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 and School Conferences: 5 Things for Teachers to Remember

Autism and School Conferences: 5 Things for Teachers to Remember

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We dread conference time. As parents of a child with Autism, going to conferences and IEP meetings is just not a happy experience for us. The school staff is generally great and a blessing to our son and his needs. But unlike so many families, we do not get to hear glowing remarks and we often leave feeling once again defeated.
As a teacher, I tried hard to send positive emails to the families of students with disabilities. This helped with a positive relationship and it also encouraged the parents as well as the students. Thus I have put together some simple things teachers can do to help these families during conference time.
1) Begin with sending an email out ahead of time to the parents with some positives, but also, if needed, some things that you will be going over during the conference so parents can begin preparing themselves.

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2) Keep in mind these parents have a lot on their plate already and are dealing with special circumstances with their child. There is no need to tell and explain all the negative things unless they are truly necessary. And if you question what is necessary to talk about, then speak with the special education teacher in your building or your principal.
3) Find and give any and all positive remarks. Even if it is small things like the student was able to sit through circle time without rolling around on the floor. These are big things for families. Keep a list if that helps to remind you of things. And use your paras to help with this too.
4) Assure the parents that you will continue to do all you can to work with their child. Assure them you are not giving up on their child. Though as teachers we may not say we are giving up, it can often feel this way to parents when they hear so many negative things. Keep smiling and show your love and care.

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5) Follow up afterwards a couple days later with an email or note home just to check in with parents. If appropriate, give your thoughts on how the conference went. But more importantly, make the parents feel appreciated.
Parents always want what is best for their child. They want to help their child succeed in school and be supportive of their child. However, if they walk away feeling defeated, this will often transfer onto the child. Keep a strong and positive communication with these families. They will greatly appreciate it!
Teachers are amazing and often do such wonderful work! They work endless hours and do their best to meet each child’s individual need. Their work is hard and often under-appreciated. But anyone who works day in and out to do whatever they can for students with special needs is golden and your work does not go unnoticed by those who care and need it. Bless all of you and thank you for your hard work and dedication!

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Jen Edwards, MA Counselor and Behavior Therapist
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: 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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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!

The Importance of Hearing Positive Words with Autism

The Importance of Hearing Positive Words with Autism

                Every day my son comes home with his behavior sheet and his back-and-forth folder.  Almost every day I get emails from one of his teachers or therapists.  And every day I cringe.  I cautiously and with optimism open these things, hoping for positive words- but almost 90% of the time it is negative information.  Information that scorns my heart.  Information that makes me wonder why.  Information that rarely makes me smile.

                Friday was a day off for me, and I was looking forward to my son coming home from school.  I had a lovely day being pampered and was excitedly getting ready for friends to come over for dinner.  I had not received any emails from staff at my son’s school; things were looking up!  The bus came around the corner, slowed down to stop at our driveway, and my heart was soaring.  I had a big smile and arms ready to open for squeezes!  The bus doors opened and my smile quickly faded.

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                The bus driver had a look of scorn on her face.  Here I was in a great mood, ready to tell her that he would be on the bus every afternoon for the rest of the month (a change in schedule temporarily), and she stared at me and said, “I need to talk to you.”  My anxiety rose, I even began to shake slightly, and my body felt tense.  I forced myself to walk to the bus, one foot in front of the other, as I looked up at her.  I forced a slight smile and listened to her complaining words of my son’s behavior.  I nodded and apologized, told her I would talk to him, and dragged my son off the bus.  I did not tell her he would be on more often; that seemed pointless at the moment.

                Needless to say, my mood was shot.  A few minutes later I got the dreaded email from a teacher about problems on the bus.  I sank lower and cried… real, true tears.  I grieved for my son, for the Autism, for myself, and for my husband.

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All Negative, No Positive

                I always think the worst in most situations.  I see an email from the school and my anxiety rises and I think what now.  I suppose it is just my personality- my parents are the same way.  My husband is not like this; I should learn a thing or two from him (though I would NEVER tell him this…).

                I crave positive remarks on my son.  They are rare.  My heart soars when I hear positive things.  I think sometimes people tend to compensate for this and tell us how we are such great parents.  Yes, that is nice, and we enjoy hearing it, but the focus is not on me- it is on my son.

                I tell myself to suck it up, get over it, and be thankful for the positive things in life.  But the hurt is still there.  An email or note from the teacher saying, he had a great day!  Or positive comments on his behavior sheet instead of only commenting on the negative things would be graciously accepted.  The bus driver smiling and saying good morning instead of fake-smiling and staring at my son until he sits down would be charming at 7:45 in the morning.

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Overcoming These Difficulties- Moving Forward

                So how can one overcome these frustrations and challenges?  Honestly, I do not know.  I do not have an answer that would be an easy solution.  So until then I keep moving forward and dwell on any positive remarks I get.

                In my job as a counselor and educator, I make it a point to say positive things to parents.  Yes, the negative things need to be said at times and need to be dealt with, but all a parent wants to hear on occasion is good things.   For all you professionals out there working with Autism or other challenges, remember to speak positive things to parents.  Even if it is something small, say it with enthusiasm and thankfulness.  Encourage the parents and remember their thoughts and feelings.

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                Is it worth saying something to the individuals involved with my son?  Sure, I can certainly explain it would be nice to hear positive things.  This is something any parents needs to decide if it is worth the discussion on.  I remember once overhearing a friend of mine talking to another teacher I was working with.  My friend’s mother had adopted some children that had special needs and one child was in my co-workers class.  They were talking about the day and how it had been a rough day for him.  My friend said she would talk with her mom and then looked at the teacher and kindly said, “You know, sometimes it would be nice for my mom to hear the good things he does rather than always hearing the bad things.”  The teacher was horrified when later on after reflecting on this, she realized the only time she contacted the parents was when something bad happened.

                Now I am that parent.  And many of you are too.  Conferences are next week, oh boy.  I think I will listen and simply say, “So I hear the entire negative, now please tell me something positive.”  Maybe this all seems selfish; after all I am the one wanting the positive news.  But then again, maybe it is assurance that my son has positive traits and others can see it too.  I feel tired, weary, and drained of it all.  But I keep moving forward.

 I love my son more and more.  And then he does that thing… that thing where he makes me smile and laugh without trying to… and I realize once again, my son is perfect the way he is!  I love him unconditionally and he brings me more joy than I can possibly understand.  And through all his challenges and frustrations, I thank God for him and am proud to be his mommy!

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