How might the world pandemic be affecting your children and teenagers who are on the autism spectrum? (And how you can help).

What might children and teenagers on the autism spectrum be finding difficult right now?

This is obviously a potentially stressful and traumatic time for everyone impacted by coronavirus. For those on the autism spectrum, the effects can vary substantially between extreme relief (due to no longer having the rigour and stressors of school) to anxiety, worry and meltdowns. Here are some factors that might particularly impact the mental wellbeing of a young person with autism:

1. Routines – Structure is often really important for a person on the autism spectrum, and losing the standard “school week” might feel overwhelming or confusing. Mixed in with suddenly having to manage their family’s changing routine, this could easily become a trigger for overload or meltdown. In addition, people with autism sometimes have a limited range of leisure skills and activities, and so having a glut of unstructured time might lead to intense boredom or anxiety. It is often in unstructured times that anxiety and fears are heightened as our brains have nothing better to do than go into survival / planning mode.

2. Sensory processing – Being on lockdown – with no expectations to leave the home or experience potentially challenging environments – might feel like a relief for some people on the autism spectrum. However, there will come a time when that person will be required to access the world again – and the worry and uncertainty about when this might be (and how difficult it might feel) could overshadow that person’s ability to be present-centred. Further, if opportunities to leave the immediate environment are limited, then normally easy-to-manage sensations such as touches, sounds and sights might feel overwhelming or even physically uncomfortable – this is particularly challenging when the person with autism can do little to escape them.

3. Academia – School-age people on the autism spectrum will still be expected to complete their schoolwork and carry on with their studies, without any of the specialist help they may receive at school, and their academic learning may take a hit as a result. Further, if their ability to generalise activities to different locations is limited, the alien idea of doing schoolwork at home may cause confusion and anxiety. Again, this can impact the person’s mental wellbeing, potentially leading to them worrying about their future, how they view themselves (e.g. “I’m stupid” or “I’m a failure”), or how their teachers will react (e.g. will they be angry or upset?)

4. Socialising and friendships – People on the autism spectrum often find socialising and navigating social norms and friendships difficult, and naturally this can cause anxiety. Now, with the social norms dramatically changed, the process of keeping in contact, recognising social cues and friendships might feel even harder. In these moments, a person who is autistic may get swept away by their unhelpful thoughts and feelings, and retreat from all social contact. Not only is this not OK in the short-term, but it will also massively impact how stressful it might feel when schools start up again.

5. Health – Some of the less spoken-about effects on a person on the autism spectrum might be on their physical health. For example:

    1. Diet: If a person has a restricted diet, the recent panic-buying may have limited what they are able to eat.
    2. Sleep: With the lack of structure and routine, their sleeping patterns may become disturbed, which will naturally impact their mental health and anxiety.
    3. Exercise/movement: Some people with autism need lots of exercise and movement to release anxiety (and feelings in general). Without this regular opportunity, they could struggle with the enforced lockdown.

 

How can parents / caregivers help ease their anxiety?

1. Normalise – It’s important to recognise that anxiety is a very natural and real response to the world phenomena we are facing right now. Acknowledging and allowing these feelings is vitally important. When working with anyone with anxiety, it is vital that we accept the feelings and thoughts for what they are, and then encourage the opportunity to make space for other thoughts, feelings and behaviours that may be more effective to them leading a life of value and vitality.

2. FACE COVID (Russ Harris, 2020) is a very useful checklist:

      1. Focus on what’s in your control
      2. Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
      3. Come back into your body
      4. Engage in what you’re doing
      5. Committed action (set small achievable goals every day and do them)
      6. Open up
      7. Values (explore what’s important to them)
      8. Identify resources
      9. Disinfect and distance (when outside)

3. Connect – For instance:

  1. Find activities you can do together
  2. Save the really fun activities for family or parent/child time
  3. Let them know you care – you should aim to give them positive feedback and recognition at least 7 to 10 times more often than negative feedback

4. Help create some structure within the day – Ask if a timetable may help (making sure it’s realistic!), and support flexibility in the timetable by leaving enough space to do something for longer, or change activity sooner.

5. Offer options/choices – For example, instead of saying “What do you want to do?” or “What do you want?”, ask instead, “Do you want to play a game, or watch a movie?”

6. Be clear about expectations, wants and needs – If you want them to unload the dishwasher each day, be clear about when you want it done by, how it needs to be done (check that they understand this), how they’re going to take responsibility for it (for instance, would a note or phone alarm be a useful reminder?), and what the payoffs are for getting involved.

7. Keep offering (and providing exposure to) potential non-preferred activities – When it comes to schoolwork, chores, learning new skills, and so on, try to keep these “short and sweet” and mix them in with preferred activities – this will help keep building their resilience to trying things when they’re difficult, and will massively help when the transition period out of lockdown comes.

