Category Archives: Parenting

Teaching Your Child Organizational Skills

Organizational skills are very important in learning for children and adults of all ages. When they are lacking, a person struggles in unstructured tasks or in completing work independently and efficiently. Usually, a child develops better organizational skills as they age, being able to meet age-appropriate expectations. Still, children with even the best of organizational skills may struggle with major transitions, such as the transition from elementary to secondary school.

Other children have difficulties in organizational skills. Some can learn to overcome these as they mature, while others lag further and further behind. I am an example of the latter. In elementary school, I aced most classes, compensating for my lack of organizational skills by my high intelligence. In secondary school, I still did well because I had learned to read faster. I could therefore read the material being tested once at the last moment and still get a decent grade. Academically, my organizational skills didn’t get the better part of me till I was in college, when one reason I dropped out was my inability to plan my work.

Organizational skills are part of executive functioning. If a child struggles with organizational skills despite adequate parenting and teaching intervetnions, it might be that they have a learning disability or attention deficit disorder, but some kids have executive functioning difficulties without a learning disability or ADD/ADHD.

Here are some tips for encouraging the non-disabled child to develop their organizational skills. Some of these strategies will work to an extent with children with executive functioning difficulties too. At the end of this post, I will give some tips for dealing with kids with executive functioning difficulties specifically.

1. Use checklists. Help your child develop a to-do list. That way, the child will be able to visualize what they stll need to do and what they’ve already done. Have your child carry a notebook with them for writing down assignmnets and household chores. Have the child check off items that have been completed. You may need to monitor that they don’t check off unfinished tasks. You can have your child use step-by-step checklists for cleaning their room, too.

2. Use calendars and schedules. On a calendar, you will put all family members’ important appointments. It depends on you and your child how detailed a calendar needs to be or can be. On a weekly schedule, you list each family member’s household chores.

3. Buy your child a planner. Have them choose one that suits them or buy one for them that appeals to them. The child can put activities into their planner, but you’ll need to help them get their planner in sync with the family calendar to avoid conflict.

4. Involve your child in cleaning and cooking activities. Particurly cooking is a fun way to learn organizational skills. A child will need to learn to read a recipe, check steps they have already completed, assemble the right tools and ingredients, etc. Involve your child in meal planning too, challenging them to help you write a shopping list. Cleaning, while not as fun, is a necessary task that also requires organization.

As I said, many of these strategies will work for a child with executive functioning difficulties too. They may need more support while learning to organize their day. Here are some tips for helping a child with EFD to learn to become the best organizer they can be:

  1. Use written and/or visual step-by-step guides for chores and assignments. Incorporate as much detail as the child needs – I needed every step almost literally spelled out.

  2. Have specific tasks on a specific day of the week. Don’t have too many tasks in one day. For example, Monday is for cleaning the child’s room, while Thursday is for organizing their backpack. That way, the child will get into the habit of performing these tasks.

  3. Discuss new or unexpected situations with your child and help them prepare for what might happen.

  4. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Often, children with EFD have trouble learning to automate a skill, so you may need to help them, instruct them and supervise them for a longer time than you would a non-disabled child. Use the same schedules, reminders etc. for the same tasks over and over again.

It is very important to realize that your child with EFD is not being lazy, but they have a disability that makes it harder for them to organie their work. You may need to provide more support for them to complete their chores or homework than you would a similar-age non-disabled child.

Mommy Needs a Timeout Thursday Link-up

Talking to Kids About Tragedies in the News

The first news coverage I remember registering consciously, was that surrounding Gulf War I in 1991 and seemingly simultaneously, something about Ukraine – probably the five-year anniversary of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. I remember, because I thought at the time that Iraq, Iran and Quwait together formed Ukraine. I was five-years-old and didn’t have a clue about tragedies. Maybe I did ask questions, and maybe I was worried, as I often was later on when famine or disease in developing countries was discussed.

