- Expert Ways to Help Tame Tantrums and Manage Meltdowns
- How Nutrition Impacts Children With Autism
- 8 solutions for a picky eater with autism and sensory food aversions
- 15 Activities, Teaching Strategies, and Resources for Teaching Children with Autism
- 13 Tips On How To Bathe A Child With Autism Easily
- How to Help Your Child with Autism Cope During and After a Move
- Sensory-Friendly Home Modifications for Autism and Sensory Processing Disorder
- How to Make Exercise More Fun for Children with Autism
Here are some articles to empower parents who are raising children with autism.
Sleep is crucial for memory consolidation, mood regulation, and general well-being. In children, sleep is key for developing healthy cognitive, behavioral and physical functioning.
But up to 30% of children ages two to five and 15% of school-aged children have trouble falling asleep or sleeping through the night (National Sleep Foundation, 2004). And fewer than 33% of teenagers are getting enough sleep (CDC, 2018).
The ideal amount of sleep for healthy functioning differs from one person to the next. But research shows that maintaining a regular sleep-wake schedule is a part of good sleep hygiene, regardless of age. Everything from light exposure to mealtimes can influence circadian rhythms and the release of hormones such as melatonin, and ultimately affect sleep.
Insufficient sleep can severely impair a child's functioning causing daytime fatigue, poor health and weaker immune function. Sleep-deprived children can suffer from emotional disturbances and emotional regulation problems. When kids are tired, you tend to see more irritability, grouchiness, and emotional highs and lows. When teenagers get insufficient sleep, it can be tied to depressive symptoms, irritability, and even suicidal thoughts and actions.
How Much Should A Child Sleep?
Insomnia is the most common problem pediatric sleep psychologists treat, but its presentation differs dramatically across age groups.
Infants and Toddlers
For infants and toddlers up to age 3, insomnia usually occurs because children learn to rely on a particular stimuli (such as a parent rocking them to sleep) to fall asleep and then cannot sleep on their own, a problem known as "sleep-onset association."
Psychologists consider a sleep-onset association "positive" if it does not require a parent to be present, such as a pacifier or white noise machine. On the other hand, a "negative" sleep-onset association, while not necessarily harmful, involves parent-child interaction, including feeding, rocking, or pushing the child in a stroller.
The first line of defense for insomnia is to establish consistent schedules and routines. Children should have consistent and appropriate bedtimes and wake times, a regular bedtime routine, and a comfortable sleep environment.
When children transition from a crib to a bed, behavioral insomnia can start to manifest as bedtime resistance. The child may refuse to get into bed, leave the bed frequently, or throw tantrums. Alternatively, the child may want to sleep and try to do so but cannot easily settle his or her mind and body.
A simple and effective intervention is for families to create a healthy bedtime routine of 3 to 5 quiet activities that take a total of 20 to 45 minutes. The routine should start at the same time each night and should flow in one direction. For example, from the kitchen to the bathroom to the bedroom and the activities should occur in the same order each night.
Another approach is to use the "bedtime pass program," which reduces curtain calls. A child receives 1 to 3 laminated passes permitting them to get out of bed for pre-approved activities such as a hug from a parent or a drink of water. When the passes are gone, the child is no longer permitted to leave the bedroom. The child is rewarded in the morning for any unused passes.
Children respond very well to concrete limits and the passes can help reduce anxiety at bedtime if they know they won't get in trouble for getting up. It is also helpful for parents to know when to put their foot down.
Teens and Sleep
The most common sleep problems for teenagers are delayed sleep-wake phase disorders and insomnia. Adolescents with a delayed circadian rhythm can sleep well on a delayed schedule, from 2 a.m. to 11 a.m., but they struggle to sleep on a more traditional schedule that allows them to wake up early enough to attend school.
Sleep psychologists typically use an approach called phase advance therapy to treat delayed sleep-wake phase disorder. Cognitive-behavioral therapies for insomina (CBTI) can also help teens and older children who have trouble settling their minds and bodies to fall asleep.
As more testing is finally being done and we learn more and more about the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19), it's becoming clearer that the situation we are all in will last for, at least, the next few months.
