Saturday, February 22, 2014

Parent to Parent Tip# 5 - Taking Time Out

It’s no secret, as parents and caretakers we seldom think to "Take Time Out" for ourselves. I know, you’re thinking, "I don't even have time to think let alone take a break." I understand. That is why it is all the more important for you to come up with creative ways to meet some of your needs. Especially when parenting a child with special needs. It seems there are just not enough hours in any given day to get it all done. After rigorous treatments, therapies and special diets, other children, spouses and pets there’s nothing left. But there is. There are ways to take care of these things and still squeeze a little time for yourself, even if it means getting up a littler earlier in order to start you day with a quiet cup of coffee.

Remember: Taking care of yourself helps you to take better care of others.

I made it a point to figure out how to meet my needs. Here is an example:

I need periods of time to myself throughout the day. How do I achieve this?

Creating a dialog (key words) for your needs is beneficial. You may want to also include non-verbal cues like hand signals, picture cards or signs. Be sure to come up with words that your child can easily recognize for the purpose you intend and try not to send conflicting messages by giving key words with dual meanings, such as, "time Out." You don't want to use "time Out" as a key word for needing a break if you already use "time out" as a form of discipline. The outcome would not be good. You can use "relax" or a word for what you plan to do like, "read" which would work well for both you and your child.

Hand sign for “relax”, as in rest

Pick a place where you want to child to engage in quiet independent activity. Be sure it is a space that is child proofed and easy to monitor. Have the child help you put fun activities in the space. (Suggestion: a quiet corner in family room, kitchen or perhaps a playroom to start.) Choose a space where ever you feel your child will be safe and comfortable. Don't worry about adding distance between you and your child at this point. For now, only concentrate on getting him/her familiar with recognizing your key word and engaging in an activity independently.

Okay, so far we've come up with a key word, "read" and/or “relax” and a safe cozy space for you and your child; Take the child into the space and introduce them to an activity or help them choose a favorite activity. Then say "mommy is going to read (use sign language also) while you (fill in the blank). Move to a nearby chair, sit, say the key word and use sign language if you wish pick up a book and begin to read. It may only last for a few seconds if that, but you are on the road to freedom. Continue this practice a couple times a day, everyday, but not at the exact same time everyday unless there is a need. Encourage your child to play independently for short periods of time. Leave room for flexibility. If you are too rigid in scheduling you may be limiting yourself to having break time at only certain time. If you prefer to keep your schedule a little more rigid than setting a particular tie for breaks will work best for you. Be patient and persistent. Before you know it you may find yourself actually reading a page or two without interruption.  

This method may seem a bit slow, but it is a huge step and major building block for gaining much needed time for breaks and other activities such as making phone calls, giving attention to other children, making grocery lists, cooking, cleaning, taking care of business and so on. Start of small and work your way up to larger/longer projects.

As your child’s independent play increases (5-10 minutes or so) you can begin slowly moving further away from the child. Start of by setting your reading chair a little further away, moving closer to the door and soon just outside of the door during independent play time. Be prepared to reassure your child if they start to become a little agitated about the change. Continue to be patient and persistent. Again, over a period of time you will be able to move further and further away. You will even begin to engage in other activities besides reading. Continue creating dialog about the things that you need to accomplish while your child engages in familiar and fun activities. Encouraging age appropriate independence is a positive thing for all children to experience.

Children need to feel secure at all times. It is especially difficult when your child is accustomed to having your undivided attention at all times. It is difficult to stay healthy with such rigorous demands. We as parents need to put our mental and physical health back on the front burners. If we don’t, we are going to fast run out of steam and when that happens, anger, frustration and fatigue increase. You will be amazed how taking a short break can re-energize and revitalize you. And sometimes add a delicious healthy snack to your break. It is all too easy to forget to eat. Be as conscious of your needs as you are the needs of your family.

Children are not automatically conditioned to be considerate of your time and efforts. That is why it is important to let them know you have a few needs and to teach them to be considerate of those needs. They should know when you are not actively engaging in activities with them that they are still love them and very important to you.

When your child becomes more receptive to independent activity and you are able to squeeze in a break now and then, you will find little pockets of time to think of other ways to keep daily routines healthy, happy and more relaxed.

I started using this method with my son when he was 6 years old. It took a about a month to work up to a 30 minute break and about one year to be able to take as many breaks as I need for as long as I need, make numerous calls, work on writing projects and take care of household business with minimal interruption. It was hard work, but well worth the effort.

Putting in the extra effort to secure a few of your needs will make all the difference.

Happy Parenting!!

