what is Autism?

My son, Jeremiah, has Autism. For those of you who don’t know someone with the disorder, or who haven’t looked into what it is, there can be a very narrow perception of what the word “Autism” means. One example of this came when I was introduced to a woman who attends a small group we used to go to. When she asked why we’re no longer part of the group, I responded, “My son has Autism, and we can’t leave him with just anyone.” (Childcare was provided by the host home.) The woman nodded her head like she knew exactly what I meant and said, “Yeah, that routine is really important isn’t it?” (Although this response was narrow-minded, it’s better than the stares I have experienced when I’ve told others about my son’s diagnosis.)

I’m not implying what that woman said was inappropriate or unthoughtful, but I encourage people to become more aware of what Autism is like because it’s becoming more prevalent. If you don’t already, you will eventually have a family member or friend whose child is diagnosed, and the more you can support them, the better.

So you’re aware, every child on the Spectrum can present differently (i.e. one may talk, while another may not. One may have other diagnoses that coincide with Autism, such as Angelmans Syndrome or Fragile X Syndrome. One child may have significant sensory needs, while another may not). There can be similarities between children on the Spectrum, and they can also be very diverse.

When you see a child at an amusement park who can’t wait in line, who screams, flaps his hands, hits himself or others, he may have Autism. Why does a child do these things, and why can’t it just be blamed on bad parenting? Well, first all Autism parents rock, so it can’t be their fault (insert smiley face). Second, there are many reasons why a child with Autism is acting like the boy I mentioned. Here are some possibilities, a little glimpse into their world:

  • Sensory issues. Ahhh, a sizable component of an Autistic’s life is that sensory piece. Sensory stimulation can either become extremely overwhelming; they want to avoid noisy restaurants, bright lights, loud fourth of July bangs, and tickly grass beneath their feet. They can also be sensory seekers (needing sensory input). To calm themselves, they need spinning lights, a swinging motion, they watch how light looks differently when they wave their fingers in front of their face, they may jump or run a lot. They hit, not because they want to hurt someone, but because it feels good when they smack something hard. ~ With this sensory aspect of Autism alone, you can see why a person with the disorder may be uncomfortable and act differently in several scenarios.
  • Processing language and understanding something that’s not concrete is very difficult for a person who has Autism.  Comprehending the non-concrete thinking is nearly impossible for many on the Spectrum.
    So, when a child is told to “wait,” it can be extremely arduous for them to understand what it means. Waiting in line can prove to be a feat that is akin to a neuro-typical person waiting in heavy traffic while rude, obnoxious drivers honk, yell, and throw ugly fingers, or it may be worse for the Autistic to wait in line at the grocery store.

Besides all of these reasons listed in effort to explain the behavior of the boy at the amusement park, there are hundreds of other entities a person with Autism deals with. I will attempt to give an overview of some.

  • Autism is a neurological disorder.
  • Auditory processing can be laborious.
  • They can have difficulty processing auditory and visual stimulation concurrently.
  • Routine is paramount.
  • They can have a hard time relating to others.
  • They can have obsessive behaviors (closing every door that’s open, smelling everything they come in contact with).
  • They may exhibit repetitive behaviors.
  • They can be extremely organized.
  • Some have obsessions with facts.
  • Many experience intense anxiety.
  • They can be easily distracted, some have ADD or ADHD.
  • They may find social situations to be troublesome.

In a BBC video My Autism & Me, starring Rosie King, who has Autism, she explains her Autism. She says she, “…feels words, it’s like they’re slimy or sticky,” and she talks about being really sensitive. She says, “Three out of five people with Autism feel unhappy,” she added, “this is probably because they aren’t getting the help they need.”

Although Autism can be overwhelming at times, my son, Jeremiah is the light of our lives. He has taught us about the fragility, individuality, and uniqueness of the human race. He has made us see the world differently. He has shown us there is a bright, beautiful light to be found in the midst of difficult  circumstances.

This is a very short summary of what Autism looks like. My goal is to provide understanding for those who know someone on the Autism Spectrum, and to support parents of Autistic children. If you would like someone to know more about Autism, you can send them here. I hope this gives you a glimpse of what Autism is.

If you are interested in how to help and support someone with Autism, you can find more on my Contents page, under Autism and Special Needs.

*Remember that no two people with Autism are alike.


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when your adopted child doesn’t fit seamlessly into your life, what will you do? (adoption/foster)

To this day Dimitri’s bones ache when the winter cold settles in. As that chill cloaks him, memories of a frozen Uzbekistan scene play through his mind like a horror film. His father laying on the concrete floor of an abandoned building, drunk, and nearly dead. He’d wrapped a thread bare blanket around his sister, but her little feet protruded from underneath. His other sister sat watching those who must brave the harsh winds pass on the street, fur Ushanka hats, coats, and boots layered their bodies, warding off the sting of ice. Then it had come time for him to scrounge up something for dinner, but the chances were slim, they hadn’t eaten in two days.

Stories like this one are plentiful in the adoption community, whether a child came from Russia, Africa, or America, they all have their stories. They may not be exactly the same, but they all contain great heartache.

What is a child to do with that pain? Do they know how to be a well-behaved daughter or a perfect sibling? Will they fit seamlessly into their adoptive family within one year of meeting them? What about a child who hasn’t attached within two years? I don’t believe children are given enough opportunity to get past the anguish they have been through, and brought with them.

As I have said many times, our hurting children have developed a new way of living because of their previous environment. You may see different stages of behavior and say, “He wasn’t like this before.” When our children come to us, they may be quiet and reserved, as time passes they may try to be controlling because they have a need to dominate situations or they feel everything will fall apart if they don’t. (Their previous life did, so why wouldn’t this one?) Then you may see outbursts of anger and a complete breakdown of behavior – this can be a sign that they’re beginning to get comfortable and they are SCARED. Our hurting children want to replicate the chaos in their brain because it makes them comfortable if their outside environment duplicates what’s inside. So we can see that our hurting children exhibit behaviors for a reason.

In the past week I’ve mentioned the Reuters investigation The Child Exchange a few times. Why? Because it’s shocking. But shocking as it is, I feel the thoughts the adoptive parents have expressed there are more common than we want to think.

I believe part of the problem stems from our society. We are living in a “me” world. (Don’t worry, I live in the same “me” centered universe too.) Soon after we adopted our daughter, my mom said to me, “When you and your brother were little, I didn’t have date nights or weekend getaways.” True, they didn’t. But truer still is the fact that mothers can do a better job raising their kids if they can have some time away (especially if you have hurting adopted children – but always be careful how much you leave your kids and /who/ you leave them with).

This mindset, the one that says we need date nights or a break, can be taken too far. I say, everything in moderation. We can begin feeling that life is about us, and if you have a child who’s difficult, it can turn into ideas such as, “This is not what I signed up for,” or, “This child is taking too much of my time.”  Parents can even place the needs of their biological children above their adopted ones.

In The Child Exchange, Gary Barnes said he gave his adopted daughter, Anna, to another family because he lacked the finances to provide therapy, and that therapy would have been inconvenient. First, I wonder why therapeutic parenting couldn’t have been done in the home. (That’s why I do what I do – I want to help parents care for their children in the home. Yes, sometimes outside therapy is needed, but a majority of an adoptive parents success is accomplished in-home.)

My second problem with his statement was the inconvenient part. Really?? (By the way, this couple did not have other children.) It was too inconvenient for them to provide therapy for their hurting daughter? I am simply flabbergasted.

Third, they didn’t have the finances? I wonder if they’d had a biological child who went missing, what they would have done to get that child back safe in their arms. What assets, time, and effort would they have put into finding that child? It should be the same for an adopted child, because they are essentially lost without our help. They need us to move heaven and earth for them, they must be treated as our children because that’s what they are. If we don’t treat them as such, I can guarantee they know it, and their actions will speak volumes against us. This is a LIFE, and I can’t stress how important it is to put our child’s needs first.

