Wednesday, November 28, 2012

aware of different

I learned a lot on how to parent my now 3 year old son Greyson from watching our Applied Behavior Analysis therapists that taught him.Many didn't have kids of their own and were in their 20's- yet- they taught me.

I had no clue what in the hell I was doing. Starting at about 22 months, Greyson could turn on an instant. Left instead of right- green instead of blue-cut horizontally instead of vertically. Complete meltdown. Tantrum City. Not once a day but eleventy hundred times an hour

Before we knew Greyson was Autistic, I had no clue how to handle these outbursts... I didn't want to be a parent that spanked- but found myself quickly becoming one after trying everything else. I tried ignoring him... It didn't go away...I tried spanking him and yelling at him... It didn't work...I tried time outs and rewards and everything I could think of... None of it worked. I couldn't explain it to others... 

It's like he's not even listening to me... It seems like he doesn't understand when I tell him no

And most people said the same things back... That's kids for you. He's ignoring you. My kids don't listen to me either...

It was completely different though... But I didn't know how to explain it because I didn't know it myself...
So slowly I started to feel like I was going crazy... and felt like everyone else was doing a good job- which was illustrated by the fact that their kids paid attention more often than not... and I was a failure...

ABA Teachers are taught to reward appropriate behavior and ignore and redirect inappropriate behavior-- calmly. I would see Greyson scream at them, hit them (although usually they were able to go in for the block) and fall to the ground...and the Teacher redirected Greyson while remaining completely calm... 

We love all of you ABA Teachers- especially the ones that have taught Grey!!! You make a difference in our Life every single day.

Thank you Erin.  We love you.

They give simple commands as to what Greyson is supposed to do---not what he isn't supposed to do. For example- if Greyson is flapping his hands and zoned out when he is supposed to be paying attention- they say- 

Hands down- instead of don't flap

Quiet mouth--instead of No yelling.

They certainly couldn't react like I wanted to and sometimes had so many times...

GREYSON!!! SIT YOUR BUTT DOWN THIS INSTANT- yelled while grinding teeth...We do NOT HIT!!! We DO NOT SCREAM...(And here- let me hit you on the butt to illustrate the fact that we don't hit...and let me scream in your face to show you that you are not allowed to scream at me)... 

And I realized I needed to start acting more like his Teachers and less like an ego bruised, overwhelmed Mother...

And it started to work...and I felt and looked so much less crazy which was such a relief. There are still many times I'm a regular old Mom and have beautiful yelling outbursts of my own...But the majority of the time I keep calm and I extract the emotional side of it...When you spend much of your day correcting your child with behavior issues- it's so much sweeter to be able to be calm about it...


Better for him and for me...

I had a sweet and patient Mom write to me about an interaction her daughter had... I'm sharing the beginning of her letter with her permission.

While in the car earlier, Sally was telling me about this "mean" girl who ran past her in the library to get the book that Sally wanted. I asked her which girl in her class was "mean". She told me that is was a girl who only goes to "special area" with her class. Light bulb moment for me....I know from teaching that kids who only go to special area with a class are probably in a self contained room the rest of the day. So I told her that that little girl must have "superpowers". Well that was completely intriguing to her! Now, I have this incredible teaching moment for her and I got it mostly right but I need you to help me explain to her better about "superpowers' with out using that defining language that I want to avoid. I told her that girl is EXTRA special....she got that because we say "all kids are special" and they are. I explained to her that she could not help her behavior and she needs to be extra nice and understanding to her. I racked my brain, wishing I could go straight to your blog to help me explain this to her without making this girl seem different or scary. What is the best way to teach our kids about superpowers? 

Man- reading that letter made my heart hurt with the love I felt pouring out from this Mom.. and the hope that these conversations are going on all over the World...and what a great question...It really got me thinking...

I am a big fan of shining a light on it. Whatever IT is in your life. When people know IT- IT ain't so scary.

I've had people say to me- Young kids don't even recognize when a child is different, but I don't agree. Even children as young as 2 and 3 notice that Greyson is different- and they ask me about it because they are observant and curious. Two beautiful traits...It's up to us to make sure that different isn't equated with bad...and we can do that by accepting different in ourselves first.

I've heard, Why doesn't Greyson listen to you? Why doesn't Greyson talk? Why is Greyson screaming?   And when they ask I am never offended... Quite the opposite- I love 'em even more for it...

I certainly don't have all the answers or Life experiences...but I try to put it in age appropriate terms... Younger kids wouldn't understand terms like- Autism or Spectrum so I don't go there. (Ha! I don't understand Autism either!) But I try to say something like---

Every child is a gift from God- just like you are. Gifts are meant to be opened and celebrated. No two people are alike. Some kids look different on the outside- and some kids look different on the inside- like Greyson... Could you imagine if we all looked exactly the same?!! 

We ALL have things that we are good at- and things we need extra help with...Is there something you need extra help with? 

Greyson is a gift too. He loves to have fun and run. He's really good at jumping too!


Do you know how you are struggling with (riding a bike, catching a ball, multiplication)? Greyson is struggling with learning how to talk and how to share with others.  He doesn't mean to hurt your feelings or not share toys. He just needs extra help doing it as good as you do!

Can you help Greyson learn to share? And even though he doesn't answer back- still talk to him. You may have to call his name a few times to get him to look at you. When you talk to him- it helps him learn how to talk. I know you are a good helper! 

When Greyson is older if he has the capability to be involved with what we share it will be a team effort. 
I don't keep Grey's autism in the corner. If he is going to learn from others- I want them to know what's going on- otherwise in time he WILL be labeled as mean, stupid or bad or slow...and he is much more than that...

You can ask your kid's Teacher if there are any special needs children in their class. It's not the kind of thing that is advertised...if there is- ask if there are any learning/helping opportunities that your child can be included in. I am so grateful to you for your help.

Thank you to the special Momma who wrote to me- and all of you other Parent's helping to share Awareness for Different all over the World. 


  1. I always enjoy your words. You reminded me of a great quote from my boss, Maryln Appelbaum..."Calm trumps anger." So true.

  2. This meant so much to me.......we have a child who is different on the outside and that's hard too, but he's a great (man) boy and I just won't to shout it to the world sometimes!

  3. Such a great post, Chrissy. The little ones surely do know... and they are oh, so kind and caring with the extra special kids who need more help. I learn from them! Thanks so much for taking time to help us all understand. xoxoxo