From Executive Functioning

Intellectual Regulation and #Aspergers

Dysregulation

I think in complex epiphanies. I never have a single thought, except “I am insufferably bored!” Thoughts stay with me, whispering, connecting, birthing ideas faster than I can speak or write.

Life is a procession of instantaneous and profound moments. Some would consider my experience spiritual.  I know it is neurological.

I have little to show for my excessive mental energy. Too many ideas crowd me.  Sprawling narratives stream from my fingers. The ideas dart about so wildly  they hold meaning only to me.  Weeks pass before I whittle a simple blog post to lucidity. The world outside my skull is so slow it crawls.

Excruciating boredom opposes intellectual excitement.  The sensation is physical. Hold your breath until it hurts. The burning for air in your lungs is how boredom feels deep in my muscles and joints. Intellectual nothingness is drowning.  Movement is a gasp of air, but until my mind can latch on to the right thought, I flail.

I exist either dazzled by thoughts or restless with fidgety, aching boredom.

I am intellectually dysregulated.

Vroom

As a child, my mother smoothed my way. She fed my brain continuously or pressed me into captivating activities. She scheduled my time.

The hardest part of my life was young adulthood. I chose the wrong career path. I mistook intellectual ability for intellectual motivation.   Electromagnetics and calculus were easy, but boring. Despite natural talent, I failed.  I did not possess the maturity, the wisdom to find a good path for myself.

Only in the past few years did I become self-aware. Raising an autistic child placed a platter of insight before me. He is me revised. Perhaps most parents take this journey; a complete digestion of their own lives, absorbed and reflected upon to nourish the next generation.

My son must learn that uncommon intellect comes with a caveat—the rest of his abilities will lag.  One day he will celebrate not the marvel of his genius, but the other skills he mastered to balance it.

Accepting Emotional Regulation

My Feelings

Last year, I discovered Asperger’s syndrome and emotional regulation were connected. For many on the autism spectrum, emotions come in three flavors: happy, depressed, and anxious. Typical people detect a broad, nuanced range of emotion, whereas some autistic individuals possess emotional dials that click on grooves set at too happy, too anxious, or too depressed.

Happiness

My good moods have never been manic, but they are disproportionate. I’m rarely a little jolly; I’m full-on yahoo happy.  My tipping point for bliss is low. A new set of watercolors evokes a shout and a jig, which I try not to perform in front of the craft store staff.   Even when I eat, I am not normal. I am jazzed because these nachos are delicious!!!

My proclivity for cheer is a blessing. Despite other dysregulated emotions, I am grateful to bob in a mirthful sea.

Depression

Opposing happiness is depression. I equate depression with being tired. Not tired in an I-need-to-sleep way, but tired in an I-need-to-be-alone way.

This weariness is a murky, heavy sensation. Like a thick toxic gas, it engorges the limbs and stifles the mind. For me, this miserable state is indistinguishable from all other negative emotions.

In fact, I experience illness, tiredness, boredom, and depression exactly the same.   I only differentiate these conditions by how they respond to various interventions:

  • Illness responds to rest.
  • Tiredness responds to tea.
  • Boredom responds to art.
  • Depression responds to activity.

Each time fatigue grips me, the Cure List brings relief. It may be cumbersome, but the strategy helps me more than any diet, therapy, supplement, or medication. I advocate a list strategy for all who struggle with “big chunk” emotions.

Anxiety

My Anxieties

While I cannot differentiate negative emotions, I can categorize a thousand types of anxiety. Perhaps my experience of happiness and depression are crude because my mental wiring is bound up with endless gradations of anxiety. Every miniscule discomfort and nagging worry enjoys its own specific register.  The unease of an unlocked door differs from the fretfulness of unsanitized hands.

Likewise, not recognizing someone I should know prickles my skin in a different way than missing an obvious joke.

My son, however, cannot discern anxiety from anger.  To him, all anxiety feels like anger.   I wonder how many “anger management” classes host similarly wired individuals.

Accept Autism

Self-Acceptance

Literature concerning self-acceptance tends to ignore the greater issue of societal acceptance. A person who experiences emotions differently than the majority can feel isolated, especially when pressure is put on them to conform.  Emotions are our deepest, most personal gifts and the last place anyone should meddle.

I encourage spectrumites struggling with emotional regulation to pursue strategies to boost their quality of life. Keep a mood journal and look for “big block” patterns—that’s how I recognized that I experience negative states as tired and positive states as “really happy.”

Experiment with what helps regulation and document the activities that enhance wellness the most. After I’ve drank my tea, I kick-start a sluggish brain with some organizing (or spinning!). It pulls me out of a depressed day I would have confused with a sick day. And when I’m sick—Netflix!

