Autism Parenting: Active Vs. Reactive

 

Autism parenting: Active vs. Reactive

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As any parent, it is very easy to react to our children with anything they do. A child can get 100% on a test and we praise them; a child can spill a glass of milk and we scold them. When we have a child with behavior problems, such as autism, oppositional defiant disorder, or ADHD, our human nature tends to be more reactive towards their behavior.

When we are reactive towards behaviors, we end up with a lot of raised voices, scolding, and anger. Our children begin to take on these behaviors and react negatively towards anything, such as us asking them to do a chore or get off the iPad.

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I purpose to us parents that we change our thinking, our approach, and our parenting style with our children.  We need to be active in our approach. We need to look forward and predict what will happen.

Here are some suggestions on how to have active parenting:

  • Constantly look for small problems that you can prevent, such as milk being too close to the edge of the table or too close to their hand so they knock it over, excessive screen time in a given day, and overstimulating environments.
  • Instead of giving a negative remark about something, turn it to a positive remark. For example, if they take thirty minutes to get dressed, simply state, “Thanks for getting yourself dressed” and be done with the conversation. Eventually, and only infrequently, you can add, “I really appreciate it when you get dressed in five minutes!”.
  • If an action does happen that you need to react to, calmly in your head count to five first, then use calm words that are quiet and low. You will be surprised how your child reacts to your calm and low voice.stress4
  • Do not verbally unload on them when they are being difficult with behavior.Keep your words very minimal and again, only find the praise. For example, if your child is in a therapy session and had extremely defiant behaviors throughout the session, do not focus on the negative behaviors, but simply say, “It was great that you made it all 50 minutes of your session!”.
  • Be sure the first thing and the last thing your child hears in their day is positive thoughts from you.
  • parents love 1Say and show your child you love them. They may not say and show it back, but you are modeling how this is done. This might be writing a note in their lunch box, helping them make their bed, or just sitting with them and watching their favorite television show. Spend a minimum of 15 solid minutes each day with them where your phone is put away and you are engaged in their world.
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  • You need to model expected behaviors! If you are always being negative towards your child, they will be negative towards you. This also includes modeling expected behavior towards your partner/spouse.
  • Reward your child for positive things they accomplish. Rewards do not always need to be candy, toys, etc. They can be extra time playing a favorite video game (within moderation), staying up 10 minutes late for bedtime, or simply whatever it is that seems to catch their individual attention.

Yes, I know changing your way of parenting is difficult! And I understand people may look at you with scorn because you are not always focusing on the negative behaviors your child is doing. But do what is best for your family! Have an open mind when considering how to change your parenting style.

I encourage parents to sit down with someone who specializes in working with children with behavior problems to really get a good idea on how to approach and parent your child. This may be having a parent coaching session with your child’s counselor or another therapist.

Reach out with questions or thoughts! I enjoy hearing them!

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Jennifer Edwards, LMHC

www.BeautifulAutism.com

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

 

Autism: Focus on the Abilities, Not the Disabilities

Autism: Focus on the Abilities, Not the Disabilities

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As parents of children with Autism, we often hear the negatives of our children. For example, when we attend the IEP meeting, most of the time can often be spent in the aspect of what our child is still not doing and accomplishing yet. Over time we hear the disabilities often enough, or the negative aspects, and we begin to have this negative connotation about our child’s ability. Our outlook on life becomes more negative.

My dear friends, let us gather together and focus on the abilities that our children do have! Autism is such a beautiful thing! The way these individuals think, the way they can see things in life that others cannot, it is such a beautiful and unique outlook. Such an ability to have that others simply struggle with!

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May I please challenge you to find times throughout the week to sit down and meditate on the many abilities that your child does have. Be thankful for those abilities and use them to build character for your child.

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Some parents have told me they struggle to find abilities in their child. This is always heartbreaking for me. I encourage those parents to make a goal each day for two weeks to find one strength, ability, or special thing about their child; at the end of those two weeks you will hopefully have 14 amazing things about your child that you can then focus on!

