Language Translation

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.  :)