Why I Was Proud When My Son Yelled That He Was Mad

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Boys who cry can work for Google. Boys who trash computers cannot. I once was at a science conference, and I saw a NASA scientist who had just found out that his project was canceled — a project he’d worked on for years. He was maybe 65 years old, and you know what? He was crying. And I thought, “Good for him.” That’s why he was able to reach retirement age working in a job he loved. ― Temple Grandin

The other day my son, Mareto, was getting frustrated with a toy that wasn’t operating the way he wanted. After trying several times, he threw the toy on the floor with an exasperated growl and yelled, “I get mad sometimes!” It might sound odd, but I was so proud of him in that moment. He not only identified his emotions but was also able to verbally express them to me. It was a huge victory with more room for learning.

I love that Temple Grandin quote because I think she lays it out so perfectly for everyone, not just people with autism. It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to feel sad or angry or frightened or excited or nervous or happy. Emotions aren’t wrong, even negative emotions. But in our culture we tend to encourage shoving the negative emotions down and ignoring them. We tell our toddlers not to cry or whine or be afraid. We pretend our feelings aren’t hurt when we sit on the bench the entire game. Or, worse, we blame other people and refuse to face our feelings.

Working on emotions — how to identify them and how to respond to them — is a constant exercise in our home. My son used to have to emotional reaction to everything — extreme joy or extreme sadness. He didn’t know how to identify feeling mad, so he just wailed in despair. It was the same reaction for fear, frustration and disappointment. So, over time we’ve taught him how to identify his various feelings, which is a big step for us. But it’s merely the first step, because learning the tools to respond to our emotions is just as important as identifying them.

Two years ago I remember sitting on the kitchen floor to make myself eye level with Mareto. I attempted to hold my own tears in as I tried to calm him down. He’d been violently hitting himself in the face for about ten minutes because he rubbed a little pepper in his eye. Finally I got him to stop and when he collapsed into my arms, we both cried and rocked there for several minutes. Mareto no longer hits himself out of anger, pain or fear. I never want to go back to those days.

Now that Mareto is more verbal, we sing songs (courtesy of Daniel Tiger) and we talk about our emotions and how to act when we feel each one. Instead of throwing toys, we walk away, sometimes roar a little, take a deep breath and count to four. Sometimes Mareto needs to cry, and he knows that’s OK. I always ask him if he needs a hug, and usually he responds with a nod. We draw faces on the chalkboard and practice identifying their emotions and what to do. Some days we get it right and some days we don’t. We’re learning together.

Mareto

I find that the term “differently-abled” applies strongly here. We likely all struggle to deal with our emotions in a healthy way. Mareto tends to physically overreact to his feelings, and I try to stuff mine deep inside and pretend they don’t exist. I tell my daughter not to be afraid before I remember that fear is a perfectly normal, healthy reaction. Instead of insisting she shouldn’t be afraid, I ought to be teaching her what to do when she feels scared.

In working through emotions with my children I’m reminded that it’s OK to cry and be sad sometimes. Like I sing to them, “little by little, you’ll feel better again.” It’s OK to have fears, but I still have to board the plane. One foot in front of the other, I can’t let my fear control my life. When a rude email makes me angry, I can’t fly off the handle or rant on Facebook. I need to step away (roar privately), take a deep breath and take quite a bit longer than four seconds to gain perspective. That’s why we’re learning together. Because children (special needs or not) and adults could all use some help in this area.

Mareto 2

This post originally appeared on www.laurencasper.com.

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New App May Help Children With Autism Get Better at This Crucial Skill

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Some people with autism struggle to make and maintain eye-contact. This can make it more difficult to connect with those around them and to accurately read people’s emotions and facial expressions.

To help combat this problem, Samsung and a team of scientists developed an interactive camera app called Look At Me.

In a study, 20 children trained with the Look At Me app every day for eight weeks and saw an improvement in ability to make eye-contact and identify social cues, according to the video below.

A team of clinical psychologists, cognitive psychologists, and psychiatrists developed the app curriculum, according to Samsung’s website. Look At Me helps keep children motivated and interested through a points system, themed missions and various sound and visual effects. Each special mission in the app requires interaction between parents and their children to encourage social situations and positive relationships.

The Look At Me app is currently available through Google Play.

Watch the video below for more information on this new app:

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Why My Son's Long Fingernails Are a Huge Reason to Celebrate

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adult hand holding son's hand

My son’s fingernails are a little long. Mental note: Trim them during bath time tonight.

But wait. I haven’t trimmed his nails in a long time. I haven’t needed to — he’s been chewing them himself. In fact, he was even chewing his toenails (flexible little bugger).

Anxiety.

The past couple of years brought a lot of it, and along with it came things like head-banging, shirt-chewing, licking (everything in sight!) and nail-biting.

Most of the more obvious signs have abated since he’s settled into his new school with its smaller, quieter classes.

And now the nail biting is apparently gone.

So tonight I’ll trim those little nails, and I’ll picture the anxiety falling away with them. And I’ll remind myself that progress isn’t usually measured in big leaps and bounds, but in victories as small as overgrown fingernails.

