What’s Your Excuse?

I generally do catch myself when I’m complaining or feeling sorry for myself… Honestly, I’d say I’m aware of it 100% of the time. I’ve learned that – though disappointed in myself for taking the whiny tack at that moment – that it IS okay to “feel.” The human experience of emotion is both complex and highly individual. If we didn’t fluctuate, I begin suspecting we were in some kind of post-apocalyptic nightmare. No thanks!

But…

But. . .

I grapple with that concept because I don’t honestly believe I really have the right (or good reason) to complain. I’ve somehow had engrained that one person’s annoyance is another’s absolute dream…so perhaps my default is the cause of my inner turmoil. Still, I’ve never viewed complaining under any circumstances as a positive thing, so maybe it’s just flat-out disappointment that I’ve succumbed to the whims of my limbic system.

Whatever the case may be, I am ever-aware when I stray from gratitude. It has nothing to do with being a goody-two-shoes – I have PLENTY of moments of grumpiness, irritability, annoyance at others, frustrations etc… It is more that I sincerely WANT to follow a path of thankfulness – because I also sincerely believe I am blessed beyond measure. I don’t need moments of perspective to remind me. When one does come along – and it does often in the community I get to work with (children and individuals with disabilities) – I’ll be the one moved to tears.

One of the reasons I love the disabled community – and let’s be clear, I view them as uniquely abled, in fact – is that they just DO things. They get out there and they try, fear and anxiety be damned. There are countless examples of individuals with disabilities (physical, neurodevelopmental, intellectual and so on) who persevere in spite of adversity.

I took one look at the image below and really had to check myself – the amount of time I spend worrying about whether or not I’m good at something, whether I will come across a certain way, whether I will appear this or that…is RIDICULOUS! 

@therafininnovation and @supportadaptivesports!

I’d love to learn archery. Too many passions with too little time aside, I know deep down that I’d give myself a hard time while learning. There’s no good reason for that, just a life-time hard-on-myself M.O.. What the hell kind of excuse is that?!?! A terribly poor one (or, frankly, not one at all.)

I am so very thankful for the opportunity to work with a community that I both hight respect, and am ever-motivated by. The inspiration is endless and I am constantly moved by the adaptive, positive spirit these individuals imbue. They remind me to get out of my brain, forget the “what-if”s, and appreciate all that I do have…especially during a stuck-in-my-emotions moment. And I have to say…I, you, we…have A LOT going for us. 

I don’t really like the word “limitations” – to me that word pertains only to what we impose on ourselves. The challenges of disabilities are NOT mind-imposed – they are real…but they are not “limitations.” These fine gentlemen are a beautiful example of just doing things differently. No excuses, a whole host of adaptations, and unwavering, can-do attitudes.

Having a moment of feeling like everything is against you, or you (four letter word) “can’t?” Look at the image again. Take a moment to appreciate what you are seeing because it goes far deeper than just physical.

It’s 1,000% awesomeness saying “I don’t have an excuse. You don’t need one either.”

 

Miracles Do Happen, Even If Only In Time

This story absolutely warmed my heart – it is one I shall never forget, and a fine illustration of why we ought never abandon hope.

Miracles happen – sometimes they need a little more time to blossom…but they are always possible. 

Bullying, Disabilities, and The Empathetic Heart

I don’t have children, but this would very much be top of mind if I did. To raise a child to be sensitive to others, to have compassion and empathetic view, is one of the most important traits they could have.

I’ve had the fortune to participate in a training on bullying and harassment recently (though this is a long-time hot topic for me, and one I regularly talk about with the kids in our Martial Arts classes. I myself was bullied and harassed growing up, and with the prevalence of cyber methods, it is even more insidious for children these days.) The training focused on bullying as it pertains to all children within a school setting (primarily public in this case), but also with some particular data regarding bullying and children with disabilities.

It might seem alarming to some of you that children with disabilities are bullied approximately 1.3 times more than their neurotypical (non-disabled) peers. (George G. Bear. et al. Differences in Bullying Victimization Between Students With and Without Disabilities, School Psychology Review. March 2015, Vol. 44, Issue 1 cited in Rose and Gage, Exploring the Involvement of Bullying Among Students.)

