The Power of You

What makes you or your child unique?

My youngest son and I were discussing the power of self-awareness, advocacy and accepting (even embracing) who you are. Only allow others to treat you how you want to be treated. Don’t think because you have autism that you are any less valuable or that people should treat you any other way than kind and respectful. My son and I talked about the power everyone possesses when they know who they are, and share it with others.

In our world, us neurotypicals (NTs) — not on the autism spectrum — spend much of our life trying to ‘fit it’ in whatever form that takes. Part of what my son benefits from in being on the autism spectrum is that he is unaware of the social norms and pressures peers try to place on each other. He is who he is, and when a peer tries to place a pressure on him, he either ignores it or is confused by it (which typically leads to a discussion at home as to why something happened or why someone acted the way that they did). An example, my son was friends with a girl and liked her for who she was. He wasn’t concerned that she was overweight or that she was a bit ‘louder’ than her peers. He thought she was funny and kind and she seemed very much to like him for him. One of his classmates decided to ‘target’ my son and his friend making a heart shape with his hands and continuing to do so after they had asked him to stop. My son said, “I don’t understand why he was making the heart shape. He acted like I was supposed to be mad about it, but it just really annoyed me. He wouldn’t stop doing it.” I took a guess at what might be going on, “Relationships make many people, particularly us neurotypicals, uncomfortable, and when we see people showing an interest in each other easily, without effort, it can evoke emotions in us — discomfort — either we’re jealous because we like that person and are embarrassed we didn’t act sooner, or we feel pressure to be in a relationship and don’t know how to go about it, or we feel there’s something wrong with who you like and even though that’s that person’s issue they try to put their discomfort on us.” He thought about it for a minute and said, “Well, it still annoyed me.” To which I responded, “Next time, tell them it annoys you. Ask them why they are directing their discomfort at you? I bet anything it will stop them in their tracks, because they likely don’t even realize that’s what they are doing.” This seemed to satisfy my son for the time being.

Being yourself isn’t always easy. Especially when you are young and you get messages from TV, the Internet, movies and peers about how you are ‘supposed’ to act. If you don’t have someone telling you you’re better off just being yourself (and that oh, by the way, most people will find it refreshing and even attractive) you can easily form opinions about how you should act and not be yourself. I’d hate to have that happen to either of my sons, I’m glad my youngest is challenged in being anything other than himself. He’s an inspiration to his brother, my husband and I, his teachers and many of his peers.

How is your child unique? And how are you helping them embrace who they are?

I will be off the next few weeks with Easter and then Spring Break, but will return later in April.

Kids Have Power

Have you ever seen the power kids have?

We are walking in the March for Our Lives march this Saturday, March 24th because we need to talk a stand to make our kids and our society safer. We’re walking because it’s important to us. And while I wish we the adults had already addressed these issues years ago (Columbine should have been enough, Sandy Hook should have been the last straw), I’m proud the students called us out on our inability to ‘do something’ and are helping lead this effort. I’ve seen the power kids can have first hand.

I witnessed kids having power in multiple ways — with their honesty, their bravery, their resilience, and their joy. I witnessed a different kind of power when my son (then 10 years old) went to a high school soccer game with his soccer buddies. Their coach also coached the high school team who was playing in the district tournament. The stands were filled with high school kids and their parents. The game was close, both teams were playing hard. Some players were being a little overaggressive — tripping, acting as if they’ve been tripped (oh, the acting!), and physical — running into/hitting each other. One player on the opposing team went into another player so hard he caused his victim to start bleeding profusely from the head. My son and his friends didn’t like what they saw one bit. You started to hear them chatter, “hey, that wasn’t fair.” “Why isn’t the ref giving him a card?” and on it went. I didn’t have a good answer. I wasn’t sure a card was in order either. Not to worry, the situation was reversed soon enough, to where the aggressive player, who had caused the other player to bleed, was clipped and started to bleed (much less so) from his knee. He threw his arms up in the air to the ref and started arguing that the other player should be penalized and how much he’d been wronged. My son and his friends weren’t having any of it. One of them stood up in the stands and said, “Oh, did you get a boo-boo?,” and the other boys immediately chimed in. “Ah, does it hurt? Do you want your mommy?” I don’t know where my son and his friends got this, I’d never seen them act this way before, but I have to tell you it got the crowd and the players attention. The opposing high school students weren’t happy about the comments but couldn’t say anything — what were they going to do yell at a bunch of kids in front of their parents? And the parents couldn’t say anything because, well, they’re the parents and they are supposed to set the example, right? The player, stopped complaining and quick ran across the field as far away as he could get — he didn’t come near us the rest of the game — I can’t say for sure, but would tell you it appeared he might be avoiding our side of the field. I smiled to myself and thought, “Wow, these kids have power.”

