Brittany Meng

@brittany-meng | contributor
Brittany is queen of her castle in her house full of men: Wife to Aaron, and mama to twins Micah and Benji, and Silas and Elijah (not twins). Two of her children have special needs (ASD and ADHD) and all four of them have lots of energy. Her writing has been featured on BlogHer, ScaryMommy, and For Every Mom. She writes about the grit and grace of her everyday life at www.thebamblog.com.
Brittany Meng

What I Realized About Labels After My Sons' Autism and ADHD Diagnoses

“I thought about pursuing a diagnosis, but the teacher said, ‘Do you really want him labeled?’” “You know, when kids get labeled, they’re stuck with it their entire lives!” “Some kids are just different. Do you want a label pulling him down?” It seems to me that our society hates labels. Wait, scratch that. Our society fears labels. And for a while, I did too. Here’s one some people might think is “scary”: autism. Here’s another one that in my experience receives eye-rolling and tongue clicking from some people: ADHD. And a final label: learning disability. Labels. I get it. They can seem powerful and scary at times. There’s power in speaking names, in giving words to silent fears that have only existed in the “what ifs” of a parent’s mind. For a while, it was easy for me to pretend that if we didn’t put a name to my sons’ challenges, then they weren’t really real. I resisted, hard and long, because I didn’t want the label to change anything. I didn’t want labels to change the way people thought about my sons. Most of all, I didn’t want it to change my sons. In reality, I didn’t understand what labels really are. But here’s the truth, and it isn’t as scary as I once thought it was: A label is a word or definition that brings clarity to a situation and opens the door to services or aid. That’s it. Now, sometimes the definition is so huge that it takes weeks, months or even years to wrap your head around, to try to understand, to process emotions, and to accept the truth the label brings. Like, autism. Like, ADHD. But as huge as the label might be, its primary purpose is to be a key: it opens the door to knowledge, to counseling, to occupational therapy, to speech therapy, to IEPs, to 504 plans, to new parenting practices, new friends, new ways of looking at the world, new ways of understanding my sons. But here’s what the labels did not do: They did not give me new sons. The labels did not paint my sons from head to foot with bold, black stereotypes. They do not mean my sons won’t be or become everything they are supposed to be and become. The labels did not change my sons at all. But the labels did change me. They changed me, all at once, and slowly too. They have forced me to peel away my preconceived notions about disabilities and what it means to have kids with disabilities. They have urged me to love unconditionally. They have given me permission to forgive myself for what I didn’t know before and comforted me with the truth that I am not a bad parent and that I really am a good mom. They have given me knowledge, drive, passion, a new vocabulary and a thicker skin. They have brought me peace and have urged me towards contentment and acceptance, both of myself and my sons. My sons, my precious twins? The labels didn’t change them. They were always and will always be themselves, fearfully and wonderfully made. Words are powerful, and the powerful labels we’ve accepted as true have only given me the power to be the best mother I can be to my boys. Labels can change a person, but not always the person you think. Follow this journey on TheBamBlog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Thinkstock image by romrodinka

