Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Great DIY Weighted Blanket Experiment

written by Bec Oakley

originally posted on snagglebox.com

Attie doing a puppet show for me while I wrote this post.

I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to consider a weighted blanket for my kids.

Maybe because they’ve always been good at settling in at night... until we moved house last year and Attie had a room of his own for the first time. He doesn’t like this one little bit, and it’s been a nightly struggle to get him to conquer his fear of being alone. Finding the right kind of night light, leaving a fan on for white noise, letting the dog sleep in his room. Letting the dog sleep on his bed. Letting the dog sleep on the floor when they argued over who got the pillow.

One night after the tenth round of “but your bedroom is so far awayyyyyy” (dude, it’s three feet), I squeezed him extra hard and said “Here, I’ll give you enough hug to last until morning.” Underneath the weight of my body I heard a muffled “Mummy? That squashing feels really good. Do that some more.”


I headed back to bed to research how to make a DIY weighted blanket. They’re expensive to buy, and what if he didn’t like the feeling? Spare cash isn’t exactly abundant at the moment, so I figured making my own would be a great low-risk solution... completely ignoring the fact that I have no skills of any kind. But hey, I’m a crafting optimist.

A couple of hours later I became despondent at all the tutorials touting “It’s sew easy!” (see what they did there), and talk of exotic things like seams and stitching and cotton batting. I’ll let you in on a secret. I DON’T KNOW HOW TO SEW. Oddly, this has in no way dampened my enthusiasm for collecting vintage sewing patterns, of which I have over 500 for no reason other than they’re completely and utterly awesome and I am in intense fascination with every single one of them.

See? How could this not make you insanely happy.
The collar! The sling-backs! The Farrah Flip!

I digress.
Click here to read more......

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Learning How To Ask For Help

by Bec Oakley

originally posted on snagglebox.com

One area that I’m focusing on with Max at the moment is helping him to figure out when he needs to get help.

Like a lot of autistic kids, he finds it difficult to know when or how to go about getting it - shoe laces that come untied, a homework question that he’s stuck on, even some pretty serious injuries are all suffered in silence until they happen to come to my attention.

Being able to get help when you need it is an essential skill for independence, not to mention safety and survival, but it’s a much more complex skill than most people realize. There's also the dangerous assumption that kids who don't ask for help don't need it. I’ve seen so many IEP goals that say something like “Ben will ask for help when needed”, but it’s not a simple behaviour or just something they need to try harder at.

So let’s look at the steps that make up 'seeking assistance' to try and understand why it can be difficult for some people (oh and by the way, it’s not just kids that can struggle with this - I find it almost impossible to do too).

Knowing that you have a problem

This isn’t always as easy as it sounds. Some situations might be a problem for other people but not for you, or might become a problem at some point but haven’t yet. Untied shoelaces only become a problem when you try to walk and your shoe falls off. Or when the teacher notices them and tells you to fix it. But until that happens untied shoelaces are just untied shoelaces. No solution required.

Some problems make themselves known instantly - an angry dog that’s running towards you, forgetting where you’ve parked your car. But many problems sneak up on you - like teeth that slowly decay from incorrect brushing or the emotional distance between spouses who aren’t communicating well. So it might not always be clear when a situation has turned into a problem... and you can’t get help if you don’t know that you need it.

Knowing that you need help

Got a problem, get help... simple, right? Well no, because having a problem is not the same thing as needing help. I’ll say it again because this is important - having a problem is not the same thing as needing help.

If you have a problem but already know the solution and have everything you need to solve it, you don’t need assistance. You actually only need help when you don't know how to fix it, can't do it alone or you've tried and your solution didn't work.

And yet “do you have a problem” is about as far as we usually go in teaching kids how to figure out when to get help. It’s also why it can be so hard for some people to understand that others might struggle with this. There’s also a big difference between wanting help and needing help, but that’s a distinction that can be difficult for some kids to make.

Autistic kids might not want help if they’re perfectionists, or if they’ve had a bad experience seeking help in the past. Maybe they asked the wrong person at the wrong time in the wrong way, and somebody yelled at them. Maybe they got scolded for seeking help for problems that “shouldn’t be problems”. Or maybe the help was given to them in a way that they didn’t understand or which made the problem a whole lot worse.
To read more, click here....

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Teach Kids About Meltdowns


by Bec Oakley
originally posted on snagglebox.com

“You are an angry person”.

This is the self-image that I’ve had for most of my life, since I first heard those words in third grade. An angry person. The Hulk, capable of explosion at any moment. It wasn’t until I was well into my thirties that I came to understand that it was completely wrong. That my stress-induced outbursts or language shutdowns weren’t aggression at all, but the involuntary response to overload known as a meltdown.

Meltdowns happen in situations where it's hard to cope and there's no way to escape or relieve the tension. The body is overwhelmed by cognitive, sensory or emotional demands that exceed the capacity to process them, and triggers a panic-like reaction in which the brain starts to shut down. Language and executive functions like memory, decision making and problem solving become compromised, making it difficult to find a way out of the situation.

