In this House We Use Ukeru

This post was written by Allison Hoffmaster, Ukeru Learning Engineer and mom to Lila. Photo credit: Julie Napear Photography

In this house, we use Comfort vs Control ®, alternatives, and a trauma informed approach. I truly feel like I could go on and on discussing the numerous ways I use Ukeru®’s Comfort vs. Control approach in my day-to-day life. But today, I want to share my experiences with my daughter, Lila whom I adopted three years ago. Working for Ukeru as a Learning Engineer, I have gained so much knowledge; I use this knowledge in my everyday routine with my Lila.

Lila is 20 years old and has been diagnosed with autism, epilepsy, and intermittent explosive disorder. She is nonverbal and uses very limited signs, but communicates all of her wants and needs well through her nonverbal communication. She was placed into a residential setting when she was eight years old due to the intensity of her behaviors. During that time, she had a few foster families interested in welcoming her into their homes. However, they all stopped the process because they were not able to manage the intensity of her behaviors.

I often wonder if I had not gone through the Ukeru training while working at Grafton if I would have felt the same way. The adoption process was so successful for us because we were able to feel safe; this feeling of comfort and safety comes from the use of Ukeru. Before we can be kind and compassionate to others, we all need to feel safe first. Lila has a long history of aggressive behaviors towards others. Ukeru has not only taught me how to manage these situations safely, but also how to prevent them from occurring in the future.

Before transitioning home, some months Lila would have over 400 aggressions. Now, we go several consecutive months without any. Over the years, we have learned how to become “behavior detectives,” we work to identify the reason behind her behaviors. One thing we don’t do is engage in power struggles with her. Sometimes (actually, many times, in our house) Doritos are a breakfast food. There are times when Lila needs to sleep in longer, take multiple baths, or eat multiple snacks. We choose to focus on decisions that will lead her behavior in a positive direction rather than seeking to control her.

But the reality is I can’t always give Lila what she wants in the moment. However, I don’t want to just tell her “no” and walk away. Instead,  I explain why the answer is no, and I will offer her an alternative. If she wants to go on a ride but I am busy, I will offer her another preferred activity. It’s important that the offer is something she has a preference for so that she will want to choose it. A lot of times, simply offering that alternative will completely avoid a tantrum, aggression, and self-injurious behaviors.

How I parent Lila when she becomes upset is very important. She needs to know I am here for her, not only through good times, but also when she is struggling. I believe that’s how we built such a strong relationship so quickly. It is easy to be kind to someone when they are being kind to us. What shows someone that you truly care about them is maintaining kindness even when they aren’t so kind to us. This doesn’t mean that I don’t work with Lila on certain things; I certainly do. But, it’s important that I wait until she is calm.

We aren’t able to learn when we are highly emotional. Using a calm tone of voice, giving Lila space, and providing her with reassurance are all things that have been beneficial in those moments. Think about what helps you when you become upset? Our children need the same thing from us.

Ukeru is important for Lila in so many ways, but it’s also been very beneficial for me. It has taught me that it’s okay to take a break. It took some time for me to realize that taking care of myself makes me a better parent. If I’m feeling stressed, tired, and frustrated, then my daughter doesn’t get the best version of me.

I had to learn to ask for help when I need it, because being a parent is the hardest thing I have ever done in my entire life. Taking breaks and asking for help are perfectly okay too! Some days are hard, long, and exhausting. I am proud to say the hard days are less common these days and our relationship is stronger than ever. Using Ukeru in our home has changed our lives.