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

Home Schooling with Autism- To Do List- 1.Get Organized!

Like schedules and routine, organization keeps stress down and my mind clear. Having a special needs child and being organized seems next to impossible, but it makes life much easier. Not just structurally, but mentally. It is said that our homes and spaces reflect our minds, and one look in my downstairs closet would show you there’s much I put away and forget about. That’s why it is so important to set aside time to organize my home and my mind. This became quite clear during home school. Thankfully To-Do-List made life much more Do-Able.

thingstodo

Once dinner was done and J was down for the count, I was so tired that I wouldn’t even want to talk anymore. I spent the day talking slow which is challenging for me as I speak a mile a minute. Much energy was also spent on being extremely patient, repeating words again and again, and exaggerating enunciation  that by nine o’ clock I was sick of my own voice. Not to mention all the other things I had to do once home school hours ended, I was spent. I would have headaches and my voice would be so hoarse no amount of tea and honey would soothe it. It seemed like the only down time was bedtime.  I would tell my husband, Big J, “just talk, you do the talking, tell me all about your day” which was surprising to him since getting me to shut up is usually the challenge. Midway through his recollection of the day, my exhaustion would conquer me and I’d knock out.

I realized I had to do something to get ahead of this rapid pace I was setting for myself during the day. I worked in midtown Manhattan for years before turning my total attention to J, so I was accustomed to a fast pace, busy life, but the work day ended at some point. I left the office and it’s troubles behind until the next day. I had to come up with some life hacks for home schooling. I had to get organized. So I asked my mom to take J for the day. I spent the day balancing my life by creating realistic goals and limits on work so that I could spend time off from being J’s teacher and more time being mom, wife, and me.

I sat down with a pen, and paper and wrote out two list. One was titled “Things to do for Me”. The second list was ” Things to do for J”. Writing down all the things looming in my mind made it much less daunting. The panicked feeling of “oh! I forgot all about that” was gone, because each task was accounted for on my trusty list. It may sound silly and simple but they help and I always feel such a sense of accomplishment when I can cross something off the list “and sigh of relief, its done”.  I could also see options for what could be incorporated into the home school schedule, like my workout during PE, visiting my family as a social activity, dropping off donations to the church, recycling, paying and mailing out bills could all be great living skills opportunities for J. I just had to get creative in my thinking and brave in my planning. Outings were and sometimes still can be a challenge. I’ll talk more about how I handled that in a later post.

So with my mind mentally organized I didn’t feel so overwhelmed, I knew I was going to have time to watch a movie with Big J after little J went to sleep because I didn’t have to run to the post office or workout, or grocery shop. I already did that during the day with J. I even had time put aside to write and do research about Autism after we ate dinner. I asked Big J to give me an hour of alone time while he spent some quality “guy time” with little J. Yes! I even learned how to ask for help and how to delegate. I didn’t need to do it all on my own as I had myself believe.

I typed up about two weeks worth of lesson plans. I got everything ready for them like supplies, worksheets, bookmarked websites, and anything that I would normally find myself scrambling to do with the 15 minute breaks I had between each lesson. Our breaks were short to keep J on task, any longer and he would lose interest, get into mischief,  and be much more difficult to refocus. The faster I could move through subjects the better. I could now sit down next to him during a break and have a cook of tea and recover before the next lesson. This planning made me feel empowered and inspired, even if I was only cutting up eggs for the Green Eggs and Ham counting game we were going to play in math.

I imagine this is what most teachers do daily, prepare as much as possible ahead of time. I never studied to be a teacher so my teaching skills stemmed from playing school when I was a child and being a student myself. I always did like being the teacher when we played school, but we were not “playing school” anymore, this was J’s future and this was hard, challenging work. I regard good teachers as great strategist now.

Being organized helped me add more elements of fun to the day. I was more care free and able to be in the moment because I wasn’t worried about preparing for the next moment, it was already prepared for. There is so much in life that can not  be anticipated, but with a good amount of organization and planning the unexpected becomes manageable.

Feeling overwhelmed comes with the territory of raising a special needs child and children in general. If you feel like you are drowning or just can’t seem to get it all done try making list to gain mental organization. Start with the time sensitive priorities at the top. Understand that you may not check everything off in one day and allow yourself enough time to properly tend to each. I like to give myself due dates especially for bills or tasks that have deadlines. If this feels like it adds too much pressure don’t write deadlines just what needs to get done. See what you can ask others to help out with. Then execute! Make it your mission to get at least two things or even one done a day. Be realistic about how much time each task will take to do properly and then make that time. Before you know it that list will get smaller and smaller. I hope this helps, please let me know if writing lists helps you out or if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to comment.

Here is a link to a helpful article about the many options of To-Do templates you can use with your device if you like to be a little more tech savvy than a pen and paper allow: Finding the best to do list app with a to do list template

TO DO LIST Template provided by Microsoft Office Templates

-JRED

 

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