Guest Blogger: Emily Lowenfels, LCSW
Take a moment…pretend there is a light shining in directly in your eyes and you have to look away. Or maybe you are walking through a lunch room and everyone is laughing but you don’t know why and aren’t in on the joke. Or you get scared of a bee that won’t leave you alone so you keep jumping/dancing/screeching until it flies away. Or imagine an alarm goes off in your office and it’s so loud you have to cover your ears and shut your eyes…. After imagining these things, you may now have an inkling of what it’s like to be on the Autistic Spectrum.
I am a LCSW/therapist, with a practice focused on children, youth, young adults and their families. I have been in the helping field in some shape or form for almost 15 years. I didn’t always know that I would end up on the LCSW path, just like I didn’t know I would become so passionately enthralled by the Autistic community. Early on, while interning for my Music Therapy Bachelor’s degree, I was assigned to a low functioning Autistic classroom. I was young and judgmental and couldn’t understand the excitement of when one of the students lifted his finger and responded to a teacher’s question via an electronic device. I remember thinking, what is the value in this and why is everyone so excited for this individual who appears to have a low quality of life. What I failed to realize at the time, was that I bore witness to a momentous event in not only the boy’s life but also all those involved in his care and education. However, now I see this experience as a defining moment that led me down the path to becoming a therapist who specializing in developmental disorders, like Autism.
While writing this piece, I have coincidentally been watching a show on Netflix called “Atypical” which showcases a teenage boy with Autism. The title is a play on the fact that individuals who do not have Autism are often referred to as “neurotypical.” If you want to see how a high functioning child with Autism experiences life, it does a pretty solid job of portraying the daily struggles in a realistic manner. However, it’s important to understand that not all individuals with Autism function in such a manner. There is much diversity within the Autistic community.
One of the most fascinating things I have learned from working with such a special part of the human population is that Autism presents itself uniquely in every single individual diagnosed on the Spectrum. It still surprises me that each child (and adult) I have had the pleasure of meeting and or working with presents completely different, yet the collection of characteristics can be grouped together. Some of these characteristics may be: lack of eye contact, self-soothing techniques, being literal, and missing social cues. One of the signature characteristics of Autism is that lack of eye contact. An individual may never look at you when engaging in conversation or may look at you intermittingly but constantly looking away. A main way for individuals with Autism to self-sooth is to use a “stimming” technique which can present in so many ways. I’ve seen hand flapping, vocal stimming like humming, teeth grinding, yelling out or screeching, jumping, spinning… there are countless ways to stim. Another commonly known characteristic of Autism is being literal. If you were to make a comment to an individual with Autism, like “get out of here”, when hearing something amazing or unbelievable, he or she (or they) will take it literally and may walk out of the door. You may find yourself constantly clarifying your previous statements. The jackpot of Autism characteristics, is misunderstanding social cues. Individuals with Autism have a very difficult time relating to others in a typical fashion and may not read body language, your comments, and facial expressions appropriately. ASD can hinder one’s ability to discern when someone wants to be a friend or when someone is making fun of him or her (they).
This is where I come in. As a Children & Family Therapist, I work with children through individual and group settings and provide parent support and counseling for children of special needs. Many of the groups I run are social skills focused and I utilize play therapy, creative arts, and just about any medium I can realistically provide in a session to help with engagement. It is my goal to take each individual’s uniqueness and nurture it within each session.
Thank you for allowing me to share with you a glimpse of Autism. It is my hope that providing more awareness and understanding, that the stigma of Autism may change from being a gut wrenching diagnosis to one of more acceptance of human differences.
Emily Lowenfels is an LCSW, Certified in Children, Youth, & Families, Lead Facilitator and owner of FIGURE 8 THERAPY CENTER in Morganville, New Jersey. To contact Emily here is her website www.figure8therapy.com and email Emily@figure8therapy.com.
Guest Blogger: Melissa Delizia, MSW, LSW
Most of the time, I forget to take care of myself. I get so absorbed in making sure everyone else is okay and taken care of that I let my own needs slip away without showing them any love or attention. I even work at a store called SELF CARE COVE, and still often forget to practice what I preach. I’ve learned in the past year or so that no matter how much I want to help or take care of others, I cannot put anything above the need to take care of myself.
