Monthly Archives: June 2013

Get up and Keep Moving: Raising Resilient Kids with Autism

Living life is akin to riding a horse. One day you trot along quite serenely, the view is lovely, the air refreshing and the pace is invigorating. You and your horse travel in rhythm. Out of nowhere a sudden noise spooks the horse that is carrying you and in an instant your torso is thrown willy nilly into space and your heart leaps out of your chest while your stomach hurls up into your throat. Gravity is not your friend today.

Luckily, you have been raised to be resilient and expected to stand up, dust yourself off and get on keep moving when life’s events throw you down. You have learned that the horse will settle, the journey will continue and you will enjoy the ride again.

Letting our kids struggle is usually one of the toughest parts of being a parent. It can be agonizing to see them disappointed, heartbroken and in pain. But, isn’tstrength-and-resilience that part of being a human? No one is exempt from adverse life experiences.

Resiliency doesn’t just happen. It needs to be taught, modeled and most importantly, nurtured. Our kids with autism cannot possibly learn to be resilient if we habitually jump in to save them from a fall or a disappointment. They cannot learn to trust themselves to survive a heartbreak if we steal opportunities from them. As heart wrenching as it is, effective parents allow their children (with or without autism) to fail, to fall, to get hurt, to suffer. Not because they are sadistic but because they know that authentic self esteem is grown in the garden of adversity. It is through falling and getting back up; through failing and working hard to make changes that humans learn to trust themselves to bounce back from defeat. It is through the experience of being hurt that we learn to improve self advocacy, communication and forgiveness in order to move forward. The long term gain in terms of mental, emotional health and self -esteem are well worth the short term pain.

So what exactly do we have to do to raise resilient kids? Stay tuned for upcoming posts…

Clearing Up Blurred Boundaries

One thing is for sure: raising a child with autism does not come with a manual. There are no blueprints to follow for grandparenting a child with autism either. Each family will have different issues and different needs. Boundaries must be clearly delineated by open and honest communication. images

Sometimes, under the guise of “help” grandparents create more anxiety and shame. Insisting that your child ‘really must do this or that’ in terms of medication or therapy can leave your adult child fraught with guilt. Your intentions are good;  you want the best for your grandchild. But be honest with yourself: you are not the one living with the day to day drudgery and exhaustion of raising a child with autism. At the risk of being too blunt, you don’t get to choose.

How do grandparents work with their children who have different priorities and values? The reality of life is that sometimes adult children and their parents have dissimilar beliefs and attitudes, whether they are spiritual, financial or moral. We know that raising a child with autism is a challenge for the whole family, especially parents. You may disagree with your adult children in the approaches they take to meet your grandchild’s needs. You may be in conflict over their financial decisions. The fact is that parents are the persons responsible legally and morally for their children. They are the decision makers. I realize that this is not always easy to deal with; parents do not always make the right decisions. Good chance that you made a few mistakes when you were the parent. 

Withholding support because you disagree with parents is not the least bit helpful for the child. Demanding that things be done in your way is allowing your ego to potentially destroy a precious relationship with your child and your grandchild.

Parents of children with autism need support and affirmation… not someone criticizing, second guessing and undermining their role as parents. Decisions about child rearing, therapies, household maintenance and lifestyle in general are made by parents, not grandparents. Your intentions may be to help your child and grandchild, but if the actions you take are perceived as being based on censure or distrust, then hard feelings are sure to result.

It is a fine line between helping and invading boundaries. Open communication between parents and grandparents is the only way to keep the boundaries clear. The only way to maintain a solid relationship is to honour the need for both parties to be open about their needs and their limits. Yes, it may be awkward but speak with calm, respect and compassion. Work with a spirit of wanting the relationship to work.  This is not the time to assume that someone should know what is needed. This is not the time to stay out of the way. This is definitely not the time for ego and pride to get in the way.

This is definitely the time to express needs honestly, to ask for input and to share emotions. Most of all, this is the time for forgiveness of past hurts. Forgiveness is the ultimate ingredient in any human relationship. Without it, the family has very little chance of working together. The children suffer at a time when they need their family the most.               Forgiveness-Quote-Graphics-172

Celebrating “Real” Fathers

Today we are celebrating the men all over the world that have demonstrated real love; the kind of unconditional love it takes to raise a child with autism or any disabilities. Some may be biological dads, grandpas, uncles, unrelated men or step dads. 

Today we celebrate:older-dads-may-cause-autism

The men who are able to look into a child’s eyes and see love staring back. They see potential and gift where others may see challenge and disability.

