Month: December 2015

New Year’s Eve Celebrations the Exceptional Way

So it is New Year’s Eve and what are you and your Exceptional Family doing? Are you hunkering down at home, going to a party at a friend’s house or hosting a party yourself? However you choose to celebrate, remember that you know your family best, your child best, and don’t be afraid to do what is good for you, fine tune what is necessary, and I know, I know it’s hard, but STAY CALM and IN THE MOMENT when you make your decision about how you want to celebrate. This is how we decide what we are going to do every year in our family, and through trial and error, just like on other days of the year, we have learned what works and what does not. Don’t let anyone else guide your decision, unless it’s your child because remember parents, if they are not happy, neither will you be. ๐Ÿ™‚

I have come up with the following list of questions I ask myself before undertaking any experiences with Michael on this tough day of the year. I hope this list helps you in your decision on how to spend the last day of 2015:

Joanne’s List of How To Handle New Year’s Eve The Exceptional Way:

  1. Are we in the mood as a family to go out and for how long? This is an important one to ask. Sometimes a short outing to a friend’s can be a great experience, sometimes not so great. See how rested, calm and excited the family is to step outside of their comfort zone.
  2. Bring your sensory bag with you or have it nearby at home: This one is essential as it contains your child’s calming toys and games when they feel out of their element. For us it includes headphones, coloring book, chewie/clinker (clinking is the shaking motion Michael does with said chewie hence the name), gum, squeeze ball/ toy etc.
  3. Organizing food and activities, preparation for what will be happening and what to do if anxiety happens: We try and prepare Michael for parties by talking about what will happen, who will be there, what food we will eat, and ALWAYS remind him that if he is feeling overwhelmed, anxious to come to us, tap us on shoulder and we will calmly leave. If he doesn’t we will still leave, but the exit may need to be abrupt.
  4. Deciding on next day wake up time: This is important as it relates to number 1. You will decide how long to stay at a party pending on your plans on New Year’s Day. For us the next day we go visiting to Michael’s Dad’s side of the family so an early night, or as early as possible is mandatory for success the next day as well.
  5. Put aside some adult time when kid/s go to sleep for you and your partner: This, no matter how complex or simple, is what has made our New Year’s Eve celebrations go smoothly. Michael’s father and I always manage at least a small chat, cuddle and a glass of champagne each before lights out at midnight or close enough to. Sometimes we even squeeze in a movie. ๐Ÿ™‚

However you decide to celebrate New Year’s Eve, remember that it is your decision as the parents to do as little or as much as you want. For our family, we look to Michael as our lead as well as our own energy levels. For today we will be shopping and sledding with friends, so we always allow some downtime at some point in the day to have some energy for evening celebrations of any type. Have fun celebrating in your own Exceptional way tonight and good luck with whatever festivities you embark on. Until next time.

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Winter Snow Storms and Exceptional Fun Outside

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A big snow storm hit the city this morning and I couldn’t have been happier. I was hoping and praying for snow for a long time. All the rain we had was beginning to make me want to climb the walls, and though the walks Michael and I took the other day were great, we both wanted, dare I say it, the white stuff. I always enjoy snow at this time of the year, even if by March I want it to go far far away as most people do.

I especially was excited when it hit, as Michael and I have been planning for months on his Winter Holiday Break what games we could play outside. We would have snow ball fights, building a snowman and go sledding. Yes, whooshing down the hill at top speed brings me back to my childhood, and how good and free and fun and in the moment it was. So, though we couldn’t drive anywhere with the poor visibility and super big accumulation making up for lost times, we shoveled out the car and top part of the driveway (the snow plow company took care of the rest) :), and then went to the backyard to attempt snowman building and snowball fights, but the snow was too powdery. So we settled on Michael’s new little friends, the Minions, coming out side with us for some light sledding fun. It was a blast and when we came in afterwards we had hot chocolate in our new favorite cups that Santa brought us, decked out with marshmallow on top. ๐Ÿ™‚ It was a simple and pleasurable day.

