Highly Sensitive Children, Empathy and Mental Health Disorders

In indigenous cultures, children who are highly sensitive, intuitive, connected to nature and perceptive about others’ emotional and physical states are considered “shamanic”. A child like this is handed over to the village medicine man or medicine woman for training and apprenticeship.

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In the Western world, we have no such frame of reference for these type of children. Instead of skilled training and awareness of their innate perceptual talents, they are given a medical diagnosis and often heavily medicated. They may develop shame because they are treated like something is “wrong” with them. Some children do in fact have mental health issues or other neurological concerns, including Autism, ADHD and so on.

Many children in the mental health system are actually highly sensitive in various ways and are mirroring back the mental and spiritual sickness in our society. They may in fact demonstrate mental health issues that are either a result of not being understood, and thus not being taught the skills to deal with their innate sensitivities, or in many cases are actually experiencing mental health symptoms that are not really theirs.

It is important to understand the nuances of this, because highly empathic children can actually PICK UP the symptoms of others in their support groups!! They may appear to get WORSE because the underlying causes of their issues are not identified, and the traditional mental health care system (i.e. drugs and often group therapy) does not teach them to regulate their spiritual gifts. This type of care not only doesn’t teach them how to understand and regulate their processing of spiritual-energetic information, it actually EXPOSES them to absorbing negativity from others who are experiencing emotional turmoil and/or dysfunction.

If you have tried to address your child’s behavioral and emotional regulation challenges every way you know how, and can’t seem to shift it, then your child may be experiencing something that is originating on the spiritual-energetic level (as opposed to emotional, psychological, biomedical and/or neurosensorimotor levels). The good news is, if this is happening for your child, you CAN learn ways to support him or her to function in a more healthy way.

To learn more about whether your child is highly sensitive, a free training class is happening next Thursday, October 15th at 12:00 PM ET. REGISTER HERE.

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Are You A “Warrior” Mom?

This post might ruffle a few feathers, but it’s not intended to. I want to bring to light an issue I have seen with many parent-child relationships that can be illustrated through that popular phrase “Warrior Mom”.

Don’t get me wrong…I am all for taking care of our children and future generations by ensuring we have safe food supplies and healthcare. I believe it is our responsibility to take care of ourselves by taking care of our planet, including avoiding exposing future generations to an onslaught of chemicals that have never existed before in history. I even think anger is a positive emotion to draw upon when we want to provoke change in such issues as the current state of denial of the increases in autism diagnoses and the long-term implications of environmental chemicals on prenatal and child development.

When we use the phrase “Warrior Mom”, generally that invokes an image of a mom who is not taking no for an answer, and who will “arm” herself with the education, supports and resources to get her child the education and services he or she deserves.

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It’s the mom who is throwing herself into political action, serving on boards and starting non-profits to facilitate change on a societal level. From a spiritual perspective, it is likely this particular type of mom has been thrust into such a role to serve the greater good by her own experience, and anger is the driving force to get her there. Most of us have not been taught about the so-called “negative” emotions like anger, so we try to suppress them. From a positive aspect, anger propels us to move forward, take action, and get sh*t done. Anger serves a purpose in getting us out of an undesirable state, whether that is fear or despair. If anger is no longer a driving force, typically we have moved into a place of action and resolution (and probably feeling more settled and peaceful, if not entirely happy). The alternative is depression. Maintaining a long-term state of unhappiness and not drawing upon anger in a productive way to create change can lead to or indicate full-blown depression.

When I think about Warrior Moms in the context of anger and autism and the impact on the parent-child dynamic, I just want to bring to light something that can happen on a spiritual-energetic level.

Many children with autism operate primarily as vibrational beings, and even those that are verbal often are interpreting, processing and “reading” their worlds through vibration. Emotions carry vibration. This is not to suggest we should *always* be in a “happy” state, as all of the emotions carry a purpose and some emotions like grief are healing emotions. However, a highly sensitive child with autism (or other neurological differences) who absorbs and processes others’ emotional energy can take on parents’ emotional states and reflect it back.

