Back to School

Summer is a coveted time for my son to escape from demands of school. Ridge loves his free time and needs it to rest and get bored enough to willingly engage in the world again.
We did not make any trips this summer. We enjoyed going to the river a few times. It was successful because of familiarity, past success, preferred food items, and favorite people.
It may sound silly to think of “fun” in this way but having spent so many years in constant anxiety with forcing and fighting the unwilling child, it is ingrained to my very core.
I managed a few horse camping adventures without the family and this was good for everyone but required a lot of work and planning.
Is it worth it? Yes.
When I was first introduced to ABA , I had some difficulty with the concepts of reinforcement and all the “work” of analyzing behaviors. Part of me thought it was ridiculous and I wanted my child to behave “because he was supposed to”. Although I knew the current plan was not working, I was reluctant to change because I truly felt I was doing the best I could. I was…until my knowledge base expanded and I changed my approach. It was not easy but my new behaviors were reinforced by my son’s new behaviors.
Last week,I overheard Ridge tell his sister that he no longer has Aspergers. I didn’t say anything but later I asked him what he meant. He said that he knows he used to have behavior problems but that they are no longer a part of him. He said that he still has anxiety but he doesn’t let it control him. I asked how he does this and he said he just sees it and remembers that things usually work out better than he feels at the moment.
Wow… He is mindful. He is observing himself. He has mastered what I am try to do with meditation and mind training programs.
Football practice started this week. We had to get up in the dark and I had taken Benadryl for a cold so I was totally out at 6AM. Ridge woke me up and was ready for me to drive him. He was nervous but as he had said, he pushed through.
When I picked him up he was laughing with the other boys. I asked how it went and he said that as soon as he saw his friends, his fear subsided and it went well.
All the years of pushing him to join in suddenly seemed worth it. The natural reinforcement of friendship has taken over and he no longer plays football with a behavior contingency plan.
He likes it.
He likes his coaches.
He likes his friends.
He likes himself as a member of a group.
He wore his CHS shirt into a restaurant and the manager asked about the team. Ridge seemed a bit confused at first because he has never had a “group” identity. Then the man offered him a job!
We had a great discussion about experiences and how others perceive a person. I was so proud of Ridge for the years and years of work it has taken to stand in such a wonderful spot.
Today, he stepped up a little more in independency. After practice, he went to the school and turned in his paperwork and got his schedule without me. I purposely stayed away until he called.I carefully “felt out” his ability to do this on his own. As I drove in to pick him up there was a traffic back up so I called him and he agreed to walk to the convenience store (something he has always been fearful of doing).
I parked and went in to reinforce this event with a soda. I saw a HUGE refillable drink container and bought it. Sugar is not good for a person but in this instant the novelty and volume was too tempting.
I came out to my car trying to carry this monster cup and Ridge was walking up laughing at the spectacle. He told Maddie later how funny it was to see mom struggling with the gigantic cup.
He didn’t drink all of it and suggested we use it for water.
I still use my computer and laminator to help Ridge. The daily visual schedule has been replaced with his regular school schedule and the school calendar. I did write important dates on a desk calendar for him and he took it to his room and hung it on his wall. We all can use organization. He may be even ahead of his peers at this point.
I am proud of Ridge for his willingness to push through the times he feels so uncomfortable. I am proud of my ABA training too. It helped me to keep perspective and break things into small steps. I learned the value of positive reinforcement and the importance of consistency.
This weekend, I found a stray cat that had been abandoned by its owners. I didn’t want her. She was terribly skinny and loud from constantly crying. I brought her home and was amazed at how loving and kind Ridge has been with her. He slowly integrated her meeting the dogs. He feeds her and reassures her that she is ok. Food and water are plentiful here. Her voice is changing from a loud cry to a sweet mew. She wants to fight the dogs and that resistance will take more time to resolve. We just ignore the hissing and pet her.
Her recovery is all of our recovery.
I am so appreciative to see this side of the game. Many of you are in the middle of the highs and lows of the battles. Just don’t give up. Stop any negative voice of guilt and fear that may waylay your progress. Love what is -even if you have to pretend a little.
I hope your back to school time is an easy transition. I have been planning, preparing, getting routines going, simplifying some things and resting. (I also escaped to a see Bad Moms and snuck in a wine cooler. Yep, I laughed like crazy….)

Summer

Last summer, Ridge had planned to attend a summer program at a local university for engineering. We found out that the daily schedule was changed to take up most of the day and I agreed with him that it might be too stressful. I was disappointed because I thought it would be a  good opportunity.

On his own, Ridge made up a list of daily goals that he would do instead. Maybe he was trying to assure me that he would not just stay in his room all summer. It was a perfect example of self management. He soon became stressed as he did not always complete everything on his list and even though it was his choice he still felt rule governed.

