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

Explaining Autism to Others

Explaining Autism to Others

                Do you get tired of explaining about your child’s Autism to people?  I get rather weary of it.  It just comes naturally to me now… you go into a new situation, you explain to the person in charge your son has Autism, you give them a few pointers, they usually look at you with a smile and a nod of their head because they do not know what else to do, but deep down you know they are either freaking out or thinking you need to just relax and back-off.

                Back-off.  Those words haunt me today; everyday.  I put my son in swim lessons- it is his first time.  explaining6As we drive there I think through what I need to tell the instructor.  We get there and I talk with her and get the smile, nod, and blank look.  I try giving a few pointers a few times, and then it hits me… why?  Is it necessary that I give pointers?  Is it necessary that I explain beforehand that he has Autism?

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Personal Thoughts vs. Reality

                Yes, it usually is important that I explain he has Autism.  Though I fully admit I want to explain it to defend his actions- that way people do not think he is a bad kid that is not disciplined and is hyperactive and disobedient.  Is that selfish?  I mean, after all, it does reflect back to me.  I always tell myself no, ultimately it is best for him and people generally get pretty upset if I purposefully neglect to explain my son to them beforehand.

                But the question still remains, should I give pointers and suggestions?  Often times I find people who can think of something intelligent to say ask me for ideas and how to accommodate him.  This always makes me feel relaxed and I feel like they go the extra measure to help him and make sure it is successful for him.  Maybe sometimes the ones who do not ask questions need to realize for themselves it is ok to ask questions.  Are they scared to ask?  Maybe it seems rude to ask?  Do they lack the knowledge of Autism and simply have no idea what to do and say?

                Maybe it is like seeing someone for the first time after they have lost a spouse or loved one.  What do you say to them?  Nothing will make them feel better, and it is always that awkward moment.  So if I say to someone, “My son has Autism” what should their response be?  Would it be rude to say, “Sorry he has Autism” or “Oh what a shame.”  What is it I want to hear?  I certainly do not want pity.  Is this how someone feels after a loved one has passed away?  What do they want to hear?

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                So in reality, I suppose people want to know ahead of time that my son has Autism so they know he has sensory issues and is not simply being defiant (though at times I know he is… like this morning when his swim instructor told him to blow bubbles in the water and he insisted he did not want to blow bubbles but was ready to learn how to dive).  (I am sitting here laughing right now… why do I always laugh when I think about my son being defiant?  Maybe this is not healthy…)  Yes, people want to know.  Should I offer suggestions?  Well, I suppose I need to think if it is relevant and necessary.  Is it necessary for his swim instructor?  Maybe not as much.  Would it be for his school teacher?  I would think so.

Emotions

                It is draining explaining Autism so often, nearly every day.  My husband and I believe we can use our son’s Autism for God’s glory and to help others understand Autism- this is why I do what I do.  But emotionally it can get so tiring.

                I dread it when people say to me, “Oh he seems fine” or “Oh he is high functioning”… maybe they do not know what else to say.  And really, what is “high functioning?”  Perhaps another post on my blog at a later time.  I think it is all in the scope of the beholder, but like I said, we will cross that another time.

                Do you ever find yourself holding back on doing things such as outings because you simply do not feel like explaining Autism today?  Yes, I admit I feel this way often.  I do not want to go to the park because I get the strange looks from other moms and kids, and I get the “your kid is throwing rocks at my kid” and then I have to explain.  I do not feel like going anywhere that requires standing in line because he gets hyperactive and asks millions of questions, generating more curious looks and annoyed people who want him to stand still and shut up.

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                There are days I simply cringe at the word Autism.  I love my son; I love everything about him and who he is.  But it is emotionally draining at times.  People simply are not well educated on Autism and thus they just do not understand.  I do not blame them for their lack of knowledge on Autism.  As a society we are becoming more aware of Autism and perhaps my son’s generation will understand as they grow up and become adults what Autism is and how to work with those afflicted with it.

                But for now I cringe and smile and take my deep breaths.  I suppose soon we will need to teach and explain to my son about his Autism, but not teach him to use it as an excuse but rather as a tool.  Good luck to us!  And tomorrow I think I will sit back and say nothing unless the swim instructor asks for help.  I will be one of the other moms with my nose in a book, every now and then peering over to see what he is doing.  But the only difference is I will have gentle tears in my eyes when he accomplishes something, such as blowing those darn bubbles, because this is so huge for him!  Any small accomplishment is critical for us; we treasure them and tell our whole family about it.  My facebook status this evening was about my son trying (after much persuasion) sloppy joes for dinner, and he actually liked it!  Grand for us, boring for others, I know.  Accomplishment… such a big word for such a small kid.

