You Say It Best When You Say Nothing At All…

You have probably dealt with a stubborn or aggressive friend, co-worker or family member.  A person that, in the midst of a fight or heated debate, always has to have the last word.  The person that it is best to step down or walk away from:  Words will get you nowhere, SILENCE will.

Watch an individual with strong parenting skills.  They are not screaming and yelling at their child in the grocery store.  Instead, there is usually a moment of intense silence combined with “a look” (and often a few calm words) resulting in a now obedient child (usually).  The only thing you will get by joining your child in their screaming fest is many entertained onlookers.

Girls love to talk!  We are known for it.  We want to talk through and analyze every little thing (yes, i’m generalizing), but it is a huge difference between most females and males that often leads to further misunderstanding and arguments because “he doesn’t listen” or  “just doesn’t seem to care.”  Where do those endless conversations round and round in circles get you?  How about a quick, to the point conversation?

Talking too much is probably the number one mistake people make when working with individuals with Autism.  Too many words will result in an over-stimulated individual (if that wasn’t already the problem) paired with a very frustrated caregiver.  “Why aren’t they listening or responding to me!??”  Stop talking and see what happens.

A few comparisons (and a different perspective) that may help with those special people and special situations:  Examples when less words may equate to a better response:

An aggressive friend or co-worker = a child with autism who is over-stimulated

Your words will often only escalate their behaviors.  If they feel threatened by others or their surroundings (often the unknown), their negatives behaviors will increase.

A screaming child in the grocery store = a screaming child w/ autism in a grocery store

There are many similarities in parenting a child with Autism and a “typical” child (when it comes to breakdowns and tantrums).  You may have to use a little more force for a child with Autism (if they are a runner, etc) but in general, do not mimic their behaviors:  do not scream if they are screaming.  Restrain if you have to from dangerous situations but refrain from using too many words to re-direct.

The attention span of a guy dealing with a girl who wants to talk = the attention span of individual with Autism (yes, I just compared your boyfriend or spouse to an individual with Autism:)

You have 30 seconds to give your pitch.  Whether you are instructing, disciplining or just trying to carry on a conversation or activity, on average you have 30 seconds to a minute before all they hear is “blah, blah, blah.”  When working with individuals with Autism, be concise and move on or don’t be surprised when they have moved on to something else (usually a negative behavior).

In summary, it is important to know when to confront a situation with a conversation and when silence is your best option or tool.  Often times, you say it best when you say nothing at all, and it is extremely important when working with individuals with Autism to limit words spoken.

Buddies In ACTION is about creating AWARENESS.  Are you AWARE of the importance of silence in working with individuals with Autism?


Pick Your Battle…

-A breakdown or an unhealthy snack

-A full-blown tantrum in a restaurant or french fries, milkshakes, etc. etc.

-A quiet family dinner turned upside down or enough food consumed in one sitting to last for a week.

The food battle is a battle almost every parent has to tackle at some point along the line but for a parent of individuals with intellectual disabilities it can be a HUGE battle; a battle much bigger than just “you’re not leaving the table until you finish your green beans!”  Or for some parents of both special and ‘typical’ children, it’s not a battle at all because the parents choose not to pick that battle.

Working in the homes of individuals with Autism, I’ve seen a lot.  I’ve seen some very messy situations: houses torn upside down, sibling fights that no one would want to witness and parents breaking down after a feeling of complete helplessness. Would you really care who ate what at that point?  I doubt it.

It’s a vicious cycle.  It’s a cycle we can all relate to to some extent.  You get used to eating cookies, pastries, ice cream and donuts and you’re body begins to tell you that you NEED those items.  You begin to have craving after craving that you can’t seem to control.  The foods that cause us to feel the worst are usually the foods we crave the most…that is, until we stop eating them for a prolonged period of time.  Now try to communicate that concept to a child, a child who does not verbally communicate.

The battles then become vicious cycles.  You don’t get to pick anymore.  You WILL have a tantrum until the snickers is handed over.  The snickers (or whatever the food of choice may be) becomes a daily battle.

It’s not easy.  In fact, it’s very difficult.  Over the course of the next few weeks when I talk about NUTRITION, I’ll explain how a few of our Buddies have made changes.  It was a process.  It took time (a LONG time) but it’s possible.

I hope to help others tackle the NUTRITION battle because it is one well worth fighting and one that may change some of your other other battles and child’s behaviors permanently.

Buddies In ACTION wants to help improve the NUTRITION battle.

