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

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: 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

Young Adults with Autism

Young Adults with Autism

                The experience of young adulthood is challenging enough without the aspect of Autism thrown on top of it.  Think about it, so much of young adulthood is the social aspect and the experience of getting a job and living independently.  These are not generally strengths of individuals with Autism.

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                They want so much to fit in and be on their own.  Their logical side can come up with the logistics of it- the budget, the plans, etc.  But it is such a challenge for them.  My heart aches for them, as they have these high ambitions with hesitancy and anxiety.  As parents, how can we help our children through this?

Social Skills in Young Adulthood

                Here is the scenario I often see: we push our kids with Autism to get involved socially in high school.  They are going to therapy and social skills classes.  They have assistants in their classes.  Parents follow up with teachers and staff at the schools constantly.  Parents help them through everything.  Then high school ends.  They are expected to possibly attend college and move forward with being an adult.  But they have had so much assistance throughout their childhood that they really do not have the maturity and knowledge to know figure it out.  We have held their hand through these social situations, and now they must do it on their own.

                Individuals with Autism can be very successful in college academically, but socially they struggle.  Many parents would say this is a curse in disguise, as generally they will not be attending the frat parties and get involved with illegal things.  But they begin to realize they do not fit in and anxiety and depression begins to rear its ugly head.

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                Then they begin applying for jobs.  But socially they tend to not know how to interview well.  They may be qualified for the job, but socially they cannot handle it.  Finding a job that does not require a lot of social skills can be difficult.

                Practice interview skills with your young adult.  Give them tips and ideas.  Help them find a job you know they can be successful at.  Use therapists to help with these skills and ideas as well.

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                Another idea is try to keep them involved in some type of social atmosphere.  For example, church groups or groups such as gaming groups might be a good fit.  Use their hobbies as ideas to find groups for them to connect with.  Basically, find a social group that they will likely stay with and enjoy.  I would also encourage the social skills groups, but those can be very therapy based- find something else also that is more natural and enjoyable.

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                There is also the aspect of romantic relationships, which honestly is a whole other post for another day!

Beginning College

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                In our culture today, we put so much success on going to college.  But honestly, people can be successful without college too, especially if it is a struggle for them.  Now do not get me wrong, I think college is great, but it is not for everyone.  If your child is struggling too much with it, do not push them.  Find alternatives such as online college or simply not going for now and focusing on job skills.

                This is the time in their life when you need to step back more and see what he/she is capable of doing.  It is hard for us as parents because we have done so much for them already, but they need the independence skills before they can go out on their own.

                First, find out what their ambitions are.  Have them write it out and make goals.  Have them also have backup plans if their first ambitions do not work out.  Then encourage them through their goals and support in ways you can without micromanaging.

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Moving out and Becoming Independent

                This is a scary step for any parent- watching their child becoming independent enough to move out on their own and support themselves.  With Autism this can be horrifying!  Can they handle the stress and concepts?  Can they pay bills and balance a checkbook?  Will they be able to socially adjust appropriately?  YIKES!

                Again, encourage your son or daughter and help them without micromanaging the situation.  Have them write out their goals and plans.  Take them through the basic steps and allow them to show you they can handle it.

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                But most of all, allow them to make their mistakes.  HARSH I know.  When the mistakes are made, help them clean it up and move forward.  And yes, this may mean moving back in, but now they understand what they need to do and have in order to gain the independence back again.  This section is honestly another post entirely.  But hopefully these thoughts and ideas can help prepare you for the beginning steps.

What to Plan for

                Start thinking now how this will look for your family and your child.  Start preparing them early while they are in high school for the challenges of life after school in adulthood.  Let them help with your billing and budget so they understand the processes behind the independence.  Encourage them to get involved in the social groups and hobbies.

                Being prepared and ahead of the situation is always best, especially with Autism.  Have plans and back up plans prepared.  Try not to push too much, but give them gentle pushes when needed.  And use a therapist to help through these transitions and ideas.  Often they will not listen to you because you are mom and dad.  Allow the therapist to push reality into them, and you encourage them and be their cheerleader.

                These are all things I work with on my young adult clients.  If you need help or ideas, contact me.

                Help your child be as successful as they can be!  Love them, encourage them, strengthen them.  Prepare yourself for being the parent, but also being their support and friend now that they are independent.  Good luck! 🙂

Contact Information

Jen Edwards

720-258-6392

jen@voyagescounseling.com