Ep #31: The Stories We Tell

The Autism Mom Coach with Lisa Candera | The Stories We Tell

Did you know that the stories we tell aren’t necessarily true? They feel real, and you may be recalling a story exactly as you experienced it. But the truth is the stories we tell are a combination of facts as well as our judgments and interpretations.

Human brains are story-making machines. We create stories as a way of understanding our lives, relating to the world, and relating to one another. However, some of the stories we tell are empowering, while some have the opposite effect, and our power lies in our ability to choose the version of the story we want to tell, believe, and live.

Join me this week to discover what stories are, the countless factors that influence how we interpret them, and why you can choose on purpose how you want to think about the circumstances of your life. I’m offering two very different diagnosis stories drawn from the same set of facts to show you how there is no ultimate truth, and why this is the best news.

I am accepting applications for new clients! All you need to do is click here, and you can schedule a one-on-one consult so we can discuss where you are, where you want to go, and whether coaching is going to help get you there.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What stories are.
  • Why our thoughts are real, but not necessarily true.
  • How we often default to telling stories from our lives in a way that doesn’t serve us.
  • What determines our experience of the stories we tell.
  • How to see the impact of the choice you’re making when it comes to the stories you tell.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

  • To get my worksheet for this episode, go to my home page and enter your email address in the pop-up!
  • Click here to get my Check What’s Triggered workbook, designed to help you identify some of the triggers you’re anticipating for this school year, and to crate thoughts that will better serve you.
  • Lark
  • Atypical – Netflix

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to episode 31 of The Autism Mom Coach, The Stories We Tell. Human brains are story making machines. We create stories as a way of understanding our lives, relating to the world, and relating to one another. Some of the stories we tell are empowering and some of them are just the opposite.

In this week’s episode I am going to tell you two very different diagnosis stories drawn from the same set of facts. Which is true? Well, both and neither. There is no ultimate truth. There are always multiple interpretations of the same facts available to us in any given moment. And our power lies in our ability to choose the version of the story we want to tell, believe, and live. To learn more stay tuned.

Welcome to The Autism Mom Coach, a podcast for moms who feel overwhelmed, afraid, and sometimes powerless as they raise their child with Autism. My name is Lisa Candera. I’m a certified life coach, lawyer, and most importantly I’m a full-time single mom to a teenage boy with Autism. In this podcast I’ll show you how to transform your relationship with Autism and special needs parenting. You’ll learn how to shift away from being a victim of your circumstances to being the hero of the story you get to write. Let’s get started.

Hello, and welcome to another episode of the podcast. I am so glad you’re here and I hope you’re doing well. I have some fun news to share, in a couple of weeks my son and I are going to be doing a presentation together called how to talk to your child about their Autism diagnosis. We’re going to be doing this for a local Connecticut organization called The Lark. And I will put the information in the show notes.

Anyhow, my son has some very strong thoughts about this topic. And so I am so excited for him to have the ability to share his perspective with the parents because I just think that it’ll be so informative for them to hear really straight from a person who has lived this experience.

One of the things I will have to share during this presentation is that I didn’t actually tell my son about his Autism diagnosis. He figured it out while he and I were watching Atypical together when he noticed how similar he was to the main character, Sam. Anyhow, it should be a really interesting conversation.

And I will share more on my social media about this conversation and some of my thoughts about it. So if you don’t already, follow me on Instagram and follow me on Facebook. You can find me in both places, The Autism Mom Coach. On Facebook I have a private group and on Instagram I just have The Autism Mom Coach page.

All right, so on for the topic of today, the stories we tell. So first, what are stories? Stories are a collection of sentences, thoughts in our brains. And what do we know about our thoughts? They are real, but not necessarily true. They are simply our interpretation of the circumstances in our lives, influenced by a countless number of factors from our gender, sex, age, upbringing, education, race, religious background, and on and on.

Whenever we tell a story about our lives, whether it is the story about how we got married, divorced, pregnant, or learned of a diagnosis, we think that that story we’re telling is the story. We think that when we are telling a story, we are recalling it exactly as it happened and that the way we experienced the story was the only way it could be experienced. But this isn’t true.

When we tell a story it is a combination of some facts as we recall them, and a lot of judgment and interpretation. And so often we default to telling these stories in a way that does not serve us. In a way that casts ourselves as the victim of our circumstance, of life happening to us, and from the version of ourselves who is not enough, not doing enough, or no matter what she does, never get it right.

Here’s why this is important to know. It is not the facts, the real actual facts of the story that are causing us to feel anything. Rather, it is how we interpret these facts that create how we feel and determine our experience of the story we are telling.

I want to demonstrate this by telling you two versions of the same story. First, I’m going to start off with just telling you the facts. And then I’m going to offer you two different versions of the story. And first we’re going to start off with a silly one.

Here are the facts, I have two cats and a hamster. There is a teenager who is babysitting my animals while I am away. Last weekend the teenager cleaned out the hamster cage and did not return the lid to the top of the cage. The hamster did not escape and it is still alive.

So here’s version number one. My sitter is so careless, my hamster could have been murdered. I could have walked into a gory mess. I can’t trust her.

Version two, I am so glad I opted for an aquarium cage. There is no way a hamster is escaping it even with the lid off. And of course she is alive, there is no way my cats would have harmed her. They know that she’s family and not desert.

So which version of the story is true? Well, both and neither. There’s no ultimate truth here. There’s just how I choose to look at it. And I am choosing the second version of the story because I don’t want to think ill of the teenager who is watching my animals. And I am really entertained by the idea or the thought that my cat’s would never hurt my hamster because she’s family.

Now, I know that this was a silly example. And I did that on purpose because I just wanted to highlight how different of a story I could tell using the same facts. So onto a story that is not silly and is much more serious to me. And this is the story of my son’s OCD diagnosis.

Here are the facts, my son began exhibiting high levels of anxiety at the age of six. We met with many professionals, developmental pediatricians, neurologists, psychiatrists, psychologists and various therapists. I bought a bunch of books about anxiety.

I learned how I may be feeling the anxiety and I experimented with different strategies and metaphors to help my son understand his anxiety and cope with it. Over the years I asked various professionals about OCD. And I was told that OCD and Autism are very similar and it was difficult to tell which was which. At the age of 13 my son was diagnosed with OCD.

Version of the story number one, I should have known. I should have done more. I should have pushed harder. We have lost so much time. I can’t trust myself or anyone else.

Version two, wow, I suspected for a while that Autism was not driving the bus and I was right. Even though I didn’t have an official diagnosis, all of the things I did were on point. Also, I don’t know that an official diagnosis would have changed much when my son was younger. I think he’s at the right age and stage of development now to understand the concept of externalizing his OCD and bossing it back. We are doing exactly what we need to do.

So which version of this story is true? Again, both and neither. There is no single truth. And it does not matter which one of these stories is true. The facts are what they are and I can choose to tell myself the default story that this is my fault and we are behind and I should have done more. But why? It’s not helpful at all.

This story does not serve me in any way. It would undermine my confidence and my competence as the sole decision maker in my son’s life. There is absolutely no upside to me telling myself I should have done more and this is my fault.

I choose to tell and believe the version of the story that empowers me. The version of the story where my gut instincts were spot on. I can trust myself and I was doing so many of the things that were helping my son before I even knew what was wrong. That’s the story I want to live into.

But this is a choice because, trust me, there are plenty of times where the default, you should have done something, you should have known, those thoughts pop up. The difference is, is I just notice them. I relate to them differently. They’re not the truth of the universe, they’re just a thought that I’m having. And I lean in to the story I want to believe, the story that I want to live.

Because the way we think about things, the way we talk about them, creates our experience. And this is so important because how we’re feeling is going to drive our actions. It’s going to drive how we show up, it’s going to create our reality. We are in charge of that. And so one of the ways that we can take hold of it is by choosing on purpose how we want to think about the circumstances in our lives.

So if you want to give this a try, pick a topic and write down just the facts. And then write down the default story you are telling yourself about these facts. And then write down the version of the story you want to believe, that you want to live into.

What is the difference between those two stories? What are the thoughts that are standing in between you choosing the story that empowers you right now? This is where your work is, uncovering those limiting beliefs that are keeping you stuck. Because here’s the thing I’ve learned from coaching, how we do one thing is how we do everything.

So if you were stuck in an I’m not good enough, I’m not doing the right things story about your parenting, it’s probably showing up in other areas of your life. Maybe in your relationships, maybe at work. So uncovering those limiting beliefs and seeing the impact that they are having in your life and seeing the choice that you have to choose a different way of thinking about it, this is where it all begins.

If you want some help with this, this is exactly what we do in my one-on-one coaching program. You don’t have to stay stuck and you don’t have to do this alone. I would love to support you and your transformation. If you are interested, go on my website, theAutismmomcoach.com and schedule a consultation.

All right, that’s all I have for this week. I will talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening to The Autism Mom Coach. If you want more information or the show notes and resources from the podcast, visit theAutismmomcoach.com. See you next week.

Enjoy the Show?

 

Ep #30: Autism-Colored Glasses

The Autism Mom Coach with Lisa Candera | Autism-Colored Glasses

Do you ever find yourself interpreting all of your child’s behaviors through the lens of their Autism diagnosis? When so much of your life revolves around supporting a child with an Autism diagnosis, it’s common to see Autism everywhere, even relating to other people in your life who don’t have a diagnosis of this kind.

You have new information and a new perspective, so you walk around with what I’m calling Autism-Colored Glasses, wondering if a behavior is attributable to an Autism diagnosis. Now, while these Autism Colored-Glasses can be incredibly useful in creating understanding, compassion, and empathy, it doesn’t always work out this way, and looking at your child this way can lead to more anxiety and anxiety-fueled action.

Tune in this week to discover how you show up when you look at your child’s behavior through Autism-Colored Glasses. I’m showing you why there’s always more than one way of looking at your child’s behavior, and I’m showing you how to see if you’re missing out on the bigger picture or causing yourself unnecessary stress and anxiety when addressing your child’s behavior.

I am accepting applications for new clients! All you need to do is click here, and you can schedule a one-on-one consult so we can discuss where you are, where you want to go, and whether coaching is going to help get you there.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • The situations in which viewing the world through Autism-Colored Glasses can be useful.
  • How Autism-Colored glasses allow us to have more compassion for others, whether or not they have a diagnosis.
  • Why Autism-Colored Glasses can sometimes lead to anxiety-fueled actions.
  • Some examples from my clients of perceived problems that actually didn’t need solving.
  • How to see the ways that your Autism-Colored Glasses are positively or negatively impacting the way you’re showing up as a parent.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

  • To get my worksheet for this episode, go to my home page and enter your email address in the pop-up!
  • Click here to get my Check What’s Triggered workbook, designed to help you identify some of the triggers you’re anticipating for this school year, and to crate thoughts that will better serve you.

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to episode 30 of The Autism Mom Coach, Autism-Colored Glasses. Do you ever find yourself interpreting all of your child’s behavior through the lens of their Autism diagnosis? If so this episode is for you. Keep listening.

Welcome to The Autism Mom Coach, a podcast for moms who feel overwhelmed, afraid, and sometimes powerless as they raise their child with Autism. My name is Lisa Candera. I’m a certified life coach, lawyer, and most importantly I’m a full-time single mom to a teenage boy with Autism. In this podcast I’ll show you how to transform your relationship with Autism and special needs parenting. You’ll learn how to shift away from being a victim of your circumstances to being the hero of the story you get to write. Let’s get started.

Hello everyone and welcome to the podcast. I’m so glad you’re here and I hope you are having a nice week. Before I turn to this week’s topic I want to read a listener review from Harrison’s Mom. She writes, “I found the Autism Mom podcast one day after a tough meltdown from my two and a half year old son with suspected Autism, which resulted in me having my own mommy meltdown. I was in the car desperate to find anyone who was going through what I was going through. I stumbled upon Lisa’s podcast and I felt like she was describing my life to at tee.