To help your child through the next few months, here are some tips:
First, spend time together as a family. Bake a cake, have a dance party, do a puzzle together, go for a walk in your neighborhood while maintaining social distance of 6 feet, read a book together, watch a movie as a family, wash the car together, make up stories, laugh, play, and enjoy each other's company.
Second, allow and encourage feelings to be expressed. It's important to help children express their feelings and make sure you listen and help them expand on what they are sharing. It's also important for children to hear parents express their feelings in a manner that they can process.
Third, reassurance is key. Once we've listened to a child, and tried to fully hear them out, then we should reassure them. Reassuring someone without listening to them first is not as effective.
Fourth, encourage your child to help others. When children are able to help others, it makes them feel more in control of the world around them. They are no longer helpless, but instead, they're giving help to others. This helps children develop confidence, and it makes them feel proactive in the best of times and in the most difficult situations.
Dr. Gerard Costa, a DIRFloortime Expert, recently discussed the role of co-regulation in the development of self-regulation. The article can be found on the National Institute for Children's Health Quality.
At the end of the article, he presents a very simple framework for thinking about how families can help engage in co-regulating experiences with their children. It is worth a read. Here is an excerpt:
Costa developed an acronym called A.G.I.L.E. that provides guidance on what constitutes a co-regulating response when the child is distressed. The guidance can help pediatric health professionals advise parents on what to keep in mind as they engage in co-regulating responses.
The AGILE Approach to Co-regulating Responses advises parents to pay close attention to their:
First love is an unparalleled phenomenon. Nothing can match it in terms of excitement, energy, and positive feelings. Romantic relationships expand adolescents’ social lives as they now spend more time with their boyfriend’s or girlfriends’s social group as well as their own. They gain an intimate best friend, which needs their increasing friendship and intimacy demands. Teenagers now have someone they are open with and who is reciprocally open with them. They are deeply concerned with one another‘s well-being, which simultaneously feels good and somewhat cracks through their necessarily egocentric world. Trust and compassion are built up through their relationship.
As a parent, you hope that your child feels cared for, listened to, and respected as they navigate their romantic and sexual experiences. It can be very difficult for parents to talk with their teenagers about this new uncharted territory. In an ideal world, the road to sex is paved with lots of information and conversation about its mechanical and emotional aspects. Parents play important roles in many of the conversations. If you are too shy or embarrassed to talk about it yourself, you still need to make sure these conversations are taking place.
With this in mind, here are two podcasts that might help to open up the dialogue and increase your comfort level.
Mindshift: The Puberty Lady
Mindshift: Questions Boys Ask About Puberty
The most important thing is to start having these conversations with your children and to keep the dialogue open.
Ever worry that your kid is a jerk? Or wish they’d send a thank-you note without your forcing them to do it? This article is an easy read and helps parents and educators to think about how to develop and encourage empathy in young children.
How to Raise A Child Who Cares
Planning and conversation will ease your tween's anxiety about meeting the new, complex demands of middle school.
Ah, middle school. Though your child may barely be entering puberty and may still be a pre-teen, the transition to middle school is a big step on the road to maturity. A big, scary step. Regardless of what specific grade marks the beginning of junior high or middle school in your community, your child will be both excited and afraid. Researchers have found that students anticipating the move to middle school worry about three aspects of the change: logistical, social, and academic. Your child with learning or attention difficulties shares the same worries as their peers, and may be afraid the change will be even harder for them.
While you won’t be able to calm your child’s fears completely, with some advance planning and open discussions you can substantially ease their mind. The first step is understanding what may worry your child.
When researchers asked kids what aspect of moving to middle school most concerned them, the top answers related to how things at the new school worked (Akos, 2002). How would they find the right classroom? What happened if they were tardy? Where was the cafeteria? What about the bathrooms?
Middle school is a much more complex environment than grade school. The campus is larger, there are more students, and instead of one teacher and one classroom, your child will have a separate instructor and classroom, for each subject or block of subjects (e.g., language arts/social studies or math/science). It’s no wonder kids worry about finding their way in this new world.
