It All Starts With Repeating The Lessons you Teach

As  parent we all want to ensure that our children are growing up to be a respectful part of society, but what happens when you are raising a child with autism high functioning who doesn’t comprehend empathy or compassion? I think we all can agree that having compassion and empathy are important skills to function in society, right?! The question is, how can we teach these skills to children who don’t pick up on social ques in the ways the rest of us do? I am not sure how you teach it or how you have worked with your autistic child, but this is how I have been able to work with my son and see progress.

It all starts with them repeating what you have been teaching them.

Teaching Empathy and Compassion #autism

January 20, 2014 is the date my son stopped taking any medications, after a ridiculous scenario using Risperidone which actually helped my son or so it seemed for nearly a year or so, we had to stop having that medication due to health concerns. We switched to Abilify and then they added Prozac. Long story short, those meds all messed with him on various levels, only the Risperidone created health concerns with weight and Abilify helped keep weight steady-ish but his cholesterol started to get a little high. Finally … we were brave and stopped medications. As of January 20th we have been working with my seven year old son on ways to blossom in society and at home, without medications.

He has come so far in just four months.

When we first started in January without medication, Aj was still having some difficulties because of weaning off of medications but then about 1-2 weeks later it happened; my son was started to be the son I knew was inside of him somewhere. We finally received a diagnosis that made sense; Autism High Functioning and while many said try anxiety medications, we were not on the same page with those professionals. Thankfully our wishes were granted, no one is pushing Aj to have any medications. I wanted to work hard as co-parents first, as his primary caregiver I end up doing a hell of a lot of work but I see progress in every scenario that arises.

Aj is participating in class now. Aj is able to have a play-date and handle slight conflict with his best friend in ways he never would have in the past – using his words and intelligence. Aj has very little patience but is getting better and the one area that is going to take lots of proactive measures is teaching Aj empathy and compassion. Aj comes off rude, mean and occasionally selfish with the way he sees the world, combine that with his outspoken nature, well I am sure you know – we have a recipe for social world failure.

I won’t accept failure for myself nor will I ever accept failure for my children. Ever.

The smallest ways I could help teach Aj the skills of empathy and compassion were to work with his family unit, we are a close knit family. I started working with Aj in how he handles his siblings; teaching him that sometimes we have to take turns or do things we don’t really want to do because we are a family and every family member’s wants or needs do matter. I started heavily working with empathy and compassion during the kids school Spring break week. I used my words. I cited examples through out our days and then it happened; one day K-man didn’t want to do something that Aj wanted to do, instead of Aj getting mad at his brother and just “telling him how it is”, Aj actually told his little brother this, “K I know you don’t want to do this but sometimes we have to do things that others want to do because it’s a nice thing to do.”

I get it. Aj was repeating words I have said to him in the past, but you know what? That is a huge start!

I think the best way to teach empathy and compassion to a child who doesn’t “feel” those things on his own are this;

  • Set the Example – cite times when you or another person have stepped back, outside of their own self to care for another person’s opinions, wants or needs. Explain intellectually the scenario and why the way the person handled it was in the right and being nice. Reiterate that we are to be nice to others in this world because that is what makes this world a happy place.
  • Use your Words – With any lesson you wish to teach an Autistic High Fucntioing child you have to learn how their brain works and formlulate the words you use and actions taken in a method that makes sense to them. I found having a logical, matter of fact discussion and emotion while speaking really has helped a lot.

I am sure there are other methods that work for others with a child on the spectrum, but this is how I have been working with my son and I have seen amazing progress, so I thought I would share as a way to help others who have the question “how do I teach my child on the spectrum empathy and compassion?”

Image shown is Aj on our deck one sunny day after a long Winter. Aj prefers as little clothing as possible and was happy to be outside barefoot for the first time since Winter.

The Diagnosis We Received, Even Though I Already Knew

I have discussed my son Aj for quite some time now. Aj has been without any form of medications since January 20, 2014. Aj had been on some form of medications consistently since about age 4, he is now 7 years of age. These past couple of months have opened up a whole new child and a whole new opinion on what I felt was going on with  my son. I firmly believed Aj was showing more autism signs than anything else in the past coupe of months and we received confirmation from a psychiatrist that stated Aj is indeed Autism Spectrum – High Functioning. What does this mean? Well I am still researching it all but honestly it just means that now there is a better idea of how to work with the public school system for him because in all reality he is the same child I’ve been raising for 7 years, nothing has changed for us at home.

