Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Parenting Special Needs

Blog #228~DS-ASD and Managing Stress as a Parent

Blog #228~DS-ASD and Managing Stress as a Parent

Let’s face it, parenting is stressful with all the demands that are draining on a daily basis.  Raising a child with special needs compounds this even further.  A child with an intellectual or developmental disability such as autism, Down syndrome or a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD) has even more demands, with living skills, communication and behavior.  These additional needs means the parent has to work even harder.  This can drain parents both physically and emotionally.  I have been dealing with this stress for 24 years, as my son Nick has a dual diagnosis of DS-ASD.  Here is what the stress looks like for a parent of a child with special needs, and some coping mechanisms to combat it.

stress ball

So what does stress look like for parents raising a child with special needs?  Yes, there are the usual demands of running the household, carpools, extra curricular activities and homework of the child and any siblings, but there is much more.  There are often additional therapy and medical appointments on the calendar each week.  Balancing this with all the other activities can be tricky, with someone feeling short-changed in the family.  As I mentioned earlier, a child with special needs may need additional help with daily living skills, communication and behavior management.  If a child is non-verbal or limited in speech, the parent may have to play the guessing game on what the child needs. Deficits in communication skills can often lead to behavior problems.  Maladaptive behaviors may prevent the family from doing activities, attending outside family gatherings and special events together.  One parent may opt to stay home with the child, which over time, may impact the marital relationship.  This also creates a sense of isolation.  All of this can lead to feelings of guilt by the parent, which is one of the biggest internal stressors.

So, how can you manage stress as a parent of a child with DS-ASD or any other intellectual or developmental disability?  Ideally, a parent would schedule a vacation or spa weekend getaway, right?  But what if you don’t have the time or resources for such an elaborate indulgence?

spa getaway

Stress Management in my opinion, begins with mindfulness.  Carving out a few minutes for yourself is key.  Dedicate a time where you can meditate.  Free your mind of all distractions and breathe deeply.  This will allow the heart rate and blood pressure to lower and reduce stress.  Last week, I had lunch with my niece, who recently returned from a spiritual cycling journey and yoga retreat overseas.  We talked about the concept of truly being present in the moment.  The focus can be as simple as being aware of your senses……..

Step outside notice how the sun and warm breeze feel on your face. 

Quiet yourself and enjoy the texture and taste of each bit while you eat.  Take in the aroma and softness against your fingers, as you bite into the pita bread.

Listen and feel how the snow crunches under your feet, take in the cool air and watch as you exhale, seeing your breath rise up into the blue sky.

Sit silently, maybe with your child or pet, feel the softness and listen to your breaths.  Do nothing,  just be as one.

Put on your favorite music.  Focus on the beat, various musical instruments, vocal tones, and harmonies.  Note the meaning of the lyrics, and how it all  feels to your body, mind and soul.

Mindfulness is simply paying attention to the moment that you are in right now, and freeing yourself from worry.  Spending time in the present and focusing on your senses, will allow you to feel less tense.

Pairing mindfulness with gratitude cancels out negative thoughts and worries.  Some days can be challenging and exhausting.  In those times, remind yourself that there is always something or someone to be grateful for.  Showing gratitude can boost morale for  yourself and others.

Taking time to get physical activity in daily can greatly reduces the effects that stress can take on the body.  Even small bursts of exercise, taking a fitness class or a walk around the block can make a difference on how you feel.

It is also important to reach out and share what is going on with friends, family and support groups.  Isolation can be debilitating.  Sharing your struggles can give you a fresh perspective.  There is much to be gained in finding a support group of like-minded individuals who are on a similar path.  In the DS-ASD world, we share success stories, challenges of our child’s delays, and difficult behaviors.  We offer suggestions on how to find a better way to manage the unique challenges associated with our kids and applaud the milestones they hit.  When you share your struggles, (and do so with a dose of humor), you don’t feel alone anymore.  That can be a powerful thing.

Reducing stress doesn’t have to be a big, fancy trip or getaway.  Taking time to exercise mindfulness, gratitude, doing some type of physical activity, and opening yourself up to others, are all simple ways to reduce anxiety.  Allowing people to come in your life for support, will help make difficulties more manageable. Most of all, it’s essential to take some time and find ways to relax your mind. This allows you to re-charge and lessen the degree to which stress can affect the body and mind.

let yourself rest

That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂

~Teresa

Follow Nick on Social Media:

Facebook and Pinterest at Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Parenting Special Needs

Blog #227~Ditch the New Year’s Resolutions, Here’s a Better Idea

Blog #227~Ditch the New Year’s Resolutions, Here’s a Better Idea

How many times have you made a new year’s resolution and failed to reach it?

new-year-resolutions-825x549

New Year’s resolutions can be daunting and difficult to keep.  This year, I am changing  my tune.  I’ve adopted a new principle personally and for my son, Nick who is 24 years old, and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism.  As a fitness professional for 35 years, my job is to motivate, challenge and inspire my clients.  Being fit and healthy isn’t just about eating right and exercising.  To feel your best, you must take care of the mind, body and spirit collectively.  As a parent of a child with special needs, there are more demands, that can wear on you both physically and emotionally.  It is essential to take care of your physical and mental needs to reduce stress and avoid burning yourself out.

mind body spirit

I was listening to a Sirius XM radio interview with Teddi Mellencamp (yes the daughter of John Mellencamp), who is an accountability coach. She gave a better alternative, instead of making new year’s resolutions.  Teddi suggested that you pick 3 things each day that will take care of you personally, and hold yourself accountable.  Write them down, and try it for just 5 days.  These should be centered around helping you to feel better, both physically and emotionally.  By doing this, you begin to create good habits, that leads to confidence, and ultimately changing your lifestyle.

