Month: February 2015

“The Three Cheek Goodbye Kiss, Goodnight Kiss/ Hug And You’re Going Out Again? “

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Michael has started a new routine when I go out and at bedtime. He does this with me or his father, Johnny. This is the “three cheek goodbye kiss and hug”. He initiated this in the morning with his father before Johnny would leave for work, grabbing his head and pulling it down doing the two cheeked Italian style kiss on both cheeks, then  giving Johnny a big hug. His father who was delighted, added on kissing one side of his cheek with three big kisses of his own, while telling Michael to have a great day at school.

At first, this was a tradition he only did with his father in the morning and at bedtime. Johnny would tell me this when he put Michael to bed. In the last month though, the tradition has evolved, and now includes me in the evening goodnight cheek kiss/hug routine, whether I am going out to one of my writer meetings or with girlfriends, or whether I am putting him to bed. And I have added on my own thing to the routine. I do smacking kisses like his father on both cheeks, and add some raspberries for good measure. Michael loves this and laughs with delight! Of course, there are the number of times he needs to turn our heads and hug us to do these kiss/hugs (the OCD elements and control elements of his personality), but it is such a delight to see that increasingly as he gets older, he is forming those close attachments to Johnny and I, yet is finding ways to cope with us leaving, very important for dealing with his emotions.

How do you deal with going out (whenever you do), and your exceptional children’s reactions? Do they react at all, or does it bother them? I know some of you exceptional Moms out there are scared to go out as it causes too much disruption to your kids and families. But you know what? They may surprise you with finding ways to cope. Michael’s two and three cheeked kiss is one of his ways, I know. His father and I bond with him, show our love physically to him, and he learns that eventually he has to physically let us go as we do with him. It’s the only way to have a healthy relationship with anyone. So get out  on your own, with friends, or with your partners. We’ve always been lucky. Michael does well with sitters. If your child doesn’t, start slow with only going out an hour and build up the time you are away. It’s necessary for both of you to have a more balanced relationship, and for you exceptional Moms, to stay on your game to be the best moms to the best kids. Until next time.

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“Look at Me When I Talk to You Mommy!” Do We Really Remember to Do This With Our Exceptional Kids?

Michael has started saying something funny and sobering to me lately. “Mommy, look at me when I talk to you!” He has uttered these words when he’s telling me about his day after school. I usually do look directly at him, as we are sitting having our snacks together at the kitchen or dining room table. Sometimes though, if it’s been a particularly busy day, I’m grabbing my coffee or food while he’s already sitting down talking, and obviously not looking directly at him. “I hear you Michael. Keep talking. I’ll be right there.” I say. He usually will stop talking, wait until I’m settled, then start talking again to me when I’m next to him on my chair. If it takes me a few seconds to settle into the conversation, and I’m not making eye contact, he’ll sigh and utter those words “Mommy, please look at me when I talk to you.” The first time he said it I laughed. Then I apologized. I told him he was right and gave him my full attention. He’s getting it! He’s getting what real conversation is.

This brought to my mind all the times that we may not be looking or really listening to our exceptional kids, eye contact notwithstanding. Now, there are usually good reasons for distractions, rushing in the morning to get out the door to school, work, other children who need our attention, our own stresses and problems. But still, this got me thinking about all the work I did to get Michael to tune into my world, our world, and now he is the one reminding me to tune in when I am doing two things at once. Sending texts is another culprit for me. I’ve even caught myself doing it at the table. The last time this happened I apologized and said, “That was Daddy asking a quick question. I’m putting the phone away now. You have my full attention.”

I think to really build conversation skills, empathy, human relationships, as exceptional Moms we have to be even more careful with technology and other distractions when around our kids. What message do we want to send to children who are already more comfortable with computers, phones and televisions than they are with people, if we are constantly on them ourselves or distracted by our own thoughts? Thanks to Michael pointing this out, I am now more conscious of being present for him. Meditation and yoga talk about this too. Being in the moment. It is truly the best way to communicate and live. I hope this is something all of you exceptional Moms out there keep in mind when you are with your children. Because  the time we have with them is precious no matter what else is happening. Until next time.

“I Have To Do My Things-I’m Busy Mommy”- Exceptional Kids in Our Rat Race World

I thought it was so funny the first time I heard Michael say, “I have to do my things Mommy. I’m busy right now. I can’t talk to you.” But lately I’ve been thinking that when he says these words, there is another side to this conversation. And that side is him navigating our race rate world, a world hard enough for neuro typical people to manage at times. Yet, here he is with his increased anxiety, sensory issues, and intellectual delays trying to make sense of a world where busy means better and useful, and relaxing and taking it easy usually translates to laziness.

