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

Ideas for Communication during Autism Meltdowns

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Ideas for Communication during Autism Meltdowns

                One of the most difficult aspects of Autism is the meltdowns.  Especially if they are in public places!  The looks from people and the muttering under their breath never seems to help neither the situation nor your confidence.

                Last Sunday I was at church with my son and he was beginning to go into meltdown mode.  He could not tell me what was wrong and just wanted to draw on the chalkboard.  I was so frustrated because he would not communicate to me what he was feeling or what had happened.  So I finally gave up and let him go to the chalkboard and draw.  Boy was I surprised what came from the drawing!

Drawing a Picture of the Situation

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                My son began to draw on the chalkboard a picture of what had happened.  While he was drawing, he was describing to me his emotions and the emotions of others around him.  He was also explaining to me the situation and what happened to make him upset.

                I was shocked that he had thought of this idea to help him cope with and explain things.  When he was done, he looked at me and said, “That was better mom.  Now I feel better.”  This is something that we will be using in the future to help him explain situations and his feelings involved.

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Writing out the Situation

                Once kids are older, they may want to write out what happened- especially if they are gifted at writing.  A sixth grader I work with tried this the last two times he got upset at school.

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                While he was writing the situation out on the computer, he was able to go back and add details and take out things as he saw fit.  Because he tends to talk quickly and think faster than he talk, this gave him the opportunity to explain the whole story without forgetting things, and he was able to take his time thinking about the situation and how he was feeling in each moment.  Once completed, he was able to share the document with the different people he needed to explain things to, which eliminated the frustration of verbally sharing the story five times over.

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Final Thoughts

                Now, these ideas do not take away the importance of having them verbally process the situation.  We still do that, but it allows them to process in the way they are gifted at processing things without getting more upset.  Appropriate consequences are still given, but the child is allowed to explain things his/her own way.

                I also wait until the child has calmed down enough to do the picture or writing.  For example, I cuddled with my son for ten minutes and my student rocked in the rocking chair and spent time alone with quiet music and a book in a calm room before processing the situation.

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                Will this work every time?  Possibly not.  Part of the trick is teaching them how to do this before an incident happens.  My son’s therapist has been having him draw something about his week each session and my student has been writing about things that have happened in the past.  So they had been essentially practicing for this situation and felt comfortable doing it.  The fine motor skills activity was also helpful in helping them calm down and reduce the anxiety level.

                Certainly there are many other ideas and thoughts for processing after a meltdown.  And of course this can work for kids that are not on the spectrum as well.  Share with me your thoughts and things that work for your children!  Practice these skills with your kids so they can implement them to help them process!

Autism in the New School Year

Autism in the New School Year

A friend of mine recently told me, “You said August and September were going to be difficult months; you were right.” The new school year is always a challenge for kids on the Spectrum. New schools, new teachers, new rules, new classmates, new schedules and routines. Generally it takes 6-8 weeks for kids to acclimate to the new year and feel settled.

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How Can I Make This Better?

Try to predict how your child is going to react to certain things; plan ahead. For example, if I know my son is having a change in his school schedule (such as an assembly), I need to explain the day before and the morning of to remind him and answer any questions. One nice thing about Autism is it is generally predictable once you know and understand your child. We are able to predict how our son will handle certain things and can then prepare accordingly.

Now certainly we are not always 100% accurate, and often he surprises us with handling things well, or on occasion not well. But being prepared and thinking ahead has made our lives SOO much easier.

Keep in Communication

Talk often to your child’s teachers and workers. I probably email my son’s Special Education team at least 3 times a week. I email his teacher a couple times a week. I want to know what is going on and how things are going for him. I am proactive in following through with his behavior at school and finding links to problems.

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Talk often to any therapists your child has, especially right before a session so they know what is going on and how to work with them.

And of course, talk with your kiddo! Find out what is bothering them. Ask them how YOU can help them. Talk about your expectations. Be supportive of your child and communicate daily your love!

The Challenging Behavior- DAILY!

Like I always say, keep calm. Fight the battles that are worth fighting. You will need to find the balance between what is worth focusing on and what behaviors you can ignore. This is not easy and often stressful. On the one hand, you do not want your child getting away with everything, but you want some peace in your home as well.

