Why might this be a bad thing? Why might this backfire on one’s mental health? The reality is that it doesn’t allow or make way for negative feelings to come out. If you’re only allowed to share the positive aspects, then it’s saying, your feelings aren’t worth it.
In Nora McInerny’s podcast, Terrible, Thanks for Asking she says, “The pressure to make lemonade puts an unreasonable expectation on us as humans. It perpetuates a narrative that says, “it’s all in your head,” or at least all in your control. And it is not.”
She interviewed Susan David, a psychologist and PhD who stated, "It's an avoidant coping strategy. It's avoidance. When you are either telling other people just to be positive, you are basically saying to them, 'My comfort is more important than your reality.' And we are also saying to them, 'There is no space for your humanness here.' "
And that is why toxic positivity is so toxic. Because a focus on positivity disconnects us from what our feelings are trying to tell us. It disconnects us from what we value and puts our focus on the performance of happiness. It tells us that the most important thing we can be is positive… mind over matter… law of attraction.
Yes, feelings are telling us something about ourselves. What is this emotion telling me right now? They are telling us to pay attention to our needs. Those needs are the basis of life. Are you feeling disconnected from your family? Is this stress surrounding your job telling you that you require growth and not sameness? Is this emotion there to help me move into something else, to help me dream?
It’s also extremely important to realize that you are not your emotions; you’re simply feeling that emotion. Rather than saying, “I am sad, but rather I am feeling sad.” This way you can differentiate yourself from that emotion so growth can happen.
When raising children, including those on the autism spectrum, allowing them to express their emotions, allows them to develop coping strategies when the feelings are difficult. It stops consuming the entire psyche and just simply something that is happening right now.
How do we help other express their emotions? By listening and reflecting. By showing Empathy.
In the book, How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen, and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk, the authors Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish explain that once a person feels truly heard, then and only then can they begin to deal with the emotions and decide on a path to a solution. Sometimes simply saying, “Wow, those are hard feelings” or “You sound angry” can go a long way for that child or person to know you’ve heard and understood. This allows the growth in other ways; develops insight and better learning about self. It helps us grow and develop with our emotions in a healthy way.
The authors also recommend against giving advice, trying to explain why they might be having those feelings, and definitely refrain from denying the person has not right to feel that way.
Happiness is not about striving constantly for a standard. This standard to too high to achieve. Happiness comes from achieving emotional intelligence and resiliency in the face of challenging times.
Christmas lists on the Spectrum
An interesting thought came to mind this year while I was coaching my son through the family question, “What do you want for Christmas?”
As a parent we want our children to be grateful for anything they might receive. We also know, teaching this trait is challenging at best in our overstimulated, instant-gratification society. So, how do you educate someone when it comes to the typical question? Am I educating the gift-giver, or the receiver.
In my research on this I found several blogs and articles talking about how to teach gratitude but not much about how to teach them the art of what it means to answer questions about what they want. Plenty of blogs on how hard it may be for an autistic person to deal to the chaos and overstimulation the holidays create. Some autistics have said the sight of seeing wrapped gifts was so much of an unknown that it was physically painful.
Although my son doesn’t find that unknow component painful, when answering the questions about gift wishes, he does find it easier to give a specific item. Not a long list but just 1 item. I tried coaching him to suggest a choice of 2 items thinking, at least there would be some sort of surprise. However, it made me begin to consider, is this helpful to teach him? Well, yes, I believe understanding you can’t always control all the details in life is an important skill but for those on the spectrum, gift giving and receiving is fraught with challenges. As an adolescent he wanted to give a gift to a girl he liked. He wanted to make it personal and something she’d like. He sought out suggestions and offered solutions. He thought perhaps a skirt would be nice; I thought it too personal of an item. I thought a book; he thought it not personal enough. As always, the guilt sets in and I wonder if I’m leading him in the right direction.
But as a parent, its all was can do; we can only offer solutions based on our own experiences and feelings. So then, is gift-giving and receiving more about me and not him? Should I or shouldn’t I allow him to offer solutions that best fit his needs? If knowing what he’s getting, vs the unknown, who’s to say that’s not right? Certainly not me.
October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month
Although getting out and looking for a job during Covid leads to its own trepidation, people with disabilities are even less likely to have an easy time finding work. According to the Cornell University Disability Statistics, less than 40% of people with disabilities are employed – that’s only 4 out of 10.
