Yearly Archives: 2014

Connecting Feelings to Life Events

Part Two:   In my recent blog, I shared about supporting Adolescents with  Behavioral Disorders and Mental Illness in order to help them integrate in society, rather than become an outsider.   I shared that there are five areas on which I focus, raising my kids on the spectrum.  The first is self-confidence.  Instilling self-confidence in our kids is critical to their well-being.  From an early age I have taught my kids self-management; a precursor to self-confidence.   Teaching our adolescents self-management leads to self-reliance. This instills self-confidence and helps our adolescents create their ideology… We can help our kids growing up on the spectrum feel confident enough to decide how they want to occupy space in the world.  We can help them gain acceptance and understanding of their unique abilities and become comfortable in their own skin.  Read my blog posted in June:   Self-Confidence: Helping Adolescents with Behavioral Disorders & Mental Illness

Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on feelings and emoting in our home.  I’ve taught my kids over the years how to connect feelings to events in their lives.  This is a huge and very important process which has yielded tremendous emotional balance, or at the very minimum, the beginnings of empathy.  In my opinion, if a child or adolescent can connect to a feeling it strongly enhances their ability to process events and situations.  This gives them the foundation for empathy, compassion, self-acceptance, self-confidence and self-expression.  These are important attributes to adolescents feeling complete.  When my son, now eighteen, was diagnosed with Autism at the age of two; I eventually ceased to live in the way we were accustomed and started on a path of understanding his world.  As a toddler, he refused to let me hug him, let alone sit next to him on the couch to watch a Barney episode.  Each time I inched closer to him, he moved to the very end of the couch.  As a mom, I inherently felt that somehow an emotional void was there and I wanted to rectify that between us.  So I would cut pictures from magazines with Moms and their toddlers bonding… hugging, watching TV, playing at a park, etc. and I would show it to my son.  I would make up any story to share with him about these people and then end it with this is how Mommy and Z can play, etc.

Over time, and with the help of some exceptional ABA therapy (my kids received ABA-Applied Behavior Analysis and PRT-Pivotal Response Treatment intervention from the age of three),  I was able to build upon my “feelings” photos and dialogue as a natural part of our daily experience.  We now use “feeling charts” in our home and as an example, if my nine year old had bad day at school or was in a fight, I would ask him to describe to me from beginning to end, his perception of how the events unfolded.  At pivotal points during his relaying of the events, I would ask him to share how he felt in that moment.  If he was struggling with identifying a feeling, I would take him to the “feelings chart” located in the foyer of our home and ask him to “grab a feeling” from there that describes what he was experiencing during the event.  Throughout the years, my children have been able to access these feelings in their frame of reference when they are in stressful situations.  Over time, they have those feelings memorized and if we are driving, for instance or in a public place and something upsetting occurs, I would encourage them to take a deep breath and then think about the feeling chart at home and “grab a feeling” to tell me what they are experiencing in the moment.  This helps them process and articulate.  This helps them express, rather than suppress.  This reduces the tendencies toward explosive behaviors.

There is an indescribable feeling you experience as a mom when your eighteen year old son with ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) gives you a hug as a natural response.  Just about a two weeks ago, we were in Palm Springs visiting Granny and Grandpa O and he threw up violently after eating Greek food at a restaurant.  He was ‘trying something new’ and it did not sit so well with his sensory processing.  When we returned to our hotel, and after his shower, he approached me with outstretched arms for a hug to feel better.  My son is 6’2″ tall and wears a size fifteen men’s shoes.  This is a rare event, him reaching out for a hug.  My heart still tugs in overwhelm.  My mental flash-back rapidly travels to him as a toddler shunning me.  I am instantaneously gratified for both of us that throughout the years and with the help of many Behavior Interventionist, and the consistent guiding hand of Mom, he is able to emote and I am able to be the recipient.   As an Advocate to advance the cause of understanding everyone with disabilities and particularly those on the Spectrum, I feel compelled to teach and continue to tell our story in hopes that it makes a difference.


