April 28, 2017

FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR LESSON TWO

Let’s continue our quest for self-improvement.  The last article, which you can read HERE, focused on the difference between struggle and suffering and how to think about those things in a more positive manner.  As we go through these lessons, you may notice a theme developing.  Each lesson is not a big huge behavioral change requiring a lot of effort to do.  Instead, these lessons are small changes in how we think and look at situations.  These small changes in thought can really add up and lead to more permanent change.  The next article in our four-part series comes to us from the wisdom of Yoda.

Lesson #2:  Do or do not, there is no try

A parent said to me recently “if all you ever do is try to feed the dog, the dog will starve.”  Not only is this hilarious, but its completely true.  I hear “I’ll try” from clients all the time when we talk about change.  Hell, I’m guilty of saying it myself.  The thing is, people who say to me “I’ll do it” are more likely to follow through than the ones who say “I’ll try.”  I know for this is true for me.

What is it about saying try that seems to muck up the works?  I know that sometimes when people use the word try that they often are sincere in their desire to change.  Other times, try is simply a way to look willing to change while avoiding it all together.  It’s a polite way to say “Aw, hell no!”  In either case, “try” thinking seems to interfere with are ability to move forward and actually do stuff.

There is a lot of research done around motivation.  One of the things researchers have found is that when people announce their plans to others they are less likely to follow through and do what they said they’d do.  For instance, you tell all your friends that you are going to start going to the gym 4 times a week and work out for an hour.  You tell them so that they can hold you accountable and keep you honest.  What happens?  In many cases, the gym trips start out fine but then gradually drop off.

Saying “I’ll try” is very like telling our friends our plans.  It tricks our brain into thinking about what would happen.  We imagine the outcome and our brain (which doesn’t do a good job of distinguishing between what we think and what happens) into experiencing completeness.  This experience then gives us the illusion on some level that we already did what we said we were going to do….and then we don’t actually do it.  This phenomenon has been documented in research going back to the turn of the last century.

So, what’s the solution?  How do we not try?  Simple…listen to Nike and JUST DO IT.  Don’t tell everybody your plans, just start working your plans.  Hold yourself accountable.  If you don’t want to do something…be honest and say so.  If you do want to do something…DO IT.  The hardest thing about this is typically getting through the mental/emotional resistance.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve procrastinated, worries, and stressed out about something and once I finally started felt “that wasn’t so hard.”  Has that happened to you?  Probably.  So, remember that.  Remember the feeling of getting stuff done.  Stop getting in your own way and applying the brakes to yourself and start doing the stuff you want and need to do.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on getting stuff done and getting out of your own way, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part one of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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FOUR SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY TO BE A BETTER YOU IN THE NEW YEAR: LESSON ONE

The old year has come to an end and a new year is upon us.  According to most of the social media I’ve been reading, this last year was bad.  I’m talking the fifth season of Night Court bad.  We all seem to be hanging our hopes that this new year will bring us some much-needed relief.  Despite the challenges the previous year presented us, we can’t lose sight of all the positive things that happened in the last year.  It wasn’t all doom and gloom.  I learned some very powerful lessons that have changed my life in positive ways.    These lessons have helped in my personal and professional growth.

I don’t generally subscribe to the idea of making new year’s resolutions.  If you want to change, then you should do that regardless of the time of year.  However, any chance I get to get out of my own way and become happier, healthier and less stressed I jump on it.  Over the course of the next four articles, I will share these ideas with you in hopes that you can be a better, more positive you in 2017.

 

Lesson #1:  Struggle in life is inevitable, suffering is optional

That phrase is purportedly something that stems from Buddhist philosophy.  While I can’t speak to the origins of that phrase, I find it to be profound and moving.  Struggle IS inevitable.  This is a fact that we can do nothing about.  No matter how we try hard times are going to happen to us.  We don’t need to pile on.  Yet, we do this to ourselves all the time.

We fear the struggle and go out of our way to avoid (a futile act) and then beat ourselves of with our thoughts and our behaviors when the struggle inevitably occurs.  If a boxer got into the ring and started to punch himself in the face, we’d think he was crazy.  Yet, we do similar things to ourselves all the time.  We judge, blame, shame, assume, exaggerate, downplay, and twist our experiences in such a way as to add suffering to our experience and those around us.

