Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Mom, I Hope You Feel Better

Experiencing my son's concern about my well-being.  Priceless.

Yep, it's the little things in life that make it worthwhile.  Making sure the family is healthy.   Sharing a good meal at dinner.  Watching a favorite TV show with Jacob.  All good stuff. 

I've been suffereing from a nasty cold for almost two weeks, and Jacob's seen me feeling stuffy and tired.  Come 9:30 each night, and I've been ready for bed.

So, when I was on the computer right before going to sleep, Jacob walks into my office and says "I hope you feel better Mom", it was music to my ears!

I've spent so much time working on empathy with Jacob.  Explaining why manners are important.  Insisting  on hearing "please" when he makes a request or "thank you" when I've done something nice for him.  Letting him know my displeasure about something that he may have done or said that wasn't to my liking .  Literally, it's been years and years and YEARS of working on this stuff.

I know Jacob loves me, but his disability makes showing emotions tough.  Maybe he'll never be the most demonstrative guy, but last night, I saw he was trying.

Progress is a good thing!

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

How Many Friends Do You Have?

I'm become somewhat addicted to Facebook as a means of self-expression. When I find interesting articles or sources of information, I like to post it on my Facebook page so I can share with all 257 of my Facebook "friends". I also like to repost on my Facebook page interesting articles from these same friends.

Of course, only a handful of these Facebook friends are actual friends. The rest are people that I used to know and have reconnected, I've "befriended" through Facebook or are acquaintances that I've met in actual real-life face-to-face interactions. Hi, nice to meet you. You're on Facebook, great, let's be friends! It's a step up from never having met in person, but it's still pretty artifical in terms of a real friendship.

As any parent of a child with an ASD knows, friendships are a precious commodity. I remember I did a lot of facilitating in this area for Jacob when he was young. I enrolled him in social skills classes. I got to know parents of his classmates so I could arrange playdates, then I monitored the playdate so it would be a successful event for both Jacob and the friend. I no longer facilitate friendships for Jacob because at 17, this is something Jacob has to do for himself.  It's just not cool to have Mom doing this for him at his age.

I think most people use the word friend much too loosely.  Real friends are people that you can count on no matter what. They bail you out of jail in the middle of the night. They bring you food after your Dad dies. They take you out to dinner when you've been fired from your job. They get drunk with you after you've dumped by your boyfriend.  I'm lucky that I have actual friends that would do any of these for me.

I was thinking about this while reading an article that that was posted on Facebook by a friend, a fellow autism Mom and a professional in Tennessee that works with individuals with autism, called "7 Reasons the 21st Century is Making you Miserable" from the website

The author is somewhat "in your face" as my Facebook friend mentioned when she posted the article, and the author, Bill Wong, is a bit of a potty mouth. But he makes some excellent points about how most people have very few real friends in which they can trust with private information.

Here is a summary of the 7 reasons why current society is making you miserable:

We don't have enough annoying strangers in our lives.  We used to live in towns where face to face interactions were the norm, and even though we didn't like everyone, we learned to cope with people we didn't like. This coping mechanism is important, because learning how to live with annoyances helps us to to become more tolerant of differences in others and helps us to develop the skill of being more tolerant.  Now that we can shop online or talk on our cell phones in public, we have numerous ways to avoid all undesirable interactions.  As a result, many people are much quicker to judge and less likely to be empathetic.

We don't have enough annoying friends either. I love this line from the article. "Peacefully dealing with people you can't stand is society."  By having only indirect interaction with people, we miss the ways that we learned to cope with the differences in others. Even though a friend has a different taste in music or an opposing political viewpoint, there is comfort in needing to be with others beyond common interests.

Texting is a bad way to communicate. More than 40% of what you say in an email is misunderstood, which means only 60% of our face-to-face interactions are understood.   There are lots and lots of ways to miscommunicate in the universe of indirect communication.

Online communication only makes us lonier. This is really tied into the last comment. 96% of our communication is non-verbal,  I'll repeat that sentence for emphasis: 96% of our communication is non-verbal! As the author says, the human ability to absorb moods is a kind of human osmosis. When we text or email, this is stripped away.

We don't get criticized enough. I'm going to directly quote Bill as he said it better than I can paraphrase: "Criticism is someone trying to help you, by telling you something about yourself that you were a little too comfortable not knowing. E-mail and texting are great tools for avoiding that level of honesty. The person on the other end can't see your face, can't see you get nervous, can't detect when you're lying. You have almost total control and as a result that other person never sees past your armor, never sees you at your worst, never knows the embarrassing little things about yourself that you can't control. Gone are the common quirks, humiliations and vulnerabilities that real friendships are built on."