Share these abilities with your child’s team at school. Use these abilities to strengthen your child’s learning environment, activities, social interaction, etc. Help your child to become a better person because of their ability, not become less because of their disability.

Above all, love your child for who he or she is. We are all made different and uniquely. So let us celebrate all of who we are and emphasize the abilities of what we can do!

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Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Autism: Changing the Parenting Style

Autism: Changing the Parenting Style

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People often ask me what it is like to parent a child with Autism. I usually respond with something along the lines of I think I am more tired, more aware, and it is just different. They ask how it is different, but I usually cannot find the exact words to describe it. It is just different.

The rules of our home are different. If our son has a bad day at school, he usually does not get privileges taken away. If we had the “normal” rule and took privileges away, he would likely never have any privileges.

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We mold our son and constantly work on flexibility. This is something we were trained on by his therapists at Rocky Mountain Autism Center in Denver, CO. Specifically his level of flexibility with objects, activity, and people. As parents, we teach and train our children to do things; they learn the task and move forward. But we tell them how to do it, we instruct them, show them, and then they practice it and master it. For example, washing our hands. We teach this skill at home when they are young. Then our children can do it anywhere there is a sink and soap.

However, with many children that have Autism, this is not the case. We teach them at home- they only will wash their hands at home because that is how they were taught. We create the problem for them; in essence, we as parents have basically set up the situation and now they attribute washing hands at home in that bathroom with that soap.

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So how is our parenting style different? We teach our child to wash his hands in many different sinks. (Yes, this is an analogy) We drive a different way home somedays. We eat at the restaurant he does not like to eat at (when we are done, then he can get a happy meal somewhere). We do not reason with him, as this gives him authority which allows for him to control the situation (we give an inch, he takes a mile idea). And yes, when he is screaming and angry, we let him get it out, as reasoning with him using words only makes it worse.

Am I exhausted? Yes. You better believe when he is asleep, I am asleep. But ultimately we need to do what is best for him. We cannot let him stay in his bubble and become rigid and set in his ways. We cannot adhere to the typical American way of parenting, otherwise our son cannot be successful.

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Sometimes people will not understand; they cannot understand what they do not live and experience. We can explain and model, but it is not our job to make them see things our way. We use our support from friends and loved ones. We stay focused on what really matters, our son. We change what needs to be changed when it needs changing. It truly is a never ending job!

We were not called to be his parents because we were trained already; but we are becoming trained as we go because we were called to be his parents. And such a blessing it is and will forever be!

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Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Autism and Going Back to School: A Must Read for Teachers and Parents

Autism and Going Back to School: A Must Read for Teachers and Parents

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I taught school off and on over eleven years. I am also a parent of a child with Autism. So one could say I clearly understand both sides of the picture when it comes to the beginning of school. It can be complicated, overwhelming, stressful, and yet exciting. The emotions are much more intense for kids with Autism. But the stress of having to face the social norms and functioning once again with peers can be daunting. I would even go as far to say that most higher functioning children with Autism stress more about the socialization aspect of school then other areas, though they may not always realize it or be able to express it.

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Here are some simple tips and reminders to help families and teachers prepare the darlings for going back to school:

  • Remind them weeks and days ahead of time when the first day of school is.
  • Go visit the school and the new teacher and classroom before the first day of school.advocate2
  • Email the new teacher a few days before going back to school. Allow your child to ask some questions, share some concerns, etc.
  • Spend some time playing on the playground before going back to school. This will allow time for your child to relax a bit and readjust back into school.explaining5
  • When you visit the classroom, take pictures of your child sitting in the new desk, with the new teacher, etc. This way you can help prepare your child for going back to school by looking at the pictures and talking about them once you go back home.
  • Read books about going back to school. Write social stories about going back to school. Ask the teacher for a daily schedule ahead of time so you can begin to process it with your child.
  • Find some students in the class that you might recognize or know from previous years that you know has been helpful and positive for your child. Let the teacher know who they are. Also, do not hesitate to express concern over any student who you know can be a trigger for your child.
  • Parents, consider writing a letter to the teacher, explaining who your child is and the “dos and don’ts”.
  • Teachers, consider writing a letter to the student (and family) telling who you are, things you like to do, etc. Make the family feel welcome to your classroom.
  • One of my all-time favorite ideas is to have the teacher within the first few days of school talk to the class about Autism. I usually suggest doing this while your child is out of the room, maybe for speech or something. The teacher can explain briefly what Autism is, how it affects people, and what we can do to help people that have it. If you are comfortable with it, allow the teacher to even tell the students your child has Autism. When I have done this for my son, the school year has been MUCH better socially! The students accept him and understand why he acts the way he does. They go out of their way to help him and understand when they need to back off from him to give him space. It truly makes all the difference in a school year. If your child is old enough, consider having him/her talk to the class about it, or even yourself! If you are the teacher reading this, approach the parents and ask about it. I have done this before and usually get a positive response from parents. Again, I have seen students go from feeling irritated and annoyed with the student, to complete empathy and understanding towards the student.

TEACHERS: Remember these parents are exhausted and very busy! Just like you! So they may not respond quickly to emails or phone calls. Be patient with them and understanding of their situation. We want what is best for our child, but often we need to process it. I sometimes think families that have members with any disability is a culture all of its own. Often teachers struggle to make connections with these families; I think this is likely why. Sometimes just asking the family how you can continue to help and support them makes them feel more appreciated and loved. Continue doing the best you can, get support from teammates, and love on that student!

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Feel free to ask any questions you might have about going back to school. Tis the season! And Good Luck!

Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Autism: Going to Bed Alone

Autism: Going to Bed Alone

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I recently heard somewhere at a training I went to that nearly 80% of individuals with Autism struggle with sleep in some capacity. I feel the parents of my client’s pain when the walk into my office looking like they only got a few hours of sleep the night before, as likely I also only got that much in my home! One common complaint I often hear is the child will not sleep in his/her own bed. I smile and nod, knowing all too well how the scenario looks each evening.

It is 8:00, the hour you dread because you know the fight is coming, and yet your body aches and screams for it because it is exhausted and needs sleep. You get your child ready for bed… teeth are brushed, pajamas are on, story is read. Then the whining and crying begins, all because they do not want to be alone, or they cannot go to sleep without touching some other person. At 11:00 you and the child are still awake, it feels like a nightmare, and you finally give in and just snuggle up to your child for some attempt at a few good hours of sleep, only to be kicked throughout the night and woken at 5:00 to the happy smile of your child ready for the bright day ahead.

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Yep, this is our story too. There are some nights that are successful for our son to go to bed alone. But this is a battle that even at 8 years old we still have to fight. Here are some thoughts we have learned over the years and some that clients have tried with success!

  • Ask your child’s doctor about using something to help your child fall asleep, such as Melatonin. This is a simple, inexpensive over the counter natural product you can find at any pharmacy.
  • Sleep with the bedroom doors open throughout the house until your child relaxes enough to sleep through the night.
  • Try creating a “brave shelf” in the bedroom. Put things on it that help give confidence to your child, such as superheroes, awards, treats, favorite toys, pictures, etc.
  • Let your child have toys, blankets, books, or anything else to help keep him/her in bed. If he/she ends up playing for a while, consider this better to the alternative! If you need to put the child to bed earlier because of the playing, then do so.Are-your-kids-going-to-bed-too-late
  • Practice going to bed throughout the day. Use a social story, pictures, etc. to help the child understand what is going to happen.
  • If your child is currently sleeping in your bed, take baby steps back to his/her bed. It might look something like sleeping on the floor for a few nights, then moving into the hallway, then further down the hallway, and finally into the bedroom.
  • If your child is struggling because he/she needs to touch someone, try having him/her sleep in a small sleeping bag under a quilt. This will give the impression of feeling secure.
  • Give rewards for any accomplishment, but be careful to not overdo the awards. For example, if your child sleeps all night in the bedroom alone, give a reward such as a treat or an extra privilege. But then the expectation is now set higher, so to earn another reward he/she might need to sleep a whole week alone.
  • Find appropriate times to work on this skill. Working on this when school begins might not be the best option. Working on it during the summer or school break is a better option.
  • Try having a pet sleep with him/her.pet
  • Have your child sleep with a weighted blanket; this has proven very successful. In the summer months, use a fan to help with staying cool.
  • Some families have had success with having white noise in the room. This can be a fan, noise machines (you can find these reasonably priced on Amazon), or music.

