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

Experts: I am the Best Expert on my Child; Teachers and Therapists are Experts for Their Field

Experts: I am the Best Expert on my Child; Teachers and Therapists are Experts for Their Field

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As parents we know our child best. We know their needs, wants, and desires. We see them through their best times and their worst times for more than eighteen years, then we send them on their way to college or work… usually. But in the meantime, we raise them the best way we know how. And we often say we know our child best because we are their parents… we are the experts.

We hear advice constantly from teachers and many of us hear advice from therapists on ways to help our child. At times we take their advice, many times we seek their advice and wisdom, and at times we look at them and think to ourselves, really? But I want to encourage all you parents out there with this thought: You are the best expert on your child and the teacher/therapists are the experts in their field.

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I look at my son with his Autism diagnosis. There have been times when therapist or doctors have recommended things to us and quite frankly my thoughts were there is no way that is going to work for our family. Something people outside of our family needs to remember is that Autism, like many other diagnosis, occurs within a family context, not just with my son (See Autism Occurs Within the Context of a Family). Changing something for my son means changing something for the family. I remind myself the person who just gave that recommendation is the expert in his or her field of study, but I am the expert on my son and the needs of our family.

Does this mean I turn down advice from people, or never go looking for outside help? Goodness no! That would go against all I believe in. It truly takes a village to raise any child, especially one with special needs! But I am always having to remind myself that I am the expert on my child. I often feel down or frustrated that I cannot seem to be doing right by my son. Or I get weary when things just are not going well. Or my particular favorite, when everyone around me wants to put in their advice on raising a child with special needs. But I am the expert on my child, not the speech therapist, not the doctor, not the teacher, not the counselor. I know my child best, I know his needs, I know his wants, I know his cries.

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I have seen many families feel pressured into doing things and changing their entire way of life because teachers, therapists, or doctors have told them to, and the parents did not feel it was the best choice for their family. I plead with you parents to think hard about your choices and ask if this is the best choice for your child. Find out if other families have done that change and if has helped them as well. You are the expert on your child!

So as you sit at the next IEP meeting for your child, remember that it is you that is the expert there. You are the best advocate for your child. Everyone else there is the expert in their field. Speak up for what your child needs. If you get push back, remember there is a reason behind it, which might be reasonable or not. But if you feel that your child needs it, continue to advocate for it. You only have one shot at raising your kid, might as well be the best expert at it now!

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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

Positive Aspects of Autism

Positive Aspects of Autism

                I am always curious to see people’s reaction when I mention my son has Autism.  I get a mixture of remorse and uncertainty.  When I drop off my son somewhere new, such as a church we are visiting, I see the fear in the faces of the workers, the uncertainty of what they are to do and how they are to handle the situation.  I walk away feeling a bit uneasy but also giggling inside thinking about how people are so afraid of Autism.

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                Why does Autism have such a negative reaction?  People do not understand Autism.  It is uncertain to them and uncomfortable.  They never know what to expect with it, seeing as there is the spectrum of degrees.  I can understand their fear and hesitance; I was them at one point!  However, Autism can be a beautiful thing!

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                My blog is titled Beautiful Autism.  I love this name- it inspires hope and gratitude for those coping with Autism.  Certainly Autism has its many challenges, as does any individual with or without a disability, but obviously these challenges are more severe.  However there are many wonderful blessings that come with Autism… you just have to look for them!

                Many individuals with Autism have brilliant minds.  Ask me how their minds work and I simply reply I have no idea.  Their brains think so quickly it blows me away, but they retain so much information and grasp concepts quickly.  These individuals make wonderful engineers and mathematicians.  It has been said that Albert Einstein had Autism, and look at the amazing scientific and mathematical things he taught us!

                Another area some of these individuals are amazing at is musical ability.  It has to do with the brain and how it processes information.  Some famous past musicians have also been thought to have had Autism.  It is a rare gift to have and one that is beautiful!

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                I love the uniqueness of individuals with Autism.  The personalities and funny quirks make me smile.  At times the repetitious things my son does can be annoying; but last night at his kindergarten performance it was quite funny watching him rock back and forth in sway to the beat of the music.  It is these quirks that make the personalities unique and special.

Teaching us

                I have said it before in a previous post, my son teaches me daily.  I learn so much from individuals with Autism.  It has made me more patient and even instilled more confidence in myself.  I have gained knowledge in how different people process things and learn new knowledge.

                Perhaps the greatest thing I have learned is how to teach and work with each person individually.  What I mean is everyone, whether they are on the spectrum or not, has their own way of learning.  Individuals with Autism have their own way they learn best and it is up to me to figure out how each of my students and clients needs to have their unique needs met.  It can be a challenge, but one that I lovingly embrace daily!

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                It can also go without saying that people with Autism teach us how to love!  I know it can at times be challenging to love and embrace these individuals because they can often struggle to receive it.  But we endeavor to find new ways to show our love towards them.  We continue to love our children unconditionally.  And we find the blessings that they offer us in their own unique ways!

Find the Positives!

                Seek to find the positive!  It is there, even in the worst of times.  Look past the challenges and see the beauty he or she can offer.  When you see it, praise it!

                Keep a list or diary of these positive traits so you can look back on the rough and tough days and remind yourself why you keep going.  Tell your family and friends these things so they can help remind you of them on your low days.  Celebrate any progress!  It is valuable to us parents and can take an awful week and turn it around!

                Stay strong my friends!  The good traits are there even when it seems like all is bad.

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Jen Edwards

Voyages Counseling

jen@voyagescounseling.com

720-258-6392