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“Mom, I can’t find my swimsuit!”

“Bummer. What are you going to do?”

Little exchanges like this are true Love and Logic moments. Don’t take on the kid’s problem, Love and Logic tells us. Turn it back to your kid with the simple little “What are you going to do?” question.

Is this applicable to special needs kids? You bet your flappy hands it is — perhaps more so even than typical ones. Special needs kids really need a focus on thinking for themselves, handling their own challenges, and doing things without reminders. Is Love and Logic harder for parents of special needs kids? I believe it is. It is super easy for us to be overprotective of our kids, to want to set things up to be a success for them. To protect them from not experiencing the consequences of their disability.

Love and Logic made such a difference in my life as a parent that I got trained to be a presenter. A few times a year now, I co-teach a six-week series with my friend, Ellen. This is one of the many gifts brought to me by autism. Standing up there and being really authentic about our own struggles helps the parents share what’s going on in their lives. Parents don’t attend these classes because their family lives are working: we might get parents who are having all-out arguments daily with their kids, or forcing kids into massive rebellions with their parenting style, or who are about to just plain give up on their kids. It’s sobering. And humbling. And amazing to watch how the simple techniques of Love and Logic can make such a difference.

A huge part of Love and Logic is the concept of empathy. Not sympathy, where you’re feeling sorry for your kid (and often want to avoid or fix the pain)– but empathy, where you go down the rabbit hole and feel with your kid. Let’s say, for example, that we make it very clear that we’ll take our kid to the ballgame if his/her room is clean by noon.

No reminders from the parent once the expectation is clear.

Noon comes and — you guessed it — the room is still a mess. Before we deliver a consequence, we first express genuine empathy: “Oh, this is so sad. We can’t go to the ballgame.”

If the kid is anything like my Joseph, begging begins. “Oh please, Mom. I’ll do it now, fast! I really will! Here I go!”

“Oh honey, I know this meant a lot to you, but what did I say?”

Then come the tears. This is where I will hug my son warmly and tell him how much I love him, how I’m sure he’ll do better next time. And that, as they say, is that.

Such a powerful little lesson: If we don’t meet our expectations, there are consequences. Is this an understanding that will be meaningful for a lifetime? Of course. Do we have to teach it a million different ways? Of course. Do we have to teach it five million different ways if we have a special needs kid? That’s been my experience.
Beyond that wonderful lesson, there is also the understanding that, not only does Mom mean what she says, but she is also on her kid’s side. Thanks to empathy, parent and son are side by side, looking out at the kid’s behavior and learning from it. Oftentimes these experiences bring a new closeness – as opposed to the anger, resentment and mile-wide divide between kid and parent that can result when consequences are delivered differently.

I could go on but I won’t…for now. Suffice it to say that, of all the techniques and interventions we’ve used with Joseph, Love and Logic stands high on the mountaintop as one of the most powerful. If you haven’t looked into it, I suggest you do!

 

 

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I teach yoga for the staff at Joseph’s school, and one of the regulars is his special ed teacher, Dana. Usually we focus on yoga but, every now and then, she’ll share with me a tidbit about Joseph when class is over. Last week, for instance, she wanted to tell me about the “miracle” that happened.

For months Dana has tried to get Joseph to leave his session with her and walk into the cafeteria (for lunch) by himself. Now, the cafeteria is a challenge unto itself, being noisy, crowded and somewhat unstructured, but the big deal was that he’s always refused to go in without his aide. On the day of the miracle, Joseph walked over, found a friend, and went into the cafeteria with him. And he’s been doing it ever since.

Wonder of wonders, miracle of miracles!

Another one: This morning I walked Joseph to his classroom. Never, ever in the past has he allowed me to leave before his aide shows up, but today he let me kiss him and go. Wow! On my way back to the car I saw his aide coming up, and I excitedly told her what happened. “Yup,” she replied. “Takes about 100 repetitions and then he can do something.”

I laughed. “Blue Eyes and I say it takes 500!”

Repetitions. What a great way to learn patience. What a marvelous way for my character to be formed. What great sandpaper for my rough spots.

Will it ever end????

Sigh…probably not. And it gets more complicated. Now we are endeavoring to teach him to speak to us with respect, to clean up after himself without being reminded…that sort of thing. It feels endless. Maybe it is. Maybe every parent feels this way. Maybe I’m going to set myself on fire.

sugarEaster was full of sugar, and right afterward we took a week’s vacation. Think ice creams and other sweet things — the kind of thing you do when you’re on vacation.