8. Promote healthy habits – Of course, this can have several dimensions: food, exercise, staying in contact with peers, mindfulness, and so on. Why not try and find YouTube videos or websites together that are motivating / interesting to them?

9. Set goals that are achievable – Even if the accomplishment is as “simple” as getting dressed for the day, make sure your teenager is accessing success and that it’s being celebrated.

10. Break big tasks / goals down into small ones – …and then make them even smaller! For example, if you want the dishwasher unloaded, write down all the small steps involved with unloading, and have them visible for the person to follow and tick off. As they get more proficient at it, you will be able to reduce this prompt so they can do it from memory.

11. Give yourselves a break – You are probably not a teacher or a heath professional – you are a parent first and foremost. Recreating the school timetable and supporting learning is not easy, and not always possible. Focus on the here-and-now of what’s important to you as a family – everything else will come when the world is ready to get back to normal.

 

What can friends do to support?

1. Be available – Reach out regularly and do what you can to stay connected.

2. Be flexible – Offer options where possible – for instance, “Do you want to talk on WhatsApp or play a game online together?”

3. Be clear – This is especially important when it comes to communicating expectations, wants and needs.

4. Be understanding – Sometimes your friend on the autism spectrum might be struggling with things that you find easy or enjoyable. Take time to listen and be there for them. You don’t need to find any solutions to their discomfort – often, the process of just being there and listening can be enough to help that person through their discomfort.

 

If you’d like further information, or to enquire about my services please email: celia@celiachambers.com

Inner Workings

As my New Year gift to you, here is a lovely short Pixar video, showing our ‘helpful’ mind being a little too helpful! 😅 And what happens when we live via our values! 🤩

Have a watch, and let me know how it affected you!

Inner Workings from jose chamba on Vimeo.

Invitation

I was given this invitation by my first trainer (❤️), and now I invite you too….

*The Invitation*

It doesn’t interest me what you do for a living.
I want to know what you ache for, and if you dare to dream of meeting your heart’s longing.

It doesn’t interest me how old you are.
I want to know if you will risk looking like a fool for love, for your dream, for the adventure of being alive.

It doesn’t interest me what planets are squaring your moon.
I want to know if you have touched the center of your own sorrow, if you have been opened by life’s betrayals or have become shriveled and closed from fear of further pain!

I want to know if you can sit with pain, mine or your own, without moving to hide it or fade it, or fix it.
I want to know if you can be with joy, mine or your own, if you can dance with wildness and let the ecstasy fill you to the tips of your fingers and toes without cautioning us to be careful, to be realistic, to remember the limitations of being human.

It doesn’t interest me if the story you are telling me is true.
I want to know if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can bear the accusation of betrayal and not betray your own soul; if you can be faithless and therefore trustworthy.

I want to know if you can see beauty even when it’s not pretty, every day, and if you can source your own life from its presence.

I want to know if you can live with failure, yours and mine, and still stand on the edge of the lake and shout to the silver of the full moon, “Yes!”

It doesn’t interest me to know where you live or how much money you have.
I want to know if you can get up, after the night of grief and despair, weary and bruised to the bone, and do what needs to be done to feed the children.

It doesn’t interest me who you know or how you came to be here.
I want to know if you will stand in the center of the fire with me and not shrink back.

It doesn’t interest me where or what or with whom you have studied.
I want to know what sustains you, from the inside, when all else falls away.

I want to know if you can be alone with yourself and if you truly like the company you keep in the empty moments.

by
Oriah Mountain Dreamer
copyright © 1999 by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.

P.s. See if you can find me in the picture, with my arms open – ready for you! ☺️😅

#selfcare #selfacceptance #ACT #AcceptanceandCommitmentTherapy#TransactionalAnalysis #TA #Invitations
#psychotherapy #counselling #personaldevelopment #coaching #growth

Contact mefor information on how we could work together to create a more meaningful life.

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More than matching

Further to my previous post –

This is a short video story of a client of mine (with permission from the parents). When I first started working with her she could not stand and could not walk. With collaboration with her Occupational Therapist we created a number of programs using lots of reinforcement to build the prerequisite strength skills she needed to walk unaided. This journey took several months (SIX to be precise!) and lots of hard work from all involved – her parents, her brother, her family, myself, her OT, her consultant AND not least, little one! Every time I see her get up and have a stroll around the living room, just because, I feel so proud of her! This is a crucial behavioural cusp for her and allows her to access so much more in her environment – from climbing the slide, to finding an adult to ask for something, to walking to her favourite toy! ABA isn’t just about ‘removing’ negative behaviours, it’s about teaching skills that are socially significant and make a positive difference for everyone involved.

