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Periodically, and again recently, my wife pulled me aside at the conclusion of a melt-down by my 15 year-old son and – a bit angrily – asked, “Aren’t you just a bit tired? Don’t you EVER feel like you’ve had enough? Because I do and you don’t seem to be as harshly affected by the meltdowns and yelling and crying and CHAOS like I do. It never seems to be too much for you handle our two sons affected by autism. It’s not healthy to see you suppressing your agitation. You’re headed for a breakdown.”
I guess I never really think about it too much. I typically just do what I do. I just hang in there and try to keep myself in the most productive state of mind so that I can help my 2 sons affected by autism in the best way possible. I DO get tired, I guess . It CAN seem never ending, I guess. But I don’t (at least I guess) ever let that show outwardly. I DO, however, sleep pretty dang good at night. Just sayin…
You see, I don’t spend a lot of time THINKING about how hard it is or THINKING about how tired and worn out I can get WHILE it’s happening. I just try and address the escalations as they come… make the best of them… keep a positive attitude… and happily move on down the road.
But yesterday I came across an article by a wonderful, hard-working family whose writing was littered with the following quotes:
QUOTE 1: “My husband was in the fetal position wondering why our kids can’t get it together for 5-10 minutes without breaking down into fits and tears.”
QUOTE 2: “There was a lot of yelling, and a very frustrated parent who stood outside of his bedroom door, ready to throw in the towel.”
QUOTE 3: “Stop kicking the pew; I’m sorry, but I can’t give you popular names that start with every letter of the alphabet while I’m trying to listen; Lower your voice; If you can’t be quiet, then I’ll have to take you out.”
QUOTE 4: “Why does this have to be so hard?”
QUOTE 5: “After today, I feel like nothing works. I keep trying to have consistency, and make sure that he understands the rules and consequences ahead of time. I keep trying to stay calm. To be patient. To be understanding. But I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
QUOTE 6: “And when he doesn’t go in the right way, I wonder where I went wrong.”
And all these quotes all came from a fairly short article.
Sound familiar? I’ll bet you could add a few of your own regulars, huh?
It made me sad for the family because I get it – and start to really think about what it is that makes it so that I am able to – just like my angry wife says – be as unaffected (that’s code for beat-down and tired) as possible by the CHAOS and stay motivated and happy.
I can clearly think of a few things I would like to recommend that seem to help me.
First. I am prideful and competitive and I like to win. This may sound crazy, but here it is: Truthfully, I take serious pride in the fact that I handle things with a bit of patience and long-suffering. I really do get a charge when I “win” an encounter that is chaotic. And I almost always “win” each and every encounter. Let me explain what that means and what that doesn’t mean.
When I say I “win” it DOESN’T mean that one of my boys affected by autism “stops” a certain behavior or will never do it again. I can’t control that.
When I say I “win” it DOES mean that I’ve controlled MY behavior and had the patience to “stay with him” until his escalation has decreased or his crying has stopped or his yelling has subsided OR, he’s finally figured out that “threatening Dad with physical violence” (don’t kid yourself – he’s done it) does not work and does not get him anywhere. When I say I “win” it means I stay in the most productive state possible to help him EVEN IF he yells at or hits me or cries uncontrollably. I CAN control that. I CAN control how I react and manage myself.
Believe me, I have a plan to help my boys accomplish and learn and maybe even someday thrive. I WANT them to have it all. But I’ve learned that they aren’t always equipped to understand how rewards or punishments work. Very rarely can I incentivize, force, or distract my two sons affected by autism into correct or appropriate behavior. (NOTE: Those are the techniques I’ve effectively used with my other “typical” kids.)
So… I love them… even when it’s REALLY, REALLY hard to love them. That’s the second thing I do. Nobody will LOVE them like I do, so when things get a little hard, I “theoretically” LOVE the crap out of them. Seriously!
When my 15 year-old son has his fists balled up and is spit-screaming in my face (you know, when he’s SO escalated that spittle is flying out of his mouth and in to mine) that’s when I will not give in to any negative emotions. Keep in mind, I’m a fighter by nature so if YOU were to get in my face like that, I’d DROP YOU like a sack of dirt. But with my boys, I “fight” the natural urge to extinguish the problem with violence and force myself to try and love him more. It takes practice and I haven’t always been perfect, but I sure am making my very best effort to love him.
