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Mid Week Reflection: Today is a New Day

Have you ever tried to work on a goal, and it felt like you could not shake the thoughts or habits of your past? This is me all day long. I can clearly establish a goal but thoughts of “you are too old to start this” or “you never complete anything you start” are whispering in the back of my mind as I work toward my goal. Some people can articulate a goal, work at it, and achieve that goal with no setbacks or barriers. Others must overcome many barriers. Here are some ways to help you push through when you come upon these barriers and setbacks.

  1. Get the lesson and move forward. Some of us are guilty of not moving forward because we are too busy looking back. The only good reason to look back is to get the lesson. You run the risk of being pulled back into past behaviors when you continually look back. Once you get the lesson, move forward and do not look back so you can achieve your goal.
  2. Stay focused. Setbacks are inevitable so it is vital that you remain focused. Remember why you set your goal and stay focused on that. Be intentional and remember the reason you set the goal in the first place.
  3. Let go. If you find that something is holding you back from reaching your goals, let it go. I would even go as far as to say let go of any person who is holding you back. Achieving your goal is bigger than any negative thought, person, or habit.  If the thought, person, or habit is not helping you make steps towards achieving your goal, them you need to let it go.
  4. Eliminate negative self-talk. We can sometimes be the cause of our own setbacks.  Our own thoughts can be our biggest enemy when we are trying to achieve a goal and do more for ourselves.  Be conscious of your thoughts.  Replace negative thoughts with positive ones as soon as a negative thought begins to push its way into your mind. This one takes practice but will make a world of difference once you master it. Check out my previous post on negative self-talk here.

Setbacks are normal when working towards a new goal so be gentle with yourself. Today is a new day where you can shake old thoughts and habits and establish new ones. Hopefully, these tips can help you conquer the obstacles that stand between you and your goal. What else would you add to this list?

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Autism Awareness Month: Lessons Learned from Zion

If we were all not living through these unusual circumstances associated with COVID-19, this month would have featured a lot of festivals, walks, and other activities that seek to bring awareness to and dispel myths about autism.  Education about the diagnosis of autism and shining the spotlight on the individuals who have been diagnosed with autism is what this month is all about.  As Autism Awareness Month comes to an end, I started to think about my 12-year-old son, Zion, who was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3 and a few of the things he has taught me.

Everyone has hidden jewels.   If you ever met Zion, in the first ten minutes, you could probably tell me right off the bat the things he does not do.  He has a hard time making eye contact, he is not going to engage you in a long conversation, and he has a hard time understanding social cues and tones.  Years of advocating for Zion has made it to where I am his spokesperson, always trying to give people a different impression of him.  Zion loves to learn, my son is a fantastic writer, and my son has an eye for photography and videography.  My son is more than his diagnosis and people, in general, are typically more than what they initially present to the world.  I believe that there is something positive in everyone – you sometimes just have to take the time to find those hidden jewels.

Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.  Zion is pretty even-tempered now but when he was newly diagnosed and before he started the therapies that helped him process his emotions, he would have meltdown and tantrums (and there is a difference between the two) several times a day.  Being the perfectionist that I was,  I would often add more stress on top of an already stressful situation because I would want to carry on with my day and complete my daily to-do list.  I would feel like the worst mother ever at the end of the day when nothing got accomplished. But I learned to change my perspective.  At the end of a tough day, my laundry may not have been folded, there may have still been dishes in the sink, and I may have never gotten to the store.  But Zion was calm.  And, most importantly, he had not injured himself or others during his tantrum.  The things that did not get done no longer mattered. And guess what? Now Zion washes and folds his own clothes, vaccums and sweeps the whole house, and can even make simple meals for himself. It gets better – don’t waste time worrying about the small things.

Everyone needs a cheerleader.  From the time I realized that my son was not reaching his milestones timely, I have had to advocate for him.  From going back and forth with the pediatrician about getting a referral to a specialist for Zion to be formally diagnosed to finding the perfect school for him, advocating is a full-time job.  But, everyone needs a cheerleader.  Confidence in yourself is great but having that cheerleader is what gives you that extra boost. Zion knows he is smart and capable of doing many things that others think he would not be able to do because of his diagnosis.  But me being his cheerleader gives him that extra boost because I am there – loud and proud – reminding Zion and everyone else of great he is, how smart he is, and how talented he is.  Just as cheerleaders stand on the sidelines and let the whole arena or stadium know how great their team is, everyone needs that person who encourages them.

I want to end this post by offering some words of encouragement.

Be kind to yourself.  There will be good days and bad days – count every day that you make it through as a win.  Don’t be hard too hard on yourself.

Accept help.  I often felt that nobody could care for Zion like I could – and to be honest, I still feel this way sometimes.  But I have learned to accept help from the people that my son knows and is comfortable with and that knows my son, his triggers, and how to calm him.  It took me a while but I finally got there. 

