Summer Days are Right Around the Bend

My kids have 8 days of school left.  8 DAYS!  The school year has gone by quickly, but the month of May is like a fast-motion movie!  And they have so many fun events going on including concerts, field trips and rally events.  We have even had some slight sunburns from all the time in the sun!  (So I stocked up on sunscreen AND my rollerball of after-sun essential oils!)

Since my work schedule is changing, and so is my husband’s, I am trying to get a handle on our Summer Days.  I laughed when I read a post on Facebook by a mom who said her kids figured summer was all about playing electronics.  I can SO relate to that!  My kids figure they can just spend all day watching TV or playing computers, tablets, or phones – and I am trying to build my arsenal of alternate activities.  I like what MeetPenny did in response to her kids idea of summer “fun”.  She made a special Summer Chore Chart which keeps responsibility first, fun time second!  (If you subscribe to her blog, you can get your own editable copy of this chart free!)

I’ve been printing out things to add to their summer binders, too.  We don’t homeschool, but I have found that my kids still like to do mazes and puzzles without argument – and I like throwing in some educational stuff on the sly while they “play”.  There are so many free printables all over the internet, and I am just waiting for my HP Ink cartridges to arrive from Amazon so I can start printing again!  I have a Pinterest board devoted to summer ideas, so check it out!  I have another board devoted to Printable Journal Pages which I hope to use throughout summer to inspire their creativity and add some fun ways to journal about their days!  I have some pages printed for teaching specific housekeeping skills – laundry, bathroom, etc.

Just a reminder that the Herbs & Essential Oils Bundle Sale ends TONIGHT!  If you are interested in Herbs or Essential Oils in any way – this is a great investment and I am really enjoying so many of the great products in the bundle already!  In fact, I bought a Thyme plant this weekend and am watching some videos to learn how to harvest and dry it.  Thyme has some GREAT healing properties, as well as being a tasty culinary herb.  (I love those multipurpose things, don’t you?)

On an entirely different note, I finally sat down and watched the movie, Temple Grandin.  I bawled through almost the WHOLE movie!  It was out in 2010, but I never watched it.  I had some minor epiphanies about our girl, Curly, while watching it.  It isn’t so much that they are SO alike – but rather, the exploration into Temple’s Autism from HER viewpoint kinda shed some light on a few things we see our girl doing.  Some things are issues NOW because she is getting older and, for example, still doesn’t understand why other people’s boundaries are as important as her own.  That’s just one issue, but we need some help breaking those things down for her and translating those on her terms.  We are pursuing some professional help and hope we can get them going through summer!

How are YOU getting ready for summer?  Do you have any big plans or goals for Summer 2017?


Autism Resources *Updated*

Rather than post a long series of links in a blog post, I decided to add a *NEW PAGE* to the site.  I have found some great resources already, but as I continue to do my own research and connect with more moms and dads, I want to be able to keep things simple for anyone who might come looking for links or resources or just blog posts they might be able to relate to some time.

You can find the new resource page HERE.  When you are visiting the site at any time, you will find the link to the page under the “Raising Kids” tab in the menu bar!

Autism Awareness month has come to an end, but my desire to inform, educate and build connection with other parents who care about family members with Autism has no end!  I will continue to research and learn and support my girl, and find support that we need to help her grown into adulthood – and continue to share resources I find with anyone else who might need them!

Autism & Sensory Overload

One of the issues parents find challenging to navigate with autism is sensory overload.  Because the Autism Spectrum affects how a person process information, and human beings are generally designed to experience life using the five senses – sensory overload can come like a semi barreling down a mountainside pass.  No brakes. On ice.

Sensory overload is not something that can be controlled.  It cannot always be predicted.  It cannot always be prevented.

and it can often lead to a Meltdown.

Meltdowns are often seen by others as a discipline problem.  They can manifest themselves differently in different kids, but can commonly be seen as a “fit” or “temper tantrum”.

