Author: joannegiacomini

How to Enjoy Summer All The Way With Your Exceptional Child

Summer is a great time when most people want to kick back and relax. Exceptional parents and kids are no different, but sometimes things do not happen as smoothly as we would like. Michael both loves and hates certain things about the summer as do I. He loves having more freedom, (what kid doesn’t), but the lack of structure when he is not at camp along with anxiety about different issues (this year it is being around large groups of people whereas last year was about being in front of technology), makes for some difficulties for him to manage emotions. It is also hard on me and Dad, as planning activities can become a challenge when he prefers to stick to his trademark activities and not want to try anything new. He also enjoys camp, but then gets fed up too and wants a break. It needs to be a happy medium.

I have learned to understand that pushing him does not work. It is one thing to gently encourage trying new things. It is quite another to downright insist that he do things like other kids who don’t have his challenges. He is not like them and never will be. That is fine. I don’t want Michael to be anyone but himself.  I love his uniqueness, and only want to help him through the rough patches so he knows how to handle life’s ups and downs. Like any Mom, I just want him to be happy as himself. Maybe he is, but I worry that my usual social kid is afraid to be out with a lot of people around and giving up activities he loved in order to accommodate this like swimming in public pools or going to parks. When camp is finished, I hope to help him devise strategies to give parks and pools a try at quieter times of the day. I want him to see that he could do it, that he is capable.

See, the thing is as parents we have to walk the fine line between giving our kiddos choice in how they have fun and also gently encouraging them to get their ‘feet wet’, so to speak. How can parents do this? Here are some tools and advice I take with me every summer and apply:

1) Have some fun active games outside planned: In our case this year, Michael and I do bike rides and long walks as playing sports in the park is not something he is comfortable with for now.

2) Give your child positive indoor activity choices: This could be playing educational games on the computer, listening to music, yoga, talking on the phone to friends, reading a book, etc.

3) Help them find a new hobby: One year Michael discovered face painting, another year he took up painting with an easel. A hobby could also be dancing or singing.

4) Balance out structured and unstructured time: It’s important they have time away from you (camp or respite) as well as time spent as a family or with friends in a less structured environment. The balance of both will teach your child that life provides a bit of both.

5) Plan some family vacation time whatever that looks like: It’s nice when you can do things in town or out of town as a family. Do what works for your family.

Exceptional Parents, how hard or easy is summertime for you and your Exceptional Child? What tips have helped you thrive or survive? In the end, it really depends on your attitude about your child, your acceptance of where they are at, and your willingness to be flexible and encourage them to try things at their own pace. That will usually make the summer go well. Until next time.

 

 

 

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Milestones Among The Challenges-How To Look For The Silver Lining

Michael is having  a hard time in puberty. This is nothing new and I have shared many examples of this, but as I tell other parents  it’s important to celebrate the victories our children achieve and let the feeling of success filter out to them too.  Sometimes I forget this, but tonight was one of those victories for me. We met friends at a nearby park where a free movie and hot night was being held. The movie was starting quite late, but we decided to meet up and eat with the friends, catch up, and then leave when the movie started. By the time we got there the lineups for the food were crazy long. Given that the park was close by, I told Michael we were going to go home and eat and then head back to meet the friends. He was not happy, but cooperated in the end. He had made some silly comments when we arrived, so I warned him, when we go back to meet our friends your behavior has to be appropriate. It was not only appropriate, but he talked with his friend, and we waited with them in line for their food without any mishaps.

Michael also gave himself his own insulin injection perfectly at dinner AND when we got home right before his bedtime. He was calm, mature and poised. After a week of some challenges at home with words and actions, I got a chance to see the Michael that the rest of the world sees. This Michael was in control of himself. This Michael was listening and expressing himself appropriately. Though he was disappointed he couldn’t afford to wait the long line anymore due to danger of his sugar dropping,  but he took it so maturely. He got a high ten and a major compliment from Dad and I when we got home. And I reminded him that he is capable of doing this great behavior and that this is what we want to see more of. He smiled.

