Month: September 2015

Caring and Affection For Friends-More Michael Teachings

Only children have that amazing ability to drive us crazy one minute and make us want to kiss them the next! Motherhood is an exhilarating and exhausting job I tell you. But the other night, I had an amazing moment with Michael. He is worried about a friend of his that has a condition where he has many seizures during the course of a day. It has been incredible to watch Michael mature in his response and questions regarding his friend’s condition. First he would ask what was wrong when his friend would need to go lie down, he went through a period of time when he was scared for his friend, and now recently, he learned the word seizures from hearing the teachers at his school say it. His father and I use the word too now as a result, instead of “boo boos in his head” that I used previously. I know it’s a clunky way of saying it, but I didn’t want to risk alarming Michael, and didn’t know how to explain the real word. So the other night in bed, the conversation went like this:

“Mommy, why does (friend’s name), fall sometimes in the playground? Is he having a seizure?”

“Yes, honey.”

“Why does it happen Mommy?”

“I don’t know sweetheart.”

“Was he born with them?”

“Yes. The doctors are doing everything they can to help him, honey.”

Then he paused for a second and I couldn’t have been prouder of him for what he said next.

“Can I do something to show him I care Mommy? I want to be a good friend to him.”

My eyes filled with tears.

“You are a good friend to him honey. But doing a nice thing for a friend is a great idea. What were you thinking of doing?”

“I want to bake him some cookies and bring them to him in school. I’ll ask him if he likes craisin oatmeal cookies. Can I do that?”

“Yes, honey. That’s a great idea. We can bake some later in the week and you can bring them in.”

I was so proud of him for thinking of someone else and their feelings, and finding a way to show he cared! My little boy was growing up.

He also reminded me to remember to check in with my friends who were going through a rough time as they did with me. It has been awhile since I phoned a friend up to chat. I realized I need to be getting back to that, connecting, and letting my close friends know I am there even if I can’t do more than listen to them or bring over some food or baked goods. 🙂

In what ways have your Exceptional Children surprised you with their empathy, Exceptional Moms? In what ways have you been a part of teaching them that? I do take credit for teaching Michael about charity coming from the heart, about doing good for others. His father has done the same thing as has our church. I’m sure you have also done your part with your children, so remember to notice the good things they do for others, commend them on it, and remember to keep doing that in your own life. You will feel connected more to others and yourself as a result. Until next time .

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How To Destress and Handle Emotions-Michael’s Lesson To Me

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The other day Michael was feeling anxious before going to an activity for the first time. I was so proud of him when he spoke the following words.

“Mommy, can we go for a short walk? It will help me calm down.”

There was no time to go as we had to leave soon, so I offered other alternatives to calming down. He chose a massage and cuddling with a pillow. Sometimes he uses a big stuffed animal. 🙂 After we came back from that activity though, I noticed he still seemed edgy. I offered him a chance to do the walk then. He agreed, and we did a nice forty-five minute walk around our neighborhood. As is usually the case, Michael would be quiet or stimming walking alongside me, then start asking me questions. It was the questions that he was asking that made me really proud at how much he was maturing and handling his emotions.

“Why do we have to learn to read, write and do math?”

“Because you will be able to do more for yourself, get a job, be independent, drive a car.”

“And I live alone one day?”

“Yes.”

“But I want to live with you and Daddy?”

“You can live with us as long as you need to.”

“OK. Or I can live alone or with friends or get married.”

“That’s right.”

Then the next set of questions come at bedtime, when I am lying down with him after his routine is finished. Then it’s usually the questions of life and death.

“Will you be in heaven when I get there Mommy?”

“Yes, honey.”

“Why do we have to die?”

“Because no one can live forever honey.”

“What’s heaven like?”

“No one who has gone has come back to tell us Michael, but I believe it is a beautiful paradise. You’ll be happy there.”

“Oh. Will I be able to talk about directions.” I’m holding in my laughter.

“Yes. You will do fun and happy things there.”

“Are God and Jesus in my heart when I’m angry?”

“No. When you’re angry you’re not letting them in. But they are always there for you. And they love you very much. They will always forgive you, just like Daddy and I.”

Pause.

“I love you Mommy. You’re the best Mommy God gave me.”

Me taking a deep breath so as not to start crying. The kid has me swinging on the pendulum of all emotions!

“And you’re the best son God gave me. Time to close your eyes and go to bed now. Goodnight.”

“Good night.”