Kids with impulse issues (think ADHD) can often resort to temper tantrums to get what they want.  Their end goal is to get a “yes” when they hear a “no”.  It is a manipulative ploy that most kids resort to until they learn better behavior, and sometimes even when they know better…

A sensory meltdown is very different.  And it can be scary and frustrating and exhausting for everyone involved.  A sensory meltdown can occur when someone is feeling overwhelmed.

By loud noises.  

By bright colors.  

By itchy or uncomfortable clothing.  

By socks with seams.  

By broccoli.

What’s the difference between a tantrum and a sensory meltdown?

With a tantrum, the child can end the screaming, crying, yelling fit at will.  It is based on getting what the child wants.  A sensory meltdown generally ends when the child is too exhausted to keep screaming, crying, yelling, thrashing, throwing things, fighting – or by the introduction of a change in sensory input.

“what does that mean” you ask?

Go to Pinterest and type in “sensory activity” and see all the pins that come up.

Introducing a change in sensory input can mean going to a quieter, dimly lit room.  It can mean taking off those darn socks (and throwing them away!) and going barefoot.  It can mean providing a stress ball or a sensory bottle to shift focus away from the irritant.  It can mean diffusing essential oils, using a weighted blanket or massage, playing soft music or sitting in a closet.

It means that a caregiver needs to understand the difference between a struggle of the will and a sensory overload – and be able to respond appropriately to each.  It has not been easy for me to identify the difference, and I have had to do some personal research and observation in order to differentiate between a manipulative ploy and a sensory overload in my own child.  So my next post will provide resources for caregivers who want to add to their arsenal of tools for responding to sensory overload! 


Autism and Gender

It used to be that the general thought was that Autism was a boy-only disorder.  In fact, because of the primary symptoms, the disorder was originally thought to be related to schizophrenia.  Before that, people with mutism and stimming were often put into asylums because they could not relate to “normal” society and obviously had difficulty with communication.  How incredibly unfortunate!

As research grew, the broad spectrum of identified symptoms also grew.  The idea that girls could exhibit features of autism was not entirely ignored, but it often appeared that the obvious social behaviors were more severe in boys.

Verbal delays.  Stimming.  Repetitive behavior. Restricted interests.

Girls were often given a different diagnosis because they didn’t exhibit these noticeable behaviors, even though they had very mild symptoms of autism.

One of the female pioneers of understanding autism is Temple Grandin, sometimes called “the most famous person with autism.” Many years ago when I was still taking courses online for Psychology, I watched a 20/20 video as part of my lesson.  It was an interview with Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University.  She discussed some of her symptoms – how her mother refused to give up when doctors told her to – and how she learned to deal with her own differently-able issues.  The thing that stands out to me was when she went under her desk, and put herself into a modified cow-chute.  She worked with cows and saw that when they were under stress, but moved into a confined chute, they became calm – so she adopted that for herself.  It was confined, dark, quiet – and it allowed her to center herself emotionally and mentally so that she could function again in the “normal” world.

She has provided incredible research opportunities, shares her own story with logic and reason, and opened up discussion and understanding of autism in a way that was really needed.  (This article about autism and adhd totally thrills this mama’s heart because I know someone who is JUST like this!!! )

Differences due to Gender

In general, girls are better able to mask their symptoms because they can mimic social norms.  Girls have different expectations, generally speaking, in society and are subjected to more social opportunities, where they can watch and learn how to behave.

THIS has been one of Curly’s greatest strengths, and why it took so long for her to be diagnosed.  She often appears to be engaged right in the middle of a gaggle of girls – but if you ask her what was going on, she doesn’t always understand the implications or interactions of the girls around her, doesn’t understand “mean” behavior even when it happens to her, and has little to no filter when communicating with others.

