being a mom

The Full Spectrum: How To Survive The Morning Struggle

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The Full Spectrum focuses on the trials and tribulations of raising a child who ranks on the autism spectrum.

For children who struggle with focus and self-control, mornings seem to be a particularly difficult time of day. The anticipation of the day ahead, coupled with the time pressure of what needs to be accomplished for everyone to get out the door in time for school and work, seems to exacerbate the challenges for kids with ADHD, ADD, Aspergers and other spectrum “disorders.”

Until recently, our 8-year-old S. woke us up every day with a very loud, early-morning sing-a-long. Our fear of him waking his little brother had us scrambling quickly into his still dark room, trying to quiet him in a screaming whisper (this oxymoron only makes sense to parents) almost every single day. Good morning!

Dressing himself in a timely fashion was not an option for S., so that meant trying to get him into his clothes while he played an imaginary version of Twister. It wasn’t even 7 a.m. and we had already had two big fights on most days. Next came the breakfast battle. S. is on medication, which helps him focus but also curbs his appetite, and so our number one goal for the morning was getting him to eat before the medication kicked in. This challenge was in direct conflict with our other goal of getting the medication into him early enough to have some success at doing what needs to be done to arrive at school on time. It’s a delicate balance.

During all this planning and craziness, we’re negotiating screen time, trying to pack lunches for both kids (because of the meds and other picky eater issues, S. is not interested in lunch, so preparing it is a stressful mix of hope and terror as we try new options daily), brushing teeth and getting ourselves dressed for work while trying to get out the door with enough time to ride our bikes to school to get in a little exercise before S. is required to sit for most of the day.
It would get pretty ugly at times.

As much as I start each day with the best of intentions for how I am going to handle the kids and engage positively with my husband, by the time 8 a.m. rolls around, we’re at each others throats and ready to throw in the towel.

The dinner hour, on the other hand, is a dream time for my family. Following a full day in school and a bike ride home, I am more than happy to let the kids chill out with some screen time. The meds have worn off by this time and S. is finally ready to chow down, which is a huge stress reliever. Once screen time is over it is time for bed, bath and beyond. Yes there are many challenges at the end of the day, including the general impatience that comes with having worked all day, but it is nothing like the morning. Time moves more slowly in the evening and no one has to get out the door in a hurry. Morning combines the worst of everything that kids with ADHD, ADD, Aspergers and other spectrum disorders struggle with: time management, food, hygiene and self-control (prior to the meds kicks in).

Following years of morning struggles we sought the help of a parenting coach Beverley Cathcard Ross, who helped us immensely. Here is what we took away from our sessions:

Create a step-by-step morning schedule with your child’s input. The schedule should include something that they want to do in the morning like play or screen time, and put this activity as the last thing on list. Allocate a time to each activity.

Print the morning schedule in large type and post it all over the house. That includes the fridge, bedrooms, den – you name it.

Don’t fight about what your child should be doing in the morning. If they are being silly or uncooperative you can calmly redirect them to the schedule and remind them about the time needed for their chosen activity. After a few times of not having enough time for a little TV before school, you should see some pretty cooperative behavior.

As for our mornings, we eventually stopped running into our songbird’s room to quiet him and just as Beverley had assured us, he stopped screaming out upon waking. (Apparently, kids learn pretty quickly that it’s not much fun if you don’t get a reaction from anyone.) We worked with S. to decide on a few breakfast options to keep things simple and he knows that the longer he stalls on breakfast, the less time for play after. We’ve been working this routine for about six months and things have improved enough for us to actually ease up on some of the structure. S. now gets himself dressed and heads downstairs (though never before 7 a.m. – the number one commandment of the schedule). He even helps pack his own bag on occasion.

It feels like a miracle that we have even gotten to this place. The mornings are still our most stressful time of day but they are no longer going to send us to the loony bin. According to a recent study, 5:55 p.m. is the most stressful time of day for most moms. But I realized long ago that living a life on the full spectrum make our family anything but typical.

(Photo: Goodshot)