Author: joannegiacomini

Old Fears New Solutions-How To Remind Your Exceptional Child That They Can Solve Problems

So the other day Michael was feeling emotionally stuck. I was not only able to tell by his body language, but he also told me, “Mommy, remember that fear I had last year of watching certain videos? It’s coming back. The strategies I used last year to help are not working.”
Once again I was filled with such pride and amazement at how Michael has learned to grasp emotional concepts, and how he is learning, through some great CBT type strategies that we have both learned through therapists both in person and through books and videos, to apply these ways of understanding the world in his own way. with his own brain. It’s not easy to rewire your brain at any age, and kids who start off with different brains right away have another way of viewing things. We have to start with their way of viewing the world and go from there.

I and Michael have been lucky to find therapists who get his “out of the box” thinking, and are not trying to get him to conform to a particular way of seeing the world. That is how it should be for our kids, but isn’t always. And when Michael gets nervous he can’t handle his anxiety and stress, I remind him of the tools that worked in the past, and if they are not working, what else we can try. Most importantly though, is the reminder to him that if he faced one fear he can face others.

“Michael, remember how scared you were last year and how far you’ve come. You know what you tried and what worked. If that no longer works, let’s see what can. What are your ideas?”

We talked about different things he could do. Michael spoke about how he could ask his Educator for tips, his therapy team at school, and asked me what I do when I’m scared. I told him. The thing is, as parents ,we have to empower our kids that they can solve their own problems and find solutions. The difficulty lies when the solution is not clear cut and simple and means troubleshooting various areas. That is why as a parent, you need to be armed with three things:

1) Knowing what makes your child tick

2) Trusting in your child’s ability to do better if they know better

3) Immersing yourself in how THEIR brain works by reading books, articles,  watching videos by neuro diverse people who have the insider view on the autistic brain.

The hard part after this is getting your child to trust in themselves and their ability to use their very unique brain to solve problems. As they get more confident it will come, but remember, they need you in their corner cheering them on. Eventually, they will learn to be their own cheering section.

Exceptional Parents, how have you redirected your Exceptional Children to see old problems in new ways? Remember, as long as you use the 3 points above, they will be true to themselves and find what works for them. Love and being patient with themselves will help see them through. Until next time.

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Conquering Your Own Fears To Help Your Exceptional Child Conquer Theirs

Last week as I was driving in Michael’s school supplies taking a new route to his school with the GPS, I was reminded by my nervousness of one of my issues- my fear over my bad sense of direction. Michael had been challenging me all summer to go on drives with him to new places navigating me there correctly the majority of the time. It was nerve wracking, but an incredibly eye opening experience, both in pride seeing how amazing his sense of direction is and how I can conquer things that scare me when I put my mind to it.

You see, I am not someone blessed with a good sense of direction as I’ve alluded to in other blog posts, so this was a challenge to me. Even last Thursday alone in the car with no one judging my turns and directions, I was worried not about getting lost, but about handling the stress of doing something new. Wow. I was scared about breaking out of routine. Just like Michael.  But I did it and it felt great! I had Michael to thank for it.

My stress was about taking a new way to Michael’s school. Michael’s stress this summer stemmed from being around large groups of people and in noisier environments. I did my best to encourage small steps and he accomplished that, but not until Thursday morning did I fully understand how Michael felt. I had an AHA Moment. If this is how Michael feels when I am encouraging him to try something new, it really is a little on the terrifying side. What helped me do it? Well, it was the saying that I kept telling him all these years- you can’t be afraid to try something new. It’s important to use strategies to handle the stress, and then you’ll be amazed at what you can accomplish. Well, I took my own words to heart that morning and was proud of my little risk that ended well of course.

I rode through the anxiety and came out stronger. It got me thinking that if I now approached Michael’s sense of anxiety the same way I approached mine, I’d be a little more sympathetic and hopefully be able to offer more support towards his anxiety. Especially after handling something hard for me I could tell Michael I knew how he felt and commiserate better.