This can look like “behavior problems” (which won’t go away through behaviorism, by the way). In addition, children don’t often understand exactly what is being discussed, so hearing a phrase like “fighting autism” can be misunderstood and can feel like not accepting the child. A parent who carries a high level of anger over a long period of time can be felt and sensed by the child as not full coming to acceptance with who that child is. And honestly on an energetic level, it often can be felt and sensed that the parent literally is in resistance around some aspect of the child, which will play out in the way the child perceives himself and behaves.

When does anger become unhealthy?

1. When it’s been 10 years and you are still fuming on an issue (whether your chosen issue is vaccines, or GMO food, or big-pharma), and likely have begun to develop secondary physical symptoms such as high blood pressure or weight gain.

2. When you repeatedly discuss the triggering issue to drum up “sympathy anger” in your social circles but no real action is taken to resolve anything.

3. When you spend the majority of your emotional and mental resources with distractions that take you away from building a connection with your own child. Some “warrior moms” start up foundations and organizations to help other families but their own child is in the hands of professional therapists 24/7.

This post is not intended to sound judgmental in any way. Every human on the planet experiences some degree of trauma and tragedy, gets overwhelmed at times, and copes with painful emotions in a variety of “healthy” (exercise, political activism, volunteering) and “unhealthy” ways (i.e. addictions like overeating, alcohol, chemicals including prescription medications, numbing out on TV 6 hours a day, etc.).

We all do the best we can and typically use coping mechanisms to get through painful experiences. I am not aiming to make any parent feel guilty for over-working, avoiding heartfelt connections with their child or being unaware or in denial about the impacts of this type of behavior on their child’s sense of self. I just want to point out a pattern of adult behavior that can have (unintentional) negative implications for children with autism. Not every “Warrior Mom” stays in a prolonged state of anger or avoidance of heart connection to their child. For those that do, this post might be infuriating, which would indicate unhealed trauma that is being triggered and brought to the surface. Children with autism benefit from awareness of energetic and spiritual processes that occur during social interactions, so taking care of buried emotions and fostering a heart-to-heart connection with your child is one of the most significant things you can do to facilitate his or her own healing and development.

If this is something you would like to learn more about, or if you are interested in supporting your child vibrationally, check out the upcoming workshop “Spiritual Tools for Parenting the Highly Sensitive Child”.

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Transcend Autism TV: How to Manage Your Time

One of the biggest issues I see with many parents who have children with autism (or any child for that matter!) is not having enough time. I could write a whole other post about this in terms of mindset and energy and priorities, but for now I shared a simple tip on this week’s episode of Transcend Autism TV.

Let me know if you have any other ways you organize yourself and feel free to share them in the comments below!

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Are Adults with “High-Functioning” Autism More Successfully Employed Than Nonverbal Individuals?

This blog post was adapted from a reply to a father’s thought-provoking post on LinkedIn. To see the original post, go HERE. A version of his article also appeared in Autism Parenting Magazine.

Where are all the jobs for people with “low-functioning” autism? is the gist of what this dad pointed out in his post. While there are advances being made to support employment of individuals with autism who can function in places like Specialisterne and Starbucks, not every person with autism is capable of navigating such environments or developing the requisite skill set. Certainly there must be opportunities for more motorically-impaired and communication-challenged individuals who are bright, motivated and desire to contribute as well as continue learning new skills?

I agree with this father who mentioned that so-called “low-functioning” people with autism are still left out of the advances being made in creating employment opportunities. However, I think many people erroneously believe that “high-functioning” individuals are faring much better than those with more significant communication and sensorimotor issues – they are not. Even “high-functioning” individuals will struggle with employability without remediation. (I hesitate to use either of those terms because the Quality of Life indicators are not different between the 2 groups…).

High functioning individuals will struggle not because they can’t learn the skills of the job, but because of the difficulties they have with processing nonverbal communication and the subsequent communication and collaboration challenges. They will struggle because it must be enormously anxiety-provoking to be unable to access 70-90%+ of the communication in one’s environment. They will struggle with difficulties related to flexibility and adaptability, functioning on a team, handling stress and in general having a much lower threshold for stress than non-autistic employees. When under stress, neurological differences will then impede the individual’s ability to access higher level cognitive, communication and problem-solving skills that they have been taught via behaviorism.

