processing information.

Later that evening as we all sat at the dinner table, my husband and I are discussing the upcoming medication trial.  Fran starts hopping and popping - basically vibrating out of her chair...

'Guess what, guess what...' she exclaims 'i'm ADDDDDD hyperrrr!' -Oh yeah, 'The Night Crawler' has made an early appearance tonight.  *sigh*

Emma pipes up with: 'I'm a RAINBOW!'

'Who said that ev'ry wish
would be heard and answered
when wished on the morning star?
Somebody thought of that, 
and someone believed it.
Look what it's done so far.
What's so amazing
that keeps us star-gazing?
And what do we think we might see?
Someday we'll find it -
the rainbow connection.
The lovers, the dreamers and me.

All of us under it's spell, 
we know that it's probably magic.

Title Inspiration:
Kermit the Frog:  'Rainbow Connection'


  1. What a great way to explain it--using something she loves. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. This was really perfect. I may be stealing it.
    And my parents trapped me in the car for the talk too...

    1. thank you alysia - that means so much!

      car = best 'vehicle' for 'the talk'! highly recommended!!! ;)

  3. Terrific! Being able to relate autism to something she connects with and loves is wonderful. Sounds like it both helped the explanation make sense and her feel good about it.

  4. thank you so much - i truly loved how her eyes started to light up when we began talking about rainbows, because rainbows of course lead to all sorts of other wonderful things! i just really wanted her to know that being autistic is a part of who she is, and she can be proud of who she is! <3

  5. What a lovely way to communicate with your daughter. Special intersts are the best way to reach people on the the spectrum. You have given your child a gift. One day, she will recall this delightful moment. It will be an everlasting hug to her.


    1. lori - thank you. i was never sure how to approach this with her, and when we started talking - well... this just seemed so natural. so her. i truly value your comment... and i hope she recalls this moment as fondly as i do. <3

  6. This is AWESOME. My kid just turned 11 and we haven't had The Talk yet. I, too, keep waiting for questions but they just haven't come. I hope I do it as well as you did.

    1. thank you so much jill - i was SO nervous! (so nervous!)

      i really was waiting... everyone said - oh, soon your child will start asking you questions - you know, the 'why' questions. but, they never started. as she got older, i kept thinking... okay - this is the year! then it wouldn't be.

      although we never 'hid' her diagnosis, i soon started to feel like i was lying to her... it seemed like every other kid but mine was 'making the connection'. it was so important to me to let her know why she would be on medication... (for her ADD) - i also felt like she should know everything.

      i don't know where the rainbows and ponies came from - they just started clicking, once i saw her little eyes starting to swim. i know, that when you have 'The Talk', everything will fall into place and you will make your own version of the 'rainbow connection'! :)