The Denver Autism Wheel

Patience

Posted on: February 8, 2013

PatienceI recently got a question about feeling feel less patient than one would admit to, and I thought it deserved some attention. What do you do when your patience runs out? As the parent of a child with special needs, it has been my privilege to grow as a patient person, not just because I was the mother of a toddler, but because he didn’t speak until he was four, couldn’t eat solid food until he was 28 months, didn’t potty train until his younger brother started showing him up. In other words, I became more patient when I started to realize we weren’t on my schedule anymore.

A wise Tweet once said “worry is imagination aimed in the wrong direction.” I believe patience and imagination work together. It is our ability to imagine the positive outcome which allows us to be patient. And it is our ability to worry about the negative outcome which makes us impatient.

So here are some tips to encourage imagination and grow in patience, which worked for this mom in the trenches.

Be realistic. Chris was my first child, so he didn’t have any competition when it came to toilet training. I was at home with him, so there wasn’t a daycare pushing him. He got to it when he was good and ready. And that’s not a bad thing. Evidence now indicates that toilet training a child before he or she is ready can lead to other problems down the road. Yes, it’s expensive to keep buying training pants and night-time diapers for a large toddler, but rushing training only increases his or her anxiety about other things later on. As I mentioned, you’re not on your own schedule anymore. It’s OK to wait.

Imagine the worst possible outcome and make peace with it. Really, it all comes down to the way you look at it. When it came to solid foods, Chris couldn’t keep them in his mouth without gagging. Anything with texture would trigger his gag reflex. So there he was, going on 2 and a half years old, still eating baby food. Worst-case scenario? He’s in high school, drinking strained peas from a Thermos. Looking at it a different way, that sounds like a smoothie. So he drinks a lot of smoothies… Another scenario, riffing on toilet training again. Worst-case scenario? He’s off to his senior prom, wearing adult diapers. Looking at it another way, there are plenty of adults who wear them because of bladder conditions, traumatic injury…who knows except the individual with the condition? So even if that was the worst case, it’s not THAT bad. So face the worst case. Chances are good that the absolute worst-case scenario isn’t going to happen. If you can get OK with the worst-case, and the actual outcome is not the worst imaginable, you’re over that hump, and it’s a relief.

Have a good, private, cry when you are really sad. Being tired and frustrated wears everybody down, but understand that you can let it out, in a private space (like in your car, parked in the garage or outside where your kids won’t see you losing your mind). It’s human to experience a wide range of emotions. You don’t have to be happy-happy all the time. That’s a little twisted. But you don’t have to drown in stifled unhappiness, either. You’ll end up reacting badly, taking out your frustration on people who don’t deserve it. Then you’ll have that to deal with, too. Having a good cry is actually a normal and healthy way of letting that emotion vent a little. Crying can make you feel better (thinking about it just now, sobbing forces you to take deep breaths, which helps calm you). This is important, though: don’t let your children feel they are the reason their parent is sobbing uncontrollably…that’s scary and sad for anybody, particularly little kids.

Reward success (this includes rewarding yourself). I can’t tell you how happy I was when we went through our first “dry night.” We had a nice treat that day. I believe we had spaghetti for dinner and marshmallows for dessert (Chris has been a hollow leg ever since he got past the solid food problem–which he did get past at about 28 months, BTW). We didn’t go nuts or anything, but we did celebrate. Give yourself a treat, too: what do you like? Ice cream, manicure, book? Doesn’t have to be extravagant, but it should be meaningful, from you, to you.

Recognize your child’s successes for what they are: a unique individual’s growth and progress. Sometimes progress just sorta comes; sometimes it takes determination, repeated failure and persistence. Always believe your child can do what he or she sets out to do. Your confidence is their buoy. If you think they can, they’re more likely to think so, too.

Never, ever compare children. It isn’t fair to anybody in the picture. It’s tempting to compare children of similar age, or even siblings because they’re family. But it isn’t fair, particularly if you know you are raising a special needs child. There may be things that child will just never be able to do. It doesn’t mean you give up and stop trying to improve your child’s life. But it might require some creative thinking, collaboration with other parents or professionals who might have ideas, tools or techniques to work around what your child cannot do. And keep in mind: there are other things that the same child is brilliant at. Celebrate the brilliant.

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