Caregiving for people with Fetal Alcohol can straight up piss you off – even with all your knowledge about the disability, it’s still hard to sometimes keep your cool. As a caregiver, I think the hardest part and the one that used to push me over the edge, were the INSULTS and bad language they used when they were in a bad mood – especially when it was directed at me. Even though they may not understand the meanings of the words they say, they still say them. It hurts your feelings and makes you super mad. How can it not? You’re only human. Having said that, sometimes keeping your cool, while they are having a verbal meltdown or they are unable to cope with their day, can mean the difference between a good day or a very bad day. Here are some strategies that I have learned and shared with other folk’s I am coaching that has brought success.
Think Like a Pro Athlete
I went to a basketball game and was lucky enough to have some great seats near the court. As I watched these massive human beings (who made me feel like a hobbit) play the game, I couldn’t help but notice the amount and intensity of insults these players were getting, not only from the fans but from the other players as well. I couldn’t believe how they could just stand there and take all that verbal abuse and not FREAK OUT!!!!
I began to look into it further and found that most pro athletes are able to just shut out the noise and focus on their job. I know what you’re thinking – ‘Jeff that’s fine…they are pro athletes and I am just a caregiver. They have a game to focus on’. Well, if that’s where you’re going with this, you’re mistaken. You have a job to focus on as well. When you’re in the middle of a meltdown you have to figure out what caused the meltdown and how do you fix the problem so the meltdown does not continue or escalate. From what we know about kids with Fetal Alcohol is that meltdowns occur when these kids are overwhelmed. Take for example what’s happening to me right now as I write this. My guy(one of the young men I work with) is calling me every name in the book and telling me how he is going to take me out, etc, etc. Now, I have two options: 1. I can freak out and fire verbal remarks back, which would just turn this day to pure chaos OR 2. While my guy is blowing off steam with his colorful language I can try and figure out why he is so upset. In this case, he wanted to take a break from cleaning his room and go out. Which of course I have no problem with, knowing his level of functioning. As we are about to leave he puts sandals on – really? I tell him that wearing sandals is not a good idea because it’s SNOWING outside. Well, this was not the answer he was looking for. You can see his whole face change in a second (my guy kinda reminds me of an Adam Sandler Character who can change from being super nice to a crazy rage in seconds). Here is what the issue was: his emotional cup was full from trying to clean his room AND the other day he mentioned that his shoes stink (which is true, he never wears socks so it can get a little cheesy). So, I let my guy calm down and when he was ready I explained to him that we are going to get some shoe deodorizer so his shoes won’t smell anymore and I took him out for ice cream. The point is if I wasn’t able to focus when he started to get upset I couldn’t think about a proper intervention for this particular situation. So, like the pro athletes, this is ‘our game’ as caregivers. It’s important to try your best to NOT take things personally. I know – easier said that done, but YOU CAN DO IT.
FOCUS ON THIS PICTURE
I am sure most of you have seen this picture already, it’s a very popular image used in trainings and seminars. I have had this picture in my wallet as a reminder of what I was dealing with when I would feel the vain in my head start to throb. The key is to get a moment by yourself and take a look at the picture. Seriously. It helps keep me in check, it brings me back to realize just how damaged people with FASD really are and maybe what I am asking my guy to do is a little beyond his ability at that moment. Or if I start to get annoyed from hearing the same story over and over again I take a look, it has helped me keep my cool in certain situations, over and over again.
Look, no matter what people tell you, caregiving for someone with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder can be one of the toughest jobs in the world; it can also be one of the most rewarding. I am not saying that they always make you want to drive your car off a bridge – these are just some helpful tips that may help you when you are feeling like you are heading towards the bridge. A lot of people are not prepared or had no idea what they where signing up for when they started living, caring or working with someone with FASD. Without these tools, kids with FASD go through multiple placements such as moving from aunts to uncles to grandma’s back to aunts, foster families – you get the idea. If we can fine tune the way we deal with them and understand that when they are having a meltdown it is due to their inability to understand what’s being asked of them, we have a better chance of making sure they are safe and successful. The quicker we abstain from our anger – the quicker they will abstain from theirs.
Call to Action:
I want you to leave a comment and tell me and the other caregivers what you do when you are angry and feel overwhelmed. What has helped you keep your cool? I know you guys have some fantastic strategies that will help other caregivers!!!