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anxiety Inclusion parenting Special Education

Help Children With Autism Return to School

Anyone who sifts through social media will see an abundance of quotes and inspirational photos. I love the area of personal development and can’t get enough of podcasts, videos, articles and anything related to the area. One common thread running through all of them now is;

Control the controllables.”

Its a phrase that looks slick and is easy-to-remember. But what does it mean? How can we apply it at this very moment?

Children with autism are likely to be struggling with all the changes in routine and uncertainty of this pandemic. I wrote an article about the 9 essential questions that children with ASD like to know and as hard as we may have tried, it is impossible to give definitive answers to them as we ourselves can’t predict the future.

One thing we do know, however, is we will return to school. We don’t know when but we know we will. Talking to parents of children with autism, a common concern they have is about trying to get their children to return to school after the long lay off. How we try to smooth this transition is a definite controllable.

I suggest that schools prepare small stories for their children with autism (or any child they feel may struggle with a return to school) and aim to answer as many of the nine questions as possible. These include:

  1. Where do I have to be?
  2. Who will I be with?
  3. Where exactly in the place will I be?
  4. What will be happening there?
  5. How much will I have to do there?
  6. How will I know when I have finished?
  7. What will I be doing next?
  8. What is the expected behaviour?
  9. What if? (questions guided by the child and their concerns)

It should be relatively easy to find out where their classroom will be and who the teacher will be in the next few weeks. Their favourite school activities can be included. The month (or date) of return can be included. The times that school starts at and finishes at can be included. The story can be made in conjunction with the parents to answer questions worrying them and start a conversation about returning to school. With this made and distributed to parents, they can start to read it with their child in the weeks leading up to a return. Each page should contain photographs of the information to increase the impact. This is a controllable.

Although we can’t predict the future, we can prepare for it. This is a strategy to promote inclusion and hopefully, prevent issues arising before they have a chance and an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.

If you’re a teacher, you can begin this process now and have it ready in lots of time. If you’re a parent or know someone that would benefit from this strategy, you might consider suggesting it to the appropriate person.

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anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion parenting

The Difference Between Constructive and Destructive Anxiety Management

I came across some quality content from Dr. Tony Attwood on anxiety management related to children with autism. I love any information that is easy to understand and relay to people and has the potential to make a difference. This content fits the criteria.

Dr. Attwood discusses the two types of anxiety management. Constructive habits succeed in mitigating the potential impact of anxiety whilst destructive habits also does this but to the detriment of relationships with others. Dr. Attwood details three destructive strategies to avoid and promotes six constructive alternatives. If constructive strategies are not being used, a child may naturally fall into using destructive ones.

Three Destructive Anxiety Management Strategies

  1. Excessive Control: When children are feeling anxious, they may seek to exert control through defiance or threats to property, self or people. The impact this has on relationships is clear. Excessive control to manage anxiety may result in a diagnosis of Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). Is this a reason to move away from labels? (Full article here)
  2. Rituals: An anxious child may insist on sameness and become intolerant and inflexible to any change. They can become over-reliant on rituals and routines when they are too prolonged detracting from their ability to engage in other tasks.
  3. Emotional Explosions: When fight-or-flight reaches a certain point, a child rife with anxiety may release the emotional energy pent up through an outburst which hurts others and damages friendships and relationships. This also takes an emotional toll on themselves in the aftermath.

Six Constructive Anxiety Management Strategies

These six strategies are necessities for anxious children. They are not rewards. The child requires them to engage with day-to-day life successfully. Analyse each one and consider if you are making the best use of each strategy.

