[Image Descriptions: Feature of an inner page of ‘Red: A Crayon’s Story‘ by Michael Hall featuring five crayons talking about a crayon with the wrong label. Cocoa Bean: “He came that way from the factory.” Fuschia: “Frankly, I don’t think he’s very bright.” Grape: “Well, I think he’s lazy.” Army Green: “Right! He’s got to press harder!” Steel Gray: “Really apply himself!”]
In this post: 10 Tips to help your kids with self-acceptance & stories showing them they’re not alone.
I can’t say how much this book means to me.
Growing up undiagnosed and autistic, I thought I was a jerk, a weirdo, and a failure.
I tried everything I could to make friends, fit in, keep a job. I could never decipher office politics, always the one kid, (and then grown-up) not invited to parties, yelled at for reasons I never understood. I tried SO HARD to make everyone happy – but it felt like I was struggling to stay afloat in a sea of demands and confusion.
This is a common problem, especially for autistic women. (All those scary ‘autism epidemic’ stats are actually the diagnosis procedure becoming more accurate).
Schools, doctors, parents, and even un-diagnosed autistics themselves are sold a stereotype on what autism looks like. Women, girls, and non-binary folks, people of color, immigrants, and those living in poverty are told they are rude (ignorant – lazy – jerks – weirdos) rather than given the education and support they need.
I was a multiracial girl, a child of a single mother. Teachers attributed my social problems to being a child of divorce, a girl of color, being ‘shy.’
I learned to speak in scripts, to mimic the facial expressions and body language of peers I admired. I was hyper-verbal and got good grades. Acting ‘normal’ got me low-level jobs and short-term friendships. Then I’d hit a bump – a group project that required real social skills. A subtle conflict with a friend. A promotion to management. It would all come crashing down. Since I wasn’t lashing out, since the cause was always me just being indescribably weird, I was left to deal with my confusion and the anxiety of repeated failure on my own.
When I found out I was on the spectrum – it took me two years to accept that I was ACTUALLY autistic. I didn’t fit the stereotype. I didn’t want to believe it. I didn’t realize that ‘autistic’ doesn’t mean ‘broken.’
Wearing the wrong label
To explain how traumatic it was to grow up undiagnosed – the bullying, the confusion, the self-loathing, the lack of connection and social support – know that I broke out into a hyperventilating, shaking, sweaty pile of tears when I visited my son’s elementary school for the first time.
The way light streamed through the reinforced glass windows off the speckled tiles, the school-smell of cleaner, construction paper, and graphite – I remembered that feeling of drowning. Would my kids face the same treatment?
I couldn’t stop crying even though I wanted DESPERATELY to look ‘normal.’ I needed the faculty at my son’s school to take me seriously. To see me as an equal. As neurotypical.
New people assume I’m incompetent when they know I’m autistic. It’s a dangerous thing to disclose. It’s a dangerous thing to be.
I was terrified someone would notice something about me was off. One weird movement, one misunderstanding, one call to child services, and I could lose my kids. All it takes is one person to declared me unfit to be a mother.
When I realized I was autistic, suddenly everything made sense. When my partner and my mom learned what autism REALLY is, they became kinder, realizing that what they called laziness and inflexibility… was actually me running full-tilt 24/7 to keep up in a world of overstimulating lights, sounds, and textures, juggling confusing social cues and nonsensical human behavior.
Finding out I was autistic was like realizing I was an elephant raised by fish. Suddenly I could stop struggling to swim better, stop choking on water, stop fighting to be something that I will never be.
Being autistic in a neurotypical world means I will NEVER get to leave the ocean.
But knowing what I am, what abilities I have that fish do not – means I can raise my trunk above the water for the first time and BREATHE.
Every kid will feel like they don’t fit in – be ready for this moment
‘Red’ is the story of those who were given the wrong label about themselves. It’s about a society that refuses to look farther than the surface, and what it feels like to be a constant disappointment to everyone around you.
It’s an anthem for LGBQT+ youth, kids with undiagnosed invisible disabilities, and really, everyone.
At some point, we all fail to fit into ideas of who our community wants and expects us to be.
Red: A Crayon’s Story is everything to me, and yet it’s for everybody. Somehow, this book made for preschoolers and elementary school kids makes me cry Every. Damn. Time.
10 Things to reassure kids when they feel like outsiders
Captioned age ranges are for when my sons were able to understand and enjoy each story. The rest of the images in this post are book covers of titles referenced alongside the images.
1. ‘Different’ does not mean ‘less’
Reminding kids that ‘fitting in’ isn’t the goal – we all have our own strengths and weaknesses. We don’t have to all match and do things the same way. We don’t have to contort ourselves into traditional roles. Being ourselves, being different – it’s not worse, it’s just different.
2. It’s okay to be afraid of sticking out
It’s dangerous to stick out in a community – humans are social animals, and we’re not particularly kind to outsiders. These stories validate anxious feelings about being different and show kids that contorting ourselves to fit in can cause more trouble than it’s worth. It’s healthier to accept ourselves the way we are and focus on more important things.