In the past autism had come up, but Aj wasn’t having “enough” signs for anyone to really look into it back then. Now that I’ve had this meeting with the pysch I am realizing there were more signs than we may have even been aware of, starting way back as a baby. For example, as a baby Aj never liked affection, he wasn’t that cuddly soft baby who enjoyed being swaddled nor snuggled. Aj was that baby who breastfed and when done eating was ready to be out of your arms. Aj also potty trained extremely late. Aj also had slight delays in speech. There are some things with Aj that he was delayed in but we found health reasons for the delay and the pysch said that is probably why no one really paid any attention, the variable of having a health reason made sense so no one questioned autism. Wow, what en eye opener.

One thing I have noticed, without anyone telling me, is that maybe most of Aj’s violent rages were not stemming from bipolar, as previously thought. Bipolar made sense, that is what Aj was having going on or so it seemed. Now that I have been observing Aj and working to adapt my parenting routine to the way his brain works, I haven’t had any outbursts from him in the ways of the past. I firmly believe that Aj’s violent rages or what appeared to be major mood fluctuations were actually pertaining to him not being able to verbalize what was going on in his own mind and me not understanding his dire need for a very routine, structured environment. Now that his home environment has been adapted to Aj’s needs, he is thriving and happy nearly all of the time! Aj now interacts with his siblings, he shows a strong family bond, something I hadn’t seen before. Prior years, Aj was closest to me, his Mama, but lacked that full emotional connection with his siblings or others that were a primary part of his world. As I’ve started to work with Aj these past couple of months, I have seen his emotional connections with those who he trusts grow!

Recent Autism DX For my Son

I must admit, when the pysch said out-loud that Aj is indeed “Autism Spectrum – High Functioning” I felt very blank. Even though I knew that was going to be the diagnosis, or at least had assumed and sort of hoped for because it was the only thing that made sense, I still felt blank. I felt sad. I wanted to scream and cry. Why? Well because this is now reality. This is now something I have to work with the public school system for student supports that he will require as time goes on. Right now, Aj isn’t suffering too badly from the way the school works but as each day passes I do see new things that really are signs he could go downhill if we don’t get a team together and figure a way to adapt his school days to the way his mind works.

In all honesty, I am having home school scream at me, but right now I must go through the steps in hopes that the public school system works for him because I don’t have a passion for home schooling my child. I am certainly the right fit Mama to home school my son if the need arises, and I always make decisions based on what my maternal instinct says is best for my children but I am not there yet. I will go through the steps with the school system and fight hard to see what can be done to support my son. As Aj gets older we are going to see more and more social issues with him; he never has been good with social ques, ever. Aj isn’t a child who gets into the emotional responses of people, to him it’s more about tones. So if someone has a steady, normal tone, then he doesn’t pick up much, if any, emotion behind it. If someone raises their voice, and that tone is more of a yelling it can send my son into tears.

As a parent it has been difficult to be aware of my tone and ensure that tone is proper but I think I am getting the hang of it. A firm, steady voice always works for Aj. A structured daily life, always works for Aj. I was even able to get him to attend a couple of school functions with his brother and me, something he never ever would have even attempted in the past. This shows me that whatever I am doing to work with my autistic son is actually working to better him, not make him spiral downward.

This is another journey to walk, but I am thankful right now it is a journey that is med free for my son!

Image Courtesy: http://nationalautismnetwork.com/articles.html/_/autism-treatment-news/autism-and-the-gluten-free-casein-free-gfcf-r1705

When Certain Things are Out of your Control

I lead a very happy life, there is a lot of situations that occur and I just shake my head, realize I can’t control it and to just roll with the punches. The area that truly sucks for me, as a mother, that I have zero control over is getting a psychiatrist to realize what the counselor and my own self realize about my middle child. We have gone through so much with Aj, he is such a bright sweet caring compassionate child but he suffers from something that is, also, out of his control. This something is called a mood disorder that is reminiscent of bipolar disorder, not fun at all.

Seven Year old Son Proud of his PizzaWith getting a diagnosis of ADHD and then finally the pysch realized he has a mood disorder, Aj has tested out a variety of medications for the past few years. As of January 20th, the current psychiatrist has had him on no medications. I will say I have been having fun observing my child but right now is time for some medication plan to be in effect, but the psychiatrist is not calling me back. I have left three messages as of February 10th to this woman, who by the way is a “fellow” in a fellowship, not an actual full time pediatric psychiatrist which is frustrating in itself. There are many things I have noted with my son that just made me realize he does need medication, sadly, my sons condition is not something I, nor he, can control.