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Autism Parenting Tip #3 - Lighting

If you notice that your child may be agitated and you aren't sure why. One thing you can try is changing the light source or dimming the lights to see if that helps to calm the child. Whenever possible, offer your child different lighting sources that they can choose from.

I notice early on that my son, much like me, gets agitated when forced to deal with bright artificial light over a long period of time. So I sought out different light sources for his room. He has a window where he is able to get natural light. There are also 3 lamps in his room. One clip-on desk lamp with a soft, dim, low wattage bulb (he can bend the neck in many directions, changing the lights effects), A regular desk lamp with appropriate bulb for doing school work and reading and a lava lamp. He prefers green or sometimes amber lava lamps. My son is able to pick an choose what lighting source he wishes to use.

This is another thing that may help to make the child's space more comfortable and allows him/her to make choices within their special space.

Autism Parenting Tip #2 - Strongest Emotion

Tell your child that you love them multiple times a day, everyday. Show them love with non-verbal cues like running your fingers through their hair or touching their cheek when you pass by.

When I search my past, thinking about emotions that I can identify, the strongest emotional impression was and still is anger and frustration. Not only did I have to cont...ent with abusive parents, but a host of everyday struggles and misunderstandings. There was anger and frustration and every turn.

Many children will have challenges and frustrations along the way. Don't let those frustrations leave a permanent imprint on their memory. Instead, fill their days by showering them with love, patience and gentle kindness. Set necessary parameters so your child will understand what is expected of them. Create a calm and inviting environment at home. Create a safe place that they can go when they need to calm themselves. A safe place could be as simple as a little play tent. Allow your child to help decide what items go into the play tent. My son used to love getting into our linen closet. So I cleared the bottom shelf so he could curl up and close the door whenever he wanted. It was dark and safe. He did this until he outgrew the space, but by then he was able to create another safe place in a different part of the apartment.

It costs nothing to smile and say I love you. It costs nothing or very little to take a table and drape a large sheet over it to make a safe place. These simple gestures will help to facilitate calmness and leave a lasting impression on your child.

Autism Parenting Tip #1 - Rekindling a connection

My son was a happy vibrant little boy, but when autism came much of that changed, at least it changed externally. My son used to look at my face, smile, laugh, sing songs, and loved to play games. All of that changed.

The first thing I did was hold my son and tell him how much I love him. He did not hug me back nor did he look at my face.

I st...arted playing a game with him, one of his favorites, peek-a-boo. In this version of the game I used my hands as blinders holding them over his eyes (not touching eyes) and then opening them like shutters. Each time I opened my hands to reveal his eyes, I would make some sort of funny face. At first he would not look, but after a few months he began responding to our little game. It appeared that he was anticipating something. I don't know if he equated it to being a fun or funny something, but he did actively look at my face.

I did not need my son to look in my eyes, I know that can be very difficult, but I did want him to see my face and feel safe looking at it.

This simple game was our first real connection after autism struck. That was many years ago. My son is 14. Even now he still makes a point to looks at my face everyday, even if just for a moment and he smiles.

Find ways to connect with you child. Make up games or sing songs do what ever you can. Once that connection begins, they sky is the limit.

It doesn't get much better than that.

Monday, February 17, 2014

The Challenges of Potty Training My Autistic Child

Potty training is one of life’s events that we as parents anticipate as well as celebrate. It’s that remarkable mild stone that sets us apart from every other living creature on the planet. Potty training can be a major undertaking, but the one thing that keeps us going is the long awaited ode to the day when we can relinquish diaper duty. Though I dare say, for some of us that day is years in the making.

There are all sorts of gimmicks and gadgets out there to entice our little ones to do the potty thing. Do these gimmicks really work? And furthermore, do they work for the autistic child? Well, I can tell you, gimmicks and gadgets did not work for my son. As a matter of fact, gadgets and gimmicks may have prolonged the process.

I’ve read a lot of information about potty training the typical and autistic child and I have yet to come across information that could have helped me train my son with his unique circumstances.

I started working on potty training my son when he was 3 years old. We had not received an official diagnosis for autism, so there was little to no help offered from medical professionals and therapists. I turned to other parents, books, blogs, television and autism support groups where I found a wealth of information and support.

Over a period of several years, we would try different methods, starting with the tried and true getting on the potty after meal and snack time. We tried getting on the potty every couple hours, every hour, every thirty minutes. We even used the timer method. I was taking suggestions from everyone I knew and still no go. By this time my son hated being on the potty. He would deny himself food and drink to prolong the process. This has become worrisome. My son has a short gut and needs to eat several meals throughout the day and night to gain weight and grow.