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I also managed to squeeze in some housework, and even did a little bit of work on my latest novel. Writing is usually something that suffers at this time of year with visiting family, friends and the extra housework with two individuals home full time with me. ๐Ÿ™‚ย  But this year we are getting back in balance slowly. Not all moments are easy, but overall it is good. Most important, Michael is talking to me, communicating what is bothering him, and reminding me to take small pleasures, be in the moment, and act like a kid as much as I can during this holiday season from the fun foods to the extra fun times.

Exceptional Parents, what are some of your favorite parts of winter and winter playing with your children? Do they like the snow, do you enjoy simple family time when you can? They will remember this more than any gift they have received from a store and will talk about it for years to come. For me, it was those times with my parents that I treasure most, and Michael is reminding me to be a kid again andย  pass those things on to him. Happy snow frolicking, and if there is no snow where you are, happy playing in the moment with your child whatever fun you have! Until next time.

 

Long Walks, Winter Fun, and Holiday Bonding

 

Over the weekend Michael and I took two nice long walks. It wasย  a lot of fun! There was no snow on the ground, we both had energy to burn after eating massive amounts of food at our two Christmas celebrations, and we needed something to do to pass the time as no snow had fallen for building snowmen and going sledding. ๐Ÿ™‚

We walked on Michael’s favorite big stretch of a busy street on the first day and then on to a nearby park, and on the second day we just did a shorter walk around the neighborhood. On our walks is where I learn so much of what is going on in Michael’s head. The other time is at bedtime usually, when he opens up about his hopes and fears. On these walks, I heard about the usual things he was excited about; holiday lunches, his birthday presents, going skating (which we finally did yesterday),ย  and future play dates. I also heard something new though. He spoke about feeling overloaded with thoughts and emotions sometimes,ย  on difficulties interacting with his cousins who are neuro typical, and getting up early as it was his vacation and fun time. He also was happy in expressing his excitement about the activities we planned as a family and at other times did not shy away from telling me he loved me. It was all very sweet and I stayed in the present with him, in the moment. It’s the best place to be when you are with a child or with anybody really. ๐Ÿ™‚

Michael is an amazing little boy who is learning how to talk about his emotions and deal with very real feelings of happiness, sadness and confusion. He is learning how to channel some of his energy into physical activity, do creative pretend play on his own again, and play with the many wonderful toys and games he received as gifts for both Christmas and his birthday. Michael is growing up, expressing his wants and needs in a way and letting me and his father know what he needs. Sometimes this comes out in a an angry way, but more often than not, he is expressing himself in a happy and positive way, or telling me about his excitement or disappointment in a way that I can at least try and help fix or address the issue. I am proud of my little boy and know I am doing all to help him be the best he can be. His Dad and I are communicating better about how to parent him, and being honest when we make mistakes. After all, most parents have moments when they mess up once in awhile. If we can show our child that these are learning opportunities for us as well as for them, we are all on the right path.

Exceptional Parents, what are the moments when your Exceptional Children have most opened up to you? Is it on walks, at bedtime, doing chores? When have you both had teachable moments? I think that all of us, kids and adults, learn from each other all time, and that as long as we keep an open mind and heart, activities like walks, outings and simple times we simply just talk to one another, can be great moments of learning and growing for each of us. Here’s to you and your child having many more of those moments in the soon to be new year. Until next time.

Exceptional Birthday Celebrations and Coming of Ages

 

Today is Michael’s birthday. He changed my world when he came into it at 1:33 am on Dec. 28th. My life, my world was never the same again. My perspective changed, as I realized that I was now responsible for caring, nurturing and raising another human being to adulthood and making him the best possible person I could. This little frail beautiful boy was entrusted to me, and I prayed to God that I had the strength to help him achieve all that he was mean to achieve here.