Another thing I do that I think helps me to “thrive in the chaos” and not get too worn out is to draw from past experiences. Let me explain:
When I was a much younger man I dabbled in a bit of boxing and there were a few things I left with – I mean aside from plenty of beat-downs and black eyes. First, I should have never boxed as I was not too skilled. Second, if you get mad and loose control in a boxing match and start to flail, you are going to get hurt REALLY bad. You MUST control your temper. That is VERY true with my boys. And third, you ALWAYS have something left in the tank. When your arms are heavy and you can’t lift them to punch, you CAN lift them to protect yourself – because it’s an absolute must. I learned that there is always more energy in reserve. ALWAYS!
After a tiring encounter in which I control my behavior and reactions (even if it is exhausting sometimes – and you know it is) I can draw upon that reserved energy and let my wife find me feeling… well… pretty dang good. I use the encounter to FILL me with confidence. I’m rejuvenated and uplifted because I feel that he is getting my best; and no matter how or what is happening, when I give him my best – and he deserves my best – I can feel okay.
If you’ve ever played competitive sports, you know the feeling. And you’ve certainly SEEN the feeling if you watch sports. Athletes give EVERYTHING they have during the game (they are absolutely physically spent) until the game is over and they win. THEN they prance around (that takes energy) they jump for joy (more energy) they chase their coaches and families down to celebrate with them (more energy required) and sometimes they even party in to the night. (Which requires MORE energy.)
Where is all this energy coming from? The JOY of their win seems to provide almost ENDLESS energy – even AFTER they are completely exhausted. That “win” energy is available to all of us. Use it when you are tired and feel like you are done.
And finally, one of the most important things we all must do to thrive is simple. Don’t set false expectations for yourself or them. These children are different. For us to expect them to NOT have meltdowns, or to NOT flip out when they are pushed, or to simply be typically, happy children may be a BAD expectation. Are they capable of having good days? Of course. And when they do, let it FILL you with joy, soak it in and be grateful. But stop being surprised that you and I have it hard because… well, we have it hard.
Don’t be surprised at a meltdown. Be READY. Create your plan for the encounter, follow the plan, win the encounter through love, allow the encounter to FILL YOU with energy and move forward with faith and hope.
You don’t have to suffer. You don’t have to get all worn out. You don’t have to struggle. You can “win” each and every day. Plus, you’ll sleep well at night because you’ll be SO tired. Being tired means you put in a great days work. Just sayin…
When my son, Erik was 8, he was still in diapers. We had tried everything to potty-train him. Seriously, if there was a method, we had tried it; but still, no success. Then, right in the middle of Church one day… it happened. A smell that could only be described as an evil spirit wafted down our isle. That’s right, you guessed it. The smell coming from Erik was… well, let’s just say we had the worst smelling pew known to man… and God. It may have been best described as a pew-poo. From 4 kids away, my wife Shelly contorted her nose, turned towards me and with watering eyes, quietly mouthed to me, “Oh, my Gosh, is that Erik?” After I quietly mouthed back to her that it sure WASN’T ME, she – without saying a word, and with just a look – helped me to understand that the time was NOW to take him out and change him.
When we finally got to the restroom, I lowered the wall-hanging changing table and lifted Erik up. Keep in mind, he’s 8, the changing table has a weight limit (and obviously a length-limit) of which Erik is over on both, so I was being very careful to make sure he didn’t slide off or break the hinge and collapse the whole thing. I was so focused on making sure he was safe (and clean) I maybe missed a few things that should have mattered.
Get the book here: https://thriveinchaos.net
A few things I DID notice at the time, however, were first; he was fighting me. You know what I’m talking about, right? You know when you’re trying to change a diaper and your child arches their backs so you can’t effectively lift them up and wipe them clean? Yep, you know. Now remember, he’s 8 and way stronger than a toddler. And second; it was very obvious that the “evil spirit” wafting through the air was so powerful that I could TASTE IT!
After what seemed to be 10 minutes of stress and sweat (both of us) he was clean and we walked back in to the Chapel.
As my wife saw me at the end of the isle and turned and smiled at me (probably because SHE had not endured the stress of the event) her smile quickly turned in to a look of pure horror.
Unbeknownst to me, while I was changing Erik and had turned to toss the diaper in to the trashcan, he had wizzed all down my pant leg and – as I was wearing khaki colored slacks – had left a “you can’t miss it” one foot-wide, two foot-long streak of contrasting, dark brown stain on my pants.
