Tag: anxiety

After Ten Years; It’s Time for Some Happy.

Sno turns ten tomorrow. Ten years since she burst into our lives and made me a parent. I was admittedly completely unprepared, with no idea what to expect. Our beginnings were very rough; a traumatic birth which induced a double whammy of post-natal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. I wish I could tell you all about her first six months but that would be lying – they were a complete blur to me. I was in a very dark place and her cries were often lost amidst the sea of dark thoughts. Eventually we saw the light, and together with the help from specialists I found my way out of the pit of depression and things got easier. We bonded, albeit later than I had hoped – but hey we got there.

I guess why I’m telling you this is because, Sno and I – we have had a hard road together.

around and around and around she goes

And it’s time for some happy.

After Sno got her diagnosis at age 6 (roughly 2.5 years before I began noticing real quirks), her schooling years have been a mixture of mostly tough times with a little bit of good in there. Now at the age of ten, after six years of formal schooling, I can say out of those six years she’s only had about 2 where she wasn’t completely miserable. That’s a long time for a child to be unhappy or struggling, despite support people doing their best to make things easier. That’s a lot of screaming meltdowns from a child who is unhappy and isn’t coping.

Last weekend we made the decision to withdraw Sno from formal schooling, and educate her at home.

I won’t be writing a post blaming the school, or the teachers, or the support people – because that’s not the case here. They have been wonderful. But despite the supports in place for Sno at school, it just hasn’t been helping. She has been keeping it all together during the day, and then the evening comes and she’s rendered mute and unable to express her thoughts or feelings, so overcome with anxiety that she has been unable to communicate. For the past six months every single day we have had to help Sno through roughly 3 hours of screaming meltdowns. Our house is tiny, so I’m sure you can imagine the impact that her upset has had on us as a family collective not to mention on Sno. That’s a lot of time for a child to be unhappy. It’s not okay.

I will mention here that the suggestion to homeschool is being fully supported by all the medical and health professionals involved in Sno’s life, as well. So this is a journey we will be taking with support from every angle. Which is so wonderful.

A week ago I told Sno of our idea to educate her at home and the look of sheer relief on her face, the way her body softened – just confirmed to me that it was the right decision. We will be taking the rest of the term off to deschool, with no pressure on any formal types of learning at all. The next few months Sno will be decompressing, relaxing and finding joy in her life again. There will be lots of time spent in nature, there will be a lot of time for her to read with the cats in her lap, there will be art therapy and Sno has expressed a keen interest in learning coding. The goal is to allow Sno to be able to heal so that she can be in a place to learn and take on new information. It’ll be slow, slow, slow.

Honestly,  I just want to see my girl’s spark back. She has been so flat, so jittery and on edge for way too long. After holding her in my arms on Monday night where she experienced a trembling panic attack we  just think she needs down time and time to heal. It’s absolutely devastating to see my beautiful, intelligent, amazing daughter so weighed down and so unwell.

 

Yesterday afternoon we were at the local reserve and she asked to take off her shoes so she could run around. And she did, she ran laps of the grassy area barefoot. There was giggling. So much giggling. Around and around and around she went, one foot in front of the other, at speed. She looked so free, so at peace. I want to see more of that. And I think we’re on the right track.

Surviving School Camp: A Toolkit for Autistic Children.

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at the top!

I’m really proud to announce that after much preparation and anticipation, Sno totally conquered her goal for this term: attending camp overnight for both nights and all 3 days. I thought I’d share the strategies we employed for her to cope at camp and the way we helped prepare her to succeed so that others may benefit it.

  1. The More They Know, The Better They Cope.
    As soon as it was available, we requested that Sno’s teachers access the activity schedule for how the days at camp would go. So she was given a timetable with waking/breakfast/activity/lunch/activity/afternoon tea/afternoon play and dinner/bedtime recorded on it. This gave her a quantifiable and predictable rhythm of the day and we also made sure that given this; there would be times that we can’t account for and we then discussed ways in which she could cope in this situation. With kids on the spectrum, anxiety is reduced when the ‘unknown’ is reduced as well. Knowing what to expect when meant that Sno wasn’t thrust into an unfamiliar environment and also expected to cope without knowing what exactly she was having to cope with.
  2. Make & Bring Along A Chill Kit.
    I’m referring to some tools that help calm/balance/ground your child in times of either sensory overload or anxiety. Make it a portable kit that can be easily brought along. What goes in it will depend on the child and their sensory preferences. Sno’s contained: a book, a towel to lie on, earplugs, a weighted lizard, an iPod & earphones and some fiddle toys. You may even consider having one of these in a few places permanently, too (such as in the car & at school). In order for this Chill Kit to be effective the teacher and child need to have a mutual understanding about when it is used: this involves working together to identify possible triggers such as noise, social-exhaustion, getting too hot, getting wet feet… whatever it may be. And then being prepared and utilising the kit where need be in order to recentre and calm again. Learning how to self-regulate is a tool that is critically important for children on the spectrum to learn as soon as they are able. This can be something that is built on from personal awareness from about the age of 4.
  3. Come Up With A Communication Key.
    It’s a good idea for the child and teacher to come up with a “Communication Key” that can be used when the child is unable to verbally communicate their needs or needs to signal for help but is unable to. Sometimes even very higher-functioning children (God, I hate that term!) can experience “freezes” in their brains when they get so overloaded by external stimuli that they are unable to talk about what they need or what is bothering them. Communication Keys could be something simple hand-signal, the placement of a card or object near the teacher or even the utilisation of a mini-whiteboard that can be written on. The idea is that the child has access to the Key and when the hand signal/object or whiteboard is placed near the teacher from the child; it signals a mutual understanding of overload or need for help when the child is unable to otherwise verbally communicate. This means that even in a stressful sensory-overloaded state the teacher is able to know how the child is feeling and the child can then still get their needs met. This is tool that can be used in the classroom, too!
  4. Keep Some Routines & Familiarity. 
    In a new environment like camp where the sleeping quarters, food, activities and even the people are not the same as home it is worthwhile  and beneficial to allow the child to have some sort of semblance in routine/familiarity. This can be easily applied at bedtime: by bringing some familiar items such as a weighted blanket, special toy or even an essential oil roll-on, the comfort that comes from known items will give the child calm as they are winding down. You could even go so far as to bring some snacks from home if food is a sensitive issue or whatever items that are unobtrusive that your child holds dear. Even something simple as decanting some of the same body wash we use at home for Sno really helped her regain some sense of familiarity.