With a true understanding of this, we can make some profound changes that can bring peace and happiness to ourselves and our loved ones.

  • If struggle is inevitable, then change must therefore be inevitable as well. So, when we are in difficult times (struggle), we can hold on to the fact that the difficulty is temporary and good times are coming our way.  All we need do is take care of business without beating ourselves up physically, mentally or emotionally.  We should also avoid creating suffering for others.  Just try to stay calm and deal with what we can change when we can change it and nothing more.  It is the essence of the Serenity Prayer.

  • Conversely, when we are in good times, then we should appreciate and savor them because eventually, struggle will return. Be mindful and appreciate the blessings and the wonders that the good times afford us.  It’s like Ferris Beuller said, ”Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please share this with everyone you know.  Spread the positivity!

If you would like to work with me on increasing your positivity practice or reducing stress then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

Find part two of this series here.

Find part three of this series here.

Find part four of this series here.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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STRESS BUSTER’S PART 2: HOW TO EAT THE ELEPHANT AND OTHER MINDFULNESS TRICKS

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       I.            Introduction

In the last article we discussed how to manage stress by recognizing that things change and bad times don’t last forever.  To do this we used a combination of linguistic awareness (“estar”) and awareness and focus on the now. The second trick is what we will explore today.  When we focus and stay aware of the now we are engaging in mindfulness.

A quick internet search on the definition of mindfulness reveals this: a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations, used as a therapeutic technique.

When one is able to achieve this state, stress and it’s associated symptoms pretty much go away.  It’s a wonderful feeling…especially compared to how crappy it feels to be stressed out, anxious and/or depressed.  This article will discuss some simple ways to help you and your kids to be more mindful.

     II.            How do you eat an elephant?

“Why would I want to eat an elephant?”  I hear you say.  Just roll with me on this one.  Imagine you are REALLY hungry.  Someone brings you a delicious whole roast elephant (perhaps Fred Flintstone style) and it is now your chance to dine.  How would you go about doing it?  Trunk first?  Tail?

I often pose this question to my clients…and they usually look at me like I’m out of my mind (kind of like I’m imagining you’re looking now.  It’s ok.  There’s a method to my madness).  The answer to this question is simple:  One bite at a time.  That’s it.  If you were to try to eat an emephant….as long as you take one bite at time, the elephant would be consumed by you.  Sure, take a break when you get full….we’ll assue you have elephant sized Tupperware for easy and convenient storage.  When it’s time to eat again, just keep taking more bites.  Eventually, you will run all out of elephant.

The elephant represents any large, seemingly overwhelming task.  It’s easy to look at something like a big project, a pile of bills, tons of homework, etc. and just see how big it is.  This gets your brain thinking “It’s too much!  I can’t do it!” and that trips your coping skills associated with avoidance.  However, if you stop looking at the whole and focus on the basic manageable parts (like a single bite, one problem, one bill, etc.) then you will notice that it’s all quite manageable.  If you just take each little manageable part as it comes and do that…then eventually the task will get finished.  Focus on the moment, focus on what you CAN do.  Stop worrying about how big, how long, how hard…all of that is illusion and just serves to hold you back and keep you stressed out.  This is a coping skill of approach which is what one often needs to get through difficult tasks.  Keep it easy and you’ll cruise through it.

  III.            No matter where you go…

…There you are.  (Thanks Buckaroo Bonzai!) You can only exist where you’re at.  You can only control yourself and your choices at this moment.  Energy spent crying over the past is energy wasted (the past can’t be changed).  Worry (anxiety projected into the future) is energy wasted as you can’t do much about the future until it becomes the present.  So, when you find yourself worrying and anxious, take a moment to ground yourself and focus on where you are.  (This is exactly what Yoda said Luke needed to do more of.  I’m reasonably confident that if Yoda thinks it’s a good idea then it probably is.)