Men who didn’t run when things got hard. They stuck it out and did the best they could with what they knew and what they had.

Men who offer relief, affirmations and hugs to exhausted moms. They take their turn at answering the 500 questions or changing the diapers. They get up in the night so that mom can have rest. They play games, sing songs, read stories and live an active role an a child’s life.

Men who advocate for their children with tenacity, fairness, and integrity.

Men who treat their children with gentleness and dignity. These are the men who demonstrate calm and strength when the child’s world feels like its falling apart. They respond with love and keep their ego in check.

Today we celebrate the men that allow themselves to cry and to laugh; they acknowldge the full spectrum of emotions and experiences that loving a child with autism brings. These are the men who put others’ needs first and give their time, energy and love to a child.

Thank you to the men that acknowldge that in their care are life’s most vulnerable humans. These are the men that will grow more, love deeper and experience more of what matters in life because they have opened their hearts and minds to what others cannot see: the gift of a child with special needs.

Faith, hope and love will guide you along the way. Grace, tenacity and strength are yours when you call them forth from within you. There is no need to be perfect, just keep starting over and giving the best you’ve got. A child with autism needs you.

Thank you to the real men. You are real men because you know real love.

 

Proud Daddy of Someone with Autism2

 

Will Someone Unplug Me Please!

I recently attended a dance recital. I must admit, I was mesmerized. But, not by the dances. A young toddler behind me played quietly with an empty water bottle and zipped it through the air with a slightly audible SWOOSH. When the bottle fell and rolled to my feet – I couldn’€™t help but join in his game. I too, simulated the flying motion through a couple loop de loops and back onto the ‘rocket’€™s’€ landing pad. He smiled and continued playing. The parents apologized and I assured them that I was not the least bit upset. In fact, I was ecstatic!

iStock_000013817071XSmallWould you agree that humans in North America carry out their days in similar fashion to a pet hamster on a wheel? Round and round we go, spinning at high speeds until at some point we fall off the wheel or collapse in utter exhaustion.

With all due respect, I worry that without necessarily meaning to, we are shaping our children to be the next generation of hamsters! Many young people are so accustomed to being plugged in, that at times of quiet, boredom or inactivity almost kill them!

Think about it. Is your child able to sit through a church service, recital or a car ride without an ipod, cell phone, game cube or movie to keep them busy? Can your child wait at a restaurant or in a lineup without one of these tools? Does your child insist on playing the DVD player in the van while you drive across town? Be honest.

If the answer is no, I would gently ask you to consider the ‘€œbrain training’€ that is happening at a neurological level. Every experience creates electrical impulses in a human brain. Repeated activities build “pathways” in the brain which in turn, create habits in behaviour AND at habits in the structure of the brain! When we make a habit out of plugging our kids in rather than allowing them to engage in what is going on around them, we are actually paving the brain’s highways of neurons to need constsnt stimulation! In effect, we are training them to constnat entertainment.

I know, I know, they get BORED. Bored kids drive us nuts! BUT, keep in mind that boredbored children who do not have entertainment directors do something magical! They use their imagination; they may make a water bottle a rocket or a wood stick a sword. They play outside and use unstructured time as a time to make believe, to socialize (face to face) or to practice a skill that they enjoy. Unplugged kids’ may create a story in their minds. Heck, they may even ENGAGE in what is going on around them: hear the music, think about what a pastor is saying, smell the rose or connect something they know with something they experience!

Perhaps you remember counting cars or playing I Spy as you sat for hours on a long car ride? Any memory of building towers out of the creamers on a restaurant table? I distinctly remember making up a story in my mind as I sat in the graduation hall for my sister’€™s grade 12 convocation. Imagination can be squashed in a noisy, environment filled with bells and whistles….sometimes it needs space to take root and grow.

Do kids really NEED electronic equipment, cellular data and digital toys to keep their minds racing from one thought to the next?

It takes time to train a hamster to run circles on a wheel. Perhaps our time as parents and educators would be best served by allowing our kids to start young and teach them that it’€™s okay to be bored. It’€™s okay for parents to expect their child to use their minds to imagine, create and explore. It’s okay to refrain from creating a  busy schedule of structured activities. It€™’s okay to look out the window of the car, even if your mind is visiting an imaginary land. It’€™s okay to make a water bottle into a vehicle that NASA would be proud of!

Please, think about the highways you are paving in the pathways of the brain the next time your child wants his game cube because he is not BORED.

People who neglect their powers of imagination become both passive and restless. They rely on something else to entertain them, something else to occupy their minds. They are unable to do it themselves.

G. K. Chesterton