Tag Archives: calm

Advice for Parents With a Newly-Diagnosed Autistic Child – By Rina

The other day I read a wonderful piece of advice written by Rina, a friend of mine, who is Autistic.  Rina’s thoughts were what I wish I’d been told when Emma was first diagnosed, so I asked Rina if I could share them and she, very generously, gave me permission.  Rina’s words also reminded me of Kamila and Henry Markram’s Intense World Theory for Autism, which was the first “theory” I read that finally made any sense to me or even remotely reflected back what I was seeing in my child.

Rina told me she self-diagnosed early in 2007 after reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and was formally diagnosed in 2009.  Rina wrote, “…knowing this about myself has been the revelation of my life. I am exponentially happier, healthier, and more confident since learning this about myself. Now I understand myself!” A little later as we were discussing this post, Rina said, “I was over 40 when I discovered I was autistic, so I spent a large part of my life just thinking I was broken, weird, wrong…” Then she wrote,  “I was bullied terribly in public school, like most of our tribe, it demolished my self-esteem, I was depressed and suicidal…but not now. I am autistic and proud, awesome and I know it!”

I read Rina’s advice to parents to Emma before posting here.  Emma typed, “It nicely states what is important.”  So with that endorsement, here you go and thank you Rina for allowing me to reprint your words.

“You know what? I have lots of thoughts, and I’ve had them for a while, about what I’d like to tell parents of newly-diagnosed autistic children. Maybe I’m talking out of my ass. But this is what I’d tell them. (assuming a boy in this example, for ease of writing…)

Your child is autistic. His brain is wired differently than yours. Autism is a disability. He will have challenges, but with the proper supports, he will have a happy, healthy, fulfilling life.

He will follow his own developmental schedule. Ignore the usual “markers”. Throw them out the window. They will be of no use to you.

Try to remember, always, that your son is experiencing the world in far more detail, and with far more intensity, than you are. It will take a lot of time for him to learn to regulate sensory input. His experience of the world (meaning sights, smells, sounds, peoples’ energy, conversation, others’ expectations of him) will overwhelm him on a daily basis. Have compassion for your son. He will be unlike any other child, even any other autistic child. If you pay close attention, with a compassionate open mind, he will tell you what he needs.

There are four things that can be of most help to your son, especially while he is very young: quiet, calm, consistency, and comfort. More than any recommended (and expensive) therapies, these will be of most help to your son. He may have repetitive and/or sensory-rich behaviors, such as rocking, squeezing a favorite toy, repeating favorite words–these help him to find some order in the chaos of the world–if they do not harm him or others, please allow him these behaviors, no questions asked. If they embarrass you–well, quite honestly, that’s your problem and you need to find a way to deal with it.

If your son is nonverbal or semi-verbal, trust me that he is looking for ways to communicate with you. Behavior *is* communication. If there is behavior that upsets you, that seems tantrum-like, there are probably reasons in the environment, there are things that are causing your son pain–again: try to make his world quiet, calm, consistent, and comfortable.

Consistency: I cannot emphasize how important this is. If days cannot be consistent, give your son warning whenever something unexpected is going to happen. I am an adult, and it is still one of my stated accommodations that I need a head’s up whenever something new comes along, or I need a break so I can process the change. If you’re planning to take him along to his sibling’s baseball practice, to stop by a friend’s house, to go to a yard sale, whatever…plan in advance, tell him about it, tell him what to expect and how long it will last. You know what, I think this is common courtesy. Understand what your son needs and be courteous by giving it to him!”

compassion-energy

“It’s Important That Other Parents Understand.”

Written by Emma Zurcher-Long

“I will talk about the upheaval from last night”

“I toyed with downward feelings of rage then

as bountiful memories seeped into my raging mind

I surrendered to purposeful sleep

my screaming mind is momentarily spared from stormy thoughts

piercing my being

threatening no kindness

patience is ground down til pounding terror is all that remains.

