As a father of children with autism, you wear many hats. You’re a nutritionist ensuring they eat well, a psychotherapist making sure they improve their co-ordination and most days a psychologist dealing with anxiety. My eldest boy usually starts each day looking for affirmation and emotional support and often asks a question due to anxiety “Will I have a good day”.
With the help of professionals and through our own experiences, we have developed coping strategies and methods of encouragement that help him, which I believe all of us can use when we have doubts whether we too will have a good day. Here they are:
When my son is anxious he complains a lot, but we tell him how does that solve the problem? When we pour out our frustrations and fears to our friends, family and work colleagues all we are doing is avoiding the issue. Identifying the problem you face and starting to think about how you can solve it is a far more effective use of your energy than complaining.
Still talk to people but don’t complain instead ask them for help to sort the situation.
Be responsible for your own emotions
Many of the issues my son faces are because he lets other people’s actions influence his emotional state. This is part of the autism spectrum, but how many of us have a bad day because we have allowed others to manipulate our emotions?
We all need to accept that it's completely up to us to manage our emotions, regardless of how other people behave.
Make your Boundaries clear to everyone
My son is naturally shy and has difficulty speaking up for himself in social situations. We have coached and encouraged him to avoid feeling guilty and blaming others for what he perceives as them making him do things he does not want to do or that wastes his time.
Healthy boundaries are vital in life, these give you back control over how you spend your time and who you spend it with. Finding the strength to say no is vital and once people are aware of your boundaries, they won’t waste your time or not so often!
Forgive more, it feels good
Much of the emotional turmoil’s my son is embroiled in is usually a result of his interaction with school friends or his siblings. Most kids brush these off and it’s soon forgotten, but as with many things with autistic kids it’s different. They let situations fester and negative emotions linger.
We have taught him that forgiving someone is the best and quickest way back to feeling good about yourself.
When you waste valuable time thinking about a person you feel has wronged you, it takes away your ability to enjoy your day.
Forgiving someone is the best way to take back control. Now, I’m not saying that you let people walk all over you. That’s unacceptable, you can avoid that as we have seen by setting your boundaries.
Forgiveness is all about letting go of the negative emotions such as anger and hurt that stops you from getting on with a positive and happy day.
Have a set of values to live by
As parents we try and teach our children what is right and wrong. Part of that process is helping them evolve a set of values to live by.
As adults we should all know what our values are. Without them we are at risk of becoming followers who flit from one idea to the next never reaching our full potential.
Being aware of and living by your values allows you to have control over the direction of your day and life.
Don’t be a victim in life
I always tell my son no matter what the situation is we all have choices.
The biggest choice is do I play the victim and give my power away, or do I take control of my life and no matter the consequences take responsibility for my actions and decisions?
Your life will be much better if don’t blame others for your failings.
Realise not everyone has to like you
My son in common with other children on the autistic spectrum has difficulty with social interaction, including establishing and maintaining friendships.
He believes that everyone has to like him. If they don’t he really takes it too heart.
Many of us are just like him aren’t we? How many of us are ‘people pleasers’, and have a deep rooted need to be liked by everyone?
As I tell my son while we have friends, we don’t have to like everyone or have them like us back in return.
Not everyone needs to like you, nor do they have to agree with your lifestyle. Never allow one person's opinion to determine your self-worth or ruin your day.
My son’s self-doubt can lead him to try and be something he is not and blend in with the crowd. We tell him that he has to be himself and happy in who he is.
Trying to fit in with the crowd will cause you to disguise who you really are. Trust in yourself and don’t be afraid to be different, in fact embrace it.
Chase those negative thoughts away
Sometimes my son comes home from school never wishing to return, he thinks people don’t like him or that he is not handsome.
We call these moments his negative thoughts and it’s our job to help him drive these away.
Positive reinforcement helps, but a little trick we learned from a child psychologist was to encourage him to gently slap his wrist when he has these thoughts and drive them away. As he does this, he tells himself these are silly thoughts that need to go away.
How many of us at the end of the day reflect on our experiences and allow negative thoughts into our mind. Most of these have no basis in reality and they only harm us and suck our energy away.
I’d urge you all to follow the lead of my son and every time you have these negative thoughts use whatever method is best suited to yourself and chase them away.
If you do, you’ll wake up knowing you’re going to have a good day.
John Joe McGinley Glassagh Consultancy September 2019