I can’t begin to tell you how much Lisa’s advice has helped me. Even though her son is much older than mine, I’m still able to find tons of tips and tricks that I can apply to my life. Some days I feel like I hear Lisa’s voice in my head guiding me through the think, feel, act cycle, more than a hear my own.” She then says, “Lisa, thank you for all you have done for us and the advice I know I will get from you in future episodes.” Well, Harrison’s Mom, you are a 100% welcome. And I am so happy to hear that you found this podcast exactly when you needed it.

I have had many a meltdown in a car and I will say although my son is much older than your two and a half year old, the lessons that you are learning now, everything that you are going through now, it’s like the initiation. And you are going to learn so much right now and you’re going to be able to fall back on these skills as your child grows. And as they grow and you get more experienced with riding the wave of the ups and downs that come with raising any child but particularly a child with Autism, you will gain more and more confidence.

So even when you get to say 10 or 11, and you’re dealing with some brand new to stuff, you’ll have all that experience from when your child was two a half years old and you didn’t know what was what, but you figured it out, but you got through it. You’re going to keep on doing that. And part of the reason for me having this podcast is I know that the number one resource for any child with Autism is their mother. Or really I shouldn’t just say the mother, their parents, but my focus is on the mom, you are the number one resource.

And so, your ability to ride the wave, to take care of yourself and to be resourceful and resilient is going to serve both you and your child. And that’s why I do what I do. It’s why I have the podcast. It’s why I have my coaching program. And I really do believe that our ability to support ourselves and support each other is going to be the gamechanger for all of our children because in case you haven’t noticed, no one is just making that happen for us. We’re going to do it ourselves. But in order to do it we need to be replenished. We need to be resourced.

And that’s not happening when we’re spending all of our time and energy focused on our children. And when we’re not focused on them we’re actually focused on beating ourselves up in some way telling ourselves that we’re not doing enough and shaming ourselves. Really there’s just no place for that in this journey. And so, whatever I can do, whatever words I can provide to guide you into treating yourself better and to being kinder to yourself, well, that’s what I’m here for.

Okay, so rant over, let’s get to the topic for this week’s episode, Autism-colored glasses. Now, when so much of your life revolves around supporting a child with an Autism diagnosis, it’s really common to begin to see Autism everywhere. I know this happened for me shortly after my son was diagnosed. It was like every work meeting I was in the wondering, no eye contact, maybe an Autism diagnosis. Doesn’t understand sarcasm, maybe Autistic.

I see this in my clients too. They are encountering people that they have known for years and now they are questioning whether some their quirks or behaviors are somehow attributable to Autism. Who knows? But you get the idea. You have new information, a new perspective and all of a sudden you start seeing it everywhere. So, when you start seeing Autism everywhere this is what I am calling Autism-colored glasses. This is when you are wondering whether a behavior is because of or attributable to an Autism diagnosis.

Now, I think, Autism-colored glasses can be amazing especially when they lead to increased empathy, curiosity, acceptance and understanding. So, for example let’s say that you are at the store and you see a child losing it. And maybe before your child’s Autism diagnosis you might have thought something like, that child’s a spoiled brat because they’re not getting their way. Or their mom isn’t disciplining him the way she should. But now that you have on your Autism-colored glasses, your thoughts may be a lot kinder and a lot more generous and compassionate.

So maybe instead of judging this mother or giving the child a dirty look, maybe you smile at the mom, maybe you offer to let her in line in front of you. Or maybe you just think warm thoughts about her and her child because you are wearing those Autism-colored glasses. Now, of course you don’t actually know whether or not the child has Autism. But the fact is when you’re wearing the Autism-colored glasses you might be showing up differently.

And this is a great thing, if it’s used to bring more, again, compassion, understanding empathy into the world, wonderful. But here is the thing, I see so many examples in my life and in the life of my clients where our Autism-colored glasses are leading to increased anxiety and anxiety fueled actions. This happens when we attribute all of our child’s feelings and all of their actions to their Autism diagnosis. And I think this is because when we believe that the behavior is caused by the Autism we also believe consciously or subconsciously that this is a problem to be fixed.

So let me give you an example. My client was upset when her three year old son refused to get on the back of a truck for a hay ride. They were at a pumpkin patch and my client thought it would be so cool for her son to be on a hay ride. Well, he didn’t, he was not having it. He wanted nothing to do with that big noisy truck filled with itchy hay. She interpreted his refusal to get on the truck as being because of his Autism. And in her mind he was missing out on a fun experience because of his Autism.

Well, these thoughts created by her Autism-colored glasses caused her to feel anxious. And when she was feeling anxious, here’s how she showed up. First she tried to persuade her child to get on the truck even though he clearly didn’t want to. And then when that didn’t work she spent the rest of the night spinning about how they missed out on the fun and wondering how many other fun experiences or milestones they would miss because of the Autism.

I remember when my son was around three years old, so this was shortly after the Autism diagnosis. I would take him to the children’s museum in Philadelphia and they had so many amazing exhibits. But where did my son want to spend most of his time? The Thomas exhibit. And my thought was, we are missing out on the rest of this museum because he is Autistic. Of course, he wants to play with the Thomas train, all the Autistic kids did. These were my thoughts.

And so, when I see my son fixated on playing with Thomas, my thought was, oh my goodness, this is because of the Autism. This is the Autism rigidity. I need to make him do something else. Well, look at whose being rigid then, me. I was laser focused on the fact that he was having fun with this one activity that I associated with being the proof of his Autism.

And my actions were to try to persuade him to do things he didn’t want to do. And what was the end result? He didn’t have as much fun as he wanted to and we were just in this unnecessary struggle. So, if this is you, if you find yourself attributing all of your child’s behaviors to Autism and this has resulted in you being anxious and trying to fix or control your child, here is what I suggest.

First, notice when you are looking at your child’s behaviors through your Autism-colored glasses. Notice the feelings that come up when you’re doing this and what kind of actions you are taking and how you are showing up when you believe that your child is doing or not doing something because of the Autism. Then ask yourself, if I did not believe that this behavior was because of the Autism, what would I think, how would I feel and what would I do?

For my client with the hay ride, she told me that she would not have given it a second thought if she didn’t believe it was Autism related. She would have just figured he wasn’t interested or maybe the hay ride looked a little bit scary for him because of course it was on the back of a pickup truck. And she would have went on with her night. She would not have been fixating about the hay ride and everything that she believed that they messed and that they would miss in the future.

And the same thing for me, if I wasn’t fixated on my son playing with the Thomas train as being the harbinger of our life to come because of his Autism then I would have just let him play with the train and not made it a big deal at all. I mean maybe I would have tried to persuade him to check out other areas of the museum. But I would not have been attaching the kind of importance to it as I was because I believed that he was missing out and this this just because of the Autism.

And that if I didn’t do something that he would be missing out on things for the rest of his life. I was catastrophizing because he wanted to play with trains as opposed to just being like, whatever, he’s three, let him play. Here’s what I’ve learned from practicing this technique of asking myself, what if it isn’t because of the Autism? I have noticed that invariably I am a lot calmer when I’m not attributing a behavior to the Autism.

Now, this won’t always be the case. Sometimes you will be looking at your child’s behaviors through the lens of Autism and it will create a lot of compassion and a lot of understanding, and that’s good too. The point of this exercise is really to decide where do you show up in a way that you like better? And so, if thinking of a behavior through Autism-colored glasses creates more compassion, more empathy, more understanding, more curiosity, then go right ahead.

But if you find that it’s not creating those emotions, if it’s creating anxiety and judgment, maybe asking yourself, well, if I didn’t believe it was because of the Autism, let’s say I think well, he’s four years old, that’s why it’s happening. And when you believe that it’s just because he’s four you’re like, “Whatever, it’s no big deal.” Then I feel like that’s a better way to show up. You’re not as stoked with anxiety. You can show up a lot calmer and you can model behavior that you want your child to exhibit.

The point here is there is never just one way of looking at our child’s behaviors. And when we are always looking at them through the lens of our Autism-colored glasses, we may be missing out on the bigger picture or we may be causing ourselves unnecessary stress and anxiety. So, when we try to look at alternative views for the behavior we give ourselves an opportunity to decide how we want to show up because that’s the point. We always get to decide how we want to show up.

And so, if this shift helps you in showing up in a way that is calmer, more collected, more grounded, I hope that you use it. Alright, that’s all I have for you this week. I hope you enjoyed this podcast episode and I will talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening to The Autism Mom Coach. If you want more information or the show notes and resources from the podcast, visit theautismmomcoach.com. See you next week.

Enjoy the Show?

 

Ep #29: When Other People Trigger You

The Autism Mom Coach with Lisa Candera | When Other People Trigger You

When it comes to our children with Autism, other people trigger us in all sorts of ways. Maybe they ask questions like, “What is her special skill?” or they make comments like, “Well, he doesn’t look Autistic…” and, of course, people staring at your child in all kinds of situations.

We think other people trigger us because they don’t get it, they don’t understand our lives, and they don’t understand Autism. However, the real reason other people trigger us might surprise you, and you have more control in this situation than you might currently believe, so listen closely.

Tune in this week as I share a story where I was triggered. Well, actually I was stunned and sickened during a conversation with someone. There was a time when I would have reacted very differently to this conversation, however, with the skills of thought work, I was able to look at this uncomfortable situation in a more helpful way. So, I’m showing how you can do the same when you feel triggered by thoughtless comments or actions by another person.

I am accepting applications for new clients! All you need to do is click here, and you can schedule a one-on-one consult so we can discuss where you are, where you want to go, and whether coaching is going to help get you there.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • An experience I had recently of feeling triggered by something another person said, and why I was so upset in the moment.
  • How I would have described this experience before discovering coaching and thought work.
  • Why other people and their unhelpful comments or actions don’t cause our feelings, but it’s important to acknowledge and honor those strong feelings when they come up.
  • How to apply thought work when you feel triggered by something another person says or does.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to The Autism Mom Coach, When Other People Trigger you. When it comes to our children with Autism, other people trigger us in all sorts of ways. The questions they ask like, “What is her special skill?” Comments like, “Well, he doesn’t look Autistic.” And of course, the staring. We think other people trigger us because they don’t get it. They don’t understand our lives and they don’t understand Autism. But the real reason other people trigger us has actually nothing to do with them. To learn more, keep listening.

Welcome to The Autism Mom Coach, a podcast for moms who feel overwhelmed, afraid, and sometimes powerless as they raise their child with Autism. My name is Lisa Candera. I’m a certified life coach, lawyer, and most importantly I’m a full-time single mom to a teenage boy with Autism. In this podcast I’ll show you how to transform your relationship with Autism and special needs parenting. You’ll learn how to shift away from being a victim of your circumstances to being the hero of the story you get to write. Let’s get started.

Welcome to another episode of the podcast. I am so happy you’re here and I hope you are doing well. My son and I are still living out of state while he attends an OCD program and we are both learning so much. This is really hard work, more so for him of course, but it’s hard work for me as well. And one of the challenges that we have both of us, one of the things that we’re really learning to develop is our capacity to make room for discomfort. And it’s really uncomfortable.

The ability to let discomfort in without resisting it and to just allow it is a practice. When I find myself struggling between what I intellectually know which is this is a process, and my knee jerk instinct to avoid discomfort or try to make it go away as fast as possible, I really lean into the right now, the present moment, my breath, my feet on the floor, my hands on the steering wheel. And this helps, it helps to slow down my racing thoughts like this isn’t working. It’s not working fast enough or my fears that it somehow won’t work.

