Thursday, May 10, 2012

Follow Through

Okay to let me preface this blog entry to admitting.  I struggle with follow through too at times.  This is not meant to make anyone feel poorly.  In fact, my hope is that it will help other parents who have children with Autism or an Autism Spectrum Disorder.

The year is 2009.  Sarah is upstairs in her room crying because she is grounded. . . AGAIN.  She's 14 almost 15 and struggling to keep her attitude in check and her mouth closed and after pushing it one too many times she finds herself grounded from all electronics for a two days to a week.  I am downstairs and I can hear her sobbing, I know she is mad at herself and I feel wretched too.  I know it's tough with Chris gone, but the attitude has to get in check or she is going to have some serious issues when she grows up.  Even as I type this  I feel horrible.  I hate seeing her upset and unhappy but I also know I have to stand my ground

Often when we had scenes like this one at home I would call a friend or Chris' mom to help me stand firm and hold my ground.  It was tough.  I hate it when the girls are unhappy, but I also know I love them too much to let them get away with whatever they want and they need to learn how to behave appropriately so when they are out in the real world it isn't a shock to them that they don't get their own way. 

I struggle with this when it comes to Elizabeth as well.  But when it came to Lizzie it was about figuring out what she could and couldn't do for a while.  The little stinker was playing her disability card for all it was worth.  I'm pretty sure the day Mommy figured it out was not a good day for her.  The act of being too sweet and innocent to possibly tell Sarah she should go back to her family because we didn't want her, was over.  I'd heard her say it out loud and her bottom bore the brunt of my displeasure. 

It is 2012 and I am a lot better at follow through now than I was in the beginning.  Here is the thing, when Elizabeth was first diagnosed we were at a loss.  We wondered, what did she know, it threw everything I thought I had known about her into question.  Maybe I was wrong, what if she wasn't really as smart as I thought at first (she is as smart as I thought).   A million concerns and questions raced through my mind.  But as she became more verbal and I began to see what was in her brain and how it was working (for the most part, some of it we are still trying to figure out).  Now I expect from her the same behavior I expected from Sarah at aged 10 going on 11 years.  She isn't thrilled about it, but it is too important to cave. 

Beka, is still tough.  She's adorable and she knows it.  Sometimes it takes everything I have not to cave or just burst into laughter.  Like the one night when I heard Elizabeth shrieking in pain.  I went in to investigate after excusing myself from my friend, Heather, who had come to visit us.  Lizzie was crying and said, "Beka hit me on the eye brow."  Now I wasn't positive she had done it, but I wasn't positive she hadn't either, especially since Beka was sitting on her bed, trying to comfort her sister.  As I walked down the hall to retrieve the paddle for Beka, I heard this conversation.

"Beka!  Why did you hit me on the eye brow?"

"I didn't hit you on the eye brow, I hit you on the head!" 

Okay at this point I started laughing to hard I almost cried.  I kept walking and looked at Heather and remarked, "Well at least I know I'm not spanking her without reason."  Three swats later, she was telling Lizzie she was sorry and I was still trying not to laugh. 

Now I realize not everyone is a believer in spanking, and that's okay.  I reserve it for hurting others, endangering yourself and others (Like convincing your sister it's safe to jump from the top bunk when she is only 3 years old.  It didn't end well for Beka or Lizzie's tushy.) or blatant disobedience.  As a rule we use time outs and grounding.   But following through is extremely important whether you use Love and Logic or Dr. Dobson's Parenting Isn't For Cowards.  The problem a lot of parents who have a child with Autism or a child on the spectrum face is, What is my child capable of understanding? 

Okay so first, parents who have children with Autism on the Spectrum.  1.  Know you are not alone.  Every single parent with a disable child or typical children struggle with how to help our children.  I have two typical children and one child on the spectrum.  Each child is unique and different in what makes them tick.  Whether they are typical or not.  2.  Make a decision today.  Do you want to take the easy road and be a yes parent or would you like to see your child thrive and learn to function in society to some degree?   Here are a few things I've learned in parenting for eleven years AND I AM NOT AN EXPERT!  I am still learning even now. 

