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

A Quick Thought on Fear When Parenting Autism

So my last blog I wrote about exuding confidence, but what happens when its just not there? As much as I would love to say that I am always strong and always ready for action, I’m not. There are days when my fear gets the better of me, but on these days I still manage to learn something about myself, I don’t like that feeling. Which means the next time I will be stronger and ready to kick fear’s ass!

Photo Courtesy of Casey Robertson
Photo Courtesy of Casey Robertson

7 Ways to Discipline Your Child By Discipling Yourself: Attitude, It’s Learned From Somewhere Even in Autism

Big J Teaching Little J Basketball
Big J Teaching Little J Basketball

I don’t think I realized my temper was an issue until I moved to the country. I guess that’s because everyone around me also had tempers and although most were very nice people we all reacted similarly when pushed, fight over flight. City life will do that to you. Unfortunately for a parent of a child with autism a temper is one of the worst things I could have modeled.

During one of J’s tantrums, at the height of his rebellious behavior, I caught a glimpse of myself arguing with him. I was trying to rationalize with him but my face said otherwise. I looked like I was arguing with a stranger who threatened my personal space, not my child. My tone was cold, detached from kindness and fairness just straight attitude. My face was so full of anger, eyebrows furrowed, jaw clenched, nostrils flaring. I just looked overall menacing. In my eyes, I was a monster towering over this cowering little innocent who just couldn’t find the words to express himself. And how could he with me scaring the life out of him. Mom, the one person who sort of understood him in this world turning into Mrs. Hyde right before his big frightened eyes, all because he refused to go to school. I knew in that moment that if I saw myself as a monster I’m sure J saw me similarly or worse. I never wanted to be that to him again. I had to find another way to discipline J rather than intimidation and empty threats or I wouldn’t be the only monster, I’d have a mini monster and no one to blame but myself.

Puberty has been a rough transition for J as it is for most teens especially those with special needs. I decided not to medicate him since his behaviors are manageable as of now and he does not pose a threat to himself or others. I was also seeing this new-found awareness of life around him and I did not want to squelch any progress. He still lacked the verbal skills to express himself but J understood what we were saying about him. He also knew when we were annoyed with him even if it was through something as subtle as an eye roll. I could see it affected him like it never did in the past. We had to change just as much as J was. We had to acknowledge him as a young person growing into an adult and not a child that the world had no expectations for. He was creating his own expectations of what he wanted out of life now. He wanted to be treated like an adult, like most teenagers do, he wanted responsibility and the negotiation of compromise. He wanted to be included in the planning of his day and have his choices discussed with him.

Here’s how I discipline my child with mutual respect to foster a relationship of understanding and trust:

  1. I pay attention to his emotions and try my best to acknowledge them so he feels understood and validated. That doesn’t mean I give into them.
  2. I give him good reasons for my actions, simple reasons but usually fair.
  3. I fight the urge to physically dominate him when he resists, I let him go through it and then try to state my needs at an eye level distance, not towering over him.
  4. I check my ego and let go of the feeling that since I am the parent my child must yield to my every demand. Instead I take deep breaths, check myself to make sure I’m not projecting my issues on him and empathize before I act.
  5. I inform J of the rules for every situation be it house, school or bus rules. I inform him of any new ones that may be part of a new experience or place we are headed.
  6. I always give J a warning before handing down a punishment to allow J to redirect himself.
  7. Punishments are given calmly, sternly and fairly. The punishment fits the crime and he is aware of it before it is dealt. Ex: if he is misusing his tech, he will lose time on it. If he is misbehaving somewhere he will lose TV privileges when we get home.

It sounds simple but keeping calm when J is not, can be a challenge of my own discipline. Once I had these options for myself I found that I could redirect my own frustrations, stay focused on the facts rather than my own feelings, follow through and be a calmer mom for him. It’s not always smooth sailing but we get back on course quickly sans casualties. Hope this helps anyone out there dealing with discipline troubles. Please share if this works for you or if you have any ideas you may want to share.

-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

Spreading Awareness of the World of Autism- What is Stimming?

