Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Optimistic Parenting

Written by Maureen Bennie   
I’ve just started reading Mark Durand’s new book Optimistic Parenting. Durand has studied the nature, assessment, and treatment of behavior problems in children with ASD. He has spent the past 3 decades working with individuals with ASD, their families and other professionals. He wrote this book to be a self-help guide for parents and suggests great strategies for children and parents.
 What I like about this book so far is the personal stories from parents. What they say and experience raising challenging children rings true – feeling guilty, no time for themselves, fear of what the future holds, frustration and exhaustion. How can you have a good life in the world of special needs?
Early in the book, Durand talks about keeping a journal to gain insight into thoughts and feelings. This is a great way to discover what is really bothering you. Some things Durand found were:
  • This will never get better or may become worse
  • I will never have time just for me
  • My child is doing this on purpose
  • This situation is (someone else’s fault) for not handling it like I suggested
  • It’s my fault there is a problem
  • Why am I always responsible for my child’s behavior?
Mothers tend to be much harder on themselves and often take the blame or feel they are being blamed by others for the problems their child has. We engage in negative self-talk and accept too much responsibility for the well-being of the family. We take on too much and try to function on our own.

So how do you go from being a pessimist to an optimist?
For me, feeling empowered changed my life outlook. I obtained this empowerment through reading books and attending trainings in the field of autism. The more knowledge I gained, the better I felt about my parenting situation with 2 children on the spectrum because I knew their challenges were not a result of my parenting. I also felt better equipped to deal with medical appointments, therapies, and dealing with the school. If you don’t know what questions to ask, it can be hard to get direction with solutions and coping strategies.

Acquiring information also gave me valuable tools to help my children. I learned how to use visual supports, alleviate their anxiety, tackle sleep and toileting issues, and how to cater to their special dietary needs. When new problems arose, I felt confident that I would be able to address these knowing I would be able to find appropriate information through books and websites. I didn’t feel like I was at the mercy of waiting for the next therapy appointment to start working on an issue.

I’ve blogged in the past about making time for just for you. Both parents need to do this. I took up figure skating at age 39 – no easy feat but the friendships I’ve made through this sport have been worth it. Skating is a challenge I do just for me. I set short and long-term goals, schedule practice time, and the mental benefits of regular exercise have kept my stress levels in check. Find something just for you and don’t feel guilty about taking time away from the family. You are a more effective parent for having done so.

It is very normal to feel overwhelmed or sad, especially when a diagnosis is new. Even experienced parents still have these feelings from time to time. The beginning of the school year is always a challenge for me – new teachers and aides, new school, change of routine, and school expectations often cause feelings of despair. I know these will pass and talking to others about it helps me through the difficult month of September.

What I think Optimistic Parenting can do for parents is let them know their feelings are shared by others and there are concrete ways to improve your outlook. The author allows parents to explore the dark side of parenting, but then offers do-able strategies on how to improve the situation.

I was pleased to see a chapter in this book devoted to sleep issues, which I think is a huge factor in both a child’s behavior and quality of family life. No one functions well with chronic sleep deprivation. I never had more than 4 hours of broken sleep for 7 years which greatly affected my ability to make good decisions and tried my patience both at work and home.
Parents who read this book will feel empowered to change things for the better and feel more in control. Changing our perception of a challenging situation can change the way we address it. The more tools and strategies you have at your fingertips, the better you will cope. No one has a perfect life and we don’t have to be happy all the time. Most people want to feel like they are doing their best and making the right decisions for their family. By addressing our negative side and thinking more optimistically, we can do just that.

About Maureen Bennie -
Maureen is the mother of two children with autism - Marc age 14 and Julia age 12.  For 8 years, she managed an at-home Intensive Behavioral Intervention Program which  involved working with speech pathologists, child development specialists, psychologists, occupational therapists, and physical therapists.

In June of 2003, Maureen, in conjunction with Vicki Harris, created the Autism Awareness Centre. As a director, she manages the Centre’s website, book division, communications, and assists with the planning and management of conferences the Centre organizes. The Centre has organized over 65 conferences in Canada and the UK and has provided book resource support at more than 60 events throughout Canada and the US.

Maureen is the author of over 100 articles and book reviews that have appeared in magazines, newsletters and on websites throughout North America and the UK. She is an active presenter throughout Canada on autism topics and the subject of book resources and how to use them effectively. She co-authored a book about adults on the autism spectrum published through the Autism Calgary Association.

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