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Help with Holiday Hurdles for Special Needs Kids

Holiday Traditions

Special needs parents and caregivers come up against the spectre of expectations on a daily basis, but the holidays can bring up even more challenges. You may have your ideal holiday all planned out in your mind, or be burdened with visions of holidays past, but your child with special needs may be unable or unwilling to go along with the images in your head. This is certainly true to for typical kids and teens, too!

Religious services

While you may get comfort from attending some form of worship, to a person with special needs a church, temple or other holy place may seem scary. There are strange smells, loud sounds and crowds. This can all be too over stimulating for certain people.

Some places of worship are starting to offer services geared to those with special needs, or may offer an alternative activity while the parents attend services. If these options are not available in your area, ask for them to be initiated – or help to start them yourself. Headphones, earplugs and even surgical masks may help with excessive sensory input. Weighted vests or special fidgets or stuffed animals may offer a sense of being grounded or calmness.

Social expectations

Let’s say you open a present from Great Aunt Ethel. It is a sweater, and you don’t really like it, but you know that you should still say thank you. Some people with special needs lack that politeness filter and may blurt out their honest feelings, such as “that is an ugly sweater.” Not only is Great Aunt Ethel offended but the parents of the child with special needs may also come under fire for not teaching the child “good manners.” Too bad no one taught Great Aunt Ethel good taste, then this awkward situation would have been avoided.

Maybe waiting to open gifts in private could help spare Great Aunt Ethel’s feelings, and of course a polite thank you note afterwards would be appreciated.

Holiday Gatherings and Visits – even to the North Pole

Visiting friends and family can be challenging due to strange environments, new people and  changes in routine.

Bring familiar items and if necessary, favorite foods you know your child will eat. Social stories where you can rehearse acceptable responses are helpful, and de-sensitization practices may help make new places less problematic when you visit them beforehand while they are empty.

Your holiday tradition may include a visit to Santa. As a former Macy’s Herald Square Elf I can tell you that as nice a person as Santa is, to a small child this giant man in a vibrant red suit can seem terrifying! Screams, crying and squirming are common responses even from neurotypical children. If your child with special needs truly can’t handle an encounter with Mr. Kringle please don’t force them – you are trying to make a happy memory for kids, not torture them.

Check local malls or a We Rock The Spectrum location for Sensitive Santa, which is a crowd-free visit with subdued lighting and low or no music. Many special needs families have gotten their very first happy holiday photo thanks to these events. Waving to Santa from across the mall or a photo with Santa far in the background may also be a fun alternative to standing in a long line to meet him face to face.

It isn’t just visiting the jolly elf that may bring up tough situations – Great Aunt Ethel may bring her own set of problems. At her house the rules may be different, which is difficult and possibly even upsetting for individuals with special needs. Even if she comes to your house she may upset the usual environment; she may wear a strong perfume or change the usual mealtimes. While you may want that photo of your child and Great Aunt Ethel snuggling by the fire, your child may want nothing to do with her.

Give your child some space. A group photo may be more tolerable for your child. After some time your child may become comfortable with new people and new settings. Let them ease in at their own speed.

Happy Holidays to you and yours!

Editor’s NoteAutism Speaks is a co-sponsor of Sensory-Friendly Santa. Click here to find one in your area.

3 Things Parents Can Do To Help Kids Calm Under Pressure

Self-regulation is the ability to monitor and control our own behavior, thoughts or feelings altering them in accordance with the demands of a situation. While we often expect children to be well-modulated, it is most helpful when we teach them what being regulated “feels like”.

Whether you teach, love or parent children from pre-school to high school, having the “felt sense” of internal regulation is helpful at any age. Here are 3 simple activities to help students experience self-regulation.  RIGHT CLICK on the IMAGE to download for personal and professional use.

1. Talk with your children about the fact that we all have an engine inside us that revs up or calms down depending on what we are doing. When we feel excited, anxious or nervous our engines rev up. We need to be our brains “best coaches” by helping our bodies calm down.

2. Model for the child how to “coach” their brain.

Step 1: Help your child begin to notice his own escalation. “Let’s talk about what it feels like when you are in class and your teacher calls on you. What happens to your body? Does your heart begin to race? Do you think, ‘It’s my turn now, she’s going to ask me a question.’”

“In that moment, you want to coach your brain to be alert while your body remains calm. So when you hear your name called, take a big deep breath and turn toward your teacher so that you can hear what she asks you.”