With sore muscles and sweat beading on my forehead from the previous “diaper-change fight” I had just experienced, I plopped down on the pew and lowered my head in defeat. I was exhausted, conquered and “partially soaked in urine.”
Needless to say, it was NOT a very fun experience.
THEN, a few days later I made what – at the time – I THOUGHT was a mistake – but turned out to be a wonderful turning point in my life. I relayed the experience to my older brother, Kreg.
You know the story. It wasn’t funny to me at the time, but as I told Kreg, he couldn’t stop laughing. His unrelenting laughter as I relayed my pain and suffering eventually caused me to start laughing and together, we laughed so hard our sides started to hurt and cheeks became sore.
Later, as I reviewed the event in my mind, I couldn’t help but think, “If it’s so funny later – and it really is a GREAT and funny story – why can’t I enjoy the moment WHILE it’s happening?”
I decided right then and there that moving forward, I was going to enjoy ALL the moments that would lead to great stories. And I was going to write them down.
Shortly after I changed my perspective, instead of saying, “OH NO” or being defeated as I experienced crazy events, I found myself saying, “Holy Moly, this is going to be a GREAT story to tell others.”
On my blog are some of the stories that became the funniest and most defining in my – and my 2 sons affected by autism’s – lives. Because of this “change of my attitude” we can now THRIVE as others “gasp in horror” or “recoil in amazement.” As you read, please, please laugh. It’s okay. We survived. The kids are happy. And you may just find a story or two that mirror an experience you may have had. If so, please share with me – and all your friends.
Get the book here: https://thriveinchaos.net
Is that too much to ask? We didn’t think so.
In 2004 – at the age of 5 – when our third son (of what ended up being 6 children) was diagnosed as PDD-NOS (autism spectrum disorder), we KNEW our lives was dramatically changing forever.
As soon as we heard the diagnosis, we immersed ourselves in the task of trying to FIX our sweet little boy. There was NO WAY this, or any diagnosis would define his life. I am a fighter by nature, and I would not rest until I exhausted every resource I had to help him. I read every book I could find, found every site with even a bit of useful information and poured over thousands of pages of research.
But the more research we did, the more discouraged we became and the more we suffered. There was a lot of confusion. There were a lot of questions. There were a lot of very good answers and very bad answers from the same people. To some, every child was affected differently. To some, every child was the same. The one common theme was that there were WAY TO MANY parents suffering… just like us.
When just a few years later, our fourth son was given the same diagnoses – yep, we‘ve got 2! – our dreams for both of them seemed to start to die. We were distraught, like any parent who have no idea what to do, or if anything could be done to fix our kids.
However, by now, we was fairly sure of a few things. First, there was no “FIX” for our sons – they didn’t and will never need fixing. Second, we should stop TRYING to fix our sons. What we needed to know was HOW TO FIX OURSELVES. And finally, there were NO RESOURCES available that could tell us “how to fix ourselves.”
We Needed Something BAD! Our Sons Affected Needed Us To Be At Our Very Best.
What my sons needed was for us to learn how to be at our very best for them. We needed to know how to better manage ourselves so that we were able to be in an optimum state when they needed us. They deserved and needed us to handle ourselves in a way that served them best. We needed tools, techniques and training that would allow us to THRIVE in our situation – no matter WHAT happened moving forward.
“Thrive in CHAOS” is the answer to the question, “How can I THRIVE as I serve those that need and deserve my very best?”
We Don’t Have A Lot of Time to Read.
Not only does the book have many, many funny stories about the boys and our family (as accepting and enjoying the zaniness HAD to be my first step towards THRIVING) but the book also has compiled thoughts on a wide range of subjects; from attitude to humility to marriage to philosophy and a whole lot of other things in between. Inside these short commentaries you will laugh… and learn how to train yourself to be more patient, less prone to distress in escalated situations and even THRIVE as you serve those who deserve your best. You will learn easy to apply tricks, techniques and principles that will result in a happy, more fulfilling experience for you and those you serve. You will KNOW that you have the personal power available to find the GIFTS and the JOY in your service. And if you can find the GIFTS and the JOY in the seemingly most distressing things in life, how free are you?
This book is not about those affected by autism. This book is about you. You are the person that cares for those affected. You are the real hero’s. You are the ones that spend your time and much effort, show your love and are charged with helping those that require a special kind of caring.
Get the book here: Thrive In Chaos – The Book