Yes, we all say, I need to take it easy, relax, go on vacation, slow down, but how many of us when we actually do this, enjoy that down time? How many of us don’t find other ‘productive ways’ to fill vacation time such as with constant sightseeing, activities to do on site where we vacation? The art of not doing anything has lost its art, is not in vogue. Heck, it’s almost a crime in our succeed or stagnate world! I am one of the recovering busy addicts who actually had to physically burn out before I saw where ‘doing’ things all the time got me. Yes, it got me sick. It gets us all sick. Depression, physical illnesses, drug addictions, all of these are ways that our bodies break down because we are giving them too much work, stress and pressure all of the time.

So what are exceptional children learning about our world, and how are their bodies and minds coping with the constant movement and speed with which human beings have evolved to doing things? This is where technology has been a blessing and a curse all in all. I, for one, am trying to learn to switch off my mind from the frenetic pace of the world and teaching Michael to do the same. He sees me doing yoga, meditation, reading. “Mommy, why do you like to read so much?” He’ll ask me. “Because it’s relaxing Michael. I can sit down and rest from my busy day.” A few times I’ve seen him reading and resting now too. What do they say? “Do as I do.” I also remind myself that it’s not only alright, but necessary to leave the work I need to do behind and veg out sometimes. Recharging my batteries is what will help me and all my family in the long run.

Do you need to slow down in your lives today? I’m sure all of us do. So, remember to take the time to NOT be busy by doing something you love, a hobby, reading, talking a walk, exercising. If you are able to get away on any kind of vacation, cultivate the art of doing nothing and pass it on to your exceptional children. It will be one of the best gifts you can give them, showing them that being still is as necessary as being busy. Until next time.

“Why Mommy?”

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Michael has a new favorite word that he uses lately. It is the dreaded word why. “Why did you make that food?” “Why did the boy say that to his Mom?” “Why do I need to stop screaming?” “Why does God let us suffer?” Yes, they range from the minor to the spiritually profound. I had to field “Why do we die Mommy? “What is heaven like?” And those kinds of questions are asked at dinner or bedtime, when I am tired and not always at the ready with the best answer. I think, all things considered though, I have managed to answer the questions well enough, particularly the religious ones. I have my Mom to thank for the answers she told me. Thanks Mom. 🙂

But what is more interesting is the fact that by asking the why questions Michael is challenging me. Our kids challenge us every day, in every situation. All kids do this, but I find that kids who are exceptional children do this even more. It’s almost as if they are saying to themselves, “we’re not doing our jobs as challenging kids if we’re not making our parents go that extra mile.” All jokes aside though, I think it’s true. I really believe all exceptional Moms have our exceptional kids because they are here to teach us to be bigger, greater, and to bring something even more powerful to the world than we already do. An exceptional Mom I met a few years back once said: “Autism (or put in your child’s own disorder/syndrome) is a gift in an unusual package.” And when I’m frustrated by something Michael said or did, or do not know how to solve a problem, I often think back to her words. It is true. For me autism is the gift that keeps on giving, keeps on teaching me to be strong, patient, flexible and adventurous. You can’t be anything less and parent an exceptional child well.

So to all of you tired exceptional Moms out there that want just one boring predictable day with your kids, remember this. The journey for us was not meant to be easy. If it was, we wouldn’t grow as women and mothers.  I love that Michael has made me slow down and see what’s really important in the world. He has also helped me educate other people about tolerance and differences. What is your exceptional child teaching you?  Until next time.

The Sacrament of Reconciliation and Conventional Therapy-Getting Rid of the Weeds in Our Gardens

Saturday was a very proud moment for me and Johnny, Michael’s father. As Catholic parents, we watched our son Michael make his first penance or confession in “The Sacrament of Reconciliation.” This is a time when the child asks the priest for forgiveness for a sin that has offended someone. For an eight year old, that would be not listening to his parents, or in Michael’s case, banging with both elbows hard on his grandparents’ piano trying to be funny when he knew better. But I digress. 🙂 Don’t get me wrong. It wasn’t all smooth sailing. We went with headphones, chewy, thera-putty, and going over the rules in the car prior to entering the church. And though there was some silliness, you know, random screaming, talking loudly when he should be quiet etc, we survived. Michael’s catechism teacher, a wonderful woman, came up to me and after congratulating Michael on taking this step and lasting the whole hour and a half mass, leaned over and congratulated me on making it through and doing a great job. I joked “Thank you. Now we have to get through First Communion in May. Wish me luck!” We laughed, but all jokes aside, Michael was happy, we were proud, and after arriving home with the McDonald’s Happy Meal we had promised for a good job, went on to have a successful day.