Going to bed alone is tough on little guys, especially with Autism. But I encourage you to fight the battle and stay strong. Find the supports you need and pounce on any encouragement you find!

Jen Edwards, LMHCA

jen@BeautifulAutism.com

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Experts: I am the Best Expert on my Child; Teachers and Therapists are Experts for Their Field

Experts: I am the Best Expert on my Child; Teachers and Therapists are Experts for Their Field

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As parents we know our child best. We know their needs, wants, and desires. We see them through their best times and their worst times for more than eighteen years, then we send them on their way to college or work… usually. But in the meantime, we raise them the best way we know how. And we often say we know our child best because we are their parents… we are the experts.

We hear advice constantly from teachers and many of us hear advice from therapists on ways to help our child. At times we take their advice, many times we seek their advice and wisdom, and at times we look at them and think to ourselves, really? But I want to encourage all you parents out there with this thought: You are the best expert on your child and the teacher/therapists are the experts in their field.

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I look at my son with his Autism diagnosis. There have been times when therapist or doctors have recommended things to us and quite frankly my thoughts were there is no way that is going to work for our family. Something people outside of our family needs to remember is that Autism, like many other diagnosis, occurs within a family context, not just with my son (See Autism Occurs Within the Context of a Family). Changing something for my son means changing something for the family. I remind myself the person who just gave that recommendation is the expert in his or her field of study, but I am the expert on my son and the needs of our family.

Does this mean I turn down advice from people, or never go looking for outside help? Goodness no! That would go against all I believe in. It truly takes a village to raise any child, especially one with special needs! But I am always having to remind myself that I am the expert on my child. I often feel down or frustrated that I cannot seem to be doing right by my son. Or I get weary when things just are not going well. Or my particular favorite, when everyone around me wants to put in their advice on raising a child with special needs. But I am the expert on my child, not the speech therapist, not the doctor, not the teacher, not the counselor. I know my child best, I know his needs, I know his wants, I know his cries.

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I have seen many families feel pressured into doing things and changing their entire way of life because teachers, therapists, or doctors have told them to, and the parents did not feel it was the best choice for their family. I plead with you parents to think hard about your choices and ask if this is the best choice for your child. Find out if other families have done that change and if has helped them as well. You are the expert on your child!

So as you sit at the next IEP meeting for your child, remember that it is you that is the expert there. You are the best advocate for your child. Everyone else there is the expert in their field. Speak up for what your child needs. If you get push back, remember there is a reason behind it, which might be reasonable or not. But if you feel that your child needs it, continue to advocate for it. You only have one shot at raising your kid, might as well be the best expert at it now!

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Autism Spectrum Disorder Is Like a Train

Autism Spectrum Disorder Is Like a Train

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Autism Spectrum Disorder is like a train… it is on a straight track and it does not move off the track! There is one way to do things and that is it, no veering off the track. Whereas neurotypically developing individuals are more like cars, they can go any direction at any time and thus have flexibility.

As parents, teachers, therapists, etc., we might call this “train-like” function a challenge. And it generally irritates the heck out of us. We may also refer to it as “black and white” or “concrete”.

I love this analogy though, as it really puts things into perspective. I heard it from a young lady, about twelve years old, a sibling of a boy with Autism. She explained how individuals with Autism tend to just plow straight ahead, no matter what is in their way, leaving anything behind, completely focused on themselves. They have the right of way and can overpower anything and anyone. And then when something bad does happen, it is like an awful train crash, being anywhere from minor to devastating.

