Saturday, 30 November 2013

Strategies to cope with Christmas

With December here tomorrow, Christmas is just around the corner and at the moment if I am honest, I am thinking ‘roll on January’, as the heightened levels of anxiety in our household are soaring through the roof.  It’s such a shame as I have always found Christmas to be a magical time of year, but unfortunately for children on the spectrum, it can be a stressful time as normal routines are thrown out the window and they are confronted with sensory overload.  To try and make things run smoother for our ASD children we have adopted the following strategies:

  • Countdown chart to show how many days until it is Christmas Day.
  • Put our Christmas tree up once the children have packed up from school.  This seems to help with them understanding that now school has finished, it is time to celebrate Christmas at home.  If we put up our tree this weekend, it would be very hard for our youngest son to understand that it is not Christmas for another 24 days, as he has very little awareness of the concept of time.  He expects things to happen in the here and now.  It also reduces the stress of having to move furniture around in our living room for too long to accommodate the Christmas tree.  Our youngest son has been known to knock over our 6ft Christmas tree when he has gone into a meltdown.
  • Last year we let our youngest son decorate the Christmas tree, as we thought he would be more accepting of it and he chose to put his soft toys on it.  Although it is not what we would have chosen, it did mean that the tree stayed up for a week without being toppled over.  This week we have read a book called ‘Aliens Love Panta Claus’ about aliens that help Father Christmas deliver his presents and they decorate Christmas trees with underpants.  I’m hoping this idea does not stick in our youngest son’s mind for too long, as otherwise we could have a very unusual tree this year!!
  • We keep Christmas Day and Boxing Day just for us at home and then see family before and after Christmas, so that presents and guests are not all received at the same time.  If we visit family or they come to us, we have a quiet area, so that our ASD children can spend some time away from everything if it becomes too much for them.
  • As mentioned in an earlier blog, our youngest son does not like his presents wrapped up, so his are left unwrapped under the tree and in his stocking.  He also requests that his stocking is kept downstairs and not in his room, as he doesn’t want Father Christmas to go into his bedroom.

We don’t expect to have a tantrum free Christmas, but fingers crossed each year it will get easier and maybe one year we will have a tree decorated with tinsel, baubles and decorations, rather than Mickey Mouse and the Gruffalo!

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

Advent Tree

Preparation is going to be the key to helping our 2 ASD children cope with all the changes to normal routine next month in the run up to Christmas.  I have come across an idea which I'm going to use this year to see if it helps them both. 

Our daughter has sat down with me and come up with 24 different activities that we can do with a Christmas theme from 1 - 24 December.  They are simple ideas that range from decorating our Christmas tree, choosing the tv programmes we want to watch as a family over Christmas, hand delivering Christmas cards to watching our daughter perform in her school panto.  I have written them all onto pieces of card which I've laminated and hung on a driftwood shape tree we have at home. 

Everyday in December we will choose one activity to do and I have purposefully made some of them easy to do after a day at school like having hot chocolate and marshmallows or reading a Christmas story.
Fingers crossed it will get all three children into the festive spirit, but it will also help our daughter and youngest son to prepare for what can be the biggest sensory overload they will experience all year long. 

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Countdown to Christmas

Now that our eldest son has celebrated his birthday this week and the anxiety that our 2 ASD children associate with this has disappeared, we can concentrate our energies onto the countdown to Christmas.

Once I became a parent I couldn't wait to share my childhood traditions. We were excited to see the faces of our oldest two children when they were toddlers coming downstairs to find the footprints of Father Christmas across the floor from our fireplace to the Christmas tree. We had the video camera at the ready to film the magical moment. Our son was ecstatic at the sight, whereas our daughter kept shouting about the mess on the floor and wouldn't open any presents until it had been hoovered up. This was years before she was diagnosed with ASD, so at the time we didn't think anything other than it was a bit odd but she was only three and so tantrums were normal at this age.  Now looking back we can see it was the change in the normal layout of the living room that had caused her to be upset and the fact that we had not prepared her for this happening.

Our youngest son has the biggest anxiety over Christmas though. Until last year he has never been interested in his presents. On Christmas Day 2011 he left his presents unopened under the tree all day and spent the day in a rage. Our oldest son ended up opening up our younger son's presents on Boxing Day and this still didn't spark any level of interest in him wanting to play with his new toys.
Last year I attended a visual aids course and one of the speakers was a mum of twin autistic boys. She made a suggestion that as ASD children do not like the unknown, a way to cope with presents is to either not wrap them up or to take a photo of what is inside the gift and use that as the gift tag. A simple idea that we had never thought of, but we had nothing to lose so decided not to wrap up our youngest son's presents last Christmas. We were amazed with the transformation as he actually played with a couple of new toys. Since then he has asked for his presents not to be wrapped up for his birthday this year and we have already written to Father Christmas to ask that he does not wrap his presents up. It does have a knock on effect in our house though as our daughter does not understand why Father Christmas will make the exception of not wrapping up her brother's presents as presents should be wrapped up in her 'black and white' world.  However, if it means he is less anxious then it's worth doing it as he will be happier on the day and as he gets older we may be able to progress to wrapping presents up, but having a gift tag with a picture of what's inside the present.  Although it may seem different to what most households do at Christmas and not what I had planned on doing for my children, it does save lots of time on wrapping up presents, so I'm not complaining!!

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Birthday Anxiety

Our eldest son who is the 'neurotypical' one of our 3 children turns 9 this week. Unfortunately his birthday causes stress to our 2 ASD children which is upsetting for all three of them, as well as to us as parents. We have always envisaged our children's birthdays being happy occasions and not days where careful planning has to be done to reduce the number of tears and tantrums.

Both of our ASD children do not like their normal daily routine being changed, so birthdays even their own present problems.