I also realized I could tell Michael, how about I face one of my direction fears if you face one of your people fears? In time, we would both be overjoyed at having faced our difficulties, and not only survived but thrived through the tougher moments. I once again had renewed sympathy and amazement at all the times Michael has pushed through the fear and come out a winner. He learned to walk, communicate, ride a bike, swim, handle diabetes, and all sorts of things in between. He is a hero because he didn’t give up all those times, and I am a hero and a role model for him during the moments I don’t give up and keep moving forward. I realized last week it is important the two of us never give up on each other and keep trying.

Exceptional Parents, how do you handle fear and stressful events? I hope you face it head on and set that positive example for your Exceptional Child. If you don’t, that’s ok. You’re human. We all have times we’ve backed off and maybe it was for the best, as we weren’t ready body, mind and spirit. Think about changing that mindset in the future though, because if your child sees you facing your fears head on they will be more apt to face theirs and come out the winner. Until next time.

Remembering Back, Looking Forward-How Our Exceptional Kids Teach Us About Resilience

Two years ago. Two years ago today I was in the emergency room of our local children’s hospital listening to one of the doctors telling me that he was pretty sure Michael had Type 1 Diabetes. They were running blood tests while Michael was hooked up to IV’s which were hydrating him. I stared disbelievingly at the doctor and heard my voice saying out loud;

“That’s good you want to rule that out. I don’t think it’s that. It’s probably something with his appendix.”

Denial is strong when we are frightened and don’t know the symptoms of a illness or disease. Dad and I did not know that with diabetes kids lose weight, drink a lot more, are tired. Michael was all of the above that summer, and I blamed it on a very tough year with intense behaviors at home. I did not know the signs.  Of course not even five minutes later the tests came back positive for Type 1 Diabetes. Dad and I were in shock. How was this possible? No one in our families had it. Would our little boy be ok? How would we handle this and his other challenges? How would Michael handle all of this?

As always, Michael surprised us. I remember thinking this poor kid who hated needles and loved to eat would now have to have four needle injections a day and he would have to learn to carb count all the carbohydrates in all the foods he ate in a day. He not only mastered taking his blood sugar and now giving himself needles, but he has learned how to manage his food intake. I don’t know why I was surprised. He was a fighter from the womb, and once out of the womb he continued amazing me. Still, I thought this would be enough for me to handle, a neuro typical woman who hated the idea of needles too. Michael took to everything with an ease even I didn’t have right away. He was and is my hero.

Two years ago today as Dad and I watched our little boy hooked up to so many wires to rebuild his body which had been shutting down, we both prayed and thanked God we got him to the hospital on time. I read everything I could find on Type 1 Diabetes, the same thing I did with autism and ADHD. We saw so many doctors, nurses, and a social worker who informed us about diabetes. We got articles, training and little breaks where we were told to go get a coffee as Michael healed. I remember thinking, how will we get through this as a family? How will we help Michael move forward? My joy was the day he asked to eat. I knew he was getting better.

We were trained on how to do the injections, and then sent home. That first year was all about trial and error as we all learned to put diabetes around our life, not the other way around, as our endochrinologist told us. I remember Michael taking so naturally to testing his blood sugar. I remember Michael remembering to take his supplies everywhere we went. We took sugar and did injections in parks, malls, restaurants, and at people’s houses. He would look at us and say, “This is not hard. It’s ok.” I was and am constantly amazed by his good-natured calm approach to his diabetes. Yes, there were the times my heart broke, like when he said he wishes he could eat unlimited quantities of things like his friends who don’t have diabetes. He wishes he didn’t have to worry about sugars and carbs. But, he always ended the conversations with, “this is not so bad.”

I don’t know where he got that resilience. Sure, Dad and I have taught him not to give up and to keep trying, but I firmly believe he was a fighter from utero onward. He has always been easy going, friendly and willing to try again. Each day I learn more about strength, resilience and positivity from Michael than I do from anyone else. He is my star and even when he drives me crazy which he frequently does now as a tween, 😉  I love the life lessons he teaches me and makes me realize I still need to learn. A chronic condition is not the end of life. It is a new way to live life, and it is the way we view it that determines how successful we will be in managing our quality of life.

