Month: July 2016

Writing Out the Day = Success And Day Camp Enjoyment

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This week I have been collectively holding my breath. I finally released it this morning with relief and happiness. It was Michael’s first week at a new non-adapted camp. Last year he did well at another non-adapted camp, but he did not like his companion/shadow, and the experience was less than favorable. At this year’s camp fortunately, it is the complete opposite. He loves the camp, his companion/shadow and looks forward to going each day. We only signed him up for two weeks just in case, but it seems to be successful. I have not seen him this happy at a camp in awhile. He is kept busy, he does crafts, and he has even made a little friend. He is excited to go in the morning. There is no problem with him getting up, getting dressed and out the door. He goes for more hours a day but that works for him. He is a high energy kid. And this works better for me too as I can get more work¬†done. ūüôā And, as a bonus the camp is right up the street from us. It’s great¬†all around. I had forgotten the last time I saw my little guy this happy.

As a Mom I have been humbled once again by Michael this week. He has amazed me with how well he has adapted to a neuro typical environment, how well he can articulate and follow the day with a few reminders only, and how well he is using strategies to calm down with me when he gets anxious. One of these is drawing out the day on paper with words and pictures. Sunday was a stressful start for us, and not surprisingly, he was a little nervous due to a change in routine. We were not going to church, but Dad and he were driving me to a speaking engagement. As soon as he got up and I noticed how anxious he was talking a mile a minute and challenging everything Dad and I said to him, I asked him to draw out the day as we had planned it on the dry erase board previously. It was amazing!

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Just as drawing stick figures or looking at pictograms had helped in the past, seeing him write out the words I felt the energy in the room change. I also saw his physical body relax, his breathing calm. He was a new kid. My little guy is learning how to manage some very difficult emotions and feelings by using his own strategies and techniques that work for him. I, as his Mom, am also learning to trust my gut and what I know works for my kid. I’m also learning to observe him closely and really see what he is feeling and what tips I could give him that empower him to find the solutions. I have had so many moments in the last few days that were WOW moments. He has come so far. He has achieved so much. I felt that he started the summer at a much younger age, and is maturing now into an incredible little man. He is really coming along in sports. He loves soccer, tennis and is starting to take an interest in basketball. He loves asking questions and learning about the world around him. And he is learning about limits even when he doesn’t like them. And oh, his sense of humor is growing more by the day.

Exceptional Parents, how is your child’s level of functioning in the summer? Are they happier or more stressed at home or camp? It is not a black and white issue for our kids, and many fall in between with reactions. As you learn more about what makes your child tick, you will be able to fine tune things that make them more comfortable, and what to avoid. Trust yourself as their parent and look to your child for changes that help them feel better. The important thing is to encourage them to grow into themselves at their own pace and in their own time. You will do it as will they. Until next time.

 

Finding Strength Within Through Parent Groups

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A few days ago I was invited to speak at a parent support group in my city. As always, it was as beneficial for me as it was for the parents. We connected as Moms and Dads of “Exceptional Children”, who ride the highs and lows of parenting children that¬†constantly keep us on our toes, challenge us in many¬†ways, and need us to advocate for them. I saw the children as well, who shortly after arriving, went with the babysitter to play in the art and toy room. They were all so different and intelligent¬†in their own way, and were similar to one another as well as different, like all of us are. We all have strengths and weaknesses.

A lot of our challenges as parents were the same, though for some of us, there were more language or communication issues, others had experienced more behavioral issues,¬†but most of us had experienced and were experiencing a combination of both with our kids. We talked about the professionals who work and who worked with our children- teachers, doctors, therapists, and how they have been helpful to us as parents too. I also highlighted for the parents how important it is for Moms and Dads to trust their parenting guy when talking with professionals about their child. You are your child’s best advocate, the one who knows him/her the most. You know the whole child.¬†You know what they are capable of more than anyone else. Work with the professionals to help your child be the best they can be. Work to also take care of you, so that you could be the best parent advocate you can for your child and yourself.