I was fifteen when 9/11 took place. I realized by this time that America was far away, so I didn’t feel any sadness or anxiety. Children in America, however, even those not directly impacted, often felt intense sadness and worry. Now a large tragedy didn’t impact my country when I was young – the largest tragedy affecting the Netherlands during my childhood was probably the Bijlmer airplane crash in 1992, which killed 43 people. Children of today, however, have to cope with a tragedy that is almost comparable in size to what 9/11 was for the U.S., ie. the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight 17, which was on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur last Thursday when it was shot down over eastern Ukraine, killing all 298 passengers and flight personnel, including 193 Dutchpeople. Adults, at least those who’ve not lost family or friends, can put this tragedy into perspective, although with 9/11 in mind, even I am worried for its consequences. Children cannot do this. How do you help children cope with a tragedy like the MH17 crash?

I am focusing here on helping children not directly impacted by a tragedy. If a child has lost a family member or friend in a tragic way, they need extra help coping with the loss of a loved one as well as with the trauma of a tragedy like an accident or shooting. You can, however, reassure children who aren’t directly impacted that they are safe. In a book on coping with trauma I own, adult survivors of trauma are taught that the world isn’t safe, but it won’t get any more or less safe by worrying about it. That is not an effective strategy with non-traumatized children. They need to know that you as the parent, teacher or other adult in their life are there to protect them.

Common Sense Media advises keeping the news away from kids under seven. Preschoolers and Kindergartners are not ready to understand the news and will easily confuse fact with fantasy or fear. My parents had the radio on all the time when I was young, so I registered the Chernobyl and Gulf War news, but made really irrational connections. That being said, the Mayo Clinic recommends that parents do talk about tragedies to their kids, since they’ll likely have picked up on the news somehow anyway.

When kids get older, they start to hear about news tragedies or events from their friends. They still may see news as closer to home or more common than it is, particularly if kids are sensitive. Children between seven and twelve may still make logical errors. For example, a child might worry about their family in Amsterdam because flight MH17 took off there.

At elementary school age, you may start to explain the context of news, especially if your child is intellectually and emotionally mature. You might explain that people have different views and that news programs compete for viewers. You can also start to explain the basics of political or religious conflict. At this point, kids have a strong sense of right and wrong, in the sense that it is all-or-nothing. Therefore, you should be careful not to generalize.

When a child becomes a teen, they will likely start finding the news on their own, without your supervision. Discussing the news with them will give you as the parent a good insight into their developing knowledge and maturity. Common Sense Media says that teens will understand that their lives could’ve been impacted by such tragedies as terrorist attacks. Therefore, it is important to discuss their views and reassure them without dismissing their feelings. They may also want to help people directly affected.

Above all, when talking to a child about a tragedy, the Mayo Clinic recommends telling the truth. Explain the basics and don’t go into too much detail. Avoid speculation on what might be the consequences of the tragedy. Listen carefully to your child for misconceptions, misinformation or underlying fears. Reassure them that you are there for them to keep them safe. If your child asks the same question repeatedly, it’s possible that they just need reassurance.

Encouraging Children to Read

I was an early but reluctant reader, especially when I had to start reading braille. Before then, I had liked to read, although I never quite moved along because there weren’t any large print books for my reading comprehension level. I was a very slow reader in both print and braille. Still am a slow braille reader. That kept me from getting into the interesting stuff for a long while, because for whatever reason, reading speed is automatically assumed to be related to reading comprehension.

I grew up in a family of readers. My father still doesn’t read much fiction for fun, but he, like me, reads stuff related to his interests. My mother and sister are both traditionally literate fiction lovers. The thing keeping me from reading fiction is mostly that I don’t have the concentration to stick to a book. I have gotten to like it more though as my reading speed has increased.

When encouraging kids to read, however, realize that reading is everywhere especially if your child can read print. I grew up with the idea that reading comic books and the closed captioning on the TV is not “real” reading. Indeed, if a child is to be successful at school, they have to learn to read books, but for daily life tasks, it is at least as important to be able to read reminders on the refrigerator. I also believed the misconception that reading from a computer screen is not “real” reading. In reality, this is the most likely source of reading your child will encounter when they grow up. I’m from a different generation than today’s kids, of course, but I for one get 99% of my reading experience through my computer.

