Language Translation

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Choice and Accountability

I was asked by a father:

"Do you have any pointers on how to introduce something new into my children's lives without causing extreme amounts of fit throwing and contention? I can't seem to figure this one out."

There are many different tips out there that are suggested by therapists, doctors, families, etc.  The most common seems to give plenty of time for adjustment and talk about it often to help them readjust to the new information in their lives.

What happens when there isn't time though?  What do you do then?

It partially depends on what is being introduced.  Is it something different the children will have to do?  (i.e. chore changes, schedule changes, changes at school, etc.)  Or is it something that is being introduced to them that throws of the balance?  (i.e. a move, a new baby, a sibling going to camp, etc.)  

If the change is something that is going to change the way your child lives daily life, then the first thing is to remember to provide choices.  They are very adamant about their agency and ability to decide for themselves, so let them.  If they would rather deal with the natural consequences, then that is what they choose.  Even if they don't like the consequences, if you remind them that you offered a choice and this is what they chose and said they would be okay accepting the consequences, the arguments and tempers are generally minimal.  These children have an extremely strong moral fiber and if you remind them that they gave their word on something, they will keep it unless under extreme circumstances - or if you let the fit get so far before you help them back to the logic they chose.

For instance.  Let us say that Sam wants to play outside.  You got home late from errands and lunch is going to be late.  You want to send him outside to play while you make lunch, thinking it will be a nice diversion and hoping he doesn't realize how hungry he is.  But you also know that once Sam is outside, it is really hard to get him to come back in the house, no matter what.

So you say, "Sam, I'll give you two choices.  You can stay in the house and help me get lunch ready and then go outside after we eat.  Or you can go outside and play (at this point he has already headed for the door.  Make sure he hears the rest of your condition)....or you can go outside and play if you come inside when you are called.  SO you can stay in here and help me and then play or play and then come in without arguing or crying when it is time for lunch.  Which do you choose?"

Sam chooses to go out now.  When lunch is ready, Sam is so engrossed in what he's doing that you have to call several times.  You give him the tried-and-true 5 minute warning that he needs to come in.  But he does not.  You go to the door and say "Sam, your 5 minutes is over.  It's time to come in and eat."  Sam does not move from the insect he is watching with wonder.  (There is an addendum post, if you will, about not responding the minute you speak.  It was too much to put right here.  Look for it to follow in a day or two.)

What to do?

At this point there are several options depending on what is most important that Sam learn.  You can drag him in....I find this to be barbaric and only resort to it when it is absolutely necessary.

You can remind Sam about the deal that had been made.  Sometimes this simple reminder is enough to get him moving.  If it is not enough, then natural consequences come into effect.  You let Sam know that because he is not keeping his word, that next time he will not have a choice.

Yes this is a little harder and will possibly cause a fit next time, but it is not something to eschew.  If you compromise on the compromise, Sam will continue to run the house.  If you hold him to his choice, he learns that his choices have consequences.  This will not only help him make better choices in the future, but will allow him to make mistakes as a child, when the costs are much less severe.

One day Sam will be grown.  One day he will have to make choices without you there to guide and direct.  The ability to make a good decision will be developed because he will know that he has choice and accountability.  If you negate the accountability part you are setting him up to fail as an adult.  His choices in the future will have consequences that you will not be there to save him from.  And the choices as an adult have much higher stakes.

So when it's time to come in and Sam does not, remember that he is a very clever being.  Remember that he prizes his sovereign rule over his own life more than anything else.  He does not like to be told what to do, he likes to be asked to do it.  If he chooses not to do it, let him know the consequences.  And then, no matter the fit, stick to those consequences.

On that note, I do not suggest a consequence like having to go to his room.  Then we get into physical force which is another issue.  Physically picking up the child should always be avoided and only be a last resort - not just when your patience is gone, but truly a LAST resort.

Natural consequences are much better.  What happens when Sam breaks his word to you?  He loses your trust.  How does he get it back?  He starts keeping his word again.  Explain this logic to him.  He will understand.  And if he wants back the ability to choose, he will be happy to keep his word, and may even point out to you that he is doing it.

If you must send him to his room, give him the choice to walk there on his own.  If her refuses to go and is screaming and crying, then wait for a moment of breath.  "Sam you have two choices.  You can be carried to your room by me, or you can walk to your room.  I'll give you the count of ___ to decide."  (Always give the positive choice last, so it is what his mind dwells on more.)  I usually use a count of 3 or 5, depending on how severely the child is into the fit.  If he is screaming and crying a lot more, then I give a little more time for him to calm down and understand what I am saying.

At this point, he knows the consequences of his choice.  With almost every child, the first time I had to carry them to their rooms.  They didn't believe I would do it, because it seems so very belittling and humiliating to them that they can't believe I would stoop that low.  And it hurts my own sensitivities to do it.  But after the first time, they usually choose to walk to their room on their own because they know I will follow through if they don't.  Again, this should be the last resort though.