Don’t underestimate the power of a child’s voice to make change — it has power. Whether its small and finite — like getting an older kid to stop his behavior on the soccer field, or big and bold — like the Parkland, FL students who are getting us off our backsides to do something about guns in our country.

What (super) powers does your child have? How you are you helping them find their voice?

What Luck

Have you ever felt lucky?

Like any parent, I feel like I am constantly busy — going from one thing to the next all-day everyday. Imagine my surprise when I was sitting in my kids dentist office stressing about getting my oldest to school on time, when a text came across my phone. It was from a close family member who simply said, “I’m in the hospital. I’m okay. I’ve had a mild heart attack. The cellphone reception here stinks or I would have called.” I re-read the text one more time. Here I am stressing about getting my son to school and someone I dearly love had a heart attack. My stress moved from being concerned about getting my son to school and moved to checking on my family member. I tried calling, but as they told me the reception wasn’t great and I went to voicemail. I tried another member of the family and got up to speed on the situation from them. Everything was okay for the moment and there was nothing I could do to help. I switched back to stressing about getting my son to school. Later in the day, I reveled at my ability to compartmentalize the days stresses and get through it.

Later, when I finally was able to reach my family member, we discussed how she was doing, how things happened, who was with her, did she want me to come to her and I really wanted to hear ‘everything’s going to be okay.’ I couldn’t imagine losing this person at this point in my life. I’m not sure we’re ever prepared to lose a loved one. She was very lucky to be near an urgent care center who saw her and quickly guided her to a nearby hospital who admitted her. She was lucky to have friends nearby who could be there with her and help her. They ran numerous tests and couldn’t determine what triggered the event, she stopped showing symptoms and was eventually released. Lucky. Lucky. Lucky.

I struggled with what to tell my kids about the situation. It was serious and I thought they were old enough to handle it, but I also didn’t want them to worry. Thankfully I was able to share the news with them and reassure them that everything was going to be ‘okay’ or as okay as it can be. We were lucky what happened wasn’t more serious. They took it better than I thought. They were concerned, but once they saw I was okay about it (I’ll admit I was trying to come across as cool as a cucumber even though I wasn’t), they were okay about it as well.

Have you experienced a health scare in your family you feel lucky to have gotten through?

 

You’re a Good Friend

How many good friends do you have?

My youngest son and I continue to read our new favorite book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules: The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cooke O’Toole. What I love about this book is how much of this information benefits people on the spectrum and those of us who aren’t.

My son and I are now in the part of the book that is about friendship — what makes a good friend and how to go about cultivating a friendship. As I read the chapter I was struck by how much I would have benefitted from someone telling me this information when I was my son’s age about what makes a good friend. When I was young, I didn’t think about friendships in layers per se, but did understand I had different friends — some were kind, some were kind when they felt like it, some could be trusted, others couldn’t, etc. In the book, it spells out characteristics a good friend has. Some of the basics: Smiles when they see you, likes some of the same things you do, shares some of the same opinions, invites you to hang out. And others that are more advanced and truly define a good friend: stands up for you (even if you’re not there), stops you if you put yourself down, listens, sees talents in you that you hadn’t noticed, likes you for exactly who you are. There are many more characteristics she names, but you get the picture, she is shining a light on what a true and worthwhile friend is.

