Just like a pilot runs through a checklist before he is ready to fly, it’s always a good idea for any parent thinking about potty training their child to run through a similar checklist before they begin. This will help you verify that you have the proper equipment and are prepared for any obstacle or circumstance you might run in to. You always want to tackle the job with confidence and being proactive is a smart way to approach the teaching of any new skill.
Below you will find a partial checklist designed help you identify some of the things you need to consider before you start the toilet training process. Depending on all the qualities that make your child unique and where your child falls on the autism spectrum, the preparation will differ for each and every parent but this is a good place to start.
- The bathroom environment. Is your bathroom environment user-friendly for your child and if not, what accommodations can you make? You need to make sure the important articles are accessible such as towels, towel racks, step-stool, and soap. It’s important to identify any barriers that might be in the way of success such as doors, light switches and water that is too hot. As silly as it sounds, consider mood music and lighting because a relaxing, calm and inviting atmosphere will go far in reducing anxiety and producing the results you desire. Consider minimizing possible distractions such as decorations, fancy soaps, toys, windows, toilet paper so your child can concentrate on the task at hand.
- Clothing considerations. Will the clothing you use help your child independently care of his/her toileting needs? Forget cute and go functional! Restrictive clothing increases risk for accidents because it is too timely to remove. Consider loose fitting, easy-on/easy-off, knit wear. It may not look that great but is user friendly. Skirts and dresses are OK but you may want to avoid long shirts.
- Diapers vs. underpants. Children need to feel wetness when accidents occur and diapers pull wetness from the body which defeats the purpose. You need to make accidents uncomfortable! Consider regular underpants with a diaper or plastic cover over it. This catches the excess but still allows for wetness on their skin. To avoid sensory sensitivities from interfering with the potty training process, consider what your child’s sensitivities might be to fabrics and textures, pressure of elastic, tags and/or seams in advance.
- Training equipment. What equipment will be the most user friendly to your child? What accommodations will work best to lessen any potential for anxiety? Will a standalone potty chair or a commode with adaptor help your child feel most safe, secure and comfortable? A simple step-stool is extremely useful for reaching the sink to wash hands and to create a safe and stable platform for sitting properly on the commode to support legs at a 45 degree angle which will facilitate pushing /straining for bowel movements.
- Reward systems. Specific, verbal praise from someone that loves you is often very effective but sometimes is not enough. For learning a new and challenging task such as potty training, you may have to use an additional type of reward. Whichever you decide to use, make sure the item is enticing and highly preferred. Make sure you only use this item for success in the bathroom and nothing else in order to reinforce the toileting behaviors you want to see. Your choice of reward needs to be determined in advance, used consistently and given only after the entire toileting routine is completed.
- Timing. Timing can be everything is crucial. When approaching any new task it is important to shoot for a time where you have normalcy in your regular routine. Starting a potty training routine for your autistic child is stressful for all and adding it to a situation that might already be filled with tension is not a good idea. Potty training is not a wise thing to introduce if you are going on vacation, in the process of moving, or the birth of another child is approaching.
- Communication. A key component! Is your autistic child verbal or non-verbal? A visual or auditory learner? Does your child think best in pictures? Are alternative forms of communication necessary? Your answers to these questions will determine if there is a need for spoken or visual cues such as a printed word check-off list or a picture schedule. If you have a child who is a concrete black-and-white thinker you need to specify your prompts. Saying pull your pants/underwear down to your knees vs. undress is better because literal thinkers will remove all clothing when given the term undress.
All of this may sound excessive but a successful potty training program demands it. Let’s face it, the training process is going to interfere with your established and comfortable routine as well as your child’s. The best way to make the transition easier for both of you is by making sure you have all your ducks in a row. Once you feel prepared the next step is to effectively and clearly communicate what the new toilet training schedule will look like to your child. If you would like more strategies to guide your potty training efforts you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule your free 20 minute consultation.
If you are a working mom I know you look forward to your vacation time. The change of pace is always refreshing and often reboots your energy for the return. Unfortunately, the time off is temporary and sometimes just not long enough. If returning to work is a difficult transition for you to make just think about what it is like for your child to return to school after a vacation break.
Whether it’s a long or short reprieve for your child it’s important to empathize with the reluctance he or she may express to “go back to work”. Many children, with or without autism, do not like their ‘job’ of going to school. And there are two things that can make vacation even more difficult – transitions and anxiety.
