March 27, 2017

A DAY IN THE ADHD LIFE: SCENES FROM A JAKE’S WAYBACK BURGER

True confessions time.  I have attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder.  To my friends and family, I am sure this does not come as much of a surprise.  I am 46 and grew up in a place (Texas, then New Jersey) and a time (the 1970’s and 1980’s) where ADHD wasn’t as well-known as it is now.  Basically, I grew up undiagnosed until well into adulthood.  This is why I like working with kids and families dealing with adhd…it’s something with which I’m intimately familiar with.  Today, I describe a recent event in my life where my adhd brain got the better of me.  I’m hoping this will both amuse and educate you guys about what it’s like to live with this condition.

Let’s set the wayback machine for two weeks ago.  My fiancée and I were out shopping, running some wedding errands, etc.  Truth be told, I’m not huge shopping fan so my interest level wasn’t at 100% (though getting these errands done was important).  Furthermore, I’d not slept well the night before and was not my best mentally.  I could tell it was a bad adhd day.  My mind was bouncing from thought to thought like an overly eager and friendly Labrador retriever.  What I’m saying is from an attention management perspective, I was nowhere near the top of my game.

During our outing, it occurred to us we should eat food.  We decided to treat ourselves by stopping in a Jake’s Wayback Burger.  For those of you not in the know, this place sells incredibly great burgers and awesome shakes.  They’re a little pricey, but very tasty.  Inside, my labrador mind immediately noticed the cool posters in the place.  Each poster represented a decade (from the 30’s to the 80’s) and I found that I had to put a lot of effort and energy to keep my eyes from wandering from my fiancée (who is a lovely woman) to studying the posters.

To make matters worse, the two guys at the table next to us were having a loud, weird and interesting conversation.  Near as I can tell, one guy was starting some sort go video game start up.  He actually said “we’re going to be the next Nintendo.”  He was selling hard to someone who appeared to be associated with some sort of community access cable channel.  They were talking very loudly and the selling was hard.  My fiancée and I both were giving each other silent looks regarding what we were both hearing. We weren’t sure if it was a business meeting or a date. Anyway, this was another thing drawing my attention away from my fiancée and our conversation.

The proverbial camel breaking straw came partway through our meal when from behind me, someone in the kitchen yelled something to someone else in the kitchen.  I had no idea what they said.  I was caught utterly and completely by surprise.  That it happened behind me in my blind spot didn’t help.  Immediately, my attention was pulled behind me.  The Labrador in my head went “HUH??!?!”  I was powerless to stop it for a good couple of seconds.

The result was that I totally didn’t hear what my fiancée said.  As she is an intelligent and observant woman, she totally noticed my attention shift and knew in that moment I didn’t hear her.  I knew that she knew I wasn’t paying attention.  The Labrador tucked his tail between his legs and started to whimper.  I felt terrible because it was clear her feelings were hurt.  This wedding stuff is important and its important I be a part of it.  In that moment, even though I’m totally invested in the wedding and the planning, that’s not how it looked.  Once again, I let someone I cared about down and there was nothing I could have done to avoid it.  Somedays, this adhd thing really sucks.

She called me out on my lack of attention.  I tried to be cool about it at first, but ultimately had to own up to the fact that I missed some of what she said.  Explaining what happened and apologizing, I did the only thing I could do.  Ask her to repeat herself. As her feelings were hurt, she did not want to at first.

We talked some more about what adhd is like for me.  I suspect many of you have had similar conversations with parents, partners and friends.  The neurotypical folks in our lives don’t understand the struggle of how easily our attention gets split.  They don’t see all the ways we must compensate for adhd mind.  They do, however, see the frequent lapses in attention.  When it gets personalized, they get hurt…we in turn, often get defensive.

If you love someone with adhd, understand these important points:

  • ADHD is forever. Don’t confuse an apparent lack of symptoms for a lack of ADHD.  Your loved one has probably learned to cope better.
  • Coping skills only go so far. Lack of sleep, environmental attention grabbers, etc. impact our ability to attend.  If stressors exceed coping, our attention will go bye bye.   Don’t take that personally.  Not to be cliché, but it’s not you, its us.
  • Know that we really want to pay better attention and most of us are trying really hard to stay engaged and attentive.
  • Help us by calling us out on our lack of attention to get us to re-attend. But do so without judgment or ire.  We may need the help, but the other stuff just gets us resentful and defensive.