There are lots of ways to ground yourself in the present.  I like doing the color game.  It works great for both children and adults.  Take a few deep breaths to calm that sympathetic nervous system…then pick your favorite color.  Look around you and find five things that are that color.  Next, look for four things that are your next favorite color.  Then find three things of another color. Two things, One thing.  DONE!  It’s shouldn’t take more than a few minutes.  You should notice an immediate reduction in your anxiety and emotional activation.  I call this the brain cooling effect.  A cooler brain allows you to think more clearly and hopefully cope with whatever is going on for you at the present moment (where you can actually do something about it).

 IV.            The mind’s eye

This last exercise is less about being mindful of where you are so much as being mindful of who you are and how you are connected to others.  Close your eyes.  Now picture the most important person in your life.  It could be a partner, friend, child….anyone to whom you feel close.  Now imagine sitting across from that person and looking deeply into their eyes.  Feel the love and connection with that person.  Feel their acceptance of you.  Feel safe in knowing they love you and you love them.  Try to hold onto this feeling for as long as can.

    V.            Conclusion

I hope you found something in this article that helped you get rid of some stress.  Please forward this on to anyone you know who might also benefit from a little mindful stress reduction.  I invite you to share and comment on your experiences with mindfulness (I love learning new mindfulness exercises!). If you wish to work with me directly then please call 484-693-0582 or email me at erik@erikyoungcounseling.com to set up a session.

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The Punishment Spiral (and how to get out of it)

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courtesy of freedigitalphoto.com

How it starts… a familiar story?

Your child does something you’ve told him not to do. In fact, you’ve him not to do this thing many times before.  Frustrated, you snap at your child “how many times do I have to tell you?!  Cut that out!!”  Maybe you ground them for a year… because time out and losing video game privileges hasn’t helped.  Maybe you start ranting like a crazy person about how the child is irresponsible, disrespectful, etc.  Maybe you even engage in corporal punishment with a spanking.  Then, you look at yourself and how you are acting.  You realize that should things go any further, there’s going to be a visit from child protective services in your near future.  Your kid is in all likelihood experiencing a full on meltdown by this stage.  You are too.  You feel helpless to get your child to listen and you don’t know what else to do.

Welcome to the punishment spiral.  As a parent, I’ve been there…. more than once.  In fact, it’s at this stage that many parents seek out my counseling services.  They’ve gotten stuck in a repeating cycle of punishing “bad behaviors”, the child getting “used” to the punishment, and then having to escalate the punishments to maintain their effectiveness.  The end result, like those Bugs Bunny cartoons where he and Marvin Martian get bigger and bigger weapons until they are ready to blow up the moon with their planet busting bombs, is that things get quickly out of control.  Thankfully, with a little knowledge and planning, this situation can be changed for the better.

Punishment vs reinforcement

First off, it’s important to note the difference between punishment and reinforcement.  From a technical point of view, punishment is anything that happens after a behavior that decreases the chances of seeing that behavior in the future.  Reinforcement is anything that happens after a behavior that increases the chances of seeing that behavior in the future.  Thus, for practical purposes, when you deliver a consequence with the goal of trying to get your child to stop or decrease a behavior you are technically punishing him.  This also means that your intent is less important than the outcome.  You might intend something to be reinforcing or but unless it increases the behavior it is not a reinforce.  Also, if it goes so far as to decrease a behavior, your reinforcer is actually a punisher.

Here’s the thing bout punishment.

  • It works, and it tends to work fast.
  •  It’s also the cultural norm in western society.

However, there is a cost to using punishers.

  • They tend to leave both the person delivering the punishment and the person receiving it feeling poorly.
  • Over use of punishers strains and damages relationships.
  • They only teach a child what not to do in a specific situation…. thus you need to punish every possible behavior that you don’t want to see if you go strictly with punishment as a consequence.
  • Punishment only works when the threat of punishment is imminent (the child knows they will get caught right then).
  •  Finally, kids tend to get used to punishment so they lose effectiveness over time.  This leads to the need to escalate punishments. Over time, this can quickly get out of hand, leading to a punishment spiral.

Personally, I tend to prefer using reinforcement strategies when I deliver consequences.