All of these grounding techniques bring me back into my body and back into the present moment. And this is a big part of my coaching practice, the somatic piece. So many of the moms I coach are students of personal development. They read the books. They go to therapy, they are in tune with their thoughts. But there is this gap between what they intellectually understand and how they show up. And this is the part of the work we do together. How to bridge the gap between knowing something intellectually and knowing it in your body and living it. It’s a practice.

Alright, update over, let’s talk about comparison. By the time you hear this episode I will be the proud mother of a 15 year old boy, 15. I have been having a lot of thoughts and a lot of emotions about this birthday and they all got triggered the morning before my son turned 15 while we were out for breakfast. Here’s what happened. The hostess came by to chat and ask my son about school, she told us that she was a retired teacher and she was just curious to know what grade he was going into.

My son told her that he was a freshman in high school but he wasn’t going to school right now, he was attending a local program. And he gave her some details about that. All good. Well, while he was in the bathroom the hostess came over to me and started giving me advice. She just jumped in with telling me that she used to give vocational advice to special needs parents as part of her teaching gig, I guess.

And she just launched in with, “There are always dish washer jobs available at hotels. He could start as a dish washer and work his way up. Hotels are a good option because they have 401(k) plans. Oh, and by the way, the buffet guy, he has a bunch of issues and he’s been with us for years.” Oh my gosh, so I was a combination of stunned and sickened at the same time all the while just wanting her to stop talking and leave before my son returned to the table.

And I’ll tell you, I’m usually not at a loss for words but I was, holy smokes, all of my words along with my heart and my stomach were just stuck in my throat and I wanted to throw up. So, let’s talk about this, why? Why was I so triggered? Now, I will tell you that before I found coaching and thought work I would have said something like this. “This woman had no right to assume that my son is not capable of going to college or pursuing a career. She had no right to judge us like that, she is ignorant. How dare she. She is the reason that I am upset.”

But here is the thing, she is not the reason that I got upset. As much as I would love to blame her tone deaf comments for all of my frustration, grief and sadness, she is not the reason I felt that way. She does not control my emotions. So, what was the reason? If it wasn’t her comments and what she said, why was I feeling so upset? Well, let’s remember the self-coaching model, in this self-coaching model this woman, her words are a circumstance.

And circumstances do not cause our emotions, our thoughts do. If you want a refresher on this go back to episodes, I think it’s five and six, it’s the thought, feel, act cycle and the self-coaching model where I walk through this process that I’m going to review today. The real reason I was upset, the real reason I wanted to throw up is because her comments triggered what was already there inside of me, just below the surface, all of my concerns, all of my fears about my son turning 15. All of my concerns about his future.

She was the trigger, it was what got triggered inside of me that created my feelings. So, I want to walk you through this. I want to show you how I self-coached myself so that you can use this tool on your own. Now, first before I self-coached I cried. I just let it out. I am afraid, I am scared and it is okay to feel these emotions and process them. Once I got it out and I was feeling more clearer headed, and I was no longer in that fight, flight response I was able to take a look at what was going on in my brain.

So again, the circumstance, hostess recommends hotel jobs for child. My thought here was, he is being robbed of his future. And I’ll just give you a little bit of background about this thought. One of the thoughts that I do have about generally speaking, society and Autism is that there seems to be two categories, folks who are smart and can go on to be the next Elon Musk, and then basically everybody else.

And so, the idea that she saw my son, gathered a few pieces of information about him and then came over to tell me about dish washing jobs. That triggered this thought, he is being robbed of his future as if don’t even bother, there’s only one of two destinies for him. And she had picked destiny number two. So that was the thought, he is being robbed of his future and that created a feeling of grief for me. And when I was feeling grief my actions were to become hypervigilant of my son and how he was acting and presenting that was different or not ‘normal’.

And then I began catastrophizing about his program, about the fact that he was missing school, about the fact that he is 15 and so close to falling off the services cliff. And what was the result of all this? The result was that I robbed myself of the present moment, the lovely breakfast with my son where we could just enjoy one another. The circumstance, the hostess’ words, they did not cause my sadness. I could have just as easily been like, “Okay, boomer”, or, “Great tip”, and moved on.

And in fact, now that I think about it this advice that this woman gave to me about hotels and 401(k) plans, it’s probably not much different than the advice that I got from my grandfather when he learned that I wanted to go to college. He was like, “Get a job, preferably with a 401(k) plan, preferably with a pension and get to work.” Anyhow, her words did not cause my emotions. It was my thought that he was being robbed of his future that caused my feelings.

Here is why this is so important. There is very little in life that we can control especially when it comes to our children and especially when it comes to other people. But we can decide how we want to think about the circumstances in our lives including other people, what they say, what they understand, and how they present. So, in this situation I had to decide how I wanted to think about this woman’s words. Did I want to hold on to them and my knee jerk interpretation of them for the rest of the day or the week?

Or did I want to think differently? And so, what I decided to think was that this woman was just trying to be helpful. And really that was her intention. She came over trying to give advice, I’m sure she had no intention of being disrespectful or hurting anyone’s feelings. That wasn’t her MO, even though it resulted in me feeling some of those ways. That wasn’t her MO. And in a way she kind of was helpful, not really in the advice that she gave but the fact that she triggered me to finally let it go and cry.

I had been holding onto this tension pretty tightly for the week leading up to my son’s birthday and after I had that big old cry, it really helped me let go and feel a bit lighter. Now, look, I am not telling you to go around thinking the people who make tone deaf comments to you and give you unsolicited advice. What I am saying though is that you can’t control what other people will say but you do have the opportunity to decide what you want to do, how you want to think and how you want to feel in response to whatever they do.

And I guess what I would offer here is that when you are triggered by something that someone else does or says, it’s an opportunity for you to go inward, to find the part of you that is in pain and needs your attention so that you can tend to it. If you want some help working through triggers to onto my website theautismmomcoach.com under resources, and grab the free workbook, it’s called Check What’s Triggered.

And of course, if you want some help working through these issues one-on-one with me as your coach, take the time to schedule a consultation so that we can chat about working together. Working with a one-on-one coach is an opportunity for you to take some of the things that you’ve been learning in this podcast, apply them to your real life and to maximize the results that you can get. And I would love nothing more than to help you with that. So again, on my website The Autism Mom Coach, schedule a free consultation.

Alright, that’s it for this week. Thank you so much for listening and I will talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening to The Autism Mom Coach. If you want more information or the show notes and resources from the podcast, visit theautismmomcoach.com. See you next week.

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Ep #28: The Comparison Trap

The Autism Mom Coach with Lisa Candera |  The Comparison Trap

Have you ever found yourself comparing your life to the lives of your friends, family members, or even strangers on social media? Maybe you’ve thought something like, “They have it so easy. They’re so lucky. I’d love to have their problems…” or when you’re having a difficult time, “I shouldn’t be sad because other people have it worse.”

Well, if you’ve ever found yourself here, you’re in the Comparison Trap. As long as you’re hanging out there, you’re stuck feeling either bad about yourself, bad about other people, or both. Not a great place to be, but all too common. But the good news is, the more you learn how to manage your mind, the better you’ll get at avoiding the Comparison Trap, or at least not getting stuck there.

Tune in this week to discover why our brains naturally go to a place of comparison, why it served humankind in the distant past, and why using comparison in unhelpful ways isn’t serving us now. I’m showing you how to see where you’re stuck into the Comparison Trap, and how you can avoid it altogether, or wriggle free if you happen to fall into it.

I am accepting applications for new clients! All you need to do is click here, and you can schedule a one-on-one consult so we can discuss where you are, where you want to go, and whether coaching is going to help get you there.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • The times where I find myself more susceptible to being caught in the Comparison Trap.
  • How to identify the moments where you’re falling into the Comparison Trap.
  • The negative scripts that run when we’re stuck in compare and despair or comparative suffering.
  • Why comparing your circumstances to others doesn’t help you address the areas of your life you’re unhappy with.
  • What you can do to show yourself compassion when you’re caught in the Comparison Trap.
  • How to do the thought work that will allow you to avoid the Comparison Trap.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

  • To get my worksheet for this episode, go to my home page and enter your email address in the pop-up!
  • Click here to get my Check What’s Triggered workbook, designed to help you identify some of the triggers you’re anticipating for this school year, and to crate thoughts that will better serve you.
  • Ep #26: Back to School Series: Navigating Grief

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to episode 28 of The Autism Mom Coach, The Comparison Trap. Have you ever found yourself comparing your life to the lives of your friends, family members or strangers on social media and thinking they have it so easy, they are so lucky, I’d love to have their problems? And then almost immediately being hit with a wave of guilt and thinking, I shouldn’t be judging other people, it’s not right. I shouldn’t compare myself to others.

Or feeling sad about a circumstance in your life and then telling yourself that you should not be sad because other people have it worse. Well, if you’ve ever found yourself here, you my friend are in the comparison trap. And so long as you are hanging out there you are stuck somewhere between feeling bad about yourself, bad about other people, or all three. And so long as you are hanging out there you are stuck somewhere between feeling bad about yourself or feeling bad about other people, or both, not a great place to be but one that we find ourselves in so often.

Here is the good news. The more you learn how to manage your mind the better you will get at avoiding this trap or at the very least not staying stuck in it. Keep listening to learn more.

Welcome to The Autism Mom Coach, a podcast for moms who feel overwhelmed, afraid, and sometimes powerless as they raise their child with Autism. My name is Lisa Candera. I’m a certified life coach, lawyer, and most importantly I’m a full-time single mom to a teenage boy with Autism. In this podcast I’ll show you how to transform your relationship with Autism and special needs parenting. You’ll learn how to shift away from being a victim of your circumstances to being the hero of the story you get to write. Let’s get started.

Welcome to another episode of the podcast. I hope you are doing well. And for those of you with school age children I hope the transition from summer to school year is going well. This has been a really strange September for us. We are out of state while my son attends a program and I am finding myself really exhausted which I find odd in some ways because I’m not at home. There is not much cleaning at all to do. And I have less things to do in some sense.

But although in some ways I have less to do I think it’s the emotional labor of the program and some of the decisions I have been making lately that has just left me exhausted. And it’s in times like this when I’m already feeling depleted, when I’m already feeling afraid and nervous about whether this program is going to work that I find myself more susceptible to comparing myself and my situation to other people and not in a good way.

Tell me if some of these thoughts are familiar to you, thoughts like other people are so lucky. They have it easier. This is not fair. And then almost immediately the pendulum swings and I start scolding and judging myself for comparing myself to other people and telling myself that I have no right to be upset since there are other people who have it even worse. These are examples of two types of comparison.

The first is compare and despair which is basically like other people have it better than me, or it must be nice. And then there’s comparative suffering which is like literally ranking pain. My pain is not as bad as someone else’s, or my pain is worse than someone else’s. The end result of both forms of comparison is more suffering for us. No good.

So, let’s just first talk about why do we compare ourselves to others? The short answer is because we are human. We are social beings. Comparing where we stand in relationship to other people is deeply embedded in our biology. For our ancestors, their survival literally depended on remaining a part of the group which meant being acutely aware of the things like social hierarchies and status. In other words, how they compared to others around them.

And comparison is not altogether bad, it can be a very prosocial tool in that it enables us to model our behavior in ways that will allow us to be part of a larger group. And it can also be useful in terms of setting goals and motivating growth. The coworker who gets promoted, the friend who gets remarried after a bitter divorce, the neighbor who loses five pounds by adding an evening walk to her routine. We can use comparison as a way of looking at other people to see what is possible for us. If they can do it, so can I or why not me?

