The Tiger Mother - Parenting Run Amuck

I seem to be doing a lot of head shaking these days and the column that just appeared by The Tiger Mother is no exception.  Maybe it’s because some of the things people say are simply unbelievable to me.  Or maybe I’m just getting old.  No matter…what follows is what turned an otherwise relaxing Sunday morning on its ear.

In the Life and Style section of The Wall Street Journal appeared a column – “A Week in the Life of the ‘Tiger Mom’ Amy Chua.”  Now perhaps you read her 2011 book, Battle Hymn Of The Tiger Mom, or simply heard about it.  It tossed another catch-phrase about mothers and parenting into the ring which now also includes helicopter parents, free-range parenting, and others.  And while every parent approaches parenting differently (and has the right to do so), this column stepped over the line for me and maybe for you too.

The Sentence That Threw Me Overboard

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First, it's important to say this – if I’m going to take my time to read something, I expect it to have some value.  Whether an insight to consider or a line to make me laugh, make it worth my time.  In Chua’s tale of a day in her life (why printed space was given to this in the first place is another issue; i.e. no value), she makes this statement referring to her 19 and 22-year-old daughters who were returning to college after winter break … “Dogs are so much nicer than daughters.”  I stopped and re-read it, figuring that I must have missed something that would have framed this statement differently.  I missed nothing.

No question about it – parenting is tough and there are days when we’d much rather be stroking our dog than our child’s ego.  But can you imagine being someone that many apparently follow in terms of parenting advice and, whether in jest or not, thinking no less saying that you think your pet is nicer than your child?

A Line In The Sand

Whether she intended her statement to be humorous or not, it simply crossed the line.  And how do I define this line?  Like this – no matter what parenting approach you prescribe to and no matter how difficult your parenting road may be, how about showing gratitude for having the privilege of simply being a parent, for not everyone can achieve this title.  It’s not the same as the titles Chua has after her name, but for many, it’s the most important one there is.

The Greatest Gift

Is Chua aware that there are millions of parents who yearn for a daughter? Women struggling with infertility and couples trying to adopt.  Is she cognizant of the millions of parents who have daughters with disabilities, hoping beyond hope that their daughters *can* attend college and will be grateful when they return home for winter break?  Is she aware that one of her colleagues may have a daughter with mental health issues where every day is fraught with both fear and hope?  Is she clueless about the parents who have lost a daughter to suicide or another life-ending tragedy?  While I typically don’t write like this, I simply have to say…Gimme a break.  

I’m all for differing opinions.  If you want to share parenting insights that some might find valuable, do so.  If you have advice that might help another, advise.   But if you’re fortunate enough to have the ability to impact others through the written word or otherwise and you've been given one of life's greatest gifts, you better be sure you’re taking the realities of others into consideration.

Here’s my bottom-line to Amy...  

Degrees and accomplishments don’t take the place of common sense and sensitivity.  No question you love your daughters, yet the fact that you also asked whether they may want to come home again speaks volumes.  Your dogs may be wonderful companions that don’t give you a run for your money, yet they also don’t give you the pride of the accomplishments that you value so dearly.  So remember…you're regarded as the tiger mom for one reason only.  And it's not because your dogs are your sole dependents.  Be thankful.  You have the most important credentials ever...M.O.M.

-Debra I. Schafer, CEO

He's Just A Troubled Kid

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I recently connected with a former friend from many years ago in one of those "So, how's life been treating you" conversations.  I'm not terribly fond of these catch-up calls, but he called me so I was able to ask questions and listen which I prefer to do.

In the course of family updates, my friend spoke of his nephew, saying he was struggling, was not terribly social, spent most of his time in his room, and said, "He’s a troubled kid.”  My first reaction was - what an antiquated phrase - yet kept asking questions, hoping to perhaps offer some insights into how he could help him.  Wrong assumption on my part.  Understanding his issues and wanting to step in to help was far less important than conveying - multiple times - that he’s troubled. 

After hanging up, I thought to myself ... why is this phrase still used to describe a struggling child?  I can't ever recall hearing anyone refer to an adult as a troubled adult.  It's not only a poor generalization, but it conveys nothing of substance.  To me, it's like looking away from something unpleasant.  You're aware of it or may have seen it but no...not getting involved.

We’re quick to toss around “labels” (both accurate and otherwise) when it comes to adults – he’s depressed, she’s bipolar.  And while labels can be obstacles based in fear and the unknown, once *it* has a name, we've got a starting point.  And this certainly holds true when we're talking about a child or young adult.

I understand well the reluctance of parents to label a child or teenager and many resist at every turn.  It's easier to say that he's going through a phase or she's just introverted.  But that's not good enough and certainly not for the child him/herself.  Not only do parents need to know why their child is struggling, but sharing this information - and relevant details - is important particularly when it comes to family and those close enough to the child to try to make a difference.  We already know the alternatives and few have positive outcomes.  Not to mention the need for the child to learn self-advocacy skills based on their understanding of themselves.

We’re quick to label one of *those* kids as being in special education yet even today, many lack real understanding about just what this means.  Just listen to the line in the film Admission where one of the college admissions officers exclaims, “The kid was in special education.”  So what?  The uninformed assume that this is an automatic roadblock preventing a struggling child from succeeding in school, college, or life.  I think not.

Much continues to be said - and needs to be said - about mental health issues and our children.  There’s a push to bring these issues to the fore to ensure that those who are struggling can access the support they need.  And while our words (or labels) can harm if used as a weapon, they can also embrace.  Failing to use the appropriate words to describe a struggling child is the same as looking away.  It's not an easy choice to make and there are risks involved, yet the same applies to any new ground.  The longer we remain in the past and keep looking away, the harder it's going to be to turn a troubled child into a supported child making strides forward. 

- Debra I. Schafer, CEO

Parental Leave ... Time For Parents To Be Parents

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

Could it be that we’re finally at a tipping point when it comes to parental leave?  I’m almost afraid to ask the question, but it’s long overdue. 

Supporting the needs of employees who are also parents is simply smart business.  Not only does it reduce costs (e.g. recruiting/replacement, absenteeism), but companies seem to forget a critical point when evaluating their support for (or objection to) paid leave and similar programs -- working parents are raising the next generation of employees, so doesn’t it make sense to give these children the benefit of parents who can be fully-present? 

I’ve been saying this for years…no working parent should have to choose between being a good employee and a good parent.  And many have had to make this choice for far too long.