December News

October and November were very busy months for FITBuddies and as the program continues to grow, once again I have to say THANKS for all your help and support.  Almost all of our growth has come from you:  it has been from trainers telling their clients more about the program, parents of our current FITBuddies’ participants talking to other parents, and random encounters/emails from friends of friends of friends.  So thank you and keep on talking!  For now, here are a few updates:

FITBuddies @ FIT:  We have a few new participants looking to start in January.  The younger group (ages 8-11) will be starting 2 full hour sessions in January as well.  I can’t thank my volunteers enough as they have been an integral part of making the younger group work.  Each kid really needs 1/1 attention in order for things to run smoothly and everyone to stay safe

Parent’s Meeting:  December 15th @ 7pm at FIT in Los Altos.  FITBuddies is partnering with the College of Adaptive Arts and hosting a meeting for parents of individuals with intellectual disabilities.  The purpose of the meeting is for parents to voice different programs they would like to see available for their kids/young adults.  Please email for more information.

New School Program! I have started working at the Creative Learning Center in Los Altos providing small group sessions during school hours to both preschool and elementary age students.  The school runs a very unique program for kids on the autism spectrum and is a great facility with a very dedicated staff.  I am looking forward to working with both the staff and the kids and already have lots of new special friends.

FITBuddies in SF: Diakadi Body , located at 9th and Division in San Francisco has agreed to support the FITBuddies program for teens/young adults in the afternoons on Wednesday and Fridays.  The goal is to have our first group start in January.  Email for more information.

IHRSA 2011: I will be presenting at IHRSA 2011 on March 16th.  Thom and I have already started preparing, meeting with doctors and other professionals in the field and sorting through research relevant to training individuals with special needs.  This has led to many great connections and has also expanded my goals moving forward.  Most importantly, I am excited that IHRSA accepted a topic new to the majority of trainers and gym owners.

December Topic:  Last month, I talked about the “Good, Bad & the Ugly” of FITBuddies and why I really am thankful for each aspect of FITBuddies.  The “good” keeps me smiling, laughing and absolutely loving what I do and the “Bad” & “Ugly” challenge me and help me continue to learn and grow.  For the month of December I will talk about traditions.  Although I am a sucker for family and holiday traditions and could rattle off a TON of my favorite traditions that I look forward to every year, I am going to talk about our weekly traditions at FITBuddies.  Repetition is very important to individuals with special needs and therefore it is very important to set up certain aspects of the program that never change and are passed down and carried on by every new participant, every session, every year…

Story #9

Enough of the Bad.  Today we’re back to the Good.  The REALLY Good!

Story #9

Happy Birthday Mahayla!!

Mahayla turned 20 on Monday and it’s time to celebrate.  After almost a year at FIT, it’s time to celebrate all she has accomplished, the changes we’ve made and most importantly her mom.  Good doesn’t even begin to describe her mom…incredible, amazing, an inspiration is just a start…

24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  For a parent with a child with special needs, this is your “work” day, week, year.  I dislike writing about my “bad” days like yesterday when I think about the fact that I’m with these kids for 1-2 hours a week. But I’m telling the Bad and Ugly this month because, as many of you know, it’s real and for the parent it’s full time reality.  While any parent or professional that works with these kids will tell you that all the rewarding, good moments outweigh the bad, we can’t disregard the “bad.”  We can’t disregard the “bad” because this is what the majority of society needs to become more educated on and more aware of.  What will help Mahayla’s mom and other parents with special needs is having more opportunities and resources like FIT where they can take their child, implement GOOD (incredible) parenting in a mainstream social setting, not be judged or asked to leave during the Bad moments, and be accepted as their child makes the transition in an unknown place.  With that being said, we also have to celebrate the welcoming and accepting staff at FIT for being patient the last eight months as Mahayla transitioned into the group.

Patient:  Patient doesn’t even begin to describe Mahayla’s mom.  It doesn’t matter how loud Mahayla screams, how fast she darts off, or whether refuses to do any activities for the day.  I have never seen her raise her voice.  Yes, you can tell she gets frustrated at points, but she holds it together and does her best to calmly redirect, motivate, communicate, etc with her daughter.

While many people may judge silent parenting skills in public as it looks, from the outside, as if they are not doing anything, this is GREAT parenting of a child with special needs.  It is always best to use a minimal amount of words and redirect in silence.

