Going back to school is tough for most kids, but especially so for kids with ASD. The change of scenery & routine from summer break to a school setting can be tough. The COVID-19 pandemic has made things especially difficult, which affects kids who were used to digital or in-home learning during the last school year.
So, how can we make it easier for kids with ASD to transition back to an in-school environment? There are many things that can be done, so let’s take a look.
Develop a Plan with Your Child’s Therapist or Doctor
Developing a plan with your child’s therapist, doctor, or other healthcare providers can help children with ASD smoothly transition into a new school year. Putting a plan in motion with rules & methods that will be consistent in school, therapy, and at-home settings can make a world of difference.
Make sure to have a clear schedule complete with calendar dates so your child is aware of the coming changes. Talking with your child’s therapist or other healthcare providers can help you select the best way to count down to important milestone days on your calendar.
Make a List of Your Child’s Skills & Needs
Having a prepared list of your child’s skills and needs will make any discussions with teachers or administrators easier. Being able to quickly ask and answer questions will allow you to get a full picture of what your child will need to expect.
Be sure to list strengths, weaknesses, sensory issues, and any other important parts of your child’s ASD-specific behavior. Having a list of these issues will help you quickly and efficiently communicate the needs of your child. Talking to your child’s therapist or doctor can help you build a list that will be sure to mention any special needs.
Talk to a School or School District Administrator
Finding out how your child’s school or school district helps children with ASD is a huge priority for your back-to-school plans. Learning about the specific resources available for your child at school will help you make decisions about the school year.
Depending on the level of care your child needs, some school districts offer great special education programs geared towards kids with ASD. Sometimes different options are available for students with ASD, allowing parents to select the best option for their child.
This is just general information–every school district is different. To find out pertinent information for your situation, please contact the local school district. It may be wise to check out several surrounding school districts if you don’t like the programs from the district you live in.
Visit Back-to-School Settings Before School Starts
Taking your child to the school they will be attending early a few times may help them get used to the new setting. Walking through the hallways & classrooms, looking at the gyms & washrooms, and checking out the playground may help familiarize your child with the school. Try to get your child as comfortable as possible with the new school before the year starts.
An even better way to familiarize your child with their new setting is getting to meet their teachers several times before the school year. Getting to know the teacher or therapists at the school can help your child get comfortable with their new setting.
Re-Establish a School Schedule
It is very important to get your child back on a regular daily schedule before school starts. Establishing consistent bedtime and morning routines will help your child be ready for school. Starting this schedule a few weeks prior to school can help get your child on track for the school year.
Other scheduling issues may also be important. Here are a few examples of other scheduling things to keep in mind:
- Transportation times
- Eating times
- Nap times
- After school routines
- Weekend scheduling
- Any regular trips to therapy or the doctor
It is important to talk to your therapist or healthcare provider about weekend scheduling. Getting information about keeping the daily schedule on weekends or being a bit more flexible are questions you should find answers to.
Be sure to coordinate your schedule with the school (teacher, therapist, administrator, etc) to make sure your child stays on track.
Lastly, be sure to inform your child about any upcoming breaks, starting a few weeks before the break. Using a calendar or other time management system can help transition your child from regular school to break time more smoothly. Using social stories and visual aids on a calendar can help your child understand what’s on the horizon.
Establish an In-School Schedule
Working with your child’s teacher or therapist to implement a regular in-school schedule can help your child settle into a comfortable school year. Having daily school activities occur at the same time every day lets your child know what to expect each day. Working with your school or school district before the year starts to get a plan in place can help implement this strategy.
If your child has specific needs that revolve around a schedule, be sure to talk to the school, teacher, or therapist about how to tackle the issue. Having plans in place before something happens may help prevent difficult situations from arising.
Discuss Education Plans with Your Child’s Teacher
Most people won’t agree 100% on any school curriculum. This is especially true when it comes to education for children with ASD. You need to talk to your school or school district to see what kind of specialized education and methods will be used in your child’s classroom.
Don’t panic if you have minor disagreements with the teaching plan–sometimes it may be beneficial. We need to be clear though; if you think something sounds really wrong, be sure to call your child’s therapist or doctor and discuss the issue. It may be miscommunication but it may also be something that you should avoid. Talking to an expert on the issue can help you sort things out.
If your child has specific sensory issues, be sure that the teacher has a safe space to use in difficult situations. Having a place where your child can reacclimate at their own pace will help avoid specific situations. If your child has special needs for a safe space area be sure to discuss this with the teacher before the school year begins.