So, I tried it by writing down 2 things each day (3 seemed too much with my busy schedule).  Here are a few things I did:

*Cleaner eating- Replace Sun Chips with almonds and make a chicken wrap with only avocado and lettuce.

*Relax, stretch and be mindful of breathing to relax and calm the body,

*Bump up home workout weights from 10 to 12 pounds.

*Be mindful of the gratitude you receive throughout the day

*Eat an extra piece of fruit.

*Turn off the TV and listen to music I enjoy.

*Be compassionate, smile at a stranger and do random acts of kindness.

*Drink one less cup of coffee and replace with more water.

*Go upstairs, every time I needed something, instead of waiting until things have accumulated.  (This increased my steps significantly).

*Apply one of the principles of Feng Shui.  De-clutter home and clean 8+ years of dust off the high cabinets to increase the flow of chi energy.

*Pray more throughout the day.

*Shop on the outer edges of the grocery store as much as possible. (This is where the nutrient dense, clean and less processed foods are located).

*Respond, and don’t react with anger.

*Meditate for 10 minutes.

I have to say, there is a feeling of personal accomplishment when you hold yourself accountable, and do just 2 things a day to promote personal health both physically and emotionally.

relax

As a fitness professional, here’s what I suggest on how to start a new fitness program.  Don’t set yourself up for failure. Replace the resolution of going to go to the gym 5 days a week with a more reasonable goal. Change the mindset to, doing some physical activity 3-5 days a week.  If you can’t make it to the gym, or you are too tired, then get out and walk or do some calisthenics for just 10 minutes.  Add an extra minute to each workout.  It will all add up, and you will build confidence and feel less guilty.  Break it down to smaller pieces and you will set yourself up for success! 🙂

This got me thinking that maybe I should apply this principle with my son, Nick who has Down syndrome and autism.  Being a parent, we often feel like we are not doing enough to help our child learn and develop skills.  Blame it on housework, our jobs, time schedules/demands, and just plain exhaustion which leads to feelings of guilt.  So, I am going to just focus on one thing that will help my son be more independent each day.

I started yesterday, by encouraging Nick to use his AAC (Augmentative and Alternative Communication) device.  Nick successfully used it to request breakfast and lunch, along with a few other highly preferred rewards he enjoys.

Today, I will continue to focus on Nick using his AAC device by requesting foods and after dinner getting him to ask to take a shower.  These are little steps, but they can add up and enable my son to realize the power of using his voice, via his talker.  I have to constantly remind myself to be disciplined with not only myself, but with my son.  Ultimately, our goal as parents is to guide our children to be as independent as possible and in the process, help them gain more confidence as individuals.

Saying goodbye to New Year’s resolutions, that are often impossible to keep for 365 days, feels liberating.  Shifting the mindset to smaller goals is more realistic.  Little changes add up to building healthy habits.  It will help you feel better physically and emotionally each day.  Plus, it’s attainable and a more reasonable approach to making positive changes.  Breaking things down into smaller pieces is a better way to have success, and build confidence gradually and consistently.  It also allows you to let go of the feelings of guilt that you aren’t doing enough for yourself and your family. I would love to hear your ideas 2-3 things you might add to improve your mind, body and spirit each day!

That’s what is in my noggin this week.

~Teresa 🙂

Follow Nick on Social Media:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall

Posted in Autism, Down syndrome, Dual Diagnosis Down syndrome and autism, Parenting Special Needs

Blog #226~DS-ASD and Being on Holiday High Alert

Blog #226~DS-ASD and Being on Holiday High Alert

The Christmas tree has been taken down, and all the decorations are packed away.  Now I can let out a sigh of relief.  The three celebrations both before, during and after Christmas with our families, were action packed.  We stand on guard, watching for signs of stress that might trigger a meltdown or other undesirable behaviors.  Our son Nick is 24 years old and has a dual diagnosis of Down syndrome and autism (DS-ASD).  The sensory overload of noise, crowds, overstimulation, and changes in routine all make for a dangerous cocktail living in the world of autism.