This month marks the 75th Anniversary of the National Americans with Disabilities Awareness Month but the ADA was only passed 30 years ago. That’s quite a discrepancy in how far we have to do for inclusion.
As parents we always want what is best for our child and as they grow into adulthood. Wouldn’t a job be one of those wishes? A way for them to support themselves it typically our highest level of hope. Yet, how do we help make this happen, or can we help? Are programs available? Do they qualify? What do I do now?
Sometimes we get lucky and opportunities happen. Sometimes you have to work for it. One such program we are happy to participate in is Project SEARCH. It began and the Cinncinati Children’s Hospital Medical Center wishing to fill some high turnover positions with people from their own clientele. The program includes both classroom time learning not only work skills but life skills plus on-the-job training thru internships. So after completion, the individuals are fully employed in nontraditional positions, with competitive wages.
We were lucky enough to participate in this such program that was championed by one the city councilors. Today our son is working full time, at a highly desirable wage, with a team that knows and accepts his uniqueness. He has tasks that match his autistic skills perfectly plus other tasks that stretched his comfort zone. Not only is he completely committed to his team, he has made friends and found tasks he thoroughly enjoys, much to our surprise.
We learned early on given the chance he could articulate his needs. We believe this helped him to the point, today, he is asked to advocate not only for himself but his fellow Project SEARCH participants. This month will bring about more awareness through education. My son has been asked to participate on this panel. Now that’s a proud moment!
Is defiance really defiance or just a misunderstanding?
And is scheduling the right answer?
Most children need order to their world. They need to understand and have the stability to feel safe and loved. This is very true for children on the autistic spectrum. Without stability and order to their world, they are lost, confused and that leads to fear and anxiety. When fear and anxiety enter, coping skills are limited and sometimes non-existent. When coping skills are limited or non-existent this leads to meltdowns and out of control behavior. Any parent of a child on the spectrum has witnessed and been a part of these meltdowns. So how can we help them?
If children need order and stability; they need to know what to expect. What’s next, what’s appropriate., what are the rules? The nuances of day to day flexibility leads to anxiety. Many parents will see this as inflexible and wonder why their child can’t just “go with the flow.” This inflexibility is a type of Black and White behavior so many autistic children thrive in.
Sometimes it’s simply that the child can’t see what other alternatives are available than what they know, or what could happen. What are the possibilities? Some may refer to this as thinking outside the box. This inability can lead to unwanted behaviors as the situations change from the norm and the child has limited tolerance for these new situations.
Routines and set rules are extremely important because it provides a sense of safety and order they require to function. Changes in regular known routines and unexpected changes in environments can lead to fear. Fear and anxiety lead to overwhelm.
When the routines and rules are broken, this also provokes an issue with what is perceived as right and wrong and that can lead to very unyielding behavior. The rules are considered the facts and lead to misunderstanding about what to expect. What can you do to help? What works for your child? For mine, it meant a set of rules that were the same no matter the day. Your rule, my rule, they are the same. We called these House Rules because he couldn’t argue with the house. If the House Rule is broken, the consequences are already laid out. If the rules are the same today and tomorrow, and the same next week, he could focus and realize, “It’s okay, I can handle this.”
We always fully explained when things needed to change and why it needed to change. With honesty and open communication, we let him know what was going to happen and why using plain black and white terms. No sugar-coating it. He understood our honesty; kids can tell when you are being too sweet about things. We had fewer tears and tantrums about the change. I’m not saying we didn’t have some, but it certainly was better.
We used empathy with a lot of situational examples from our lives too. “I’ve done that too and man that hurts!” can go a long way to making your child understand he’s not alone in these feelings. When the response is, “You have?” then he didn’t feel so alone.
Thus, structure and schedules work very well for children on the spectrum. They understand the flow of the day, the rhythm of the world, and feel safe and secure knowing that everything will be just fine. I’m not saying every child needs a full schedule daily, you know your child best, mine did fine with Saturday and Sunday as less structured because he knew the rules, he knew the expectation, and was secure in knowing the rules would be the same today and it will be tomorrow and it will also be next week. Black and white.
To Go or Not to Go, that is the question.
How Every Parent Of Children On The Autism Spectrum Can Control Parenting Stress
It looked like it was going to be the best day ever. It was a sun-drenched, emerald blue sky, with just enough warmth I didn’t feel the need for a sweater. Maybe spring was actually here, and hope felt anew, just like the new tulips popping up like little soldiers, lining up for revelry. We had bought the birthday gift, adorned now in its fairy-tale pink and glittery festive “Happy Birthday” wrap, with crinkled ribbons aplenty. You’d never guess the birthday girl loved anything but pink. The invitation practically dusted the table with glitter upon opening. And my son, he was excited beyond measure to read the invitation, let alone wait for the big day to arrive.
