Attitudinal Principles for Peaceful Autism Parenting

Why Your Happiness Matters to Your Autistic Child

In a recent Son-Rise Program consultation with a mother (Amanda) and her teenager on the autism spectrum (Tom), I had the opportunity to support them both in the idea that as an autism parent, your happiness matters a great deal! Tom shared with me that he was feeling happy. When I asked him why, he said he was happy because the energy in the house had changed. At that moment, Amanda cheered and then explained that she had been implementing an attitudinal shift in herself for the last 2 weeks. I asked her to explain what she meant: She said “Tom has changed so much since we began our Son-Rise Program training, that I started to dismiss his ‘Red Lights’ (Red Lights are a Son-Rise Program term to describe times when people on the autism spectrum do repetitious activities, by themselves). I would try to make him do what I wanted because I believed he didn’t need his Red Lights anymore.

In my consultation with you 2 weeks ago, I realized that although Tom has grown so much in his connection and ability to consistently master new skills, he still has Red Light moments which I have been ignoring. This meant his Red Lights were no longer respected by me and instead, I was demanding and judgmental of him. As a result, I have experienced him escalating in his reactions to me, including hitting and biting at times which I have been upset about. Two weeks ago, I realized I was the one who had changed attitudinally around Tom’s Red Lights, and he was reacting to my pushiness and judgments at those times. I was clear about what attitudinal change I could make to help this escalating situation: Respond with my loving acceptance and respect for his Red Light moments. I have been consistent now for 2 weeks (as I already knew how to do that), therefore, Tom has had a mom who is delighting, rather than demanding, pushing, or getting upset when he doesn’t interact with me in the way I want. I loved hearing just now how he experiences my happy attitude as the energy in the house!”

Here at the Autism Treatment Center of America, we understand the benefits of creating an attitudinal environment of ease, fun, love, and respect for you and your child on the spectrum. You reap so many benefits for yourself and your child when you prioritize your happiness and remain peaceful, and happy, no matter what situations your child presents to you.

Primary Benefits of Prioritizing Happiness for Your Child

  • ASD children are sensitive to their attitudinal environment and often respond with disruptive or intense behavior when they experience their environment as unpredictable and/or emotionally volatile. (This was the case for Tom.)
  • A common challenge for ASD children is difficulty regulating their emotions. Parents who are having their own emotional challenges can affect this too.
  • It’s easier for your child to feel safe and secure when you create a consistent emotionally predictable environment in the home, and around your child.
  • The happier you become the more able you are to unleash your talents and parent effectively: Decision-making is easier, your confidence strengthens, and connecting with others is deeper and more easily accessible.

How to Increase Your Personal Happiness and Peace of Mind

One of the biggest roadblocks to a parent’s personal happiness is being able to change from feeling unhappy, to feeling comfort or happiness in any situation. For most of us, we were not ever taught this was possible. How we feel about a situation is just how it is… that we are not able to change our emotions, or that it is very difficult to do so.

We are excited to share a powerful attitudinal tool we teach parents in The Son-Rise Program. You can use this immediately to support your emotional well-being and increase your personal happiness, and peace of mind.

Introducing… the Happiness GPS®

What is the Happiness GPS?

Many of us have heard of the popular psychological model of stimulus-response. The dog barks, and I get scared. My friend compliments my parenting, and I feel happy. This model has helped spawn a culture where we see our emotions and experiences as being caused by people and events. As a result, we often try to change our circumstances and the people around us to feel better.

This outlook leaves most of us feeling like victims of our circumstances. At The Son-Rise Program, we believe that if we could just get our loved ones to treat us right, our finances to increase, or our child to do what we want, etc., we would feel better. But even if these circumstances change there will just be another circumstance waiting around the corner. Even without major life events such as divorce, bankruptcy, illness, or loss of a loved one, many of us experience deep distress and discomfort in response to life’s events and situations, including those we experience when parenting a child on the spectrum.

The Happiness GPS modifies the stimulus-response paradigm with a simple twist. We introduce a third component: BELIEF. Every stimulus that elicits a response from us is first filtered and processed by one or more beliefs we currently hold. The essential nature of a belief is that it is chosen, made up, and created to take care of us in some way. This then means we have the ability and power to change our beliefs. As our beliefs change, so do our responses and experiences. This simple shift changes everything in our lives, moving us from the passenger’s seat into the driver’s seat. We call this new paradigm the Happiness GPS because it helps you identify where you are and allows you to navigate to where you want to go (in terms of your own happiness and emotional well-being). This ability to alter our experiences, if we choose, is everyone’s inherent superpower.

For instance, two parents watching their daughter on the spectrum playing with a new friend can have two different experiences – one is happy, and the other is distressed. How do we explain two people witnessing the same event (the same stimulus) having diametrically opposed responses? Simple – each one holds different beliefs that determine their experience of the playdate. One sees it as wonderful – believing their daughter is having fun and growing her social skills. The other sees it as nerve-racking – believing if their daughter gets rejected it will traumatize her, and she’ll never be able to make a friend again. This simple illustration is a microcosm of the myriad ways our beliefs determine every response, from joy to anger, from hugging, to shouting and so on. The good news is our beliefs are changeable. Our experience with thousands of people from across the globe has shown us that, when people utilize the attitudinal tool, Happiness GPS, they are able to uncover the beliefs fueling their responses and the underlying reasons for their beliefs. Moreover, they can change the beliefs that may generate unhappiness, dysfunctional relationships, or ineffective behaviors. It was the Happiness GPS that Amanda used to switch her belief from “Tom’s Red Lights are no longer important, and he should do as I ask because he is now capable”, to “Tom’s Red Lights are helpful for him and important for me to love”. By switching her belief about Tom’s Red-Light behaviors, Amanda brought back her consistent attitude of acceptance, delight, and appreciation in him regardless of if he was paying attention to her or not. This was the ‘energy change in the house’ that Tom was enjoying and felt happy about.

Here at the Autism Treatment Center of America, we honor the importance of each parent’s inner peace, well-being, and attitude as a top priority. To support your ability to be happy and create consistent ease in your attitude while parenting, here’s a special gift: a 50-minute audio lecture and supportive handout, presenting the Happiness GPS as taught to parents in The Son-Rise Program.

Happiness GPS Download

Happiness GPS Worksheet w/ Examples

Written by Suzanne Pruss – Senior Son-Rise Program Teacher

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