Not that long ago, I had one of the worst panic attacks of my life. It started with a small thing triggering me & quickly escalated into my brain telling me i was dying & my body trying to compensate. Panic attacks are unique, and present differently for different people. for me, I cry, I shake, my arms, legs, & face go numb, my breathing becomes really shallow and uneven & I almost always think the worst is going to happen to me.
Despite this happening, I went on with my day and did all the things I had planned. I pretended it didn’t happen, but it did. It was real. My brain may have caused the physical symptoms but it was real. Despite knowing I wouldn’t die, in the moment it was hard to convince those intrusive thoughts otherwise.
Most people don’t know that I have anxiety & panic attacks and how serious it can be. I’ve been working on it for a long time now, despite hiding it well. But, it’s nothing to be ashamed of, it’s not my fault, it’s not anyone’s fault. It happens and I get passed it & I’m still me.
Despite my panic attacks being out of my control, I don’t always take the time to care for myself the way I need to after one happens. I shouldn’t have gone on with my day, I should have listened to my body and rested and taken care of myself the way my body was begging me to. I was afraid I would let people down if I didn’t get up and go on with it like nothing had happened, but that was wrong.
As a kid, I felt like I was always taught to treat others the way I wanted to be treated, but was anyone ever taught how to treat ourselves? I want to start hearing kids be taught to say treat YOURSELF & others the way you want to be treated. Take care of your heart and soul and treat it as kindly as you would want others to treat it, or how kindly you might treat someone else.
Whenever anyone around me goes into a crisis situation or feels any kind of negative emotion, I’m the first one to get up and help. I do whatever it takes to help that person feel better, sometimes even at my own expense. Now, by no means is it a bad thing to want to help others, but something I always forget to do is help myself.
There is no way for me to be fully present and able to help others if I don’t help myself first. We can’t fill from an empty cup. We must be our best, fullest & most healthy selves in order to help others. This applies to everyone, parents, therapists, anyone in any helping profession, teachers, even kids. How can we expect anyone to be able to do what they’re supposed to do in their everyday lives if we don’t teach them that it’s just as important to take care of themselves (if not more important) as it is to take care of and be kind to others.
Here are some ways I take care of myself so I can be my best self.
1. Spend an hour of time (maybe even less) doing something by myself that is just for me. (getting my nails done, reading my favorite book, yoga class, sitting on the beach, meditation, etc.) This can be anything that makes you feel at home with yourself.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes states in Women Who Run With The Wolves (amazing read) that, “Home is a sustained mood or sense that allows us to experience feelings not necessarily sustained in the mundane world: wonder, vision, peace, freedom from work, freedom from demands, freedom from constant clacking. All these treasures from home are meant to be cached in the psyche for later use in the topside world. Although there are many physical places one can go to “feel” her way back to this special home, the physical place itself is not home; it is only the vehicle that rocks the ego to sleep so that we can go the rest of the way by ourselves. The vehicles through and by which women reach home are many: music, art, forest, ocean, spume, sunrise, solitude. These take us home to a nutritive inner world that has ideas, order, and sustenance all of its own.”
2. I pamper myself with things I feel I need at that moment. Most of the time, I head over to the self care cove (bethkaya.com/selfcarecove) and I spend a little money on whatever goodies I feel will help me take care of myself at that time.
3. When it feels right, I spend time with people who make me feel like myself. Those who encourage me rather than take my energy, it’s hard to find those people that support you in that way, and maybe this kind of thing won’t work for you (it definitely doesn’t always work for me) but if you find the right people this can be really powerful.
4. Journal your feelings, and make a list of everything you love about yourself & things or people you feel grateful for. A gratitude list. Keep this for the future & refer back or add to it whenever you feel you need to.
5. Make a schedule for self care. Add it into your busy calendar so that you don’t forget to practice it. It might feel silly in the beginning to write in your planner “take a bath” but I know for me, if it’s written down it’s a set plan and I have to follow through.
*Take these suggestions as they are, but most importantly, find what really works for you. take care of yourself! Make yourself a priority before your body forces you to do so. Treat yourself the way you treat others. Love yourself, nurture yourself, and take note of the difference within.
