#68 | So Worried About Her Kids

adulting autistic brain coach consulted create emotions facts fear feel grateful happening practice quadrants suggests thinking thoughts understand young adults May 17, 2022

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Hi, it's Lynn Davison, your adulting coach. Today's struggle is from a mom in the Art of Adulting who is so worried about her kids. Let's look at what's happening.

She says her son is very lonely at college. He desperately wants to date and go to parties. Her 24 year old daughter was diagnosed with PTS and ADHD and is paralyzed at college. She has PTSD from the unstable childhood that her mom says she created. And she also suggests, her daughter says, that she was overlooked due to gender disparities in presentation. She's terrified that she won't create her dream of a career in academia. And she's so depressed, that her mom worries about suicide.

Okay, how do we slow this down and sort it out?

I suggest that we start with what’s keeping the end in mind as Stephen Covey suggests in his Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. We just have to remember that we're trying to help our young adults practice the set of mental tools that help them manage their thoughts, their emotions and their actions, so that they can achieve goals set by them, for them. Keeping that in mind, how do we best help them?

I suggest that we want to encourage them, warn them and be consulted by them. I borrowed this from the British Constitution and that's the reason for the crown. When you think about it, Her Royal Highness does not legislate, tell, or you know otherwise decree what the British citizen should do. But because of her unique position as the witness of several prime ministers, and lots of years, starting in her 20s as being the monarch of England, she certainly has an incredible amount of wisdom, that if they consult with her, they will learn and she could help them.

That's why I argue and I'm backed up by Richard and Linda Ayers, who are the creators of valuesparenting.com. They encourage those three roles for parents, so let me just take be consulted and turn it into how can we best coach our autistic young adults.

When I looked at the definition of coaching, it is to train intensively as by instruction and demonstration to coach pupils, and that's from the Merriam Webster dictionary.

So here's what we're trying to do. We're trying to obviously be liked and trusted part by our autistic young adults so that they will ask us for our coaching, our advice, our best ideas, what can we help them with? And that's keeping that goal that is the end in mind.

I'd like to dive into what Barb Avila in her book SEEING AUTISM outlines as the three step process.

  1. We understand, do our best to understand what's going on, especially given the fact that we have a child with an autistic brain and in this case, two children with an autistic brain.
  2. And then we connect both with ourselves and with them, to see to find out what our truths are at this moment. What's true for us right now?
  3. Then we move on to the practice trying to decide what is the best best practice to make this struggle a little bit easier for everyone.

So let's start with the understanding. And I like to start with what is if we look at what is otherwise known as the present, and notice that it is a neutral. Something neutral. If we just take what's happening today it's neutral. It's how we think about it that makes it either negative or positive.

And so if we look to the past week, think about okay, it could be worse. So I'm grateful or it could be better. So I'm a bit depressed about what's going on. And then we could think about the future as it could get. It could get better, or it could get worse. If we think it could get worse, then we become even more. If we think we could get it better, then we become more mellow. We're more grateful like if it could be worse, we're grateful for where we are. And if it could be better than we get determined to create that better situation.

I'm going to layer a number of concepts on top of each other.

Let's start with okay what is in the middle of our mood meter. If we agree that what is is neutral until we have a thought about it, or until we decide how we want to think about it, then we understand that we can go into one of four emotional quadrants.

I thank Mark Bracket and his PERMISSION TO FEEL book for this visual, as well as the work that he is doing with educators all over the country, in his RULER approach to emotional intelligence.

So if 'what is' is neutral, we can think thoughts that make us feel sad. And those sad thoughts are, "Geez,  I don't like the way this is going." There's a gap between what is and what I'd like it to be. That's where we get sad and depressed.

Then we can also think about, oh my gosh, you know, this could get so much worse. So we're thinking about the future. And we're going oh, my gosh, I'm, I'm in a fearful state. If we think okay, what is could be worse, so I'm going to be grateful. That's where we dropped down into the green quadrant.

And if we think what is could be better and I could make it so then we go into this brave, creative, hopeful quadrant, up in the upper right.

Interesting that it's our thinking about it that makes us move into one of these four quadrants. So what is is neutral, but it helps if we understand that our brain is going to move us into one of these quadrants by the way it thinks about it. 

That's the thing. Our brains are constantly assessing what is and what is to be, we can't stop our brains. From thinking about that.

  • When our brains think, what our what is, could be better, we feel depressed.
  • When we assess our what is compared to something worse, we feel gratitude.
  • When we solve or anticipate things to come as worse. We create fear.
  • When we create or anticipate better things to come. We create hope.

