I had the great honor and pleasure to join Michele Paiva on her radio show today. The topic was addiction, trauma and recovery. Check it out!
Family Therapy for Special Needs families and couples.
101 Manor Ave.
Downingtown, PA 19335
I had the great honor and pleasure to join Michele Paiva on her radio show today. The topic was addiction, trauma and recovery. Check it out!
I have been crazy busy lately…and this means lots of updates. However, it also means some special opportunities to you.
First, my book, The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide, is officially available! You can buy it here. Or you can get it at Amazon.com. If you purchase the paperback version, you can get the kindle version for free.
As a special thank you for your support, I am offering five signed copies for $12 (that’s a 30% discount) to the first five people who send me an email. (firstname.lastname@example.org)
My website now features a store where you can purchase my new line of stress reduction and relaxation audio files. Learn about diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation.
Also, check back later for video new video relaxation demonstrations.
I am excited to announce that I will soon be releasing a new on-line certification curriculum based on the principles of The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide.
The Special Needs Parent Support Specialist (SNPSS) certification will teach parents, teachers, and other professionals the principles behind the social support network system and prepare participants to assist other special needs parents.
I am really excited about this as I hope it will help teach professionals and lay people alike how to recognize the unique needs of special needs parents and create a network of people that can ease the challenges these parents face on a daily basis.
Until next time, remember…Breathe, you got this.
HOW TO HAVE A HAPPY HALLOWEEN WITH YOUR AUTISTIC CHILD
If your child has autism, then you know how challenging holiday events can be. With these events, you combine changes in routine with increased sensory stimulation and mix all that up with used-once-a-year social conventions that fly in the face of the day to day rules. This perfect storm of “wrong” can set the stage for tantrum inducing disasters for many individuals on the spectrum. Despite this, I believe there is no reason that you and your child have to avoid special holiday events, such as Halloween. It just takes a little planning and preparation for both of you to have a wonderful, candy-filled, spooktacular Halloween.
My Foster Child’s First Halloween
My oldest foster child has autism. In the run-up to his first Halloween with us (when he was twelve), it quickly became apparent to us that he had never been trick or treating. We really wanted him to go, but were concerned about how he would handle the event. Like many autistic children, he is very ridged and does not take to change well. At that time, he was prone to get upset and bite people when things did not go as planned or if anybody had to tell him “no.” However, despite our concerns, Lorrie (my wife) and I felt it was important for him to have a shot at experiencing a “traditional” Halloween.
First, we had him look the through the costume store circular. He chose a cow costume (complete with udders). Cows are his favorite animal on the planet (why this is the case is a story for another post). Then, Lorrie went out and found the very costume he picked out. We then tried to explain to him over the days leading up to trick or treat night what he was going to get to do. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but he simply did not get what we were telling him.
“OK, you are going to put on your cow costume. Then you are going to go up to houses, say trick or treat and then you will get candy!”
“Candy Candy Candy!” was his typical reply, followed by confusion as to why the candy was not forthcoming right that second. ( I tell you, I’m a brilliant therapist at times…)
At long last, the night came. We put our son into his costume and gave him a pillow case to collect his loot. He immediately became really uncomfortable. He did not understand what was happening. We went out into the night and started at some neighbor’s houses that knew us and our children. The first challenge was to get him to say “trick or treat” after ringing the doorbell (but waiting for someone to answer the door)…this came out more like “tickatweesh.” (Our boy has some language…two to three word phrases but his diction is poor and he is hard to understand.) The next challenge came after he got his candy. He immediately tried to run home so he could eat his one piece of candy. My attempt to stop him and go to the next house almost resulted in a tantrum, but we were able to persevere.
After about three houses, my boy gave me a look that, to this day, I will cherish. Without saying a word, he looked me in the eye. The look he gave me basically said “So, I go to houses in a costume. I say tickatweesh. They give me free candy. GENIUS!!” He was into it after this. I could barely hold him back. We avoided a couple of houses where they were doing haunted house/scary things. I checked in every couple of houses and asked him “do you want to keep going or do you want to go home?” As soon as he said go home, we headed back. I didn’t push things. Once home, my boy got to eat himself into a classic Halloween sugar coma. It was fantastic.
The best part of the tale came the next day. Our boy came downstairs after school and handed us his cow costume and said “tickatweesh.” He wanted to go out again. We tried to explain that Halloween was over…he asked us every night for the rest of the week before giving up efforts to get more free candy. It was pretty funny. We ended up saving and re-using that cow costume for 5 years before we had to replace it.
All in all, a successful outing for all concerned.
