Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Autism or not...Are You Speaking Out the Positive?

Words are SO powerful. We all see the negative impacts that negative criticism can cause or teasing and bullying can cause, but have you noticed what positive words can do? I wrote in my last post about our son acting very mature and respectful when he had forgotten his bible in the van at church a few Sundays ago. We told him how respectful that he is and we knew that he's always been respectful and how we love seeing that character trait that is already in him shine out. As we already know, children with high functioning autism can struggle with social issues and one of those is respect and why this is so important. We have really been practicing and calling out all the times he or his sisters are being respectful and telling them how respectful they are. More recently we have learned that even when they are NOT being respectful, to call that out in them by saying the action was not respectful, but we know that they are respectful. This is not lying to them. We are all made in the image of God and we are calling those things out in which are already a part of them. In the few days that we have put the latter into practice we have noticed a huge difference!

When we use phrases like, "You are so disrespectful." or "you have no self control." We are speaking those things over them. They begin to believe these things and then start becoming exactly the thing that we are trying to teach them not to be. Instead we use phrase like, "What you did was disrespectful, but you are not disrespectful, you are very respectful." or "You were not using self control when you did that, but you know how to use self control and are not easily angered.". The way we word things can make a huge difference in our children's confidence and can bring out all of the things that God has already instilled inside of them.

We have told our son that he cannot use Autism as an excuse when different situations come up because he is NOT Autism, he may have Autism, but it is not who he is. He is a child of God, a brilliant, creative, loving, respectful child of God! I believe with all my heart that he will indeed one day be that engineer he wants to be and we tell him that. I encourage you to do the same and see what happens. Kids already hear enough negative stuff outside of the home. Let's be their cheerleader in life and bring out the best in our kids!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Positive Affirmation...10:1

Years ago, we were given a piece of advice that we will never forget by my brother-in-law(We miss you Brent!): For every negative admonition there should be ten positive affirmations. We took this advice to heart. When we first heard it, we thought, of course...piece of cake. It's not as easy as it sounds folks. It seems that it is easier to find faults rather than positive affirmation, especially when it comes to training up our children. After all, we are just trying to correct all the unwanted behaviors right? That is only part of what we are supposed to be doing as parents, it's more than just correcting. It's about training AND building up their confidence to see themselves in the way that God created them to be!

Raising a child with High Functioning Autism may make this task seem even more difficult, but it is possible. We have found ourselves, many times, trying to come up with those positives. I have learned that even the smallest of things becomes a huge deal with our son. He looks for those moments, even though he does not express it, we see it when he smiles over the praise. When he was younger(and sometimes even at his age now), it may have been exclaiming over how he had buttoned his shirt all by himself without getting angry or actually trying to tie his shoes before asking for help or not throwing a fit if his Lego creation fell apart. It may seem petty to make those things a big deal, but it is instilling confidence in him to try it again and not just give up on tying his shoes because he already knows he can't tie them.

Recently, after cleaning his room one day, I went to check to see that it was finished. When I went in I was pleasantly surprised and exclaimed over his tidiness. I then pointed out several specific things, how neatly he had made his bed and how organized and neat his bookshelf was. I made a very big deal over it. The look on his face was so awesome! It's rare to see him beaming as he was, it made me overjoyed to see him like that. I love trying to bring that emotion out in him. Another cool moment was just this last Sunday. We had just found our seats at church after getting our kids settled in their classrooms when our son appeared next to my husband. I later found out that he had enough confidence to know he could come and ask dad to help him with something. He had come in and told his Dad that he was sorry for interrupting, but he had left his backpack with his bible in the van and could he please go get it. My husband gladly walked out to the van with him. On the way, our son again apologized and thanked his dad for going with him and then was back on his way to class. My husband and I were truly amazed at this young man our son had showed us! This is a rarity as normally there may have been anxiety over leaving his backpack and crying would have ensued. It was a moment that both my husband and I noticed as a huge accomplishment. I can assure you that on the way home from church we talked about that experience with our son and told him how proud of him we are and how polite and respectful he is!

