Author: Lynn Vigo, MSW, LICSW

Autism and Coping Tools for Parents Part 4: Reframing

Katrina and I first met Susan and her family in a parent support group here at Seattle Children’s Autism Center. Since then, we’ve observed her skillfully demonstrate a number of coping tools when challenges arose. Today we share how reframing has helped with adversity in her life.

 

 

Q: How do you define this parenting tool?

A: For me, Reframing is a parenting technique that means intentionally choosing my frame of reference.  It is important for me to view my parenting experience in relation to the person my son is rather than the person I thought he might be.  Before my son was born, I had ideas about what I would teach my child and what we would do together.  Those ideas assumed that my child would be typically-developing.  That turned out to be the wrong frame of reference.  I needed to think about hopes, goals, expectations, and celebrations that used my son, as an individual, as the reference. I would call this a child-centered framework.

Q: How did you discover this tool for parenting kids with ASD?

A: My brother and his wife have been my role models for using a child-centered framework for parenting. They have two typically-developing children, and they always honored their children’s unique personalities and looked at parenting as an opportunity to get to know their children and nurture and guide them.  They did not try to mold their children into some preconceived notion of success.

Q: How has this tool lessened your stress or made life a bit easier for you?

A: By reframing my parenting with a child-centered framework, I can celebrate my son’s strengths, which include a great sense of humor and a relentlessly positive outlook. I can also help him with his challenges, including repetitive scripting and slow academic progress.  Looking at our journey through the lens of my son’s unique personality and combination of strengths and challenges, I can see that he has steadily grown and developed.  Rather than seeing my parenting as continually failing to achieve the milestones of typically-developing children, I can see my parenting as supporting my son’s individual progress.

This does not change the fact that I sometimes long for the milestones celebrated by parents of typically-developing children. The community standards for the academic, social, and behavioral progress of typically-developing children do not apply to my child.  I go through cycles of that being sad and disorienting.

Q: Did you find that the more you used this tool, the better you got at it?

A: I suppose reframing has brought me to an important realization.  It has led me to think long and hard about what it means to have a “good” or “successful” life.  The things that have made me feel that my life is good or successful have been friends and family, good health, meaningful work, supporting my community, and enjoyable hobbies.  By that measure, my son’s life is good and successful.  Supporting and empowering him to continue to have a good and successful life is the focus of my parenting.

Q: What else would you like us to know about this parenting tool?

A: Reframing does not mean denial.  As I said, the fact that the typically-developing framework does not apply is still sad and disorienting sometimes. Reframing, for me, simply means viewing my parenting through the lens of the person my son is and with a focus on doing my best to make sure he has a good and successful life.

We’d like to thank Susan for sharing her coping tool with us and invite you to do the same. When we help others, we help ourselves.

Education Opportunity – Certificate Program through the University of Washington

Certificate3About a decade ago Dr. Felice Orlich and Dr. Raphael Bernier were discussing the challenges facing the autism field because there just weren’t enough experts out in the community to support families affected by autism. So, Dr. Bernier, while a doctoral student at the University of Washington, applied for and was awarded a Huckabay Fellowship to support his efforts to develop a graduate level educational program focused on autism. After a few years (there were lots of other things going on at the time…finishing graduate school, doing residency at UCLA, setting up a research lab, etc, etc), Dr. Bernier was able to implement this program through Professional and Continuing Education at the University of Washington.

The Certificate Program, Autism Studies: Theory and Practice, as it is now named, is now in its third year. The first two years were very successful and the team of instructors is enthusiastic about this third year.

The program is a 3 course, graduate level certificate program that provides comprehensive education about autism spectrum disorder from both the scientific and practical perspectives. Over the course of the year students explore how cutting-edge research informs our understanding of autism and the most effective approaches for autism treatment and education. The program is designed for those who live with, work with or support people impacted by autism spectrum disorder.

Each of the three courses is provided either in classroom format or an online format for individuals unable to attend in person on the Seattle UW campus. For students attending class in person, you can engage face to face with your classmates and instructors as part of a highly interactive curriculum. Assignments and other course materials are delivered through Canvas, a web-based learning management system that also serves as a communications hub. For students attending online, Courses are streamed online in real time from the classroom. You interact with your instructors and fellow students via chat, using Adobe Connect web conferencing software. Assignments and other course materials are delivered through Canvas, a web-based learning management system that also serves as a communications hub.

For more information about the program .

Or, watch this short video.

What started as a thoughtful conversation between a student and mentor nearly a decade ago has transformed in the past few years into a cutting-edge educational program that helps bridge our understanding between science and practice—and all focused on autism.

 

Autism and First Responders

 

 

 

PoliceLast week I received this comment on our blog about Dads and Autism:

“Ben’s Dad here. I really connected with the above article and others’ reaction when they got the diagnosis. I think my concern for my son was (and still is to some extent) about his safety. My son is really high functioning, but when he was first diagnosed I heard of all kinds of horror stories of kid with autism eloping. I had a friend whose son had autism and they had to put an alarm on the door because he would leave the house at night. They said they found their son one night on the entrance to a freeway. As my son began to grow and develop I became less concerned because he seemed to cope well with change and could adapt. Now that he is 11 my main concern is his interaction with others especially the police. My son is African-American and my concern is that if he is approached by the police and they request something of him (i.e. put your hands up, freeze, etc.) and he is unable to understand he may be perceived as resisting. I continue to guide him and instruct as best as he can comprehend, but I am still concerned for his safety and well-being emotionally and physically. Thanks for allowing me to share.”

The next day my colleague Katrina shared with me a nerve-racking video of a teen with autism and his behavior therapist in a tense situation with police in Florida. The young man had run away from his group home and his therapist went after him. Cell-phone video shows the therapist identify himself and the client, follow police instructions to lie down and put his hands in the air, explain that the teen had a toy truck in his hand. The teen doesn’t respond to the therapist telling him to lie down too as instructed by the police. The therapist is shot three times by police and the teen is handcuffed and taken away. The worst nightmare for many a parent of a teen with autism.

What can we learn from this incident? Is there a way to avoid or prepare for something like this?

While there’s no way to prepare for every possible incident, there are steps parents can take to increase awareness. When our daughter was young, she would oh-so-stealthily sneak out of our home to neighbors’ homes. She knew exactly where Miss Linda’s cookie jar was. We made a point of getting to know our neighbors and asked for their help if they ever saw her outside of our home without an adult. For older kids, particularly young adult males, it may be a good idea to get to know the local first responders in your area. I know several parents who are on a first name basis with theirs. If your child lives in a group home or supported living, you might want to make sure staff have a recent photo and information sheet about your child at the house, in the car, and in their backpack. For more on safety ideas, check out the following:

Smart911 allows you to develop a detailed profile of your family members that pops up when a phone linked to it is used to call 911.

ID cards

The Big Red Safety Box

Booklet for First Responders

Here’s one mom’s story from the Seattle Times.  

What measures have you taken to keep your child safe and to inform first responders of their diagnosis and behavior? Share your ideas and stories with others!

 

Mindful Monday- Ten Mindfulness Tips from an Olympic Runner

Ten Mindfulness Tips from Olympic Runner Deena Kastor

While most of us aren’t bronze medalists, we all have goals and a desire to be the best we can be. I found this article by Michael Sandler and Jessica Lee on mindfulness in HuffPost. Here are Deena’s ten tips. 

 

  1. Live a Quality, Purposeful Life
  2. Live with an Attitude of Gratitude 
  3. Practice Positivity and Purposefulness
  4. See Challenges as Opportunities
  5. Focus on Your Passion
  6. Live with Continuous Improvement 
  7. Be Excited about Life
  8. Get Enough Rest
  9. Turn Nervousness into Excitement
  10. Take Things One Step at a Time

 

Click here for the link for the entire article.  It’s worth reading. I love this line: “I truly believe my fastest days are behind me and my best days are ahead!”

Mindful Monday- Loving Kindness for All

Metta and Tonglen

Loving Kindness for All

The practice of metta, loving kindness, as taught in Buddhist tradition, begins with self and radiates out to all. This may be easy when life is good and things are going our way. But what about when life is hard and things are not going our way? The challenge is to act with compassion no matter the circumstances.

Metta Exercise

Sit comfortably and quietly and take a few deep breaths in and out. Hold in your mind all the people you are sending unconditional love. Feel it extending from you to these people and then throughout the universe. Say to yourself, “May all feel peace. May all be happy.” Or come up with our own good wishes.

Tonglen

Tonglen is Tibetan for “giving and taking” or “sending and receiving” and is practiced as a meditation focused on developing/nurturing compassion and the unselfish regard for others.

Tonglen Exercise

Sit comfortably and quietly and allow your mind to be still yet open. Take some deep breaths in and out. Call to mind someone (can be an individual or group of people) who you know are struggling. With each inhalation, take in their struggle and in doing so, provide them relief. On the exhalation, wish for them peace, sleep, relaxation, insight, patience, courage, love – whatever you think they might need. Do this a couple, three times.

Quote of the Week

“A human being is a part of the whole, called by us ‘Universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty. Nobody is able to achieve this completely, but the striving for such achievement is in itself a part of the liberation and a foundation for inner security.”  ~Albert Einstein