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

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Autism Occurs Within the Context of a Family

Autism Occurs Within the Context of a Family

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I went to a conference a few weeks ago where Dr. Felice Orlich stated something that really caught my attention: Autism occurs within the context of a family. How true these words are! Yes, my son is diagnosed with Autism, but honestly at times I want to just put a huge diagnosis sticker on my whole family that states in big huge letters AUTISM. In our own ways, we are each effected.  And together we go through the ups and downs of Autism, as a family unit.

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I have spoken before about the impact the diagnosis of Autism had on myself and my husband. And it continues even years later to impact us emotionally. But when I heard this statement about how it occurs within the context of a family, I really got to thinking about how our family changed, and how we are different than the typical family.

Here are some things that look different for our family, simply based on the fact that my son has Autism and we make adjustments according to his needs:

  • Going out to eat is earlier before the loud crowds get there
  • Vacations tend to be places where everything is at one place, such as a cruise or resort
  • Pre-boarding the airplane before anxiety gets too high
  • Going to sensory-friendly movie showings at movie theaters
  • Doing errands and other things first in the morning before behavior gets difficult
  • Going to bed shortly after our son falls asleep as we never know what kind of night our son will have, or how much sleep we will get
  • Rarely having free evenings, as therapies and appointments keep us pretty busy
  • Arriving early to anything so there is time to process before it begins
  • Often leaving early from things because the wiggles just become too much

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We have just accepted it for what it is. Our lives have changed and they do look a bit different from other families and that is ok. We make adjustments when needed and our son always has to come first. So yes, our son may actually have the Autism diagnosis, but in reality that diagnosis makes an impact within the entire family dynamic.

I often watch the siblings within the family of a child with Autism closely as well. So much of their life is impacted because of their brother or sister with Autism. It is always interesting listening to their stories and trying to understand their needs. If you have a child in this role, be sure to give them the support they need, but also the love they need as well, as it looks vastly different from the child diagnosed with Autism.

I always say I would never change my son! He is perfect the way he is! I give him the tools he needs to help him succeed in life. But I cannot change who he is. The quicker I can understand that, and the quicker my family can understand that, the better our family is for coping with the Autism and serving our son with his needs.

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Jen Edwards

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

jen@BeautifulAutism.com

When to Tell Your Child He/She has Autism

When to Tell Your Child He/She has Autism

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We all have times in our lives when we face the decision of when to tell our children important or challenging things. We dread those discussions at times. The stress of it can eat at us and drain our energy. As parents we might argue about when to talk to our children about these things, causing stress on our marriage. These conversations range from talking to your child about sex to talking to your child about a diagnosis he/she has.

Our son was three years old when he was diagnosed with Autism, so obviously we were not in a huge hurry to explain to him about the diagnosis of Autism that he had. However as the years crept on, we realized at some point we were going to need to explain this to him, especially once he began realizing things about himself he did not perceive as normal. My husband and I began having conversations around when and how to tell him, as well as how do we explain it to him in a way that he can explain it to his peers to help them understand him. At first when we began discussing it the conversations did not seem that difficult, but as we got more into the details of it, the conversations got more intense and stressful.

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Eventually we got to the point where we thought our son was ready and we began to slowly introduce to him Autism. We did not tell him right away he had Autism, we wanted to see if he could begin to connect the dots himself. In time he began to, and though he is still figuring out what exactly Autism is, as well as ADHD, he is beginning to understand himself, how he interacts with others, how he is perceived by others, and he needs to function to work in the world.

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Here are some thoughts to consider when thinking about this:

  • Is my child mature enough to begin to understand the concepts of the diagnosis?
  • In what ways will this help and hinder my child?
  • Will this be able to help others in our family or others that interact with my child?
  • Who will tell my child about the diagnosis?
  • How will we tell my child about the diagnosis?
  • Am I putting my child’s needs first when thinking about this decision? Or am I allowing my own thoughts to come first?

