Tips for promoting young children’s wellbeing

Young children's wellbeing

Sonia Mainstone-Cotton, author of Promoting Young Children’s Emotional Health and Wellbeing, provides some very useful and easy tips for supporting young children’s happiness at this important stage in their development.

Wellbeing is a term we hear a lot about for adults and young people, but we don’t hear so much about it for young children. We know that the rates of teenage mental health problems are rising alarmingly, and we are aware that children and young people are feeling increasingly stressed and distressed. I passionately believe if we can help young children to have a good wellbeing then we are setting them off to a great start in life. But to help children have a good wellbeing, we need to be proactive about it.

One critical aspect of a child having good wellbeing is by them knowing that they are loved – that they are loved for the unique and precious individuals they are. Parents and grandparents clearly have a crucial role in letting children know that they are unconditionally loved, but I also believe that key workers, teaching assistants, children’s workers also have a role in showing children that they are loved and wanted. We show this through the words we use and the way we hold children. Part of my job is as a nurture consultant; I have seven children and schools that I support throughout the year. Every time I see one of my nurture children I ensure I show delight in seeing them that day. I smile at them, I look them in the eyes and tell them how lovely it is to see them today, how much I have been looking forward to our time together. Continue reading

How Sensitive Am I? Sensitivity Testing Can Tell You

SensitivityThis Sensitivity Test has been provided by Ilse Sand, author of Highly Sensitive People and The Emotional Compass. Test yourself to see how sensitive you are.

This is a shortened version of the test; the complete test can be found in the book “Highly Sensitive People in an Insensitive World: How to Create a Happy Life“.

The Sensitivity Test

Grade each statement from 0 to 4 as below. There are five different ways to answer each statement.

 

0 = This does not describe me at all
1 = This describes me a little
2 = This describes me to some extent
3 = This describes me fairly well
4 = This describes me perfectly

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Sign up for the Autism Movement Therapy® April 2016 UK workshops

LARA-Bowers_Autism-Movement_978-1-84905-728-8_colourjpg-printFounder of Autism Movement Therapy® Inc. Joanne Lara will be in the UK this April to run AMT® certification workshops that will be open to ALL. With no dance experience required to participate the author of Autism Movement Therapy® Method: Waking up the Brain! will guide attendees through this unique program that outlines the functions of the brain specifically pertinent to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder and shows how music and independent movement can help strengthen the body and brain connection. This practical and positive programme will give all comers the techniques needed to use AMT® effectively in a range of environments and will provide all who complete the course with a certificate.

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The Boy from Hell: Parenting a Child with ADHD – author interview

parenting a child with adhd

We talked to Alison Thompson, mother and founder of ADHD Kids, about her parenting experiences and how they led her to write the candid account of life with an ADHD child, The Boy from Hell. She also offers advice to parents and teachers who care for children with ADHD.

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Specific Learning Difficulties: What Teachers Need to Know; an interview with author Diana Hudson

Specific Learning DifficultiesDiana Hudson is a tutor and mentor to students with Specific Learning Difficulties (SpLD), as well as a subject classroom teacher (biology) and learning support teacher and SENCO. She has a diagnosis of dyslexia, and is a parent to four children, three of whom have been diagnosed with SpLD. We talked to her about the inspiration for her book Specific Learning Difficulties – What Teachers Need to Know, and she shares her advice for teachers on how to support children with SpLD’s. 

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Fight, flight or freeze; your body’s alarm system – author interview

K. L. Aspden has worked as a therapist with both children and adults since 1998. She has particular interest in the areas of trauma and anxiety, and she has experience working in both mainstream and special schools. She currently works in a school for children with emotional and behavioural difficulty, and is the author of Help! I’ve Got an Alarm Bell Going Off in My Head!: How Panic, Anxiety and Stress Affect Your Body.

1) What inspired you to write this book?
I work with some amazing children and teenagers, many of whom are frequently triggered into the fight/flight/freeze response. This can result in upsetting behaviours such as shouting, crying, hitting etc. They have no idea what is happening in their bodies and often feel too ashamed to talk about it, even when they are calmer. This is very sad. Having seen and heard what they go through, I wanted to write something to assure them that it is not their fault. I wanted to teach them about the physiology behind their feelings and show that there are things we can do to help ourselves.Aspden_Help-Ive-Got-an_978-1-84905-704-2_colourjpg-print
Above all I wanted to normalise this experience. Whilst we may not all react with the same intensity, everyone has an in-built ‘alarm bell’ (known as the amygdala) which can trigger powerful responses. An understanding of this can help anyone when they are going through periods of stress or anxiety.

