Thursday, December 23, 2010

Happy Holidays!

Happy holidays to all my readers! Thanks for your comments, suggestions and emails. I'm so fortunate to hear from you.

Enjoy your celebration and I'll be back in the new year!

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Book Review: We’ve Got Issues

Are kids today over-medicated and over-diagnosed by their hovering helicopter parents? Or, is all the medication and treatment necessary to help kids manage their very real mental disorders? Those are the questions Judith Warner addresses in We’ve Got Issues: Children and Parents in the Age of Medication. As Warner explains, she started writing this book based on the premise that today’s kids are over-medicated and over-diagnosed, but as she continued her research, she decided that the media and it’s anecdotal evidence were oversimplifying the picture.

As an engineer, I love that Warner actually researched the topic, and allowed the evidence to influence her thinking. I also appreciated that she has such an extensive reference list, over 50 pages for those who want to learn more. As a reader, I appreciated the well written style of the book. But, as a therapist, I thought the conclusions were too simply stated, and the conversational, anecdotal tone was relied on so much it interfered with a more rigorous analysis.

Surely, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Some parents hover, expect too much from their kids, and pathologize normal behavior. Other parents, certainly the overwhelming majority of the families I’ve seen, are dealing with kids who are clearly struggling, kids who have evident difficulties, and their parents allow medication and diagnosis only with caution and reluctance. But the way to illustrate this truth is through facts and data, and too often Warner relies on examples and stories from the families she’s interviewed. A compelling read, no doubt, but ironic in that Warner is criticizing the very type of research-by-anecdotal-evidence that she’s using here.

Warner also criticizes the mental health treatment in our country, and I don’t think anyone would argue with her. But she illustrates her thesis with a series of examples from many of the families she’s met, who told of shoddy treatment and erroneous diagnosis. Warner complains because there’s no clear path for parents to take, and they end up “wandering in the dark forest, without a compass, as they tried to figure out how to help their son.” Again, although I agree with Warner’s concerns, it’s a sad truth that mental illness and its treatment is so complex that there’s often more art than science involved. The best treatment may involve uncertain diagnoses, trial therapies, and a great deal of uncertainty. There may not be a clear path.

Still, I’m including this book on my blog list because, in spite of its shortcomings, it is a worthwhile and interesting read. With its extensive reference list there’s plenty of material so you can take your own understanding to a much deeper level.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Managing Holiday Gatherings: Tips for Adults on the Spectrum

Every year I write a post to adults with Asperger’s and autism, about how to manage all the stress of holiday get-togethers. (Last week I did a similar post to parents of kids on the spectrum, because they deal with similar pressures.) And every year I hear the same comments and concerns from people on the spectrum. That all makes sense, because families, friends and coworkers can exert a lot of pressure on you to join in, be a part of the festivities, have fun. But, what’s fun for the crowd may not be fun for you. To balance out all that pressure, I wanted to restate my comments from last year, and the year before.  Here are my tips for how to manage the holiday stresses.

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. You can even choose to stay in a hotel, and just come over during the day.

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.

Still getting pressured? Know that you’re not alone. That’s why I post this same advice every year.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Coping with the Holidays: Advice for Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

Over the years I’ve posted several articles about how individuals and families can cope with the holidays. And, of course, the same issues come up every year. Families travel, visit, have massive, loud get-togethers. Unwanted advice, comparisons, judgments are always there, maybe under the surface, maybe right in your face.

In view of that fact, I want to repeat the same thing I said last year. You know your child. Just because your child is acting up, or not matching the achievements of cousins, or won’t eat the special dinner Grandma made, does not mean that you’re not great parents. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t have a wonderful kid, with his own special gift and talents. Please take this holiday season to appreciate the child you have, and to trust yourself as a good parent.

And here’s last year’s article, in case you didn’t read it then.

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.