What occurred to me after the ceremony was over though, was something even more incredible. This was how similar the Sacrament of Reconciliation is with traditional therapy today. It is all about looking for support, tools, and ways to move beyond where you are to a place of peace, either through a priest acting as God’s channel, or a psychologist/psychiatrist/social worker, who is trained to handle human emotions. I still see a therapist from time to time for something called ‘pruning’, to get rid of the weeds of anxiety, stress, and negative thoughts that are sometimes still in my life, and which I want to deal with to move forward with the joy of living my life to the fullest.

So, you can imagine my surprise, when the two catechist teachers put on a little skit. There was a large plant between them which they pretended was a tree in a garden. One of them complained to the other one that there were weeds in her garden, and she didn’t know how to get rid of them. The other friend told her to prune them, and in their place, plant beautiful flowers. And that is what each of the children did. For each weed, labeled with things like “bullying” “anger,” there was a flower to plant in its place with “helping”, “happiness”  “friendship.” There were actual constructed cardboard paper weeds, and cardboard constructed leaves with these words printed on them! And at the end of the ceremony, each child got to put a flower in the real plant (tree). Michael and I enjoyed planting his flower, a little plastic flower you get from craft stores.

What I realized later that day, was that we all have to prune our trees and seek help to get the sin/weeds out once in awhile. It is a part of the human condition. I felt so privileged to be there at our church sharing in that moment with my son, husband, and our congregation, and realized once again, how alike Michael and I really are in our journey. I also realized how all of us exceptional moms are on that same journey with our exceptional children navigating complex lives together. So Moms, when you see your child struggling, remember to help them pull out the weeds in their journey as well as doing it in your own journey. Until next time.

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I Don’t Want Any More Helpers Mommy a.k.a. I Want To Be In Charge Of My Life!

Michael is becoming more independent, more vocal, and more demanding about having control in his life. Sometimes it feels like I am raising a teenager and not an eight year old. “Why do I have to listen to my helper at daycare, my catechism teacher? They are mean ladies.” And when I ask him why they are mean? He answers me with a straight face. “Because they make me do work. I have to do what they say. I’m in charge Mommy, not them!” On the inside Moms, I’m laughing, really, but on the outside I have a little anarchist who, unless he ends up becoming a rich and powerful CEO, can’t afford to be seeking all consuming power and ordering everyone around. But seriously, I know. Even all powerful CEO’s can’t carry all the weight of running the ship. They need a strong team of people they can delegate to. But Michael wants full control everywhere. And when people are telling him to follow rules, he just doesn’t like it. Sound like some of your children? It’s exhilarating and frustrating, that along with all the autism stuff, I have all this neuro-typical stuff happening too. Don’t get me wrong.  I thank God every day for him advancing, but really some days there’s not enough wine in the house. I think I’ll make that my next blog entry, but I digress. 🙂

So what to do? I’ve had discussions telling Michael how rules are important for everyone, including Mommies and Daddies. I’ve talked about his different brain so that is why he sometimes needs extra help (i.e. shadow at daycare or activities outside of his adapted school), and praised him when he listens to me and other authority figures. But there are times when I have to take a mental health break, have a sip of coffee, and troubleshoot. How can I give him control over what he can control?

I’ve been having this same dilemma lately. It’s hard not knowing from one week to the next when I’ll be working. It’s hard balancing my desire to work on my writing, non-fiction and fiction, on my business, when the house needs cleaning, the clothes need washing and errands need to be run. I want to be in charge too of my own life, and sometimes I have to give in to what I HAVE to do, that dreaded boring word. But there is an upside. Through noticing my own rebellion in sometimes postponing the monotonous jobs around the house, it has helped me to understand Michael’s situation a little better. Now I am giving Michael down time at home where he could be in charge. I am giving him small periods of time where he has choices of what to do, play, chores he can do with me, alone, and once a week he picks the dinner menu. It has helped both of us.

There are little ways we can all have more control in the crazy fast-paced world we live in. We have to not be afraid to breathe in and out slowly, and give ourselves some small choices and changes to break the monotony of order, rules and structure. After all, living in the moment is what is truly living no matter how old you are. Until next time.

