Meltdowns Episode 4 Follow-Up

On episode 4 of our podcast, Well Balanced Life with Grace & Mel, I share an example of one of Gracie’s meltdowns that she had at the Maid of the Mist in Niagara Falls, hence the picture above. But I also shared some strategies and resources that helped us along the way. If you haven’t heard the podcast, please head on over by clicking this link! https://www.buzzsprout.com/2123289

If you have heard the podcast, then you’ll recognize the information I’m sharing below.

To make it easy, I’m just going to list the links here:

Data Collection Sheets:

https://www.earlywood.org/Page/556

Social Stories:

Power Cards:

https://autismcircuit.net/tool/power-card

Pivotal Response Training:

https://www.autismprthelp.com/about-prt.php

Thinking of you and hoping you find the strategies and support that work for you!

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New Year, New You?

New years day is typically a day where we see all the ads telling us how to be thinner, healthier, calmer, richer, more successful. Some of you may be feeling the pressure to start a new habit to better yourselves and some may just be praying for a better year to come. Building in new habits that help you become healthier are not bad for you. But please know that you are wonderful just the way you are. You are loved. You are important. And those littles (or big ones) in your home, love you for you.

If you really want to make a new year’s resolution, reflecting back on the past year can help with determining where you want to go in the future. Yet, who has time to reflect? If you have the opportunity to have a quiet bath, or set your alarm for 5 mins. earlier before the kids wake up, or heck, even go to the washroom, grab your phone and just scroll through your photos from the past year. You’d be amazed at all of the things you did, or at the very least, see the things that inspired you enough to take a picture of it. Take a look and see what brought you joy. And maybe even what brought you stress. Do more of the stuff that brought you joy and see if there is a way to decrease the latter.

My goal is to let others know how much I care about them and how grateful I am that they are in my life. We don’t seem to hear this enough and at times, probably often, we question our parenting. We all have regrets, make mistakes, and struggle to understand how to best support our kids. Be let me tell you… I see you. I see the frustration, the lack of patience, uncertainty, fear, and even heartache. But I also see that this is usually out of fear and self-doubt. I see the strength, patience, perseverance, love, guidance, teachings, joy, and awe shining in you. You are doing an amazing job. You are an amazing parent. Your kid(s) are working harder than they should have to at times to keep up with society’s expectations, but man do they celebrate when they achieve their goals! They shine from the inside out what it means to love fiercely (even if this isn’t shown in the “typical” way), they see the beauty in the world in a way that is shadowed for us at times. Many of our kids can just “be”.

To those of you who have children who are hating themselves, struggling to fit in, having difficulty keeping up in school, and are frustrated more than not, they may need a little extra lovin’. Being there, just to listen, can allow for a stream of information to flow and understand them better. Just keep giving them the love and let them know you are there for them. No judgement. Just there.

And if you feel they need a little extra support, reach out to the school and see if they can see the counsellor. Contact your family health team to set up counselling. Check in with Autism Ontario to see if they can connect you with counsellors qualified to help.

Here is a list of resources you can reach out to:

Kinark: https://www.kinark.on.ca/

New Path: https://newpath.ca/

Catulpa Community Support Services: https://catulpa.on.ca/programs-and-services/

Youth Wellness Hub: https://youthhubs.ca/en/sites/north-simcoe/

Chigamik: https://www.chigamik.ca/your-health/mental-health-and-addictions-counselors/

Chigamik Traditional Healing: https://www.chigamik.ca/your-health/traditional-healing/

Georgian Bay Native Friendship Centre: https://www.gbnfc.com/programs

M├ętis Nation of Ontario: https://www.metisnation.org/programs-and-services/

Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County: https://cfssc.ca/locations/midland/

Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County Online Groups: https://cfssc.ca/mindself/

2SLGBTQ+ Gilbert Centre: https://gilbertcentre.ca/

Waypoint Child and Family Services: https://www.waypointcentre.ca/programs_and_services/family_child_and_youth_mental_health_program

North Simcoe Family Health Team: https://nsfht.ca/childrens-mental-health/

Lastly, I am grateful for you! Keep doing you and know that you aren’t alone! xo

Wishing you all the best in this new year to come!