The statement in this article absolutely, spot-on describes my  girl:  The fact that girls with undiagnosed autism are painstakingly copying some behaviour tends not to be picked up and therefore any social and communication problems they may be having are also overlooked. This mimicking, and the repressing of their autistic behaviour, is exhausting, perhaps resulting in the high statistics of women with mental health problems (Dale Yaull-Smith, 2008).

School exhausts my girl.  The thing that helps her learn social skills is also the thing that wears her out.  It is why the transition to and from school is so challenging for her.  She has to gear herself up to go and it takes quite some time to recover from the energy she has had to spend just being there.  Smaller classrooms, more breaks, extensions on assignments and deadlines – all of these things help her manage school better.  It is why her IEP is so crucial for her success.

Understanding that autism is different in each child, and differs between boys and girls – is really important.  Awareness and Understanding go hand in hand with this disorder.  From the boy I met in high school who exhibited some of the very recognizable behaviors of autism, to the girl I am trying to raise well – awareness and understanding goes a long way to support research, build support systems and grow compassion in the world in which they live.

Autism: Accommodations, IEPs and Education

Some children participate in regular classrooms for all or part of their school day.  Obtaining an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) or a Section 504 requires persistence and dedication, but school districts are required to provide a free education to students with disabilities, and in my opinion, are worth pursuing to ensure that a child with Autism receives the education with necessary accommodations.

Accommodations allow for individualized behavior management and adaptation.  

This can be a HUGE deal for kids on the Autism Spectrum to both improve social skills and learn in a challenging environment.  It allows a teacher or teacher’s aide to provide tools and resources for a student to help them cope with the vast array of situations that can occur in class.  Sometimes this involves headphones during tests, the ability to be pulled to a different table to journal, engage in a sensory activity, or for time extensions to complete required assignments.  Because Autism is a sensory processing disorder, triggers can pop up at any moment and the need for sensory relief occurs.  Stress balls, coloring, music, play dough, sand, drawing, the use of balance boards, being wrapped in a blanket, walking the length of the hallway – there are so many ways a child can find sensory relief – but an IEP guarantees the child the opportunity to do so.

It took several meetings at school for our family to even get to the IEP discussion table.  Our school district has been helpful and worked with us along this journey.  Because Curly behaves so well in class (“she is so sweet and quiet”), communicates so well with adults and often appears to be engaged in regular classwork and social activities – it has been challenging for everyone to get on the same page.  Our girl adopted excellent coping skills from the beginning of her schooling at age 3.  However, some of these coping skills began to affect her grades, and the accommodations she now receives has reduced her need to engage in those behaviors anymore.

We have seen a correlation between the accommodations being used with her and her reduction of stress and improvement of grades.  This is not just a teacher making things easier for her.  These accommodations allow her to perform well while being challenged – without overwhelming her senses.

The sensory overload that so many kids on the Autism Spectrum face within the classroom are barriers to their success.  The ability to reduce those barriers allows these kids to meet standards they are required to meet without pushing them further into their “world”.

We do still see that the transition from home to school and from school to home is extremely difficult for her.  She is terse, grumpy, easily agitated and often cries or yells within the hour before leaving for school and coming home from school.  These things are better when she has accommodations, and we have also been able to reduce the use of medication with her – but transitions are still very trying for her.  This is often when we can use our essential oils with her to help soothe the rough edges.  Music is another tool that works well for her to find some calm.  Routines and schedules are super important, too, even when she is irritated by them sometimes.

Identifying her challenges and finding ways to help her meet those challenges – not just eliminating all of them – will help her as she grows into adulthood.  But it is very much a one-step-forward-two-steps-back kind of process.  Her IEP and accommodations will only last for so long, and we have to continue to help her find ways to deal with the things that threaten to overwhelm and stress her to avoid shutdown.

One of the things I’d like to talk about next week is how to work with sensory issues.  Some of these things are fun – simple – and offer some short term relief when she needs it.  We are still new to this part, so I am going to share things I’ve found that we have tried, and what we think we might try…