I'm sorry I'm very long-winded.  I'm trying to sort out all that I want to say as I go along.  Almost done.

More than anything, preserve his right to choose.  I cannot explain how very, very precious this is to him.  He values it more than almost anything.  If you take away his freedom of choice, he will fight you tooth and nail and come to resent you.  If you offer choices and show the consequences of those choices, he will learn to make wise choices.  And usually when he is butting up against you, he has a reason.  Ask.  His logic may not be sound to you, but it is to him.  He is choosing something because, from his perspective, what he is doing is more important than what you are asking him to do.  If he feels you understand his logic and you think he still needs to do something, he is more likely to listen to you.

If Sam has felt restricted for years, it may take a little time for him to come around...there will be a period of testing to see if this is for real or if this is just a trick.  Does he really get to choose, or is this some new kind of discipline a new therapist has suggested that will soon go away with the new therapist and the new suggestions?  He wants to see that you mean what you say and that you don't say it unless you mean it.

Give them the opportunity to make good choices and help them see the consequences.  It will not be the end of fits today.  But you will see the fits diminish and become less severe when they happen.  I have found the fits come more often when they feel they have no choices in their own lives.  Give them choices and watch what they do with them.  They are fierce about their right to choose for themselves.  Guide them, don't crush them.  Give them the sight you have from living years longer in this state than they have, and let them choose.  Remember today's consequences are far more preferable to the consequences of adulthood.  Recognize their ability to reason and choose and respect their right to make choices.  They will learn much faster, I promise.  And they will learn to choose well as time goes on.  You're job is to help them see the choices they are making, not to make the choices for them.  

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Dyslexic and Loving It!

My cousin asked a question, for curiosities sake, about what it is like to have dyslexia.  I thought I would copy and paste my answer here, since dyslexia almost always accompanies the spectrum gifts.

Your eyes, upon first glance, can't tell the difference between mirror letters (such as b,d).  When reading, your eyes will easily pick up letters or words from other areas and put them in the sentence you're reading...which is why reading glasses often help those who have dyslexia, they magnify it, which lessens the chances of putting things in that don't belong.  Reading with a blank paper or the blank side of a ruler covering the other words helps as well. 

Basically it's confusing because your brain doesn't know you're mixing things up when you're too little to comprehend sentence structure and meaning.  Then when you are old enough to understand things and you read aloud (like morning scriptures in my house) you realize that your verses always sound different and you keep getting corrected and you're not exactly sure why.... :)  It's confusing.  I would read exactly what my eyes saw, get corrected, read it again and it would be different.  I think that helped me develop the idea that if I read a book I didn't like enough times, the ending might change.  ;)

Then you figure it out, or a doctor figures it out and then you retrain your eyes to start over again and try desperately hard to remember that you need to look twice to make certain that "b" you see is really a b and not a d.  And when reading aloud you take extra care to follow the one line at a time.  And when writing, you try really hard to keep the letters straight in a line, instead of writing them all over the place because that's how your brain picks them up.  You know.  Basically you have to THINK when everyone else can just do.  That's all.  :) 

But the good part is, it's great training to live a life of intention and purpose.  Most people don't live life consciously because they are used to just doing and it is hard work to live a life of intention.  But when EVERYTHING takes intention to do properly, you learn that it's just normal to think all day long.  And once you've retrained yourself on one thing, you have also developed the habit of being consciously aware of every moment of your day.  It is hard to stop.  SO you focus on something else.  I suppose that makes the disability, for those who overcome it, more of a super-ability developer.  :)  Yay us!

Friday, May 4, 2012

Kaylene's "Ta Da!" List

I have a dear friend named Kaylene.  She and I met years ago, when she was first married.  We lived about 3 duplexes down from each other and a wonderful friendship grew in our little homes.  Over the years we have kept in touch as I move around the country.  She is probably one of the few people who actually have had every one of my addresses and phone numbers written down (outside of my Father and siblings, of course).

I distinctly remember, after about my third move, she told me she was going to start writing my address and number in pencil because they always changed in six months or so.  We both still laugh at that.  Sometimes our contact only happens when I move and I'm calling to give her my new info.  Other times we talk a couple of times a month and still other times we will talk a couple of days a week.  It just depends on life and where we are.

But this is one of those friendships that you know, no matter what or why, when the phone rings and it is Kaylene on the other side, I am always delighted to hear from her.  This was the case not long ago.  I think I called her - I don't rightly remember.  We've both called each other over the last month or so and I forget which call this particular conversation came from.  But I suppose that doesn't matter.

We were talking, that's what matters.  :)  ANYHOW.  Kaylene is a wonderful mother of, what I may safely describe now as, a brood of children.  And I adore her for it.  She is real and honest and works hard and has bad days and sometimes falls short of what she hopes for the day and is hard on herself and.....well.  She's like the rest of you - a good parent who works much harder than is fair and is rewarded much less than she deserves.