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Transfer of Skills

The transferring of skills can be tricky and pop up when you least expect it! Gracie has become very independent in taking the public transit and walking around town, working, and attending school. However, there are still many things we worry about. How do we know when to let them fly?

I received a call from her the other day. She was on her break and wanted to walk to a restaurant across the street from her work. Knowing the majority of her experience with crossing the road at stop lights has been in our small town which is a little less busy, I hesitantly said that would be okay and went over all the safety rules again. Do NOT walk when the hand signal is up. ONLY walk when the sign shows the person walking and the light is green. Don’t hesitate and go back and forth on your feet because that confuses the drivers. Make sure to look all around you as you walk because drivers aren’t always paying attention. Walk, don’t run because the roads are a bit slippery.

Gracie got to the set of lights closest to her work. But what I hadn’t prepared her for was the cross walk painted on the road was no longer visible because of all the snow. Since she couldn’t see it anymore, she assumed she could not cross there. Gracie walked to the farther cross walk which is at a busier intersection. She didn’t follow one rule and that was wait for the walking signal. But what I had also failed to mention was do not walk when the hand is flashing. And that is when she decided to go. She thought she could make it before the cars got too close and she got stuck in the median. As she puts it, God saved her life and she prayed for the first time (Grace is not spiritual or religious in any way). She said she saw her life flash before her eyes hours later when she and her dad were driving through that same intersection. Basically, it really scared her!

The other thing I failed to consider was her anxiety about being late and her love for food. She had 30 minutes to get to the restaurant, order her food, eat her food, and be back to work ready to go. This is what made her rush. I should have known better. But instead of being hard on myself, I’m taking this as a lesson learned (thankfully fear is all that was experienced and not something worse). We will go back to those intersections, and others, and practice the skill of safely walking across the street in many different places.

So here is what I hope you take from this…we all are human and make mistakes. We can’t predict what is going to happen or what lessons really stick with our kids. We can’t anticipate they will always follow the rules. And we need to let them fly on their own. Mistakes are how we learn and we just hope not too dangerously. And lastly, we need to teach our kids skills in different areas, with different distractions, different times of the day, and so on. Sometimes they can master a skill but only in that one environment.

Forget the fact that Gracie can create an entire power point presentation with all the bells and whistles all on her own, this was a bigger challenge.

As I once heard at the Geneva Centre for Autism Conference by an adult with autism, “the things that are the most common sense to us, are the skills that need to be explicitly taught”.

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Keep Being You!

Gracie & Bluey

I was thinking today about Gracie’s different developmental stages she seems to have. At times she can seem as young as four, sometimes she’s a total teenager or trying her best to be like one, and at other times, she’s so insightful you’d think there’s an older, wiser woman speaking. This can make things difficult for others to understand her struggles. Especially when it comes to teaching, either at school or training at work. Masking, often common among autistic girls/women, is another symptom that can prevent others from knowing their autistic peers’ true selves/abilities. Gracie can have a very mature conversation with someone, describe a situation or answer a question at school but not fully understand what she is saying. Even when it’s in the proper context of a conversation. Her expressive skills are much higher than her receptive skills. In some ways this has helped her to fit in or get the job. But at other times, when her younger self appears, this can cause looks, misunderstandings (including at home, which will turn to mom, yep that’s me, getting frustrated), or contribute to Gracie’s own self-doubt. Luckily she loves herself and self-doubt creeps up very minimally, but on the way to meet Bluey today, she was a bit embarrassed because she’s 19 and going to the “little kids zone” at Wonderland. I reminded her how awesome she was and how many of us wish we still had that magic of our young selves still living inside us. “You be you” because “you are incredible”. She only needs to hear that once and she’s right back to her young self. Jumping up and down screaming about how excited she is to see Bluey, and telling everyone around her. There were a couple of kids who looked with curiosity, but no rudeness. Parents were smiling and engaged with her infectious excitement. And this made me wonder if times had changed. If people were becoming more accepting. Or, is it that she is older now and it’s more obvious. The “disability” isn’t as invisible anymore. I’d like to believe it’s the former.