Other adoptive families give reasons why they can no longer care for their child; he puts spaghetti in his pockets (well, he has food issues, and was probably starving before he came to you), she hides in the closet and won’t come out (really, is that the worst she throws at you?), she sneaks out her window (kids who are just being kids do that too). What I’m saying is, look at your child’s behaviors and decide that you can handle them, because that’s how you’ll make it through. If we begin to believe that we can’t handle our child’s behavior, that they’re too wild, too whatever, we slide down the slope of self-preservation too quickly. You can make it through this. There are hundreds of thousands of teens who are doing well and have bonded with their adoptive families. It takes a parent who is dedicated to doing everything they can to help their child, and a commitment that communicates, “I am never going anywhere and neither are you.”

When my husband was in ministry many moons ago, we went to a counselor, Louis McBurney (he has since passed), and his greatest question for us was, “And then what?” If you think something is so horrible, ask yourself that question. If your child hordes food in his room (there are solutions for this behavior that help), and you are angry and at your end, ask yourself, “And then what?” This means, what will be the outcome if your son stashes food in his room? The answer: The room will begin to smell. And then what? Answer: We might get mice! And then what? Answer: Well, I guess I could have him clean it. Yep. And that behavior of his will continue until you get to the bottom of his fear regarding food. (And the answer is NOT locking the fridge and cupboards.)

The point here is that often it’s not as bad as we perceive it to be. We are tired, we are worn down and worn out. But when we think clearly (and follow advice from this blog – insert smiley face), we can see that our problems can be overcome.

Believe me, I am not immune to problems. Besides having a child with multiple diagnoses stemming from her early neglect, I have a son with Autism. Autism can be extremely difficult, and one aspect that makes it such is my son is constantly changing. There is always an obstacle to overcome.

We are constantly having to problem solve; how do we potty train a child who doesn’t talk or use sign language, or understand the words, “Come and tell me when you have to go potty.” What do we do when he’s suddenly frightened by his room, but we can’t communicate through words that it’s safe, how do we take care of his sensory needs when we can’t go outside and swing?

If you have a hurting child, problem solving is part of your daily life, and the issues our children present can be solved. I know this post isn’t encouraging, but I desperately want to see families staying together because I care immensely about adopted children. They have been through hell and deserve to have a wonderful life. I also care about you, the parent, and I know that if you don’t follow through with your commitment to your child, you will ridicule yourself and the guilt will pester you. You won’t feel better if you don’t do all you can. And you CAN do it!

what level are you on? (adoption/foster)

My heart breaks when I hear of children who’ve been abandoned by families because they did not fit the mold they were expected to fall into. Families are falling apart because of the stress that has culminated due to a child that has attachment issues. The entire family suffers, and so does the child who has already experienced so much loss and brokenness before entering their adoptive family.

I would like to think that adoption dissolutions are rare. A statistic I recently read said ten to fifteen percent of adoptions fail, and although this isn’t a high percentage, when it comes to children losing families, I feel it is far too exorbitant.

I think of adoptive families as living in a home with several levels. The top one is filled with hope and dreams that have come to fruition, it’s where the family is whole. A couple stories down from there is where hope and dreams exist, but are not yet realized. Here, a family knows their goal, and life is running fairly smooth. Then there are families who’ve fallen to the lower levels, where it seems that all hope is lost. They are placing their foot on the step, trying to climb up, but they continue to slip. The adopted children, the parents, and the siblings are all crying out. They are lost and grasping for help.

This is why I’m here, writing and trying to help adoptive and foster families. If you’re not on the bottom floor, then my goal is to keep you from falling down the steps. My goal is that we no longer hear about foster/adopted children being turned away, thrown out, or given away. If, however, you are on that bottom floor, I want to give you the foot hold you need to move to the upper floors.