For me, it really helped shine the light on what Michael does right. Lately, I haven’t liked my kid too much. He has been pushing limits at home and being a teen. Still, that combined with his other challenges and complex way of seeing the world, has made me feel overwhelmed. Then, like a glass of water on a hot day, an evening like tonight occurs. I see a major maturity milestone and I see that he is making progress and moving forward. It’s not all struggle. There are victories too, for him and for Dad and I as we watch him take on things that would challenge any kid. I was a proud Mom tonight watching him with his friend, watching how well he handled hearing no, and seeing how well he did when we arrived back at home. I’m still basking in that moment and reminding myself that it is important to keep the milestones close to our heart. When those tough days happen, we will remember that there are easier and exciting days ahead.

Exceptional Parents, do you remember to celebrate the milestone successes with your Exceptional Child? It gets hard when there are more challenging days, but as long as you look for the silver lining in your child’s progress, and all children have them, you will help encourage them and keep yourself positive and strong for the storms ahead. Until next time .

Letting Your Exceptional Child Own Their Emotions Then Stepping Back

Sometimes the stress is too much for us and the only response is to scream and cry. This is usually when we have not taken the time to listen to our inner voices and ask for what we need. When Michael reaches his stressful breaking point, I am always aware of what he didn’t pick up on along the way to becoming upset, or, because I am his Mom and caregiver, what signs I didn’t see to try to get him to stop, regroup, and use a strategy to calm down. Anxiety is such a difficult thing to handle for exceptional kids and adults, and let’s face it, even for neuro typical people. But I think a lot of misunderstanding occurs when as parents, we try to smooth everything over and fix things for our child. That used to be me. Now, as hard as it is to watch Michael struggle and me struggle watching him try to find his way out the other side, I let him “own”, as they say, his anxiety.

How do I do this? I let him talk about what bothers him, and remind him that if he focuses on what he can control now, he does not have to worry about the future. I also try my best to acknowledge his discomfort and fear, even if initially I do not catch why this particular incident is scaring him. That is my Mom bias, as all adults sometimes have a hard time remembering what made them scared as kids. The funny thing is , a lot of times when Michael is scared and anxious I recognize myself at his age. I was a scared and anxious tween and teen, and later early adult until I learned strategies that worked for me.  I also hear my Mom,  and the things she said to try and help me. Some of them were helpful, some were not. I unfortunately make the mistake of saying both too, but then I will take a step back and remind myself of something. What is the harm of letting Michael own his emotions-good and bad? As long as he is not hurting himself, property or anyone else, it is truly important that as a parent I let him feel the feeling, then find his way out himself with a strategy that works for him. Only if he is really stuck, do I gently suggest things.

Now on to the next thing; helping him find a strategy that works for him. The professionals have given him great advice over the years, but none of them gave him one hundred percent perfect advice on what he needed to do to calm down. We have used snippets from everyone, and those snippets change as he gets older. The reason for this is that none of them see things through his eyes or brain, or can understand how terrifying the world can be when it is coming out full steam ahead to a neuro diverse kid. I make that mistake of misunderstanding how scared he is too, sometimes and will give him bad advice or yell. If I get to this point, and thankfully for both of us it is not often, I will usually remove myself from the room staying close enough to help, but letting Michael figure out what he needs to do.

Afterwards, when we have both apologized for yelling and overreacting to one another, we will talk about strategies Michael could use to stay and get calm. After that, I will always tell Michael he knows his body best, and that he needs to choose what works best where and when. I remind him I believe in him and that he can do it, but it will take time.

Exceptional Parents, how do you react when your Exceptional Child is winding up to an anxiety attack or meltdown? Do you let them vent and try and handle it, or do you give advice right away? It’s important no matter what the age, to let the child own their emotions and feelings before rushing in to save the day. Most of the time our children will surprise us and know what they need to do to regroup. Then, it’s up to us to talk with them about how reading our body signals in advance is the best way to handle any emotions. It’s also the best way to learn about what we tools we need to stay balanced, parent and child alike. Until next time.