I hear a lot of people come up with some reasonable arguments for not telling their child about the diagnosis. Some people are scared about what their child might say or how they might react. Some are afraid it will put a label on their child and others are afraid their child will use it as an excuse for poor behavior.

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Keep in mind eventually your child will likely find out about their diagnosis from someone, someway. When we want our kids to always be open and honest with us, we have to also consider that we need to demonstrate how to do this. True we need to take into a lot of considerations, just as the questions above can be used as a guideline for this, but children want the same courtesy given to them as we want from them.

When getting ready to talk to your child about the diagnosis, be sure both parents are on the same page and timing for the talk. Also, begin with just having simple conversations about what Autism is; do not begin with the bomb of, “You have Autism.” Allow your child to try and realize, through your help, they have Autism.

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Remember, these decisions take time and lots of thought. Find others that support you to help you through it. This might be your parents, therapists, doctors, or close friends. Until that time does come, enjoy your child for who he/she is and blessings come with that. Love your child, treasure the memories, enjoy the moments.

Jen Edwards

www.beautifulautism.com

jen@beautifulautism.com

Autism: I Just Want a Normal Child

Autism: I just want a normal kid!

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I hear this so often in my line of work, “I just want a normal kid!” In a way it breaks my heart; but then again I get it. I can relate and have even said those words in my head hundreds of times. I just want a normal kid…
A saying I often tell parents, and something that finally resonated with me and truthfully allowed me to look at it from a whole new way was God does not call the qualified, He qualifies the called. Oh how that took so long to fully sink in and surrender to. And how I still at times find myself falling down and saying that “normal” word.
I find myself wanting “normal” when I am stressed and frustrated at my child; when I think he is not acting as he should be acting. I find myself feeling embarrassed at his actions or frustrated that I cannot control the overall situation. But then when I sit back and think about it, I realize I am acting rather selfishly, as I am only considering my own thoughts and feelings. My son is who he is, and I need to be thankful for that and work to meet his needs while still keeping him accountable to the given expectations that life holds.

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There are times I grieve for my son and his diagnosis of Autism. I want him to be able to experience all that life holds and the many treasures that life experiences can allow for. However I also realize that he gets the pleasure of experiencing things that I cannot because of his diagnosis. He has an amazing mind and imagination that I am not able to understanding and comprehend; he will say to me how sad it is that I cannot think like him. We are all blessed with our own gifts in life; he has his and I have mine.

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What can parents do who feel like they just want a normal child?
1) Find the “normal” within your child and LOVE that normal! That is who your child is, be in love with that and treasure each waking moment while you can.
2) Pray and ask God for wisdom and strength to love your child for who they are. As parents we all have dreams about how our children will be. We want our boys to be football players and our girls to be a princess. When our dreams are shattered by an Autism diagnosis (or any other diagnosis), we are devastated. Ask God to help you understand and be changed for the new normal.
3) Find others who can help you and encourage you daily. These might be prayer partners, family members, friends, etc. It is ok to share your thoughts and feelings to those around you who will listen to you!
4) Tell your child that you love them. If you are able to hug and kiss them, do it. If not, blow them a kiss or do it while they are sleeping.
Again, be encouraged by your child, not discouraged. And if you are feeling discouraged, find help. Having a child with special needs is a lot to deal with on a daily basis. It never hurts to seek out professional help with a therapist or ask your doctor for some advice. Most importantly, qualify yourself to be the best you can be for your child!

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Jen Edwards, MA LMHCA

jen@beautifulautism.com

http://www.beautifulautism.com

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: Building Resiliency

Autism and Building Resiliency

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Resiliency. We know this to be the act of overcoming something, such as in this case of challenges or adversity. With Autism resiliency is a daily, if not at times an hourly action. As parents we watch our kiddos with Autism struggle to overcome situations all the time, all the while crying for them, praying for them, and hoping they will gain confidence through the use of their resiliency skills.
There is that common saying that kids are resilient… apparently those people have yet to work much with kids on the Autism spectrum! My husband and I watch our son struggle all the time with resiliency. Change is difficult for him; just the idea of change is enough to make his anxiety unbearable to work with. His face gets red, his eyes dark and mysterious.

