Autism — Scattered with Some Disappointments, Mixed with Some Bitter Tears

Disappointments. We all face them, adults and children. I’ve had to ask the question since my son’s diagnosis with autism: “How can I, his mom, and his dad help our 8-year-old handle disappointments?”

According to a blog, “My Aspergers Child,” I was recently reading, as well as my experience with my son, I’d like to share the following tips on dealing with disappointment:

1. Allow your son to make mistakes, which often leaves kids frustrated. I can probably count on two hands how many dishes and cups and glasses have been broken. With mistakes, there are successes.

2. Be understanding. Your son may not get over the disappointment immediately. This doesn’t mean you are doing anything wrong, but not all kids bounce back at the same rate. Be patient and understanding and soon your son will grow to forget the disappointment itself, but your reaction to it and what he learned in the process will stay with him.

3. Give your son time and space to deal with his disappointment. Try to help your son see that this is a disappointment that may not be as serious as he thinks. Sometimes you will have to step back and direct your son to continue dealing with his disappointment in the privacy of his bedroom. After a reasonable time, check on your son — and usually you will find that he has calmed down and has put things into perspective.

I do sometimes give both him and Naomi a small cup of “calm” tea, chamomile tea, and/ or mint tea. When I give it to him, I tell him, “Here is your cup of calm!” Sometimes he many not be receptive, but there are days when he is.

4. Don’t try to fix it. This is not easy, but kids are often more resilient than we give them credit. Though children of all ages may be quick to dramatize their displeasure, most bounce right back.

5. Don’t try to save your son from disappointments. Many parents erroneously believe that, for kids, disappointment should be avoided at all costs. Everybody makes the team, everybody is included. There are several problems with this attempt to make everyone feel good about themselves. First of all, it isn’t fooling anyone. Telling someone they’ve done a great job when they clearly haven’t is not only insulting, but it tends to set a tone of low expectations. Self-esteem is built through mastery, not through pretense. Second, it isn’t grounded in reality. Giving a child false expectations about his abilities and skills is not only dishonest, but unethical. Lastly, letting children face the letdowns of life, however painful, is necessary for emotional growth. Children who haven’t had practice developing coping skills for disappointment fall apart later on when no one is standing there ready to rescue them. Though the pains of life can be heartbreaking at times, they are learning experiences that, when faced with the loving support of a faithful parent, help prepare children to deal with struggles in the future.

6. Listen, don’t talk. You’ll be tempted to start pointing out all the reasons why the situation is “not so bad,” but kids don’t function the same way grown-ups do. Logic plays very little part in soothing a disappointed child. Listen intently to what your son tells you about his thoughts and feelings.

Most of the time when I listen to my son, its usually if it’s something Naomi did to him — took away a toy or something else minute. After listening, I try to say something to get him to understand, and lastly, remind him that he has a friend in Jesus.

His sister and he are like two peas in a pod. 🙂 Other times they can be like night and day, but they are learning to get along, one day at a time.

This was a moment when I felt so proud of my daughter, cheering Adam on to copy some words I wrote on the yellow paper onto their papers, and giving him the motivation to write along with her.

7. Congratulate your son when he handles disappointments reasonably. Nothing encourages kids to face and deal with disappointments reasonably as much as moms/dads who display pride over their child’s actions. Kids love to hear parents say, “I’m so proud of you for not losing your temper” or “You did a good job understanding.” Words of support and encouragement each time a youngster makes a decision to deal with a disappointment can really help to turn inappropriate behavior around. Kids seldom tire of hearing that they handled a situation with good judgment. The desire for parental approval and praise is one of the chief motivational forces in a youngster’s life.

8. Offer personal experiences. You can even point out that, as an adult, you are still disappointed by things that happen to you.

I was close to my twin sister. Though Adam and Naomi are not twins, I often get asked if they are. So, I often think about my sister and any disappointments that I can share with them.

9.  Offer perspective. Whatever the situation may be, you can find a way to help your son put it into the proper perspective without ever using the dreaded phrase, “It’s not so bad…”  or “It could be worse.”