How To Diminish Your Exceptional Child’s Anxiety- Diminish Your Own Parental One

What is that saying that we hear so often? If an airplane is going down, should the mother put the oxygen mask on herself or her child first? The answer as we all know is, herself. Why? Because she can’t save her child if she dies. It is the same idea when a child is overwhelmed by anger and anxiety. It is hard for a parent. We feel like we are going down in that plane with our child. We are scared. We panic because we are not the impartial therapists who can afford not to get emotional with the child and do stay calm. This is OUR child. It’s all about emotions. The thing is, and I’ve learned this through personal experience and occasionally still have to, we need to get control of our parental anxiety first before we can help our child get control of their child anxiety.

What does that mean? Well, first it means we have to remain calm when our inner and outer world is falling apart. There is nothing worse than watching your child suffer and not knowing how to help at first.  The second thing is we have to put in on our parental strategies for handling our anxiety and not lose our cool yelling at our kids or worrying too much. This is the hardest thing to do parents, but the payoff is huge. You are able to show your child that you are holding it together and they will be able to also. Thirdly, when you and they are both in relaxed moods, offer strategies that you think might work. If you’re not sure, ask them what they think you could do for them when they are anxious or panicking. Ask them what they need from you and what they could use to help themselves.

Our Exceptional Kids have different brains from us. The wiring is hooked up in a way that is not like a neuro typical adults. Neuro diverse kids need neuro diverse solutions, so what would work for a neuro typical child may not work for them. Elements of a strategy may work, but adjustments will most likely need to be made. Fine tuning. As a parent, you know your child best. You know their mind. If there are things you haven’t figured out due to the fact that they process things in life differently, you may want to consider asking an adult with a neuro diverse brain how they handle anxiety. There are great blogs and books written by people with Autism and ADHD that educate the rest of us on what our exceptional kids need. Read and learn. As a parent and professional, I am always reading something about autism and ADHD as well as anxiety. I try and see how best to understand my Michael’s uniqueness, with some of the way he thinks due to different brain connections.

I also remind myself not to panic. He is still my little big boy as I now call him, though there are days I worry that with puberty and growing up he is growing far away from me understanding him. In reality, I know that is not the case. It is simply that he is having to learn new ways to regulate, self-soothe, and handle his emotions. Even on the toughest days I vow to be there oxygen mask on me and one on him, breathing together and coming out unscathed on the other side.

Exceptional Parents, how calm are you in the eye of the storm of your child’s anxiety or anger? Yes, there will be days you lose your temper and mess up. You are human, after all. Just pick yourself up, learn from the experience, and remember that the calmer you stay as a ship’s captain does, the smoother the ride will be for your child and yourself. Until next time.

The Importance Of Exceptional Parent Self-Care-How To Push Through Your Saboteur’s Agenda

I have been practicing very good self-care since I had a burnout six years ago,  and was quite proud of my track record in taking care of myself over the last six years. Other than a few small instances of neglecting me which I quickly fixed, I have moved forward with the tools I needed to stay in top shape as an Exceptional Mom, wife and woman.  These have been and remain; prayer, mediation, yoga, exercise, writing,  reading good fiction, time alone on nature walks, home baths with a few yearly hamamm baths and massages, and quality time with my friends and family. I also took with me tools I learned in therapy about self-love and loving kindness that I make sure to show towards myself in meditation practice and in my life.

Lately though, I have been letting things slide slowly. First, I have been neglecting my yoga stretches in the morning. Then, I did not do my nature walks for several Sundays and even skipped church for two weeks.  I have also stopped my personal exercise regime. What has been stopping me? I have been stopping me. Things at home have been challenging on the personal front, and instead of taking the time to rebuild me, I have been working against myself thinking I had to do it all.  I have been writing and meditating, but I have been feeling this block to being able to handle obstacles in my life and feel at peace with me and those around me. Today I woke up and realized the block has been me. I have been standing in my own way. I have been stopping myself from putting me first, thinking that was selfish. In truth, it has been what has been pushing me down. Putting me first is the most selfless thing I could do.

