Saturday 17 December 2016

December 17th- Taking care of yourself this Christmas is important folks

Please remember we don’t need to be superhuman, we will laugh and cry, have ups and downs, good days and days we are relieved just to see the back of. Don't beat yourself up when things feel too much.

Give yourself a break every now and again to meet a friend for coffee when the hubby's home, walk the dogs, nip to the supermarket, or catch up on the soaps (if you can.)
Take peoples offers of help if you're lucky enough to get them, family often want to help, and can often feel helpless not knowing what to do. It could be taking siblings out for a bit, doing some washing for you or walking your dogs. I know I can sometimes feel quite trapped over the holidays so take any offer up... I know I will be if any come my way.
ONLINE SHOP, enough said.
If you can't get a sitter (let's face it it's pretty unlikely) have movie night with the other half over the holidays, maybe a £10 meal deal with a bottle of wine. I know for us it often comes way down the list of priorities, but I need to remind myself how important it really is to do every now and again.
Let people know if you need to talk. Bottling things up won’t help. Make the most of your friends and family and tell them if you need a hand, it's not failing honest, it's called being human (and I have certainly been there and worn the T-shirt many times before so you're far from alone honest.)
Use your online support network. We understand how it feels and are probably feeling the same as you. Sometimes all we need is a quick chat to someone who gets it and then we can get on with our day.
Acceptance can go a long way in helping us get through the holidays. Be happy that your life is chaotic and always eventful, and trying to see the funny side of things really can help. This is half the battle of feeling happy, as looking at others and wishing our lives looked like that does us no good at all (usually their life is never as perfect as it seems anyway.)
If you feel like you're having more bad days than good and the fog isn't lifting it could be worth seeing a doctor. Our mental health should not be taboo, I myself am on antidepressants and I am not ashamed in the slightest to tell anyone that will listen! Because I am important too. In order to be there for my kids I need to look after myself. I learnt that the hard way. So please don't suffer in silence and feel ashamed. Be proud of what you do on a  daily basis and look at it as something you just need to do to fill up the tank when its running low.

Remember no ones life is perfect folks we all have our own challenges to deal with. So smile and remember you're doing a great job! 
Our kids are amazingly unique and yes life is challenging, especially at Christmas. But make the most of everyday... whatever comes your way!
And hold your head up high in pride as our children continue to teach us a new way to view our world and show us how to love unconditionally, as only children can.

Friday 16 December 2016

December 16th- Calming Strategies and Meltdowns

Calming Strategies....

Things can get really hectic  at this time of year, and sometimes it all just becomes too much for our little ones.
Keeping routine and structure will really help keeping anxieties low, but if you sense that your child is beginning to struggle its worth trying to de-escalate the situation by using whatever strategy works for you and your child. 
Here are some simple things you could try…
Going outside for some fresh air can work wonders, maybe a dog walk or a run around the park. My son often finds being in nature really relaxing, he climbs trees and rolls around in the mud to his hearts content. It often really helps to bring his anxieties back down and levels his mood.
Calming music and dimming the lights can really calm a child.
'Bubble motion tumbler' toys can work really well for children to focus on and are very relaxing to watch.
Lying on the sofa and being 'squished and squashed' with cushions can have a calming effect on some children.
One of the hardest things for children to recognise is when they are beginning to feel anxious and stressed, as they often live in a heightened state of anxiety all the time. That's why they can seem to explode from out of nowhere.  So emotions visuals and wristbands etc can help us as adults highlight to our children when we sense they may need some calming strategies. Visuals work well for this as language is difficult for children to process when they are anxious
Some children find being in a warm bath or shower relaxing, as do us adults when we get chance!!
Pets are amazing at calming children who are anxious. My sons loves to cuddle his dogs when he is feeling sensitive.
Its always worth having a sensory kit bag with fiddle toys/ earphones/ blanket/ lights/ stress balls / favourite snacks etc.
Sucking on ice can help, my son uses ice pops or chewing gum as I find when he is stressed he starts chewing his sleeve.
A tent with cushions and blankets, this could be in the lounge or upstairs out of the way, whatever works for you.
Favourite activity/ special interest can be what children need to reset.
Allowing your child to stim, its what they need to do.
Pressure and weighted products can help calm children, these include jackets, blankets, shoulder and lap cushions.
Jumping on a trampoline/off the sofa can relax and calm kids as it repetitive movement. Or a scooter board also offers repetitive relaxing movement if you scoot up and down on it.
Shaving foam on the kitchen table is a great sensory activity that relatively easy to clean.
Spinning in a chair can help some kids to calm.
Ear defenders can help if things are too loud, or listening to a favourite story or music on their earphones.
Stretchy suits and sleeping bags can provide cocoon  like comfort and help children feel safe.
A drive in the car can help calm a child sometimes maybe with their favourite audio story just to get out of the situation.