I think this really allows us to understand how they process in light of everyone around them. So many people with Autism want to understand the world, they want to relate and socialize, but it is a struggle. So as those who love these individuals, we support them by sometimes allowing them to go full speed ahead, blocking all those around them and plowing their way through life. But at times we make them slow down and find those places where they have to veer off and make a change, because change can be good and helpful. We teach them to process and think differently to help them succeed in this world. But we continue to love and support them.

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So help slow that train down, and be the car that rides alongside them, but challenges them at times too! Find the spots when they need to make a turn and support them through it. Sometimes, jump on the train with them and go for that crazy, wild ride! Understand from their vantage point, you might learn a thing or two yourself!

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Jen Edwards

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Autism Occurs Within the Context of a Family

Autism Occurs Within the Context of a Family

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I went to a conference a few weeks ago where Dr. Felice Orlich stated something that really caught my attention: Autism occurs within the context of a family. How true these words are! Yes, my son is diagnosed with Autism, but honestly at times I want to just put a huge diagnosis sticker on my whole family that states in big huge letters AUTISM. In our own ways, we are each effected.  And together we go through the ups and downs of Autism, as a family unit.

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I have spoken before about the impact the diagnosis of Autism had on myself and my husband. And it continues even years later to impact us emotionally. But when I heard this statement about how it occurs within the context of a family, I really got to thinking about how our family changed, and how we are different than the typical family.

Here are some things that look different for our family, simply based on the fact that my son has Autism and we make adjustments according to his needs:

  • Going out to eat is earlier before the loud crowds get there
  • Vacations tend to be places where everything is at one place, such as a cruise or resort
  • Pre-boarding the airplane before anxiety gets too high
  • Going to sensory-friendly movie showings at movie theaters
  • Doing errands and other things first in the morning before behavior gets difficult
  • Going to bed shortly after our son falls asleep as we never know what kind of night our son will have, or how much sleep we will get
  • Rarely having free evenings, as therapies and appointments keep us pretty busy
  • Arriving early to anything so there is time to process before it begins
  • Often leaving early from things because the wiggles just become too much

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We have just accepted it for what it is. Our lives have changed and they do look a bit different from other families and that is ok. We make adjustments when needed and our son always has to come first. So yes, our son may actually have the Autism diagnosis, but in reality that diagnosis makes an impact within the entire family dynamic.

I often watch the siblings within the family of a child with Autism closely as well. So much of their life is impacted because of their brother or sister with Autism. It is always interesting listening to their stories and trying to understand their needs. If you have a child in this role, be sure to give them the support they need, but also the love they need as well, as it looks vastly different from the child diagnosed with Autism.

I always say I would never change my son! He is perfect the way he is! I give him the tools he needs to help him succeed in life. But I cannot change who he is. The quicker I can understand that, and the quicker my family can understand that, the better our family is for coping with the Autism and serving our son with his needs.

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Jen Edwards

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

jen@BeautifulAutism.com

When to Tell Your Child He/She has Autism

When to Tell Your Child He/She has Autism

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We all have times in our lives when we face the decision of when to tell our children important or challenging things. We dread those discussions at times. The stress of it can eat at us and drain our energy. As parents we might argue about when to talk to our children about these things, causing stress on our marriage. These conversations range from talking to your child about sex to talking to your child about a diagnosis he/she has.

Our son was three years old when he was diagnosed with Autism, so obviously we were not in a huge hurry to explain to him about the diagnosis of Autism that he had. However as the years crept on, we realized at some point we were going to need to explain this to him, especially once he began realizing things about himself he did not perceive as normal. My husband and I began having conversations around when and how to tell him, as well as how do we explain it to him in a way that he can explain it to his peers to help them understand him. At first when we began discussing it the conversations did not seem that difficult, but as we got more into the details of it, the conversations got more intense and stressful.

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Eventually we got to the point where we thought our son was ready and we began to slowly introduce to him Autism. We did not tell him right away he had Autism, we wanted to see if he could begin to connect the dots himself. In time he began to, and though he is still figuring out what exactly Autism is, as well as ADHD, he is beginning to understand himself, how he interacts with others, how he is perceived by others, and he needs to function to work in the world.