Today Michael will be opening up his presentsย  under the tree as he is a holiday baby, ๐Ÿ™‚ and we will all be putting up balloons and other decorations with him for his special day. His father and I will also be taking him out to lunch at his favorite Indian buffet followed by cake, water, juice (for Michael and his little cousins), and coffee/tea for adults with his aunt, uncle, cousins and grandparents later in the afternoon. It is a tradition long honored by all of us since he was a baby. I can’t believe my little baby is now a little boy, and he is growing more and more each year and enjoying this family tradition. He is helping me and his father grow too as we watch him soar and handle all things, good and bad, with maturity and a wise soul older than his years at times.

 

Birthdays have always been special times for me. My birthday and my family’s have been moments to think about the passage of time, aging, maturity, and how quickly life goes. It’s truly important to live in the moment, appreciate the little things as they usually become the big things, and learn to grow and help others around us grow and appreciate the small details of life happening around us. Michael has opened up my world in this way. When I have a difficult day, I always say to myself now, how often did I stay in the moment, in the present? How often did I remember that these negative moments, tensions, these too shall pass? Sometimes I am more successful than at other times in doing this, but I always remember the lesson for the future. Michael, being an exceptional child, has showed me how important it is to slow down, smell the roses, and appreciate the journey to get to my destination as much as the destination itself.

How do you celebrate birthdays with your Exceptional Child, Exceptional Parents? Do you mark it with a big party, more intimate party? Do you mark it with cake, drinks, presents? What does your child like about their birthday? I have learned that as long as I let Michael be my guide, whatever way we celebrate, we will have success. I encourage you to let your Exceptional Child be your guide as well. Remember, their birthday is a magical day. It is the day they joined you in the world and changed your life forever. Celebrate it in a way that honors them as it honors all people who come into the world to make it a better, brighter place. Until next time.

 

Exceptional Christmases!

 

Merry Christmas to all of you out there celebrating a day of family, food, togetherness and craziness that is the norm at this time of year. It is a time of getting together, laughing, catching up with loved ones, and yes, for us Exceptional Parents out there, it is also a day of watching out that our children do not become so overstimulated that they and we, can’t enjoy the activities happening around them. It is day when parents have to remember to bring the food, the wine, and the sensory bag. Never leave home without your child’s kit because we all know, their success is your success at a party. It is a day when peace is sometimes elusive until they fall asleep at night and you right after them pretty much, but it is always a day worth trying. Only in us trying us parents to help our kids in the world, whether that world is their school, their community, their family’s home, to succeed, to adapt and have some fun in an environment that is not always ideal, is the best preparation for them to lead as independent a life one day as possible.

Of course, as parents you do have to see your child’s comfort level overall with coping with large groups of people, noise, routine being changed etc. There is a happy medium you can settle on as a family, and is unique to your family. But the happiness you’ll feel that you tried new things with you child will not be lost on them. Whatever their level of relating to you is, they will sense your belief in their ability to cope, your love for them, and your sense of their mastery. The worst we can do to anyone, is show them we don’t believe in them. And the adventure in anything is trying. If it doesn’t work, there are always other options, other things to do. The holidays don’t have to be “perfect.” Even in so-called “neuro-typical” families they rarely are. But let your family be in the moment. Do what feels right for you and your child. For our family opening Christmas gifts, followed by one day of celebration with my side of the family and another day of celebration with my husband’s is what work for us.

We make sure the visits are not too long, and the bedtime hours not too different from our regular ones. We venture out into the unknown with different outings sometimes. Some have worked, some have not, but I have learned to never underestimate Michael. When I give him the benefit of the doubt, I am rarely wrong with what he can cope with.

Exceptional Parents, what are your Christmas or holiday traditions, your tricks of the trade, so to speak? What do you do as a family that is important to you, and hence, will probably be to your child one day? Whatever it is, remember that your child will only grow by your belief in them, and to enjoy the holidays, in all their crazy unpredictability. Merry Christmas to you and your loved ones. May you have peace, love, joy and never fail to belief in your Exceptional Family. Until next time.