One thing that I have learned navigating Nick’s world with a dual diagnosis of DS-ASD is that you can’t let your guard down, EVER!  So was the case over the holidays, which for the most part, went smoothly.  Christmas eve while in route to mass, Nick rattled off a stream of swear words that could rival any salty, crusty sailor.  While the rest of the congregation was praying for good health and world peace, I prayed that Nick wouldn’t drop a G-D bomb in those moments of silence and genuflection.  Thank God, he settled down and was quiet during the service.

nick 2018 christmas

After Christmas we headed down to Texas to celebrate with my family. Our flight down to Houston was smooth.  We even take him into  the of the United Club these days. Yes, there were crowds, but Nick knows the drill and loves going places, so he is motivated to be compliant.

Nick cruising through his favorite part of Chicago O’Hare Airport….

nick at o'hare

Once we reached the condos, the first thing we all noticed was every single floor of the three-story building had a fire alarm next to each stairwell.  It was a land mind of red buttons, just begging for Nick to pull them.  All hands were on deck for the next few days. We all worked together securing blockers, reminding Nick, with the compliance command, “Hands to self, big guys keep on walking”.  He was definitely staring them all down as we passed each one during our stay.

On the second day of our visit, we arranged to take family photos at a local winery.  Nick has never been a fan of these type of photo ops. Sitting patiently for photos irritates him.  Afterwards, we did a wine tasting and the kids ate some appetizers.  There was no structure to the afternoon, just a family enjoying each other’s company.  Nick grew restless, and while no one was paying attention to him.  So, he spiked a wine glass, shattering it all over the concrete floor.  As the staff member swept up the mess, Nick tossed his brother’s marinara sauce in the same direction.  The red sauce splattered all over the staff worker’s jeans as he swept up the shards of glass.  I apologized profusely and explained that Nick had Down syndrome and autism.  It’s at this juncture, that I knew that we had to get him out fast, before things escalated into a full meltdown.  There is no reasoning with Nick at this point, so a few of us did a cut and run, to get him back to the condo.

Later that evening, the whole family gathered into one condo so the grandkids could open their Christmas gifts.  While I was sorting out and distributing the gifts, a familiar sound blasted from outside.  I jumped up and made a beeline out the door to look for Nick.  I made my way downstairs in a panic, alerting the other patrons that it was a false alarm.  I didn’t know where Nick had run to, and it terrified me.  But thankfully, he was waiting at the bottom of the stairs with his eyes glazed at the blazing alarms and lights blinking.  I have no idea if my son pushed more than one alarm.  I yelled up to Al to call the front desk and let them know it was a false alarm.  Meanwhile, I grabbed Nick’s hand and walked a good 200 feet away, so he wouldn’t get the reinforcement he craved.  My hands shook as I asked Siri on my iPhone, for the number to the Conroe Fire Department, located nearest the resort.  But then, a calm focus came over me, as I explained to the firefighter about my son and his penchant for pulling alarms.  The gentleman was very understanding and kind over the phone.  Fortunately, I caught them in time, so they did not dispatch a firetruck, whew!

That was #54 on fire alarm pulls for Nick since 3rd grade…….

firelite-pull-station

Bottom line, this is a reminder that our immediate family can never let our guard down, EVER.  It’s easy to get lulled into the fun and festivities, and get caught up in the moment.  But that’s the moment, that Nick can wreak havoc, in just a split second.  We can’t expect extended family members to understand Nick’s impulses in the way we do.  My husband, Al and older son Hank have a system of checks and balances in place when taking care of Nick.  One of us always has at least one eye on him at all times, especially in new environments.  We are the primary caregivers, and ultimately are responsible for Nick.  Sometimes we screw up in life, and we did that day.  But, you just have to learn from it and move on.

While Nick can give us all a run for our money at times, he also has a way of showing his pure heart.  On this trip he got to meet his new cousins Greyson and Gannon who are twins.  The twins are a year old, and Gannon has Down syndrome.  Nick was drawn to Gannon and the bond was clearly evident.  Nick was very gentle around him.  As my niece, Courtney was packing up the boys to leave, Nick bent down and gently loved on Gannon.  My family looked on and in the silence, Nick brought us all to tears. 🙂

 

My Niece, Courtney is the mom of four boys and wasted no time in becoming a great advocate for Down syndrome.  This is a blog I wrote last March about Courtney’s journey, @ https://nickspecialneeds.com/?s=Down+Syndrome+A+New+Beginning

Christmas holidays while fun, can be stressful for all of us.  Having a child with special needs creates more challenges with more noise, crowds, overstimulation, and changes in routine causing sensory overload.  This holiday was a reminder for our immediate family to stay vigilant, and remain on watch at all times.  The responsibilities of being a caregiver for a child with a dual diagnosis of DS-ASD is staggering and should never be taken lightly.  Now, I’m going to exhale, learn from my mistakes and keep pushing forward.  As 2019 begins, my mindset will attempt to shift from holiday stress to a calm, warm, and cozy winter peace.  I wish you all the same for the new year.

snowman in hot chocolate

That’s what is in my noggin this week. 🙂

~Teresa

Follow Nick on Social Media:

Facebook and Pinterest @Down Syndrome With A Slice Of Autism

Instagram #nickdsautism

Twitter @tjunnerstall