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We have to teach our children resiliency, it is not something that comes naturally. With children diagnosed with Autism, we have an extra challenge of teaching them this concept and life skill. And we need to demonstrate resiliency continually as to show our children what this looks like. This is not easy, as so often I want to simply scream and yell, slam the door, or shrug my shoulders and say oh well.

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Always encourage your child with resiliency. Do not be afraid to use the word, even with young children. One of the best ways you can encourage your child is to explain what you would do in that situation. For example, when my son is trying to put something together but is struggling, I might suggest to him, “When I am struggling with that, I do it this way. That is how I use resiliency.” Then when you see your child using resiliency skills, be sure to comment positively and praise on this well-deserved triumph.
Frustration will come easy, particularly with kids diagnosed with Autism. I caution on knowing the difference between encouraging and forcing. By this I mean you do not want to push and push, or force, your child with working through something to the point where it gets into a meltdown mode or arguments. Always help them when and if they need help.

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As parents coping with the effects of Autism, we all know the resiliency we have to maintain daily. We push through the meltdowns, respond to the emails from school that usually are not very encouraging, clean up messes, and take our child to therapy a few times a week. At times we question our ability to parent, but we somehow press forward. Some nights we cry ourselves to sleep, wondering how we will make it through the next day. Sometimes our resiliency comes out through prayer, deep breaths, or extra work.
But hopefully we can all agree that in the end we love and adore our child. There is nothing that I would change about my son, Autism and all! The determination and resiliency that I have gained from working with him has been life-changing. After all, he is the reason I do my job, write this blog, and wake up every morning before the sun comes up.

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Jen Edwards
jen@beautifulautism.com
http://www.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

Autism: Arranging the Bedrom

Autism: Arranging the Bedroom

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We just recently moved and I have been setting up my son’s room. A lot of thought went into how to set up his room, as we are very tight for space currently and his room is arranged much differently than before. But this got me thinking on how this will impact him, and after I finished his room he does not seem to spend much time in it.
When arranging your child’s bedroom, you need to think simple and calming. Keep in mind that your child’s brain processes very differently and can get very over stimulated; this makes it difficult to get calm and sleep well if the bedroom is not calming.
Things to put in the room include a comfortable bed, appropriate low level lighting, books, soft stuffed animals, blankets and pillows (and of course clothes). Some examples of low level lighting might include a lamp or lava lamps. A soft chair or something like a bean bag chair might be a nice touch near the books to snuggle up in while reading.

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Avoid putting in toys, colorful lighting, hard items, or anything that can cause harm to your child or even you (if your child has a tendency to throw things when upset). Again, you want this room to be a calming experience for your child. The items listed here can cause overstimulation and make it difficult for sleeping and calming.
If possible, have the toys in a separate room other than a bedroom. This allows separation of playing and sleeping. However, if this is not possible, as for us it is not at the moment, attempt to put the room in two sections. Have the sleeping part in one half of the room and the playing in the other half. Try to keep the lighting low and do not put out too many toys. You may have to rotate toys to reduce the overwhelming amount.

This picture demonstrates the idea of separating the play area from the sleeping area if it is needed to share the same space.

This picture demonstrates the idea of separating the play area from the sleeping area if it is needed to share the same space.

It is easy to place your child in his/her bedroom when meltdowns or discipline occurs. However, try to avoid this as you want to keep the bedroom a calming place. Find another place to allow for these happenings. This place should be a safe place without hard things that will cause damage if thrown.

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These ideas are difficult to implement at times, but can make such a wonderful difference. I would love to hear your thoughts or comments!
Jen Edwards
jen@beautifulautism.com