Learning to Love My Teen the Way He Needs to Be Loved

By Jessica R. Duggins

We all want to be loved, adults and children a like. And when we are loved, when our needs are met, we feel supported, confident, and empowered and all is right in the world. So how does this help when parenting? It reminds us to parent with love first, and responsibility second. Once we are fluent with the way our children respond to love, once we are in tuned with their needs and motivators, we can gain their trust and in turn guide them with cooperation, respect and love to healthy development.

I’m so excited to share one of my favorite visual tools that I use to remind myself of this focus. A simple chart I came across while feeling frustrated in another relationship of importance, my marriage. I found myself feeling resentful, exhausted, over entitled, and unfulfilled. I was in a rut and I put myself there by holding my most loved ones to expectations unbeknownst to them. My expectations. The expectation that they will love me as I expect them too and if they don’t then I will self destruct and hold them all responsible. That’s crazy, right? But all to common, maybe not so dramatic but common. And we deal with it, we live life banging our heads against a padded wall going maybe someday they’ll get it, if I beat it in their heads enough, maybe they will care about the things I care about at my intensity. Why would I really want that anyway? I love these people for who they are and what makes them unique to my heart.

What if instead we empathized, one of my favorite words when it comes to parenting. What makes my kiddo happy, what puts a smile on his face, what lifts his heart? Not mine, not what makes me feel safe and cozy and cared for but from his perspective.

I am a physical lover, I love hugs and cuddles, and spooning, and nuzzles.  And although I may enjoy that and maybe my two year old does also but my teen on the spectrum not so much. Physical contact makes him visibly uncomfortable. That’s not to say he doesn’t return it, but that’s because he knows its my love language, it makes my heart rise when he hugs me on his own, my smile cracks from ear to ear when he kisses me on his own, and he knows it, he’s so smart.

So how do you figure out how your child loves, when they have challenges communicating simple daily needs, or any words at all? Observe and learn. try some different approaches. The chart below is printed out over my computer because that is the place I tend to get most frustrated with my children because I am not trying to focus on them but myself.

5 languages of love- children

This moms site has some great printbles to get you started for free, after a simple email subscription, and I do suggest you print it out and put it somewhere your kids seem to get your goat most, maybe the bathroom, or kitchen. The visual concrete reference will help to create this process of rethinking your approach when parenting and hopefully ease frustration. I did not invent the Five Languages of love, no, just lucky enough to stumble upon Dr. Gary Chapman’s ideas in my research to better my communication and understanding skills in my nuclear family.

True love, unconditional love, is not easy, it does not just happen. You have to do the work and commit to change no matter how uncomfortable it may feel in the beginning. You have to make the effort to see another way of life, of love. As with all new habits, it has to be habitual for results, but when we falter we have to be kind enough to forgive ourselves and start over. Good luck guys, please comment below and share if this chart helped you out or even if  it didn’t.

-JRED

Autism- Finding Our Place in Society

J running at the Special Olympics this year. Photo courtesy of Ken Wickiser
J running at the Special Olympics this year. Photo courtesy of Ken Wickiser

A challenge almost everyone faces in life is finding ones place in society. Some of us find it with little effort and others struggle to the point of depression and even suicide. The same is true in the Autism community. However I feel as a parent it is my shared responsibility to find a community for J to be able to find his place. However it’s not just a struggle for him to find his place but mine. As an adult I had already felt that I found my place in society, but my community has changed since J’s diagnosis and thus so has my place. And there are times when it is hard to feel as though I belong somewhere. There are times when fear of J’s capabilities hinder me from finding our place.

For example, one of my favorite things in our life is J’s Special Olympics team. It was our first year and as terrifying as it was to have him join the team it was even more rewarding for J and myself. We found a great community, great kids, great parents and a feeling of acceptance that I hadn’t felt in society since J was diagnosed. However Autism is unique and we all have our own challenges with our kids, but we empathize and understand our shortcomings in a non judgmental way.

I encourage anyone who is having trouble finding a spot in your community to look into

Me, J and Big J at the end off year sports banquet for J's team. Photo courtesy of Stacey Orzell
Me, J and Big J at the end off year sports banquet for J’s team. Photo courtesy of Stacey Orzell

your local Special Olympics organization or other sports or hobbies that interest your child. And if there is no such thing in your area I encourage you to start one even if only two people show up, you gotta start somewhere. My son does not have the social skills some of his team mates have but I can see them growing because of this experience as well as his confidence as he sees there is a place for him in society.

I have also benefited from my interactions with other parents who are going through similar challenges. Not only can we relate but we offer suggestions and references, forming our own network of support.

Would love to hear back from any parents involved in your community, how it’s helped or hasn’t.  If you need help finding something comment me and I will try to help you find something in your area.