  1. Physical Activity: Often underestimated, being physically active has a significant impact on anxiety. This can be through team sports, individual sports, movement breaks or walks. The options are endless and finding the medium that the child enjoys exercising through will aid them in coping with their anxiety.
  2. Relaxation: An anxious child has never relaxed just because they were told to. They have to be taught how to relax. This could be through a meditation app like Mindful Gnats (Android link here and Apple here), teaching the art of journaling, yoga or engaging in a range of activities depending on the child’s personality (Article: 6 strategies to help an anxious child here). A highly anxious child might never have learned to relax so it must be a priority to teach them.
  3. Special Interests: Allowing a stressed or anxious child to engage with their special interest is a powerful tool to relieve building anxiety. Depending on the interest, this can be easily implemented into day-to-day life. Allowing an anxious child with autism to engage with their special interest is not time wasted. It is time-efficient as they will be able to re-engage with activity after a short break.
  4. Favourite Person: An anxious child can experience relief when they are afforded some quality time with their favourite person. If the person is an SNA, teacher or child, this strategy can be utilised without extensive planning. If the person cannot be present, we can use audio messages, phone calls and emails. The child’s favourite person can be a great sense of comfort and relief.
  5. Diet: The benefits of a good diet go beyond the scope of this article. Needless to say that a balanced diet will have a positive impact on a child’s anxiety compared to a diet of junk food, sugar and refined carbohydrates.
  6. Sleep: Much like a healthy diet, we all can appreciate the positive effect of eight to ten hours of sleep on an anxious child. Weighted blankets, avoiding screen time before bed and a consistent nighttime routine can contribute to good sleep hygiene.

When you consider the child, ask yourself which type of strategies are being used to manage their anxiety. Are they destructive or constructive? Can we improve on how we use constructive habits? Which constructive habits can I control if I am a teacher or a parent? Focus on these and lean away from destructive behaviour.

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anxiety Behaviour Management Inclusion

How to build your child’s routine in 30 seconds

In a time of so much unknown, controlling the controllable things can have a huge benefit on our young children. I discussed in a previous article how the deterioration of family functioning can lead to anxiety disorders in children and how parents can mitigate the potential damages of the coronavirus on their children’s mental health (article here). Establishing a stable routine is one strategy that we can use to maintain family functioning and reduce the air of uncertainty in the household. Visually representing this timetable and showing it to your child maximises the benefits but how can we do this if we have no time to sit at a computer or lack a printer and laminator to ensure its pretty?

This is where the app picturepath comes to the rescue. This is a predominantly free app and is extremely quick and easy-to-use. You simply set up an account and input your child’s first name and you start to build their routine with the pre-made most common activities and symbols. If you’re missing an activity, you can create your own and add images or icons from the icon library.

Once you have created the routine, you can switch the app to child mode where they can view the timetable in its totality or a “Now and next” mode. The child can then tick off activities as they are completed and start to work their way through the day.

I would highly recommend this for children with autism or younger children who are missing the structure of school. I am an advocate of the phrase that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and when it comes to behaviour, providing routine and structure is certainly a preventative measure.

For those interested, the links are provided below for both android and apple:

Android Version: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.acorn.picapp&hl=en_IE

Apple Version: https://apps.apple.com/us/app/picturepath/id1339643269

Note: I have no relation to or knowledge of the app developers. I just love things that make life easier and promote positive behaviour. This does both so I’m pumped!

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anxiety parenting

4 Ways Parents Can Protect Anxious Children During Coronavirus

Avigdor Klingman detailed how we can prevent children from developing anxiety to the point of post-traumatic stress disorder (PDST). Klingman had some interesting thoughts that have implications for the current coronavirus pandemic and how we can try and mitigate the dangers. He provided three variables that predict a child’s adjustment to trauma like the one we are experiencing and four ways that parents can help prevent the impact trauma has on a child.

Children are influenced far more by their environment than adults. Their adjustment and reaction to trauma will, therefore, be impacted by how parents and siblings respond to the coronavirus and the impact it is having. Children will take their stress-response cues from their parent’s and will interpret the traumatic event according to how their parents do.

Three parental variables predict a child’s adjustment – or maladjustment – to trauma:

  1. Separation from significant family members during a traumatic event.
  2. The parent’s traumatic stress reaction.
  3. Deterioration of family functioning.

Although the thoughts of contributing to their child’s development of anxiety could add to a parent’s stress, this could instead be viewed as a controllable factor when so many more factors are uncontrollable right now. The following actions are within your control and actionable right now:

Control your stress

Parents cannot pour from an empty cup and cannot reduce the stress levels of their child if they are stressed themselves. Implementing a self-care routine that will help you maintain a level head is paramount to helping your child. This can be as simple as an episode of your favourite Netflix show or as complex as a meditation/yoga/journaling routine.