 

Peace and Tradition In Exceptional Families

 

So we have arrived. It is Christmas Eve Day. My day is busy like I’m sure all of yours is. It is a full day of baking, playing and making sure the child/ren get to bed on time so Santa can bring the gifts, i.e. Mom and/or Dad can bring the wrapped gifts down to the tree to set up the authentic magical Christmas. ๐Ÿ™‚ I used to be crazy enough to actually leave the wrapping too until the last minute, not only because I was so busy right up until the end, but to give that authentic Santa/Elf feeling. Yes, I was crazy! That was also in the days before autism came into my life and made me realize a very different kind of Christmas celebration. Don’t get me wrong. Our Christmas is still magical and joyful. We eat and drink as much as everyone else, (sometimes even more so) :), but we have to keep in mind how these traditions can be amazing yet overpowering for our little guy whose brain is wired a little differently than ours, and processes things in a more intense way. Searching for and keeping peace in our immediate and extended circle can sometimes become a bit of a challenge. Or it can push us to devise routines, schedules, which is not as bad as it sounds.

There are times when this is good though. Like we can’t afford to get out of whack with sleep/wake schedules in our home. It would be a sensory disaster for our whole gang, and I mean all of us! Michael also has shown us how to enjoy, really enjoy, every experience of the holiday. He loves going to stores as much as he does play dates at home, fun centers and playing with me. He appreciates the little things. He LOVES food and the goodies. He is as excited right now about the goodies he will eat on Christmas as he is about the people he will see. It’s not that he doesn’t like or love those people. It’s just that other things that are more predictable, like the food being served, are sometimes safer to get excited about. There is also the whole thing about object attachment that people with autism have. Again, much easier to grasp than people and their emotions. It has helped me see and appreciate him and people with autism in a new way. Then he will talk about the charities we have contributed to, and be excited that we helped in some way. He will ask frank questions about people who are struggling, like he does about God and religion. Then in the next breath he will inform his grandmother that he hopes she got him his favorite figurine he asked for.

 

So he is a typical child, and a not-so-typical child, or like a friend of mine has stated, my child ranges in age from 2 to 8 on any given day.:) Milestones he didn’t complete when younger will annoyingly come out at eight instead of when we expected them, at four, yet then he will impress us with “big boy” questions we didn’t know he could ask. I am always happy to be amazed by Michael and learn from him in a myriad of ways. Christmas Day is a day of magic, family, food, and like with families to some degree or another, watching to see when it is time for us to head home if we are all tired.

Exceptional Parents, what are some ways you maintain or strive for peace within your Exceptional Families, communities? What are you and your child’s favorite part of the days ahead? How do you and your family cope with the stresses the holiday season brings? I’m sure you have your strategies that work to keep equilibrium. Remember, that whatever you do, be true to who your child is, to who your family is. Then you will be true to what you all stand for. Happy Christmas Eve! Until next time.

Spiritual Questions and Faith-Exceptional Risks

 

As I alluded to in yesterday’s blog, we are having a hard time with Michael now when it comes to the big questions of God and Life and Roman Catholicism, in particular. He does not want to go to church lately. Sunday school is hard as the classes are bigger this year, the baby room with the toys is getting boring, and he can’t really understand the mass, as is pretty normal for any nine year old. I have not have a chance to do his Confirmation Catechism with me as he’s been too busy with academic work, but most worrisome of all, has been his admission that he does not want to talk about spirituality at all, refuses to read the religious holiday stories we usually read at this time of year, and his most recent admission:

“Mommy, I don’t feel God in my heart. I only feel Him when I take Communion. Not the rest of the time.”

The first time he said those words I was devastated spiritually. I had tried so hard against many therapists advising me not to introduce religion to someone with autism to instill in him he was not alone. There is a higher power, a purpose for him being here, for all of us being here. But I think he is struggling with the fact that God is abstract, not someone whom you can see or hear or touch. It is hard. I half expected to be facing these existential questions with him, but in the teen years. Not at nine. Not this year, with all the other issues of anxiety and aggression that have been coming out. My poorย  little guy. My heart is breaking for him. I don’t know how to help him. On the flip side, he is asking about his church exercises for Confirmation preparation, another rite of passage in the Catholic Church. I asked him if he is sure he wants to do this if he is having spiritual issues? I don’t use those words, of course, but I mean the same thing. And he still prays with me in the mornings and evenings, even at supper last night.