At times families find themselves on the bottom floor because they were unwilling to have open eyes going into the process. They imagined a fairy tale. Sure, there are absolutely many fairy tale moments, adopting is a wonderful thing for both the parents, the adopted children, and siblings, but we cannot go into adoption with our eyes closed. We must be willing to look at our family and decide how we will make it work.

Work? Yes, it’s work. Many of our hurting children have gone through something horrendous, whether it be that they weren’t touched during their first months of life; or they were homeless as a young child, fending for themselves, finding their own food and shelter; or they were abused physically and mentally.

Raising an adopted child takes work because they need all of us. We have to solve problems in different ways, we have to be empathetic even when we feel like blaming, we have to ask our spouse for help even when we don’t want to. Sometimes we have to make a safety plan within our home even when it seems impossible.

What are you willing to do for your child? Change your schedule? Give up a hobby for a couple of years? Take over your spouses responsibilities when they need a break? Admit to your own exhaustion?

If you’re reading this blog, you may be looking for help. You don’t want to do battle every day. You want to help your child and your family, and my hope is that the information here will help you do that. I want with all my heart for you to live on the top floor, with a balcony that looks back on all you’ve come through. There you can say, “See, we’ve made it this far, we can keep going.” Because in the end family is what it’s all about, and your family was built through adoption.

For more tips and links to other helpful articles and blogs make sure to visit me on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Have a great week!

tackle one behavior at a time

Do the dishes, pick up the house, make breakfast, send the kids off to school, go to work, take a child to soccer practice, make dinner, call Grandma, read a book to the kids, put the kids in bed, wash dishes, try to relax, fall into bed. Repeat.

That doesn’t cover half of it right? Neither did I list all of the behaviors we deal with when we have a child with attachment issues. Our children don’t even have to have attachment issues to exhibit negative behaviors, kids just do.

So, what can we do when our lives are so busy with all the normal day to day activities, yet we are trying to help our child overcome negative behaviors? I believe the answer is to work on one behavior at a time. This is the most beneficial and productive way to meet each behavior and work on changing it.

When Payton was four we were still working on potty training. I was frustrated to no end and ready to be done, and she was still waiting until the last minute to go to the bathroom, or not even trying at all, and would wet her pants. I mean the drenching, puddle on the floor (not the leaky little bit, oops I didn’t make it in time). This Potty Training Gone Wrong was taking up most of our instruction time. (There is only so much time in the day: rocking your kids, playing with them, personal care for your children and yourself, house keeping, errands, play dates, feeding your family, and instruction time between it all.)

At the same time we were also working on her attitude when we asked her to go to the bathroom. Her response was usually yelling “No,” and telling us she didn’t have to. Less than two minutes after escapades of yelling, saying she didn’t need to go, there was a lake and a race to get to the bathroom.

During this very long phase of potty training, my mom and dad visited us. Afterwards, my mom emailed me, saying that we should do something about Payton talking back to us (in any given situation where things didn’t go her way).

In reality, we can only work on so many behaviors at a time. What would life be like if we came down on lying, potty issues, school work, screaming/rages, listening skills, general disobedience, and the numerous other obstacles we face every day? We’d never get anything done, our child would live in a constant state of stress, and more importantly, no bonding would be taking place.

Bonding always has to take precedence over everything else. Why? Because if we don’t have a bond with our child, their behaviors won’t be changed permanently or even for an extended period of time. If we do see a positive turn in behavior before bonding takes place it may be that the child is doing it out of fear, or they are doing it to manipulate a situation or person.

I strongly suggest not working on too many behavioral issues at once. First, it overwhelms mom and dad when there are too many things to focus on. Ask yourself how much time you want to devote to correction and not to bonding. Second, it puts too much pressure on the child when you expect them to change their entire life in one shot. They become overwhelmed and frightened, which sends them back to their flight, fight, or freeze mode.

I suggest choosing the biggest problem you’re facing and focus on it. And always remember that your main focus is bonding, because without bonding, you won’t have permanent behavior change.