Early Detection

Ensure you are available for your child throughout this crisis. If a parent is stressed, a child may lose adult support when they need it most. Keeping an eye out for early signs of traumatic stress can help prevent a small problem becoming a bigger one down the line. Communicate with your child openly, let them know that you are controlling everything you can, their reaction is normal and they are not alone in this.

Reframe the Event

It is easy to get stuck in a cycle of news that is negative and scary. Turn off the global news and start to reframe the event in the confines of your own home. Discuss it as an opportunity for more family time, a chance to practice hobbies they enjoy, gratitude that everyone in the family unit is safe and well under the roof. Reframing the event and communicating this to your child will impact how they view it. It might be challenging to change your mindset but this is important.

Portray Confidence

Communicating confidence to your child that you have the controllable factors under control is important to how they respond to the current stress. Keep as calm a routine as is viable. Demonstrate confidence that things will improve and this too, shall pass. Parents have a huge role in exacerbating or buffering the child’s response so conveying this confidence will help reduce feelings of anxiety that could grow as time passes.

Klingman’s research points to continuity and simplicity as successful traits of effective interventions when supporting children through traumatic events. Thankfully, simple strategies for anxiety are readily available even in the confines of our own home. I provide 6 ways to ease anxiety here along with a more fleshed out explanation of how to implement journaling with your child here.

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Tackle Children’s Anxiety with Journaling

Anxiety is rife right now. The Coronavirus Crisis has fully arrived and everybody is struggling to make sense of this new isolated world we have been thrown into at the deep end. 

Now, more than ever, we need to look out for our children’s mental health. I have written about 6 different ways to prevent or manage your child’s anxiety during this time with a suggestion of journaling as one of the options. I want to dig into the topic of journaling in this post and give some concrete examples of how to bring out its benefits over the coming weeks.

The Case for Journaling Right Now

Shawn Anchor is considered to be an authority on happiness. Shawn contests from his research that the small act of journaling has the potential to help us rewire our brains to scan for the positives instead of the negatives. This rewiring can lead to the writer developing a positive outlook on life in the long term with increased happiness and therefore, reduced anxiety.

As we adjust to this time of uncertainty, helping your child cultivate this positive mindset could protect them from the outside world – such as social media and news channels – that looks to sell fear and increase anxiety. 

There are added benefits to journaling that it will promote literacy skills through the act of putting their thoughts on paper while Shawn also states that happier people are more resilient and 31% more productive.

How to Journal for Children Who Can Write

Shawn suggests writing about the follow prompts for journaling to garner the maximum results:

  • Spend two minutes a day writing down three things you are thankful for. These must be new things each day and can be as big as your family’s health or a small as your bowl of cornflakes.
  • Spend two minutes a day writing about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours. 

Added prompts that may help create a more positive outlook are:

  • Writing down 7 things you are excited for at the start of every day.
  • Write about a “win” you had today. So it could be achieving a new personal best, an improvement in a skill, something difficult that you overcame. Write about why it’s important, how to progress and what your next step will be.

There are additional principles to journaling that are important if being used or attempted in the homeschool or school context.

  • A journal is not be read if the writer does not consent.
  • The parent or teacher can guide the child but there is no need to correct it and do not use this medium for correcting grammar and spelling.
  • Modelling the act of journaling by completing it alongside your child or letting them see you do it is an effective way to encourage them.
  • Using fun pens, markers and stationery is a great way to promote this. Let them choose their journal type with options like bullet journals and regular diaries being widely available online.
  • Let them go off script and design and write what they like as well. A journal is a great way to put thoughts to paper, vent and stoke creativity. If your child is engaged, let their imagination run wild.

Journaling for Children Who Can’t Write

If your child is not at the stage where they are ready to write, but you feel that this is something either you or they want to try, you have some options.