This morning as  I was sitting in the car after dropping Michael off at day camp, I had said to myself it is a beautiful cool morning to do my nature walk in a nearby park. I sat there for a good five minutes while my critical negative worrying side reminded me of all that was waiting for me at home, both pleasurable work and housework. I wrestled with my critical self and reminded her that my bursts of anger, my stress and worries all were arising more often lately due to not nurturing me. A nature walk would revitalize me for the day, and bring me inner peace so I could go back home and write, handle other responsibilities, and be the advocate and parent Michael needed. I’m happy to report that my nurturing self won, and as I walked through the trees and looked at the water around me, my mind and soul were reborn.

The birds were chirping and nature’s healing power reminded me how I was one with everything and it with me. I left reminding myself that my once a week walk must not be skipped. In fact, in summer when I have a little more freedom,  I will take advantage and go more than once. My family and I need me to be strong and positive. The thing is I was my own saboteur on the self-care journey. I thought I’d gotten past neglecting me, but when things get tough or busy at home, I, like most women, tend to put my  needs last. This is the worst thing women can do. The stress catches up to you fast. You have less patience. You get angry quickly, and you worry more. As soon as I recognized my saboteur, I very kindly spoke to her and told her, it’s time for you to chill out. You need a break. It’s time for you to let me take the wheel so you can heal. And that’s what I did.

The me that came back from that walk was calm, peaceful, and filled with hope.  Self-care is not just a cheesy catchphrase parents. It is real. It is vital. It is necessary if you are to live your best life, and help your family live their best life. You are your child’s first example of how to live. So live well.

Exceptional Parents, how good are you at recognizing when you are faltering at self-care? We all make excuses and remove the things that help us when we feel it may interfere with family or work commitments. But remember, if you are not well, work and family will not get your best. You will not get your best and enjoy the gift of your life and what it is you are supposed to be doing. Don’t be afraid to say you are scared, tired, angry, need a break. Don’t be afraid to rest. Ever. Do what fuels your body, soul and mind. And listen to your gut. It will always steer you to living your most exceptional life and show your child how to live theirs. Until next time.

Summer Camp, Independence and How My Exceptional Son Is Coming Into His Own

This has truly been a summer of growth for Michael, both in terms of his physical growth, puberty and his emotional maturity with the outside world, and even with us.  Michael is not only managing his diabetes, he is doing his own injections and getting it done properly for the most part. Michael is not only responsible to be left alone at home for longer periods of time, but he enjoys that we trust him and behaves in a calm way. And finally, Michael is attending summer camp this year without a shadow and doing extremely well. It’s been amazing to witness his growth in these areas, and though he is struggling emotionally in others, I keep reminding myself of his potential and showing him what he is capable of when he believes in himself and in his abilities.

All our kids have their strengths. As parents, it’s important, including when they are struggling in some areas of their life, to look for the areas they are excelling in. It is also important we remind them of their successes in said areas and how proud we are of them. A lot of exceptional kids with anxiety don’t have a lot of confidence in themselves. The lack of confidence does not only come out in crying, panic attacks, but sometimes as rudeness or anger. They feel they have to control everything, and if one thing goes out of whack, their world goes out of whack for a time being. If we as parents show them their strengths and praise them for it acknowledging how far they’ve come, this will help them go a long way towards learning to love themselves.

Michael, being a Jekyl and Hide Kid, is one way at home and one way in society. He does very well in society, managing his emotions well, but at home will unleash in anger and frustration or anxiety. My heart breaks for him, as I know he is still developing the tools to cope with his emotions while handling puberty in a brain that is not mainstream and with Type 1 Diabetes. He does a great job most of the time, and when he messes up, it’s getting him to learn from the experience and move forward. What has impressed me, is that even when he loses himself in anger or frustration momentarily, he is able to circle back and see where he went wrong. He is learning his triggers, both what over excites and over frustrates him, and he is learning how his health affects his overall attitude at home and in society.

I for one am just trying to give him as much control as possible in decision making, and be there if he needs me to steer him in a better direction. But when I see him out in the world, I see a calm, steady young man who is learning who he is and what he wants. This gives me great hope that he will master this quality at home, and see that he can handle the emotional ups and downs of life without pushing things down. Of course, there are still boundaries. That is important for all children in order to grow in a healthy manner.