There are many good tips for encouraging kids to read. The most important part for me is that reading needs to be a choice, not a chore. Of course, kids will get reading homework. It may seem logical to ask that reluctant readers read more than their school dictates. I for one spent countless nights in fifth and sixth grade reading material assigned by my parents. I know that it is important that kids learn to read as well as they can, and that, with otherwise academically capable children, it’s hard to see them lag behind in reading. However, you can still twist necessary reading to make it fun. Model the right attitude. For example, when I was reading the Dutch translation of Alice in Wonderland in sixth grade, my father read it in English to show that he was taking on a challenge as well. This also allowed for an opportunity to discuss the book.

For me, the transition form reading print to braille was particularly difficult. It didn’t help that braille books are not that commonplace in the Netherlands. In the U.S., there is the Braille Readers Are Leaders contest which makeschildren feel special yet not alone. I’m not sure if such an event existed in the Netherlands.

The computer can, for braille readers, be a hindrance to literacy, if they prefer to use synthetic speech. For me, the computer saved my reading ability, as I hate synthetic speech. I don’t know how today’s teachers of the visually impaired encourage braille reading in their students. I do know that the adult rehabilitation center only encourages it for labels and such. I understand that.

Me Want It (But Me Wait): Teaching Self-Control to Children

In the summer of 2013, Sesame Street released a fabulous video in which Cookie Monster is learning about self-control. Self-control is an important skill for children to master, as it will help them succeed at school and manage their behavior at home. Naturlly, young children have no self-control. Children with ADHD or similar issues may lack self-control up till a much older age./P>

There are many ways in which a parent can teach a child self-control. With babies, you need to begin by modeling. Remain calm yourself when your child is distressed. There may be various ways in which a baby is calmed. Some need lots of physical contact, while others need to be laid down for a bit. People vary in their opinion on self-soothing, ie. whether you need to attend to a baby when crying or ignore them. I think it depends on the baby.

Listening skills are a first requirement. Teach your child to come when you call them. Rigidly enforcing social skills like eye contact may not be appropriate for some children, like those with autism, but your child needs to learn to listen to their name and to attend to you.

When a young child cannot get what they want, cannot do what they want to do, or for another reason gets frustrated, they may tantrum. For a one-year-old, consequences don’t work, but distraction does. When your child is a little older, like from the age of two on, use brief time-outs as a consequence for tantrums. Like I’ve said before, make sure your child knows when the time-out is over. This means for a young child that you will need to call them back out of time-out. Again, this reinforces listening skills. For older children, you can ask that they come back when they’ve calmed, but this may not work for children who are still unable to understand their own emotions, like most children with autism. You can point out signs of them being calm again when you call them back out of time-out. This may help children learn about their own emotions and behaviors.

Besides giving consequences for impulsive behavior or tantrums, it’s also very important to reward self-control. If you’ve promised your child ice cream after dinner and they’ve behaved according to your reasonable expectations, give them the ice cream. That way a child learns that not only will impulsivity be punished, but also that patience and self-control are indeed going to get you farther along in life.

Motivation is not the same as self-control. If a child can focus fine on a computer game but not when tidying their room, that’s not a problem with self-control. It is more likely that they lack the motivation to tidy their room. It is however possible to change your attitude. Children will need help with this. For example, as a parent, you may turn tidying the child’s room into a game. You also need to model the right attitude. If you approach tasks like they’re nasty chores, much energy will go into motivating yourself to do the task. If you approach them with a positive attitude, you will find it’s much easier to stay motivated and thereby use your self-control skills. With children (and as adults!) who have a special interest, you can use the special interest as part of the nasty chore.