  1. The prompts can be completed by drawing pictures.
  2. The prompts can be completed by having a trusted adult write for them.
  3. The prompts can be completed by recording a video diary on a tablet or phone.
  4. The language of the prompts can be adjusted to be age-appropriate in the following ways:
  • “I am happy because”: Respond with anything that is making them happy.
  • “I am excited to….”: Respond with three things (instead of seven) that they are looking forward to doing that day.
  • “A good thing that happened today was”: Let them come up with a mini-win that they had.

Give it a Go!

In this unique time, we have an opportunity to teach skills for dealing with uncertainty and adversity. Journalling is one such tool that has stood to many of the world’s great creatives and leaders over time so it might be worth encouraging your child to experiment with it.

As always, this is one tool among many others that you can pull out and try to promote positivity and reduce negative emotions. It might not work for everyone but it is certainly worth giving a go!

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anxiety

6 Ways to Help Anxious Children during Coronavirus

We are living in anxious times right now. Some children may be stressed, frazzled and overwhelmed by what is happening and the importance of looking after their mental health is paramount. Telling someone who is feeling anxious not to worry or to forget about it is not an effective solution. What we can do instead is focus on strategies that explicitly strive to reduce anxiety and strategies that are more implicit.

If you have a child who feels anxious, I would suggest you use your judgement based on their personality and interests and select either explicit and direct strategies aimed at promoting well-being or more subtle strategies that will help them settle without even realising it.

Explicit Strategies

Option 1: Breathing/Meditation

Getting your child to try focussing on their breath and striving to be in the moment are great ways to explicitly reduce anxiety. The benefits of these strategies are well known and there is so much content out there to facilitate these kinds of strategies. You might want to choose a physical object like a breathing ball or perhaps you want a youtube video for young children. Older children might enjoy learning about how to do 4-7-8 breathing or engaging in a full-on 5 minute guided meditation aimed at children. There are also apps like Headspace and Calm that provide a certain amount of free content to test out.

Option 2: Journalling

Journalling has a body of evidence to prove it has to power to promote feelings of well-being and happiness making it a great explicit strategy for children feeling anxious who are old enough to write (if your child is young and might enjoy this, they could draw).

Three concrete ways to journal to promote happiness are:

  1. Write seven things you are excited for every morning when you wake up.
  2. Write three things you are grateful for every night before bed.
  3. Write for two minutes about something nice that happened in the past 24 hours.

Some children might like to do all three, some might like to do just one. I would emphasise the key to getting the benefits of this exercise is consistency over a period of two weeks or more for the child to feel the benefits.

For a more detailed explanation of journaling, click here.

Option 3: Yoga

Yoga’s benefits for increasing contentment and reducing anxiety are also well known as the poses, philosophy and breathwork involved all can have a significant impact on a child’s overall sense of well-being. They might like to choose from the wealth of resources at Cosmic Kids Yoga or, perhaps, your child would like to try one of Yoga With Adrienne’s videos for dealing with uncertain times. It’s all about finding something that your child likes and will consistently do.

Implicit Strategies

In some cases, talking about stress and anxiety can amplify it instead of reducing it and giving constant reassurance can actually serve to remind an anxious person that there is, in fact, something to worry about. If this sounds like something that resonates with your child, try more implicit and subtle strategies.

Option 1: Exercise

Getting out and getting active has so many benefits that they go beyond the scope of this article but getting your child out and running, playing playground games, practising a sport, cycling or anything that raises their heart rate will help release those feel-good endorphins that are proven to increase well-being. There is no need to says it’s for their anxiety as the act of doing will be enough to feel the benefits. Actually talking about it might reduce its effects as it may just remind the child how they are feeling. Children should aim for 60 minutes a day and if you have a child who is feeling anxious, getting this hour completed can be doubly important.  

Option 2: Immersive activities

The title of this sounds far fancier than it is. An immersive activity is anything that takes focus or concentration to complete. Engaging in an immersive activity can reduce, prevent or stop thinking about past troubles or future worries as they begin to focus on the task at hand. The joy of this is that most hobbies are immersive. Reading, helping an adult bake, garden work, knitting or sowing, building with lego, painting, playing video games and many other activities require your child to get out of their head an into the task at hand.