Brittany Meng

My Personal Experience of My First Month of Antidepressants

As humans, we have this desire to slice and dice ourselves into neat little boxes and categories. We place our body in one box, our emotions in another, our mind in the next. (Where do we place our soul?) Headache ? Take a Tylenol. Heartache? Have a good cry or talk to a friend. Bored? Pick up a book or flip on the TV. Tired? Take a nap or turn in early. We like remedies that are simple and tidy and fit easily into simple and tidy boxes. But the thing is, depression isn’t neat and tidy. It doesn’t fit in a box. Is it physical? Emotional? Mental? Spiritual? For me, it’s all of those things. On my very bad days, it felt like I had flu-like exhaustion. But even though I was so tired, I struggled for hours to fall asleep at night. Napping was impossible. My body literally felt heavy, like I had sandbags on my shoulders. I had headaches almost every day. I felt tense all the time and experienced surges of adrenaline throughout the day, like when you’re going up the stairs, miss a step and nearly fall — that feeling in the pit of your stomach, all day, every day, for months and months. Emotionally, I was checking out of my life. I didn’t want to be around my kids. I felt trapped by my life. I would blow up over stupid things; my nerves were stretched so tight the slightest blip in my day made me snap. I would forget conversations and to-do lists. I got lost driving to familiar places. I often felt overwhelmed making trivial decisions. I would pray for peace, for joy, that I could find contentment. I prayed every night for sleep, sleep, sleep. And yet the peace, joy, contentment and sleep eluded me. I was doing all the right things: changing my diet (cutting sugar, more veggies, more protein, more water), exercising, reducing stress, doing yoga, taking vitamins, practicing all the self-care I could muster. Outwardly I was still functioning well on a day-to-day basis. I read to my kids. I supervised homework. I made meals for my family every day. I shopped. I did menu planning. I laughed with my husband. I spent time with friends. I mentored college-age women. I ran errands and helped with renovations on our house. But I was still drowning. Despite fleeting moments of joy, I was miserable and it was getting worse each month. I was apprehensive about taking antidepressants. You can’t see the mind or put your finger on a mood. You wonder, “Is this really real? Get over yourself! Do better! Eat better! Exercise! Pray more! Be happy — you have so much to be grateful for!” There’s such a stigma involved, despite a strong cultural push toward acceptance of mental illness and treating mental illness with medication. But filling that prescription a month ago was the best decision I could have made. It took about three weeks for the medication to start smoothing out my ragged edges (just like my midwife told me it would). The first few days I had a range of mild side effects: nausea, dizziness, the feeling of being “drugged.” I wondered if it was even going to work. But I dutifully kept taking it, having faith it would start working in a few weeks. The first two weeks were a roller coaster of mood swings: I had good days where I started to see the light (I wrote this post on a good day) and very bad days, where I spent hours in bed. After several bad days in a row, (plus all the months of bad days before this), as I was lying in bed, I overheard my husband, Aaron, talking to my son, Benji (9): Aaron: “You need to help Mom out right now. She doesn’t feel good—” Benji: “Mom never feels good!” I cried into my husband’s shoulder that night when we talked about how my son’s words wounded me. “You’re taking steps,” Aaron reminded me. “It’s going to take time. But you’re going to get better.” Every week before my counseling appointment, I would think through the previous seven days and prepare a summary for my counselor. And by the third week, I realized I hadn’t had any “bad” days that week. The minor side effects were long gone. I wasn’t so exhausted. I wasn’t hiding in my room every night after dinner. I didn’t feel as overwhelmed and stressed. I even did a yard sale that week, which was stressful but I didn’t succumb and give up. The overwhelming, visceral panic I felt at the mere thought of my husband leaving for his Air Force training was fading. The medication is helping my body make the serotonin that my brain was starved for, that my body was lacking, that my emotional well-being desperately needed. Today, it’s been a month since I first filled the prescription and I had a check up with my midwife. “I’m doing a lot better,” I told her. “I can tell!” She agreed. It’s been a month of new steps: the medication, the counseling, painfully honest self-awareness that I need help to get well. But I’m getting there. I’m getting better. Are you struggling with depression right now? Don’t be afraid to say it out loud. Tell someone and take a brave step to get help today. This is not who you are. You can get better. There is goodness and joy in store for you in the future. You are not alone. Editor’s note: Please see a doctor before starting or stopping a medication. Follow this journey on TheBamBlog. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here . Thinkstock photo via max-kegfire.