So when she told me about her new way of keeping her list, I had to borrow it.  I love the sense of accomplishment and enjoyment it allows this very hard-working mom to enjoy without guilt.

Here is her marvelous answer to a mother's never ending list of things to do.

She told me about how frustrated she was with her list.  There was always more to accomplish on it than she could get done in a single day and it never left her time for any sort of break or down time.  When she did take time to relax, she always felt the guilt and pressure of her list weighing down on her and what should have been a time of recuperation became a time of judgement and condemnation.  So she decided to do her list differently.

Now, when she begins her day, her paper is blank.  As she works, she writes what she has accomplished.  When she reaches ten things, it is then time for her to enjoy some leisure time.  She has accomplished all ten things on her list and thus can enjoy her relaxation without guilt or pressure.  Genius, isn't it?!  She calls it her "Ta Da!" list.  I think it is marvelous.  So much so, that I wanted to share it with all of you.  For certainly no family or parents work harder than those who have full-time care of a special needs child.

So get a little pocket sized notebook.  Number your ten things, and then write down your list as you have accomplished it.  The interesting thing that both Kaylene and I have discovered is that we are both so excited to write something down on our list that we get to work much sooner and with much more gusto.  Because the list is one of accomplishment and has a reward at the end of it, it is a positive experience that makes me feel better about myself rather than condemning me.  I used to feel like a worthless wretch when, after working hard all day, my list still had things that were needing to be accomplished and were added to tomorrow's was exhausting, draining, frustrating, and depressing.  NOW?  I feel so great about myself and usually cycle through my list twice in a day.  I accomplish my ten things.  I take some time to do whatever, and then I feel so energized, I go and accomplish ten more things and then relax through the evening.

You will find that you accomplish more throughout your day, enjoy your downtime more, and feel better about yourself.  It is lovely.  Go ahead.  Give yourself permission to enjoy those breaks you so richly deserve.  THANK YOU Kaylene...I know I enjoy my breaks so much more and I no longer feel guilty in doing so.  *singing*  "TA DA!" 

Now, in Kaylene's words:
MY CONTRIBUTION TO THE WORLD: I was going to announce my brilliant idea to all my FB friends but Tara beat me to it.  :)  I finally go tired of being defeated by the "TO DO" list and decided to change my approach.  I now have a "TA DA!" list.  This list doesn't have any items left at the end of the day to feel guilty about.  With so many children I found that I could NEVER get everything on my "to do" list completed so I quit making one.  Now I make a list of my accomplished tasks each day.  These can be simple or monumental (taking the trash out counts but so does cleaning the oven).
I should add... the length of each Ta-Da! list should vary by situation.  A working mom shouldn't try to get 10 items done when she gets home from work and a mom that has all her children in school may be able to get many more than ten items in a day.  Just do what's realistic for each person.  That way the list doesn't become a burden.
Once I complete ten things I get to have ME time.  I can read, scrapbook, watch a movie, go shopping (if I want to take three kids along) or do whatever.  The great thing is that is GUILT FREE time.  I can relax and not think about the items on my "to do" list that aren't done.  I find that at the end of the day I feel happy and successful instead of discouraged.  Another bonus is that my house is cleaner. I've discovered that most of the clutter came from little things like mail that needed to be sorted or a stack of items that needed to be taken downstairs.  Now I don't put those things off because often they take five minutes or less and I get to write something on my list.  My phone calls get made and clothing mended with regularity because it gets me to my free time faster.  Brilliant huh?  AND I feel great.  So go start your “TA DA!” list.  Give yourself credit for all those things you DO and stop torturing yourself with never-get-done-lists.  HAPPY DAY!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Errands for Ethan

The time has been escaping me, but I wanted to put up a note about this before I totter off to bed tonight.

Today, March 26, is the one-year anniversary of the passing of Ethan Ellsworth, he was 7 years old.  Ethan was the son of a good friend of mine.  The family decided, in honor of Ethan, that they would spend the day doing random acts of kindness for other people.  They invited family and friends to do the same.

So today, literally thousands of people were doing "Errands for Ethan."  It was such a lovely experience for me.  As I read about what others did, my heart was touched and I couldn't help but be grateful for a day like this, when so many were focused on doing good for those around them.

I spent the day in consultations, as usual.  But today, at the end of each session, I let the families know about Errands for Ethan.  Then I informed them that my errand today was to do their consultation pro bono.  Most of the families were touched, but still insisted on paying me.  So I asked them, instead, to donate the money to their nearest food bank or shelter.  More than once my heart overflowed when the amount of donation was reported to be far more than the cost of the consultation.

Ethan, today you have brought food and shelter to literally hundreds of the homeless and needy of the world.  There was money donated in the United States, Ukraine, China, Australia, and Poland today.  Thank you for allowing me to be a part of this great experience.  My heart is full.  My eyes are moist.  And my soul is in peaceful contemplation of the power of one to touch so many.

