Autism: When to push and when to stop

By Lauren Swick Jordan April 1

TJ and the author. (Courtesy of the author)
My son, TJ, is 15 years old. He has autism.

When TJ was in elementary school, we worked tirelessly on so many issues. Sitting up for the entire circle time. Sitting through the entire lunch time without a meltdown. Taking turns and sharing. Accepting disappointment when something didn’t meet his expectations.

All things that every child must work on.

We also focused on more TJ-specific things, like his pencil grip. From the get-go in kindergarten, his grip was all his own. Nothing like that of the other children. His teachers tried many different ways to remind him to correct his pencil grip in hopes it would become a habit: notes on his desk with proper pencil grip pictures; verbal reminders; plastic grippers on his pencil that would forcibly enforce the correct grip.

None of them worked.

Finally, when he was in middle school, his team of teachers and therapists, along with my husband Sean and I, decided that since his handwriting was clear and legible, we didn’t need to enforce the “proper” pencil grip any longer. We let him use whichever grip he used naturally.

It hasn’t been an issue since.

As an autism parent, I frequently ask myself a big question:

What tasks and traits do we keep working on with him, and what tasks and traits do we let go of? What do we accept as being “naturally TJ,” and what do we think he will benefit from if certain things change?

I remember Temple Grandin, a famous autism pioneer, author, public speaker and person with autism, saying something like this (I’m paraphrasing): “The best thing my mother ever did for me was to treat me like the rest of my siblings.”

This has always been in the back of my mind, ever since TJ was diagnosed with autism when he was just over 2 years old. In certain cases, it is very applicable, and I believe has led TJ to some great successes:

He and his brother both sort, clean, fold and put away their own laundry. They both walk the dog. They both have cleaning responsibilities around the house.

You get the idea. It has worked in these cases for us to have the same expectations of TJ as we do of his neurotypical brother, Peter.

But what about other things we want for TJ?

Take, for example, socializing. This has been one of our biggest goals for TJ and has also been the most difficult one to master.

I struggle with this goal all the time. Should we keep pushing? Should we let it go? It is the area where TJ’s skills are the most lacking, and at the same time, in our minds, one of the most important ones.

But for TJ, is it important? At all?

The back and forth is constant, but thinking back, so were so many other struggles we have encountered in the past.

I have to remind myself that just as we have found clarity on all of those other issues we have previously had, so we will eventually find clarity on this one. We just have to stick with it, for now, hoping for even a little bit of gain. And eventually, we will know when it’s time to stop pushing and let TJ’s own socializing self (or not) take its natural course.

And I have to remind myself that with each new issue that comes up, we will help TJ tackle it as best as we all can — challenging him where we can for growth, and stepping back where we need to.

Time will tell. It always does.

Lauren Swick Jordan is a frequent On Parenting writer and blogs at Laughing…like it’s my job.

What to do when your kid can’t fall asleep without you in the room

Q: My two girls, ages 3 and nearly 7, share a room but will not go to sleep unless each has a parent by her side until she passes out. Anything less, and it’s complete waterworks and screaming, with the little one forcing herself to throw up. How on earth do we break this awful habit? It’s been going on for about a year, and we have had no energy to fight it. We hate ending the days with them hysterically upset, so we’ve just given in to this ridiculous ritual.

A: You feel utterly alone in this struggle. And I get it. It sounds so exhausting. But I want to tell you that I receive daily calls and letters from sleepless parents who are in the same boat. So, try to take some comfort in the simple fact that you are not alone.

But we have some problems here, don’t we? To begin to understand how you came to this place, it is useful to understand why children prefer to sleep with you and will fight so hard to stay with you, night after night.

Almost every parent knows that when a baby is born, that baby wants skin-on-skin contact with a parent or caregiver 24 hours a day. In fact, the very survival of newborns depends on a caregiver strongly and physically bonding with the baby. Cuddling, strong eye contact, loving speech and skin-on-skin contact are a critical part of the maturation process for babies.

As a child grows and becomes more mature, more distance can be tolerated between this child and her caregiver. You will see that the toddler toddles away, and the 4-year-old will run down the block, and the 7-year-old will spend all day in school. Because they spend more time away from you, however, nighttimes can become especially fraught.

Children can really become needy for their parents’ attention at night. Why is this? At night, the work of the day is done and it is time to relax. What brings children the most relaxation? Being physically close to their parents. Even older children want to feel close to their attachments. At night is also when the worries begin for many children, when the room is dark and things look like scary monsters. Worrisome thoughts may enter their brain, and it is completely normal for children to be troubled by fears of death, losing their parents or some other terrible thing. Children can feel unprotected and scared, and these feelings compel them to come find their parents. (These are the children who are hopping out of bed constantly.)

I am guessing that your children showed normal signs of this nighttime worry and anxiety, and in order to make them feel better, you began to get into bed with them. The “crawl into bed with the kid” trick has an almost 100 percent success rate of sleep . . . for the child. She instantly feels safe and relaxed. But as for long-term solutions, getting into bed with the children has turned into a nightmare.

