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: Understanding Your Child’s IEP

Autism: Understanding Your Child’s IEP

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Each year we all go to that annual meeting for our child’s individualized education plan, or IEP. We sit down and there are anywhere from 3 to 7 other people there, all involved with your child’s education. They start talking about how the year went and all the different assessments they did with your child with a lot of acronyms and long names. Pretty soon your head is spinning, you are feeling disheartened with all the negative things, and the paperwork is exasperating.
I have a background in education and even I feel like this every year. About 20 minutes into the meeting all I want to do is crawl under the table and hide. It takes all my strength to usually not cry and get irritated at things. After over an hour long meeting, I leave feeling exhausted and frustrated. But after reflection, I realize it is not about my feelings, but about my son’s needs.

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So how does one really understand all there is in the IEP? First, do not be afraid to ask questions to get clarification. Remember that a lot of it is fancy wording put forth by the department of education. Focus on the goals that are written for your child. Try to get an understanding of what your child is being offered and what your child needs. This will help you to look at the positive side of your child’s needs.
Remember you are your child’s best advocate. Speak up if you feel there is something missing that you feel your child needs. Even if you are unsure if your child needs it, still ask for it; it never hurts to look into extra services. But perhaps the greatest piece of advice I can give it this: listen to what the school professionals are telling you. Though we want our children to be as “typical” as possible, we also should listen to what advice and services the school thinks is best for your child. They often have insights and ideas that we as parents do not have the training for. At times it may be hard to accept what the school decides, but take it all in stride and listen to what their thoughts are.

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Finally, ask other parents to help you understand the IEP if you are still confused. Use any resources you have and can think of!
But if you find yourself still at a lost or stuck, feel free to ask me. Send me an email or give me a call!
Jen Edwards
http://www.beautifulautism.com
jen@beautifulautism.com
425-387-3872

Autism: Finding the Right Medical Professional

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Autism: Finding the Right Medical Professional
It is difficult finding the right professionals to work with your child that has Autism. Some family doctors do not understand Autism enough to know the best way to handle Autism and the best resources for it. And assistants and others in the offices assisting the medical professionals have no training in working with Autism.
I have found this to be the case on occasion with my son. At times when I mention my son has Autism the fear on the face of the medical assistant, though she does her best to hide it, is clearly evident. Last year we took our son for his first eye appointment. This was not an appointment we were looking forward to by any means. When I told the assistant he had Autism, I seriously thought she was going to jump out of her skin. She stayed professional, but it was obvious she had no clue as to what she was doing or how to handle him. She was getting frustrated, we were getting annoyed, and it was a disaster. By the time the doctor came in, it was apparent that at least she knew what she was doing and how to work with him. Seeing as this was an eye clinic based from Childrens Hospital, I would have hoped their staff would have been highly trained for these kids. When we went back this year, that assistant was nowhere to be seen and a much better one assisted him that was wonderful with him!

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Do Your Research
My best advice: do your research ahead of time before finding the right medical professional for your child. We have learned this from past experiences and I cannot emphasize the importance of this. Even though you want to take your child to the doctor you saw your whole life, or to the same doctor your other children go to, realize this may not be the best doctor for your child. You need to remember you must do what is best for your child, not what you want.

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Sometimes this can even mean having to drive long distances to find the right medical professional. One problem with living outside the city is most Autism specialists are in the city, particularly near Autism research areas, such as Denver and Seattle. My husband and I have resigned ourselves to the fact that we will need to stay where we are in the Denver area simply for our son and his treatments. He cannot get the therapy and medical professionals he needs back where we moved from in Washington State. It just simply is what it is and we have come to realize we need to be ok with that.
Talk to other parents and families around your area in a similar situation and ask them who they see for medical professionals. Be very picky when it comes to dentist and optometrists, as these doctors do evasive procedures that tend to frighten kids on the Autism Spectrum.

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Check out the medical professional websites and go to Autism websites where they have resource pages. Often times these resource pages may have doctors listed on them.
Prepare Doctors Ahead of Time
Before your child’s appointment, let the office know about your child’s condition. Sometimes they are willing to block off that time for just your child. For example, my son’s dentist office will block off an hour only for him for any time he goes into the dentist. If they are not willing to accommodate in any way for your child, they probably are not the right fit for your family.