Exceptional Parents, what moments of pride do you have when you look at your Exceptional Children? Just remember, remind them of their successes. Put it on a sheet of paper if necessary. When it is writing, as they say it is a permanent reminder of where they are and where they are going. Until next time.

Needing To Be Seen-How To Recognize Your Exceptional Child’s Desire To Be Loved

Today while cleaning up some of Michael’s school paperwork, I came across two things that struck me deep to the core. One of them was a piece of school work where Michael described his fear of a situation, and how once he conquered it with my help, he felt better about it and himself. The second one was a letter I had made him write to the coordinator of a swim program he was in a while ago after he had had a meltdown and we’d had to leave without him having his swim lesson that one time.  It had been an embarrassing afternoon for him and I, and though I wished I’d handled it better when in the locker room, I was proud that I’d at least made him write an apology letter. He had misplaced the letter, and had instead apologized in person at the next lesson, but seeing the evidence over three years later brought tears to my eyes. Michael had come so far since then in understanding himself, and in understanding others. And even back then, he tried so hard. He is a child that never gives up on himself, and this reminds me to never give up on him.

It was great for me to see his growth both in school and with me, through coming across these documents. Sometimes, time seems to stand still and I wonder if Michael is understanding the world better around him. Sometimes I wonder if I too am learning from my mistakes. Both these sheets of paper also helped me see that while my child is learning about the world around him, I too am seeing the mother and person I used to be and the fears I had, and changing those fears into being more proactive and using gentle self-talk where I learn from my mistakes. Yes, I still have moments when I slip up as a Mom. Don’t we all, Moms? Michael has moments when he slips up too, as do all children. Sometimes he will endearingly say, “oops, that was wrong.” Other times it takes time before he learns. He’ll ask for help. Then, there are the times he takes control of the wheel of his life, and boom he’s off learning to be more independent, resilient and positive.

I have those moments too. I am not that Mom I was three years ago. I have learned from the mistakes she made. I also send her hugs and healing energy for the anger and impatience and times she felt she was not strong enough to handle a spirited, neuro diverse kid who did not see the world like her and never would. That’s a good thing. He has taught her to heal the part of herself that she thought was wrong, weak and different in a bad way. They were not and are not, of course! None of these things were true. This Mom though still has moments when she needs to retreat and regroup, just as her son does. That’s ok. She’s human. She learns. She heals. She grows. What I have learned from my old Mom self is that compassion and forgiveness of myself and others go hand in hand. I have also learned not to take things and people too seriously. We all have moments we wish we could take back. Instead, we need to learn from them and grow.

Exceptional Parents, do you sometimes forget to recognize your Exceptional Child’s accomplishments in the midst of navigating helping them through their weak areas? It is normal to tackle and prioritize the difficult areas first. As long as we eventually return to a balanced look at our child, what they are doing right, and what they are having difficulty with, we are seeing the whole child equally, and can then help them be the best they can be. Until next time.

Different Environment, Different Exceptional Child-Where Is The Real One?

Tonight while looking for something else in my email I came across a summary report of Michael’s progress in a group he participated in run by some OT students at his school. There were things in there  I clearly agreed with and those that surprised me, as I have seen Michael surpass so many obstacles since the writing of this report. It was hard to read those parts, for though I believed that he did demonstrate those weaknesses in a therapy group setting, the report was probably written a few months ago. He is now on a better medication to help with his ADHD, and he has grown up a lot this summer.

Michael is also one way at school, and another way at home. At school he will push down his anger and not lash out. At home he does not hold back. At school, he will follow the class routine, at home we would have huge fights about this and sometimes still do, though I have to say it is getting better. Why? I am learning to see that Michael is not the kid we see at school nor the kid he is at home. He falls somewhere in between, and finding out who he really is and understanding how his brain works is a wonderful labyrinth that I have to have the patience to figure out. We compromise on certain things with him and insist he follow a routine on others. This has started working for us at home.