  • Reinforcers really teach your child what you want them to do and thus eliminate most other possible outcomes you don’t want to see.
  •  For example, I can punish my child every time he hits.  He might stop hitting, but he can kick,he can bite, etc.  If I teach my child to use gentle hands and feet or something along those lines…I’m focusing on rewarding the behavior I want to see and this basically gives no incentive to engage in all those other negative behaviors.
  •  Giving rewards ends to make the recipients feel more kindly and connected to you.
  • The downside with reinforcement strategies is that they often take a little bit longer and require a little more finesse.  You might have to teach a behavior or skill as you start to reinforce it.
  • You have to stop reinforcing the negative behaviors… and this might mean changing parenting tactics.

 

Also, a lot of parents often feel that reinforcement strategies look a lot like bribery.  The thing is, bribery is a money given to someone as an incentive to engage in illegal or illicit behavior.  It’s given BEFORE the behavior (so is not reinforcement) and I don’t know about you, but I’m not rewarding my kids for doing illegal and illicit things. Just keep the big picture in mind.  We want our kids to learn how to behave “properly.”  If a system of rewards will help them be motivated to behave, then that’s a good thing.  Over time, extrinsic rewards (money, toys, food, etc.) give way to intrinsic rewards (praise, doing it because it’s the right thing to do and it feels good) as the child grows and matures.

Break the cycle… Competency Based Parenting

What to do if you find yourself in a punishment spiral with your kids?  How do you get them to listen without killing a child?  First, take a deep breath.  Second, it’s simply time for a reset.  Look at the behavior and try to figure out what your child is getting from it.  Whatever that is, we need to provide that to your child, but only for displaying the behavior you want to see.  Once you’ve figured that out, you need to set the stage to elicit and reward those desired behaviors.

There are some assumptions that go along with this.

  • First, if your child is struggling with behaviors around certain items or activities (I often hear this in reference to computers and video games) then he is not competent or ready to handle the responsibility and privilege for access to that item or activity.  Access needs to be eliminated or cut back to something more manageable until your child has demonstrated the skills and competency to handle that situation.

 

  • The next assumption is that you, as a parent, have everything that the child wants and the child has absolutely nothing you want (thank you to Terry Levy and Michael Orlans for that concept!).  This means that everything you child takes as a given (video games, TV, etc..) is a privilege you ALLOW them.  That xbox isn’t your child’s…you paid for it.  You paid for the electricity to run it.  You pay for the wifi for it to connect to the internet.  When your child gets to play it… it’s because you are choosing to let them do it.

 

  • Your child should only have access to privileges that they have demonstrated the ability to manage.  So, if your child won’t do their chores because they are busy playing video games or get irritable or angry and act out around access to video games, then they are clearly not ready to handle the responsibility of video games.

 

So, to avoid going into a punishment spiral (which often starts with taking away “stuff” after kid acts out), we simply restrict access to activities to only those things the child can manage.  Give the child access to a limited number of activities and then as the child demonstrates responsible behavior over time (weeks and months… not hours and days), gradually add more privileges.

  • Add privileges slowly.  For example, don’t just give free access to the video games.  Maybe give them 10 minutes a day to a select few games (if they do their chores and get homework done).
  • Do not add privileges until you, as a parent, are dead certain your child will be able to manage it responsibly.
  • Don’t let your child guilt you with the “my friends get to do it” card. Your child is not his or her friends.
  • Your child will hate this at first, but will generally show improved behaviors very quickly under these boundaries.
  • By focusing on earning privileges for demonstrating positive behaviors and adding privileges slowly… you focus on looking for positive behaviors, rewarding instead of punishing, and you are teaching your child what to do (rather than what not to do).

I hope these tips help you live more harmoniously with your kids.  If you have further questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please feel free to contact me at erikyounglpc@verizon.net or call me at 484-693-0582.

Copyright 2014 Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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A Love Letter to my Autistic Boys

A Love Letter to my Autistic Boys

I remember when a colleague, a psychiatrist no less, asked me if  loved my autistic foster boys as much as my biological children.  When I said, “absolutely!” he looked at me skeptically and said “there’s no way…it’s got to be different.”  At that moment, two things happened, I lost a little respect for this guy and I KNEW deep into my soul that I loved you both with all my heart.