Transitions: Children on the autism spectrum take longer to adjust to a change in schedule. Your child may just be getting comfortable with the ‘all day at home’ schedule when suddenly it’s time to make yet another shift in routine. Recurring change is the enemy of most autistic children and can cause stress levels to rise and anxieties to increase causing much friction and unrest in their households.
On the other hand, there are a few children who actually look forward to going back to school after a vacation break. Many can transition well despite having to adjust to another new schedule. Regardless of the category your child falls into, the following suggestions will help facilitate a smooth vacation transition.
– If the school break is a short one, try not to relax the rules around bedtime. Making smooth adjustments to an established bedtime routine in the course of one week may be an unrealistic expectation. Consider the time your child requires to make a stress free transition and honor it.
– Hold a family meeting before school begins again to discuss and plan for the transition. If you’ve never held a family meeting before this is a great time to start.
– If screen machine privileges have been increased during a school vacation make sure you give fair warning about when they will end. And once you re-establish the TV, video and computer use rules make sure you stick to them. Children thrive on predictability.
– Relay a positive attitude when discussing the return to school. If your child isn’t enthused about returning, focus on the events they find the most interesting such as, sports, computer or music.
Anxiety: Many children can harbor anxiety about school. Be it issues with friends, bullying, challenging class work, sensory over-stimulation, or a new teacher, it’s important to address the culprit. When dealing with a child who is very resistant about returning to school after a vacation break ask her to express her worries and concerns. This may be difficult if your child is non-verbal or struggles to communicate.
– If your child has difficulty expressing himself try a different tactic. Drawing, looking at pictures, reading books etc may be helpful tools to help you identify the things that cause your child anxiety.
– Sometimes all you can do is anticipate what the anxieties might be based on past experience and good detective work. Then you can address each possibility with a plan of action.
– Touching base with your child’s teacher is always a good idea. Email, call or make an appointment to talk to your child’s teacher. Ask if she has observed differences in your child’s behavior or any behavior of other peers towards your child at school.
If you are a parent of an autistic child (or any child) who is showing signs of anxiety about returning to school you can find extra support and ideas for making the transition more manageable in my new book – Autism Parenting: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience. Available on Amazon Kindle.
Don’t let the upcoming time change upset your child. The shift to Daylight Saving Time doesn’t have to have a negative impact on your household. Adjusting the clocks forward or backward can a big adjustment for anyone. When you have a child with an Autism Spectrum Disorder who thrives on routine it can be disruptive.
Question: How can you help your child spring forward happily along with the clocks?
Answer: Stick to a schedule.
Why? Schedules and routines are an extremely important part of any child’s life. Having a schedule and sticking to it in times like these will help your child with special needs feel a sense of stability despite the loss of an hour. Even though they may not realize an hour has vanished, their body’s internal clock will detect it. Depending on the child, springing forward can have a significant impact on a child with autism.
Question: What are the benefits of maintaining a schedule?
Answer: It will diminish your child’s anxiety.
How? Anxiety is normally an issue for most children on the spectrum and switching to Daylight Saving Time has the potential for triggering a state of worry or stress. When the timing of things like bedtime, getting up and getting ready for school typically happened in the light or dark and suddenly this is different, it can easily create anxiety or resistance in a child with autism. Maintaining the same routine in all other respects will help prevent anxiety levels from increasing further because it will reassure your child that everything else is staying the same. Knowing what to expect makes life more predictable and therefore less stressful.
Children with autism often have many appointments with therapists, doctors and other professionals – sometimes there will be more than one appointment in a day. Keeping a schedule will not only help you and your child anticipate appointments but will ensure you don’t miss them as well.
Schedules can be extremely helpful when trying to get a child to do something they do not want to do. Let’s face it – going to the doctor’s is not much fun but simply showing a child that after they do one thing they will get to move onto something else can help motivate them from one task to the next.
Some children on the autism spectrum will benefit from having a visual schedule. Having pictures for all the daily activities allows them to see what is coming next and will help avoid some emotional breakdowns. Keeping the schedule posted where your child can refer to it often is helpful. If you ever have to make a change in the schedule explain the shift to your child as soon as possible and transfer the pictures on the calendar to the newly designated date and time.
There will always be things that come up on occasion and have the potential to throw a child’s world out of whack, day or night. When troublemakers like Daylight Saving Time show up and get you off track, the best thing to do is to try to get back on it as soon as you can.
