Behind starburst eyes

Coronavirus Pandemic and Our Emotional Health

We live in Ontario, Canada and our premier has officially declared a state of emergency this morning. This means in addition to primary, secondary and post-secondary schools being shut down for the next 3 weeks, now our daycare centers, restaurants (dine in portion), bars, cinemas, libraries, museums, major venues such as the science centre, and recreation centers are all shut down until at least April.

We homeschool our 3, but my two stepdaughters attend public school at their mother’s insistence. So this changes some things for us, but not all things. Obviously daycare facilities being closed doesn’t effect us. However, everything else being closed does.

One of the ways all of these closures effect us is through fear and anxiety. My youngest son has asthma and has had to be on oxygen and nebulizers in the past, so I am in a heightened state of anxiety. But I’m not the only one, my children feel it too. Not just through me, but also because news of the virus is everywhere and both kiddos understand the potential implications for their brother, and he understands the implications for himself. To that end we have been working a great deal with the concepts of fear, anxiety and powerlessness.

Acknowledgement of Emotions:

We’ve spoken about how scary it can be to feel like you’re powerless in a situation, and how to work with that feeling to acknowledge it but not let it overwhelm us (a thing I am struggling with myself as well).

Then, I attempt to teach them how to work through their scary thoughts. We talk about their feelings, how their real and valid first. But also that even though their valid, we don’t have to be ruled by them. We can focus on the things we HAVE done, the things we ARE doing, and the things we CAN do during this time.

Breathing Techniques:

Once I’ve validated their emotions we do breathing exercises. Five deep breathes in through the nose and out through the mouth. This helps to calm the nervous system down and allow the pre-frontal cortex to come back online (center of logic and reasoning).

Mindfulness Exercises:

Mindfulness exercises such as finding 5 things they can see, touch, and hear can also help to refocus on calming the mind enough to work through any scary thoughts.

Positive Actions:

Finally, we focus on something positive, such as on gratitude, love, giving to others, or constructive actions. We do this because in allot of ways our thoughts are like roads, the more frequently their used, the more deeply they become entrenched and at times like this we NEED the positive perhaps more than ever.

For one child, focusing then on how grateful they are for the healthcare professionals or our ability to have things delivered to lessen our chances of exposure is helpful.

For another it’s expressing love through acts of kindness such as offering to play another siblings favorite board game or reading a book to a younger sibling.

For another it’s writing a card to send to someone they can’t see in person right now, or walks in the conservation area to be in nature.

For me, it’s constructive physical acts that help, for example organizing cupboards and labelling jars with our supplies or sorting the kids clothes for donations (I’ll wait to donate, but I’m happy to pop bags of donations in a closet ready to go once this is all over). Each person is unique, so choosing the positive actions that work best for them should be specific to them.

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Taking a leap

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When my mom was in palliative care she spoke with me about all the things she regretted. Only one was some thing she had done, all the rest were things she hadn’t done, dreams she had never chased, moments she hadn’t fully lived, chances she was too afraid to take.

I told her I looked forward to telling her about all my zany adventures when I saw her on the other side. Then to borrow one of her favorite sayings “I put my money where my mouth is”.

I applied to University again and was accepted as a full-time student for my bachelor degree in Anthropology and Psychology. I’m now in my second year, and I’ve worked hard to stay on the honour roll both years.

It hasn’t always been easy, as we still homeschool the kids, and we’re always working on various tools they need to learn to live their best lives too. But, it IS worth it!

I don’t want to regret all of the things I didn’t do, and all of the chances I didn’t take. Nor do I want them to live that way either. Being Autistic, I’ve noticed that my boys are encouraged by society to conform to social norms even more heavily than if they weren’t. Some thing I’ve noticed allot of adult Autistics speaking about lately. So when I say we’re working on the tools they need, a key one of them is the courage to be true to themselves. They are amazing human beings that I’ve been privileged to be a parent to. I never want them to lose sight of their authentic selves, and chase their own dreams. Can you imagine what life could look like if we weren’t afraid to take a leap?

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Why I don’t often write about my sons anymore…

When I first started this blog, I would write quite frequently about my children. I thought that by giving others a glimpse into the world of Autistic children, and the parenting of, that it would help. That it could show the world what our lives were like; both the positive as well as the struggles.

There is a difference though between when a parent of a neurotypical child writes about parenting, and a parent of a special needs child writes about parenting. I didn’t realize that when I first started writing. I didn’t realize that far too often the media utilizes those same struggles to suggest that a parent of an Autistic child should be pitied. Mostly I didn’t realize it, because I don’t pity myself.