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Waiting = Meltdown?

For years, Gracie struggled with waiting. Patience was not her strong suit. Gracie liked to do things when Gracie liked to do them. And when she wanted something, she wanted it now. I can say that those feelings probably haven’t changed. However, her reaction to them has. Screaming, yelling, spitting, and hitting. Bending her joints, scratching herself and pulling her hair. Those were her ways telling me she was done and that she didn’t want to wait any longer.

When eating, Gracie used to throw her dishes across the room when she was done. Made sense to her. She was done and didn’t have the words to tell us. Quickest way for them to disappear is to throw them. Being in a restaurant Gracie would finish her meal in less than 5 minutes. Then, scream, because she was ready to go even though the rest of the family still had most of their plate left to finish.

Standing in line at MarineLand, the Ferris Wheel, Maid of the Mist, Wonderland, or even waiting for her turn on the swing or slide at the park or school was torture for her. Gracie didn’t have time to waste and she continues to always think ahead rather than stay in the moment. Not having the words to express herself was another reason for these reactions.

So, we started small. I mean, very small steps. We started with counting to 10 when she was done. Before she had the chance to eat her last bite and whip that plate across the room like a frisbee, I’d grab it, count to 10 and let her out of her high chair. We counted to 10 for several days before moving to 15 seconds and then 20 seconds and so on. Once we were getting to about 40 or 50 seconds, I bought a timer from the dollar store and we put the timer on. We still counted with the timer at the beginning until the beeping alarm went off. It became a game for the whole family. The kids would join in with counting and big smiles. Once we mastered the timer and she could wait 5 minutes, we attempted it at a restaurant. I would call ahead and order our food because the timer had only been practiced at the end of her meal. Gracie was able to successfully join the family, eat her meal and wait 5 minutes at a restaurant, then her dad or I would take her outside or to the car while we waited for the others to finish their meal in peace. We continued to do the same thing with the timer as we did with the counting. Increasing by 30 seconds at a time. Beginning at home and practicing in public. We had timers everywhere!

This strategy worked for waiting in lines as well. We would still get the pass that was offered to those with special needs, but we would make sure to not use it for the rides with a much smaller line. Having a timer on (we added a few more minutes on than expected just in case) would help Gracie stand in line. Seeing the numbers decrease was all she needed eventually. Of course we had snacks and fidgets, etc. But seeing the time count down reassured her that what she wanted was about to happen.

Today, Gracie waited in a line to advocate for herself to get the pass at Wonderland. She explained to the lady that she has autism and has a hard time with waiting longer than 45 minutes, noise and crowded spaces. All while dad was laying in the grass on a hill, reading a book, in the parking lot. This is something to celebrate!

Gracie and her cousin Heidi with Linus at Canada’s Wonderland
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Sibling Love

Our Christmas this year was spent at Lake Louise with the 5 of us sharing one hotel room and spending every minute together. We didn’t know how this was going to work out. They love each other. But let’s be honest, they each have their own needs, likes, dislikes, and routines. And one of them (miss Gracie) can get very excited and anxious over a change in her routine. And no matter how much we try to prepare her, there are always unexpected mishaps that occur. A lot of patience was needed in order for this trip to go smoothly. And smoothly it did. For the most part. I was so amazed at their level of patience and friendship with each other. I don’t know if it’s because they are all growing up and maturing or just plain luck. I’d like to believe they’ve matured.

