A New Year, A Fresh Start: How Setting and Accomplishing Goals Can Impact Neurodiversity in 2022

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Happy New Year!

I love the new year, because it provides such an awesome opportunity to start over, re-evaluate what I want life to look like, revisit the things that aren’t working, and continue with the things that are! Who doesn’t love a fresh start? 

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You and I have been presented with an awesome choice. To live life as we did last year or to write a new chapter or new verse. It’s been said, “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” I don’t want that for you or your neurodiverse loved one.

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Last year is done. I encourage you to take time to reflect on the good, remember the bad, grieve and mourn the hard, the loss, and difficulties, but then prepare for a fresh start! All that happened in 2021 is staying there and a new beginning awaits!

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As a caregiver, you know that conditions will never be perfect, but that doesn’t have to stop you from starting something new, going in a new direction, or setting out to accomplish a BIG goal.

Now. Is. The. Time.

Sometimes, the hardest part of starting is just doing it, taking the first step. Today, I hope to share some practical ways to help you and your family accomplish some of the goals you’ve wanted to reach but that may have felt a bit too ominous.

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Some of the best advice I’ve ever gotten is when you’re changing it up and heading in a new direction is to understand your end goal… then break it down into smaller, reasonable, bite-sized pieces that will help you get there.

For us, one of the things we are really working on as a family in 2022 is regulating our emotions better. Because of our boy’s neurodiversity, controlling emotions can be challenging. Heck, they can be challenging for me too somedays, if I’m honest. So, as a family we are really working on learning to communicate our feelings instead of reacting based on our overwhelming emotions.

It would be overwhelming for everyone involved if suddenly I said, “Alright, folks, we are just going to start regulating our feelings better” and expect that without providing small steps to achieve our goal.

So, we start small. Every time we realize we are feeling engulfing emotions, we recognize them and take a breath. That’s it… stop… and take a breath. So, if I can tell one of my kids is about to have a melt down or I’m feeling strong emotions, I can say, “Whew, Momma needs to take a breath because I’m getting upset.” If I can tell they are getting agitated I can say, “I can tell you’re having some big feelings, it looks like you’re angry, annoyed, frustrated, etc. Let’s take a breath.” As we start to catch ourselves and call out what we are seeing in ourselves and each other, we will learn to better manage our emotions. After we are doing a good job of just taking a breath when we feel upset, we will start to share what we are feeling in words (ie. I’m feeling disappointed, frustrated, cheated, sad, etc.). Once we’ve mastered that, then we’ll take it a step further and work on supporting each other with our big emotions. In addition to working on this as a family, we will also be working with their support providers to help us reach our goal. So, by the end of 2022 we hopefully will be able to celebrate that we have a better handle on responding to our feelings because we’ve learned how to regulate our emotions better, together.

That’s just an example of how to start small. Little, consistent changes can lead to great transformations.

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So, once you’ve figured out your big goal and you’ve planned out some practical ways to get there it’s time to begin, but the important thing is to stay with it. As with any new goal and change, there’s always a season of adjustment. Oftentimes it’s hardest in the first few weeks. That’s why many people who make New Year’s resolutions, sometimes never make it beyond January.
However, I think the secret is recognizing before we start that reaching a goal oftentimes is difficult and uncomfortable. It will have highs and lows, there will be some bumps and potential bruises along the way, good days and bad ones, but the journey toward your goal is worth the effort. We can’t just quit after a hard day. Changing directions and living on purpose can be a struggle, but as an old Chinese proverb says, “If you do not change your direction, you will end up exactly where you are headed.” And I’m sure you’ve heard this one, that “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.” But the payoff for keeping with it, will be so worth it.
Vanessa Fox, Occupational Therapist, founder of Movement with Meaning, and our Resource Spotlight of the month shares these practical steps in how to accomplish goals this year.
To start making small sustainable changes for all ages and abilities, we teach these 5 guiding principles to parents and caregivers:
1.Trust your instincts. One thing we know for sure is to listen to the parent’s instincts. We may be experts in childhood development, neurodiversity, and the brain, but you are the expert on your child. If you have a hunch or a feeling about your child, follow your gut.
2.Get Curious. If your child’s behavior feels challenging or they are having difficulty learning, ask yourself “what are they trying to communicate?” or “why is this so hard?” Pausing to get curious or reflecting after a challenging behavior allows us time to be curious. Offering a simple phrase such as, “How can I make this easier for you?” or “I am here to make this easier for you”, can shift their challenging behavior. Getting curious takes a lot of practice and repeated failed attempts to understand. This part feels frustrating but is very common. If your child’s behavior or difficulty triggers you (I prefer the term “activate”), ask yourself “what is this trying to teach me?” A lot of times your emotions are activated because it’s bringing up something you have not healed from in your past. Getting curious (increasing your awareness without judgement) helps to heal this part of you and will help your child.
3.Understand the process of Co-Regulation. It is a key factor in your child’s Self-Regulation. Co-regulation is the energy exchanged from one person’s nervous system to another. Body language, tone of voice, touch, and the words we use have an effect on our child’s self-regulation, as do the other people they interact with on a daily basis. (Read more about Co-Regulation here.) Listen and watch for what makes their body smile, relax, tense, cry (and so on) and talk to them what you observe. If possible, ask your child about their experience as you understand more. This increases their ability to effectively self-regulate and opens window for learning.
4.Observe & adapt your language. Observe or note the phrases that give your child a hard time. Adapt one small phrase that you can change and observe the impact it has on your child’s response. A common word we modify is “no”, because it activates a perceived loss of control, can be activating for strong emotions and doesn’t offer a lot of explanation, even if you are setting a boundary or trying to help them. To find more resources on what to observe and how to adapt your language, check out my post here: Adapting our words is harder to remember in the midst of everyday life and will take repetition to shift, which leads me to my final guiding principle.
5. Be patient with yourself and your child.
What amazing and practical advice, right? As we enter 2022, what things do you really want to see this year in your life, in your family? Ask your child and set some time aside to think through ways to help each other reach your goals. It’ll be exciting to celebrate the small milestones and cheer each other on!! Accountability can be wonderful, tough at times too, but it can motivate those around us to be the best we can be this new year!
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Wishing you the best new year ever!!

Ivory Granger

Family Resource Center Coordinator

The Sandi Lynn Geller Memorial Family Resource Center