Step 2: “When we feel anxious we tend to rush, so remember, go ‘Slow-Mo’. Slowing down and being present will help you to focus, think and respond.”

3. Practice. Role-play different scenarios. “What happens when…” How will we be our ‘brain’s best coach’? What will we say to ourselves? What will we notice about how our body feels? What will we do to remain alert yet calm?  Think about a time when you feel calm. How does your body feel then? That’s the feeling we are aiming for when we feel anxious or stressed.

Helping children begin to be mindful of the felt sense of the difference in feeling revved up or calmed down is the beginning to better self-control.

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Anxiety and Depression in Children: 5 Warning Signs to Watch For

Winter is approaching fast and along with it, cold wet weather and the usual assortment of colds and cold weather maladies.  By now your children should have already received their Flu vaccines.  If not, get that done now; flu season has already begun.  Your child should be well into the school year and the stresses of homework and other school responsibilities are beginning to take their toll.

Anxiety and depression in children are being recognized at a younger and younger age and you should be able to identify symptoms related to these issues. Some researchers claim that up to 6 – 8 % of adolescents are depressed or exhibit anxiety.  Look for unexplained changes in your child’s personality or behavior and a sudden drop in grades.

  1. Has your child always been very social and overtly friendly and now prefers to be alone and do solitary things?   Has he or she been avoiding crowds and acting more isolated?  Has she/she expressed feelings of sadness or disinterest in activities in which she/he was very interested for some time?  Has your child expressed feelings of loneliness or poor self-esteem?
  2. Have you been monitoring his/her use of social media (this should be a constant for you) and find his/her interests have changed dramatically?
  3. Has your child become more secretive and more prone to destructive or particularly self-destructive behavior?  Always ask them about smoking, alcohol and sexual activity!  This is a difficult conversation to have but is a must in order to monitor your child’s social development.
  4. Is your child sad or more emotional (tough to distinguish between normal adolescent behavior)?  Angry or irritable? Having difficulty sleeping? Is there a change in eating habits? Loss of energy or speaking about death or suicide?
  5. You need to be aware that when a teen talks about suicide there is a significant chance on carrying through on these thoughts and this should be an alarm bell – boys more so than girls. 

Any combination of things mentioned above should be brought to the attention of his/her Doctor as soon as possible.  Occasionally any of these signs can be displayed for short periods of time without definite problems but if they last longer than about 2 weeks and if they seem to be interfering with normal everyday activities, consider them worthy of evaluation. Depression and anxiety can be treated, but ignoring it can lead to further problems as your child gets older.

Raising children in our current social and economic environment is very difficult and with the ease of obtaining drugs/alcohol, it requires constant monitoring and parenting. You are not your child’s friend, you are his/her parent and you should be constantly advising and leading by example.

 

How to Reduce Your Baby’s Teething Pain

Teething can be distressing for some babies, but there are ways to make it easier for them.

Every baby is different, and you may have to try a few different things until you find something that works for your baby.

Teething rings

Teething rings give your baby something to chew safely. This may ease their discomfort and distract them from any pain.

Some teething rings can be cooled first in the fridge, which may help to soothe your baby’s gums. The instructions that come with the ring should tell you how long to chill it for. Never put a teething ring in the freezer, as it could damage your baby’s gums if it gets frozen.

Also, never tie a teething ring around your baby’s neck, as it may be a choking hazard.

Teething gels

Teething gels often contain a mild local anaesthetic, which helps to numb any pain or discomfort caused by teething. The gels may also contain antiseptic ingredients, which help to prevent infection in any sore or broken skin in your baby’s mouth.

Make sure you use a teething gel that’s specially designed for young children and not a general oral pain relief gel, as these aren’t suitable for children. Your pharmacist can advise you.

It’s best to talk to your pharmacist or GP before using a teething gel for babies under two months old.

If your baby is chewing

One of the signs that your baby is teething is that they start to chew on their fingers, toys or other objects they get hold of.

If your baby is six months or older, you can give them healthy things to chew on, such as raw fruit and vegetables. Pieces of apple or carrot are ideal. You could also try giving your baby a crust of bread or a breadstick. Always stay close when your baby is eating in case they choke.

Find out what to do if your baby starts choking.

It’s best to avoid rusks, because nearly all brands contain some sugar. Avoid any foods that contain lots of sugar, as this can cause tooth decay, even if your child only has a few teeth.