But this is usually not the way we use comparison. We usually use it as a way of feeling bad or worse about ourselves and other people. I’m going to give you some more examples. Let’s start with compare and despair. And again, if I were going to sum up compare and despair it would be with the phrase, ‘it must be nice’. It must be nice that your kid can talk. It must be nice that you can use your money for vacations instead of therapies. It must be nice that you don’t even know what Autism is.

When we compare and despair we feel bad about ourselves and bad about other people. And then so often like I said we go straight from compare and despair to judging ourselves for comparing in the first place. This is the comparison trap. You feel bad about yourself, you judge other people, you judge yourself.

And then there is comparative suffering which again is the act of ranking pain. And I would sum this up as the quest to determine who has it worse or who has the right to be sad. Some examples, I should not complain about my son’s constant looping, at least he can talk, some parents of Autistic kids would love to have this problem. I shouldn’t be sad that my son is missing his freshman year at school, at lest we got to be here in the first place, some people don’t even get that opportunity.

Or they have no right to complain, their kid is high functioning and can talk. My child is severe and non-verbal. Do you see it? In both these instances we are judging ourselves, we are judging other people and we feel terrible. Even if we feel slightly better because we aren’t as ‘bad as someone else’ or we believe we are doing it better than someone else. That lasts for about a second until we are hit with a wave of guilt and judgment.

So, these types of comparison, there is no upside. There is no growth here. We are staying stuck in our sadness, fear, resentment or whatever it is and we are creating even more disconnection in our lives. And to top it off, none of this does anything to change whatever we are upset about. Me resenting other people whose kids are starting their freshman year of high school isn’t doing a darned thing to ease my sadness and it doesn’t change the facts of the situation. It’s just creating more misery for me.

And then telling myself I have no right to be upset because my kid is high functioning. Well, that’s another shit sandwich too. When you are telling yourself that your emotions don’t matter, that other people have it worse, you don’t only get to feel sad, you get to layer in some guilt and judgment too. Again, no upside.

So, let’s talk about what to do when we find ourselves getting pulled into the comparison traps. Notice always, notice it first. Now, not only is comparison deeply rooted in our biology, it is also a well-practiced habit. So, the first step always is to notice when and how am I comparing myself to others. What am I telling myself? How am I talking to myself about this? Next, acceptance, this means after you notice what you are thinking and what you are feeling, that you then don’t jump to judging and guilting yourself.

Just acknowledge the thoughts and feelings and allow them to be there without judgment. And then finally, self-compassion. When we are in the comparison trap we are not being kind to ourselves at all. We are diminishing our own pain and we are judging ourselves for having it. What would it be like in these moments of suffering when you are comparing your life to the perfect lives you believe your friends are living or when you are telling yourself that you shouldn’t be sad and that you should be grateful because other people have it worse.

What if in these moments you just showed yourself some love and compassion. If you noticed your own pain and offered yourself support, would it take the pain away? No, but it would likely ease it. And above all, you would not be layering your pain with additional suffering that comes when you compare yourself to others.

So how to do this. Back in episode 26 I talked about self-compassion breaks. This is when we take a moment to notice our own suffering and to provide ourselves with care and support. So, there are three parts of a self-compassion break, the one is the awareness, the noticing. The second is to recognize the common humanity. And the third is to offer ourselves support. So, this could look like this is a moment of suffering. This is really painful for me. This is difficult.

And then second, of course I feel sad, or scared, or whatever it is, anybody would. And then the third, may I be kind to myself right now? May I allow myself to feel this emotion without judgment? So, when you do this you can take a couple of deep breaths, put your hand on your heart, slow things down and become present for yourself. Because when we’re comparing ourselves to others we create disconnection not just with the other people but with ourselves.

We are quite literally in their business and out of our business. And so, when we practice self-compassion we put ourselves back in our own business and in charge of supporting ourselves first.

Alright, that’s all I’ve got for you today. But before I go I do want to invite you to sign up for a one-on-one call with me. If you want to compound the benefits that you’ve been getting from listening to this podcast and implementing some of the tips and tricks that I teach you, you can explode your growth by working with me one-on-one. So, if this is of interest to you, now is the time. Set up a call and let’s talk. Thank you so much and I will talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening to The Autism Mom Coach. If you want more information or the show notes and resources from the podcast, visit theautismmomcoach.com. See you next week.

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Ep #27: Back to School Series: Ask an Autism Expert with Dr. Darren Sush

The Autism Mom Coach with Lisa Candera | Ask an Autism Expert with Dr. Darren SushWe all need a little advice from time to time, so in this week’s episode, I’m speaking with Dr. Darren Sush about ways parents can prepare themselves and their children for the school year. You are in for a treat because Darren deeply understands the struggles parents raising children with Autism face. I’ve worked with Darren several times, and I always feel seen and understood.

Dr. Darren Sush is a licensed clinical psychologist and a board-certified behavioral analyst with almost 20 years of experience developing and providing services for children and adults diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and developmental disabilities, so he’s the perfect guest to discuss how to deal with everything related to going back to school.

Tune in this week to discover the perspective of an Autism expert on how to create ease around your experience of sending your child back to school. We are taking a deep dive into how to give yourself grace and support your child during this difficult time and giving you actionable advice for helping them settle in, do their homework, and everything else you’re going to come up against in the near future.

I am accepting applications for new clients! All you need to do is click here, and you can schedule a one-on-one consult so we can discuss where you are, where you want to go, and whether coaching is going to help get you there.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • How Dr. Darren came to the work he does, providing services for children with Autism and their parents.
  • Why the transition back to school is always a difficult time for kids and parents.
  • Darren’s tips and tricks for helping parents remember that all of the small changes are bigger to our child than we can really understand.
  • How so many parents layer shame and guilt on top of an already difficult situation.
  • The importance of what Darren calls differentiating between the ideal and the deal.
  • How to stop resisting what is and start feeling good about doing your best.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to episode 27 of The Autism Mom Coach, Back to School Series: Ask an Autism Expert with Dr. Darren Sush. In this week’s episode I am talking to Dr. Darren Sush about ways parents can prepare themselves and their children for the school year. Stay tuned.

Welcome to The Autism Mom Coach, a podcast for moms who feel overwhelmed, afraid, and sometimes powerless as they raise their child with Autism. My name is Lisa Candera. I’m a certified life coach, lawyer, and most importantly I’m a full-time single mom to a teenage boy with Autism. In this podcast I’ll show you how to transform your relationship with Autism and special needs parenting. You’ll learn how to shift away from being a victim of your circumstances to being the hero of the story you get to write. Let’s get started.

Hello and welcome to the podcast. This is the final episode of the Back to School Series and it will be my interview with Dr. Darren Sush. Darren is a licensed clinical psychologist and a board certified behavioral analyst with close to 20 years of experience developing and providing services for children and adults diagnosed with Autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities. Darren is the Head of Autism and Psychology with Evernorth Behavioral Health, a Cigna Corporation.

And he is a co-author of a booked called A Workbook of Ethical Case Scenarios and Applied Behavioral Analysis, first and second editions. He is also an adjunct faculty member in the Applied Behavioral Analysis Program at Pepperdine University and an associate professor in ABA analysis and clinical psychology programs at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology where he teaches doctoral and masters courses in ABA and psychology.

Alright, that was a mouthful but let me just say, you are in for a treat. I have had the privilege of working with Darren and hearing him speak on multiple occasions and I always feel so seen by him. Not only does Darren understand Autism, he deeply understands the struggles that parents raising children with Autism face as well as the lack of support for parents. This is why prior to this current role he treated parents raising kids with Autism because he saw the profound gap between the need for support and available services.

In addition, Darren understands and respects the role that we the parents play as the experts on our children. This came up towards the end of our interview and honestly, I know that I tell this to you, I know I’ve even done two episodes about why parents are the experts on their children. But I have to say, it felt really nice to hear this from an Autism expert. This is just one of a few gems that Darren drops throughout this episode so I hope that you enjoy it.

I will leave Darren’s social media links in the show notes and if you would like to follow him, please do. And just one more thing, a bit of housekeeping here. This was my first podcast episode interviewing a guest and it shows by how much I talked over Darren at some points. Now, part of this was because I’m kind of used to talking to him and I was so excited by some of the stuff that he was talking that I got a little bit ahead of myself. So, I apologize in advance. Okay, let’s get to it.

                                                                                                                   

Lisa: Welcome to the podcast everyone. I am so glad you are here and I’m delighted to have a special guest with us, my colleague, Dr. Darren Sush. Darren, why don’t you introduce yourself to the audience.

Darren: Sure. So first, thank you so much for having me on the podcast, I really appreciate it. It’s really great to be able to be a guest. So, like you mentioned, I’m Darren Sush, so am a licensed clinical psychologist. I’m also a BCBA-D which stands for Board Certified Behavioral Analyst with a Doctoral distinction. And yeah, it’s really great to be here.

Lisa: Great. And I said colleagues because we both work for the same company. I think you call it Evernorth now, I call it Cigna still.

Darren: Yeah. I still find myself accidentally calling it Cigna all the time. And sometimes people correct me, sometimes they don’t even know what I’m talking about when I say Evernorth. Yeah, but we do work together, we do work together at Evernorth, or Cigna, or whatever way we want to say it on that day.

Lisa: Yeah. And just to add to this that Darren and I are speaking on behalf of ourselves. We’re not speaking on behalf of Cigna or Evernorth, just so that that is clear. So anyhow, I run a parent group at Cigna called The Parents of Kids with Different Abilities because we have different connection groups within Cigna that are great for employees. But there was something missing when it came to parents of kids with special needs. And so, when I created this group I soon thereafter I met Darren and he has presented to our group a few times and it’s been so well received.

So, I was super excited when he agreed to be here and I’m excited for all of us to learn from him. So, as you all know, during this Back to School Series, I have been focusing on what we the parents can do to prepare ourselves for back to school in terms of our thoughts, and our emotions, and just preparing ourselves for some of the difficulties that we expect our children to have. How can we make decisions ahead of time? How can we mentally rehearse how we want to show up?

And so, I think I’ve covered that quite a bit. So, for Darren’s time here I really want to focus on some of the, but what do I do when my child won’t get on the school bus or is refusing to go to school? Or when they come home and they are hell on wheels. Anyhow, so Darren, I know that you have a lot of experience working with children and adults. And start wherever you want but these are some of the questions that I have been getting. I put some feelers out there on my Instagram and Facebook, and these were the questions that folks came back with.

Darren: Yeah. So, I guess maybe give a little bit more about my background and then how I came to the position that I’m in right now. At Evernorth, at Cigna, I’m the Head of Autism and Psychology. One of my responsibilities that I do within that role is I review authorization requests when people are looking for applied behavior analysis, ABA treatment services. When providers are making requests to provide those services, my team and myself we review those authorizations.

And within that role I get the opportunity to talk to providers from all over the country and one of the really great things about that is I’m on the West Coast, I’m in California. And yeah, I have an opportunity to directly interact with a lot of colleagues who are local to me. But within this role I get the chance to talk to so many more individuals who are providing [inaudible] services than I ever would have imagined even more so than what you would get if you just went to a conference or if you shared information online.

And one of the nice things about that, even though I’m operating in a reviewer role is I get to talk about different treatment strategies. I get to talk about different opportunities for support and network these different ideas that are still evidence based, still from the research that’s been conducted, demonstrated effectiveness, demonstrated usability. But gain all these new perspectives, and insights, and innovations.

And one of the things that you’re mentioning that I hear a lot from providers also, especially this time of year as we’re gearing up, we’re already into the start of the school year is, we’re transitioning from summer. This is going to be really hard. Even if you were in an extended school year or ESY, and you really didn’t get maybe as much of a break from school as others, it’s still different because it’s a new teacher, it’s a new classroom oftentimes. Or just a new routine that you’re trying to get used to.

