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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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Categories
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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Categories
Behaviour Management Homeschool parenting

Motivate Homeschool Children Without Rewards

In a previous article, I described how a parent might go about setting up a reward system at home. The parents might decide to reward their child for behaving a certain way with something external like sweets, additional screen time, preferred activity or anything that would motivate them to cooperate. This is an effective way to increase desired behaviour but there are people out there that don’t enjoy the transactional concept of a reward system. They don’t like the mentality that their child will only learn if they get something they like in return. They want their child to want to learn. Well, if its ideas for this you are looking for, let me introduce you to a different kind of motivator.

Intrinsic Motivation

Intrinsic motivation can be explained as an inner motivation which is driven by the reward or enjoyment they get from doing the activity itself. Think about the child who practices a sport for hours or practices a musical instrument incessantly without any pressure from parents. This child is intrinsically motivated to engage with the activity. They do it because they enjoy doing it, the sense of achievement from doing it well and the feeling that they are improving at it.

As children pass through the school system, the dream can be that they make the shift from external motivators like praise, jellies and extra play time to this intrinsic motivation where they engage in learning because they love it.

How Can Parents Intrinsically Motivate Their Children?

Parents who don’t want to offer external rewards to their children to behave and learn, thankfully, have numerous options to help develop this self-motivation in their children. There is no magic formula but there are plenty of options:

Choice

As your child is being homeschooled, there is more opportunity to allow them to direct their learning. Allowing them to have partial (or total) say in how they learn over the next few weeks could provide that inner motivation they need to truly engage with tasks. Let them choose the books they read, let them choose the songs they learn, let them choose what countries they want to research. You can even let them choose when they want to learn completely. Giving the child ownership over their learning can be empowering and you may be surprised at how immersed in topics and activities they become.

Variety

If your child is not ready to choose their topics and schedule, variety is said to be the spice of life! Your child may be bored by the repetitive nature of the daily compulsory task which is dropping their motivation through the floor. Creativity is all that is needed to introduce variety. Instead of just demanding they read a book to you daily which results in a row, why don’t you record them reading and pretend your making a youtube video for other children? As opposed to learning about a country from a book, why don’t you encourage them to create a project or design a quiz about the country to give an adult later on? Your imagination is the limit on this one and, graciously, we also have the internet for a wealth of ideas.

Resources

Some children can loathe the idea of writing sentences in a copy, but when you give them a whiteboard and a marker, it can seem like Christmas. Providing attractive resources to engage in a task can bring a wonderful sense of joy to an activity. Children, suddenly, can take enormous pride in presenting their work when using different ranges of pencils, markers, chalks, pens, crayons and twistables or through using coloured card. If the goal is to learn about a country, does it matter if they write sentences in pencil or with marker? Absolutely not. You could even let them type their sentences if the act of writing isn’t the goal. 

Pursuit of Passions

One of the best ways of motivating children to behave and learn is facilitating the pursuit of their passions. During their homeschooling, there could be huge scope for allowing them to focus and learn about areas they are passionate about.

For example, the child who loves football could engage in his P.E through football, his reading could be about his favourite team, his maths could be adding up points in the premier league, his geography could be exploring which football teams belong to which country and his history could be about football during the world war. 

Facilitating their passions in this way could turn a stressful daily struggle to engage them in meaningful learning into an enteraining and educational process where you develop a closer bond with your child.

Intrinsically motivating children can be a tricky process of trial-and-error. It is impossible to know what will provide true inner motivation to drive them to want to engage for the love of the task and its results, but if parents are willing to put in the time thinking, planning and providing options for their child, they might just crack their magic formula for learning. 

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Categories
Behaviour Management Homeschool parenting

How to Motivate Homeschoolers

By now, a lot of parents have their children at home and have either started or contemplated starting homeschooling. There is a lot of information out there right now which can be overwhelming. I believe that the number one priority is to maintain a happy and calm environment. If your child is feeling anxious, this needs to be addressed as soon as possible and I have written about potential solutions for anxiety along with a more extensive explanation of how to use journaling for this purpose also.

However, your child may be calm and, as a parent or guardian, you may be eager to engage them with some academic learning. The question is how to do this successfully? There are general principles that teachers use to encourage positive behaviour such as providing routine and choice and using a specific language. These are key to preventing misbehaviour before it has a chance to start. The next thing that is needed is motivation.

Extrinsic motivation

You may have heard your child talking about “points” they receive in school for being good. Perhaps, they can cash in these points for some kind of reward at the end of the day or week. Maybe, your child talks about their table being crowned “The Table of the Day” and they get to have some reward for their troubles. These are examples of the teacher extrinsically motivating the children. They are offering an external reward in exchange for a behaviour.

Parents can use this concept also to motivate their child to complete tasks and behave a certain way. There are 3 key principles that are necessary to ensure successful use of extrinsic motivators:

The Reward

The child has to be motivated by the reward on offer. It is not a reward just because you think it is. Picking a true reward is a vital first step. Examples of rewards could be sweets, screen time, cooking their favourite dinner, getting to pick the movie, extra pocket money, going out with them to play their favourite game in the garden or anything that they love.

The Behaviour

Pick one or two very specific behaviours to reward and make sure the child knows what they are. Instead of rewarding “being good”, reward “sitting at the kitchen” and “answering five questions” or whatever you specifically want them to do. Once you have picked a desirable reward and one or two behaviours that the child is able to perform, you are setting yourself up for success.

The Frequency

Finally, you need to judge how often to reward your child. As a general rule of thumb, younger children need to be rewarded more frequently. If they write five sentences, they might need to get their reward straight away to maintain motivation. Older children are generally able to wait longer, so their reward could be additional time on a games console at the end of the day or even a special reward at the end of the week. The frequency of the reward needs to be decided by the parent based on their child’s ability.

Two Simple Examples of Successful Systems

Once you have decided on the three conditions above. You can decide how to package it to make it most attractive. Think of yourself as a salesperson and the more positive and excited you are about this new system, the more excited they will be! Presenting the new reward system so they can physically see their progress can be very motivating and can be very simply done with household items.

Using an empty jar, for example, you could mark a line on it with a pen or rubber band. Every time the child performs the behaviour, you could add pasta shells or lentils to the jar. Once they have filled the jar to the line, they can get their reward. The band can be made higher if you feel they can behave for longer or can be brought down lower if you feel they need to be rewarded quicker.

A jar and some lentils can help sell your system.

Here is an example of a visual way of presenting your reward system where the behaviour can be added and the reward. You may say they need to get 3-6 stars awarded depending on their age before they can get their reward.

A whiteboard or paper can be just as effective.

The opportunities are endless and you will find an abundance of options on how to “sell” your system. Make sure your three key principles are locked in first, however, as the success of your system will hinge on the quality of the reward, selection of the behaviour and the frequency of reward above all else.

Best of luck and please share any ideas you what you have found helpful so far or are thinking of trying!

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