In watching Michael fall asleep, I was struck by two things. One, was how far he had come to talking about his fears of separation and death, normal fears for people of any age, and two, how he was recognizing what his body needed at any given time. He was recognizing when he needed to be quiet, when he needed to exercise, and when he needed to talk. He was reminding me how I had to do the same thing, check in with my body, mind and spirit, and see what it needed at any given time.

How do your Exceptional Children tell you what you need more or less of, Exceptional Moms? How do they communicate to you what they need? It’s very important that we all learn to periodically check in with ourselves and ask ourselves the following questions, “What do I need right now? Can I give it myself?” A wonderful therapist wrote these questions down for me. When I feel like I am losing my patience, (or have lost it), I repeat these questions to myself. If I don’t know the answer, I find a quiet space to think about it. When I have the answer, I do my best to be present for myself. By doing that, I can be present for others and handle life and emotions in a mature and balanced way, the way Michael is showing me to. Until next time.

Operation Clinker And Michael’s Lesson To Me On Organization

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So I’ve come to realize that Michael is a tad bit disorganized. He leaves his things all over the place, forgets stuff and is messy. Who’s to blame for this? Well, both of us really. Though he has autism, he’s like most eight year old kids who will try to get away with only doing fun things and not cleaning up. I’m like most Moms, and am tired of fighting and chasing him to pick up after himself, retrace his steps when he loses things, so end up organizing him myself. This helps no one long term. He does not learn how to be self-sufficient, and I get annoyed at myself that  I am doing what he could be doing for himself. Sigh. With the rushed pace of our world, our life, and the daily little things autism brings for us to deal with, I am guilty of sometimes taking the path of least resistance. This year though, his teacher is working more on independence in daily tasks at school and at home, as she should be. He is growing up, and I am glad for the gently kick in the bum I needed to start doing this at home for Michael, myself and his father.

The other day was just another reminder of how all of us need to be organized for the house to run like a well oiled machine. Michael has a little cat collar he bought at the dollar store. Yes, we have a cat, and no it is not for her. He likes to shake this back and forth when he is excited or nervous. He always has felt secure with something in his hand, a toy and this is small enough that it fits in his pocket when he doesn’t need to shake it anymore. He does not call this shaking though, but rather clinking. Hence, the toy has been affectionately nicknamed his clinker. So when he misplaces this clinker on a regular basis, it causes quite a stir. He lost one at school so we went out and bought him another one. Now though, every time he misplaces it, he tells me he’d like to go buy another one. No, his father and I have to remind him, yours is lost in the house. Retrace your steps and find it. He agrees with this, but will always try and say I looked, I can’t find it, can we go to the store? Ah, there is that path of least resistance. The other day he had to substitute for another toy as he couldn’t find it. I promised one more time to look for him. After that it would be his responsibility. Lo and behold,  as I did the weekly housecleaning, I located it under his bed. The one place he had not looked!

As with everything else, Michael has shown me with the lost clinker, and other items he has periodically misplaced, that I need to set a good example of how to be organized with things and start modeling that for him. When he catches on to a routine, he’s really good at following it. So it’s up to the adults around him to show him that everything has a place and that there is a place for everything.

In what ways are your organized or disorganized, Exceptional Moms? Are you holding back on letting your Exceptional Children take the reins of independence as it’s faster to do it yourself? If so, don’t despair. It’s never too late to start. And if they’re nervous, just do one small thing a day to let your children assume more control over their things. They can start by picking out their own clothes, packing snacks in lunches, and being responsible for where they put their toys. And even though it’s easy to do it yourself, remember that the long term results will be a child who thinks they are not capable and are more anxious than they need to be. As adults, we set the tone for a life where stress is minimal and families can enjoy each other more. Until next time.

Living In The Moment and Exceptional Fun Fall Activities

I never used to be a big fan of fall growing up. I missed the long hazy days of summer, and did not like the shorter cooler days that came. But now, being a mother, I look forward to fall as a return to routine for all our family, and for other reasons as well. Reasons that Michael has introduced to me. Baking for one. I actually really enjoying baking and cooking with the apples that Michael brings home when his school would take him apple picking. I also enjoy the nature walks in the brisk morning with him, and even raking the leaves. Yes, he does two seconds of raking before jumping into a pile. Then I would join him. What fun! It would bring me back to my childhood. All these types of things that I had taken for granted before kids. We also bake at Thanksgiving and there’s the fun and festivity around Halloween. I’m looking forward to all of these activities as is Michael. He will talk about them with excitement.

