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Thursday, May 30, 2013

Emotional Meltdowns Part One

I recently received a question from a reader about temper tantrums. She asked, "Is it common while growing up with Aspergers to 'act out', and do you think it is helpful to the child to allow it in a public environment?"

First, let's not get the yelling and kicking of a temper tantrum mixed up with "stimming," such as rocking, flapping hands, and pacing, that can be associated with autistic behavior. I have heard stimming explained as a way to reduce stress and block out sensory input, and in that case, many believe it is kinder to allow the child to continue.

Speaking as an Aspie, I have hardly ever lost my temper my whole life, as far as pitching a fit, yelling, or lashing out in violence. But I have had emotional meltdowns in public as a child or teenager, bursting into tears and not being able to explain what the matter is because I'm too upset. Those meltdowns often had to do with some social situation where I didn't know how to ask for help, or felt overwhelmed by the stress of "dealing with people." So I do think they were brought on by some of my Aspie limitations.

Speaking as a mom, I know what I plan to do, but since my daughter is only two months old, I may end up revising my plans when the time comes. Here's the plan: I would choose to deal firmly with a tantrum that was a defiance of my authority, such as if I told my daughter to stop doing something or that she couldn't have something she asked for, and it made her mad. That is not the time to give in to what she wants to get her to be happy. Children need to learn to accept the answer no.

If a temper tantrum happens in a public place, it may be best to leave and go home so that other people are not bothered, and the child will miss out on having the outing continue. In discussing this topic with my mom, she adds that leaving a public place when a tantrum occurs can soothe a child who finds new or unfamiliar situations to be stressful, as Aspies tend to.

When I was little, my mom did not allow me to point at things in the store and say I wanted them. She quoted, "The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not WANT," (Psalm 23:1) and left the store. After that, I stopped "wanting," and I eventually realized that "I would like," or "May I please have . . .?" were polite alternatives.

Sometimes, though, it is not so easy to figure out why the child is having a meltdown. It could be a cry for attention, or feeling overtired, or misunderstanding the situation, or feeling anxiety and fear. In these cases, I think I would try to comfort and calm the child and see if she can calm down enough to answer questions as to what is wrong. This is where a child with Asperger's may have a harder time controlling her emotions and communicating what the problem is.

On the other hand, children with Asperger's are often quite bright and may be able to reason through situations that would upset other children. For example, when I was in third grade, I was called a wimp and called ugly. Instead of getting angry or upset, I objectively considered whether I really was a wimp (I decided I was) or whether I really was ugly (I decided I wasn't). In that case, my desire to discover the truth (an Aspie trait) trumped any emotional reaction which the bully probably wanted to see.

When a child is upset or angry, I would suggest what might be wrong or how the child might feel and look for a yes or no answer. Even as a teenager, I found it hard to describe my negative emotions clearly and link them up to the circumstances that caused the emotions. Hey, maybe that's STILL hard for me! But if a parent or friend is sincerely trying to find out what's wrong and how to help, it is very soothing.

Listening is even more important than doling out advice. For example, when I was seven years old and crying my eyes out, my mom tried to console me by saying, "Everybody has to practice and learn how to play kickball one step at a time." She didn't realize that although I WAS scared to play kickball, the real reason I was bawling was that a little boy (whom I didn't even like) had suddenly given me a kiss!

The reader who brought up this topic has made it a practice to send her children to their rooms according to the rule "no crying in public areas." She explains, "They were not to bother others while they let out their emotions." I think her rule is reasonable, and particularly helpful when children are trying to manipulate adults into giving them their own way. However, I can't really identify, because whenever I had a meltdown at home, I preferred to run to my room, or even hide behind my bed. So becoming emotional in public was actually highly embarrassing for me, and was not intended to draw attention or manipulate.

I believe that people with Asperger's sometimes cannot control their emotional reactions, but they can certainly benefit from a parent's training in how to deal with their feelings appropriately.



Thursday, May 9, 2013

Thoughts on Prayer

Give this post a look-see on youtube, where I read it aloud:
Thoughts on Prayer

I like to pray. I really do. While prayer is challenging for many Christians, it may be particularly so for those with Asperger's traits. Let's start by considering praying out loud.