Tips for an Autism-Friendly Halloween Night
— Let your child choose his costume. Avoid costumes with full face masks, lots of makeup or glue-on accessories. These can be uncomfortable and take the fun out of the night for your child.
— Remember the night is supposed to be fun. This is not the time to push limits with your child. All the changes in routine and possible overstimulation will be more than enough for him/her to process.
— Start small, just go to a few trusted houses and see how things go. Then, check in with your child frequently. Gauge how they are holding up. You want to be at home BEFORE they are over-stimulated.
— It might be a good idea to start your trick or treat route at the furthest point from your house and work your way home (as opposed to the more traditional stat at home and work your way out). This has the benefit of having you closer to home when your child runs out of patience (as opposed to being at the furthest point from home when he was done…as happened to me one year…not a fun walk back).
— If you are unsure as to whether your child can handle the whole trick or treat experience, explore alternatives such as trick or treating at the mall (a more structured, better lit environment), or attending or hosting a small party where you can get treats and dress up for a little bit.
— Spend time before trick or treating explaining the expectations and laying out the “rules.” Even non-verbal children have pretty good receptive language and will get the gist of what you want. This helps by giving them some idea of what to do that will reduce the “newness” factor of the event.
— Don’t be afraid to abort the event if your child shows signs of not being able to handle it. There have been years where we brought a child back after a few houses because he was getting too upset and needed to calm down. One year, one of our kids didn’t go out at all because he was just having a bad day. It is more important to keep everyone safe and happy than to be slaves to “tradition.” If the candy is an issue, it ALWAYS goes on sale November 1st…deals are there to be had.
— Avoid going to houses that do scary things like haunted houses and such. Keep things on the low-key fun side unless you are DEAD certain your child will enjoy being scared (my kids simply don’t like that stuff).
— Praise your child frequently throughout the event for following rules, being brave, etc. Cheer him/her on…this stuff is new and hard to do at first.
— If your child LOVES his/her costume… demote it to pajamas or weekend-wear until they get tired of it.
— If your child is a very picky eater, buy some treats you know he/she will like and slip them into the Halloween bag.
I hope this information helps make your Halloween more fun. If you have other stories or tips for making Halloween more Autism-friendly, please leave a comment. Please feel free to email me email@example.com with any questions or suggestions.
Remember, BREATH and DON’T PANIC! You got this…
Visit me at www.erikyoungcounseling.com to find out more about myself and to schedule an appointment.
For more parenting tips, check out the SPECIAL NEEDS PARENTING SURVIVAL GUIDE available at Amazon and all fine book retailers.
Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed. LPC
Friends, I don’t normally put out articles within a week of each other. I like to give my articles time to breathe (and I don’t want to overload your inboxes with my email blasts). However, based on the events of the last few weeks, I feel moved to share the positive experiences that have occurred to me and my family. This article is a direct follow up (a coda if you will) to the article I recently published (you can read that one here).
My daughter has given me permission to share with you, kind reader, some of what has been going on with her. She has a complicated medical history going back her whole life. She is diagnosed with Eosiphilic Esophigitus (EE) which is an allergic condition that causes inflammation in the gut (rather than in the lungs and sinuses like typical allergies). This leads to chronic vomiting. We have had this under control, but my daughter came down with a stomach virus that went around our area. Where most people got over this in about 24 hours, my daughter never really got over it. Her stomach started spasming and she couldn’t keep food, medication or water down. This is what ultimately led to her being admitted to the hospital.
In addition to the EE, my daughter suffers from migraine. Yes, that is not a typo… I said migraine. Three years ago in October, she got a migraine headache and it NEVER WENT AWAY. On a pain scale from 0 (no pain) to 10 (worst pain you can imagine) she spends most days at a 5 or 6… with 4 being a good day. She spikes several times a week to an 8 or 9. Can you imagine that? Despite all the stomach and head issues, she’s been able to maintain good grades and make the honor roll consistently for years. She is a remarkably resilient and strong young lady.
Finally, last year, she developed symptoms related to the migraine where she would “zone out” sometimes falling out of her chair or losing track of time. She might sit in class and remember nothing that happened. Her teachers would literally have to shake her to bring her back to present.
No amount of medical treatment seemed to help. We tried every treatment the neurologists at the headache clinic had to offer (they eventually just said she was depressed and said we needed to give her Prozac). We didn’t accept that diagnosis as it was weak and did not really address the issue (her depressive symptoms were a result of the pain not the other way round… NOT depression). We tried alternative treatments including chiropractic, acupuncture, and cold laser therapy. We watched her diet… nothing worked. Finally, we got referred to a rheumatologist who said she had Reflexive neuromuscular dystrophy and got a treatment consisting of physical therapy and neurofeedback. This got us some relief… but the headache still didn’t go away.