Hand/ head/ shoulder massage can help calm a child that’s becoming distressed, this often works well for my son.
But inevitably things do escalate sometimes despite our best efforts so....Reduce pressure, reduce language and choose your battles.  I find it helpful to think of it in terms of a panic attack. This helps me focus on helping my son instead of getting frustrated with him.
Kids who are really overwhelmed feel trapped and will more often than not want to run away to keep themselves safe from whatever the perceived threat is. And if they can't escape, they will lash out to get passed whatever is in their way, which is often us (flight or fight). So as long as it's safe for them to do so, allow a way for them to get out of the situation, and you will find they often take themselves to what makes them calm anyway. 
Keep your tone as calm as possible, your language to a minimum and don't criticise. This is one of the hardest things we have to learn to do as so much of the process of de-escalating the situation is down to how we react to the behaviour. It always helps me to just keep telling myself it's not personal and they can't help it. They are not in control of their bodies when things have got to this stage. Repeating this again and again in my head has  got me through many a tricky situation with both my own son and the children I have supported over the years.
If you feel that knot in your stomach becoming too big and you feel swamped with adrenaline get someone else to take over and get yourself calm again.
And finally don't beat yourself up. Despite all the planning, prep and routines in place ....sometimes we can't avoid everything. 
So do your best and give yourself some time to recharge afterwards. Just as your child will need time to recover, so will you. Take care of yourself and don't dwell on what went wrong.
Pat yourself on the back for being so in tune with your child that they feel safe enough with you to truly be themselves at their most vulnerable time. And know that they need our help, love and support more than ever when they feel like this. 
So what you're doing simply by being there everyday is so important for your child and if they could, they would tell you the very same as I am about to.....You're Fab!
I hope some of these suggestions may have given you some ideas, and made you realise what a great job you're already it would be great if you could share anything that's worked well for you and your child in the comments section below

Thursday 15 December 2016

December 15th - Sleep

Sleep ( ha ha )...


Well what can I say….
Keep routines in place wherever possible.
Visuals can help prepare children for any changes to the routine, and work well for children like my son who can often becomes demand avoidant at bedtime. He will often follow the visuals better than me telling him again and again.
There will be the odd few late nights, we just have to accept that.
Create a social story to help your child to understand the bedtime routine(see link above.)
If your staying with family,  taking your childs own duvet/ covers/ pillow/ night lights can really help them settle.
Christmas Eve may well be a long night.. sorry folks no advice for that one…. other than drink Baileys and eat lots of mince pies to get you through! My little man has already warned me he knows he's not going to be able to sleep that night!
Sounds silly but make sure to have enough medication for the festive period as lots of surgeries work on reduced hours as do chemists and this can mean getting your prescription can take longer. I have set a reminder on my phone or that's the stupid kind of thing I would forget to do.

Think about the layout of the room. It can help to show them the function of the room has changed from somewhere to play to somewhere to now sleep. My son now has a separate desk for watching TV (AND HE ONLY EVER USES HIS BED FOR SLEEP...NOTHING ELSE .)

A dark room will naturally produce melatonin so keep lights dim half an hour before bedtime. Keep the lights in the house bright everywhere else in the house so there is a contrast.

It can help to use motivation to help encourage sleep, and it has to be something that is manageable and your child actually wants. Use reward charts.

