Autism and Going Back to School: A Must Read for Teachers and Parents

Autism and Going Back to School: A Must Read for Teachers and Parents

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I taught school off and on over eleven years. I am also a parent of a child with Autism. So one could say I clearly understand both sides of the picture when it comes to the beginning of school. It can be complicated, overwhelming, stressful, and yet exciting. The emotions are much more intense for kids with Autism. But the stress of having to face the social norms and functioning once again with peers can be daunting. I would even go as far to say that most higher functioning children with Autism stress more about the socialization aspect of school then other areas, though they may not always realize it or be able to express it.

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Here are some simple tips and reminders to help families and teachers prepare the darlings for going back to school:

  • Remind them weeks and days ahead of time when the first day of school is.
  • Go visit the school and the new teacher and classroom before the first day of school.advocate2
  • Email the new teacher a few days before going back to school. Allow your child to ask some questions, share some concerns, etc.
  • Spend some time playing on the playground before going back to school. This will allow time for your child to relax a bit and readjust back into school.explaining5
  • When you visit the classroom, take pictures of your child sitting in the new desk, with the new teacher, etc. This way you can help prepare your child for going back to school by looking at the pictures and talking about them once you go back home.
  • Read books about going back to school. Write social stories about going back to school. Ask the teacher for a daily schedule ahead of time so you can begin to process it with your child.
  • Find some students in the class that you might recognize or know from previous years that you know has been helpful and positive for your child. Let the teacher know who they are. Also, do not hesitate to express concern over any student who you know can be a trigger for your child.
  • Parents, consider writing a letter to the teacher, explaining who your child is and the “dos and don’ts”.
  • Teachers, consider writing a letter to the student (and family) telling who you are, things you like to do, etc. Make the family feel welcome to your classroom.
  • One of my all-time favorite ideas is to have the teacher within the first few days of school talk to the class about Autism. I usually suggest doing this while your child is out of the room, maybe for speech or something. The teacher can explain briefly what Autism is, how it affects people, and what we can do to help people that have it. If you are comfortable with it, allow the teacher to even tell the students your child has Autism. When I have done this for my son, the school year has been MUCH better socially! The students accept him and understand why he acts the way he does. They go out of their way to help him and understand when they need to back off from him to give him space. It truly makes all the difference in a school year. If your child is old enough, consider having him/her talk to the class about it, or even yourself! If you are the teacher reading this, approach the parents and ask about it. I have done this before and usually get a positive response from parents. Again, I have seen students go from feeling irritated and annoyed with the student, to complete empathy and understanding towards the student.

TEACHERS: Remember these parents are exhausted and very busy! Just like you! So they may not respond quickly to emails or phone calls. Be patient with them and understanding of their situation. We want what is best for our child, but often we need to process it. I sometimes think families that have members with any disability is a culture all of its own. Often teachers struggle to make connections with these families; I think this is likely why. Sometimes just asking the family how you can continue to help and support them makes them feel more appreciated and loved. Continue doing the best you can, get support from teammates, and love on that student!

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Feel free to ask any questions you might have about going back to school. Tis the season! And Good Luck!

Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Autism: Going to Bed Alone

Autism: Going to Bed Alone

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I recently heard somewhere at a training I went to that nearly 80% of individuals with Autism struggle with sleep in some capacity. I feel the parents of my client’s pain when the walk into my office looking like they only got a few hours of sleep the night before, as likely I also only got that much in my home! One common complaint I often hear is the child will not sleep in his/her own bed. I smile and nod, knowing all too well how the scenario looks each evening.

It is 8:00, the hour you dread because you know the fight is coming, and yet your body aches and screams for it because it is exhausted and needs sleep. You get your child ready for bed… teeth are brushed, pajamas are on, story is read. Then the whining and crying begins, all because they do not want to be alone, or they cannot go to sleep without touching some other person. At 11:00 you and the child are still awake, it feels like a nightmare, and you finally give in and just snuggle up to your child for some attempt at a few good hours of sleep, only to be kicked throughout the night and woken at 5:00 to the happy smile of your child ready for the bright day ahead.

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Yep, this is our story too. There are some nights that are successful for our son to go to bed alone. But this is a battle that even at 8 years old we still have to fight. Here are some thoughts we have learned over the years and some that clients have tried with success!