Trouble is, by the time we got home, we saw that candida had taken over Joseph. He was spacey, stimmy, tantrummy, and an overall pain in the butt. We put him on a sugar-free cleanse, which has been devastating for him. Almost every morning he wakes up and starts an argument with me. When can I have sugar? Can I have it if we go to the lake in the summer time? Can I have it on June 6th, the last day of school? Can I have a soda the next time I go to a restaurant?

It’s relentless. I am trying to do my Love and Logic — I love you too much to argue — and leaving the room, but this kid will not let it go. It’s a major struggle.

Our Love and Logic Instructor once wrote on the whiteboard four big letters:

C
T
F
D

 

Calm The F*** Down.

i pray for long-term perspective. For more patience during these phases that require so much repetition. I pray to remember that things take longer with Joseph, and that I need to take care of myself in order to deal with his special needs. Last, but definitely not least, I pray  to CTFD in those trying times.

Twenty-two years ago, on Labor Day Monday, our house burned down. Blue Eyes and I were working fifteen miles away when we got the call.fire

It was a neighbor on the phone. He said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but your house burned up and everything you own is gone.”

“Everything?” I asked, unbelieving.

“Yes, everything,” he answered.

“Everything?” I asked, incredulous.

“Yes, everything,” he answered again.

“EVERYTHING????” I asked, as the reality started to sink in.

“Yes, everything,” he answered.

Toward the end of our drive home, we turned onto our rural road and five fire trucks passed us, one at a time. We knew where they’d been, and we knew that nothing was left.

Ashes. Everything we’d owned was ashes.

The fire had been put out, but the burn continued. It felt like a burning to lose so many of the things I loved. It burned to have no clothing, no photos, no toothbrush. It burned to have nowhere to live. It especially burned to be helpless, to be so in need of other people’s generosity.

One of the things I remember most about that time was that, only days after the fire, I went to a business convention with a colleague. One of the booths was giving out free t-shirts, as they often do, but they had a restriction: only one per company.

They were really nice shirts. George and I looked at each other. “Oh, go ahead,” I told him. However, I said it with an agenda: George knew of my situation, so I was pretty sure he’d insist I take the shirt.

He didn’t. Happily, and with some greed, he claimed a shirt in his size and walked away.

I remember that burn, too: the indignant burn of one more nice thing that had come close to my grasp and slipped away.

I only write about this because this morning I was listening to Gangaji, and she talked about the burn. I didn’t know anyone else had ever defined it as a burn, so it caught my interest. She spoke of our wants, our desires, and how, when we don’t get them, it burns.

That’s why autism can burn. It’s the club we never wanted to join. It’s taking our kids to the social skills group when we’d rather they be in scouts. It’s staying home from the crowded gatherings when we’d rather be part of the gang. It’s often a slow, steady burn, but sometimes it bursts into flames.

One of our biggest personal burns centers around music. Blue Eyes and I are very musical, but whenever we try to play music, whether it’s live or on a CD, Joseph has screamed, cried, and basically thrown a fit. We have let that control us for many years now.

jamboxRecently I taught a yoga class, but arrived without anything to play my music on. A student came forward with his Jambox, a  great-sounding little speaker that played my music beautifully. I was so pleased that I came home and ordered one for myself.

How, though, to deal with the Joseph Factor? — I wondered. I decided to start in one place: my bathroom. When I took my morning shower, I played music, loud enough that I could hear it with water raining down around my ears. When Joseph complained, which, of course, he did, I expressed empathy, but told him it was my  Jambox and I could do what I wanted with it.  If he didn’t like it, he was welcome to leave the area.

After a few times, the crying, moaning and complaining stopped. Then he started hanging out in the bedroom next to the shower so that he could listen to the music.

Then Blue Eyes started playing while he took his shower. No complaints this time.

My next push is going to be to play a little bit of Jambox while I make dinner. This ought to be good. Get ready to burn, Joseph.

He still hates my harmonium (keyboard) playing, though. I used this to my advantage the other day. Joseph was messing around, taking a long time to get ready for bed. I was nagging him to stay focused, hurry up, and all the other parental drones that happen around bedtime. Then my Love and Logic training kicked in, and I stopped nagging.

I remembered that I can’t control Joseph. The only person I can control, with any success at all, is myself.

So I said to Joseph, “I’m feeling stressed that you’re messing around at bedtime. I’m going to go play  my harmonium in order to calm myself down.”

It was great. “No, Mom!” Joseph said, ‘I’ll focus! I’m focusing now!”

And indeed he did. For a few minutes. Then he forgot and started mucking around again.

I didn’t say a word. Just sat down and played a lovely, uplifting chant on my harmonium.

By the time it was over, I felt better and Joseph was completely ready for bed. Can’t beat that!