Exceptional Parents, when have your Exceptional Children showed you their resilience and reminded you to never stop believing in yourself? Most of them show us this every day in how they tackles obstacles, stress, and the world around them. When you catch yourself losing patience with your child, remember. They are here to teach you as much as you are here to teach them. Until next time.

How To Help Your Exceptional Child Cope With New School Year Jitters

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Tomorrow is the the first day of school for Michael. Like every other year, he is nervous. It doesn’t matter that he knows his teacher’s name, the room number, knows some of the friends in the class, as well as the fact that he has been going to this school since he was little. The first day of school is like the first day of anything for Michael, hard and a little terrifying and it takes some getting used to it before he sails through it like the champion he is!

When he was little there was crying and anxiety type behaviors like hiding behind me the morning of school waiting for the bus. Now that he is older there is talk of not wanting to go to school, being nervous, and acting out with silly behaviors, outrageous and below age level.  Way below. He seems to settle back into twelve year old status though when he gets it out of his system, but the anxiety response starts things off. It is easier now that we can talk things through and I can reason with him reminding him how he tackled last year’s stress and came out a winner. He believes me, but the nerves are there. Still, we are making progress.

We saw Michael’s Educator today and she had lots of great things to say about Michael’s progress. As usual, she also gave us tools to use as a family and for Michael to use. We talked about the ups and downs of summer, and it was great to see Michael doing most of the talking to her. He is learning how to express himself more and more, and I am taking a backseat. I hear how he is starting to understand himself, and the next step will be learning how to advocate for himself not using his challenges as an excuse, but as a way that he views life differently and needs to understand how others see things differently too. I was proud of him as I have been a lot lately, the young man he is becoming, the child struggling to learn new ways of coping, and the human being that wants to be understood, be loved and understand what is happening around him.

Advice I can give to all parents with exceptional kids starting back at school is this; Love them. Listen to them. Prepare for changes in advance. Be ready for last minute meltdowns which may look like silliness, aggression or unpredictable behavior. These are all signs of a child struggling to put together change and what that means. It is up to us, the adults, the caregivers, to offer calm, predictable advice, not overwhelm them, and make sure they are ready to face things one step at a time.  They and you will survive. 😉 Until next time.

 

 

 

 

 

Celebrating Progress While Working On Obstacles-How To Help Your Exceptional Child Have A Growth Mindset

I have been so proud of Michael’s independence over the last month. He has learned how to handle himself on walks and bike rides alone. He is learning more about managing his diabetes. He now has his own phone line in order to call us if he will be late or in an emergency. He called three times so far, to tell us that he would be a little late coming home once, and another time to ask Dad and I a question during the day. He also has data and is not abusing it.  Finally, today was a big day in our house. Michael got his own key to the front door! I have noticed how he is keeping better track of his things, and is ready for the responsibility of letting himself into the house should he come home from school before I get home from work. He has done some dry runs with me in letting himself in. The next step is I will be away at a store and he will need to call me. We will be practicing that later this week and next.

These have been the victories. There have also been challenges. Controlling his anxiety and angry outbursts, mostly verbal but occasionally physical ones, have been harder. The good thing is that these episodes have been getting shorter-lived and he gains control of himself faster. There has been awareness too of him messing up and he is doing reparations. It’s not easy for either of us when this happens, but I remind myself of the progress and remind Michael too. Dad and I encourage that, stay calm when there are the difficult moments, and so far we are all moving into a better place because of it.

It is sometimes easier to get caught up in the negatives, and not look for how far your child has come. Some weeks there are more negative events than positive ones and it is hard to stay calm. Just remember, every experience your child has, good or bad, is an experience where they can learn what to keep repeating or else what to avoid doing in the future. The same goes for you, their parent and caregiver.

Exceptional Parents, how do you handle the up and down moments or days with your Exceptional Child? Do you take the attitude that things are not happening to you or them but FOR you or them? If not, it’s time now to start. Once you see how having a growth mindset for yourself and your child will help you both move towards improving rough areas in your family, things will start to get better. Until next time.

Independence At The Least Likely Time-How To Balance Keeping Boundaries While Letting Your Exceptional Child Run Free

“I don’t want to go for a walk with you Mom. Maybe another day. I like my alone walks. Thanks.”

