There are major advantages in parenting a special needs child: First, you have a ready-made excuse to beg off parties you really don’t want to go to anyway. Not that we ever did that. Second, with a little cajoling–and a lot of paperwork–the government is more than willing to pay for their medical expenses pretty much for life. And third, you find out that the behavior therapy that is supposed to help your 5’6” 130-pound autistic twelve-year-old to not freak out in the middle of Wal-Mart really isn’t for him at all. It’s for you–the parent.

The Meyer Syndrome

Before I move on here, I have a confession to make–I’m a Twilight fan. Yes, I know it’s pathetic that a 46-year-old businesswoman and mother of three would actually like such bizarre material, but hey, it’s escapist. If you happen to also be a follower of the Edward-Bella-Jacob trauma–pardon me–drama, you may remember another character by the name of Jasper who has the supernatural ability to change the emotion in a room whether there’s one person in it or hundreds. Now, let me tell you, as a parent of a special needs child, there is little I wouldn’t give for such a gift.

So it was a very pleasant but sobering surprise to learn that I already have that miraculous ability–sans the whole vampire thing.

Why Can’t You Control Your Kid?

There’s something called Behavior Therapy that many kids with autism need. It’s a type of therapy that helps them learn to function in an acceptable manner especially in public or social settings. That’s where we the parents tend to get the most embarrassed. Sure the meltdowns at home are tough, but it’s their thrashing around on the floor in the middle of the mall that makes people look at YOU with that “why can’t you control your kid?” expression. Some of these social issues our SN kids understand right away. More often than not it takes awhile, maybe even years, before certain things click with them.

What I discovered through the therapy was I was the one who needed the most help. I was the one who tended to lose my temper, I was the one who would bark a reply when I was interrupted, and I was the one who would bellow my frustrations to the rafters. I’m sure you’ve heard the saying that your kids minimize your strengths and maximize your weaknesses. That couldn’t be more true than with a special needs child. So, if my son started to get a little upset about something, I would get upset too, which of course only made him worse. If he raised his voice, I’d raise mine louder, and then we were in a shouting match. If he threw a temper tantrum, it would be a close contest over who would win the Biggest Brat award. So much for the mature parent modeling good behavior.

It’s All About Me
Then, I started to notice that if I changed the timber of my voice when he was freaking out, he would change with it. When I made his frustrations into a game rather than a chore, he followed me. When I hugged him instead of wrestling him to ground, he hugged right back.

Wow, I thought, this behavior therapy works.

It took a little time, but eventually the tantrums in the department stores grew to a minimum. I got fewer calls from his teacher at school. He didn’t attempt to choke his two younger sisters quite as often. All because I changed.

Then I thought: why couldn’t I apply the same principle outside my family? The results were extraordinary.

We Need More Jaspers in the World

I encourage you to try it. Smile at people when you walk into the grocery store. Smile at the clerk when you check out, ask her about her day. You’ll be amazed at her response.  Help the vertically-challenged shopper get a can off the top shelf.  Although some people may be too shocked to respond in kind to kindness, you’ll notice something else–you’ll feel happier.  You’ll actually find yourself smiling when there’s nobody around.
When you go into work, greet everybody with a cheerful “Good morning!” Do it for a week. Now while some of your co-workers may request to have you drug-tested and your boss may think you’re buttering him up for a raise, you’ll be amazed at the change in the office environment. You may actually get a few people smiling at you in return.
Now, try it with your family. Instead of screaming and wrestling to get your kids out of bed in the morning, tickle and kiss them awake. Make their favorite breakfast and wave the plate under their sleepy noses. Tell them how much you love them. Again, do it for a week. You’ll change the whole emotional atmosphere of your house. The old saying really is true, “If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” But it’s up to Momma (or Daddy) to get happy.

Duh!

Yes, I know. You’re thinking, how revolutionary. What amazing parenting advice! What awesome interpersonal insight! But before you get too excited about patting me on the back, I’ll remind you that it took me twelve years to get this. Twelve.
I guess they call that special needs parenting.
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