Bullying in and of itself is horrifying, but the prospect that it is happening even more to children with disabilities is difficult to grasp. My passion lies in not only empowering others by helping them to discover their own inner strengths, talents, and abilities, but to equip them with the tools necessary to manage challenging situations. Martial Arts is my current vehicle – as  one of the instructors under my Sensei, I am able to impart values and knowledge to the children during class. Naturally it isn’t always easy to keep the attention (by the way, not AGE-dependent so much as child-dependent…and time of day!) It is therefore crucial to be both consistent with messages, and to repeat them with frequency. It’s amazing to hear the kids respond to “what is our goal with a bully?” with “TO CONTROL AND NEGOTIATE!” (We encourage the idea that we aren’t learning Martial Arts to injure anyone else – the key purpose is to know how to protect ourselves and others, should we need to, but also to use our skills only as a last resort.)

For children with disabilities, the concept of bullying can be more difficult. Cognitive or physical limitations may result in the child not fully understanding that he or she is IN a bullying situation, let alone how to manage the situation if it is happening. I believe in teaching – I believe in helping individuals to understand how to recognize danger, violence, harassment, and bullying before it happens or, if that window is missed, when it is happening. It is only with the knowledge of what is taking place that we are able to do something about the situation.

I also believe it is vital that each of set the example – whether our own children, our nieces and nephews, kids we see in classes at school or in sports…we are always on the radar. Children are constantly watching and learning from our actions as much as our words (I’m sure we’ve all had the experience of a little one coming out with a mouthful of something hilarious after having picked it up from an adult – you never know what they’ll say next, only that they are ALWAYS absorbing.)

Children will pick up our mannerisms, our prejudices, our attitudes, and our approach to people / places / things. As such, we must keep in mind that what we say / do, and the methods by which we manage situations are likely to be adopted (depending on how much time we spend with them.) Takeaway —> Children are hugely impressionable.

EXAMPLES…

  1. In Martial Arts class, I ensure that I hold EVERYONE to the same standards (including myself)
  2. I am always impeccably dressed (gi, belt, tabi, hair tied up, no jewelry)
  3. I ALWAYS show a “Zanshin” or “ready stance” when I am demonstrating a technique with my Sensei…both before and after the technique, to show it is vital to always be ready for a potential threat (or a threat’s follow-up)
  4. When I see someone acting out or in a bullying manner, I very quickly address it and make sure involved parties understand what happened, and why their actions were not acceptable
  5. I treat everyone equally
  6. I speak in a firm but respectful tone
  7. I reward great behavior with positive, verbal affirmations
  8. Likewise, I don’t tolerate fooling around – a Martial Arts setting is not the place!

My behavior and approach will be modeled, so it is important that I lead by example. I do the same when volunteering – we have a few children with autism who like to get particularly rowdy. I make clear when something is not acceptable in explicit terms, and I encourage and reward positive behaviors.

In daily life I also do my best to lead with an empathetic heart. This doesn’t mean I am necessarily more vulnerable to or unaware of realistic dangers, only that I approach my assessments with some level of compassion. (I am not, let’s be clear, referring to a dangerous situation – during such times, we must act without hesitation. This is its own rabbit-hole conversation!) But. . .in regular, day-to-day activities, I do my best to treat others as I want to be treated, and to have compassion for those in need. I am not raising a child of my own, but that doesn’t mean I don’t impact those around me – I want those children to know the beauty of an empathetic heart, and that it is up to us to champion for those who may be unable to do so for themselves. 

There are many bullying situations in which a child may not fully grasp the danger he or she is in (as above.) While there are no definitive statistics, it is clear that many people stand around and do nothing. To me, that is simply unconscionable.

We encourage the children in our classes to – first and foremost – get an adult. That action is doing SOMEthing. If they are in the midst of it, we show them some of the ways they can be involved and stay as safe as possible. But we don’t say “just stand there and stare!” We want them to recognize danger when it occurs, and know that they have safe options to HELP. At the end of the day, those actions can literally save a life. 

Empathy and compassion matter.

Having tools to use in dangerous situations matters.

Let’s do our part to help children to understand what they can do, and to help them grow into compassionate adults – they need never, EVER be helpless.

