Teacher Professor

September 11, 2010

I’m Not Her

Filed under: Autism,College information — Teacher Professor @ 5:10 pm

Perhaps folks like… oh, say, Ashley Johnson, or Jennifer Walker may experience this regularly, but it’s not an occasion that is common with me.

My name is Claire Hughes- the name that I’ve had since birth.  I was named after my mother’s best friend in high school.  It’s technically Claire Elizabeth Hughes and when I was seven years old, I learned that I could make it do things like Clairelizabethughes (See that?  It all runs together?  Made me oh-so-special to my seven-year-old self.)  My parents divorced when I was one and my mother remarried when I was two.  Because of our closeness with my grandparents and my father and his second wife, I did not take my “Daddy’s” last  name, which meant that my name was MINE- all by myself.  I didn’t share any part of it.  There was that other Claire in 7th grade, but she was the only Claire I met for years and years.

I even once got an email from someone who had Googled the name to find out what is was like to have the name Claire.  My response?  Basically, it’s a tough name when you’re in elementary school because it rhymes with everything, but nice and simple and classic when you’re older.

And Hughes?  Hughes is a nifty Welsh name that is essentially “Smith” in Wales.  Lots ‘o Hugheses wandering around Wales.  We can trace our family back 15 generations to a nice yeoman famer in England.  I’m not related to a single king, a single president, or really anyone of note for about 500 years.  We came over to America- on the second boat- to Jamestown.  The Revolutionary War threatened and we fought a bit and then made our way to Tennessee.  My grandfather-3 greats ago- owned ranches and cattle and started banks in the Wild West- with a flashier, more risky partner.  That’s us- we do things and make sure they happen, but we make sure that’s it’s safe first.  That other Hughes- Howard?  No relative.  Too famous.

Which meant that when I got married I was sad to “lose” my name and decided to add my husband’s to mine.   I was already published, so in the college setting, I’m Dr. Hughes.  Around my children’s friends, I’m Mrs. Lynch.  On my driver’s license, it says “Claire Hughes-Lynch”.  My book  and this blog have both names because they combine both parts of me.  If you know me, I’m just Claire.  It works for me.  I generally know where someone is in my life based on what they call me.

Which meant that it was… odd for me to meet my father’s current wife.  Yup- “Claire Hughes, meet Claire Hughes”.  She was used to the schizophrenia of dual names as well since she uses her Goldrick name professionally as well.  She’s an artist, does gorgeous paintings of landscapes and horses and everyone who reads this needs to rush right out and buy them. (Hi, Claire!)  We giggle when we call each other -“Hi, Claire, it’s Claire”.

And that’s me- feeling secure in my uniqueness, my specialness, my “Claire Hughesishness”.  Until 2 years ago.

Autism came into our lives and I learned more words and technical language and… stuff than I ever knew before.  I also got very involved with helping my child navigate the world.  I knew that my daughter learned best when she could analyze it.  We learned that she could conquer her fears when she had the chance to stand back and reframe them.  When, at 14 months, she could understand that sand- frightening, squishy, icky sand- was really big rocks that had gotten smooshed.  When we talked about how soap film was glycerin and glycerin doesn’t mix with water and how it floats.  And how when she encounters something that sends her pulse racing and her “fight or flight” reaction soaring, she can ask herself, “What causes this?  What’s happening here?”  When she could be given the words to use to help herself.  When she manages her autism instead of her autism managing her.  It works, pretty well, for us.

Imagine my surprise and joy, when, as a professor, I discovered that this strategy that we had “discovered” had a NAME!  “Cognitive-behavioral therapy” allows you to take control of the situation by reframing it, by looking at the pattern of behavior and breaking the pattern- yourself.  It’s pretty cool stuff and I was hooked, especially when I read the research behind it.  Recently, there’s evidence that it helps with Tourette’s tics and we’ve been trying that with Ray.  (Not entirely effectively- that’s another post altogether)

About three years ago, when things had eased a bit and I was starting to think about writing a book and doing some scholarly work on this- the connection between CBT and autism, I was putting together a presentation for a national conference and possibly an article.  I started poking around in our library.  I had a theory that the “problem” was in something called “Executive Functioning” and was excited about hunting this link down- and maybe- maybe I would be the FIRST ONE to see this!

Google…  ProQuest… not much- until Bingo!  Ah rats!  The perfect article.  The one that I was trying to write.  The one that had everything I was pondering- right there.  The one that put it all together for me.  All of it.  Oh well- I could learn from it.  I would cite it- a lot.  So, as a good scholar, I wrote down the title, the journal- and the author.

Claire Hughes

I still remember sitting at my desk with the strangest feeling of disassociation I have ever had.  Did I write this and I don’t remember doing it?  Is there some really strange X-files, Bermuda  Triangle life I’ve just fallen into?  What?  WHAT?!

So, of course, I Googled.. her?  me?  And there she was.  Scholar extraordinaire.  Working at Cambridge- that Mecca of autism research.  Way more published than I will ever be.  Way more scholarly than I will ever be.  Way more… everything professionally than I will ever be.

For a while, I had a bit of an existential professional crisis.  If I went into this area of research, I would always and forever be in her shadow.  What on earth could I, barely balancing my life as it was, what could I add to this corner of research that she and I shared?

And really, what are the odds?! I mean, executive functioning, cognitive intervention and autism does not often roll trippingly off the tongue together.  It is a minisculely tiny corner of research.  Beyond miniscule- I mean, we’re not talking  “I like sunsets and the ocean and reading” in common.  We’re talking something that is really, really obscure to most people- even people in the autism field.  Interesting, but obscure.  But there we have it- same name, same interests.

Finally, I decided that what I COULD add was the translation of clinical psychological research to the classroom and the home.  I speak Teacher.  I speak Parent.  She, and other people like her, are finding cool stuff out- and I am very, very good at making such findings practical.  I love learning this stuff, and putting into the classroom in ways that other people can use it.  That’s what I can do.  And so… I wrote my book, and I read more and I’m trying for grants, and I’m moving forward- and oh well, we have the same name.

I’ve contacted her, of course.  I won a prize to study at Oxford for a month two years ago.  Summer Camp for Professors.  Unbelieveable- the cornerstone of the research that I’ve done and am doing.  I emailed her, and the first thing I had to say was “I’m not stalking you- I promise.”  I’m not entirely certain that she believed me.  We made vague plans to meet when I got over there, but email challenges, busy schedules, etc. prohibited it.  So… I’ve not met her.  She knows I’m out here.  It hasn’t been a issue.

Until this week, when I invited a well-respected psychologist in Denver to do some work with me on a grant.  I’m just starting out; I’m just now ready for trying for grants on my own; I don’t have a real track record.  But I have good ideas about translating things to the classroom.  I’m excited.  She graciously accepted, and then wrote “I’m honored to work with you.  I’ve been a big fan ever since I found your article about executive functioning”.

Whoops!  I immediately wrote back- “Ummm…” and explained the situation.  “Sorry…  Hope you still want to work on this…  I’m not her..” and told her the story.

She graciously said she was still interested, and laughed.

Because, as a friend of mine said when I was running around saying “You will NEVER believe this!”…

“Better to share a name with Claire Hughes, scholar extraordinaire, than with Claire Hughes, pole dancer extraordinaire”.

But if you’ve found me by looking for the graphic designer in Bournemouth, the Vice President of Google, or the British skiier?  I’m not her, either.

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