Monday, February 6, 2017

Emotion Coaching

We’ve finally been able to take a breath at our house. The new medication seems to be working for Matthew, and he’s made his way out of the crevasse and back onto the well-trodden path, to continue a metaphor I started in another post. It’s a SNOW DAY today—no school for the kids and no work for me (I’m a high school teacher so I benefit from school closures just like my kids). I’m sitting in our living room with a steaming mug of tea while Matthew plays with a balloon he earned from pooping on the potty (his favorite reward). It’s a rare moment of calm at our house, and I’m grateful for it.

Last year during his final pre-K year, Matthew did two rounds of an autism day treatment program at the neurodevelopmental center in our city. One component of that program was a parent training course that both Aaron and I attended (one during each session). My parents came to several of the sessions as well.

During that parent training, we learned invaluable skills in working with Matthew—things I would never have figured out on my own. I would highly commend a training program to any parent—even the most experienced parent—struggling to parent a kiddo on the spectrum or with behavioral challenges.

One of the most helpful parts of that training was the series of sessions on both social coaching and emotional coaching. We’ve been using emotional coaching so much lately, as Matthew is living into being a six year old with very little spoken language and some developmental delays. I am pretty sure he feels a huge influx of emotions in his mind and heart—and sometimes those emotions are overwhelming and contribute to his challenging behaviors. Aaron has taught him the signs for several feelings: sad, mad, scared, angry, happy, excited . . . and we regularly ask him how he’s feeling or model the sign we THINK he might be feeling so he starts to learn them. He likes to play the “feeling” game, where we do a sign and then he tries to make his body act like that sign. Happy brings a smile, angry brings a scrunched-up face and a tense body, and so on.

This isn’t by any means the entirety of our parenting or working with Matthew’s challenging behaviors, but it feels like we are building a foundation of skills that will help equip Matthew for more independent, autonomous interactions and relationships.

These are things that typically developing kids tend to learn on their own just by watching the modeling around them. But it takes extra work for a kiddo like Matthew to gain these skills—and yet they are important for all children.

As I’ve said before, we don’t exactly know where Matthew will land when he is an adult. His development Is pretty uncertain at this point. But equipping him with skills to express his emotions seems like a good plan no matter how independent or dependent he is as an adult.

It might make his teenage years easier too. In fact, emotional coaching would probably help every teenager, so we must be doing something right.

Anyhow, I'm happy to report things are on the upswing here. It feels good to be back dealing with the layers of behavior that we are used to. It's funny how hard things become normal--but that's what life is these days. So we're digging in, embracing this path because it's the only one we've got!

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