June 2012 Profile: Debra Hosseini
RELATIONSHIP STATUS: In a relationship
RESIDENCE: Carpinteria, CA
CHILDRENS NAMES/AGES: Justine, 24, Katie, 22, Kevin, 17
PROFESSION: I’m the co-founder of The Art of Autism collaborative and author of two books: The Art of Autism: Shattering Myths (2011) and The Art of Autism: Shifting Perceptions (2012) which features art and poetry of artists on the autism spectrum. More importantly, the last book contains stories of love, determination, and faith. I curate art shows and organize presentations that show the gifts of people on the autism spectrum, and I have a blog on examiner.com. I try to look at the funny side of autism when I write. www.the-art-of-autism.com. Before my son was diagnosed with autism, I was a computer systems analyst.
Q: What was your motivation for writing your new book? What do your children think of the subject?
A: Our society is inundated with bad news about autism. My motivation to write the new book was about changing the dialogue re: autism. Seeing it for its potential – not it’s downside. My older children have grown up with autism and are at the age when they are trying to create their own identities. They support their brother. Frankly, my older children have been living with the stresses that go along with autism for many years, and that has probably affected them deeply. I think it has made them better people to know Kevin and to see his challenges. Yet, it has also created a need for them to seek out their own unique identities.
Q: What do you see as the positives and challenges of having a child at age 35 or over? (Please share both)
A: The positives were that at the time I had my last child, Kevin, I had a stable job, a house, and more patience and experience than when I was younger. Kevin was diagnosed with autism at age 4 which brought in an entirely set of challenges and stressers on the family unit. The challenges included having therapists in my house almost every day for a number of years. I also quit my full-time job to support Kevin’s schedule of therapies and my daughter’s after school activities. My daughters had different interests from one another. My eldest daughter, Justine, was involved in swimming and water polo when she was younger. My younger daughter Katie was a dancer and gymnast for a number of years. This kept me very busy for a number of years. The biggest challenge in all of this was keeping my own sense of identity, separate from being a parent.
Q: Has anything about being a mother surprised you? If so, what? What do you love the most about it?
A: The most surprising thing about being a mom is the constant flexibility that is needed. When I talk about this, I use the analogy of an apple cart. The apples are patterns that one has adopted in life. Once you think the apple cart is stable, something tips it over, and you are back to picking up the apples; discarding the bad ones and looking for new healthy ones.This takes a sense of humor and the ability to ground oneself.
What I love most about being a mom is to see my children grow up to be their own unique individuals who express their personalities and creativity in their own ways.
A: The biggest thing I would like my children to come away with is a sense of humor and compassion for people who have differences. I’ve learned that it is important to slow down when the children are young and take the time to appreciate them for who they are. Time goes by so fast. If I had to to things over, I would have found a way to be more present with all of my children when they were young.
Q: How did becoming a parent impact your marriage?
A: I’m not married to the father of my children any more. I left after 26 years of marriage and began a different journey. It’s difficult parenting a child with special needs and takes a lot out of the family. I’m friends with my ex-husband, and I live with my partner, Kurt, who is like another Dad to Kevin. He spends a lot of time talking to Kevin and expanding his world. Kurt has a degree in physics and is an Aspie (Asperger’s) which is on the autism spectrum. Kurt is patient with Kevin, and Kevin has blossomed with the extra attention. Kurt, like many people with Asperger’s, likes to make puns and jokes. He also has the vision of endless possibilities that most quantum physicists have. That’s a beautiful thing because one learns to live in the realm of infinite possibilities which has put more of an “awe” and “ahha” in Kevin and my life.
Q: What influence, if any, has your own mother or father had in your life and in your parenting?
A: I grew up during the sixties and seventies when dads went to work all day and moms were mostly stay at home moms. My mom had a career as a nurse, and that was unusual. I learned from my mom the importance of having one’s own identity separate from the marriage and the children. My dad was an attorney, and I was very close to him and adopted some of his less desirable personality traits; many which I had to unlearn when I got older and became a parent! He was a brilliant man, yet very impatient. A great irony in life is that our children will help us unlearn what we have learned as a child. Any parent who has a child on the autism spectrum will tell you that the child has taught them patience and hopefully has made them a more compassionate human being.
Q: Where do you turn for support as a mom? How important is to connect with mom peers? How do you think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to later families?
A: It’s of critical importance for parents to get together either online or in person to support one another. We don’t have extended families like in the past. I’ve been involved in therapeutic and general support groups for moms of special needs children for the last 14 years. When Kevin was young, he was in a parent-participation preschool,l and we had weekly meetings which I think are very helpful. I’ve found the insights of other moms who have gone through similar journeys to be a lifeline, especially when facing difficult decisions. Recently, I’ve made many friends through social media. I’ve aligned with many parents who have a similar mission to me; that is to celebrate the gifts of autism. I think an organization like Motherhood Later…Than Sooner can be helpful to moms who may feel isolated because of their age.
A: The skills I learned after my last child was born, would have helped me tremendously with the first two children. I’m not really a structured person. My last child needed lots of structure because of his autism. I think most kids need structure and discipline, but most importantly they need to feel they are loved.
Q: When you became a mom, did your own mother or father share any particular sentiments or advice that really resonated? Or do you recall anything from your own upbringing that really stuck with you that you’d like to pass on to your children or other parents?
A: My parents were very unusual in that they were older parents. My mom was 36, and my dad was 40 when I was born. Because my parents were older, they probably spent more time with me than they did with my older siblings. My dad spent lots of time playing with me – teaching me chess, body surfing, cribbage. Even teaching me how to mushroom hunt!. I’m one of the only people I know of my generation that plays bridge. Because of being raised by older parents, I’ve embraced many friends who are older than myself. I have friends in their sixties, seventies, eighties and nineties. I can relate to people in their eighties and nineties because they were of my parent’s generation.
To answer your question, it’s usually not what people tell you, it’s the example they set. My parents had many flaws as we all do, but I always knew I was loved. And that’s the most important thing, isn’t it?