2) Why did you decide to use the metaphor of an alarm bell?
I heard the panic response described as a ‘false alarm’ and decided to develop the idea. Alarms are so intrusive and distressing when they go off too frequently and at the wrong times – just like the overpowering feelings that can take over our bodies, minds and emotions when we are stressed. I wanted to communicate something of the jarring and disruptive effect of this through the alarm bell metaphor. I also thought it would be a non- threatening way to approach this tricky subject with my young clients.

3) You have worked as a therapist and at schools with children who have emotional and behavioural difficulties. What insight has that given you into how different people’s alarm bells work?
I think the alarm bell works in the same way for all of us, though it may affect us in different ways – could be trembling, feeling sick, withdrawing, tears, swearing…
For some people the alarm bell is set off more frequently because there are more triggers; this is especially true when trauma has occurred early in life or someone has high anxiety (for example, in autism). Children who have emotional/behavioural issues often live in a state of hyper-arousal – the alarm system is on red alert. In addition to this, they may lack the maturity or capacity to process their emotions which makes life even harder.
Those who have a stable background and an ability to reflect, often find it easier to learn to manage their responses. However, even the most vulnerable can benefit from being understood and supported by people who have an appreciation of the alarm system .

4) What triggers your alarm bell, and how do you take control back when you are feeling anxious or stressed?
Aspden - help i've got an alarm bell - pg 23 -imageOver the years I have carefully considered my own triggers and where they come from.
When I was a teenager life was much harder than it is now. Like many young people I wanted to be liked and didn’t understand that sometimes others can put you down to make themselves feel better. I was often bullied. This affected my confidence and I became reluctant to speak in groups, preferring not to be noticed. When put on the spot in a group setting, my internal alarm bell would ring loudly and I would experience a sense of wanting to disappear; lots of thoughts would rush round my head about how bad the situation was, and of course, this made me feel worse. There are occasions even now when I can revisit those feelings, but I am much more equipped to deal with them.
The thing that most often sets my alarm ringing these days is ‘technology’ – when my laptop goes wrong or I don’t know how to do something because everything changes so fast and it’s hard to keep up.
If this happens, I remind myself that I am having a ‘false alarm’. It is not a real emergency.
I also use two suggestions from the book that work quickly in any situation:

  • breathing more slowly
  •  doing a simple exercise like counting things to turn the thinking part of my brain back on.

In addition, I use Mindfulness in my everyday life (a discipline which helps to bring us back to the present moment), as well as a variety of creative activities. I find these tools are very soothing for the nervous system especially in times of stress or busyness.

5) Finally, what is the most important thing you would like readers to take away from your book?
I hope that an understanding of ‘the alarm system’ will help readers to feel more in control and more able to ask for help if they need it, without feeling embarrassed. I think a lot of people struggle because they don’’t know their difficulties are physiological.
Perhaps some readers will go further and become motivated to learn more about themselves. I would be especially pleased if they were to find the benefits of creativity in calming the nervous system, but that may be a subject for a whole new book.

You can find out more about the book, read reviews or order your copy here.

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Ten things to consider when feeding a child with Aspergers

Patten_What-to-Feed-an_978-1-84905-768-4_colourjpg-print

Sarah Patten, author of What to Feed an Asperger: How to go from 3 foods to 300 with love, patience and a little sleight of hand, offers her top ten things for parents to consider when feeding a child that has serious sensory issues.

1. Information overload.  A child with Asperger Syndrome (ASD) is likely to scrutinize the look, texture, taste and temperature of their food.  As parents we need to remember that every feature of what they eat matters.

2. Understand food from your child’s perspective.  What looks and smells good to eat?  Find ways to get them interested in foods they currently reject but need to eat. Look at ways to engage them that don’t relate directly to taste, for example branching structures got my boy eating broccoli.

3. Just what the doctor ordered.  If restricted eating habits are an issue I would advise making a diary of what your child eats for a week and visit your GP to rule out any underlying medical problems that might be making eating unpleasant for them.

4. Can’t touch this! If your child likes food on separate plates – go with it.  Graduate to smaller plates, closer together.  Then arranged far apart on a bigger plate.  Ease into it and foods will be allowed to touch after a while on a regular-sized plate.

5. Give peace a chance.  Asperkids can absorb tension like a sponge.  Calm mealtimes make for happy eating and digestion.  Park arguments and disputes before sitting down and leave those heated ‘discussions’ for later.

