The Benefits of Reducing Efficiency

Filed Under (Family, Inclusion, Single Parenthood) by Estee on 02-06-2009

It is no secret that divorce is overwhelming. Add to that being ill, moving, or receiving that “autism diagnosis” about five years ago has made my recent life path rather bumpy — a list of to-do’s and goals and I’m getting tired. If living our lives “authentically” (a popular word used so much today) is a goal, I might suggest that the way we live is anything but.

As a mother of a special needs child, there is more work as our children depend on us for longer periods of time. I’ve devoted my life to Adam, and maybe even garnered some of my identity from that. Yet, how can parents, especially those of us who strive to seek acceptance and advancement for our children in society create a balance? How can I still give to Adam all that I can, be the good parent, AND take care of my own needs, AND contribute to the world?

I may have found part of the answer in the bigger picture. The self-help books are okay, but they all seem a little saccharine. Sure, there are some good tid-bits of advice here and there — perhaps we all need to read them when we are in moments when the waters are just too deep.

As friendships dissolve (a natural consequence in divorce is losing “couples friends”), and I think I’ve gone as lonely as I can go, the insights and work of others have held me up.  It keeps me steady. It enables me to think about the future that is greater than my own issues, but also not whole without them, and that beckons me to become more a part of it.

As any parent — special needs or not — we are all familiar with the daily to-do lists and tasks that keep us running but make us feel empty. What have we achieved? Do we do our daily tasks with a level of intention that keeps us engaged in life and with others or are we just racing through? What is the goal for Adam and I, if not for all of us? That is the challenge we all face and I believe the answer is in slowing down and doing things with greater deliberation.

Also,  part of the answer lies in the communities we build — not from raping the land and a town with money-making developments, but in perhaps growing a little less and creating environments where humanity thrives.  Were we to have beautiful towns, places to walk to get our groceries from local farmers, events nearby we didn’t have to drive to, and neighbourhoods of children gathering to play again, rather than establishing “play-dates” weeks in advance, I believe we would all be less lonely and we would fulfill many goals we have as an autistic community.  Isn’t this what we want for our autistic children most of all? To be included, happy and less lonely? To be contributing members in our communities? How can we create this if we barely get to know our neighbours?

We all have that nagging feeling, don’t we, that we are all less connected to each other than we want to be? Fine, we in the autism community have connected globally via the Internet, but where do we go in our own towns?  Facebook, among other sites, tries in allowing people to advertise events. But what of just going out… unplanned? How many calls do I receive of parents with autistic children (now adults) who are desperately trying to find a group to belong to? And what must I do? I have to think of all the organizations that have formally created groups with specific meeting times that individuals must drive to. By the time we get this far, it already sounds like too much effort.

As I look at the work of Edward Burtynsky in Manufactured Landscapes, I was taken aback by the scale of growth and efficiency at the cost of humanity. His photographs of urban and industrial landscapes, he seeks not to judge our economic growth and efficiency, for he captures a sublime and repetitive beauty in that which we would otherwise call ugly, but he tries to raise our consciousness in how we are living — tenuously and on the brink. It’s as if he is saying, “okay, we’ve reached this point and now we have to change,” not as punitive, but as an empowering statement. We have created manufactured landscapes of such scope and scale that surpasses the building of the pyramids. For that we must recognize what we are capable of!!  Now, he asks through his work, where or what is the humanity of our economy?

In The Geography of Bliss and Deep Economy, both authors use the study to point out that “growth is no longer making us happy…Though our economy has been growing, most of us have relatively little to show for it.” (Deep Economy, p. 11). If every action in our economy burns fossil fuel, it also burns human energy. And the costs are apparent in the desolate backgrounds of Chinese culture, and the faces of a tired Chinese people — the fastest growing population and nation in the world.

So you might ask: What does economics have to do with raising children and marriage?

Absolutely everything.

“In 1946, the United States was the happiest country among four advanced economies; thirty years later, it was eighth among eleven advanced countries; a decade after that it ranked tenth among twenty-three nations, many of them from the third world. There have been steady decreases in the percentage of Americans who say that their marriages are happy, that they are satisfied with their jobs, that they find a great deal of pleasure in the way they live.” (Deep Economy, p. 35)

As I digest my life up to this point, and the general dissatisfaction of our society, I must consider how connected all of this is, like Indra’s Web. Divorce may be overwhelming, as are all the current problems in our world, but perhaps the answer in building a greater sense of satisfaction in our lives by creating more simplicity — shedding the complexity and just being honest with ourselves that we can no longer do things the same way as we used to. It involves, as in divorce, letting go.

It is no surprise to me that there is a strong resurgence of farmer’s markets — there is one I discovered in a nearby artist colony that I now take Adam to on Saturday mornings and it has become a real gathering place.Adam and I like to go out, ride the bike, pick up groceries on foot as much as we can, and we can be more aware of the energy we burn. The more attention and care we bring into our lives at every level, our quality of life improves. So this not only stands for the average family or person, but also for the special needs family, for what we need most is connection with others.

I think about the Supermom I was called to become when I was a young girl (I went to a Catholic all-girls school which further pressed me):  “You can bring home the bacon; fry it up in a pan; and never, never, never let him forget he’s a man.” That commercial tune rings in my head and makes me want to go back to bed!!  It’s not about pleasing everybody. We cannot, lest we displease ourselves. It’s about how we live and do we go to bed every night knowing that we lived our day well, without the frazzle and anxiety of what we must produce tomorrow. For perhaps to live life simply is not to do too much, but to do a few things well, including putting the intention back into the simple things we must do.

I have come to think that being proficient at one or just a couple of things is better than being the most efficient mother — the autism mom who advocates, “fights,” for her child’s rights, organizes events, sits on boards, writes articles, and barely has time enough to cook a good meal. It’s not that I’m going to necessarily stop all of these things, but I can’t do it all at the same time. The time has come to shed and to rebuild, to de-commit and commit, and to teach my son how to live a life well. I am sad to say that divorce has made me view life this way. But this is what happens when life hits you over the head. I may have still come to the exact same conclusions if I were still married, but I believe a marriage is a reflection of all the systems we build. And it too needs the commitment of simplicity.

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About Me


I’m a PhD candidate at York University, Critical Disability Studies, with a multi-disciplinary background in the arts as a curator and writer. I am the Founder of The Autism Acceptance Project (, and an enamoured mother of my only son who lives with the autism label. I like to write about our journey, critical issues regarding autism in the area of human rights, law, and social justice, as well as reflexive practices in (auto)ethnographic writing about autism.