10. Be patient, then be a little more patient, and then have even more patience as your son figures out how the real world operates.

Here are some key questions that were mentioned in the blog I read, to help my son brainstorm ideas on how to resolve the problem himself:

  • Are you going to try again?
  • How big is the problem? It feels like a disaster. On a scale of 1 to 10, how bad is it?
  • How can we make sure that this problem doesn’t mess up anything else in your life?
  • How long do you want this disappointment to make you feel bad?
  • How long will the disappointment last? A day, a week?
  • How upset do you want to be about this now, given that is is going to feel better soon?
  • Is there a part of this issue that you can control, change, or improve?
  • Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
  • What are some alternative things to say to yourself to counter the alarm messages going through your mind?
  • What can you do now to make the situation better?
  • What do you think went wrong?
  • What is the worst part of it for you?
  • When will it be time to move on? (Often times, the sooner people get going on Plan B, the sooner they start to feel better.)

This is key is for youngsters with Aspergers or high functioning autism to learn to distinguish between serious disappointments and trivial ones.

Disappointments are a part of everyone’s daily life, and the greatest one that I can think of for all of us who are Seventh-day Adventist is the day of the Great Disappointment in 1844, October 22.

As I pause to think of the disappointments of my life and ones that my children are facing, I live in the Hope knowing that…

There’s a land that is fairer than day,
And by faith we can see it afar;
For the Father waits over the way,
To prepare us a dwelling place there.

In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on that beautiful shore;
In the sweet by and by,
We shall meet on the beautiful shore.

When there, we won’t have to experience disappointments and bitter tears anymore. SELAH!

Through the Eye of the Storm, Through the Eye of a Child

Hurricane Irma…another hurricane that will not be forgotten in the state of Florida. For Mom, Dad, and Nana, this was not our first hurricane, but for my children, it was their very first experience to see and feel the heavy rain and wind that passed and hovered over us during our stay in Arcadia, Florida.

As Mom and Dad were watching the news, Adam and his sister, Naomi, had their eyes on their toys. There was no evacuation for us until in the middle of the day. Before the storm, we drove from Charlotte County to Arcadia to experience the feel and sound of it from a safer location. Our first comforting sight when we arrived at the Arcadia Seventh-day Adventist Church was the double rainbow in front of the church.

It did not rain the morning or afternoon that Saturday. The storm hit Florida on Sunday at 2 a.m. Twelve hours later it hit Lee County. Seven or eight hours later it hit Charlotte County, where my family lives. Four hours later Arcadia was hit.

It was the roughest 36 hours for all of us. We adults were trying to prepare for our comfort by selecting pews in which to rest; meanwhile, my son and daughter were finding comfort in each other by playing, jumping and crawling around, positioning their toys in the spot where they would sleep; and finally, together, we were singing “A Shelter in the Time of Storm” and “Psalm 40:8.”

We got the remaining bands of rain and the winds in gentler movements. It was the best way to take refuge in the worst part of the storm. We slept in the sanctuary of the church. We prayed. We got on each other’s nerves. Dad’s birthday was Saturday, but in the midst of it all, we did not get to sing “Happy Birthday” until that night, when a friend and his wife prepared a special dinner for him.

In my son’s eyes you could see a bit of excitement and urgency. He did well getting his toys and helping me gather a few pieces of clothes to put into the suitcase, but during the storm he struggled with being cooped up inside for hours and hours, not able to go outside to play.

There was a moment that my daughter was scared and told me so. So while the wind howled, the story of Noah and the Ark immediately came to mind. She lay on her back, and I lay on my stomach near her feet; we lay still on the pew in pure darkness, talking about how Jesus, in His great power from his Father, calmed the waters after 40 days and 40 nights. I also told her this storm wasn’t going to last as long as the one in Noah’s day, and that brought comfort to her. I prayed with her and shared with her Psalm 46:1, 2, which says, “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore will not we fear, though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea….”

