Is Your Child With Autism Oversensitive to Touch?

Many children on the Autism Spectrum experience Sensory Processing issues. The best way to describe SPD is from Wikipedia: a neurological disorder causing difficulties with taking in, processing and responding to sensory information about the environment and from within the own body (visual, auditory, tactile, olfaction, gustatory, vestibular and proprioception).

Being oversensitive to touch is a tactile disorder – specifically dealing with input from touch, pressure, temperature, and pain receptors.

Although my son can simultaneously exhibit over- and under sensitivity to all things regarding touch (example: laying a hand on his shoulder to comfort him will cause him to recoil in pain, yet he frequently craves and seeks ‘bear hugs’), these symptoms below are very familiar to us.

Does your child show any of these signs of tactile dysfunction?

__ Becomes fearful or aggressive with light or unexpected touch

__ Did not like to be held or cuddled as a baby; would arch back and pull away

__ Will not let you brush his/her hair, or insist you use a particular brush

__ Resists most affectionate touch, especially kisses

__ Raindrops or water from the shower may feel like being pelted with stones

__ May overreact to minor cuts and scrapes

__ Issues with new or stiff clothes, especially jeans, sweaters, and other rough materials

__ Refuses to wear socks because of seams

__ Can’t stand getting hands dirty or participating in messy play

__ Extremely ticklish

__ Distressed by clothes rubbing on skin; takes clothes off as soon/often as possible

__ Hygiene issues: distressed about having face washed, hair cut, teeth brushed and nails clipped

__ Trips to the dentist are very anxiety-ridden

__ Is an extremely picky eater, only eating certain tastes and textures; avoids hot or cold foods and trying new foods

How do you help your child?

Here are some sensory exercises that can be done at home:

  • Finger painting with shaving cream or pudding (never force your child to touch something “messy” if they are not willing – let them use a paintbrush or utensil)
  • Sandbox play – or make an indoor sandbox with dried beans and rice
  • Playdough or clay (here is a Gluten-free recipe for playdough)
  • Let your child drink plain seltzer to experience bubbles in his mouth
  • Have a costume dress up party to let your child experiment with different material textures
  • Popsicles!
  • Repot some indoor plants or start a small garden
  • Play salon: have your child “groom” their favorite stuffed animal or doll and then trade places
  • Feather tickling
  • Play “guess the letter” by writing on your child’s back with your finger
  • Human tacos – wrap your child in a blanket and leave a small opening to add “toppings” – shredded newspaper for lettuce, bouncy balls for olives, a wet washcloth to apply taco sauce (water only, please!), etc. Bonus: use a yoga ball to press the taco into a quesadilla!

What other sensory activities do you enjoy at home? Let me know by commenting below or posting on the SOA Facebook page – I’d love to hear your successes!

Autism + Puberty = Oh, Crap!

Got your attention, didn’t I?

We’ve been in a great rhythm for a while now, and it’s been glorious. Rituals and routines: check. Handy sensory tools to take to outings: check. Restricted diet: check. Digestive enzymes: check. Pre-meltdown signs identified and used to head him off at the pass: check.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that the pants my 9 year-old son was wearing just a few days earlier were suddenly three inches too short. Did I use the wrong drier setting…? Then I saw acne. Then peach fuzz above his lip.

“Honey? Your voice sounds funny – are you coming down with a cold? Feeling okay?”

Then it hit me like a brick to the back of the head: big P, here we come.

Having a daughter first that went through full puberty at 8 (ACK!) I really didn’t think I had anything to worry about: I thought I had it in the bag. Easy – whiny, emotional, easily irritated, overreacting to things – then a smooth ride until the following month. Of course boys are different, but when you add precocious puberty with a splash of Autism you get an interesting cocktail. The hormones seem to sneak in and reconfigure many of the connections we’ve worked so hard to attain.

What to expect

Unexpected rage over small incidents. Proper magnitude of a situation was always an issue with us. We’ve really come a long way learning appropriate responses, but with some of these reactions it’s as if we’re now starting all over again.

Sleep schedule run amok. There has been a magnified wave of insomnia in our house, followed by 15-16 hour stretches of sleep for no apparent reason. Our old rituals and occasional use of melatonin are now ineffective.