It's always what is and our choice is how we assess and solve, assess the present and in the past and solve for the future. That's our choice.

It's kind of that miracle brain that we have even though it's thinking all the time and some of our thoughts are, you know, produce really uncomfortable emotions. I just think it's miraculous that we have this kind of brain and the brain not only is there but it's also, we're also able to watch our brain thing. That's what helps us. That's that metacognition process that we want to encourage our autistic young adults to practice to get aware of what thoughts are occurring.

And so that's how we connect with both ourselves and with them. We understand that it's our thoughts about the facts that create the emotions that we experience.

As Byron Katie says, It's not the problem that causes our suffering. It's our thinking about the problem."

"Easy for you to say when you're thinking,Lynn. But my kids are depressed and anxious all the time. Now, what do we do?" And I hear what you're saying.

The Autistic brain tends to be, you know, operating from that mammalian fight or flight response. Often it tends to be easily triggered by you know, what's perceived to be threatening. And so that fearful brain has blocked a lot of the access to their prefrontal cortex where they would be taking in and learning things. And it's happened their entire life because it's a biological phenomenon, that that's the kind of brain that they got that is just predisposed to fear in most cases. Not all but in most cases.

So that fear has blocked a lot of their productive, puzzling and learning. It's just what happened and what happens when you have that kind of a brain. So there's a cascading effect of the of not learning new missing learning opportunities, that creates the kind of lagging skills that create these unsolved problems with our autistic young adults.

Even though they may be perfectly at home in an academic environment, where what's clearly defined and they can meet the expectations of what's clearly defined and create exactly, you know, the kind of attention to detail and all the strengths of their autistic brain. I mean, that's a great place for a person to be if they're autistic, and that whole academia environment suits them. That's wonderful, and we want to continue you know, to have them in an environment that's more supportive and conducive, then others.

Just know that sometimes that brain that they weren't gifted, also can couldn't cause the anxiety and the depression that we see, The fear brain.

So that's why we want to coach them to notice what's happening in their, in their thinking. And when we take the time to write it down and externalize it, that we can look at it and we can consider it separate from us. And kind of get a little bit of space between. All right, I noticed that I'm thinking a lot of thoughts in any given day, the research suggests it's somewhere between 60 and 70,000. 

Some of my thoughts are perfectly wonderful. In fact, the vast majority of them have helped me get exactly where I am right now. There's just some of them that can cause us to get stuck in depression, or stuck in fear. And that's not where our brain solves problems best.

When we take the time to write down our thinking, we can we can identify with the facts are 'what is' and realize that they're triggering our thoughts that are flavoring our emotions and generate our actions, which cause the results we have in our life. And they're always tied back to our thinking.

The STEAR Map is such a helpful tool, because it allows us to slow things down. We want to find a spot in time and a place in time where we can slow things down and start to really look through what is causing what's going on in our thinking that's causing our emotions of fear and depression.

And then what we want to do is make sure that we're the coach that they come to by listening. This is the most important tool. The listening for connection is the most important tool that we have to encourage our autistic young adults to see us as their coach, as their mentor.

That's really where we want to be because when we think about it, who's going to solve this problem? Who's going to solve my daughter's problem or my son's problem? How is that gonna, how's it going to happen?

Well, they're going to be the ones that are going to solve the problem. So we need to make sure that they feel heard, and that they know that we are there to support them in the decisions that they make, whether we agree with them one hundred percent or not because we don't always agree with them. But we're there to listen, we really get what they're saying.

Because this reflective listening will help them feel seen safe, soothed and secure in our connection, which then will help them have more confidence to go out into those social situations and interact with other people. Not just social but you know, like a party, but also the situations that they're going to find themselves in at work and in their home, especially if they have roommates at school. We want them to have confidence that they can connect with other people and this is how we first demonstrate to them the way to do it. And then we need to encourage them to practice some of the things we're going to learn here these skills.

And we want to also help them understand that the feelings that they are having are as a result of their thinking but there's nothing wrong with that. We want to first just be aware of what it is and go ahead and feel our feelings by naming it and in many cases. Autistic young adults are also Alexithymic which means that they don't have words for emotions. That's that's the root of that word. Without without words, Lexi thymic, emotions they just don't have the words that some people have even suggested that half of the autistic population has trouble naming their emotions.

So all we need to do is say whether it's comfortable or uncomfortable if we go back to that mood meter that I showed you earlier, where it's comfortable or uncomfortable and energy level, that's a really helpful tool to help them understand where they are on the emotions.

