Thursday, April 2, 2020

I Beg You

To honor Autism Awareness Month I beg you to do two things:

1.  If you have not already, sign up to receive the Autistic Self Advocacy Network's (ASAN's) newsletters.  One of the best gifts we can give to the autistic individuals in our lives is to increase our understanding of the needs and challenges that people on the spectrum face on a daily basis.  A simple and effective way to add to this is to read ASAN's newsletters.

2.  Please make a donation to ASAN.  Now more than ever, the autistic community needs advocates watching out for them, protecting their rights, and ensuring a brighter tomorrow.

Thank you!

Thursday, March 26, 2020

Supporting Your Child’s Emotional Well-Being by Just BEING

The other day I wrote about how one of the best ways to think about supporting you child’s social emotional health is to use the first six Functional Emotional Developmental Capacities (FEDCs) as a guide. With each capacity, we can do things that can help our children stay calm, regulated, engaged, active, happy, connected, thinking, and overall more stable emotionally and physically.  In the last blog, I focused on the functional emotional developmental capacity (FEDC) of self-regulation and interest in the world.  Today I am going to move onto the second FEDC of Engaging and Relating.

FEDC 2: Engaging and Relating

This capacity focuses on the ability to engage and relate with others.  It is a very simple, yet fundamental, process.  It is about the joy of BEING with someone else.  This goes all the way back to a baby in mom or dad’s arms with a big smile, laughs, and that pure joy and love of being in their parent’s arms, looking at their face, and being totally consumed by the connection. 

In our world of TVs, computers, tablets, phones and all things that fall under the word “devices” this pure engagement or just BEING with each other can be remarkably infrequent and even elusive.  But, in times of stress, like many are facing now, there is not much more valuable to our health than just BEING  with someone else that loves us.  

Being vs. Doing.  Many times as parents we think of time with our kids as doing something.  Going to the movies, playing on the playground, playing Chutes and Ladders, eating, or whatever it may be.  That is all great and there is nothing wrong with that.  However, all of those things are centered around DOING.  In our world of doing, doing, doing all the time, many have forgotten about the power and joy of BEING.  Please note, these are not mutually exclusive.  You can be with our child while you are doing.  However, you can also do with your child without being…and that is the danger.  Especially now with the financial and health stresses all around us, it can be very hard to just be.  How can we just be when we have so much to do?  The conundrum about this is that we are not going to be as effective doing if we don’t allow ourselves to just be.  Also, our children’s emotional health and well-being need time with us to just be with them. 

Here is the simple tip

Even just twice a day for a few minutes each time, make sure your child feels from you that they are the most important person in the world at that moment to you.  Don’t focus on the devices or the DOING.  Focus on the BEING.  It may feel strange at first.  What do I do?  How do I do it?  One tip goes back to an old saying that goes like this, “God gave you two ears and one mouth.  It is best to use them in that proportion.”  In other words, listen more than you speak.  And even if no words are used, the same idea applies and can be thought of as “follow more than you lead.”  This may sound overly simple, but I find that people don’t do this nearly enough with those they love.  And our children will eat it up because we are human beings, not human doings. Being in relation with others is a key to our emotional well-being and our kids need it now more than ever.  

Here is a cute example of a father hanging out with his son.  The content, or what they are DOING, does not matter.  But, this is great stuff.  And I am certain, knowing all we know about brain development and the importance of BEING on brain development, this is really good for this little boy.  I am also certain Dad is feeling great about it too. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

Tips for Parents on Supporting Your Child’s Social Emotional Health During This Time of Social Distancing

One of the best ways to think about supporting you child’s social emotional health is to use the first six Functional Emotional Developmental Capacities (FEDCs) as a guide. With each capacity, we can do things that can help our children stay calm, regulated, engaged, active, happy, connected, thinking, and overall more stable emotionally and physically.