We're victims of the outrage machine. Because our media sources are so fractured, we can now select information from sources that only agree with our point of view. If you want conservative and sensational, you watch Fox News. Liberal and factual, you watch MSNBC. We used to have only three television networks, and this was as recent as the 1980s.  Now there are hundreds of sources via television and the internet.  In  reality, there is no longer a "mass media".  We view the same news, but it is interpretted through a prism that only agrees with our way of thinking. We can't even acurately agree on what to disagree on anymore so our differences become irreconcilable. As Bill says "That constant feeling of being at bitter odds with the rest of the world brings with it a tension that just builds and builds."

We feel worthless because we are worthless. Online friends demand less of you. Real-space friends need you, and you need them, and they do stuff that annoys you, and you annoy them. But to be needed and annoying is to be human. Take away this element, and you strip away the basis for any friendship. As Bill says, "Self-esteem and the ability to like yourself only come after you've done something that makes you likable. You are a social animal and thus you are born with little happiness hormones that are released into your bloodstream when you see a physical benefit to your actions."  In order to like yourself, you have to do stuff that contributes to the world in some meaningful way, including helping a friend, taking care of a pet, or cleaning the house.  The act of doing is the essense of being human.

I was very struck by this article and I got me thinking alot about how it relates to people with autism.

So, with that in mind, let's look at the checklist of issues from this article. All of these are HUGE for individuals on the the autism spectrum.

Inability to read non-verbal communication
Inability to cope with the differences of others
Inability to understand what others are thinking
Inability to understand why helping others is important

I don't want to make too large of a leap. But, looking at this list and taking into account what Bill Wong has written, are we all becoming more autistic due to the impersonal nature of our society?

I wish I had money to do a research project on this topic.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

How do you Teach Motivation?

This was my last blog for Hopeful Parents. Enjoy!

The lives of parents with children on the autism spectrum are very busy. They spend hours and hours researching and finding the treatments that would be most appropriate for their child. They schedule meetings with doctors and professionals. They spend a lot of money on therapists. They arrange playdates, and they taxi their child to appointments. They hope that what they're doing will eventually prove to be worth the time, money, and energy.

This was my life when Jacob was young. Now he's 17 and by all accounts doing well. He started at public high school this year and there have been no issues. His report card came back with good grades. All of his teachers say he's engaged and active in the classroom. So I guess all the hours of driving, researching, and meetings have paid off. Or have they?

When I look at Jacob, I see a young man with so much potential. When he puts his mind to something, he'll do it. To make sure he'd be engaged at his new school, I offered a $100 bribe, ops, sorry, I meant to say a "positive reinforcement", if he got straight A's on his first report card. And this seems to be working: on his mid-semester card, he got As and Bs. All of his teachers gave him enthusiastic remarks about his efforts in class. He hasn't expressed it in words, but I think he's proud of himself because he's working hard and getting good grades.

But would have happened if I hadn't dangled a hundred-dollar bill in front of him? Would he have worked as hard to get the good grades if he wasn't being rewarded for it? Is the simple pleasure of doing his best and taking pride in his work something he can't do without getting something in return?

In the early years of Jacob's diagnosis, the exercises and assignments that therapists and teachers gave me were easy to implement. Speech objectives, sensory exercises, and homework help, no sweat - just tell me what I need to do and I'll make sure it's done. Play with Jacob for 1/2 each night to help him develop imaginative play - check, done. Put pillows on Jacob and apply pressure to help calm him - no worries, I've go it covered. Book report due next month - fine, we'll start reading together each night to make sure that it's completed on time. But an activity to help him with motivation? No therapist is giving me an assignment to help him meet this objective.

For me, this is one of the most frustrating things about having a child on the higher functioning end of the autism spectrum. As a parent, how do you teach your child to be motivated to do well in life? How do you teach a teenager to want to investigate their world instead of being content to stay home & watch movies all day? How do you teach your child that the rewards of helping others is something money can't buy?

Of course, I know I can't teach motivation to Jacob. This is something he'll have to develop on his own. So I guess a better question is how do I help Jacob develop motivation? I'm doing my best to set a good example, hoping some of it will rub off. But I'm not sure this is the type of thing that works by osmosis.

Only time will tell if Jacob is able to master the motivation objective.