Amanda Snyder, LCSW HSV

@amanda-snyder | contributor
I am a school social worker for children with special needs. I am a wife and a mom of two amazing boys. One of my boys is on the autism spectrum and has a rare disorder called Hypohydrotic Ectodermal Dysplasia. Besides the above, I love riding my bike, female empowerment, coffeehouse music, stepping out of my comfort zone, and friends who love me even when I’m a hot mess.

Embracing Your Uniqueness as a Parent of a Child With Autism

Growing up, I often felt scrutinized.  I wanted to be loved by all, and feared being the butt of a joke or snubbed for my perceived ineptness.  All around me, I witnessed others valuing money and looks while kindness and inclusiveness were nonexistent. My own personal nature never meshed with this culture.  My intense craving for connections with others led me to often be taken advantage of. I now feel my super sensitivity is a superpower, but as a young person surrounded by sharks, I was easy bait. Sometimes I was bait to join in on a good time, and other times I was bait because I was easily brought to tears. Surviving childhood through adolescence was a major struggle as someone who had undiagnosed depression and anxiety.  I have a million memories of times that I felt painfully embarrassed, so much so that I wanted to die.  What kept me going was always the hope that what was happening now was not permanent.  I somehow knew that if I just hung on, good times were on the horizon. I always dreamed of creating my own family and giving them all the love and attention they desired.  I had no idea that this love would lead me to address my painful struggle with vanity.  When my boys were born, I felt a strong instinct to prioritize their needs over the demands of family and friends, even if that put our relationships at odds.  I had to emotionally survive the backlash of setting boundaries that I never set before, which meant risking my desire to be loved by everyone.  This was a real challenge because the people in my life were not thrilled about my new discovery of the word no. The experts that talk about boundaries often do not discuss how hurtful it can be when the people in your life do not respect your no. So when my kids turned out to not follow typical developmental expectations, I had to further face not only boundary drama, but also my own vanity.  No, my child was not talking yet. No, my child won’t eat vegetables, etc. As a consequence, I quickly realized I was not concerned about my own vanity when it came to helping my kids develop to the best of their abilities. Not everyone feels this way.  I think many parents want to protect their kids and themselves from the hurtful eyes of the community.  It is natural to want to protect your child from pain, and to protect yourselves, but when we do this, we do not give our kids the opportunity to learn and grow.  I’m not saying to completely land the helicopter, but instead, when they screw up,  be there to help them process through it.  That is really what I believe I was missing as a kid.  My parents loved me, no doubt, but they were not equipped emotionally to help me process the heavy emotions I carried as a highly sensitive human. As an adult who now enjoys and embraces my own uniqueness and the variety of differences that encircle my everyday life, I feel like I’ve been set free from a prison.  I find that I prefer the company of those who are different and I love the persona I have grown into.  I now understand that not everyone is going to love me, and if you don’t, I still wish you all the best.  My values and those I love have released me from the need for acceptance and validation from the world.  I implore you to embrace the gifts you receive from parenting a unique child and to enjoy the freedom of enjoying those that choose to be in your company.

Parents, It's OK to Need In-Home Help for Your Autistic Child

Supporting my son on the autism spectrum doesn’t stop at 3:30 in the afternoon when my workday is done.  It continues through the evening and into the morning before my workday begins. I’m setting timers, following routines, and using positive reinforcement to help him get out the door with a minimal amount of arguments. After school, I’m checking on how my son is feeling, giving him time to swing, and offering choices for when homework needs to be completed. I am always mindful and on my tippy toes. I am a social worker for students with autism, intellectual disabilities, etc.  I am also the parent of a teen on the spectrum.  My son is loving, funny, unique, and amazing.  He also absorbs a lot of my time and energy.  I need time and energy for his sibling who needs attention too, although in more subtle ways.  Add in a husband and a dog, both with their own needs, and there ends up being very little time and energy left for little old me. I have to fight for that time, and typically someone drops the ball the minute I make the effort to take care of myself.  It can all be too much. One of the greatest choices I made when my kids were young and I was adjusting to my son’s autism diagnosis was to allow therapists to come into my home and not only work with my son on skills, but give me a break.  This was different than a babysitter or a family member giving a parent a break.  What helped me was knowing that my son was learning from a professional and I did not have to feel guilty worrying that he was just zoning out on screens while I was gone. In my role as a school social worker, I implore parents to allow professionals into their homes, knowing that there will be awkward moments in which you would like to argue with your spouse without this person in your home.  It may be awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.  Raising a child with autism is a great responsibility, and without these extensive interventions, our children may not communicate or function successfully in the world. It is too much to carry without the support of others trained and willing to shoulder some of the responsibility. Unfortunately, sometimes people insist on putting their privacy above these interventions.  Sometimes it is because they do not want others to see what is happening in their homes.  Other times, parents just feel they know what to do and don’t want outside suggestions. Sometimes parents insist on being martyrs. It’s really hard to make these decisions, but I feel I have the unique perspective of a parent and professional.  I am begging you, let people help your child.