I sometimes feel overwhelmed as a parent as I’m sure all parents are. Am I doing enough to encourage him with activities? Am I making the right decision with medication? Half the activities in this report he no longer has interest in, He is also going through a phase now of not wanting to do sports with me or go to parks. He does like to go on bike rides and take long walks though which makes me happy as he is out in society and exercising. As I mentioned before, he is pulling away from crowds, people, and becoming a little more introverted. We are questioning if the same medicine that has made organizing himself in the am and pm so much better, responsible for socially shy behavior. This  has never been the Michael I knew at home prior to puberty or medication. He always loved people.

As Exceptional Parents, we tend to ask ourselves questions such as those a lot more than many other parents, I think. We worry have we done the right therapies and gotten our child the best support. Have we caused damage to them? How can we bring out our child’s true character if we do not feel we are seeing it already? Sitting here tonight as I write this, I realize there are no easy answers. A child is not a machine. One size does not fit all. I think the answer of who our children are are a mix of what we see and don’t see. We need to go with the flow, help encourage them with a mix of all kinds of activities that they enjoy, and give them a chance to show us their true character as they get older. We need to stop worrying so much. As Moms it is natural though, isn’t it? They will show us what they need, and no matter how many expert people help our child including us, in the end they are the people who know themselves best and they will know what they need.

Exceptional Parents, do you ever feel frustrated trying to help figure out who your Exceptional Child is? Take a deep breath. Time will show you. As long as you believe in them, they will learn to believe in themselves too. Then, you will see them bloom in the world. Until next time.

Helping Your Exceptional Child Take The Next Step Towards Independence- Why Pushing A Little Goes A Long Way

As I sat by on Saturday watching Michael do his  diabetes injections completely by himself, I have to admit after giving Michael a high ten, I silently thanked God that we had all arrived at the same place, trusting Michael to take on this big responsibility. In fairness, Michael has wanted to  do his own injections for about a year now, but due to some lingering behavior issues and past questionable treatment of the injection equipment, Dad and I told him that we were not ready to show him until he showed us more maturity in handling his anger and outbursts. Well, things are not one hundred percent perfect, but Michael has come a long way in handling his anger. I sat down with Dad one night about two weeks ago, and we decided he had earned the right to be trusted with medical equipment. After all, we have started trusting him to be left alone at home for short periods of time. He has been taking his own sugar for over a year too. It was time for this next step. And as usual, Michael did not disappoint when trust was placed in him. He never has.

It’s a tough decision for an exceptional parent-learning when your exceptional child is ready to take that leap forward. If you wait for the ‘perfect’ moment, it will never come. It’s like waiting for the perfect moment to do something big for yourself. You will always make excuses unless you take a leap of faith. Listening to your parenting gut, trusting that your child understands what they are taking on and the responsibility of whatever you are asking them to do, as well as a balance of you being available to jump in and encourage them if they get scared. There is never shame in that, whether you are a child or adult. If we had waited until all Michael’s behavior challenges were solved before moving forward, he would have lost out on an opportunity to see his maturity in that area. We also would have lost an opportunity to see more of  Michael’s strengths. I have our Educator to thank for giving me gentle nudges as well. I see how smart, competent and capable Michael is, but sometimes my old worries of pushing him out of his comfort zone would stop me from acting.

I was not totally wrong. Michael carries A LOT of anxiety and then navigating that with his anger issues become significant challenges for all of us. But if as parents and therapists we only get stuck on what is wrong and not on what  could go right, that negative mindset will transmit to your child. Michael’s Educator reminded us of not only rewarding the positive, but understanding that Michael wanted, like any tween, to be treated more maturely as he was growing up. Instead of always having power battles with a growing teenager, we could, in small doses, give him a little more control over his life so he could see where good choices led.

