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 Long Journey to Correct Medicine Induced Weight Gain

When Aj was put on risperdone in May of 2012 he weight about 62lbs. Last week, Monday June 3, 2013, Aj weighed in at about 96lbs during his psychiatrist appointment.  Each time Aj went into the office for a follow up on medication, I nearly cried. Each day I wake up and see my six year old son gaining more and more weight. Each day I fought as he basically climbed the walls dying of hunger, yet he is very well fed. Each day my heart broke. My son Aj had been born chunky for sure, same as his little brother, they both weighed 9lbs 5oz (one within an ounce of the other). Yet, today my four year old is skinny with the ability at times to wear 3T or even 2T shorts, but my six year old is climbing into the sizes of a 10 or higher in boys but being that he is only 4’3″ tall, they are longer than need be on his body.

Aj July 2011

My heart kept breaking. Yet the risperidone was working. The weight gain had to have an eye kept on it and if it got to be a significant number then we were on board to try another medication for his mood disorder. Finally last week was the day that all involved decided a change in medication would be the ideal course. Abilify being the medication of choice as it’s in the same class as risperidone but with children they didn’t see the weight gain as often as they did with risperidone. Each person is different in that their bodies will handle the same medication in different ways, so there was no real guarantee that Aj would not gain weight on Abilify. We had hoped he would start to lose the over 30lbs he gained on risperidone but we knew that may not be the case and may require a change in medications yet again.

Aj 2012

Last week I wrote about my frustrations raising Aj and dealing with med changes, it not only affects the parents but it affects Aj as well as anyone involved in his world. Everyone can notice a change in Aj’s behavior and moods when doses change or medications change. Thankfully Aj has been blessed with not only a very loving home environment but also a very amazing, supportive group of teachers at school who work to keep him moving forward. Aj started school last year for the first time in Kindergarten and ended up, due to his anxiety, having to do Summer school. This year, Aj does not have to attend Summer school for anxiety nor school academic purposes, Aj has shown improvement to be where he is suppose to be with some small things he needs to work on. Overall, Aj is ready to head forward in a new grade this coming Fall and I couldn’t be more proud!

Aj May 2013

With the medication change to Abilify, it started at a low does, obviously they don’t want to hammer a kid or even an adult with a high level of the new medication. With any medication change it’s all about working from the bottom up and Aj has plenty of room to move with this dosage of Abilify. At this moment, the pysch had him increase his med dose by double last Friday into the weekend. Today I had a follow up call with his pysch to report how the medication at this level is working and honestly, so far so good. Aj still exhibits emotional meltdowns, he seems sad and easy to respond with hurt feelings, but he did switch off of one medication last Monday onto the new one Tuesday. He also had his dose change on Friday. This means that we are aware that his emotions could simply be on high alert due to the changes while his body adjusts.

I had great news yesterday when I did the weekly weigh in for Aj at home, he has lost 5lbs. I wanted to cry when he kept gaining weight and now I want to cry because my baby is finally losing weight. It is a shame that Aj had to gain over 30lbs in a year on a prior medication, but that medication worked. For someone raising a child or who has ever dealt with bipolar or a mood disorder similar to that, they may understand why at times the medication side effects out weigh living without a med that works. Right now, this new medication seems to be on the way to working but may require a dose change. Right now, I am happy to say Aj is sleeping through the night again, his moods are better, and he is losing weight. Those are all of the positives that I was looking for and hopefully in the next week we will know if this dose of Abilify is just right or not, but being able to have a full nights sleep really helps in the parenting department as well as the family unity department!

A Parent Shall Forever Fight for What’s Best

What’s best for each child is different from family to family, child to child, but one thing for sure I know is that each parent fights for what they feel is best for their child. For me, it’s all about trying to figure out how to properly medicate my six year old son. From age two we have fought and fought to figure out why this child was pretty much born angry. Back in the day his Dad and I always said that Aj had one mood and emotion only, that was anger. Maybe you could call it irritability but anger was his most common emotion. There were no signs of compassion, sadness or anything else, just anger.