Parents, It's OK to Need In-Home Help for Your Autistic Child

Supporting my son on the autism spectrum doesn’t stop at 3:30 in the afternoon when my workday is done.  It continues through the evening and into the morning before my workday begins. I’m setting timers, following routines, and using positive reinforcement to help him get out the door with a minimal amount of arguments. After school, I’m checking on how my son is feeling, giving him time to swing, and offering choices for when homework needs to be completed. I am always mindful and on my tippy toes. I am a social worker for students with autism, intellectual disabilities, etc.  I am also the parent of a teen on the spectrum.  My son is loving, funny, unique, and amazing.  He also absorbs a lot of my time and energy.  I need time and energy for his sibling who needs attention too, although in more subtle ways.  Add in a husband and a dog, both with their own needs, and there ends up being very little time and energy left for little old me. I have to fight for that time, and typically someone drops the ball the minute I make the effort to take care of myself.  It can all be too much. One of the greatest choices I made when my kids were young and I was adjusting to my son’s autism diagnosis was to allow therapists to come into my home and not only work with my son on skills, but give me a break.  This was different than a babysitter or a family member giving a parent a break.  What helped me was knowing that my son was learning from a professional and I did not have to feel guilty worrying that he was just zoning out on screens while I was gone. In my role as a school social worker, I implore parents to allow professionals into their homes, knowing that there will be awkward moments in which you would like to argue with your spouse without this person in your home.  It may be awkward and uncomfortable, but it’s worth it.  Raising a child with autism is a great responsibility, and without these extensive interventions, our children may not communicate or function successfully in the world. It is too much to carry without the support of others trained and willing to shoulder some of the responsibility. Unfortunately, sometimes people insist on putting their privacy above these interventions.  Sometimes it is because they do not want others to see what is happening in their homes.  Other times, parents just feel they know what to do and don’t want outside suggestions. Sometimes parents insist on being martyrs. It’s really hard to make these decisions, but I feel I have the unique perspective of a parent and professional.  I am begging you, let people help your child.

Mae

How Burnout Worsens My Depression

Burnout can happen to anybody. We live in a culture that is constantly go, go, go and sometimes we forget to pause and just breathe. I am no different. I work two jobs and am a full time doctorate student and often, trying to take care of myself gets pushed to the back burner. I put my students before me, my friends before me, my dogs before, and then it’s me. My job is taxing – working with students provides unique challenges that not everybody can understand. Not only am I their biology teacher, I am their mentor, counselor, shoulder to lean on and much more. Students confess to me their struggles and while I am honored they trust me, it can take a toll. Not only do I take on the emotional burden of my students, I take on their traumas and life experiences as it relates to their performance in my class. What I mean is that their academic life may take the back burner to other traumas in their lives and as an educator, I feel responsible to make sure I accommodate for each student and their unique situation. Do I have to? Maybe not, but as an educator who is passionate about educating the entire student, not just their scientific brain, I care. In addition to the emotional side of my job, I prepare content and deliver content, take on administrative duties such as documenting parent contacts, tracking grades and assessment data, as well as serving on numerous committees on campus. This is just for my main job as a high school educator. I can’t even think about my job as an adjunct faculty member and a doctorate student, as just teaching at my high school job is taxing. It has led me to experience burnout several times this semester already, where I break down, I cry uncontrollably, and I relapsed. In general, burnout happens when an individual experiences excessive and prolonged periods of stress. Burnout starts with the feeling of being overwhelmed, of being emotionally drained at all times, and of being unable to meet the constant demands thrown at you. The continuation of burnout leads you to lose interest and motivation in what you started, such as your job, a project or a new adventure. My burnout leads me to feel that I am inadequate as a teacher, as a friend, daughter, sister, dog mom and human. I feel like I am not enough, that I am a failure of an educator and that I am letting everybody in my life down. For me, when I experience burnout, I question my motivation to go into the teaching profession in the first place. When I experience burnout, my depression starts to question all my accomplishments, my degrees and awards and recognitions, and the future goals that I have for myself and my career. As I fall into burnout, my depression tells me I am not enough, that I am weak and inadequate, undeserving of my degrees and awards and that I am a disappointment. This semester alone, there have been moments where I find myself crying in my classroom during my break. The tears come because I am exhausted and I have kept my emotions pent up because I want to be strong. The tears come because I am burnt out and cannot control my emotions. I want to be strong for my colleagues and students and yet at times, I cannot. My emotions are out of my control. My depression tells me that because I am crying (due to not being able to manage my emotions since I am emotionally drained from burnout), I am weak. Then, when I feel moments of weakness, I confess to my students that I am a failure, that I am letting them down and not doing enough for them. I show this weakness and vulnerability and that leads to being ridiculed and judged. I hear these comments and then my depression tells me that see, even others see you are weak, you are undeserving. It’s an endless cycle. Its hard to not feel like I am a failure when I am empty and still trying to go 100 mph. When I experience burnout, my depression rears its ugly head. It tells me that I am weak, that I am deserving of punishment. When I reach a point of burnout, instead of taking the much needed day off to rest and recuperate, I push through this needed day off and then go home to mounds of work, an unclear mind, and ultimately a relapse. Burnout manifests itself in a variety of ways. For me, it is in the form of hopelessness, not being enough, and being the biggest letdown on this universe. I am learning to be better about preventing burnout but being human, being a perfectionist, and being somebody with depression that tells me I will never be enough, it takes time. Slowly, at a snails pace, we will learn to listen to our truth and not our diagnoses.

