Thursday, September 26, 2013

Self Advocacy

I recently spoke with a mom who asked me how to teach her child self advocacy skills.  Here is what I told her:

1.  Allow your child to say "no".  For some reason, we get uptight when children say "no" to us, but they should be allowed to say it too.   Their feelings are just as valid as ours, even if we don't understand why they are feeling that way.   Remember that one person's "oppositional" is another person's "self advocate".

2.  Don't just allow "no", but respect "no".  ESPECIALLY over trivial things.

3. Watch for signs that your child is overwhelmed and encourage them to take a break.  I give my child a "I need a break" card (for times that just saying it is too hard)  and he can turn it in whenever he wants, no matter how many times he needs to use it.  In this way, he will learn that he CAN take a break when he needs to, and his anxiety is lessened.  This is important to use at school too.  Your child's teacher should be on board because teaching self advocacy skills is probably one of the most important things to help your child be successful at school.

4.  PRESUME COMPETENCE . This is huge.  Presume that your child wants to do well.  I promise they do because all children want to do well, but not all children know how (and it's not their job to just "figure it out", it's your job to help them by trying to understand them).  Instead of saying "That child is out of control!", remember "that child is struggling."  I think one of the biggest parts of presuming competence is to remember that behavior is always communication.  ALWAYS.

5.  Be wary of therapies that promise your child will be "indistinguishable from his peers" or that rely too heavily on compliance training.  Your child can not love themselves when they are constantly being trained to be someone else.  Eye contact can be faked (I look at people's noses), stimming should not be discouraged, as it has a valid purpose.  All kinds of communication should be respected and accepted.  If the therapies you are using are not building your child up, then they are going to tear him down.

6.  Remember that your child is not your project.  You can waste their entire childhood trying to fix something that isn't broken, or you can build an amazing relationship based on love, respect and acceptance with the beautiful child that you have.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Selective Mutism

Someone recently asked me about selective mutism, so I thought I'd answer here. First of all, it's not really "selective" as that seems to imply that I chose not to speak. It was more like I couldn't speak in certain places that exacerbated my social anxiety . For a large part of my childhood and adolescence , I did not speak in school, or pretty much anywhere outside of my parent's house and with a few people who I knew well enough. School was an extremely difficult environment for me. It was a sensory nightmare and I often got headaches from the lights and would become physically ill because I was constantly on edge. Most other parents thought I was a brat and didn't like their kids to play with me. Many of my teachers threw around the "R" word, or just called me lazy, spoiled and selfish. I was actually assigned to do a report on why being shy was actually very selfish by one of my teachers. Except I wasn't just "shy", I was autistic, but undiagnosed for many years. Because back then, most people only knew autism from movies like "Rain Man" *insert eyeroll* (quick side note, the man who that movie is based on, Kim Peek, was not actually autistic. He had FG Syndrome). Anyway, as I matured, I was able to find ways to adapt so that my anxiety was not so overwhelming. By the time I graduated from high school, I had managed to make some friends and channel my anxiety into other areas so that I wasn't constantly melting down. For the most part, I can talk now in most social situations, though sometimes, I still find myself shutting down. A lot of it has to do more now with fearing that I will say the wrong thing, or that I will have an inappropriate response to what other people are saying. I've always been "quiet". I will probably never be a social butterfly. I think that at 37, it's safe to operate under that assumption. The absolute worst thing you can do when I'm being quiet is to make a big deal about how I'm being quiet. If I'm not having a good time, I can let you know. I will probably just leave. I don't feel like it's necessary for me to talk all the time. It's fine for other people, but I prefer to observe mostly. I do have stuff to say, and I will say it when I am ready, but please don't act like I'm just being an asshole. I'm not. I'm doing the best I can. For those of you who do know me well, you know that I do talk, and I talk a lot sometimes. That's because you are the people I can be myself around and I don't feel anxious or judged around you. Thanks for that! So, that's what I want to say about selective mutism.