1.  Each child ticks differently.  Disability or no disability.  What works for one child may not work for another child.  Beka is all about knowing we are proud of her and so is Sarah.  A sharp reprimand usually gets their attention quickly.  Elizabeth however, requires a more direct approach and often involves removing privileges like TV time, which is like death for her. 

2. Pick and choose your battles.  And tackle one battle at a time.  This is especially true if you have a child who is disabled.  If you don't pick one battle to fight at a time and win it, you will go crazy trying to win them all at once.  When Lizzie started Kindergarten because we knew we would have her repeat due to her starting at 4 years of age, we decided the first year should be spent focusing on behavior.  Her second year of Kindergarten was focused more on catching her up with her peers.   After that we combined the two together.  After conquering behavior (okay we're still working on it, but we've come far enough that we can combine our battles), we tackled the task of learning how to sit in church.  We made concession. 

3.  Firm but flexible:  You need to have a good combination of being firm but also knowing when to let it go and accept that maybe you need to cut your losses for the day, go to bed and try again tomorrow.  We very rarely have plans we set in stone, except vacation plans (most places don't care if your kid is having an off day) or doctor appointments.   I find it's easier, and I try to never commit to attending a party because I never know how the day is going to be for Elizabeth.  It is important that you have firm rules, but you also be flexible enough to realize, Hey my kid is having a really off day, I need to cut her some slack.  I have found that this one works best for Elizabeth.

4.  Don't worry about what other people think of you.  I will be honest, I am still struggling with this one myself.  And I am more than a little prickly about people deciding to speak poorly of my girls.  But here is the thing, only you, your spouse and God know what is going on in your home 100% of the time.  So what people think is going on, is most likely not the truth.  Learn to take a deep breath and let it go.  People will always have opinions, but that doesn't mean they are always correct.

5.  Talk to your children about what you expect of them when it comes to behavior BEFORE you get out of the car.  This is very helpful for typical and disabled children, or at least my special needs girl.  By letting Lizzie and Beka know what I expect, I cut them off at that pass before they can start asking for toys.  Usually our talk going, "Okay guys, we are going to the store.  I am not buying any snacks, toys and I expect you to stay with me at all times.  Please don't ask for anything, but if you do a good job, we'll get a cookie at the bakery before we leave."  This tells them what I expect of them AND I give them a goal to work towards.   Remember though, to also keep FIRM BUT FLEXIBLE in mind as well.  This brings me to the next lesson

6.  Try not to set your child up for failure.  If you know it's getting close to nap time or your child has had an off day that is not a prime time to take said child to the grocery store.  That is setting them up for a public meltdown and you are set up to feel shame and embarrassment.  Once I figured out Elizabeth and Beka's rhythms, I found it easier to grocery shop in the mornings.  They were bright eyed and fresh from a good nights sleep and I was likely to get through the store quicker without a lot of screaming, meltdowns, or hitting involved.   Besides, why would you want your child to fail?

7.  Sugar is not your friend nor is food coloring.  This is especially true if you have a child with Autism or on the Spectrum.  Once I realized this, I started cutting it out and it was as if I had uncovered a new child.  Her meltdowns became less frequent and less volatile.

8.  People often mean well when they offer advice, but sometimes you just have to ignore it and listen to your gut.  Mary, my mother-in-law and my mom have offered a lot of helpful advice.  However, when it came to Sarah the advice to never embarrass your child in public  didn't work.  I tried to deal with her privately and not embarrass her.  It didn't seem to sink in, so when she would act out or become disrespectful in public I started calling her on it in public.  It nipped it in the bud pretty quickly.  As a rule I'd prefer to not embarrass my children, but I also want them to be obedient and to learn to be respectful and I have a motto:  "If you make my life miserable, it's only fair I return the favor."  I had to adopt this motto after a year of wanting to pull out my hair with a new child living in my home. 
Love and Logic has some good ideas, but sometimes you have to throw the rule book out  the window and figure it out yourself.  Dr. Spock, Dr. Dobson and other "experts" are not raising your child, you are and only you know what works best or doesn't work for you child. 

