True Little Reminder About Parenting an Exceptional Child

This a great reminder that hope for the special needs child largely rests on the shoulders of her parents. Special needs children are ‘exceptional’ and their gift only makes engaged parents even stronger and better at the game of “life” in general. The Lord would never entrust the lifetime of care and nurturing to just anyone. He chose you as He knew you were capable. Embrace the challenge!

Here is a great little article from the Parkville-Overlea Patch in Maryland:

Positive Parenting: You Are Your Child’s Rock

Being a parent is one of the most rewarding things in life, but it requires that you always be your child’s foundation.

Are you raising a special-needs child? Moreover, are you a single parent to a special-needs child? If so, take a deep breath, because you’re not alone.

It can be the most rewarding yet challenging experience, especially if your little one was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease or even one of the autism spectrum disorders.

No parent is ever ready to hear this sort of news, and many choose not to accept it. But as a parent you are your child’s rock—his or her strongest foundation. You have to be. Curveballs such as autistic spectrum disorder can easily make you feel inadequate as a parent, causing you to unnecessarily blame yourself for something that you had no control over.

As a parent, it is your divine right to provide for, protect, nurture and be your child’s advocate and foundation. There will be times when the world tests you as a parent, be it through teachers, bullies or a host of other obstacles. But you must press on and fight for your child, because no one else will.

Parent needs to be aware of any patterns in special-needs children, such as behavioral patterns—behavior is also a form of communication.

Realize that any “special need” that your child has is gift and not a disability, and with your guidance he or she can touch the world. No one ever said that parenting was easy—to be a positive parent is to be your child’s hero.

When combating a challenge, know that there is more than one way to teach, learn and do things. Be proactive in encouraging teachers of this by giving them a gentle reminder.

Remember that you are your child’s first teacher and best role model. With you in their lives, the sky is the limit.

Information Overload – More Information Does Not Mean More Informed!

I came across a neat article about how there is too much information on the Internet for parents to digest and because of this it creates increased worry and anxiety. You can link to and read the article here.

I couldn’t agree more. Parents, especially new ones, are very susceptible to the open conduit of information called the Internet. The problem lies in the fact that the Internet is still like the wild, wild west of old. There aren’t many laws governing content and any fool with an Internet connection can throw up useless, bad and even dangerous information about parenting (don’t get any strange ideas about this author as you read that, lol). My advice is to be very cautious when surfing the new for information about topics like parenting, marriage or raising and caring for children with autism. Be very leery and check your facts before acting on any advice!

As I launched this little blog project to try to inject encouragement and support to those within the parenting community who are raising autistic children, I have taken on several other tasks behind the scenes to make myself that much helpful in the months and years ahead. I am painfully and slowing screening the blogs, websites and organization devoted to autism support in some way to find the ones that I feel provide some sort of relevant and credible value to anyone who reads this blog. I do not get paid to endorse any book or product and have no intention of doing so as my readership grows (it is neat to see the growth since launch in January of this year). I have hundreds of website addresses that I am still combing through. If you see a link on the right side of the page in my blogroll it is only because I have screened it and believe that a good majority of its content is of very relevant value for you to check out yourself. As I weed through these websites I find that there is AN ABUNDANCE OF INCORRECT AND VERY DAMAGING advice and points of view out there and is free and abundant in nature. The problem with opinions is that many times they are like people’s backsides – everyone has one and most of them stink! I say be cautious what your reading and who you’re taking advice from as they may be crazy!

More information about parenting does not mean you are a well-informed parent. I am always open for new ideas, but I base everything off values and check the source before I believe it to be gospel. You should too.

In advocacy,

Mike

Happy Father’s Day 2011!

Its one of the greatest charges and responsibilities of a man. Second only to being a loving husband. Men who are given children are given the opportunity to demonstrate true leadership, mentorship, discipline and integrity every day of their lives. “Father” is the word for God on the lips of small children! Nothing is more important in the households of America, and especially those households walking on the pathways in autism together, to have a strong, central father leading the way and setting the example for all in the house. “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” – Proverbs 22:6

On this Father’s Day 2011, I am 6000 miles away from the family that I love and am directly responsible for. Being away this time has been especially tough, but I don’t know why. Perhaps it is the age that my boys are in, or perhaps it is the age that their Dad has become now. In my older age I find myself looking more now to the past than I have in years past. I still consider myself a forward thinker, looking for the opportunities and new challenges I can tackle tomorrow. But, in these last few months of a fair enough of solitude I have really been looking at and analyzing my role as a husband, father and leader of my household. Introspection is good now and again. However, nothing new pops out at me. There have no new revelations that have gripped my heart and soul. There have been no “AHA” moments as of yet. But, there is always, always that little voice in the back of my mind that whispers in my ear, “You can do more”, “You can be much better”, “Work harder to be the man I designed you to be.” As of late I have been reminded of my capacity for more and greater challenge in life. And later in the year when I return home, I will be able to execute in all the areas that I am working on bettering myself in. One of those areas for sure is the area of parenting.