Turning Our Children’s Obsessions Into Their Strengths-Empowering Your Child and Yourself

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Having autism means having some quirks. Some of these quirks have been sensory, such as Michael’s need to move around a lot to get a feeling of where his body is resting in space, (rocking, jumping), and some of it has been in repeating language or themes that gives him comfort and routine in a highly unpredictable and scary world, (reading the same stories, or eating the same type of snacks for weeks on end). And then there are the obsessions which I am beginning to see can lead Michael into a whole new dimension in his life, into a future career even. These two areas are his musical ability and his amazing sense of direction.

Yes, there is a downside. He will play (or attempt to) the same old songs on the guitar and will press the same button on the electric piano/keyboard that plays the same song over and over, and with his knowledge of streets and highways, will tell us exactly what directions to take to go somewhere and come home. I kid you not on his last one. We have had fights. “Mommy, why didn’t you turn right and take blank street home. Why did you take this way? I don’t like this way. It’s a bad way etc.” Both ways go home, but monsieur needed to be giving the orders. It’s funny and not. My husband and I have had to tell Michael more than once (and gotten an angry reaction, that we are the drivers and we decide where to go. Also, that he will decide when he drives one day.

We have been known to involve him in helping us plan our route as a family to a new destination now though. And myself being totally direction deficient, have used Michael’s navigation skills when we’ve gotten lost more than once together. He redirected me twice to two friends’ houses of his last summer. One time was really funny. He chastised me for taking the wrong direction on the highway. “Mommy, it’s east not west!” And rolled his eyes! But  he was patient when Mom got with the program. I still laugh about this incident today. Not surprisingly, several friends, one close friend in particular, has been encouraging me to promote Michael with his sense of direction. We show him Google maps, one set of grandparents bought him an interactive globe, and we are slowly trying to show him the control he can have since his sense of direction, by car or foot, is amazing. He can become a cartographer, a tour guide, a web designer. I am amazed, and remind myself again of his skills when he is being Mr. Backseat Driver.

So what is your child’ gift? What unique quirk or annoying habit do they have that you can work with as a parent? If you can’t think of theirs think of your own. I, for instance, like to talk a lot (too much), listen in on conversations in public places, and daydream. School was hard, but guess what I’ve found I’m good at. Customer service\Sales jobs and writing stories!To help our children go from exceptional kids to exceptional adults, we have to be willing to see the exceptional qualities in ourselves. So think about it ladies. What qualities make your exceptional? What qualities make your child/dren exceptional? When you find it, there’s no going back. Encourage them. When they see they are good at something, it will build confidence, happiness and future security, just like we have found if we’re lucky. Until next time.

Questions on God, Life and Making Sense of It All- Exceptional Kids and Spirituality

Our family is Roman Catholic, primarily, and that is the way we have decided to raise Michael. I do believe in and follow certain Buddhist tenets as well, and my husband and I in general keep an open mind about all religions and spirituality. My beliefs stem from my upbringing which was also a Roman Catholic one, but my parents and grandparents also had their own personal beliefs that they passed on to me.  They taught me to respect all religious and spiritual beliefs, and that all paths lead to God. I continue to hold this belief today. Consequently, this also helped me feel comfortable exploring who and what God is. I have done and continue to do lots of writing, reading and thinking on the subject, in between the chores and obligations of daily living.

Today is Ash Wednesday. For those who are Catholic, it marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of fasting, abstinence and  intense preparation for the Easter Season, which in the Christian church, is the biggest holiday of the year. Christians believe that Christ was crucified, died and rose from the dead, conquering the power of death so that one day all of us who die will only die in body. Our spirit will live on forever in Heaven.

Explaining our religious beliefs to Michael has had its challenges to be sure. And this whole season which focuses a lot on Jesus’ sacrifice is a challenging one for me and Johnny to explain to Michael. We already had him ask us questions about death, suffering, Heaven. “What’s heaven like Mommy?” We don’t know till we die and that’s far away for now. That’s the best answer I can give him so as not to frighten him.Some children he has met practice Judaism, some practice Hinduism, some have no formal or informal religious practice. I have talked to him that God is everywhere, in everything, and that spiritual buildings are God’s houses. Michael thinks it’s cool that God has several houses and can be everywhere. “Is God in my heart Mommy?” This was one of my favorite questions!

Exceptional Moms, how do you talk to your exceptional children about religion, spirituality and faith? I’d love to hear from you. And wish me luck for the Easter Season explaining it all to the rapidly curious, anxious mind of my exceptional little boy. We’re both on a journey, and like everything else in my life, I think God has put this Exceptional Mom where she is supposed to be. Until next time.