Of course, there are other skills required for completing tasks besides motivation. Your child will need to have the attention span to focus, the working memory to remember what they need to do, and the organizational skills to plan their task and get it actually finished. Until I did my research for this post, I thought this was the problem with me, but then I realized I can focus fine on this blog post, which requires reading and summarizing multiple sources. I’m now thinking that motivation may be an issue for me, and see above for solving that.

However, when someone truly has poor atttenion, working memory and/or organizational skills, these skills still can be trained at least in children. Computer-based games that reinforce memory or attention have some evidence of effecitveness behind them. Similarly, there are games that reinforce self-control directly. You know the game of stop and go, where a green light means go and a red light means stop? When the child is used to these rules, reverse them and your child will practice keeping their impulse to follow the original rules in check. I’m pretty sure there are computer-based variations to this game.

Handling Tantrums and Meltdowns in Children with Autistic Spectrum Disorders

Many children with autsitic spectrumd isorders, including pathological demand avoidance syndrome, have meltdowns. They can have different causes. A child may act out because they’re impulsive and find it hard to delay gratification. This is different from being spoiled, although the difference may be subtle. I still act out when I ask for help and am not told when I can get it. If someone is clear when they can offer me what I need (I don’t act out for not getting something I merely want, for clarity’s sake), I usually don’t have a meltdown.

On the other hand, as a child, even up to early adolescence, I used to have tantrums when my sister got candy or a gift and I didn’t. This is not normal for a neurotypical adolescent, but that doesn’t make it not a tantrum. An autistic child beyond the typical age for temper tantrums may not be able to take the other person’s perspective, so they may feel they’re being mistreated. This can be explained in a social story, but if a child still tantrums when they’re simply not getting their way, treating it as a regular temper tantrum is best.

Some children or adults act out because they’re frustrated and don’t knwo how to solve a problem. This is something inbetween a temper tantrum and a meltdown. I often used to be frustrated if my computer was having problems, but I would not use strategieis that would solve the problem, either socially acceptable (asking for help) or not (screaming for help). In one case when I was sixteen, I totaled my computer trying to make it work again, losing five months worth of important documents.

According to Adelle Jameson Tilton and Charlotte E. Thompson, authors of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Autism, 2nd edition, a child can also have a meltdown because they’re denied something they want, but they lose total behavioral control and don’t “switch off” suddenly again if the wish is granted. Children in a meltdown do not take precautions to prevent themselves from being injured. They will not care if someone is watching or reacting, and the meltdown winds off gradually. I had meltdowns often when I was at the independence training home, throwing objects in my own apartment while no-one was there. I did need help cleaning up the mess, but usually I had calmed down and wasn’t asking for what I had originally wanted once the staff helped me clean up.

From my experience, I can tell that a meltdown can also occur when I am overloaded either cognitively, emotinally or sensorially. I remember a few weeks ago completely melting down even though I had gotten the attention I’d wanted already, because I couldn’t cope with overwhelming emotions and had failed at channeling my overload. When later asked why I had had this meltdown, I had no clue. This is in my experience a distinctive characteristic of a meltdown: meltdowns do not necessarily have an underlying reason.

Meltdowns can also happen after a small seizure, according to Jameson Tilton and Thompson. I read in my neuropsychology textbook that aggression during a seizure is very rare and usually stereotyped, but aggression after a seizure may be more common. If a child seems to be totally uninvolved in their environment for a few minutes before mtling down, this could be a sign of a silent seizure.

In children with pathological demand avoidance particularly, a meltdown may come on as a result of anxiety. Phil Christie and others in their book Understandign Pathological Demand Avoidance Syndrome in Children, make a rigid distinction between aggression with the purpose of avoiding demands and meltdowns out of anxiety, but in my experience this distinction isn’t always clear. After all, demand avoidance often stems from anxiety and/or overload. In situations where an autistic or PDA child is overloaded or panicking, it is important that adults reduce the demands placed on the child, use simple language and do not enforce social niceties such as eye contact.