Gowing up wasn’t always easy. Having three kids and only two hands made it difficult to be there for all 3 at the same time. The screaming and meltdowns, refusals and challenges were at their peak when Gracie was younger. Screaming in the middle of night and waking the entire house up made it difficult to get a good night sleep which made dealing with those challenges even harder. For everyone. The kids got good at going to their rooms and shutting the door to minimize the noise. Emma was more of a helper if she thought she could help calm her. She became Gracie’s go-to person at school. And when Emma graduated from high school, Josh took on that role.

I know we can worry about siblings having to grow up faster, feeling pressure to behave more or do well in all areas of their life, taking on more responsibility than a child should, and we worry about not being able to meet their needs when they have a sibling whose needs exceed theirs. Especially if there are health related concerns that require you to travel to doctors appointments and hospital visits. But what can happen is each sibling becomes more patient and understanding. Non-judgemental and kind to others, helping those who are in distress. My kids aren’t perfect and I know as they were growing up, they’ve said or done things that I wouldn’t be proud of. But behind the scenes, they’ve done some pretty amazing things that have helped others who didn’t feel like they fit in or were struggling with life, in tremendous ways, and little ways, that know one else will know of.

I have another post called “Sibling Sanity” that shares some strategies on how to best deal with challenging times and how to best support those siblings. Click on the link above to bring you there.

Please know this post is meant to share with you the growth and positive outcomes that can arise as the kids get older. It will be okay. You’ve raised great kids! Trust that all you’ve taught them will present itself. And if they can’t stand each other right now, they will soon enough!

If you haven’t been told this yet today….YOU are a GREAT parent!

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A-ha Moment! Teaching vs. Correcting

Ok, I know I just posted a new blog post yesterday. And I still feel the same way and true to what I wrote. BUT…I had this a-ha moment as I was doing the hashtags on the Facebook group when posting the link. Specifically the hashtag #whenisteachingtoomuch…the same wording as the title. My first thought was, “Am I teaching or correcting?”

I’ve always seen it as teaching her. Helping her grow. She has to learn these life skills if she’s going to live without me someday. She has to know how to PROPERLY do these things. But does she really? If she manages just fine when I’m not with her every single moment, does she really need to do them properly? And what does that even mean? Properly. My way? My way of doing things doesn’t mean that she needs to do them the same way. Even though I like the dishwasher filled a certain way and she may leave cups facing up that get filled with water, but hey, they are still getting washed, even if a little bit LOL Does that spatula need to go in the drawer that I’ve allocated it to? It’s still put away, even if it’s in another cupboard. Looking at these sorts of things and picturing her in her own home someday, I realize that she will be just fine! The kitchen, living room, fridge, etc. are not her space. But, she knows where everything is in her own room and manages to do a fine job of keeping herself organized.

She is keeping track of her work schedule by printing it out and adding it to her calendar. She plugs her phone into its charger each night so it is ready for the next day. She makes sure her uniforms are washed and clean and ready to go for her next shift. She showers and uses soap, even though we are starting to notice she’s not rinsing her hair long enough, so that is something I can teach her about. The constant correcting is probably equivalent to constant put-downs. And I get reminded sometimes by Gracie that “I’m on her a lot today”.

I am grateful she has the words to tell me that when I need to hear it. And if your child doesn’t have the actual words, watch their body language. The eye rolls, the vocalizations, stimming, ignoring, whatever they do that shows you they aren’t happy…you know your child best.

I think for myself, I’m going to actually write down the things that are my “pet peeves” list that won’t matter if Gracie does them when living in her own home. I will try to focus on the things that will make a difference if NOT done “properly” like hygiene, cleanliness, and safety.

This isn’t going to be easy! I’ve created a habit that will be hard to change. But I’ll do my best. I’ve also heard that for every negative comment a child receives, they need four positive ones to counteract that. So I best get my lovin’ on!!

Thanks for listening! Sometimes just saying things “out loud” or writing them out helps me see the bigger picture.

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When Is Teaching Too Much?

Gracie and her love of everything Christmas!

