Tips For Calming Your Child With Autism – Calm Yourself First! (Part 3)

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This blog is part of a four-part support series for parents by Marci Lebowitz, OT and Autism Specialist.  Watch for Marci’s blogs to help you distinguish between tantrums and meltdowns, tips to manage tantrums and meltdowns and meltdown prevention tips.   Find out more about how Marci supports autism parents and professionals at www.marcilebowitz.com.

An Autism Parent’s Approach to Calming
Recently my brother and my son joined me at an outdoor event that I was working at. Wyatt, my 15 year old who has autism, was not interested in sitting with me so they went for a nice stroll, lunch and later returned to the relative peace and quiet of our van.

All the changes in a the environment, the sounds, the lights, the crowds were too much. In a short period of time, Wyatt had escalated and had a meltdown. He has autism, it happens.

Then my cell phone rang. I could see the call was from my brother and I was curious to hear how things were going. However it only took a couple of words from my brother to recognize the alarm and anxiety in his voice. He was using what we call his 911 voice. This triggered a refined and honed process for me. The first step was to calm myself and to walk quickly with an air of relaxation over to where my van was parked, which had become the focus of many people.

I quietly approached Wyatt and my brother saying nothing and taking in the scene. The fire department, the paramedics, patrol cars and onlookers surrounded them. I recognized Wyatt’s severe discomfort and knew he was very close to the point where he could injure himself.

It was all escalating very rapidly.

It was time for me to take control of all aspects of this situation. The first thing I did was to become as calm as I could. I worked to slow down my breathing. Then I began to support Wyatt as he was escalating rapidly. I gently explained to him that I was there for him, he was safe, and I was helping him. I never tell him to calm down. For most people with autism this simply makes things worse. I gently acknowledged his state with firmness and resolve while keeping us both safe and letting him sense that I was comfortable and in control of this situation.

Within a few minutes of my arrival, I reassured the onlookers and convinced the town’s emergency services that we were fine, I used the simple system to help Wyatt de-escalate.

I have learned that I calm my son by:

  • Being able to calm myself first.
  • Helping him feel emotionally understood, safe and surrounded by people who are in control.
  • Finding effective sensory comfort combinations that relieve his stress.

~Kelly Green, Parent/Advocate, autismhwy.com

Tips For Calming Your Child: Please Calm Yourself First
breathe-paintingThis article is going to help you learn how to work with Kelly’s point #1 – The importance of being able to calm yourself first.

Most of us have been taught to calm a child by doing specific techniques on the child. While these are very important, there is something else you can do as a first step that will profoundly impact your ability to soothe your child.

Have you considered that your own emotional state may play a role in your child’s responses? Autistic children are extraordinarily sensitive to the emotions of others and they mirror the state of those around them. If you are anxious and your child is already anxious, your child may become overwhelmed. While your being calm, relaxed and feeling in control will not totally relax your child, it is a fundamental step to beginning to help your child to relax. Besides your own state of calm, there is a need to help them feel understood, safe, and to have effective sensory calming strategies.

An integral part of feeling calm is efficient breathing. Please refer to my first blog post if you haven’t read it to understand the importance of breathing in self-regulation. When breathing is inefficient, it creates anxiety which can make a person become more amped up and anxious. They can feel spacey, have difficulties focusing, thinking, problem solving, following directions and cooperating.

When you are around someone who is anxious, have you ever noticed yourself becoming more anxious and wound up? Have you ever experienced being around someone who is calm? Do you notice that you relax just being around them? The same is true for children with autism. Their anxiety can come from: not understanding what is expected of them, not understanding sequencing or timing and also feeling the anxiety and unrest of others. As mentioned in Blog Post #1, I have found that most children with autism are chest breathers. Chronic chest breathing can contribute to anxiety, heightened sensory awareness and stress.

As A Parent, What Can You Do To Help?
I’d like to encourage you to begin to explore ways to relax yourself, so that you are able to change your state to one of calm during the times your child needs you most. I know you have a lot on your plate, however, investing in learning to calm yourself can have rich rewards. As a result, you can have a calmer, more relaxed child.

In this article I will offer you simple, do-able suggestions that you can implement in the course of your daily life. These won’t require you having the perfect environment, to stop what you are doing or have a lot of time to practice. These can be easily integrated into your daily lifestyle and routine, possibly in the car, washing dishes, doing laundry, making dinner, putting kids to bed, etc.

