Musings

Visible Voices Vote

My Better Half shared this article with me on November 6, 2018 (Election Day), and I want to pass it along to others while trying to touch on some of the issues and resources in this article.

I really appreciate the idea and process of supporting all persons with making informed choices and to do so in a way that respects their autonomy as humans and their rights as citizens.

The idea of a social story and anticipatory guidance feels so smart and kind for most adults who are voting for the first time. I think many young adults could benefit from this resource and, as such, I consider it a gift from this mother to have created it for her son and share it.

As I read and re-read the resources in this article, I delved deeper into the Bazelon Center site.

It’s eye-opening and mind-blowing how variable and fraught with ambiguity the law seems to be on the matter of whether individuals with disabilities and mental health concerns can vote. It reminds me, in many ways, of the bar we set before people wishing to become a US citizen.

More specifically, my work often involves talking with families about the topic of guardianship for their children as they transition from adolescence to adulthood. This article gave me cause for pause and added to my understanding about how guardianship determinations could impact a person’s ability to vote later in life or in another state if they so choose to move.

In closing, I would like to encourage folks to share this Know Your Rights resource on voting.

Rethinking Halloween

Halloween as a holiday encompasses a range of traditions, and I think that it’s unique in so far as both children and adults seem to derive a great deal of joy from the traditions around it.

I also think Halloween is special because it creates an opportunity for inclusion by celebrating different cultures and spiritual beliefs in a way that is inviting and fun for people of all ages.

Inclusion

In thinking about how to make Halloween inclusive for people with different language abilities and sensory sensitivities, here are some ideas I’ve come across from talking to other families:

  1. Choose a Sensory Friendly Costume - Tags and hems bother a lot of people, and most costumes are not really designed to be one size fits all. Why not pajamas instead?

  2. Use a Social Story for Trick-or-Treating - I gotta be honest: the whole concept of trick-or-treating is weird when you really break it down. While dressed up as something else, we run up to stranger’s front doors and say a random phrase expecting to receive candy from people we’ve never met before. For real? One of my all time favorite stories comes from working with a particular friend of mine (I can’t believe it, but it was likely 7 or 8 years ago) who quite literally barged into everyone’s house for the first few houses he visited.

  3. Keep Safety in Mind - The big thing I try to keep in mind is visibility and proximity when walking by houses or areas with more car traffic. I think the tricky thing to balance is when to allow children/adolescents to venture out with more distance and independence.

  4. Be Nice to People - While this may seem obvious, I no longer take it for granted or consider it common sense. Here is a post I found shared on my Facebook feed that I think sums up a gentle and accepting approach to greeting trick-or-treaters at your door.

Halloween post.jpg

Tradition!

The best part of Halloween for me is looking forward to doing the same activities each year. Sharing these traditions with friends and seeing our kids look forward to them year after year really gets me into the spirit.

  1. We wear family costumes (see below). I originally detested this idea, but it’s started to really grow on me to the point that I really look forward to it. I wonder how many more years we have left in the tank where the kids will go along with our version of crazy.

  2. Gotta watch the Charlie Brown Great Pumpkin

  3. Decorate the house with Spider Lights and now the outside with orange/purple lights.

  4. Visit Powers Farm Market to check out the hayrides and baller Tepees. Seriously.

  5. Celebrate our middle child’s birthday! (pretty much the reason-for-the-season).

Third Time's the Charm

What counts as luck depends on what you're looking for…

My Better Half gave birth to our third child in May of 2017, so he's coming up on a year and a half on this earth as we roll through fall. He's about as close to perfectly adorable as one baby could ever be. He's generally happy and adored by his siblings; he loves social gatherings and being held by lots of friends. He goes by a lot of different nicknames based on his behaviors.

But he loves to wake up more often than our previous children and has less variety in his diet. He has not hit his speech and motor milestones at the same time and rate as our first two kids. So in many ways, our third child has held the mirror up to my face when it comes to my work. 

I work with a lot of people who work hard at improving their sleep or that of their loved ones.

I work with a lot of people who work hard at increasing the types of foods their loved ones eat.

I dispense a lot of advice and guidance around eating and sleep routines in my work, and the process of parenting our third child has been quite humbling and eye-opening. Put simply:

Sometimes the evidence does not work so well.

I have read (and re-read) the literature on sleep hygiene, and we consulted with our providers to put in place a well-organized evidence-based approach to increasing the variety in his diet.

And still every day feels the same.

This is all not to say to heck with science/medicine and to go rouge on reality because of it. But this is me acknowledging as a human who happens to be a psychologist that sometimes the ideas and the plans that derive from the scientific method don't apply equally well to all.

That is a sobering thought to hold. 

Our third child has given me a different type of appreciation for those who face these issues and deepened my empathy (and my resolve) for how stressful, challenging, and rewarding these things can be.