I suggested that he re-write the list and prioritize a few things and create “optional” activities. He thought about it and the next day reported that he had indeed taken my advice and it was a more workable system.

I was so proud of him for superseding his default buttons and modifying his behavior and mindset to adjust to his own needs. This took a great deal of self awareness, reflection, and honesty.

How many times have all of us tried a new diet or exercise plan that was not practical to our lifestyle? I remember asking my brother about the best exercise plan a few years ago as he was a competitive triathlon guy. He said, “The best plan is one that you will do.

Yesterday was Ridge’s last day as a freshman in high school. He seemed melancholy and I asked him what was wrong. He said that he was going to miss it! Holy Cow what a first!!!

I expected him to miss the order of the day, the systems in place for lunches, exercise and social time.

I was pleasantly surprised that he has made a few deep connections with some of his teachers this year. He especially liked his Spanish 2 teacher because he was a very consistent teacher that expected a lot from his students. He engaged the students with active responding and gave a tremendous amount of positive feedback. Ridge said that he never embarrassed a person but was totally willing to help them as long as they gave some effort. Sadly, some of the students preferred to be lazy and refused to participate. This became a big issue for Ridge. He regularly discussed his anger with the other students that were disrespectful to the teacher. On a few occasions he felt like he was close to a melt down in the teacher’s defense! I congratulated him on his self control. He overheard one girl say that she was going to tell her parents that the teacher assaulted her when she was mad. I was about to intervene at that point but I asked Ridge what he thought and he said she was just showing off to cover up her insecurities. Geez!

Not only did he learn a lot of Spanish, but he has learned some very important life lessons. A good teacher teaches so much more than they ever know. Thanks, Mr. Riley.

How sad it is that by the time kids get to high school, so many have already become totally shut down and bitter about life. Ridge thinks it is because they have been forced their entire lives in what to say, how to think and what to wear so they are acting out against the teachers because it is the only place they can. Ridge has never been much of a conformist and has always feared authority figures. He can differentiate and respects those authentic and caring people he encounters –not all teachers are power hungry bullies. He has learned how to manage by discriminating the personality types he meets and by adjusting accordingly. In the past, his fear caused him to generalize all teachers and administrators into one category.

FullSizeRender.jpgI typed up a little plan this morning of activities that I thought he would like to do. Instead of forcing the goals, I was able to ask him what he thought about it and he seemed to be appreciative. He has learned that he likes a certain amount of order and planning along with his “scheduled freedom”. Sounds like a good idea for me too!

Ridge’s Plan

SUMMER 2016

Daily Activities  (5/7 days per week)

  • CrossFit
  • Meditation-Deep Breathing
  • Driving Practice
  • Work on arena wall
  • Fresh Juice

Other:

  • Outdoor trips-tubing in the fiver, picnic, dog walks, state parks
  • Read or listen to audiobooks
  • ICES Machine
  • Hot/Cold Shower
  • Cook meal once per week
  • Social get togethers
  • Metal projects

Demonic Monkey

As a follow up to the idea that we can observe ourselves when become agitated like a nervous monkey, I remembered this song my oldest son sang about 10 years ago.

The key to awareness is in practiced observation of ourselves. Just by observing and watching what our bodies feel and our mind thinks gives us the space to self manage.

The goal is not to attack the “monkey mind” but to see it, learn from it and adjust accordingly.

Sometimes we feel stress and anxiety but push it back and it builds up inside our bodies so much that we get physically ill. This repression will often come out later in situations that may not warrant the extreme behaviors that we may exhibit.

Getting upset at our reactions can actually make our anxiety worse. We must learn to observe, accept and listen to our bodies. Instead of fighting the demonic monkey we must learn to love it.

Fears and Mental Perseverations


Recently , I attended a conference hosted by Martha Beck. She shared the idea that we often react to a problem like a nervous monkey letting our reptilian brain run wild .  We can also observe ourselves and say , “the monkey is nervous”. If we allow spirit to speak we might say, “Awe, monkey ” with love and acceptance. These three mental thought perspectives are possible and we can train ourselves to use the higher perspective that helps us to be happy and productive.

This idea is challenging for adults but most spiritual development recognizes the value of this inner work.

Persons on the spectrum often experience exaggerated responses to fears and triggers. Recently , my son was alone at our home when he saw someone at our gate. He tried to call me but I was at a meeting and did not hear the phone ring. His mind went wild and he felt threatened so he grabbed a weapon and hid in the closet.  By the time I saw his phone calls and was headed home, it was over but he was still very agitated. 

At 16, this may seem unusual for most people but I bet other parents can relate. I felt so bad for him and I felt bad for myself. 

I started thinking of replacement behaviors of deep breathing and alternatives to teach him to try. (The person in the driveway turned out to be his older sister and her friend.) I have realized that I can not predict every possible scary situation that he will be faced with in life and I can not always be available to fix his problems.