And there's a lot of work that we can do here with them that says it's okay to feel every single emotion that you have. It's okay to feel it and find it in your body and relax into it, and describe it and picture it.

If you can do that you'll notice and say that its thoughts. "My thoughts cause this emotion." and just process it they'll notice if they just they really do find the space to do this, that most of the time their emotions will be processed by their body. It knows what to do. It's created by our thoughts with chicks which secrete chemicals in our body that create these emotions. That's another miracle of our brain.

And if we just stop that spin cycle of thinking and just focus on just the one thought that caused the one emotion, we will find that emotion will fade and will be processed within about 60 to 90 seconds. It's amazing. We want them to have the permission to feel that because they really, really are always going to have emotions. Our brains are always going to be assessing and trying to solve for whatever problems it perceives are out there. That's just we cannot turn that off. So they're always going to be having emotions in their body.

And once they get more confident that they say, "Oh, I recognize that when I've had that fear thought before feel fear feeling before. It's this big, you know ball of of, of energy in my chest and it rolls around and it's uncomfortable and it kind of goes up my neck and it just makes me want to jump out of my skin. And oh, there you are fear. I know you. I felt you before. I'm just gonna sit here and I'm gonna you know, it's all an inside job no one needs to know that this is happening. I'm gonna let it process inside of me and then I can move on from there."

Because now, you know once we're more aware of our thinking, once we're more aware of how that motion occurs in our body, we can then practice together, figuring out what to do next.

Ross Greene at his website LivesInTheBalance.org elaborates on these four steps. He also has taught these four steps is called this collaborative, proactive solutions process all across the country.

I met him years ago at my son's school, where he signed my copy of his book, THE EXPLOSIVE CHILD, and I'm so grateful that he makes available at his website, a ton of free material so that you and I can practice this without even paying a cent. It's just lovely that that he's so willing to share how he teaches this in the schools that he goes to.

  1. So the first step is to focus just on the facts because the facts don't cause any harm. Just the facts alone is what we need to agree on. It's our thinking about our facts. And that's we went over earlier when we looked at where are we going to end up in that mood meter and those four in that window of feelings, which which of the colors are we going to end up in? But the facts themselves as long as we separate them from the story, the thoughts that we're creating in our head, we can start there together and agreeing on just the facts is really the best thing to do.
  2. Then we need to make sure that we first ask about their thoughts and feelings on this topic. And we actually do our best to try to map it out in a steer map so that the situation is clear. Their thoughts are clear. Their emotions are clear what they've been doing as a result of those emotions. And the results that they're creating are clearly on the table. We've heard them. They feel heard. They feel seen. They feel soothed. They feel secure and safe in our presence that we've made a connection.
  3. Then of course the next step is because we have to come up with a solution that works for everyone here. We need to share with them what our STEAR MAP is and when we do that in a short clear way. When we recognize that sometimes our autistic young adults have shorter attention spans and that they really just need to understand that jist of what we're saying. And we have done our homework before we come together in this collaborative, proactive solutions process. We've done our homework and we've we really have distilled down all of our thoughts and how we feel about this model worried about or what we think might happen and what we want to warn them about. That's in our STEAR Map.
  4. And then we agree on we find, you know, their thoughts, our thoughts and we find the common ground and agree on the experiment that we're going to take an extra step.

This is a process that takes time.

We're not going to solve every problem quickly, because what we want to do is we want to build a history of solving problems with our autistic young adults so that they will come to us and be consulted, because we're a great coach in their life. They know that we have their best interests at heart because we love them all the way down to their toes and back again, to the moon and back.

We just you know want to be there for them and encourage them and warn them and be consulted by them so that they can be moved from a motion from the childhood position where we're instructing and directing to the adulting position where they're deciding and implementing with us coaching and cheering them on.

That's the vision of where we want to go with this. And I hope that that was helpful to our mom who is struggling with, "How how do I live with the worry that I have about my autistic young adults?"

And I really, really believe in this process because I've had to do it myself. Doesn't mean that I that we do it perfectly in our household. We certainly do not. I do not. I have so much to learn still, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to share these ideas with you because I've learned:

  • that I practice it on myself.
  • Then I help my autistic young adults do it.
  • And now that I'm teaching it means that I get the opportunity to learn this material three times.

I'm so grateful for that because I believe that is leveling up how much I learn from and grow and enjoy life more.

I'd love to have you join me in in my coaching practice at LynnCDavison.com/blog where you'll see a transcript of this video and what sources that I've referred to. And I hope you'll join us there soon.

Bye for now!