New food likes / dislikes and  bizarre cravings. Good thing I went to Sam’s Club and bought a giant, industrial-sized box of his favorite snack food… that he suddenly hates :) Ugh. I caught him spreading Nutella on a dog biscuit the other day and slapped it out of his hands in panic! The good news? He’s trying new foods. It’s all about perspective. <Kidding – no child in my house eats dog biscuits!!

Lack of appetite followed by devouring a week’s worth of groceries. I know this one is not unique to children on the Spectrum, it’s part of having a t(w)een boy.  I still found myself quite financially unprepared for living with Garfield. Anyone know a good Gluten-Free lasagna recipe?

Being overly affectionate. This is a sticky-wicket, especially because I’m a single mom. There have been some shockingly inappropriate… acts of curiosity… that I’ve swiftly nipped in the bud! I will probably need some more assistance with this topic, however, as my expertise ends with Judy Blume books and creating the perfect chocolate/salt balance about three days out of the month. Calling all male role models… help! STAT!

Exhibiting desires to control family members and pets. For some reason, my boy is getting some sort of payoff from cornering me or his sister and not letting us pass through a room, blocking us from getting something in the kitchen, and mildly terrorizing the puppy. There is an underlying theme for the sudden desire to be the “capo di famiglia” (head of household). Yeah… that’s not gonna happen. Thank you, drive through!

No desire to keep up hygiene. Both my kids exhibited this strange behavior at the onset of puberty. It takes an Act of Congress to get them into the shower more than once a week. I simply can’t relate… but I have to stick to my guns.

Regression of old behaviors. Some of the old impulsivity is rearing its ugly head, along with stimming, toileting accidents, and blurting out loud noises. It really feels as if he is choosing this behavior; it has a deliberate tone to it. However, when disciplined he is honestly surprised that he is in trouble and is truly not sure what he did. The difference now is that he internalizes it and tells everyone he’s stupid. That’s not good.

What do you do?

Open communication. The number one thing you can do is make sure your child feels safe to talk about anything with you. With Autism, you may hear questions and perspectives you’ve never encountered in this arena. It’s so important to keep an open dialogue about what he is experiencing, this will set a solid foundation that will hold up any future issues and surprises with grace.

Rinse and repeat. It takes time to create new habits. 21 consecutive days, actually. Don’t expect your child to embrace these new hormones and feelings without some confusion and resistance. Remain patient and be prepared to explain, instruct, and remind your child about virtually everything. You will be repeating yourself, so get used to it :)

Gently establish new routines and rituals. Don’t cry over what used to work. Life is meant to be fluid. I used to feel like such a failure when I couldn’t command a successful routine 100% of the time. Now my attitude is, “We’re going to try this for a while and see how it goes.” If it stops working, we make small course changes. It took me almost 40 years to learn that small, consistent adjustments make a much more profound impact than the extreme and rigid ways I would try to enforce a schedule I thought “should” work. Not to mention all the energy expended feeling bad about my “shoulds”. Now that energy is freed and I can focus on our next step. The flow is so much nicer!

Exercise! Physical movement is always a priority, but it’s really critical during puberty. We start off each morning with Superbrain Yoga. Since I work out every morning for my own sanity, my son will sometimes mimic what I’m doing (or his version of it). There are currently no structured sports or activities in our repertoire, so walks with the dog, back yard exploring, and regular trips to the neighborhood bouncy house definitely help. When the weather gets a little less infernal we will be trying some more challenging activities.

Find a creative outlet. If you have a child with Autism, I’m sure you are no stranger to their current obsession. Rather than meeting it with resistance because YOU think the interest is excessive, try expanding on it. For example, my child lives, breathes, and eats Super Mario Brothers. We’ve found a computer program that goes above and beyond playing the various games: he gets to create custom levels. He puts them to music, assigns characters, powers, scenes, dialogue, and criteria to his games like he’s been designing all his life. What an awesome gift!

Establish ‘mommy time’ boundaries. Now more than ever it is imperative that you carve out sacred time for yourself. You may feel selfish and neglectful when you first attempt this, especially if you work. But the benefits are two-fold: you are getting a much needed and deserved break to replenish your spirit, and you are teaching your child how to do the same for himself. Making sure you are balanced and happy is the greatest gift you can give your entire family.