Learning how to operate a cash register or fix a computer or make a sandwich isn’t the problem for most people with autism…it’s the managing of multiple pieces of complex information that gets them. In addition to the skills of the job, their already vulnerable and slower-processing brains have to manage social demands in addition to the varying sensory elements of the work environment and the information processing requirements that will vary depending on the job. It is not motivating for most employers to provide the level of support that is required, even for the most “high-functioning” people on the spectrum.

The reality is most employers do not have the knowledge, experience, or desire to hold the hands of their employees. Even though more vocational training and job coaching services are being offered to the adults with autism who are now entering the workforce, there is a huge gap between what a person with autism needs and what most job coaches have been trained to do. The current system is based on the needs of people with Intellectual Disabilities, not Autism. The programs and services that are currently being established are unfortunately based on modalities that are decades old. Autism is not the same as Intellectual Disability and mainstream treatment and educational methods are decades behind the newer research-based models. Even methods that were established 10+ years ago and are highly effective are not widely known by most medical and educational providers. Institutions are slow to change.

That being said, I am encouraged to see innovative centers and even autism-owned businesses started up by parents who are changing the system and putting structures in place that were not available for their now-adult children. This will pave the way for other children coming up who will eventually have more options for independence, job training and supported employment.

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Do You Have A Highly Sensitive Child?

Maybe you have heard of “Highly Sensitive People” – that 15-20% of the population who have nervous systems that are more tuned in and responsive to energy and information around them. Energy comes to us in a variety of ways, and mostly we think of it as physical energy that comes through the senses.

One of the characteristics of Autism is the brain and nervous system has difficulty organizing, filtering, habituating or integrating sensory information. So we can say with a great deal of certainty that most people with Autism would probably also be described as “Highly Sensitive”. Gifted children also fit this category, as they are frequently much more emotionally tuned in and sensitive to others’ needs. Highly Sensitive Children may fit the criteria for a variety of ‘diagnoses’, including depression, anxiety, Sensory Integration Disorder or Selective Mutism. Some children don’t fit any official diagnosis but are working really hard to compensate for their challenges in managing their exposure and the burden of being bombarded by energies that are not theirs.

It has become clear to me that the children that come to me, regardless of diagnosis, usually fit one or more of the following profiles:

The Emotional ChildAutism and Shame

Children with diagnosed “behavioral” disorders who have unpredictable mood swings, anxiety or fears often are highly sensitive to not only sensory stimuli, but subtle energies in their environment. Picking up on energetic influences in the environment can be unsettling and create longstanding “background” fear and anxiety that leads to unpredictable mood swings.

The Empathic Child

Some children are highly empathic and will energetically pick up and carry other people’s problems, both physical and emotional. Children with significant physical or emotional difficulties may fall in this category. Keep in mind this type of empathy is not the conscious, cognitive kind we often believe is affected in people with autism. A person with autism can be highly empathic on a soul/spirit level, yet still miss nonverbal social cues and have difficulty with understanding intentions, deception and others’ perspective.

The Impulsive Child

Does your child seem to not be in control of his or her body, impulsively acting out every thought or feeling, sometimes not even sure if that thought or feeling is his? Impulsive children may also be anxious and highly stressed, and feel bad after “misbehaving” once again. They may be able to tell you what they “should” do, but find themselves making the same mistakes over and over again. When they make mistakes, they may express verbally or nonverbally that they feel shame or regret.

The Intuitive Child

The Intuitive Child is differentiated by the Impulsive child by one thing – the absence of regret. Intuitive people can process enormous amounts of information very quickly, and immediately know their next step. They act on their hunches and feelings, often without quite knowing the conscious reason they made a specific choice. This is in contrast to the Impulsive person who makes reckless or thoughtless decisions, which result in mistakes that he or she may not learn from. The Intuitive person does not have a lot of regrets because he or she operates from a form of Intelligence that guides them to the best fit course of action. Children who are intuitive may have a clear sense of what is the “right” thing for them, may put up a fight for unexplained reasons that become clear to you later, or have a radar for “good” people vs. those that should not be trusted. Knowing if you have an Intuitive child can help you find peace and trust your child’s feedback when you make decisions about their education or therapy programming.