God bless this family and the sweet boy who left them all-too-soon, but whose heart and spirit still inspire us to be better than we are.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Cognitive Age Not Physical Age

I was in New York again this last weekend.  I spent quite a lot of time on the subway going from place to place, talking with families, visiting with friends, making new contacts, etc.  It was a wonderful weekend and I learned something while I was out.

I found myself lost on Saturday afternoon.  Well, not really lost, really just temporarily misplaced.  Once I realized my error, it was rather easy to get going in the right direction again.  I arrived at the subway stop that would return me to the home of my friend, where I stay when I come to New York.  I stood there and waited, and waited.  A young man asked me a question and, feeling rather surprised and proud that I could answer him, I did so.  I felt like a real New Yorker.  I know the subway system well enough to help another traveler find his way.  I thought to myself how very impressed I was with me in that moment.

The impressiveness of me gave way quickly to the feeling of needing to plant my palm on my forehead.  I realized it was Saturday.  That meant the A train was running on the local C and E tracks, not on the express A track.  Dang!  No wonder I had been waiting there for so long.  So, sheepishly, I walked down the stairs, crossed over and climbed up to the local side of the tracks.  As I stood there, I had a healthy dose of humor come over me, thinking of how great I thought I was at navigating the subway system.

I am still chuckling to myself at the pompousness in my air for those few moments before I realized how far I still had to go to learn the system really.  But I am also thinking about a few other things that this experience illustrates so well.  There is one thing in particular I wanted to share with each of you.

This experience was very symbolic for me.  Let us imagine for a moment that the subway system represents the mind and it's wonderful, useful networks.  With special needs people, it's not that the train doesn't run.  It's that we are waiting on the express track when we should be on the local track.  I found myself thinking about how many times I have done this to myself.  I have thought I should be just like everyone else; that I should learn the way they learn, communicate the way they communicate, and function the way they function.  When I don't I always think of myself as somehow inferior.

That is pointless.  That is like standing on the express track, thinking that if I stand here long enough, the train will come.  Well, the train will come but not for 48 hours or so.  By then I will be so hungry, thirsty, and sleep deprived that I probably won't be able to comprehend that it is my train and I should get on it.  Is what I'm trying to say making sense?

It's like you have to approach every part of life from a different perspective.  You will still reach the same destination.  You will still arrive.  Your child is able to learn all of the functions of life - they just need to be taught to him from his perspective so that he can understand them.  He needs you to come to the local side of the tracks instead of standing on the express side, waiting for a train that is not going to come.

Every train represents a skill or a bit of knowledge that I need to acquire.  There are many which are on the express track.  And many that can only function on the local track.  My little Mr. D. is a whiz at some things.  His express track is functioning well within those topics.  So well, in fact, that sometimes the rest of us are not sure what he is speaking of and it takes a minute for us to understand.  Because his language skills are still on the local track.  Both trains are moving, in the direction we want them to move, but one is so much faster than the other that it feels incongruous and off-kilter.

What if we were able to take a step back?  What if you were able to take the cognitive functioning level of each individual thing and work from that place?  I have watched children grow at miraculous rates by incorporating this one idea.  Treat them as a neurotypically functioning child of their cognitive age, rather than a delayed child of their biological age.  Does that make sense?

So if he is 6 years old, but cognitively is only 35 months old, your expectations should be based on the actions of a 3 year old rather than a 6 year old.  Treat him like a neurotypically developing 3 year old.  If you will look at his actions and behaviors, you will see that he is very much a NT 3 yr old.  When you get into your mind that he is only expected to progress to the cognitive level he is on, then all of the stress and the pressure is off.  You aren't frustrated and angry at the 6 yr old who is testing every boundary and throwing every hard thing in sight to hear how it sounds and saying words that he doesn't know just to test out the sound and try on the meaning.  Instead you see the learning that is taking place as he tests bounds.  You see that he is beginning to have reasoning abilities.  You see that he is developing his language skills and understanding.  And you see growth and development.  See him as he is, and he will become as he should be.  If you only see what he should be, he will never become that because he has no one to help him understand where he is.

If there were one piece of advice I could give to parents, this would be it.  Treat him like a NT child of his cognitive age rather than a delayed child of his physical age.  Once you do, the growth really begins.

If you don't know his cognitive functioning age, just think about the behaviors you see.  If he were NT, at what age would he be doing those things?  If you have no experience in NT childhood development, go to your local library and check out a book.  It is not hard to get a few general behaviors together and pinpoint a cognitive age-range.

Once you do that, shift your thinking and remind yourself he is xx months old rather than xx years old.  Or whatever.  The stress levels will drop, the pressure will be lifted, and you will begin to understand your child who has been a complete mystery to you until now.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Language vs. Your Language

I was driving home from teaching my religion class this morning and thinking about some of the families I am working with.  I realized I don't know if I've put into words the fact that anyone can learn to do what I do.  I speak of it all the time, but I don't know if I've actually said it on this forum.