Final Thoughts

                I have no final thoughts except I wish people were more educated about Autism.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to drop him off somewhere and simply say, “He has Autism” and to actually have someone respond back, “No problem, I know how to work with Autism.”  Maybe someday.

                Until then, I educate and I am the advocate for my son and for anyone else out there in my position.  Autism.  It is my life.  It is my son’s life.  It is my husband’s life.  But we will not allow it to control us, we will dominate it.  Because it is our son, and we love him!

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Hearing the Autism Diagnosis

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Hearing the Diagnosis

                A while ago I wrote a post on accepting a diagnosis of Autism.  It can be difficult to hear the word Autism.  You go through a wide range of emotions and varying speeds.  And life around you seems to stop briefly as you process this information…

                Last week I finally sat down at my sister’s house and took her advice to watch the NBC show Parenthood.  She had been mentioning it to me for months now, but being busy I simply was not interested in starting to watch another series on Netflix.  From a family therapist viewpoint, the show is rather comical and interesting with the family dynamics- from a viewpoint of a parent with a son diagnosed with Autism… it was emotional.

Emotions with Hearing the Diagnosis

                I can remember back to when my son was diagnosed with Autism.  I knew it was coming; I felt this glorious release of pent up emotions when the clinician confirmed my theory of Autism.  I could now have a direction, I could finally share the news with everyone else.  Now my husband’s emotions were quite different from mine, and I am hoping he will soon write a post for Beautiful Autism on his viewpoints from a dad.  But I will admit, though I was feeling relieved at first after hearing Autism, I went through just about every other emotion known to mankind in the next six months.

                I highly recommend you watch at least the first episode of Parenthood.  I tried looking everywhere for a clip of the scene where the parents find out their son has Autism, but no luck.  Actually, I think the only way you can watch the episode is to watch it on Netflix or pay for it on YouTube.

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                The scene of the wife telling her husband their son has Autism caught my breath- I may have shed quite a few tears while watching it, thinking back on my own experience and feeling the hurt, suffering, pain, anguish, relief these parents felt.  Then later when the father explained to his dad about the diagnosis (I believe they used the Aspergers Diagnosis rather than Autism), it took me back to that moment we told our parents about our son.  I can remember the time of day, the weather, where we were, how I felt… I remember us discussing it while watching my son playing in the dirt.  I remember the confusion and the unknown feelings about what to do next.

Feeling Alone

                Many of you have expressed to me feelings of loneliness during this time, especially you single parents.  You may even become distant from your spouse as you both may be on different grounds with thoughts and emotions for a while.  With these feelings of loneliness can come feelings of depression, isolation, anxiety, and uncertainty.  All you want and need is comfort… comfort from those you are closest to, from those you rely on, and from those who rely on you.

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                A line in the Parenthood scene mentioned above floored me.  As the wife is telling her husband about the diagnosis, walls of defenses immediately come up.  She is trying to explain and make him listen and reason with her, when finally she lands a bomb on him with, “Please don’t make me be alone with this.”  Those words paralyzed me.  How often I hear from clients and parents their feelings of loneliness.

Coming Together

                Find strength in each other through this time, whether it is with you and your spouse, friend, parent, etc.  The experience my husband and I had after the diagnosis was life-changing; as one of us was up, the other was down.  We were able to find the strength one of us had and cling to it.

                Also, find others outside your comfort bubble such as therapists or pastors.  These people can help you work through the emotions and changes, but are not emotionally involved as much as family and friends are.

                Do your research!  Include your spouse and family in on this.  Read books, get your opinions and facts, try new things and therapies, look up good tools on the internet, and be prepared!  There are also some great movies and documentaries out there available at the library or on Netflix about Autism.  One movie that helped us out was Temple Grandin; this especially helped my family understand Autism and why my son thinks and processes the way he does.  If you want other ideas on books and movies, let me know!

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Final Thoughts

                I pray and think constantly for those of you going through this confusing process.  Just trying to make sense of it all is emotionally draining.  Keep pushing forward, stay on track, and love your child.  Seek help when needed and find comfort in safe places.

                If you are in need of help, please contact me.  You can find my contact information below.  If you want to share your story with me, please do!  I would love to hear about it!

Voyages Counseling Ministries

Jen Edwards

jen@voyagescounseling.com

720-258-6392