Helping Your Kids Reduce Anxiety During Covid 19 Situation

Helping Your Kids Reduce Anxiety During the Covid 19 Situation

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We are currently living in a time that is unsettling. We do not know what tomorrow will look like, if we will have jobs, if we can pay bills, if school will finish this year, etc. I am beginning to notice a change in our kids as well with their anxiety raising.

Many kids are enjoying this long break from school. I predict in a few weeks they will all be bored after being stuck home, not going anywhere, and not spending time with friends. I also am anticipating many kids having high anxiety as parents and caregivers begin to experience financial strain, job loss, changes in jobs, etc.

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So what can you do as a parent or caregiver to support you kids?

  • Check in with them daily to see what they are thinking and feeling.
  • Remind your kids this situation is a grown-up problem, and they should just focus on them being a kid, doing their expectations, and enjoying a break from school.
  • Share with your kids any changes that are going to happen, including you working from home, the loss of a job, changes in finances, etc. Do not do this to raise their anxiety, but rather remind them you as the grown up have decisions to make to continue to support the family.
  • Explain to your kids the expectations each day that they have, i.e. chores, schoolwork, etc. Keep them structured with fun free time built in!
  • Be open and honest with them (but keep it age appropriate) about the global situation with Covid 19. Use this as an opportunity to teach them about global response, economy, health issues, sanitation of home and work area, etc.
  • If your child has a lot of anxiety, deal with it! Please do not let it go untreated. Again, support your child with their emotions, validate how they are feeling, remind them grown-ups are dealing with this situation, remind them they are safe at home, and if needed, seek out medical support with counseling and/or medication.
  • Many therapists and doctors are now offering temporary telehealth sessions for therapy and medical appointments. Reach out to those professionals for more support for your child.
  • Likely you as a parent or caregiver have high anxiety right now too, be careful to not show this to your kids. Keep this between you and other grown-ups in your life. Kids can often pick up on the anxiety from adults; show them your happiness, happy thoughts, etc!

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Hang in there! This is a crazy time but positive can come out of this situation. Enjoy the extra time you have with your family right now and teach them the board games we played growing up that they have never experienced! Find fun things at home to do, take time to do self-care, and most of all, just laugh and be silly with your kids!

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Jen Edwards, LMHC

Owner and Director of Beautiful Autism

Autism: Changing the Parenting Style

Autism: Changing the Parenting Style

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People often ask me what it is like to parent a child with Autism. I usually respond with something along the lines of I think I am more tired, more aware, and it is just different. They ask how it is different, but I usually cannot find the exact words to describe it. It is just different.

The rules of our home are different. If our son has a bad day at school, he usually does not get privileges taken away. If we had the “normal” rule and took privileges away, he would likely never have any privileges.

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We mold our son and constantly work on flexibility. This is something we were trained on by his therapists at Rocky Mountain Autism Center in Denver, CO. Specifically his level of flexibility with objects, activity, and people. As parents, we teach and train our children to do things; they learn the task and move forward. But we tell them how to do it, we instruct them, show them, and then they practice it and master it. For example, washing our hands. We teach this skill at home when they are young. Then our children can do it anywhere there is a sink and soap.

However, with many children that have Autism, this is not the case. We teach them at home- they only will wash their hands at home because that is how they were taught. We create the problem for them; in essence, we as parents have basically set up the situation and now they attribute washing hands at home in that bathroom with that soap.

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So how is our parenting style different? We teach our child to wash his hands in many different sinks. (Yes, this is an analogy) We drive a different way home somedays. We eat at the restaurant he does not like to eat at (when we are done, then he can get a happy meal somewhere). We do not reason with him, as this gives him authority which allows for him to control the situation (we give an inch, he takes a mile idea). And yes, when he is screaming and angry, we let him get it out, as reasoning with him using words only makes it worse.

Am I exhausted? Yes. You better believe when he is asleep, I am asleep. But ultimately we need to do what is best for him. We cannot let him stay in his bubble and become rigid and set in his ways. We cannot adhere to the typical American way of parenting, otherwise our son cannot be successful.

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Sometimes people will not understand; they cannot understand what they do not live and experience. We can explain and model, but it is not our job to make them see things our way. We use our support from friends and loved ones. We stay focused on what really matters, our son. We change what needs to be changed when it needs changing. It truly is a never ending job!

We were not called to be his parents because we were trained already; but we are becoming trained as we go because we were called to be his parents. And such a blessing it is and will forever be!

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Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

Childhood Milestones

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Milestones

                I often get asked, “Should my kid be doing ____ by now?”  Obviously there are certain milestones children should reach with particular things at particular times.  For example, most children begin sitting up around 6 months of age.  However, there is also something to be said for some kids being slower and doing things in their own time.

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Worried?

                So at what point should you be worried about your child?  First of all, check out the CDC website for milestones: http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones/index.html  This should be a good start for you to question where your child is.  Also, ask your child’s pediatrician.  A good doctor will evaluate the milestones at each wellness visit, generally going by what the CDC recommends.  But again, keep in mind some kids are slower at reaching milestones and may have nothing wrong at all, especially boys.

                However, if your child is not meeting any of the milestones one or two months after they should be, get your child into see a doctor and question it.  But again, I caution you, do not panic.  Listen to the doctor and take his/her advice.  Follow through with testing and assessments; continue to evaluate your child, taking notes and making charts.  Work with your child and encourage them to sit or stand or whatever the milestones not reached are.

