Friday, May 15, 2009

To stay calm

Often I've been asked how I stay calm with 4 boys on the autism spectrum, testosterone flying freely and abundant around, 2 giggling girls and their friends, and meetings with people who care more for their job than for my children.

Let's be honest: sometimes I don't know.
There are days I completely understand why people commit suicide, days that I want to leave the house and never come back, days I want to call the psychiatrist of my kids and let him send the well trained heavy muscled nurses with their big Valium shots to take my kids and put them in an asylum forever.

But instead I stay at home and try to cope with what's going on as well as I can.

I've found out that showing my emotions to my autistic children only add to the problem.

During all my years of being a ballet dancer I've learned to show the world a smile, even when I was crying inside.
Sometimes, when that same smile is glued to my face, I remember a friend who told me to get in therapy so I wouldn't be so kind, and he could read my emotions from my face.

Well, let's say I'm happy I've never took his advice and my true friends take the effort to read my eyes, see my movements and feel the person I am.

When the emotions of my kids are all over the place they don't pay attention to the underlayer of my emotions. They react to the superficial layer of smiles and well coordinated movements, and that's perfect.

My calm look and quiet movements help them to calm down.

As a psychologist I know that people are interesting beings.
You can make yourself a complete idiot by thinking the wrong thoughts and you can calm others and yourself by acting calm.

Like you can stop unwanted behaviour in young children by diverting their attention, you can stop your own behaviour by diverting your attention.
It doesn't help a lot to tell yourself to stop acting the way you do, you just have to start other behaviour.
So instead of being that yelling mother who wants to glue her kids behind the wallpaper to never see them again, you can start acting the person you want to be.

So steal the mp3 from your kids and listen to the music.
Put yourself in another world, even when you hate the music, it's always good for some gymnastics. Loosen your muscles, dance a bit. Let the tension flow away.

Chance is the kids will be staring at you, amazed to bits, or maybe shocked, but who cares?
They stopped their irritating behaviour and you're starting to feel better than ever before that day.

Staying clam is easier when you know what you're dealing with.
Oh, I'm not speaking about the kids.
It's all about you.

Why do you feel so angry, irritated, helpless?
Are your children a disappointment?
Are you jealous because the neighbouring kids are always so kind and funny?
Do you feel your children limit you to fulfill your own wishes?
Do you feel responsible for their behaviour and they won't listen one single moment?

Take yourself serious. Look in the mirror.
Identify your problem and look at it.
Often people loose their calm, because they want to ignore the fact that they're as responsible for a situation as the kids.

Most of the time when my emotions start to boil it's because I'm too lazy to play mom.
When kids know for certain what the boundaries of their behaviour are they will stay well within these boundaries.
But when they feel things are changed they want to know of these boundaries are still present.
The quicker you react, the better they'll know.

Dealing with autistic children is not difficult.
It's boring.
Each day a hundred times you have to say the same.
And even when they're older there are days time seems to have gone backwards and you have to teach them things all over.
When they're not allowed to jump on the bed, you have to teach them they're not allowed to jump on the bed of their brothers, and not on your bed.

I've learned to accept my laziness as part of the problem.
When I'm not the policewoman I've never studied for, they'll think they're allowed to do things like I'm not there.
When I stay in that role long enough, they expect me to stay in that role all day and I can enjoy some moments for myself.

Children with autism don't internalize the rules as well as other kids.
It helps a huge lot when you realize they're not out to irritate you.
Like other kids they rather please you than violate your rules.
But because they can't spread their attention as well as other kids, they just forget.
So all that's needed is a kind reminder.
I've learned to give them space to remind the rule and say sorry.
"I think you've forgotten for a moment that you're not allowed..." with a kind smile, helps a lot.

I feel happy I'm not perfect.
I've used the TV as a babysitter to divert attention and get myself a cup of coffee.
I've put on my music so loud that I wouldn't hear the kids.
At times I need to count to ten before speaking, and sometimes I needed a glass of cold water to prevent myself from boiling over.
6 kids are a challenge, I can tell you.

But when I can stay calm, you can stay calm too.
Realize that to stop an unwanted situation a grown-up is requested, and you are that grown-up.
You're the one who has a choice. So think about a strategy first.
Often it helps to react completely different from what a child expects.
I've made applesauce at the strangest hours, because my kids love applesauce.

This afternoon I stopped a terrible row between my autistic son and one of the girls by suddenly remembering we were supposed to have home made cake at mother's day and I thought waiting another day wouldn't be good for the eggs.
They were both so taken by the thought of cake, that the offered me to make the cake without my help.
They worked together within 3 seconds.

Ofcourse I had a talk with them later.
One by one I told them I disliked the row. Described the behaviour I disliked most and gave them a good alternative to bring their message across in a far better way. I also explained the behaviour of the other kid and translated the message that was conveyed.
I never ever let them go without the choice for alternative behaviour.

Because I see each day as a new day, I have the chance to start a day as relaxed as possible.
When I'm stressed, I try to use the energy to write letters that need to be written, clean something in the house, or I just start to sing or make music otherwise.

When I feel irritated I try to discover why and tackle the problem.
Sometimes it helps to imagine I'm on vacation. Or I watch a nice program on TV.

I'm a much better mother when I'm trying to be the mother I want to be.


Graphic made with tubes from Lamanouche.
Copyright stays with the individual artists.


  1. Kathy (tangelobaby)May 16, 2009 at 12:48 AM

    Such good advice. How you do it with 6 children, and I have 1 not autistic. I will not complain again. Inspiring article.


  2. I will have to revisit your blog; as it seems we have much in common. Thanks for the brief insight into your world raising several children on the spectrum. Bravo to you for keeping your head about you and inspiring and supporting others.

  3. I think it's no accident that your children were born to you. I think that you and I are doing the "jobs" we have because God entrusts us with these special babes of his. That's why He always hears me when I ask for his help on any given day. Don't you agree?


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