December 16, 2017

3 simple things you can do today for a happier family

family-84865_960_720

3 SIMPLE THINGS YOU CAN DO TODAY FOR A HAPPIER FAMILY

I see a lot of families in my practice. They are all different…different struggles, different needs, different backgrounds…and what seems to unify them all is their desire to simply be happier. Isn’t that what we all want on some level? This article will present 3 simple things that you can do today that will help your family function better and thus be less stressed.

Less Stress = More Happiness!

zak05

TIP #1: MAKE AND POST HOUSE RULES
It seems obvious to this, yet I’m amazed at how often families neglect to do this. Sure, there are usually house rules. They are verbally taught to the children. What doesn’t happen is that the rules get posted up for everyone to see.  Here’s the thing. Kids are great. They’re funny, loving, and we as parents adore them to death. They are terrible at remembering stuff (especially when it’s stuff that might keep them from getting or doing what they want)!  Parents often tell me how they’ve taught the rules to their kids. They fail to realize that in the moment where they want their kid to follow the rules the drive to do whatever it is that the child wants to do might drive rules knowledge right out of their little brains.

A picture is worth 1000 words and kids remember what they see better than what they hear!

geograph-3461576-by-Christine-Matthews

Here are the guidelines for rules:
• Keep them few in number (I try to do no more than five)
• The rules apply to everyone in the house
• State them positively (they should tell you what to do instead of what not to do)
• They should cover about 85 to 90% of what might happen (imagine how great life would be if 85% of the time these rules were followed!)
TIP#2: MAKE A FAMILY MISSION STATEMENT
I got this from the book “The Secrets of Happy Families” by Bruce Feiler and I’ve used it with my family as well as families with whom I’ve worked. How often do families take stock of who they are and then discuss and write it down? Not very often. Having this discussion can really clarify moral and ethical beliefs of your family and negate assumptions and faulty beliefs.
Take a page from the corporate world and have a sit down meeting with everyone in the family. Discuss what you guys, as a family, are all about. What things are important to all of you? What traits define you? Write it up in two or three simple paragraphs.
Once that’s done, post it right next to the rules. Use this document as a teaching tool. Let’s say someone does something that isn’t captured in the rules? Refer to the mission statement and have a discussion as to how what happened did or did not fit in with the mission statement. Instead of a failure you get instant teaching moment.

TIP #3: MAKE A FAMILY MOTTO
This is related to tip #2. Distill the rules and the mission statement down into a simple family motto. For my family, when I did this, our motto became “We take in strays. No one is turned away.” This was based on the fact that we had fostered and adopted kids in the family and every single pet we owned was a rescue. It really summed up what we were about.

You can do these three things in a day or so. Once done, you can do things like tie reinforcement/reward strategies to them. You can know that with these things posted, you don’t have to keep repeating yourself…just point at the posters. This saves argument and aggravation. It decreases miscommunication and misunderstandings.  Besides, these activities can also be really fun.  It’ll help put everybody on the same page as to expectations and help everyone to feel more a part of things.
I hope you found these tips helpful. Please share in the comments section other exercises you have used to help increase your families’ happiness.
If you want to get access to more tips like this and worksheets to help do these exercises, consider joining my Super Parents Team. Go to www.erikyoungcounseling .com/superparent-team to sign up.
If you would like to work with me then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.
©Erik Young, M.Ed., LPC

Share

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

ID-10062097

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

Share

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

Share

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

CF007094

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

Share

LIFE WITH JEREMY — An Adoption Story

IMAG0920

Preface

I know, dear readers that my articles are usually of the “How-to” variety.  This, one is going to be a bit different.  While there are certainly lessons to be learned here, they won’t be spelled out in easy step-by-step directions.  I totally understand if this is not your cup of tea.  It’s cool.  But, this is a story that I’ve been waiting almost a decade to tell.  It’s an important story to me and I hope you forgive me a little bit of self-indulgence.  I promise more “How-to” articles will be published soon.

February 8, 2013

“You do understand that if I enter this judgment, it is irrevocable? Jeremy becomes your child now and forever just as if he was born to you. ”

This is what Judge Fritch said to me and my wife during our adoption hearing.  Here’s the running commentary scrolling through my mind at this time: “Of course I understand, why wouldn’t I understand?  Wait, did he say IF?  What does he mean if??  Could he say NO?  This was supposed to be a done deal!  Why would he say no?  What will I do if he says NO?  I’ll get upset is what…if I get upset I’m going to open my mouth that’ll mean a contempt of court charge.  I’m not gonna apologize though.  No judge is keeping me from my son.  If I don’t apologize I’ll go to jail.  Can I handle jail?  For Jeremy?  I sure can.  No problem….”

Thankfully, that was just in my head, I simply looked the judge in the eye and said “I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Judge Fritch entered the motion and Jeremy, who had been living as our son for almost a decade since he was 12 years old became our legally adopted adult son.

