Saturday, June 6, 2015

Another Thought On Parenting/Caregiving

Read this recent post by the Autism Discussion Page:

Over the next few days we will focus on fostering empowerment in your children.
Does your child understand his autism? Self awareness equals empowerment!
It is very important that children on the spectrum learn to understand what autism or asperger's are, and how it effects them; both strengths and challenges. It is important that they learn how they are different from others, not only in terms of how they experience the world, but also how we experience the world. Life will always be a struggle for them, since the world is based on how we process information, and does not match how they experience the world. Learning about their differences from us allows them to better adapt and advocate for themselves.
For most people on the spectrum, daily living is a constant struggle, since they are always trying to navigate a world that is not a good match for them. This struggle can be handled more effectively if the person begins to understand how their differences impact these challenges. Learning about their differences is twofold. First they have to understand how they process information, and second, they have to understand how we process information, so they can understand the differences. This allows them to understand why the world is often confusing, and allows them to better adapt to it. From this awareness they can learn to maximize their strengths and compensate for their differences.
I usually break these differences down into sensory, cognitive, social, and emotional differences. Once people on the spectrum begin to understand how we are different, their challenges start making sense to them. From there they can make accommodations to minimize the daily challenges they face, develop coping strategies to face stressors they cannot avoid, and learn to regulate their nervous system so they do not get overwhelmed. They can identify what physical, social, and emotional challenges tax their nervous systems so they can build in accommodations to avoid and/or modify these conditions to lessen the negative effect. They can learn how to adapt to the work setting, navigate around social issues, independently follow their daily routine, and build a home environment that allows them to escape the confusing world, regroup, and rebound for the next day. The person can do an "autopsy" of each daily setting/events (work, school, family, recreation, etc.) to identify possible challenges/stressors, and then build in modifications, adaptations, and accommodations to minimize these challenges and maximize their independence and emotional well being. They learn how many of their strengths can be used to maximize their success, and how to build on their preferences to improve quality of life. So, as early as possible, but definitely in the teen years, try to build on the importance of the child learning about his differences and how to identify and design strategies for maximizing his ability to adapt to the settings he is in.
It is very important that we focus on "strength based" parenting and teaching. Once the person learns what his sensory, processing, emotional, and social needs are, he has to embrace these needs and find ways to support and protect these needs; learning how to modify, accommodate, and adapt his environment and daily routine to meet these needs. It is important that the person doesn't feel the need to "fix" or "change" what his needs are, but to use his strengths to better meet those needs.
At what age should you start? The earlier the better! My experience is usually around eight or nine, if they seem to notice differences. You want to catch them as they are first noticing differences, before they start setting up defenses that are hard to break down. Often by the time the children are 13, if this hasn't been discussed they, they have built in defense mechanisms that deny and refuse to recognize it. Focus on discussing all aspects of the child, strengths and weaknesses, interests and personality traits, with autism just being one small area of it. In reality, it is good to have this type of discussion with all kids. We all need to be able to have strong self awareness, know what our strengths and weaknesses are, and how to develop our strengths to help support any weaknesses.
This series on “empowerment” can be found in the green book, “Autism Discussion Page on Anxiety, Behavior, School and Parenting Strategies.”

**Disclaimer: this is not meant to make anyone feel badly. These are just the thoughts that I have running through my head taking into account my personal experience, and the experience parenting my son with our newfound knowledge of our Aspergers. Thank you.

As I have grown into my diagnosis over the past 3 years or so, I have realized something big about myself. I do not like to give myself a break. I expect perfection at everything I do. And I expect myself to be able to handle it. BUT, I CAN'T. 

The big news is that I can't do it. I have struggled over and over in my life with panicky, anxious, overwhelming moments where I lash out at everyone closest to me, because they're the safe place to do it. 

Where does this come from? Well, it has occured to me that at least part of the reason that all this happens to me is because we didn't know I had aspergers when I was a child. I suppose for the most part then, it was as if I was just being a difficult child. If I freaked out because we were planning on doing something, and plans got cancelled, I was punished for my bad behavior. Eventually I learned to just ignore my frustrations, bury them, until they became so overwhelming that I would get sick. Not sick like having a cold, but sick as in having depressive, anxious feelings and a strong need to withdrawl. And, to be honest, I felt like most of high school was withdrawl from everything and everyone, but especially my family. There are things we did that I barely remember. Sure, that might be normal, but you would think that big things would be memorable, but I've surprised myself at how many times they aren't. 

I could go on and on, but to make it short, my point is this: When I talk about respecting your children and their autism, and understanding their strengths and weaknesses, what I mean is that you do them a disservice if you force them to repeatedly encounter overwhelming circumstances without letting them control or even express their feelings about the situation. Plans being cancelled upsets everyone, but to a kid with autism, YES, the world IS ending, in that moment. It is heartbreaking to you to change plans, but to the kid with autism, their whole world was rotating around those plans, and now their world literally has stopped short because they were cancelled. Telling your kid that their behavior is unacceptable doesn't even register, because they are unable to logically consider anything at that point. 

LISTEN to their feelings! Repeat back to them what you are hearing them say! People might encourage toddler speak for toddlers, using short toddler sentences and matching their emotion. Maybe that would work for your autistic kid, even if they are not a toddler. (Probably doesnt work on older kids/teens though.)
Let them tell you what their needs are in that moment. Don't send them to their room and tell them to knock it off because you don't want to hear their feelings. That is an insinuation that they should stuff their feelings. Let those kids get those feelings OUT! 

If your kid always breaks down at the grocery store, forcing them to do it over and over will continually reinforce that they hate the grocery store, that they have no control over their input or their feelings about it, and it will tell them that they should just stuff their feelings of overwhelm. They might accomplish doing this eventually, and they might end up looking like they are dealing well with situations that previously upset them. But the truth, from my experience, is that I might look good in public, but the next day or 2 at home is very hard for me, and I have to take it easy. 

So, just think through what you are doing. Your goal might be to make your kid look normal in whatever circumstance. But what is really in their best interests? Stuffing needs and feelings is in no one's best interests. It might make someone look socially appropriate, but it comes at the cost of their personal boundaries.

I still don't feel like I said what I'm thinking very clearly, but I hope this is a part that will help understand this better.

No comments:

Post a Comment