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Any good doctor will ask before they begin to examine your child how they should proceed with the examination. For example, they may ask if they can simply just talk to your child while they examine him or her, or if they need to have you hold your child and do everything quickly. Be open and honest with the doctor and explain the best way to handle your child and his/her needs. And be sure to explain to your child what he/she will expect going into the appointment. This is where social stories are great. You can find these online or most schools have these on file already.

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Final Thoughts
Remember to do your research and plan ahead for it. Prepare your child and the office for the visit. Be calm and patient with your child. Remember this is an experience that is abnormal from daily routine and can be frightening for them.
Bring in something that is comforting, such as toys or food. You may have to read the social story many times to keep reminding your child it is safe and ok to be here. You can even show a picture of the doctor ahead of time from the website before you leave the house so your child can see what the doctor will look like.

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If you are in the Denver area and need some recommendations, let me know and I can give you some great ones that we use for our son!
Jen Edwards
Jen@voyagescounseling.com
720-258-6392

Autism: Finding Glory in the midst of Trials and Challenges

Autism: Finding Glory in the midst of Trials and Challenges
It is tough to find glory in the hard times. My husband and I comment often recently that it seems like this last year has been the most difficult yet. Much of our struggles have been around our son’s behavior and all the things that come with his Autism.
We fight every couple months with the government to keep his disability and his medical insurance. It is a fight I am sick of fighting, but I know it is important for his treatments. His behavior is tiring and challenging. Every morning I wake up not know what I am to expect for the day. Will it be good, or will it be a knock-out-drag-out kind of a day. But how can I possibly find glory in all of this?

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There is Glory
My mother- I love her forever and back- always says to me when I am struggling, “Have to thanked God for this trial?” My response is generally a sigh with a no, but in my head I’m thinking, NOT NOW MOM! But I realize she is right (though I do not generally admit this to her). And then I struggle to look for the positive, as I know it is there somewhere.
One day after doing a bit of errands and shopping, my son had quite a meltdown at home. Feeling tired from the busy day I did not want to deal with this meltdown, but my husband was not home and it was my job to calmly pull him out of it the best I could. After 45 minutes of things being thrown at me and the yelling continuing, I finally sat down and laughed. Well, I thought, thank you Lord this did not happen in the stores! And there was my glory in the midst of this meltdown!

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And then there is the glory in Autism itself. Yes, it is a challenge. It is a daily struggle. But any life with or without Autism has its struggles. For example, I may not have to worry about my son being love struck as a teen such as most teens are throughout puberty- there my friends is GLORY!
And then there is the humor in glory, such as my son knowing all the songs from Star Wars and knowing the script word for word for all six episodes. I find glory in this in the fact that he has a wonderful memory and it makes me laugh; especially when the teachers send home a referral explaining the humming of the songs are becoming a distraction in class.
The Challenges will Continue
There will always be challenges with Autism. The meltdowns will always be there and the challenges with doctors, medical bills, therapies, etc. will continue. But through these challenges I can find glory, or better yet, I can give glory to others. The other week my son’s therapist said to me, “Thank you for being flexible with all the changes. It is such a nice change to have someone easy going.” I was able to bring glory to that office by my actions. Even though the changes were a challenge to us, WE WERE ABLE TO SHOW GLORY to others.

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While I write this, I am thinking maybe perhaps it is the idea that I gain the glory more from showing others glory rather than expecting it to come to me. Does that make sense? God uses everything good for His ultimate glorification. He grants us peace and understanding through our trials. He gives us strength even when we feel we have none left. And He blesses us when we are not looking.
My son is a blessing, a daily blessing. He brings us glory all the time, even in the struggles. His Autism does not keep the glory hidden, but rather it shines brighter and stronger!
Find the glory in the Autism. Find the glory in your child and in your struggles. I promise it is there, waiting for you to explore and praise God for. Keep pressing on my friends!

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Jen Edwards

jen@voyagescounseling.com

720-258-6392