The Wonders of Qigong Sensory Treatment Massage for Exceptional Moms and their Kids!

About a year ago my son Michael was going through a terrible time with very aggressive behaviors (hitting his head, hitting my arms, walls), as well as severe anxiety. None of the previous ways of handling these behaviors were working. I was out of my mind with stress and heading for a burnout, when a dear friend told me about Qigong Sensory Treatment Massage for Autism. In fact, she was certifying to become a Qigong therapist, and had done the massage on her own two boys with autism. She couldn’t believe the changes that started occurring shortly afterwards. I liked the idea that it was a hands on massage where a certified Qigong therapist would train the parent to perform the massage. It only needed to be done once a day, and the total time investment was fifteen minutes.

I had  a good feeling about trying another massage. Years back when Michael’s sensory issues were quite bad (he could not sit still in his preschool class to learn or even eat his snack), I worked with our private OT who trained me to do the Wilbarger Protocol, a massage with a special therapeutic brush and joint compressions, which had to be performed several times a day at the beginning to calm and steady the nervous system. I ended up doing it for six months, and the results were amazing. I was hoping for similar results this time, and was not disappointed.

Qigong Sensory Treatment Massage for Autism is basically the balancing of the energy in the body. I cannot say enough amazing things about it. It helped connect me even more to Michael, and the verbal as well as social advances he made after only two weeks of the massage were incredible. Another amazing thing. He had been trying so hard to ride a bicycle with training wheels and could not do it. After two weeks of the massage, he was riding his two wheeler with training wheels! It was incredible to see.

I am still doing the massage treatment today. It has been a life altering experience for me and Michael, and in keeping with changing my life to one of joy and balance, I would not hesitate to recommend trying this massage on your child. For more information on Qigong Sensory Treatment Massage for Autism and to find a certified therapist in your area, you can click on the following website: http://www.qsti.org. Until next time.

My Empowering and Humbling Moment in Church: Really Hearing What Our Exceptional Kids Are Telling Us

Yesterday we went to church prepared. And what I mean about being prepared, is that we, my husband Johnny and I, started to pay attention to what Michael has been asking for to feel comfortable in an environment he loves yet has become hostile on some level to his auditory system. Since last spring off and on, Michael has been asking me for headphones from a reputable special needs equipment supplier. There was a time in spring and once in the summer, that I really thought he could have benefited from having them at these two noisier than normal events. Then I thought that since those two events passed, he’s probably only asking for them as there are kids in his class who need them on a regular basis. Michael has always been a curious child wanting to try out what his friends are doing. As in many other instances with Michael, I was wrong. He has needed these headphones for a while, along with his chew bracelet and thera-putty, a special squeezing putty that helps with the sensory need to squeeze and releases tension. His anxiety level has been requiring these interventions, but we have hesitated thinking that we could redirect Michael in other ways. Didn’t happen ladies.

I also had to admit something sad to myself, but it was a humbling moment for me too near the end of mass yesterday. I didn’t mind purchasing the chew bracelet and thera-putty quite as much as the headphones.  And the reason why that embarrassed me, was due to the fact that he stands out in public now wearing the headphones. With a chew bracelet, he can discreetly wear it around his neck and tuck it into his shirt, and with thera-putty, we can say he is building something with it. The headphones scream out visible disability, autism. They scream out my child can’t cope here in church, at this store or wherever. I have a child who is different. I am different. And wham! I was hit by a side of myself I hadn’t seen in awhile. The Joanne that didn’t want to believe that her son is different, that she is different, who didn’t want to stand out.  I was right back at the seven stages of grief which all of us Exceptional Moms experienced when our children were diagnosed. I was briefly mourning the loss of who I thought my son would be/who I would be like I did five short years ago.

Strangely when I realized this, I also realized for the first time in months I was relaxed in church seeing how well Michael was doing with all these tools.  I was proud of him.  I was proud of me and Johnny, that we finally figured out what he needed, by listening to him. Tears sprang to my eyes which I quickly wiped away, and I asked Michael how he was feeling. “I feel good Mommy. The headphones help me.” He smiled.

Michael’s confidence level is growing and I have to play catch up. But you know what ladies, he picked up the great sense of self-esteem from someone. I must be doing something right, and on that note, will not doubt my child or what I believe is right for him, and as a consequence, our family again. Today I wish for all of you Exceptional Moms, that you see the times when your own self limiting beliefs can be slowing you and your child down. And cut yourself some slack.You’ll know you’re doing the right thing when you see the way your child/dren are carrying themselves with happiness and pride. Until next time.