Category: child development

Tools To Get On The Same Emotional Page As Your Exceptional Child

So Michael has been having some social fears this summer. He will go to crowded places for brief periods of time, had no trouble at summer camp where he knows people, but is feeling a little overwhelmed going places with me and Dad. I agree with our Educator that I think he is just so much more aware of everyone and everything around him, and due to difficulty with understanding some social cues, I think he would rather stay away from people than make a mistake socializing. I wish I could say that I have been more understanding with this. It’s not that I have not been understanding, but lately his tween anger, rude comments and  adolescent posturing combined with the anxiety, has made me feel a little overwhelmed. Some days are easier than others, and I always try and see the gifts Michael has, but I don’t always shine anymore than Michael does. We do our best to regroup and start again.

Don’t get me wrong. We still have good moments. He has come so far in independence with organizing himself, managing his diabetes and of course, his amazing ability to navigate any street or area in our city. The most fun is having him direct me around town as I have zero sense of direction.  He is starting to try and learn other cities now! Still, it occurred to me today when Michael expressed frustration that I don’t listen to him and that is why he gets mad and I echoed the same sentiments, that we needed to sit down and look at new tools to work collaboratively as a family. Here are the ones I am putting in place:

1) Make lists of things you want to fix together The trick to making these lists is that both you AND your child sit down together and write what improvements each of you could make so that communication gets easier.

2) Praise the good efforts they are making even if there are still mistakes: Michael had been feeling that even when he messes up the times he doesn’t do not get praised. I was actually feeling underappreciated myself in this area as well. After having a few fights this week, we each took time apart and then made a deal to look for the good in each other. We also both told the other one we like spending time together, just need to improve how we communicate.

3) Remember your child is having a harder time than you: Sigh. This has been tough for me. Most summers it is as I have Michael 24/7 a lot more than during the school year and he is not in routine the same way as in school. Still, even during a rough patch earlier today, I reminded myself that as overwhelmed as I am with Michael in puberty, with his unique brain and diabetes, for him this is all way more stressful to handle. Compassion for your child needs to come first. Then for yourself.

4) Tell them you love them even if they don’t say it back: Yep. Mine is too cool to say I love you and does not want hugs. I get “I like you” and high fives, tens or twenties. It’s ok and I know normal for a lot of kids in puberty to do this. The fact that he says he wants to spend time with me, is discouraged when I am upset, and does silly inappropriate things to get my attention, show me I matter to him. I am starting to say I love you more often and not go to bed mad. I also remind him I am always there to talk about things whenever he needs me.

5) Take care of yourself and tell them why you are doing it: Make sure your child sees you doing things that make you happy. When Michael asks me “why are you going outside again?” He is upset that I am not in the same room as him, but I explain that being in the yard is my time to recharge, unwind, be creative and occasionally let out big emotions. When I come back in, I am calmer and able to handle things better with him. Then we have time together.

Exceptional Parents, what tools do you use to handle the ups and downs of life with your Exceptional Child? As long as what you use works for the two of you, the formula is correct. Remember, they need to feel as listened to as you do. They need to know you respect them, love them no matter what unconditionally,  and that you will never give up on them.  Until next time.

 

 

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When Your Exceptional Tween Reaches Out-How To Meet Them Halfway

Puberty has been challenging for Michael. I have said this before. He is dealing with a lot of different emotions and feelings and having to learn to self-regulate and practice impulse control. Thankfully aggressive behavior overall is going down, and even anxiety. He is recognizing his strengths and giving himself credit. Dad and I are working on reminding him of that. He is also recognizing his limitations and asking for help. What I am impressed about and very proud of him for, however, is that he is willing to meet us halfway now. Yes, we are compromising as parents and child. This is mandatory when your child has ADHD or a different kind of brain  with lots of other challenges, as from the beginning, they see obstacles and the world in general in another way than you do.

Where am I seeing compromise? Michael understands we make the rules for his general well-being, and if he wants to stay up later, do a fun activity longer, he checks with us.  He also will give different ideas concerning controlling anger and if they don’t work, go looking for what else he can try. He is trying to learn how to get out there socially in an appropriate way, AND communicating how he feels about his relationship with us. The other day he got upset when I was heading downstairs to write;

“Mommy, can you stay upstairs until I go to bed and go write downstairs after? Can you stay in the same room with Daddy and I. You can write here or read, right?”
“I can, but you’re listening to music with your headphones anyway.  Does it really matter?”
“Yes. If you stay here with Daddy and I (Dad also had headphones on watching his videos). I know we are a family.”