So, in the hospital, we had to put my daughter on a feeding tube. This was an uncomfortable and painful process for her. She spaced out four times after the procedure. For the first time, medical professionals were present to see what we were reporting. Neurology was back in the picture and wanted to keep her another few weeks to do sleep/wake EEG’s to try to capture absence seizures. We decided to hold off on that treatment and give our daughter a break from the hospital. We took her home to heal the feeding tube/gi issues with the intent to follow up schedule the EEG soon.
I got some interesting data from the hospital though. All four of her zone outs were preceded by great stress and a spike in her migraine (8 or above). Her blood pressure also spiked for the entire length of the episode. She had no memory of what occurred just prior to and during the episode.
I started questioning how we were conceptualizing this case. This was due in large part to my recent training in a trauma treatment called EMDR (Eye movement desensitization and reprocessing). RND (the pain condition we figured was behind the migraines) is a disorder that arises from trauma. My daughter is sensitive (wouldn’t have EE otherwise). What if her zone out episodes weren’t so much medical as they were psychological. What if she was dissociating? In trauma work we see this quite often, where a person “goes away” in some fashion to protect themselves from pain and hurt arising from a very stressful situation. What could be more stressful than having a headache that never goes away? I know I would want to get away from that in any way possible.
The more I thought about this, the more convinced I became that maybe some of my daughter’s symptoms were best explained from a trauma perspective. I put this to the test the next day after she got home She was in a lot of pain and hurting. I decided to try some Alternating Bilateral Stimulation..hereafter called ABS (a core treatment in EMDR) along with some resource installation work.
Honestly, I figured my daughter’s headache might go down a couple of points. If that was all that happened I would have been ecstatic! However, that’s not what happened. After a few minutes of ABS, her headache was at a 7. Pretty soon it was a 6. Here we were, sitting on the couch watching Halloween Wars on Food Network and her headache was going away. Another round and we were at a five. I then had my daughter do some acupressure tapping and we did another round…down two more points to a 3. I then had her create a mental container to store her worries and headaches in until such time as she could deal with them and had her put the rest of her headache in there. That did it… another round of ABS and her headache was gone.
Let me repeat that…a headache that she had for three years…that resisted all sorts of expensive and complicated medical treatments was gone. She healed it herself. My daughter started crying… my wife was crying… hell I was balling like a baby myself. It was amazing!
Her headache stayed gone the rest of the night. When she woke up, it was back, but at a 4… eventually I got her to sit down with me for another ABS session and within a minute her headache was gone again. It has yet to return as of this writing.
What’s the take away from all of this?
Would you like to try out Alternating Bilateral Stimulation? It’s easy. Try this exercise.
Why does this work? There is a logical explanation that goes beyond the scope of this article but I will address it in a future trauma report. Just try this out and see if it doesn’t help you settle your mind and maybe mitigate some aches an pains.
If you want to learn more about EMDR or maybe work through some trauma, please feel free to contact me to set up a free consultation. firstname.lastname@example.org or 484-693-0582
©Erik Young, M. Ed., LPC
It’s been crazy at my house lately. I’m talking off-the-wall chaos. While I do need to vent a bit, that is not the purpose of this article. Rather, the experiences of the past couple of weeks have highlighted the importance something I call the social safety net. So, I wanted to talk both about what we have been going through at “Casa de Chaos” (my house) but also highlight how our “social safety net” allowed us to manage the chaos and deal with stress that would have overwhelmed us at any other time.
In my new book, The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide, I discuss ways in which parents of special needs children can manage better and improve their quality of life. One of the cornerstones of my system is the “Social Safety Net.”
To create a social safety net, parents identify, recruit, train and nurture key people who can provide needed support for them and their child. The more key people added to the net, the more resources the family has at their disposal. The more resources at the family’s disposal, the more stress they can manage because the stress gets dispersed throughout the net. I recently was reminded of just how powerful this can be.
For those of you who don’t know my background, I have five children with special needs. Two boys with Autism, an adult son with ADHD, a daughter with IDD and another daughter with significant health issues. About a month ago, my daughter with the health issues had many of her conditions flare up. We tried everything we knew might work, but to no avail. Two weeks ago, when she was unable to keep any food down and was losing weight she was admitted to the hospital.
For any family this is a big deal, to have a child in the hospital. However, with the significant needs of the other 4 children, there are several added degrees of difficulty. My wife ended up staying at the hospital with my daughter and I stayed home to take care of the kids. On top of this I had to juggle issues at work, with my practice as well as other medical and school appointments for the other kids.