Melissa Delizia, MSW, LSW currently blogs at meditatingmermaid.wordpress.com. She also spends her time as a photographer and working at Self Care Cove located in Brick, NJ.
As my teenage son headed off for his first time at sleep away camp this summer, I knew that worry would show up. The situation was new, unfamiliar and there would be no contact between him and us for 2 weeks. I felt worry creeping up, and so did he. I sat with him about two weeks prior to the beginning of camp to help him brainstorm some ideas about how he was going to handle worry when it showed up at camp. We came up with a list of the worries about camp and then how he was going to handle the unknown and uncomfortable. I wanted to give him the opportunity to figure out what would work for him, and help him learn how to tolerate and cope with this new uncomfortable venture.
As September approaches, school will be starting and for some kids worry will show up. A child may talk about not wanting to go to school or avoid back to school shopping. In my practice as I work with clients I tell a child it’s normal to feel that way about school. However, we have to figure out together how to tolerate being uncomfortable and learn what to do when worry shows up. If we avoided all things we worried about we would have a very boring life and miss out on new experiences with friends.
It does not really matter what the child’s worry is, worry is predictable and often shows up the same way each time. It’s how we worry that’s important to understand. Worry shows up, tells you things that make you feel uncomfortable, or scared. If a child respond’s with avoidance of the situation or screaming and crying through it then learning does not take place.
Here are several tips to keep in mind:
These strategies can be applied to any situation. The key is to start now, don’t wait for worry to show up. Kids need to know that when a situation that comes that is unfamiliar to them they can handle it. Asking for help is handling it, trying different things that work and don’t work is handling it. Problem solving is not about doing it right all the time.
For additional information on these strategies Lynn Lyon's psychotherapist writes about it in her book "Anxious Kids Anxious Parents", which I highly recommend. For an additional back to school tips check out my blog article on 6 Ways To Ease Back To School Anxiety https://www.roselapiere.com/blog/archives/08-2017. If you are interested in ideas on how to help kids who refuse to go to school check out my webinar on a play therapy approach to school refusal. This workshop is geared for therapist or school counselors on how to develop a plan and use strategies when working with kids who refuse to attend school (2 APT non-contact hours, and 2 NBCC hours). Don't wait for the school year to start, get those interventions in place now. https://courses.jentaylorplaytherapy.com/courses/a-play-therapy-approach-to-school-refusal.
“Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.” ― Plato
Intuitively we know that music has an effect on our mood. Have you ever watched a mother singing a lullaby to a baby, as she sings and sways the baby is mesmerized. Watching that interaction brings about a feeling of tranquility and calm. On the other hand, when working out music can transform your movement giving your energy and pushing you forward to keep going. Depending on your mood you may listen to music that will evoke more of the feelings that are stirring inside or less. Music can help us express what we cannot put into words. It can be an effective way to help us express feelings and cope with the challenges of life.
As a therapist I incorporate listening to music as part of working with clients. One way I do this is by asking a client to create a play list of songs in the session or out of the session that resonate with the them. Then we listen together and use it as a way to work through their experiences. The playlist usually has a variety of songs that evoke different feelings. Another way to explore music is to draw while listening because a deeper meaning may emerge. Explore what feelings were evoked and how the drawing or lyrics may reflect those feelings. It’s important to keep in mind when you are listening to music that it can evoke strong negative emotions. Therefore, I will purposely switch to music that will offer a client a chance to move into a song that will close down those strong emotions and offer a calmer state.
Not sure what to play here is a playlist from Alexa.
Or check out this song list.
Happy-Walking On The Sunshine by Katrina and the Waves & Happy by Pharrell Williams.
Sad-When She Loved Me by Sarah Mclachlan & Crying by Roy Orbison.
Angry-Wrecking Ball By Miley Cyrus & We’re Not Gonna Take It by Twisted Sister.
Scared-Thriller By Michael Jackson & Under Pressure by Queen, David Bowe.
Which song got your foot tapping, or body swaying? Which song made you think of a happy or sad memory? Notice the music you listen to throughout the day, what does it mean to you?
