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 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

Depression in Parents with Children of Special Needs

Depression in Parents with Children of Special Needs
The other day I was reading a post on my dear friend’s blog. She was opening up about her depression she goes through on occasion regarding her daughter with a severe disability. My heart broke for her, knowing somewhat about what she was experiencing and going through, and understanding her need to open up and even at times vent.
I have written before about the cycle of grief we as parents go through when we hear the diagnosis of our child. We go through the anger, disbelief, confusion, and all around roller coaster of emotions. We experience this for the rest of our lives. And we go through the depression- at times deep, but often subtle- as we come to terms with our way of life. But we push on because we must. If we stop and dwell on it, it takes our focus away from our child and things begin to get out of control.

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Allowing the Depression to be Dealt with
Though we tend to stuff our feelings and push through it, we need to feel and deal with our own emotions. We must take care of ourselves in order to be healthy for our children. It is like my analogy that I use with my clients: If a plane is in trouble, and the oxygen masks fall, you have to put yours on first before you can assist anyone, including your child, because if you are dead, you cannot assist anyone.

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This is hard for us to accept, as we are so often consumed with what our child needs that we put ourselves and our needs aside. It is almost like having a newborn all the time. When your child is first born, you are on 24-hour watch with him. You can barely allow yourself to shower because he might need to be fed or changed! The first few weeks are challenging until you get a schedule worked out and you figure out what the heck you are attempting to do!
I often find myself telling people, I am fine; I will deal with my own stuff later when I have the time to. My theme this summer was to work on myself… here I am with only two weeks left of summer, and I have done nothing for myself yet. I tell myself it is what it is and this is how it will be. But let us be honest people, at some point it will catch up to me. This post is as much for me as you!

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How do I Deal with the Depression?
This is a question that only you can answer. Everyone deals with their own depression in their own way. Some of us think we need to just keep moving forward and not stop. Some think they need a time to grieve every few months, and then they are good to go for a while. And some need therapy and/or medication to help them get through daily life. None of these are wrong; none of these are perfect either.
But I caution to not allowing yourself to deal with the emotions. The depression is real; it is there. And it will haunt you until it is dealt with. We tend to forget that emotional issues are similar to physical ailments- they will be there until they are properly treated and dealt with.

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Handling your depression in a healthy and safe way is very important. Obviously I do not recommend using drugs and alcohol to help take the pain away- this is only another way of stuffing it and not dealing with it. Healthy and safe ways include seeking therapy, taking vacations to relax, getting help where you need it, avoiding taking on too many things in life, keeping stress level down, staying physically healthy, using proper medications given by doctors that know you well, and perhaps most importantly not allowing yourself to become a hermit to the rest of the world. Get out and see people. Continue going to church and social activities. Keep friends nearby and use them for help.
Be open and honest with friends and family when you are feeling depressed. Sometimes by simply saying you are feeling depressed you begin to relieve some of that pent up depressed emotions. Tell your spouse what it is that you need to get you the help you need. Be honest and say this is a time you need focused on you right now.

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Find comfort for your soul. Is it spending time with God? Reading the Bible? Seeking inspiration from reading or watching sermons? Or maybe it is simply spending time taking a walk on your own where you can be open and honest with your own feelings without distractions.
Final Thoughts
Do not let depression wear you down to the point where you do not know how to deal with it because it has gotten so severe. We all have our moments of battling this. Our children require so much time and focus that we feel used and worn out continually. We feel saddened for our child and do not always know what the future will look like for him/her. It is scary and uncomfortable and we have no control over it.
Deal with your depression in a safe and healthy way. Find the help you need and be honest and open about it. This does not mean that you are not focusing on your child, but rather you are helping yourself become better for your child. God has given us the tools and equipment to handle any situation He gives us- find those things and use them and give Him praise for it!

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

Autism: Who is Your Support

Autism: Who is Your Support?
I know it is important to have someone to talk to, but they just don’t get it. (You are right, they often do not.) When I complain too much, they tend to get irritated. (Yeah, point taken.) Is there really a point in having someone to talk to? I mean, it doesn’t change the situation. (Well, yes. Everyone needs to vent- otherwise you blow up at your kid… how has that been going for you recently?)
I spoke at a support group for parents recently where I heard these reasons for not talking with someone about their frustrations and problems. We all need an outlet- someone to talk with and simply vent to. I encourage people to have someone besides your spouse, as he or she is also living this daily and having that outside support is helpful.

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Who is a Support?
Not just anyone can be a support for this type of situation. And yes, this is where it can get tough. You need to find someone that is encouraging yet who will not immediately offer up advice, because often that is not what we need; we simply need someone to listen to us (and take pity!). Here is what I suggest to look for in finding your support:

  • A strong listener
  • A strong supporter
  • Someone available most of the time, or who can make time for you
  • Someone who understands the basics of Autism
  • A friend that knows YOU
  • An encourager of your faith
  • Someone that will not always offer advice unless you ask for it
  • Above all, someone that LOVES your kiddo!

Are you laughing right now as you read through that list? Hopefully you can come up with at least one person that can mostly fit this description.

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It took me a while to find someone I can open up to safely (outside of my family). Actually it took me a couple of years. I now have certain friends I can rely on and trust to go to when I need to vent, cry, or relax. These friends know what I need and simply listen. But they also call me out when I am being ridiculous and are not afraid to ask questions. Do they always “get it”? Not always. And at times do I walk away more frustrated? Sure, sometimes. But more often than not, it helps.
Emotional, Spiritual, and Physical Health
Having a support system is important for your overall health. Without it certain failure to your health will inevitably happen. Most often, your mental health will begin to suffer. So often I see parents coming in with severe depression and high anxiety. One of the first things I ask them is, “Who is your support system?” They often give me a blank stare. As time goes on, their physical health suffers with high blood pressure and stress, which leads to heart problems, headaches, etc. I will then ask them, “When was the last time you went to the doctor for yourself?” Again the blank stare. Then the killer… “When was the last time you did someone for yourself, such as a trip or spa?” By now they often laugh or cry.

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When was the Last Time you did something for YOURSELF?
Parents, you need a break! You need a support! Ladies and Gentlemen, I am preaching to myself here as I write this. I cannot remember the last time I went on a date with my husband. Though I will admit, I did get my hair done about a month ago (such a pleasure!).
And yes, you can do things that cost little or no money. And see, this is where your lovely support comes in! Get him/her to babysit (if you need one), then go back home and sleep, watch a movie, read a book, etc. Just do not clean the house or pay bills.

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Final Thoughts
Maybe you are to the point where your kids are gone and you are able to be a support to someone. GREAT! Do it! Find a parent support group or someone in your church that needs to be supported.
If you are struggling and have nobody to help you out, I encourage you to find a parent support group; most are free. Or ask your child’s special education teachers; they may know of some resources.
Keep pushing forward and stay strong. If you have thoughts or questions, email or contact me!
Jen Edwards
720-258-6392
jen@voyagescounseling.com

Being an Advocate for Autism

 

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Being an Advocate

                Advocate: to speak or write in favor of; support or urge by argument; recommend publicly (taken from dictionary.com).  Or perhaps my definition: See parenting 101.

                It can be a challenge to be an advocate for someone, especially if they are your child and you are emotionally involved.  But this is an essential part of parenting; particularly for a special needs child.  You advocate at school, clubs, social settings, church, bus, etc.  And it can be emotionally draining and time consuming; but you just do it.

How to be an Advocate

                The biggest part of being an advocate for your child is to truly know and understand what your child needs.  This may take time and effort on your part doing research, talking to doctors and therapists, and knowing how the classroom functions on a daily basis.  However, it does not mean you have to be a professional in Autism; you just need to be a professional in the concern of your child.

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                Here are some tips for advocating:

·         Be sensitive to the situation- sometimes people just do not understand Autism.

·         Take a stand for what you believe is important, but try not to die on hills not worth fighting on.

·         If needed, get a professional advocate to help you.  Parents hire these individuals to help with school needs.

·         Listen to others; try not to always be defensive.  Generally people want to help, but often compromises will need to be made.

·         Go in knowing what you are talking about- do your research and be informed!

Challenges of Advocating

                Today I encountered an organization unsure if they can take my son into their program because of his Autism.  I was floored!  My heart sunk!  Really? I thought… This is crazy! He is high-functioning and does not need direct supervision all the time!  I decided to not jump on the defensive quite yet; I will wait to hear back from them and then if needed, get into my you messed with the wrong mom mode. 

                So, do I go in and yell and make a scene?  Well, after doing that, would you want your kid going somewhere that was now hostile and uncomfortable?  No, I will not make a scene.  I will let them explain their decision and reasoning and if needed, I will counteract.  Is this something worth getting into a huge battle over?  Probably not; I have other options.  However, this may be an opportunity to make a difference.  My biggest challenge is not acting emotional; I need a clear head with a calm attitude.  And I admit- sometimes I turn these things over to my husband (he is much more intimidating!). 

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                Advocating can be difficult.  You want what is best for your child, but you often have to make compromises.  We have generally had good experiences with advocating for our son, but there have been times when we have needed to take a stand.  It can be intimidating at first, but I suppose after a while you just get use to it.  Your skin becomes think, so to say, and you probably do it more than you realize because it is such a big part of your life.

Wrapping it up

                I am curious to hear some of your stories on advocating.  As a parent you never cease to advocate for your child, even when they are grown up.  Like I stated at the beginning, it is parenting 101; it is ingrained in us the moment we become parents. 

                Take your stand; do it wisely.  Be informed and be calm.  Ask others for advice and wisdom.  Be the best parent you can be!

Resources

I did a simple google search on “advocating for child with Autism” and came up with some great resources.  These are listed below.  They are filled with great information and ideas.

http://www.autismspeaks.org/family-services/community-connections/advocacy-can-make-all-difference

http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/12/01/kappan_foster.html

http://www.autismsupportnetwork.com/news/how-become-advocate-your-child-autism-302201945