It’s a love that some people struggle to understand.  Some look at us and say “Erik, what you do for those boys…you’re a saint!”  I hate that.  I’m no saint.  Don’t put what we have up on some pedestal.  It’s just farther for us to fall.  I’m just being a Dad.  A Dad loves his kids. Kids love their Dad.  It really is that simple.  Nothing saintly about it.  Others just shake their heads and wonder why I would take on the stress and craziness that can come with parenting autistic boys.  Again, they just don’t get it.  Why WOULDN’T I?  Sure, it gets crazy…but is wonderful too.  Jeremy and his belly laughs and shares his secret smile. Julian with his hugs and giggle fits.  These are the gifts that make it all worth it.

As much as people say I’ve done for you boys…you’ve done so much more for me.  Every day you teach me.  Every day you help me to grow even as I help you.  When I look upon my success both personally and professionally, you two are very much at the heart of it.  I’m the luckiest Dad ever.

 

Happy Valentines Day Jeremy and Julian.

 

Love,

Your Dad

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Want your child to listen better? Try the prompting hierarchy

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       I.            Does this sound familiar?

“Johnny, put on your shoes.”

“Put on your shoes Johnny.”

“Johnny!  Pay attention!  Put on our shoes!”

“Put on your shoes!”

“ARRRGGGHHH!!!”  (parent loses mind… Johnny is still shoeless)

If you have kids then you’ve probably had this interaction (or one like it).  Repeating the same command over and over as your child blissfully ignores you until you lose your mind.  Why does this happen?  They say that the definition of insanity is repeating the same behavior over and over expecting the same results.  So, parents MUST be crazy because we insist on repeating ourselves to our kids ad nauseum hoping they will suddenly listen to us.

Ok, so we aren’t crazy even if our kids sometimes make us look that way.  There must be a solution to though to what to do to get kids to listen when we want them to do something.  One answer is using prompts.  Prompts are assists that help someone to display a behavior we want to see. For example, demonstrating a behavior for your child and then having them copy you would be an example of a modeling prompt (you modeled the behavior).  If you make your prompts progressively more assistive, you can ultimately guarantee your child will do what you want.  More importantly, this makes sure that the child receives praise and reinforcement  from you for displaying the behaviors YOU want to see.

     II.            The different kinds of basic prompts

There are four basic kinds of prompts I like to use with my kids:

Gesture – some sort of non-verbal movement that will elicit the desired behavior. In the above shoe example, pointing the shoes could be a gesture prompt.

Verbal – a brief verbal statement meant to bring about the behavior. That’s all that was used in he above example.

Model – demonstrating the desired behavior.  In the above example, I might pick up the shoe and then put it down while saying “Like this, now you try.”

Physical – helping the child to physically do the behavior. So, hand over hand helping the child pick up his shoes and put them on.

  III.            Putting the prompts to use

Putting everything together is pretty simple.  After the child is told to do something, you wait a bit for them to process and comply.  Then, if they don’t do what you want, you give them a prompt.  Personally,  like to start with the gesture prompt as it is the least intrusive.  Wait a bit, then go to the next level of prompt (verbal) if the behavior doesn’t happen.  Keep working up the hierarchy until you get the behavior you were looking for.  As soon as the behavior occurs, make sure to deliver reinforcement in the form of praise.  With this system, you guarantee you don’t repeat yourself forever trying to get your child to listen,  Also, you guarantee that the child gets praised for doing the behavior.  Finally, you only give as much help as the child needs to do what you want.  So, you might start out having to physically assist but over time that will naturally fade to verbal, gesture and hopefully with no prompts (child does the behavior when first directed to do so).

If you wish to learn more about prompting strategies or to schedule a free consultation with me, call 484-693-0582 email erikyounglpc@verizon.net or press the schedule appointment button to the right.

©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

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How to Have am Autism-Friendly Halloween

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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 overhe 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 yearnot 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 1stdeals 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 onthis 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 aterikyounglpc@verizon.net 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

 

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I GET BY WITH A LITTLE HELP FROM MY FRIENDS: THE POWER OF THE “SOCIAL SAFETY NET”

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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.