Community Voices

Question if there is online self-test to determine if I need to go to mental hospital

How do a self-questioner test to determine if I am a danger to myself or others to go to mental hospital? I can check myself in if I meet this criteria, it's just that my symptoms of Bipolar Disorder is so mild, because it's stable with medications, what if I am a danger to myself and to others, it's just not manifested yet? I also do well in school and function well in society, it's hard for me to know for sure until It's too late.

I have psychological highs and lows.

When I have psychological highs, I meet diagnostic criteria for hypomania, but I used to have mania with delusions in the past.

When I have psychological lows, I meet diagnostic for milder form of depression, but I used to meet diagnostic criteria for severe depression and catatonia in the past.

I want to make it short, I don't want to list all the symptoms of Bipolar Disorder I had in the past and present, I just want to do online self-test for High-functioning people like me who might meet the criteria for being a danger to themselves or others.

I am sorry, I am having a serious mental health crisis. I know that it's sounds mild, because I able to think clearly, as if I have atypical symptology and symptology threshold.

Once police officers that checked if I was okay, they told me how well I communicate and how good my social skills are, and I told them that because I have milder form of Bipolar 1 Disorder and Autism is a spectrum, and they understood.

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Heidi Indahl

Parenting a Child With Autism and Always Hearing 'Not Quite'

I’ve been parenting a child with autism for almost 11 years now. For every one of those 11 years, I could have told you there was something different about this child, but it took almost six to find someone to put a finger on just what it was. The thing about parenting a child with autism is it is a never-ending story of not quite. In the beginning it was, “Well your son has some delays, but I think he’s just not quite behind enough for it to be anything serious…” When he was 4 a doctor told us his lack of engagement and anxiety was probably depression and he should play outside more. As he grew, it became harder for others to brush off his quirks with other explanations. Even after his diagnosis, however, we still had the problem of not quite. Now he was not quite ready for a regular classroom, but he did not quite qualify for much in the way of extra help through the school. Through the years, he has mastered most of the self-care skills he needs, just not quite at the age he should have. At the same time, as his mom, I did not quite fit in with the other moms of children with special needs. One family member even outright told us she just didn’t quite see it. Those who are the most invaluable to us as a family are those who see my son’s could bes instead of his not quites. The therapists who want to improve what he has rather than declare it good enough or better than other kids on the spectrum. The doctors who want us to have referrals for private therapies he can’t qualify for in school and who help us tell the difference between autism characteristics and other challenges. The nurse and social worker who see the places his struggles are affecting our family and offer resources for solving those issues. The teachers and coaches who mentor him patiently and include him even though he processes things in different ways. All of these people have seen his could be. Last year after a long evaluation meeting with a new psychiatrist, she noted one of our son’s strengths is his active and engaged parents. Of all of the invaluable information she gave us about our son’s diagnosis, the most important thing she did was remind me no mater how many people see his not quite, the most important person to see his could be, is me.