The Mirror Child

mirrorSome children absorb and mirror back problems or issues occurring in their family system. They pick up the discharge of the “stuff’ others don’t want to deal with and mirror it back to you so you can see it. Frequently the Mirror Child is a very ” high-level” or Spiritually “Advanced” Soul who has trouble integrating in the physical body. Mirror Children often are also intuitive and empathic.

Do you recognize your child in any of these descriptions? Want to learn more about the Spiritual Tools that can support your child to function better? Check out the next Master Class titled “Spiritual Tools for Parenting the Highly Sensitive Child”.

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Join Me for the 1st Transcend Autism Master Class!

When: October 3rd, 10:00 AM – 12:00 PM ET

(will be recorded and replay available)

Where: Online (register for webinar link)

Who is it for: Parents of Highly Sensitive Children with or without Autism, who want a new framework for understanding and transforming challenging “behaviors”

In this 2-hour class we will cover Spiritual-Energetic Principles that can support you in parenting your special child. Many children with autism and other neurological vulnerabilities are sensitive to various forms of energy, and may be particularly susceptible to picking up on others’ unconscious emotions. This can show itself in a variety of ways, including distressing behavior or mental states that caregivers are unable to determine the root cause of.

While there are other reasons for children’s “behavior” (and I do believe in an integrative, whole-child approach), sometimes there is a genuine spiritual-energetic component that must be addressed to see a resolution in a particular worrisome behavior.

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How do you know if your child is Highly Sensitive?

Experts estimate that roughly 15-20% of the population can be classified as “Highly Sensitive” and “Empathic”, meaning the nervous system is acutely aware and quick to react to a variety of stimuli. Your child may be Highly Sensitive if:

  • He or she fits the diagnosis of autism or other developmental challenge that includes sensory-based learning or processing issues, or emotional regulation challenges
  • Your child may have erratic mood swings or violent outbursts you can’t explain
  • Your child may frequently feel anxious
  • Your child may be a perfectionist, or hyper-aware of others’ feeling states
  • Your child knows things that they couldn’t possibly know; she may talk about things that are private and would not have been shared
  • Your child has a radar for deception and can feel when someone is congruent or non-congruent in their speech, feelings and actions/behaviors (this does not mean that they understand deception in terms of perspective-taking if they are diagnosed on the autism spectrum)
  • Your child is highly empathic and easily distressed when others are wounded or hurt, including animals. Some children decide to become vegetarians at very young ages even though it is not a lifestyle modeled by their family.
  • Your child frequently picks up and expresses other people’s issues, behaviors, physical illness or emotional states
  • Your child tells you there are “people” in his or her room at night. Or sleep issues are a concern despite ruling out environmental and neurophysiological factors.
  • Traditional approaches have not worked to help your child manage his or her behaviors despite trying multiple avenues of treatment including: biomedical, neurological/neurodevelopmental, cognitive-developmental and relationship-based

TO JOIN US FOR THIS SPECIAL CALL, REGISTER BELOW:

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In the weeks prior to the class I will stay in touch, and provide you with exercises and meditations to pave the way for clearing out the “old” or “stuck” energy, and making room for new insights, shifts and perspectives that can support you in helping your child.

You Will Also Receive:

  • Video Recording of the class to keep
  • Guided Visualizations and Exercises to help you clear your home, your energetic system and your child’s energetic system
  • Pre-assignments to help you pave the way for clearly receiving your own intuitive insights during the class
  • Downloadable handouts of all exercises taught in the class
  • Bonus meditations to use after the class is over

**Note: Meditations available for purchase in the online store are included as part of this Master Class.

 

What Others Say:

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April is particularly gifted in supporting parents in a process to uncover their innate capacity to manifest their deep desires.”

~ Carol M.