Try to Get Your Child Used to Social Situations
This information may not apply to every child; be sure to talk to your child’s therapist or doctor before planning anything.
Schools contain a lot of people in one building. Getting your child used to more people being around by taking trips to more populated areas or running errands to larger stores may help prepare your child for the transition to school. Situations with other people involved may help your child get used to many different people being around in their school.
Talk About COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, and many schools have different rules when it comes to things like masks. If your child has sensory issues with wearing a mask or using sanitizer you need to talk to your child’s school and your therapist or doctor to develop a plan.
Learning about your school district’s health policies can give you the information you need to discuss masks, sanitizing, and other COVID-19-related issues. Special accommodations may be able to be put in place for your child’s needs.
Be sure to acclimate your child to any COVID-19 procedures that will be used at school prior to the school year starting.
Keep Communicating with Your Child’s School
It is extremely important to keep regular communications with your child’s teacher and anyone else regularly involved with your child. Hearing about your child’s progress, issues, and general behavior will allow you to evaluate any immediate needs as soon as they pop up.
Talking with your child’s therapist or other healthcare professional can help you put together a list of questions to ask for status reports. Having a consistent report can show how your child is progressing and behaving on a regular schedule.
Stay Interested & Involved
We want to finish up with the most important piece of information regarding transitioning a child with ASD back to school; Stay interested and involved. None of the things above will stick if your child isn’t receiving attention and care at home. Following a schedule and engaging in activities that are in place in therapy, at school, and, most importantly, at home can help your child maintain consistent behavior.
Showing interest in your child’s school activities and progress can help them progress even more than just setting a plan. Using visual aids, like a calendar with milestone stickers, may help your child understand the progress they are making in school.
Again, talk to your child’s therapist, doctor, or other healthcare professionals to find the best way to stay engaged with your child’s education. Every child is different. Be sure your child is getting the best care they can by staying involved.
ABA Therapy from IABA Consultants
If you have questions regarding autism treatment, education, or plans using ABA therapy, we are here for you! Our goal is to make sure no family is turned away due to financial constraints. Our therapy team would love to talk to you. Find the location closest to you and give us a call. We’re here for you.
Helping Kids with Autism Transition Back to In-Person School, UC Davis
Back to School: 17 Tips to Help, Autism Speaks
Preparing for Back to School, Autism Speaks
Students with Autism, publicservicedegrees.org
COVID Autism Back to School Transition, Stonybrook Medicine
Over the course of the summer, I’ve taken you through my understanding of anger. Quite personally I needed to write about it because it was pulsing through my veins. While I have an incredible amount of compassion, empathy, and a commitment to humanity, I am also a human. I cannot yet write fully about what caused this anger but I will tell you a broken system and injustice are involved.
As anger came to me I was overwhelmed by it. I knew that fear was a terrible driver (see blog) but I also knew my anger was real and there was no fear in my anger. It was raw rage. At first, I felt guilt and shame for the rage I felt. The only fear I had was not wanting to take it out on another. I am not perfect (to the woman at the 7th BMV I visited to get my adopted son his driving permit, I am sorry!). Anger pulsed through my veins and I did my best to not take it out on others. I was not my best self.
Dealing with Anger
When my anger spoke to me and said it would not go away I had to do something radical, something I’ve never done before; I sat with anger. Sitting with anger is incredibly uncomfortable. I’ve written to you about sitting with fear, hurt, and pain but never anger. The reason for this is that anger is an active emotion that needs an outlet and in our nervous system. Anger seeks a release. When we feel anger we want to get rid of it. We want to let it out! The problem with this is just as hate begets hate, anger begets anger. You cannot get away from anger by simply releasing it and by releasing it in its raw form you run the risk of hurting yourself or others. Personally, I become very upset if I hurt others or myself. I feel ashamed.
Sitting with anger allowed me to finally be able to see what it was telling me. Instead of looking at anger as an uncomfortable emotion that needed to be released, I chose to look at my anger as a pissed-off friend. I asked my anger, “what’s going on, what’s happening here?” When I lost my temper I quickly said sorry first to my own heart and then the person who received that anger. I don’t excuse the damaging behaviors of others and I certainly do not believe I have the right to damage another person.
As I sat with my anger I was able to see what was blocking my path, what was unjust, and what I could and could not control. What was out of my current control was, of course, the hardest to let go of. This leads me to write about peace amidst fear.