Option 3: Reducing the White Noise

We all know social media and the internet has huge benefits but it also has its downsides. Constantly being connected to the world can lead your child to take the world’s worries onto their shoulders. A subtle way to combat this is to ensure that a constant stream of news is not being streamed through the television, radio, tablets and phones in the house. Try to create some space for your child to just exist in their current environment. Avoid constantly talking about world events around your child to prevent unknowingly contributing to their feeling of anxiety through the attention we give a topic.

These six options are a menu. They may seem obvious and you may know their benefits already but remember the difference between knowing and doing. If you are worried about your child and their anxiety levels, experiment with some of these and find what is the formula for success for your child.

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Behaviour Management

Coronavirus Kids

We are living in a strange time right now. In Ireland and many other countries, we have been thrust into school closures with the advice of keeping children apart to ensure that coronavirus does not spread. This places sudden and sizeable stress on parents and children alike. Although we could see school closures coming, it came quite fast and children may be at home now with no real school guidance on what the best course of action is. Here are a few thoughts below that may be of help to parents or teachers:

Anxious Children

The media sells fear. This is a known principle of how media drives traffic to their websites and purchases of their newspapers. Anxious children do not need to be exposed to a 24-hour newsfeed about a virus they do not fully understand. Adults do not either. Limit the amount of coronavirus related media that children (and yourself) are exposed to. Limit the amount of talk about the coronavirus around children also. There is no need for children to listen to speculation, repeated reporting and scare-mongering which can be sure to contribute to their anxiety. 

Energetic Children

Children are advised not to mix with other children as they can help spread the disease to the more vulnerable. If you have a child with ADHD, ADD or any abundance of energy, this does not mean that you have to lock them inside. The advice seems to suggest being outside is a safe environment. Go to big parks, fields, forests or anywhere in nature where you believe contact with others will be minimal. Teach your child the concept of social distancing like a bubble around other families and explore places that, otherwise, you might not have the chance to explore.

One of the best ways to maintain a calm, positive environment is to make sure a lively child gets an opportunity to burn off some of their energy. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and preventing misbehaviour before it has a chance to arise is always a good tip.

Remember: there is no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing choices!

Educational Activities

As this is an unprecedented event, teachers and parents have been left scrambling at what to do. There has been a noble effort by schools and teachers to direct learning remotely but I believe this is not the way to move forward. 

The teacher may be able to provide some beneficial guidance on applications and websites to utilise or pages in books to complete but this is a wonderful opportunity for your child to experience one-to-one learning that they otherwise would not get.

I would suggest the following list of activities that would be a more beneficial way to spend the bulk of “educational time” while at home:

  • Play board games to teach strategic thinking and problem-solving.
  • Bake or cook dinners together to teach healthy living and weight in maths.
  • Writing out shopping lists for practicing spelling and handwriting.
  • Gardening to teach about science or geography.
  • Paint a fence or a wall to teach about fo
  • Get out into nature for geography and P.E.
  • Play with Lego, mechano or any other construction for science.
  • Get children to dress up in adult clothes for a fashion show for drama.
  • Clean bedrooms and re-organise the house to teach executive functioning skills.
  • Read to your child or have them read to you for English.
  • Listen to podcasts and talk about them for oral language.
  • Bring home a few empty cardboard boxes from the supermarket and let them loose with colours, sellotape and scissors for art.

There is a list of exciting opportunities to entertain, education and enjoy time with your children over the next few weeks. Creativity and energy are needed but the chance to teach your own child should be grasped with both hands. It’s also important to note that the whole world will be spending more time watching television and on screens at the moment and we should reflect this with our children. There is nothing wrong with binge-watching television right now to entertain ourselves in the evening when everyone is tired out.

Control the Controllables

There is very little in our control at the moment regarding the wider world but we can control our actions. The important things we need to impress on our children is that there is no need to panic or worry but there is a need to be careful. We should educate our children to:

  1. Wash their hands with correct technique frequently.
  2. Cough into their elbow.
  3. Practice social distancing.
  4. Avoid mixing with their friends in person (encourage calling their friends on phones).

After these four points, there is very little else we can do right now other than take the positives where we can and enjoy the extra quality time with our loved ones.