Being the parent of an exceptional child changes you. Heck, being a parent changes you, as you have to remember to talk to your child in a way that reaches them and helps them know you get them. When you have a child whose brain works differently than yours though, the challenge is even greater. Michael’s brain is affected by everything that makes him who he is-autism, ADHD, anxiety, and Type 1 Diabetes. All of these physical and mental things make up how he sees the world, how his brain organizes his reality, and as I’ve seen many times, how this reality is not always the same reality it is for me.
We have had many misunderstandings with one another when I would think he was not listening to me, he was purposely being defiant, and he was not listening. As he grew older and I learned more about neuro diversity and different brains, I began to see how much of what I thought was deliberate was not. He would often not understand where I was coming from, and even with a pretty perfect vocabulary and very good conversation skills, receptive language would still be a challenge. I began seeing how I could make myself more clear and see things from his perspective. I also began talking to him about seeing things from my side, and reminding him that we don’t all think alike, so compromise needs to be something to strive for. Discussing a stressful upcoming event is something I’ve had to learn to do with extreme patience. He will often ask the same question over and over. I used to blow up, as my patience would wear think, and then I would feel terrible. I would see that his anxiety is just too high and his ability to self-regulate is still developing so moving forward was high.
Once I learned how to use my own STOP analogy, that is stop and think before speaking, I eliminated a lot more escalation of fear and anxiety on Michael’s and my end. With autism there needs to be a lot of repetition for Michael to remember things sometimes and put his mind at ease. I devised ways such as schedules on paper or the computer to explain things to him. I also would write social stories or ask our team to help me right good social stories that would explain things more simply. Michael has always been a child so eager to learn and move forward, that this has not been too difficult a process.
As parents it is hard. We need to keep in mind that executive function and any kind of organization skills take extra time for our kids to master. That means we’ve got to extra patient when waiting for an answer from them, waiting for them to move to the next activity, and when frustration builds up more easily than with other kids, remember that it is not their fault or ours. It is two different brains viewing the same problem. As the adult and the one who can set the example, it is up to us to pause, take a deep breath, and redirect our child’s frustration and try and see why they are upset and how the two of you can put your heads together and fix it calmly. That has been the hallmark of success with Michael. When I have stayed calm, or at least as calm as possible, I have come up with great solutions to help Michael is even better, he has found the solutions to the problem. It is a humbling affair raising a little person, but there is so much our exceptional kids teach us. Don’t shy away from the lesson. You won’t be sorry you did.
Exceptional Parents, how often have you been able to put yourself in your Exceptional Child’s shoes? It’s not always easy, but as long as you take the time to see them as trying their very best even when they are failing in that moment, show compassion as you would for yourself, you will start to build a whole new rapport with your exceptional child. They will sense you trying to bridge the gap and meet them halfway. Until next time.