Anger & Fear
Personally, my tribe all knows about what I am fearful of and it’s a lot. Whenever I listen to Glennon Doyle talk about her struggle with anxiety from caring all the time I’m fist-pumping the air. At least half a dozen times a year I call my sister in a panic about something I’ve heard in the news. Mind you this is news someone else has reported to me because, for my mental health, I literally cannot read the news or stay on social media. Reading things like “girls in Africa have trouble going to school because of their menstrual cycle” (https://www.daysforgirls.org) or “the Native Americans are having a water crisis in our country” (https://www.navajowaterproject.org) just about break my soul in two. To me, worth is born the minute we take our first breath as humans, and when human rights are restricted and people are hurting, I hurt too.
I also know that so many of us are pretty well exhausted by the length of the pandemic, the wait for vaccinations for our young children, and hurt deeply by the divide amongst our country. It is a fearful time with no clear end in sight.
Reading through the works of spiritual teachers like Gabby Bernstein help me understand that peace is available to us all of the time. She and other teachers are not wrong in that peace does beat inside our hearts but there is a part of their teachings that I can’t get behind. It is taught that peace and a life of ease are the goals leaving so many feeling defeated and like they are not enough. Constantly trying to be a perfect yogi and find that place of zen as a way of life is not easy.
Learning from Anger
What I have learned over this past year is that pain, grief, anxiety, anger, and fear are simply part of the human experience. These usually coined “negative” emotions are just as natural as joy, happiness, laughter, love, and peace. You cannot know the feeling of a joyful emotion without knowing the painful emotion; you would have no reference point.
Life is not about staying zen, it’s not about being peaceful, loving, warm, and kind all of the time. Life is about honoring your own worth, sharing the gifts you are born with, navigating the storms that may come your way, and knowing that peace is available amidst it all. Peace is not the end goal, peace is a kind teacher that tells us we have a space to land as we feel, learn, and navigate our lives. Peace quiets the noise around us to tell us what’s real–both inside of us and out in the world so we can walk in alignment with the truest form of ourselves. Peace is the friend offering a hand, a hug, and a hot cup of tea when the world is crashing down around you. Peace is the calm in the storm.
We cannot stop pain, thus fear exists. We cannot also not stop love, thus peace exists. The goal is not perfect peace. The goal is radical self-love regardless of what is crashing around the shores of life.
Walk gently with your lives, my darlings. Do not get lost in the waves. Place your hand on your heart, listen to peace beating against your hand, and know all is well.
Over the course of the past several months, I’ve filled my audible account with one healing book after another. If you scroll through it you’ll see writers who supported me as I emotionally held my own heart through the grief and reality I was facing. I hope someday my writing and work can do the same for others.
There are so many inspirational and wise writers, yet one book, Whole Again, by Jackson Mackenzie, gave me a piece of wisdom that helped me understand and unpack much of the shame, guilt, anger, and rage I was feeling. I’d like to share because perhaps the wisdom I learned from Jackson will poke a hole of light in the darknesses another sister or brother is walking.
Whole Again & Judgment
The self-judgment and high expectations I impose on myself have been lifelong struggles. Throughout the years, when something is not working, my first response is to go inward and see what I can change. I also look outward to research because I love knowledge and research. I was learning (still learning) to put down my tendency to inflict self-judgment but when I was facing a divorce I couldn’t resist. I was analyzing my own behavior to try and see what, if anything, I had done so incredibly wrong to have lived through domestic abuse.
To the other victims or survivors out there this one’s for you.
In his book, Whole Again, Jackson recalls a child being punched, kicked, and hit by a school bully. The child who is being hit screams out, lashes out, fights back, and then goes home and thinks “what type of person am I to hit another?” The child hurting them is not having that dialogue with themselves; they are still stuck in taking their anger out on others. This was a game-changing piece for me.
Self-Judgment and You
You see I am not a child being bullied but I have lived through some very unkind relationships. In these relationships when anger, guilt, shame, and the like were taken out on me I was often not very graceful about when I responded. I think many of you have seen the video where I stormed the football field in my new town because my son was facing bullying. I exploded and to this day am a person that perhaps makes that football team uncomfortable. For a long while, I judged myself for that explosion. Now I give myself grace. My son did not deserve to be faced with racism, and my response was valid regardless of its own lack of grace.