Celebrate the good choices. No matter how small you think it is, it’s a big deal that your child is able to make a connection, follow a thought, and make a positive choice. You may feel as if your child is too old, but throwing a verbal party when you catch him being good will really shift unwanted behaviors quickly!

What about you? Have you ventured down this path yet? What things helped you tame the beast? Feel free to share by commenting below or posting on the SOA Facebook page – I’d love to hear your stories!

We Are What We Eat! by Special Guest Barrie Silberberg

You have heard this saying a million times, but what exactly does it mean to you, your family and your bodies?

Americans consume huge amounts of processed foods, including fast food, restaurant food and food you buy and provide for your families. Many European countries are changing how their families eat, by removing toxins from their foods, for a healthier world. Sadly, America, one of the richest countries in the world is poisoning their citizens. Not only are they damaging their bodies, but also their minds. School lunches are one of the worst culprits in our society, as well as all of the drive-through fast food establishments, that exist in practically every city in America.

Do you read labels on the foods that you purchase? Pay attention! There are too many ignorant people out there, who purchase packaged foods for their families, completely unaware of what those ingredients mean. This information is not just for families touched by a special needs child, these valuable facts are for ALL families!

We have more hyperactivity, autism and MANY other diseases and disorders out of control, than ever before. Many of these disorders can be eradicated or GREATLY improved by changing the diet to remove chemicals and toxins. Many people’s bodily functions can be greatly improved by getting rid of the wrong types of foods that enter your body.

Let’s start with processed foods. Something as simple as potato chips, can explain what I am talking about. Potato chips may not be the healthiest of foods, but they can still be a healthy option. There is nothing wrong with potatoes cut thin, baked or cooked in olive oil (or another healthy oil), and a small amount of salt. Three simple ingredients to satisfy your taste buds. Here is an ingredient list from a leading national company, who packages chips for the purchasing public. Potatoes, Sunflower Oil and/or Corn Oil, Flamin’ Hot Seasoning (Corn Maltodextrin, Sugar, Sunflower Oil, Dextrose, Malted Barley Flour, Torula Yeast,
Monosodium Glutamate, Artificial Color (Red 40 Lake, Yellow Lake, Yellow 6 Lake), Corn Syrup Solids, Salt, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Tomato Powder, Onion Powder, Citric Acid, Garlic Powder, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Spice, Sodium Caseinate, Disodium Inosinate, Disodium Guarylate) and Salt.

First off, you can clearly see there are ingredients listed that you have no clue what they are or where they even came from. This is the first lesson is how to read a label. If the list is long and full of odd, strange words, put it back on the shelf, this is not a healthy choice. Dextrose is just another word for sugar, which is already listed here. Why on earth do your potato chips need sugar? I can guarantee that this sugar is processed, refined and unhealthy! Corn syrup is never healthy. You can read all over the Internet about the dangers of corn syrup. The worse offenders here are the artificial ingredients, especially the Lake Dyes. These dyes are purely chemicals, made from petroleum oil, yes..what goes into the gas tank of your car. These colors (which have been abolished in many other parts of the world, they use fruits and vegetables to color their foods, instead) can harm your body and mind. Read more on www.Feingold.org about how your body and mind react to preservatives, chemicals and artificial ingredients, especially artificial colors. There are way too many destructive symptoms to list here that can occur by ingesting these chemicals. I will just name a few: hyperactivity, poor sleep patterns, skin disorders, bowel disorders, disruptive and/or abusive behaviors, inappropriate noises, aggression, mood swings, depression, low self-esteem and so much more!

