Tiny Twinkles

Yesterday I was getting ready for my daughter’s 5-year-old birthday party. I had purchased two boxes of cake mix in some masochistic idea of making her birthday cake. I had sliced strawberries and made chocolate frosting. The first layer of the cake came out perfectly. I let it cool, frosted the top and added the strawberry slices while the second layer baked and cooled. Then everything went pear-shaped. The second layer fell to pieces as I tried to take it out of the pan.

Frustrated, I tried to find my keys. My husband expressed amazement that I had tried at all to make a cake on the day of the party. I was nearly in tears. I am not sure what made the whole thing so emotional but I was a mess when my Aspie-son walked into the kitchen.

Usually in these situations, my Aspie-son says something along the lines of, “Well, I guess you just have days like this and you need to be able to go forward and make the best of it!”

This is frustrating in the extreme and so like me. I headed for the door, hoping to avoid hearing my voice coming out of my son.

Instead, my Aspie-son walked up to me, put his arm around me. Walking out to the car with me he said, “I know you are just trying to make the best birthday for your daughter and this is very frustrating. Don’t worry. You are a wonderful mom. You are doing such a great job. Little Lou will love her party. You are a great mom!”

I got in the car and started to cry. I wasn’t crying because of the frustration though. I was crying to see the tiny twinkle of my son’s sweet side. It is a side I don’t get to see very often right now. Knowing that it still exists was like a drink of water in the middle of the desert.

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Creating Space – Lesson 2

I have a confession to make, I sometimes read the end of a book if it gets too intense. I don’t read enough to completely ruin the story, but just enough to know if the character I am invested in makes it. I don’t handle unknown very well.

The unknown is one of the hardest parts of being a parent, for me. I don’t know how our story ends.

“Don’t forget you have homework to finish before you go to bed tonight or you will not have your electronics tomorrow after school,” I remind my Aspie-son.

“Uh-huh,” he grunts from his bed. His headphones are on and his eyes never move from the screen.

This is the 5th time I have reminded him. I don’t want to deal with his emotions and frustration at the consequences if he doesn’t get the work done so I remind him, again, and again and again. I am officially the nagging mother. This is not working for me.

My Aspie-son is 15 now. We are at a new stage. The stage where I need to give him space to practice with the tools we have given him, the space to succeed… or fail as he makes these tools his own. However, I find that I.CAN.NOT.STOP trying to make it work for my son. It is a case of reverse learned helplessness.

Hovering parent illustrationThis transition is as much about me as it is about him. The only way I can protect completely is to control completely. As I give up some control, I am conscious of the risks. What if he fails 8th grade? He will be a 16 year old in 8th grade and 20 if he makes it to high school graduation. There is a ticker tape of “Worry Headlines” running through my head.

I am fortunate to have an independent son. He does NOT want me to do it for him. He rebels against my “mommy-ing” him. He will chose to not do something for no other reason than because I said it should be done. As a result, my protective/controlling is completely ineffective.

I have two options right now:

Continue to be protectively controlling. My son will continue to find this demeaning and rebel against it. Nothing will get done. War will ensue in my home and failure is guaranteed.

FailedGive him space to succeed or fail. I can take a chance. I can step back. This means dealing with my own fears. There is no racing ahead to the ending to make sure it turns out ok. Instead, I must live in this moment. I must learn to be calm inside myself despite knowing all the risks. I can learn that life will go on and life can and will be good. I can learn to chose my response instead of reacting to my fears… even if my Aspie-son fails 8th grade. 

My keys to success:

Stay in in the moment. 

I can plan for the future and remember the past but I must not live in either place. I must live today. I must not live in reaction to past hurts or future fears.

I do not ignore patterns of behavior that can point to understanding a current situation but I understand past hurts make the weight of events disproportionately heavy. It isn’t the fact that the bread was left out and is stale. It is the fact that I have already thrown away 3 loaves of completely stale bread this week and the two younger girls will not have any bread to make their lunch unless I run to the store AGAIN. The emotion of the situation makes it difficult to choose my response.