Not giving myself grace is also true looking back at my own behavior when I was being abused. This may be true of your behavior if you were or are being abused. My darling loves, when someone is punching you (literally or figuratively) you cannot judge yourself for how you respond. If a person is tied to the stake and fire is sizzling at their feet would you ask them not to scream? No, you are not made to burn and you will scream to the skies.
Self-Judgment & Parenthood
Shifting gears I often hear parents asking if they are good enough in the early days of parenthood. Glennon Doyle reinforces that even by asking that question you are in fact a good parent because people who are not good parents never even consider the question. I have a tattoo (one of many) of the word enough on my right wrist to remind me of this. I am enough. And it is enough.
If we look at this example and apply it to unhealthy relationships and social encounters where you are asking yourself, “was I kind enough,” “did I mess it up again?” Just by asking those questions, you are announcing to yourself that you are a good person. People who are hurting other people are not asking themselves these questions. I hope someday they will but time and fate decide that not me.
I have personally spent a lifetime criticizing my own behavior to make sure that I’m showing up as my best self, that criticism has taken me nowhere but to stress. That criticism was a detour over witnessing what was really happening; abuse. If you are there, wondering what you are doing wrong because of how another person is treating you the answer is this; not a goddamn thing.
Don’t Criticize Yourself When You Think You May Be in an Abusive Situation
If you are in the middle of abuse you might still be screaming at the stake. Scream. It’s OK. I know it hurts. But after you scream, gather the strength you need to gain the knowledge, boundaries, and self-love to stay off the stake. You are not responsible for how others treat you, you are responsible for how you treat yourself.
Choose kindness, choose respect, and tell those harming you to leave. If they return, let it be with kindness and in their time, not yours. You might think you are losing everything but baby, you are gaining your life.
Those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) have a more difficult time communicating compared to those who present as neurotypical. Communication isn’t just words and speaking. It’s reading body language, facial expressions, and gestures. All of this makes a conversation happen and conversations would be dull and hard to understand without them.
Autistic people have a hard time reading these cues leading to social misunderstandings. A new study just published in the Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders found that autistic people seem to have an inability to recognize anger in faces. This was interesting because it seemed that anger was a specific emotion that was frequently misunderstood. There wasn’t any problem recognizing more positive emotions.
Autism is Not an Impairment
Ph.D. researcher Connor Keating wrote in a news press suggesting that the description of autism as an impairment would be incorrect. The corresponding news release for this study reads, “It’s more that autistic and non-autistic faces may be speaking a different language when it comes to conveying emotion.”
Keating explains another theory called the “double empathy problem” as a reason why these communication boundaries exist. As explained by the National Autistic Society, this is when two people with very different backgrounds communicate with each other and will lack empathy for each other. We base our social interactions on our past experiences and these experiences are so different for autistic people and neurotypical people.
This will break down the interaction and frustrate both the autistic person and the neurotypical person. It makes perfect sense that socializing between the two will have some challenges.
The Challenges of ASD Communication
Autistic people can often come across as rude and have a misunderstanding of basic social cues compared to neurotypicals. Having empathy for one another would ease conservation for both parties. This study suggests that autistic people and neurotypical people are simply missing each other’s signals. With facial expressions, autistic people see them differently but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.
School social worker Jen Elcheson has autism and has firsthand experience with not recognizing anger. She explained this by writing in an MSN article that any subtle signs of anger on a face she couldn’t recognize. Unless the anger was outwardly expressed, Elcheson wouldn’t pick up on it and continue to anger whoever she was with.
It took many years for her to understand the problem and work around it. Elcheson also shared that she doesn’t have these problems with other autistic individuals. She says it’s like they seem to understand each other. Elcheson agrees with Dr. Keating’s findings and finds validation in them.
ABA Therapy from IABA Consultants
If you have questions regarding autism treatment with ABA therapy, we are here for you! Our goal is to make sure no family is turned away due to financial constraints. Our therapy team would love to talk to you. Find the location closest to you and give us a call. We’re here for you.
Sources: National Autistic Society, Moms.com
What do you do with anger that’s real? Anger that will burn cities and clear anything and everything in its path? Where did it come from and why is it here?
The very short answer is anger feels good in the moment–it’s the aftershocks that are damaging if they are unleashed without guidance. Anger is a release of pent-up emotions that have no direction to go. The ensuing explosion unleashes this anger and gives us a false pretense of power. Luckily, most of us feel horrible when we get this spot but there are people who abuse others during periods of anger.
