10 steps to successful summer transitions

 Artist: Jason Jones

Artist: Jason Jones

Whatever age your child is, they can struggle with the disruption that summer brings. As the predictable routines of school come to an abrupt halt and our kids are thrown into a whole new state of affairs with totally different rules, expectations and activities, it is no wonder that they struggle in keeping it together.

Though teachers, therapists or other professionals involved in your child's care and education can go some way to easing the transition into the summer, as parents of those on the autism spectrum you are best placed to to be proactive in making sure their summer is a success. 

Here are ten tips guaranteed to make the summer easier:

Talk to this year's teacher

Your child's teacher is likely to have spent plenty of time and effort in implementing techniques to help your child learn in a way that suits them. Through work systems, pictorial communication strategies, visual timetables or other methods, your child will have learned the expectations of them that exist in the classroom, both educationally and behaviorally.

Moving from a structured environment into the free-for-all that summer can sometimes be is tough for a child on the autism spectrum. Liaising with your kid's teacher to learn about any strategies and materials used will enable you to carry these techniques into the summer, which will ease the transition for your child.

Meet next year's teacher

Though the beginning of the summer brings the largest upheaval in schedule, the end of summer can be just as tough, for different reasons. If your child is uncertain what the fall will bring when they return to school, they can become anxious and fearful about the beginning of term.

Meeting next year's teacher and preferably visiting the classroom they will sit in the next academic year before school ends can do wonders for a child's feelings of security during the summer. It will be particularly comforting to many children on the autism spectrum to have an image of the teacher and classroom to keep those memories alive during the long break.

Help your kid maintain their friendships

For most kids on the autism spectrum, friendships are not easily won and just as tricky to maintain. Keeping your child in touch with their schoolmates over the summer might not be the easiest task, but it will ease the transition back into school in the fall, as well as keeping familiar faces around during the summer.

Seeing their friends out of the usual context of the classroom and playground can be jarring, though. Inviting friends round to your home can work well once your child knows what is expected of them and what activities they can do together. Setting up clear rules and guidelines will help your child deal more effectively with any anxiety they may be feeling and enjoy their friend's company.

4. Set out a plan for the summer

A visual overview of all the summer's activities, including vacations, day trips and other planned activities can be a great help for those on the autism spectrum. Listed chronologically, preferably on a calendar, a run-down of the summer and an idea of when they will return to school will decrease anxiety and help them get a better sense of time. 

Photos of your vacation destinations are ideal as they help to ease the transition into unfamiliar environments.

5. Rearrange the wardrobe

We all know that many on the autism spectrum can attach to specific items of clothing and refuse to consider alternatives. Removing tempting favorite jumpers and woolen clothing from wardrobes and drawers and moving them into storage can prevent overheating and the health problems it causes.

6. Consider sensory sensitivities

Summer is a time that comes with a whole load of different sensory experiences. Putting on sunblock, jumping in the pool, wearing less clothes or the heat on the skin can be problematic for some on the autism spectrum.

A great time to apply sunblock without a fight can be during a favorite TV show that engrosses them. Children who find it uncomfortable wearing lighter clothes may enjoy a weighted vest. Some kids may prefer to sit in the shade or go inside for some periods of the day to avoid sensory overload.

Try to be mindful of how planned or impromptu activities can affect your child's senses. Refusal to engage in activities can sometimes be a means of protecting themselves from overstimulation.

7. Focus on bedtime routines

Lack of sleep can cause anyone to get grouchy. Try to maintain the same bedtime routines that were in effect during the school year, if you can. It might help to establish a set pattern of activities before bed e.g. bath, read, sleep, which can ease transitions into different bedtimes or unfamiliar places such as hotels.

Blacked-out curtains might be necessary in the summer months to ensure your child gets a good night's sleep, particularly if they are sensitive to light.

8. Map out the day

Particularly if your child's activities for the day are mapped out at school, consider doing the same at home. Even if your plans for the day are flexible, mapping out mealtimes between activities can be a great way to provide structure, much needed for those on the autism spectrum.

For extended periods at home, you might consider providing structured activities, workbooks or educational tasks to keep them occupied and up to speed with their academics.

