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 Sudden Changes

Autism and Sudden Changes
We had a great summer; everything was ready for school to begin next week. We had worked the last few weeks on getting our son ready to begin his first grade year and get ready for that transition. Then we found out one morning, a week before school began, that we had to move ASAP…
And panic mode begins! Not only am I beginning a new school year in my classroom too (as well as maintaining my clients), but now we have to find a new house in a lousy rental market. Our biggest concern was what to do for school and our son and how was he going to process all these changes.

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Preparing for the Changes
To properly prepare your child with Autism for changes, you need to understand how he/she processes best. For example, for my son, we cannot generally tell him things too far in advance, otherwise he stresses about it for weeks and his anxiety is high. But we do need to give him notice of changes in his routine and explain to him how things will look.
With some kids on the Spectrum, they need a social story to help them understand these changes. Other tools are also available, such as schedules, calendars, etc. I have also known individuals with Autism that do not need much preparation in changes.
The main thing is to know and read your child. Think ahead of the situation and have a plan of how to attack the situation at hand. When we found out we were moving, we sat down and explained to our son what was happening. We kept him informed of decisions and let him ask us questions until it literally drove us nuts! But that was what he needed to relieve his anxiety. And we continually reminded him that we were doing our best to keep him at his school and meet his needs.
Handling our own Stress

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With the insane stress we had to deal with, adding our son’s anxiety on top of it was not easy. However, we knew we needed to take hold of it to relieve him of it. That is what we do as parents; we take on our child’s greatest emotional need to help them in their greatest trials, even it if means adding intense stress to us.

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This is where we lean on each other. We remind each other that we are a team and raising our son together. Our prayers were heard, our friends came to our need, and our family supported us. We pushed through one day at a time and even when we wanted to give up, we stayed strong. It was not easy, and there were times when I admit I broke down in tears and felt helpless. But it was during those times that I realized how strong we really are, and surprisingly enough, it was then that my son would surprise me by making me smile!
Above all, we did our best to keep our son calm. Generally if he was able to stay calm, this helped us to be less stressed too. Eventually it all worked out, and though I never want to go through that again, I know I can certainly handle it.

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Final Thoughts
Know your child- know how he/she handles change and be prepared for it. Every kid, whether they have Autism or not, needs to be prepared for change. Just be aware that a child with Autism is likely to be more effected with changes in life, especially major life changes, such as moving.
Be sure to let teachers, therapists, and other individuals that work continually with your child about any changes. Communication is important and helps keep things running smoothly.
Share any thoughts or comments!
Jen Edwards
jen@voyagescounseling.com
720-258-6392

I am a Parent of a Child with Autism, and I am STRESSED!

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I am a Parent of a Child with Autism, and I am STRESSED!

                Any parent of any kid is stressed.  You wake up early, get them going for school while you get yourself ready for work.  Then you run them around to sports and doctor appointments after school.  Finally you come home and get dinner going while you juggle homework and chores.  You finally collapse into bed after they are asleep and start over again in the morning.

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                Having a kid on the spectrum you never know how your days are going to go.  You keep your phone nearby in anticipation of the school calling you because of a meltdown and you need to go pick up your child.  You get emails from all the different teachers and support staff on a daily basis and you take a deep breath before you open it because likely it is not good news.  It is like you wait for the bomb to drop all the time.

                Then you have all the therapy sessions and doctor appointments.  You do not get to go to sporting events and practices; you go to therapy, where the therapists purposefully put your child into meltdown mode on occasion to help them process how to get through the meltdown.  Lovely.  Nothing gets accomplished after those sessions.

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                And if you get assistance from the government, you fight them constantly to keep services such as health insurance and SSI.  Your case workers do not call you back and you sit in the government offices for hours waiting to talk to someone who has no idea who you are or how to help you.  It is a frustrating process but a necessary one.

The Stress is just TOO MUCH!

                Ever feel like the stress is simply too much?  You just want to go away and hide?  You are not alone my dear friends!

                If you read my previous post, you know the stress has been high for us recently.  We are in the midst of lots of meltdowns and behavior issues with our son and it is stressful.  There are so many people involved in his life that it can get overwhelming to us with who is doing what with him.  It is almost like there are too many people in the picture!  But all are necessary.

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                And of course stress at home causes stress on our son.  He can pick up on our stress.  So when our car breaks down, and the bills pile up, and then the cell phone breaks all in the same week, our stress gets high.  Even though we try our best to hide the stress, he picks up on it.  Because he cannot process stress and then cannot handle it, he in turns acts out with his behavior and it can cause meltdowns.  It is a vicious cycle.

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How can I Handle the Stress?

                Easier said than done.  But here are a few thoughts and ideas.

  • ·         Process anything that you can with your child.  Explain what stress is and explain things that are going on so they understand.  Do not hide things from them, be open and honest.  Just use appropriate words for their age and processing ability.
  • ·         Take time for yourself.  Have dates with your spouse.  Have time alone for you.  You will probably need to plan ahead for this, but it is important to do!
  • ·         Do your best to prepare them for any change that is coming.  For example, if it is threatening to show, I always tell my son the day before.
  • ·         Find that trusting person you can talk to.  It can be a good friend, family member, or counselor.  A spouse is great too, but having someone not emotionally involved is important too!
  • ·         Take your deep breaths during the meltdowns and challenging moments.  Tag-team with your spouse (if possible) and give each other breaks.  Support each other during this time and then discuss afterwards what could have been done differently and/or better.
  • ·         Drink ice-cold water when you feel stressed- it really helps!  Get exercise, take a walk.  Do yoga or something calming.

·         Above all, do something healthy to relieve stress.  Drinking excessive alcohol and using drugs is not the best option to help relieve stress.  In the long run it will make things worse.

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Final Thoughts

                Stress is not easy to process through.  It can stay with you for days and weeks.  It can build up and eventually burst; causing problems that can be serious.  When you need help, get help!!

                Having a kid on the spectrum, or any special need, is a challenge.  I commend you for fighting through it and doing your best!  Take time for yourself, stay calm, and get the help you need.  Any parent needs help raising a child.  Raising a special needs child is going to take extra help.  Getting help does not mean you are not an adequate parent, it means you are helping your child.

                Let me know if you need help with your own emotional needs.  Many of my clients are children with special needs, but often the parents come in on their own and have their own sessions too!

                Keep up the great work!

Jen Edwards

jen@voyagescounseling.com

720-258-6392

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