After reading this I reflected on my own childhood friends. I had some friends that had some of these characteristics, but don’t think I had any ‘true’ friends until I was college-age. As I’ve grown older, I’ve sought out, cared for and worked to develop healthy and meaningful friendships vs. giving equal care and time across all friends regardless to what they bring to the relationship. I wondered how I might have invested my time differently with people earlier in life if I had had this information. I thought what the author said was so valuable I grabbed my older son and said, “I need to read this to you.” He has friends much like I did in middle school — some are nice, some are nice when they feel like, some can be trusted, and others cannot. After reading with both my boys I felt like I had given them a path to know how to spot a good friend and better spend their time with people who will value them and their friendship and reciprocate in kind.

Friendship can be a tricky thing to navigate, especially if you don’t understand what a good friend ‘looks’ like. I’m grateful I’ve had an opportunity to enlighten my kids (and remind myself) about what a good friend truly is.

How are you teaching your child to spot (and make) a good friend?

PJs All Day Long and No Where to Go

When was the last time you were in your pajamas all day long?

For me, it was probably the last time I was sick. And the time before that, I was probably sick, and so on and so on. It’s been a long time since I’ve allowed myself to hang out in my PJs all day.

My kids have had time off school lately and my youngest just lazed around the house one day in his PJs. It was colder than normal outside, so going outside wasn’t on the radar. When I asked my son, “Are you planning to change out of your pajamas anytime today?” He replied, “Mom, why would I? I don’t have anywhere to go and these are comfy.” He had a point. I feel like I run around from one thing to another all the time, work, errands, getting the kids place and back, etc. I’m not good at relaxing, or not having something to do.

Too soon my son will be my age, and he too will only remember days where hanging out in your PJs means he came down with some illness or virus. So for now, an occasional PJ day is fine. It will be a reminder to me that we all sometimes need to relax, be comfy, and have no where to go.

How do you take advantage of having no where to go? How do you take advantage of relaxing when the weather keeps you inside?

 

An Olympic Impact

Are you watching the Winter Olympics with your child?

While my children normally prefer to watch cartoons, I’ve been able to slowly but surely get them to watch the Olympics with my husband and I. We started with curling and cross country skiing, I couldn’t hold their attention. Skating caught their eye, “Wow, they make it look so easy,” my oldest commented. Snowboarding, the half-pipe in particular, captured their attention. Watching Chloe Kim and Shaun White win gold was pretty amazing. Getting the kids to stay tuned beyond that has been much simpler. They are now interested in watching downhill, luge, and ski jumping. They are slowly but surely getting into the Olympics.

Of course, I’m reminded of my own Olympic dreams when I was a kid. Swimming was my sport and I just knew one day I’m make the games. I wonder what impact watching the Olympics will have on my kids. Will watching inspire them to have new Olympic dreams?

There is something special about the Olympics. You see passion, dedication, and sacrifice. You see people’s dreams come true or crashing down. It can be a roller coaster of emotions for the athlete and the viewer. What it gave me as a kid was a dream — a vision for what I could do and who I could be (Olympian) — I never made it that far, but the child in me always treasures the dream for what it was. I learned that while the athletes make their respective sports look easy, it’s the long hours of hard work, failures and getting up and trying to get better over and over again that elevates them to their elite levels, and that in life to excel and exceed you have to push yourself to be your best over and over again very much like an Olympic athlete.

I wonder what my kids will take from the Olympics.

Are your kids into the Olympics? What impact do you think the Olympics will have on them?

Love at 10

What did you think love was when you were 10?