Color my Senses: The Sensory Detective Coloring Book by Paula Aquilla BSc, OT, DOMP is a wonderful educational tool for any child to explore all eight of their senses! Factual descriptions are provided with the practical example of waiting for a school bus to help the reader understand how their entire sensory system works. It begins with an explanation of how our sensory system depends on our nervous system and how information is carried throughout the body – to and from the brain.
The book will appeal to children young and old, as it presents options for both. Younger children can activate their senses through the process of coloring while a parent reads the text to them. Older children can easily read the book to themselves, with or without a little help, because the descriptive visuals help boost comprehension. The author has done a wonderful job of illustrating the bigger words that name the various parts of the sensory system. Even the term sensory modulation is described in such a way that will make sense to most children.
Of course, one is never too old to color as the popularity of adult coloring books testify too. The act of coloring itself has the capacity to calm the nervous system and soothe the senses. It’s also a fun and appealing way to learn!
The author, Paula Aquilla, has been an occupational therapist for more than thirty years and her understanding of children with sensory issues is evident.
Color my Senses: The Sensory Detective Coloring Book is published and available in paperback from Future Horizons, as well as Amazon and Goodreads.
My wish to you this holiday season is for a pleasant, peaceful and joyous time full of wonderful connections for every member of your precious family. And, my gift to you will help make that happen.
My holiday gift, Have a Happy Holiday with your Child on the Spectrum, is an ebook designed to provide you and your entire family with much holiday cheer. Click here to access the seven holiday tips and strategies I created based on the letters in the word H-O-L-I-D-A-Y and ENJOY!
- “H” is for “Humor”
- “O” is for “Obligations”, “Observances” and “Obsessions”
- “L” is for “Love,” “Laughter,” and “Limits”
- “I” is for “Inclusion”
- “D” is for “Dress” and “Decorations
- “A” is for “Appetite”!
- “Y” is for “Yuletide” memories!
Discover great ideas to create a more relaxed atmosphere over the holiday season. Start by imagining a season without stress. A holiday with more humor; less obligations; an abundance of love; inclusion for all; comfortable dress; a healthy appetite; and loads of wonderful yuletide memories. Then I’ll show you how to turn that image into reality.
Does that sound too good to be true? I tell you it isn’t. It is all possible!
Begin creating the holiday you dream of by taking little steps towards your goal. You can always add more next year. Whatever adjustments you make, it will be progress in the right direction.
I look forward to seeing you in the New Year with a smile on your face and a positive attitude for the 365 days of 2017. I’m always here to help you make the best of them!
We often fear what we can’t control or don’t understand. Fortunately, education is a powerful antidote and the information Dr. Wilkinson presents in his book, Overcoming Anxiety and Depression on the Autism Spectrum: A Self-Help Guide Using CBT, definitely delivers. Not only does it equip the reader with a better understanding of the processes involved with anxiety and depression but it offers therapeutic strategies that will increase a person’s feeling of control as well. What more could one ask for?
This self-help guide is for individuals in early to mid adulthood that may possess autistic traits, whether officially diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder or not. It is an effective tool for individuals challenged by anxiety and depression who want to improve their psychological wellbeing. The book itself is extremely helpful on it’s own but can always be combined with personal therapy sessions to make larger strides at a faster pace.
Dr. Wilkinson starts by slowly encouraging the reader to begin a journey into a better understanding of who they are, how they (their brain) functions and what they can do to manage their feelings. Each chapter takes them one step forward to acquiring new ways of thinking and doing.
The focus of this book is strength based and in no way does it attempt to eliminate, cure or change a person’s autistic traits. Instead it concentrates on empowering the individual with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) skills. CBT addresses cognitive dysfunction by challenging irrational beliefs and thoughts and replacing them with positive thoughts, feelings and beliefs for better emotional health. The result being that one can live life with the confidence and knowledge that they can manage these destructive thoughts and feelings whenever they appear.
Other highlights worthy of mention:
– I always like a book that explains how it is set up. The author clarifies what to expect in each chapter beyond the one to five words in the Chapter Title. Dr. Wilkinson wrote the book to build upon itself. The foundation he sets in the earlier chapters help facilitates a better understanding of the information in latter chapters.
– The book also provides many user-friendly, evidence-based tools – the Adult Autism Quotient, Empathy Quotient, and Systemizing Quotient – that will enhance self-awareness and self-acceptance. These are located in the back of the book and many of these forms are also available in downloadable format that can be printed.