We really believe that by building up our son that he will really begin to see who he really is and that he can do things on his own and when he's tried and needs help, he can ask confidently and he will get the help he needs. We want our kids to feel confident and not feel like they can't get anything right. If we are constantly trying to correct the unwanted behaviors and not giving the positive affirmation our message comes across as they have to be perfect to have our love. I will be the first to say that we are not perfect and don't always get it right and have gone to apologize to our kids when we don't get it right. Kids on the spectrum can already be overwhelmed by anxiety and perfectionistic qualities. So, as long as we discipline and admonish in love and find every positive thing to affirm him, he will become more confident as time goes on and hopefully and prayerfully we will see more and more of those glorious moments as this boy grows into a young man. It is a long, hard road, but worth every step of the way to look back along that road and see all of the accomplishments.

Monday, April 8, 2013

When Special Interests Are Not Healthy

Teaching our son that life is not only about his special interest has been a challenge over the years. As with most kids on the autism spectrum, there is usually something that consumes their little minds and it is generally difficult to pull them away. For our son, his interests helps him to be calm in stressful situations, to be able to decompress and relax. In a sense it is much like a security blanket. We started noticing a few years back that one of his special interests were taking over the real world and we had to make some adjustments.

One of his interests is Legos. He enjoys building and creating. He can spend hours playing with Legos. We really enjoy the fact that he enjoys them so much. Because it is using his imagination and it is generally a shared time with siblings, friends and family, this special interest is left uncapped. Another special interest is video games, his favorite is MineCraft. MineCraft is a game in which you mine things to create different combinations to build things. You can build about anything in the game and there is some programming involved also. This is where it was getting tricky for us. He could spend a whole day on the computer or iPod playing his game. He was completely engrossed in what he was doing and using his creativity, programming and building elaborate cities(before MineCraft, it was Lego StarWars games), but was having very little social interaction. We found that if he spent more than an hour of screen time that he would be more upset or agitated and could easily erupt into a meltdown, especially when it came time to get off of the game. My husband and I came to the realization that too much screen time was definitely not good for him. So, we sat our son down and had a talk with him and informed him of the decision mom and dad had made and why we made the decision(the why is very important to him). I'm not going to say that this was a smooth transition for him because as most know, change is not easy for anyone on the spectrum. There were some meltdowns, but we stuck to our plan and it has payed off.

We came up with a schedule of sorts for him of when he could have screen time and how much. In the mornings, we have always had a difficult time getting him up and ready for school, so if he gets up, dressed and has his teeth brushed and bed made, he can play on his iPod for about 10 minutes before leaving for school. It is up to him wether he gets to or not. If he doesn't get up on time or is slow about getting ready his time disappears. He has learned that he has to get ready quick if he wants his time in the morning (yes, he uses a timer to brush his teeth for two minutes). On school nights he gets 15 minutes of screen time and has to set the timer when he plays. When the timer goes off, he gets off. On the weekends he gets one hour each day of any combination of screen time(this does not include watching a movie as a family). At first we had to remind him to get off, but he has adjusted to this schedule and gets off when his time is up on his own, most of the time.

Some may ask why we would do this. We do this because we believe that he needs to learn that life is not about the games he plays. He needs to socialize and build relationships, especially since this is an area of difficulty with those that are on the spectrum. Without people in our lives we become lonely and unfulfilled, which could lead to depression. He will still focus on his interests in his playtime with his friends and sisters, pretending that he is Steve from MineCraft and assigning the others with MineCraft characters(if they'll let him) or talking at length about the game, but he is socializing and talking with friends and family. It's been a process and it is still a process for both him and us as parents. We keep learning right along with him, one step at a time. We are not perfect and make mistakes, but hopefully we learn from those moments and make the necessary adjustments and get back on track.

So, for those that feel overwhelmed with all of the "stuff" just remember that you are not alone! One thing we have learned is that we too need to be in community with others. Without God, our community of friends and family, all of the "stuff" can be overwhelming. I'm so thankful for the people in our lives!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Glimpse of What Autism Looks Like for Us

In light of today being Autism Awareness Day I thought I would give you a glimpse of what Autism looks like for our son.  Our son is on the Autism Spectrum.  My knowledge of Autism was very limited before I began researching.  Every child/adult on the spectrum can be very different from each other.  Our son has High Functioning Autism/Aspergers/Autism Spectrum Disorder...whichever you choose to call it, it is Autism.  If you are acquaintances, but not in relationship with him, you would never suspect that he may different than other children.