-JRED

It’s OK to Take a Break From Autism

Sometimes I get so caught up with J that I forget to have a life of my own. I keep tabs on friends through Facebook and try to make time to see them but life can be a big hurdle to schedule around especially with a child on the spectrum who relies on a stiffly structured routine. When I actually make that time and get out I realize how important it is to do so. I got to see a good friend of mine today that I haven’t seen since her twin girls turned one in October. Only after our brief afternoon together had I realized just how much I missed her. How great it was to be us, outside, having lunch, no kids. Of course a lot of our conversation was about our kids but that’s because they are a big part of who we are now.

I forget how important taking time for myself is. I think most parents fall into this bad habit but with a child on the spectrum there aren’t too many people you feel comfortable asking to watch your child so you can have some “me time”. So I planned to go visit my friend while the boy was in school. I think for any mom but mostly a mom raising a special needs child, every moment of down time is precious so the thought of planning my week around an outing for myself was tiring, thoughts can be very restricting. I really wanted to visit my friend, so I got all my weekly errands done early on and I asked my mom to be on call in case I got caught in traffic on my way back.

Our time together was brief, we had enough time for a little morning stroll with her girls and lunch, but it was better than not seeing her at all.  WP_20150514_002For in that short time we were able to reconnect, talk comfortably to someone outside of our daily lives and gain perspective. As my familial responsibilities have increased friendships outside of family and a five-mile radius seemed impossible and yes a friendship like we had prior to kids maybe because of time constraints but friendship can evolve. Rather than challenge each others limitations as we once did out of youthful competitiveness, we respected each others responsibilities and supported them.

It was nice to take a break from Autism and be Jessica again I was still J’s mom,  and Big J’s wife but these titles didn’t define me to my friend to her I am just Jess. I made it back before the bus came and didn’t even upset the balance of my son’s daily routine but one thing was different, his mom. I was re energized and grateful to be with him. My outing reminded me of how beneficial social interactions can be not just for myself but for J.

-JRED

5 Apps for Autism

While I was home schooling J, I used his love for tech to my advantage. Unfortunately there is a lot of unproductive technology out there which can lead to stimming. So I tried a lot of different apps before finding some great ones that keep him focused and learning, and having fun. Here are 5 Apps I used to turn my son’s iPad into a learning tool.

1. Pictello– at $19.99 it’s the priciest app on this list but worth it. J has communication challenges and this app supports sentence construction. It also allows him to create a social story of his own with pictures, video, text, and sound.

pictello

2. Shelby’s Quest– $4.99. This app focuses on fine motor and visual perceptive skills. While I was homeschooling I used this during our Occupational Therapy sessions with great success.

Shelby's Quest

3. Endless Alphabet, Reader, Numbers, and Wordplay– Free. Originator Inc. is the team behind these great apps. They each focus on the title indication, they teach letters sounds and words, reading skills and sentence structure, counting and basic addition, and spelling patterns and phonograms. The app itself is free however the packs to add additional words and content start at $4.99 a pack. I suggest trying the free trial first before committing to bundle packs. J loves this whole series so much I’ve even purchased him new packs as positive reinforcement as a reward for good behavior.

Endless Reader

4. Albert– $0.99. This app is so much fun and very challenging, think “Dumb Ways to Die” but for kids. It utilizes all tools of the iPad and even works on iPhone. It also teaches sequence as you are following Albert through out his day waking him up, helping him bathe and get dressed as well as other daily tasks like driving and grocery shopping. These mini games are challenging and as with all the apps I’ve listed I suggest playing it with your child, J and I take turns on Albert and even I don’t pass the challenge sometimes which is a great opportunity to teach J about what to do when we lose at a game.

Albert

5. Dr. Seuss Books– Oceanhouse Media brings the beloved Dr. Seuss’ books to life. An interactive book, your child won’t just read but also be able to play and record. J and I like to go page for page while we record the story. The classic “Dr. Seuss’ ABC’s” is a free sample so you may want to start there to see if your child enjoys this format before purchasing other titles. Great for kids who can get a little rough with actual books. Titles start at $2.99, they tend to go on sale every so often, usually around Dr. Seuss’ birthday (March), that’s usually when I stock up.

Dr. Seuss

These are just a few apps we’ve come to know and love in our house. They serve as a great opportunity for J and I to practice appropriate play skills such as taking turns and encouragement. They are also great while on the go as they keep him entertained and learning. I’ll add some more that we use soon. Let me know if you’ve had any success with these apps as well or any you would like me to include in the next list. Thanks.

-JRED

6 Activities for Grandparents To Do With Their Grandchild Who Lives With Autism.

Don't Forget To Have Fun!
Don’t Forget To Have Fun!