FEDC 1: Self-Regulation and Interest in the World

Think about what you do to keep yourself in that “just right zone”. That zone where you are alert enough to accomplish all that you need to do and yet not so over-the-top that you are frazzled and all over the place. Most people will do things like exercise, walk, meditate, stretch, play or talk with others, or turn to caffeine for a boost. Let’s skip the last one on that list as far as our kids because that usually backfires when it comes to young ones and lots of Starbucks are closed now anyway. If you think about all of the others, the common thread is that each one of these activities help to integrate both our minds and our bodies. Each one involves breathing and intentional control of our body. (Even talking to others actually helps us gain control of our breathing. Did you even notice when you are venting to someone you start off breathing fairly quickly and sometimes you may even feel hyper? But, after you vent to a friend and talk for a bit, your body calms down and, if you pay attention, your breathing calms down.)

For our kids, this often naturally happens because they are kids…they run, they jump, they play. But, when they are stuck in the house, it can come to a grinding halt.

The Tip:

The tip here would be to make sure you get your kids moving or at least doing things that intentionally integrate their bodies and minds. If moving is not as much of an option, meditation and stretching can be great alternatives. But, make sure you are helping them focus on their breathing and them feeling where their bodies are in space. We are complex systems and we need organization and integration. A primary way we get that is by “activating” our minds and bodies in an integrated way. During this time of social distancing and, for many, sheltering in place, you will need to be more intentional about this.  Make sure your kids get at least one, if not two or more "doses" of this a day.  A "dose" can be as short as 15 minutes. 

The Special Secret Sauce:

The special secret sauce to the above tip is to join in with your child and use lots of emotion. Express yourself. Show lots of animation. Show lots of emotional expression in your face and your gestures. There is science behind this because affect (or emotional expression) is a key integrator of the mind and body. But, you don’t have to worry about the science. Just think about being very expressive and joyful as you help your child engage in these types of activities. Them doing it on their own will help, but you doing it with them…well, that is the special secret sauce. You both will benefit…I promise.

By the way, this applies for all kids. Whether they have a developmental challenge or not. Heck, it applies to all of us, of any age, of any make-up. We all feel better when we are in that just right zone. And if you engage in this with your kids, you may find that you don't feel as bad about all the Starbucks that are closed right now.  You'll end up finding that not only will your child get into that just right zone, so will you - caffeine free 😊.

If you are on Facebook, follow us on Facebook.  Our Floortime experts post great ideas about this all the time.  

Saturday, March 21, 2020

DIR is Needed More Than Ever

The challenges of coping with the impacts of this novel coronavirus are immense.  Both globally and personally.  Stress like this challenges us at our core…again, both globally and personally.  Now more than ever, we need the perspectives and guidance that models like DIR provide.  I want to take a moment to explore this in two ways.  First, how a Developmental, Individual-differences, and Relationship-based model builds the foundation for us to be able to deal with these stressors and secondly, how we can use DIR and DIRFloortime as a way to not only cope with the current stress, but to also grow in a fundamental and critical way during this time of increased stress. 

The Foundation

Developmental (The “D” of DIR):  Situations like this require that we cope with new, unfamiliar, and intense stressors and for us to navigate uncharted waters.  The ability to do this does not lie merely in our skills or knowledge.  This is because many of the things we are facing do not exactly match up with what we have learned or experienced before.  Mere training and education do not cut it.  What we need is a core capacity to cope (self regulation), communicate, and reason.  These core capacities can be applied to any situation and those that have a deep capacity for coping, communicating, and reasoning are those that will fare the best during this time of increased stress and may end up being the people that many of us will rely on in these times of uncertainty.  Those that have a deep capacity for coping, communicating, and reasoning can maintain the requisite self-regulation to be able to communicate about the current situation and then apply knowledge and information in a way that can help reason through this unique and new situation. 