– Best of all, the author introduces us to new terminology with the term/acronym ASC, Autism Spectrum Condition, as opposed to ASD, Autism Spectrum Disorder. Other experts have previously introduced this particular language in an attempt to emphasize a condition that includes strengths as well as challenges. Describing autism as a condition has a more positive connotation and normalizes it to a set of attributes shared by ALL individuals in the general population.
All in all, this book provides hope – a beacon of light at the end of the tunnel that will gently guide the reader to the other side. It functions as a road map, affirming there is a way out that will lead to better decision making skills and management of thoughts and emotions.
Do you have travel plans for the upcoming holiday season?
Thanks to new technological advances such as computers and Skype, staying in touch with loved ones is so much easier than it use to be. Despite the magic of screens that bring families together from distant parts of the globe, there’s nothing better than being there in person to get a real hug from those you love.
The holiday season is that time of year when everyone makes an extra effort to be with family and close friends. When extended family is scattered here and there around the world, holiday traveling is a requirement if you want to give and receive those special hugs. That could mean a journey either by plane or car to get to grandma’s house for the weekend, that special dinner at Uncle Jane’s, or the traditional family get-together that relatives take turn hosting.
Traveling by air is stressful. It often requires intensive security checks, long waits and the possibility of flight cancellations. Traveling by car is another option but traffic jams, bad weather and tired kids can make the journey just as stressful. Getting to the family Hanukkah festivities, the Christmas Day celebrations or other holiday functions can test everyone’s stamina.
There are many ways to minimize the stress involved when traveling with your special crew. Being prepared is the best way to face the challenges and ease the tension. Smart travel planning is essential. Here are some traveling tips to consider before your holiday journey whether by air or ground.
Traveling by air:
- As soon as you have determined your destination and the airline carrier you will use, call them! Sharing that your child has an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) will open doors to services that can make air travel less stressful for all. Airports and airlines have become much more accommodating to individuals on the autism spectrum. Some are offering mock flights to help familiarize autistic children and their families with air travel before the real event.
- If you are flying you will need to be prepared for security rules. Time can be wasted if you have not prepared your children ahead of time for what you can and cannot do, or take onboard the flight. It’s important to check the rules and share them with your child before you leave the house.
- Contact the Transportation Security Administration (TSA). TSA Cares, is a toll-free helpline that provides information and assistance to passengers with disabilities and medical conditions and their families before they fly. Travelers may call TSA Cares toll free at 1-855-787-2227 prior to traveling with questions about screening policies, procedures and what to expect at the security checkpoint. The hours of operation for the TSA Cares helpline are Monday through Friday 9 a.m. – 9 p.m. EST, excluding federal holidays. After hours, travelers can find information about traveling with disabilities and medical needs on TSA’s website at: https://www.tsa.gov/travel/passenger-support. TSA recommends that passengers call approximately 72 hours ahead of travel so that TSA Cares has the opportunity to coordinate checkpoint support with a TSA Customer Service Manager located at the airport when necessary.
- Knowing what to expect during a security check with your child can make it more predictable and less likely to overwhelm her. Take the time to practice the airport security check with a dress rehearsal before you leave for your trip. Taking a few hours to play, “Let’s go to the Airport” not only prepares your child for what is to come but can be a fun activity for the entire family.
- Paying attention to the sensory sensitivities your child has and thinking ahead to what might trigger resistance or a meltdown is important. If your child does not like walking in stocking feet then you need to prepare him for what is to come or find another solution. Stating it as a fact and writing a social story about it may be all that is needed.
- Holiday traveling with gifts requires some special precautions as well when it comes to the security gates. Do not spend the time or money wrapping your gifts in brightly colored wrap because you may have to unwrap them in front of the security guards. Any young child, regardless of ability, may not understand why the security guard is making mommy or daddy unwrap the gift they so carefully wrapped for their grandma. This alone may be enough to make them become unglued.
- If your child with autism has dietary restrictions you obviously need to pack snack items that they can eat. It is difficult to find gluten free, casein-free food in the airport eateries. Bring see through plastic containers or baggies filled with your child’s favorite treats and meals such as fruits, veggie sticks, toddler finger foods, cheerios and such that will appeal to their young taste buds and keep them happily munching. Remember to bring along wipes to clean sticky fingers.