“Ok Michael, but remember to take your supplies, have your phone on, and remember to be home in an hour.”
“Ok. Bye. See you later!
“Have fun!”

“Thanks!”

This has pretty much been the drill for the last week. Michael has been going on long walks all by himself on the small streets, handling everything and getting home on time. In order to keep better track of him, Dad got him a phone where he can call us and he can be tracked by us so we know where he is. He is delivering on his promise to be home on time and stay safe. We allow  him solo bike rides as well now as he has demonstrated he can do it.

One part of me is overjoyed. My boy is growing up and does not need me as much anymore. Busy streets he will still go with me for a couple more years. He accepts this, but for now he is treasuring his independence and prefers to go alone. I don’t blame him. The other part of me misses our time talking during the walks. He is eager to still talk to me at home and do drives, but I loved sharing my love of fitness with him and have missed this during this week while enjoying the freedom it gave me to relax, catch up on work, or write.

What is it about the path that our children take when they are not children but yet not adults either? I am both overjoyed and fearful at the same time. I never knew if Michael would engage in this type of adolescent behavior. It’s hard to gauge with an exceptional tween/teen where they fall in the puberty/growing up department. It could be anywhere. I am glad to be having this trouble as I know a lot of parents of exceptional kid are wishing for things like this, but it is challenging as Michael may think he needs less limits as he is growing up, but due to still having difficulty with certain social cues and body language, there are still things I need to adapt for him and protect him from.

Walking the fine line between childhood and adolescence. This is where exceptional tween Michael falls and his parents fall with him. It is far from easy. I can’t baby this Michael. I am told frequently to stop nagging, stop treating him like a baby. Then when I do try to give him space to do his own thing, he will say, “why are you outside so much? stay here with me.” I have talked to him about boundaries, alone time and time spent together. I have shown through example how I will always make time for him and put my other things aside to listen. However, I also need downtime, time alone, to decompress, like him. More and more he has been respecting this. He asked the other day if I had had time to do my yoga. He was concerned I hadn’t.

As a parent, balancing being there with stepping back is a challenge. Still, the important thing to remember is to go with your child’s cues. If they need you and they are in the childhood part of their tween hood, be there for them. If they want more independence to show you they can handle things, give them space. Always have rules for them though. You are the parent, and they need to know that you are in charge of keeping them safe while they find their footing.

Exceptional Parents, how are you faring in finding the balance between letting your child be independent and putting in normal childhood boundaries? Remember, they need a bit of both to grow up healthy. Judge for yourself whatever stage they are at, what they need more, and go easy on yourself if your family hits a snag. Remember, you can work it out as you go along if your child feels your love for them. That is all that matters in the end. Until next time.

Exceptional Family Vacations-Changes In Going With The Flow

We are midway through our family vacation this year. Due to many circumstances, it looks a lot different than it has in other years. This has been an adjustment for all of us, and though we have had our moments of stress, we have also learned a lot about compromise, together and alone time, and working together. What I have enjoyed is the unpredictability of some of our activities and how that has shaped how we handle ourselves and the other family members. Sometimes I have been the one saying to chill and go with the flow. Sometimes Dad or Michael have been reminding me of the same things. Either way, things have somehow managed to work out for everybody in the end, even if getting there was not easy.

Michael has continued to amaze me with what he does and does not tolerate. As he tells me, this is not the old Michael.  LOL. He is liking to do a lot more things away from crowds this summer, and his love of driving around has taken on new dimensions. We’ve pretty much had a family drive-a-thon to new areas, eating out lunch, and exploring that way. On the home front, Michael is also exploring more of our neighborhood by foot. This is both exciting and has taken Dad and I some getting used to.

As I mentioned before in the past, family stay or vacation must be a compromise that all the members can live with. Everyone must have preferred activities that other members respect. And family members must respect everyone’s personal and emotional space. There is also budget and other health issues to consider. In the end, as long as every member in the family is getting something positive out of the vacation and enjoying each other’s company for the most part, you are doing ok. Things to ask yourself and your family: what would be your favorite things to do on family vacation? where would you like to go? what are the family’s health restrictions? What are the family’s budget constraints? how will you be traveling or getting around?