It didn’t take long to learn when children were together, playtime took on a new dynamic, even some of the most patient, saints-in-their-own-right, parents could handle 20 little kids, hyped up on excitement, new toys, cake, and sunshine. He was just as excited as the others, but children often don’t know the shrill of their excitement, the thunder of feet running over hard-wood floors, of parents trying to talk over the roar of children. A mixture for my little one’s meltdown. Was today going to be different, better? Had he grown up somehow, learning coping skills enough to handle the onslaught about to be thrust upon him? This was always the question – to go or not to go?
Today was as if the sunny day also brought about hope anew and friends to play with. I’m standing there, not sure if my new hope was valid or just wishful thinking. Was this really going to work? He always played well with his cousin, but this time, their playtime activities were going to be impacted by other children too. Children who may not understand the intricacies of sensory overload, unbending in some forms of play, with parents whose expectations could be unrealistic, or unaware or simply unprepared for what might happen when a meltdown was impending.
This was often my daily life of living with a young child on the autism spectrum. Preparing, hoping, and educating, often leaving parties early feeling judged and shattered with a broken heart for both him and I. That was until I learned what my child needed and how to help him cope with all the emotions, sounds and activities of what may lie ahead. But I didn’t learn this on my own. I didn’t reinvent the wheel yet again – that sounded like too much work, and I was already weary from just parenting. Plenty of books, plenty of websites talk about it, why not take what others already experienced and just modify it to my child. A good solid snack before leaving, plenty of sleep the day before, and for him, it was downtime both before and after the excursion.
We talked about how loud it will be, how excited the other children will be that his ideas of what sounds like fun may not be the wish for many, and should he be unhappy about anything, I was there to help and support. I always felt, as long as he knew what to expect, he always coped better and even more important was knowing I was there for him and if he was getting out of control and needed to remove him from the action. He never wanted to have a meltdown. He never wanted to be labeled or treated poorly by his peers because he couldn’t cope. He just needed support. He needed more compassion so after the incident self-awareness could evolve, and he would begin to understand the signs that he’s starting to get out of control.
Don’t go it alone but don’t expect other parents to truly understand. I found myself very unattached to parent groups, silently watching my son. Interacting minimally, with an open ear, searching for any sign it might be time to make our exit. If I could intercept, the meltdown didn’t happen quite as vividly, and the feeling I was being judged as an unfit parent then I could leave with both his and my dignity in tack.
Today, for family gatherings he brings items to distract him. We usually find a quiet room he can read or write or if not available, plug in his noise-canceling headphones and play music loud enough to drown out the din.
Yoda vs Darth Vader
How Every Parent Of Children On The Autism Spectrum Can Improve Communication (… and it’s NOT what you think!)
It’s a classic test of wills and strengths. We root for one or the other, I tend to root for the good guys but hey, to each his own…
Each character has its own characteristics. You look at Master Yoda with his green, wrinkly skin in shades somewhere between lime green, putrid green, or could we simply call it Kermit the Frog green? No, maybe not as bright a green, more aged as if Kermit might look after years in the sun. But Yoda, his face is both crinkled and taut yet supposedly offering both glimpses of ethereal calm and eyes full of the knowledge of The Force through the ages as if each bit is correlated to each star in the cosmos, linked and bound forever to one another mapped in a constant, unchangeable certainty. He’s muted and sedate like the rolling green hills of Ireland in the late summer weathered and heading towards the fall. In size and stature, you see small and non-assuming, like a small flower peeking through the winter snow as it melts, just standing there in its solidarity, knowing the snow will melt and it will remain.
Darth Vader offers a great opposite in comparison. A giant among many, okay maybe not giant, but sometimes a whole head taller than his companions. Standing up straighter than a tree bracing against the wind. Stoic and menacing with a shiny, black mask covering any chance of seeing emotion. The large black eye lenses resemble the eyes of giant bugs ready to eat you just before you turn to run like the characters did last horror movie you watched. They are large and ominous, allowing him to see his entire surroundings without anyone realizing where he’s looking. I use this technique too when I wear sunglasses, offering me a moment of obscurity. Darth Vader’s cape covers any semblance of curves or soft features and covers just to the tip of his boots worn high up his calves. Nothing too special about the boots except their strong heel strikes heard by all the Imperial Forces.