When I was six years old, I ended up one Wednesday night in a classroom full of children at a Bible-teaching church, and we all had our heads bowed and (supposedly) our eyes closed. I definitely was staring at the desk. Is is safe for me to admit on a public blog that I have scarcely ever kept my eyes closed for an entire prayer? Wow, I don't know what my excuse is for that, except that I have also read the Bible through completely and never found the verse that said, "Thou shalt close thine eyes while rendering prayer unto the Lord."

Anyway, back to my story. These children were all praying in turn, down the rows of the desks, and my turn came late in the game. I was nervous. The problem was not just that I had to think of something appropriate to say, but also that all these children seemed to start their prayers with "Dear Heavenly Father." At home, I always prayed, "Dear Jesus." What should I do? I finally made up my mind to cave to peer pressure and begin, "Dear Heavenly Father."

One of my friends - and only one - always begins his prayer with "Righteous Father." I thought that was odd until I read the term "righteous Father" in my Bible and saw that it was how Jesus Himself addressed God the Father in prayer. See?


Sometimes it's good to go against the flow.

However, whether you choose to be different or follow the crowd when you pray, I really recommend picking some patterns, or "scripts," to recite when it's your turn to pray out loud. These scripts are frequently used phrases or sentences that can be handy to have in your head, especially if you have to start praying immediately when called upon to pray. This preparation is important for Aspies, since we tend to get nervous when a social situation takes an unexpected turn. I have heard testimony from a male Aspie who froze up when called on to pray and from a female Aspie who specifically asked her small-group Sunday school class to give her the opportunity to "practice" praying out loud.

In Baptist circles, preachers emphasize that we are not to be reciting rote prayers, but praying from our hearts. I agree. What I'm saying here is that just as we follow scripts in social situations, such as saying, "Good luck!" when a friend is going to take a test, or "How was your day?" when we sit down to dinner, we can draw from our memory banks of scripted phrases when it's time to pray.

Examples would be: "Thank you for this food and for the hands that prepared it," "Please protect us as we drive and help us safely reach our destination," "Thank you for the beautiful weather we've been experiencing," and "Please give us a good night's sleep and help us to be ready for the day ahead."

The advantage of having scripted phrases prepared is that you can say them while you're thinking about what the rest of your prayer is going to sound like - the part that is individually tailored to the prayer requests you have heard or the thoughts that are on your heart at that specific time. Now that you know the purpose, do you see why I made my examples wordy, even though that's a no-no for serious writers?

Please see my very first blog post for another example of how scripts can help: What Comes After Hello?

Moving on, I'd like to share my personal experience with silent prayers. When I was a teenager, I went around organizing my belongings for fun. The more organized my life was, the better I enjoyed it. So for my devotional prayer life, I devised a system. I cut up tiny squares of scrap paper and labeled them with the names of all the people I knew, grouped by families, and made another set of paper squares labeled with all the things I was thankful for. I put these scraps into two envelopes labeled, "REQUESTS TO PRAY" and "THANKSGIVING TO PRAY." Then I would pray for two scraps drawn from each envelope during my daily devotions and move them to the envelopes labeld, "HAVE PRAYED." Ha, ha! I love it! Maybe I'll do this again. Anyway, the advantage of being systematic about your prayer life is that you don't overlook anything. The disadvantage is that you may feel your prayers are a little forced or contrived, as I eventually did.

Prayer can be an excellent way to regulate emotions, and many Aspies need help with managing their emotions. Nowadays, my silent prayers are heavy on the thanksgiving side, a little weak on the requests, since I have been under more stress than usual as a new mom. I need to keep my spirits up so I don't get discouraged, and counting my blessings helps with that. The problem with requests is that they haven't been met yet!

I also have chosen to avoid the kind of prayer meetings where a list of names and problems is handed out. That just depresses me. I prefer to hear the whole story from the individual when I receive prayer requests. It is more meaningful that way.

Another way to boost the spirits is to listen to Christian music or sing it yourself, and that is my favorite way to express my praise to the Lord. Praise counts as prayer, you know. Just think about how good you feel when a friend spends time talking with you, and as a bonus, throws in a compliment for you. I expect God feels the same way about our prayers and praises.

Dear Lord,
Please be with my readers as they think through this important topic with me. If there's anyone reading who does not know You personally as Savior, I pray that they would choose to believe on Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins. May we all search God's Word and believe it to be true and act on it for Your glory.
In Jesus' name,