“Mommy, we need to say grace. To thank God.”
I don’t know what to make of this. I’m confused. I went through a period of questioning God, when I was in my teens. I told Michael the story. I know I have to be true to what I believe without pressuring Michael, but do I encourage him to come to mass, do I leave it alone? He gave a friend all his religious Christmas stories, yet can’t wait to start the catechism exercises. I told him we could take a year off catechism and see for next year. He seemed sad and said why couldn’t he do catechism. I told him to think about it and let me know in January. Even Christmas Eve mass is not being looked at in the same way this year. He is going on the condition that if it’s hard we leave. Normally, he’s been alright. I am going to pray, meditate and think on what is the best course of action to take. I am glad there is still a belief, a positive belief in a higher power, but I don’t want him to feel pressured to believe.ย  It has been a holiday season of ease in the behaviors, but stress in the spiritual. I am in the meantime trying to be find the middle ground.

Exceptional Parents out there, how many of you are introducing your Exceptional Children to religion? What has your experience been, the ups and downs, or maybe just ups? I for one will never regret the journey we’ve been on, and whichever way we go, God is with us, and I know we will make the right choice. I think in the end it’s important that Exceptional Parents trust their instincts and know that somehow it will all work out in the end. Here’s wishing you all happy spiritual answers, whatever your faith or belief system. Until next time.

Play Dates With Friends-Holiday Fun

 

Michael is very excited that he will be seeing a few of his friends this holiday, particularly before Christmas. This is usually hard to arrange, as people travel and are unavailable at this time to get together. It even happens when Michael’s father and I try to get together with some of our friends and they are unavailable for the same reason. Tomorrow we will be seeing one friend, and hopefully another one next week. We will also be seeing friends on New Year’s this year. It is shaping up to be quite a social holiday season, and not just with our immediate family which we are very lucky to have and see every year.:)

I also look forward to these play dates as I get to have some rare down time with my special needs Mom friends before the frenzy of Christmas and New Year’s hit. Not that I don’t like those two holidays, just that they are full of excitement, exhaustion and stresses of their own, so this week, the official week before Christmas and New Year’s is the calm before the storm. For both of us. It is going to be fun.

I also had a rare treat. Michael’s Dad was home today as I had some business to attend to in the am. He and Michael got some special father/son bonding in, while I did a little cleaning. Squeezing in the rest of the holiday preparations, including wrapping a few extra gifts I didn’t get a chance to get to last Friday, will have to wait to the nighttime hours when a certain little someone is asleep as Dad will be back at work tomorrow. ๐Ÿ™‚

Exceptional Parents, what activities do your little ones enjoy doing during the holiday season? Do they like to socialize with friends or prefer alone time? Whichever they like to do, as long as it gives them and you down time before the big HOLIDAY hits. Take it one day at a time as it comes. Until next time.

Planning the Holidays and Cleaning As Therapy-Exceptional Tools

 

So we have arrived. It is officially Michael’s and my Christmas Holidays. Michael has pretty much planned out most of the activities on his dry erase calendars (a great tool a previous Psycho Educator told me about), and I am racing against the clock to get the house clean and organized for the holidays. I know it’s only going to get messy five seconds later, but hey, what can I say? A clean house even for five seconds relaxes me. I have even had moments when cleaning said house can be relaxing. I know, it sounds strange, but it does. I’ve learned that it’s like Michael planning out the holidays on his dry erase board. When he is organized, he feels better. When I am organized, I fee l better too. Another life lesson Michael is teaching me.

 

But I am also learning there are some things I can’t plan for. Today Michael’s Dad and I were supposed to go for a couples massage on a date day/night that we have postponing for far too long. Unfortunately, we came down with colds and are still getting over them. Oh well. A date to look forward to in 2016, and the good news is, we’ll probably all be healthy by Christmas Eve.