This post originally appeared on ASDDad.com.

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Some of the Best Advice Our Pediatrician Gave Us Was for Me – Not My Kids

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If I could go back in time and talk to myself on the day we got Zoey’s diagnosis… what would I have told myself?

Everything has just happened so fast!

She had her 18 month check up in May, her early intervention evaluation in June, and she was diagnosed in August. So much, so fast!

I’m not trained; I have no idea what I’m doing and many times I’ve said, “I’m just winging it!” I’m a wife and a mom. I try to have nightly dinners ready or almost ready as soon as my husband walks in the door. My house is always clean because my other daughter has allergies that have given her severe eczema and asthma. I try to balance it all… daily therapies with Zooey, quality time with both of my children, cleaning, cooking. So where do I fit in?

Good question.

My husband and I were approved for respite care, and we’ve been out twice without the kids — each time I felt guilty for leaving them. I know, I know, I’m working on that.

But that’s still not just me time. I admit, I don’t have it. I never scheduled that into all of this. I’ve been working so hard to make sure my husband and my children are OK and happy, that I lost myself along the way.

So, I’m going to tell you what the girls’ pediatrician told me just a few nights ago. (How appropriate to be told something like this on New Years Eve!)

We were talking about my one daughter’s eczema flare up and my other daughter’s eating and sleeping habits, and the doctor stopped me and said, “You need to take care of you, too, you know. You are doing everything for these girls and you won’t be able to keep doing everything if you don’t take care of yourself first.”

I explained that I just wanted to be doing everything I possibly could for my children and that I was scared that I’m not doing it right.

She then said “You are doing it right and you are doing everything you can for them… but you need to do something for you too.”

As always, we finished our conversation with her telling me, “We will get through this!”

And then she finished by giving me a much needed pep talk.

“Look how early you got Zoey diagnosed; most kids don’t get diagnosed that early. And we will get A’s eczema flare up under control, and we will just keep on working the therapies with Zoey.”

We said “Happy New Year” to each other, and we hung up.

After I got off the phone, I let out the biggest sigh of relief; I felt as if I was finally given permission to do something for myself.

So, what would I say to myself on the day we got Zoey’s diagnosis?

“It’s OK; everything is going to be OK — not perfect like your brain thinks everything needs to be — so tell yourself to calm down and take a break. Don’t push yourself so hard and too fast that you lose yourself and who you are. Yes, you are still a wife and a mother, but you’re still you, too; don’t leave yourself out. And by the way, you got this!”

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Follow this journey on the Facebook page Life With Zoey.

The Mighty is asking its readers this question: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Some Guidance for a Mom Still Learning to Navigate Her Son's Diagnosis

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Jaden and me 2 We accepted that autism will be part of our lives long before we had a diagnosis. This was mostly due to a wonderful speech therapist who I believe was put on this earth to make us ready to accept that our son is different. It took about 18 months for the word “autism” to first be mentioned, and I drove myself crazy for at least 12 of those 18 months (maybe even more).

This is what I would tell myself if I had the chance:

Don’t try to change it. You can’t.

Realizing this would have saved me so much anxiety, stress and even money. While still in denial, we tried everything we possibly could to get him out of his world and to get him to stop doing the stereotypical things you might find with kids on the spectrum. We took away all his cars so the temptation of spinning wheels would not be so intense. Whenever he found a car, turned it around and started spinning the wheels, the whole house would fall quiet with everyone watching him, the atmosphere so tense you could cut it with a knife. We tried every remedy in the book that was within our means to help him function normally. It took awhile, but we finally accepted that he is who he is and he’s happy. He’s not spinning wheels anymore but is obsessed with lights and will switch them on and off for hours. Or he will open and close a door continuously throughout the day. One day, he will lose interest in the lights and the doors and other repetitive behaviors will emerge. And that will be OK.

You will lose some friends and gain some new friends.

And it will be OK. You quickly learn who you can depend on when you’re going through a difficult situation. We quickly saw that we do have friends who are not even a bit interested in our situation or the struggles we’re facing. Friends with a “just get over it” attitude or friends who never tried to put themselves in our shoes to try and comprehend how difficult it is the day you realize your son has special needs. It’s not that we expected everyone to be touched in the same way by the diagnosis or that we expected some special treatment. Unfortunately, autism put everything else in perspective for us. We can’t spend time with people who make us feel like overprotective parents when we constantly have to get up in a middle of a conversation to see where Jaden is (because he will take to the streets if he gets half a chance). We limit the time we spend with people who tell us how we shouldn’t believe what all the experts are telling us. We don’t spend as much time with friends in general as before the diagnosis, because after a week of therapies, strategies implemented at home, meltdowns and communication difficulties, sometimes we just want to be together as a family over a weekend. And we need people in our lives that understand this. Not everyone does, and it’s OK. We’ve made stronger bonds with other friends we already had. We have friends who cry with us, ask how they can make things easier for Jaden when we visit and really try to understand how our lives are different from theirs. We’re meeting new parents with kids on the spectrum, and we learn from them. We’re spending less time with other friends and know this might lead to the end of those friendships. And that’s OK.

God will provide in many ways.