Individual Differences (The “I” of DIR): Understanding the unique ways each of us perceives and interacts with the world is critical.  That personal insight can help us understand why our bodies and minds may take in certain information in particular ways and why we may have a certain unique response to this information.  This also apples to understanding others like our children.  Why do some of us, even with all of the warnings stating we need to practice intense social distancing, have such a hard time with maintaining the current recommended social distances?  For some, it is how we are “wired.”  Many can become intensely distressed and depressed when the regular close connections are impeded in some way.  On the other hand, others may seem to welcome the release of the stress of constantly having to deal with closer social interactions.  Having that personal insight and being able to act upon it can help us find ways to mitigate for these individual differences.  This applies for ourselves, our children, our family, and for others we support in some way.  This is just one example…there are many ways we each perceive and interact with the world that impact our day-to-day functioning and in times of more intense stress, can both support and hinder our ability to deal with the stress.

Relationships (The “R” of DIR):  We are social beings.  We are born dependent on our relationship with our parents or caregivers.  Even though as we grow and mature, we are able to handle much more of what the world presents on our own, we still need relationships for helping us cope and sort out challenges.  So much happens in the context of relationships with others.  In DIR, we understand the power of relationships and we use these human connections as a primary way to promote and fuel development.  Often times, those that do not understand DIR, will make comments like “You are just playing with the child.  You are not teaching them anything.”  This observation is short-sighted and misses the point.  I think many are now experiencing how important relationships are in this time of stress.  We turn to each other to cope and manage the stress.  Why?  Because we need relationships.  Whether that is a personal relationship with a loved one, or a relationship with our leaders that we want to hear from to tell us what is being done to battle this virus.  Humans are “wired” to be in relation with others.  Some of us may want this to be less intense than others, which is fine.  But nevertheless, we all rely on relationships to grow, develop, and cope. 

How can DIR and DIRFloortime help us in this moment?

First of all, the intense stress can expose how well, or not so well, we cope, communicate, and reason through the intense stress we are under.  This can lead to an incredible opportunity to develop these core capacities.  When I train groups on crisis management, I almost always talk about how, when we are in crisis, our anxiety rises and our defenses weaken leaving us often feeling more vulnerable than ever.  This personal vulnerability can be a risk, but it also can be an opportunity.  If we recognize it is happening and understand it, we actually have the opportunity to promote development in a much more rapid and effective way.  If we can apply the principles of DIR and Floortime to promote the development of the core developmental capacities, we can help ourselves, our children, and others in our care, develop the foundational capacities that will help them deal with today ,tomorrow, and any novel stressors life presents in the years to come. 

Thinking about individual differences, now more than ever it is important for us to gain a deeper understanding of how we, and our children, perceive and interact with the world.  Taking time to explore this and learn about this can dramatically increase our ability to cope.  Lacking these insights is like walking around with a blindfold on with our hands tied behind our backs.  Also, gaining an understanding of others in our lives including our children, can help move us from responding in frustration or anger, to responding with compassion and support.  We all have our own unique “wiring” and now more than ever, we need to increase our insight into our own individual profile as well as our children’s.  When we do this, we are better able to support the areas that need support and benefit from the areas that are sources of strength.

Finally, in regards to relationships.  Now more than ever we need each other.  Our relationships with others can help us deal with our current stress.  Furthermore, as I mentioned above, this crisis can present unique opportunities for growth and development and we know that relationships fuel that growth and development.  While we are spending much time looking at news reports, preparing the practical things necessary to deal with our personal and professional situations, let’s also focus on leaning into relationships and taking this opportunity to connect with each other more than ever.  This will help us each personally, it will help our children, and it will help our communities. 

Together we will find ways to navigate this uncharted water and we will find our way.  Many are saying that we can become stronger as a result of this crisis.  What they are really meaning by “stronger” is that we can build upon our core capacities for coping, communicating, and reasoning.  If you are not that familiar with DIR, I urge you to take a look.  I am certain the information will help.  If you are familiar with DIR, make sure you don’t forget what you know.  Sometimes when we are under stress we can get very focused on what we need to do and we can lose focus on some of the fundamentals that DIR promotes.    

This weekend ICDL will be announcing more programs for parents and professionals.  Our goal is to provide increased support for families at reduced or no cost and to increase access to training for professionals.  Now more than ever, our children need professionals that understand development, individual differences, and relationships.  So, we are making adjustments to our training program that will make it more accessible to professionals in the face of the current situation.  Please check our website in the coming days for updates.