I only knew love at 10 in two forms: real – love from my parents; family and the occasional nod from the family pet; and what I thought love was supposed to be – what I saw on TV,  and in movies. I can remember my first crush at nine — a classmate in my 3rd grade class. I liked him not only because he was handsome, but because I thought he was nice and we could easily talk at school. I didn’t get flustered or conscientious when I was around him, he seemed to like me for me. I didn’t know what to do with my feelings. I was fearful that if I said anything he might reject the idea of us (and therefore me), and didn’t want to risk it. I hoped he might feel the same way and also be struggling with how to share his feelings, but I found out soon enough, that was not the case, when he asked a classmate and close friend of mine to be his girlfriend. I was, in fact, crushed, and if memory serves me right, I voiced this to him. I recall a brief exchange where he wanted me to talk to him about problems he was having with his girlfriend — I heard him out, told him I had no clue how to help him, and ensured I caught his eye. “This wouldn’t have happened with me,” I said (wow, where did I get the guts to say that? I thought). His eyes widened ever so briefly as he had an ‘aha’ moment, he maintained eye contact, smiled a big understanding smile as though he liked the thought (I smiled back), then almost as quickly broke eye contact, cast his head down and frowned realizing the situation he was in. It was nice to understand for a brief moment that maybe he felt the same way I did, and just didn’t know how to express himself.  In my youth, I was always disappointed we weren’t able to maintain the friendship we’d previously had after that point. I moved away a year later and that was that.

My youngest, thankfully, is way ahead of where I was at when I was 10. His Asperger’s gives him clarity on what he likes and doesn’t like, and the ability to voice his opinion without any hesitation (it can be an inspiration and strength in certain situations; a challenge we have to work to overcome in others). He decided this year for Valentine’s Day he wanted to do something with his ‘girlfriend’. Instead of us parents commiserating and deciding where the kids go and what they do, we left it up to them. “Why don’t you call her and ask her what she’d like to do?” I suggested. My husband role-played the phone call with my son to prepare him. He called her and the exchange was pretty priceless. He asked her what she wanted to do, she suggested going to the Aquarium and my son said, “I could be okay with that. I don’t really care where we go. I super-duper don’t really care.” Okay, so we have some work to do on phone etiquette. He hung up the phone and we realized he hadn’t confirmed a time and logistical details. He called back and finalized the afternoon with her. We talked about what he wanted to get her for Valentine’s Day after. He said ‘a card’ and I offered that we might get her something in addition to the card. His thoughts went to candy, mine went a different direction. “What about a wrist corsage,” I asked, “Its small flowers that you can wear on your wrist. She likes flowers, do you think she might like something like that?” My son smiled. “Yes, she would. Let’s get her that!” Okay, so I intervened a little on this one — guiding him to get the girl a present I probably would have flipped over when I was her age.

My son is very clear on what he likes — family, cats and anyone who is nice to others; geography and pretty much everything associated with it; acting/drama; drawing; and his girlfriend. There is no waffling, uncertainty, or ability for anyone not to understand how he feels. It’s a clarity I wished I had more fully owned when I was his age. Clarity around who and what you love seems to make life so much easier.

What does your child love?

Happy Valentine’s Day!

One Day At A Time

How do you handle stressful situations?

This year has been off to a somewhat stressful start for our family. My job has evolved and I’ve taken on more responsibility. My oldest picked up new classes and is feeling the stress of higher demands on his abilities and performance. And we got a cat (but you already know that).

Early in January, I was having moments where the new responsibilities were too many and coming at me too fast. In those moments I’d feel overwhelmed, and experience a wide range of emotion from fear–can I handle everything that is being given to me? to anger–why is this happening me? to hope — okay, I think I can do this; only to find myself repeating this loop over and over. It was exhausting.

My oldest was going through the same. Taking on assignments that were pushing his comfort level. Due dates that seemed aggressive. Grades hanging in the balance. He too was dealing with a range of emotion from fear — how am I doing to do this? to anger — why are they asking me/making me do this? to hope — okay, maybe I can figure this out. The same loop repeating over and over, and just like his mom, he was finding it exhausting.

In moments of stress, we seek out coping mechanisms. All my former coping mechanisms were not having the intended affect. Food — no thanks, no appetite — I’m too stressed. Meditation — okay I’m meditating, but I’m only slightly less tense after doing so. Giving myself a break — too tense and overwhelmed to even consider it. I had a moment of clarity when I was discussing my situation with a peer. “I’ve got to just take it one day at a time,” I said. I don’t know where it came from, but it was like a light turned on. Part of my struggle was that I kept jumbling everything I had to do today, tomorrow, next week, next month, etc. into the ‘have-to-do’ compartment of my brain which was setting off my ‘help-I’m-overwhelmed’ alarm bells. When I said it outloud, I could almost immediately feel the stress diminishing. One day at a time. I can handle this. Just focus on today. Not tomorrow or the day after that. Just today.