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Get Moving! – Self Care Matters

I was on a long road trip this past weekend and delved into a few podcasts, all but one related to fitness as it pertains to the health, development, and symptomatology (physical manifestations, presentations in the academic setting, social interactions, problem behaviors etc.) of various disabilities (including autism, down syndrome, and ADHD.) What I heard, however, was relevant to all human beings as a species – much of it covered material I have always taken as “common sense” (likely a product of an athletic upbringing), but some of it was also a little bit alarming.

According to studies, a wholly sedentary life can be more detrimental to our health long-term than smoking. Uh…YIKES. As I am neither a clinician nor a doctor, I’ll leave the research review of studies and articles (such as this one) to you. One way or the other, though, inactivity is bad news.

While I know some people who’d argue a few minutes out of a lifetime isn’t a big deal, I’m willing to bet there have been moments in all of our lives during which we’d have done anything to gain more time. It can be a frightening prospect when put into that kind of perspective – we are (like it or not) a fragile and fleeting species.

The discussions in the podcasts revolved around how we can engage those that have deficits in joint attention, physical challenges, and slower cognitive processes, as well as those who aren’t particularly interested in the activities to begin with. Again, the concepts were ones we all would do well to live by, particularly that last one.

We have one body this go around and it’s important that we take care of it as if it was as sacred to us as whatever else in our lives we cherish (YES, you DO deserve that kind of love and care from yourself.)

This photo crossed my path the other day and I found it, too, to be both jarring and sad.

I was recently chatting with a 93 year-old friend about aging well – meaning mind, body, and spirit. We were out on the ice – both of us skating – and were nodding our heads that many people resign themselves to a false fate. What do I mean by that? I mean that some people think “active” and “healthy” are reserved for 20-somethings or younger.

B U L L S H I T ! Here’s my buddy George proving everyone wrong by zooming around the ice with me…

As we get older, some change is inevitable – we might need longer recovery, we might need an extra rest day, we might need to tweak our nutrition to suit what our body and minds need with each passing year…but that doesn’t mean we can’t stay healthy overall. 

I always believed in maintenance because a spiral that has delved into the depths is harder to come back from – that goes for every aspect of our being (emotional, spiritual, physical, you name it!)

Goals don’t have to be unrealistic (nor should they be!) – we DON’T have to compete with anyone, let alone a professional athlete, a model, a celebrity, a Roman statue, a meme…! 

There’s also no need to set ourselves up for failure by trying to attain what doesn’t make sense. Not everyone wants to be overly muscular, or necessarily “thin”… It’s about striving for a healthy, fit, and / or active life, which is – YES – more than achievable. Remember, our “healthy” may look differently than our neighbor…but we always know, deep down, if we have attained that. Or not.

When we try to take steps each day to love the one vessel we have been given, we are able to stay in control of what we CAN do…rather than deal with what we can’t because we decided we were too much effort. 

You ARE worth the effort, 1,000%. 

And…you can do anything you put your mind to. Beyond that, treating ourselves with the respect we deserve in order to live and enjoy a healthy life means we may buy ourselves some precious moments that one day we will thank the stars we have to spend.

 

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

SaveSave

Autism Humor – Same Old

I have a profound compassion and respect for individuals with autism, their families, and their caregivers. The world in which they live is one that the majority will not only never understand, but one few make an effort to comprehend on a deeper level.

Though many of my own eccentricities and experiences pale in comparison to these individuals, I believe I am drawn to them because I do – on a minor scale – commiserate. There are certain tendencies or challenges that I deal with such as:

  1. Misophonia
  2. Intense preference for / sensitivity to certain sounds (therefore, at times, need for full silence…or music…or earplugs)
  3. Difficulty focusing or concentrating unless under certain conditions
  4. Sensitivity to light
  5. When I was younger, anxiety surrounding social interaction (I couldn’t even ask for food at a snack bar!)
  6. Need for a heavy blanket or pressure when I sleep, or the sense of being in an alcove in order to be comfortable 
  7. When I was younger, I also had trouble making friends – I’m still very much a lone wolf and need massive amounts of space and time to myself
  8. A tendency to take words very literally, and not forget them
  9. Too quiet and too chatty!

And…though I’m not ultra rigid to the point of breakdown, I have a strong preference for routine. When it comes to food, for example, I stick with the same (fortunately healthy) things. ALL the time. In part, its preference. In part, my body prefers it that way, not unlike some individuals with autism.