Paracetamol (*acetaminophen) and ibuprofen for teething

If your baby is in pain or has a mild raised temperature (less than 38C), you may want to give them a sugar-free painkilling medicine that is specifically for babies and young children. These contain a small dose of paracetamol or ibuprofen.

Children under 16 years old shouldn’t have aspirin.

Always follow the instructions that come with the medicine. If you’re not sure, speak to your GP (*doctor or pediatrician) or pharmacist.

Comforting a teething baby

Comforting or playing with your baby can distract them from any pain in their gums.

Preventing teething rashes

If teething is making your baby dribble more than usual, gently wiping their face often may help to prevent a rash.

Caring for your baby’s new teeth

You’ll need to register your baby with a dentist when their teeth start coming through – find a dentist near you.

Start brushing your baby’s teeth with fluoride toothpaste as soon as their first milk tooth breaks through.

For more advice, read about looking after your baby’s teeth.

Editor’s Note: *clarification provided for our US readers.

Additional note:  Avoid benzocaine teething gels – there are plant-based natural teething gels that do not have the same drug safety concerns as noted by the US FDA:
https://www.fda.gov/Drugs/DrugSafety/ucm250024.htm

 

NHS Choices logo


From www.nhs.uk





How to Raise a Confident, Assertive Child

Let’s face it. It’s a tougher time to be growing up, and the data confirms it. Bullying is fiercer. Peer pressure is tougher. Kids are also more aggressive at younger ages. Girls are meaner. Of course we can’t always be there to pick up the pieces or help our kids stand up for themselves, nor should we. After all, the more our children see us as their rescuers, the more they learn to rely on us to solve their problems.

The secret is help our kids learn how to be more assertive and speak up for themselves. Here are seven ways to help your child learn to be respectfully assertive especially in those more difficult situations when they need to hold their own!

1. Model assertiveness

Be the model you want your child to copy. Don’t be meek. Stand up for your views even if they may not be unpopular. Let your kids know that even though you might feel uncomfortable, you always feel it’s best to stand up for your rights or the rights of others. Your child is watching your behavior and will copy. So ask yourself if you are an example of assertiveness you want your child to copy? For instance, do you speak up to your girlfriend who is pushing you to do something you may not want to do? Or what about holding your own to that relative who wants you to allow your young kids to watch that PG movie you feel is inappropriate?

2. Be a democratic household

Hold debates. Use family meetings. Listen to each child (it doesn’t mean you agree with them). When kids know their opinions count they are more likely to speak out and feel comfortable doing it.

3. Acknowledge your child’s assertiveness

Let your child know you value people who speak their mind. Reinforce your child’s assertiveness. “I like how you spoke up!” Encourage those confident, assertive behaviors in your child. Let her know you honor her opinions.

4. Find less domineering friends

If your child is a bit more timid and always hangs around a bossy playmate, provide him the opportunity to find a less domineering pal so he will be more likely to speak up and gain confidence.

Watch out for domineering siblings as well. Make sure your child has the opportunity to practice his voice and not be squelched by a brother or sister (or even other parent).

5. Provide early leadership opportunities

Research from the Girl Scouts of America says kids say their confidence in speaking up and leading others dwindles by the fifth grade. Kids also tell us they gain that confidence is by entering into activities, clubs, team building, etc. and the earlier the better.

So provide opportunities for your child to be a member of a team, take charge of a project or lead others. You might enroll your child in public speaking or theatre to build confidence in speaking in front of others!

Find a platform that fits your child’s passions, talents, and comfort level!

6. Teach your child C.A.L.M. assertion

Here’s a skill that I’ve shared with hundreds of kids around the world-and I do mean that literally. I’ve taught C.A.L.M. to kids in Taipei, Colombia, Finland, Malaysia, Mexico, Canada as well as hundreds of schools from coast to coast in the US. It is a strategy that boosts assertiveness, but also helps the child learn to defend himself to others and hold his own. It’s the basic skill to stop teasing, negative peer pressure as well as bullying and victimization.

The photo image on the right is high school students who are teaching the skill to elementary students in a near by school as part of their service learning project. The “cross age tutoring” model is also a fabulous way for children to learn a new new skill.

There are four steps to learning the skill. Each part is essential. You may need to help your child practice each of the four steps separately until he or she can comfortably use all four parts on his or her own.

4 Steps to Being Assertive and Staying C.A.L.M.

– Stay  Cool

If you get upset, ticked off, cry, pout you don’t appear as confident.