For those of you, like me, who have adhd, try the following:

  • Be aware of how good or bad your attention might be. Be honest with your loved ones about when you might be struggling.   Help them understand.  Help them to help you.
  • Be honest with yourself when your attention is weak and try to implement appropriate coping skills.
  • When things go awry, don’t personalize it or get down on yourself. Apologize, reset, refocus.  It’s ok.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask for help. We tend to be the kind of people that don’t ask for help or assistance.  We’re often tired of being “failures”.  Failure only happens when you don’t get the support you need.  Doing yourself will ultimately end in the failure you’re trying to avoid.

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 dealing with your adhd symptoms or the adhd symptoms of a loved one, then call 484-693-0582 or go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com to schedule a consultation.

©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 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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Moving to new digs!

Starting Tuesday, November 1, my offices will be at a new location:

101 Manor Ave

Downingtown, PA 19335

With more space (two larger rooms than my current location) I will be looking to add new services including groups and therapeutic martial arts.

I’m very excited about the opportunities this new space may open up.  I look forward to seeing you all there!

 

Peace,

Erik

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Are you taking care of yourself? Try these tips for parental self-care

give yourself a massage!

give yourself a massage!

I.                The importance of self-care

Confession time.  This was me a few years ago.  My days were spent working, running errands, getting the kids to and from school, sports practice, music lessons, doctor appointments, therapy sessions, cleaning the house, walking the dog, paying bills, answering emails, etc.  I’d wake up, go at 100 mph all day with barely time to eat or go to the bathroom.  I’d never have time alone or do anything for myself.  I didn’t sleep well enough or long enough.  My meals were on the go.  I was always exhausted.  Disconnected.  There seemed to be no end in sight.  My health suffered…weight gain, high blood pressure.  My mood suffered… repeated depression and burnout… anxiety and even panic.

Does this sound familiar?  I meet a lot of parents in this boat of doing everything for everyone but not doing for themselves.

Why do we do this to ourselves?  What does this crazy level of sacrifice get us?  What is it teaching our kids?

Parenting is hard.  That’s the tagline on my website.  It’s true too.  Parenting is frustrating, challenging, maddening, joyful, exhilarating, fulfilling…. the adjectives are endless.  No matter if your child has special needs or is neurotypical, parents are faced with an overload of demands on their time, emotions, and energy.

Faced with all of this, many parents throw themselves into their parenting role in the most selfless manner.  Giving of themselves for their family.  This is a wonderful thing to do… to a point.  Parents who do nothing but sacrifice for their family often don’t take care of themselves.  Sacrifice without renewal is a recipe for burn out, overwhelming stress, as well as health and emotional problems.  It eats away at one’s ability to be an effective parent.  When there is nothing left of you… who will care for your family?

Here are some basic ideas for taking care of yourself.  These are things I implemented for myself and I help my clients do for themselves.  Taking time to implement some of these things can help reduce your stress and increase your happiness.  This will give you more energy to take care of your family.  You will be more present and healthier parent.  You will also be modeling good self-care skills for your children, thus helping them to be happier and healthier people themselves.

Good self-care IS good parenting!

II.              Find time to exercise

If I could bottle the effects of exercise, sleep and sunshine… I’d be a Gazillionaire.  The benefits of exercise are too many to list.  Improved health.  Feeling better physically.  Outlet for stress.  It stimulates endorphins (your body’s natural feel good chemicals).  Improves your immune system. More energy.  Improved brain function.  The list goes on.

I consider having a sound exercise plan a crucial part of any stress management strategy.  If you aren’t exercising and moving around a bit you are missing out.

I don’t have the time!  I hear you say.  It’s too hard!  You cry.  I don’t like it!

Yeah… I hear you.  I get it.  Here’s the thing, if you make yourself a priority (remember, take care of yourself so you can take care of others!)… then finding time can be done.  Really, 20 or 30 minutes 3-4 times a week is all you need.  You don’t have to go crazy and live at the gym.  Just take time to go for a walk.  Take up a sport… maybe even something you can do with your kids.

Years ago, I did taekwondo with my kids.  We’d workout and train for competitions together in the morning.  It was a great family activity for years.  I got healthy, my kids got healthy… and we have a ton of great memories together.