After it stopped I was hoping to see another rainbow, but God had already allowed us to see that double rainbow on Saturday, prior to the coming of Irma. What a beautiful sight that was to all of us who were able to see it. What also brought comfort to the children and me was the scripture verses, as well as what we were able to do for one of our neighbors.

This storm also helped us with learning to deal with little storms in our lives, and it gave us hope again to live for Jesus and God by becoming missionaries for them. So, thank you, Irma — and good-bye!


Autism and Teaching Techniques, Part 1

Autism and teaching techniques: I wish I could say I know them all, but to tell you the honest-to-goodness truth, I’m just learning myself.

These techniques that I’ll be sharing were first done with Temple Grandin, the first activist for autism. I’ll be sharing some of my own, too, that I have been learning in my current year of homeschooling.

Many people with autism are visual thinkers. I’m constantly praying for God to give me something to share every day from both Sonlight curriculums that I’m using — SonLight and SonLight Education Ministry (SEM) curriculum. I choose to use both because of the extra reading books that I can get, which help me find where his interests may lie…besides just Thomas the Tank Engine.

Last year, I made a lapbook. A lapbook book is a book that can be made with any folders that can be folded in three sections. You can add pictures and words to get what the lesson is all about. For instance, our character quality for our unit  study was on “love.” In SEM, its structured in a way that each character quality is mentioned in subjects like math, voice, nature, health, Bible, and history; I focused was introduction to math, voice, nature, health, and music. Lapbooks are great teaching tools. Pictures are like the first language for autistic children, and then the words become their second.

In our introduction to health last year, I wanted my son, Adam, to learn the 10 commandments of health with his sister, who is not diagnosed with autism. I created a “God Loves Me” booklet in a heart shape, and cut and printed the laws of health onto it.

I also created a small replica of the biblical Ten Commandments by covering a single, flat, open, double-sided type box with butcher paper, and found and cut out images of the 10 Commandments that would be easy for him and his sister to remember, and also cut out some safety signs to place onto the back of the box. I wanted to compare each creation to get a comparison to God’s love and our obedience towards Him.

The next technique I use is to avoid long strings of verbal instructions. Instead, I talk to him, step by step, about what we will be doing for the day. Math is the only subject where I have to write down for him instructions — for example, what to do in locating the tens and ones.

I’m currently keeping a record of the time I give him morning and afternoon on his computer. Every morning he loves to go onto the computer after worship and exercise, so I give him maybe 20 or 30 minutes for Thomas the Tank Engine stories that he love to hear, and then again when he wakes up after his nap, he gets maybe 20 or 25 minutes more. We use this as part of his math lesson, since we are learning to work with double digits. I write down the number of minutes I give him for both morning and afternoon, and then show him how we can add them by looking at the ones and tens place. I also time him when he’s on his chromebook for his learning apps, which helps get him motivated to learn spelling, math, and the world map.

Another thing that helps him is me writing step-by-step instructions for our morning workout. This makes it easy for him to lead out as a personal trainer.

Investing in a chromecast device adaptor to hook to your TV enables you to share videos from Youtube. I was able to create a playlist for Adam to learn the hymns that went with our theme study on character and nature study.

Many children with autism are good at drawing, art, and computer programming. These talent areas should be encouraged. My son doesn’t like to draw or do art, but he loves going onto the computer.

Another technique is sign language, if a child with autism cannot talk, using sign language and pictures to tell a social story are helpful. Making emotion faces with construction paper and sticks are good starters to language.

If a child has a favorite TV show, record the show with the closed captions and incorporate the show as part of the reading lesson.

There are more strategies that I have discovered, but the last one I’d like to share is using special interests to facilitate the learning process. Many autistic children are more motivated more by their special interests than other things, and this passion can be used as an advantage when teaching.

For example, if a child loves cars, use toy cars to teach geography on a map by “driving the car” to different states. I did this just recently with Adam when I pretended to take his train to South Dakota to discuss Mt. Rushmore, while we were talking about rocks in our study.

These techniques seem to work out for me, and I thank God for his help through this journey. It’s not over, though, so I’ll share more techniques in my next post.