Tip #1 – Understand The Impact Of Your State On Your Child

Being calm at your child’s times of need gives them a feeling of calm they can begin to mirror.
Managing your own state as a parent influences your child’s behavior as well as the emotional state of others around you. If we are out of control and frantic, other people will mirror this. If we can learn how to approach the situation of our child melting down in public calmly, and are able to calmly reassure others around us, everyone will sense that you know what you are doing, you are in control of the situation and that they are safe.
With this sense of control, it helps the autistic child move within the energy of others, and you can begin to relax when you and your supersensitive child is outside of the house.

Tip #2 – Learn Simple Breathing Patterns To Be Done During Daily Life Routines

Children will mirror your breathing patterns. This is called resonance.
The most important part of the breathing pattern is the exhale. Allow yourself to take a gentle inhale through your nose, and exhale through your mouth as if you are sighing while gently pulling in your tummy.
body-lungs-breathA simple practice is to focus on exhaling three times. This will help you to begin to slow down and relax. Though very simple, this practice is very powerful to quickly settle down.
You can put a notes around the house reminding you to breathe three times. These reminders are great when it is hard to think in the chaos.
Observe your child after you’ve done some gentle breathing to see if they may have relaxed a bit.

Tip #3 – Practice Breathing When You Lay Down In Bed

It is easier to do this next step if you are laying down. Place your hand on your belly and gently inhale through your nose and exhale through your mouth. The hand placement will help you focus on using your diaphragm to breathe. Remember, if you try to breathe in harshly when you don’t have strong diaphragmatic control, it can make you feel more anxious.
Instead of your hand, you can place a warm compress, water bottle, heated buckwheat bags on your belly and see if it helps you breath more deeply and relax.

Summary
Learning to shifting your state and calm does not happen over night. Please be patient with yourself as you learn to do this. I hope you find that it is worth exploring, to not only provide you with some peace, as well as, your child and possible your entire family.

In next weeks post, we will explore calming solutions that you can do directly with your child to help prevent meltdowns.

Please leave me your thoughts about how your ability to calm has impacted your child.
I love hearing from you!


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Join the social network for parents of children on the autism spectrum: MyAutismTeam.com.

PictureMarci has been an Occupational Therapist for 28 years and an autism specialist for over a decade. During her expansive career, she has worked in schools, private outpatient practices, hospitals, a prison medical facility and skilled nursing facilities.

Known as “The Mary Poppins of Autism” she has developed effective behavioral management systems, sensory calming strategies and alternatives to physical restraints and seclusion.

She is a dynamic speaker and loves educating autism parents, extended families and professionals about the underlying causes of challenging behaviors; distinguishing between tantrums, sensory overload and meltdowns; and how to have fun with children with severe autism!  Find out more about how Marci supports autism parents and professionals at www. marcilebowitz.com.

Can You REALLY Tell the Difference Between A Tantrum and a Meltdown? Part 2

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This blog is part of a four-part support series for parents by Marci Lebowitz, OT and Autism Specialist.  Watch for Marci’s blogs to help you distinguish between tantrums and meltdowns, tips to manage tantrums and meltdowns and meltdown prevention tips.   Find out more about how Marci supports autism parents and professionals at www.marcilebowitz.com.

Can You REALLY Tell the Difference Between A Tantrum and a Meltdown?

One of the most widely discussed characteristics of autism is when your child becomes overwhelmed, inconsolable and totally out of control. For the unknowing, non-autistic on-looker, it can appear that your child behaves badly and probably in need of real parenting!

How wrong they are!

We are becoming aware that behind the challenges of autism, many of these children are highly intelligent, are masters at using this intelligence to manipulate situations and can use behavior to attempt to get their way.

tantrumHowever, could it be that not all episodes of screaming are the same? That they are not always trying to get their way?  I think that there are two distinctions.  The first are meltdowns that are caused by sensory overload and the second is willful tantrums.

The examples below may help to illustrate this distinction even better.

Olivia was sitting at her little dining room table her eating snack.  She wanted more, so she simply started to scream at the top of her lungs. Periodically she would turn around and check to see if her mother was watching.  She threw her bowl and banged her hands on the table.  When she took a break from that, she would check for her mother’s reaction, gauging to see if her mother was going to give her what she wanted without using her PECS.

On day, Olivia had not had enough sleep, she appeared to be getting sick, and she was not getting what she wanted.  I guess you know these sorts of days very well and you know what follows.  Olivia begins screaming at the top of her lungs and throwing things.  This escalates.   She has no regard for safety and complete disregard for her parent’s reaction.  No connection.  She is out of control, unsafe, inconsolable and checked out.

Which do you think is a tantrum and which is a meltdown?

girl-504315_1280This is the second in a series about how to understand and work with severely challenging autistic behaviors.  This post will help you to distinguish the differences between tantrums and meltdowns.

