My Son With Autism Has A Beautiful Smile!

Often it’s said that people with autism don’t smile and don’t understand emotions. We know that to just not be true. Something people always tell us about our son is, “He has an awesome smile!” Really we don’t need to be told that. Its great they see the same things we do. He does have an awesome smile. He also has this infectious laughter and beautiful sense of humor too.

We have four children. Ranging in age from 17 to 5. Our third child Hunter was diagnosed with autism when he was three years old. Deep down I wasn’t surprised by the diagnosis because all the research had been bringing up the same diagnosis. At the time it was really hard for my husband to accept. I accepted the diagnosis easier. Probably because I poured myself and all my energy into finding quality therapy.

We were afraid of what the future would be like for our child. We had huge dreams for our son. With therapy and support of family and friends we finally realized that he still had an awesome future. We know he will do great things and affect many people in positive ways around him. Of that we have no doubt.

This last week end we played with water balloons. Our son had such fun and found humor in the whole game. Even making sure to get mommy because he quickly realized I was trying to stay dry. Already he has been asking, “Can we buy more water balloons?” and of course we will. It’s just great to see our son participate in an activity. It lets us see how far we’ve come. Really how far he has come!

In kindergarten he moved to a new elementary school. I was so worried that he might be bullied or not thrive in a new school. My worry was unfounded. He went into kindergarten and while he struggled academically he made friends and was able to interact with the other children. At one point we actually had to make sure the other kids let him try to do things on his own. I never would have thought that would be a concern that would happen.

Some things Hunter has loved doing for therapy has been equine (horse) therapy, extra speech therapy, and physical therapy as well. Hunter really showed his personality in equine therapy. Even showing off his skills when other kids were participating. When thinking of therapy make sure the people providing the service are trained and properly accredited.

Something else that helped him was social stories. Social stories visually explain a task or skill that need to be learned. We made a social story we could read on the IPad together for potty training. I saw a need for him to understand how to play with other children, and I created a play interaction story. I even made it my entire thesis project. It was just what he needed. Even though he still struggles from time to time with pushing or shoving he is doing so well and making lots of friends.

Yes, my son is academically behind but he can do so much. He is not bound by his Individual Education Program (IEP) to define who he is. Hunter visually excels and can do amazing things. If we have learned anything from these last few years? We must believe he can do great things. We see Hunter for what Hunter can do. We have taken great value in not comparing him with others.

He is his own person and every week surprises us with new achievements in areas we were once told he might not ever be able to do. I wouldn’t be shocked if someday he’s designing rockets or cars. My advice to parents on this journey is to seek out all therapy options. Do what works for your child. Also work with your pediatrician and therapist to create a great individual plan for your child.

Be your child’s advocate and never give up on them. Every child is unique and can do great things if we look at them as the person they are verses what everyone expects them to be. In our society that can be hard to do. I truly I believe each child is awesome. Hunter is awesome and your child is awesome too!


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Rebecca Batdorf is an author living with her family in Indiana. She is married with 4 children. She is a recent graduate from Indiana University Purdue University Fort Wayne (IPFW) with a degree in visual communication with a concentration in graphic design. For her thesis she created visual social stories for her son with autism. You can preview her social stories here, and buy Let’s Play on Amazon. 

Ways To Calm A Child With Autism

child-girl-yoga

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.

Welcome back! This is the fourth and final blog in this series to help you learn how to more deeply understand your child, as well as, ways to learn how to help everyone calm!

I want to give you a few more suggestions of simple steps to calm your child.

In the past three posts we’ve looked at:

I want to encourage you to remember (if you can!) that before you go to calm your child, to please calm yourself first.  If you have ever read the safety card on an airplane it says, “ In the unlikely event of losing cabin pressure, a mask will automatically drop. It is important to put your own mask on first and breathe before attending to anyone else.”  It is the same process to calm your child.

The starting point for calming is the same whether you child is tantrumming or in a meltdown.  To calm yourself first.  However, the actions you need to take for your child will differ depending on whether they are experiencing a tantrum or a meltdown.  Let’s do a quick review of the tell tale signs for each and then we will discuss specific suggestions, okay?