Lisa: And we know that our kid are like tuning forks for any subtle changes, like big ones, right?

Darren: Yeah. Everybody’s a little bit different and some people handle change a little bit easier, a little bit better than others. But certainly, one of the things that we see a lot for Autistic individuals is that challenge, that difficulty when things aren’t as expected, or when you get used to doing things one way and then they switch up. And what is the new school year?  A whole bunch of switch ups. It’s a whole bunch of switch ups for everybody.

So, for that child who’s entering into the school year and maybe it’s even as subtle as hey, I have to take a different door to get into school or it’s a different hallway to get there because drop off has changed. Or because now I’m in a grade up so I have to go in and travel with different people. And then there’s that anticipation change and maybe the stress that comes with oh my gosh, how is my kid going to handle this difference?

For the parents or for the caregivers to say, “Okay, this is going to be different. I hope they’re going to be okay. I hope they’re going to be okay. I really don’t know if they’re going to be okay until we get into it.” And that stress can emit from people too and can make things a little bit more pressured and a little bit more difficult.

Lisa: Yeah, definitely. I always talk about that sort of co-escalating or co-regulating impact we can have as parents on our children. A couple of things with the anticipatory stress, it’s not just them, it’s us as well too. And one of the things that I struggle with is knowing intellectually that my son struggles with change but then really understanding it. It’s just a different door. What’s the big deal? And I’m wondering because I know that you actually work with parents too in your private practice.

What kinds of things do you – I don’t know – any tricks or tips on how we as parents can be reminding ourselves that this is a bigger deal than we really understand, almost humbling ourselves to the fact that we don’t get it?

Darren: Yeah. Or giving ourselves a little bit of leeway. So, you’re right, before coming over to Cigna and Evernorth, I owned and operated a private practice. And the main focus of that private practice was really providing therapy, providing support to parents of Autistic individuals, parents of individuals with developmental disabilities, or family members, mostly parents though.

And the reason I started that private practice with that focused population was because when I was working with Autistic individuals directly I had the opportunity to be invited into a lot of different homes. Because most services especially at that time were home based. Since that time, I’ve been in this for a long time, but since that time a lot of different clinics have opened up, school based services have become a lot more popular. But really my start was going directly into the home and providing that one-to-one service in that family’s environment.

And I talked to a lot of families and they were like, “We’re focused on our kid. We want to make sure that the services are there for our kid, top priority but I can use some help too and I don’t know where to go.” And very often I heard from families that they were either not seeking support from anybody because just time, resources, availability, it just wasn’t there because they were getting pulled into a billion different directions.

Or because when they did try finally carve out some time to go speak to a therapist, or a psychologist, or get some religious support. Those individuals knew what Autism was but not really, they didn’t know what Autism is. And the parents were saying, “Yeah, it was great, we had a couple of sessions and it was nice. I felt good that I was doing something but I spent my first three sessions teaching my psychologist what Autism was.” And as I was going and getting my training I was like, “Wow, this is an area of need that needs to be out there.”

And there were people out there doing it but not enough to me. So that’s why when I first started my private practice, that’s what I dedicated my time to was, it’s cheesy, but to be the oxygen mask. They always say on the plane and I’ve said this a billion times and you’ve heard it probably a 1,000 more than when I said it is, but the plane, they always say, “Put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your kids.” Why do they do that? Not because we don’t care about our kids, not because we want that oxygen, we’re going to breathe in all that valuable oxygen.

It’s because if you pass out, no one’s there to take care of anybody else. If you’re not taking care of yourself as a parent and you’re not meeting your own emotional needs, physical needs, support for yourself, then how are you going to keep churning to be there in a meaningful way for your family? So, at some point when possible, again, this is much easier to say as an armchair expert, to say, “Go do this for yourself. But when possible find those resources to take care of yourself.”

And I think that kind of leads back to your question is, what can parents do for themselves when they’re finding the stress of the new school year is really building up and they can feel? Even if they’re not seeing it in their child, or there’s that anticipation, I think this is going to be a problem, it hasn’t hit anybody just yet but I’m really worried about what’s going to happen in a week from now or two days from now. Or this last week we haven’t had any big problems but what happens when it really hits?

First and foremost, I think just give yourself some credit and allowability to have a feeling. So often we say to ourself, “I shouldn’t be upset about that. I shouldn’t be anxious about that. I shouldn’t be mad about that.” And first of all, I can do a whole other talk about the word ‘should’ and how horrible about the shoulds in life. But what are you doing to yourself when you say something like that to yourself? I shouldn’t be upset. Does that stop you from being upset? No.

I shouldn’t get mad about something like that. Does that stop you from being mad in and of itself? Probably not. Does it make you feel pretty crappy? Yeah, because now not only are you upset but you’re upset about something else or you’re guilty about something else.

Lisa: Yeah, just like that layering, the second arrow, you already feel bad and now you’ve layered on shame, or guilt, or some other undesirable emotion.

Darren: Yeah. So maybe you managed to divert the energy to something else but it’s still a pretty crappy energy. Yeah, I don’t feel nervous anymore but now I feel pretty crappy about myself. Okay, is that better? Not really. Does it lead to any solutions? No, probably not.

Lisa: Yeah. No, totally. That just all so much resonates with me because a few years ago with my son I had the same experience. I went to a couple of therapists and I was talking about meltdowns. And they were like, “Isn’t he 12?” I’m like, “Yeah.” And a lot of explaining, almost defending Autism. And then it was just, I found that so frustrating. And same too, when people would say, “You have to take care of yourself.” “Yeah, that sounds nice, how is that going to happen?”

And it wasn’t really until things really fell apart and that build up, building back is when I really learned how important this piece of it is. And then it’s so interesting this because that thing that you’re putting off, it’s actually the missing piece of the puzzle so to speak in terms of what an impact how I’m feeling has, I am the environment.

And so, my ability to be able to coregulate with him and to be able to also make space for his emotions. Because sometimes when I sense his frustration, my son, when I sense his frustration or anxiety, I try to shut it down because it’s uncomfortable to me. And just letting him have that is definitely helpful.

Darren: Yeah. One of the things I often hear about and it’s so popular now that there’s memes about it out there too is of when people say, “Have you ever just tried just not being upset about this? Or just put a good spin on it or have a positive attitude.” It’s like, you know what? I never tried that, thanks for the amazingly awesome advice. If it was that easy, would you have been upset in the first place? Would you have felt depressed or anxious in the first place?

Would my entire profession exist if it was just, you can just say, “You know what? I’m going to just feel better.” And that doesn’t mean you can’t make a conscious effort to try to do things to help shift your mindset or do things that you’ve known can be better for yourself. But it’s often not just that simple to just say, “Yeah, I’m going to just stop being upset about that and I’m going to choose happy.” Yeah. No, I’m choosing happy but how do I get to happy?

And you often hear people who are physically sick, “Have you ever just tried not having that broken leg?” “Yeah, I have.” But you still might need a cast. You still might need to walk with some crutches to be more sensitive and protect that leg so it can heal appropriately.

Lisa: It’s so interesting because what you’re describing is having an emotion and then trying to cover it up with a thought you don’t believe and that never works. It doesn’t work.

Darren: Right, because you know you’re lying to yourself, yeah.

Lisa: Exactly. And I will tell my clients this too. If we could think our way out of this, we would have been done with it by now. And what I have found in my own personal work is so much of this is allowing and processing feelings that we don’t want to feel. And then the thought work part of that is not piling on with the catastrophizing thoughts and all those types of thought errors that often fuel the fire of whatever the feeling is.

Darren: Yeah. And one of the things I talk about a lot, especially when I was actively providing therapy. And I talk about seeing the world and I talk about it in terms of depression but probably the same with anxiety and stress. But seeing the world in depression colored glasses. And there’s a term, seeing the world with rose colored glasses which I guess is the positive spin. The world is just hunky-dory, everything’s amazing. He sees the world with rose colored glasses.

When you’re depressed and when you’re anxious, we tend to interpret the world in terms of that depression, or that anxiety, or that stress. So, information that we receive kind of gets filtered through that lens. So, if things are going not so great we may attribute that or overgeneralize that everything’s going to be really bad or I always mess these things up. And we tend to fall into those kind of what’s called cognitive traps or those inaccuracies.

If things are going to happen that we’re a little bit nervous about we may catastrophize them. We might say, “This is going to be really bad. I just know it.” Well, how do you know it? I just feel like it. And it’s really hard to differentiate feeling versus the truth, versus the thought, they all get conglomerated together and then get validated because we then feel even more stressed about it or feel even more sad about it. And we get that spiral.

Lisa: Right. And then sometimes we create that result for ourselves. If we’re really stressed about something, the way we show up, how are things going to go? And then I’ve had this with my clients too where they’re like, “I’m trying not to think about the fact that maybe the school would call or something bad would happen. But then it did happen so it was justified.” And they create that sort of that neural loop that tells us that, it gets validated for us.

Darren: Or I’m really nervous about the school year getting started, so what do you do? You avoid it. I don’t want to get that. I don’t want to contact his teacher. I don’t want to talk to the IP people. I don’t want to get to the resource person but I just feel like they’re going to tell me something I don’t want to hear. So let me just put this off for another day. One day goes, “Oh my gosh, now we only have 10 days until school starts.” And you feel even worse. I’ve got to put it off.

Then finally it’s the day before school, now it’s crunch time. And it’s like, “See, I told you this wasn’t going to work out.” How much did those thoughts contribute to making it come to fruition?

Lisa: Absolutely. So, I want to shift gears a little bit here and just, I know that you can’t – look, we all know, Autism is a spectrum, folks show up very differently. There is no one size fits all. But if you just have some general types of maybe pointers that you would give to parents who are struggling for example with school refusal, there’s tons of anxiety going to school. I don’t want to get out of bed. I don’t want to walk out the door, what do you say?

Darren: Yeah. And thank you for pointing, because you’re right, the information that I give, it’s going to be super-duper general because the people who are listening to this, their school refusal might look different than another person who’s listening to the show. So, there’s probably not a one size fits all suggestion or solution. Just with Autism there’s no one size fits all service, or intervention, or strategy. There might be some things that kind of work for some people and they might also work for others.

But really first and foremost you’re making sure you’re finding what fits for you and kind of maybe not necessarily throwing out what doesn’t fit but finding how to adapt it to make it work for you.

Lisa: That’s such a big thing that I see with my clients is they’ve been given this general roadmap of this is what you’re supposed to do. They start it and it doesn’t feel right for their child but they’re like, “But if I don’t do it the way I was told to do it then it’s not going to work. Then my child’s behind and everything is terrible.” I would like to get your thoughts about that as a professional. You’ve given people advice, maybe they’ve taken some, if not taking it, what your thoughts are about that?

Darren: Yeah. So, there’s one thing I think about a lot which is differentiating the ideal versus the deal. So oftentimes whether it be, what we’re going to do on vacation or how the school year’s going to go, or the advice that we get of how to help or something. That might be the ideal. Here’s my suggestions on what to do or here’s what I’m hoping we do when we go on vacation. We’re going to have a great time and take all these selfies or whatever it’s going to be.

That might not necessarily be what happens or it might not be what’s going to happen as you’re planning things out. But that doesn’t mean that you throw away the entire thing because within that there might be aspects that could work or do sound doable, or are appropriate given you and your circumstance or your family.

Even something as simple as let’s say you love to go hiking, you love climbing up mountains and you love breathing that fresh air on the top once you get to the top. Well, if your family aren’t really hikers, or even walkers, maybe hiking as a family, that might have been the ideal but that might not necessarily be what happens. Does that mean that you give up on every type of exercise and you’re never going to have the opportunity to see those views again? Maybe not.

Maybe you find a place where you can drive up to the top as a family. Is it the same exact thing? No. But could it be enjoyable and really valuable, and can you find a different type of worth in that? Absolutely. And that might be what happens as prepping for school as well and getting ready for the new school year. You might have the suggestions of okay, get started a month ahead of time before school starts and contact all your teachers. And have a plan, and write a map and visit the school 20 times so that there’s complete comfort by that first day of school.

It’s probably, a lot of people by the time they listen to this, has probably started school already or it’s starting tomorrow. And by me saying, “Hey, practice makes perfect and going out and getting used to it, and easing that transition, and getting a bedtime back to on the normal of your comfortable schedule.” Me saying this right now can probably – people are starting to feel their chest tighten and be like, “I didn’t do any of that. School starts tomorrow.”

Lisa: I’m already failing.

Darren: I’m already failing so I might as well just be the failure, and I’m a terrible person and I’m a terrible parent, and my kid is doomed. Okay, that was the ideal. So, some parents will be like, “We don’t do any of that stuff and that doesn’t work for us.” But okay, so that didn’t happen, what can you do? Okay, maybe you didn’t take this one suggestion. Okay, you didn’t get the tour of the school ahead of time. Okay, maybe what that does mean though is your first week, you use it as, this is the trial period.

Where before we buy this, we have to buy the subscription, we’re locked in. But we’re going to treat this as a trial period. We’re going to figure out, okay, what works about this new normal and what doesn’t? Last year we woke up at six in order to get everybody going. That seemed to be okay, let’s try that again this year. Maybe we find that’s too late or too early but this first week, this first two weeks we’re going to allow ourselves to plan to figure this out.

And not take the first five days of school don’t go great, take that as I’ve failed and now there goes the rest. Maybe next year we’ll be better. Okay, let’s try for tomorrow instead of next year. Let’s try that for next week instead of next year.

Lisa: Yeah. So, what I’m hearing through these answers is a lot of flexibility and a lot of grace. It’s so interesting because I have noticed one of the common symptoms or presentations of Autism is the rigidity and how much rigidity there is in the prescribing, the treatment plans and then how we as parents get about it’s all or nothing. And so, I’m always trying to talk to my parents about creating the way that works for you because you’re the person that has to implement it ultimately and your child.

For my kid going somewhere ahead of time, that hasn’t historically been a great idea. So, I wouldn’t have done that but that’s just based on my knowledge of my child.

Darren: You brought up a couple of really good points that I want to touch on is that just like that rigidity or that inflexibility, we can fall into that trap too. Yeah, that’s a diagnostic quality or criteria that leads to a diagnosis of Autism, is that inflexibility, that challenge with differences, that whatever we want to call it, insistence on sameness. But parents and treatment providers can fall into that trap too even if they’re trying to work on that or assist on that.

And if you work with a behavior analyst you might hear them say something like, “We want to really make sure that we’re reinforcing this behavior every single time so that that behavior’s going to really be tied into the awesomeness and continue.” That sounds pretty rigid to me, doesn’t it? Every time he says this you want to be right there with making sure that you’re reinforcing it. Wait a minute. So, we need to be pretty rigid on some of the things that we do too but I’m also a real person that needs to get lunches together, and make dinner, and help the other kids in my family too.

So how do I manage if I can’t do it exactly the same every single time? And the reason I mention that is because it’s important to breathe those opportunities for real life into treatment plans. Would it work better if this ideal was followed? Sure, probably. Is there still opportunity for success if it’s not? Yeah, absolutely. So being understandable of your own flexibility is really important, a good example of being flexible. And also, just the one size fits all situation, there’s not necessarily going to be a one size fits all.

Hey, this might be the thing that works for some people but it not works for all. And a great example might be giving notices or warnings before a transition. For some families that I work with, that’s a great piece of advice that I give which is saying, “Hey, if they’re going to be transitioning from a preferred activity to a non-preferred activity, give them a heads up five minutes before and say, “Hey, five minutes we’re going to be doing blah, blah, blah.””

For some individuals that’s the worst thing in the world. If you tell them five minutes then that next five minutes is just a fight about having to change. And for some people it’s just, “Hey, we’re going to stop now.” And then they’re like, “Cool, yeah, let’s stop.” So, finding the thing that works for you.

Lisa: That’s hilarious because we’re always giving – and that means for five minutes plus when I take the thing away, yeah, okay.

Darren: Yeah. So, as you’re going for the school year, little things that could be helpful for your child and then but also for you, getting information that you can. If you have people from last year that you worked with before, whether it be a resource person, or resource counsellor, or called something different depending on what sort of school. Maybe there’s behavior analyst who works at the school which is kind of your point person. Maybe you have an agency that you work with who comes in and meets you at the school.

Trying to get in touch with them ahead of time if you can, and if you had the opportunity, that’s often pretty helpful because at least gets everybody, if not on the same page, or getting a plan of action, at least it gets the feelers out for hey, we have points of contact here. So that if something does come up later on we can address it a little bit quicker versus then having to look through the rolodex if rolodex still exist, I guess you now look through your phone and say, “Who do I call when I need to call somebody?”

Even if that’s all you get out of it then that can still be pretty helpful because it’s one less thing to have to think about as you [inaudible]. Preparation is usually helpful. So, if you do have the opportunity to kind of get to the school and check it out, especially for individuals who have difficulty with transitions and flexibility issues, going and trying things, doing trial and error if you have that opportunity to do, that’s sometimes pretty nice, going and checking out, hey, this is what the school looks like if you’ve never seen it before.

Hey, it looks like your old school, doesn’t it? Yeah, they have a center courtyard too, really nice. Or their lockers are over here, your last school the lockers were over there but seems pretty easy to get to. So dependent on your child and their preferences or their needs, that might be something that’s helpful if you had the opportunity. If you didn’t, okay, you didn’t. So that just means maybe that first couple of weeks that might be a little bit more of a focus.

Lisa: Right. And then I would think in that situation, I’ll say this is more what I do is talking about to the staff about how they can help my son with that transition by slowing that down a little bit for him wherever possible so that he can begin to adjust.

Darren: Yeah, I think that’s a really good point of managing expectations. But usually for any kid starting school the first couple days is just a reintroduction. Usually, you’re not getting assigned a book report to do day two at school, no matter where you go. So that first day might be hey, what we’re learning today, what we’re going to be focusing on is just being a student in this school in this situation. And if that’s what we get, that’s a pretty good success.

Maybe later on we’re going to have more assignments, maybe later on we’re going to have building expectations but we’re going to lower the drawbridge. We’re not going to just jump across the moat, we’re going to lower the drawbridge.

Lisa: It’s so interesting because this will come out when school’s already started. And did you ever watch the show, Atypical?

Darren: Yes, I love that show.

Lisa: Oh my God, loved. How that’s how my son discovered he was Autistic, he’s like I’m like Sam. He was starting high school and his sister wasn’t going to be at the same school. And he says in this narration of it, “Everybody was so worried about the first day. But it turns out it wasn’t the first day, it was the ninth day when he had a major meltdown.” And I’ve always found that too. I’m like, “Okay, we’ve gotten there, everything’s good, alright, it’s okay.”

And then the ninth day comes and boom, and I’m like, “Oh no.” And so, I’ve come after years of doing this to more expect that to happen. For some kids it might be those first few days they’re so novel or whatever, it’s fine. But that’s when it hits them.

Darren: The honeymoon period.

Lisa: Exactly, it’s like the honeymoon period. And I think it’s so good for parents to understand because I hear the word, “Oh now, we’re going backwards, regression”, things like that. When this might just be a normal piece of how that adjustment’s going. You’re expecting it on the first day but here it is two weeks in and how to handle that.

Darren: Right. And the caution with that too is some people can say, “Okay, now I’m just waiting for the next chute to drop.” So, things have been going too smooth. This is when your kids are in the other room and it’s quiet, you’re like, “Something must be going wrong because they’re never quiet.” But one of those things people say a lot is, “You can only take the day that you’re at.” You can only do the one thing at a time. And that’s true because the only action I’m able to take right now is having this conversation with you because that’s what I’m doing.

I can’t change anything that I’ve done before because it’s already happened and I can’t do anything that hasn’t happened yet because I’m not there yet. So, you can only focus on where you are. But that’s only kind of part of the story to be honest because what I’m doing right now, even though this is all I can control wasn’t formed by what I’ve done before. So, you and I had arranged for us to have the conversation. We had to plan this out. We had to schedule it. I had to logon to the system. I had to get my headphone going and all this.

So, where I am right now even though this is all I can control for, I can learn from where I am right now because of what I’ve done before. I’ve had previous podcasts that I’ve done and there’s things that I liked that I talked about, there’s things that I didn’t. So let me try to use that as information for this conversation. So, I’m learning from my past even though I could only control right now, I can’t change the mess-ups I’ve had before. We’re going to keep talking so I can’t adjust for it.

But there’s things that I can do to make that hopefully more successful. I can plan for it. I can do whatever homework I need to do before this. I could try to make sure I’m just pacing myself on how we’re talking. So, I can prep for the future even if I can’t control it. So even though we can only control the right now, you can still use those other things as information that might be helpful.

Lisa: Yeah. And in terms of using it as information that might be helpful, and just this example that you’ve given, any time you’ve spent beating yourself up over something you said that you didn’t like or the fact that you didn’t prepare enough or whatever. Would not do anything really to help you for this moment. That’s just time wasted, confidence eroded.

Darren: Right. Well, that’s where we talked about just shifting the thinking is it isn’t really the solution but it is information that you can use. So hey, you know what, I didn’t like that feeling on the podcast where I didn’t feel prepared or the test that I took that I didn’t feel prepared. Well, why? I didn’t really study enough for it. Okay, so do I want to have that feeling again? Probably not. If I just say, “I’m so stupid, I can’t believe I did that, I didn’t know the answers to that, then guess what? I’m going to do the exact same thing next time because I’m going to feel pretty crappy.

But if I say, “Well, what can I do differently? What can I use? I can’t change that. I can’t do anything about what I’ve done before but is there anything I can learn from it that can help me moving forward so I can do my homework, I can study for the test, I can prepare for the podcast or whatever it is?”

Lisa: Yeah. And just thinking in terms of messaging to this audience and I talk about it all the time is there are always things that we can think of that we could have done differently. And while that could be information we often use that to shame and to guilt ourselves. And that’s the case where I like to step in and just there’s no use to that. I remember, I have a family member who was diagnosed with something 30 some years ago and then my son was diagnosed several years ago and things were so different.

And I remember in that moment realizing that 30 years from now I’m going to look at all of the stuff that’s available and think, I wish I had done this, I wish I had known that. And there’s no room for that when you’re living your life. It’s just accepting that you’re going to make certain decisions based on the information that you have now and you can course correct. You can do something different. But spending that time reprimanding yourself and feeling terrible about yourself isn’t helpful to you or to your child.

Darren: Yeah. They say hindsight’s 2020 for a reason. It’s because it’s so easy to look back and say, “Oh my gosh, why didn’t I do this, that and the other?” But now you know how it turned out so of course you have more insight and more information, what decisions you made that were pretty awesome and what decisions that you made were less than awesome. So, you’re able to beat yourself up for those decisions. But when you’re in the moment, you don’t know. That’s why you’re trying to make a decision.

Just like you said, you’re making a decision based on the context and the information you had available to you at the time. And then you can do your best to think about it for the next time.

Lisa: Yeah. Alright, so I want to get to this without interrupting you any more but if there are just any kind of some brass tacks kind of pointers that you have for parents like when a child comes home and they’re melting down, or it’s Sunday night and they’re in tears, or it’s homework time and they’re just a mess?