After having this ephiphany I shared it with my son. When he next shared how stressed he was, I asked him what he had to get done that day — not the next or the following, just that day. When he replied with items he had to do he had a similar reaction. He even smiled and said, “I can do that, mom.”

His relief matched mine. I’ve heard the phrase “one day at a time” a million times, but never really took it to heart, until now…when I had to.

How do you cope with stressful situations? How do you help your child cope when they are stressed?

Learning Together

What are you teaching your child?

As a parent, I’ve always felt my role is mainly comprised of two things: to teach my children things (how life works, how to be a good citizen, how to prosper, etc.) and to keep them safe. I’ve been keenly aware since becoming a parent, that while my husband and I are doing most of the teaching (in addition to their formal education and instructors), we’re also learning from each child–each is different, has varying needs and ways in which they learn–so we can help them thrive.

My husband and I became increasingly aware that we were going to need to increase our knowledge of kids on the autism spectrum after our youngest was diagnosed. He has always done well academically, but struggled socially. He has a happy disposition, and people generally like him, but he is challenged with making meaningful and lasting connections. In doing some research I came across a book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules — The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. My son and I started reading it together. For me, it was like shining a light in a dark space. I started to understand the true challenges my son faces and why. For the first time, I started to get a much better understanding of how my son’s brain works. I wasn’t the only one who was learning. My son started to get a much better picture of what we’ve been trying to teach him and why.

The book references those that are high-functioning as Aspie’s, and those that are not on the spectrum as Neuro-typical (NT). Oh, how I love that difference. It provides an alternative to speaking of behaviors in terms other than normal and abnormal. My son is a pretty normal kid with the exception that his brain is wired to think and process information differently. My son and I have been learning together. We are having ‘aha’ moments where we are understanding each other and social situations described in the book more clearly. My son even had a moment of self-reflection where he realized how he’d handled a situation as an “Aspie” vs. a “NT”, and how he might handle the same situation differently in the future.

While I have always prided myself on being a good teacher to my child, I’m finding more satisfaction learning together. I need to learn more. Learning together now, while I can still help my child as he grows, feels like winning the lottery. Thank you to Jennifer for this book. For the light bulb moment, and more that will come. Not just for my family, but hopefully for many others.

What are you teaching your child? How are you learning from or with your child to help them as they grow?

On the Road (Again)

Do you have to travel for work?

I am on the road once again. This year looks to be on that will involve more travel than I’d like. My kids are older, so it’s not as painful as it previously was. They are able to get themselves ready, lunches made and out the door with little effort (other than nagging) from my husband or I. We still have to drive them to various spots, but that seems more of an inconvenience (a needed inconvenience) than additional stress, and when one of us is away the other picks up the slack easily.

My sons are better able to handle one of us being away too. FaceTime helps — me mainly — I need to ‘see’ everyone’s okay.  When I call I often find my kids are happy as clams watching whatever is on Cartoon Network — my call becomes a ‘distraction’ from an episode they’ve probably already seen a dozen times.  They’ll throw me a bone and say “hi, Mom” and ask “How was your day?” and I may get a few more nuggets of what happened during the day. I’m tired, they’re distracted, not ideal for a meaningful interaction, but I’m glad we do it regardless. The guilt I’ve felt in years past has dissipated a bit. It’s still there, but not as strong as it previously was. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve gotten accustomed to me traveling or my kids (and I) seem to be able to handle it better, or both.

Traveling does remind me that I’m missing precious time with them. The meeting or event may feel really ‘important’ but when I see their little distracted (yes, by the cartoon or video app or whatever has their attention) faces, I’m reminded of the time I’m missing being present with them. How quickly they are growing up, and how I can’t wait until I’m back home again.

How do you stay connected with your child when you are traveling?