There is evidence to suggest  that TV and screen time can stimulate kids before bedtime. So it could be worth considering limiting this half an hour before bedtime.

My son likes to take a snack to bed as he often feels hungry before he falls asleep.

Have a set pattern of things your child always does before bedtime and try to stick to it whenever possible. It's also worth keeping a consistant get up time in the morning throughout weekends and holidays. 

Worry dolls under the pillow/ worry boxes / diaries can help if children write down what is worrying them. Also knowing what will happen the next day can help alleviate any worries that prevent sleep.

As tempting as it is to stay up late and watch another episode on Netflix remember that kiddo will still be up at the crack of dawn so ensure you have lots of coffee stashed in the cupboards. I'm a sucker for late nights but then always regret it in the morning.

Weighted blankets can really help kids to settle to sleep at bedtime, it may be worth investing in one if sleep is hard for your little one. They work by relaxing the body and they can be made or bought online.
A massage before bedtime can help a child to relax as can sensory lights ( links to examples above.)

Tuesday 13 December 2016

Advent Survival Calender cont; Short-cuts, Christmas Food and a giggle!


(Advent Survival Calendar December 11th/ 12th/ 13th )

Don't stress about Christmas Cards… people will understand

Get gifts wrapped in store or use gift bags
Buy cakes for cake sale day at school if you don’t have time
Pace yourself, use the time when the kids are at school to get organised, and look after yourself too
Learn to say NO… if your too busy its OK to say NO. December is busy for everyone and you cant be in a million places at once
Cheat.. Use ready prepped veg/ pre baked deserts etc. No one will know the difference
Get family presents like a board game as a gift instead of individual presents for each family member

For teachers gifts don’t worry about getting them all a present. Get some tea/ coffee and some nice staff room treats for the whole me it will be much appreciated 

Time for a giggle ...

Credit; Connors Chronicles


Buffets can work well instead of formal sit down meals, they can be more relaxed and be far  less stressful
Allow your child to choose what they want to eat on Christmas Day, it doesn't have to be what everyone else is eating
Consider having  a table just for the kids on Christmas Day
Be prepared everywhere you go, take food you know your child will eat
If you're eating at someone else's house, set a time that you will arrive so they can be prepared. This avoids your child having to wait around to eat which can lead to stress
Some kids don’t like eating at the table with others as it lead to sensory overload, so consider this when arranging seats
Give your child a role they may like to do at the Christmas table, maybe clearing away the crackers, telling the jokes, or putting the wrapping paper in the bin etc.  

Saturday 10 December 2016

December 10th- Family routines and predictable traditions

Familiar routines can be very comforting for children on the Spectrum so why not create some new festive family traditions this year that you can do for years to come.
Some nice ideas include…
A story book  for each night in December that’s wrapped under the tree to read at bedtime each night. Audio CD'S can work well too as many kids like to be able to follow the words of the story independently.
Making paper chains together, this is a really good fine motor activity to help with those pre writing skills.
A movie night on the same night each year, maybe even the same movie.
Making Gingerbread people, following visual instructions and eating them yummy!
A family book that you keep under the tree and write a message in/ draw picture each year.
Create a Christmas Eve box, with treats/ hot chocolate/ stories/ music/ movies that comes out every year to make Christmas Eve magical and predictable.

Take photos of all the decorations and add to it each year. You could look at each December together in preparation for the festivities.
It would be great to hear your suggestions and things you do as a family each year?......

Friday 9 December 2016

Supporting Children With Autism Access Christmas Lunch At School

In addition to the hustle and bustle of daily life at school, Christmas throws up many confusing challenges for our kids including plays/ parties/ changes to routine and Christmas Dinners. All of which take its toll on sensitive nervous systems, and can lead to an increase in stress and anxiety for children with Autism and additional needs in school. This can also have a direct impact at home as lots of children reflect all their anxiety inwards until they reach home and explode.

There are several things that we can do as teachers to help our children not only access, but enjoy these activities, and today I will focus on the Christmas Lunch that happens in most primary schools up and down the country at this time of year.

