By Wendy Blumenthal, PhD
Parenting the Exceptional
Raising my sons was full of inspiring, albeit challenging, parenting moments. Being a working mom with three sons required a lot of juggling. When two of the boys had multiple exceptionalities, at times it was overwhelming! Suddenly having young children or adults home with you 24 hours a day for weeks can be daunting. All at once you become a teacher, playmate, social system, and parent simultaneously.
Tips For Success
Here are some tips to help you and your children survive and thrive:
1 Establish some consistent routines
Most bright and quirky individuals do best with consistent routines for things like waking and sleep times, meals, exercise, and hygiene routines. During a times stress, it is even more important than ever to keep routines. It will help provide structure to the day and a sense of normalcy as well as help calm individuals with different brains.
2 Make time daily for activities that relieve stress
With so much uncertainty surrounding the COVID virus, now more than ever everyone needs to engage in stress management activities. Whatever you or your children did to de-stress before the pandemic, you all need to do daily now. Activities can include playing video games, Face Timing with friends, exercising (more below), or drawing.
3 Engage with nature
Now being called “Grounding Therapy”, getting outside and experiencing nature in some way makes most people feel better. I am aware that many people with exceptionalities do not like doing things outside. However, there is plenty of evidence to show that getting outside for even ten minutes a day is beneficial to mental health.
4 Try to do something productive every day
Whether it’s a job activity, schoolwork, a chore, or walking the dog. Doing something productive daily makes people feel better. The something productive does not have to be a significant task, but something that is positive or contributes something to the household.
5 Get exercise
I know you have heard this one before, but exercising releases neurotransmitters that actually make us feel happy and relieve stress. I found that having exercise be a structured part of my sons and my days had been extremely helpful for all of us.
6 Connect with friends and family
Staying in touch with people is extremely important. Social contact, even for those who are not particularly social, is important for most humans. It helps us stay connected with the world. I made a personal goal of connecting with at least two people not living in my home every day. For my son with high functioning autism, he eats at least one meal and does some activity, like a game or puzzle, with us every day.
7 Do something fun daily
Now more than ever its important to have a little fun. Per above, it can be a de-stressing activity like playing video games, playing cards with family members, watching a comedy show or movie, or building a sand or snow castle. The possibilities are limitless. My family enjoys playing cards and board games, putting together puzzles, or playing bocce ball or shuffleboard.
8 Keep a list of things you are grateful for and think about or read it daily
I have encouraged all my clients and friends to think about the things they have, not things they can’t do. This will help you focus on the positive. Here are a few of the things I am grateful for: the health of my family members and friends, having a job I love, having enough food and shelter, and being able to connect with clients, colleagues, and friends on Zoom!
9 Practice Mindfulness
This another term that has been thrown out a lot lately. Essentially, being mindful means being in and focusing on the moment without letting other thoughts into your mind. If you Google “Mindfulness Activities” you’ll find several ways to try mindfulness.
10 Find humor in situations
I think it was Phyllis Diller who stated, “if you can laugh about it, then you can live with it!” Whatever is going on right now, later you may be able to laugh about it. I will give you an example from my home. One night we were eating dinner as a family of five. My son, who has high functioning autism, was spinning a quarter on the table. Suddenly, I was covered in cold milk, which he had hit with his arm. I was about to start yelling when one of my other sons screamed, “Great spill”. As my husband handed me a towel, all five of us laughed hysterically. After all, it was an epic spill.
Wendy Blumenthal, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in Bradenton, Florida. She specializes in working with exceptional individuals including those diagnosed with learning disabilities, ADHD, and autism. Dr. Blumenthal has given numerous presentations on ADHD, Autism, and Coping with Chronic Illnesses. She is also the mother of three sons, two of which have multiple exceptionalities. In her spare time, Dr. Blumenthal is founder of the Sensory Friendly Foundation which provides Sensory Friendly Concerts for people with sensory sensitivities.