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

Considering the fact that we rank along with Oman and Papua New Guinea as one of only three countries that does not provide paid parental leave, to say that the respect and support for working parents has been lacking would be a serious understatement.  Employees who are essentially juggling two full-time jobs, who excel at multi-tasking and problem-solving (two key competencies companies seek), and who are raising their children while helping to keep their companies profitable.  If I wasn't one myself, I'd be shaking my own head in amazement. 

There's no better way for companies to truly "walk the talk" than by recognizing the needs and providing supports for working parents over the lifecycle of their children's lives.  Some of these needs (e.g. raising a child with autism) are more complex, yet company support remains integral to retaining these top employees.  And this begins by providing parents the quality time they need with their children from the start.

Enter Intel’s new benefit - “bonding leave” - which provides employees (Moms and Dads alike) with eight weeks of paid leave to be with their families.  Add this to the 13 paid weeks that new mothers can take anytime within 12 months of their child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement.  The result?  A company that gets it.

Whether it’s called parental leave, bonding leave, or anything else, if it allows working parents the time they and their children need to become what we want every family to be - a strong unit - without the paycheck worry, let’s call it anything we want as long as the end results are the same.

-Debra I. Schafer, CEO  

Helicopter Parents...Keep Those Rotors Spinning

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

The January issue of Real Simple had an article - “How To Raise A DIY Kid” - that had me intrigued then left me shaking my head, left and right, once again.  It raised the issue, albeit somewhat differently, of “helicopter parents” and then some.

First, let’s all agree on a universal truth – parents want their children to be happy, healthy, productive, and safe.  I surely do for my child.  Yet that’s where many, if not most, similarities end because, when it comes to parenting, one-size-fits-all advice simply doesn’t fly. 

No one can truly tell a parent how to do their job for one key reason.  No one knows their child better than the person (or people) who changed the child’s diapers, helped with homework, refereed playdates, soothed hearts, nursed illness, provided a safety net, and given them the tools and room to grow.  And while asking for and receiving input is fine, in the complex world of parenting, viewpoints from the outside are like watching a tennis match from the stands.  Unless you’re sweating it out on the court, you’re only an observer.  With a mai tai in your hand.

In this article, some of the advice still has me shaking my head:

·  “Kids need to fly solo as they mature.”

·  …”young adults who had been ‘overparented’ in childhood were more likely to have depression, anxiety…”.

·  And for parents whose older children “slip” and need their help, “Admit that you (i.e. the parent) messed up and tell them that you’re sorry.  Let them know that the expectations are changing as of this minute, and then teach them how to do things as necessary.”

This advice begs a number of questions…

How many parents hope that their children never learn to fly solo?

How many young adults struggling with depression, anxiety and more are doing so because of “overparenting,” or do they need additional support *because* of these diagnoses?

And how many parents feel they should apologize to their 18-year-old who needs help, as if the parent screwed up in some way.  Or that their child should be taken to task because…they need help.  Talk about using guilt as an attempted motivator.

And there are “guidelines” by age as well…

·  Ages 5-7 - load backpack and go through a mental checklist of what will be needed for that day in school.

·  Ages 8-10 - keep school materials organized.

·  Ages 11 and up - take initiative to organize long-term school projects.

Agree with all in principle.  Yet do these contributors think that all or even most kids are capable of achieving these goals by these ages?  And without the oversight, support, and yes…”helicoptering” of their parents?

There are thousands - no millions - of bright and capable children and teens who need support, and many far more than they’re already receiving and not because their parents don’t have their rotors spinning.  Some lack the executive function skills to organize their materials or handle long-term assignments solo, whether in 5th Grade or college.  Others are struggling with ADD or depression and is precisely *why* these parents need to continue to helicopter or otherwise.  And still others have been expected to achieve things because of an arbitrary age or grade and today are struggling often outside of the purview of others…some until it’s too late.

Transitioning into middle school doesn’t mean that a child should simply be able to handle multiple classes and teachers without support.  Turning 16 doesn’t mean that the teen should be standing at the DMV for their permit.  And attending college doesn’t mean that the artificial transition to adulthood as mandated at college orientation is applicable for all.  These are individual milestones, requiring the keen oversight by whom?  The parents.  Their eyes, knowledge, and intuition trumps all else.

Telling parents to let their children fail, which is very situation-specific, and using words like “coddling” and “indulgence” (insulting to caring and involved parents) greatly oversimplifies the realities and assigns an overlay of guilt onto an already complicated role. 

Parents today take the brunt of criticism and often feel like they're spinning in an attempt to meet the needs of their children, which is the top priority, and societal expectations.  What really needs to happen is that helicopter parents all, including myself, should tighten their seatbelts, make sure their earbuds are working to hear everything going on below, and hover as close to the ground for as long as needed. 

# # #

 

photo credit: Eugene Kaspersky  via photopin 

Autism, ADD, and The Holidays...When Ho-Ho-Ho Turns to No-No-No

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

For parents of children with autism spectrum disorders, ADD/ADHD, sensory, or other special needs, the holidays can be nothing short of a nightmare.  One that continues for more than a sleepless night.  Knowing your child's abilities, limitations, and preferences and adapting accordingly can make this time of year far more bearable, for everyone involved...

Visiting.  If family and friends are coming to your home, make sure your child knows when (day and time...and use a countdown timer as well if that helps) and that he/she can go off by themselves (with mindful supervision) whenever they wish.  Insisting that they greet people at the door or that they sit with everyone to "catch-up" could be a meltdown or escape moment waiting to happen.

If you’re heading to the homes of others, do everything possible to ensure a short visit (brief is better)…that as few “new” faces are there as possible (try to visit during an "off" time)…and that a quiet place is shown and available to your child upon arrival.  And, if your family or friends are unaware of your child’s diagnosis, sharing this information may be the greatest gift you can give...to yourself, your child, and to them.

Peers.  Seeing the cousins in a group or having the neighbors visiting in one evening may create major social issues, even if your child or teen may otherwise have a positive experience when it's 1:1 or a small group.  Give your child every opportunity for social success by limiting who comes when, making sure your child knows the plan. and changing things if it appears as though the timing might not be right.

Food glorious food.  Be aware of what’s being served on those platters and in those bowls.  If your child is on a gluten-free or other restrictive diet, bring the foods that you child can eat and in the typical dishes or bowls, particularly if your child is younger.  Now is not the time to introduce new foods and fancy ways to serve them.

Attire.  That brand new dress or shirt or those fancy socks could cause sensory issues that ruin a holiday moment before it begins.  Allow your child to dress as they prefer or introduce the "new attire" well before the official wearing, asking them if they want to “dress it up” a bit.

