Autism: Focus on the Abilities, Not the Disabilities

Autism: Focus on the Abilities, Not the Disabilities

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As parents of children with Autism, we often hear the negatives of our children. For example, when we attend the IEP meeting, most of the time can often be spent in the aspect of what our child is still not doing and accomplishing yet. Over time we hear the disabilities often enough, or the negative aspects, and we begin to have this negative connotation about our child’s ability. Our outlook on life becomes more negative.

My dear friends, let us gather together and focus on the abilities that our children do have! Autism is such a beautiful thing! The way these individuals think, the way they can see things in life that others cannot, it is such a beautiful and unique outlook. Such an ability to have that others simply struggle with!

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May I please challenge you to find times throughout the week to sit down and meditate on the many abilities that your child does have. Be thankful for those abilities and use them to build character for your child.

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Some parents have told me they struggle to find abilities in their child. This is always heartbreaking for me. I encourage those parents to make a goal each day for two weeks to find one strength, ability, or special thing about their child; at the end of those two weeks you will hopefully have 14 amazing things about your child that you can then focus on!

Share these abilities with your child’s team at school. Use these abilities to strengthen your child’s learning environment, activities, social interaction, etc. Help your child to become a better person because of their ability, not become less because of their disability.

Above all, love your child for who he or she is. We are all made different and uniquely. So let us celebrate all of who we are and emphasize the abilities of what we can do!

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Jen Edwards, LMHCA

Counselor and Behavior Therapist

Jen@BeautifulAutism.com

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: As a Mama, am I Worried or Concerned?

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Autism: As a Mama, am I Worried or Concerned?
I read a thought this morning that gripped me: “Worry is not the same as legitimate concern. Concern can be productive if it is solution-focused and drives us to take corrective action on behalf of ourselves or someone else. But worry is concern that’s gotten out of control.” (Florence MacKenzie).
Well shoot, I thought afterwards, am I worrying about my son and his Autism, or am I concerned? I would like to think it is genuine concern, but let’s be honest, it borders, and even crosses over into worry quite often.
Controlling my Worry
Every parent has concern for their children; it is a part of parenthood and begins the day you find out you are pregnant. After they are born, you worry about the right daycare, food, diapers, car seats, education, etc. Your life becomes a worry-fest! Then you add Autism on top of that and it is like you cannot breathe at times because you feel suffocated with worry and fear for everything. Can he function in school on his own? Can he get off the bus at school and find his class? Will he be able to be independent as an adult? Did I somehow cause this during pregnancy?

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Here is the answer my friends: we do not know and thus we cannot control these things. Therefore, we need not worry. I know this is easier said than done, and I know I am preaching to myself at this very moment. I worry constantly about my son at school. There have been times when his teachers will say to me, Jen, we have it under control, do not worry about it. If we need you, we will call you. Talk about putting me in my place.
So where do I put my worry aside and simply have concern? Maybe I do not know. Maybe I do not have that simple answer. Perhaps there is not a simple answer beyond give it up in prayer. Seek others for help and understanding. Yes, I realize many other people do not know and understand what you are going through, but sometimes talking it out can simply help.
But let us go back to the quote above. Concern is solution-focused. Worry is concern that has spiraled its way out of control. Think of a concern you have. Do you feel in control of the problem? Meaning, is it keeping you awake at night? Is it causing you anxiety and high stress? If so, it does not sound like you have control over it and it is now a worry rather than a concern.

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My Concern about Autism
I am very concerned about my son’s Autism. It hinders him in many areas of his life. It hinders our family in many areas as well. We cannot go out to dinner on a whim when we want to. It must be preplanned and we must go out early before the crowds come out. Our lives revolve around Autism. So my husband and I are always thinking about his future and how it will look. We are always concerned when he leaves for school whether he will hurt another student or run away from his teachers. We are also concerned for our stress level in dealing with all of this. My doctor once made a comment that my blood pressure seemed to rise quite a bit after 2008. I simply laughed and said, well, that happens when you have a child; I bet it went up again when he started showing signs of Autism and it got bad (sure enough that was when my medication dosage had increased… coincidence?).

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But I have learned to not let it get into the worry mode. I admit, at times it does. I have a great support in place to help keep me in check when I get to this point. They remind me I do not have control over this and need to simply step back and calm down and give it to God. It is hard not having control over these issues. It is hard for me to let it go and stay calm. And it is a struggle for me to not cross over that line into worry all the time. It takes practice and patience. It takes understanding and support.
But I have also found that my worry transfers onto my son. He picks up on it and it makes him more irritable and difficult. Whereas my concern I can keep hidden more and it does not cause the immediate stress. When I worry I lose focus of the big picture- my son! All I focus on is the problem itself, the Autism. It consumes me and stresses me. But my concern allows me to stay focused and come up with solutions. It helps me to understand the situation at hand and whether or not this is something worth battling now or waiting until later.
There is a Difference
Yes my friends, there is a difference between concern and worry. Are you concerned for your child, or are you worried? Are you stressed and is it controlling your life? Or are you being solution-focused and have a game plan? Is your heart focused on the right things or focused on only the worries in life?
Seek help in all areas. Find friends, family, professionals, therapists, etc. to help you. Pray and seek for understanding. Work on putting these worries aside and asking for guidance to get you through the struggles.
You will find yourself growing in strength and maturity with this. Keep staying strong and remember God gives us the tools and resources we need to handle any situation He gives us; we need to use what we have been given. If He has given you this situation, He will qualify you for it, so allow Him to. Grow in your understanding and become the best parent you can be.

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Jen Edwards
jen@voyagescounseling.com
720-258-6392

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