On this Father’s Day 2011, here are some things that I aspire to be like and will work diligently toward until next Father’s Day. If you work on just getting 10% better in one area of your life every year, the advances you will make in self-development will be utterly amazing. The problem is that most people don’t work toward any development, or they talk a good game and spend all their time “talking” about getting better instead of “working” at getting better. Between thought and deed exists a large chasm to cross. Here are the things to do in the next year:

1) READ MORE

Keep reading from good sources of information about how to be a better parent. The best way to become a better parent is learn from those who ‘are’ better parents. Looking at my bookshelf of books that I will read during this deployment, the titles I will be reading to invest in a better parenting self are, “The Power of a Praying Husband”, “Making Children Mind Without Losing Yours”, “Helping a Child With Nonverbal Learning or Asperger’s Disorder”, “Good & Angry: Exchanging Frustration For Character…In You and Your Kids”, and “Finishing Strong: Going The Distance For Your Family.” I also am beginning to dig into good parenting blogs, website and organizations. So far I have found the “Focus on the Family” website helpful in the limited time I have dug into this area. On top of reading good books about parenting I also cycle in good faith-based books to strengthen my foundation in all things I do in life, books on history and important historical figures (I will be reading a lot from the Founding Fathers over the next few years), and then people skill/communication books. I am a firm believer that if more people turned off the ridiculous shows on television and picked up a valuable, personal growth inducing book their life would become happier, more purposeful and more menaingful. I am not totally anti-tv, but one has to admit it sure does waste a lot of time when one could be doing other things in that same time!

2) PRAY MORE

I share this only because it is a part of who I am as a person, leader, father and husband. Prayer means different things to different people. I certainly do not wish to turn you off or have you tune me out when I share that my prayers go out to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. It is through Him that all the things that make up my being are driven. I won’t linger long on this as I know I run the risk of losing a reader or two as religion and spiritual beliefs can be a touchy subject. But in my heart, for me, as one called and chosen by God to follow His lead in life, I know when to hit my knees in times of strength and in times of weakness and despair. If it weren’t for the faith exhibited in our household by our boy’s parents, we certainly wouldn’t be as strong in the fight for advocacy as we are. This year, I plan to lean on Him even more – something that unfortunately is quite hard at times to do. “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him.” James 1:5

3) COMMUNICATE MORE

I always have to remind myself that 80% of communication is one’s ability to be a great “listener.” There is a time to speak and a time to listen. Most people’s time is to listen in order to increase their ability to communicate. As the age old saying goes, “God gave you two ears and one mouth. You should both in proper proportion.” My plan this year in not just my role as a father, but in all relationships is to listen twice as much as I speak in life. This is especially true with autism. My boys do not communicate the same way or are slow to respond when I speak most times. I need to say things once and give the autism time to decipher what I said before I grow impatient and ask again. “Please take your feet off the table.”……….no response……….”PLEASE take your feet off the table” more sternly (and impatiently) ………”PLEASE…TAKE YOUR….” very stern and lost patience. And he puts his feet down. It doesn’t have to come to that. If I have his attention (KEY), and ask one time with clarity and give his brain time to process in its own way – he will respond! I am supposed to be the normal one in the household! Why am I losing my patience for proper communication with an autistic child when I know he isn’t WILLINGLY defying me! He is PURPOSELY trying to make me angry! He doesn’t even know how to do that effectively anyway! Autistic kids are going to behave in scattered, patience-stretching, loud, obnoxious and crazy ways. That doesn’t give us permission to communicate in the same way. The parent has to keep the cool, level, loving head despite what the children’s disorder is causing them to do. I know this is difficult. I fail often. But this year I will work to get better at it. Through more books, prayer, insightful parenting tips from the pros, support and love from my patient and saint of a wife – I will prevail and become a better father! “There is that speaketh like the piercings of a sword: but the tongue of the wise is health.” Proverbs 12:18, “If any man among you seem to be religious, and bridleth not his tongue, but deceiveth his own heart, this man’s religion is vain.” James 1:26

4) LOVE MORE

Above all else – love comes first. I desire to be more loving to my spouse, loving to my children and loving to my fellow man in general. Perfect practice makes perfect. “The way of the wicked is an abomination unto the LORD: but He loveth him that followeth after righteousness.” Proverbs 15:9

Happy Father’s Day my brothers in autism!

Mike

Beware the Intellect Behind the Shell!