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Try to find the links between the challenging behaviors. Many times there are no links to be found; sometimes you find links in the most peculiar places! Use a lot of positive rewards. For example, when my son comes home with no sad faces on his behavior chart, he will get a “good boy treat” and often Mommy partakes in a “good mommy treat” too!

Use any close family and friends to help you! Find someone you can safely “vent” to and avoid venting in front of your child. We all need to be able to talk openly at times about our struggles. If you do not have that safe person, I encourage you to find someone quickly! You might want to have someone that you can talk with on the phone or face-to-face versus texting/email, etc. Pastors, social workers, and counselors are some examples of safe people if you do not have family or friends.

Final Thoughts

Hang in there! Hopefully by the holidays your child is more calm and confident in his/her situation. Then they get the nice holiday break and have to start all over again come January!

Use picture schedules or written schedules when necessary and helpful. Find other tools that will help your child succeed.

Remember, you are called to be parents/workers with this beautiful child, and you will become qualified!

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Sharing Your Autism Story

Sharing Your Story

                We have always been pretty open sharing our story about our son’s diagnosis of Autism and the struggles we went through; but we shared it with family and friends.  It was safe, we were vulnerable… sharing with strangers felt like in intrusion into our personal lives.

                And then last Thursday happened…

I shared My Story

                Last week my son had swimming lessons; they did not go well.  He did nothing for two weeks.  The last day of lessons came and my attitude was sour and ugly.  I did not want to take him and sit there for 30 minutes watching him do nothing.  And honestly, if I had not paid good money for it, I would have not taken him.  But I went.  And something amazing happened!

                We arrived at the pool early.  I decided I had enough.  I took my son into the kiddie pool, let him play for a few minutes, rolled up my pants, climbed in, and made him do a back float (something he was scared to do).  It was like that saying sink or swim.  He finally did it, I felt like a mean mother, and I sent him to his lesson.

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                I sat on the bench and after a while a grandmother came and sat down next to me.  I did the polite quick smile, something you should do according to culture standards, though I did not feel like smiling and making small talk.  I wanted to just be left alone.

                As I sat there watching my son, a smile crept on my face.  He was not only participating, he was doing EVERYTHING!  Floats, bubbles, bobs, he did it!  I admit, I may have had tears in my eyes!  The lady next to me laughed and made some sweet comment about him.  I just smiled, pulled out my phone to distract myself, while watching my son every few seconds.  I was one proud mama… but really this is not what the purpose of this post is about…

                My son came over to me and I told him I was so proud of him for all his hard work and after lessons we could celebrate by going to ice cream.  His only reply, “Did I do my bobs mom?”  I replied yes and he went on his way to go down the water slides.  The lady next to me commented how cute that was…

                Now at this point normally I would have found an excuse to leave or simply distract myself on my phone, but I found myself spewing out about his Autism and our story.  Half way through I wanted to slap myself silly for spilling all this information at her- a perfect stranger.  I explained what I do as a career and this is where I suddenly realized why I was doing this… she looked at me, tears in her eyes, and stated, “My son is 31 years old and was just diagnosed with Aspergers a few years ago.”  Stunned.

It All Comes Together for Good

                The lady proceeded to explain briefly her son’s story.  I listened carefully while still watching my son and his grand achievements.  The story was intriguing and I realized at that point, while listening to this lady speak from her heart, I opened up to this lady so SHE could open up to me.  She needed this time and opportunity to talk.  And I was privileged and blessed to listen to her.

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                My story helped inspire this lady to open up.  So is that why I shared my story?  Maybe.  What did I learn from this experience?  God’s plan is perfect; maybe I will never see this lady again or her son, but I touched her heart and made an impact.  Will I share my story again with a stranger?  I do not know, maybe, if the time was right and it can bring some benefit to someone.  Or if it was just simply laid on my heart again, like it was this time.

What is my Point?

                I encourage you out there who are parents of a child with Autism- share your story!  You never know who you can bless with your story, or you may meet someone who can help you in some way.  Be an encouragement to someone.  Use your story to help people!

                Why did God give us a son with Autism?  I do not know, but I know this, we can help teach others, bless others, and in turn bless ourselves.