Believe it or not, it really is possible to tell the difference between a tantrum and a meltdown once you know what to look for!

Here’s how you can begin to distinguish the differences.

Temper Tantrums Defined:
A temper tantrum is very straightforward: the child does not get his or her own way and, as grandma would say, “pitches a fit.”

Qualities of Temper Tantrums
• A child having a tantrum will look occasionally to see if his or her behavior is getting a reaction.

• A child in the middle of a tantrum will take precautions to be sure they won’t get hurt.

• A child who throws a tantrum will attempt to use the social situation to his or her benefit.

• When the situation is resolved, the tantrum will end as suddenly as it began.

• A tantrum will give you the feeling that the child is in control, although he would like you to think he is not.

• A tantrum is thrown to achieve a specific goal and once the goal is met, things return to normal.

Fact
If you feel like you are being manipulated by a tantrum, you are! A tantrum is a power play by a person not mature enough to understand subtle politics. Hold your ground and remember who is in charge.

A temper tantrum in a non-autistic child is simpler to handle. Parents simply ignore the behavior and refuse to give the child what he is demanding. Tantrums usually result when a child makes a request to have or do something that the parent denies.

Upon hearing the parent’s “no,” the tantrum is used as a last-ditch effort.

Meltdowns
A meltdown is a loss of control due to sensory overload. It can begin as a tantrum and then escalate into a meltdown very rapidly. The child needs you to recognize this behavior and rein him back in as he is unable to do so. A child with autism in the middle of a meltdown desperately needs help to gain control.

Qualities Of A Meltdown
• The child does not look at you, nor care, if those around are reacting to the behavior.

• The children do not consider their own safety.

• The child has no interest or involvement in the social situation.

• Meltdowns continue as though they are moving under their own power.

• A meltdown conveys the feeling that no one is in control.

• A meltdown can occur because a specific want has not been met, the children becomes over stimulated, goes into full-blown sensory overload and cannot calm themselves.

• Meltdowns go on for extended time periods unless the caregiver or the child themselves knows how to take themselves out of sensory overload.


In order to know how to manage both of these types of situation, the adults need to understand how to distinguish between a tantrum and a meltdown, to have effective behavior management tools to deal with the situation and then additional skills and tools to help the autistic child gain sensory control and to work during the meltdown to bring the child safely and calmly back to being in control once more.

Tune in for the next blog post in this series where we’ll be discussing tips to manage tantrums and meltdowns!

Please feel free to comment below how this information has helped you understand how to distinguish between a tantrum and a meltdown.  I’d love to hear from you!     


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Join the social network for parents of children on the autism spectrum: MyAutismTeam.com.

PictureMarci has been an Occupational Therapist for 28 years and an autism specialist for over a decade. During her expansive career, she has worked in schools, private outpatient practices, hospitals, a prison medical facility and skilled nursing facilities.

Known as “The Mary Poppins of Autism” she has developed effective behavioral management systems, sensory calming strategies and alternatives to physical restraints and seclusion.

She is a dynamic speaker and loves educating autism parents, extended families and professionals about the underlying causes of challenging behaviors; distinguishing between tantrums, sensory overload and meltdowns; and how to have fun with children with severe autism!  Find out more about how Marci supports autism parents and professionals at www. marcilebowitz.com.

“Because I Have Autism” – Child Of Mine

Child of Mine, a guest post by Alysia.

Last week I got an email from one of Howie’s teachers.  She explained that they had been working on a math assessment test about money and coins.  The directions were to count the money and show your work.  The teacher said that Howie had refused to show his work. His explanation was that he didn’t have to “because I have autism.”

She wrote that they had worked through the refusal by reminding him that this was for his third grade teachers and while she knew he could do it in his head, he needed to show his new teachers that he understood the work.

Now Howie has never been a big fan of reviewing concepts.  “I already know how to do this!” is a frequent refrain when doing assessments or review work.  But this was a new wrinkle.  He had never refused to do work because of autism before.

I wrote back and said I was kind of stunned by all of this since we’ve never said anything like that to him or around him before.  We’ve always talked about autism – and specifically his autism – in a positive light.  Talking about the gifts it brings him.  Lately we had been discussing how there are times when different brains have a harder time with some activities, and that’s why sometimes he needed to leave the room to take a test, or use his headphones or have a sensory break.  But we’ve never said he couldn’t do…anything.

I expressed my surprise at his statement and said I would talk with him about it.

Later that afternoon, Howie and I were sitting across from each other on the floor of our living room.  His iPad was on his lap and he was creating his newest world on his Blocksworld app.

“Hey bud’” I said. ” I heard that you had some trouble working on your math assessment today?”

“Yeah.  But the fruit snacks helped me get through it.”

“What was hard?”

“I had to write it all out but I knew the answer.”

“Your teacher said you told her that you couldn’t do the test because you had autism?”

” I said I didn’t have to do the work because I had autism,” he said. He didn’t look up at all.

“Well, autism isn’t an excuse you know,” I said. ” You can do hard things. But you still need to do the work.”

“I didn’t say I couldn’t,” he said.  “I said I didn’t have to.  I didn’t have to show my work. I could see it and do it in my head.”

I sat there and just looked at him.  His eyes never left the iPad, fingers moving and swiping and tapping as he built a cityscape for his Blocksworld cars to drive through.

Paperlace-buttefly-150x150Not an excuse.

A reason.

Not a negative.  A positive.

Not can’t do. Don’t have to to understand.

Part of his gift.  He could see it in his head. So why do the extra work?

He wasn’t trying to get out of doing the test itself.  Just the showing his work.  And not because he didn’t want to.

Because I didn’t have to.

He was actually advocating for himself.

“I understand now,” I said.  “But you know there will be times when you have to show your work, even when you can do it in your head.  It’s important for other people to see what you see.”

“I know,” he said. ” And the fruit snacks were really good.”


“The things that make me different are the things that make me ME!” – Piglet quote on the wall of our sensory gym.

In our world, autism isn’t and won’t be an excuse.  We’re never going to teach him he can’t do something because of how his brain is wired.

But it can be a reason why things are hard. Or, in this case, easy.

Maybe it’s semantics.

This is why we felt it was important that Howie knows and understands his diagnosis. So he could say, “I see this differently because my brain is wired differently.”

He knows he leaves to take tests in a quiet space so he doesn’t get distracted.  We are working on helping him understand that his aide is there as a “coach” and “interpreter” when he needs help.

But he also needs to know that we will listen to what he is really saying and doing and go beyond the specific words that he is using  in order to make sure that we understand their meaning.  Because here he was, in his way, appropriately advocating for himself.

It’s our job to make sure we hear him when he does.

 

Although you see the world different than me
Sometimes I can touch upon the wonders that you see
All the new colors and pictures you’ve designed
Oh yes, sweet darling
So glad you are a child of mine.
Child of mine, child of mine
Oh yes, sweet darling
So glad you are a child of mine.” – Child of Mine by Carole King

This guest post was written by Alysia of Try Defying Gravity and is republished here with permission.

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The Hardest Part of Autism Isn’t Him – It’s Other People

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lauren-casperPart of the problem with “disabilities” is that the word immediately suggests an inability to see or hear or walk or do other things that many of us take for granted. But what of people who can’t feel? Or can’t talk about their feelings? Or can’t manage their feelings in constructive ways? What of people who aren’t able to form close and strong relationships? And people who cannot find fulfillment in their lives, or those who have lost hope, who live in disappointment and bitterness and find in life no joy, no love? These, it seems to me, are the truly crippling disabilities. -Fred Rogers

This is a special guest post by Lauren Casper. It is the first in our series of stories of encouragement for autism parents.

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Last year a friend asked me if it was hard and how I manage and if I ever just want to lose it. “It” being this whole raising a child with autism thing. Of course it’s hard and of course there are evenings when I collapse on the couch or cry in the bathroom. But isn’t that true for all mothers? How do I manage? About the same as all other moms, I guess. I drink coffee every morning and hide chocolate in the sock drawer. But then she asked another question…

What’s the hardest part?” And I didn’t even have to think about it. Other people. When you’re dealing with an invisible special need, strangers don’t know about it. As much as I sometimes want to, we don’t pin a sign to Mareto’s shirt explaining his autism. So other people, particularly strangers, give us a lot of attention in the form of staring, dirty looks, snide under-the-breath comments and just overall judgment. I can feel it in the store when Mareto’s getting upset and I have to hide in an empty aisle to calm him down. Or when he can’t sit at a table in a restaurant. Or when he blurts out, “Watch out for Diesel 10!” when someone says hello.

But even the people who aren’t strangers can be hard. It’s not intentional, but unless they’ve had a lot of experience with autism, most people are largely uninformed. I get it, because up until two years ago, so were we! So when Mareto licks the wall, or laughs at inappropriate times, or sniffs random items, it can be awkward. The look of shock can sting, and I remember again that this isn’t everyone’s normal.

laurencasper These are all my issues, though. Because Mareto is unaware of these reactions, and most of the time they aren’t even directed at him. They’re directed at me. One evening my husband, John, looked at me and said, “I feel like people are thinking two things when we’re out as a family: your kid is bad and you’re bad parents.” That’s how it feels sometimes. It feels like people think we’re lazy or I’m not doing my job well and if I just tried harder he would behave differently. I felt so guilty when I realized that one of the reasons I was so excited about my other child, Arsema, being potty trained, was that people might now see that we actually are capable of potty training and it isn’t laziness that’s keeping Mareto in diapers.