After seeking many consults with various specialists for testing and going through therapy for assistance in parenting techniques to work with our usually angry child, we ended up in the hands of a pediatric psychiatrist for diagnosis for a medication choice. The various medications Aj had tried; one being something for sleep after natural remedies didn’t work and another for ADHD, had just never worked fully. No matter what was tried on Aj he would have results for a short period of time and then go back to hello angry, irritable little man.

That is where we are at again. The switching from Risperidone to Abilify has seemed to only worsen his side effects of being irritable and argumentative to boot. Aj is back to arguing over the simplest of things such as a word he feels is not a real word and in turn getting mad at his book for the word appearing over and over in the book.  For instance, the other day I was helping him with sounding out a word in a book he was reading, the word to him was suppose to be home but in all reality it was cottage. Based on context Aj knew the book wanted to reference the home of the lady in the book and yet felt cottage was not a real word. No matter how many times I broke the word down, showed him how home or house looks {two words he does know how to read and spell}, he just would not believe me.  Aj was convinced I was lying to him and proceeded to even yell at the book each time the word cottage would show up. My daughter was frustrated too because she was trying to help him sound out the word and explaining it is a real word to no avail.

Little instances like that with the word cottage are typical of Aj when medication is not right or he is not on any medication at all. I am at the point of tears nearly every day because Aj isn’t sleeping and I just don’t know what to do. The only thing I can think to do is write this all down and put it out there for someone somewhere to read… and in the meantime I put a call into his old therapist/counselor as well as his psychiatrist because I am at my wits end of knowing what to do. Sure, I can deal with no sleep for short periods of time but to combine no sleep with Aj’s change in behavior and moods? That is really testing what I can indeed handle.

After all, I obviously have other things going on in my life that need tending to as well, basically I am back to having my world revolve 100% around Aj. I am not complaining, I love my son, but what happens is this downward spiral of family disconnect. My daughter understands but is hurt because Aj is like he used to be {as she put it the other day} and misses out on time with me alone and my youngest takes full advantage of the change in Mommy having to pay the most attention to Aj. It’s such a difficult time and I honestly in all reality feel like Aj has gone back to what he was like without medication even though he is on medication.

I swear I will be fighting this battle for what is best for Aj all of his life, I just wish something would stick with him so that we can stop having these roller coaster rides of moods and emotions. It’s so hard for me, I can only imagine how Aj feels inside.

Another Journey with Aj Med Change

Today I share more news on Aj, my six year old son who I had always thought may have a mood disorder or something since he was born. I won’t get into all the long drawn out stories of Aj, but you can catch up on past blog posts about my son Aj by clicking here.

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Recently, meaning about one week ago there was a significant difference in how Aj was behaving, sleeping and reacting to various things in his world. Once he was on Risperidone about  a year ago, he became the “normal” four year old boy who would still test limits and do things that kids that age do within normal limitations. Without medication, Aj does not do anything within normal limitations for his age and tends to be irritable as well as easily placed into a fit of rage. Risperidone was helping. Risperidone had to be increased in dosage about six months ago, but it was working. Until about a week ago.

I noticed that Aj was starting to be psychotically hungry, climbing the walls as if he was starving and he is a boy who isn’t starved. Aj is 4’3″ and now weighs 96 lbs. Risperidone was putting weight on and it was only getting worse as time went on.  Then Aj started to have issues falling asleep, something that he barely does when on proper medication. Put it this way, if Aj was on zero medication he would seriously not sleep at all, well maybe a few hours a night, but never really getting into that deep sleep state.

Once we met with his psychiatrist this past Monday, it was agreed that Aj is not only having these symptoms at my house but also at his Dads. As much as his Dad and I hate to admit it, we had no choice but to change medications. Due to the significant weight gain, a side effect from Risperidone, his psychiatrist wasn’t comfortable increasing that dose and in all honesty it wasn’t working as great as it was a year ago anyways.  There really was only one other choice that isn’t known to have children put on weight with it, but it may increase activity levels. That choice was Abilify.