Brittany Meng

Learning to Be More Patient as a Special Needs Mom

When I was teaching a freshman class, I remember a paper conference I had with a student one morning. While looking over his paper, this student told me he had ADHD. “I just have to work harder. It’s not easy, but I don’t let it hold me back,” he told me. I always remember this conversation. For one, it was the first time in my new teaching career that a student told me about his special needs. I felt honored and curious as to how I could help him succeed. But the conversation we had has also replayed in my mind again and again as I raise my own two sons, both of whom have ADHD and one who is autistic. “You have some challenges,” I tell them. “I know it’s not easy. But it just means we have to be creative, work through things together, try again.” We’re going to get there, but the challenges that can come with ADHD and autism mean my boys might have to take a longer way around. As my boys travel their paths, I’ve realized I’m on the longer way around, too. I read parenting articles about patience and find myself scoffing. I find myself justifying my irritation — “Well, I asked nicely the first three times! If you would just pay attention, Mommy wouldn’t yell!” I want to raise them right, to be kind, loving, respectful men. But that means I have to be kind, loving and respectful, too. I can’t justify acting like a jerk or dismissing my impatience and irritation as acceptable by-products of any parenting challenges I might face on a day-to-day basis. ADHD and autism can present challenges for my boys, but I don’t want them to say “I can’t” because of their special needs. I don’t want to say “I can’t” either. I can be kind, like keeping them in mind when I plan our dinners because making their favorite foods is one way I can tell them, “I’m thinking about you.” I can be patient. I can be creative in carving out one-on-one time, even if it is just snuggling on the couch, watching their favorite show. I can be interested, even if I can’t keep all Pokemon details straight. And I can be loving, always loving, because they are my sons and I am their mom. We’re on the long way ‘round. We have challenges. Maybe you do too. But let’s keep moving forward, choosing love, choosing kindness and choosing relationships. We want to hear your story. Become a Mighty contributor here. Image via Thinkstock Images

Brittany Meng

Public or Hybrid School for My Special Needs Kids: How I Chose

My twin boys start third grade in a little over a week. Each year I am amazed at what a steep jump each grade seems, but even more so this year. We have had an amazing public school experience so far, but if there’s one thing that bugs me about public school, it’s the testing focus. And 3rd grade… that’s when standardized tests start. Both my sons love school, and I want them to keep that attitude as long as possible. With the testing pressure looming large, I found myself wanting to reduce that pressure, all the while seeking to preserve the joy and love of learning they already possess. So, I started doing some heart-searching and brainstorming about whether or not public school was still the best choice for our boys. An exciting opportunity presented itself in our town: A new hybrid school that is a blend of homeschooling and private school. In this school, the children attend class on Tuesdays and Thursdays and are taught by a professional educator. Then, on the home days, the students review and reinforce their lessons with their parents. The school is launching this fall, and I was beyond excited. I scheduled a private meeting with its founder, and we talked educational theory for nearly two hours in my living room. I went to the start-up meeting for parents who were interested in being part of the core team. I promoted the school on Facebook and invited people to come to the public information meeting. I loved this idea. And yet… I didn’t know if it was going to be the right fit. I wanted it to be. The focus would be on a love of learning, not testing.  The parent/teacher balance seemed ideal, the perfect blend of freedom, creativity, and homeschool/traditional school. But I was struggling with the fact that I didn’t know if it would be a good fit for my sons… and me. My boys have special needs in various forms between the two of them—ADHD, language processing learning disabilities, anxiety, sensory processing disorder (SPD), and autism. Even during homework time, our tempers flare and emotions run high — as much as I love them and want to give them the best, could I actually be the best teacher and mother to them on the days we would do school at home? Some days I was sure: Yes, I want the best for them. This would be the best. I can give them this best. Other days, I was struck with the starkness of my own reality: Is this what is best for them? For me? Would I be able to be the mother I wanted to be if I was teaching them the majority of our days at home? As stressful as it is being the mom of two kids with special needs, did I want toadd the responsibility of “academic teacher” too? Would they thrive? Could I handle it? Do I really want to do this? As second grade came to a close in the spring, I still had not made a decision. I was stuck between the scenario of what is best for my kids vs. what is best for me. One day, I brought it up with my son’s counselor. After I laid all my arguments, desires, dreams, and doubts before her, she said something that jolted me to my core, and ultimately helped me make a decision between public school and the hybrid school. “The thing is,” she said carefully, “What is best for you is what is best for you kids.” Her words stunned me. What is best for me is what will be best for my kids? How can that be? Wasn’t a mother supposed to be selfless, always sacrificing, putting her kids wants, needs, and desires before her own? Could I embrace this truth? It seems so counter-intuitive. But it brought light, clarity, and peace to my conflicted soul, and after she said this phrase to me, I knew what my decision would be. We would continue in public school for third grade. The truth is, I knew in my heart of hearts, that to preserve the best mother/son relationship with my boys, I needed to delegate the role of “academic teacher” to someone else, namely the wonderful, professional regular and special education teachers at our public school. I have been working hard to reduce stress in my life lately because I have realized that when I am less stressed, I am a calmer, more loving, more patient mom. Choosing the hybrid school would have been an amazing experience, but I know it would have been a huge stressor as well.  Many days, I feel like my relationships with my sons are fragile.  With all their special needs, I need to do all I can to reduce the stressors that could strain those relationships. Would the hybrid school have been good for my sons? Oh yes! I believe they would have loved it.  Would it have been good for me? Probably not, and that means it was not the right decision for my sons either. Sometimes, being a good mom means doing what is best for you — and in doing that, you are doing what is best for you kids too. I don’t know if the advice the counselor gave me pans out in every situation. I’ve applied her maxim (What’s best for you is what is best for your kids) to many imaginary scenarios and, weirdly, her advice rang true in most situations. Hm… What do you think of her advice? Is what is best for you what is best for you kids? Share your thoughts and story below! Image via Thinkstock.

