Author: joannegiacomini

Exceptional Mom Times- Staying Calm In the Storm of Covid-19

calm in storm

 

So here we are. Weeks ago many of us were living lives as we always have. Coming and going as we please. Taking for granted gathering with families, friends, and going to work. There was busyness. There was movement. There was normalcy. It was life as most humans on the planet have always lived it all around the world.

Today I sit here and write this thinking about how much has changed in the last few weeks for better or worse. Better, you say? Well, in times of crisis people have two choices- panic or band together. We’ve seen a little bit of both, but I see many more people reaching out and helping others, staying calm and focused and getting still, really still, inside as they look at their lives. That is the most important thing. Never has meditation, exercise and being able to handle sitting with our thoughts been more important than right now in history. For all of us.

And what of exceptional parenting? I spent the first 3 days when the virus hit my country in shock and anxiety about how I would handle this and explain it to Michael who is already super anxious to begin with. I used my tools of meditation, prayer,  nature walks to calm my mind and wrap my head around the whole new world we are all living in. I made sure to show this calmness to Michael, to let him know he was safe, would be safe, and that our government and the people in charge had things under control. I remembered when the fear set in that I am the model for calm for Michael, for my whole family, and it needed to start with me, inside of me first.

I expected panic, more behaviors, stress on Michael’s part. There has been anxiety, of course, like for all of us, but he has surprised me once again. He has surprised me with his mature questions, his accepting of so much uncertainty, his optimism in the face of obstacles. I heard him on the phone explaining to a friend that schools may be off for longer than end of March and that it would be okay. It was so we all stay healthy. The government was taking care of us. He has started watching the news and asking me questions about what he is seeing. I am proud of the questions, his concern. I am proud of how far he has come in accepting what he can’t control. I am proud of me for coming this far too as a human being and an exceptional parent. I am proud of my family, friends and the people I observe around me making good choices and helping others when they can.

Exceptional Parents, how are you faring in the tide of this pandemic? How are you staying positive, still and in the moment with your child, with yourself? It’s not easy, but remember, it may sound cliche to hear it all over social media, but we really are in it all together. We can do this. As exceptional parents. As exceptional children. As human beings. Stay healthy. Stay well. Namaste. Until next time.

Official Exceptional Teendome and Teaching Your Child To Work With You

There is an exceptional teen in the house! It became official at the end of December, and though Michael started showing early signs of being in puberty at  11, it has been an even more intense ride in the last year. As he has slowly started pushing away towards more independence, the desire for approval, attention, connection and time spent together talking has also intensified and on some days, even increased. I am both glad and a little overwhelmed by this at times, but happy that Michael does still want to connect and tell me things. I know this is the age, for any kid, when they start pushing away from parents. Don’t get me wrong. I hear daily that he does not love me. He likes me.  Love is reserved for girls he has crushes on. No matter how many times I or Dad has told him there are lots of kinds of love, he will move back to romantic love.  I get it. He’s experimenting with different ways of relating, and well, Mom is good for bouncing ideas off on, taking me places and chatting, but hey, I don’t love her like when I was a baby.

The thing is though that other things I did not think would be important for Michael now are-fitting in with friends, watching ‘cool’ videos, going out places alone as he does not want to be seen with his Mommy. It’s heartwarming and interesting to see Michael modeling what all teens want. As I’ve said before, I did not know if Michael would be like neuro typical peers in this way. In others, due to his neuro diverse brain and view of the world, things need to be explained and outlined in more detail. He will still need to be reminded what comes next in a schedule or verbally. He also has a hard time hearing no, like when he was a small child. I simply remind him that it’s ok to become angry and be frustrated, but accepting what we can’t change is all part of growing up and maturing, and all of this have to deal with it, neuro typical and neuro diverse alike.