Determined:  Mom told me on day 1, that Mahayla is extra special.  She said runs her own show and that we’d just have to take everything one day at time.  Our first goal was to get Mahayla to stay for the whole hour and the second was to participate/be active the whole hour.  Mom is/was beyond determined to make this work.  She drives from Redwood city and in the beginning would sometimes pull up at FIT just to walk in and tell me “it’s just not going to happen today.  She’s not going to get out of the car” or maybe she would come in for 10-15 minutes and then she’d be in the shower, ready to go home.  Mom and I kept checking in and trying to increase her time in the gym but there were plenty of opportunities where Mom could have given up.  Mahayla’s mom was determined and after 8 months, Mahayla now stays for the full hour!

It takes determination to raise a child with special needs.  You have to keep going and keep pushing when the odds are against you and most people would stop or say no.

Dedicated. Mahayla’s Mom is 100% dedicated to her daughter.  She is dedicated to her overall well-being and is committed to providing her with every opportunity she can.  She is dedicated to properly dealing with every trait and symptom that comes with Autism, Epilespy, and Tourettes.  When Mahayla screams at the top of her lungs, her Mom does not look around the gym to see who is staring or reacting to her but instead stays focused on Mahayla and calmly quiets her.  Sometimes Mahayla gets hooked on one piece of equipment, while Mom encourages her to move on, she will sit by her side for the full hour if thats the way it’s going to be for that day (and we always say at least she’s moving)!  Mahayla’s Mom drives 20 minutes to bring her to FIT, she stays by her side for the entire hour, every session, two times per week…now that is dedication!

There are some parents who are dedicated to finding the best services and professionals to work with their child.  And there are some parents who are dedicated to working with professionals to provide the best service possible for their child.

Easy-going/Flexible:  Some days are good, some days are bad.  Sometimes Mahayla participates, sometimes she doesn’t. One day she does everything listed on her board, the next day she won’t go near it.  While Mahayla does do well with following a schedule, you can’t be rigid in your expectations and have to be willing and able to adjust on the fly and make modifications.  Mahayla’s Mom takes what ever comes her way and works with it.

Whether you are a flexible person or not, I think this trait in engrained in you pretty quickly.  You have no choice but to be flexible and roll with the punches.

Humor and a Smile. While many situations are taken very seriously, Mahayla’s Mom has a great way of laughing at the good, bad and the ugly. I always have to laugh when Mahayla comes over to give me her fist pump hand shake.  It’s her signature move.  Sometimes Mahayla will get stuck on a song and all she’ll want to do is sing, dance and wave her arms.  Mom and I will usually support this in some way (I usually sing along with her:).  At points, when Mom feels like she’s tried everythings, she’ll just laugh and say “we’re doing our best.”  Mahayla’s Mom is always supportive of the other buddies and always laughing and joining in on their fun.  She has a smile from ear to ear whenever Mahayla is participating.  Lately that smile has been around a lot.

At the end of the day, if you can’t laugh at some of the good, bad and ugly moments then you are going to find yourself having a lot more unnecessary bad moments.

I can’t say enough good things about Mahayla’s Mom.  In my mind, she is the definition of a good parent with special needs. The incredible progress Mahayla has made is due mostly to her mom’s patience, determination, dedication, flexibility and humor.  Eight month ago, we were excited if Mahayla got out of the car and came inside.  Last week, Mahayla wanted to keep working out even after class was over.

I am extremely thankful to get the opportunity to work with such great parents, especially Mahayla’s Mom.  I am constantly inspired and motivated to keep doing more for these kids/adults after being around her (and all my FITBuddies’ parents).  I am also very thankful to the staff and clients who have been nothing but supportive of Mahayla and gave her and her Mom a chance to be part of something much bigger a gym and a workout.

Story #6


Story #6

As I mentioned, I have had numerous “runners” that I have worked with over the years.  There is one particular instance that sticks out in my head.  I was working on a behavioral program with the parents of an 8 year old boy with ASD.  Basically, they were unable to take their child anywhere without a tantrum followed by him running off.  My job was to help the parents create a way of communicating with him to diminish these circumstances (he was non-verbal), and to expose him to common situations that would cause him to run off and show the parents how to work through such breakdowns.

On this particular day, we were on our own.  Mom needed a break so we went for a walk.  We didn’t even make it to the end of the driveway and he was gone.  The good news is that he did not go very far at all.  The bad news is that he tried to run into the neighbors house.  As he was screaming, crying and punching the porch, the neighbor came to the front door.  I had just reached him.  She took one look at him, one look at me and just started screaming to get him off her property!  This was not in the cards for us as 1) he was way too upset to re-direct him just yet and 2) he was twice the size of me so there was no hope for me moving him.  And then she lost it and told me I had 30 seconds to figure something out or she was calling the cops.  If looks could kill, that would have been it for her right then.  I told her to go get her phone for me and I’d call the cops for her.  She slammed the door in my face and I didn’t hear from her again.  As soon as she closed the door, the boy stopped resisting me and instead grabbed onto me for dear life in an almost desperate hug.  We sat there for a few more silent minutes before he was finally ready to walk back home.