I see myself as having been gifted 3 beautiful souls to guide towards their fullest potential. I see myself as a kind of tour guide. I’m only here to help till they themselves feel less like tourists and more like locals. The thing is, I thought that was what all parents have to do.

I have never been a mother to a neurotypical child, so maybe it’s totally different? But from what I have heard, it’s still hard as hell to be a mom; regardless of a child’s neurobiology.

So why is it that having a rough moment or day or even a totally rotten week is viewed so differently when the child is classified as special needs? It’s different because we view having a child with a different neurobiology as something bad, as something to grieve and be depressed about. Only I’ve never felt that way about my kids.

So when I write, I have to consider what kind of impression am I adding to society of the reality of having an Autistic child. I don’t want to add to the gross misconception that they are less for having a different neurology; because, they aren’t. The society that equates how much money a person can contribute to corporations (through working at, or purchasing from) as a human being’s only worth is what should be pitied, and seen as less than; not my beautiful children.   

 

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Learning about Emotional Equations

Some of our homeschooling doesn’t look like “regular” schooling. Okay, most of it doesn’t look like it lol. That does not mean they are not learning, nor does it mean they aren’t learning very important things.

Many people find it difficult to get to the base root of their emotional states. When one does not understand the root or cause of an emotion it becomes almost impossible to find a solution that effectively works long-term.

To that end, for some viewing their emotional states as equations can assist in further self-awareness. Further self-awareness can assist in higher levels of overall satisfaction with ones life as steps are then taken to ensure they get what they need out of various situations and interactions.

This is what some of our homeschooling looks like:

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Goodbye Toddlerhood

stock-illustration-58367370-cute-children-cartoon-waving-handMy youngest turned 4 this past week and with her latest birthday I now officially no longer have any toddlers. My youngest is now classified as a “preschooler”. The day she was born the doctor came to see me once I’d woken up and told me I could not have anymore children. He cautioned me that I’d barely made it through having her and warned me that if I became pregnant again I would not live through the next labour. Since she had been an emergency c-section because I was hemorrhaging so badly her and I both were lucky to have lived, I believed him completely. My husband and I took steps to ensure she was our last. I worried at the time that I might feel a loss from not being able to have any more children. I worried that since I had not made the choice, that I would be angry or even bitter as time went on.

I have had moments where I am a bit wistful for the baby stage, for the moments when they are so new and your learning their cries, coos and scent. But overall, I have been at peace with the fact she was will always be my youngest. As I watch her get bigger, develop into the person she is, I am thrilled and in awe. As much as I am certain that any other children I might have had would have been amazing individuals as well, I feel a deep sense of contentment with no longer having any in the baby or toddler stages.

I’m excited to now have two in the preschooler stage, in addition to a teen, and two tweens. (My eldest step-daughter became a teen in February) I’m looking forward to all of the adventures that I get to have with them as they continue to grow into the persons they are meant to become. While I adored each of their baby and toddler stages, I’m waving a happy farewell to that stage of parenting as I leap into the next one with them.

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Hidden Messages Within

This past week-end I took Mr. C to a special viewing of “The Mask We Live In” It was a film being shown by Violence Prevention Coordinating Council of Durham and Survivor Advocacy Committee of Durham. It was a fantastic film that highlighted the gender role we force upon males in our determination to narrowly define masculinity and the effects it has on boys and men in how they act, how much they hide of their true selves and the overall influence it has on every aspect of their lives.

He went up to the organizer after the movie and talk was done and told her how happy he was to have seen the movie. How it made him realize he could be his true authentic self and that he didn’t have to act like anyone he saw on T.V We had amazing conversations about the movie, about the hidden messages society sends about males and how they should act. We talked about how he had the right to define who he was, freely and openly and that I would love him unconditionally (as would the rest of our epic tribe, both those of blood and those of choice.)

I felt confident in my parenting of him, and of his siblings. I felt sure within myself that I was not pushing them to be anyone but themselves. That I was encouraging them to be true to their authentic self regardless of traditional gender roles or even current societal norms in regards to who they should be or how they should act or dress based on their genders.

THEN Minx found my knitting scissors (I had hidden them, but apparently not well enough for my wee super sleuth) and gave herself a mullet. An uneven one at that. So I took her to the bathroom and gave her a pixie cut to even out what she’d already cut, and have the rest match it.