I know the world is harder on him. It’s harder for him to get things. Reading faces, emotions is still a challenge. But I have to be careful how I phrase things. I’ve heard him say so many times, “I don’t have to do things like this, I have austim and adhd. I can’t listen the way you want because I have autism and adhd.” Though I’m glad I told him the reason things are challenging, in the last two years especially, I have turned this way of making excuses into a way to better understand himself and NOT use his different brain as an excuse to get his way in everything. I have told him I want you to express all emotions, but you can’t lose control and get upset because you don’t get your way. All of us, neuro typical and neuro diverse, have to handle emotions, use strategies to cope with stress, and learn from mistakes. As a nurse in the ER told Michael when he was hospitalized while in ketoacidosis and was slowly recovering,”work with me Michael.” I tell him that every day now. I can’t help you unless you work with me, and tell me what you need. He has started believing me and listening as he did to the nurse that day.

Exceptional Parents, how are you surviving your teen or any other challenging age with your Exceptional Child? As long as you are honest about what they and you can handle, you will be well on your way to helping them grow into healthy human beings. Until next time.

Be Careful What You Wish For-How To Handle Supporting And Redirecting Your Anxious Exceptional Child

Happy New Year! Well, the holidays have come and gone. There were ups and downs as usual, as in any exceptional family really. What stood out as highs-Michael’s increasing independence in handling his diabetes, trying to organize his time with audio visual, calls to friends, and video games which he put in his phone calendar and his 13th birthday party where he hung out with friends in typical teen fashion while the parents chit chatted. Our family visits went well too, and Michael had a play date in there as well.

He had also been steadily giving Dad and I personal and couple space. These steps made us feel proud of his progress. Lows were increasing anxiety and anger when things did not go as he planned, such as outings having to be postponed due to inclement weather, Dad or I not being able to give him a direct answer and asking for time to think on it, and finally his anxiety reaching a peak point that he needed to be around me all too much.

First off, let me say that I am so grateful that Michael can communicate with us and tell us how he feels. It has helped him overcome a lot of obstacles and I wouldn’t change having him be expressive for anything in the world. However, he will sometimes have a hard time letting go of things and need to talk them through. This is anxiety provoking for all of us. Before the holidays and even at the very beginning, he was actually still quite independent and giving me my personal space. I was worried though how he didn’t want to talk or interact much with me.

Be careful what you wish for parents. The Universe delivered BIG TIME mid to late holiday season when he had a hard time being alone, filling up space in his day, and would complain when I did my yoga, went to write, went out with a friend. It felt suffocating for me  while I was also worried about his anxiety. Old tools I used were not working. I helped Michael trust himself to find new tools that could work to calm him down so that when he and I took our time together, we could talk calmly.

How did I now keep myself calm and help Michael through his anxiety? Well, for starters I took lots of mini breaks in the day and gently reminded Michael how I needed them- my half hour of meditation and coffee in the morning before joining him at breakfast, my writing at certain times of the day, my yoga or taking a nature walk. Michael complained about all the breaks I was taking. I told him it was to help me stay calm and positive so I could enjoy my holiday happily and help him do the same .

The experience helped me learn how important it is to prepare older exceptional kids for the holidays like we do younger ones. The issues are different, yet some things remain the same. How to structure the down time while leaving some time for spontaneous activities, how to make sure kids are still sleeping and eating well which affects mood. This was doubly hard as with Michael’s diabetes no matter how much we controlled, his sugars were still through the roof high which do not help with anger and outbursts. I also learned how to enjoy the little moments that did go well and not let the stressful times spoil the day. Be realistic with what your child and family can handle and don’t push the envelope at family gatherings, play dates or other activities.

At the end of the holiday, in spite of the challenges, Michael reported that he had a good holiday. His return to school went well, and now we are all slowly getting back in routine.

Exceptional Parents, how do you handle anxiety with your Exceptional Child? Remember, as long as you keep an open mind with your child, stay calm, ask for a break (or take it) when you need it, you will be able to show a good example of how to handle the ups and downs of family down time and help your child find tools that work for them. Until next time.

How To Handle Hearing No- An Exceptional Child And Parent Challenge

Hearing the word no. This is a tough one in our household for both Michael and I. Michael, due to autism and adhd, finds hearing no and doing things he finds uncomfortable to be very challenging. For me, as his exceptional Mom, hearing the word no triggers me down to my deepest core. It represents not respecting my authority as the adult, and feelings of powerlessness as a parent. It’s taken me a long time to process these feelings and find my ways of coping with Michael’s opposition, and most of the time, I’m right on target for helping him towards success. There are days and nights though, when I still become angry hearing the word no too. Then I have to mobilize all my inner resources.