So.  Here we go.

Do you remember how I talked about your spoken language being like a foreign language for people like me?  So if that is a foreign language, what is our "mother tongue?"  It is the language of the heart and emotions, or energy (depending on your personal spiritual or intellectual beliefs).  We speak spirit fluently.  You can learn to speak our language just like we can learn to speak yours.  It is work, because it is a foreign language.  It takes time and a lot of practice.  You can't learn a foreign language from one lesson.

I am able to communicate with your loved ones, and it is easier for me than for you, but it is not impossible for you to learn.  The more you try to learn his language, the more he will try to learn your language.  Now, that is not to say that there are not still physical therapies and other things that need to be done.  You will have an easier time learning our language than we have learning yours.  You just have to learn to open your heart; learn to hear and trust your own voice and then the difference between the other "voices" will let you learn who it is you are "picking up" on.  Does that make sense?

Anyhow.  For people like me to learn your language, we have to learn a new muscle coordination, as well as the actual work of learning a new language.  All you have to do is learn the language....actually.  I take that ALL back.  You do have to learn a new muscle skill.  It is internal, it is the ability to open your heart and have it work in tandem with your head.  Hmmmm.  Yep.  So we have an equally hard time learning each others' language.  That makes me feel better.

Okay.  Back to how you go about "hearing" your loved one.  I've been trying to give you steps here and there to help.  Whenever you have read a post about opening your heart, being aware of the emotions you have and the emotions in the room, healing your heart, etc...all of those posts are part of learning our language.  I am not sure how to teach it outside of a seminar setting.  Maybe we could set up a webinar or something.

If you are interested in a webinar, or a local seminar, will you contact me please?  Thanks!

Now.  About the language.  It is something that, when starting out, will feel odd.  Have you ever learned a new language?  You say a few words, with a very unsure air.  You may or may not be able to have the correct accent or enunciation and it may sound a little funny to your ears.  But as you practice, it begins to sound more and more like the language you are hearing others speak.

This is no different.  You will be learning a new skill that may feel foreign or weird, but it will become more comfortable as you practice and keep learning.  It is not easy.  When I tried to open myself back up to all of this after so many years of being closed, it took a lot of courage and faith.  It was not easy.  It is definitely on the top 5 list of hard things I've had to do/been through in my life.  But I promise it is worth it.

It is a transformation from an autopilot life to an life lived on purpose, a life filled with meaning.  It is not easy to do at first, but after you step into it, you'll wonder how you ever lived any other way.  There is nothing like seeing and believing in your best self.  That is the view that will come from learning to live in both worlds. 

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Memories, Intellect, and Expression

As a child, I imagine I felt similar to someone who is a surgeon in his home country.  He decides to move to America.  But he does not speak the language yet.  He gets whatever work he can to provide for his family.  Day after day, people treat him like he is stupid as he sweeps and mops the floors of a school.  He is there because this job allows him to be immersed in the language and listen in on classes where the language is being taught, while still providing the necessities of life for his family.  But from the outside, he is dressed like a janitor and people assume that because an adult is doing work like that, he must have a very low IQ. 

They treat this very educated and intelligent man as though he were stupid.  They poke fun at him and talk down to him.  He may not understand their words at first, but he is not foreign to human interactions.  He can see their faces, hear the tone in their voices, look into their ridiculing eyes....he knows perfectly well what they think of him.  And day after day he submits himself to this humiliation because he has a bigger picture in mind.  He has a purpose.  He is simply trying to learn the language first.  Then, most certainly, one of those boys who mock him, will one day end up on his operating table and will be stunned to realize it is the janitor who is about to cut them open.  

This is how it felt for me my entire life growing up.  I felt like everyone was talking down to me instead of treating me like the adult I thought I was.  I had the capability of understanding every thought process, it was just in a language that I couldn't speak.  Does that make sense?  I couldn't understand them because I spoke a different language, not because I was incapable of understanding. 

Your child is learning a foreign language, but there are many things he comprehends.  Treat him intelligently.  I was speaking with a mother the other day who was concerned that her son may or may not quite know who she is.  When there is a picture of her in front of him, he will point to it and acknowledge it is a picture of his mother.  When she stands in front of him and asks, "Where's mommy?"  He just looks at her - she thought his look was one of bewilderment.  But when dad will ask "Where's mommy?"  Their son points to mom.  If you assume your son is intellectually challenged, this could be a concern.  But if you assume he is intelligent but just hasn't learned how to express his genius in this language yet, it seems very obvious what is going on. 