You owe it to your family to read labels. There are many single ingredient foods that you can purchase or natural or organic options for just about anything you have in your freezer, refrigerator or pantry shelf. There are farmer’s markets all over the nation, co-ops, health food stores and large chains of stores that do not sell artificial products. Please do NOT say, it is too expensive. The people that exclaim these words pay a fortune weekly at fast food or other unhealthy restaurant options. Add up your cost for that soda, that burger, those fries and other side dishes. Add in a tip, if you go out. Compare your grocery bill to that of your “eating out” bill. Write down EVERY time you purchase outside food, this includes lunch and beverages parents’ purchase for themselves, while at work or in route to their destinations. Keep track of what you and your family are eating and the cost. Then go one week with NEVER eating out, yet purchasing only foods with healthy, natural ingredients. Why not shop at Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or other similar stores in your area for one week of groceries. Not only will you save money, but also your family will have the best bowel movements, the best skin, and the best feeling inside mentally and physically. Yes, this means packing lunches for school and work daily, or perhaps even for a ride in the car on vacations or just day trips. Once you see the changes in your family after one week, you will not want to stop. One month will show you even more of the huge changes in your families’ daily existences.
Be cognizant, read labels, pay attention to what you buy, where you buy it, what the ingredients are for every morsel that you and your family ingest. Stop being ignorant. Share what you have learned with other families. It takes a village to change poor eating habits! Why not start today?

For much more in-depth details to everything mentioned in this article and much more, please go to Barrie Silberberg’s web site: www.puttingyourkidsfirst.com and discover more about her book: The Autism & ADHD Diet: A Step-by-Step Guide to Hope and Healing by Living Gluten Free and Casein Free (GFCF) and Other Interventions.

The Autism & ADHD Diet is available at all major bookstores, Amazon.com and many other online book retailers. Click Here for Barrie’s website Putting Your Kids First.

Reprinted with permission from Parenting Special Needs Magazine, Mar/Apr ‘11 Issue, Copyright [2011] by Parenting Special Needs LLC.  http://www.parentingspecialneeds.org.

An Iceberg: The Autism Files by Special Guest Gabrielle Bryden

An Iceberg: The Autism Files

My son Michael has Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and would be described as high functioning. Some people ask ‘what is high functioning – does that mean he’s super intelligent?’

No, this is not what it means and I think ‘higher functioning autism’ is a better descriptor. Autism is on a spectrum from less severe to severe. The ASDs fall under the umbrella classification of Pervasive Developmental Disorders – that means the disorder affects a great many aspects of the person’s life and functioning.

It is important to remember that autism is:

PERVASIVE

When Michael began speech therapy at the age of three, I told the speech pathologist that he had mild autism. She looked at me, shaking her head and said ‘there is no such thing as mild autism’. That statement hit me like a brick. Now, 8 years later, I have a far greater appreciation of what that means.

I now think of high functioning autism or Asperger syndrome as like an iceberg. Most of the difficulties are not obvious to others, they are hidden under the surface but still have a major impact on the person’s day to day life.

A child with ASD may be sitting quietly at their desk at school and may seem at ease, but on the inside they may be feeling confused, anxious, angry or agitated. They may be overwhelmed by sensory issues (e.g., noise, smell,), confused by an unstructured learning environment, annoyed by disruptive fellow students, have difficulty with processing instructions and self organisation, dread the social nightmare which is the school playground at lunchtime, and be afraid of bullies. The list goes on and on.

The child usually knows it is important to hold it all together at school and they make an extra effort to cope. This can result in hyper vigilance, where the ASD child feels like they are under attack and is constantly on the lookout for danger. Hyper vigilance is very tiring.

They usually save up all the tantrums for the safety of the home environment. I have had a number of teachers say to me that my son is generally well behaved at school and I am quick to inform them that this does not always translate to the home front.

Michael’s speech pathologist used to make school visits to observe my son in situ and to advise on problems and solutions. She was a keen observer and could list all the subtle signs that not all was well (signs that the teachers usually missed). These signs would include things like excessive chewing (on shirt collars, pencils, rubbers etc.,), obsessive picking at scabs, lining up objects, hand flapping and wringing, avoiding eye contact, body slumping and leaning on supports, peculiar verbal noises/tics, echolalia (repetitive speech), uneaten lunch.

It is these types of behaviours that may be signalling anxiety and distress in the person with autism.

If you provide a supportive environment for a person with ASD, you can minimise their distress. We chose to move to a small village so the whole family could live in a healthy environment and Michael could go to a small school. We address problems as they arise. It makes life easier for Michael but there is still a lot of ice under the water.

Today I am writing this as Michael works quietly at his desk (completing homework which should have been done yesterday – did I tell you I hate homework). He was supposed to go to his sports day but refused this morning because his shirt was too small (that’s just the excuse for ‘it’s all too much for me’).