I am not Thankful for stories such as this one, but it is situations like these, which unfortunately are somewhat of a common occurence for many parents with Autism, that make me more and more motivated to increase awareness.  It also makes me stop and think twice before I judge the mom who’s child is screaming in the grocery store, on the plane or at any public venue.  Regardless of whether the child is “typical” or autistic, I don’t think any parent enjoys these situations so instead of showing a look of annoyance (or even worse, yelling something at the parent/caregiver), show a look of compassion and move on.

Story #5

Back to the “Bad”…

Story #5…

Are you a Runner?

A common question in the fitness world.  Many of us label ourselves as runners, bikers, swimmers, lifters, etc.  While many may try to argue that one is better than the other, overall it is simply a way of identifying a passion, hobby or fitness modality that one prefers.  In the world of Autism, being labeled a “runner” is not a good thing. In fact, most parents, caregivers and teachers associate being a “runner” as a very bad or negative characteristic.

Many parents of children with Autism will place special locks on all their doors after  having to chase their child around the neighborhood on numerous occasions or after having to make the dreaded phone call to the police that their child is missing.

Many caregivers and aides have experienced the leisurely walk with a child with Autism that ends in a near death experience as the child darts into traffic with no hesitation.

It is not exactly easy for a teacher to leave a room full of children to chase after one child that darts from the room in the middle of class.

One second they are present and accounted for and the next, they are gone.  It is scary, dangerous and just plain inconvenient.  Unless mom, the aide or teacher is an avid sprinter, it also probably is not easy to catch them.  As an aide for individuals with autism, I experienced many sessions interrupted with a sprint down the block, followed by the catch (for lack of better terms), and then, if possible, a calm and quiet re-direction back to the house as yelling, reprimanding or making the child feel threatened in any way will only escalate the situation.

While there is nothing good about having a child who consistently runs away, this bad characteristic is actually the very first thing that sparked my interest in providing structured physical activity for these children.  Here is what I saw:

1) Very few resources and programs available to parents addressing specific physical needs of children with special needs

2) Children who experience extreme tantrums and behaviors and are unable to communicate and express what they are feeling or what set them off

3) Children who use physical activity as an escape or way to calm themselves down but in a very uncontrolled manner

4) Most of the kids that are “runners” are fast, really fast.  So why not take a strength and teach the child to use it in appropriate circumstances.  You don’t want to enforce that running all together is bad, you want to enforce certain circumstances when it is safe to run.  You also don’t want to try to replace a different sensory activity that doesn’t equate to their behavior (ie, a child who runs will most likely need some sort of physical release to calm them down; a child who squeezes or pinches, usually benefits more from a compression sensation such as being wrapped in a blanket or squeezing a ball).

Many children with autism are going to school all day and then in ABA type programs and other after school activities that place more and more demands on them.  Lets just say, if I were them, I think I would run as well:)  And this is how I started implementing physical activity into the children’s program.  Our sessions went from “when can I never see Jen again”  to “when will Jen be back” and even “when can I kiss Jen?”  In other words, our sessions were much more enjoyable and more productive.  The child was more apt to attend to a specific task and was much more focused during the task if we constantly rotated in “free time” that involved physical activity (and I don’t think any parent is going to argue that “free time” involves exercise)!  This also helped teach the children how to regulate their moods and situations where they felt threatened, overwhelmed, over-stimulated, etc and again gave them choices, such as run, take a walk or jump on a trampoline.  The parents were then encouraged to support this by having visual icons on hand to allow the child to communicate what they needed/wanted to to do calm down (of course, only give options that you are going to allow at that specific time).

While I would never wish a “runner” on any parent that has a child with Autism, I am Thankful that I have experienced a few “Bad” cases of “runners.”  These cases opened my eyes to a more successful way of programming, a way to incorporate more structured physical activity into their lives and eventually led to starting FITBuddies.  FITBuddies is not only about improving the health and wellness of this special population, it’s also about teaching these children/young adults how to regulate their moods, behaviors, etc with safe activities.

When starting with a new group, the kids are allowed to write their own workouts. They are given a list of items that are "allowed" and may choose anything they like from the list. They feel like they are "in charge" yet I only list activities for the day that I would like to implement. Then I slowly start adding in "Jen's Choice." When they are given a FREE choice, they always choose running!!