The last thing we want is for our kids to feel like they are not good enough. But I have to say, I was someone who, unintentionally, consistently crushed Gracie’s confidence, every time I tried to teach her the “appropriate way” to do something. I think I still do. I know I do! It’s just hard to admit. My heart was in the right place. If I could teach her these life skills and help her be the most independent person she can be, her life will be full. I just need to figure out what a full and happy life means to her. It’s her life. Not mine. I forget that sometimes.

Correcting her has actually become an automatic response, even though I’ve been trying to “teach” the same things for years! As a parent, it just seems to be in us to instinctually teach our young. Even when I make myself consciously aware, and tell myself I will let the small stuff slide, I can’t go 5 minutes!

I did become aware of this when I saw her sweet soul defeated. Grade 7 & 8 were the hardest years of her life. Not only did she have a mom that was on her at home, but she also had support staff trying to help her. Yet, she didn’t want to be different than her peers. She was embarrassed to need the help. That developmental gap between her and her peers had been growing since grade 2 and was at its peak! She was now considered weird for liking Treehouse tv, Scooby doo, and Santa Claus. The demands and expectations for someone her age grew and grew.

At times, I wish I had done things differently. I do, however, realize that my reactions were based on fear. Fear for her future and wanting the best for her. I needed (and need) to remember that she learns a different way. Her actions aren’t out of spite or a wish to push my buttons. (Even though it often felt that way!) But when I look at her “behaviour” as brain-based “symptoms” and see her at her developmental age as opposed to her actual numerical age, this helps me tremendously. I still need reminders though! It’s hard when you live this life of autism (or insert diagnosis here) day in and day out. It becomes your new normal. So if you are feeling guilty because you aren’t getting along with your child, or you are feeling more frustrated than normal and just don’t know what to do at this time, try looking at your child with a different lens. See their actions as symptoms instead of behaviour. Obviously, intervene when appropriate, especially when there is aggression.

Teaching our kids proper etiquette, manners, cleanliness, self-advocacy (in a strong, firm but kind way) are a few of the skills they will need to excel in this world they are forced to fit in to. We have to teach them because the world isn’t going to change for them. Just try and remember to meet them where they are at, try not to take it personally, and react in a frustrated way. But also, don’t be hard on yourself when you do react. You’re human. It’s okay.

This developmental age is something I keep coming back to because it helps me help her. Here are some links to past blog posts, when I’ve written something similar:

http://wellbalancedlife.ca/index.php/2020/07/25/developmental-age-is-my-saving-grace/(opens in a new tab)

http://wellbalancedlife.ca/index.php/2020/07/23/what-is-your-childs-developmental-age/(opens in a new tab)

I hope you have a fantastic day!!

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Thankful for the Little Things…

It’s been a whirlwind since Aaron and I got back from our trip a couple of weeks ago. My hubby’s appendix burst and he’s been in and out of the hospital since. Turns out he had two abscesses (infections the size of a couple golf balls) that were taken care of and now he is home and on the mend. Today has been the quietest and least busy day since we’ve returned home. Today is a day I am able to take a breath and reflect on all that I have to be thankful for.

Many of you are dealing with challenges every day and it can be hard to feel like you have anything to be grateful for at times. Life is hard. Yet, life is precious. When things are going well, it’s common to take those moments for granted. But when someone you love gets ill, (even if it’s minor) you start to realize all of those things that should not be taken for granted.

Today, as I have some quiet time to reflect, I have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for my husband and all he has provided for us. I am thankful for my children who rallied together to tidy, clean up after themselves and set the house up for their dad to be comfortable in. I’m thankful for my parents who held the fort while I drove kids here and there and stayed with Aaron when I could. I am thankful for family and friends that are always there, just when you need them. I am thankful for this quiet moment to come to the realization that Gracie was worried about her dad because to her, any surgery is serious. She’s never seen her dad in an unhealthy way. I realize every one of my frustrations with her came out because that is how she deals with her anxiety, and I couldn’t see that. And I realize, I need to give the kid a break. So what if she left all the frozen fruits on top of the fridge instead of in it. So what if she asks me a gazillion questions a day that she knows the answer to, or sits/stands a foot away STARING at me. Non-stop. So what, if she is obsessed with food and constantly asking to eat, especially the sweets. So what if she is always there. Always. I need to get over it. I need to remember how far this girl has come!