The look of bewilderment was a look of, "Really?!  You're seriously asking me where you are?"  It's a feeling of, "Please.  Don't insult my intelligence.  You're asking me where you are.  That is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard."  When asking who someone is in a picture, well, maybe you don't recognize yourself.  I can understand that.  His body doesn't look the way he remembers looking either.  It's small and strange looking....only his eyes reflect something close to what he remembers looking like.  When dad asks him where mom is, he points to her.  Dad may have just overlooked mom. 

Parents wonder why the intellectual process seems to progress so slowly.  His mind needs to be stimulated.  If you repeat over and over again the same things and in partial sentences, then that is how he is learning the language and learning to express himself....repetitiously, and trying to fit a lot of meaning into a couple of words.  No wonder it takes so long to find what he wants to say.

If someone is trying to learn a language and is only taught a few words, then he is not going to be capable of carrying on a full conversation.  At best he may only be able to use a couple of words here and there with a lot of gestures and grunts sprinkled in.  If you want your child to speak in complete sentences, then use complete sentences when communicating with him.

Also, speak slower, not louder.  They are learning a new language, they are not deaf.  In fact, if they are anything like the little boy I care for now, their hearing is excellent.  He hears the most faint sound and must know what it is before life can move forward.

So.  In a nut-shell.  Use full sentences.  Treat him like he is intellectually up to par or above his cognitive age, not his physical age.  Speak slower, not louder.  Give him time to learn a new trait before stepping full-board out there on his own.  Expect him to progress neuro-typically according to his cognitive age and treat him that way.  Then he will.  :)  Time-lines are different, but the progression is still the same.  I cannot stress enough how important it is to treat him like an intelligent, bright, reasoning human being.  He takes his queues from you - make sure they are the queues you want him to base his behavior on.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

All She Needs Is Love.

I was visiting with a mother while waiting at a social skills group.  This mother started to describe some behaviors of her daughter to me and was wondering how to stop it.  When the children came out of their group, I watched what she meant about her daughter.  From mothers perspective, the little girl has no sense of boundaries or what is fitting and proper.

Her mother introduced her to me, and I noticed several things right off the bat.  1) She was very high-strung, but not in a physically, stimming way - more just mentally.  She had a hard time getting focused on one thing.  It was as though the answers didn't come fast enough and she didn't want to wait for the answers because there was so much to learn, not one moment could be spent in silence, just waiting for an answer.  2) Her "hyperactivity" is more a distraction than anything.  There are a lot of things going on in her life that are really hard for her to deal with right now, and as long as she is distracted, she doesn't have to feel those things.  3)  While her mother seemed calm on the outside, her insides were all tense and tied up in knots.  There were so many things that her mother was stressed or upset about.  This little girl, if this were the only thing she was picking up on, would have had a very hard time staying still.  4) The games she was playing, trying to "pick pocket" a man, was so much more than a game.  She was looking for the connection that happened the first couple of times she played that game with dad.  She was hoping for the love and the interaction that came the first time.  Possibly dad has been more busy than usual...but whatever the reason, even if nothing had changed in the home, her level of need changed.  And it was not being filled.  This is not mom and dad's fault.  We often have experience which causes us to need more or less of something.

Needing love is very much like food.  You need a regular amount of it, interspersed throughout the day.  Usually the regular amount is enough.  However, there are occasional "growth spurts" where more food is required.  There are times of "sickness" where less food is required.  It all depends on the phase the heart is in.  For example, I may have just been in an extremely high energy environment.  If you are calm and soothing, I may need extra time and love from you.  If you are high strung, I may need much less attention from you.  It all depends on my temperament and your temperament and the situation we have just been in and the situation we are going into.

But.  Back to the touching.  All four of the above things play a role in her hand reaching out into others' "personal space."  If I were in a place where I knew no one reading this would know the family I am writing about, I would tell all.  But there is much that is private and is not my business to share.  So I will only say this.  The major problem with her need to reach out and touch will be blamed on sensory issues by the OT.  It will most likely be blamed on her curiosity and a good sign of her intellectual growth by the pediatrician.  The family psychologist, if there is one, will probably say that she is just wanting to continue the game dad started because she enjoyed it and it was fun.  But all of those answers are from the outside looking in.  They are all based on the idea that some THING is the reason for the actions - with exception of the psychologist - they don't even consider the idea that the physical may be emotionally based.  And all of them make it seem much more simple and less adult-like reasoning.

When I was a child, while my grasp of the language was minimal, my intellect was not.  If I understood the actual words, I could easily follow a very complicated train of thought or emotional quandary.  How do I explain this?  While my grasp of actual words was very low, my ability to understand very complicated emotional situations was incredibly high.  Now, most would say it was not because my verbal usage was not even equal to my peers, so my answers to problems sounded very simple.  But the simplicity was profoundly true.  With each situation, almost always, the answer was that true, unadulterated, unconditional love was all that was needed.  Now most would say that I am just giving a cure-all that is very child-like.  That is not the truth.  If you dig down, underneath all of the layers of pretense and emotional exchanging, there is a need that remains unfilled - the need for true, unconditional, unadulterated love.

