Parenting is a roller coaster of emotions. Autism parenting is a very fast, very high, very intense roller coaster of emotions. The kind of roller coaster you find in Bush Gardens. The kind I never get on. But I am riding this one, everyday. For the most part this ride involves a lot of screaming and holding on for dear life, but there are also times when the roller coaster crests for a minute and I get a chance to breath and feel something else … thankful. This thanksgiving weekend seems like a good time to talk about that emotion.
I am thankful for my children, all their strengths, quirks, needs, stims, talents, special interests, everything. Every bit that makes them special and makes them mine.
I am thankful for other ASD parents who ride the roller coaster with me and are there to discuss the ride, whether it be over wine or over the internet, they have my undying gratitude. Thank you!
I am thankful for social stories (thank you Carol Grey) and visuals and schedules and power cards and reward charts and all the things that make the lives of the many children I love easier.
I am thankful for the waitress/ store clerk/ flight attendant/ hair dresser/ etc that I randomly cross paths with, who instantly get it and are kind to my children with out being patronizing. Those people are gems.
I am thankful for ipads, OMG I am so thankful for the ipad. Although I have guilt about the amount of time my child spends on it I value it for its calming and entertainment powers.
I am thankful for the teachers and doctors and other professionals that have come into my children’s’ lives and have been such a tremendous support to them and to me. You know who you are because I would have told you over and over and over. Well I am telling you again, Thank You!
I am thankful for trampolines, puzzles, swings, clothes that have no tags, Dominion’s gluten free section, Rainbow Riders, fidgets toys, Disney, Shakespeare, yoga pants (for both Hayley and I ☺ ) supportive family, deep breathing and wine (that one is all me).
Thank you my lovely blog followers, I am thankful for you. I hope your roller coaster crests long enough this weekend for you to feel thankful too. If not, know that I will be holding tight and screaming along with you.
A diagnosis of ASD is made based on observable behaviours, but in recent years scientists are also able to learn more by looking at the brain through scans and post-mortem exams. Some studies suggest that the amygdala in individuals with autism is bigger and has more activity than in neuro-typical brains. More brain activity may sound like a good thing but in this case not so much. The amygdala is what I like to call the panic room. It is where the urge to fight or flight resides. It is a necessary part of the brain for survival but when overly activated it can cause a lot of anxiety.
Have you ever walked down a dark alley and heard footsteps behind you? Ok first of all what are you doing? GET OUT OF THE ALLEY!! Stay safe and avoid the dark alleys. But if you have or have simply watched some one do it on TV (much more sensible) you know that feeling. You might feel sweaty, your heart may race, you may feel ready to jump out of your skin. All in all not super pleasant. This is how our kids are feeling a great deal of the time and not just in dark alleys, but also in school, in restaurants, in Wal-Mart (Oh Lordy, especially in Wal-Mart). This is why we sometimes see behaviors like aggression or running. This is fight or flight. Our children are simply responding to the perceived threat. It is biology.
I don’t like to brag but my child’s amygdala seems to be super advanced. I mean really, really big. I am surprised she can lift her head. So she lives in a state of fight or flight most of the time. We have not been able to “fix” this and believe me it continues to be a problem but I have tried a couple of things that has helped. First and foremost I have tried to educate those around her. It is important that teachers understand the reason for the behaviours that may result from my daughter’s “super brain”. I have found that giving her a safe place to run has helped.
During Hurricane Igor her amygdala was majorly fired up so I created a little storm shelter, a relaxing corner, that she could run too when that need over took her. I have clients who have places in the school that they can go to when the need to run is too strong to rein in. Of course we work on strategies to help a child calm before this need kicks in but sometimes that doesn’t work. This is why it is important to think ahead and provide a safe harbour. In terms of the fight reflex, it is hard to fight with yourself. So my advice is step away from the amygdala. Let the child calm down. Do not try to physically engage at this time (unless you have found a deep pressure activity that works for your child or obviously if your child’s safety is at risk).
These are not foolproof ideas and it is a work in progress in my home and many of the homes I know. But understanding how the brain works helps us understand our children and better understanding makes our brains a little more super too.
Does your child have a super amygdala? Want to brag/lament/muse about it here. Go ahead, I love it when parents share.
Paulette Moore is a mother of two, wife of one, and autism consultant of many.