Today I am grateful our family is healthy and happy. We have a roof over our head and food on the table. We have family and friends and teachers and EAs and coworkers who we are blessed to have in our lives.

What can you be thankful for today? If you don’t have family or friends around, or feel like you don’t have anything to be thankful for on this day, please know you have a wonderful group of parents who are living a life similar to yours. The special needs community is a fierce one! We are there for each other. You are not alone! If you are feeling that way, please head over to our Facebook group and join our crew! Just click on the Facebook icon at the top right of this blog. Send me an email and we can chat. We are here for you. I am thankful for you. And if you haven’t heard this in a while, you are loved.

Wishing you a wonderful Thanksgiving day. xo

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Developmental Age Is My Saving Grace

Patience. We either wake up with it or we don’t. Some say we choose it or we don’t. I like to think I’m patient, but I know I run out of it sometimes. I’m only human. As parents we have a lot going on in our lives. Regardless of whether we work full time, are a single parent or if we are a stay-at-home mom or dad. We all have our own busy lives.

The last post I wrote was on our child’s developmental age vs. their birth age. That post had more to do with how to teach and treat our children. One thing I didn’t add but wanted to share was how seeing your child’s developmental age can help us as parents, caregivers and teachers to have more patience.

Gracie will tell me she loves me a hundred times in a day. Seriously, I use a counter to track how often sometimes! It feels like a million times! She wants to hug me just as often. She wants me home. She follows me around. She is learning but still interrupts conversations to say what she wants to say. She gets excited over the smallest things. Christmas and Santa and the Easter Bunny and all other magical beings are the most exciting times in her world. She loves candy and anything sweet and always wants the first and biggest piece of cake. She wants to cuddle (and would get on my lap if I let her). She watches Treehouse TV and cartoons galore. She is completely innocent when it comes to sex, drugs and alcohol. She is emotional at times. Up until recently, she had meltdowns like a toddler. Imagine that in an adult body.

On the flip side, she listens to rap music. Has her sister do her makeup some days. Is able to have very mature conversations at times. She is very tall and grown up physically. She says swear words (limited to her bedroom only). She deals with all the same hormonal changes girls her age go through. She likes some name brand clothing and wants to fit in with others (although she seems to have gotten past that and is happy in her own skin). But, she posts selfies, some that include that duck face pose and likes the comments she receives! She has a boyfriend and best friend. She wants to be like every other teenager in the world.

Now here is what I mean by “her developmental age is my saving grace”. When I look at Gracie as her young 4-8 yr. old self, when I see the child inside her, I have much more patience when dealing with certain things. When I see her developmental age instead of her birth number or size of her body, her symptoms make complete sense to me. When I don’t realize that, it makes it much more difficult for me to understand and be patient with what she is doing. So give it a try. The next time you are starting to lose patience with your child or student, try seeing them at their developmental age and see if it makes a difference to you. How would you react to a 3 yr. old vs a 13 yr. old?

As I just explained to Gracie, she is a teenager but still has that “small kid inside her”. One that she is so blessed to have! How many of us have grown up wishing as a child to be an adult? We couldn’t wait to grow up and our parents would tell us not to rush it. She has the luxury of growing up, but still has the innocence, excitement and magic of a child we all wish we still had. That is something she is so fortunate to have! And we as her family and friends are so fortunate that we get to see life through her eyes. Her excitement, energy and belief of magic is contagious. Holidays will always be exciting because she will always hear that bell ring, because she will always believe.

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