Then I got tempted to let her dad take her to get her ears pierced as her hair this short makes her look less “girlish” and I automatically without any real consideration to the issue wanted to “fix” that. As if anything about her needs to be fixed! And it made me feel embarrassed that I even thought for a second about something like that. As if I should change my mind that her body means she has the right to choose if and when she wishes to have holes put in it for ornamentation. Espicially after writing long, short or none, still a woman.

Sometimes I forget just how much of the hidden messages society sends about how one should look or act based on their gender we really take into ourselves. But this was a potent reminder that I need to continue to look within about my own reactions to things, and what hidden messages I’ve accidently assimilated into myself as well. And most importantly to discard the ones that say any of us need to look a certain way simply because of the chromosomes we were born with.

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Adjustable Tutu!!!

Miss. G loves tutus, and I love making them for her. The part I don’t really like is how 3-4 months after it’s made I have to make a new one as the old one is too small. (If it’s done with an elastic wasitband than I have to add lots more tulle to it to fill in the gap it gets every time she grows, and some how it never looks as nice as when it’s first done.)

I found some seriously epic yarn at Value Village the other day and I wanted to knit Miss. G a jumper out of it for Yule. But since she’s no longer a newborn, one skein wasn’t going to make a jumper! So I started thinking, and pondering, how could I use this awesome yarn to make her something fantastic that wasn’t another hat or set of mitts? Randomly it came to me, I’d make her an adjustable tutu!

The premise was simple, knit (or in my case garter stitch) a rectangle one and a half times as long as she was wide, and as wide as I wanted for the belt portion of her tutu:

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Then using matching tulle (meaning every color I could find 😉 I looped each piece through the bottom row of the “belt”

To make it adjustable I took two buttons and sewed one on either end of the rectangle, one on the “right side” of the belt and one on the “wrong side” of the belt so they could be slipped through the stitches wherever was needed for a perfect fit.

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In the end it looks like this:

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I think she’ll love her Yule present 😀 I know I love it, and I think since there’s still time left before Yule that I’ll be making some more for other girls I know, cause the only thing better than a tutu is an adjustable tutu 🙂

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ASL Alphabet Memory Game

The more I try to incorporate signing into my day the more the kids are interested in it. To that end I thought why not combine a fine motor skill activity (picking up the shapes practices using the pincer grasp) with learning colours and shapes with ASL.

So I made 2 copies of the ASL alphabet that I found here: http://www.lifeprint.com/asl101/topics/wallpaper1.htm

I purchased the wooden shapes at our local dollar store, but one could use card stock, cardboard from a box, or even foam blocks (if picking up almost flat shapes is too difficult for the person playing the game)

I then cut up both sets and glued one to different coloured circles and one to different coloured squares. Just like other memory games all the pieces are flipped over and you have to make a match. I tell the kids to make their matches by picking one circle and one square.

Both Miss. G and Mr. N love playing it and I’m getting some great practice before my first day of ASL class at our local college!

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Growth Spurts and Autism

 

Growth spurts are a time of constant flux in the entire body. They are a time where all the chemicals of the body are busy creating new growth, they are a time of rapid development of bones, skin, muscle and even brain matter. When someone is Autistic their neural pathways work differently from the get go, but they are the same as everyone in the fact that their bodies are always trying to return to a state of homoeostasis. Homoeostasis is the tendency of an organism to try and maintain it’s internal equilibrium.

However during growth spurts the body is far away from it’s ideal state of homoeostasis, even during sleep.

In the brain specifically the white matter will increase greatly from ages 4 to 20. White matter is the part responsible for relaying signals and messages from one section of the brain to another, it is responsible for sending sensory and motor stimulus to the central nervous system to create a response.

What does that mean for an Autistic child or adolescent? It means that the part of the brain that sends sensory signals is rapidly growing, which means new pathways developing, and just like in a field, it takes time for a pathway to become easy to walk, and familiar.  This means their brains are trying to send signals through new channels.

It makes sense that they will have more difficulties during those times of rapid growth with many aspects of daily living that they might not have had as much difficulty with pre or post growth spurt.

 

Areas of difficulties can include:

1) Speech production such as pronunciation, and echolalia

2) Sleep patterns can be disrupted and more irregular than what is typical for that individual

3) Transitions may be more difficult and they may need more time and help to adjust to changes in activity or location

4) Repetitive and Stereotypic Behaviours may be increased as they provide comfort and self-soothing to the individual

5) Emotional Regulation may be decreased as they are already struggling to return to homoeostasis and may feel closer to being emotionally overloaded from the moment they wake up than what is typical for that individual.