So, this has been going on for a year. I would love to give an easy solution that involves no crying for them, but I don’t see that happening. A solution will happen, but it will require a great deal of patient, gentle persistence, a good sense of humor and not rushing anything too much.

Here are some ideas:

Developmental psychologist Gordon Neufeld suggests “turning into the skid,” which here means that you can let the children know that you are going to help them sleep in their beds. Alone. Say that they might cry, be scared, worry and miss their parents terribly. Go ahead and expect all of those feelings. Welcome them. Tell the children that these feelings make total sense. This is “turning into the skid,” because rather than fighting or rationalizing these feelings away, we are making room for all of the feelings that will occur.

Keep the nighttime routine structured, gentle, loving and moving along. Don’t ask too many questions or give too many choices; that will just create more insecurity. Be sure to focus on the next meeting and tell them, “I will see you in my dreams” or “I will be in this room first thing in the morning!” And before you leave the room (if they are not yet freaking out completely), let them know you will be coming back to check on them in less than one minute. Show them the timer.

Now here is where it gets really rough. If you have a child who is throwing up because she is so upset, the amount of time you leave the room may be only 15 seconds. I know, this sounds ridiculous, but her young mind may be able to tolerate only small amounts of separation. And because your older child is also upset, just keep checking on them at the same intervals. Be quiet about it, loving and firm.

I don’t know how long this will go on.

The hope is that the children will relax when they realize you are keeping up your end of the bargain and returning for another kiss. The length of time between the visits will get longer. But because this has gone on for a year, it may take a while. Just be emotionally ready for how long and painful this will feel in the moment. But night after night, bit by bit, you will get your time and your shared adult bed back.

And no matter how bad the night before was, greet the children with smiles and hope in the morning. “We are doing it . . . you girls are really sleeping so well!” Yes, of course this is not how you feel, but someone has to be the beacon of hope. And that is you, the parent.

Whatever you do, do NOT:

•Lock the children in their rooms or keep the door shut, blocking them. This will increase their worry into a traumatic panic. It is not only unkind but will also hurt any progress you have made.

•Punish the children for crying. You created this dynamic with them; it is your responsibility to help them.

•Bribe them to stay in bed. You will be broke in a month, and you will still be sleeping with them.

•Beat yourself up if you give up and get into bed with them. You are human. Just begin again the next day.

•Lose hope. Beyond reclaiming your marriage and sleep, you are helping your children to feel and accept your boundaries. This is how resilience is built in children. It won’t be pretty, but better now than later.

And again, you know your children best, so take my ideas and make them work for you.

Brain into Better Financial Behavior

 

Here’s a scary thought: We use the same part of our brains to think
about our future selves as we do to think about strangers. If our future
selves seem so far away and strange, how can we care about what
happens to them? No wonder so many of us make such poor long-term
financial decisions!
The sad fact is that 40% percent of Americans have no retirement
savings, while another 40% have less than $100,000 saved for future
needs.

Continue reading

Are Daily Homework Battles Driving You Crazy?

 

 

 Here are 11 Tips to Improve the Homework Experience for You and Your Child


Does your child struggle with homework? Kids who struggle with learning can find homework frustrating and exhausting (as in “tears, excuses, and tantrums” kind of frustrating and exhausting). And of course it only makes things worse when, for struggling students, assignments meant to take twenty minutes can take up to several hours.

Whether you and your child tackle homework immediately after school or a couple hours before bedtime, this kind of recurring routine is exhausting for kids and exhausting for parents, too.

How can you improve the daily homework experience for you and your child? Try following these tips:

Prep yourself 

  • Prepare mentally- Before diving in with your child, take a few minutes to mentally prepare. Decide ahead of time what kind of attitude you’re going to embrace, and how you’re going to respond if things get tense or difficult.

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Stress and the Teen Brain

In case you don’t remember (or were the rare exception), being a teenager is HARD. There are hormones messing with your emotions, the worry about being popular, the stress of getting good grades, lack of sleep, acne, the pressures of going to college, peer pressure and significant changes to your brain. One or two of these things alone would be difficult, but all of them at once can make even the most level-headed adolescent downright crazy! Continue reading

“I’m the Stupidest Kid in My Class!”

What to Do When Your Kid Says Heartbreaking Words Like These

When their hearts break, our hearts break. It’s one of the excruciating mysteries and blessings of being a parent.

We love our kids, and know just how amazing they really are. So when one of our kids is feeling inadequate or discouraged, we want desperately to fix the hurt.

Continue reading

Are Your Child’s Learning Struggles Turning You into a Monster?

Five Tips to Regroup

  You’re frustrated and frazzled. You’ve been nagging at your kids for hours. Snapping. Yelling, even. You’re not happy with how you’re acting, but you can’t seem to stop the momentum, pull a U-turn and get yourself off Witchy Lane and back onto Reasonable Avenue.

Welcome to the club. Continue reading