Expectations, Needs, and Problem Behavior

I have been thinking a lot lately about my childhood. One thing I realized is that I didn’t know how to explain my needs so that someone could help with them. It wasn’t until I was on my own at a university that I could finally focus on and address my own needs.

I bought myself clothes that felt soft and made me more comfortable, so that I could handle sitting still more easily. I bought ear plugs that I used in classes when the lecture was too loud. I never had super bright classrooms in college, but I could have easily bought transition lenses and no one would have said anything about me wearing “sunglasses” in class. Now, I often use the night view on my rearview mirror because headlights are too bright for me. I also have tinted windows on my car that help with brightness during the day. I carried snacks with me to eat during class or before or after to help calm me down. I still have a car full of snacks for this.

The thing I realized is that adults expect so much of children and teenagers. If you don’t meet the expectations, you are said to be acting out, when in reality you are simply being yourself. I remember one time in high school when I got in trouble for taking notes about what the teacher was saying because I did not know how to defend myself when she accused me of not paying attention. There are many stories I can tell like that. I did not know how to communicate my thoughts or needs or desires, so I ended up getting in trouble because adults did not understand. But how can you possibly have your needs met when everything is stacked against you?

So I endured elementary school and middle school and high school, until I could finally address some of my needs in college. And this is what we require all our children to do! We require them to fit the norm, with the pretense that it is preparing them for the real world. In reality, the real world is about enjoying life and finding ways to cope with the less enjoyable parts of life. We may not understand what a child needs, but I think it is important to ask ourselves if a “problem behavior” is really a need that is not being met. Don’t just avoid the problems or force children to ignore them, give them ways to cope. Try to find solutions instead of just seeing the child as the problem.

Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo — from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month’s Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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What Matters Most

Life seems daunting at times. The endless list of tasks that we should be doing to be a “good” person can be overwhelming to say the least. We hold up a measuring rod to ourselves and find that we are severely lacking. How can we possibly help our family, spend time with friends, care for those in need, do the dishes, wash and fold laundry, make our bed, get an hour of daily exercise, read good books, go to school, go to work, help those in need, go grocery shopping, date, keep in touch with distant friends and relatives, eat, sleep, and of course, take time for self care?

My mom always says that everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. You choose how to spend it. The thing is though, how do you choose to spend it when there are so many good things you “should” be doing? I think one of the worst possible things you can do with your time is become overwhelmed by all the things you should be doing with your time.

I think the secret to life is really as simple as doing what makes you happy. There are a million good things to do with your time, but what is most meaningful to you? How do you want to spend your time?

Honestly, I need a good movie and popcorn every once in a while, but mostly when I have a chance, I like helping others. I like doing dishes and folding laundry and taking out the garbage- not because these things are fun, but because I know how much no one likes to do them. To me, it is a simple act of service, but to someone else, it can be the biggest help and relief for them. You can ask me to go to the movies with you, and I’ll set up a time to go. But ask me to help you with something, and I’ll be heading over before you finish your sentence.

So when I start to find myself stressing over not having enough time to do everything, I remind myself to step back and do what I enjoy the most, because really, that’s the most important thing I can do.

Grateful for the Big Picture

I had my last midterm of the quarter today. There is only about 3 more weeks of school before finals, which is both relieving and stressful. I feel like I have been doing homework constantly since the semester started. Sometimes it all seems like too much, and I get frustrated that I’m not understanding everything, and it seems easier to just quit. That’s when I have to remind myself about the purpose for all this.

This is my second bachelor’s degree. If I wanted, I could have a career right now doing something that I do well. But… I am going to school because I want to learn how to do something that I enjoy. As stressful as things get in the moment, it’s just a drop in the water of something much bigger in my life. I want to do well in school. I want to understand the concepts. I want to be able to complete all my assignments without stressing out too much. When I step back and look at the big picture, one assignment is not a big deal. One test or project or class is not nearly as important as what I am doing here.

I am grateful that looking at the big picture puts things in perspective for me. I am grateful that I can step back from the stress and realize that it will all work out. And on nights when I am frustrated that I am not understanding something, I am grateful that I can separate myself from the situation for a moment, let things go, and just sleep.

My Story- Suicide and Depression

Five years old. That’s how old I was when I first thought about suicide. I was sitting in the car on the freeway and thought, “if I open this door and just fall out of the car, it will all be over.”