Music.  If music is soothing or if Jingle Bells happens to be a favorite, play music as much as possible during the holidays.  If attending holiday religious services is planned and if it's a new experience, a brief introduction is better than expecting your child to sit through two hours of services.  Crowds, tight seating, sounds, smells ... each alone may trigger sensory and auditory overload, so anticipate.  Arrive early to allow your child to see the environment.  Sit in the back.  Bring a snack.  And leave when it’s clear that enough is enough.

Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and the Christmas tree.  Lighting the Chanukah candles and the Kwanzaa feast can be a wonderful gatherings for family, but your child or teen may find these activities difficult.  And keep in mind that the blinking lights and singing ornaments on the Christmas tree (or Chanukah bush) can also create problems and may trigger sensory overload.

Shopping.   The mall with its crowds and loud noises are a recipe for a meltdown or resistance to even going.  If the picture with Santa is important, find a garden shop, bookstore, or other smaller venue where Santa pictures are being taken.  And if your child feels about Santa as many do about clowns (i.e. forget it), use photoshop to put them in the picture.

Schedules and routines.  The holidays mean changes which can result in havoc for children and teens alike.  This is also a time where therapies are on hiatus, creating even more need for structure and predictability.  Prepare a visual schedule – with your child’s assistance if possible – to show the plans for the days and nights.  And try to continue with some aspects of your child's therapies at home (another reason why ongoing communication with providers is essential).  Preparation is key.

Flexibility.  More important during the holidays than at any other time.  Bedtimes can be pushed.  Snacks can be expanded (unless there are dietary issues).  Time spent on video games can be extended.  Sleeping in their clothes is just fine.  The key is monitoring your child and making adjustments accordingly.  And listen to their wishes as these can be more important than anything in a box.

Gifts.  If the expectations on Christmas morning exceed the pleasure, forgo it.  Some children and teens find the pressure of opening gifts and then having to appear overjoyed more than they can handle.  In fact, many prefer to open their gifts alone.  Christmas Eve or Christmas evening after dinner work just fine too.  And ask family and friends what's in those nicely-wrapped packages as gifts with sounds or requiring two hours of assembly can be meltdown-provoking.  Same with your gifts.

The most important part of the holiday season is showing your child - based upon their personality, needs, expectations, and limitations - that the holidays can be fun and that you're listening to and watching for their cues.  This will make things far more enjoyable for everyone and will bring you a little "ho, ho, ho" in the process.  Happy Holidays...

We're Losing Our Kids

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The suicide of a college student.  The disappearance of another from a busy street.  Both in my local community.  Both within the past three weeks.  One remains an active effort with the hope for a positive resolution.  The other no longer does.

A young man I know well called just prior to Thanksgiving, telling me that the roommate of a friend had just committed suicide.  On campus and in their shared room.  A college student approaching the finish line toward graduation with a full life yet to be lived.  His friend needed short-term housing until alternate living arrangements could be made.  I heard the pressing need, yet the only thing that registered was that another promising young adult was in so much pain that ending it all seemed to be the only way out.

The raised voices about removing the stigmas and providing better access to mental health care are being heard.  Identifying young people who are struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues is critically important, but that’s only one side of the coin.  There's another side, one that requires us to dig deep, that's as important if not moreso.

Like flipping a light switch, children cross a “magical threshold” into the responsibilities and pressures of adulthood when they turn 18.  Never mind that a child's brain is not fully developed until around the age of 25.  The welcome mat is thrown down and we hope for the best.

So what happens.  They find themselves navigating classes, working to maintain their grades, handling their self-care and finances, dealing with roommate and peer issues, figuring out new environments and expectations…a host of demands that would tax even the most prepared young adult.  Yet many are simply ill-prepared and not ready despite what the law says.

Along with reaching this passage to adulthood comes the accompanying challenges and obstacles that prevent and preclude friends, professors, and others from being able to step in when a student is in crisis.  And this doesn’t even touch on the "red tape" issues facing parents who are trying to get their children the help they so desperately need.  And often times from afar.

College is a “hot topic” today – in fact, I just blogged about it.  The cost of attendance, whether college is worth the investment of time and money, and the safety of students ... all important issues. Yet attention to the fact that the lives of many of these young adults are balancing on a tightrope because they are unable to handle the pressures seems to be missing in these discussions.  They're slipping and some of these cracks in their new-found adult lives are swallowing them whole.  And forever.

There is shared grief here … this student’s friends who knew there were issues yet did not know what to do or where to turn.  This student’s parents who may have been unaware of the extent of their child’s difficulties or had been unsuccessfully trying to secure help.  And the grief that we all need to share because of the lack of safety nets for our 18 - 21-year-old children who are dealing with depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol issues, and other issues that are pushing them to despair.

I’m a parent too.  Of a young adult who has also experienced difficulties.  I know the fights involved and the “systems” that work against parents in the quest of their lives.  Few things cut through a person’s existence like feeling helpless … like knowing someone is struggling yet being told that information cannot be shared … like knowing that the line between having another day to fight and the last day can be hair thin.

My heart goes out to this student.  No child -- and yes, whether 18 or 25, they are still children -- should be alone, unable to cope, and without the supports they need.  There are resources such as Active Minds (www.activeminds.org) working hard to raise awareness and garner support for college students with mental health issues.  We hear about these stories every day.  Yet when it happens to your child or in your community, it drives home the fact that some things have to change.  What are we waiting for?

-Debra I. Schafer, CEO

 

So…How Was Your Working Parents Day?

Just wondering…did this week’s recognition of Working Parents Day change your life in any way?  I’m not a betting person yet I’ll wager not.  Yesterday was likely the same as today and tomorrow will likely follow suit.

Here’s the thing…I’m all for bringing attention to causes.  Hell…I support many myself and applaud those who work tirelessly to raise awareness and generate support for anything that will help another person.  Or many other people.  But I do have a problem with a day coined “Working Parents Day” when the reality is that a day hardly does this cause justice.

I’ve said it before and will continue to say it — working parents have a herculean task that faces them at sunrise every day and doesn’t end until their weary bodies fall into bed at night.  And why do they do it?  Because they value their efforts and contributions at work as they hold dear their roles as Moms and Dads.  As they should.  And they shouldn’t have to choose.

Married or single parent.  One child or several.  Raising a middle schooler or guiding a college junior.  Family support or at the rodeo alone.  Self-employed or employee.  Each and every working parent deserves recognition that goes far beyond the day set aside to do so.  Instead of assigning a name to a day, why don’t we start to truly listen to working parents and do better at meeting their needs.