I am reading a new book that looks at autism from a spiritual point of view. Faith is very important in my family, but I am always guarded when I read faith-based books. There is a lot of bad, damaging stuff out there and I guard what I put into my mind. This book so far has had some good points worth sharing and if worthy I will recommend the entire read once I am finished. With the first three chapters under my belt, I like the author’s viewpoint so far. He touched on the importance of understanding, or more importantly, believing in your auttie’s intellectual capabilities – regardless of what appears on the outside (or shell). I like the argument the author makes in our society’s ability to assess the intellectual capabilities of those with autism being limited due to the current efficacy in existing standardized testing for I.Q. With our current limitations of testing specifically the autistic, it is difficult to discern truly what level of thought capacity people with autism are capable of. He makes many points to help destroy stereotypes of the non-verbal, apparently non-communicative autist by those, sadly, even within the autism research field that autists are more than likely just a bunch of mentally-retarded humans who have little to no potential of productive thought. Those of us who take the developmentally positive route know this couldn’t be further from the truth. Autism is such a disorder of depth. The author even challenges my willingness to even call it a “disorder”, just as much as what one would consider “normal.” What is normal anyway? The author stresses that in the absence of more qualitative and longitudinal testing of the intellectual capabilities of those living with autism, we should all just assume that all people with autism have been Providentially-endowed with vast intellectual capability that deserves nurturing. I agree.

Let’s look at the context of when we parents discuss the negative or frustrating issues surrounding our kid’s autism right in front of them as if they aren’t even there! Just as we wouldn’t readily discuss certain issues of behavior or development in front of our typical-developing children (of course not, they can communicate and understand all the bad things we’re saying and we wouldn’t want to lower their self-esteem consciously!), then why would it be any different in discussing personal autism related issues right in front of our child with autism? Just because he or she does not speak, or it appears that they are non-communicative or they don’t demonstrate emotions the same way we do doesn’t mean that inside of that shell is a competent, understanding and feeling person who hears the praise or sting of each one of your words. As you discuss with your spouse, or others about the frustrations you are having with your child’s development right in front of him you need to remember that there is a great chance that his intellectual capabilities are allowing him to understand everything you are saying about him. The author contends that many caregivers, parents and professionals will discuss such matters in front of the individual with autism as if they are not even there. It is as if to say, “they are mentally retarded anyway, so they aren’t going to understand this negative discussion I’m having right in front of them.” But then, we learn about the endless cases where the auttie eventually learned to communicate with traditional methods and shares with us how those words use to hurt so much to hear! My wife and I have often discussed the importance of discussing the negative types of matters in private, away from the ears of our boys as we do not want to learn later that our boys were harmed by such discussions. Even when discussing things on the phone, always be mindful if your auttie is within earshot (as she may understand more than we give credit for). Err on the side that they understand completely and you’ll be sure to keep the critical out of earshot, and the praise and loving phrases right in front of them! When the author, who is a consultant on autism development and works hard to establish a deep connection with his autistic clients, shared the following my heart just sank for all the times I was critical or negative in front of my boys about the challenges their autism brings in our home:

“In fact, the two phrases most frequently communicated to me upon first connecting with others with autism are, “I love you,” and “I’m not retarded.”

I can vividly imagine my non-verbal son sitting on the couch watching one of his videos and me thinking that he isn’t paying attention to the phone conversation I am having about him not even 10 feet away about why he isn’t progressing in his verbal abilities. And that perhaps we need to look at another provider to work with him and verbalizing perhaps unreasonable expectations of timelines of when he ‘better start talking.’ Although he doesn’t react to the emotional pain he is having because he can’s, and although he doesn’t make eye contact with me…because he can’t – I can almost hear what his words (if he were more verbal) could say inside of his shell to himself. They may go something like this:

“I am trying as hard as I can Daddy. I know the right words to say, I can visualize them in my mind and say them on the inside, but I just can’t say them with my mouth. I want badly to talk, all the time, but my brain won’t let me yet. Oh, if only I could tell you right now Daddy that my teachers are helping me and I feel I am getting closer that you wouldn’t say those sad things about me. I want to be able to tell you and show you and Mommy how much I love you, but I can’t! It makes me feel so sad for you to think that I am not growing just because I am not talking on the outside like my brother or my friends at school. Please don’t give up on me. If I don’t talk will you still love me anyway? I want to be just like all the other kids, but I can’t talk the way they can. Please don’t quit on me daddy. Please love me.”

I don’t want to be the one to learn that for years I brought sadness and pain to my auttie by the words that I spoke that I thought he didn’t understand. I prefer to err on the side of them understanding every word I say. That way when I fill him with praises of how much I love him, how proud of him I am just the way he is, how I believe in him, and remind them often how much God loves them, I believe those kinds of words will encourage and foster positive development of them as a whole person – regardless if verbal ability is part of his future or not.

God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
the courage to change the things I can;
and the wisdom to know the difference.

-The Serenity Prayer

In Parenting,

Mike