Twenty years later, I still have the same thoughts. “If I just turn the steering wheel, it will all be over.” “If I just use that knife or take that rope or walk off a cliff or loosen my seat belt on a rollercoaster, it will all be over.” I know it’s faulty reasoning. I could miraculously survive one of these methods of suicide, or if there is life after death, it may not be over. It just seems like such a good option sometimes. It seems like the only escape.

I don’t remember when I first felt depressed. Much of my childhood memories are flashes of pictures, glimpses of what may have happened with some vague feelings attached to them. I know that I cried a lot. I remember crying in bed nearly every day from elementary school through middle school. I remember the loneliness was so real that it felt like an extra layer of skin too tight for my body, suffocating me daily.

Therapy seemed useless. How can you cure loneliness? Drugs seemed useless for the same reason. In fact, no one even knew. So there was no way I would have gotten help anyway. I couldn’t tell anyone I wanted to die. Telling someone would make it real. I was afraid of it. I was afraid of the feelings, afraid of the thoughts, afraid that if anyone knew, it would give me a reason to follow through on those thoughts.

I wasn’t always depressed. In fact, I was usually pretty happy, at least with the people who would notice if something was wrong. That was part of the problem. Why would anyone believe I wanted to die when I smiled so much? I had no good reason for wanting to die except for being bullied and not having friends and not being able to communicate how I wanted to and stresses at home and difficulties in school. But I knew I had things good. There were lots of people who were worse off. At least I had a good family and freedoms and God. Life couldn’t be that bad. So I convinced myself to keep living, and I did, and I did a pretty good job of it until college when I started my first suicide attempt.

I practically begged to be heard. I blasted loud music in my room with lyrics about suicide. I wrote Facebook posts and notes stating how much I was hurting and how hopeless I felt. It wasn’t fair to my roommates to expect them to save me, but I didn’t know what else to do. I was drowning and had no where else to turn. I wanted someone to blatantly ask me if I was going to commit suicide because I had a plan and I needed help, but I needed someone to recognize how serious it was because I didn’t know what else to do.

I did end up going to a therapist, which helped minimally, and I attempted suicide again when I returned to school after summer break. It was a slow downward spiral with little hope of changing. Of course, with the periods of happiness and hypomania, it still didn’t really feel serious. I made it through college though and moved back home for a while.

The thing is, the suicidal thoughts never really went away. I took medicine, I went to therapy, I did everything you are supposed to do to feel okay, but I was still broken. I had one year of happiness. One year where I felt so happy that describing the feelings produced happy tears of gratitude and appreciation. There were still dark moments, but they were few and far between.

I became depressed again, plunging into the same cycle of suicidal thoughts and darkness of the mind. I finally found a therapist that helped. I finally had hope.

I have hope. I still think of suicide. I still get depressed. I don’t think people realize the extent of it. How can you take it seriously when you know I’ll never act on it? Or at least will likely never act on it? Even though the threat is minimal though, I sort of wish it was acknowledged more.

I don’t want people to worry, but I do want them to know. I just want positive thoughts, understanding, prayers. I mostly just want to know that I’m not alone, that I don’t have to do it alone. I have accepted depression. I have accepted that the suicidal thoughts will likely never go away. I just don’t want to do it alone. I don’t want to face this alone. You don’t have to understand, but please just let me know I’m not alone.

My Story- Autism

It is difficult to tell my story with autism because I’m not exactly sure what autism means for me or how much of my life it has affected. I felt like a pretty normal kid until third grade. I had a good group of friends that I would spend time with at recess or during lunch. I was in speech therapy because I had a hard time saying the letter “R”. I didn’t feel like therapy made me any different than anyone else though. I went with a few other students and we played games. It just felt like a break from class for a while.

In second grade, I started hanging out with a certain boy in my class. Typical, elementary school crushes, we would sit on the swings at recess and talk. I hardly spent any time with my group of friends because I would be with my seven-year-old crush. The next year, he moved away and I assumed that I could go back to my group of friends and nothing would have changed. Of course, I was wrong. A lot changes in a year. My friends had new friends, a new leader of the group, and new things they liked to do to pass the time.

I no longer felt like I fit in, and set off on my own to find other friends. The thing is, I had no idea how to make friends, how to talk to people, how to recognize facial expressions or know if someone liked me and wanted me around. My first group of friends evolved around the sister of my brother’s best friend. She had been to my house before and so it was natural to gravitate towards her at school. When I left her and that group of friends, I had no leads. I had no one to gravitate to, and not being able to say the letter “R” made it difficult to avoid teasing or misunderstanding.

