Meet Paula Flinn and her family of five. Paula lives and breathes acceptance of neurodivergence and love for her delightful family. Paula sent me through a stack of photos to choose between, and I had to include them all! Combined with her beautiful words, they show how families like ours can live joyfully. Paula blogs at Embracing Us so please head there and send her some love . ❤
Hello! Thanks for participating. Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your family, however you’d like to introduce yourselves.
I am Mum to three beautiful little ones, who I live, play and learn with, alongside my patient and caring husband. We live, most of the time, on our 7000 acre family grain and sheep farm in the Wheatbelt, Western Australia. The kids and I also spend about 10 days in every month in our little Perth house near the river in Fremantle. We unschool, so have a lot flexibility with our children.
Our eldest son, who is 6, was diagnosed Autistic about 18 months ago. After his diagnosis, my husband and I decided to get assessed as we could see many similarities. My husband was diagnosed Autistic, and I was diagnosed with social anxiety, and some sensory sensitivities. Although I wasn’t diagnosed, I certainly feel that I am neurodivergent, and the process has led me on the very important path of self discovery.
Our second son is almost 4, and I believe he is certainly neurodivergent, although we haven’t sought any diagnosis for him at this stage. Our daughter has just turned 1, and we love watching her personality flourish every day.
What do you value and love about your family?
There’s a whole lot to love. Our children are freedom-loving, curious, and fantastically sensitive souls, who crave exploration and movement. They are determined, non-compliant, and opinionated, as well as very devoted, kind and joyful. I love that they feel everything – the good, the bad, and everything in between – to its fullest capacity. They know how to live!
I love my husband’s loyalty. We are very different in many ways; I can challenge his practical, conventional thinking, yet he will always remain open and generous in his thoughts and beliefs. His intent focus on the things he loves and is passionate about is amazing, and this is evident in how hard he works.
The thing I value the most about our family is that we are authentic, and completely ourselves with each other. There are no filters, or masks, or parts that we conceal when we are at home together. Sometimes this looks peaceful and still; sometimes loud, super stimmy, and joyful. And other times it can look angry, defiant and overwrought, or sad, anxious and uneasy. And that is completely ok. We are there to support each other, without shame or pressure to be something we are not. I hope our home will always be this safe place for our children.
What does acceptance of neurodivergence look like in your home and extended family?
In our home, acceptance looks like freedom. Freedom to be alone, freedom to move, freedom to not speak, freedom to express, freedom to stim, freedom to retreat, freedom to eat when and what we want, freedom to fixate, freedom to rest, and freedom to trust, and be ourselves. It can be hard to accommodate everyone’s different needs all the time; sometimes we can’t, but we try our best, learn from our mistakes, and apologise when we get it wrong.
For the most part our extended family have been very accepting of our differences. There are some who are very interested in learning more about neurodiversity, and are appreciative of information and insights in to why and how we do things differently. Others are not necessarily interested in why or how, but are accepting all the same. I think our extended family know that we are doing the very best we can for our children to thrive, and most importantly, what we believe is right for us. Accepting that, is a gift to us.
For me, becoming more self aware has been really important in accepting myself; and this self awareness has afforded me to ability to better understand and accommodate the rest of my family. This takes time, patience, and self compassion, and it is something that I will continue to work on…probably for the rest of my life.
How can others in the community support and include you and your family?
Please do not talk about ‘cures’, or functioning labels, or taking parenting courses and being ‘tougher’ on our kids. Please know that although our children may behave differently, make unusual noises, or seem reactive or sensitive, they are competent human beings, doing the very best they can. Please know that sometimes we may withdraw or seek solitude – don’t take it personally; this is necessary for us to feel ok in a world that can sometimes be too much. Please be receptive and open about providing accommodations for neurodivergent people – meet them at least halfway.
Quite simply, I think the very best thing that the wider community can do for our family, and others within the Neurodivergent community, is to listen to Autistic voices, because they are the real experts – not parents, not teachers, not therapists, not so-called ‘Autism experts’. Let go of the negativity, the pity, the ableism, the hurtful narrative, and the distorted beliefs; and join us in celebrating our diversity!
A big shift in thinking is needed, but we are all capable of change.
How are families like ours contributing to the neurodiversity movement, disability Pride, culture, and community?
Our family is proud of our different neurologies. We speak about Autism openly and positively. It is not shameful, or sad, or frightening to be Autistic, or anxious, or highly sensitive. It just is.
We allow our children the freedom to be themselves, and I am working on allowing myself the same freedom.
I share our stories through my blog, I help to spread information about Neurodiversity via social media, I listen to Autistic voices, and I am growing more courageous – speaking up when I am confronted by injustice.
So, I guess we are contributing in small, but vital ways – the ripple effect can be very powerful.
* You can find all of the couples and families featured so far here – Neurodiverse Families
* Want to add your story? Here’s how – Invitation to share your story