Though as parents we know our kids will not like everything we say or do no matter what, and they will lash out at us, it hurts when they do. We would be silly to say otherwise. We take it personally because they are ours!  That is why having an anger management strategy kit is of utmost importance for parents and children. What should go in your kit? Here are just a few things I use on a daily basis, (or try to) so as to help control my frustration and pass on tips to Michael to do the same:

1) Deep breathing. Making sure to breathe in and out is so important to keep us present focused. As hard as it is for some of our kids, it’s a skill worth teaching.

2) Meditation and yoga: I practice both daily for the most part, and if I skip on, I make sure to do some type of stretching or a shorter meditation to remind myself to still in the moment no matter how crazy a situation gets.

3) Have a safe room/place to go: It’s important our kids and us know to go to another room to calm down and change the scenery when they are angry.

4) Seeing the other person’s pain: This is hard when you are feeling hurt, but remembering the person who is angry at you is in pain, makes what they say or do a lot easier to digest. You find the reserve of calm and help them move to that.

5) Learning about flexibility and compromise: One thing I’ve learned as an exceptional parent is compromising and picking my battles with my child-what’s worth and not worth fighting over. Once you and your child get to this point, a lot of the ‘no’ battles can even be avoided.

Exceptional Parents, how do you handle hearing the word no and helping your child face it? It’s not easy, and while some days you are in tip top shape and stay calm, other days you fall apart. Never be ashamed to admit when you make a mistake to your child and apologize. You will show them that you are owning up to your failures and learning from them. It will help them do the same for their failures. Until next time.

 

Trusting And Learning From Mistakes-Exceptional Family Tips

One of the hardest things to handle lately with Michael is when I make a mistake or do something he does not like or finds uncomfortable, and he thinks I am purposely trying to upset him. Yes, I am usually consistent in what I do and how I do it. Yes, I am clear and do my best to avoid making errors, but alas I am human, so mistakes will happen. This is hard for Michael. Any kind of imperfection is hard for him. He is hard on himself when things don’t go as planned, and when he makes mistakes, and he is hard on me.

The thing is it was something small. I apologized, fixed it, but then came the, “but will you do this again? it really upset me.” Usually I am better able to handle his uncertainty and anxiety. Usually I do not take personally his needing repeated reassurance that yes, I am sorry. I will not do it again. But tonight after a long day,  dinner clean up waiting, a long conversation about one of his passions that was one more sided, (me listening, him talking and me needing my quiet time big time when dinner was done) I blew up.

After we both took much needed quiet time to calm down and talk about things, I realized what I needed to look at in myself when handling Michael’s anxiety about my imperfections and other people’s;

1) Stay calm myself. There is nothing worse for an anxious child if a parent becomes anxious and tells them to calm down and that their anxiety is no big deal even if it is something small. Mea culpa here tonight.

2) Help your child come up with a mantra, strategy for them to use when they see they are triggered. I realized that had I had something at hand to remind Michael to do (or better yet HE had it) this may have helped ease his anxiety enough to trust and hear clearly what I was saying to him.

3) Talk about mistakes and share personal failures with your child: During times when your child is not anxious, share moments when you messed up, made mistakes and how they made you stronger and able to learn more about yourself.

4) Make sure you don’t take your child’s criticism personally: It’s very important to see your child’s trust issue as one with themselves, not you. This is most often the case with anxious children. Once you see that it is not about you, but about them, it will easier to be sympathetic and help support them when you are both calmer.

Exceptional Parents, how often does your anxious child overreact to a small event or misunderstanding? Realize that with your support using one of those 1-5 scales of little to big problems, you can help your child learn how to handle stress, regulate their emotions, and take charge of their stress. Along the way, you will learn to do the same with yours. Until next time.

 

How To Be There And Give Space To Your Exceptional Child- Striking the Balance

Michael has always been a child that needed to talk and communicate, even before he could speak a word. That is why when he hit tween hood and started pulling away from Dad and I a bit, it was challenging and worrisome for us. Do we let him without a fight? Do we insist he speaks with us? Do you give him his space? As you can imagine, after much soul searching, I chose option 3.