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Me after backyard yoga-one of my self-care activities that helps me advocate for Michael 

Leaving that afternoon, I thought to myself how amazing our kids are. They bring us to the journey of special needs or exceptional parenting, and show us how powerful another way of viewing the world can be. My son Michael has opened up my life in so many ways. He challenges me to see him, myself, and the world in a positive light. Many of the friends I now have in my life, would not be in my life if not for Michael. These are amazing strong Moms and Dads, who through the experience of parenting their extraordinary children, also have become stronger, more tolerant and open people. None of us look at limits the way we used to, and that is due to our children.

Exceptional Parents, how have your Mom/Dad friends helped you look inward for strength, compassion and advocacy for your child and yourself? How have they helped you get through the difficult times? It’s important for all of us to remember that we are never alone. Reach out, find strength in your community, and continue the conversation together of advocating for the amazing human beings you have been given, your Exceptional Children.Until next time.

Going Out Of My Comfort Zone And How I Use This In Exceptional Parenting

 

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It’s so important to try new things, things we have never done before. It’s important to take risks. Most of the time things work out, and if they don’t, it’s an experience. We learn from all experiences, good and bad. This is something I know deep down inside, but until Michael was born I did not like to try new things. Correction: I pretty much avoided them. I was scared. Scared of failure, scared of looking silly, scared of finding out things about myself that maybe I didn’t want to know. And why didn’t I want to know them? It was easier to stay safe and stuck, living the way others thought I should live, and me believing that was my destiny.

Fast forward to motherhood. ¬†I realized I was living a lie if I continued to live this way. I needed to teach my child to take risks, try new things, meet new people or where would he get in the world? He would get nowhere fast, that was for sure. This became even more apparent when I realized he had autism and his brain worked differently. He would have to try A LOT of different things in a new¬†way. He would encounter lots of people, people who would try and change who he was, and people who would love him the way he was and only want to make him his best self. It took over thirty to learn this and painfully at times. I didn’t want my little guy to go through that. As in every other way, he changed me here too, forcing me to finally say enough is enough. I need to embrace change, feel the fear and go for it anyway.

 

 

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One of my fears is being in a group of women where there are three of us. Why, you ask? You see, when I really little, I had two good friends that I introduced to one another. In the tradition of ten year old girls, they one day decided they didn’t want to play with me and excluded me for a few days from their games. I was a sensitive child, to say the least. This hurt me then, but I didn’t realize how I carried that mistrust of women into my adulthood. It took me a long time to see why I get nervous when there are new people, three people particularly. It happened last week when I went to a spa with a friend and she asked if she could bring another friend along,¬†but I agreed to go on the outing. And you know what, it was fun. I was not excluded. I met another really interesting person that I hope to see again. Other incidents like this bring me back to my childhood, and times where I had a bad experience that I unfortunately replayed over and over. If something like this happens to your child though, remember, you can help them take ownership. You can show them that this won’t happen again. Particularly Exceptional Children who have¬†autism replay the incident over and over and it is extra painful. As a parent though, you can model moving forward, show them how it’s done, and that they will be stronger for it.

Exceptional Parents, how are you showing your Exceptional Child to embrace change? How are you modeling this in your life? I saw an excellent commercial that talks about how we as parents are mirrors for our children. Mirror to them taking risks, pushing past their fears. By doing that they will prove detractors wrong, but more importantly, prove to themselves their strength, worth, and talent. Until next time.

 

Therapeutic and Fun Benefits of Art for Exceptional Children

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The other day Michael had a new sitter come and play with him while Dad and I went out for a long awaited date. It went phenomenally, and in addition to him liking her, he also got to explore another medium once again, art. This sitter is an art teacher, and asked due to the rainy weather, if she could bring over some art supplies and they could paint, draw, create if the mood struck. I almost told her no, but something told me to say yes. It did indeed rain the other day, so Michael had to stay in the house with her. They couldn’t do the parks and splash pad visit up the street that he had been anticipating.¬† But the other reason I said yes, was due to the fact that a few summers ago, Michael created some beautiful paintings at home in our backyard. I also saw what he created at school this year, and I was amazed. I asked the sitter if she wouldn’t mind bringing art supplies. He may not be interested, but you could try, I said. I have to say I was utterly amazed with the beautiful art he created as you look at the following. He used shaving cream and various other paints and effects to create what you see. It is creative, and was therapeutic for him to make at the same time.