6. Are they sitting comfortably?  The hardness/softness and ergonomics of a chair need consideration.  If a chair doesn’t feel right to your child, they won’t sit still and focus on their food.   Memory foam seat wedges worked for us.

7. Get foods past the screen test.  Over-analysis and rejection of coloured, multi-textured foods had my Asperger boy eating only breads, cereal and chicken breast.  But presenting lamb so it looked like chicken and adding protein rich grains, like quinoa, to bread, did the trick.

8. Creatures of habit.  For an Asperger there’s comfort in eating the same food over and over.  But set-eating patterns can be altered by introducing other habits that are better for them.  We ate a mini broccoli floret at every meal, every day until eating broccoli was a non-issue.

9. Active duty.  A sedentary child brimming with antsy-energy is unlikely to eat very well.  Getting rid of some of that energy through physical exercise is essential to building up a healthy appetite.  Finding some physical activity that they enjoy and cutting the TV screen time will help make them better eaters.

10. You are what you eat. A great diet packed with first class protein, fruit and veggies gives your child the essential minerals and vitamins they need to function and grow.  Having Asperger and neurotypical boys I see that diet affects my son with an ASD to a greater degree.  Everything about him is turned up to 11, as a family we have adapted and as a result he finds great pleasure in eating different foods now.

Patten, Sarah

Sarah Patten is the author of What to Feed an Asperger: How to go from 3 foods to 300 with love, patience and a little sleight of hand published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers

Helping a Child with Autism Handle Halloween

Walking around the shops in October it is impossible to escape the ghoulish Halloween theme. The supermarkets are full of masks, deathly hands and creepy cobwebs. A child may shrug this off as you walk them quickly past displays, which are a little too creepy for comfort.

But let’s think about the child with autism. These children often have a different way of processing, heightened or jumbled perception and sensory issues. How might they perceive those costumes, decorations and unexplained changes?

The best way to understand is to try walking in their shoes…

HalloweenPhoto

Shops.

You are now a child with autism entering a supermarket.

The volume has been put up and every individual noise is becoming unbearably loud. The sound of a trolley is like thunder clashing, those sliding doors are nails down a blackboard screeching as they open and close, open and close. Colour is gone and the lighting creates a nightmare strobe effect coupled with a continuous, loud hum, which feels like bees moving about and buzzing inside your ears. Your senses are all muddled. Revolting shop smells of food and body odours, do not stop at your nose, but become sickening tastes. Your mouth is dry. The floor seems to wobble and your clothes begin to grate and chaff and burn into your skin. You anticipate these feelings, but at least you know this shop. You know the routine. You’ve been here before and survived…

But wait!

Suddenly there is an isle of terror where the toys usually are. That piano with the coloured buttons, which is the ONLY reason you’ve ever endured this shop has been replaced by a cauldron full of skeletons and black spiders. That Lego set you’ve been told to “wait for until your birthday” is GONE too! You zoom in and take in every detail – image after image like the ‘click, click, click’ of a camera. It’s fascinating, but also terrifying. You’ll think about it later. It is all too different and uncomfortable right now. Images will be stored for when are home and feel safe – maybe bedtime?

Dressing up.

Maybe you hate dressing up or seeing other people dressed up. Maybe you recognise people by what they wear and the sameness of style makes you feel more secure. Maybe dressing up makes you feel you must become that character. If you are dressed as a tiger then you feel like a tiger. Grown up’s don’t seem to get this and keep telling you off as you leap about roaring and scratching…

Face Paints

Maybe you find face paints frightening – the sad clown with a painted smile. Is it happy or sad? Good or bad? Facial expressions are already confusing, without throwing face paints in to the mix. Maybe someone wants you to wear face paints, but you have a sensory fear or do not realise that those paints are only temporary. Maybe the face paints are okay, but you have a deep, scratchy memory of the face washing after.

Trick or Treat?

Now there are knocks on the door after dark and you see Mum or Dad giving away your sweets to other children. When will it end? Maybe Mum and Dad turn the lights out and neighbours know not to knock on your door. But then there are the neighbours, who still welcome trick or treating. They make this clear with decorations – a friendly pumpkin or a full on fright house…

What can we do to help?

Whether you choose to get involved with Halloween or not it is important to prepare a child with autism for the run up to October 31st.

Here are my top 10 tricks to preparing a child with Autism for Halloween.

top 10 Tricks_small

Click Here to download a poster of the top 10 tricks to prepare a child for Halloween

Adele Devine is the author of Colour Coding for Learners with Autism now available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers