Monday, November 23, 2009

Managing the Holidays

Holiday gatherings can be wonderful, filled with fun and family, food and laughter. But some people find the holidays more stressful than relaxing. Many individuals on the autism spectrum struggle with sensory overload, especially with extra guests in the house, loads of noise and excitement. For others, the family reunion can bring up all sort of old disappointments and hurt feelings. Everyone wants a great holiday, but you might need to take special care to make sure you have the best time possible.

Plan Time for Yourself

If you find yourself getting overloaded, it’s perfectly acceptable to step aside and spend some time alone. Go for a walk, find an empty spare room, or offer the do all the dishes by yourself. Family members may pressure you to join in the “fun” but it’s fine to say that you just need a bit of time to yourself.

Choose Your Battles

You’re an adult now. It’s OK if your family doesn’t understand you, or if you can’t convince them that you’re right. Agree to disagree. Some battles are just not worth the emotional energy. No one has to get all their needs met by their family, friends can offer support and understanding you can’t get from some of your family members.

If It’s Too Much, Go Home Early

Again, you’re not required to stay with the family on holidays. It’s your job as an adult to take care of yourself. Come late and leave early if that’s the best way for you to take care of yourself.

Look for the Bright Spots

Try to find an activity that’s enjoyable. If the long family conversation is too much, go sit at the kids’ table and be the fun adult. Or, pull out old pictures and reminisce with your sibling about funny childhood times. An older relative may have a lot of interesting memories about their youth and family and this can be a more low pressure way to connect.

Try Giving

Sometimes the best way to manage when you’re not getting what you want is to shift focus on to more positive areas. Think about all the things you’re grateful for this year. Look around and see what you can do to help out.

Above all, remember that as an adult it’s your right and responsibility to take care of yourself. Do what you need to to feel good about this holiday.

Thanks for reading this blog, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Holiday Advice for Parents

The holidays are coming up and for a lot of people that means getting together with extended family and relatives you haven’t seen in a while. This can be a great chance to connect, feel supported, even show off a bit with all the progress your child has made.
But it can also mean unwanted advice. Your parents, your sister-in-law, your best friend from high school probably mean nothing but the best for you and your family. But they also may not have a special needs child and they may not understand what it is that your family is going through, or what your child needs.
So often I’ve heard the same story from clients. A well-meaning relative says something like, “If only you’d do _________, your kid wouldn’t do _______.” or “Trust me, your kid just needs more __________, and he wouldn’t be so _____________.” You can probably fill in the blanks, there’s a lot of advice out there.
The fact is, and I’ve said it before, some kids are just tougher to parent than others. Your nieces and nephews may just be incredibly easy-going children. It doesn’t mean that you are not also a good parent. Your child may just be wired differently, temperamentally more sensitive,  more strong-willed, or more emotional.
I’ve worked with so many different kids over the years. The truth is, some of them are so easy and low key, they practically parent themselves. Other kids are so difficult, it’s hard to manage them for just a brief while, much less an entire holiday vacation. Add in some travel time, late nights, too much stimulation, and it’s not surprising that things get out of hand.
So this holiday season, I’m asking you to trust yourself and the parenting skills you’ve developed by taking care of your child for all this time. Listen to the advice politely if you want to, but don’t think that any other parent is more capable than you are. Your child is lucky to have you as a parent.
I’m thankful for all my wonderful clients, parents, and readers! Happy Thanksgiving!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Contra Costa Country Annual Transition Conference

A few posts ago, I talked about transition planning for teens and how important it is to start planning early. At that time, I wasn’t sure when the Transition Conference for Contra Costa County was being held. But now you can download a copy of the Conference Brochure. It’s being held at Diablo Valley College in Pleasant Hill, California on Tuesday January 5, 2010. This conference is a great resource for adults and parents of teens, with a full day of presentations on living options, employment, financial needs, sexual issues, disability services at community colleges.There is also a resource room for more info about services. Download the Conference Flyer Here

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Is It Autism or Asperger’s?

It’s all over the news lately: Will the newest DSM revision, DSM-V which is expected in 2012, get rid of the Asperger’s category, merging everything into an autism spectrum disorder? There are good arguments for both sides of the debate, but you can read a very well written opinion from researcher Simon Baron-Cohen, in the New York Times, November 9, 2009.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Anger Management and Asperger’s, Part II: The Feeling of Anger

Anger management skills are important for everyone, not just those with Asperger’s and autism. But for those on the spectrum, managing anger may be especially difficult. In my post of 10/1/09, I discussed understanding anger. In today’s post, I’ll be discussing the actual physical sensation of anger.

Like all emotions, anger comes with a physical feeling. And that’s important, because often that physical feeling is the first subtle clue that the emotion is present. Many individuals experience anger as a tightness in the hands, arms, and jaw. Some people may get a stomachache or a headache. What’s of interest is how you specifically experience anger.
For many of my clients on the autism spectrum, they are more comfortable with reason and intellect, and may be less attuned to the sensations in their bodies. For those with sensory issues, the physical sensations in their bodies may be so overwhelming that they try to tune them out. Whatever the reason, disconnecting from the physical may mean that subtle, early signs of anger are not recognized.
It’s possible to re-experience all the feelings of anger just by remembering an upsetting event. This may be the perfect opportunity to tune in to your experience, without feeling as overwhelmed as when you’re actually in an angry situation. The next time you’re remembering something that made you angry, close your eyes and scan your body. Note what feels different. This is how your body reacts to anger.

Recognizing anger is an important step in managing it. Look for upcoming posts for further info on this topic.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What Happens After High School?

The transition from high school to adulthood is a crucial time in the lives of many young adults on the Autism Spectrum, and it requires careful planning. I encourage the families I work with to start the planning process early. Many local resources, schools and supports groups may offer information, but frequently these events are only offered annually, so parents need to start gathering information early in the high school years. Get on those email lists!

As an example, here in San Francisco’s East Bay, The Orion Academy holds a post secondary transition seminar annually in March. The Springstone School has a monthly group for parents of children transitioning from high school, which is open to all families in the community. This year the Alameda County Public Health Department held their Transition Information Faire in March. I believe planning for the next faire is underway, and it is tentatively scheduled for March of 2010. Contra Costa’s Faire was in January, 2009, and I’m not sure what their plans are for next year.

One website that is useful no matter where in the country you live, is Inside’s lists of Very Friendly Schools for Students with Asperger’s, and Friendly Schools for Students with Asperger’s. College is a big step, especially for those who are moving away from mom and dad, and finding an environment that offers extra support may mean the difference between success and failure.

In spite of the budget cuts, there is still some good information available from government agencies. For example, here in California, the Department of Developmental Services has a number of informative and relevant links and downloads.

Good career counseling is crucial for special needs individuals who are making the transition to adulthood. Individuals on the autism spectrum frequently have unique strengths and abilities, and highlighting those areas in career planning cannot be done too early. If your school doesn’t offer career planning, or they don’t seem to understand your child’s specific needs and strengths, you can find a therapist or career professional who can work with your family individually.

The whole transition process requires a lot of work and advance planning, mostly by parents. But I’ve learned from my clients that it’s much tougher to catch up if the steps aren’t taken early. Please consider taking some time now to research your own child’s options.