Many children on the spectrum have complex issues with food and eating in front of people can be a real trigger for anxiety....but they desperately want to join in and in particular girls often won't want to appear to be different to their friends. Some kids won't be fussed at all and may not even notice the festivities going on around them and that's fine too. We shouldn't project our own views of what they should enjoy onto them, ideally we should follow their lead and accept their differences.
This leads to true inclusion.

No two children are the same and there are so many variables that can affect our children's ability to cope from any given moment throughout the day. This can cause issues; as what a child can cope with one day may be just a step too far the next day, and we cant always work out why. But by really looking at what each child's body language/ gesture/ facial expression and behaviour is telling us, we can attempt to support children to access things at school with less anxiety for them.

So here are a few simple things to look out for and consider if you have a child with Autism in your class and you have to support them access a whole school event like Christmas Lunch....

  • Talk to the parents, they know their child best and will be able to make some very valuable suggestions that could make the difference between a child joining in or not.

  • Children may want to bring their own cutlery from home.

  • Some children may be unable to use a knife and fork and be embarrassed about their friends seeing this. Maybe their food come come pre cut?

  • Consider seating, this could be a stressful unknown element for some children. So seating plans/ name cards/ own place-mats etc. are all ideas that reduce the uncertainty.

  • Noise will probably an issue. Ear defenders can help some children, and for others the discreet option of placing them at the table near the doorway can help with reducing the level of noise.

  • Let the child see the playlist of music that will be in the background.

  • Lots of children don't like food touching/certain ways things are cooked etc, again this can be discussed with the parents, and their own food brought in and eaten if that would help them access sitting with their peers.

  • Give them a 'get out'. So that with no fuss if things begin to overwhelm them, they have permission to leave without having to ask. A time out card works well for this. 

  • Preparation, preparation, preparation is the key... social stories are really useful to talk through what will happen.

  • Visual support can help children making food choices as processing language becomes harder for our kids at times of anxiety.

  • Consider having themed tables? This would work well for a child that has a special interest and could motivate them to join in if they are at their favourite characters table.

  • Making a place mat with visuals of the food they child will eat can help them prepare for the meal, and allow them to make the choices of the foods they do and don't like beforehand so there are no surprises.

  • Let them take a fiddle toy/comforter in with them if that helps and explain that to them in a social story.

  • Weighted jackets can help children regulate their nervous system and can help children feel calm. There are lost of discreet products available.

  • Ensure all the information is written down and a copy sent home, as children can often fret the night before. And if parents don't have the information to hand it can escalate to a full on meltdown that is often anxiety driven.

  • If they are going to be wearing paper hats, consider the possibility that this could be uncomfortable for some children. So not wearing one at all could be discussed and accepted if that's what works. Or they could make their own hat beforehand?

  • Crackers on the table can have loud bangers In them which could be enough to make a child not want to join in. but be unable to say.

  • And finally consider the activities that occur before the Christmas Lunch. Its quite likely the child with Autism will be very anxious about it all morning. They may not have slept well, they may have been unable to eat breakfast, and some kids show their anxiety by refusing to do things and shutting down. So consider keeping things calm leading up to the Christmas Lunch and view all behaviour as the child communicating to you how they feel.
I hope some of the ideas that I have suggested may help, and remember no two kids are ever the same so follow their lead, accept their differences and talk to the parents as they really want to help.
And have a lovely festive season!
Mrs M 

(Mrs M has 20 years working in the Childcare and Education Sector, and spent many years working as a Specialist Autism HLTA in a Resourced Provision, as well as being a mum to three kids one of whom  has a diagnosis of Autism.)