- Unlike a car ride, where you can pull off at rest stops, a flight is a long endless ride for any youngster. To help pass the time, pack your child’s favorite activities and simple toys in their carryon baggage to amuse them. Pack crayons and coloring books, stuffed animals, dolls and action figures. You can also bring along music CDs with headphones, which is a great way to reduce or control the noise level for a child with noise sensitivity.
- Give yourself plenty of extra time so that you arrive at the gate before you need to. This way if there are extra security checks you won’t be late for your flight. Checking in always takes longer than you expect, especially when you have children. A good rule of thumb is to be at the airport an hour before domestic flight times and two hours before international flight departure time. You may want to consider doubling that if you have a child that thrives on routine and predictability, something that most airports do not provide. Having to rush with a child on the autism spectrum in a busy airport can easily send them into overload.
- Google your airport’s website for a map. A good map comes in handy when you want to know where the nearest place to eat is and how close it is to your departure gate. Sometimes if you have a lengthy delay you might even find that your airport has a quiet place for families with children to have some quiet down time.
- If all else fails, you may want to consider creating a card or some sort of written communication that will alert airport staff to the special needs of your child. This will keep you from having to verbally explain your situation to a security guard in front of way too many people.
Traveling by car:
Did you know that car travel is the most popular way to travel during the holidays? 83% of traveling during the holiday season is done by car. Short automotive journeys can be challenging enough but long car rides take extra stamina. Being on the road at anytime of year can be stressful. Add a couple of excited youngsters in the back seat and the possibility of bad weather and you may need some extra patience. Any traveling with children in tow is a test to the effectiveness of your organizational skills.
Here are a few tips for making your holiday car travels run smooth.
- Involve the little ones in the planning stage so that they will look forward to seeing something they helped plan. This will also give them a heads up of what the journey will entail.
- Include some kid-friendly stops along the way so that everyone will have a chance to stretch their legs and have fun at the same time.
- Allow for extra travel time just in case there are traffic jams, or weather related road conditions that slow you down.
- Limit your road time to just 6 to 8 hours of driving time per day and have two drivers in the vehicle so that you can switch every two hours. Switching will make long drives easier and safer.
- Do not disturb! Never make a rest stop when children are sleeping. If your bladders are all in sync, keep going. Driving during sleep times allows for you to make the most headway because it minimizes extra stops.
- Pack a cooler with snacks and wipes for cleaning up before and after eating. Place the cooler between kids in the back seat so that they feel like they have their own space. The top of the cooler makes a cool place to play with cars and trucks too.
- Traveling with children requires that you become an expert storyteller, comedian, actor, or magician in order to keep peace and make the time pass quicker. Think about and plan the type of entertainment you can offer when needed. Having a trick you can pull out of your sleeve at just the right moment can make all the difference.
- It’s important to pack an assortment of play items for each child. Hand puppets, board books, favorite toys (that won’t irritate you), and even music CD’s with headphones, as well as books on tape that everyone can listen to. Audio books can be not only entertaining but learning experience as well especially if you are traveling far and can find an audio book about your destination.
- Older kids can use travel-size board games or hand-held electronic games. Always pay attention to the amount of time your child is glued to a screen. Try to balance it with games that engage your child’s brain in 3-D reality. Car games like finding certain state license plates, counting red cars, or store signs are always fun. Trigger your child’s imagination by playing games like “I-Spy” – spotting something along the landscape that is a certain color or shape.
Overall it is most important that you don’t forget to pack your sense of humor. Looking on the light side of every challenge will help everyone move forward in a positive manner. Being in an enclosed space for long periods doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Reframe it into a positive – think of it as a unique time to bring your family closer together. Sharing jokes, telling stories, and talking about what is happening in your lives will make all of you feel more connected.
And of course, remember to keep those cameras at the ready in order to document those wonderful smiles that will create lasting memories for years to come.
I saw this article on the National Institute of Environmental Health Science website that thought I would share it.
Do you worry about the long-term impact of all the chemicals and environmental toxins that have been invented in the last century? Do you wonder if they contributed to your child’s diagnosis of ASD or not?
To be fair, we do have government agencies that try to protect us from harm. They test new products, medications, food etc in an attempt to keep us safe.
Unfortunately, as careful as they are we sometimes hear the following, “Environmental health officials say . . . and other chemicals that were once thought to be safe in small amounts may have a profound effect on . . . .”