It may help to evaluate your own behavior as the adult managing a child’s meltdown. You can ask yourself whether the demands you placed on the autistic or PDA child were reasonable, whether they were truly non-negotiable (so that you were willing to endure a meltdown for them), whether you reacted properly or may’ve overreacted, etc. Remember, a meltdown, unlike a temper tantrum, is not a power play, and as a parent, carer or teacher you shouldn’t make it about power.

If the person who had the meltdown is an older child or adult, and you have a trusting relationship with them, involve them too in the evaluation process. (Note: if you do not have a trusting relationship with them, this is something you’ll need to work on!) Evaluating should be done in a non-judgmental way, avoiding the blame game. For some children, social stories may be appropriate, while others can tell you what you need to do differently to help them prevent or minimize a meltdown. This is again not to say that you’re to blame for the meltdown, but many children and adults in a meltdown do need external support.

Making Your Disabled Child Do Chores

A few days ago, the author of Brielle and Me had a post up about making your disabled child do chores I was never really expected to do chores. This was partly because my parents didn’t know how to teach me and felt the household would be running much smo other if they did thigns themselves. In this sense, they were lucky that my sister was always veyr independent, but even then, isn’t a chore always over quicker if you do it yourslef rather than have a child do it?

Some children are severely disabled, and it’s often hard to think of what they can do, keeping non-disabled standards in mind. Let me say to this that your child doesn’t need to become like non-disabled children, but they do need to grow in their independence. You can break a skill down into parts. For example, my chore in the institution is to make coffee, but I get someone else to fill the water reserve because it’s too heavy and high for me to work.

One of the reasons you need to make a disabled child do chores, is to give them a sense of pride and self-worth. I have experienced that chores for this purpose need not to be too difficult. For example, I was told when I first came to this institution that I needed to make my own bread, and self-worth was used as an argument. However, I don’t have the fine motor skills to do this and was constantly failing. While failure is part of life, constant failre will only make a child anxious and avoidant. I therefore recommend starting with a chore the child can already do, and introducing more difficult chores later on.

One thing I want to share though: don’t use long0term, vague consequences as threats to make your child do a chore. My staff at first told me stuff like: “You really won’t live with you rhusband if you can’t make your own bread, so go make it now.” That only got me to feel depressed and like I had no hope. For a child with disabilities, even though you as parents need to start planning for their future early, you’re setting them up for despair if you use your plans for their future as an argument why they need to do chores now. For example, I knew early on that I needed to leave the house at eighteen, but this scared the crap out of me because I had no clue how I was going to achieve this. I was as young as nine. Remember: children don’t ave the brains to plan for the distant future, so don’t bother them with it.

Educational Psychology: Recommendations for Parents

This post, in which a mother talks about the educaitonal psychologist observations of her child, reminded me of my own experiences with ed psychs and schooling recommendations, and the advice I want to give parents based on them.

First, in the United States I know that children with an individualized education plan (IEP) need to be assessed once every three years to deterine if their educational diagnosis still fits. This seems reasonable to me. If you disagree with an educational psychologist hired by the school, you can ask for a second opinion. This means more testing. Don’t do this over and over again. I, for one, was tested three times within an eighteen-month timeframe. Determine whether you will ask for a second opinion based on what was assessed, not what the outcome was. Testing needs to be comprehensive, including assessment of cognitve, social and emotional functioning. Educate yourself about your child’s disability to know which other aspects may need testing (eg. tactile skills if your child is blind). If testing wasn’t comprehensive enough, this is a reason to ask for a second opinion, for exaple, if your child is autistic and only their social and emotional functitoning was assessed. This was the case with my first assessment, and it was logical that my parents sought a second opinion. When they sought a third opinion after the second ed psych’s conclusions based on comprehensive testing didn’t suit them, well, that wasn’t. As I said, once every three years is a reasonable tiemframe to get re-assessed. Unless there are truly good reasons for it, you shouldn’t ask for an earlier re-assessment. Remember when you had to take your standardized tests in school. An educational psychology assessment is as stressful.

