Being the parent of an exceptional child means you are constantly learning new things about balance, balancing how to present information in a clear and concise way so you know your child gets it, balancing time when you talk and they listen and vice versa, and finally balancing when to have hard and fast consequences with no do overs, and when to be a little more lenient. For me, it’s been a challenge learning to read Michael’s autistic and ADHD brain, and which part is speaking to me now. Add in a dose of puberty and well, it’s really fun and games at our house some days and nights. Still, I have found comfort in coming up with some rules that are starting to work well for our neurodiverse family.
I have also found that there are times when Dad and I have to wing it. If Michael has had a rough day and I could see that his coping skills and tolerance for frustration is low, I’ll allow some leeway in giving him extra time to come to dinner or get organized for the evening etc. High blood sugars also mean that we tread carefully. But for the most part, it’s been about understanding how Michael’s brain works differently and how his difficulty with impulse control leads to a lot of problems. He’s starting to recognize when and where he needs help though, as are we. Things are working better as a result. I have devised some hard and fast rules that are non-negotiable and that we all follow. This has slowly become like our family Bible. Here they are:
- Violence of any kind is not tolerated in any form, shade or color. Of course, Dad and I have always said no violence for any reason, but we would end up talking too much, yelling too much, and in the past, escalating situations farther along unfortunately. Now, it is a calm, firm, direct response on our part with severe consequences. As a result, the intensity has gone down.
- Catch frustration, anxiety or anger in the early stages and try and understand and redirect it: What has also been helpful is catching when Michael is feeling upset early on and helping redirect him so he can calm down enough to then come back and talk.
- Making sure physical boundaries are in place for all: This is so important when you have a child that sits or stands too close, does not understand if you can’t stop what you are doing to focus on them, and in general has challenges with social cues. Over the years, we’ve modeled to Michael, now I’m finishing this, I’d love to hear what you have to say in five or ten minutes. For me, it’s no talking to Mom till she has her morning coffee and meditates. I need that first 20 minutes to come into myself before being able to attend to any issue.
- As angry as we all get at one another, we get up and try again tomorrow: This is an important rule in any family, but in an exceptional family, teaching unconditional love is very important and practicing it more so. We have always told Michael we love him and will always be there to help him. Now it is time he helps himself by changing the negative behaviors and asking for help where he struggles. We model the same thing.
- Use humor to teach: This has been one I have used over the years in varying degrees. You need to laugh at the absurdity of some situations you and your child find yourselves in that are out of your control. Often when unexpected things have happened that stressed Michael out, (as well as me), laughing and having an oh well, that’s crazy life, attitude has slowly helped Michael learn to lighten up a bit too. It’s also helped Dad and I do more of that when we are together or alone.
Exceptional Parents, what hard and fast rules do you have in your Exceptional Families that are non-negotiable and which rules do you occasionally bend? It’s a juggling or tightrope act, I know. However, the important thing is recognizing that your child, like you, is unique and has their own quirks. Once you know what works best to help them feel secure, safe and sure of what is happening around them, even if it is rules they don’t like, you will see that they will see you as the caregiver and supporter they need to learn about their world with confidence and grow into the independent and well-adjusted adult you know they can be. Until next time.