I plan for the future but if I live reacting to the projected “Worry Headlines” the fear overwhelms me and I grip more tightly at my illusion of control.

Each moment, I must make my choice to respond and I can only choose my response if I am in that moment and paying attention to what is at play right now.

Big Picture.

In each moment, I must keep my perspective wide. If I widen my view, I can see that failing 8th grade is not the end of the world. One of the authors of Learning Outside the Lines, David Cohen had struggles with learning disabilities which led to drug addiction. He dropped out of high school at one point. Eventually, he overcame, making his way to being accepted to Brown University and graduating at the top of his class. He did so because he was given tools that, eventually, he made his own and then used to achieve the goals HE set for himself.

Of course, I have no guarantee that my son’s story will end like similarly. The big picture for us, is that my Aspie-son take hold of HIS life tools and start to find HIS purpose in order to develop goals that are HIS owns, goals that HE invests in. If I step back enough, I can see that even failing 8th grade has the potential t0 be a part of that path. With that thought, gripping fear inside me starts to subside.

 Finding joy right now. 

I found renewed joy as a parent before by looking for pointers to Daniel’s purpose in the situation rather than just trying to guarantee that he meets his potential.  When I stop viewing the situation as all about passing 8th grade, I can possibilities for joy. I can see the ways my son is starting to mature. There is a reduction in conflict in our home.

I am practicing these principles today as my son heads to school to take a constitution test that he must pass to be promoted to 9th grade. I believe he is unprepared. I spent a portion of last night struggling not to step in and try to control him to success. Today, I am in a better space. I hope he passes but I have also found the positive possibilities that could be if he fails this test. Either way, he and I will both know that this hurdle was handled 100% by him and his way. He is in control of his life.

How do you strike a balance between over-protecting and unsupportive?

Posted in Challenges, Parenting on the Spectrum, Personal/Parent Development | 1 Comment

A Mother’s Love

Mom

This is a picture of my mother, taken when she was about 10 years younger than I am right now.

My mother is magical. Everyone who meets her loves her, but particularly children. She seems to to always understand and connect to children effortlessly. She was the only person that my Aspie-son would allow to cuddle with him when he was a baby. He would sink against her chest as she rocked and sang to him.

It was my mother who taught me that the basis of being a mother was a deep, authentic love. I learned the most powerful part of being a mother from my mother. I learned to love from my mother.

My mother made mistakes but I have always known she loves me. She loves me, not because of what I can do for her or because I am fulfilling my potential. She loves me because I exists. She loves me because I am her daughter. Her love has always been unconditional.

Her love has always been strong. Strong enough to give me space to learn, even while she watched nervously. Her love has been strong enough to look beyond my mistakes to show me that I am intrinsically valuable.  Her love has been strong enough to grow and change. My mother has continued to learn and grow as a person and encouraged me to do the same.

Being a mother is a challenging adventure. This is particularly true when raising an atypical child.  However, whether you are raising a typical child or a child on the spectrum, being a mother requires a strong and authentic love. Happy Mother’s Day to my mother and to all the mothers!

Posted in Magic Moments, Parenting on the Spectrum, Personal/Parent Development | 1 Comment

7 Asperger’s Superpowers

Super-PowersThere are advantages to the neurological differences of being a person on the spectrum. Here are 7 of your atypical child’s superpowers:

  • Single-minded focus: The lecture on the origins of Slenderman during dinner clean up last night was tedious but my Apsie-son displayed a wealth of information gathered through hours of research. Aspies have an ability for laser focus on their chosen topic.
  • Integrity/Pure Motivation: Most Aspies are not motivated by money or praise but rather by their own internal fascination with a subject.
  • Honesty: “You finished all your homework! Don’t you feel good?” I asked. “Well, I feel good and pissed off at the same time,” Daniel explains, “Good, because I am done but pissed off because I had to do something I really hate. However, the one thing is that the good feeling is a little bit stronger than the pissed off feeling. So, I’ve got that going for me.” – I can always trust that I am getting my Aspie-son’s true reaction. He doesn’t sugar-coat anything. A compliment from him is worth its weight in gold.
  • Original and Independent Thinking: The result of honesty combined with an internal motivation and an atypical experience, is that Apies tend to have original thoughts and original perspective on everything from everyday occurrences to popular trends. They do not follow the crowd. Often, Daniel’s observations make me consider a commonplace social norm from a new perspective.
  • 3D and Visual Thinking: My Aspie-son is absolutely a 3D thinker. The creative applications for this kind of thinking may be key to unlocking a motivating purpose for any Aspie.
  • Higher Fluid Intelligence: Fluid Intelligence is the ability to reason quickly and to think abstractly. A recent study in Japan found that Aspies have a higher fluid intelligence than typical children. They have a higher ability to solve new problems and discover the relationships between concepts without the use of previously acquired knowledge because they find meaning in confusion. Their thinking is highly original.
  • superhumanDetail Oriented: The small details of life completely escape Daniel, like putting away the milk in the pantry. However, his comic strips are precise and detailed. When interested in a project he is very detail oriented. While working on a school project to build a structure out of spaghetti that could withstand a simulated earthquake, he was relentless in his pursuit of detailed perfection.

Today, I am going to find a way to appreciate my child’s superpowers.

How can we, as parents, encourage these superpowers?

Posted in A beautiful mind, Asperger Traits | 1 Comment

Quality Input = Quality Output

When I start to get a cold, I take more zinc because zinc supports my challenged immune system.

Raising a child with Asperger’s is in some ways like getting a cold. Daily, I am challenged not only as a parent but as a person. Who am I going to be in my interactions with my Aspie son, with my typical children, with my spouse, with my community, or even with myself?

A meltdown for my son can trigger a reactive meltdown (of a different type) for me. Sometimes, my reaction is to become guilty.

“I should have anticipated that trigger. I should not have pushed here. I should have protected there.”

Sometimes, my reaction is to become frustrated and angry. Angry at myself, my son, and at the universe in general.

“Why is he so unreasonable? Why isn’t he learning to self-regulate? Why am I not learning to identify triggers more effectively? Why aren’t we making progress when I have the best intentions and work so hard? Why was I given a child with these challenges?”

In my daily life, I want to respond instead of react. I am defining “respond” as a considered and chosen action in response to external stimuli.

Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space, is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom. – Viktor Frankl

I am learning to find that space, both in my thinking and in my daily flow of action. I am learning to choose, “Am I going to react or respond in this moment?”

A key to finding that space in me is the stimuli I allow in my daily life.

There is some stimuli that I have already chosen. My Aspie Son’s actions, etc. are long term stimuli that I chose when I chose to give birth to him. The same is true about my other children. The same is true of my spouse.

However, there are huge amounts of stimuli that I chose every day. From the people I chose to engage with, to the materials I read, to the tv shows I watch, all of these are stimuli that I have can choose. Just like zinc for a cold, in order to support my intention for quality output, I need quality input.

Begin with self-awareness

I must understand how stimuli affects me. Such understanding allows me to chose to limit stimuli that drains me or distracts me.

I recently stopped reading news websites. I found that I spent a lot of emotional energy on horrific happenings in the world. My mind would race thinking about the why behind the latest tragedy  I would find myself checking news websites to read everything I could get my hands on regarding an event. The media expects this response and is glad to provide constant coverage. I felt drained. I had less emotional energy to care for my children when they returned from school with their own mundane happenings.

I still hear about the happenings in the world, mostly by proxy. If I am interested in a specific headline, I search out one comprehensive story and read it. However, I am no longer engaged in the emotional rollercoaster of blow-by-blow reporting.

Find Quality Input

 After limiting draining stimuli, I had to find quality input. I search out information that supports my endeavors or improves my perspective.

For some people, this is where participation in religious practice plays a huge part. For me, the quality input comes from finding like-minded people and interacting with them, or listening to their podcast or reading their work. Some of my recent favorites:

The Gift of Time

I can not create more time. Instead, I take short quality breaks. These are 10 minute breaks that I carve out three times a day. I go to a quiet place (sometimes my bathroom if everyone is home). I sit quietly and practice being quiet and mindful for 5 minutes.