Brittany Meng

A Letter to the Mom Who's Scared of an Autism Diagnosis for Your Child

Dear mom who’s scared of an autism diagnosis for your child, I get it. I’ve been there, too. I told myself he would “grow out of it.” He didn’t.  My friends told me it was “just a boy thing.” But it wasn’t. I chalked up our challenges to his prematurity, to the fact that he is a twin. I get it. An autism diagnosis can feel scary at first. You’re worried about what people will think of him. You’re worried about labels and stigmas, and the fact that what you know about autism at this point doesn’t match what you know about your child. Your child is special, amazing, unique. But he also faces challenges that can be confusing and sometimes exhausting to you. It can be hard to chase, coax, soothe, please and defend when you walk out the door, enter a store, introduce a new food or visit a relative’s house. Dear, dear mama — hear me now. You are a good mom. You are a good mom because you are trying. You are a good mom because you are worrying and wondering. You are a good mom because you are seeking answers, even if the answers might scare you at first. I was scared, too, so for a long time, I ignored it; I hoped he would “grow out of it.” I forced myself to be “better” so he would be “better,” too. But things only got more confusing because I couldn’t explain away his behavior anymore, not to my family, or to friends, or to myself. So I took the leap and sought professional help for the answer. And it came: autism. It crushed me and put me back together all at the same time. It suddenly all made sense; all the pieces that were simultaneously foreign and familiar. They fit. I finally had a name for everything we had been experiencing for eight years. And you know what? My son — my beautiful, funny, loving, quirky son — didn’t change because we got the diagnosis. He was autistic all along. We just didn’t have the words to explain our reality. But when we did, when we knew the word and accepted the word and said the word — autism — things changed. It was the key to open the doors we needed to get help for our son, and for us too. Autism opened the doors to therapy, to counseling, to school support. But even more than that, it opened the doors to understanding, to compassion, to greater patience, to better parenting. It helped me accept my son… and myself. I wasn’t a bad parent. And neither are you. I was just scared. I know you are, too. But here’s the truth: autism may not have been the path you would have chosen before, but if your child is autistic, you’re already on it. Right now, you’re in the dark. But a diagnosis turns on the lights. It’s blinding for a little while, but then? You’ll be able to see. You’ll be able see your child for who he really is, with all his gifts and challenges, his possibilities and potential. You’ll see yourself more clearly too, more gracefully and tenderly. And you’ll be able to see where you end and where others begin. Seeking a diagnosis is a big step. It can feel huge and scary. The truth always is. But you can do it. You can take this step. Because you’re a good mom, and all good moms are brave. Wishing you all the love, peace, and joy in the world, because you have so much good in store for you,A mom of an autistic child Image via Thinkstock Images

