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.