 

How you can help your child:
1) Remember that this is a difficult time for them. They don’t want to feel out of control, upset, confused, agitated or anxious and yet they are right now. No one WANTS to feel those emotions, and will naturally try to do whatever they can to either get away from the situation causing them, or lash out in frustration if it’s an internal situation they cannot remove themselves from.

2) Don’t overload them. If recently you’ve been helping them to learn how to cope with a specific sensory issue, or speech production issue such as pronunciation, remember that even when they are not going through a growth spurt they have to expend mental energy to master things such as being able to touch grass or pronounce an “s” sound correctly. Don’t stop working on goals already started, but don’t add additional ones until they have mastered the goals they are currently working on.

3)  Every person has a way they communicate, listen/watch extra carefully to theirs to learn more about what ways they are specifically struggling with the most. Help them to create plans to work through such issues, or if they are too young to either make the plans themselves or with help, make them for your child.

4) Watch yourself. If you are having a difficult time staying calm remember that you have the right to feel however you do, it’s how we react to our emotions that is either okay or not. Take time for yourself, especially if you are extremely frustrated. As long as your child is in a safe environment there is nothing wrong with stepping into the next room to take a few minutes to regain your composure. Or if you can, find someone you trust to babysit and go out, even a trip to the grocery store alone can be enough to come back to your child ready to help them in the ways they need.

5) Nothing lasts forever, even growth spurts. Eventually they will hit a “lull” in their growth for a few or even several months at which time it will be easier for them to handle all that our fast-paced society throws at us.

 

References:

Billeci, Lucia, Sara Calderoni, Michela Tosetti, Marco Catani, and Filippo Muratori. “White matter connectivity in children with autism spectrum disorders: a tract-based spatial statistics study.” BMC Neurology. N.p., 29 Nov. 2012. Web. 18 July 2014. <http://www.biomedcentral.com/1471-2377/12/148&gt;.

 

Giedd, Jay N., Jonathan Blumenthal, Neal Jeffries, F.X. Castellanos, Hong Liu, Alex Zijdenbos, Tomas Caron Paus, Alan C. Evans, and Judith L. Rapoport. “Brain development during childhood and adolescence: a longitudinal MRI study.” . Nature Neuroscience , 1 Jan. 1999. Web. 18 July 2014. <http://www.nature.com/neuro/journal/v2/n10/full/nn1099_861.html&gt;.

“The brain from top to bottom.” Le cerveau à tous les niveaux. N.p., n.d. Web. 18 July 2014. <http://thebrain.mcgill.ca/&gt;.

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Reacting verses Responding

It’s easy sometimes to forget how deeply our words impact those around us. It’s easy to forget that what we say and do lives in the hearts and minds of those we love and care for, especially our children. Times when we’re tired and frustrated by a bunch of things that may not even have to do with our child and then they do something, something they’ve done a million times before and we snap. We respond to their actions with our own frustration and upset instead of responding to it in the way our children deserve.

I’m human and I make mistakes, I get mad, and tired, sore and frustrated, and I too can react in a negative fashion. But I try every day to make sure I don’t. I try to respond instead of react.

My “trick” when I’m about to react instead of respond is to look at their hand. Why their hand? Because your closed fist is the approximate size of your heart. I look at their little hand and I see a visual reminder of how tiny their heart is just yet, and I refuse to fill such a small space with pain and words that will haunt them.

Looking at their hand helps me to be reminded that I am here to take their hand in mine and guide them, to show them how to access the great potential that is within each and every single person, their own personal greatness. I take a deep breath as I think of all this and then instead of reacting, I respond.

I respond with love. I try to help them find the most positive way of receiving what they wanted, be it a cookie or a toy someone else is playing with or additional attention. (Any project or chore can wait, but the giving of love and attention should’t be postponed when it’s asked for.)

Why do I say respond instead of react?

The dictionary’s definition of react is to act or do something in reaction to something else. BUT the definition of respond is to provide an answer to a query. In the middle ages respond was a noun for a pillar that actively supported. I feel that especially when they are young, they are looking towards the adults in their life to show them how to act, how to obtain what they want and need, and how to be the best them they can be. They are not purposely trying to “push buttons” or be “bad” they are simply making bad choices because they don’t yet know how to make better choices. It’s up to their adults to answer their unspoken questions and show them how to make better choices.

 

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