Darren: Yeah. So, one of the things, and if you’ve worked with a behavior analyst or you’re getting any type of ABA services, and this kind of falls into the question of that school refusal or that school worry for the kid in question that you asked about before. The first thing that’s often helpful to ask yourself is what’s the function of this behavior? And when we say function, essentially what we’re meaning is where is this behavior coming from? What is this behavior contributing to?

A partial way down is what is this behavior communicating? What purpose is this behavior serving for this individual? If you’re finding that you’re getting some crying spells when homework is delivered, or on the Sunday night, leading to the Monday of school, or some tantrums or some refusal. First and foremost, it’s good to just identify, what’s going on surrounding this behavior? What are the immediate triggers that might bring this on so that I can hopefully maybe even prepare for it?

And what’s keeping it going? What’s maintaining this as working for the person? Even things that aren’t great for somebody can work for them in whatever way. We see that with eating. We see that with anything. So sometimes you can do something that may not be the best of choices and it might not serve you well, but it’s serving in the moment enough to keep it going. So, if you’re seeing some of these, whether we call them behaviors or some of these instances in your child, might be first just take that step back and act as though you are a sports commentator.

So, you’re watching the scene and usually you have someone who does the color commentary, and someone who does all the facts. So, try to take on kind of both of those roles and say, “Okay, what are we seeing here?” And in the moment may be not the best idea because you might have to just deal with the situation right then and there. But if you have the moment, you have some other time, okay, what’s going on here? What led up to this? Have I seen this before? When have we seen this before? What happened beforehand? What happened afterwards?

What might be contributing to this behavior? I often think of behaviors as being on a train track where the behavior itself is the station, the train station. And we have tracks leading up to the station and we have tracks going away from the station. And if I think of the behavior as a station in the middle then I can think about okay, what happened right before this incident happened? What happened right before the tantrum, or the meltdown, or the crying fit, or the yell back and forth? What happened right before that, right before that?

And with that you might start to get some really good insight into whenever we have math, that’s really when we start to see this bigger problem. When we have English homework and social science homework, yeah, he doesn’t like to do it but I never really get these problems. Or you know what, when we start to get toward Thursday, Thursday is when they hand out the new math assignments, that’s really it because this stuff I don’t know how to do. What’s the new math called? The core curriculum math and all that kind of stuff.

I don’t know how to, so I’m not going to be any good help with any of that. But that’s when I really start to see my kid just look at the page and just freeze. And then that’s when I start to say, “Hey, time to do your homework. Hey, come on, we’ve got to get this done.” And then it escalates from there.  So, if you’re looking at it with that kind of context, what’s going on, on those train tracks, you can do some pretty nice detective work to figure out, okay, when are these situations more likely to happen? And maybe even when are they less likely to happen?

What things have I done before without even realizing it that’s been super helpful? Maybe you’ve noticed that when there’s more math on like you said, hey, I notice you have math, do you want to do social science first and then math? Or hey, if you give me five seconds after I’m done cooking dinner you and I could do math together, what do you think?

And I remember thinking about it now that those times when I didn’t do that and I just said, “Do your homework.” Then oh, oh, we spent 30 minutes just talking about homework and fighting about it versus we would have been done in five seconds. So, are there things that could contribute or things that could be helpful? And then the after train track, after the station are what happened after this behavior happened? Any kind of hindsight is 20/20, and they started fighting me on it, they started screaming, there was a tantrum, there was a meltdown.

Well, we ended up not doing homework that night, or I ended up just doing it for them. Or we did it but it was a really horrible experience of fighting back and forth. And with that you might start to learn a little bit about is there anything where they could be maintaining that behavior, or feeding it, if you will? And that doesn’t mean that you have to be hardnosed and say, “They didn’t have to do their homework so that means every single time now, no matter what, even if they’re screaming, they’re going to do their homework.”

What that might mean is hey, this is serving a purpose, can I get that purpose served in another way that’s happier, healthier, easier for everybody involved?

Lisa: Yeah, that’s so interesting because one of the things that I recognize with my son during some meltdowns is he’ll get escalated about something and then maybe he yells. I try to stay calm but I yell too. And then I feel bad, the aftereffect of that is we’re snuggling. And so, he’s getting that co-regulation piece and I’m like, “Huh, is this what he wanted or needed?” This is the way he went about it. Because that is usually the aftereffect of any time I yell.

And it is interesting because he’s very verbal and he’s very much almost like a watcher of himself. So, he’ll say to me, “I like it when you get mad because then I know I have your attention.” And I’m like, “Oh, okay.” So, then I’m like, “Why would you want attention like that?” And attention’s attention kind of a thing.

Darren: Yeah. Any attention is good attention, just ask some celebrities. But the thing is too, again, going back to giving ourselves grace and allowance is in those moments it’s hard to see the forest through the trees. It’s hard to be like, “I’m just mad you’re just not doing your homework.” And I’m escalated too and I have 40 other things to do. You might have to give yourself some allowance that even though this is something that’s happened a bunch of times and you ‘should’ going back to that should know better.

You’re a human being as well but if you use it all as information, if you kind of look at the train tracks and try to say, okay, what did I learn from this? This isn’t ideal, but how can I make this the deal for future. You can say, hey, again, I don’t want to be prescriptive for your situation because this might not really work. But, okay, that attention, or getting the attention, or getting the snuggles and the cuddles from mum, seems to be the end result. Can we change the alphabet around?

Is there any way of getting that to happen ahead of time or getting that to happen as a result of maybe the stuff we should be doing like, okay, five problems and then hug breaks, or a lot of attention ahead of time so it’s like the cup is a little bit more full. And that could happen for the school.

Lisa: As opposed to just do it.

Darren: Right, but again, that’s the thing, it’s super easy for me to say right now, I’m not at the thick of it. I’m just sitting here with no pressure and I’m sure, just when people say, “Do as I say, not as I do.” The reason that happens, because it’s so much easier to say it than to do it. But how do we then start to enact some of our own advice that we would give to others for ourselves. And sometimes that means legit scheduling it. I know that when homework time comes around, I get really anxious about it because I just want to finish this stinking homework.

And this means that dinner’s going to be late or this means going to bed is going to be later, or I know in the morning we’re going to have the fight again about getting dressed and putting these shoes on, but these have to be the school shoes, or we have to get in the car on time. All those things, so use them as information. Use them as resources in your own ammo. Not necessarily easy to do for sure and not a problem solved but at least it helps to get towards that a little bit easier.

Lisa: I think that’s such a great piece of advice because I think what happens is we see what’s happening, we think it shouldn’t be happening and we resist it and we’re upset about it but it’s like clockwork at the same time. And so, to your point, using that as information really helps. So that piece was the noticing the function of the behavior. So yeah, I think that’s something that asking the why, what purpose is this serving? Any other little tidbits that you want to throw out there? I know that anything that you would offer would be so appreciated.

Darren: Yeah. So, I think as you’re getting ready for school, we’re all kind of planning the transition. We’re getting things going as best we can. But there’s a couple of things that could be helpful to think about. And you and I have [inaudible] about these before but some ways of remembering it that might make it a little bit easier. So, one of the things I think of is a different type of fret. So, fret being F-R-E-T. So, F standing for familiarize, R standing for routine, E standing for establish and T standing for tour.

As you’re gearing up for the school, as you’re getting ready for the new school, or even if you’re already into it, as much as you can try to familiarize yourself and help your child to be familiar with the expectations. What are the new things? When is, if there’s phys. ed every day but it’s a different day from before, what’s the day that you need to know when they have to have the better shoes on or their running shoes on.

If there’s a different schedule, like there’s A days and B days, just familiarizing yourself with those different expectations as early as you can or as you’re going through and this transition is underway. That’s super helpful for you as a parent and also helpful for your child because then those expectations can become a little bit more, we’re speaking of routine. So, our routine, getting into that routine, what about your routine last year and the previous year worked out really well?

What about your routine kind of you realized just was like fluff, wasn’t really serving a purpose. Was it helpful that when you were getting ready for school, picking out clothes the night before? Hey, that was one less thing to do in the morning. So great, same thing, was it helpful that if you wanted your child to pick out their clothes and then instead of saying, “Go look in your closet and pick something out, was it more helpful to say, “Here’s two options that I think are actually okay for you to wear with that?”

So, it’s getting that routine now that you’re a little bit more comfortable with what the schedule is, figuring out what worked, crossing out what didn’t and just leaving open opportunity for maybe some changes is pretty helpful. Establish that sense of security for yourself, establish that sense of allowance for yourself. Get in touch with the people that you need to get in touch with, make those contacts.

And then T for tour, like I mentioned, if you’re able to get to the school and check things out, then great. If not maybe at some point during the school year you’ll have the opportunity.

Lisa: Yeah. And I think that’s even – I actually found that after my son’s school year started, me having an idea of what it looked like, who was sitting where and that kind of thing, that was actually really helpful too because I could integrate that into our conversation at home. Some kids are non-verbal, they can’t tell you, maybe they can’t verbalize it. But even for ones who are they’re like, “It’s fine, it’s okay.” And so sometimes, “I know you sit next to X, did she do anything funny”, or whatever. I’ve always found that as helpful in just trying to dig some stuff out of my kid about what’s going on?

Darren: Even parent teacher nights and things like that are really great because it gives you a little bit of insight into the environment where things are. But you’re right, a lot of the kids that the parents who are listening to this, they might not be verbal or able to vocalize what’s going on in the school. Or they just might be limited in giving those details.

So, if there is a way, whether asking the teacher to give you the lay of the land, or going in and checking it out, that might be helpful because maybe, hey, I’m not getting anything sent home to me. I’m not getting the homework binder or anything along those lines. If you go in and see us, yeah, because the homework binders are kept over here. And the book bags are kept over there. And for every other kid they might be just picking it up because that’s the instruction by the teacher.

But for my kid that’s two steps and two steps aren’t going to happen right just yet. So, is there a way, is this teacher okay with saying, “Can the homework folder be kept next to the book bags? Or can you do a check at the end of the day? Or is there something that could be established that hooks this up a little bit more?” That you might not get that unless you have the opportunity to see it or you’re saying, “Hey, I’m noticing this is a problem, I’ve got to imagine my kids will be getting some homework. What’s going on here?”

Lisa: Right, yeah, that’s a good one. Yeah, I’ve always found that, putting those little pieces of the puzzle together of understanding why things are happening. And when my son was younger and pre-verbal we always had a communication book. And that was also so helpful at home because just trying to understand what I can expect, why is he so dysregulated today? Okay, his teacher wasn’t there or his favorite aide was sick, or anything. But just knowing that piece of information, it made the afternoon a lot different because I had context.

Darren: Yeah. And that’s such an important thing that you bring up is learning from last year, both one way or the other. So, you found when you had that communication book, and it was actually filled out, that not only did that make the rest of the evening a lot more smooth, but probably helped set up the next day and the days after that at school.

So that might be something, especially as we’re getting into the new school year for parents to say, “You know what? This was important. It might not have been the key but I at least liked it and I felt it was helpful. Let me make sure that when I’m having conversations with the resource person or with the teacher, or aide, or the one-to-one, whoever it is, that’s something that they know is priority.” Because it might not be the same person as last year. So, this was something that helped last year, let’s do it again this year.

Or you know what? That communication book stunk last year. All I got running home was, how did they do? Good, smiley face. Not good, frowny face. Bad was nothing. So, either let’s abandon this or let’s get better at it. So, it gives you that information for the next year.

Lisa: Yeah. And I think it’s such a benefit to the school because we are the best problem solvers when it comes to our children. We know them the best. And yeah, I think that has always been a really helpful piece of the puzzle for me is having that communication.