  • Ask your child’s doctor about using something to help your child fall asleep, such as Melatonin. This is a simple, inexpensive over the counter natural product you can find at any pharmacy.
  • Sleep with the bedroom doors open throughout the house until your child relaxes enough to sleep through the night.
  • Try creating a “brave shelf” in the bedroom. Put things on it that help give confidence to your child, such as superheroes, awards, treats, favorite toys, pictures, etc.
  • Let your child have toys, blankets, books, or anything else to help keep him/her in bed. If he/she ends up playing for a while, consider this better to the alternative! If you need to put the child to bed earlier because of the playing, then do so.Are-your-kids-going-to-bed-too-late
  • Practice going to bed throughout the day. Use a social story, pictures, etc. to help the child understand what is going to happen.
  • If your child is currently sleeping in your bed, take baby steps back to his/her bed. It might look something like sleeping on the floor for a few nights, then moving into the hallway, then further down the hallway, and finally into the bedroom.
  • If your child is struggling because he/she needs to touch someone, try having him/her sleep in a small sleeping bag under a quilt. This will give the impression of feeling secure.
  • Give rewards for any accomplishment, but be careful to not overdo the awards. For example, if your child sleeps all night in the bedroom alone, give a reward such as a treat or an extra privilege. But then the expectation is now set higher, so to earn another reward he/she might need to sleep a whole week alone.
  • Find appropriate times to work on this skill. Working on this when school begins might not be the best option. Working on it during the summer or school break is a better option.
  • Try having a pet sleep with him/her.pet
  • Have your child sleep with a weighted blanket; this has proven very successful. In the summer months, use a fan to help with staying cool.
  • Some families have had success with having white noise in the room. This can be a fan, noise machines (you can find these reasonably priced on Amazon), or music.

Going to bed alone is tough on little guys, especially with Autism. But I encourage you to fight the battle and stay strong. Find the supports you need and pounce on any encouragement you find!

Jen Edwards, LMHCA

jen@BeautifulAutism.com

425-387-3872

Sensory Friendly Films at AMC theaters

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Taking my son to the theater is an awful experience, which is sad for us since we very much enjoy watching movies. It is simply too loud, dark, and overwhelming.

Here is a link for AMC theaters and a program they offer for sensory friendly movies at their theaters. https://www.amctheatres.com/programs/sensory-friendly-films

They are beginning to offer not just kid-friendly movies, but even movies for adults, which is great for all you adults that want to see more grown up movies, such as James Bond 007! They are even doing Star Wars in December!

So enjoy going to the movies! Get your popcorn, drink, and treat and relax with your family!!

Jen Edwards

http://www.beautifulautism.com

jen@beautifulautism.com

Autism: Small Victories

Autism and Small Victories

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I was feeling rather defeated the other day after some negative news on resources for my son and he had a rough day. It was one of those days when I had the depressing feelings of am I a good enough mother, do I have the strength to do this? I know these dark thoughts penetrate the worst feelings I can have.

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After reflecting on this not-so-good day, I realized all the small victories we had that day. My son ate some healthy food (a constant battle), he entertained himself playing in his room, and attempted to pick blackberries with me. So I smiled and said a small prayer of thanks for the small victories that we had.

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What small victories do you get? Maybe it is a hug or eye contact, or maybe you were able to hide vegetables in your child’s meal and it was unknown. How do you hold onto those victories? I occasionally put our victories on Facebook for our family and friends to see and enjoy with us. Usually they are often in the form of funny quotes from my son, as these make us stop and laugh, a small victory we treasure. Perhaps you write things down in a journal or book of some sort.
It often seems as if we have more setbacks than victories. The setbacks causes stress and tension. Use the victories to relieve the stress and tension. Savor in these moments and treasure them. Remind your child (without overdoing it) how happy these victorious moments make you.

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So for now, press on and stay calm dear friends! Victories do come, often in small doses and at times even not recognizable. But nonetheless a blessing!
Jen Edwards
jen@beautifulautism.com
http://www.beautifulautism.com

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Autism: Obtaining all the Resources

Autism and Obtaining all the Resources

I will just be blunt and say it: obtaining all the resources and help a family needs for a child with Autism is exhausting. It is a daily struggle and battle, a lifetime burden. And what it almost always comes down to is either cost or the services are simply not available.

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There is the expression take it one day at a time or a moment at a time. Certainly one can do that, especially when the big picture seems rather daunting. But usually when someone tells me that, I want to just give them a dirty look and roll my eyes because there are a lot of moments I need to take at a time.

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But we all know that we cannot give up. We were given this precious gift and we need to treasure it and advocate for it. As we grow and learn how to handle these situations, we become stronger and more equipped.
My suggestion is figure out what the most important resource is and work on that first. For example, for a school age child, focus on getting the resources they need at school first. Focus on the IEP and the services your child is allotted from that. Advocate for more or less if you feel that is necessary. If you need help with this, there are family advocate services all over that will help for little or no cost or have your child’s therapist help.

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The idea here is try to focus on one battle at a time, if possible. It can be daunting and frustrating; so often you just want to give up or walk away from it. Find other parents and network with them. Ask your child’s doctor or therapist for resources.
Another tip, keep everything your child’s doctors, therapists, etc. give you, especially if it has the diagnosis written on it. This can help get services started quicker when you begin something new and sometimes the paperwork can have resources on them.