Compile a list of your go to songs to help you move through your feelings. Music is very personal and what one person may love another may not. Find the music that resonates with you whether it’s classical, rap, country, blues or pop any music can help you express your emotions and cope with negative feelings.
"Music is the shorthand of emotion” by Leo Tolstoy.
Comment below songs that evoke your feelings!
The creation of Mother’s day has an interesting history in the United States and this year marks the 100th celebration. The initiative to have an official Mother’s Day was driven by Anna Reeves Jarvis who in the 1900s spearheaded a holiday to celebrate the sacrifices mother’s make for their children. She herself never had children but her goal was for the holiday to be a celebration between families, mother’s and their children.
A few years after Mother’s Day became a holiday Anna Jarvis had noticed the increase in commercialism associated with Mother’s day. She was so upset by this that she started a campaign to get it removed from the calendar because she felt Mother’s Day had lost its purpose. She said, “To have Mother’s Day the burdensome, wasteful, expensive gift day that … other special days have become, is not our pleasure. If the American people are not willing to protect Mother’s Day from the hordes of money schemers that would overwhelm it with their schemes, then we shall cease having a Mother’s Day—and we know how.” As of 2017 the National Retail Federation list’s Mother’s Day as one of the top consumer spending holiday’s of the year, with spending close to $200.
As a therapist, I often spend a lot of time talking to clients about connection and relationship with important people in their life. In our culture, we are often driven to buy things to let people know we care about them. However, when you think of your favorite memories they aren’t about when you got new sneakers or a purse. Although you appreciate those things, favorite memories tend to be moments that we laughed or had an enjoyable experience with someone.
So consider Mother’s Day a reason to promote connection and relationship with a parent / caregiver / someone who made a sacrifice for you or an imprint on your life in a positive way. There are many different way’s we can offer to show appreciation to the mom in our life without spending a lot of money. Here is a list of ideas that promote connecting and building our relationship without spending a lot of money.
The best most memorable moments are the ones that you spend together; what kind of memory will you make this year?
As I watch my son play sports or perform in the theater I notice that I listen, cheer, and sometimes instruct from the sideline. However, I started to wonder over time what do my children need to hear or want to hear from me to keep them feeling good about what they are doing? As I started to step back I began to notice other parents shouting over the coach’s direction or yelling at the umpire, referee and coach. Kids look confused, or annoyed at their parents and need to make a choice. Do I listen to my parents or do I listen to my coach?
As my son gets ready to stand at the plate, I find myself noticing that I want to shout out ways he could hold the bat better or stand closer to the plate. Does he need me to give him feedback, and guidance or does he need encouragement? When I step back and watch, I see the coaches are instructing, correcting and teaching. So what is my role I wonder again?
But, what should we say to our kids so they feel good about participating in sports, recitals or shows? Remember when you were teaching your child to walk. You held their hand, maybe even moved their legs, encouraged them to grab onto things, they took some steps then grabbed on to you and then you let go. They did it, they walked, and they fell, and eventually started running. You cheered and were excited. You probably didn’t shout out multiple instructions, “heel first, then toe,” or “left foot out, then right,” or even “get up, get up, hurry,” if they fell. There is a pressure that begins to build onto our kids when they are constantly given critical feedback from every adult they face. I am pretty sure they don’t want to make an error or play the wrong note at their recital.
There is no greater love than what a parent has for their child and the success you want them to experience in life. But there has to be a balance in feedback both positive and negative. Overexcitement puts pressure on a child similar to critical feedback. It’s important to be encouraging, positive and present.
In an article written by Tim Elmore, he says that the “3 healthiest statements that moms and dads can say to their student-athletes are”:
Before the Competition:
Bruce Brown and Rob Miller of Proactive coaching did an informal survey of college athletes over decades. “ They asked the athletes what did their parents say that made them feel great and overwhelming response was I love to watch you play.” Wow, that’s it. “Six simple words,” that made such an impact.
As you sit on the sideline know that just saying these simple words is more likely to keep your child’s passion going. As I teared up after watching my son’s performance, knowing how hard he worked and how nervous he was I found myself saying aloud to him when it was over, “I love to watch you perform.” He looked up at me, smiled, hugged me super tight and said, “Thanks mom.”