December 9th- School at Christmas

School can be very busy at this time of year so here are some top tips and resources  for reducing anxiety and stress and keep your kids calm in school
Create a daily timetable of events and try to avoid changes wherever possible. Anxiety will be ramping throughout December so remember to clarify and explain everything.
Keep decorations where the child works to a minimum, and provide distraction free work-zones.
Have a pre - planned set of activities your child can do during all the rehearsals that they can just get on with independently, maybe related to their special interest somehow.
Consider they may not cope with the carols concerts and plays.. Maybe they could do a more behind the scenes job, and that's OK.
Consider allowing them to stay at home if there is something they really wont cope with such as parties . Or create a safe quiet place in the building that is Christmas free for them to escape to. 
Children's language processing ability decreases when things are hectic and busy so back up your language with visual support at all times.
Non uniform days can lead to stress so let children come in wearing their uniform with no fuss.
Make sure all changes to the timetable are discussed and shared with home, preferably written down, as children can fret about things at home and often parents don’t know what to say to help if they don’t have all the info to hand.
Timetable in periods for relaxation, exercise , and sensory breaks throughout the day.
Use social stories to help children access activities they may find a challenge such as Christmas lunch, parties,  rehearsals etc.
Allow them to eat their own food at the school party.
Have a transition debrief time before hometime if possible. Or a period where they an chill before going home. 
Pace the daily activities so children don't get overloaded. It will be taking a huge effort for children on the spectrum to maintain the busy pace of school in December so this needs to be taken into consideration when planning the day. 
Maintain as much normality as possible as the chaos ensues around you …and give yourself a big pat on the back when its all over … well done for surviving it all I say.

Thursday 8 December 2016

December 8th- Decorations/ Tree

Resources/ Links....
Allow your child to help you choose the decorations as this may help reduce any anxiety.
Bring the tree down from the loft a few days before its due to go up. It could go up in stages, and then and put the decorations up over a few days if that helps.
If going to chose a real tree use visual support and look at the website before going. Take ear defenders as the chainsaw they use can be loud.
Do some Christmas Tree Sequencing activities at home before you decorate the tree.
Consider that real trees can have a strong smell that your child may not like.
Keep some rooms in the home decoration free especially your child's own room if they want.
Let your child be in the room while you put them up. A child that comes home from school with the house looking all different could find that distressing.
Clear baubles can be bought that you add special interest objects in as decorations 
Some children may find flashing lights too much so lights that are on continuously with no twinkle may work best.

Consider having  a smaller tree that the children can decorate themselves so it doesn't matter what it looks like ;-)

Wednesday 7 December 2016

December 6th/ 7th - Presents & Siblings

December 6th -Presents 
Consider teaching kids using social stories how to respond when someone gives them a present.
Many Autistic children don’t like surprises, so it could be best to tell your child what their gifts are, or you could put a catalogue picture/ photo on each present as  a label.
Clear paper is also a possible option.
Large amounts of presents can overwhelm, so consider limiting how many are opened at once and spread it out over  a few  hours/ days.
Sounds obvious but remember the batteries. Maybe wrap them with the presents or better still remove the toy from all the packaging before wrapping them and have the batteries in ready.
Wrap presents so that they are easy to open with not much tape to avoid tactile sensitivity difficulties and reduce frustration.
Consider the paper as some paper is really noisy, possibly  let your child choose his own paper and even wrap the presents together if necessary.

December 7th- Siblings 

Sibling Support Link
As busy as things get its worth trying to make sure you have some time with all your kids, as all the family adjustments can be tricky for siblings to accept. It could just be walking the dog but that 10 minutes out of the house can be really helpful for you and them.
Assign special roles/ jobs to each child as this will help them keep focused and give them structure.
Use social stories to help your Autistic child understand about younger siblings and Santa. It can be hard for some kids to understand why younger children still believe.
Take turns to do family activities with your children instead of not going at all, or worse still forcing your Autistic child to participate. If your child with Autism doesn't like Carol singing but your other kids do, its not wrong for mum to take them and dad to stay at home for example, that’s just the way it has to be, its an adjustment….but it will make everyone a lot happier in the end as its your Christmas too.
Use timetables for all your kids so they don’t feel left out, it can help relieve the stress and anxiety for any child, my daughter with Dyslexia loves to see the plan on a calendar too, it helps her as much as my Autistic son.
Take up offers of help, sometimes if your other kids can go to nanna's for a sleepover it can offer them some much needed respite.
Create some special traditions for siblings only. It could be going for a hot chocolate or making paper-chains. It doesn't need to be much but could help them greatly. If  it means your kiddo goes on his iPad for longer than usual then so be it…it's Christmas.