Anger & Abuse
For those of you who abuse other people with your anger, know this: there is fear, hurt, shame, guilt, sadness, grief, and other emotions that lie just beneath your anger. While your explosions and “wins” over others may feel like triumphs they are in fact a loss.
When you give in to your anger you abandon yourself and your other emotions. You are also hurting others to make yourself feel better. This is never OK. Not ever. You can heal at any time by choosing to stop hurting others and tend to your wounds.
Onto the rest of us.
Coping with Anger
If you wield your anger like a weapon then feel guilt, shame, or other emotions after an outburst, you are experiencing what most of us experience. We all experience this at some point–no human is perfect (I promise).
Anger is a messenger that you have a lot going on and are either not taking the best care of yourself or are faced with a very challenging situation in life. Anger lets us know that we need love and care. Anger tells us to look at our brave hearts, kind souls, and human feelings and provide care.
Finding the Cause of Anger
Last week I wrote to you about rage. Rage, like anger, is a powerful emotion. When rage is the messenger and not the driver it can be destructive beyond measure. Without direction anger and rage are destructive to you, me, and everyone in our path.
After my first son, Henry, was born I suffered from postpartum depression which was exacerbated by domestic abuse. I don’t have words for the darkness I walked through during that time. I also don’t have words for the shining light of love I found in my son.
I fought my way through postpartum depression with therapy, medication, and a loving community. At the time, I still was not able to identify I was living in domestic abuse. When my son Declan was born less than two years later I was determined to avoid suffering from postpartum depression again.
Looking back at my pregnancy and the birth of my second son is bittersweet because the work and self-care I put in were incredible. None of it involved his father, other than my request to “not attack me while I have the baby.” It didn’t work. What worked was asking my friends and family to wrap me in support, encapsulating my placenta, and taking real maternity leave. I thought I had it down!
This is the point when I started to feel anger, shortly followed by rage.
Avoiding Manifestations of Anger
I remember being stumped when I thought about why I was so angry after my six-week check-up. I am not a quick-to-anger person unless I witness serious injustice. I asked my wonderful OBGYN, who supported me through both births, why I felt anger? She laughed, “you have two children under 2, this is normal!”
While I did not like this answer she was totally right. Henry and I had gotten into our groove over the past 20 months. I knew how to take care of the two of us, but caring for two babies changed our routine. I was also always walking on pins and needles during my previous marriage. My nerves were thin and my children were loud. I was sleep-deprived, nursing, and doing almost all of it on my own. Something felt like it had to give.
Anger told me I needed to find a way to take care of myself so I could cool down as a mama. I felt extreme guilt (as we all do) when I would lose it with my boys. I read this awesome book, How to Stop Losing Your Shit With Your Kids, and started a mom-tribe book club where we all applied the practices of the book while supporting each other as mamas.
I would be remiss to not mention the asshole things kids do sometimes. God I love them and, yes, they are all limbic systems, but this is so maddening when they have no survival instincts.
Not Losing Yourself to Anger
I want to let everyone know that anger is completely normal if you are going through early motherhood while living with domestic abuse. If you let the anger take over, however, you will spend most of early motherhood lost in its grasp. If I had totally given into anger I would have missed so many moments with my sons simply because I was depleted.
Now, two years later, while I still have my moments (don’t we all? Mamas?) I also know when I feel anger around the boys, what I really need is a quiet minute and to be present with them. I don’t always parent perfectly (OK, almost never) but ‘reset time’ only takes a few minutes and prevents anger from dominating my parenting, period. All because I listened to what the topography of my anger map was telling me.
Anger still comes for me, as does rage. When I see injustice against others, my children, or myself I can’t begin to explain the flames that rise within my heart. I do know that I unequivocally do not want to hurt another being. The quick release of lashing out in anger can cause long-lasting damage.
Channel Your Rage to be Productive
Anger can feel powerful. All-encompassing anger feels like it can get you anything you desire. I can promise you that this is a lie. What anger is really telling you is to pay attention to your own heart and world so that you can right a wrong. That wrong can either be how you’re caring for yourself (postpartum depression care or lack thereof) or how others are treating you (leaving domestic abuse).
If we choose to listen to anger and rage, rather than act on them immediately, we can learn they can be some of the wisest guides in our lives. Anger and rage tell us what needs to be corrected. Love tells us how to correct it.
You and I can use this wise messenger to become a warrior of love, create the lives we want to live, and build the better world we all envision. Don’t burn it down. Build it up.