Self-Confidence: Helping Adolescents with Behavioral Disorders & Mental Illness

With the recent increased attention to Mental Illness due to the horrifying mass killings in Santa Barbara, Sandy Hook Elementary, The Aurora Colorado Movie Theater and other Institutions, I thought I would share some tips on how I’ve prepared my kiddos over the years to integrate in society.  My four children range from age four (4) to eighteen (18).  Each has their own unique experience living with Autism Spectrum Disorder [ASD]; Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder [ADHD], other Behavioral Disorders; Intellectual Disability, and Depression.  As a parent of a family with behavioral disorders and mental illness; I know first-hand how navigating the public mental health and education systems can oftentimes be enormously challenging, exasperating and intimidating.  “Approximately one out of five adolescents has a diagnosable mental health disorder,[1] and more than one in four shows at least mild symptoms of depression.[2][www.hhs.gov].  Understanding the dire consequences if I did not take up the gauntlet and ensure that no stone was ever left unturned; I have dedicated my life out of sheer necessity, grit and determination, to help my kiddos and others achieve and succeed.  My mission is to help kids break through all the barriers created by these sometimes overwhelming systems so they can live their best life.

Adolescents can take steps to live successfully with behavioral disorders and mental illness.  I believe my kids have learned very successfully, how to strike a balance in that sometimes tumultuous roller coaster of emotions, from rage to isolation, that come with behavior challenges and mental illness.  I believe the key to our success comes from two areas…  First is self-identification/self-confidence.  From a very young age I’ve instilled in my children a strong sense of who they are and their strengths.  I’ve helped them learn to exude their essence and identify where they fit in any situation.  We’ve practiced this on a daily, ongoing basis at home…  It is our way of life.  As a result, generalizing has become natural and second nature to them. Secondly, there is a strong emphasis on feelings and emoting in our home.  I’ve taught my kids over the years how to connect feelings to events in their lives.  This is a huge and very important process with tremendous results.  In my opinion, if a child or adolescent can connect to a feeling it strongly enhances their ability to process events and situations.  This gives them the foundation for empathy, compassion and self-expression.

In this series of blogs, I will share five areas that have helped my kiddos throughout the years.  Here is the first:

#1. Self-Confidence: – I’ve always felt it important that my children were self-aware.  That they understood who they were; and felt comfortable in their own skin.  That their self-perception was extremely important and ultimately the barometer by which they should measure performance.  The fact that they may look, think, learn differently did not diminish their value or self-worth.  I’ve taught them the importance of defining their own success and not to measure it based on the achievements of others.   The “Systems” we’ve utilized in our home encourage and support performance at any level.  There are built-in components to help my kiddos challenge themselves to do and achieve more at their pace.  We also wear or disability on our sleeves – not in an attempt to draw attention or sympathy – but to establish with confidence our limitations and boundaries in any situation.  Some examples of this would be my child telling a teacher, “I know I am not looking directly at you when you are speaking to me.  The reason for that is I have Aspergers Syndrome and I have a hard time making eye contact.  That does not mean I am not paying attention to everything you are telling me.”   Also, my child would tell a teacher, “I see the class rules say I must sit still in my chair.  I have ADHD so it it very hard for me to sit still for a long time.  When I need to, can I be allowed to walk around a bit during class?”  At Church, I would explain to someone staring at my son “stimming” with an object or rocking… “My son is diagnosed with Moderate Autism and right now he is feeling overwhelmed with all the sounds and movement around him.  What he is doing is soothing to him.  He will stop when he is settled.”  I’ve never “shushed” my son or made him feel uncomfortable being himself, wherever we were.  I’ve never given him the impression that I was embarrassed by his behavior. That was just a part of our life experience…  His journey.  I’ve always used any such situation as a “teachable moment” to those around us.  I’ve modeled that for my kids and they have learned to do the same as they develop their self-advocacy skills.  I’ve taught them that from self-confidence comes self-advocacy; and this will become more vital to them as they grow and mature.

More to come…

[1]Schwarz, S. W. (2009). Adolescent mental health in the United States: Facts for Policymakers.Retrieved March 28, 2014, from http://nccp.org/publications/pdf/text_878.pdf

[2]Child Trends. (2010). Child Trends Databank: Adolescents who feel sad or hopeless. Retrieved March 28, 2014, from http://www.childtrends.org/?indicators=adolescents-who-felt-sad-or-hopeless