It has been great for the most part. As I saw him maturing, I did decide to give him space and time to come to terms that he was growing up, and growing up in the exceptional way is not easy any more than growing up the neuro typical way is. Again, I must give credit to our educator who supported me and gave my encouragement to give him space and independence like I would any tween. I’m glad I listened. Michael will talk to me when he comes from school like when he was younger. Then he will ask, can I go be alone now? I need my space. I happily allow him that. Consequently, if he needs to speak to me when I am doing my alone time, I will also ask him to respect my boundaries. Knock on the door if I am busy writing in my office or doing something else in the house. Ask if it is a good time. I have learned to do the same thing with him. Space and boundaries are challenging for him to grasp, but he is getting there.

Finding a balance with our exceptional kids of all ages means spending time playing and/or talking with them, but also allowing them to be alone doing what gives them pleasure. It means understanding this alone time may last a little longer than for neuro typical kids, but not judging it with our neuro typical brains, unless it is detrimental to their mental or physical health. And it also means connecting with them on their interests, and as they get older and able to, get them interested in our interests if this is possible.

Having come a long way from two years ago when Michael started puberty and Type 1 Diabetes hit, it has been a long road uphill for him and us. Our family has had to relearn to trust in the love we have for one another that is enough, and Dad and I have had to learn to relate to Michael in a different way, trusting him to assume more responsibility which is what he was asking for in his tween rebellion. I am glad we did, and now our son is coming back  and working with us. When your child works with you, that ensures they are working towards a good future for themselves.

Exceptional Parents, how do you walk the line between giving your Exceptional Child space and spending time with them? All kids need a balance, no matter what age they are. Of course as they mature, they require less of one on one time with you for playing and managing their lives. But your involvement, your caring, your words, in spite of what they say, matter more than anything to them. Continue to tell them you love them even if you do not hear the words back. Continue to believe in them, especially when they don’t believe in themselves. And continue to talk and interact with them, even if that is just being in the same room and acknowledging whatever they are doing. Our kids sense our love beyond words. They feel it. Let’s continue to show them that balance of trusting them to be alone, yet being there for them to talk or interact with when they are ready. Until next time.

How to Squeeze in Personal Exceptional Mom Time To Stay Calm

It has been one of those weeks, heck, months where the craziness in all shapes and forms has been ensuing. Some days have been happy crazy and others, just crazy with exceptional family life. But I’ve noticed, like most parents, that when I’ve handled things the best, has been when I have cultivated moments of calm and rest for me. Some days it has been easy to get in some personal time. Other days it has been challenging, but even if I only found ten or twenty minutes that day to do something that filled my cup, so to speak, energy-wise, the difference in how I handled anything chaotic was incredible.

Sometimes Michael will be an energetic handful talking non-stop. Other days he is angry and anxious. In both examples I need to stay calm, focused and alert, in order to be able to truly be there for him and support or redirect him towards making better choices. I have my set of tools that help me stay grounded and focused, and when I use them, I never have issues with mental exhaustion or burnout. Here are a few things that I can squeeze into a busy parenting day.

1) Shorter guided meditations and/or yoga workouts: There are great resources on line where you can find meditations and yoga workouts that range from 10-30 minutes and beyond. This is an easy way for me (and a lot of Moms I know) to recharge their batteries.

2) Sitting on the couch with a cup of coffee/tea  with quiet music: Curling up on the sofa for a 10-15 minute relaxation/recharge with coffee/tea and music helps get me through some tough moments in the late afternoon or early evening helps reset my batteries as well.

3) Chilling or working in my home office: As a writer, my office is my sanctuary. That is where I do most of my work, but I will even retreat to my office if I need personal space when I want to go on social media, check email or read a book. Having a room we Moms can go to means the world when you’re running on empty. If you don’t have a whole room, carve out a corner of a room and make it cozy for you, pillows, candles, warm blanket etc.

4) Take a short walk: If you can, get outside or inside a mall and take a short walk. If you have a treadmill or exercise equipment get moving. It will help you face whatever exceptional parenting will throw at you.

5) Talk to a friend by phone, social media or text: Sometimes a short conversation with a friend will go a long way. It doesn’t have to be another exceptional mom. Any caring friend who gets you and your life will help you refocus your energies.