When I became a parent, I did not know that love could come in so many forms. The way I feel and I respond to each of our children is so different and implicit it defies the words I have here.

Our youngest is his own unique person - challenges, successes, personality, and all. The big kids often call him “Boss Baby” because he has a huge head on a small frame. And, because he wants what he wants when he wants it and he lets us all know it. So as luck would have it, his smile and his laughter are so infectious that our joy clearly continues to outweigh our work.

Boss baby.jpg

Fire Away

 

I began writing this post in February of 2017 with the idea that I would post it during national suicide prevention awareness month in September of 2017. Then 13 Reasons Why happened.

This is what I wrote back in February of 2017 when this topic was foremost in my mind:

Suicide is the second leading cause of death among teenagers. Ahead of homicide and behind accidents, suicide accounts for approximately 8.7 deaths per 100,000 as of 2014. As of this writing, suicide remains the 10th leading cause of death in the United States.

This is unacceptable. And we all know it.

This sickens and angers me beyond all recognition because we could prevent and detect it better with more well-integrated physical and mental health care. Specific segments of society are at even greater risk for suicide: Native AmericansLGBTQ, and individuals with disabilities.

This is what I write now after having watched 13 Reasons Why all the way through three times.

I am going to write this as a consumer of art, as a father, and as a mental health provider.

Things I thought the series did well in the service of addressing suicide risk factors:

  • Portraying slut-shaming and sexual assault as risk factors for suicide

  • Elaboration of the "bro-code" dynamic that encourages the bystander effect

  • Pro-social presentation of consent (during Hannah's interaction with Clay)

  • Range of issues that can lead to adolescents being bullied or ostracized

  • Hyper-acceleration of comparison and degradation via social media platforms

Things I thought the series insinuated but did not do well to follow through on:

Things I thought the series failed at articulating in a coherent manner:

  • Presentation of topics without trigger warnings and access to resources

    • I recognize that they added these later. A day late and a dollar short. I am a staunch proponent of free speech, but the creators of this show owed the viewers (particularly younger ones) access to content to support their reaction to it.

  • Presentation of conflicting roles for the school counselor as normative

    • I recognize that mental health providers are fallible and human. However, the lack of skill and empathy as described here in Mr. Porter’s Mistake is inexcusable.

  • Woefully inadequate and inept suicide risk assessment on multiple levels

After the show received quite a bit of critical acclaim and consternation, they added in some of the things I referenced here in my thinking and writing back when 13 Reasons Why was originally released.

The best defense is a good offense.

We need to go on the offensive by doing everything we can to prevent suicide today. There are so many direct and immediate ways that people can involved with suicide prevention efforts:

  • Reading and Sharing Resources: https://www.nami.org/suicideawarenessmonth

  • Joining or Supporting a Walk Team: https://afsp.donordrive.com/index.cfm?

  • Learning and Knowing the Signs: http://www.suicideispreventable.org/

  • Connecting with Professionals: http://www.gvpa.net/event-2018-10-12.asp

At the end of the day, there is no good reason for how or why someone takes their own life.

TALK SAVES LIVES

This song and music video by Chris Stapleton radically captures the experience of suicide.

Know the Five Signs of emotional suffering. Visit www.changedirection.org.

Back to School

Summer sizzled into September and hastened with heat the beginning of the new school year.

Many families worked with their loved ones over the Labor Day weekend to ready themselves for new classes and fresh faces in places both familiar and entirely new. Some boarded a bus, some shared a van, some saw their home return to a school setting, and some left their home.

There are so many moments in life where the next level feels so unclear, but not with school.

You start a new grade that's a higher number or greater distinction. You literally "level up" in the video game of your educational and vocational life. But even still, the grade level tells only a small portion of the story.

Are you ready for what comes next? Have I prepared them well?

The bus comes, the van pulls away, the kitchen is now class, and the class is in another state.

Students of every age and ability likely approach the school year with anticipation, but this feeling careens between the boundaries of hope and doubt as the first day dawns anew here. 

Will I feel safe? Will I learn something new? Will I make friends? Will I be included in this?

They arrive in bunches and in droves of a diverse beautiful sort on the threshold of their school. Their teachers greet and guide them down a path they have worked so hard to prepare, and the thankless endeavor of raising our children's minds and hearts begins anew for them. These teachers and their tandem forces work silently to set the occasion for learning and growing.

How can I reach her? How can I help him? How do I talk with their parents? How can I do this?

Upon teachers and their teams are foisted the blessing and burden of educating our children. They ready their classrooms and unpack their belongings and beliefs in less than one week and they do so with a smile and a scientific method to their presentation for our general benefit.

Whether you are a student or a teacher, a parent or administrator, I would encourage folks to hold fast to the belief that we are quite literally all doing it "for the kids" as we start out now. Even if we don't see eye to eye on every moment between meetings and miscommunications, I believe we are playing for the same team that is our children and their future as it unfolds.