It’s a pretty simple story and seems to have little to do with autism, which is exactly why it took until seventh grade to receive a diagnosis. People said I was shy; they blamed it on my speech impediment; they said I was lazy or that school was just hard. I don’t even think my family understood. How could I explain something so simple and yet so difficult? In my seven year old vocabulary and social skills, how could I explain that I was still the same person, that nothing had changed about me; it was the situation that changed and I didn’t know how to handle it.

Once I was diagnosed, nothing really changed. I had some accommodations for school work and we focused more on social skills in my speech therapy sessions. It was still incredibly difficult, but I just kept going. That was all I could really do, all I can really do.

Now that I  know more about autism, I am beginning to explore what it means. I’m beginning to explore the differences in social reading, emotional reciprocity, and giving of social cues. I’m not good at it, but I am pretty good at faking it. I guess and then search for clues that I was right or wrong and make a course correction. I think we are all like that. We all don’t fully understand each other, no matter how well we can read social cues. For me, it’s just been more of an emotional and psychological journey.

What I am learning more about and learning to embrace more is the “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior”- the sensory side of autism, the special interests, stereotyped movements. In my intellectual, black-and-white mindset, it’s not easy to accept these sides of autism. My mind tells me they are wrong, abnormal, different, unacceptable, unforgivable, unlovable. I’m just starting to get past those thoughts, but it’s difficult. It’s difficult to rewrite years of observation, experimentation, and self-experienced research. But that journey is a story for a different day.

Selective Mutism

There were years of school where I went through selective mutism. The teachers would call role and I just couldn’t answer.

I didn’t understand it. It felt like I was afraid of my voice. But I could talk at other times. I could speak to one person, but just not to many. People would look at me and wonder why I didn’t speak when they had heard me speak before. But I was very fortunate to have people who spoke for me, who defended me from substitutes who didn’t understand or were rude to me.

Teachers didn’t understand. They made it seem so easy. “Just tell me what you need,” they said. I wished it was that easy and I chastised myself that it wasn’t. I hated myself for not being able to speak. And I desperately wanted friends, but could see no way to get them. I tried to become invisible instead, which also didn’t work. In a world where everyone demands that you speak up, look them in the eye, conform to their standards, it’s hard when you can’t. And you get in trouble a lot.

If there’s any advice I could give to teachers, it would be to not demand conformity or at least not enforce it with punishment. Some of us are doing our best. We’re not trouble makers. We just don’t know how else to do things.

Bullying

I don’t know why it’s like this, but it seems that kids always look for the differences in others. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it can be when it leads to bullying.

Since I was in second grade, I have been asked if I am a boy or a girl. Unfortunately, I couldn’t really say the letter R. So kids wouldn’t understand when I said girl. Often when this happened, they would make their own conclusions and label me whatever they wanted.

I haven’t really talked about bullying on here before because it was a relatively small part of my life. I was teased and isolated. I was made the subject of dares. I hung out with all the troubled kids, but usually just avoided kids all together. I avoided using school restrooms to the point that I would pee in my pants during class. At one point I basically stopped trying to make friends because it seemed ridiculous to think that anyone could ever want to be around me.

Why am I saying all of this? Why am I bringing up memories that still make my heart hurt and my throat close?

Well, I read about this girl today that is making a difference. She is talking about bullying and telling her story of how it drove her to suicide. She was saved by her mom, but that kind of thing should never happen.

For me, bullying was just a small part of a much larger problem of loneliness and isolation. The words and deeds used to hurt me did not have as much of an effect as the words and deeds that weren’t done to help me. I wanted to die, not because I felt hated but because I didn’t feel loved.

That’s why having a best friend has made such a difference in my life. She helped me to finally feel loved and for the first time in my life I didn’t think about suicide on a regular basis. The darkness has come again now that we have been apart so long, but her love has made all the difference.

Sometimes I wonder if it could have happened sooner. I wonder how many people didn’t stand up or step in during that time of my life. And how many people did I not step in for. I would always step in if I saw someone being hurt, but I know I missed opportunities to step in when I saw someone sad or alone. I think most of us could probably step in more than we do and make a difference.

I’m glad that people are speaking out and making a difference though. If you want to check out the story of the girl I talked about, click here.