The most telling thing for me though, was his happy smiling face when we came home and the excitement he had in showing us his creations. Other than one small incident one time with a sitter (whom he has since asked for me to call), he does amazing with everybody. Yet there was something unique about this art experience. He was very excited to show us his work and talk about this sitter. I was so happy that she reached him in another way, and that they connected so well. I was glad Michael has found another outlet to let loose and explore too. Music, drawing, and painting are good for exceptional children to have different experiences about themselves and their roles in this world.

Exceptional Parents, do your children enjoy art in the form of painting, drawing, sketching? It’s such a great medium to help them explore their creativity, as well as a great way to express themselves sensory wise. Start by giving them access to painting supplies, paper, easel (children’s ones are cheaper), and like me, keep it outside or in a room that you don’t mind may get dirty like a corner of the basement or even outside in the backyard as I did one year. ūüôā¬† It’s important for children to explore different ways of expression. This will help them regulate, find other potential talents, and just enjoy the process of creating something uniquely theirs. They will see how beautiful their creations are, just like they are. Until next time.

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4 Ways My Exceptional Son Showed Me What I Needed This Weekend

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So it was a crazier than ever weekend. I know, I say this EVERY weekend. But this weekend, in addition to the usual housework and writing work for me, I also scheduled in some Mommy time with  friends for a Hamamm experience on Friday night at a local spa in my area, and finally secured a sitter so Dad and I could celebrate our wedding anniversary together on Saturday afternoon. We were also trying out a new sitter for Michael, and I went to speak at a parents support group Sunday morning. All of these things worked out beautifully, and by Sunday afternoon as I sat down to do my writing work, I was feeling happy and balanced. I realized why. It was due to Michael reminding me what is really important, and for me it was the following: Exercise and time to be just be in the moment.

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In our case it was done through playing tennis in the park on Saturday morning before a torrential rain storm, and two beautiful walks we took this weekend. For you and your child, it may look different. How do you know what you need, and how do you know when your child is telling you to do what you have not recognized is important for you? Here are 4 questions to ask yourself to determine what your body needs:

  1. What do you or what does your body miss? Simple, eh? Do you miss exercise, movement, peace, nature? Chances are your child is on your wavelength, and will pick up and suggest this. I was so tired this weekend, but what’s the solution to pick up energy? Exercise right! Playing tennis in the park and doing a nature walk with Michael was just the remedy I needed to keep myself energized.
  2. Alone time in nature: Seeing Michael go off to stim a little more than normal, (his alone time),  reminded me that I needed some alone time too to re-energize. The other night a good friend reminded me how she loves to sit and watch rain. Early Saturday afternoon with the rain pouring down, I had a drink in my solarium looking out onto the beautiful garden outside. I listened to the rain hitting the windows and ground.It soothed me like nothing else and I relaxed thoroughly.
  3. Reading or TV: Yes, watching a favorite movie or finishing that novel is just what we need sometimes to unwind. Seeing Michael reading his books and watching his favorite music videos, reminded me what I needed to get back  some evenings-down time for me.
  4. Time with my partner: Michael asked both his Dad and I about our upcoming family vacation in August, and what we will be doing. We took advantage of our alone time to discuss it, among just being alone as well to catch up as a couple.

Exceptional Parents, how does your Exceptional Child remind you of what you need to do and avoid doing? What about when they seem to know that the outing you are taking them on is just as good for you as for them? My son has a hard time slowing down, and his Dad and I are starting to show him how to do fun things at home. We are able to convince him to stay home with us and do things inside too. Likewise, he has gotten both of us out of our shells socially, and now we explore more places, go on more adventures, and meet all kinds of different people due to him. I believe that children teach us as much as we teach them about how to have a happier life. Good luck in leading each other. Until next time.