We’re struggling financially and paying for all the therapies and treatments is a huge struggle. The anxiety and sleepless nights I experienced because of this overwhelmed me so much that I felt I could not go on with normal life sometimes. I was angry that we couldn’t give him all the treatment he needed and I felt we were failing him because we couldn’t afford the other 110 strategies out there to help him. I still stress about finances constantly and pray for a job with a better salary almost daily. But God has provided in so many ways. People in our lives have been so generous, and I’m humbled by their sincere offers of help. I still wish we could provide for all his needs on our own, but autism has taught me to put my pride aside and see the hearts of the people in our lives that God is using to help us.

Learn to grow a thick skin.

I could write a whole blog post on things people have said that have been insensitive and hurtful, made me feel guiltier than I already did or even made me laugh at the stupidity of what is being said. And most people with a kid on the spectrum will relate, because those comments are made over and over and over again. People say things that hurt. Family members get involved when they shouldn’t or sometimes don’t get involved when they should. I cried many nights over what someone did or didn’t say or do, but I’ve learned that most people come from a place of love and sometimes deliver their messages in a wrong way. I’ve grown a thicker skin — and I’m still growing. I still wish the people closest to me would sometimes think before they speak, but when they don’t, I smile and nod, change the subject and try not to think about it again.

Stop Googling the word “autism.”

Just stop. Take a break from reading about autism on the Internet for awhile. And then, when you really need to Google, change the words. Google things like “visual schedules,” “Makaton” and “vestibular activities.” Googling the word “autism” and looking at the symptoms will not help Jaden in any way. I now only research specific things that I know will help Jaden at this moment. I’m not looking for answers regarding autism anymore; I’m looking for guidance on specific strategies that I find helpful.

Everything will be OK.

You will cope with it. You and your family will find a new normal. You don’t know any better, so this is your normal. Bit by bit, you will get the opportunity to be a special kind of mom with a special kind of relationship with Jaden. And you will love every moment of it.

The Mighty is asking its readers this question: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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Autism Didn't Change My Son. It Changed Us.

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20130916-DSC_8518 If I could go back to December 17, 2011, I would want to make myself sit down with someone — a professional or trusted figure — and just let out the complex feelings I tried to put a resolute demeanor over. We weren’t surprised to receive an autism diagnosis for our 3-year-old son; we were relieved to have an answer.

It was a new starting point. What I dreaded most was to see my son diminished in the eyes of others. I would not stand for that. A day later we went to a family Christmas gathering where I tearfully declared, “Our dreams and wishes for our son are unchanged.” In the essentials of life — love and faith and family — nothing had changed. Jeremiah had not changed.

We were the ones who would, by almost imperceptible degrees, change.

We would change our stance. When you typically begin to walk down an unfamiliar diagnosis road, you join a new subculture. To broadly define the two options of the autism spectrum disorder spectrum, you have 1) Change and Cure and 2) Accept and Support. Of course, these are simplistic categories, but we started unabashedly in the first category. We began therapies (a good thing) and schooling and paperwork and lastly, an approach to autism intervention. I regret none of these. We learned more about our son’s unique style of learning and worked through our own prejudices and barriers to parenting a child who approached the world in a way unfamiliar to us. Then, after a few years, we stopped and re-evaluated. This is the most important step, I believe, to helping your child. We gave ourselves permission to keep the good and abandon what was not working for our family. No philosophy or therapeutic approach is more important than the health of the entire family. We were tired. We had reached an end of one approach and it was OK.

It’s good to go your own way. This is truly one of the best lessons I’ve learned from being a parent of a child with a disability. Doctors and professionals are valuable resources, and it’s wise to examine the course of options they present. But you know your child and yourself best. Trust your instincts and judgment. You are the parent. You do know best. You are the most vested. Examine everything, make a choice and walk boldly in it. Fear is a terrible motivator.

We would laugh with our son. With his sly methods of getting his way and his way of showing excitement — to rehearse over and over the next time he would see someone or someplace he loved. We would hoot and holler as he took ownership of the toilet, a big deal for any child. I would hear my first “I love you” from my son, as he approached my door after bedtime, knowing this would most definitely get him time in my room. We would enjoy his newfound interest in drawing, not to mention riding his first big bike and loving it, undaunted by the falls. Slow and steady wins the race.

We continue to learn that the best place for our son to be is the place where he will thrive. Right now, that is in a special education classroom. He has excellent teachers who understand his needs. He is not lost. He would be lost in a regular classroom, though I dream one day this will be possible. My son has teachers that see him and value him. That’s more than enough.

We have a son that makes us laugh, cry, roll our eyes and cheer. Sometimes I lose my patience and remind him to “cool it, buddy” when he’s asked to see Papa for the tenth time that minute. I can discipline in haste.

But I love and appreciate my world and the wonder of life more that I ever would have before.

So, I would say this to myself on the day we got the diagnosis: Sweetheart, it’s gonna be more than all right.

This post originally appeared on The Jaybird Blog.

For all of January, The Mighty is asking its readers this question: If you could go back to the day you (or a loved one) got a diagnosis, what would you tell yourself? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please  include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio.

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