I.                   The Social Safety Net Defined

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.

II.                 The crazy 2 weeks at my house

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 itno matter what‘s gone wronglife 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.

III.              The key players and why it worked

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 casesfreeing 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 helpedmany 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 netI am filled with gratitude for all that you do.  Your help and support is invaluable and will be returned someday.

IV.             Make connections and disperse the stress

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.

V.                Final Thoughts

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 erikyounglpc@verizon.net

© Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC 2013

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Dealing with Homework Battles

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School is back in session.  This means the return of homework.  Does your child hate to do homework?  Does homework time come with crying, arguing and tantrummingDoes 30 minutes of homework consume a couple of hours of your life every night? If you said yes to any of these questions, then I’m betting you hate homework even more than your child!

In my experience, there is nothing a parent hates more than feeling helpless to help their child.  If this sense of helplessness is accompanied by regular irritation (such as was described in the previous paragraph) the pain is that much worse.  Why do some kids struggle with homework?  For some it’s anxiety for others it’s boredom or even not understanding how to do the work.  Homework problems are commonly seen in children with ADHD, autism, anxiety issuesalthough they are not uncommon to the “neurotypical” child.

What’s a parent to do?  Here are some tips that will hopefully reduce or eliminate homework battles.  Using these tips I’ve helped my own and other kids get a better handle on homework time.

 

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How do you eat an elephant?

This was a question my mother used to pose to me when I was struggling with big problems.  It is a question I often pose to my clients.  So, I ask the question.  The first answer usually is something like “I don’t want to eat an elephant.”  To this I reply, “Just pretend you are super hungry and all you have to eat is a whole elephant.  How would you eat it?”  At this point they usually shrug and look at me like I’m pretty crazy.

So, what’s the answer?   (It’s ok… I will wait while you cogitate.)  The answer is “ONE BITE AT A TIME.”  When you have a big problem to tackle (like a lot of homework) just start by doing the first bit, then the next bitwash, rinse, repeat until you’re done.  Basically, instead of doing one big bit, do lots of little bits.

  • Break up the homework into smaller sections (little bits).
  • Keep the sections limited to what your child can do without getting too upset.  If they can only do 10 minutes at a time, then limit the “bits” to 10 minute sections.
  • In between sections, take a few minutes break to do something fun and relaxing to allow your child to calm down.

By doing this, you keep homework relatively easy.  You are less likely to have your child go over the precipice into anxiety or tantrum.  When this happens, their ability to learn and think is compromised. By keeping away from the “hot  head” zone and in the “cool head zone” you maximize your child’s ability to think and process information.  This should lead to better results with the homework.

I first discovered this technique when I was in music school.  I had three part-time jobs, a full college class load.  I did not have much time to practice.  As a result I had to jump on a piano whenever there was one available for 10 minutes or so.  I had to focus my practice sessions.  I’d work on scales one time, then on a difficult part of a song at another time.  What I found is that I made better progress with these little sessions than with the longer marathon sessions.  Later, I found the same success with homework.  Doing lots of little bits with a clear head and focused effort gets more done than trying to “eat the elephant” in one big bite.  In some cases, I’ve had clients get twice as much done in three or four 10-15 minute mini-sessions than in 2 hours of cramming.  Also, because the work is done with a clear and focused mind, the information tends to stick better and get processed more.  I know, for me, when I crammed for tests, I very quickly forgot the information and would have to re-study it later.

The parent as coach rather than disciplinarian

Maximizing success with the lots of little bits homework strategy requires a shifting in your role as parent. You need to move away from just being the disciplinarian into a coaching role.  Instead of standing over your child, cracking the proverbial whip to keep them on task and getting the work done (with the rending of clothes and the gnashing of teeth), you need to take a less authoritarian and more authoritative role.

First, stay positive.  Praise your child for all attempts to get the work done, staying on task and staying calm.  Watch your child as he/she works.  Look for the warning signs of agitation or getting overwhelmed.  If a chunk of time is not done, but your child is starting to get frustrated.  Prompt them to check in and take a break.   (Remember, the idea is to keep your child in a relaxed calm state as much as possible).  If your child is on a roll and calm, maybe extend a segment.  Also look at using environmental controls to set limits.  A timer to show how long the child has to do work or has left of a rest period is great for example.  Designating  a homework area and restricting work and breaks in that area (to decrease distractions)is another great way to set limits without having to totally police your child.