Kindness at the Pool On A Hard Day

 

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Michael has been having a challenging two weeks. There have been control issues, worries about the future, and general testing all around from his end. It has been interspersed with wonderful, kind and funny moments, but there have unfortunately been more tough times for him (and me), than not lately. He is also experiencing some tooth pain, another baby tooth about to come out, so that’s not helping. The other day was another tough day for Michael, but what was different about it was that I sort of snapped inside too. As is common with a lot of Exceptional Moms, when the kiddos aren’t doing well we tend to go on high alert and taking care of ourselves is the last thing we think of. The other evening when the house after twas quiet after Michael and Dad were asleep, I finished the dishes and sat down on the couch and cried my heart out. I felt so alone and disconnected. Due to Dad’s crazy work schedule, friends being busy as well as me with work and family, I hadn’t talked to anyone in a awhile. I prayed to God to give me strength to see the blessings and to remember that the bad days would pass and good were coming. I also started thinking about some fun ‘me’ time things I would start doing. I would begin to fill the well up again, so I wouldn’t crash like I did that night again this summer.

The next morning I got up. It was another rocky start and I felt discouraged at first, but then I remembered my words to myself. I even had a talk with Michael about the glass being half-full or half -empty. That afternoon I had promised him after camp we would go to swim at another public pool close to our house. Unfortunately when we got there, the pool was going to close shortly for a Swim Meet. Michael handled this change well, and I offered him another public pool where we used to go. He quickly accepted and off we went. Within seconds of arriving there we settled in at one of the picnic tables. In front of us was a Mom on a lounging chair and her two children sitting on their towels. All were having a snack as it was adult swim and kids couldn’t go in. Michael commented¬†about the little boy licking his fingers after finishing his chips. This is something I have told him is not polite to do so he asked me. I had one of those embarrassing Mom moments where I had to remind him to mind his own business.

The next thing I know the Mom turns to me and comments how hard it is for hers to wait for adult swim to be over. And thus, a conversation and friendship began! We chatted, her children shared some food with Michael. I offered to buy something back for them she refused. We began to continue talking after the lifeguard blew the whistle that adult swim was over. It turned out her son was very good with kids who have autism. She suspected it was because he has ADHD and OCD, and could relate to kids with different ways of seeing the world. Her daughter, though neuro typical, was an emotional child and strong willed she explained. I laughed and said that described Michael too. He is definitively strong willed. We spoke about schools, children and life as Moms whose kids are different. She mentioned getting them together for a play date if I wanted. We exchanged phone numbers. I really do hope we get together, but I have to say that this act of kindness by a stranger on a very tough day and week for me, really reminded me of what is important. I  saw how God was at work altering our plans so this lady and I could meet. I thanked the Universe that day for changing our plans.

Exceptional Parents, when have your plans changed and it ended up being for the better? What did it teach you and your Exceptional Children? Remind yourself and your kids of all you have to gain when you open yourself up to the universe’s possibilities. This is how you and your child will truly grow into happier more balanced people. Until next time.

5 Signs You Have Reached Your Limit As An Exceptional Mom

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It’s summer. Contrary to what most people who don’t have children experience, it is usually a slightly more chaotic time for parents. If you are an Exceptional Parent, add on a little more stress due to routine being off for your kids, and children feeling a little more lost due to not having the school framework. This goes whether they are home schooled or go to an outside school. We are at the halfway mark of summer now, and a lot of parents are running out of steam with keeping kids busy or defusing tensions, theirs and their children’s. But how do you know you have reached your limit? Here are 5¬†signs:

  1. You lose patience over the little disobedience: When your child tests you, such as refusing to do a chore, put on certain clothes, bring their plate to the sink, or anything else reasonable you have asked them to do, you yell your head off. Take a deep breath, steps back literally and metaphorically, answer in a firm, calm voice, and start again.
  2. You start counting down till school starts: Yes, I have had those days. This week was pretty much a week like that. ūüôā ¬†When I catch myself thinking this way, I ask myself: What have I done for ME lately? If I can’t think of anything, I schedule in some me-time whether it is a walk, a massage, a workout, or time with a friend.
  3. You seem to have no energy for the basic things: Time to look at your pace: Are you sleeping well? Are you eating and exercising? Are you asking for a break from family and friends?
  4. You feel sad that you haven’t__________(fill in blank): Sometimes it is as simple as finishing your paperback book, watching a favorite tv show, calling a friend, having a girls/guys night out¬†with¬†your partner. Make sure you schedule it.
  5. You feel stressed all the time even when child is occupied: You need to find ways to calm your mind and soul, have a laugh, and then keep the strategies you used to calm down in mind for the next time.

I had a day yesterday when everything went exactly the opposite of how it was supposed to go. I was SO upset, then I remembered going with the flow. I teach this to Michael. I had to go to the Dollar store to buy something, and two coffee mugs got my attention.(the picture above). ¬†I don’t often make impulse buys, but for a grand total of $5.00, I figured I could break the bank this one time. ūüôā ¬†They are one of my favorite colors, red, they are big, and they have two amazing sayings on them that reminded me of what is important.¬†I christened the “Keep Calm One” with my first pm cup of coffee¬†yesterday. And you know what, by end of day I had the first conflict-free afternoon with Michael in awhile AND we had a beautiful experience happen at our public pool. More on that in tomorrow’s post. ūüôā

Exceptional Parents, how are you holding up under summer’s strain? How do you “check in” with your inner self? I would love to hear what you use. I think as long as you are being honest and non judgmental of where you are, you will get to the next stage; peace, acceptance, and moving forward. Keep calm and move on, my friends. Until next time.

 

Long Walks, Long Talks, Long Thoughts

 

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I had two really good long walks with Michael lately. He loves to ask questions and talk about life on our walks as I’ve mentioned before. It’s also given me a chance to see him de-stressed and open up about his frustrations. It’s hard for him, and it’s hard for me as his Mom to see how much control he needs to exert over everything and everyone. It is exhausting. He has had some good moments this summer and last, but we have yet to find the perfect summer formula for him to have the right mix of friends, stimulation and activity that he craves at camp and outside. I wish so many times for this one area only that he was born in another time, when kids on the street got together, played in parks, made up their own games, and their own structure. He sadly told me last night he wished so too. I told him that didn’t exist. It was camp or he would have to play at home by himself while I worked.

Michael’s big issue, “I don’t want to follow the group. I want to do my own thing. I want to make my own rules.” And I tell him, that is what summer camp is. It is a structured, safe place for kids to play with other kids. And they are all the same. He has to follow the rules and order whether he likes it or not. He doesn’t and then I get the behaviors at home that he can’t show at camp. I told him that he must never keep things in, but he has to use his strategies to cope ¬†with stress. His Dad and I are there to listen to him, but he then needs to take care of his emotions on his own. He has to try and focus on the positive things. After all, life is not all negative.

Exceptional Parents, what works for your Exceptional Child in the summer to keep their balance? Do they like camp or do they prefer being home with a sitter, you, or grandma and grandpa? What have you found to be best for them and you? We are still trying to find the balance in our family, though a formula of six weeks of camp and three weeks home full time has worked for Dad and I. By week five Michael is tired. Remember as a parent that you are doing your best, and always keep an open mind with your child. Until next time.

Exceptional Rebuilding And Life Lessons Learned

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It struck me yesterday afternoon after a particularly challenging afternoon that Michael and I had both come a long way. He had learned how to bring himself down faster than in the past from his tantrums and meltdowns, and I had learned ¬†not to over-react myself to autism in the summer time. That is what was happening and what happens each year as the summer months are extra challenging for exceptional children and their families. Of course, there are always challenges during the whole year, but there is something about summertime’s lack of structure that makes it that much harder for our kids and hence, us.