Brittany Meng

Feeling Guilt About Using 'Bribery' as a Parenting Tool

When I became a mom, I had a pretty hefty bag of parenting tools at my disposal. But over time, the needs that come with my son’s autism made me throw out most of my “tools.” There was one tool that worked pretty consistently…but I didn’t like to use it. The tool? Bribery. It’s the ol’ “If you finish your broccoli you can have a cookie” song and dance. It worked. But I found myself cringing every time I bribed my son towards the behavior I desired from him. I wanted him to follow my instructions. I wanted him to eat his green beans for the sake of his health. I wanted him to sit through a church to learn more about God. I pulled back on the bribes, trying to explain the intrinsic value of why we should or should not do certain things. But that didn’t work either. I expressed my frustration at one of my son Benji’s therapy appointments. “I don’t want to bribe him to do the things he should be doing already. I mean, he’s part of the family. He should clean up his room.” “That’s true,” our therapist nodded. “But, call it what you will — bribing, incentives — we all are motivated by something. Even if you love your job, people ultimately go to work for the paycheck. Money is a huge motivator to get up and be responsible each morning.” I paused, listening to her reasoning. “Eventually,” she went on, “we want Benji to get in the habit of doing the right thing, incentive or not. But utilizing incentives for a desired outcome isn’t wrong. It can be a very good thing.” “So you’re telling me it’s OK to bribe my kid?” We both laughed. And I relaxed a bit. Bribing — incentives — (whatever) works for us. In fact, it has been the best tool in my bag for motivating Benji towards good behavior and fewer meltdowns. Now that he’s 8, I don’t have to promise a cookie for him to eat his vegetables. He knows that eating his veggies is part of dinner. But in other things, an incentive — small or large — sparks his interest; it motivates and excites him. In many cases, it’s the difference between Stuck and Moving Forward. I don’t apply incentives to everything. Sometimes I throw down the “because you’re part of this family” card or remind him that kindness and being friendly is its own reward. But for our cyclical struggles, like church, the incentive has become a reliable tool. Benji knows if he sits quietly with us during the service and participates in Sunday School, he can watch Pokemon on Netflix that afternoon. He loves Pokemon and looks forward to it each week (in fact, he’s started calling Sunday “Pokemon Day”). Sure, I’d like him to sit still, participate in the service and be an attentive listener in Sunday School because he wants to learn about God and please his parents, teachers and friends. But they are abstract rewards, even if he understands or even wants those things. He struggles with the abstract, so giving him the concrete reward of Pokemon is the incentive that helps remind him of how we believe he should act and wants to act. The Pokemon incentive is immediate gratification. But we’re trying to inspire him to work towards a goal with delayed gratification, too. Right now, he is doing chores to get a new toy. I made a chart to track his progress. For each chore he earns 25 cents; 40 chores will get him to his goal. He’s pretty excited to mark the dots on his chart so he can visually see his progress. Am I bribing my kid to do housework? Eh, maybe. Bribing? Incentives? Working towards a goal? We’ve all been there as parents and as individuals. After all, as adults, we “bribe” or remind ourselves of the incentives of XYZ all day long to help motivate us towards our goals. I try not to abuse the “bribe.” He doesn’t get to eat a lollypop or play on the iPad for every dot and tittle of good behavior. But incentives are part of the real world, so I’m planting that tool firmly in my parenting bag and am throwing out the guilt of “bribing” my kid with what motivates him. After all, my therapist said it was OK. Follow this journey on The Bam Blog. Lead photo source: Thinkstock Images