Like with so much in my life, since Michael’s arrival it has become more full of life, energy and joy. Yes, there are stressful moments that are quite stressful, yet even there I think to myself how can I help my little boy be true to himself, how can I teach him to express his needs appropriately? It takes time, and most of the time, he is showing me how positive he is about life and how he wants to do better. I am proud of how he faces challenges, and even when he wants to back down, how he fights and gets back up again. Michael has also shown me how life is to lived in the simple moments, a walk to the park, an ice cream at his favorite parlor, baking or cooking together, a visit to his best friend’s house. It reminds me of all the things I used to take for granted in my life. Not anymore.

How have your children showed you the fun in every day life, in every season? How have they reminded you to live in the present, Moms? Think about taking time today with your child, and when you are alone, to enjoy the present moment, feel young at heart, and plan for those fun fall family activities. You and your child will look back in pleasure at the memories you have made. Until next time.

Michael’s and My Continuous Journey of Exceptional Life Challenges

Michael is having a harder than normal time adjusting to school this year. The good news is he’s able to tell me why, the bad news is that it’s nothing I can change for him. If anything, what he’s worried about will only get worse with time. How do I know this? Because if you flash back thirty some odd years, much of what he is feeling, I was feeling back in elementary school. I was bored and frustrated so I daydreamed. Michael does not like to work. He does not like learning to read and do math, though he is smart and will learn and apply himself when he feels confident. It’s the fact that playing is more attractive, and I think he is bored. I’ve written an email to the teacher asking if she could send work home, and I am planning to talk to support staff about aids in the classroom. It’s tough, and we went around in circles last night fighting about him going to school tomorrow. I was so wiped out by the end of the day deflecting all the tantrums. He apologized and I apologized for not seeing through the misbehavior. We went over how to handle anger with this neat set of anxiety tips I found as well as the usual tips we use as a family, and I started the bedtime routine VERY early as he was tired. I feel so frustrated for him. Everything is harder for him to understand, and when he gets overloaded he blows. He also, like his mother at his age, obsesses over all the bad things, the stresses, and just when he’s feeling better, brings up another difficult moment from the past.

Fortunately, I did learn to heal from my negative mind. My past burnouts, and the life lessons Michael has taught me about trust, love, and happiness in the simple things, have made me stronger today. The strength is not always easy, but I find myself correcting his negative voice gently as I used to my own.

Exceptional Moms, what challenges are your Exceptional Children grappling with that you can’t change for them? What are some of your challenges? It’s true that when we fight and overcome, we are stronger, but it does take time and maturity to realize this. Here’s hoping you find the courage to tackle your life challenges and inner demons, so that you can be that much better equipped to help your child with theirs. Or, if you’re lucky like most of us, your Exceptional Child will do half the work for you. Until next time.

Busyness and Downtime-How To Know When Each Are Needed

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Today, as always, Michael said something that surprised me. He said that he likes to keep busy and asks us to take him places because he has no siblings to play with.

“And how come God decided not to give me brothers and sisters?”

“It’s not that he decided to do that honey. It’s just the way it happened.”

There was no way I was going to explain that his father and I had tried to have another baby, and it just wasn’t in the cards. We knew he was too young to understand that, and didn’t want to give Michael any additional worries about this area. Heck, I had worried enough about it myself when I wasn’t having another child, though I had long since made my peace with it. Still, it was an interesting theory. Michael had never before said he would stay home if he had a sibling to play with. I left bad for him, I really did, but there was nothing I could do. And who knows if it would even have been true. He and the sibling may have been at each other’s throats fighting all the time which would have been worse than boredom. As usual, he got me thinking about things in a way only he can. I explained about his friends who were only children and how they, like he, had lots of friends to play with so there was no need to feel lonely. I also reminded him of his cousins and the way brothers and sisters do fight at times, so he was saving himself aggravation there.

Michael also got me thinking about why people keep busy and distract themselves. Some people are just party animals by nature and extroverts, while others do not want to be alone with their thoughts. Then there are the introverts who agonize and the ones who relax when alone.  I have both aspects to my character, though I am more introvert than extrovert. However, a few years ago I discovered the buzz of keeping busy. I did not want to be alone with my thoughts. But I soon realized it was because I was in a place in my life where I was not happy and did not want to deal with that. When I did finally deal with it, the facade of happiness came crashing down like castle walls all around me. I was so scared. I didn’t know what to do. It was my first experience of burnout or depression. Stay busy, stay busy, there’s no time to cry, I remember thinking insanely. I had one more bad burnout two years ago.That was the worst of the two, but when I came back to mental health, I came back stronger than ever, with better tools, and learned, albeit through lots of trial and error, to ask for help, to ask for what I needed. I was doing my best to show Michael now how to learn to stop sometimes and express his feelings, staying calm, and when it was good to keep busy.