Opened to trying just about anything, I sought methods to make potty time as pleasant as possible. I even took the advice of a well-known TV personality, Dr. Phil, who simply said to give the child a party after he goes potty What a novel idea. So, I made my list:

Party hats

Noise makers

Homemade confetti

Large washable play mat



Potty Time Video

Hand sanitizer


1 small child


Party planned. I placed the potty on the play mat, popped the potty video into the VCR, set up snacks and drink and had the party hats, noise makers and confetti waiting in the wings. Now it’s time for the guest of honor. Okay, child properly located, aww, he’s swaying to the potty song. A few minutes later we have success! He did pee-pee in the potty…yeah!!!! I kissed my son, told him he did good pee-pee in the potty and then proceeded to dance around the room, blowing noise makers and tossing confetti. This was going to be the mother of all celebrations…right? Wrong. My child was traumatized and decided not to use the potty ever again. Talk about your low days. All hope literally flushed down the drain. It’s not Dr. Phil’s fault that the party thing didn’t work. Part of the problem was my literal mind and really going all out for the party mood. I should have done something a little more reserved and quite. Live and learn.

Fast forward…My son is now 10 and we’ve just moved into our house. He is still not potty trained and I have seemingly exhausted every possible avenue. There were some who told me to just give up. I had done my best. I guess it’s time to accept that my son might be in diapers for the rest of his life. But wait, my son is able to identify when he needs to go to the bathroom and he indicates that by finding a private place to do so. He even changes himself once he’s done. And the level of control he has over his own body function. Not once in his later years has he had a muddy accident away from home. There’s really only one step left and that’s to get him to use the toilet. There has to be a way to achieve this goal…consistently. After all, what exactly am I fighting…his ability or his will?

As a last ditch effort I cleared the calendar and set up our potty training boot camp. That means we dedicated almost every waking hour to the purpose and practice of toileting properly. Outings were limited to need only. I removed all diapers from sight and replaced them with real underwear. We started off going to the bathroom every 30 minutes, for duration of 5 minutes, allowing extra time after meals and snacks. A diaper was allowed for bedtime. During bed time I set my alarm to wake up every 3 hours so I could get my son up and send him to the bathroom for 5 minutes. I know this sound grueling and it was. My son had to understand that “I don’t want to” was not an option.

I prayed God’s guidance and hoped I was doing the right thing. I didn’t want to push my son to do something that he could not do.

Within a few weeks we developed a rhythm. Progress was being made. Peeing in the toilet was becoming second nature, even while out. We had only three daytime peeing accidents during the entire training process.

Mastering stooling in the toilet came with its own set of challenges and those challenges taught me a great deal about my son’s ability. Midway through potty training boot camp I noticed that my son was not stooling or so I thought. No accident in diapers and no stooling in the toilet. How is that possible? I was concerned. I don’t want him to get sick in the process, so I started paying closer attention to his habits. Ah hah!! That little dickens outsmarted me. My son had a secret stash of pull-ups that he changed into when he felt he needed to stool. He would find a place to relieve himself and then discard the pull-up in the trash, hiding it under other trash if he could. I saw this and could not believe my eyes. How very clever he is. Note to self…never underestimate any child.

I rejoiced at my son’s increased cerebral fortitude, but recognized that I needed to find his secret stash of pull-ups. I checked where I originally hid the pull-ups. No change there. I checked different areas in his room and around the house. I still couldn’t find the secret stash. So I wait. He’ll have to run out of pull-ups soon. It wasn’t long before the inevitable happened. My son is starting to refuse food and drink again. He’s determined not to stool in the toilet or ever, for that fact. Three days pass and still no stool. It’s time to turn up the volume on the training.  Instead of going to the bathroom every 30 minutes to an hour he now has to spend most of his time in the bathroom, taking breaks for eating, playing and sleeping with close supervision. Another day goes by and finally! It happened. Success…true success. This time there were no parties, only a warm smile and a job well done. I continued encouraging his successful self-toileting, which he seemed not to mind. It took all of 3 months to get the bulk of his training done and those 3 months changed our lives forever.

Taking this huge leap did more than just rid us of pull-ups. My son seemed more assured of himself and more mature in how he handles himself. I think we tend to take for granted that which comes easily for “typical children.” We think about the cognitive implications as new life stages are met, but there is very little talk about the child’s sense of self as new challenges are conquered. These things make a tremendous difference in the child’s life. It’s not just about gaining skill, but gaining the knowledge that “I can do.”

Don’t give up! – Sometimes you have to step back, leave a situation where it is and then revisit it much later. If you find that you have to take a break because potty training is way too challenging, then break the process down to the smallest degree. That will be your starting point when you and your child are ready to meet the challenge again.

Don’t compare your child to other children. His natural rate of progression is his alone. Respect that and encourage him to do his personal best.