Darren: Yeah, that’s a good point is thinking about expertise. I have letters after my name, and I had to go to school to get them and stuff like that. So, I like to think I’m good at what I do and I know my stuff. But I don’t know your kid. I don’t know your kid or your kid. So, I might have insight on behaviors, and function or behaviors, and how to build certain skills, and how to target behaviors for reduction. And that might be my area of expertise but you are the expert in your kid because they’re yours.

So, the information that you have should be shared because then we can combine ours to be one super power. We can combine your knowledge of your child and what you’ve learned by being their parent and the care that you have with the school that I went to, or the experience that I’ve had maybe with similar kids or circumstances that have been kind of similar.

Lisa: No, I completely agree, I actually did an episode about you’re the expert. And it’s funny as parents, when I would think of an expert, I do, I think of somebody who went to school, who has education and expertise. But that’s not the only place that expertise comes from. And we have the most knowledge and on the spot training of our children. And just to the point is experts, professionals all play a role but for the parents not to discount the role that they play. I don’t know, I’m just mom. Why are they asking me? Because you’re the expert.

Darren: Totally.

Lisa: Alright, Darren, I can’t thank you enough for taking the time to join me and to share all of your knowledge. It’s so much appreciated. Before we go, are there any last things that you’d want to leave with?

Darren: Yeah. So first, again, I thank you so much for having me on today. I appreciate it. It’s always great to chat with you and it’s always nice, especially in something like this, it’s so cool to be able to talk to you about these things. And just for everybody kind of listening in, one of the things that I guess the focus of our conversation is transitioning to the school year and getting prepped for the school year. But if you’re listening to this, and you haven’t started school yet or you’re listening to this and you’re already six months in, there’s still opportunity.

The window doesn’t close because those six months are a lot of real good information that you can use for the next six months or tomorrow, or for next year if you’re feeling a little overwhelmed with it. So don’t feel like you’ve missed the boat. Don’t feel like the window’s closed. You’re still growing and there’s still lots of opportunity for you to help yourself and for you to help your kid out.

Lisa: Wow. You just opened up a whole other window right there with that one because I love that you said the window doesn’t close. And I think that’s so much that I hear from my clients of that ever present fear of I have to do as much as I can, as much as possible before they turn five. And the window is closing. And so, we could do a whole other episode on that. But what I just generally say to that is neuroplasticity is for life and our kids might not get something on the same timeframe as the what to expect milestones but that doesn’t mean they’re not going to get there.

Darren: Right, exactly.

Lisa: Alright, thank you again so much for your time.

Darren: Thank you.

                                                                                                                   

Thank you everyone for listening to this week’s episode. I hope you got as much out of this discussion as I did. If you want to follow Darren on social media go to the show notes and you can find the links there. And also, if you are liking this podcast and you’re finding it valuable, please take the time to write a review. Thanks so much and I will talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening to The Autism Mom Coach. If you want more information or the show notes and resources from the podcast, visit theautismmomcoach.com. See you next week.

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Ep #26: Back to School Series: Navigating Grief

The Autism Mom Coach with Lisa Candera | Back to School Series: Navigating Grief

This time of year can bring on heavy doses of grief for special needs parents. There is a real sense of loss we feel between what we imagined for our kids versus what is actually happening. Seeing their new classmates for the first time brings up all kinds of thoughts about our child’s progress, extra-curricular activities, and whether or not our kids will be included in all the fun.

Back-to-school grief is a common theme I’ve been experiencing myself, so if this sounds familiar, know that you are not alone, and listen closely this week to learn more about the grief you’re experiencing and how you can support yourself through it.

Tune in this week to discover why you’re feeling grief around your child’s return to school. I’m sharing my story and the uncomfortable emotions that are coming up for me, and why if you don’t process the feelings of grief in the moment, they can manifest physically and make a hard situation even harder.

I am accepting applications for new clients! All you need to do is click here, and you can schedule a one-on-one consult so we can discuss where you are, where you want to go, and whether coaching is going to help get you there.

What You’ll Learn from this Episode:

  • What back-to-school grief might look like as you send your child off to school.
  • The importance of allowing the emotions of grief instead of trying to ignore them.
  • Why you’re doing an amazing job, even on the days when you break down in the grocery store or hide out in the car.
  • How to compassionately support yourself right now so you can ride the wave of grief, rather than getting knocked over or dragged under by it.

Listen to the Full Episode:

Featured on the Show:

  • To get my worksheet for this episode, go to my home page and enter your email address in the pop-up!
  • Click here to get my Check What’s Triggered workbook, designed to help you identify some of the triggers you’re anticipating for this school year, and to crate thoughts that will better serve you.
  • Ep #8: Riding the Wave
  • Kristin Neff

Full Episode Transcript:

You are listening to episode 26 of The Autism Mom Coach, podcast, Back to School Series: Navigating Grief.

This time of year can bring on heavy doses of grief for special needs parents. If this is you know that you are not alone. Stay tuned to this week’s episode to learn more about the grief you are experiencing and how you can support yourself through the process.

Welcome to The Autism Mom Coach, a podcast for moms who feel overwhelmed, afraid, and sometimes powerless as they raise their child with Autism. My name is Lisa Candera. I’m a certified life coach, lawyer, and most importantly I’m a full-time single mom to a teenage boy with Autism. In this podcast I’ll show you how to transform your relationship with Autism and special needs parenting. You’ll learn how to shift away from being a victim of your circumstances to being the hero of the story you get to write. Let’s get started.

Welcome to the podcast and I hope you’re doing well and that the school year is off to a good start for you. A couple of updates. The Ask the Autism Expert episode with Darren Sush, that is going to be pushed back one week. I needed to postpone this episode because of some big news in my world that caused me to completely pivot in some of my plans for the fall, including my interview with Darren. But not to worry, I am still going to interview him and you will hear that interview in early September.

Since this week’s episode isn’t what I expected it to be, it’s not the interview with Darren, I had to come up with another topic and this one was pretty easy because it’s a common theme that I have been experiencing myself and that I have been seeing in my clients. And that is back to school grief. Now, when I talk about grief and special needs parenting I am referring to the sense of loss we feel between what we wanted or imagined for our kids and what is actually happening.

Here is how I am seeing this show up, seeing your child’s classmates for the first time and thinking, wow, this is what neurotypical five year old’s are like. My child is so behind. School announcements about extracurricular activities knowing that your child’s therapies and other challenges will make participating in these ‘normal’ activities unlikely. School drop off, watching other kids running to one another and engaging with one another and wondering if your child will be included, if they will have any friends. Or whether they’re going to be left out.

First day of school pictures on social media, watching your child’s elementary school classmates entering high school while your child isn’t. This final example is my example. I knew for some time that my son’s high school experience would not look the way I had imagined it, the way I originally imagined it pre diagnosis, him attending the local high school. Or even how I imagined it five years ago, attending the local high school with some supports.

Instead of a local school he would be attending a smaller school and a more therapeutic environment. And this was perfect for him. This is what he needed but then life happens. He’s not starting high school as planned. Just a few days before the recording of this episode we got a call that a spot had opened up on a waitlist for a program that we have been wanting to get into. And just like that we are going to spend the next couple of months in a hotel or Airbnb in another state. While I am so glad to be here I’m still feeling the grief.

I see the pictures of his elementary school classmates from New Jersey and Connecticut as they enter their freshman year of high school and my heart sinks. What about my son? If this is you right now, if you are bawling in the car after orientation or back to school night, or the first day of school drop off, you are not alone. Like I said in episode eight, riding the wave, emotions are like waves.

They peak, they break, they dissipate and it’s the same with grief so long as you allow the emotion to flow through your body rather than getting stuck, literally stuck in your body. And presenting as headaches, stiff necks, clenched jaws and other fun stuff like whatever is going on underneath my eye right now. I think it’s a clogged tear duct but I don’t know, but it’s not a good look, I will tell you that. So, what to do.

I want to give you some things that you can do in these moments to support yourself so that you can ride the wave of grief rather than getting pulled under or knocked over by it. So first, hand on your heart and take three long deep breaths, in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Get yourself back into your body, present and grounded.

Two. Radically accept whatever is happening right now. Whatever emotion you are feeling let it be there. Allow it. This means opening up to it. This means dropping your resistance. Like I said in episode eight, if we stand firm and try to resist a wave it’s either going to knock us down, pull us under or both. So instead of resisting the feeling of grief, allow it to be there and flow through you as you breathe through it. Watch it peak and break, ebb and flow. This is how you ride the wave of an emotion.

Now, this is a practice because allowing ourselves to feel pain is exactly the opposite of what our primitive brain wants us to do. It is only interested in seeking pleasure and avoiding pain, not hanging out with it. When I am allowing an emotion I like to pair it with a verbal reminder. This is a feeling, it will not last forever. So, I remind myself of this with some phrases like, right now, it is like this, this is what grief feels like. This is what sadness feels like. This is a wave.

Finally, number three. Support yourself with tons of self-compassion. Now, again, this does not come naturally for most of us. We are actually quite good at being pretty mean to ourselves and being our own worst critics. And we have years of experience so we’re pretty good at it. But this is not helpful at all, it actually undermines our confidence and self-concept. And it makes it really hard to make decisions. Self-compassion on the other hand builds self-confidence and safety.

Like allowing an emotion, practicing self-compassion is a skill and a habit that you can build. You can start off small and build over time. Now, I think the gold standard of a self-compassion practice is to treat yourself the way you would your best friend, assuming that you are loving and kind to your best friend. But for most of us being as loving to ourselves as we are to our best friend is a bridge too far. So, we can start off with what Kristin Naff who is the leading expert on self-compassion and an Autism mom calls a self-compassion break.

I will link this in the show notes but here’s how it works. There are three parts to self-compassion, mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness. So, think of a situation in your life that is difficult or causing you some stress. Call the situation to mind and see if you can actually feel the stress and emotional discomfort in your body.

Then say to yourself first, this is a moment of suffering. This is the mindfulness part of it, noticing it. Other options include this is stressful, this is what grief feels like. Right now, I am experiencing a painful emotion. Then next, number two, say to yourself, suffering is a part of life. This is the common humanity part. You can use other options like other people feel this way. I’m not alone. We all struggle in our lives.

And then finally, number three, say to yourself, may I be kind to myself? Or maybe a phrase like, may I be nice to myself? May I hold space for this? Or may I accept myself as I am? If this feels really weird to you, start with using my voice if that’s helpful. I have heard from some clients and podcast listeners as well as folks who reach out to me on social media that they sometimes hear my voice in their head reminding them of the think, feel, act cycle, or questioning, is this a fact or a thought?

So, if my voice is helpful to you, go right ahead and use it. I will bear witness for you. When you are seeing your child struggling, when you are telling yourself that they are suffering, when you believe it is your fault, when you think you are not doing enough, this is painful, this is suffering, this is hard. It is normal to feel this way, so many moms just like you feel this way. I feel this way sometimes. You are not alone. And finally, you are doing a great job even on the days you lose it, even on the days you break down in the grocery store or hide out in the car.

You are allowed to feel the way you are feeling without judging yourself, you are allowed to be kind to yourself right now because I said so. So, if that’s helpful please use it. There is no need to take this pain you are experiencing and turn on yourself and create suffering. You can allow this emotion and you can be kind to yourself while you do it.

Alright, that’s what I have for you this week. Before I go I want to invite you to join my one-on-one coaching program, six months of coaching with me to change your life and your relationship with Autism parenting forever. You can learn more by scheduling a consultation with me and we can chat about where you are, where you want to be and how we can work together to create the results you want in your life. You can do this by going to theautismmomcoach.com, the website and click on Work With Me and schedule a consultation.

Alright, that’s it for this week, and I will talk to you next week.

Thanks for listening to The Autism Mom Coach. If you want more information or the show notes and resources from the podcast, visit theautismmomcoach.com. See you next week.

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