The best I can do is to reinforce his own ability to observe himself and maybe recognize “the nervous monkey” and try to calm himself. Acceptance of his emotional state is important. 

Martha Beck did not mention the mamma monkey scenario. At some point we can’t carry out baby monkeys any more.  My heart hurts to see his struggle.

All I can say is , “Awe monkey…” to both of us. 

Awareness

I think that people on the spectrum are great teachers to us mere neurotypicals.  Just this weekend, my son was invited to a friend’s home for a sleepover and to work on a group work project for a school assignment. This is usually stressful because he considers the weekend his off duty time. He really really loves to stay in his room and relax after a week of meeting school and social demands. He justified the experience because:

 1. He needed to go for the assignment.

 2. He has been to this friend’s home many times before and his parents are always supervising and provide foods he likes- pizza and breakfast burritos.

3. He took my cot- tent so he could have his own bed and privacy (he just sets it up inside).

4. He had a 5 pound bag of Jolly Ranchers that I bought him to share.

This may seem odd to NT teenager parent but these plans help him to alleve anxiety and help him to focus.

The family threw a kink in the plans because they wanted to take the boys to a flea market. This was an unplanned event      but Ridge went. He came in with some antique backpack and an “I Love Dachsunds” sign. 

He said he had had a good time and that he even relaxed his normal “work tyrant” attitude. I asked why and he said that even though he has tried in the past to make the group stay on the project , it never worked and just made him angry. This time he said he just tried to go with it. What?????? Did I hear this correctly??


So here is what I think we can all learn to do more of-

  • Be aware of your needs and plan accordingly .
  • Notice your own behavior and how it affects others.
  • When your attempts aren’t working, change.
  • Love what you love!

Thanks Ridge. 

LAUGH

When you experience opposition along the ASD path, it is very normal to feel anxiety, mistrust, bodily pain and fear. It is easy to feel that life is against our children and our families. Be careful of this dark trap!

I could not see it at the time of my son’s most challenging behaviors, but looking back ,I can see that what happened was NEEDED in order to learn and grow-for all of us.

No one wants to watch their children suffer at the hands of a seemingly uncaring world. However, we as parents can prevent progress by our own negative attitudes.

In my experience, I have learned that force doesn’t work well.Once we fight and win one thing, we have to keep fighting to keep it.

The truth is that there are many people in the world that want to help our children be successful-not just us. Finding those special people makes life much better!

The world really isn’t conspiring against us. Our kids often believe this and we must meet this test with acceptance and optimism of a good ending so that we can counter balance “catastrophizing.”

At times we may feel isolated and alone. Sometimes I really was. But not really because this pushed me to listen to Spirit and follow a path that was new to me but definitely the right one. We can always lean on the support that is not seen by our human eyes.

Life is more joyful when we can lay aside feelings of mistrust. I had to question myself many times before I could accept that my son’s teachers were not trying to hurt him.

As parents, we have more power than we realize. Our willpower alone can move mountains. Because the path is filled with surprises and fear, sometimes we become too meek or sometimes we become too forceful to bring true progress. If we can continue to look for the good in others , be tolerant, and use gentle goodwill we will steadily move forward.

When those moments pop up that trigger our doubts and fears, try to stay focused on the task at hand rather than letting the situation engulf into the evidence of a bigger problem.

It is not easy to stand up for your child’s rights without feeling defensive. The cost of the negativity is that it impedes progress.

We must continually cultivate inner independence and trust our inner guidance system for creative solutions. Keep a balance in your life by finding your own innocence and playful nature that needs to be replenished.

Take a break this weekend and climb a tree, play in a bathtub of jello, make mud pies, jump on a trampoline, or some other stress free game. Be an innocent child for a few minutes and bask in the freedom from responsibilities. Fifteen minutes can do wonders to restore your soul.

Here is a great example:

Empathy

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Yesterday we had a sudden storm with lots of lightning! The animals were afraid and so was I.

Ridge and Tim were driving down the road when a dachshund ran out. Ridge jumped out of the car and tried to comfort her. He was afraid that she was going to be hit and so he brought her home. I posted photos of her on Facebook in our local community page and he made signs to put up.

Later , he put a leash on her and walked her around the area that he found her and she went to a particular gate. They left a note and the owner called to come get her.

Ridge was afraid for the dog but when the owner came, “Sage” went wild. He was very happy to have reconnected them. He came home and said that he had to go to bed because he had gotten so emotionally involved that he was wiped out!

His mind could think of nothing else but trying to protect this dog and the stress of his worry had exhausted him. I think it is evident that he has empathy. If anything he is more sensitive to animals and others.

I am very glad that he was able to recognize his own need for rest too. He is learning to navigate in this world living in his own way with truth and love. Maybe we can all learn from this special group of people.