Evidence of Tantrums:

   Your child will be:

  • Looking for your reaction.
  • Trying to get out of something or get what they want.
  • Watching you.
  • Safe and not hurting themselves or others.

The tantrum stops when their need is met or child becomes clear they cannot get what they want.

Evidence Of Meltdowns:

     Your child will:

  • Have no regard for the adult’s reaction.
  • Experience distorted senses and reasoning.
  • Breathe in their upper chest in a labored way.
  • Rapidly escalate.
  • Become unsafe to both them selves and others around them.
  • Appear as if they are panicking, will be extremely revved up and anxious.
  • Respond to any new stimuli in an extremely heightened way that seems to escalate their anxiety.

The meltdown stops when the autistic can breathe more calmly and more rhythmically.  To help the child may involve techniques that help them relax by opening up deep belly breathing and deep pressure.

Tips For Tantrums

Tip #1:  Distraction During Tantrums

Sometimes when a child is tantrumming, you can actually distract them, to take the awareness of the child somewhere else.    For instance, you can play games with them, move away from them and “pop out” from behind a piece of furniture or doorway.

Tip #2:  Ignore the behavior you do not want them to be doing and reward the positive behaviors.   This helps them to begin to learn how to get your attention in positive ways.

Tips For Meltdowns

stressed-manTip #1 – Calm yourself first.  

Tip #2 – Raise the child’s arms up and place their hands on their head.  This process opens up the airway and can begin to promote diaphragmatic breathing.  During meltdowns they have a very difficult time breathing and all their breath can be caught up in their chests.  When the arms are raised, this naturally lifts and opens the diaphragm so they can naturally relax.

Tip #3 – Instruct them to gently breathe with their arms raised and hands on head.  

  • Make sure you are breathing calmly and from the diaphragm. Unconsciously your child will mirror your breathing patterns.
  • Do not tell your child to take deep breaths.  Trying to take deep breaths when one feels anxious is happening in the upper chest.  When a person does not breath from the diaphragm, it can cause more anxiety.  If they are an upper chest breather, you will see them try to take a hard inhale and the breath will seem pressured.
  • Encourage them to take small, gentle breaths, focusing on the exhale, not the inhale.
  • To make it even easier for them, you can offer them a straw to gently breathe through.

Tip #4:  While having their arms raised hum the child’s favorite song.  You may find them humming or singing it along with you.  

  • If they have a favorite song, you may want to softly hum it.  The humming or singing will help them to breathe and soothe them simply by the nature of them hearing something they like. This also allows them to focus on a stimulus, which makes them feel safe, and in control too.

body-lungs-breathTip #5:  Limit your talking

  • This may seem paradoxical, but for those that verbal language is not their primary language, talking to them may overstimulate them more.  I would NOT suggest telling them to calm down.  We’ve all done it, including me when we don’t know what to do.   I’ve learned that you have to provide directions and methods to calm, verses telling someone who doesn’t know how.  If they were able to they would.  If you can’t figure out how to calm yourself and someone does not give you the method to calm, it can make your more anxious and feel more out of control.

Tips For Calming In Public

Sometimes it is helpful to have a “first aid kit for calming” that you carry with you at all times.  Items may include:

  • A favorite toy or object.
  • Straws for deep breathing (for both you and the child).
  • A recording of a favorite tune on a portable player.
  • Snacks and water.    Many of these children need frequent small meals and encouragement for proper hydration. When they are dehydrated or hungry, this creates a neural process that can contribute to meltdowns or for those with epilepsy they may experience seizures.

Summary

I hope this four part series has given you both encouragement and super simple tips to use in your everyday life.  Your state of calm is key for your child.  It is one of the first things that can help your precious child become less anxious and relax.

I would love to hear from you and staying in contact with me is also super simple! Please feel free to contact me at www.marcilebowitz.com to stay updated on how to understand, relate to and communicate with your child with autism!  I would love to stay connected with 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.