But do you know what’s even worse? When you take your kids to the playground and they’re having a blast. Your little boy notices a group of older children and runs to play near them. He bends down to pick up a piece of bark and his shirt rides up, exposing the top of his diaper above his pants. And all the little kids start laughing and pointing and saying, “Look! That boy is wearing a diaper!” Or when the 3-year-old looks at you over gingerbread houses and asks why your precious, funny and brilliant little boy is so dumb. Or when you realize he’s being physically bullied because he hasn’t learned the skill of tattling yet. These are the things that make me sick to my stomach. That moment when you realize people are going to stop sneering at you and start sneering at your child hurts deep down in a way that takes the breath out of your lungs.

Now that Mareto is growing older, the differences are more apparent. They can’t be waved away or explained as typical toddler behavior. It’s a little more noticeable when a child the size of a 6-year-old isn’t potty trained. It’s a little harder to protect him from the bullies of the world. And that is now the hardest thing about autism — my inability to shield him forever from judgment, ridicule and mean children and adults.

And the thing that makes it even more mind-boggling is that he is the sweetest boy you could ever hope to meet. He cares deeply about other people. He “rescues” his sister from nap time. He comforts crying children. He loves animals. He is friendly and kind and has fun interests. Yes, he has some hurdles in life that other people don’t have. But he also has a lot of awesomeness that other people don’t have. It comes to him naturally.

So are the endless sleepless nights rough? Yes. Changing a 50-pound boy’s diaper isn’t my favorite. We’ve been working for nearly two years to get my son to move beyond his three foods. But those things don’t matter much. laurencasper Those would be the hard parts if we lived in a world where I knew my son was unquestioningly accepted — and not just accepted, but celebrated for who he is. If we lived in a world where people didn’t pass judgment so easily and were quick to love all people regardless and because of their differences, and taught their children to do the same… then the hardest parts of autism would be much different. But we don’t live in that world. And as much as I want to keep him close by my side and never leaving the safety of our home, I know I can’t. He has far too much to offer (and teach) the world for me to do that. He has a joy and innocence and compassion and love and a curiosity that is infectious. The world needs him and more people like him.

This post originally appeared on LaurenCasper.com and Huffington Post.

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How Do You Do It All?

The following is a personal story written by Alicia, an ambassador of MyAutismTeam, the social network for parents of children of all ages with autism.  Below she shares the story of how she and her family balance the challenges and triumphs of life.  If you are a parent of a child with ASD, go to MyAutismTeam and connect with other parents who ‘get it.’ Thousands of parents from all over the country are here to share not only their stories, but their daily lives: the good days, bad days and the accomplishments!

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Just recently I was asked by a new friend, “How do you do it?” I responded somewhat perplexed. “How do I do what?” She went on to alicia pictureelaborate, asking me how do I raise three young boys, with two on the spectrum, while living on a single income and living with the constant pain of multiple sclerosis? I honestly rarely stop to ponder my situation because honestly I see it as a way of life and not a situation. Soon after, another friend asked me this and then I began to notice the number of parents on MyAutismTeam that were asking similar questions. read more…

Our Story – My Tristan

The following is a personal story written by Juliet, an ambassador of MyAutismTeam, the social network for parents of children of all ages with autism.  Below she shares the story of her family and her son Tristan.  If you are a parent of a child with ASD, go to MyAutismTeam and connect with other parents who ‘get it.’ Thousands of parents from all over the country are here to share not only their stories, but their daily lives: the good days, bad days and the triumphs!

He was extremely colicky as an infant. Midnight car rides almost every night, he slept no longer than a couple hours, at most,Tristan during the day, and began digestive issues as young as two months old.  Literally, my husband and I were tired and grumpy all the time hoping this stage would someday be behind us.
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Autism Parents Share: 8 Tips For Keeping It Romantic In A Marriage

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Having a child with autism can be tough on a marriage. Besides the emotional and financial strains that come from providing for a child with autism, there’s a huge time commitment involved with therapies and medical appointments. All that responsibility and pressure can make it difficult to have time or energy left for romance. So what are moms and dads to do? We asked parents on MyAutismTeam how they “keep the romance alive” in their marriages. These are their tips, most of which apply to any busy parent!
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