Our youngest son has the additional difficulty that he does not like presents being wrapped up due to the unknown quantity of them. During the past year we have made the discovery that if we do not wrap his presents up, he is more likely to play with new toys and will be less distressed by the occasion. To avoid him being anxious last year by the sight of wrapped presents our eldest son got us up at 5am to watch him open his presents whilst his brother was still asleep. Unfortunately our youngest son woke up as our eldest son opened up his present from us and came downstairs and broke it. This was not a good start to his birthday celebrations. To ensure there is not a repeat performance this week our eldest son at his request has already received our main present. 

We are going to go out for dinner to celebrate our son's birthday and are not expecting it to go smoothly but we have to persist with family outings to help our ASD children get used to these situations. There will be tears and tantrums and to make up for this, our eldest son who is a massive Dr Who fan is going to watch the 50th anniversary episode in 3D at the cinema with just his Dad next weekend. We know he will get no peace at home watching it, as his siblings will shout all the way through it, as it is not their choice of programme. This way he can do something just for him and have the reassurance that it won't be spoilt by his siblings having a meltdown.
Once we get through this week, we then have to contend with Christmas, which is another story!!

Saturday, 16 November 2013

Sensory toys to make at home

It's been another creative night where I've been experimenting with sensory toys that can be made easily at home with little cost involved.  Our daughter has helped me with a sensory glove.  Each finger/the thumb has a different texture inside it - we have chosen paperclips, sugar cubes, pasta, tissue paper and cotton wool.  The body of the glove has been filled with scrunched up newspaper and then we tied it at the top and decorated it with a face.  As well as getting used to the feel of different textures, a child can use it as a puppet and let their imagination run away with them. 

Another quick and easy project is to fill a ziplock bag with hair gel and add some plastic sea creatures.  Gaffer tape the top, so that the hair gel doesn't leak onto the floor.  It's a great sensory bag to squeeze and for children that don't like getting messy, it is a simple way for them to feel a slimy texture without getting any of it on them!

Friday, 8 November 2013

1:1 Swimming Lesson

Our two oldest children are both confident swimmers and love being in the water, whereas our youngest son has always struggled with bath time.  We have taken him to a local special needs swimming group as it is a quieter environment, but he is still reluctant to let go of our hands even when he has a swimming jacket or arm bands on.  Tonight he had his first 1:1 lesson in a private pool and the difference this has made is astounding.  By the end of the 30 minutes he had let go of the instructor's hands and was kicking his legs and trying to do doggy paddle with his arms.  He felt secure in a woggle and arm bands, there was no noise around him, as only him and the instructor in the pool, which meant his anxiety of being splashed vanished as well.  I am so proud of the big step he has made tonight and he says he can't wait to go again next week.  If he can make this amount of progress in one session, he will be swimming in no time at all.  Once he has developed the confidence to swim, we can then conquer his fear of being in a pool with other people.  It may seem such a small thing for a lot of children to splash about in a swimming pool, but for our son, he has just climbed a huge hurdle.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Giving a Talk

Two years ago I never would have dreamt that I could stand in front of a group of people and give a talk. Today I did just that, presenting a Sensory Processing talk to a small group of parents/carers of children with ASD. As well as talking and answering questions, I had a selection of sensory toys we have at home to show parents what is available to buy.  Much of it is affordable and in everyday shops without people realising the sensory benefit it may have for their child.

It is  the third time I have done the talk and I still get nervous each time, but I'm buzzing afterwards as it is rewarding to be able to share all that we have learnt as a family and I hope that something I have spoken about may help someone else. We have often found that one tip that we have learnt from another parent has made a huge difference to the lives of our children and so sharing information like this is invaluable to parents of children with special needs. I don't claim to be an expert in sensory processing, but can offer an insight into our experiences of having two children with sensory processing difficulties and strategies/equipment that have worked for us.  It is trial and error as to what will work for an individual child and as parents we are still learning and always open to new ideas.  It is only by sharing these ideas that more people can benefit from learning about Sensory Processing Disorder and the effects it can have on a person.
Below is a clip from YouTube that explains the basics of Sensory Processing Disorder.


Friday, 1 November 2013

Halfterm Anxiety

Halfterm can be unsettling for a child with ASD as the routine they have got used to for the past 6 or 7 weeks suddenly changes. Most children enjoy not having to go to school but when you have ASD it can make you feel more anxious, as you aren't sure what you are going to do each day and there are more gaps for free time than if you were at school for the day.
Our youngest son struggles with the holidays and it is only now as we approach the end of the week that he is getting used to the fact that there is no school this week. I've lost count of the number of times he has asked me 'is it school today, how many sleeps until school'. A countdown chart works well for these situations as a visual aid to help him understand when he will be going back to school.  Making a timetable of what activities you are going to do each day will also help to form the new routine for the holidays.
We tend to find there are more meltdowns in the holidays and I'm always looking for new ways to help calm our kids and distract them from their anxieties. Today I have made a glitter bottle - fill 2/3 of bottle with water then add a bottle of glitter glue and some normal glitter.  Make sure the top is done up tightly, shake the bottle and watch the glitter float around the bottle until it settles on the bottom. It is relaxing and visually stimulating.  Our daughter has already asked if she can keep this in her bedroom.

Another calming tool I've experimented with is a glass jar filled with small pieces of pipe cleaners. Use a magnet on the outside of the jar and watch the pipe cleaners magically lift up to the top of the jar. At the moment we have been using magnetic power stones to move the pipe cleaners up and down, but when I find a big traditional shaped magnet I think there will be more power behind the magnet and so more pipe cleaners will move around in one go.

Both of these are simple ideas that may help to reduce anxiety and to relax an ASD child.  If it helps to stop a meltdown or can be used as a calming distraction, it's worth the effort of making them.