Exceptional Moms, how do you balance the busy and quiet times in your life? How do you show your Exceptional Children ways to do that? Are they busy extroverts or quiet introverts? No matter what they need to learn, the art of relaxing and the art of being busy, both are important to keep balance and learn how to lead a happy life. Until next time.

Practicing Gratitude and Building Positive Memories

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People who live with autism generally have a lot of anxiety within that they deal with on a regular basis. Michael is no different. I can tell by the way he talks about the things that bother him. Mind you, lots of non-autistic people do that too. There are worriers and there are people who are, like a friend of mine and I refer to them, chilled out. Still, a lot of people who have anxiety also have good memories about past events. The only thing is that they tend to remember the worrisome ones more than the positive ones. Michael, myself, and I’m sure tons of other anxious people out there, do have lots of positive memories in their heads too. These come up from time to time like a photograph and we can call on them to elicit pleasure from a happy event. The trick is getting ourselves to call upon them. When the brain is wired a certain way, this is not easy. But I am seeing that by acknowledging that we need to look for the positive more, we will see it. I have taught myself a lot about this in the past year as I worked and continue to work with my particular anxious brain, and I am now trying to teach that to Michael. It is challenging for him to forgive and forget the negative events of the past. Letting go is hard. I know that feeling. Still, even with the difficulties Michael has with memories of past events where challenges occurred, he is often the one who reminds me to focus on the positive memories. He will talk about a fun time he had going out to a certain park, like the time he got to play at a piano open for the public, a nice lunch at his favorite restaurant, and will fondly remember a fun play date with a friend. I realize that he is being grateful for what he has. And that got me thinking about gratitude.

Exceptional Moms, do you practice gratitude in your every day life? How often do you think of the positive things in your life? I know, it’s not always easy. But if your kids tend to dwell in the negative due how their brains work and how challenging the world can be for them at times, it’s a great exercise to practice gratitude for what you have and teach your kids how to do it as well. Or, if they are more connected to positive memories than you are, it’s important to praise them and do more of that yourself. What you think is what you are, as the saying goes. Until next time.

Fear of Solitude and More Exceptional Questions of Life and Death

So September has been an up and down month, to say the least. While Michael has been adjusting to school, extra curricular activities and a new routine, there has been some insecurity. He has been a little more clingy to me in the evenings, a particularly vulnerable time. As I mentioned before, in the day time he is brave and sometimes even pushes me away telling me he prefers to be by himself. But at night, like most of us, the monsters come out, real and imagined. Last night at bedtime, after a particularly challenging evening, Michael started asking question God, life, death and heaven.

“Will I be alone in heaven one day Mommy? Will you be there with me? Will Daddy be there with me?”

“I will  and Daddy will, Michael. We are a lot older than you so we will be there in heaven when you come.”

“Oh good, because I love God and Jesus and want to go to heaven when I am old one day, but I don’t want to be alone there without you or Daddy.”

I lay there next to him in the dark stunned as usual when he came up with these statements. Then, as I stayed quiet hugging him, he spoke quietly again.

“Mommy, I don’t want to die.” My heart broke for him, for all people who love life and fear their own mortality and eventual demise. I used to be so afraid of death when I was a child. When I first asked my parents about death and dying, I was around Michael’s age, eight or nine years old. I had asked if I would die, if they would die. My mother had answered yes, but that I would never be alone. There were people in my family that loved me and would take care of me should something happen to her or my Dad. She also told me that God would always be with me and help me find the right people to take care of me. She of course reassured me that her and my father would do everything in their power to stay alive for as long as they could. They wanted to see me grow up, get married, have children. I did all of the above and my parents, God bless them, are still with us. And I remember my Mom telling me that I was young. I would not die for a very long time. Unfortunately those words are not always true in our world. Many young people die in very tragic and sad ways, but for the most part, if all goes well, we can usually make it a long time in this world. Like my mother, I wanted to be positive with Michael and not give him additional worries. I told him all of the above.

Michael was really beginning to understand his place in the universe,  and trying to understand the big questions of life. Amazing! He was expressing his desire to pray, and I heard his prayers asking God to help him concentrate better in school and not fight with me or his father. How many of us ask what our belief system really is? How many of us honestly and openly confront our fears of solitude? Exceptional Moms, whatever your spiritual faith is or isn’t, it’s important for you to address your own beliefs about life and death, and your own fears of solitude. Only in being honest with your own questions and answers, will you be ready when your child asks questions or you have to explain sickness or death of a loved one. Making peace with your past feelings will help you move forward into acceptance and help your child when they have to do the same. Until next time.

New Activities, New Challenges-Embracing Change

Michael never ceases to amaze me. Although change is still a hard thing for him, and he often needs warning when moving from one activity to another, he wants to try new things lately. For example, he did not want to do soccer this year, he asked instead for tennis lessons. He’s also showing an interest in basketball, wheras before he was sticking to the extra-curricular activities he knew, like swimming and soccer. We started him in skating lessons last year, and now he is ready to continue learning with me. I should be able to help him a little more this year as I finally got my butt on skates again after a LONG hiatus, and was able to stand up on the ice unassisted. 🙂 But I digress. These changes are encouraging because they are showing me how Michael is embracing new activities, and new challenges. Yes, he is nervous, but he is forging ahead, and sometimes even choosing how to do it! This is a huge change from the little boy that needed predictability every step along the way. Even with friends, he is open to meeting new people. He loves to tell me about the new kids in his class, though at recess he’ll play with his old friends.

This got me thinking how I too used to crave sameness and was afraid to venture out of my safety bubble, both in my career and personal life. In the last few years, in various circumstances Michael has pushed me out of my comfort zone, from going places in the car that are unfamiliar to me (with my sense of direction it’s challenging), to trying new activities with Michael (crafts and climbing up play center structures), to baking (I never thought I would make some of the things I’m making!) to the people I have talked to in order to help Michael. And of course now in my career I am taking a new direction, change for the better, challenging myself every step along the way.

How have your Exceptional Children got you to embrace change, Exceptional Moms? I’m sure you do things now that you never would have done in a million years prior to your kids being born. This is a good thing. We can only grow through change, and good and bad change can be equally beneficial. I know this from firsthand experience, and sometimes we need a little of each to help us in our growing pains. So today I wish you and your family many new activities, challenges and adventures together. You will grow together as a result. Until next time.

Understanding How Frienships Work The Exceptional Way

I love to hear all about Michael’s day when he comes home from school. It reminds me of me when I was a little girl and would come home bursting with news for my mother. It’s especially interesting how similar some of the stories are that he tells me, and how different other stories are. Due to autism, his understanding of people and their motivations are quite unique. For example, Michael has a really dear friend Mark whom he plays with almost every recess. They are two little rascals or peas in a pod, as the saying goes. Well, the other day Michael wanted to be alone to do his battery stimming (see previous blog), and Mark was not understanding that Michael needed to be alone. Michael being kind and seeing that Mark wanted to play with someone, tried to introduce him to another good friend he plays with in the schoolyard. They were in the same class a few years ago, and now still see one another in and outside of school. So Michael told his friend Mark to come meet the other friend, Larry. It was the way he did it though, that was quite unique.

“Mommy, I didn’t want to play with Mark so I tried to give him to Larry to play with.”

I bit my cheek to not laugh.

“Michael, you can’t give friends to other friends. Did you tell Mark you wanted to be by yourself for a bit?”

“I tried, but he didn’t understand. That’s when I had to pull his hand and give him to Larry.”

He sighed. “I know. It’s cause I wanted to do my batteries and be alone for a bit.”

I had to laugh when he went downstairs to play. This social stuff is hard on all kids, but for children on the spectrum it’s a whole other ballgame. Fortunately, both these boys have autism too so they also struggle with social rules, and I’m sure there were no hurt feelings. Still, it made me stop and think. How confusing are social norms for all of us sometimes, even us neuro typical folk? How do we manage our relationships and our personal space? It’s a tough one.

Exceptional Moms, how do you prioritize and organize your friendships and your space? Is it a priority for you? If not, it’s time to make both those things important in your life. It’s only in realizing how important friendships are in learning about ourselves, and how important it is to know when you want to be alone, that you can fully grow as a human being and show your Exceptional Child good friendship protocol and alone time decorum. Until next time.