Just thinking…

Take a few minutes to ponder with me.

Talking About the Coronavirus With Your Child:

It’s amazing how quickly our world can change in such a short period of time. This is not only challenging for the adults in the world but for our children as well. In just a weeks time, our routines have changed immeasurably. These changes coupled with an increase in everyone’s anxiety has left many adults struggling and in turn our children may be struggling to make sense of it all. 

In addition to ensuring that you, as an adult, have accurate information it is important to be able to assist our children in understanding the sudden changes in our everyday lives. MO-FEAT (Missouri Families for Effective Autism Treatment; https://www.mo-feat.org) has provided two booklets, “What is the Coronavirus?” https://theautismeducator.ie/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/The-Corona-Virus-Free-Printable-Updated-2-The-Autism-Educator-.pdf and “COVID-19 Information by and for People with Disabilities” https://selfadvocacyinfo.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/Plain-Language-Information-on-Coronavirus.pdf.

For many children with Autism and other developmental disorders, routine is very important. The sudden changes in adult schedules and shifting of routines from school to home may be particularly challenging. These booklets can assist you in talking with your youngster about the impact of the Coronavirus and its impact on our daily lives. 

As always, a parent must ensure that they are answering questions from their child in a developmentally appropriate way. Answer their specific questions and let them lead the conversation. This will help ensure that they are not overwhelmed with information. Also, do your best to secure accurate information from trusted sites such as the CDC (https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prepare/prevention.html). Often, informing oneself with facts will allow one to better manage their own anxiety during these times. Your children will look to you for safety and security and as such if you can manage your anxiety they will be more secure. 

I will be working this week to complete a certification in Telemental Health in order to offer distance services to those who may need assistance during this challenging time. Please refer to my website (https://allisonreichertlpc.net) for updates to “Services.” In the meantime, you can always contact me through the website.

Perspective and Acceptance: Or What I Learn in Working with Individuals on the Spectrum

Earlier in the day, I read an article that my spouse forwarded that reminded me of my son’s struggle with sensory issues, emotional regulation, and trying to make it through each day. The article, ” ‘You Don’t Look Autistic’:The Reality of High-Functioning Autism ” (https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/2020/03/03/you-dont-look-autistic-reality-high-functioning-autism/) by Christine Condo, provides great insight into the unseen struggle that many individuals on the spectrum face. As a therapist, I always try to remind parents that there are things that we, as neuro-typical individuals, cannot fully grasp. For instance the energy required to navigate a world each day that we may not fully understand; the energy required to manage the onslaught of sensory stimuli that our body encounters; the energy required to hold emotions in check; the energy to simply get up and face each day when one cannot be fully understood. This article is a beautiful reminder that our perspectives are often tainted by our own experiences. although we try to empathize with others who may struggle with differences, the fact of the matter is that we really can’t. That’s why it is so important to put our judgements aside and hear/see how our loved one or another is doing the best that they can given the circumstances at any given moment just as well all do.

For individuals on the spectrum there are many components that must be considered and managed in order to cope with the highly individualized challenges that they may face in the home, at work, and even during recreational activities. The management of these components requires energy and one’s threshold for tolerance to various stimuli can fluctuate from day to day. Yes, today they are able to manage a task/situation that they didn’t have the energy for yesterday. Successfully facing tomorrow’s tasks/situation will depend on the individual’s energy to manage these factors when/if the task/situation arises. As such, we need to accept that tolerance my fluctuate; that energy may/may not be available; that we cannot possibly imagine the myriad of factors to be considered for an individual who may struggle with autism related symptoms. This can be further complicated by challenges in identifying and expressing what those challenges may be. For parents, the problem solvers of the world, it can be heartbreaking and exhausting. One important thing I have learned from living with my son is that I may not always be able to understand; make things right; or alleviate distress but the one thing I can always do is love and accept him as he is just as I do other family members. He has also taught me to check my perspective and know that each individual’s experience is theirs alone. 

Exploring and Considering Your Child’s Perspective

Recently, an associate forwarded an article from the New York Times that really stirred my thought process (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/opinion/collaborative-problem-solving-children.html). As I read this article, I was motivated to learn more about Collaborative, Proactive Solutions (CPS) and Dr. Ross Greene’s work. After reading a number of Dr. Greene’s books, and reviewing the website for his organization I have decided that I am all in! Why? Well, let me share that with you.

As the parent of an adult with HF-ASD, I have first-hand experience with melt downs, frustration, failure and a feeling that society vilifies not only my child, but me, and my family. Culturally, we determine that a challenging child is the direct result of a parenting problem or that the child is intentionally defiant and attention seeking. As a result, society relies heavily on a well-known theoretical approach, Behaviorism, to address these problems. In short, if a child has a problem, a consequence/punishment will resolve it, or perhaps reinforcing the desired behavior will soon lead to sustained change and inevitably the “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.” This approach may temporarily address the behavior/concern, but does it really facilitate the development of skills which the child may be lacking? 

One problem with this approach, or any approach for that matter, is that adults often treat children like we know what “their” problem is. We make assumptions and impose our will/solutions based on these assumptions. We do this in response to our cultural expectations – I am the parent, I am the authority, because I said so, etc. We take very little time, if any, to listen or even ask our child “what’s up?” As a result, we spend inordinate amounts of time trying to fix the wrong problems.  Dr. Greene’s three step process is built upon creating dialogue and communication patterns that assist us in gaining an understanding of the underlying problem(s) and how we as parents, educators, and professionals can work differently with children to solve issues and assist in skill development along the way. 

Dr. Greene provides a framework for us to create sustained change, and improved relationships. Will it take some effort? Yes, we have to change our thought process and change is difficult. Will it really make a difference? Yes, if we can learn to step back and explore a problem from multiple perspectives and cooperatively come up with what Dr. Greene calls “realistic and mutually satisfying solutions” we help the entire family. Why should we work toward a relational approach to challenges with youth? Because, this opportunity supports the development of improved communication and understanding and, most importantly, because “lives are in the balance!”

I encourage you to explore any of the following texts and/or Dr. Green’s website for more information:

For Parents: 

The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children. (5th Ed.) (2014) by Ross W. Greene Ph.D. 

For Educators: 

Lost & Found: Helping Behaviorally Challenging Students (and, While You’re At It, All the Others) (2016) by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. 

For Professionals: 

Greene, R. W., & Albon J. S. (2006) Treating Explosive Kids: The CollaborativeProblem-Solving Approach. New York: Guilford.

Dr. Green’s Website: https://www.livesinthebalance.org/

As a parent, you are the expert and know more about your child than anyone. That being said, let’s make sure that what we (parents and professionals alike) take the time to work with the child to figure out the underlying concern. Let’s take the time to allow the child to participate in the process and support the development of communication that will allow progress in a positive, and sustainable manner. I am quite certain that this will be a step in the right direction for all of us!

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