It surprised me at first how difficult it was to sit quietly for 5 minutes. My thoughts crowded in. My worries started to scream at me. The quieter I became, the more I remembered forgotten tasks. It took several times to find a way to be quiet. I had to set aside the worries and forgotten tasks by acknowledging that they were important and assuring myself that they would be dealt with – WHEN I WAS DONE. I learned to let the thoughts drift away.

When I finally found how to become quiet and mindful for 5 minutes, I found I was re-energized by the process. I could go back to my day with renewed intention and refocused energy.

Eventually, I began to find I could tap back into that quiet mindful place for brief minutes even in the middle of a tense interaction with Daniel. I was creating a space where everything seemed to slow down a bit and I was able to choose my response instead of finding I had reacted without thinking.

How do you provide support for yourself as the parent, as a person, as the caregiver?

 

Posted in Personal/Parent Development | 4 Comments

Progress Not Perfection

I am a perfectionist. This is not a big secret to anyone who knows me.

I design beautiful ideas in my head. Neatly organized patterns of action and organization that fit together so perfectly. They are works of art. I would have made a great theoretical scientist. My delima always develops when I try to put these ideas into practice.

Life is so very messy. Nothing ever flows like it did in my pristine picture. My own rigidity starts to show. As the glitches, hiccups and adjustments of practice arise, my stress level rises disproportionately. I can physically feel the pressure. My gut impulse is to throw the whole plan out as a loss so I can retreat back into my mental world to design another beautiful plan.

Daniel GoofyThe wonderful thing about having a child is that you cannot throw the plan out. The child is still there. That little person’s life is still continuing and I am forced to improvise, revise, and appreciate progress rather than perfection.

I no longer spend my evenings doing homework with my Apsie Son. He is handling that part of life on his own now. Grant it, I still occasionally find a gallon of milk in the pantry, but I do not receive any more emails of missing homework from his teacher.

Helping my Aspie Son overcome his own struggles is forcing me to overcome my own rigidity. I am learning to focus on my purpose instead of potential. I am learning to face my own insecurities. I am learning to appreciate progress rather than perfection. This is a more balanced approach to my life.


Daniel Photo shopSometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had not had my Aspie Son. That is a silly line of thought. I am thankful to have my Aspie Son in my life. I am a better person because I have him in my life.

Posted in Ah-ha moments, Challenges, Parenting on the Spectrum | 1 Comment

Top 4 Favorite Posts Regarding Medication

Medication is a hot button topic. As Daniel and I were making our decision regarding medication, these were my favorite posts. These are not in any particular order:

  1. Life with Aspergers: The Drug Bandwagon – I love reading Gavin Bollard. He has Asperger’s and is raising a son with Aspergers and a son with high-functioning autism. I think he gives a balanced perspective and brings up important questions to ask when considering any medication.
  2. Prosper with Aspergers: Aspergers and Medication: What Everybody Should Know – Written by Stephen Borgman. Stephen reminds us that medication does not treat Aspergers but rather the symptoms of co-morbid conditions such as ADD, OCD, Depression and Anxiety. I like his recommendation to look to non-medication options first and to maintain an open communication with the doctor. Medication for these conditions is not an exact science.
  3. Life with Aspergers: Medication and Special Needs – It’s Your Choice – Again, Gavin Bollard is very balanced and represents a lot of common sense in his perspective.  He reminds us that particularly regarding medication, we, “have the choice every day.”
  4. Child Mind Institute – Autism and Medication  – This is more of a post than an article. It articulated most of my concerns regarding medication. The author gives an excellent summary of all the sides of the medication argument/delima. Parents are reminded to use non-pharmaceutical interventions first. The author illustrates that the choice to medicate is never a final, blanket decision. Medication that is necessary at one time, may not be necessary forever. The effectiveness and even the prudence of putting a child on a medication or continuing the same medication can and does change as the child grows and develops. This is particularly true as the child goes through puberty. Always keep an open mind and your intention clear.

Ultimately, the decision to medicate, continue to medication, or stop medication must be constantly evaluated and weighed for effectiveness, risks, and rewards.

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