Our son plays hard, he loves well, he enjoys building things, he loves to read, he loves to learn new things, he is quite bright and the list could go on.  Autism does not define who our son is, but it better helps us understand the way he sees the world.  For our son, it is difficult to see others feelings or emotions.  He may not understand that you are joking with him, or just stating an opinion, or if you raise your voice in excitement he may think you are angry.  Just yesterday, my husband was showing our son a video that said YouTube was going to end as it was all a contest to find the best video.  Our son didn't get the joke, he truly believed what they said in the video was true.  When we explained it to him, he just went on about his business without even the slightest of amusement.  If someone says something, even if it is all false, he may take it as truth.  He is quite black and white and there is no room for gray as it doesn't make any sense to him and because of this he may try to argue his point with whomever.  It has to be one or the other.  Another area that he struggles with is sensory issues.  If something is too bright he may overreact and cover his eyes, if something is too loud he may cover his ears and scream suddenly startling those around him, if something smells offensive to him you are guaranteed to hear about it, our son loves to touch and feel things and especially loves to be hugged(as long as you let him know you are going to do it first and he is ready for it), if he gets hurt you may think he has lost a limb and last but not least is taste.  Taste/texture/temperature of food is one of his toughest struggles.  He has a very sensative gag reflex and can be difficult for him to eat those textures that cause the reflex.  Meal times are one of our biggest struggles.  It makes it very difficult to visit friends at mealtimes, go out to eat or invite friends over at mealtimes.  He loves to move!  If you see our son out in public you may see him hopping, jumping, spinning or rolling around on the floor(yes, he has done all of these things in the grocery store, lol). He is in constant motion while he is awake and it somehow releases tension in his body(he personally says it just feels good to him).  Changing routine can sometimes be hard on him.  Today is the first day of state testing for him at his school.  We had warned him that he would not be staying up until his usual time of 9:00 to read, so if he wanted to read before bed he better do it earlier.  When it was time for bed, he cried for 20 minutes stating that he didn't understand why he couldn't read, even though we gave him the why.  He just kept saying how he had to read and he couldn't go to sleep without reading.  It took a bit for him to calm and accept that he wasn't going to read, but he did it.  He accepted it and went to sleep.  It may have been easier just to let him read for 10-15 minutes rather than go through 20 minutes of a meltdown, but how does he learn that it's okay if routines change?  Tonight, he will read earlier so he doesn't miss out on the opportunity again, lol.

Those are things we deal with on a regular basis with him, but there is also a positive side of his Autism.  This boy is smart!  He sometimes has a calculator type brain and can add, subtract, multiply, divide and much more in his head.  He can come up with answers much faster than I can.  His love for reading is unquenchable.  He has read more books in his little life than I have possibly read in mine.  It is quite difficult finding age appropriate, healthy books for him to read.  The good thing about his reading is that we can refer to some of the character traits of some of the characters he is reading about and use them in every day, real life situations.  He has an incredible memory!  He remembers things that happened years ago, with vivid detail.  He hardly has to study for tests at all because once he hears something(as long as he's listening and not talking to a neighbor) he retains it.  He loves academics!  His thirst for learning is also unquenchable.  If there is something we don't know, he wants to look it up and research.  So many times in school, his teacher has to get him out of research mode and get to the recording of the research mode.  He can have a very grown up like  conversation with you and has an extensive vocabulary.  Some of the words he has used I have never used.  He enjoys building and creating things.  Legos have been his all time favorite thing.  He has spent countless time building and creating the most creative things.  I love challenging him to build something and see what he comes up with.  He really enjoys when I or dad or his siblings play Legos with him (unless they are messing up his space or using the peices he needs).  He will play with most any kid.  Age doesn't matter to him.  He may not look you in the eye when you are talking to him, but he hears everything you are saying and soaks it up.

I'm so thankful to have the opportunity to be blessed by this little guy!  He has taught me how to slow down and think about how I say things and how it may sound to him.  He has taught me how to be more patient and understanding.  He has taught me how to love even more unconditionally!  This boy is quite an amazing kid!  He will do well in life and I am looking forward to see where his journey takes him.  Just the other day we told our son that our job as parents is to raise him so that he can grow up and be able to live life without mom and dad telling him how to do things.  I think it turned on a light in his head to know that we are not the enemy, but only there to help him along in this journey called life.