Once everyone can answer the above questions, you can start playing a vacation or stay cation that works for everyone. And remember, just because it is a stay cation, you can still have fun. Order in more often or go out to avoid cooking and dishes. Have a family movie in. Check out local beaches or pools. If it’s a vacation, budget for the right hotel and location where everyone is comfortable, has fun activities to do, and can go to get space away from each other. There is no wrong or right way to take a vacation. As long as there is a decrease in your stress level and you have fun experiences alone and with family, you are on the right track.

Exceptional Parents, what does the ideal vacation look like for you? Remember, it has to accommodate your family and your unique situation. This will probably change yearly or every few years, so evaluate to see what is working and what is not. You’ll know you are on the right track if everyone has some positive memories to share and has learned more about one another spending time together. Until next time.

Remembering To Laugh Through The Drama-How To Survive As An Exceptional Family

This has truly been the summer of laughter and tears. Puberty with an exceptional child can do that to you. Michael has grown up, literally and figuratively, in so many ways this summer I can’t believe it. I am so proud of the young man he is becoming. He is able to go out walking by himself, biking by himself. He is doing his own diabetes injections, and every once in a while when I have a hard time, he is able to remind me to use the strategies I tell him to use. Tonight, once again, he decided to clean his room and get better organized. ON HIS OWN. I am speechless and happy. He went to bed no hassles, wonderful.

Then there are the times during said days when there are raised voices, harsh words spoken, articles thrown across the room and meltdowns happening over seemingly small things. This is hard for Michael. This is hard for us. Once we get through it though, I make sure I have a laugh. We have to parents. If we don’t laugh at the absurdity of different brains misunderstanding each other about trivial things at times, strange family conversations that only another exceptional family would ‘get’ (I know my friends, both virtual and in person  reading this will say, hell ya!), and our own stress levels that sometimes need a release, we’ll be done for.

Parents and caregivers remember this. Our kids are incredible human beings. They have so much to offer. Sometimes their parents, unless similarly gifted can’t get their offspring’s brain, that may more closely resemble Uncle Joe’s or Aunt Patty’s than Mom’s or Dad’s.  Sometimes they do resemble your brain, but you’re not their yet, not quite grasping your own uniqueness. You get the picture. The thing is, you need to laugh with them and teach them to laugh with you. Life is an adventure. Our job as the adults is to help our kids see it.

Exceptional kids are warriors parents, in a world that does not always get them, even when they are driving us nuts.  And even if you and they are lucky to have people around, family, friends, therapists who ‘get it’,  who ‘get’ them, you ‘ll still have moments when you need to say, it’s been a hell of a day. Let’s laugh and celebrate that our kid survived, we survived, and we have people out there rooting for us and looking forward to laughing with us.

What I’ve tried to impart to Michael is that he has his community- his family, his special needs friends and family, our church should he want to come back to it, and his therapists. All of them see his amazing self and want to help him be the best he can be. The rest is up to him. Mom and Dad have to make sure to keep themselves up to par too. And when they are stressed, just laugh about the absurdity of life when different brains clash, different worlds collide, and people are willing to say,  “I need to look at things in another way even if it’s only funny to me and certain other people, even if it’s weird. I need to let loose and maybe in doing so, the world will see, there is not only one way to be.”

Exceptional Parents, do you use humor with your Exceptional Child and family members to handle stresses that exceptional family life can bring up? If not, it’s never too late to start. I know our family will be ok when  I can laugh about strange things that happen and they can too. I know that when I laugh about Michael’s funny anecdotes,  I am also giving myself permission to laugh about my own. We all have our moments, and by accepting ourselves for who we are, we teach our children the same message of patience, love and acceptance. Until next time.

How To Help Your Exceptional Child Child Overcome Their Fears By Overcoming Your Own

The other day after a difficult afternoon with Michael. Once he had calmed down and was ready to talk, something occurred to me. I was also in the process of overcoming my own fears and doubts while Michael was dealing with new puberty ones. Some days were really tough, for both of us, but these were journeys we needed to be on. I also used the experience to help Michael after I realized my experience could be useful to him. On one of our after meltdown chats, I shared some of my fears with Michael.