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Aylin Ozdemir, MD, FAAP, ABIHM

“April has a combination of talents you won’t find anywhere else: frighteningly accurate emotional medical intuit, and autism genius. Who else can read exactly what’s going on inside the child’s head (even when you can’t as a parent), direct you in the right direction, and then teach you to be the parent you always wanted to be…”

~ Aylin Ozdemir, MD, FAAP, ABIHM

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“It is rare to find a professional with the breadth of experience and depth of understanding that April has about autism. Her intuitive guidance is a gift to the families that work with her.”

~ Sheree Keys, mother of four, best-selling author, and CEO

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ARE YOU READY TO LEARN SPIRITUAL TOOLS YOU CAN USE TO SUPPORT YOUR CHILD FOR A LIFETIME?

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Important: This class will be highly focused on spiritual-energetic issues and may facilitate profound shifts in awareness in participants. I have been told by previous “new” course participants (i.e. those who have not worked with me before and thus who have not entrained their own energetic system to my programs) that the shifts experienced were too much/too fast for their present level of consciousness. It is important you realize you are personally responsible for your experience, and that you exercise self-awareness if you feel energy work, visualization, meditation or belief/consciousness work may trigger any unprocessed emotional or traumatic issues.

If you have any questions about whether this Master Class is appropriate for your situation, please let me know!

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Is Your Child Stressed?

Is Your Child Stressed?

It’s common knowledge amongst neuroscientists that chronic stress reshapes the human brain.

Your child’s intensive therapy schedule may be doing more harm than good. We all need down time, and this includes individuals with autism. In fact, neurologically vulnerable individuals need more sleep and possibly more breaks and down time between focused learning engagements.

Here is an excerpt from an article that describes how stress impacts the human brain:

Scientists Find Stress Reshapes the Human Brain

Scientists have discovered how stress can physically reshape the brain, causing extensive and long-lasting harm to both the human and animal brain. Researchers have found that stress causes brain cells to either shrink or grow, leaving victims of serious stress with big changes to their nervous systems.

One of the largest times of change is stress in early life, even stress in the womb. “Prenatal stress can change the brain forever,” said Tallie Baram, a neurologist at UC Irvine.

Baram spent time working with laboratory mice. In order to simulate increased short-term stress levels in real life situations, the mice were immobilized for five hours and subjected to loud rock music. After an MRI brain scan of the mice, Baram noticed a decrease in the number of fibers that carry signals between neurons.

Baram said that the experiment depicted “why some people are forgetful or have difficulty retaining information during stressful situations.”

While the effects of short-term stress were measured here at UCI, research on the effects of long-term, chronic stress were under way at the University of Wisconsin, Milwaukee.

Fred Helmsetter, a researcher at the university, found that after laboratory rats were restrained daily for roughly three weeks, the region of their brain involving learning and memory shrank by three percent.

Whether over the long or short term, it appears that stress has become as great a threat to human brain development as drugs or alcohol.

http://www.newuniversity.org/main/article?slug=news_in_brief_171 Retrieved 1/7/09.

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So how do you know if your child is too stressed? Children show stress in a variety of ways, including:

  • Changes in patterns of sleeping and eating
  • Psychosomatic symptoms like stomach aches without a physical cause (brain chemicals are produced in the gut)
  • Emotional lability and mood swings; becoming weepy, having crying spells, or becoming irritable and angry when it is out of character and not typical for his or her personality
  • Suddenly not wanting to go to school, or therapy
  • Negative self-talk, calling himself or others ‘dumb’, ‘stupid’, or using negative language
  • Becoming quiet, withdrawn or suddenly not wanting to try new things
  • Long-term stress can lead to depletion of the “building blocks” in the brain, whether the stress is internal (i.e. putting high expectations on oneself for example) or external (feeling the high expectations of others, having a too-demanding school or therapy schedule). This can lead to “mental health” or “psychiatric” conditions such as anxiety and depression (though truly there are physiological components and no such thing as a purely “mental” condition).
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Transcend Autism TV: “How Do I Teach My Child About Danger?”

Wandering, Elopement and Lack of Wariness are very common concerns for children and adults with autism. In this episode learn the 2 underlying root causes of lack of understanding of danger.  