The point is… if you make it a priority you can fit it in.  Try different activities until you find some that work for you… that you enjoy.  There aren’t any rules other than (as Nike says) just do it.

III.            Get enough quality sleep

You should be getting 6 to 8 hours of sleep.  If you aren’t sleeping well, then your health (emotional, physical and mental) are all compromised.  Try the following to improve your sleep:

  • Schedule your sleep. Try to go to bed and wake up at the same time every day.
  • Turn off the electronics (phones, computers, etc.) at least 30 minutes before bed. An hour is even better.
  • Try some slow, deep breathing as you prepare for sleep. Clear the mind and shed some stress.
  • Resist the urge to do projects late into the night… sleep time is important and should be sacrosanct. Putting some emotional and time space between work and activities of daily living and sleep time is crucial.  Allow yourself to wind down.  Whatever projects you are working on will still be there in the morning… and you’ll be better able to tackle them after you’re well rested.

IV.           Enjoy a hobby

It’s too easy for us parents to lose ourselves in our kids. You are more than your kids.  They’re important, no doubt… but they need not be your entire life.  To that end, spending time every week doing stuff that’s just for and about you is important …a hobby or something. For me, I play a lot of music.  It relaxes me.  It’s something I enjoy doing and is part of my identity.  I’ve also indulged in woodworking, chess and reading at various times in the past.  These are things that are important to me above and beyond being a parent or working.

When you engage in a hobby, you destress.  You create opportunities to be successful in ways that parenting and working won’t necessarily allow.  You exercise different parts of your brain and create new and positive neural connections.  Even just 45 minutes a week can be enough to give you a break and renew yourself.  It’s not selfish… because taking care of yourself will allow you to better take care of your loved ones.  You’ll also be more pleasant to be around (happiness is contagious!).

V.             Date night, intimacy, human connection

I can’t tell you how often I see parents who have forgotten why they got together and had kids in the first place.  They run from activity to activity, chore to chore, obligation to obligation and barely have time to say hello to each other in passing.  This is a rough place to be and often strains their relationship.

The fix is simple: get a sitter…go out on regular dates.  Hang out with each other.  Laugh.  Love.  Be adults without the kids hanging around.  Hold hands, hug, kiss.

Couples that do this make for stronger parents.  They have more resilience and warmth in their relationships.  They are happier.

As humans, we need connection to others.  It’s how we’re wired.  It’s a huge necessity.  If that goes missing in our lives, we suffer.  To the extent we suffer, we pass that suffering on to our children and other loved ones inadvertently.

Put the kids to bed a little early once in a while and make time for each other.  Don’t sit there worrying about the day to day…just look into each other’s eyes, make out like teenagers.  Do whatever it takes to stay connected and refreshed.

I have a special needs child…I can’t find a sitter! OR I don’t have the time!

That’s a definite challenge.  Reach out to trusted friends and family members.  Go to your local college and reach out to students in the special education programs.  They are often looking for ways to make money and are being trained in the skills you need for looking after your exceptional; child.  The bottom line is….do what it takes to get out every once in a while and have some fun and human contact with your significant other.

As to the time issue…make the time.  When you make something a priority, you will find the time.  This is important enough to you and those you love that it needs to be a priority. To that end, put something on your schedule.  Even if it needs to be a week or two out.  If you block off the time, then it’s harder to book the time with something else.

What if I’m a single parent?

Then I would heartily recommend you find time to go out with friends or even try dating.  It’s challenging as a special needs parent, yet it can be done.  This will be the subject of my next article in fact.

I hope you found this article helpful.  Please comment and leave other tips for ways parents can engage in self-care.  I’m always looking for new ideas to share.

Also, if you know of someone who might benefit from this article, share it with them.  Finally, if you want to work with me personally to work on a self-care plan, go to www.erikyoungcounseling.com or email me at erik@erikyoungcounseling.com or call 484-693-0582 to set up a consultation.

 

Helpful links:

https://sleepfoundation.org/sleep-tools-tips/healthy-sleep-tips

http://www.brighthorizons.com/family-resources/e-family-news/2013-exercise-and-the-working-parent/

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3 simple things you can do today for a happier family

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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!

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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

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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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