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Home » Blogs » Divergent Thinkers: Asperger's, NLD & More » Small Silver Lining for Parents of Asperger’s & NLD Children/Teens/Adults Going Forward

Small Silver Lining for Parents of Asperger’s & NLD Children/Teens/Adults Going Forward

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For Asperger’s/autistic children/teens and young adults, those with NLD, ADHD and for children generally, this “new normal” is confusing. The rules are sketchy at best, even adults don’t seem to understand them, and the rules and cautions seem to change almost weekly if not daily.

The flexibility needed to handle this unpredictability is particularly difficult for children who need clarity, who tend to be inflexible, and who depend on predictability of rules to manage their behavior. Parents face the challenge of helping their children manage the added stress of having to go out into this world in flux when they may be stressed, confused or frustrated themselves.

My sliver of a silver lining is this: it’s a time when we have the opportunity to let our children know that we take their thoughts seriously, and to model the skills needed to think and to get through the challenges we will all face.

I’m including self-care and self-calming skills as necessary skills. What self-calming skills do you use in general to handle an inherently stressful time? Are your children aware of self-calming skills, and are they practicing and developing them? Self-calming skills are like muscles – they develop with practice. If you do something over and over, muscle memory helps you do it automatically when you need it.

How do you handle stress in the moment – the moment when you run into something unexpected and have to decide what to do on the spot? Talking about those moments and how you react and asking your children to think about their possible reactions is instructive. You can talk through different possibilities and their outcomes.  What situation did you encounter? Did you act instinctively or did you have time to step back, take a breath and think the situation through? Different situations provide different opportunities. I practice meditation regularly, so I can take breaths and stay calm when I’m social distancing while others aren’t.

In talking through situations and responses, we will be dealing with problem solving, big picture thinking, and handling the unexpected. We can share questions with our kids, and respectfully fully listen to their points of view without criticizing or judging. We can then present an alternate point of view if we have one and ask how we can compromise. What you’re teaching is executive functioning (organizing, planning, problem solving and flexibility) as well as social thinking.

I’m not suggesting that we force children to talk about COVID19, what’s happening and what we might face. For some children, this is just too stressful and overwhelming, and they want us to present clear ideas and rules,  At the least, we can share these ideas by having casual conversations with the family about how WE think, how we problem solve, how we have to think of the big picture, and how we try to be flexible.

For example, one problem is understanding the rules. Where do we look to find the most reliable version of what the rules are? Our kids who are computer researchers might be good at that, or we can talk about where we looked.  How do we plan to observe the rules? If your children are on the autism spectrum or NLD, they are likely to be rule followers, and will be upset if you don’t agree with following rules. Respect their thinking.  For example, if a rule is to wear masks, talk about whether and when your family wear masks, and how you go about being careful. Honor the validity of your children’s concerns.

How do you handle situations where others don’t follow the rules you follow? What do you do if you encounter other people not wearing masks, if you feel that it’s important to safeguarding your health?  What do you do if you run into people wearing masks if you don’t  choose to wear them? If you think of the points of view and needs of others, you and your children might realize that others may be at high risk or have someone at high risk at home.  You  have to think about the big picture: Where are you? What are the needs and feelings of others?  This is actually teaching social thinking. You’re teaching big picture thinking – who’s around, what is the situation, and how do you take everyone into account?

A second area for decision making is understanding what’s opening up, with what precautions, what your comfort zone is, and planning how what you’ll do.  Again, your children may have ideas. They might be eager to go to outdoor restaurants or they may want to avoid them entirely. How do they feel about getting a haircut? Going to buy clothes in a store? What do they think about you doing these activities, and how do you address their concerns? This is problem solving and anticipating outcomes. There’s a plan A but there usually has to be a plan B if plan A isn’t working.

How do you plan family trips or family outings? Do you bring your own food and utensils as many states recommend? Do you maintain social distancing, and how do you accomplish that?  Do you bring outdoor chairs, or paper plates and cups?  You’re teaching planning and organizing materials.

What can you and your children anticipate about summer programs and school? How do you and how do they feel about imagining what they will be like? They may have any reaction from excitement to anxiety, as might we. They may be disappointed that something they love won’t happen. How do you deal with disappointment, and how can they? You’re identifying emotions, validating them and talking about emotional control.

You may also be teaching the executive function of  inhibition if your child has ADHD or if in eagerness to have friends, your child will follow the lead of others. How will your child remember the rules if other children are doing something different that looks like fun? How will they feel about doing something different and missing out?  What strategies does your child think will work?

How do children handle these situations when they’re on their own at school and facing these dilemmas? Do they solve these problems on their own? Do they turn to teachers? Do parents get involved and talk to other parents? It doesn’t seem fair to leave younger children on their own, but are parents comfortable bringing difference to other parents? Can these conversations be civil? Children will face the same problems in terms of how others react to them.

Again I want to stress I’m not suggesting imposing this discussion process on unwilling participants. This kind of teaching needs to be casual, as ideas or situations come up.  Humor can help make it less preachy. (“Everyone’s going to think I’m a nerd, but..”) You can talk through your process if they will tolerate it; at the least, you can let them know that when you are faced with ambiguity you have a process of thinking through the big pictures and the options, and it’s an ongoing process as new information comes in. This is the flexibility part – having to take in new information and incorporate it into your thinking, planning and strategies.

There are issues of the “new normal” not immediately (but secondarily) about the risks of COVID19. Apparently, nationally kids haven’t been getting their well child pediatric care and vaccinations, which puts them at risk for other diseases. How do you work out with your pediatrician or doctor a process that feels safe? How do you prioritize what you do?

This current situation is potentially very challenging. We don’t know what kind of school schedules to plan for – online? Small staggered classes? No field trips or extracurricular activities that our children look forward to? All of these require that we and potentially our children use our executive functions of planning and strategizing, our social thinking (how to stay in touch with friends, having playdates) and our flexibility if the anticipated rules change. We will make it through this, and we have the opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons, to a certain degree.

 

 

Small Silver Lining for Parents of Asperger’s & NLD Children/Teens/Adults Going Forward


Marcia Eckerd, Ph.D.

Psychologist since 1985, serving on CT ASD Advisory Council, Professional Board SmartkidswithLD


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APA Reference
Eckerd, M. (2020). Small Silver Lining for Parents of Asperger’s & NLD Children/Teens/Adults Going Forward. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 4, 2020, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/aspergers-nld/2020/05/small-silver-lining-for-parents-of-aspergers-nld-children-teens-adults-going-forward/

 

Last updated: 27 May 2020
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