 

Potentially helpful therapies that address these root causes include:
1. Relationship Development Intervention (for all individuals on the spectrum regardless of functioning level or age)

2. Miller Method (for young children who need support in body organization, communication development and pre-academic skills; Miller Method is a cognitive-developmental alternative to behaviorism)

3. HANDLE (for neurological and information processing support)

4. MNRI (Masgutova Neurosensorimotor Reflex Integration) (autism-specific programs are recommended once broad spectrum lifestyle processes are in place)

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Autism and Shame

Autism and shame is something I have not heard addressed in the autism field, and I think it is important to be aware of it.

I’ve worked with adults on the spectrum who have communicated to me what they remember about their childhood and what it was like growing up in therapy offices. I will never forget one client who said “By the time you are five years old, you know you are disappointing everyone.” My heart ached for her.

Little student looks sad or bored

Guilt is when we feel bad about something we have done. Shame is when we believe WE are bad. Shame is about who we ARE as a person, whereas guilt is about our behavior. All of us have felt shame at some point. Children with autism can grow up in environments that reinforce shame each and every time they are endlessly corrected, prompted, or talked about as if they aren’t there. When the therapist/doctor/teacher speaks to the parent about this problem or that, how their day was, or what the child did wrong, a child who overhears these conversations can learn that he or she is bad or broken. Children who feel shame can then develop secondary issues with depression, guilt or anger. A child who grows up constantly trying to do his or her best, only to know it is not enough learns that love is conditional and acceptance is dependent on fitting into others’ predefined expectations.

Mother playing with her child some creativity game and encouraging him

This is not intended to shame or guilt parents – I believe parents, professionals and other caregivers have good intentions overall. However I also believe a lot of autism “treatments” are misguided and border on abuse either through the physical manipulation that is so prevalent or the emotional impact of ‘accidental’ shaming. It does not matter if it is accidental – it is what the child experiences on his or her end that encodes the perception of self-esteem and worthiness. Even if it is unintentional, people with autism are often treated as less than or even as if they don’t exist.

While we may communicate directly to a speaking person, we may ignore a nonverbal person, not answering questions they may have but are unable to ask. If he could talk, a waiting child might ask “How much longer?” But a nonverbal child won’t say anything. He will communicate by squirming or shifting in his seat, possibly getting up and running around the room. The child with autism will then be redirected and told to sit down again, but no one will think to let him know how much longer he has to wait. He may do his best to be patient, or he may not. His behaviors will become the focal point for everyone around him and he will hear repeated commands to alter his behavior. More often than not adults will not consider the source of the agitation or behavior “problem”, so they will not speak to the source of what could be causing the behavior – the uncertainty of not knowing how much longer, what’s happening next, where are we going, when is lunch? How much success and competence can one feel when every day, hour after hour, one’s behavior is reacted to, controlled, directed and criticized?

little boy big problem - five years old boy isolated on white

We can minimize the risk of poor self-esteem and shame by being mindful of our communication and actions toward individuals on the spectrum. If shame already exists there are ways to address it in spiritual-energetic ways. Shame is an energy, just like all emotions. Parents can connect Spirit-to-Spirit with their children and invite them to shift or let go of the shame or other painful emotion. Energy is easily changed and does not necessarily require in-depth psychoanalysis to remove or transmute. New understanding and insights can emerge that facilitate healing for the parent as well as the child.

There are other ways to work through and organize shame too, including bodywork and cognitive therapies, or modalities that allow feelings to flow and be expressed such as art and music therapy. I just find shifting energy to be so much faster and easier to start with, and then what is left over can be worked through with slower-moving therapies. I invite all those who work with individuals with autism to really evaluate relational patterns and remember people with autism are not a sum of behaviors, they are people with thoughts and feelings. Sometimes certain modalities seem to forget that and train people as technicians, instead of really training professionals in what the whole point is – supporting individuals with autism to participate in meaningful relationships which are based on mutual understanding and respect.

I’d like to know what your thoughts are. What do you think about shame, autism and the way therapies are currently implemented? Please post your comments below.

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