J is one of 16 grandchildren and the only one on the spectrum. My nieces and nephews thankfully all know how to engage, ask questions and speak their minds like most kids. I think sometimes when it comes to J most people forget that they have to initiate the conversation and interaction when trying to create a bond. Luckily most people are very open-minded to any suggestions toward engaging with J, especially my parents. They are always looking for ways to include him when he comes to visit. I’ve learned one of the best ways to bond with J is to engage in a learning activity of some sort. He loves when I teach him things like cooking, a craft, reading, even gardening. Here are 6 activities grandparents or anyone looking to bond with a child on the spectrum can try.

1. Reading– When J goes with his grandparents for the night I like to stop by the library and pick up a few books to send him with something new so he’s not expecting them to read it the way I do. I pick out books that are at his reading level so he can read to them as well. When we read together I like to go page for page with J. I give him lots of time and assist by hinting the sounds of words that are tricky for him. Sometimes he gets so confident he will take over and read the whole book to me. Before he could read as well we spent more time discussing the pictures. I did most of the talking but he was certainly listening, learning and enjoying the shared moment.

2. Cleaning- Although it is not J’s favorite thing to do he does like learning a new skill, being helpful and feeling accomplished when its done. When I want J to help out by cleaning I ask him to do simple things like carry the clothes from the dryer to my bed, and take the dishes out of the dishwasher. He also helps make the beds, and fold his laundry. One of his favorite things is to help fold sheets and blankets because I give him a kiss when our corners meet. Cleaning can be a great opportunity to talk and explain simple tasks that are part of life. I wouldn’t recommend having them help with things that you like a specific or intricate way unless you don’t mind doing it again afterward. This could become frustrating for the both of you if the task is too difficult for the child.  Always keep the child’s capabilities in mind not their age.

3. Gardening and Yard Work- When I am gardening I like to give J a little project of his own I will have him dig holes for my seeds or scoop up dirt to fill the holes. I always make sure he is wearing clothes I don’t mind getting trashed as well. His favorite thing is to water everything. TIP- if letting your assistant gardener water your plants, fill the can with just enough water so they don’t over water. Don’t be afraid to enlist older stronger kids to push around a wheel barrel or rake up some leaves. With simple instruction our kids can be pretty helpful. Don’t forget to stand back and admire the work you have accomplished together and always show your pride and appreciation for their help.

4. Cooking and Meal Preparation- J is very curious about what goes on in the kitchen mainly because he is a picky eater and wants to know just how and what is going into his food. I saw this as a great opportunity to get him involved. He enjoys mixing, measuring and pouring. He also likes when I tell him about all my ingredients and when I explain what I am doing. His favorite recipes are dough based, I always make him a personal dough ball so he can roll it around and squish it to his liking for a while. This is a great opportunity to teach sequence and time,  for example, “first we do ABC, then we do LMNOP, after TUV amount of time we have XYZ.” If you want to make it a bit easier you can write out simple steps ahead of time to create a visual. Have them refer back to it for each step. Be sure to work in an area you don’t mind getting messy or prep it for the potential mess. Enlisting them for clean up is also a great idea but be sure to keep their capabilities in mind, for example J is good at taking things to the sink, rinsing them off and loading the dishwasher, not so great at wiping the table off without flinging most of it to the ground.  Setting the table is also an easy way to make your kitchen assistant feel helpful.

5. Pass Down an Interest or Hobby- whether your handy with wood or like to knit sharing a personal hobby can be rewarding for both grandparent and child on the spectrum. Try to share a simpler aspect of the hobby first for example if you are good with carpentry, teach them to hammer a nail before trying to build something like a birdhouse. Use some scrap wood so they can practice it a few times. Maybe bird watching is your hobby, most kids like using binoculars, make a game of it by seeing how many birds they can find. Maybe photography is your hobby, start out simple by teaching them to pick a subject, maybe a favorite toy, and take a picture of it.

6. Prayer- I recently started teaching my son about prayer and the belief in God. I have taken him to church when no one is there but have not yet worked up to a full mass. When I was a kid my grandmother taught me prayers and took me to church all the time. Our faith is still something we share to this day.

Whatever activity you decide remember to always keep the child’s abilities in mind, they maybe thirteen but also maybe unable to cut with a knife. Don’t ask them if they want to do it, invite them to do it with you. Try to make each activity fun and exciting even if it seems simple and mundane to you. Explain the importance behind it. Keep instructions simple. Always be encouraging but allow them to make mistakes and when correcting BE PATIENT AND KIND. Share your own stories about how you learned this skill or why you enjoy said hobby, they may not be able to communicate much back but they are listening.

Let me know if this post helps or share your own stories and ideas for activities you have found to be enjoyable below.  Thanks.

-JRED

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