“We’re a family wherever we sit Michael. We do lots of things as a family.”
“But I miss you.”
My heart swelled with love. He may not want hugs and kisses from me, but he wanted my presence. He wanted the security of us all in the room together even if we were doing different things. My big boy cares and wants to bond with us still. Lately he has also been sharing more confidences with me, and a biggie everyone, he has been confessing things he did wrong, opening up by saying; “I don’t want to lie to you Mommy.” I am so proud of how he is growing up. Dad and I tell him that. Other than his points rewards system for drives, we are also watching his behavior and seeing that he can be left alone for short periods of time now. We are looking into letting him go on bike rides and walks (short) on his own. I think he sees the trust we are putting in him and he is finally seeing he can put that trust back in himself.

So what have I learned from meeting my exceptional tween halfway?

1) Write out a list of expectations (both of you): It’s important that both parent and child know where each stands.

2) Keep the lines of communication open by BEING physically and emotionally available for your child:  Ask about their day, find opportunities to talk and stay nearby. You’ll never know when you’ll be missed otherwise.

3) Compromise on things like bedtime and rewards but makes sure it works both ways: Don’t be such a stickler for the rules. Pick your battles with your child, but remember, have a consequence for either of you if you step out of line, and learn from the rough times as much as from the good ones.

4) Remember your child’s limits: This is hard when they are in heavy negotiations and you think that your child can’t be limited in self-control or learning, but they are. Their very different brain does not work like yours so misunderstandings will occur if things are not clearly outlined.

5)Love your child through it all: This one sounds obvious, but too many times we are frazzled and frustrated and forget that our child is struggling even when they are angry and yelling at us. It’s important after they calm themselves down and you do the same, that you show and tell them you love them always. They need to know they are accepted for who they are.

Exceptional Parents, how have you met your Exceptional Child halfway? What has been the result? I’m sure you both came out winners. It’s important to remember we all have bad days or weeks. We need as parents to teach our children how mistakes, fears and hurts help us learn. And then show them, through our example, how it is done. Until next time.

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.

 

 

 

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.

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.

Enjoying Every Stage of Your Exceptional Child’s Development

As I sit and write this post I am both happy and sad. Happy that Michael is deep in puberty and pushing away from Dad and I as any normal tween almost teen would do. He is asking to do more things alone and for more independence which is a good thing. Then there are the surly comments, the sighs when Mom or Dad ignore him, all part of the program too. I laugh these off. While I didn’t expect all of this to be occurring before 13 years old, I also did not expect to be missing some of the things I used to be annoyed about- taking him to three different parks a day, having to supervise him and listen at the “Look Mommy” every three seconds, and doing things alone this year that last year he couldn’t wait to do like walking up the street at the park on the track only breaking for Michael to go running into the splash pad. We had to stay till the park pretty much was deserted at  9 pm.

This year, he will occasionally come to the park for a walk with me, but is too old for the splash pad. It’s understandable on both fronts, but as I walked the track myself tonight enjoying the fact I could go around as many times as I wanted to and not have to sit with all the noisy kids at the splash pad, I felt strangely sad. That phase of Michael’s life is over and we have moved into the next phase. I wasn’t ready, but it happened. Did I enjoy him enough at that age? I think I did and now I must let go. The same thing happened at other ages as he outgrew toddler hood the little boyhood, but with those I do not remember being anything but happy. A friend of mine used to tell me how sad she was that her baby was growing up. I couldn’t relate to that. As much as I enjoyed many moments in baby and toddler hood, there was more stressful moments, sleepless nights, and of course, Michael’s diagnosis, so I was glad to be moving forward to better communication, toilet training and other things. But now I actually am starting to see it, the growing up phase, with all the pros and cons, and reminding myself that it is normal to feel loss, but that life goes on.

It’s important to love and appreciate your child at every stage, spend time with them doing quality things, whatever matters to them at that particular age. Though he is not all cutesy cuddly anymore, he still wants to share things with me, spend time with me doing walks and bike rides, and cares about what I think. In some ways this age needs you more than ever to set the stage for how they will handle themselves as adults. I am ready and proud of Michael. For all the areas of struggle, he has made so many more surges forward into independence. I reminded myself that tonight after a busy day at his sports camp he chose to chill out with his music and videos as he deserved too. Enjoy and respect every age and you won’t have regrets as a parent.

Exceptional Parents, how do you handle the ups and downs of your Exceptional Child’s growth? Remember, they are on their own curve. Respect that curve, love them, and be there for them as support cheering them on. As long as they know you are in their corner, you can’t go wrong. Until next time.