This little girl was seeking the same feeling of connection with her father.  She thought that repeating the same actions would get the same result.  All that needs to happen is more interaction with emotional connection with dad and an explanation of how to ask for love when she wants it.  She watches everyone around her express their need for love in strange ways.  No one just outright asks for love.  Everyone plays games to get what they need instead of being direct and simple saying, "I've had a great day.  Nothing in particular is wrong.  But for some reason I really need a hug right now.  Will you please give me a hug?"  She learns what she observes - at home, at school, at therapy, with friends in their homes.

I think maybe my next post will address intellect and understanding and proper communication with your child.  This seems to be a core issue for most families.  Anyhow.  She needs love.  Lots of it.  And it looks like emotional connection, which means your heart has to be open and available to her.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Death of a Loved One

There was a question asked by a mother whose family is experiencing death of a close family member.  I started to reply and realized that what I had to say was far more than a simple paragraph or so.  So it became this blog post.  

My dad's mom passed when I was 12.  The only grandad I ever knew died a week before I turned 16. Almost exactly a year later, my Aunt Barb died - 3 days before my 17th birthday.  And then we lost my mother when I was 19.  Each loss was different for me, but there were similarities in how I reacted to each of them.  In looking back and trying to remember why I did the things I did, I find that my biggest reaction was not to my own emotions, but to the emotions of those around me.  I grew up in a very religious home and I know that had some bearing on how I was able to deal with the loss.  Others who do not have that religious fallback can certainly find themselves lost in the emotional angst with no hope. 

The first thing I would recommend is that you deal with your own feelings on the subject.  Chances are his being upset is often a reaction to how you are feeling.  You are holding it in, trying to be "strong" for him so that he can see that everything is okay and life carries on. 

He knows everything will be okay.  He knows life will carry on.  What is causing the turmoil is that you are not being "honest" with him about what is happening to you.  Each of us expresses and is consciously aware of this gift differently, but the one thing I have seen true across the board is that people on the spectrum can feel everything that those around them are feeling*. 

So while your heart is breaking and you feel like sitting down and crying sometimes but you keep going "for his sake", you are aggravating the situation.  He may get upset when you start crying, but it is not because you are crying.  He is trying to grieve with you.  Let your heart be seen.  When you feel like crying, do so.  And explain to him why you are crying.  If you will not hide how you feel, he will become more aware of his own emotions and be able to deal with them and release the pain. 

Don't expect either of you to come out of this quickly.  Such a deep loss is not immediately healed.  It does get easier, and you won't feel that empty ache forever.  But I don't think there has been a single day that has passed in the last 15 years that I haven't thought about my mother and wished for her to be here.  That doesn't mean I mope an bemoan myself everyday.  I do definitely have my "I want my mommy" days though.  What I mean when I say to not expect to come out of it quickly is that you will feel this loss for a very long time.  You do not, however, have to feel the pain of this loss for a very long time. 

You can support each other in this.  If he is getting upset, look at your own heart first.  Are your physical, outward expressions reflective of your heart?  If not, that is almost certainly why he is struggling.  Express and explain are the two most valuable things you can do for yourself and for him.

Books on loss are fine, but if you are struggling with the concept of loss, then the book will do him no good.  Please do not be offended by this - I'm not sure of a tactful way to say it, so I apologize in advance.  If you understood about loss yourself and were not struggling, you wouldn't need a book.  You would know what and how to say - spectrum or not - to him.  So I think the bigger issue is for you to come to understand your own feelings and confusion with loss.  As you do this, his experience with this loss will become easier.

There is a truth, whether your child is on the spectrum or not: Your children learn how to deal with loss and face their own emotions by watching you go through it.  If you keep it in and try to hide how you feel from them, if you only express your pain in secret and after the house is sleeping or gone for the day, then they will learn to hold it in as well.  They will not know how to express it because they don't see you expressing it.  So, while you are getting it out when no one is around, he is not.  He takes his queues from you and how he views your expression.  Your child will learn to hold it in if you do.  He will learn to express if you do.  He will learn to express in a healthy way if you do.  If you explain why you are expressing and how you feel when you are expressing, it will help both of you.  

Now, that doesn't mean that you have an out-right temper tantrum if you are angry.  But it does mean that you express that anger in a healthy, appropriate way.  Let him know you are upset.  Let him know you miss your loved one.  Let him see you feel unsure, confused, angry, sad, and anything else you are feeling.  If he starts to get excited, starts flapping or rocking or does some other physical reaction, just let him.  According to psychiatry stimming is categorized as "stereotypy" or, "A continuous, purposeless movement."  THIS IS NOT TRUTH.  IT IS DEFINITELY WITH A PURPOSE.  The physical stimming is not always a sign of overload.  It is a way to release.  He is grieving with you in that moment.  He is feeling his own emotions in a way that he is able to express it as you are expressing your feelings.