I love floating through life with extra happiness.  I channel the mental zing anxiety gives me into worthy tasks. I still struggle with negative states but my tools work well. I accept myself.

We each can be our own master, our own specialist, notebooks and calculator in hand. Even when our brains muddle over feelings we can use our strengths as data gathers and pattern recognition experts to craft our own wellness. Meet life’s persistent challenges with confidence by mastering the strategies that work best for you.

The Occupational Therapy Fairy

ot fairy

My son’s autism diagnosis shocked me less than his proposed therapy schedule. The clinicians proclaimed that he needed 25-35 hours of therapy. Without it, he may not have the tools to be mainstreamed in school.

I struggled with this mightily.

Specialists came to our home and saw him at the early intervention center. He is not the child you see, I explained. Tyoma was sweet, playful, and bright. He only ran around maniacally because everything was so new. Sympathetic smiles and pity faces were stock responses.

Let me emphasize–I don’t begrudge the efforts of the regional autism center. Several staff members, however, left me feeling patronized and disbelieved.

For two years I absorbed book after book about autism therapy—A.B.A., Floortime, DIR, and RDI. All of these treatments had one thing in common–they sort of worked, some of the time.

Ultimately, when Tyoma was in a teachable place—he learned. When Tyoma was disorganized, these interventions failed.

Visits from Tyoma’s early intervention SLP unnerved us. She tried to engage my son with new toys and uber-enthusiasm. He scurried away from her at every opportunity. Another specialist launched a power struggle with him over throwing toys. As if discipline always worked!

Our final therapist turned treatment around. Her gifted son had Asperger’s. Introducing us to a strength-based approach, she empowered our entire family. Our services evolved into supportive and constructive plans. Confidence in our parenting returned.

The trend of playing to Tyoma’s strengths quadrupled in preschool, under Ms. Jerri’s watchful eye. Her team’s high quality attention, structure and visual supports brought us order and coping skills.Tyoma thrived. I thrived too! I had a team of professionals dispensing expert advice.

Ms. Jerri introduced us to Occupational Therapy (OT).

WebMD’s definition of OT goals explains it best:

The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve his or her quality of life. This includes life at home and at school. The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills. That way, people with autism can be as independent as possible.

OT is one of my top three of Rockin’ Autism Therapies (the other two being social stories and rewards). Without fail, these three have helped us through many difficult days. OT strategies are our first line of action.

Why?

Because Tyoma’s biggest obstacle to learning is his anxiety level. Too much stress or excitement whips him into an obsessive, impatient frenzy. He is too overwhelmed to learn.

Our school OT, Ms. Wetherbee, keeps Tyoma grounded and focused in class. He can’t process vital social stories or work toward goals until his anxiety is tamed. Her interventions build awareness and give him control.

Ms. Wetherbee compares her work to soothing an infant:

“You have calming strategies for when an infant is crying and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. You can try a strategy that didn’t work earlier–sometimes it will work later. Sometimes something stops working and then you try it again months later, and it works. Just keep trying!”

This simplifies her work greatly, but the core of her intervention is anxiety management. This is exactly what our whole family needs!The best thing I have learned about OT is how diverse and fun the approach is.

I have plenty of tricks to share with you (coming soon!). Her strategies are concrete (yay!) and dissipate anxiety.

Until then, please enjoy the collage Tyoma and I put together of Ms. Wetherbee and her magic OT tools!

 

This is a re-post while I cope with my son’s return to school. Hope you enjoyed!

Digital elements by Fiddlette’s Studio.

The Occupational Therapy Fairy

ot fairy

My son’s autism diagnosis shocked me less than his proposed therapy schedule. The clinicians proclaimed that he needed 25-35 hours of therapy. Without it, he may not have the tools to be mainstreamed in school.

I struggled with this mightily.

Specialists came to our home and saw him at the early intervention center.  He is not the child you see, I explained. Tyoma was sweet, playful, and bright.  He only ran around maniacally because everything was so new.  Sympathetic smiles and pity faces were stock responses.

Let me emphasize–I don’t begrudge the efforts of the regional autism center.  Several staff members, however,  left me feeling patronized and disbelieved.

For two years I absorbed book after book about autism therapy—A.B.A., Floortime, DIR, and RDI.  All of these treatments had one thing in common–they sort of worked, some of the time.

Ultimately, when Tyoma was in a teachable place—he learned.  When Tyoma was disorganized, these  interventions failed.

Visits from Tyoma’s early intervention SLP unnerved us. She tried to engage my son with new toys and uber-enthusiasm. He scurried away from her at every opportunity. Another specialist launched  a power struggle with him over throwing toys.  As if discipline always worked!