We’re now teaching the next skills required to keep strengthening her muscles – she’s nearly running, and we’re doing lots of work to get her jumping! You won’t believe (or maybe you will!) just how fast she can move now! It’s an absolute joy (and chaos too which is what we like to see, sometimes!)

This is why I do what I do. ❤

Link: https://www.facebook.com/celiachamberstherapy/videos/406500579712568/

 

ABA and health

ABA isn’t just about teaching a child to name animals, or match pictures…it’s about teaching skills which will help the individual to live a socially significant, functional and happy life. This video (and post) form the fantastic ABA4All Facebook page shows something that most people would have said was unachievable – teaching a boy with autism to almost completely independently do his insulin shots. As a Type 1 diabetic myself, I know just how tricky this chain of individual steps are and I’m super proud and pleased with his team and him, for achieving this!

https://www.facebook.com/ABAAccess4All/videos/1232959050115239/UzpfSTI2ODIwNTgxMDIwODcxMzozODkxMTQzNzQ3ODQ1MjI/

A mum’s story

This is a really moving and heartfelt account from a mum of a child with autism of how ABA has helped her son, and just how hard ABA tutors work. Yes, sometimes, the job is really tough (and yes, I have been hit, kicked, bitten, spat on and had multiple items thrown at me in my time) BUT fundamentally we know (through the data and the science) that what we’re doing is right. And, ultimately there is nothing better than seeing a child learn new
skills, teaching effective communication, and broadening a child’s access to the world around them.
After all, some of the cornerstones of ABA are that what we provide is Applied (make a difference that is socially important) and Effective (behavioural techniques result in socially significant change).

http://www.lifewithgreyson.com/2012/05/applied-behavior-analysis.html?fbclid=IwAR3HC6tw5bkmbcFDCYnyFY-VfRqEpyz1hYjFi14z7AhoCS8zEbtcjmW-KQE

Autism/IDD diagnoses and grief

I have done a lot of research and personal work with parents and carers, experiencing grief when finding out their child isn’t the one they dreamed of…these feelings and emotions are NORMAL!

This article from BSci21 sums up how Grief Theory can be applied to families of children with Autism and learning disabilities and provides us with a behavioural analysis of how to tackle the challenges that arise. It also shows that feelings of grief and the related behaviours are normal and something that must be taken into account when working with clients.

http://ow.ly/vqGe306MeAc

When meeting new clients, I always take this into account. I look at how can we find positives in this new, challenging situation, and how we can work with, not against the grieving process.

Repetition, repetition, repetition.

One of the most legendary coaches in the history of sport was John Wooden. Below is a great quote of his related to the laws of learning. What seems curious is that in certain fields, practice (or repetition) is accepted as a key component to building the competence, confidence and conditions for learning. Yet in other areas, repetition is seen as un-beautiful, archaic or unnecessary. 

Where it is acceptable? In sports, in theatre, in dance, in music; here, the learners are given multiple rehearsals, practice, repetition of scales, lines, moves, passes, routines – whatever they need to perform at some point, that becomes a focal point for practice till they have it- till its nailed down, mastered, fluent, flowing… they know the moves inside & out, they have their lines learnt and cadence and movement and execution clear. 

Where it seems unacceptable? In academic subjects, in social skills, in play – here, in these areas, it seems some illogical fallacy has taken hold whereby learners should either just do what they think is right, or just learn for the love of learning it… or just get it at some distant point in the future. piffle and waffle. If they need to learn it, teach it. If they don’t need the skill now, then why waste your time and theirs by teaching it? And the best way to learn something is by doing it. doing it so many times it becomes easy rather than hard… doing it so many times you don’t have to think about it- you can just perform those calculations, or critique the text, or identify the date or hold a conversation or take turns or win & lose or problem solve…

If you are failing to giving chances to repeat, to practice, to get effortless – then you are performing only two, at best three, laws of learning… you are teaching, but the students might not be learning…

So, follow Coach Wooden’s advice: 

“The four laws of learning are explanation, demonstration, imitation and repetition. 

The goal is to create a correct habit that can be produced instinctively under great pressure. 

To make sure this goal was achieved, I create eight laws of learning — namely explanation, demonstration, imitation, repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition, and repetition.”

-Coach John Wooden

If you’d like more- here is his TED talk… https://www.ted.com/talks/john_wooden_on_the_difference_between_winning_and_success/transcript?language=en&fbclid=IwAR0xhQ20GcpnAYJdSRlDhjDb8xxDHIwDDb91TSxU7hWh5J4zP2z75l3cMFU

 

This blog was inspired by The TLCs Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/tlcaba/