Are there several behaviors you are trying to correct? Do you think it would help to tackle one at a time?

*Is your child dealing with sleep issues? Are you in and out of their room several times before you crash in bed? Does the Super Nanny solution not work for your child? Do you get bombarded with questions every evening? Be sure to check back later this week, as I will be writing about sleep and how to get your child to rest peacefully. Here’s the link for that post: why good nights are illusive (sleep issues #1)

13 (funny) reasons you know your child has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) (originally posted in part by Shut UP)

If you have a child with Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) you can relate to what www.shutupabout.com wrote about SPD. Their post titled, “Top 13 Reasons You Know You’re Raising a Child with Sensory Issues.” At the top they hit it off with a bang, and it’s something all of us SPD mommies can identify with. It says, “Please excuse my excited mood. My sensory kid ate a new food!” Their post continues with some laughable signs that your child may have sensory issues. The following is from Shut Up with a few additions from our life with SPD:

#13) You don’t care if you end up in prison for cutting pillow tags.

#12) You wonder if the reason Rapunzel’s hair was so long was because she screamed at the hairdresser and her mother couldn’t take it.

#11) You seek out children with buzz cuts as playmates for your child because he doesn’t understand that hair pulling feels bad to most people.

#10) Putting on your child’s seatbelt counts as your daily cardio.

#9) Your child wears jogging pants to his First Communion.

#8) You equate Disney World with Hell.

#7) When your child is missing and the first place you look is on top of your refrigerator. (In our case, outside on the trampoline.)

#6) Your son tells you the bug he ate was really crispy.

#5) You generously tip your child’s hairdresser — with Prozac.

#4) Your child goes to sleep with sweatpants, ski pants, snowmobile suit, and  a full backpack and it’s the middle of summer. (In our case our son is naked any time of year.)

#3) You carry ear protection meant for the shooting range in your diaper bag.

#2) You don’t care if your child looks like Edward Scisscorhands because you hate cutting their nails.

#1) You’re worried more about the sound of the fire alarm than the actual fire.

*****

Yes, our life is filled with adventure, and this is only a small portion of the fun we have. I hope you got a laugh out of this. Be sure to take a look at my post, Sensory Processing Disorder #2 (does your child have sensory issues?), where I give specific advice on how to help your kiddos.

Another great resource is from Not Alone. They give ideas for sensory activities on their Pinterest page: Sensory Activities. And if you’re looking for more information and help with SPD, they have additional resources on their Pinterest page: SPD: Sensory Processing Disorder.

Check out these sensory related posts:
Sensory Processing Disorder #1 (what it is)
Sensory Processing Disorder #2 (does your child have sensory issues?)
new scientific evidence for Sensory Processing Disorder

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new scientific evidence for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)

Are you tired of hearing about Sensory Processing Disorder? Well, hold on because we’re almost done. I feel it can be an important component to helping our kiddos. But then, you hear the word “important” all the time on this blog, and it’s because of those “important” things that I’m here. 😉

So, there is some new scientific evidence for Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD). If you would like to know more about Sensory Processing Disorder and how it affects our adopted kids, you can view my two previous posts I wrote this week; Sensory Processing Disorder #1(what it is) and Sensory Processing Disorder #2 (does your child have sensory issues?). In the second post I explain that I don’t think every child who is adopted has SPD, some have sensory sensitivities and we can take care of most of them at home without a label.

I don’t need scientific findings to know that my son has major sensory sensitivities, but this is exciting for the SPD community as a whole. In the article, Breakthrough Study Reveals Biological Basis Sensory Processing Disorder in Kids, Dr. Marco says, “We are just at the beginning, because people didn’t believe this existed,” said Marco. “This is absolutely the first structural imaging comparison of kids with research diagnosed sensory processing disorder and typically developing kids.” You can check out the whole article to see what’s been discovered.