3. Being the first takes courage
When we’re the first to break out of the pack, we’re going to get questioned, picked on, and bullied. We can make it easier on our kids by explaining why difference makes humans feel uncomfortable, showing them that people like them have done this before, and arming them with what they need to resolve conflicts and stay brave.
When he found an awesome Batman dress at the store, we were able to discuss the risks and negative comments he’d get at school. He could make an educated decision.
Armed with this knowledge, he insisted he should get this dress because, “If I wear a dress to school, then the other boys who want to wear dresses will know it’s okay.” (This dude knows how to push my proud-mom buttons.)
More books on gender spectrum & breaking gender roles include: From The Stars In The Sky To The Fish In The Sea (non-binary gender) and Small Saul (breaking the idea of pirate masculinity and toughness on the seven seas).
4. Haters gonna hate
Bullies happen. It doens’t matter what’s it is, whether being different is a choice or our immutable identity, insecure jerkwads are going to pick on us. By showing our kids confident stories of people who manage to get through bullying with confidence, they can feel less alone.
Spaghetti In A Hot Dog Bun raises issues of self-doubt, and then ultimately self-acceptance when faced with a bully.
Molly Lou Melon gives no shits about what her bully thinks of her. She’s too busy being a boss.
Amelia Bedelia (who clearly codes as autistic) is constantly picked on in the early books for misunderstanding figurative language. Doesn’t matter, because she’s freaking amazing at baking, and fine with who she is.
5. Lovers gonna hate, too
We usually don’t realize that we’re hating on our own kids, but it turns out that the people who can be most critical and the least accepting of our differences are the people who love us the most. This is a thing, particularly for children of color with unintentionally white supremacist parents, disabled kids with ignorantly ableist parents, and of course LGBTQ+ kids living in transphobic and homophobic families.
Not all of these stories end in acceptance, but that’s reality. The point of these books is to validate that frustration of being shamed and ridiculed for being different. They show kids that they’re not alone.
- In Katie Loves The Kittens, Katie is shamed and ostracized for the excited way she shows love. She eventually changes her behavior to conform.
- The Umbrella Queen insists on creating unique art that inspires her, to the consternation of her family and village, until she wins a contest and suddenly they’re okay with it.
- In Ada Twist, Scientist, her family wishes she could just like boring normal stuff and stop being so high-maintenance. They eventually come around.
- In One Word From Sophia, her family ignores her logical, eloquent reasoning to insist she simplify her speech to a simple ‘Please.’ We disagree with the premise of this book, and use it as an example of bad parenting.
- ‘Natsumi‘ is chastised by her family for being too loud, too fast, too much. Only her grandfather is able to see the upsides, and help her channel her intensity into something great.
6. There’s only one way to find your people
We all learn, at some point, that those who reject us aren’t very much fun to hang out with anyway. We can try to contort ourselves to fit in – but it’s going to make us miserable. If we spend our energy trying to pass as normal, we’ll have no energy left to find what makes us awesome.
The only way to find a community that accepts us is to just let our weird out. The louder we get, the more likely our people will find a safe place alongside us.
You kind of owe it to them, actually. Get loud! Your people are searching for you!
7. You can find strength in history
Weirdos have been reviled, detested, and shamed since forever. Read stories of real people who were rejected, over and over, only to rise above and open new possibilities for humanity.
Oh – and don’t think I’m not noticing how white this list is. I’m still searching for books on oddballs of color, but for now, it makes sense that being ‘weird’ and still allowed to function in society is a privilege afforded exclusively to white folks. Let’s change that by fighting for inclusive classrooms, supporting affirmative action, and taking a good hard look at how we view and punish ‘problem’ behavior in kids of color.
8. You don’t have to apologize or justify your existence
We can’t be what we can’t see. If we want to teach our kids to be unapologetically themselves, that they have value and are worthy of respect, safety, and confidence exactly as they are – they need to see more shameless weirdos.
The following girls follow their special interests no matter now many snide comments they get. And yes I know, it’s all girls. Because boys are already allowed (encouraged!) to follow their passions, so today we’re focusing on the ladies.
9. The world needs your flavor of weird
Whether you’re lining up train cars, designing a cure for cancer, or building mud pies, the world needs the innovative ideas that come from out-of-the-box thinkers and doers. No matter how big or small (or non-existent) our impact, the world needs us to do what we do.
We can make a difference, but we won’t know until we’ve tried (for years. And years. Maybe even not in our lifetime.)
10. You deserve unconditional acceptance
This bears repeating – our kids have value and are worthy of respect, safety, and confidence exactly as they are.
We can be extraordinary, ordinary, or just kinda hanging out and picking our noses all day. We still belong here. We are still worthy, still a part of humanity. No matter what we look like. No matter what we do. Unconditionally.
Stay Curious, Stand Brave & Let Your Weird Out
When classrooms and playgrounds are fraught with uncertainty and confusion – make story time a sanctuary.
It’s okay to go slow. These books are tools to be used slowly. Read one book each month, and give them time to absorb, reflect, and talk about feelings of identity and self-acceptance.
What will you tonight, now that you know these principles of self-acceptance and now have the tools to change the world?
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