Ever crack your knuckles or your neck? Maybe you rub your hands when your thinking or nervous. We do these things to self soothe and feel more comfortable. Some times we do it without even noticing because it just feels good. Well that’s basically the purpose of stimming in a person living with Autism. Unlike most people who have self stimulating habits, someone on the spectrum may have no control over this. Some common stimms I’ve seen in my son J are humming, hand clapping, jumping, rocking and visual/audio stimulants. Here are some of his favorite stimm videos, he will watch these over an over, rewinding and fast forwarding to achieve the visual or audio stimulation he enjoys:

It’s a form of self soothing but can be unproductive, socially inappropriate and further detaches J from us so I try to limit this kind of stimm with redirection. I even point out to him that he is stimming so he can become aware of this behavior and eventually redirect himself toward something more enriching and socially engaging. I will usually suggest a new activity, for example if he is stimming on YouTube I will suggest going to a more interactive site like PBS Kids so we can play a game together. If he is humming or rocking while we are out I will try to apply deep pressure to his shoulders and arms, here’s an example of what I mean:

Stimming- (as defined by North Shore Pediatric Therapy ) – Stereotypy or self-stimulatory behavior refers to repetitive body movements or repetitive movement of objects. These movements are used solely to stimulate one’s own senses. This behavior is common in many individuals with developmental disabilities; it appears to be most common in children and adults with autism. It is important to note that not all self-injurious behaviors are considered to be self- stimulatory. Self-injurious behavior can also be communicative.

If you have any stimming stories or recommendations please share below and share to spread the awareness of why people with Autism stimm. Thanks.

-JRED

When Things Don’t Go Well, We Dust Ourselves Off and Try Again

We had an outing with J’s team mates this weekend and I basically set this event up for disaster. First mistake, I scheduled a visit with grandma and grandpa Saturday night. He stayed up pretty late hanging out with his grandparents and I didn’t state the importance of getting him to bed at a specific time either.  It had been a while since he slept over so I forgot how out of sorts the transition back makes him. I didn’t even stop to think that it would have an effect on his behavior for the outing.

Before we left for the party we had dinner and I gave J an ice cream cone for dessert, mistake number 2. The event was on a Sunday evening normally I like to be home by 6:00P.M. on Sunday nights to give J time to settle before he starts the week. His behavior had been so good lately that I thought it would be ok. Mistake number 3. The party was at one of his favorite places so I thought it would be awesome for him to experience it with his buddies and didn’t want him to miss the opportunity even though it didn’t coincide with his routine.

When we go to this place as a family we tend to go late at night towards closing when most young kids aren’t there, since small kids are J’s biggest trigger. Being that this was an event for kids on the spectrum I figured it was private and closed to the public, but I didn’t ask, and it wasn’t. Mistake number 4. There were little kids everywhere and the noise level was up there, something I didn’t prep J about. It was definitely too much for J. His dilated eyes darted everywhere and he couldn’t keep still. He was clearly over stimulated and very uncomfortable. We decided it best to go.

As we were heading over to the area where our party was congregating to say our goodbyes, J’s behavior spiked and he started to gear up for an outburst. Within seconds he honed in on this one little kid and lunged to grab him, something he will do when he has reached his max. He usually just squeezes the person wherever he grabs them, but sometimes the squeeze is very hard and definitely scary to a small child, as my boy is 5’9″, 130lbs. I stopped him just in time, looked at the kids father and mouthed “I’m so sorry” as I escorted J outside. I told him “you do not grab little kids.” I followed it up with a punishment of no iPad for the rest of the evening and took him home.

It had been such a long time since we’ve seen this behavior from J, so long since we’ve had to leave some place because he was overwhelmed. The place was too loud for him, his triggers over ruled his ability to cope. On the ride home J went on crying and repeating his usual “remorse script”. To those of you who don’t know what scripting is in terms of Autism, it’s a phrase a child with autism will repeat over and over, sometimes they learn it from a movie or overhearing someone say it. To someone unfamiliar with them it would sound irrelevant or like nonsense, but I knew this particular one’s meaning having heard it similarly used before. It meant “I’m upset that I messed up, I’m upset.”

As I drove I tried to tune him out and began to dissect what just happened. Unfortunately when it comes to J, I’m a dweller, tend to over analyze, and I am my toughest critic. Besides the 4 mistakes I listed above, I found several more things I could have done differently as I replayed the last 20 minutes over in my mind. It took every ounce of my hormonal second trimester self not to cry about it in the car. When we got home I asked Big J to get little J ready for bed, I needed a moment to just cry it out and deal with the emotion away from J. I was feeling so disappointed. Disappointed because he grabbed a little kid, because he couldn’t enjoy himself with his buddies, because I couldn’t do anything about it and I felt like I failed him, like I let him down.

It still might have gone the same way no matter what preparations I would have made, the thing is, I would have felt better about it personally. It would have just been something J couldn’t do and I would have been OK with that, but when he falters because I didn’t prepare him enough, I feel like a failure. Although it may have been something I have zero control over, when I don’t prep well, I feel like it’s completely my fault.