Sports days are generally hated by most kids with autism (noisy, chaotic, competitive etc.) and it’s one of those issues that we haven’t yet been able to deal with satisfactorily.

Staying at home is as good a solution as any.

__________

Written by Gabrielle Bryden, a writer, psychologist and autism advocate from Australia who blogs regularly at Gabrielle Bryden’s Blog, the link can be found here: http://gabriellebryden.wordpress.com

She writes about ASD in her Autism Files which can also be found on her blog here: http://gabriellebryden.wordpress.com/category/autism-files

How to Celebrate the Child You Have

“Motherhood (and Fatherhood) is about raising – and celebrating – the child you have, not the child you thought you would have. It’s about understanding that s/he is exactly the person s/he is supposed to be. And that, if you’re lucky, s/he just might be the teacher who turns you into the person you are supposed to be.” ~The Water Giver*

I saw this posted on the Facebook page of one of my favorite mentors, Janice Masters, and it inspired me to delve a bit further

and reflect on the quote as it relates to my own life.

After experiencing your child’s meltdown #42 for the week, have you ever caught yourself feeling envious of other parents? Having thoughts such as, “It must be nice to be able to go to a restaurant with your child!” or “I really wish I could travel with my children – other people get to go on vacation!” Maybe you’ve gone so far as to wonder what your life would be like if your child was (gulp) “normal”.

After these thoughts take residence in your head, have you also been consumed by guilt shortly afterward as I have? First of all, do NOT beat yourself about it! These thoughts are completely understandable when you have a special needs child. It does not mean you don’t love your child or that you wish he were someone else. It doesn’t make you a bad parent, even if you occasionally feel you’ve been robbed of the child-rearing experience you were hoping for.

However, since an expectation is often a resentment waiting to happen, we do sometimes need to give our perspective a little shake and examine how often these thoughts are dominating our mind.

Please know I am not saying it is not challenging to parent a child on the Autism spectrum. Believe me! But maybe if you tried on a couple of different views for size – see how they feel – some aspects of the way you interact with your child might shift.

(in honor of Janice, ask yourself) What if…

  • You were to give yourself permission to feel your feelings and observe your thoughts – all of them? Could you then release them after acknowledging them?
  • You were to look for the gift amidst the challenge?
  • You were to make a list of all the positive, amazing traits you see in your child?
  • You were to sit back and watch your child play, seeing how in tune they are with the present moment and their desires?
  • You were able to allow extra time in your schedule to dawdle and not rush so much?
  • You could loosen some of the traditional beliefs and values that no longer serve you and start some new traditions with your child that make sense for who you both are today?
  • You started capitalizing on your child’s strengths instead of focusing on correcting the perceived deficits?
  • You were to start going easier on yourself and begin to follow your own bliss?

I challenge you just take a few of these questions and see how they feel for you. Let me know if you notice any changes in your home by posting in the comments below or on my Facebook page – I’d LOVE to hear your experiences!

I’ll leave you with this:

“Become a possibilitarian. No matter how dark things seem to be or actually are, raise your sights and see the possibilities — always see them, for they’re always there.”

– Norman Vincent Peale

Are You Addicted to the Struggle?

This is a little different than my normal posts… I’m going to be really transparent today. I seem to be stuck in overwhelm and exhaustion. Again. It made me start to wonder… am I addicted to struggle? In my mind, is there something noble about life being hard? Does it make me think I’m a better person when people constantly exclaim, “I don’t know how you do it all!” What exactly does this perpetuate for me?

The struggle.

I hang on to self-talk phrases such as “It’s so hard being a single parent!”, “I have to work multiple jobs just to make ends meet…”, “I have no help, I’m doing it all myself!”, and “I never get any down time, and I don’t even sleep.” Okay. These phrases are all true in my current reality. But do they have to be? After all, I create my reality. I can blame it on outside circumstances, but ultimately I am creating my day-to-day story.