I cannot emphasize enough that he learns how to deal with his emotions by watching how you deal with yours.  If you hide them, then he will also try to bury and hide his feelings.  This will cause a major meltdown eventually because he has to get those emotions out somehow.  If he is capable of crying, then he will learn to cry if you cry.  If he is incapable of crying, then chances are he will do whatever his stimming is while you are crying.  This is good.  This is release.

The physical stimming is for different reasons.  Sometimes it's what I do when the energy and emotions around me are so overwhelming that I cannot find my own emotions in the mix.  Sometimes it is to express my own emotions when I am unable to find the proper mode of expression.  I give them movement and that helps me to release them.  Sometimes I can get caught up in the cycle and try to fix the whole world once I've started.  I find it very easy to take on the feelings of everyone - whether I know them or not.  The more severe or intense the emotions of those around me, the more I will have my physical reaction up to the point of verbal expressions as well as the movement.

Hmmm.  I'm not quite sure this is coming out right.

If your child is verbal, this may look like yelling as well as rocking back and forth or flapping or whatever his physical release is.  If your child is non-verbal, this may look like a lot of excited "Uhhhhhhhhh" coming out of him along with the stimming.  The more intense the emotion, the higher the intensity of his vocal expressions. 

I was sitting in Church yesterday and I was feeling an overwhelming amount of emotions from those sitting nearest me.  I was about to get up and go into another room to listen to the meeting when I heard vocal expressions near me - the child who was across and a row back is on the spectrum, non-verbal.  I was so grateful for his expression.  While I felt too restrained by the expectation of social norms and did not dare make a noise, he did exactly what I wanted to do in that moment.  And, as would be expected, his parents were shushing him gently.  He was quiet rather quickly.  But I found I still had to leave shortly after that.  Not that I had to leave, but that I had to do something.  It was either leave or stay and humiliate myself by making all kinds of noise and movement.

So I left.

Anyhow.  My point in telling all of that is to show that the noise and the stimming isn't all bad or something to worry about.  When I am having my physical, outward expressions, it is rarely because my own emotions, by themselves, are too much.  It is usually caused by the emotions I take on from those around me.  If you will deal with your own emotions in a healthy way, he will be able to face his emotions in his own healthy way.

You will both heal together, and as you do so, you will both learn a new way of connecting.  There is nothing like the sharing of emotions over an experience to connect two people.  You will feel closer to each other as you grieve together and thus lessen the poignance of your loss.

**For more information, please visit my website.  It is the same address as this site, only it is .org instead of .com.  Thanks!   Click Here to go to our website.

Thursday, January 5, 2012


I love hugs so much!  But I didn't always, as I've mentioned before.  What happens when you are visiting with family?  What happens when an aunt/uncle/cousin/grandparent  wants a hug?

I had a conversation with a mother today - two of her three children are special needs.  We were talking about the shifts that have happened in her family since my time with them back in the latter end if the summer.  I thrilled to hear how well things are going for them and how much progress has been made by her children - the more steady and calm atmosphere.  Her husband told me a couple of days ago that even the teachers at their daughter's school had commented on how different she is now.  Such wonderful things to hear!

As we spoke, she mentioned a particular dilemma.  The children often visit family members who want to hug the kids.  When the children do not want to be hugged, it hurts feelings.  She doesn't want to force her children to hug people they don't feel like hugging, but she also doesn't want to hurt family.  She's explained the situation to the family members, but it still seems to come across wrong or misunderstood.

As she was speaking to me, I remembered my own frantic clinging to my mother's leg when other people were standing there with us - whether they were known to the family or not.  Their energy was still foreign to me because I didn't live with it.  Even if I saw them once a week or so, the energy about them was hard to deal with.  My mother's energy would shift when she was around them.  I found myself holding on tight, as if my holding her leg would help her stay "mom" and not become JoAn.  Does that make sense?  It was like I wanted the energy I was accustomed to.

I remember being told to give someone a hug and I would dutifully obey, even if I didn't want to.  Then I would hurry back to my mother and latch on all the more.

Now, looking back, I can tell you exactly what was happening.  First of all, mom was not quite the same and so my "safe space" was already a little off.  Then I was required to enter into someone else' physical space - and thus allowing them into my space.  Their energy was foreign - not necessarily good or bad - just foreign.  Unless a person was unusually safe, I would cringe at the interaction and rush back to my mother.

When I was back in contact with my mom, her energy would exchange with mine and I was able to let go of the energy I had picked up that made me not want to interact with that other person in the first place.  Once the energy exchange happened with my mom, I felt much better and was able to be calm and might even venture out into more of the space we were in and not cling quite so tightly.

I expressed these thoughts to this friend.  I suggested she offer a hug to her children after they interact with the other people.  She is going to try it.  I hope it helps.  I hope the uncomfortable hugs from others are swallowed up in the hug-aliciousness of mom.  :)