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Here are some thoughts to consider when thinking about this:

  • Is my child mature enough to begin to understand the concepts of the diagnosis?
  • In what ways will this help and hinder my child?
  • Will this be able to help others in our family or others that interact with my child?
  • Who will tell my child about the diagnosis?
  • How will we tell my child about the diagnosis?
  • Am I putting my child’s needs first when thinking about this decision? Or am I allowing my own thoughts to come first?

I hear a lot of people come up with some reasonable arguments for not telling their child about the diagnosis. Some people are scared about what their child might say or how they might react. Some are afraid it will put a label on their child and others are afraid their child will use it as an excuse for poor behavior.

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Keep in mind eventually your child will likely find out about their diagnosis from someone, someway. When we want our kids to always be open and honest with us, we have to also consider that we need to demonstrate how to do this. True we need to take into a lot of considerations, just as the questions above can be used as a guideline for this, but children want the same courtesy given to them as we want from them.

When getting ready to talk to your child about the diagnosis, be sure both parents are on the same page and timing for the talk. Also, begin with just having simple conversations about what Autism is; do not begin with the bomb of, “You have Autism.” Allow your child to try and realize, through your help, they have Autism.

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Remember, these decisions take time and lots of thought. Find others that support you to help you through it. This might be your parents, therapists, doctors, or close friends. Until that time does come, enjoy your child for who he/she is and blessings come with that. Love your child, treasure the memories, enjoy the moments.

Jen Edwards

www.beautifulautism.com

jen@beautifulautism.com

Autism: I Just Want a Normal Child

Autism: I just want a normal kid!

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I hear this so often in my line of work, “I just want a normal kid!” In a way it breaks my heart; but then again I get it. I can relate and have even said those words in my head hundreds of times. I just want a normal kid…
A saying I often tell parents, and something that finally resonated with me and truthfully allowed me to look at it from a whole new way was God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. Oh how that took so long to fully sink in and surrender to. And how I still at times find myself falling down and saying that “normal” word.
I find myself wanting “normal” when I am stressed and frustrated at my child; when I think he is not acting as he should be acting. I find myself feeling embarrassed at his actions or frustrated that I cannot control the overall situation. But then when I sit back and think about it, I realize I am acting rather selfishly, as I am only considering my own thoughts and feelings. My son is who he is, and I need to be thankful for that and work to meet his needs while still keeping him accountable to the given expectations that life holds.

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There are times I grieve for my son and his diagnosis of Autism. I want him to be able to experience all that life holds and the many treasures that life experiences can allow for. However I also realize that he gets the pleasure of experiencing things that I cannot because of his diagnosis. He has an amazing mind and imagination that I am not able to understanding and comprehend; he will say to me how sad it is that I cannot think like him. We are all blessed with our own gifts in life; he has his and I have mine.

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What can parents do who feel like they just want a normal child?
1) Find the “normal” within your child and LOVE that normal! That is who your child is, be in love with that and treasure each waking moment while you can.
2) Pray and ask God for wisdom and strength to love your child for who they are. As parents we all have dreams about how our children will be. We want our boys to be football players and our girls to be a princess. When our dreams are shattered by an Autism diagnosis (or any other diagnosis), we are devastated. Ask God to help you understand and be changed for the new normal.
3) Find others who can help you and encourage you daily. These might be prayer partners, family members, friends, etc. It is ok to share your thoughts and feelings to those around you who will listen to you!
4) Tell your child that you love them. If you are able to hug and kiss them, do it. If not, blow them a kiss or do it while they are sleeping.
Again, be encouraged by your child, not discouraged. And if you are feeling discouraged, find help. Having a child with special needs is a lot to deal with on a daily basis. It never hurts to seek out professional help with a therapist or ask your doctor for some advice. Most importantly, qualify yourself to be the best you can be for your child!

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Jen Edwards, MA LMHCA

jen@beautifulautism.com

http://www.beautifulautism.com