I have decided not to wait for the scientists to make definitive conclusions. Instead, I choose to ask myself, “What can I do to protect my children, my self, and other loved ones from the possible ill effects of exposure to toxic substances?”
That was about ten years ago and I have been making my own non-toxic cleaning products ever since. You can begin doing the same, with a few basic (and relatively cheap) ingredients: baking soda, vinegar, borax, castile soap, glycerin and essential oils.
If you need convincing that a more organic lifestyle makes sense for you or if you want some great ideas on how to clean your house in an eco-friendly, non-toxic manner, let me point you to this amazing resource – Tabletop TUTORSTM. These are very affordable educational tools, developed by a colleague of mine. These info-graphics can be posted on your refrigerator door, or inside of a bathroom cabinet, for handy reference. Click here to access these two cleaning related posters:
Why to Green Clean Your Home!
How to Make Your Own Green Cleaning Aids
… but there are lots more Tabletop TUTORSTM to choose from. Click here to access all 90+ posters.
Why not use them on your dining room table and get the whole family talking about eco-intelligent eating, cookware, personal care, laundry and lifestyle too!
Product review: In-Sync Activity Cards: 50 Simple, New Activities to Help Children Develop, Learn, and Grow! by Joye Newman and Carol Kranowitz.
What a great idea! Remember flash cards that facilitated a quick execution of aptitude? Now we have In-Sync Activity Cards: 50 Simple, New Activities to Help Children Develop, Learn, and Grow! by Joye Newman and Carol Kranowitz.
It’s not a book, although there is a book version available. It’s a deck of fifty easy to implement 5×7-laminated cards that enhance a child’s ability to master developmental skills. Created by Joye Newman and Carol Kranowitz, authors of the highly regarded book, Growing an In-Sync Child: Simple, Fun Activities to Help Every Child Develop, Learn, and Grow! These user-friendly, portable, and easy to share activity cards are based on their book. I see it as a vital addition to the resources that will help any child achieve his or her greatest developmental potential. Each card is a perfect mini lesson plan that parents, teachers and anyone who works with children can use.
All cards are double-sided. One side contains a description of the activity, including the necessary materials. The other side of the card contains information about how the activity addresses a child’s development via sensory, motor and visual skills; how to adapt the activity to your child’s ability; and, how to assess your child’s performance.
The deck is color coded and arranged by levels – beginner, intermediate and advanced activities – that are flexible and adaptable. Starting at the beginner level will help a child experience success and motivate him or her to proceed to the next level.
In addition to being a great guide for the adult, each card includes an illustration that makes a good visual for the child to follow and create understanding from.
These quick activities will get any child moving. Even those who don’t normally engage in gross motor movement, such as typical outdoor amusement and the physical games children tend to play.
What a quick and fun way to help enhance a child’s perceptual, visual and sensory systems without her even knowing it’s therapeutic. In addition, one can customize the activities according to the unique needs of the child to create a meaningful sensory diet that can be delivered in short spurts or longer blocks of time throughout the day.
Aside from their therapeutic usefulness, parents can use these cards on the go. Whether traveling on long trips or short excursions, they make the perfect “let’s take a break” when long waits or boredom are threatening to create havoc.
Kranowitz and Newman were very clever in creating these cards to go along with their book, Growing an In-Sync Child: Simple, Fun Activities to Help Every Child Develop, Learn, and Grow? The activity cards are a great companion that makes it simple for parents and professionals to implement the content within the 240 pages of their book. All of which will have a positive and powerful impact on a child’s development.
What is your child’s school-time experience like so far this year?
Is he feeling good about school?
Is she happy with her new teacher?
Is he feeling comfortable and safe socially?
Is she doing her homework willingly?
If not, and your child is struggling to make a positive transition to the new school year, it’s not too late to turn things around. Sometimes all it takes is a little detective work and extra support to create a more positive school-time experience.
Transitions are very difficult for most children on the autism spectrum and going back to school may be the most challenging one there is. You need to believe that your child can transition her school-time experience into a positive and peaceful back to school routine. Never settle for “good enough”; circumstances can always get better, and better, and … etc.
I know you want things to go smoothly for your child and when they don’t it’s all too easy to place blame on yourself, or the school. Before jumping to such a conclusion let’s review other possibilities with a short assessment. This is a great way to detect anything that might be negatively affecting your child’s school-time experience.