9. Use social stories

Summer can be full of unfamiliar social activities. Pre-empting these by providing social stories can help your child achieve a greater degree of social success.

Home made books or comic strips that detail different social situations and the expected behaviors that apply can give your child that extra bit of understanding they need to navigate new scenarios.

10. Give your child a private space

Sometimes all the excitement and disruption in routine can just be too much. Wherever you might be, try to provide an area where your child can just chill out for a while. Whether they need to regather their composure or rebalance after overstimulation, having a private place for them to express and gather themselves can be invaluable.

Whatever the age of your child, remember that the disruption of summer can be a time of growth and development when we recognize our child’s differences and empower ourselves and our families by learning how we can embrace them

The Duchenne Smile

This week we discussed "Mind Hacks", the idea that we can make our lives happier, smarter, and awesome-er by understanding a little about neuroscience. The middle schoolers learned how to consistently win the game of Rock Paper Scissors by understanding the psychology behind the patterns people throw. We learned another mind hack, how facial expression sends powerful signals to the brain. A frown uses a muscle called the corrugator, which some studies show activates the amygdala, the portion of the brain responsible for coping with stress and danger. When scientists temporarily paralyzed the frowning muscle using botox injections, depressed people recovered faster. Conversely, a genuine smile which crinkles the eyes as well as mouth called the "Duchenne Smile" after the neurologist who studied it can increase feelings of joy, affect the immune system, and improve performance on cognitive tasks. An interesting fact is that the brain can spot a fake smile using only the mouth (the Pan Am smile) and it does not have the same positive effects.

Keep Smiling!

Secret Agent

This week in group we are exploring the benefits of feeling and expressing gratitude, and played "secret agent of gratitude". At the beginning of group each child received their secret assignment, the name of one of the other children. Throughout the group they had to secretly observe and note down the things about the other child that they were grateful for. At the end of group we revealed our undercover assignments and shared our gratitude. Big smiles all around!

Two Truths and a Lie

The other night in group we played "Two truths and a lie" as an ice breaker. The point of this game is to share some facts about yourself so amazing that they sound like a fib. It is also an opportunity to watch body language for "tells" to reveal which fact might be untruthful. 

One of my amazing true facts is that I was once on Candid Camera. More amazing to me was that none of the kids had ever heard of the show. Finally one of them said, "oh, that's an old person show from the nineteen hundreds". Good grief!

The Happiness Challenge

Continuing our February Challenges (see the Better Communication Challenge from a few weeks ago), this week is the Happiness Challenge! Try out a few of the items below. We will be discussing them formally in groups. 

1. Smile
2. Write down three positive things that happened today
3. Get 7-8 hours of sleep tonight
4. Do a good deed for someone
5. Spend time with family or friends
6. Write down something you're grateful for
7. Eat healthy foods: skip processed foods and sweets today
8. Exercise: walk, go to the gym, dance. Just move!
9. Spend 10 minutes outside to get vitamin D
10. Make time for a hobby or activity you love

The Happiness Challenge is from http://Lift.do

Six Word Memoirs

This week, six word memoirs.

It's a challenge to be parsimonious. 

Short stories push ideas into focus.

Carefully chosen words, have greater impact.

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=18768430

_____________________________________________________________

After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.
- Robin Templeton

70 years, few tears, hairy ears.
- Bill Querengesser

Watching quietly from every door frame.
- Nicole Resseguie

Catholic school backfired. Sin is in!
- Nikki Beland

Savior complex makes for many disappointments.
- Alanna Schubach

Nobody cared, then they did. Why?
- Chuck Klosterman

Some cross-eyed kid, forgotten then found.
- Diana Welch

She said she was negative. Damn.
- Ryan McRae

Born in the desert, still thirsty.
- Georgene Nunn

A sake mom, not soccer mom.
- Shawna Hausman

I asked. They answered. I wrote.
- Sebastian Junger

No future, no past. Not lost.
- Matt Brensilver

Extremely responsible, secretly longed for spontaneity.
- Sabra Jennings

Joined Army. Came out. Got booted.
- Johan Baumeister

Almost a victim of my family
- Chuck Sangster

The psychic said I'd be richer.
- Elizabeth Bernstein

Grumpy old soundman needs love, too.
- Lennie Rosengard

Mom died, Dad screwed us over.
- Lesley Kysely

Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.
- Linda Williamson

 

Excerpted from Not Quite What I Was Planning from Smith magazine, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith. Copyright 2008. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Harper Perennial.