Exceptional Parents, what are your tips for finding those mini moments to recharge? In the end, as long as you still see you have patience, compassion and trust in yourself as a parent, you will be able to reflect that back to your child and they will be the better for it too. Until next time.

 

 

 

Understanding Sensory, Processing and Other Exceptional Issues With Your Exceptional Child

When your child has a brain that is wired differently, life is extremely challenging for them and for you. As they grow up, you learn different ways to understand each other. I have had to painstakingly explain to Michael how my brain works and he has done the same to me. Sometimes, it is done patiently and easily on both our parts. Sometimes, it has been more challenging. But one thing I can say is that the things that have helped me understand Michael better have had to do with looking at real articles, talking to or reading articles and books by real autistic people, and of course, touching base with my neuro diverse son and hearing from his mouth what works. So, through my own trial and error, here are ways I have managed to troubleshoot sensory and processing differences that Michael has and try and understand him better:

1) Observe my son in all his moments, happy and sad: Sometime we neuro typical parents will misunderstand a sensory issue that means our child is upset or excited. Once we start to watch our child more closely in all settings, we will begin to understand more why they do what they do and what the need serves. If not, we know we need to ask more questions.

2) Ask your child questions: Yes, some children are limited verbally, some are non-verbal, and some are so verbal they can’t stop talking. However, this does not mean that it will be easy or hard for them to answer how they feel and why. It may take many conversations, but really show your child you are meeting them where they are and respecting their personal ways of regulating with the world.

3) Try out a variety of sensory friendly toys and options: Don’t be afraid to try out different sensory friendly toys like hand fidgets, sand, bubbles, things like trampolines, swings, activities like swimming, dancing.  You need to see if they are hypo or hyper sensitive to stimuli and if they need to move more or less. Does light or movement bother them? Do they seek it out? Understanding this means understanding how your child needs to be in the world to feel better in their body.

4) If they need to rock, flap or vocalize let them: Another way to help your child, within reason and within what the setting is too, of course, would be to let them do what they need to do to  regulate. If rocking, jumping, flapping or vocalizing helps them find balance in themselves, we must understand that they need to do this. Of course there are settings where they need to learn to have quieter options or move to a place where they can make sounds or move. Again, this means your child will realize you understand them and what they need to do to handle outside and internal stimuli better.

5) Read articles, books, blogs or talk to other neuro diverse people: The best way to understand how your child’s sensory system works is to talk or read about other autistic, adhd or other types of different-brained people to get a glimpse at this mind from the inside out. I remember the first time I did this how insightful it was to me. I learned how to help my son find moments to release the pent up energy in a healthy way. I was humbled talking to this individual and I continue to be when reading articles or talking to other neuro diverse people in person.

Exceptional Parents, how do you support and help your Exceptional Child handle sensory issues or sensitivities? I think the first place to start is in thinking we need to fix our kids. That is not the case. They are not broken. They merely have a different way of seeing the world than we do and need our understanding, compassion and interest to help them see that they are fine the way they are. When we make the effort to support and love our child, they in turn learn to love and accept themselves and the wonderful gift they are to us and to the world. Until next time.

 

 

How To Help Your Exceptional Child Learn To Be More Patient And Focused

Michael and I have made a breakthrough recently. I am so excited that he is learning to be more patient and focused. It has been due to hard work on his and my part. I recognize both and have made sure to tell him so on top of his home reward point system for good behavior. What has changed? I still have a tween soon to be teen (still can’t believe it) who will be moody when he comes in and wants to have shorter conversations so he can go and have time alone or talking to friends. Yet, he is opening up more about his day, like the old pre tween Michael did. Don’t get me wrong. As I’ve said before, I know this is developmentally normal at this age. It is a good sign of his growing independence. Still, the fact that he cares about talking to me means a lot.

Now for patience. He is learning about having to wait to speak with me if I am in the middle of something. He is learning about having to wait while Dad and I talk over family plans and also decide on things he may ask us to get him or activities to do. He is learning to focus and use strategies available to him to lessen his anxiety as well as troubleshooting what works and what doesn’t. He has been flexible trying strategies that we have recommended or his educator has. Some have worked, some have not. He has stayed positive about the ones that work and now remembers to use them more regularly.