Adoption day!

Adoption day!

How it all started

Just about 11 years ago, my wife and I were looking for a little extra income to make ends meet.  As it turns out, working for a non-profit organization is not the path towards being independently wealthy and socially secure (shocking, I know).  In the course of looking for new income opportunities we started providing respite care for special needs kids form Devereux’s teaching family program…we were essentially part-time foster parents.

When my wife lost her job as a daycare teacher, the director of the teaching family program (Maria) mentioned to me that we would make great full-time special needs foster parents.  I laughed.  This was funny.  I already spent 40-60 hours a week working with autistic and intellectually disabled teens…doing this at home meant doing my job 24/7 without a break.  No way, no how, no thank you.  This attitude lasted all of 2 hours until I got home.

“Lorrie, Maria sad the funniest thing to me today.”

“What’s that?” replied my lovely wife.

“She said we should be full-time teaching parents.  Can you imagine doing that full-time?  I’d go nuts!”

My wife just sat there pensively and murmured “Hmm….”

All I could think was “Uh oh…”

Into the breach…

We didn’t take the plunge right away.  We talked about things for a while  The fact I would essentially be working without a break was a big deal and not something to be taken lightly.  However, I love my wife dearly, and it was obvious she adored being Mom to all these different kids that came to our house.  She had a knack.  Furthermore, I’d been espousing for a number of years the therapeutic benefits of a loving family to the treatment of behavior disorders.  This was my chance to put my money where my mouth was…to walk the walk.

Our first child turned out not to be a good fit for us (but her story had a good outcome).  It was with her I learned the true meaning of “attachment disorder.”  However, the second child we considered turned out to be our first and most enduring success.

His intake packet read like a horror story.  He was prone to sudden violent outbursts.  He was a biter.  He broke his sister’s arm when she was only 5 years old.  There was hardly a single positive thing in that intake packet.  However, families often accentuate the negatives when they are desperate to get their child into placement.  I used my pull as a Devereux clinician to ask his therapist about him.  I found out that, as I suspected, the info in the packet was a more than a little exaggerated.  My colleague said that Jeremy was a good kid who was very bright and would probably have a normal IQ but for the communication issues that came with his autism.  He encouraged us to go ahead and at least have him do some visits to see if he would be a good fit.

Jell-O Cheesecake and Flubber

So, we had our first dinner visit with Jeremy.  I picked him up from his group home.  His staff told me that she was working on getting him to eat more vegetables and that we should make him eat those first before giving him preferred foods.  I didn’t get any other words of wisdom.

Jeremy and I drove back to my house.  I tried making small talk with him, but as he was pretty much non-verbal at this point, it was pretty one sided.  God I was nervous.  The kid was so serious…never cracked a smile.  He just stared at me…through me…with these deep blue eyes.  Was I making a mistake?  Did I have what it takes to work with a kid like this?

Finally, we pulled into my driveway.  I escorted Jeremy cross my lawn and into the front door where my family was waiting. As Jeremy entered, my wife greeted him with a big smile and a “Hi Jeremy!”  In reply, he dashed right past her, grabbed a video off the shelf and proceeded to decipher our TV and vcr (in all of about 3 minutes…the kid was gifted!).  The movie was Flubber.  Jeremy sat himself in my big blue easy chair and happily watched Robin Williams blow cgi green goo out his pants.

For dinner, we had salad (first of course…he ate it without a problem) and hotdogs (he verbally asked for two…guess the boy could talk) and French fries.  For dessert, we had one of those no-bake jello cheesecakes.  Jeremy ate like a man on a mission.  He attacked his food with singular purpose.  It seemed to me that if I could bottle that intense concentration, we’d have a cure for ADHD. In fact, this is how Jeremy lives his life…from objective to objective…a man on a mission.

After dinner, we put in another video and enjoyed just being together, trying out the new family dynamic.  At one point, Jeremy went to use the bathroom.  No issues there, he’s pretty self-sufficient.  However, on the way back from the bathroom, he dashed into the kitchen.  I followed but a few seconds later.  There was Jeremy scarfing down half a cheesecake.  I’m serious; he devoured that half a cheesecake in about 15 seconds flat.  If I were a less ethical person, I could make a fortune betting on him at eating contests.  In any event, it was clear he fit in perfectly with our family.

Five lessons I learned from Jeremy

1. The “N” word — We learned pretty quickly that the combination of Jeremy and the word NO was problematic.  Saying that word to Jeremy was a good way to get bitten.  We very quickly learned that we needed to be very creative in how we denied Jeremy access to desired tangibles.  No was replaced with such phrases as “not right now”, “later”, “try this instead”, and “Look!  Elvis!” (that last one didn’t work so well, but it made my kids laugh).  Now, over the years, we did a lot of hard work with Jeremy.  We taught him that he could trust us.  Because he could trust us, he learned that we would give him things he wanted…eventually.  Now, we can use the “N” word.  He still doesn’t like it, but he accepts it.  He knows that we love him and that the things he needs will always be there when he needs them.  The lesson here is that trust needs to be established and maintained in order to help your loved ones change.

