Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Practicality: "Go Big or Go Home," Teaching Your Children How to Have a "Big Life"

There are so many issues concerning children with autism that it is hard to chose which may be the overriding all consuming issue that we work at day to day. But the reality is that we actually overlook the underlying scope of what is at issue. I say overlook simply because we don't really think about this point as we are trying to achieve every day to day goal for our children. That is the right for them to have a "big life," not merely the life of their choice, but one that includes every aspect that life has to offer. The goal that teaches our children to appreciate the JOY in every aspect of their day to day world, no matter what they are doing at any given moment at any given time.

I actually heard this phrase used on the TV series Bones. Yes I am a fan, and not because people think that the main character has some form of aspergers. I like the series because it is smart and intriguing (even though last nights final season 8 episode ended up being a little stupid. No no spoilers here. You need to stream it for yourself.) I like all the characters and the topics they cover. I also happen to enjoy the books by Kathy Reichs, upon which the series is based.

One of the original issues with the main character, Dr. Brennan, was when she was trying to figure out her life. She acknowledged she wanted a "Big Life" like the character Angela. I took that to mean that she wanted to understand how to enjoy life. Instead of analyzing everything and compartmentalizing everything, Temperance wanted to find the absolute joy in everything she experienced. She wanted to be more than "fulfilled." She wanted to be engulfed by her world and revel in her reality.

No its not enough for our children to learn how to navigate the world. It's not enough that they learn how handle social situations correctly or answer questions appropriately. It's not enough that they learn how to sit, walk, or stand in any environment. It's not enough that they learn the difference between a noun and a pronoun, addition and subtraction, Africa and Antarctica,  democracy and oligarchy, or even the colors red and blue. What we need to concentrate on, as we teach our children to handle the world, is how to find the wonders, the joy, the beauty in everything around them.

Now granted this is an innate aspect of childhood. Something parents need to work very hard NOT to destroy in their children. They say if you really want to understand life, you need to watch a small child in their discovery of the world.  But in so many cases our autistic children do not see the beauty or the wonder in the world around them. To them the world around them is fraught with misunderstanding, confusion and even pain. Their sensory and social issues can make the most simple pleasures unbearable. So what do we do?

Yes we give them therapies and skills classes and support throughout their days. We try to teach them to handle and assimilate what they need to learn to get on in the world. But we also need to teach them to appreciate the wonder that is life. But how do you teach someone to appreciate something that gives them only hardship and no pleasure at all?  I never said this goal was easy.

There is joy in a task completed and a goal met. But what about just the fact of learning to master that skill? In a "big life," the act of trying is a huge accomplishment. Trying is good. So what if they fail 1000 or more times? Failure is simply another step to mastering an issue or figuring out who you happen to be. In fact, how a person handles failure says more about them than any amount of success. In truth, you cannot always learn unless you fail. No, everyone doesn't have to fail to learn, as I have mentioned umpteen times before, but so what if they do? Give them the tools to see beyond their sensory or speech issues, beyond their anxiety and OCD, to enjoy the choices in front of them. You know the old saying, "try, try again." Make the trying part of the adventure. 

*Teach them that the simple act of trying is joy unto itself.
*Help them see that the choices, no matter how many there are,  are the joy in and of itself.
*If there is a sensory issue figure out how to avoid it or give them a happy alternative.
*If there is a learning issue, make certain they know, their LD is not what defines them and help them figure out another path.
*EXAMPLE: If there is a flower allergy teach them about that the flower's color is the joy not the pollen but also how plants are part of the ecosystem and this thing called life. Give them a huge, long range perspective (Yes make it age appropriate too). Try to teach them to see the whole of life and not just the limits around them.

Find the positive in everything that your child deals with and your child will find the "big life."

I know this is hard to teach them. I understand how anxiety and obsessions can take hold of your child or yourself. There is no joy when this happens. It is something most would like to be rid of. Yet one day there can come the time when they say "enough is enough." Yes it can happen. That is the day that they understand that they can be the masters of their own fates and that they can have that "big life" full of joy just because they are alive.

For CM1 it just happened. He decided that enough worrying was enough. He would do his best and that had to be good enough. He finally would push himself away from the computer and stop writing. He learned to say, "I am done and I can't do any better." He learned that that was OK. He learned that there were many things in life that he enjoyed and that he found exciting. He learned that he was allowed to enjoy them as he went through his everyday adventure. He learned that there is tremendous beauty in writing code and watching it come alive right in front of his eyes. He has yet to understand that you can enjoy an obligation. But we are working on that too. Meanwhile, he just decided it was time to learn to cook for himself and took it upon himself to try. Yes its typical for 22-year-olds to want to cook for themselves...CM1 wants a "big life."

CM2 isn't in the same place as his brother yet (except he did want to learn to cook on his own. Of course he seemed to abandon it when he found out it wasn't as much fun as he thought.) He still gets easily frustrated and has a hard time when things don't go his way. But we are getting there. He also
has a different personality than his brother. Instead of facing issues head-on he does try to avoid them, but we are working on that too. He is also in that cynical stage of life that envelops most college students. So its really a hard call whether his attitude is because of the autism or its simply that age of adolescent rebellion and know-it-allness.

Life has a way of teaching the average person about what is and what is not important. Individuals do come to that conclusion at some point in their lives, hopefully before they lose most of the time they are given. But as with every aspect of life, our children can not learn to live a "big life" unless they are taught how to accomplish that goal. In fact I think its one of the more important lessons we need to teach them.

As the saying goes, "Go Big or Go Home." Our children are as entitled to a "big life" as anyone else, but its up to us to make sure they actually understand what that means and how to accomplish that goal. Living a life, afraid of or overwhelmed by life is not a life, big or small. So don't forget, whatever you are doing, whatever the lesson is for the day, make sure that you teach your child the JOY involved in every aspect of every minute of every day.