The new year brings a season of hope and a reason for optimism. When you or a loved one struggles with a disability or an emotional or behavioral disorder, however, the new year can be accompanied by anxiety. Fears of struggling at school, inadequate or poor friendships, or continued confusion and frustration can also occur as we return to work or academic routines.

Important strategies in navigating learning differences are good to remember during times when stress is reintroduced like the start of a new year. In the hope of providing encouragement and confidence to families affected by autism, developmental disabilities, ADHD, anxiety, or other emotional disorders, Emerge offers the following points of light:

    • Everyone is unique. It can take months or even years to realize our children or loved one’s precious gifts. Comparing them to others, however, will likely rob you of the joy and celebration of what they do have in exchange for complaining about what they cannot do. Resist the temptation to yearn for your family member to be like your neighbor or friends’ kid or spouse and protect yourself from unnecessary heartache.
    • When children have challenges, it can be overwhelming to consider all that you want them to learn and be able to do. Far too often, parents and family member develop their own anxiety worrying their loved one will never move out of the house or sustain employment. Individuals with autism or a developmental disability typically learn some things more slowly than others, so the list of goals easily feels long. To avoid overwhelm, set just 2 or 3 goals for the next few months. If they accomplish those goals, then set 2 or 3 more goals. Limiting the number of goals helps focus your efforts and your expectations so everyone can feel hopeful and positive.
    • Keep notes of what your child or family member currently does. Often growth and change are slow so if you don’t record how many times something is happening on a chart, notebook, or journal, you can miss the improvement they’re making. Whether it is the number of times talking, starting school or work on time, or the duration of tantrums, objectively tracking the frequency helps quantify goals as well as providing a welcome shift away from the emotional burden you may otherwise feel.
    • Finally, remember that you will not be building skills forever. Many abilities are life-skills that, once established, are not likely to ever be forgotten or unlearned. For example, learning to tie your shoes, dress for the weather, or master a job interview are unlikely to fade once mastered. Because skills can be more challenging for those with autism, learning disabilities, or behavioral challenges, however, be sure to prioritize what goals you set. If something is not that important or merely nice-to-have, leave it alone until or unless it becomes critical. Consider though, that learning to often say, “I love you”, for example, may really be nice for the whole family!