Now I realise many of these points rely on a brilliant teacher being able to  carry them out, but they aren’t complicated suggestions. And we have been blessed with an incredible advocate in a teacher for our child, something I am endlessly grateful for. But even if your child’s teacher hasn’t been as supportive as you may had hoped for your child up to this point; I really don’t see why with some preparation beforehand and meetings to plan and organise that these ideas cannot be implemented to benefit your child and allow them to attend camp.

Attending camp totally pushed Sno out of her comfort zone and enabled her to tap into the strength that she had within herself all along and excel. She had to problem solve for herself, and take charge of her own self-regulation. I’m so proud of her for attending and I know I will be able to refer to her personal determination, perseverance and success down the line throughout the year when she’s struggling with things she doesn’t think she can do.

 

 

Anxiety In Children: What It Looks Like & Ideas To Cope.

Anxiety in children (and adults) can present in a multitude of ways. A lot of the time it can be hard to tell what is actually going on behind the presenting behaviour but many times it is actually anxiety. I’m going to explore some of the ways that anxiety looks in children.

Anxiety Could Be Behind:

  • Being particular or fussy over small items. The way they’re placed, the order they’re in, the way they are presented, how they happen. This can relate to daily routines as well as stuff down to even clothing.
  • Loud, bossy behaviour.
  • Controlling play.
  • Directing play.
  • Obsessing over small details.
  • Having moments (short or extended) where you “freeze” and stop still.
  • Sleeplessness.
  • Difficulty settling at night.
  • Finger picking/nail biting.
  • Chewing on non-food items.
  • Excessive echolalia.
  • Fidgeting.
  • Destructive behaviours.
  • Hoarding.
  • Aggression.
  • Food refusal/lying about eating.

 

What Can Help Anxiety?

Anxiety often stems at the core from fear of the unknown. So giving anxious children warning and notice beforehand where possible about situations can take away that fear and make them feel more at ease and comfortable.

Tools such as:

  • Visual schedules outlining the day/week’s plans. These can be written or photographic.
  • Recording the whole family’s events and activities on a calendar that is kept somewhere obvious and easily viewed by everyone.
  • Utilising the “Alert” function on iPhone, iPod or iPad calendars. This allows a pop-up to show and gives warning of events.
  • Making social stories using real life photos of places, people or events to make children more comfortable and familiar. These can particularly be useful during times of transition (moving house, moving school, beginning kindergarten, meeting new therapists even). They can be cut and pasted onto paper or you can even use apps to make them digital. Use as much detail as possible: the less amount of unknown territories that can be tackled, the more chance of your child being comfortable.
  • Utilising a “worry book” where the child can write down their worries onto paper and learn that when they’re written down, they can be out of their head so it can be clearer.
  • Lori Lite has a great range of children’s meditation and guided relaxation CDs. These can be downloaded directly onto iDevices or they can be used in the car or played on a player. Teaching children to harness their own emotions is really important. Bubble Riding is a favourite here.
  • Books about anxiety. Ones I would recommend are Panicosaurus  , The Invisible String and ABCs of Yoga for Kids.
  • Relaxing activities that are portable. These could be: listening to favourite music on an iPod with noise-cancelling headphones, fidgeting with a fiddle toy (my daughter loves her Tangle & zippy bracelets), colouring in, word-searches, sudoku books.
  • Learning Triangle Breathing! This video here explains it well.
  • Regular exercise or movement in a way that your child enjoys. There are numerous studies that show the evidence supporting regular exercise and its benefits in reducing anxiety. The process of finding which type of exercise your child prefers and enjoys may take a little while but it’s worth it. Some ideas are playing frisbee on the lawn, jumping on a trampoline, yoga, using a therapy swing or walking along the beach. Aim for about 15 minutes a day, minimum.
  • Learning the “Take 5” method. This method helps to bring children back to earth and out of their heads; it is simple and done by getting the child to stop and identify 5 of their senses: what they can see, hear, touch taste and smell.

I’m going to end on a really important point that I think is often overlooked, that is

  • Making sure you schedule in “down time”, regularly. By this I mean it’s very easy for children to get completely lost and overwhelmed in the day to day running of life that they miss out on a crucial element to managing anxiety: the pure bliss that comes with doing nothing. Learning to embrace the quiet times. Being able to have no expectations on them, and having the space to just be. Do not get so caught in the Busy Trap that your child forgets what it feels like to just chill.

Another thing to note is that it’s my experience that sensory issues are often heightened to an extreme level when there is actually underlying anxiety. Temperature change tolerance, pain tolerance, tactile defensiveness and noise sensitivity often present much more frequently in a child who is anxious. You may very well find that by unpacking the anxiety layer by layer and discovering the cause.. your child’s sensory sensitivities will calm down again.

 

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