The situation was terrible. Each day we figured my daughter would be discharged, but then something else would come up and then stay would get extended. For a week this happened and then she was discharged. Unfortunately, after a couple of days, her symptoms returned worse and she went back in the hospital for another week (this time to get a feeding tube put in). More juggling of schedules and responsibilities.
With one parent out of the picture (at the hospital) we were unable to engage in our usual parenting teamwork to get things done. Furthermore, having a parent and a child out of the home added stressors to all the other kids (based on changes in routine and worry). Let’s face it…no matter what‘s gone wrong…life goes on. The laundry needs doing, food needs cooking. Life doesn’t stop for a crisis (no matter how much you might want it to do so). If it were just Lorrie and myself, our resources would have been overwhelmed. I shudder to think what might have happened.
Thankfully, I am a therapist who practices what he preaches. For years, Lorrie and I have been building our social support network. When everything went pear-shaped, we were able to draw on the resources of trusted friends and family to help disperse the stress and get things done. It was still hard… terrible really, but the situation became survivable because of the support of our network.
So, here are some of the people who helped get us through this trying time:
My mom – she helped do laundry (did I mention our washer is broken at this time? Yeah,when it rains it pours). With 5 kids, laundry piles up quickly and without Lorrie around, I couldn’t easily get to the laundry mat. She also was there to just talk and let me vent. She and my step-father drove supplies or my wife to the hospital (changes of clothes, activities, etc.). She also wrote some great letters to my daughter to help her deal with her anxiety and worry.
Michele – A good friend of the family and fellow therapist (http://www.michelepaiva.com) not only kept in touch with my daughter through texts and phone calls. She put together several care packages. She even gave me a chance to sit and talk, putting the worry aside, for about a half hour in the middle of a particularly bad day which was perhaps he greatest gift of all. Her thoughtfulness and support were and are outstanding.
Angela – Our foster care social worker. She helped deal with various scheduling and school issues. She answered emails and diverted some of the usual BS we have to manage freeing me to focus on what I needed to do. She came over and sat with the kids when I couldn’t get home in time from work or other obligations. She went above and beyond.
Rand – Another therapist and colleague. He also let me vent. He even took over therapy on some of our co-therapy cases…freeing me up to do my parenting thing without guilt. He was a kind voice of support and reason.
Dr. Chang – Our allergy specialist. He helped coordinate doctors within various departments to make things run a little smoother at the hospital. He didn’t have to as his specialty wasn’t really needed for what was being done. Despite that, he stepped up and helped sort things out.
Anthony – A co-worker and friend. He kept me in the loop with stuff at work and ran some interference as I tried to juggle parenting and work.
My son, Zak – He stepped up and helped with housework and helped keep things stable when I couldn’t be home. He really stepped up his game and I am grateful.
My sister — She also let me talk and vent. When I asked her to run some stuff up to the hospital he immediately said yes. When it turned out she couldn’t do that, she sorted at the situation and arranged for my Mom to do that without involving me (other than letting me know about the change in plans). She saved from having to solve yet another problem and helped alleviate a little bit of stress.
These people stepped up and helped…many without my having to ask. Why? Because Lorrie and I have spent time educating them as to our needs and our “reality.” We spend time nurturing and renewing connections with these people (and others) so there is not a sense of “using” them. They are valued friends. The work that made things work the past two weeks started years ago and will be on-going (because I am sure there are more crises coming down the pike).
To all the people in my net…I am filled with gratitude for all that you do. Your help and support is invaluable and will be returned someday.
With “neurotypical” families, the social safety net often naturally develops. Family, friends, and other people just seem to connect and offer support. When the family has an exceptional child, these natural supports are often ill-equipped to provide support. They typically are inexperienced with the child’s needs (much like the new parents). This can leave the parents isolated and without support when they need it most.
To combat this tendency towards isolation, I counsel my parents to identify their resources and actively train them to be supports. Once identified and trained, these supports can be nurtured. The ore people parents can train and nurture, the more help they will have when they need it.
The people with whom you connect, the deeper and sturdier your net. The effect is when stress hits, bits and pieces of that stress can be sent out into the net for others to manage thus making the load a little lighter on the parents. More people bring more skills and knowledge to the table allowing for the entire team to be more responsive to a wider variety of situations.
If you are the parent of a special needs child and you don’t have a social safety net, then I urge you to start doing the work to create one. Start fostering those crucial connections. This, more than anything will reduce your stress load and make life more manageable.
Be critical about the people with whom you surround yourself. Only keep those who will build you up, help you, nurture you. Distance yourself from users and those who bring you down.
To learn more about how to create a social safety net, check out The Special Needs Parenting Survival Guide. You can also contact me for a free consultation at 484-693-0582 or email@example.com
© Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC 2013