As Dinky’s Mom says, an educational psychologist cannot make a diagnosis or get your child into a specific school. They can only report on your child’s abilities and difficulties in various areas of functioning and recommend support strategies. You will usually need a medical diagnosis from a pediatrician or other qualified health professional to get your child into a specific kind of school. For example, when my parents first sought special education for me they checked out a school for children with mobility impairments, but my motor deficits were not severe enough to be allowed into that school. My primary disability was blindness, so I was accepted into the school for the blind. (I first went to a school for the partially sighted, but this shcool now serves blind children too.)

Make sure you check out all aspects of a special (or mainstream) school before you decide on whether to apply there for your child. Again, a school deals with the whole child. Dinky’s Mom was asked to check out a school that serves children with severe intellectual disabilities, while Dinky is academically able. I, too, found myself in schools where the majority of the other kids had some level of learning difficulties, even though I went to the “single disability” class. In the Netherlands, most children with disabilities nowadays don’t go to special schools due to budget cuts, so the kids who do likely have more than one disability. Then again, so do I.

I remember my parents were ultimately fed up with special education and decided to mainstream me despite there still being options for special education that may’ve been more suitable than the schools I’d attended alreaydy. However, I’m aware that the perfect school does not exist, and this is one big reason I’m for individualized educational programming. I remember the second ed psych, the one who did the comprehensive testing, put in her first recommendation that a school needed to be appropriate given my high academic abilities. At the time, only mainstream schools met this need.

I understand my paretns having pressured me to do well on the ed psych tests and to cope in mainstream school. I was loutright lying to the third ed psych (my parents claim he’s far too clever to have let that happen, but I know that I did), because I knew that severe social and emotial problems were the reason I was advised into special ed the year before. The man still managed to spot some of my problems, of course. Anyway, as I said, ed psych evaluations are stressful. Don’t make it worse by talking about what outcome you hope for in front of your child too much.

Lastly, once you’ve found a suitable school, don’t expect it to always be suitable. I was mainstreamed, coped okay for the first month or two, and then was presumed to be doing fine for the remaining nearly six years. I did get more testing, but that was only because I participated in a preemie follow-up study. Besides, psychological testing isn’t everything.

Disciplining the Autistic Child

Many autistic people, if not all, exhibit challenging behavior, such as anger, aggression, obsessive-compulsive behaviors and sterotypical (self-stimulatory) behaviors. Whether and how you intervene with these behaviors, depends on their function. Autistic children exhibit normal childhood misbehavior too. For example, they may nag and tantrum when you won’t give them candy, refuse to tidy their room, or be rude. This behavior can be punished in the same ways that you would use for a same-age typical child, such as by time-out, loss of computer or TV time, etc. Take into account that some consequences may not work for your child. For example, an aloof autistic may find time-out comforting, and most autistics do not get non-verbal cues. Therefore, even with an older child, you need to say explicitly that you are disapproving of their behavior. You also need to make sure the autistic child understands what they are punished for. If they are rude, for example, explain what they said that was rude, how they can make amends, and what they need to do differently the next time. When sending a child to their room, onto the naughty chair, etc., make sure they understand when they can come back. I was often sent to my room and stayed there for hours because I didn’t know when it was okay to come back. Don’t tell a child to come back when they “can behave”. Instead, set a specific time or make concrete rules on what they must do to come back.

As I said, whether and how you intervene with your autistic child’s behavior, depends on its function. Often, a function is presumed based on typical chhild development. For example, suppose your child refuses to tidy their room. You assume they are defiant or lazy, but do they know how to tidy their room? Even if you’ve shown them before or they’ve helped, you cannot expect all autistics to know when or how to do their own tidying or cleaning. I remember when I went to live independently out of an independence training home, my support worker told my knew staff that I knew how to clean. I did, but I had no idea where to start in my new apartment. This may in part be due to blindness, but even as I became familiar with my apartment, I still didn’t know how to organize my cleaning.