Many companies are definitely doing a great job of providing a multitude of supports and programs to help all their employees be productive, engaged, and healthy.  Yet many companies are still far behind the curve and even in those organizations where exceptional benefits are the norm, working parents continue to struggle.  And part of the reason is that their needs, for better or worse, are different.  And these differences mean different solutions.

We tend to take notice when a societal crisis hits and then scramble to try to figure out why it happened and what immediate solution can mitigate the seriousness of the situation.  It’s the reactive vs. proactive mode of operation, one that rarely succeeds.  And if we really take a minute to examine this crisis, it involves our children who require far more from their parents today — and I don’t mean more i-Phones or designer clothes — than ever before.  They need time.  Years ago it was latchkey kids.  Today it’s an explosion of afterschool programs to keep children involved vs. walking the streets.  But the buck begins and ends with parents and many are unable to stretch any farther.

So for those who created Working Parents Day, I say forget the day.  Instead, let’s take a look at how we can help the Dad who can’t get out of the office before 6:00 knowing his son’s softball games start at 4:30.  Or the Mom whose childcare provider continues to call in sick…at 7:00 when she leaves for work at 7:15.  These are real issues facing real people with real children depending upon them to find solutions.

If this day is celebrated next year, how about giving every working parent Working Parents Day off.  Now this would make a difference.

Autism Isn't A Day Or Month

I'm a big supporter of raising awareness of causes and issues, encouraging people to rally to bring about change.  Yet when it comes to autism, a day or a month simply won't suffice. On various media outlets over the past few days, individuals have been sharing their insights into the realities of autism.  Some were identified as "experts" which, in my opinion, is a term that needs to be affixed carefully.  There was one - a mother - who spoke about raising her child with autism, sharing the realities with an emotional overlay that was as real as it gets.  This is the true expert.

Two of the other expert perspectives in particular stood out to me, each warranting a response and further discussion.  And while there may be those who might question from where I am gleaning my insights or upon what soapbox I'm standing, I'll say that after spending 15+ years in the trenches in this arena both professionally and personally, I'll take my chances.

One of the experts I'm referencing stated that parents need to push for services for their children.  Absolutely true.  Could not agree more nor cannot overemphasize the importance of parents taking charge in this regard.  Yet there was, and continues to be, a critical oversight here and one that is consistently overlooked.  It's that parents need to learn *how* to push for services for their children, particularly in school where the lion's share of these services need to be accessed.

There is an assumption, and a misplaced one at that, that parents automatically or miraculously acquire these skills ... that somehow these skills simply appear after their child receives an autism spectrum diagnosis.  And this assumption even occurs with parents themselves who, in their jobs or professions, may have skills that they "assume" will transfer to parent advocacy and school interactions, but sadly do not.

Just like the social skills/social thinking that their children need to learn through direct instruction, parents also need to be taught how to navigate through the educational arena in order to secure the services that experts continue to state (and parents know) their children need.  And need now.  I often say that special education requires a master's level of skills that continue to evolve over time.  Telling parents that they need to work hard over the long haul to get their children what they need is one thing.  Teaching them how to do so is another thing entirely.

The other expert on a different media outlet stated that as children reach high school, they need to learn life skills.  What?  As they reach high school?  Ever hear the expression "too little, too late?"  Here's what's wrong with this statement.

Part 1 -- we first need to acknowledge that there's a stigma attached to the phrase "life skills" so we need to rename it.  Parents (and others) equate it with things that, for many children on the autism spectrum including those with Asperger's Syndrome, simply do not apply.  But there's another huge bucket of life skills that they most definitely *do* need to learn (and be taught) in order to have any hope of successfully transitioning after high school graduation into college, employment, or independent living.  Once we eliminate the barriers created by the words "life skills" and broaden what it means, we can then begin to ensure that these skills are taught starting in preschool...and for all children.

Part 2 -- when the teen reaches high school, it's far too late to start thinking about the "life skills" they will need to transition into the adult world.  Even though transition planning is now supposed to begin at age 14, most schools pay little attention to the skills our children need to live as adults in the world.  We don't start to teach reading when the child is 12 years old, so why would we wait until the child is a teen to begin teaching these critical skills?  Skills that are considered "life skills" need to hold equal weight with academic skills in terms of their importance.  And for some children, they're even more important.  This isn't an either/or scenario and parents should not be forced to choose (and this happens frequently) between helping their child improve their reading level or how to complete a job application or to live with a roommate in college.

The attention to autism this month and any month helps to raise the volume of discussion about a diagnosis impacting families, businesses, and our society.  And whether you believe the recent CDC stats or not, the reality is that there are millions of children and teens today with an autism spectrum diagnosis growing up to become part of our adult world.  As future employees, tomorrow's college students, and the next generation of parents themselves.

Examining how we're approaching autism is not an easy topic nor task, but real change is never easy.  What it does require is for us to honestly assess whether we're providing parents with what they need to effectively help their children succeed in school and beyond.  And it also requires us to closely examine whether we're truly doing what we need to do to help our children reach adulthood as prepared as possible.  This requires more than a day or month.  It requires a lifetime.

 

Permission Granted

Here's how I see it...there are three types of people - those who ask for permission, those who don't and just back away from whatever it is, and those who just do and deal with the consequences later. The "typecasting" typically starts in childhood - e.g. asking to stay up past 9:00 or just doing it and dealing with the parental wrath later.  We were taught that the act of asking shows good manners and respect for the other person, and we teach the same to our kids as what parent doesn't want their child to be considered well-mannered and respectful.  Yet here's the thing ... the "real lesson" is giving the *permission* to ask.  It's the step that precedes "ask and ye shall receive" because if you don't know it's okay to ask, many simply don't.

Believe it or not, there are millions of parents who are reluctant to ask their child's teacher (or principal or IEP team members) the questions that fall into the "5W's" category:  Who is bullying my son at lunch; what is being done to help my daughter develop her organizational skills; where is my child's aide during transitions when problems are continuing to occur; when will we receive the data being collected; why is my son still reading well below grade level.  And we haven't even touched on the "h" question - how are you going to help my child learn social skills or how is it that my child's IEP goals are repeated from year to year.  All questions that parents *must* ask, yet far too many appear to be hindered by the asking process because they are waiting for permission to do so.

Some of the reluctance to ask comes from fear... of questioning the "experts"...of retaliation...of being labeled one of "those parents".  Yet fear is not a good enough reason not to ask, and certainly not when your child is struggling in school.  Asking is the conduit to information and it is - or needs to become - an ongoing activity.  This is one area - and time - where parents need to stop worrying about how they'll be perceived and start realizing that their job is to ask...and to keep asking.

