How Are You, Really?: Parenting Expert Natasha Nelson Speaks Out on Autism, Going Viral and Starting a Small Business During a Pandemic
How Are You, Really? is an interview series highlighting individuals—CEOs, activists, creators and essential workers—from the BIPOC community. They reflect on the past year (because 2020 was…a year) in regards to COVID-19, racial injustice, mental health and everything in between.
The last 365 days have held ups and downs for Natasha Nelson. At the start of the pandemic, she moved from Kansas to Georgia and as a Black autistic woman with two autistic daughters, was longing to find more and better connections. In June 2020, she made that wish a reality by founding Supernova Momma—an online community dedicated to helping Black and neurodiverse parents. While continuing to focus on her mental health, raising her daughters and building a new business, she used the Internet as a way to be vulnerable and educate others. I spoke to Nelson about all things parenting, mental health and what it meant to go viral online.
So Natasha, how are you, really?
My first question is, how are you?
I am strained. We haven’t been to museums, the library, the zoo, the botanical gardens, the pool… in over a year now. I have two autistic toddlers. I try to make every day a learning experience. However, I can’t help but think of the consequences of them missing social interaction now, of me missing social interaction now. I miss being part of a community and helping the people around me.
How are you, really? As individuals (specifically BIPOC) we tend to say we’re fine even when we’re not.
Shortly before the pandemic began, we moved from Fort Riley, Kansas to Stone Mountain, Georgia. I have always searched out my community of BIPOC women in every new place I have lived. I haven’t had the opportunity to do that here and it can be extremely lonely. I try to fill that void with my work and community online, but it isn’t the same.
Has the past year taken a toll on your mental health?
Absolutely. I found that helping and entertaining people was the glue that kept my autism symptoms in check. I kept myself so busy that I didn’t realize my needs. When I was alone, I saw myself in my daughters. I realized how strong my anxiety, sensory and overstimulation [impulses] can get.
Do you find it difficult talking about how you feel to others?
This is a tricky question as an autistic Black person. I don’t have a problem talking about how I feel on Twitter and to my platform of strangers and e-friends. I do have a problem talking about how I feel to my real friends and family. The difference is I disassociate my feelings a lot and look at them from outside myself. It’s very effective when sharing with strangers. [But] it can come off as unauthentic and unfeeling in person.
Why do you think it’s tough for BIPOC to talk about their mental health?
History shows us you don’t have time to heal when you are just trying to continue to survive. BIPOC have been struggling to survive for most of our history. There isn’t time to teach emotional intelligence. You fix your face and suppress it to make do. We have to unlearn and re-train ourselves to first feel, then talk about those feelings.
What are the ways you focus on your mental health? Are there self-care rituals, tools, books, etc. you lean on?
I take virtual therapy once every two weeks. I also run, do yoga, perform daily breathing exercises, have a calming corner and I twerk (dance).
With so much that has happened in the past year, what has made your smile/laugh lately?
My daughters make me smile and laugh every day. Their progress as they learn verbal language and explore their world is absolutely fascinating to me. Learning how they think, how to support them and then putting it into action is the biggest privilege in the world to me.
How has the pandemic played a role in your career?
The pandemic has forced me to build the community and connections I would usually build locally, virtually. Building that community virtually has honestly opened doors for me I would have never dreamed of for a small business in its first year. However, my mission, responsibilities and goals have not changed at all. The mission of Supernova Momma is to help Black and neurodiverse parents break generational curses, from systemic racism to ableism, and raise children in a mutually loving, empathetic and respectful environment—whether virtually and internationally, or physically and locally.
Back in September, a video of you calming your crying daughter blew up on the Internet. What’s that been like?
I posted the video because there was another video of an adorable child going around who cooked with his mother and grandmother and he put his hands or mouth on everything. [In the comments], people were advocating spanking him and indicating something was wrong with him.
I simply wanted to show it was perfectly typical toddler behavior to want to taste things while you cook, and you don’t have to spank to correct children. When it went viral, I realized how many people don’t have an understanding of child development and alternative methods and tools besides spanking, isolation, reward and yelling. I almost felt a responsibility to educate others on the resources and alternatives available to them. Prior to that video, my focus was simply mom blogging and advocating for Black mothers and neurodiverse children. That video going viral is when I decided to become a Certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator.
How has the viral moment made an impact on parents’ lives?
I get anywhere from 100-500 messages from parents [a week] who say they still use that video specifically to help them calm their child from a tantrum. In fact, I had so many parents messaging me for advice, that I got my certification and now offer one-on-one positive discipline consultations. I also offer two workshops: one is specifically for Black parents to help work through trauma, the other is for parents of neurodiverse children to get a basic understanding of neurodiversity, stimming, sensory processing disorder and the difference between a tantrum and meltdown.
How do you use your platform to talk about health/social issues?
When I decided to become a mother, I was aghast to learn the Black maternal mortality rate, and I felt the need to educate and share on Twitter. When my daughter showed early signs of autism, I was surprised at the lack of knowledge surrounding autism and neurodiversity and decided to share my experience and thoughts on Twitter.
When I realized I showed signs of autism from supporting and advocating for my daughters, I decided to be transparent and share [on Twitter] about the lack of diagnosis and misdiagnosis in Black women who are neurodiverse. Twitter allows me to be transparent and open. It has for over 10 years. That transparency has allowed me to demonstrate positive parenting, traditional rearing, autism acceptance, neurodiversity and motherhood balance in the most direct, loving and relatable fashion.
When it comes to racial injustice over the past year, do you find it difficult to talk about what’s going on with peers, family, friends, etc?
I am a Black autistic woman with a Black husband and two Black autistic daughters. I also have brothers, sisters, uncles, aunts, cousins….I live in fear and anxiety every day. I over-prepare with things like stickers announcing our neurodiversity. I avoid situations where I think we will have more contact with police or people who look at us as inferior. I didn’t even learn to drive until this past month.
As a parent, does this impact how you explain race and racism to your daughters?
When I found out my oldest daughter had autism, I cried. [It was] not because she was cursed or because I was mourning some idea of what she could have been, I cried because this world is already hard when you are Black, then a woman. Now she would have to add and navigate autism too. I plan to keep it from them for as long as I can. Unfortunately, that usually means until they begin school. But I have already started preparing my materials to discuss race, racism, sexism and ableism to my girls at the proper developmental level. I have to for their protection and education on how to navigate this world.
How do you think parents can talk to their children about what’s going on in the world?
Books are amazing. I have a book list I’m happy to share. Read books to your child and ask them questions after. I think parents should be open and be age-appropriate with information. Kids are so smart and capable of critical thought. Pretending something doesn’t exist to protect them from it or prevent it just doesn’t work. We see that with the “I don't see color” mentality. Why don’t you want to see me? I am different and that’s okay. Ignoring my differences doesn’t make them go away.
What advice do you give people who want to utilize social media as a way to voice issues and share experiences?
Ensure you are researching and are knowledgeable about issues you want to discuss and who they impact. Cultural awareness and empathy are the backbones of advocacy. That includes subcultures such as the Black Deaf community, BIPOC or autistic binary community.
What are your hopes/goals for the year ahead?
I hope to make enough money to pursue my business full time. I hope to double my platform. I hope to truly develop a system for consistent social media posting without taking away from my family. I hope to obtain grants to focus on families who truly need Positive Discipline education without putting a financial strain on my own family. I hope to continue to walk in a nonjudgmental and grace-giving light.