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Keep strong parents and share your resources with others!
Jen Edwards
jen@beautifulautism.com
http://www.beautifulautism.com

Anxiety in Children with Autism… and Parents too?

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Anxiety in Children with Autism… and Parents too?

                Studies show anxiety is often high with people coping with Autism; any parent of a child with Autism can likely agree with this.  This can be true for not only the individual with Autism, but for the family, especially the parents, as well.

                Last week my five-year old went in for a surgery.  We talked about it for days ahead of time, but when the actual moment came and we walked through those doors into the pre-op room, anxiety was high and challenging to deal with.  Understanding the situation my son was facing, I tried being as patient as I could be and was more lenient on rules and such.  I bribed him with everything that I could to get him to do simple things, such as stepping onto a scale.  Finally the only thing that helped calm him down was simply watching videos on my phone; he needed the focus on something familiar and that he could be in charge of (meaning he could change the video if he wanted, start it, stop it, etc.).  Then the moment came to go back to the operating room… it took three of us to hold him down on the bed while wheeling down the hall, and again three of us to hold him while putting the mask on him.

                By this time I was exhausted.  I left the room feeling like an emotional wreck… my child was having surgery and I could do nothing until he was out.  The look he gave me when we put the mask on him was daunting; I had chills.  Tears stung my eyes as I walked out to the waiting room.  My body shook from exhaustion, as during the past two hours I had been holding him, moving him, carrying him, and finally holding him down.  I collapsed into the chair, alone, waiting for my husband to get off work and come to us.  I felt sick and light-headed and had no idea what to do.

                My son’s anxiety was high, but so was mine.  We were in situations we could not control; I had given up my son into the hands of a doctor and a nurse.  And now all I could do was wait…

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Why the High Anxiety?

                Anxiety is a side-effect from the Autism; it does not constitute a diagnosis, but adds to the long list of things one has to deal with.  The anxiety comes and goes with Autism, but usually takes a long time to go away once high anxiety takes place.

                People with Autism like expected outcomes; they like knowing what is going to happen and essentially being in charge of situations.  They want control- this helps them feel less anxious.  But as we all know, this is not always possible in daily life.  When an individual feels like things are out of control, and the outcome-based experiences are not happening, anxiety increases.  This can look like a multitude of different things, including abnormal noises or screaming, body movements such as hands flapping, poor eye-contact, repetitive behaviors, and less communication to others.  They feel frustrated, upset, agitated.  The brain and body simply feels like it cannot handle the situation, so it responds with anxiety.

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Anxiety in General

                Certainly all of us have experienced anxiety on our own in our own situation.  I also had a surgery last week in which I was not put under anesthesia.  Now, this has happened to me before, but not while having surgery on my eye lid.  The day of the surgery my anxiety was ridiculously high.  I did all my coping techniques, deep breathing, calming music, reading, distracting, etc., but once in the surgery room, I laid on the floor, feeling nauseous and overwhelmed.   It was an experience I never want to go through again.

                Sometimes anxiety is intense; like my example above.  At times it is less intense, such as test taking, doctor visits, meeting new people, or presentations.  Symptoms can be psychological, cognitive, or emotional.  Psychological symptoms can include feeling weak, rapid heartbeat, muscle problems, and hyperventilation.  Cognitive symptoms can include thoughts of needing to escape or making a fool of oneself, paranoid ideas and thoughts, and low self-esteem thoughts.  The emotional symptoms can include constant fears, feelings of loneliness and depression, and excessively worrying.

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                Anxiety can lead to emotional and health problems when not dealt with and treated properly.  Panic attacks can be common and tend to flare up at the worst possible moments, consuming one’s life.  High blood pressure can ensue and cause heart problems and many other physical problems.  This is why it is critical to deal with anxiety now before it gets out of hand.  There are techniques to cope with anxiety (discussed below) and it may be helpful to see a counselor to get it under control.

A Parents Anxiety

                There is no doubt that coping with challenging children can raise anxiety in parents.  Situations are different and difficult for us.  We want to protect our children because they already have enough to deal with… I wanted to take my son out of that surgery room and take him home where he felt safe and secure.

                We tend to get anxious based on past experiences.  For example, my son does not always get on the bus well… will he today?  If I cannot get him on the bus, what will I do?  Will he calm down enough to be able to function at school well?  These questions and thoughts raise my anxiety on a daily basis around 11:45am as I get him ready to head to preschool.  Then my stress level goes up, I talk louder and more sternly to him, my patience is gone, and I feel tense all over.  Once he gets on the bus and I come back inside, I am not really sure what to do with myself… as the last twenty minutes I have been consumed with this nasty anxiety.