When it is time to take a break, your job is to keep things structured.  Do not just hand your child the video game remote (you will never get your child’s attention back).  Do something WITH your child.  It should be fun, silly, and relaxing.  After a few minutes, prompt them back to the next segment of work.  Keep at it until homework is done.  When there is resistance, take a break, stay positive and upbeat, but also don’t let the child totally escape from the work until it is completed to your satisfaction.  In time, you may find that your child can tolerate longer and longer periods of work before needing a break.  You should also notice a decrease in the frequency and intensity of conflict.  I find it helpful to use a timer to set limits to how long the break is. Use lots of praise when your child complies and follows directions.

Good head “Coolers”

Here is a quick list of little games you can use during homework breaks to help your child relax an regain focus.

  • Bubbles – Children and teens of all ages respond to bubbles.  Bust out a bottle of bubbles and they can’t resist popping them. Have them practice blowing bubble slow and fast to teach breath control and reduce stress.
  • Beanie Baby Drop — Put a beanie baby on your head and then let it drop into the child’s hands.  Put it on his/her head and then let them drop it into your hands.  Add a countdown to practice self-regulation and reduce impulsivity.  Great with younger kids, but older kids respond too.
  • Cotton Ball Blow – Put some cotton balls on the table and then blow them back and forth with a straw. Can be a competitive or cooperative game. Try to see who can blow a cotton ball to the end of the table without blowing it off with one breath.
  • Back Letters —   write a letter on your child’s back with your finger.  Let them guess what letter it is. Have them do the same to you. Promotes touch and relaxation.
  • Knock Knock Jokes – tell each other knock knock joke… the sillier the better.
  • Name that tune – Play a snippet of a song on your computer or mp3 player. Have your child guess the tune.  Take turns.  Great with older kids to connect and engage.

I hope you find these tips helpful and that they reduce conflicts with your child over homework.  Please post any head cooling ideas or other homework tips in the comments section below.  If you want a free consultation about homework issues, then click on the schedule appointment button to your right.  Remember, BREATHE, you got this.

Copyright 2013 Erik Young,M.Ed., LPC

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What is your life worth? The importance of connections

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I.                   Actuarial tables and a radio program

The other day, I was listening to a radio program on NPR (a therapist who listens to NPR I hear you say?  Shocking!).  I forget which program, but the host described going to see a person who did actuarial work for insurance companies.  This person’s job was to figure out how much a life was worth so if they were injured or killed the insured parties would be properly compensated.  Pretty cold, I know…but it’s a real thing.  In any case, the guy doing the piece was shocked to find he was only worth about $35,000.  The piece went on to talk about how people with families and kids tend to be worth more, because they are connected to and valued by others.

 

II.                 Let me google that for you…

This radio piece got me thinking.  On the one hand, life is priceless.  The whole actuarial process is pretty cold and ruthless.  Then again, the idea that one’s connections to others adds value to ones life is a profound and fascinating truth.  I decided to explore the idea further.

The first thing I did was go to google and type in the search “how much is my life worth.”  Go ahead…try it.  What I found was mostly fun, time-waster sites (although there were a couple of insurance sites that came up in my search).  They all let me take little surveys that purportedly placed some sort of value on my life.  I spent some time playing with these.  I know the results aren’t remotely valid or scientific, but is was interesting.  One thing I did was enter in data as a single man (keeping age, income and health stats constant) and then as my true self as a married father of 5 kids.  As a single man, I was worth about $50,000 but as my true married self, I was worth anywhere from 1.5 to 1.8 million dollars.  Quite a difference, eh?