As a way to journal my experiences with Aj no longer on medications, I wanted to write a blog post, so that anyone out there dealing with a special needs child can know they are not alone and maybe there are some who can lend me more tips on coping and relieving the tension that comes from parenting a child who has special needs.

Week One – January 20th Starts No Medication

Aj gets a bug going around, not sure what virus it is but the rest of us (aside from my fiance) ended up with strep. Aj happened to get on antibiotics due to fluid leaking from his ears, two days before the rest of us got diagnosed with strep throat. Aj spent time missing school and sleeping 13-14 hours at a time. This was a decent week, no real situations to report because he was sick so that meant he was pretty laid back and easy going.

Week Two – No medications and No Sickies

There were some days of no school due to the scheduling of our school administration unit so Aj wasn’t having too many demands placed on him just yet. Aj did okay and seemed to really only have adverse moods that were ignited by something not going “as he had planned it go to”. One thing about Aj is that he is an extremely, over the top, routine driven child. Everything in Aj’s world must go exactly the same way every day or as he has it planned to go in his mind, if one thing doesn’t go that route, even if he is given enough insight that things are going to happen this way, he just cannot handle it and is thrown into a fit of frustration, anger, or tears. The response of Aj used to be of pure rage but these days you can see anything from a 2 year old style tantrum on the floor to running off to cry in his bedroom or a secluded area of the home when frustrated. This particular week, myself and his father at his home really saw the side of Aj that doesn’t do well with things not going as he planned.

iGami Cheap FunWeek Three – No Medications and Hello Bipolar

This week was rough, not only were we seeing Aj exhibit his normal frustrations with things not going as he had planned in his mind but his mood disorder really started to shine through. This made me sad, disappointed and just so out of control of my own child. I am blessed to have worked and currently work with an amazing counselor who has given us the tools to parent Aj, not to mention I am really good with instinctively parenting my children. One thing that I was reminded of this week is that I have to remain in control of my tone, Aj is sensitive to what tone you use. I am not kidding. It is extremely bad, for example if you say “what” to him when he says your name and that “what” wasn’t in an approved tone type of Aj he will not say what he has to say until you get the tone right. I played that game until I realized there was no way my tone would be approved by Aj this week, he simply was beyond irritable and there was no getting him to act normal. I use the term normal lightly. Most of this week Three and the weekend was spent trying to keep my own frustration down while still ensuring rules were followed with the up and down moods of my son. This week was not only rough, but more so a nightmare that spiraled downward.

Week Four – No Medications and Trying to Reach Pyshiatrist

As I write this, we are now in week four which is this current week we are in. I cannot give much of an update because it’s only Monday that I am writing to schedule this for later publication on site. I can say this; I left a voice-mail for his current pysch and left a message for his upcoming new pysch. The new pysch called me back as of the time I am writing this and has penciled Aj in for an earlier appointment, earlier as in 20 days before the one they had previously schedule his new patient visit for. That’s 20 less days of watching my son fall apart uncontrollably, it’s better than nothing.

A mother and her two sonsMy Wish for Aj and His World He Lives In

I wish for more people to have compassion for bipolar people. Sadly I see far too often that many tell me “well it’s just behavioral, you aren’t strict enough” or “he doesn’t need medication, he needs a firm slap on the butt”. I mean, seriously, I am so sick of everyone who doesn’t live this telling me what to do. I don’t mind those who deal with similar instances who want to lend me tips on how they survive parenting a child like this; one who has anxiety, a mood disorder and some ways that fall under the autism spectrum. I am not talking to other people, sharing stuff on Facebook or on my blog post to have people give me answers or tell me how to parent, I am sharing because this is my community that I reach out to for support, advice and love. I do that for others and only expect that in return. I hope that Aj can get moving forward soon, before it messes with his schooling, right now I am simply thankful that the situation is not affecting Aj’s grades. I just hope he doesn’t have to suffer for much longer and can get on proper medication to lead his happy life that he had many years ago when they placed him on a drug that worked awesome but sadly made him gain too much weight so it’s not an option for him to take that anymore for health reasons.

I just want my son live … freely, happily and steadily.

 

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