So consider this the blanket "green light" to ask...for answers, information, explanations, data, reports...whatever it is that you need.  And if you're not sure exactly what you need, ask for everything involving your child - records, work samples, charts...everything.  Because here's the reality...I guarantee that when a parent walks out of a physician's office after hearing their child has autism or a reading evaluator's office with a diagnosis of dyslexia, one of the first "out-of-the-gate" responses (after possibly shock) is to ask...everything.   There's no difference when it comes to school.

The only way a parent can truly become an advocate for their child and the "true expert" about what's happening in school is to ask...and ask often.  And the path to asking begins with having the permission to do so.  Permission granted.

It's All About Having Choices

Walk down the aisle of the supermarket and what do you see?  Choices.  More corn flakes, types of ice cream, and varieties of toilet paper than anyone needs.  Yet it's there...choices.  The reasons (and this isn't a marketing discussion) involve wanting to target and satisfy various preferences since not everyone eats whole wheat bread or wants shredded cheese.  So why all the fighting about education? Listened to another discussion on MSNBC yesterday about public education.  Education Nation is one of their signature features and I applaud them (and everyone) who places education at the top of the list.  Yet what I seem to keep hearing is that public education is *the* way - that it's the only type of education that deserves our attention, funding, and resources.  The hard work being done to turn the tide in our struggling public schools is no different than the work being done in charter or alternative schools.  Each are working to meet the education needs of our children, albeit differently.  So if "choice" defines our society, why is education any different?  What makes public education better than any other education option and, as importantly, shouldn't the choices parents exercise in this regard receive equal attention - and respect - for the work they, too, are doing to educate our children?

I understand the premise of public education and indeed there are many districts, schools, and teachers doing a terrific job of educating our children in these settings.  But just like soy products and scented detergent aren't right for everyone, the same applies to education.  School isn't a one-size-fits-all issue and this certainly applies when we talk about, for example, the types of instruction and environment within which education occurs.  Children have different learning styles and function better in certain settings when their individual needs are met.  And in order to meet them, there have to be choices.  Otherwise, it's the old "trying to fit a square peg in a round hole" adage still at work.

There are kids who thrive in large public schools yet there are others who find success in smaller charter schools.  There are parents who choose religious education for their children and others who would opt for private school if provided with this option.   Each option is worthy of our attention and support because if it was your child struggling in their current educational placement, wouldn't you want viable choices to evaluate?  I know I did.  The point is that today, education is not one thing but rather a spectrum of options.  The days of school equating to all children attending their local public school are over.  And thankfully so.

If the goal is to satisfy the need for our children to learn and if the reality is that every child learns differently, choice must be part of the discussion.  And if the reality is that environment is a key factor to a child's ability to learn, then it follows that having choices vs. assuming that public school - or any option - is *the* answer is the only way.  Thirty years ago, the choices available for parents in evaluating school options for their children were slim at best; today we have a range of options, making for a far richer "shopping" experience.

The bottom-line goal is to help ensure that every child has the opportunity to succeed in school.  And because we define success differently for everyone, we must define education similarly as well.  My support for education runs broad and deep in all its forms, yet I equally support the word that needs to follow it...choice.

 

The Roller Coaster Ride That Never Ends...

How many parents haven't agreed to ride the roller coaster at least once with their kids?  It's almost a "right of passage" - sitting for 3 minutes on a ride that you can't wait to end.  Yet riding the roller coaster at an amusement park doesn't come close to the other roller coaster ride - the one that parents can't get off because it simply doesn't end. I can count on two hands the number of days school has been in session yet would need my hands and toes plus those of others to count some of what I've already been told...

  • My child's teacher refuses to allow my son to have a midday snack even though it's on his IEP and has been documented by medical need.
  • We explained that my daughter needs extra time to transition from class to class and it's in her IEP, yet we've already received a note saying that she's been late for class several times.
  • Even though my child's IEP states that homework will be limited to 30 minutes per night, we're already spending double that amount of time and behaviors are starting.

Yes..it's the start of a new school year.  New backpacks.  New classmates.  And a host of new issues that often combine with those carried over from last year.  If your child is in special education, you know well that this ride is anything but short and you won't be on solid ground for a while.

Added to the challenges that inherently accompany having a child with autism, ADD/ADHD, or a learning disability comes slashed budgets, larger class sizes particularly if your child is in a regular education classroom, and fewer resources.  Districts are stretched thin and so are teachers.  Yet the reality is that it's the parents who are feeling the strain and the children are already showing it.

Every school year begins with the hope that it will be a good one.  That services will be provided, supports will be in place, compliance with IEPs will occur, and collaboration will be the approach.  And for many parents, this is indeed how this and every school year begins.  Yet for many others, it's anything but.

A few things to ease the mounting pressure:

  • If your child is already showing signs that things are not working, reconvene your IEP team now.  It should be routine that, depending upon how your child is doing "out of the gate," you convene in September or early October.  Remember that you can call an IEP meeting at any time so don't wait.
  • If your child made progress or regressed over the summer, bring this information and data to your IEP team meeting.  It's essential that everyone involved in teaching and supporting your child knows what has happened from June through September.
  • If your child has been evaluated or re-evaluated over the summer and you agree with the findings, provide a copy of this report to your district before heading into an IEP meeting.  You want to give them sufficient time to review the documentation so that you're all on the "same page" during your discussions.

And the most important piece of guidance is this - your child is continually changing and as such, your child's IEP may need to change as well.  If you developed this year's IEP last year, think about the weeks and months that have passed in the meantime.  Things that may have appeared appropriate in March may well be different in September.

If you have not been keeping notes at home, do so.  Your observations and data factor into your child's educational plan so be sure you're watching, listening, and recording things as the school year unfolds.  Document all conversations with school district staff - no "off the cuff" discussions apply.

Your child's greatest resource is you.  Pace yourself.  Be proactive.  Focus on collaboration.  And don't be afraid to ask the tough questions or to bring in outside support if needed.   I read a great business quote that certainly applies here too -- "What you want, you will get.  But you have to want it enough to go about getting it."

Independence...A Day Or A Life

July 4th...a day commemorating our independence.  Most of us never think about our independence because we typically just make our own choices and do as we please.  We take for granted that we can go here and there, do this and that ... all at will. But if you think about the definition of independence as it applies to children with autism and other diagnoses  - not relying on another or others for aid or support - the word suddenly takes on a whole new meaning.   And while independence is defined differently for every child, the process of working toward this goal remains the same.  It's called hard work, never saying quit, and keeping your eyes firmly on the prize.