Love. Family. Relationships. How do you feel most connected to your child? Is it from a hug, a special dinner made for you, a small gift, or a compliment? The language of love can seem so simple to express, yet can go unnoticed from those around you.
Parents deeply love their children but schedules are busy and sometimes the day goes by and we haven’t connected to our little loved ones. Life events change the family schedule and can impact the amount of time you have to spend together. Maybe you went from working part-time to full-time, or you are going through a divorce, or there is an illness in the family. These changes impact the way you interact and spend time with your child. You are tired when you come home, you have more things to fit in before bedtime and there is a feeling of being emotionally depleted. Over the course of months your children will notice and feel the difference.
A book written by Gary Chapman, PH.D and Ross Campbell MD called “The Five Love Languages of Children” emphasizes understanding your child’s love language and then nurturing it to fill their “emotional tank”. The authors discuss that there are five love languages that children and adults need nurtured in order to be confident and stable emotionally.
The following is a list of the five love languages and activities you can do to help your children have a full “emotional tank” so that they can thrive.
Words of affirmation: Giving your child compliments, or encouraging words that are spoken or written. Leave a note for your child in their lunch box or a note on their mirror. Send a text message or emoji. Say things like “ I love you,” “you’ll do great on your test”, or “your smart”. For the month of February I will take a sticky note and everyday leave a compliment to my child and stick it on their bedroom door.
Quality Time: Doing things together with no interruptions, one-on-one time, taking trips, going on walks, being together at home and not being interrupted, playing keep it up with a balloon or one on one conversation in the car. Telling them “I’d like to spend time with you today let’s pick something you want to do”. Television/video games not included.
Receiving Gifts: Giving small tokens of a material gift. Giving a sea shell, stone(draw a picture on the stone), a facial expression that shows genuine love, giving time, or remembering a special occasion. Attending an event your child is in or making a desert together.
Acts of Service: On going helpfulness, whether chores or fixing something that is important to the child. Helping them with homework, sewing their stuffed animal or fixing flat tire on their bike. You can say things like “What can I do for you?” or “Today, I did… for you.” “Would you like me to try and...”
Physical Touch: Facial expressions that are warm and inviting, hugs, high-fives, fist bump, sitting close, and a group hug (the family pet is fun to snuggle, too). Sitting close and reading a book together. A sweet massage with an essential oil. It’s any kind of positive physical contact.
The authors discussed that every child and adult has a primary love language that they prefer. However, it’s equally important to continue to give in the other areas too so that the child feels the parent’s heartfelt love. Be curious about which love language would best describe what your child needs and how does that compare to what you give?
“Gratitude is the healthiest of all human emotions. The more you express gratitude for what you have, the more likely you will have even more to express gratitude for.” —Zig Ziglar
Having gratitude is more then being thankful for someone or something, it’s having a deep appreciation. Some synonyms of the word gratitude are blessed, appreciative, and grateful. Over the years there has been research proving the positive effects of our mind and body when we incorporate the practice of gratitude. Giving thanks when practiced regularly can keep you healthier and happier.
Most times when large disasters strike we tend to focus on what we are grateful for in our lives. Then as we get further away in time from the disaster we go right back to cursing the driver in front of us for taking too long changing lanes. Our brains are thinking lots of different thoughts throughout the day. It is very easy to get stuck in a negative loop. Shifting our focus to what we are grateful for allows our brains to get back to focusing on the positive aspects in our life.
Gratitude takes practice, it’s a skill you can develop. Here are some ways to incorporate gratitude into your life.
Gratitude Jar - Every day write what you are grateful for on slips of paper and put it in the jar. Every 3 months take out the slips of paper and read through them. My family likes reading the notes every few months. It makes us laugh and reflect on moments we enjoyed. Or wait to read it until December 31, 2017 as you transition to 2018.
Daily meditation - Stop, think and breath is an app that has gratitude meditations included. This is another way to have a daily intention and thoughts on what you are grateful for.
Photographs - We know that teens love taking selfies so this is a great way to get all ages involved. Everyone in the family take 1 photograph a day of something you are grateful for. You print it out and add it to your jar or save it in a shared folder on your device and everyone can look at it at the end of the month or year.