Autism Awareness Night at the XL

You won't want to miss this awesome night of hockey to raise awareness about Autism at the XL Center February 21st. Look for a special message from Kids Cooperate on the jumbotron ;)

http://www.autismconnecticut.org/autism-awareness-night-xl-center-hartford-wolf-pack

wolfpack-sound-lrg.jpg

Video Scavenge Hunt

This week in social group we created video scavenger hunts. The group split into two and each came up with a list of things for the other team to capture on video. Some of the items included "Say something nice to the person on your right" and "work together to create an obstacle course". 

Video is a particularly good medium for children on the autism spectrum or with ADHD. A study by Corbett & Abdullah (2005), found video feedback effective because it plays to the strengths of children who express:

  • over-selective attention (making them very prone to distraction)
  • restricted field of focus
  • preference for visual stimuli and visually cued instruction
  • avoidance of face-to-face interactions
  • ability to process visual information more readily than verbal information

Do any of these sound familiar?

6 Second Storytelling

I hope everyone is warm and sleeping in this morning!  I'm grateful that the snowstorm didn't come on the usual Tuesday night this week because we had a great social group last night. 

We created 6 second films using Vine (they did not get posted online), which is an application that is perfect for stop motion animation and creates a six second, looping video. The challenge to the kiddos was to use group decision making process (the negotiation skills we have been working on) to come up with a short story and then tell it in an innovative way using materials in the room in only six seconds. 

We had a song mashup between What Does the Fox Say and Let it Go from Frozen, a gorgeous animation on the chalkboard about a princess that escapes a tower, a lego adventure that ended well for the dragon but not the knight, and a heart stopping car crash/plane rescue. 

Here are 5 tips for remembering names that we went over at the start of group, taken from Entrepreneur Magazine. 

1. Repeat names throughout the exchange.

2. Make mental associations.

3. Study names in print.

4. Ask for clarification with difficult names.

5. If you forget a name, address it head on.

Practicing Empathy

Empathy is about making an emotional connection. One of the greatest roadblocks to gaining a greater sense of empathy is knowing the right questions to ask. Until kids learn how to ask questions that elicit an emotional response, other people's thoughts and feelings can seem locked in a black box. This is especially true for children and adolescents who are on the autism spectrum. 

Beyond being the kind of quality we want to posses because it makes us good, empathy has immense pragmatic value as well. It allows a person to understand and anticipate the needs of friends, family and co-workers. It makes it possible to process and ameliorate the anger and aggression of antagonists. It makes it easier to negotiate and persuade.

In social group we have been working on understanding and reading body language, asking open ended questions, and demonstrating empathetic listening. This week we will bring it all together in a talkshow/game format. It is going to be fun. Instead of our regular connected conversation time where the kids share news from the week, each child will have an interviewer who will work to draw out and understand the feelings behind the stories. An important skill to practice will be recognizing the signs of the discomfort that comes from pushing the boundary of how much a person is comfortable sharing and then honoring that boundary.

Dude.

Dude is a fun way to teach eye contact, which is important because it is a social marker for a wide variety of expressions including trust, respect, interest, and understanding. Eye contact also creates an ineffable human connection which is difficult to quantify or describe, and lack of eye contact makes it difficult to trust someone. 

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To Be; Or Not To Be (Informed)

There are pragmatic benefits to discussing the news in social group. Top news stories serve as a kind of socially appropriate filler conversation similar to the weather, but with greater gravitas. Another important pragmatic benefit is that by hearing the stories in a calm and supported context, they are less likely to cause distress when they are heard or seen on television or radio. 

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Habit RPG

Leveraging a child's natural strengths and interests is one of the core values of Kids Cooperate social skills groups, So I was excited to come across this resource that uses gaming to encourage positive development. 

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