Not every child will reach the plateau of total independence (true for children without a diagnosis as well).  But, do you know how many children have been - and still are - thought to lack the ability to *be* independent at any level because of an obstacle and barrier (i.e. their diagnosis) that others believe precludes achieving this goal?  And do you know how many have proven these people wrong?

For many, independence is celebrated as a day with family barbeques and fireworks.  For many others, it's a life goal that often starts in childhood, continuing through adolescence and right into young adulthood.  It's what parents "in the trenches" are fighting for every day, refusing to relent to the labels or naysayers who seem to know what the future holds.  They don't.

For the millions of children (and their parents) who are striving to achieve the milestone of independence, think of tomorrow as a celebration of you and everything you're working so hard to achieve.  Nothing worth achieving comes without true effort and you continuously show the rest of the world what this is truly all about.

Required, Desired...Enough With Semantics. It's Needed

I know...school's out so who wants to think about it right now.  But here's the thing - there's a situation impacting millions of children and their ability to succeed in school.  And the implications go beyond high school graduation.  Many parents understand it, yet many are struggling to get beyond it. Decisions are being made by schools every day about whether a child should receive "x" service or support that they clearly need based upon whether someone believes it's "required" or "desired."   And I'm not talking here about what special education laws or IEPs dictate.

Let's take tutoring over the summer, for example, when a child is struggling with reading.  Many schools (but not all) would say that it's required because they're accountable, particularly if the child has an IEP, for helping the child read at grade level.  So many schools provide this support.  Now let's look at social issues - e.g. the ability to have a conversation with a peer or the ability to interpret non-verbal cues.  Many would say that this is less of a necessity (i.e. it's not required) so no need to address it over the summer...or even during the school year.

Not a week goes by when a parent doesn't ask me this question - "Can we put social skills on our child's IEP?"   Somehow the message that academics are the only thing that matters remains pervasive even though anyone would say that living in a social world requires social skills and understanding.  It seems as though being able to read a college syllabus (certainly important) trumps being able to work on a team.  Since when?

We tend to categorize things in order to prioritize them - the basics before the flourishes.  The problem here is that the scale of priorities is painfully out of whack.  Schools are making decisions about what they believe are the "must have" vs.  "nice to have" skills with little grasp of the long-term ramifications of *not* developing skills that they see as less than critical.

Ranking academics above other skills using a "required or desired" model is failing students miserably, as it ignores the needs of many children in their quest for success in school and beyond.  And when a parent asks if social skills can be included on their child's IEP, it conveys plenty about the information they lack or the misinformation they're receiving.

I doubt that anyone would want a child to be unable to meet tomorrow's expectations in college or on the job because those who weren't looking or thinking ahead decided what was required.  Parents know, yet they are often ignored when these critical decisions are made.

Many struggling children grow into struggling adults.  And if the purpose of school is to prepare children for adulthood, we're failing them in this regard.  Forget the semantics.  If we want our struggling children to be ready to transition out of high school and into the "real world,"  it's time to see their needs today and plan for tomorrow.

Parents, Children, Autism, and Unconditional Love

Let me start by saying that I'm not a psychologist, sociologist, or expert on love.  I am, however, a parent and as such, have filled these roles and many more in the two decades since I went from being "me" to "we." Andrew Solomon's recently posted TED talk - "Love, no matter what" on parenting, children, differences, and unconditional love struck a number of chords.  How we need to embrace our children and their differences and how unconditional love means doing just this.  He spoke of the changes we as a society have undergone in terms of understanding and accepting our gay children, our children with Down's Syndrome, and our children with other differences and disabilities.  And while I agreed with much of his talk, there were two points of fairly strong disagreement, one of which follows.

Solomon stated that parents of children with autism who wish that their children did not have this diagnosis somehow fail the litmus test of unconditional love.  What?  Parents of autistic children don't love their children unconditionally?  Say it wasn't what he said.  But it was.

On my soapbox I climb once again to say... No parents understand the definition of unconditional love like parents of children with autism.

I don't need to revisit again what I've expressed so many times before...the hours, sacrifices, work/life conflicts, financial strain, family upheaval...all the things that define parenting children, teens, and young adults in a world where they struggle at best to meet its demands.  But I do need to ensure that anyone who may not understand why parents would "wish" their children did not have this diagnosis, understands it now.

Parents of autistic children see their children's struggles every day in ways that clinicians, teachers, and others cannot.  They see them from sunrise to sunset.  They know that the weather, clothing, food, sounds, movement, people, activities, environments, and a host of other day-to-day situations create chaos for their children.  Does anyone think these parents may "wish" this wasn't the case for their children?  Does anyone think these parents may "wish" their children had friends?  Could speak?  Could drive?  Live independently?  Work?

If parents of children with autism wish anything, it's that their children did not have these struggles or needs.  They wish for anything - something - to lessen their children's pain.  But the wishing has nothing whatsoever to do with love.  And certainly not unconditional love.  Parents of children with autism *define* unconditional love and epitomize what this truly means.  They could also teach a lesson or two to many other parents as well.

We all wish for things.   For life to be easier.  For money to be more.  For family to be well.  And yes, parents of children with autism do wish for things too.  That their 4th Grader would be invited to a classmate's birthday party.  That their 8th Grader would be asked to be in the science club.  That their 12th Grader would be able to attend college.  But the one wish they don't have is wishing that their children were different so their love for them would then be without restrictions or caveats.

It's this type of unconditional love that keeps parents of children with autism forging ahead, plowing through the difficulties, never taking "no" for an answer, exploring supports wide and far.  If wishing comes into play here at all, it's that these parents wish that their children may have every opportunity to live a life where *their* wishes can come true.  And their shot at doing so rests firmly on the shoulders of their parents who love them unconditionally.

The Toughest Part Of This Job

What's the toughest part of your job?   Dealing with difficult clients?  Working with an annoying colleague?  The daily commute?  Everyone has something that makes them want to scream...or run.  Parenting is no different.  Raising another human being takes patience, wisdom, some skill, and a dash of "moxie."  Yet what some parents might say are the tough things are actually quite manageable compared to what other parents deal with regularly.

These are the parents who:

  • Welcome strangers into their homes to teach skills and challenge their young children for hours every day. 
  • Juggle weekly speech therapy and tutoring appointments along with another full-time job (the one that is office-based). 
  • Clean out their 401Ks and bank accounts or take out another mortgage to pay for their child's needs. 
  • Have to make advance preparations for something as routine as a trip to the supermarket. 