When I do this to myself my husband tells me “nobody likes a Monday morning quarterback”, it’s his cheeky way of telling me it’s over, it happened, just do better next time. And he’s right, I can spend so much time beating myself up, listing my mistakes, that I miss the fact that we tried! We tried to get J together with his buddies, so what if it didn’t go perfectly, we took him out.

“Nobody Likes a Monday morning Quarterback”

He made a mistake grabbing the kid, but everyone is OK and it was an opportunity for him to learn from that mistake. All kids make mistakes and so do parents. Things won’t always run smooth, it’s what we do afterwards that defines us. It was a learning moment, for both of us, as parenting a child living with Autism tends to be. A moment to see our mistakes, deal with the consequences, forgive ourselves and hopefully do better next time.

-JRED

Getting Outside with Autism

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J and Grandma @ Times Square, NYC

J had this project over spring break that was clearly to get us parents out of the house and more engaged with our kids. I never mind assignments like this, anymore, because it’s something I kind of assign to myself. It’s not always easy to go out with J but I always feel better after I brave the unknown and conquer. There was a time during my son’s diagnosis when I did not want to leave the house. It was right around the time when his tantrums were becoming out of control, around nine years old. He was no longer small enough for society to disregard and he wasn’t obviously a special needs kid since his physical development was above percentile. Which meant I got a lot of dirty looks and judging eye rolls from strangers who all too quickly summed us up as a young mother and her ill-behaved brat. I felt so much pressure and stress every time we walked out the house. What if something set him off? What if I couldn’t control him? What if he hurt himself or others, or me?

After several very intense, exhausting tantrums in public, I was done. I imagined people thinking “why doesn’t she just keep him home?” So I did. I did all my errands during the day while J was at school so I wouldn’t have to venture out with him. I figured this was just the way my life was going to have to be now. Luckily I was working part-time when all this started happening so I had some weekdays off to take care of everything without having to drag J along with me. Although life was less stressful for me I realized his tantrums were becoming worse. I was now having difficulties at family gatherings and little things like neighborhood walks. He began to show signs of his now infamous sensory trigger, young kids and their loud high pitched yells.

I hated the path we were going down, he was only nine, I couldn’t really keep him inside forever, he wasn’t Bruce Wayne living in a mansion with all he needed and I couldn’t afford an Alfred to look after him. I wasn’t doing him any favors. He had to learn how to function in society. What would he do as a an adult when he needed to eat, or go to work, or visit a friend? I had to give him these skills no matter how terrifying the task seemed.

I went through a long process to get to the place we are currently at and although it is not perfect , we still have some difficulties, I have the tools to handle most situations. It’s what I imagine being on the bomb squad must be like, your still terrified that this explosive device will go off and obliterate you and everything in a 10 mile radius but the knowledge of how to handle it gives the feeling of control that allows for the confidence to finish the job successfully. Once I knew the triggers that set off J, I knew how to strategize for them. My confidence and preparedness not only calmed me but it made J less anxious as well. He could see I was going to work with him, we were going to get through this together as a team. I understood he needed my help and that was a comforting thing for him.

Anytime we go into “uncharted territory” this is how I prepare:

  1. I explain to J simply WHERE we are going, WHAT we will be doing, WHO will be there, and WHEN we are coming home, if necessary and time allows, I will write it out for him on a dry erase board the night before and add it to his calendar ahead of time.
  2. Noise cancelling headphones that attach to his iPad, fully charged and loaded up with all his favorite apps, songs, and videos so he can block out sounds that cause him distress.
  3. A good night sleep so he has the energy to handle his sensory challenges better.
  4. Back up tech like an iPod or cell phone with some songs or games on it and extra batteries for his headphones.
  5. Chewing gum. In the past I would also bring clay dough, or Theraputty to help relax him. Theraputty Link
  6. Keep the sugar intake down and give him lots of water.
  7. Research the place for my own knowledge where it is, what it looks like, what we can expect.
  8. Know and respect his limits, if it wasn’t part of the original plan don’t push it.
  9. Ignore judgmental people, easier said than done but self explanatory

When I can do all these things J usually keeps calm and even enjoys himself most of the time. Planning is a big part of our lives as you may have noticed from previous blogs. A little planning goes a long way for J and for my confidence as well. What are some strategies you have adapted to help with your special needs child’s triggers? If you have any questions or just want to share your success stories on getting outside with Autism please comment below.

-JRED

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