I used to hear life coaches or gurus tell me to simply drop my story, or decide that things are easy and they will be… and I would get really ticked off. I would mutter, “Easy for you to say! YOU don’t have kids! You have someone helping you with the bills!” I thought it was rubbish. The more I open my heart, though, the more I am convinced that I’m addicted to this mindset. You know how I really know? It doesn’t matter if I am working full time, part time or if I just won the lottery (well, I’d like to test that one out for myself, ha ha!). My life would still run at this hectic pace no matter what my outward circumstances may be. I would fill my days with ridiculous deadlines, over-commit myself, and remain exhausted. It’s an inside job (ouch!).

I have this AMAZING book called Choosing Easy World by Julia Rogers Hamrick. It spells out the solution so simply and brilliantly – just choose Easy World and watch the stress and turmoil melt away as your problems are worked out effortlessly and joy abounds – if you let it. Yet, I lose this logic daily (hourly!) and find myself here again.

I do get reminders and moments of clarity like a brick to the back of the head – DOH! I’m making things difficult again with my mental gymnastics. Let go… give it to Easy World and it will work out perfectly. Yes, it’s really that simple. So why do I experience amnesia every day? Yep, I’m addicted to the struggle!

What does this have to do with Autism?

Have you ever watched your child with Autism play? They live in the present moment 100% of the time.  They’re happy. They enjoy doing what brings them happiness. It’s like they’re programmed to follow their bliss. This is the way we are supposed to be – all of us! There is a gift and a lesson here that we are in danger of missing if we’re too caught up in the story of struggle.

I receive amazing gifts and lessons from both my children daily, and I am there to guide and encourage them to be their best self. But what other lessons am I inadvertently passing on to my neuro-typical teen? Am I teaching her to live in the present, or does she pick up on my limiting thoughts by default? When I hear her say things like, “I’m worried we won’t have enough money”, “I’m stressed out,” and “Am I skinny enough?” my heart sinks. Those are not gifts I mean to leave behind! I am automatically teaching her about the struggle as well, whereas my Autistic child is too busy following his higher self and having fun! Hmmm.

So What Do You Do?

Well, I can’t really “preach” until I get at least one foot out of the struggle mentality (without perpetually putting it right back in, that is). Perhaps we can explore this together, and remind each other to take the express train back to Easy World when we’re caught up in the “What if” syndrome or the “It’s soooooo hard” mantra.

Watch your children while they play – they gravitate naturally toward their joy. Do more of that. Every day. Let me know how it goes by commenting below or posting on my Facebook page, and I’ll do the same!

You can start by following Julia’s advice: “Breathe, Relax, Allow” :)

Autism: What Would You Change?

As a parent of a child with Autism, I can certainly think of some of my child’s struggles or issues that I would love to be resolved. But I never really stopped to think… is this what my child wants?

We had an exciting weekend of “firsts” that opened my eyes in more ways than one.

This past weekend brought an amazing opportunity to attend the Canine Companions for Independence graduation and puppy matriculation ceremony… at Sea World! It was our first time there, my son’s first ride on a “big boy” roller coaster (and boy what a scary first coaster – he rode Manta!), my daughter’s first experience with Dramamine and extreme car sickness (poor bubbelah!), the first long car trip with an old friend that’s never been in a car with children for that long, and the first time I asked my son directly how he felt about having Autism.

The conversation looked like this:

“Mom? When I get older will I still have Autism inside of me?” (it’s great how he knows he is not his diagnosis)

“I’m not really sure, sweetie – no one knows what the future holds. But I was wondering, what do you like about having Autism?”

“Everything!”

“That’s awesome! How about what you don’t like? What’s really hard for you?”

“Nothing!”

“Nothing at all? Not hearing loud noises or having your body hurt sometimes?”

“Nope!”

How could this be? What about all the times we’ve gotten kicked out of public places? What about all his sensory issues? What about the screaming and crashing and spinning? It made me think: this is his norm. He doesn’t know life any other way. Could I be the one that struggles and has issues with his Autism? I was certainly frustrated when we were face to face with a magnificent polar bear and all he could see and talk about was that the child next to him had the coveted 3DS!

Could my perception of his problems really be that his behavior is not fitting into a preconceived

My little Wednesday Addams

image I’m holding for him? Do I assume he needs help sometimes when he’s just fine?

I’m not saying he doesn’t need support or that this road is easy for any of us, don’t misunderstand. In fact, I’m quite certain Justin’s sister was secretly hoping the roller coaster would shake the Autism right out of him :) But I like to question my limiting beliefs and viewpoints from time to time to see if there are any that are no longer serving me. These questions certainly helped me take a closer look at acceptance.