Check out these sensory related posts:
Sensory Processing Disorder #1 (what it is)
Sensory Processing Disorder #2 (does your child have sensory issues?)
13 (funny) reasons you know your child has SPD (originally posted in part by Shut Up)

the behavior battle (adoption/foster)

Behaviors come in all shapes and sizes. There is avoidance, vocal aggression, physical aggression, self-abuse, rude comments, bowel issues, sleep issues, food issues, and the list goes on, and on, and on. Many of you are in a battle with behaviors.

Last year we had a Speech Pathologist and a Developmental Therapist coming to our home for our son. They suggested we bring in Patrice, a Behavioral Specialist. After visiting our home one time, she said Jeremiah exhibited behaviors. Well, I was not a happy Mama. My son was well behaved, especially when considering where he came from and what he deals with. I equated much of his crying (behavior she was referring to) with his lack of understanding language (he’s nonverbal). Jeremiah is developmentally delayed and has Autism, but does not struggle with many of the attachment issues our daughter does.

Before school began, I attended a meeting with Patrice and Jeremiah’s other therapists. I mentioned, as kindly as possible, that Patrice said Jeremiah exhibited behaviors. One woman said, “He does.” A few minutes into this roundtable discussion, I found out they all believed behaviors aren’t a bad thing, but are a child’s way of communicating.

If we look at our child’s behavior in this way, it alleviates some of the frustration we feel when they act out. We can also see that our child’s behavior isn’t about us, which so many parents of hurting children tend to think.

Our children are telling us something. They are responding to triggers that send them back to their days of trauma, neglect, and abuse. They are trying to control their environment because they don’t believe they will be safe if they don’t.

like a wave, our child's behaviors come from deep within.
like a wave, our child’s behaviors come from deep within.

I listened to a webinar on The Attachment and Trauma Network that was very enlightening. In regards to a hurting child’s behavior one of the speakers said, “If your child had acid reflux and threw up, it would be because of the acid reflux. So it’s the same as when your child tries to ruin things when they are going well, their brain is more comfortable with the chaos, the calm scares them. Their body is reacting, they aren’t doing it because of you.” This internal response to the chaos in their brain produces behaviors that we don’t like.

Our children who have been neglected, abused, and traumatized have behaviors, some big, some small, and many are colossal. I hear parents consistently wanting to fix their child’s behaviors, so they can have a more peaceful life. I’ve been there many times myself. We think, “My child should understand this, she’s so smart,” “Why doesn’t my child get the consequences that come about every time she does…” “I am so tired of repeatedly telling her the same thing,” “Why can’t we get past this, it’s been years since the trauma occurred.”

Why can’t behaviors be quickly fixed with consequences, discipline, and rewards? For our children to create a lasting behavior change they must bond with us (see the end of this article for links to posts on bonding). When our children bond with us, their brains are forming connections that previously did not exist. Before our children bond, their brain is disconnected.

In The Boy Who Was Raised as a Dog, Dr. Bruce Perry says, “Because of the enormous amount of information the brain is confronted with daily, we must use these patterns to predict what the world is like. If early experiences are aberrant, these predictions may guide our behavior in dysfunctional ways.” Our children will not behave properly when their brain is disconnected.

Consequences, discipline, and rewards used in the right way are elements that help our kids develop, but when our main focus is on those three facets and not on bonding, it’s like placing a new board over a rotting one. The rotting board doesn’t go away, it’s still festering underneath, it will continue to rot until it’s replaced.

I equate the rotting wood with the beliefs our children have formed about life and themselves. When our child bonds with us, we are replacing those old ideas with new theories of themselves (they are lovable), their caregivers (safety and love), and life (they don’t have to control everything). When all these pieces begin to come together you will see your child letting go of their control, which will in turn change some of their negative behaviors.

For practical ways to get your child’s brain connected (bonding with the caregiver) head over to my other posts:
let’s bond already:creating attachment with an adopted child 
rocking: a simple first step to bonding (and it doesn’t just apply to infants)
what’s on their mind?
why consequences & rewards don’t work