It's herculean parenting for sure, but believe it or not, these aren't the things that make this job tough.

What Makes Parenting Tough

For parents of children or teenagers with Asperger's Syndrome or other socially-based needs, living with your "antennae up" is a daily occurrence.  But what's really difficult is when you are faced with having to explain (to those who need to know) what their child's diagnosis means while trying to protect them from the assumptions that many make.

We group people together all the time.  All seniors wear caps and gowns.  Computer programmers are smart.  People from California love the beach.  We make assumptions based on our frames of reference and often information that is far from accurate.  Or we do it just because it's what we "think" vs. what we know.  Yet here are the problems with it all...

  1. Categorizing people is risky at best and discriminatory at worst.
  2. It assumes things that cannot nor should not be assumed.
  3. And without proven data, it lumps everyone in any category together, eliminating the fact that every person, with or without a diagnosis, is an individual.

Sure there may be similarities in certain situations - e.g. children with ADHD may have trouble focusing.  But not *every* child or teen has the same issues because they hold a similar diagnosis.   And a diagnosis alone does not mean that certain situations will develop or happen *because* of the diagnosis.

Parents of children with Asperger's Syndrome know that their children face a daily world ripe with social situations and expectations that may be beyond their understanding or reach.  They also know that their children are bright, sensitive, creative, and move on to achieve in the worlds of academia, business, and beyond.  Descriptions may help to bring understanding, but I don't know a single parent who would want to "define" their child by their looks, size, GPA, or diagnosis.  Parenting is tough enough.  Why make it tougher.

What Exactly Are We Measuring?

Last week, I came upon the Wired Business Conference during some late-night channel surfing.  I likely would have kept surfing yet there sat Marissa Mayer (a la Yahoo) speaking with a journalist during a sit-down interview. While I clearly tuned in midway through the conversation, it was time enough to hear at least part of a discussion about her decision to end telecommuting for employees.  Yes, I know this issue has been discussed ad nauseum, but bear with me for a minute.

Stating yet again that it was the right decision for Yahoo and that the response from employees has been positive (sorry...but I'd like to see the data on this), she said:

“People are more productive when they work alone, but more collaborative and innovate when they work together."

I sat up and said aloud, "What did she say?"  Doing some verbal mediation, I said aloud, wait...people are "more productive" when they work alone?  That sounds a lot like telecommuting to me, I thought, so if the goal in business is to measure productivity, doesn't her decision then run counterintuitive to the goal?

Yes, I know innovation and creativity are the driving forces behind everything new...ideas, processes, systems.  Yet if a business is framing their operations on, let's say, innovation, and people are developing all kinds of great ideas, how then does productivity against these new ideas occur?

It seems to me that business - including Yahoo - needs to clearly define how they are measuring success and then how they plan to achieve it.  There's no question that many teams, by pooling their thinking and expertise, create innovation every day in the workplace.  There's also no question that bringing that innovation into practice - the real, daily work - is often best achieved by individuals having the flexibility to do the work where they wish and without many of the "traditional" constraints that some organizations still seem to believe are applicable today.

The business world, and the people who comprise it, are far different today than they were 25 years ago.  Technology allows for productivity (and creativity) to occur anywhere and anytime.  It allows someone sitting in a coffee shop to figure out a solution to a problem or someone quietly sitting in their living room after their toddler is in for a nap to develop a new process.

It's wrong and backward-facing to assume that innovation can only occur, or occurs best, when people are face-to-face.  Not only are there practical concerns including commuting, costs for childcare, and a host of other factors that create issues for employees, but many people struggle in a socially-charged work environment where their creativity and productivity suffer.  Distractions, personality conflicts, and environmental issues are just part of the challenges often overlooked.

Organizations need to not only recognize how innovation, creativity, and productivity really occur, but to understand that a diverse workforce means that a "one size fits all" approach simply doesn't work.   Every business uses a different yardstick to measure success, yet I would venture to say that each uses their bottom-line to determine whether results are being achieved.

Every business has pain.  Something that's not working, something that needs assessing, something that needs to be changed.  And it takes leadership (and guts) to institute change.  But stating in one breath that employees are more productive working alone yet in the next breath that no...they can no longer do so, does little to ease the pain.

A creative idea is only as good as its execution, and execution requires productivity...and flexibility.  So maybe Yahoo should be providing employees with the option to create together, not only at the office but at a local diner or in someone's dining room - and to allow them to produce alone if they so choose.  Measuring business success takes far more than glaring at the bottom-line and watching the numbers climb upward ... it takes understanding just who gets them there and how.

Snap Out Of It...

I love this line from the film "Moonstruck," when Cher tells Nicholas Cage to snap out of it after he says he loves her (she is planning to marry his brother).  It's a favorite that I often use when a particular topic arises. The topic is labels and let me first say this...no one likes to be labeled anything.  Labels are restrictive and create barriers.  They convey things to others that are often incorrect and can be discriminatory.  But...they can also open doors and create avenues that may otherwise not be available to pursue.  And they also help to bring explanations and reason to things that may truly need clarity.

All this to say, it always confounds me when I hear a parent say that they know their child is struggling yet don't want to have them evaluated.  My initial reaction is to empathize, saying that I understand that finding out "why" can be scary and overwhelming.  It taps into fears of the unknown, of what we may *think* we know about something, and of what finding out will really mean.  But it takes less than 10 seconds to move from an empathetic reaction to a "snap out of it" response mode.

No parent wants to think or be told that their child has autism.  Or is bipolar.  Or has ADHD.  What parent would ever want their child to be "labeled" no less to face the reality that others will know about it too.  What parent would wish therapies or being pulled out of class for support on their child.  None.  But parents who resist or refuse to "face the music" need to realize a few facts:

  1. They need to separate their own preconceived notions and "what if's" from the realities facing their child.
  2. They need to recognize that every day, week, and month of delay is precious time wasted.
  3. They need to understand that the label is essential to securing the supports and services the child may need in school...and beyond.

When I hear a parent express their concerns, I ask whether they prefer speculation or knowing.  Whether the status quo is working.  Whether their child is on a trajectory of success or failure.  Of *course* every parent wants their child to be healthy and happy.  To get good grades, make friends, and be successful in the world.  These are foundational desires all parents share.

Yet many children have been struggling for years, taking a huge toll on the child in immeasurable ways.  Repeated "F's" on tests can be seen (and can be devastating to the child), but it's the things out of view - the sense of failure, of not feeling smart, of always having difficulties - these are the things that can take away a child's desire to even try anymore.  And it doesn't matter if the child is in 3rd Grade or is 15-years-old; feelings of despair accumulate and struggling saps the drive and hope for a better tomorrow out of the youngest of children.