“Michael, you know you are not the only one who has to handle dealing with fears and facing things that are scary. I am facing things that are scary to me.”

“Really Mommy?”
“Sure. You know you ask me why I am stressed when I am driving to new places. Well, I hate being lost and navigating to new places .That is a fear I am overcoming. My new GPS helps you and you, of course.” I smiled.

Michael did too.

“But you are always so calm when you talk to me and I am screaming. ”
“Yes, I am. I am using my strategies to stay calm.  And when I am scared like I was last week on the road, I really appreciated what you said.”
“What did I say?”
“You said, “Mommy just breathe. Another time I was really upset and told you I needed to be alone. You told me,  I love you. Do you remember?”
“Oh yeah. Now I do.”
“You were using your strategies. See, we both have hard moments and are working on handling fear. But when we use our strategies to handle our fears, we can handle things. Everyone has something they are handling.”
I wanted Michael to know that even with a brain more prone to anxiety and stress, he is not alone in handling stress and fear. We all have to do this. What matters is that we have support from family, friends and good strategies. There is no shame in sharing experiences with others. It’s then we realize we are not alone. Everyone is dealing with something.

Exceptional Parents, how do you help your Exceptional Child handle their fears and normalizing what fear is? Do you share your experience of fear with them? If not, it’s a good idea. Once your child understands they are not alone in having fears or worries, they will see it is normal, and connect with you on a whole new level. Until next time.

Personality Changes In Your Exceptional Child-When To Panic And When To Say It’s Puberty

So I have been feeling worried about Michael. Yes, I am a worrier and prone to anxiety myself. But, I have been seeing a little bit of a personality shift in my tween. He is going from a very extroverted social kid to being a little more withdrawn and not wanting to be in big places doing big things like in the past. The scariest thing at first was how he didn’t want to be around big crowds in stores, parks, beaches, pools. This was not the Michael I have known since infancy, who although would get overwhelmed, loved talking to and socializing with different people. Puberty has brought many changes, and one of them has become a greater awareness of his environment, appropriate and inappropriate things to do, and self-conscious thoughts. Was the medication causing this? Was he depressed? Or was this normal?

I am beginning to think this is part of Michael’s normal adolescence. His awareness of the world around him and the noises, social norms and other things expected of them, has made him a little more self-conscious and shy. I don’t think it is anything to worry about, though I do worry about his retreating socially a bit. A lot of the fights we’ve had lately have been around me saying he can’t let fear push him away from trying new things. He has taken it that I am trying to push him full force into talking something fearful, when I am clarifying with him that no, I don’t mean that. What I want is for him to tackle his fears slowly, break down the worry into small pieces, and then see how he can be successful. I think he is starting to believe me, though we are having hiccups along the way. What parent and tween don’t, right?
I am happy to say that I have seen a great maturity in Michael and how is handling his meltdowns lately. He is learning what he is doing right, and where he needs to improve. He spoke tonight that he stopped himself from throwing something in anger and let out his rage in crying and punching a toy meant to be a release for his anger. I commended him for doing that, though I have to admit it broke my heart to hear him crying. He also said it helps him to have one of us nearby when he is having challenges, both to see him through the tough time, and after when he is calm to talk. I realized this is not a child who is not well. This is a child who is slowly learning about his nervous system and how and what works for him to handle anger and anxiety and reset himself.

Red flags for a child would be complete pulling away from family and friends, complete personality changes social or solitary, and any kind of repeated destructive behavior where lessons were not learned and the intensity of it got worse. I am thankful that this is not the case. In fact, even on the harder days, we are seeing improvement. It just means more resilience is demanded of Dad and I as we need to have the patience and compassion to show Michael we will never give up on him so he does not give up on himself.

Exceptional Parents, have you noticed any personality changes in your Exceptional Child? If so, have you been able to pinpoint if they are in trouble or simply growing up? As always, you need to trust your parenting gut in figuring out what it is they need. If in doubt, get a professional opinion. In most cases though, sooner or later your child will tell you that this is who they are in what they say or do. Then you will know how best to support them from where they are at that moment. Until next time.