I have had to readjust my priorities and schedules this year with balancing my business, blog writing, handling new issues with Michael and taking care of the house. It hasn’t always gone smoothly, and I have my good days and bad days. I plan and organize for what I can, and deal with what I have to when it comes up. Sometimes this goes really well, like the other day. I zipped through a day of delivering Michael’s cupcakes to school, last minute holiday shopping and gift wrapping all before the bus arrived. Whew! Then there are days like yesterday. My expectations were way off for what our family could and would do. I had pictured us all going off to church happily. Well, that didn’t happen. Blame it on our colds, miscommunication between my spouse and I, and Michael’s nervousness around spirituality. Another topic for another day. Trust me. I felt so discouraged, so let down, and so sorry for myself. My neat plans on my dry erase board were wiped out unceremoniously. I cried, I raged, I sulked.

When I emerged from my fog after praying for God to give me strength to be strong for Michael, for me, and my husband we ended up having a nice afternoon. Autism and the holidays are challenging, but with time, patience, and allowing yourself some time to admit feelings of sadness and anger then move on from there, it gets easier. Michael and his Dad gave me my space and I heard them calmly interacting. That reminded me that even in times of challenge, we can get through things. It’s not as hard as we think, if we just ask for the the Universe or God to get us through the hard times.

Exceptional Parents, how do your Exceptional Children get you to organize your life? How do you deal with unpredictability and the ups and downs of being an Exceptional Parent? It’s not easy. Our children are the ones living with the challenges of a world that doesn’t always understand them, but for us, it means we have to be that much stronger to help them through those times. Preparing yourself when you can, taking a time out at other times, you’ll know which you need to do as you go further along in your journey. Here’s wishing the final countdown until your holiday celebrations go smoothly, and wishing you therapeutic cleaning while you get there. ๐Ÿ™‚ Until next time.

Holiday Self Care Rituals

 

It’s almost here, the end of year holidays, Christmas, Hanukah, Kwanza, and the celebration of a New Year. No matter how you celebrate, chances are you will be celebrating A LOT with family and friends and it will be a busy and fun time. But there will be moments when it will be hard on you as an Exceptional Parent and your child as an Exceptional Child. Your child will inevitably get overstimulated, overtired and have a meltdown here or there and so will you. It has happened at our house plenty of times. How can you stop this from occurring? Well, what’s worked for me is having a schedule which we all do our best to adhere to with activities etc., going over ways to calm down when everyone is indeed calm, and for you Moms and Dads out there, pre-holiday Self-Care Rituals.

It doesn’t have to be anything fancy. It can be a stroll through a bookstore and a coffee afterwards, a simple lunch in or out with friends, or one of my favorites, a massage or spa experience. Now this doesn’t have to break the bank. I am lucky that I have a close friend who is a massotherapist and she offers great specials, but there are also other options. I just purchased not too long ago a spa gift card with points earned on my credit card. It is enough for two Hamamm Experiences at this local spa, equipped with the full circuit of hot and cold shower, sauna, and whirlpool jacuzzi. It was a little lonely going alone, but my body and brain needed the water. It has always been a way for me to disconnect and recharge. I went for an hour and a half. It was worth it. I felt such rejuvenation in my body mind and spirit immediately afterwards and my week, though busy and stressful at times, has been going well and I have felt in control of managing myself.

I cant’ stress enough how important it is to make that “you” time prior to the start of the holidays. You’ll have more patience with yourself, your child and your whole family. Life will be a little less crazy if you make the time to be still and quiet, not because it’s less crazy, but because you become less crazy. I’ve once again been taught this lesson thanks to Michael. Kids have ways of forcing us to learn to slow down for everyone’s mental and physical health. And don’t forget that kids too live in the moment, and regularly check in with themselves whether they know it or not. This is what helps them enjoy life and have fun, and what could help us do the same thing. Until next time.