9.  You are your child's advocate and they depend on you when they are younger to fight for them.  Look there is always going to be someone who thinks they can say whatever, or can give you dirty looks.  You can choose to allow them to get away with it, or you can speak up for your child and let them know that it's not cool to be harsh or judgemental with your child.  Lizzie faces enough challenges without someone else thinking they know what is best. 

10.  Spanking is not always the best punishment.  I have spanked and I believe in spanking, but I also believe in finding other ways to discipline as well.  And let's clarify I am not talking about beating your child.  ABUSE IS NOT OKAY!  Chris and I have a three swats rule with the girls.  If we are too angry to stop at three swats, we either wait until we are calmer and a cooler head prevails or we find a different punishment. 

11.  Find a good support network.  Never will this be more important than if you have a child with special needs.  However, we all need a good support system when dealing with our children.  We need a sounding board to tell us if we went a little overboard or to let us know we are not going crazy when we suspect our child is copping an attitude with us.    Hopefully, your spouse is a part of that support system.

12.  THAT'S DIFFERENT BUT THAT'S OKAY:  I learned this during Volunteer Assessment Training for Nazarene's In Volunteer Service and it holds true in parenting as well as learning to live in a foreign country.  Not every parent believes the same way you do.  Some parents have a different way of handling discipline, as long as their child isn't hurting your child then let it go.  However, some parents have very little structure and discipline and they let their children do whatever they want to do to you, to your child.  Learn the difference and figure out if you want your child to spend time with their child.  You may not be the most popular parent on the block or in your apartment complex, but they aren't the ones who have to face God about your child someday, you do.

13.  PARENTING IS NOT ABOUT BEING POPULAR!  No matter how many times I write this, or say this to other parents it never fails to amaze me how many parents want their child to like them. So today I ask you to choose which one is more important in the long run:  Would you rather have your child like you right now and resent you later?  Or would you rather be unpopular now and have your child respect you later as an adult and try to follow your parenting example with your grandchildren.  Working with youth I had a teen girl who expressed to me that she wished her parent followed through more often.  Children aren't stupid, they know as they get older if what you are doing for them is good for them.  It is easy to be popular with your children, but just because you are popular with them doesn't make you a good parent.   Dr. Sigmund Freud said the human personality is ruled by three parts.  The Id, the Ego, and the Superego.  The Id is the part of us that wants what it wants when it wants it, and it doesn't care what the consequences are (we see a lot of this going on these days in the world).  The Superego goes to the opposite extreme, it tends to be extremely legalistic and rule oriented.  We see a lot of that in children who are on the spectrum, they are very rule conscious and oriented.  The Ego is the middle man who works to find a happy medium between the Id and the Superego.  The Ego decides who wins which battle.  Children are ruled by the Id - they want immediate gratification, they don't want to wait.  Our job is help lovingly teach them how to learn to wait and that sometimes if you wait there is something better around the corner.   
Any parent can be a yes parent, but the truly good and loving parents are the ones who love their child enough to not give them whatever they want, whenever they want it.  Not because they find pleasure in their child's pain, but because they know it might not be good for their child and that sometimes we don't always get what we want in life.

14:  We do not always get a choice.  There is not always an out or a way around something.  This is extremely important for children to learn because without learning this lesson they will be in for a very rude awakening when they try to navigate the real world.  We cannot always avoid that math class we don't want to take, or get our license just because we want it. 

I know parenting is tough, I'm still in the middle of raising Lizzie and Beka.  Sarah is heading off to college and I am sure even now that we aren't done offering guidance and support for her.  Now we just need to help Elizabeth learn to navigate childhood into adolescence and into adulthood.  Beka is still young, but she is learning to tidy up, put things away, and that being sassy with your mommy and daddy is a terrible idea.   I also know it's tough to follow through when your child is disabled, but you can do it!  You need to do it for them to succeed in the future.  So hang in there.  You can do it, it will be challenging and tough at times, but remember "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength."  Phillippians 4:13.

Have a good week.
In Christ,

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