Only the dedicated few

talk about love during episodes of furious pain

their love is rejuvenative and restores faith in this awkward world.”

 

From Ariane:

Emma wrote this after having a very rough night over the weekend.  I asked her if it was okay to post her beautiful words here and she agreed.  I asked because there was a time before we had found a way to support Emma’s outpouring of words, before she was able to write, before we were able to understand, before we understood…  those were the times when nights such as the one she is referring to were even more devastating for all of us and our assumptions about what might be going on were so often wrong.  Emma agreed to post this because, “It’s important that other parents understand.”  The problem with the assumptions we made was that they often led us to then behave accordingly, even without meaning to, they affected how we responded to her.

We might have thought – this is a manipulation, she is doing this to us.  We are being held hostage to her screams.  We would mistake her terror for manipulation.  We might withhold our love in anger.  We might assume that to not do so was giving in or condoning the “behavior”.  We might do any number of things to “show” her that this way of being was unacceptable.  Except that this “way of being” was so beyond the scope of our experiences, so beyond what we could make sense of.

“Pounding terror is all that remains.”

And so I remembered afterward the comments from this post, “What Others Had to Say: Love, Overwhelm, Violence” and all the people who so generously opened up their lives and wrote about their experiences with being overwhelmed and no longer able to cope.  That point when feelings completely take over and all we can do is weather the storm.  Emily K. wrote: “Remove yourself from “their” space but do not leave. Defend yourself but do not leave. Let your child Leave/ escape and do not block his/her path. Follow but do not intrude. Allow space and time do not react but respond in the opposite, we need peaceful and loving parents.”

And Autisticook who wrote:  “It will get better.”

And she also wrote this:  “Teach me how to be upset. Show me there are other ways of being upset, instead of only telling me the way I have chosen is wrong and leaving it at that.”

And this:  “You’re the adult, so I’m depending on you to explain to me what I’m doing and why. I won’t be able to correct you on your assumptions until I’m an adult myself. So please be careful in learning my behaviour and don’t label it until you’re absolutely sure. It’s also OK to ask my input on this when I’m calm and happy.”

And this:  “Allow me a way out. If my self-regulating isn’t allowed, I can guarantee you I will get a meltdown. And once I am in that space, all I can think of is making the thing stop that made me go into meltdown. I only have short term memory and very limited reasoning power when I go into meltdown, so I will latch onto whatever trigger I see in front of me.”

And this:  “I will keep triggering until the world is empty of triggers or until I am utterly exhausted. So if you hold me down, you’re actually keeping me in the world of triggers. I need a different world that is practically triggerless. But I’m too young to know this, which is why I will sometimes keep following you and hitting you even though you try to remove yourself. Because I want the upset feeling to stop and the only way I know how to stop something is to hit it until it stops moving.”

And THIS.  This is SO important:  “Don’t ask me questions.  If you want to know how I’m feeling, please ask me afterwards, when I have calmed down and can find my words again.

And this: “Don’t try to distract me.”

And this:  “Once I’m in my safe space and I know people will no longer ask me questions and I can block out the noises and lights and stim to my heart’s content without someone telling me it’s wrong, I usually calm down within an hour or two.”

And finally, this:  “Please give me time to process.”

I would like to report here that I remembered each and every one of these things and that I put them all into action, but I didn’t.  What I did do was try to remain calm and loving.  And when my calm began to fray, I tried to remove myself, while reminding her of my love.  I did a number of things right, and I made a number of mistakes.   We are all learning here.  When calm was restored Emma said she wanted to write about “the upheaval from last night.”  This was in response to my question, “Is there something in particular you want to talk about this morning or would you prefer we discuss an article from the New York Times?

I was surprised she wanted to talk about it.  And then she wrote those beautiful words, which I can only describe as less prose and more poetry, a song, really.  A song borne of experience, despair, and transformed into a thing of beauty.

The beauty of Emma.

Emma ~ 2012

Emma ~ 2012