A – Assert

Teach your child a few comeback lines to say in different situations. “No!” “Not cool.” “Because I said so!” “I don’t want to.”

L – Look Eye to Eye

The best way to appear more confident is by using eye contact. If your child is timid or eye contact is difficult, suggest he look between the persons’ eyes on the spot in the middle of their forehead. I’ve also taught children on the autism spectrum to look behind (or through the person). The trick is to “appear” confident.

M – Mean It!

Teach your child the difference between how a wimpy and a strong voice sound. Then encourage your child to assert himself using a strong and firm tone–but not yelling tone–to get his point across.

7. Role-play “assertive posture and voice tone”

Kids learn best from seeing and practicing skills. So help your child rehearse assertive phrases like: “Stop it!” “No, not this time, thanks!,” “Hey, cut it out!”

Practice using the skill so your child has a firm-sounding tone and until your child has the confidence to hold his own without you. And when he does, congratulate yourself. You will have taught your child a critical skill that he will need to use in every arena of his life but now and forever.

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Carbon Monoxide is a Silent Killer…How to Keep Your Family Safe

As the winter months rapidly approach and the cold starts to set in, It is inevitable that people will start to break out the heaters.  It is around this time of year that you will start to see an increase in the number of Carbon Monoxide stories in the news and especially in the hospitals.  It’s the Carbon Monoxide I would like to talk about today.

What is Carbon Monoxide and how can I tell where it is?

Carbon Monoxide or CO, is a colorless, odorless, tasteless gas that is created from unburned Fuel Sources such as gas, oil or coal. So any appliance that uses fuel can create carbon monoxide.  Heaters, Furnaces, Dryers, Cars, Fire Places, Chimneys, Generators, Barbecues, etc.. all have the ability to create carbon monoxide.  Please make sure that any fuel burning item in your home has been properly installed and sealed, and that all manufacturer instructions for doing so have been followed.

Items that use electricity do not burn a fuel and do not emit carbon monoxide.  While these items may pose a significant risk of fire when used improperly or left unattended, they do not burn fuel and do not pose a risk of Carbon Monoxide.

Common Locations of Carbon Monoxide:

  • Automobile Garage – Cars warming up or left running in a garage will cause a build-up of Carbon Monoxide.
  • Laundry Room – Laundry machines that run on natural gas or propane can emit propane.
  • Basement – Furnaces and Heaters located in a basement or enclosed area can cause a build-up of Carbon Monoxide.
  • Kitchen – Gas Appliances like ovens can emit Carbon Monoxide.
  • Bedroom – Fuel burning heaters such as gas lamps and heaters can emit Carbon Monoxide.

What are the Signs of CO Poisoning?

  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Difficulty Breathing.

How Can I Detect CO In My Home?

While CO is an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas it can be detected with Carbon Monoxide monitors that can be bought at many stores.  Things to know about CO detectors before you purchase:

  • CO detectors come in many sizes.
  • CO detectors are NOT all the same. Some detect non-lethal low levels of CO while others only detect potentially lethal high levels of CO.   Please read the package on the detector you purchase.
  • Some can be hardwired to your house alarm system and some use batteries AA or 9volt batteries.

Where In My Home Should I Place CO Detectors?

  • CO detectors should be placed in areas of the house you spend the most time in. The living room, Family Room areas are great places to put them and they should also be placed outside the bedroom areas to alert occupants Before it reaches the bedrooms.
  • CO detectors should not be placed next to or near items that emit a lot of heat as it may cause the device to malfunction. As always, please read and follow the instructions on whichever device you purchase.

What should I do if my CO detector is activated OR someone in my home begins to have the symptoms of CO poisoning?

  • If the detector is activated you should immediately open doors and windows and go outside.
  • Once outside, assess to see if anyone is having symptoms of CO poisoning.
  • If anyone is having symptoms CALL 911 AND Follow the instructions they give you.
  • If the alarm continues to sound call 911 and let the fire department clear the home.

For more information on Carbon monoxide you can contact the following:

  • Your local Fire Department
  • Underwriter Laboratories – 1-847-272-8800
  • Utility Companies in your area. The Gas company for example.

As always, I urge everyone to err on the side of caution and CALL 911 if any concern exists about CO in your home. Please be safe and use your items carefully. Here in South Florida during hurricane Irma there were fatalities due to CO because people ran generators and motors inside of their homes while they slept and succumb to CO poisoning.  Always run motors and any fuel burning device in an opened, ventilated area!

Be Safe and stay warm.

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