I hope you can look at these two analogies and see how different they are and what they represent to us. As a bystander, you don’t place much thought into these delicacies of the characters created by the costumers or how light and dark make us feel while watching the film. Each has an impact on how we view them and some qualities we may see in ourselves.
When it was time to help my son understand how he was feeling we had to look a bit further beyond the simple “pain-scale” pictures offered at the pediatrician’s office. Or the complex happy vs excited, worried vs sad, pictures bought at most children’s learning stores. You can say, “Oh, you look mad” but what if you want him or her to tell you how they are feeling. It isn’t until children are much older, are they able to put into words what they’re feeling without practice. But, give him a menacing character type and ask, “Are you Yoda calm, or Darth Vader mad?” Now we’re getting somewhere.
Almost anyone can see how much Vader doesn’t like the simplest indiscretion or talking back before seeking retribution by using The Force to choke the subject of his disapproval and must be stopped or stifled by his commander. Yoda, on the other hand, is a goal to strive towards. We see how much we’d like to strike out, seek our own recourse, but Yoda wouldn’t approve. I’m the parent; I too wouldn’t approve either.
This along with many other skills I learned as I was challenged with the task of raising a child on the autism spectrum. Whatever was given as a parenting skill, needed to be modified and enhanced to the level my son could understand. I may not always have original ideas, but always can take what I find and modify to make it work for my family. You can too!
Time For A Change
Today starts a new day. The first of many posts. I haven’t posted in years I’m fairly sure it’s been deactivated. Yesterday was my first Facebook Live post trying to get more comfortable in front of the camera. This building a business is hard work. I don’t want to do it wrong. I feel as I’ve made so many mistakes already and I haven’t even made any money. But that’s a post for another time.
Today I want to talk about my Why. Why am I doing this and what was that moment that started me on this path to helping others learn what I’ve learned. So let me tell you a story.
Let’s start with my backstory…I thought raising kids would be easier than it turned out to be. I thought with enough force and yelling, they would listen. It scared me as a child, I listened, why wasn’t it going to work this time? But yelling at Trey created fright, fear and yes, horror on his face. I really wanted to be a good parent. I wanted to create cooperation with terrorizing him so I could finally realize, I could be the kind of parent I wanted to be. Not feeling like the failure I was feeling. I’d been told I wasn’t doing it right, that I needed to make him mind whenever the chainsaw or lawnmower started up. I really hit this wall when he was about 3 years old and he wanted to get the corn chips from the cupboard drawer. WE were in the kitchen, any other time you would have thought it a bright sunny day with the overhead lights on, the white flooring. I was sitting, maybe reading or something at the table in the nook, not too far from him. He’s asking for corn chips. No real big deal I suppose now that I look back upon it. Could have been close to dinner time, I don’t remember, I’ll have to think on that more. I remember saying no, and he kept asking. Time after time he kept asking. I raised my voice louder saying, No. He moves towards the drawer and as he opens it he’s still talking about the chips, I rush from the table, slap my palm squarely on the counter just above him, and screamed, “No, stay out of the chips!” I was about 18 inches from his face, staring him down, almost daring him to move but by then it was too late, he’d gotten his fingers on the bag, just at that moment, it was the wrong end. The closed-end. This allowed all the chips to come crashing out, spilling and breaking all over the kitchen floor. I’m yelling, he startled and seems to be practically trembling, his face is covered with something I can only equate to horror. I stood there, willing myself a do-over but not wanting to show mercy or back down because then he’d win and I truly was the bad mom I’ve been told I was.
I don’t know when it happened after that incident, that night or the next day but the light came on. I knew I needed help and I was going to need to step up to learn what it meant to be a better parent. I did not want to inflict that kind of terror on anyone ever again. So I made a plan. I reached out to his teachers in Early Intervention. They connected me with a counselor who came to the house and helped us break down the steps to start to gain control or ourselves and help facilitate better communication and better skills.
It was hard work. We attended lectures, we studied, the information was everywhere and all so overwhelming. It would have been so easy to just give up. Give him up to the state; let someone else raise him. Everyone else seemed to have no trouble raising their children. Why was mine so difficult. Yet, with some time and hard work, we learned his triggers. We learned we could become the expert on our child. Plus, I could explain it to others. Here I was, becoming the parent I wanted to be, helping him navigate his world, showing others the way until finally one day thinking, wow, I can do this. I really can.