It has been wonderful to see him blossom in this way. And even on the days and nights when he has a hard time, I remind him of his progress. We have a list of all the things he has excelled in over the past year, things that he never used to be able to do or were extremely challenging. We all refer to that list to see how far he has come, how far we have all come as a family.

So what tips can I offer in learning to help your child be more patient and focused? For starters having a structured plan of what is and is not acceptable and sticking to it diligently is what helped us. No exceptions.  Another thing is being super clear in what kind of behavior we expect and what tools he can use to curb the negative behavior and habits. Third would be reminders of using his tools at the right time before his anger would escalate, and then afterwards looking back to see if Dad or I could have been more clear on what was expected of him or in the situation. It’s not to beat ourselves up or to berate him, but would be a learning experience for all of us.

I have not been afraid to remind Michael that like it or not, these are the house rules. The first time I said this he said “what if I have a meltdown?” I simply responded, “you have a meltdown, then go calm down with your strategies, and then we can talk about why you are upset.” It’s simple really, but getting there as a family for us (like for many exceptional families), has been a challenge. We take it one day at a time and learn from each other. We also make sure to remind each other that we are a team and will get through it together.

Exceptional Parents, what tools have worked or not worked for you and your Exceptional Child? Remember, don’t feel bad if you tried something that didn’t work or your child did. You are making progress by eliminating what is not working in that case. Keep at it. Keep at loving, accepting and letting your child, no matter what their age, be heard and know they matter to you. With consistency, a calm approach and taking care of your personal stress, you and your child will find a way to help them overcome their obstacles. Until next time.

Self-Blame and Exceptional Parenting-When To Go Easy On Yourself And Know You Are Doing Your Best

As I sat looking at Michael’s report card tonight, I couldn’t help but smile at the Michael I recognize at home, all the places where he was written about as curious, social with peers and people in general, great navigating and sense of direction, whether on school grounds or when his school goes on community outings. I also heard about the polite side of Michael, which I do still see at home, though with full tween attitude is not always visible. 🙂 Teachers and staff love him and I couldn’t be more proud.

All jokes aside, these comments brought a smile to my face. What was harder to read were the comments about Michael’s challenges. Needs redirection to listen to others and wait, needs to slow down, needs support in certain subjects as he is distracted. As an exceptional mom who has tried so hard to work on these things with Michael at home and home therapy, I felt like I had failed too reading those words, failed to help him come further along at home so it would be easier in school to master material.  I know the ADHD brain has a hard time settling. I know the medication he is on for focus, though it was helped greatly, will not change his ability to concentrate unless he makes other behavioral changes, which is slow in coming. He has made progress, but big lasting change takes time. We are all working on building our patience too as a family.

I cannot take responsibility for every choice and learning decision Michael makes, especially as he gets older. It is hard knowing what to tackle sometimes. I have wanted to do tutoring, though academics is not Michael’s strength. Then also, there were, and still are, behavioral challenges for him to overcome at home and strategies he needs to learn to cope with distraction and impulsivity. So why do I always go back to blaming myself? Mom blame is something so many of us Moms, particularly the exceptional ones, put on ourselves. If only I had tried that therapy. If only he had been at the activity. That skill would have been mastered. He would have been further ahead. He would have less challenges now in puberty where his hormones are all over the place.

I am learning to shake off my self-criticism. Michael is doing the best that he can with what he has got. I am sure there are things we can improve on, and plan to talk about these things with Michael’s team next week when we meet for parent/teacher night. It is not one person’s job to raise a child, any child. It is the child, the parents, the family’s and society’s job together. As they say, it takes a village to raise a child, and I remind myself of that on the days I feel discouraged that I have not done enough to help Michael get to the next level of his development.

Exceptional Parents, do you ever take the whole blame for your Exceptional Child’s academic or social difficulties? It’s normal as you want them to succeed and be happy. But it’s also important to remember, as they get older, that they need some autonomy in making their own strides forward and handling their own difficulties. Do what you can as a parent to encourage healthy learning all around. Then step back. Let your child find their pace and fly. Until next time.