Tuesday, July 16, 2013

The ABCDs of Summer Special Needs Survival

Well, summer school is over and so is our week of family vacation.  Ahead of me is 33 potentially tedious and stressful days of keeping my kids occupied before school starts back up.  Although the girls still have some day camps, Josh is at home with me all day for most of those days. This morning I had a momentary flash of panic.  How am I going to keep my sanity while juggling the kids at home during this second half of summer?  How can I arm myself for the unavoidable moments of conflict, stress or boredom that are likely to present themselves?

While searching parenting websites I saw something that both amused me and gave me hope.  It's called the ABCDs of a parenting bag of tricks for avoiding a meltdown or easing a tense situation.  A for amuse, B for  bribe, C for comfort and D for distract.  

I was thinking about how I can apply this with a child with special needs.

Amuse.  It's tricky to know what will amuse Josh.  He often just starts laughing and it's hard for me to know why.  It's hard for me to share his joy or amusement because it often just seems to come from no where.  Also, Josh doesn't seem to care if someone is laughing with him.  Still I do know two things that amuse Josh to no end: a brisk breeze and music with a good strong beat.  I am going to spend more time walking with Josh along the Bay and I'm going to get out our electric fan.  Also, I need to find more clean rap stations on Pandora (if that exists).  These things are not technically "funny" but they make Josh laugh so I think it counts.

Bribe.  Motivators are often difficult to think of for kids with autism.  They are simply not motivated by the typical things that kids want like toys, money, verbal affirmation or the promise of anything that takes place more than 2 minutes from that very moment.  Over the years, I have had to get very creative to even be able to think of things to bribe Josh with.  Sugary food always works but I don't want Josh to gain a lot of weight so I need to think ahead about what else I can use to bribe Josh.  Thus far I can think of the following:  1)  watching YouTube videos of people installing shower heads,  2)  being wrapped up in the comforter on my bed and being squeezed and 3) anything having to do with playing with water.  When the kids get overtired or bored or stressed, I have been known to just march right outside and spray a big spring of water high up in the air and let my fully dressed kids get soaking wet. We call it "carwash" but it's more like kidwash.  It seems to me that they key to bribing well is to think ahead about what are things that you'd be willing to use as bribes that you won't regret rather than turning to something in the moment that you don't really want to use as a motivator.

Comfort.  Josh has always been the child who is most likely to want to snuggle.  However, lately, he's exhibiting more pre-teenish desire to be physically independent.  To my dismay, he often doesn't even want to hold my hand while crossing the street!  Sometimes, when I snuggle in with him in bed he will say, "Want Mama to go away." This is very sad for me.  Without physical touch, how do I connect with Josh?  Strangely and fortunately, there is one thing that comforts my son to no end.  Like many things in the autism world, it's a little bit weird.  Josh likes to sniff my hair.  Yes, I do take showers and I don't think my hair smells any different from anyone else's hair (I think) but, for some reason, when Josh is stressed, one of the things that comforts him the most is being able to stick his face right up to my long black ponytail and taking a couple of good whiffs.  There have been many an anxious moment at a busy Safeway where Josh suddenly announces, "Wanna smell Mama's hair!"  And if I'm desperate enough, I let him do it. Yep, right there in the middle of the grocery store or whatever.  Odd it is, and we will definitely have to fade this behavior at some point but, for now, it comforts my son and I need this tool in my pocket to survive the summer.

Distract.  In order to survive any outing with Josh, one must have lots of music. . . . car stereo, ipod with headphones, chimes on one's cell phone, whatever.  If you ever get caught in some situation without music, you must distract Josh by singing one of his favorite songs, the louder the better.  The other day we were waiting for my daughter's swim lesson to be over and Josh was just on the edge.  He started whining loudly and demanding to go home so I had to sing "Party Rock Anthem" and dance with him in circles under a tree at the park.  Instant distraction!  It bought us the 6 more minutes that I needed for Anna's lesson to finish.

Reflecting on these ABCD's made me realize that the main point of them is to take it easy and to not let the situation spiral in a negative way.  I also need to think ahead so that I can amuse, bribe, comfort, and distract myself at times so that I can keep it mellow and not buy into being too stressed out, tense or angry as we walk through the second half of summer.

What about you?  What's in your parenting bag of tricks so that you can have a good rest of the summer?


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