Our final therapist turned treatment around.  Her gifted son had Asperger’s.  Introducing us to a strength-based approach, she  empowered our entire family.  Our services evolved into supportive and  constructive plans. Confidence in our parenting returned.

The trend of playing to Tyoma’s strengths quadrupled in preschool, under Ms. Jerri’s watchful eye.   Her team’s high quality attention, structure and visual supports brought us order and coping skills.Tyoma thrived. I thrived too!  I had a team of professionals dispensing expert advice.

Ms. Jerri introduced us to Occupational Therapy (OT).

WebMD’s definition of OT goals explains it best:

The overall goal of occupational therapy is to help the person with autism improve his or her quality of life. This includes life at home and at school. The therapist helps introduce, maintain, and improve skills. That way, people with autism can be as independent as possible.

OT is one of my top three of Rockin’ Autism Therapies (the other two being social stories and rewards). Without fail, these three have helped us through many difficult days.  OT strategies are our first line of action.

Why?

Because Tyoma’s biggest obstacle to learning is his anxiety level. Too much stress or excitement whips him into an obsessive, impatient frenzy. He is too overwhelmed to learn.

Our school OT, Ms. Wetherbee, keeps Tyoma grounded and focused in class. He can’t process vital social stories or work toward goals until his anxiety is tamed. Her interventions build awareness and give him control.

Ms. Wetherbee compares her work to soothing an infant:

“You have calming strategies for when an infant is crying and sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t.  You can try a strategy that didn’t work earlier–sometimes it will work later.  Sometimes something stops working and then you try it again months later, and it works.  Just keep trying!”

This simplifies her work greatly, but the core of her intervention is anxiety management. This is exactly what our whole family needs!The best thing I have learned about OT is how diverse and fun the approach is.

I have plenty of tricks to share with you (coming soon!).  Her strategies are concrete (yay!) and dissipate anxiety.

Until then, please enjoy the collage Tyoma and I put together of Ms. Wetherbee and her magic OT tools!

Digital elements by Fiddlette’s Studio.

Excitability, Aspergers and Tadpoles

Shhhhhh!

Sensory overload is my son’s biggest obstacle to staying calm and focused.  He objects to the quantity of “kids, voices, and touching” at school.  Overstressed at school, he acts out later at home.

Several weeks ago, Tyoma’s case manager and I improved his schedule. We reduced his five day a week double kindergarten to four days.  He stays home midweek, on Wednesdays.

A full day provides both Tyoma and me with structure and routine. By adding a restorative hump day, our week flows smoothly. Aggression, irritability and mischief still arise, but the intensity is easier for us to control.

Now we need to conquer Tyoma’s second biggest obstacle to staying calm and focused.

Me.

I view off-Wednesday s as a celebration, a splendid occasion for fun. We’ve surveyed the airport, explored forests, rode skyscraping elevators, performed multiplication gymnastics, and experimented endlessly with gooey household substances.

I am an inferno of excitability.  My zest infects Tyoma. If he is anxious, we tempt the Meltdown Gods.  Wrapped up in the excitement of an adventure, I lose sight of my little passenger. I don’t realize trouble is afoot until the point of no return looms.

I need an enthusiasm detector hardwired to my person. A device with an air horn to alert me when I am waaay too jazzed. At home, my husband gives me “take it down a notch” hand signals.  In fact, my collage stems from a scolding I received over a recent singing and finger snapping extravaganza near Tyoma’s bedtime.

A two part plan helps me modulate myself.

First, I take a big, deep breath when I see something thrilling.  I took Tyoma for a walk to the local pond earlier this week only to discover it brimmed with tadpoles. When I saw their fat bobbly bodies waggling in the water, I almost shrieked with joy.

No hyperbole. The wail was in my throat.

I love toads, frogs and tadpoles.  Witnessing a joggling throng of pre-toads was like losing thirty pounds overnight (for me, at least!). I caught myself, kept quiet and discretely toe-walked. I am proud of this, because I yearned to holler “OMG! TADPOLES, TADPOLES!!!” and spin in circles.

I am building self-awareness.

I know I do this. This knowledge gives me extra braking power–a split second to silence myself.  This brings me to my next coping strategy—enlisting my son.

Future happy moments will catch me by surprise, so I’ve asked my son to alert me when I forget myself.  We have a hand signal and a phrase to help me reduce my volume.

Over the weekend, I burst out in song (yay, I’m cooking pork chops!). Tyoma asked me to “take it down a notch.” This was an improvement over him flushing a cup of Legos down the toilet.

I may still whoop, hoot, dance and startle the unsuspecting.  I am, however, working on curbing myself when Tyoma is anxious. Together,   I foresee much progress!

Digital elements by Tangie Baxter and Tumblefish Studio.