Any medication that Aj is going to be on, due to his loose bipolar diagnosis, is dangerous. Each medication that he has for a choice is an anti-psychotic drug which carries huge health risks and require annual blood work to ensure his body and health is doing okay. Abilify is what we went with. Abilify started on June 6 and there will be a follow up in one month to ensure this medication at the dose given is working well.

Aj’s Dad and I are just frustrated because we just wish he wouldn’t need medication. It’s such a risk, however, the benefits outweigh the risks and watching him grow from baby to now, we have seen the really amazing benefits from having him on the proper medication. The good news is that his brain is still developing which means he could possibly outgrow this as his brain matures. With adults who have this condition, they cannot outgrow it because there brains are already fully matured.

 

The Struggles With Bipolar in a Child #bipolar #parents #kids

My Aj being diagnosed with a mood disorder/bipolar at such a young age makes sense to me because I have witnessed him having a mood issue since the day he was born. My ex husband and I always said that Aj had one emotion, “anger”, that is how he has been all of his life. Each time we get a medication, things are decent for a little while and then bam, all of a sudden he is off kilter and it’s a fight to even get him to put his own boots on.

That is the stage I have been at with Aj for about 2-3 weeks now, they changed his medication to a higher dose and it didn’t really help. Aj started having issues sleeping and was starting to “see” things again. Thinking back to before he was put on the current medication of Risperidal {generic is risperidone}, he was starting to have hallucinations where he truly thought his eyes were bleeding. Aj would go into this fit of crying and concern, genuinely thinking that his eyes were bleeding. It was nerve wracking and extremely scary for us as parents to see our son in such a state of mind.

Now, here we are, me living alone with my kids and having to juggle the mood switches as if I were turning a light switch on and off. It’s no wonder I have been snappy, off kilter and not sure which way is up most days. I am living with a child who is constantly changing moods as if he is a light bulb. It’s not only frustrating and draining for me emotionally and physically but it is crappy for Aj too, he does not like being this way and since he is on a medication that has worked, even if the dose seems like it is not right, he is aware of his uncontrollable mood changes. I feel bad for him, his siblings and myself who has to deal with this 24/7. There is little sleep happening and I do get a break this coming weekend where he goes to his Dads house for two nights but still, it isn’t enough of a break.

Monday we head to his pediatric psychiatrist appointment and I really hope we can narrow down a dose or a different medication to help Aj not have the struggles anyone with bipolar has if not properly medicated. My chest is in pain each day because I can feel my blood pressure raising while I am trying to restrain Aj from hurting himself and others during his fits of rage. I am trying to also get some form of routine scheduling down in the household, because that helps to alleviate some of the battles.

This morning was awful. Aj was convinced his Dad told him today was the weekend and in turn Aj was convinced that we did not need to bring his sister to school but rather we needed to wait until 8:30am to head to his Dads house so he could go there for the weekend. No matter how many times I tried to convince him it was Friday, he was not having it and was rageful over it.  Finally I told Aj that I don’t care what day he thinks it is, but it is a day that Sissy needs to go to school, so I told him to stop arguing and just get his boots on because we are leaving to drop Sissy whether he agrees we should or not.

Finally I was able to get Aj to take his medication and get his shirt and boots on so we could drop his sister to school, I am not sure if she was late, it was that borderline timeframe where she could possibly be marked tardy, but we had no choice, I did all I could do. I am just one person trying to counteract wrong medication dosage in a six year old boy who has bipolar. If you have ever dealt with someone, child or adult, who is bipolar and on wrong medication or no medication then you can sympathize with what my family is dealing with {and my son} but if you have never walked this path with anyone, then please do not leave me comments acting as if I just can not parent my child. That is not the case. I am far from perfect, but my son has a mental health condition that involves a chemical imbalance in the brain.

Having a bipolar child means that you need to literally fight each day to ensure your child has a chance at a somewhat normal life with proper medication. It also means that you have to learn how to best parent a child who is bipolar so that you can have a healthy family life at home. It is a trying experience and the fact that my chest is starting to hurt daily over it is a bit concerning. I really pray that we get some answers on Monday because poor Aj should not have to live like this and neither should his siblings and me.

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