As we were leaving the pool following our little chat, Justin looked up and exclaimed, “Mom! It’s a beautiful nine-tenths moon out tonight!”

And I realized then that maybe he was right. I would not change a thing about him either, Autism or not.

What You Think About You Bring About

How often do we find ourselves dreading an event, visit, or simple errand with our child? We look at past behaviors or incidents and expect the worst, based on what we experienced previously. We may even go so far as to picture the meltdown occurring and already start feeling frustrated and frazzled by the anticipation of it.

When we do this, we emit a certain frequency and our child picks up on it. Everything we think, say, and feel produces some kind of effect on our children.

How about trying an experiment? I’ve done this before with phenomenal results! Ready?

Expect the best from your child.

Not perfectionism, not nit-picking… just expect great behavior. Visualize it. Focus on what you WANT to happen and picture it happening that way. You might be very surprised at what unfolds!

I discovered this powerful shift some time ago, yet I often and easily forget the impact of such a simple adjustment. I had a great reminder today while reading a fantastic book: Bob Lancer’s Parenting With Love… Without Anger or Stress. Here is a paragraph that really resonated with me:

Praising or Thanking in Advance

When you want your child to do something, try praising or thanking her for doing it in advance. This tactic exhibits an uncanny power to bring out desirable behavior that has not yet happened. For instance, to encourage him to pick up after himself, try sincerely praising him for picking up after himself and genuinely thanking him for the contribution before he has done so. To encourage your child to play nicely with others at the playground, right before you launch her into activity you might say, “I want to thank you very much for playing so nicely with the other children at the playground today.”

Ironically, I found this to work with my To Do lists as well! For a whole week I created “Done” lists in lieu of “To Do” lists and I was so much more productive! They would read, “Went to bank, completed freelance project, did laundry, balanced checkbook,” etc. Guess what – I doubled my accomplishments that week!

What do you think? Do you have anything to lose by expecting your child to flourish and shine versus waiting for the meltdown? Thoughts are free. They can be changed and controlled with practice. Try it and let me know your results on my Facebook or Twitter page, or by commenting below!

Braving the Public… Meltdowns and “The Look”

I posted a question on Twitter and Facebook last week that stirred quite a few comments! The question was:

Parents: how many times have you gotten “the look” in public places… as if people were saying “Why can’t you control your child?”

The myriad responses I received ranged from “It is so stressful, we don’t even bother anymore” to “I don’t even notice because I don’t care what people think!”.  It was great! You know what? I can relate to every single bit of feedback I received. I have been in all of those places emotionally and even gone so far as to second-guess or blame myself and my parenting skills along the way.

No one said this job was easy. To quote a dear friend of mine, “Parenting is not for weenies.”

I can’t count how many times I’ve had to rapidly exit a grocery store, leaving a full cart, because my child escaped and was running up and down the aisles, screaming and crashing into endcaps. I can’t tell you how many times we spent $70 at the movies only to be kicked out of the theatre before the previews were even over. I can’t recall how many times we had to leave a restaurant, paying for food that never came because of meltdowns. And don’t get me started on how I know the response time of Fire Station 5 so well ;)

I have experienced parents tell me I need to spank or beat (!) my child, I have gotten countless dirty looks from others in public places, I have been told by security officers that I need to “reel in my kid”, and I have been called a bad mother more times than I can remember. It’s not fun. I don’t even want to get into airplane follies!

As a single parent, I don’t have the luxury of another adult when out in public to take my son outside for a sensory break, put him in a time out, or to leave him with at home so I can do the shopping alone. What I also didn’t have until the last few years, though, was knowledge and understanding of Sensory Processing Disorder, a list of key things that set my son off, and tools to help me make the right decisions about taking him out.

I know we can all share horror stories. I’ve probably stifled and suppressed most of mine :) BUT I thought it would be helpful for me to share what we do RIGHT now. Meltdowns these days are minimal, if not completely gone.