Autism and Milestones

                Because each child with Autism is different, it is difficult to narrow down specific milestones that are generally missed.  Often times, milestones are generally on target until the child becomes a toddler, but this is not always the case.  However some common milestones not achieved include talking and increasing vocabulary, eye contact, playing with other children, and interests in many things.  However, this is not to say that if your child has not met some of these particular milestones, he or she has Autism.  Proper diagnosis and assessment is needed to determine this.

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                My son hit every milestone early or on time until 24 months old.  After this point, milestones were not always being reached and concerns were becoming more prevalent.  It was difficult for us to accept this; we had dreams- big dreams.  Milestones are still critical for us even at five years old.  I get so excited when he finally reaches something, such as his beginning to have back and forth conversations (even if they are strange and go in directions I have difficulty following…).  I always say with Autism the rules are thrown out the window; milestones are achieved at different rates than the typically developing child.  Take them as they come- get excited for them and encourage your child to continue making progress.  Love them, enjoy their uniqueness, cherish them, laugh at their funny quirky ways, and take pleasure in the small achievements that for us are HUGE!

                If you are anything like me, it can be difficult to not think the worst possible thing when milestones are not being achieved.  My husband constantly reminds me to chill out and relax when I see other children behind in achieving milestones.  I have to take a step back, calm down, get relaxed, and encourage the parents to seek medical advice.  I offer this advice to you if you are concerned: Love your child, encourage your child, seek medical advice, and stay calm.  Try to not think of the worst possible outcome; this will only stress you out and add extra tension in the family.  But instead be thankful for what your child can do and be in prayer continually.

Wrapping it up

                If you have questions or thoughts, feel free to message me.  This can be a sensitive discussion at times, especially between spouses.  Again, above all, seek professional medical advice.

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                There are many different websites that discuss milestones.  Check them out and share with others!  Here are a few below:

http://www.babycenter.com/milestone-charts-birth-to-age-3

http://www.parenting.com/gallery/11-big-kid-milestones

http://www.med.umich.edu/yourchild/topics/devmile.htm

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.

 

Beautiful Autism

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Beautiful Autism

                Autism… the word alone can bring anxiety to any parent or family member.  It can also bring a whole new outlook on life that can be very rewarding!  Hence the title of this blog: Beautiful Autism.

Who I am

                My name is Jen Edwards; I am both a parent of a son with Autism as well as a professional therapist working with families and individuals coping with Autism.  Like many of you reading this, I struggle with the daily challenges that Autism brings into our home, such as difficult behavior, limited communication, adherence to schedules, etc. 

                My clients come in with similar struggles; they are often anxious, depressed, upset, and at a loss for direction.  They need help finding resources or sometimes just need someone to talk to about their feelings and frustrations.

My Story

                When my son was two years old, I was working towards my graduate degree in Marriage and Family Therapy.  I was doing a research paper on Autism and began to find a love for the families struggling with it on a daily basis.  One day I looked at my son and realized things were not quite right with him anymore.  His speech has regressed; he was now pronouncing words incorrectly that he had been saying correctly for six months.  He was more irritable and his behavior had gotten worse (which I had written off as the terrible-twos).  I began inquiring with his doctor and after his third birthday we took him to get assessed. 

                What a process the assessments were!  We had assessments done at the school district, at Seattle Children’s Hospital, and eventually at a Speech and Language Clinic.  The diagnosis took a long time to get… it was like we had to jump through certain steps before we could meet with a medical doctor who specialized in Autism.  That doctor did not fully believe our son had Autism, but agreed to keep the diagnosis anyway (what an experience that was). 

                We put our son in the preschool at the school district.  But then we got stuck… where do we go for therapy?  What direction is the best for him?  Who can help us?

                The truth is we had no idea what we were doing; we just did whatever sounded good at the time.  We changed our parenting techniques, our discipline, and our attitude.  But it was not easy; it was tough and emotionally exhausting.

                Our grief over the diagnosis came in stages.  My husband grieved initially, struggling with finding how to cope with the loss of his dreams for our son and accepting this “label” that was now attached to us.  I was so relieved to have the diagnosis that my grief did not really hit me until months later.  My husband and I find our grief to go up and down; often when I am the one grieving, he is there to comfort and support me, when he is grieving I am there to support him. 

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                This is just a snip of what we went through and encountered.  The whole picture of our experience could be a whole article itself!  And even today, two years later, we are still changing the way we cope, parent, and discipline.  It is a never-ending change that seems rather exhausting and often overwhelming!

What I do to Help People

                After the diagnosis, we had no idea what direction to go.  I can remember one day saying to my husband how I wished we had someone we could sit down with and help us find resources and help us through our transition and grief.  Have you found yourself here?  Look for direction and resources?

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                It is my pleasure to help people coping with Autism and find the resources they need!  I love my job; my clients come to me for help and I do what I can do give it.  I offer the following therapies for all ages:

  •  Family Counseling
  •  Individual Counseling
  • Couples/Marital Counseling

And I help people through their:

  • Depression
  •  Anxiety
  •  Autism
  • Relationship Problems
  • Special Needs
  • Transition
  • Grief
  • And so much more!

How to Contact

                My practice is at Voyages Counseling.  You can contact me by phone at 720-258-6392 or email at jen@voyagescounseling.com.  Our website is http://www.voyagescounseling.com/.  I serve the southern Denver metro area; my office is located in Lone Tree.

                Please feel free to check out my website and contact me if you are in need of my services. 

More to come…

                I am excited to fill this blog with articles as quickly as I can write them!  Look in the next few weeks for articles on Anxiety in Autism, Vaccinations and Autism, and Handling Transitions.  Email me or leave comments here to express your thoughts and ideas!  I would love to hear them!