The old me would have started to cry, to feel powerless and angry¬†during such an afternoon. The me of yesterday, however, was angry of course for our fight, frustrated at how hard things are sometimes for Michael and I to understand about one another, but there was also this peace inside of me at the same time. It was even there when¬†I texted Dad back after¬†he asked how Michael was doing. I told him about¬†Michael’s rough afternoon, and Dad offered to take over when he got home from work. I thanked him and said he didn’t have to. I could handle it. This realization was huge for me to digest. Michael and I both were using our new strategies to manage our emotions, sometimes with success, sometimes with failure, but we were trying.

Exceptional Parents, what realizations have you come to about you and your Exceptional Children recently? Maybe you have found way to reach them verbally or non verbally as never before. Maybe it is a social breakthrough. Whatever it is, celebrate it. Your child and you have tremendous extra stress in the summer time so pace yourselves and always look for the positives. They are there among the rough times. My child is asserting himself, albeit not appropriately with a tantrum or screaming. My child is discovering his boundaries with people when he tests with challenging comments. My child is not liking certain people, but is at least taking time to socialize. The important thing is to steer them in the right direction and encourage them to rebuild what was torn down, hurt feelings and other issues. Don’t worry. It will be a positive learning experience for both of you. Until next time.

5 Ways Exceptional Parents Can Be On The Same Page To Handle Challenging Behaviors

 

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It’s been a little bit of a whirlwind this summer as Michael learns to use his strategies to handle his anxieties while also trying to play Mom and Dad off each other. ¬†While we are happy he has made some intellectual ground, manipulation towards anyone is not a good thing. We both know we do Michael no favors if we let him think he can manipulate due to fear and anger. Dad and I don’t have a lot of time to talk, as a lot of parents don’t in this day and age, even those of neuro typical children. Exceptional children have the added element that in some areas they are a little behind, so the parent who underestimates them thinks that they do not know what is going on. Truly, I tell you that they are superior in more ways than behind, so never think your child is not manipulative in some way. This will help you help them more.

You love them. And believe it or not they love you too in their own way. But it is hard and frustrating to handle negotiations and other issues. So for those looking for new tricks to be on the same page as their partner for dealing with challenging behaviors in their children, here are my 5 suggestions:

  1. Set a time of day when you can talk uninterrupted: This is easier said than done, I know. We tried the other day EARLY am and had ¬†a little visitor come into our bedroom and start the day.:) ¬†So we are back to the drawing board. Even if it’s a 5 min briefing make sure you how to respond when your child tests you with a firm, loving hand.
  2. Use the SODA formula for interacting with your child: I’ve talked about this before in my blog. (www.healyourlife.com). ¬†I have this up on the cork board in our kitchen .Even Michael practices it now.

S top

O bserve

D etach

A waken

Great ways to see behaviors for what they are. You can only tackle something when you are calm and centered yourself.

3. Text each other strategies: Oh yes, this is Michael’s Dad and I. It is hard to talk around a child that senses, knows and seems to see everything. We are thrilled about this, but it makes it hard to touch base. Texting is our best bet, just be careful when they start to read like mine. He tried to read a text I sent to Dad the other day before I gently told him, “sorry hon, that’s private.”

4. Schedule parent meetings camouflaged as dates: Yes, I know it is hard enough to have date nights, but you may need to schedule a few working lunches/dinners to talk about how to handle issues with your child .The alternative is the child playing the parents off each other and stress in the house. A no win situation for all.

5. Involve a Psycho Educator, Psychologist or someone outside to help you and your partner: Make sure to tell your child (if they are worried and threatened), the truth that this person is part of their team, as I have said to my son. (Team Michael, Team Joanne for me etc. ). This person is helping Mommy/Daddy to understand you and ourselves better so we can all live happier.

Exceptional Parents, what strategies do you and your partners use to discipline and handle challenging issues with your child? I would love to hear what has worked and what has not. The most important thing to realize though as with everything concerning your child and family, you go with how you are all most comfortable living, and make sure everyone is on the same page rule wise in your household. It is the only way to grow together and be a happier Exceptional Family unit. Until next time.