As Michael has gotten older, I have started pushing him a little more in all areas past his comfort zone. I have picked my battles of course, keeping in mind that Michael can advocate for himself what is too much and what with help, he can grow comfortable around. So far, this formula has started working, especially as he has asked for more independence and trust. Now I tell him, you need to show you are trying your best to manage your emotions. When we see that, we give a little more trust to trying out new things. The diabetes injections are just one of many things we have given over to Michael as he has increasingly started taking responsibility for himself and his actions, positive and negative. The other day he made a bad choice in what he said. Immediately he asked me, “Help me. I need help controlling what I say.” I told him we were getting him more help and that he would learn. We believe in him.

Exceptional Parents, how comfortable are you pushing your Exceptional Child past their comfort zone? It’s not always easy, and of course you have to take it slowly and proceed according to where your child’s development is. Never let anyone push you or your child past what you feel they are capable of. But, don’t ever forget to have full faith that if your child is showing most of the signs that they are ready to take on something big, you give them the chance to shine. Until next time.

Understanding Your Child’s Stim As Necessary Healthy Self-Regulation

It has taken me a long time to make peace with Michael’s stimming. I finally did about three years ago. Like many parents who were told their child was autistic, after being told what we had to do to “fix” it, the next thing was how to normalize their outside behavior, ie. stimming in order to fit in better in society.  As I came to understand that autism is not something to be fixed, my child is not broken but beautiful in another way,  I also began to see that though stimming made me nervous and maybe some other neuro typical people nervous around us due to not understanding it, this was something necessary for autistic people like Michael to do and they each had their own unique way to do it. Neuro typical people stim too, by the way. We just don’t think of it as stimming as it is no ingrained in our popular culture. Playing with hair, bouncing a leg up and down under the table, flicking a pen open and closed are just some examples. Autistic people’s stims though involve things that are unusual for many neuro typical people to understand; rocking, clapping repeatedly, vocalizing with certain words, spinning. The thing is though, that for them it is a way to regulate in a way that calms their body and mind. A lot of stimming is usually done when they are excited or overwhelmed in a busy environment. It’s necessary for their mental health to do this and we all need to understand this.

Some children with autism are sensory seeking like Michael. He LOVES to do long walks in traffic then sit down and watch the cars going by while rocking. Sometimes he will stand and do it. He also loves to rock and clap to his favorite music. I have learned over the years to let him stim whenever he needed to as I see how this has helped him de-compress. Sometimes he tunes me out as I would tune people out during a walk or drive, but usually he can focus just fine on what I am saying. I’ve had to overcome my fear over the years that Michael’s stimming would get him noticed as being different, and then my next questions was, “why is that a bad thing?” The answer back was because I did not want him laughed at or thought of as weird. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized what is beautiful about Michael IS his difference, his difference in how he relates to the world, how he takes information in and talks about it. His autism is part of who he is, and I don’t want him fitting himself into a box he is not meant to be in. I want him being proud to be autistic, proud of how his brain works. The world also needs to start recognizing that difference is not to be feared. It is to be celebrated.

I realized that the issues around stimming were my issues. As I got over them, I now embrace Michael’s stimming and all autistic stimming as something I may not always understand, but should I be privileged enough, maybe one day it will be explained to me by an autistic person why they stim in a particular way. I’ve already had some conversations with Michael about this. I loved his answers. And the first time I heard about adult autistic stim parties and told Michael about it, I remember how his face lit up and he said, “Wow. A party where people with autism get together to stim. Cool.” I wanted him to know that when the world gets too much for him, there are people who think like him and have fun by stimming for as long as they need to.

Exceptional Parents, where are you on your journey towards understanding your autistic child’s stimming? It’s not an easy road, and the fact that they are different than you will always be a challenge on some level of communication. Remember however, it is important that they are comfortable in their own skin, physically and mentally as it is for any child. Encourage them to be themselves. If they do not have special needs friends, reach out to others who also have autism so your child sees that there are others like them.  It’s great to have neuro typical friends too, but your child needs to know they are not alone. On your journey as a neuro typical parent, also don’t forget to look for adult autistic mentors for your child who will know your child in ways you will not. I am at that stage now, and it is a privilege to listen to these individuals talk about their childhoods, adolescence and adulthood and say, wow they get my kid because in some ways they are him! They will be your child’s guide and yours to the world of autism and all its wonder. Until next time.