What does this mean?  My life is enhanced by being married to my wife.  My life as further enhanced by the birth of my two children.  When Lorrie and I set about doing foster care, my life was enhanced further.  Everytime I make a new friend or help out someone else, it leaves me feeling good and thus enhances my life.  There’s something to the idea of being connected to others adding value to one’s life.  How much is it worth when I help one of my clients resolve some personal issue and live a happier, healthy life?  That person now interacts more positively with their friends and loved ones.  How much is all that worth?  How much does a teacher helping a student discover their passion and talents add value to that student’s life?  How much does that student then add to others as they pursue their talents as a functioning adult?

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III.              The story of a bridge

If you are still not convinced of the importance of the connection to others, then let’s talk about suicide.  It’s one of my areas of specialty interest.  When I was a young therapist doing his internship at the Lehigh University counseling center, the director of the center told me that to save a the life of a person who was suicidal you needed to get them connected to at least one person.  He felt that single connection would often be enough to keep the suicidal individual from going from ideation to attempt or completion.  Later on, as  Devereux clinician, I became a gatekeeper instructor in the QPR suicide intervention system by Dr. Paul Quinnet (http://www.qprinstitute.com/).  As part of the training that I received (and the training I give on this topic), we tell the story of a bridge.  Here is a condensed version of that story.

There is a bridge in a major western city (it’s the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco).  This bridge is a magnet for people who are suicidal.  They come from miles around to leap from this bridge.  It’s a pretty long fall that is almost always fatal.  However, every once in a while someone leaps from the bridge but does not die.  In all the years the bridge has been in existence, never has a person who survived the jump climbed onto shore, gone back up the bridge and tried to jump again.  Some researchers were examining this phenomenon came up with an elegant intervention.  They met with all the people involved in the upkeep and maintenance of the bridge.  All the workers, security, administration, etc.  They trained these people to be on the look out for people who might be suicidal (lone people hanging around the edge of the bridge, people looking forlorn and sad, etc.)  They then tasked everyone who worked on the bridge to approach anyone acting suspiciously and ask them if they were ok.  They were to offer their help and listen to them…no threat, no intimidation. In short, they were to connect with these people.

The results of this intervention were surprising to say the least…incidents of suicide attempts on the bridge were reduced by something like 40% (I’m not sure of the exact results as I don’t have my training materials at hand right now).  Just think about that for a second…by simply asking people if they were ok and offering to listen to  them, there was a dramatic reduction is suicide attempts.  How many lives were spared by the mere act of connection?   How much value is added by that?

IV.             Ways to connect

I want you to add some value to your life.  Go out there and make some connections with people.  You could go out and make new connections.  You could also go out and re-connect with someone with whom you’ve lost touch.  In either event, add some value to your life (and their life) by making those connections.  Still not sure how to do that?  Here are a few simple tips to grease the wheels of connectivity.

A.                The 8-5 rule

I learned about this while researching ways to teach my Asperger’s clients how to socialize more comfortably with others.  In a book by Craig Kendall, he discussed the 8-5 rule. The 8-5 rule is used by high-end hotels. These hotels instruct all their staff to smile at customers when they are 8 feet away from them.  When they get within 5 feet, they are to say “hello.”  A nice simple guideline to give a friendly greeting.  I‘ve found that not only is this a good tool to teach my Asperger’s clients how to greet  others, but a handy way to be more warm and friendly towards others in my own life.  Try this out for yourself and see if you don’t make those connections a little easier.

B.                 Two ears, one mouth – listen

It has been said that we are gifted with two ears and one mouth…and we should use them proportionally.  We should listen twice as much as we talk. People like to feel they are being heard.  When you spend the time to listen to them, they feel like you care about them.  This increases your connection.

C.                 Ask lots of questions

Finally, when you do speak to someone with whom you are trying to connect, ask questions.  Asking questions shows that you are interested in them and what they have to say.  It encourages them to give you more information that you can use to deepen your connection to them.  I guarantee that if you listen more than you talk and that if you ask questions when you do talk that you will find yourself easily connecting with others and thus adding life value to you both.

As always, I hope you’ve found this information entertaining and useful.  I welcome your stories and tips on how to connect. You can post them in the comments section below.  Also, please feel free to share this or any of my articles with others.  If you are interested in working with me to learn more about how to connect with others then contact me at erikyounglpc@vrizon.net to schedule a free consultation.

©Erik Young, M.E., LPC 2013

 

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