Know when the odds are stacked against you. Is it close to nap time? Has your child been stuck inside with no exercise? Did he just have a big, sugary snack? Or is he really hungry? Conversely, are YOU exhausted and sleep-deprived? Squeezing things into your schedule and feeling pressed for time? These are NOT good times to take your child with Autism to the store, restaurant, bank, or any other errands. It may be inconvenient, but it is worth it to wait until all the odds are in your favor so you can handle any situation from a place of calm and grounded peace. When you can respond, not react, it changes everything.

Avoid busy times. Try to go to your favorite places when they are not too crowded. So what if your schedule is different than the rest of the world’s? The extra quiet atmosphere may be totally worth it.

Understand what your child experiences. I used to just see bad behavior. Then I would try to reason with it, yell, lose my patience, bargain with it… yes, these were really effective :) The truth of the  matter is, your child may be under assault by her senses. If you can stand a little bit of bad language, this is a GREAT video to illustrate a meltdown. I love it. Sensory Overload Simulation

You can also read one of my earlier articles, Why Does My Autistic Child Scream?! which helps explain what’s going on neurologically.

Physical exercise first. Taking 5 extra minutes before going out to toss a sandbell with your child, run a quick relay race, do some animal crawls, or just run in place can change their entire mood and energy level for your outing. Fitness creates focus, provides an energy release, and gives your child a nice self-esteem boost along the way!

Anticipate and arm yourself with supports. Bring things like noise-blocking headphones, supermarket bingo, things to draw with, snacks, or even video games if you deem them appropriate. Know where exits are as well as a quiet place to go for a five-minute sensory break if needed. Illustrate clear consequences for misbehavior prior to entering your destination, but also make it clear that breaks and time outs for his body are not the same as being in trouble! It also couldn’t hurt to have a plan B.

Look for flags. You know what it looks like when your child first starts to get overloaded. Don’t wait until the situation spins out of control before addressing it. If possible, give your child choices and encourage her to make the right ones for her. I can now ask my son, “Are you screaming for fun, or does your body hurt?” (sometimes he’s just being a boy!) I’ve had him hold up numbers to tell me where his body is on a meltdown scale – 1 being perfectly fine and 5 being totally out of control.

Compassion. It’s never easy to walk that fine line between disciplining a behavior when your child can clearly help it versus giving them support and understanding when they truly can’t. The bottom line is, we are all doing the best we can. If you think you’re frustrated by a behavior your child exhibits, imagine how he feels getting in trouble for his ears hurting or his nerve endings feeling like they’re on fire. Imagine yourself not being able to tell if you’re standing up straight or falling over, and then getting yelled at for touching the wall and not knowing why. I’m not saying all behavior is okay and should be overlooked, but seeing things through your child’s eyes (or ears, or hands) can instantly melt your frustration into compassion and assistance for your child to step into his best self!

What other public tips and tools work for you? What attitudes have you shifted that changed your experience? I’d love to hear about them!

5 Ways to Tell Your Children That You Love Them

Happy Valentine’s Day!!

Today is a great day for me to reflect on how lucky I am to have two amazing children and a beautiful (expecting!) wolfie-dog in my home. Every day is an adventure and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Recently, things have definitely been a bit strained in our house as we move through the shift of the changing times! Especially amidst the madness of single parenthood, it is so vital to take time out simply appreciate my family. Here are a few ways I love to show it:

Unplug. Turning off the iPhone, stepping away from the computer, and being present with the kids as my first and only priority – it works wonders!

Be silly. Maybe it’s embarrassing to them, but having the courage to be goofy in front of others gives my children permission to express themselves and creates lots of memories to laugh about later.

Love notes. Taking the three extra seconds to draw a funny face on my daughter’s sandwich bag, leave a note in my son’s lunchbox, or tape a sign to the TV or bathroom mirror always adds a little extra smile for the recipient :)

Change the routine. Sometimes spontaneously deciding to go out to eat, have breakfast for dinner, or go the park for a picnic will shake up the routine and add a new perspective. Letting the kids have a turn to choose is even better!

Tell them. Sounds easy, right? How often we forget to ‘catch our kids being good’ and tell them what you LOVE about their behavior, viewpoints, or appearance. The next time you want to nag about what they forgot to do, try noticing what they remembered and see the ripple effect!

How do you express your love to your kiddos? Feel free to share your unique ideas on our Facebook page!