Then there are those behaviors that are often due to autism, such as sensory overreactivity, self-stim, or meltdowns. Give yoru child a time and place to engage in self-stim or compulsions, of course with the premise that they won’t damage property or harm themself or others. In 2007, when I was diagnosed with autism, my diagnostician told me that I really needed to unlearn to twirl my hair. Indeed, my parents had told me countless times that I needed to stop this behavior. While it is true that it is annoying and distracting to others, autistics need to be allowed their time to stim. Home is where a child should be safe to be themself. When talking about self-stim and how annoying it is when it’s an autistic doing it, I often refer to a lecture I was going to in college prep. Two students were modeliing appropriate and inappropriate communication skills in their filed. One of them was constantly clicking his pen, and I was assuming at first that this was meant to be inappropriate. It wasn’t. My point is, neurotypical people stim too.

When an autistic person becomes aggressive, be it verbally or physically, you need to intervene. However, it is still important to recognize the function of the aggression. For example, if a child constantly screams or hits when there’s loud noise, screaming at them to stop, will make it worse. Time-out in a quiet place where the child can rage away may be the most appropriate intervention. I strongly disagree with locking up an aggressive person in their time-out area unless there is no other way (except for restraint) to get them to stop. Locking the child up should never be used as a threat or for punitive purposes, and I doubt its effectiveness for verbal aggression. That may be my blindness though, as verbal aggression to me is as scary if it happens in the locked room next door. As for restraint (physically holding the child down), that’s only okay if a person is physically aggressive towards people.

One important point I want to make to finish off: be mindful of your own feelings when handling your autistic child. The moment you start feeling powerlessness or feel you’re going to lose your temper, step back. My parents often lost their temper with me, and this usually only made the situation much worse. I won’t say that you can always feel calm when handling your autistic child’s behavior, but strong emotions can be best handled away from your likely already distressed child.

Teaching Your Autistic Teen About Hygiene

Many autistic people have trouble with self-help skills, like clothing and personal hygiene. I hear on many autism parent blogs that their child cannot bruth their teeth independnently, is incontinent at an age where accidents are no longer normal, etc. These are obvious self-help difficulties, but there are many more subtle problems with hygiene that even many more capable adult swith autism deal with.

First, many autistics are unaware of the social rules of hygiene. I remember my sister gave me deodorant for my fourteenth birthday and I still didn’t get the hint. I didn’t have an aversion to grooming as much as I was unaware of the changing rules that came with puberty. Similarly, I remember going to the school doctor at age fifteen and, when being asked to undress, realizing I’d forgotten to put on a bra. It is important, when teaching autistic children and teens about hygiene, to explicitly talk them through the changing norms that come as your child ages. Just because your teen boy knows how to work a shaving tool, doesn’t mean he knows or remembers when to use it.

Another problem in self-care may be an autistic person’s sensory aversion to certain tastes or textures, such as that of certain clothing, shampoo or toothpaste. With regard to clothing, comfort goes before style. It’s okay to tell your child that children aged twelve don’t usually wear sweat pants, but don’t ridicule them or try to force them to wear jeans if they’re uncofmortable. If your child is bullied, that’s not their fault even if you as the parent too see them as an easy target. Don’t make it worse by blaming yoru child.

Whn it comes to hygiene, sometimes comfort has to go. I for one refused to use toothpaste until I was eighteen, because even the kids’ toothpaste had too sharp a taste for me to cope with. I started usign toothpaste only because having the dentist need to fill seven cavities was worse. A few years ago, I again developed a problem with toothbrushing that I still haven’t gotten over.

Lastly, this may seem a bit TMI, but please do teach your autistic preteen girl about menstruation. It can be a very scary experience having your body change in general, and menstruation is overwhelmign to many NT women. Therefore, it’s logical that it causes great distress to many autistic teens. Preparing your teen for what will come can be done using simulation, such as with red wine on a pad. That’s what some kids in my sister’s class did when doing a presentation on puberty. Again, remind your daughter to take pads with her at all times. If menstruation is too overwhelming, your teen girl may consider birth control. Most birth control pills cause lighter, shorter, more regular and less painful periods, while some birth control methods eliminate periods completely.