                My friend recently traveled with her husband and two boys.  She was not looking forward to the trip, as her oldest son has Autism and high anxiety.  Actually, this child has some of the highest anxiety I have ever seen in a kid.  I could sense my friend’s anxiety as she was telling me about the upcoming trip, and I felt her pain; I was there too when we began traveling with our son.  She called me as she was walking out the door to the airport, already near tears as her son was going stir crazy with his anxiety.  I could not help her; I could only offer suggestions and prayer.  Unfortunately her trip was a tough one, and her son’s anxiety level was insanely high.  She felt hopeless and stressed, and everyone else around them felt the same as well.

                Did my friend do anything wrong?  Not necessarily.  Could she have done things differently? Sure, I am sure many of you have ideas and suggestions.  Would it have changed the situation?  Likely no.  She did common behavioral techniques with her son; she reasoned with him and told him what they were doing before it happened.  But he is only 3, very young, and has a lot to learn with coping with his high anxiety.  It will hopefully get better for her and her family; it will take time and patience.

                Many of you have been in my friend’s shoes; you know the feeling and the frustrations.  You have been near tears and have felt the emotional lows.  Tell me your stories, your thoughts!

Coping Skills for Anxiety

                Most of us probably know the basic coping skills for anxiety: deep breaths, calm music, glass of cold water, relaxation techniques, etc.  Believe it or not, these are the same techniques we need to teach our children with Autism, and yes parents, we need to set the example to our children and practice these techniques ourselves!!!  Children learn through example, and children with Autism are no exception to this as well.

                My biggest and most critical advice for you: take time for yourself!!!  You MUST do this!!  A saying I use a lot with my clients is you must take care of yourself before you can help others.  If you have ever flown a commercial airline, you know the drill of be sure to put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.  Why is this?  Because if you are dead, you cannot help someone, plain and simple.  If you are a wreck- stressed out, high anxiety, exhausted, no patience- how can you be of much help to your child?  I know… easier said than done, right?

                Make this a priority.  Get away for a few hours.  Go to Starbucks (they have free wifi) and watch something on Netflix or just read and enjoy some coffee or tea.  Get together with a friend that helps to raise you up rather than bring you down; in other words, do not go out with someone that is needy.  Get away for weekends alone or with your spouse; find a friend or family member to watch your kid and just simply enjoy some relax time.  If you do not have anyone to watch your child, use respite care.  This is important, you need it, you deserve it, and it will be immensely beneficial.

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                My husband and I do this often.  We cannot as often anymore since we moved away from my family, but we have great friends here and we have been known to leave our son with my family in Washington while we go away for a week!  We missed our son, but we enjoyed ourselves.  And we felt rested so by the time we got back to him, we were ready to face our daily challenges with a renewed strength.

Biblical Thoughts

                My last thought is prayer.  Pray for your weaknesses and challenges, and ask others to help support you through this.  Anxiety may be an unavoidable thing, but we certainly do not need it to consume our lives and eventually end up a slave to it.  We even see an example of Jesus, perfect as he was, physically being affected from anxiety as he was lead to the cross, knowing what was going to take place.  Again, the anxiety was there with Him, but He fought through it and eventually came above it.

                Proverbs 12:25 says, “An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up” (NIV).  If your anxiety is high, it only wears you out both physically and emotionally.  Seek help, seek kind words!

                Philippians 4:6-7 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (NIV).  Anxiety and prayer are opposing forces… think about it, you feel all these negative emotions/thoughts/physical symptoms, and prayer to God is a healing experience.  Allow Him to help you!

And finally 1 Peter 5:7, “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you” (NIV).  This is why we have our Heavenly Father, to turn to for strength when we cannot do it alone.

Final Thoughts

                I know this can all seem overwhelming and yet powerful.  Taking on the responsibility of caring for someone with Autism is a great challenge.  I applaud you all for your suffering and your amazing capability!  Your strength inspires me and gives me continual hope for my challenges and sufferings!  And all of this makes the wonderful times so much more meaningful and filled with blessing!

                Remember, God qualifies the called!  If you are called to be a parent of a child with Autism, God is qualifying you daily.  Keep pressing forward!!

Resources

                If you need help with anxiety with yourself and/or your child, contact me jen@voyagescounseling.com or 720-258-6392.

This link has some helpful thoughts and ideas and includes other disorders often linked with Autism  http://www.autismspeaks.org/what-autism/treatment/treatment-associated-psychiatric-conditions

http://www.autismspeaks.org/blog/2012/11/16/managing-anxiety-children-autism

Here is another interesting article http://www.research.chop.edu/blog/exploring-the-relationship-between-autism-and-anxiety/

A book I read and LOVED- Managing Anxiety in People with Autism: A Treatment Guide for Parents, Teachers, and Mental Health Professionals by Anne M. Chalfant, Psy. D.