I used to feel badly about my “quirks” – embarrassed even! But I’ve realized that not only am I not alone in these traits, (and also not less of a person because of them!) but that they afford me the ability to help others who suffer greatly as a result of extreme variations of them. Certain sounds push me to the edge but then I think about the fact that understanding what that feels like gives me an edge in understanding the more extreme experience someone else is having. . .and that means more compassion. Compassion is something this community deserves in spades.

My “quirks” have also taught me the humor of it all. In life we all face challenges, both big and small. If we can find the humor in our situation, we can help others find the humor as well, not to mention keep ourselves on a healthy wavelength most of the time.

The community I have the great fortune to work with teaches me about not taking everything so seriously all the time…about finding the beauty in each of us in spite of some differences (and we ALL have “stuff!”)…and that a positive approach will help us see the gifts we’ve been given…even those born of adversity.

SaveSave

Acceptance – An Autism Home Leads By Example

I loved this post from @autism_lovers – it demonstrates how much acceptance is part of daily life in a home with autism.

Living with autism means that differences are not just tolerated, but that they are appreciated.

It means being a top-notch detective and trouble-shooter.

Living with autism means learning to be flexible, patient, and – above all – incredibly creative. 

I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with children with autism in the realm of physical activities – I make a point to take note of the parents when they drop their children off, and during any and all interactions they may have. Each child is different and I am ever astounded by how well parents navigate often choppy seas. I know that behind the scenes it isn’t always the smooth sailing we see…and I think that makes me appreciate, all the more, how much those parents do each day to ensure the best communication and opportunities possible. 

As someone on the outside, I want to commend those parents who live this daily. In a way that you may never realize, you touch others’ lives too. You teach the rest of us how important it is to accept one another as we are, to be patient, to love to the full, and to laugh (especially to laugh!) even in the face of adversity.

#doL ❤ VE”

 

Advice From Stephen Hawking

Advice I believe is great for everyone, regardless of circumstances…

As someone who has the honor to work with children and adults with disabilities, I can safely say I have never found a more motivational set of individuals. In spite of sometimes substantial adversity, I watch them not only push their limitations, but sometimes also overcome them entirely. I believe it is absolutely crucial to focus on the positive – the unique talents, interests, and abilities of each individual – and to downplay the weaknesses.

Now, that’s not to say we can’t recognize areas that need improvement – whether for ourselves or another individual, we need to know what in our lives and development needs some TLC (or flat-out hard work!) However, making a point to emphasize our abilities is a surefire way to keep us in the most positive head space possible. When facing some of life’s challenges, a great attitude will make all the difference. 

The other day at a volunteer session, a mother was inquiring about activities for her daughter, including Martial Arts – beyond autism, her child has been through surgeries to correct club foot and other impairments to the feet and lower extremities. The doctor was trying to steer her clear of many activities and yet…here was this young lady actually running around. I spoke to the mother, making clear I have no medical background (but a lifetime’s worth as an athlete), and explained that sports can be modified. So long as we have the proper instructor who is aware of our challenges, there is no reason that many more sports could be available to her than suggested.

For example, this young lady was able to participate in ballet to some degree. I watched her not only walk briskly in our gymnasium, but also run at times, further confirming that she has a great deal more ability that it appears she is (externally) being credit for. I encouraged the mother to look into specific Marital Art programs, and to not be discouraged by the “can’t do”s. As Stephen Hawking alludes to, to handicap ourselves mentally can be incredibly damaging – we needn’t add to our own, or another’s physical difficulties.

The truth of it is, we all have strengths, weaknesses, injuries and physical limitations. In the majority of cases, we all have some mental challenges as well – low self-esteem, insecurity, self-doubt to name a few. To focus on what IS possible, and what we ARE able to do can make a massive difference in the quality of our lives overall, as well as contribute to our success in our activities, careers, and relationships.

I will ever and always be in full support of “focusing on the positive.”  It isn’t about being idealistic, but recognizing that what we focus on can literally alter the course of our lives – what we dwell on becomes our reality and all we see.

Focusing on our strengths not only helps us to weather the working-on-our-weaknesses better, but also the ups and downs of life. It gives us the strength and courage to carry forward, to makes strides in spite of anxiety or fear, and to find happiness, fulfillment and success in spite of tipped scales. The sky is the limit when we have the right attitude. Period.