Let’s begin by looking carefully at each item presented below. As you do, examine each through the eyes of your child and the way he or she experiences the world. Doing so will help you identify some adjustments that need to be made in order to create a smoother school-time transition.
– Consider family meetings about school. In addition to talking about school to your child individually, it’s great to hold a family meeting. This way everyone gets a chance to share their thoughts and feelings as well as discuss and plan for the week ahead. Meeting as a group sends the message that you are all in this together and that you care about each individual’s experience. It gives every family member a chance to have their voice heard if they want. It also ensures that everyone is on the same page.
If you have never held a family meeting before, this is good time to start. They are a simple and quick way to improve communication. Such meetings will also promote bonding within your family and reduce anxiety for everyone. These gatherings can be formal or informal and require as little as fifteen minutes per week. It will also establish a ritual that will be remembered for years to come.
– Have a private meeting with the teacher. If your child is exceptionally anxious about the new school-time routine and the changes that are involved, making a fifteen to twenty minute appointment to talk to his new teacher before or after school. The opportunity to have a private audience with the teacher to go over schedules and expectations as well as the chance to ask questions without other students around can give any child a gigantic jumpstart and sense of relief.
Most schools do have an open house scheduled in the fall but this is not the best time and place to get the teacher’s full attention as there will be many other parents around. This is usually a time for getting a good overview of what your child’s school day is like but if you have specific questions regarding your child and how she is doing – make an appointment to meet with the teacher now.
– Pay attention to your child’s sleep patterns and bedtime routine. If you weren’t able to address changes in daily routines, such as bedtime well enough in advance, this could be the cause of any stress related school-time behaviors that might be occurring. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of sleep and its impact on academics, brain development, mood and attention span which many studies support.
In addition to helping your child be more successful at school, making sure she receives the required amount of sleep will also improve her behavior at home. Developing a calm atmosphere throughout the house as soon as possible after dinner will encourage a state of relaxation in everyone. Minimizing noise and encouraging quiet activities in the evening before bed will help your child transition into a sleepy state.
– Use a school calendar. Consider creating a special school-time calendar. Depending on your child’s interest in arts and crafts, this can be a fun process that the two of you can do together. You may want to use words or pictures to indicate what will happen on each day of the week, if you need more room and can’t find a calendar big enough, such as a wall calendar, make a book that has a page or two for every day of the week.
Reading the book or looking at the calendar on a daily basis will provide predictability about what to expect at school that day and relieve anxiety about the unknown. Staying in touch with your child’s teacher will help you confirm the things that will stay the same. All of this will help your child transition better from day to day.
– Address screen machine use. If you have allowed TV viewing, video games and computer use privileges to increase over the summer and haven’t had a chance to cut back yet, do so now. Technology is important and useful but must be balanced with other activities that create an atmosphere where the brain is encouraged and allowed to think for itself. Quiet time for reading, homework and social interaction is vitally important for helping your child be successful in school. Once you adjust TV, video and computer use rules it is important to communicate them clearly and stick to them.
– Encourage social interactions. A child on the autism spectrum often struggles with making and keeping friends. This is an important component in creating a positive school-time experience. If possible, invite old or new classmates that may have moved into the school system and invite them over so your child can get to know them better and practice her social graces. It can help your child immensely if you rehearse conversation starters and group social skills with them to use with classmates, teachers and other adults.
Children on the autism spectrum are often more vulnerable to being picked on. They are more resistant to acquiring and honing essential social skills. Some children with autism enjoy being on their own and need to be drawn out to be social. Many long to be socially accepted yet do not have the social skills necessary to develop friendships. As teachers, parents and professionals we need to teach children to acquire the social skills necessary for making friends but we also need to be sensitive to their needs and challenges.
The back to school transition is a challenge for most kids and it takes time to find a rhythm that works. There is usually a newness that is exciting about the beginning of a school year but often it does not sustain. Once it wears off and the reality of the situation sets in, new challenges may develop. Going back to see where these glitches might be occurring is a helpful process.
On the other hand, if your child is genuinely doing well in school don’t forget to pay attention to why it is working so you can help ensure it stays that way – and then take time to be grateful and celebrate!
To continue a more thorough assessment and access strategies that will make your child’s school-time hours the best they can be, click here to learn more about my book, AUTISM PARENTING: Practical Strategies for a Positive School Experience – Over 300 tips for parents to enhance their child’s school success. Kindle version available at $2.99.