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Parenting Without Panic: Practical Advice for Parents of Teens with Asperger’s

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Parenting Without Panic: Practical Advice  for Parents of Teens with Asperger’s

After virtually every support group, Brenda Dater—Director of Child and Teen Services at Asperger’s Association of New England (AANE)—led with the parents of teens with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), mothers and fathers clamored for more information and written references. It’s not surprising. Families are wrestling with weighty issues such as managing chronic stress, determining what information is best to share, and striking the right balance between stretching and supporting their child. And so has Brenda. Her 18-year-old son has AS.

Parenting Without Panic

To ease parents’ most pressing concerns, Brenda decided to include information in a book, calling upon her professional training, her own family’s experience, as well as other families with whom she has worked. “I wrote Parenting Without Panic to give parents instant access to support, validation, practical strategies, and a community. My goal is to decrease the isolation and confusion they feel,” explains Dater.

Greater Boston Event, July 16 – Free, Registration Required

To celebrate the launch of Dater’s new book, AANE is hosting a FREE reception on July 16 at 7:00 pm at their offices at 51 Water Street, Suite 206 in Watertown. Parents of teens and younger children with AS are welcome.

Dater will speak about topics covered in her book, read passages, and lead a Q&A. Signed books will be sold with all proceeds going to AANE. Dessert will be served. Register at www.aane.org. With limited space, registration is on a first-come-first-served basis.

Parenting Without Panic Excerpts

To gain a sense of the type of information the book covers, read the excerpts below.

On setting reasonable expectations:

"Let's be clear that no parent is perfect. No strategy, tool, or approach is perfect. No child is perfect. So we should not expect perfection from our approaches, our kids, or ourselves."

"We carry a suitcase full of expectations for our families, our friends, and ourselves. Communicating our needs and concerns clearly helps our family and friends understand our perspective. Remember that all of us are doing the best we can with the skills and abilities we have at any point in time."

On anxiety:

"Some of our kids struggle to stay calm and cope with situations, people, and activities that frustrate them. Even when we teach our children strategies, their anxiety may make it hard for them to use the skills they've learned."

"It's also important to consider which environments make your child feel comfortable. When my son is at ease with others, he makes eye contact, asks questions, listens, and seems relaxed. When he is feeling anxious he's likely to pace and ask to leave. The environment our children are in impacts which skills they are able to use and how anxious they feel."

On disclosure:

"This is what disclosure can do for families--it takes a topic that people are worried about, shines some light on it, and makes it more familiar. Secrets in a family breed a sense of shame. Disclosure takes away that negative connotation."

"I hope that we are laying the foundation for our children to understand themselves and the world around them. I hope that they believe in themselves and appreciate their abilities. I hope that the challenges and problems they encounter build their sense of resilience and bravery. And I hope they know how glad we are to have them in our lives."

On resilience:

"We need to provide just enough of a challenge to stretch our child's abilities in a safe environment. Too much challenge and our children feel they are failures. Too little and they assume we don't believe they are capable of much."

On extended family:

"If we want to have more positive interactions with our extended family, we need to either think differently about the situation or act differently in the moment. Wanting others to be different or treat us better won't make it so."

On siblings:

"When you have multiple children and one of them has Asperger's, you will have some different rules, approaches, consequences, and supports in place because all your children need different things. When you have Asperger's in the family, trying to treat everyone uniformly creates immense stress and leads to failure and frustration because it doesn't work."

"Siblings can love and hate simultaneously. They may want to be with their siblings and wish they would go away. The feelings are acceptable; it's the behavior that can be the problem. What can make this challenging in a child with AS, is that often our kids don't have well-developed emotional regulation skills. They aren't yet able to modulate the strong emotions they feel. It's hard to be reasonable in your response to a bothersome sibling if you don't have evenhanded responses for more mundane irritations."

On holidays and vacations:

"Finding the correct balance between exposure to new experiences and the support and structure needed to keep anxiety and stress at a manageable level is crucial. Skills our children demonstrate at home may not make an appearance on vacation or while staying with relatives. Your child isn't trying to make your life difficult; he's struggling with increased demands."

On chronic stress:

"Over time, your sense of what your child needs and how to meet those needs, will change. Helping your child learn how to understand herself, compensate for challenges, and build on strengths works throughout the lifespan."

"It's in our children's best interest to invest in our own well-being. By taking care of ourselves, we increase our stamina and effectiveness. We also help our children see how to counteract the corrosive effects of on-going stress."

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Written by Elizabeth Suneby

Liz Suneby is the author of books for children and teens, including “The Mitzvah Project Book: Making Mitzvah Part of Your Bar/Bat Mitzvah” and “Your Life”, published by Jewish Lights, and the Children’s Choice award-winning “See What You Can Be: Explore Careers That Could Be For You.”

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