My niece, Sammi, says, “I am thankful for having the courage to change my hair. Cutting my hair is a way for me to start over, like a new chapter. Doing something I want for myself.”
30 days - Each day of the month have a different question that everyone in the family can answer. Here is a list of some questions:
This week I am enjoying time off with family so taking time to write this article was hard. However, I am grateful for being able to write in my pajamas, on a computer that works well and I am grateful that my family gives me space and time to write. What are you grateful for today?
This month is filled with the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. There’s lots of coordinating between people, places and things. Miscommunication is likely to happen between family and friends. Whether it’s the hot topic of politics or playing a board game and all the little moments in between making cookies. Disagreements happen in relationships. What is important is how you choose to get through those moments. Will that disagreement bring your relationship closer or further apart?
“No, you were supposed to bring that, you never do anything that I ask!”
Silence is a form of communication that over time can drastically hurt any relationship. Taking a break from talking about something can sometimes be a helpful form of silence. However, the one I am referring to that is hurtful can be called “the cold shoulder” or “stonewalling”. This type of silence is way to never speak about the hurt or too have someone feel punished through the silence. Keeping hurt, anger and frustration inside only makes the brain and body feel more overwhelmed.
Silence can develop due to trying to keep the emotions from overloading the brain. Other times, this strategy develops because the family style tends to have high conflict and the message is we must just keep the status quo. However, inside the burning feeling of frustration, sadness and loss keeps piling on. Making your voice heard despite wanting to revert to silence is very hard.
When you’re with a person that uses silence as a way to communicate it can be difficult to break through. Our nervous system is set up in a way to protect us from danger. When your brain experiences data coming in as conflict it can turn on the alarm system which needs to fight, flight, freeze or collapse. Those responses are ways for the body to protect itself and survive what is happening. However, our perception is that this is a threat, turning our emotions off and staying silent is the way to survive. Being silent is not a strategy that works in the long run. Your brain gets flooded with so much emotion that it’s too overwhelming to speak out about the situation. This ends up creating a greater disconnect between yourself and others.
So how do you go from using silence as your way to communicate to then speaking about your hurt.
The saying, “You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” always sticks in my mind when we are talking about communication. How we talk to each other and what we say is critical to keeping open communication.
Here are some examples of statements that you can make to break the silence.
-Hey we haven’t talk in a few_____, I’ve been upset and I am not sure how to talk about it.
-I am feeling scared, I want to talk to you about this but I don’t know what to say. I don’t want us to be silent anymore.
-We are just going through each day, and talking about what everyone needs. I miss talking to you. I miss you.
-I am frustrated and I really don’t want to argue or do this silently then pretend to forget about it. I am scared about how to talk about this. I want to figure this out together.
-I know if we talk about this it will be hard, but we can do it, I care too much about us and I don’t want to go on in silence.
Maybe you are the one who often communicates, then pass this article along to someone who can benefit. Building a healthy relationship with a significant other, friend or relative takes hard work. It will feel scary at first to talk about your hurts but then a sense of relief and eventually closeness. Maybe the closeness is not with the other person but with yourself in being able to be speak your truth.
So in these next few weeks of the holiday season break the silence. Be uncomfortable. Your truth being heard in a way that is open and loving to yourself and others is a gift any relationship would enjoy.
“Goodbye’s hurt the most when the story was not finished”- unknown author
Loss. Unbearable and difficult to stand in grief and not run from it. The death of a loved one is devastating. Whether it’s a sudden death or one that was a result from a long term illness, it is all hard. Your brain is literally adjusting to this information. The painful conflict from our brain is, “Where is my loved one and why don’t I see them,” even though I know logically they are not here anymore. Their memory is all around you and it can be painful to think about those memories after they have died. I recently read it’s not time that heals all wounds but that at some point you start to adapt to the person no longer being physically around you and that helps you heal.
We go through a variety of different feelings when we lose someone. We wish that we could close our eyes and let the grief pass without notice. We won’t magically feel better overnight, so it’s important to take some kind of action to help move the grief. You get to decide how you experience grief and what you need around you to bring you comfort.
Ways to help heal
Grief can be a long journey. Sometimes getting through the day is the best we can hope for. Planning for ways to help you heal allows you to deal with grief even if its just one small step at a time.