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, and more than one in four shows at least mild symptoms of depression.” [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…
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