Do parents who resist an evaluation and "label" think that the struggling is going to stop at will?  That the child is intentionally failing math, purposely not making friends, or planning to have behavioral issues in school?  Of course not.  And this is where the "snap out of it" message needs to be said...and heard.

It is incumbent upon parents of children for whom struggling defines their existence to put their own fears aside and mobilize.  With the end of the school year upon us, summer is the time to secure an evaluation and to plan for how to make things better in September and beyond. Yes, this may mean special education services, frequent meetings with school, and involvement of private clinicians and outside experts.  But which vision do you choose...pretending the issues don't exist, hoping they'll just go away with time, or telling your child that you're now "on the case" and that things are going to improve?

A label is words.  Dyslexia.  ADD.  Asperger's Syndrome.  They only have power if parents allow them to.  These words are also doorways to answers and strategies that will move the needle from failure to success, defined differently for every child.

If you happen to be one of the parents who have allowed your own fears to override getting the information - and diagnosis - your child needs, please...snap out of it.  Your child is depending upon you to do so.

Before She Knows It...

I was at Trader Joe's yesterday picking up a few items when this woman speaking loudly came walking toward me.  She was likely in her mid-60s with one of those Bluetooth contraptions in her ear ... you know, the thing that often leaves people (including me) thinking that the person is talking to you when they're actually talking to someone miles away.  At first I thought this was the case when I realized she was talking to an older man walking right behind her. It took 30 seconds to size-up the situation - she was the grown daughter who had taken her father to the store for some needed items.  He was moving slowly and standing in odd places in the aisle, looking as if his nap had just ended or he needed a shower.  Not dirty but disheveled.  Bothering no one. She, on the other hand, was nicely dressed and wanted her father and the rest of the store to know that she wanted to be somewhere else.

At first when I heard her say, "I hate shopping," I thought she meant it as a general statement.  But she meant with him.  In a tone that was agitated and clearly not an "inside voice," her comments and statements continued ... "Dad...what are you doing?"  "Would you just stand here and stop moving."  "Why are you looking at bags of nuts...you don't eat them."  It was an endless barrage of these barbs along with overt sighs and complaints under her breath.  On and on this went with customers ignoring the entire situation, too wrapped up in whether to purchase the oriental pot stickers or tamales.

I stood there in total disbelief at the verbal abuse this man - this woman's father - was experiencing.  I kept trying to catch her eye to perhaps offer a gentle, "It's okay, it's your Dad" comment to her, but to no avail.  I then considered walking up to tell her to knock it off.  Then I considered informing the manager although questioned whether anything could or would be done.  Instead, I followed them around the store, pretending to be looking at items I never buy.

After making my few purchases, I waited outside until they emerged.  It was raining and she wanted him to wait near the front of the store while she went for the car.  For a moment I thought, "Ah...there you go" but her, "Can't I get away from you for a minute" comment brought me to tears.  Her father was visibly unsure about standing there alone, but her voice continued to raise as her yelling persisted.  To stop moving.  To listen.  To stand near the bags.  It was elder abuse, something I understood painfully well as my own father suffered the same when he was in a nursing home.

I'm typically an "act" person - stepping in when someone is in need.  Yet here I hesitated because I wasn't sure what to do.  I wanted to pull her aside and tell her to straighten up.  I wanted to tell her to look at her father to see how frail he was.  I wanted to tell her that she disgusted me.  Instead, I stood there to be sure he remained where she insisted he stay as she walked into the parking lot continuing to yell at him.  I returned to my car, outraged and in disbelief.

There's no way to know what stressors are in this woman's life or what happened to her over her lifetime.  Yet of this I am certain ... when our parents reach the age where they need us to parent them, we're obligated to do for them what they did for us when we were children - to care for and protect them and to keep them safe.  For whatever the reasons, this woman remains part of her elderly father's life and I can't help but wonder what he may have been thinking and feeling during this display of such disrespect and disdain.

One thought haunted me all day and continues...before she knows it, he'll be gone.  No more shopping.  No more talking.  No more visits.  No more anything.  The end.  Finished.  Over.  A relief to her?  Remorse?  Guilt?   Regardless, no more Dad.

Maybe they never had a good relationship.  But maybe at the twilight of his life, he needs her to help him live out the rest of his days with kindness, forgiveness, and peace.  We can't change yesterday and wounds surely remain.  Yet before she knows it, he'll be gone.  And then what...?

When One Small Step Is Anything But Small

People tend to believe that it's the big things in life that have the most significance, but I don't necessarily agree.  Small things often make the greatest impact, and one group of people know exactly what I mean. If you're the parent of a typical child, there are so many "firsts" and accomplishments that the small steps often get lost in the shuffle.  Not so for parents of children with an autism spectrum disorder.  For these parents, life is all about watching for the smallest possible step.  About knowing the minutes, days, and months of effort that went into making this step happen.  It's often only those closest to the child who can understand and appreciate what this is all about.

Ever sit and watch a flower bloom?  You rarely see anything, but look away for a day and the changes are often amazing.  Parents of children with autism spend much of their lives closely watching for that bloom to happen ... for that "one thing", that small step that will show them that their child is learning to speak, respond, play, understand.  And they see it when it happens.

This past week, I spoke with a parent who was sharing how her child was finally able to tolerate something that had been - up to that point - intolerable.  For most parents, this would have been seen as a "get over it" moment, but not for this parent.  It was a huge obstacle that impacted her child's ability to function and the family's ability to function as well.  Anyone who would say that a small step isn't a major milestone is someone whose life hasn't been touched by autism.

Think about it this way...most people stand back and look at life like admiring a huge mural painted on the side of a building.  But for parents of children with autism, they're standing right up close, seeing every single stroke of the brush.  When your child struggles on a daily basis in a world that assaults their senses and challenges their abilities, every step forward is anything but small.  These parents know what they're looking for and even if they don't, they still see when something changes or some progress is made.  That's because they're always looking and hoping for it.

That infamous line..."One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" are words that ring true for each and every parent of a child with autism.  Every small step their child makes is a leap indeed, for it paves the way for a future of possibilities.  And possibility is that wonderful thing that keeps parents moving forward.

Life is about giving and receiving and I don't know any single group of individuals who give more than parents of children with autism.  So isn't it wonderful that one of the things they receive is the ability to see these small steps happen right before their eyes?  Whoever said that you can't watch a flower bloom never knew what they were looking for.