Don’t take the aggression personally – this is harder on them than on you.  Tantrums, meltdown, and aggressive behaviors are sometimes scarier for the child than it is for us as parents.  It took many therapists to convince me that Zion was acting aggressively at home and not at school because I was his “safe place” – a place where he knew he could release everything that was pent up in him. Don’t take it personally – your child knows your love is unconditional.

Advocate! Advocate! Advocate!  Resources for special needs children can sometimes be hard to find.  Ensuring that they get everything they need to reach their fullest potential can be very hard due to this lack of resources.  Advocating for your child will be the biggest “I Love You” you can give them. 

YOU GOT THIS!!!!  Being a parent of a child with autism has caused me to experience a wide range of emotions depending on the circumstances.  It has exhausted me, angered me, scared me, filled me with anxiety, and has even brought me to tears on several occasions.  But it has also made me excited as I look at Zion and the handsome pre-teen he has become, it has forced me to be creative in how I ensure he gets what he needs, and it even makes me smile when I realize that my son is a pretty cool kid.  And I know that – despite the frustrations and setbacks that he may endure – Zion will be okay.  

Celebrate your child. Let the world know how great your child is. I will start. Zion is 12 years old. He loves to watch YouTube, eat pizza, swing, put together 500 piece puzzles, and as I stated before, he even likes to do chores around the house! Zion is smart, loves to give big hugs, and loves his family. He is a great kid who smiles a lot and loves to make others smile.

Celebrate your child or tell how you spread awareness about autism in the comments below!

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The Special Needs Journey: Accepting Your New Reality

The joys of parenthood.  What comes to your mind when I read these words?  Images of fun and happy occasions such as games, recitals, and birthday parties probably fill your mind. As a parent of a child with special needs, these “joys of parenthood” can sometimes look different, are delayed, or do not happen at all.  This is the realization that many parents of special needs children eventually come to and it is often a hard and painful realization. 

My 12-year-old son received his autism diagnosis at the age of 3. Being a social worker, I knew it was critical to get him the appropriate services as quickly as possible.  I was prepared to advocate on his behalf to ensure that he got the services he needed but I was not as prepared for the impact that his diagnosis would have on the family.  The journey is often unpredictable and some of us sometimes feel as if we are traveling this road alone. 

Allow Yourself Time to Grieve

Grieve sounds like a strong word but that is exactly what you need to allow yourself time to do when you have been informed of your child’s diagnosis.  Just as you would grieve a loved one who has passed, you must allow yourself time to grieve the parenting experience that you thought you would have.  By not allowing yourself the time to properly process the diagnosis, you run the risk of becoming angry, resentful, and envious of those who can experience a more typical parenting experience.  All these emotions can lead to you become stuck and not able to fully enjoy the parenting experience that you will have.  Despite your experience being different, it can still be very enjoyable and fulfilling.  Every emotion is a valid one so allow yourself to feel every emotion – do not suppress any emotion.  Allowing yourself to process these feelings honestly will help you move through this process. 

Get Moving

Now, this may sound like a direct contradiction of my first suggestion (and you may even still be in the grieving stage at this point) but you must begin doing what you need to do for your child as well as yourself.  You will need to educate yourself on your child’s diagnosis and prognosis.  What will your child need?  Therapists?  A special diet or bed? Periodic hospital stays?  Getting a realistic picture of what your child will need will help you with being able to mentally prepare for the road ahead.  While ensuring that your child has everything, do not forget yourself.  There are many support groups online as well as in the community for parents who have a child with almost any diagnosis you can think of.  Consider joining some of these groups to get a better understanding of the diagnosis as well as what you can expect next from people who have been where you are.  Look into financial assistance from the government as well as assistance through private agencies.  This assistance can assist you with paying for therapy, camps, specialized beds, and much more.   Taking advantage of this assistance can take a lot of stress off you especially if you were not financially prepared for everything your child will need.

Accept Your New Reality

It is an understatement to say that the life of a parent with a special needs child is different than the life of a parent without one.  Depending on the type of diagnosis, there may be some things that you were able to do as a family before that you may not be able to do once you have a child with special needs.  After my son who has autism was born, my new reality was that we could no longer go to events that were held in open spaces because he would take off running.  Basketball games or fireworks shows were also off-limits because my son had a sensitivity to loud noise.  Your new reality could be that you find that your family must have an iron-clad routine, or your child will meltdown.  Or your reality may mean that you spend as much – if not more – time at the hospital as you do at home.  Whatever your new reality looks like, embrace it.  Embracing this new reality will help you with knowing what “normal” looks like for your family. Once you come to know what your normal is, your child’s diagnosis will become easier to manage.

As with any parent, the parent of a child with special needs will tell you that their child is their world and that they are very proud to be their parent.  But being a parent of a child with special needs also comes with a unique set of challenges and difficulties.   Hopefully, these three suggestions can help so that you can fully experience the joys of parenthood.

If you are a parent of a child with special needs, how did you navigate the first few days, weeks, and months following the diagnosis? What things would you add to this list?