2.  Changing clothes is bad —   On one of our early outings, we took Jeremy to buy clothes.  He was so excited to pick out new outfits.  Lorrie, not knowing his sizes, took him to the changing rooms at the store.  Jeremy quickly put on his new clothes.  We figured out what fit.  The problem came when it was time to take OFF the new clothes and put the old clothes back on.  Jeremy had a meltdown in the store.  It was ugly.  However, Lorrie was calm.  She persevered.  The clothes were purchased.  We did not take Jeremy back clothes shopping for some time.  We had similar problems when Jeremy would try to dress himself in an inappropriate outfit (such as long sleeve shirt and jeans  in 90 degree summer weather).  We got creative in setting out his clothes.  We made sure that we stored weather inappropriate clothes so he couldn’t put them on.  We even went so far as to throw out clothes that no longer fit…Jeremy would retrieve these from the garbage when we weren’t looking.  At one point, I had to drive a favorite shirt three towns away and dispose of it in a dumpster because Jeremy kept putting it back in his dresser.  Eventually, we taught Jeremy to be a little more flexible.  We praised him for dressing so handsome.  We rewarded him with praise and new cool clothes when he could tolerate changing clothes.  It took years.  The lesson?  Be patient.  Change comes slow to the autistic child, but it can happen.  Don’t try to change too much too fast though.

3.  I put Ketchup on my Ketchup – Jeremy LOVES ketchup.  He puts it on just about everything.  .  At first we tried complicated reinforcement and teaching programs to manage the flow of ketchup in the house as the level of ketchup abuse seemed problematic to us.  At one point, despite our best efforts, we were going through a large bottle of ketchup a week! It turns out, Jeremy was sneaking down to the kitchen in the middle of the night and drinking straight from the bottle.  We gave up on our fancy plans and just let Jeremy have his ketchup.  If he wanted it that bad, why stand in the way?  The only thing we did was not buy new ketchup until it was time to do the shopping.  Eventually, ketchup consumption returned to more normal levels in our house.  The lesson?  Choose your battles.  Just because you think it’s weird doesn’t make it a problem.

4. Macy’s, elevator, bathroom —  Recently, Jeremy was writing one of his many lists.  When he writes a list, he’s usually asking for something.  This list was unique.  It said, Erik, Rhi Rhi (my daughter) Macy’s, elevator, I want bathroom please.  He wrote that list daily for a couple of weeks,  For whatever reason, he wanted me and my daughter to accompany him to the mall.  One evening, I didn’t have a lot scheduled, so we piled in the car and went to Macy’s  Jeremy was clearly excited.  Once at the mall, we let Jeremy take the lead, curious to see what he wanted to get.  He did his little speedwalk through the store, didn’t stop to buy or even look at anything.  Once through the store he made a beeline for the elevators which we rode to the first floor.  From there we walked around the outside of Macys until we came to the mall bathrooms.  There Jeremy went in, peed, then washed his hands.  Once done he smiled at me and declared himself finished. He was happy and content.  I must confess I didn’t get it, but I was happy that he was happy.  We went home and the lists stopped. The lesson?  Don’t ignore the little things.  Take time to enjoy the little pleasures in life.  Don’t question them either.  Happiness is where you find it.

5.  Family is more about DNA – Here is a picture of me and Jeremy.

20130211_221957

This says everything about our relationship.  We have a special bond.  Mere words can’t adequately describe it.  I would take a bullet for Jeremy.  One of my colleagues, after recently becoming a new Dad, asked me about my children as we were waiting for a meeting to start.  I described all my kids, biological and foster.  He asked me if it was different with the foster kids.  I replied that of course it was different; raising special needs kids is different almost by definition. He said, “no, the love. You love them less right?”  I said, “No, of course not…I love all my kids equally.”  I could tell by the look in his eyes that he didn’t believe me.  He didn’t get it.  I wish I had that picture on me then.    The lesson?  Family is about who you love.  Not who conceived you.  To be successful as a (foster) parent, you have to accept the children as your own, and treat them the same as you treat your own.

In closing, I owe Jeremy a huge debt of gratitude.  By sharing his life with me, by letting me be his Dad, he taught me to be a better parent and a better therapist.  When I talk about bringing together clinical knowledge with practical experience, I’m talking about life with my son, Jeremy.

Thank you son…you are the best!

I want to hear about your stories of life with your special kids.  Please share them in the comments below.

I welcome your questions.  I can be reached at erikyounglpc@verizon.net

Find out more about me and schedule a complimentary session at www.erikyoungtherapy.com

Copyright 2013 Erik Young, M.Ed.,LPC

Share
%d bloggers like this: