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

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: 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

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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