For your student with learning or attention problems, understanding the rules and procedures of the new school may be even more important. The challenge of navigating multiple transitions between classes and organizing books and materials for every subject may be all she can handle in the first few weeks.
Here are some strategies for helping your child make a smoother transition to middle school:
Another area of worry for students moving to middle school is the social scene. Will I see anyone I know? Will it be hard to make friends? Will I have to eat lunch alone? Are the older kids bullies?
Your child is moving from the top of the elementary school heap to the bottom rung of the middle school social ladder. They may have heard that the older students tease or bully the younger ones. They know for sure that they and their best friends are unlikely to be in every single class together, and, even worse, there may be classes where they don’t know anyone at all on the first day. And if your child with learning or attention problems struggles to make friends anyway, then this all adds up to a potential social nightmare.
Remember that, in addition to changing schools, your child is entering adolescence, a stage when kids start to rely much more on peers and pull away from parents. This is a time when being part of a group is very important and being perceived as different can be devastating. It’s not surprising that finding friends in the new school is a top priority.
The good news is that the more varied social environment also offers many opportunities to meet people. Being in multiple classes each day means your student is surrounded by more potential friends. The better news is that, once students are settled into middle school, they report that friendships and the social scene are among the best things about school (Akos, 2002: Forgan, 2000).
Some things that you can do to ease the social transition:
Though most students worry more about the logistical and social aspects of middle school before they get there, once settled in, academic concerns rise to the surface. Will the classes be too difficult? Will there be too much homework? Are the teachers hard graders?
It’s quite typical for students’ academic performance to drop upon entering middle school. Along with everything else that’s going on – roller coaster emotions, physical changes, and social upheaval – your child is also coping with harder classes, more homework, and a whole new set of academic expectations. Middle school teachers don’t form the close bonds with students that your child enjoyed in grade school. There is less small group and personalized instruction. Teachers expect students to take charge of assignments and projects with less day-to-day guidance.
For a student with learning or attention difficulties, these changes can come as quite a shock. Teachers may vary in their willingness to understand and accommodate your child’s learning needs. Organization and time management demands rise to a new level. Though it can seem overwhelming, keep reminding your child that they can manage these changes successfully, though it will take time and practice.
Some tips to help ease their academic concerns:
The best way to help your child through this transition is to keep a positive attitude about middle school. You may remember how clueless, awkward, and self-conscious you felt at that age. Empathize with your child and normalize their experience. Reassure them that they will become more comfortable and confident with time. Remind your child that the school and the teachers want them to be successful and that they have what it takes to make it all work.
Most students make the adjustment to the routines and demands of middle school within a couple months. If your child is still struggling as fall gives way to winter, then a meeting with their counselor may be in order. Together, you, your student and the counselor can pinpoint specific trouble spots and brainstorm ways to get things on track.
Try to give your tween plenty of information about how things will work in middle school, but be careful not to overload them. Be proactive in sharing information with them while also encouraging them to ask questions. The more they know up front, the more comfortable they will be on the first day, and beyond.
When one child in a family has difficulties that consume a lot of the family's attention, restrict family activities, or generate great concern, other children in the family may not get the attention that they deserve. Siblings in families with special needs may feel a myriad of emotions such as sadness, disappointment, anger, or stress. Some siblings take care of themselves so that they are less of a burden to their family.
Here are some articles on ways to help support a sibling in a special needs family.
1. 5 Ways to Support Siblings in Special Needs Families
2. 12 Ways to Support Siblings of Children with Disabilities
3. 10 Great Books if You Have Sibling with Special Needs
4. Supporting the Siblings of Special Needs Kids
We have all see and heard of the helicopter parent. The parent who hovers and makes most all decisions for their child. This article sheds light on why helicopter parenting is detrimental to your child and what you can actually do to foster independence and responsibility.
These TedTalks are a collection of talks to enjoy before welcoming a new little life into the world.
Miranda J. Gabriel, Psy.D.
A licensed clinical psychologist providing psychotherapy to children, teens, and adults in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Information and opinions found on this website
are not substitutes for
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