In the Hindu world, the fire ceremony is a sacred act of purification. You offer into the fire all the obstacles, desires, etc that are blocking you from Self-realization — from knowing your oneness with the Divine. Twenty-two years ago, Blue Eyes and I had a big, real-life fire ceremony, but, happily (I guess) the burning continues.

My wish for you and for me is that we experience the burning with gratitude and awareness, knowing that what is being burnt is all that is non-essential to our highest Selves.

We’re not necessarily doubting that God will do the best for us; we are wondering how painful the best will turn out to be.
~ CS Lewis

Painful is how I would describe life as an autism family. I hit bottom around the pain (again) just over a week ago. Joseph is nine now, and the sweet, cheerful little boy has been taken over by a rebellious, yelling, smart-ass, sometimes hitting kid who is almost as tall as I am.

Forget the blues: I had the blacks. I felt swallowed up by a deep, dark hole of despair. Bruce Springsteen sang in my head: “Had a wife and kids in Baltimore, Jack. I went out for a ride and I never went back.”

That’s what I wanted to do. Sometimes I wanted to take my husband with me and sometimes I didn’t, but I definitely wanted to ditch the kid. Hop in the car, drive away and never come back. Such a sense of freedom, of liberation, that thought gave me.

Well, on Thursday I did hop in the car and drive away, but it wasn’t quite that dramatic. I was only gone four hours and my friend, Terese, did the driving. It was where we went and what we did that made the all the difference.

We went to session one of a five-week Love and Logic course.

In this classroom, other parents were struggling. Not only parents with autistic kids, of course, but all the parents. Two of the kids were getting emergency crisis intervention. One girl had just called her mom a fat pig who didn’t know anything. Another was getting cyber-bullied. I heard stories that made my curly hair straighten.

Then — ah, then! — we were given tools. It takes two to engage in an argument, we were reminded. If you’re playing tug of war with your kids and you let go of the rope, the game is over. We were taught how not to engage in shouting matches, in power struggles, in efforts to control. And to do our part with love and empathy.

We were reminded — and this one was huge for me — that the reason we decided to have kids was because it would be fun. Raising a family is meant to be fun. AND kids need to make contributions, just like Mom and Dad do. Though Love and Logic doesn’t often use the the word responsibility, it includes everyone doing their part.

On Friday, Joseph and I were talking about lifeguards. Joseph is very interested in lifeguards and the rules around pools. He asks questions like, What would happen if I ran at a water park? What if I was rough with a little kid at a public pool? I was answering logically, saying that the lifeguard would get him in trouble. If he was really naughty, I told him, he’d probably have to leave the place.

Well, this got Joseph anxious and he started to yell. Loudly. And rudely: “STOP TALKING ABOUT LIFEGUARDS! I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANY MORE ABOUT LIFEGUARDS!”

The old Yoga Mother would try to calm him down. Or maybe even yell back at him. The Love and Logic mother, though, immediately and intentionally went brain-dead. This brain-dead moment stops me from reacting, gives me a second to reclaim my center.

Then I didn’t say anything. I could have used one of the many brilliant Love and Logic one-liners (“How sad.” “Don’t worry about it now.” “I love you too much to argue.”), but it’s much more natural for me, with my yoga background, to exhale loudly. Not sarcastically, not meanly –just a loud sigh.

And that was it. With my sigh I let go of the rope, and the conversation was over.

Replay scenes like that a dozen times a day, and you’ll get a sense of how Love and Logic is impacting our lives.

I’m realizing that I’ve been too flimsy around the boundaries, not modeling the calm, centered person I want him to become. Acting more like a drill sergeant (“Clean this up! Now!”) than a consultant (If it was me, I’d do it this way — but it’s your choice.).

What I know for sure is that it hasn’t been much fun. And now it is again. The autism is still there, but I’m realizing that we can have fun anyway. Saturday eve we went to a waterpark — what a blast! Yesterday we went on a hike with friends, and Joseph copied his younger friend by crossing funky, shaky bridges over the creek without fear. A new milestone for my usually timid young man.

IMG_2745Bottom line? I believe God wants us to have fun. It adds such a richness to life, and then we get to share that joy with others. So what the hell, let’s have fun — and, if we’re not, let’s figure out why and make the changes needed.

It’s funny, in a way. If we hadn’t lost our RDI Consultant, I don’t think I’d have taken this Love and Logic course. John was such a strong support for me that I would have struggled gallantly on. But with him gone, I’m having to fill in the gaps — and it’s turning out to be really good for me, for us.

Even lower bottom line? Even though, as CS Lewis said, God’s best is painful, it’s important to remember that it’s also the best.