Sensory overload, confusion, frustration and pain are all things that can trigger this kind of physiological reaction. If the balance between demands and coping isn’t restored, the meltdown progresses toward an external outburst or internal shutdown.

These episodes of intense stress, panic and explosion can be really traumatic and painful to go through, but it’s not just experiencing the meltdowns which can have serious long-term impacts on mental and physical well-being.

It’s what you’re taught about them.


For most of my life I didn’t understand the way my own body worked.

I didn’t know that I was more sensitive to sound than other people, or that others found eye contact to be a comfortable and rewarding thing to do. I assumed we were all operating with the same kind of hardware, so the fact that I couldn’t tolerate things that others seemed to be able to must surely have been a character flaw on my part. I’d learned to interpret my own behaviour in the only context that was given to me...

If you yell, you’re angry.
If you avoid eye contact, you’re rude.
If you sit in the corner at a party, you’re impolite.
If you don’t answer your teacher, you’re naughty.
If you don’t want to join in, you’re stubborn/selfish/lazy/boring.

Not wanting to be thought of as any of these things, I constantly put myself in situations which were overwhelming for me - and kept myself there long past the point of overload. Meltdowns were inevitable.

Without knowledge of my own limits, I wasn't able to recognize when I was reaching overload or find the exit strategies that would’ve prevented the meltdowns. I wasn’t able to plan ways to cope or reduce their intensity. Without an explanation for my reactions or the words to explain them to others, I accepted the only reasons given to me - that I was angry, intolerant, rude or stubborn.

This fallout - the confusion, helplessness and negative self-image - is a big part of the long-term cost of meltdowns.

And it’s one that’s completely preventable.


Kids who are prone to meltdowns are well aware that they happen, and what those around them think about that. What they're less likely to understand is exactly what's happening, and why. And in the absence of that information they will form their own explanations.

Don't let them go thirty years before they get the right one.
To read more, click here.....

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Make A Sensory Cocoon in 30 Seconds

by Bec Oakley

originally posted on snagglebox.com

The world can be a pretty overwhelming place for kids with hypersensitive sensory systems. Lights, sound, colours, smells, the touch of clothes against their skin, the flickering of the TV screen... it all gets in and can be hard to shut off.

When things get to be too much they need an escape from all the stimulation. That's not always easy to manage though, especially when bedrooms are shared with siblings or you're visiting at someone else's house.

So here's a quick solution using something everyone has lying around at home!

  • Grab a fitted sheet (single bed size is best)
  • Pop it over the top of the sofa - the elastic ends of the sheet go over the arms
  • Pull the sides down across the back and front (the entire sofa should be covered)
  • Hey presto, an instant sensory haven!
  • Hold the front side of the sheet open like a door so your kids can crawl inside

The best part about this is you can carry a fitted sheet with you just about anywhere. It won't block out much noise, but definitely helps calm visual overload and gives kids somewhere they can go amidst the chaos to chill and reset. And besides, who doesn't love a fort?

To make it extra comfy, tuck a snuggly blanket into the sofa cushions first. My kids both love it and can spend hours in there - reading or playing on the iPad.

Hmm, I wonder if it works for grown-ups...

If you would like more information about Sensory Processing Disorder, please contact Family Matters at 866-436-7842.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

"It's So Much Work to be Your Friend" Review

My oldest son has high functioning autism; one of his biggest areas of difficulty is social skills.  Danny struggles to respond appropriately in social situations, even though he really likes other kids.  He often gets frustrated and feels like he as no friends.

If you have a child with autism or other learning disabilities, chances are, they struggle with social skills, too.  Every learning disorder has a social component, which makes it much more difficult for kids with LD.

It's So Much Work to be Your Friend  by Rick Lavoie addresses these difficulties and how to help kids overcome them. 

Lavoie says that nowadays kids are in a friendship crisis; they have fewer opportunities to negotiate friendships than in the past when kids were able to roam the neighborhoods more freely.

For kids with special needs, it is even harder because language and learning disabilities are a cause AND a consequence of social isolation.  These kids often have difficulty with reading social cues, social memory, reading and understanding body language, among other things, which makes it difficult to fit in.

Lavoie asserts that we are confronted with hundreds of social contracts each day.  People with appropriate social skills understand that they shouldn't hug a stranger or stand too close to people when talking.  They intuitively know what tone of voice to use in each situation and who they can joke with.  Individuals who have difficulty with the many social contracts they encounter also have difficulty making and keeping friends.

This is a big problem, because, as Lavoie points out: children with social skills problems become adults with social skills problems.

It's So Much Work to Be Your Friend is available in book or video form and is filled with practical advice for parents and teachers of kids with special needs.  For example, Lavoie suggests that parents "share war stories" with their kids so that they feel less alone.  Also, he recommends talking with kids before bedtime when they are relaxed and more likely to talk.  Encouraging hobbies and collections is a great way to foster what Lavoie terms "islands of competency" and gives kids something to bond over.

He provides 5 questions for kids to determine whether someone is their friend and he gives invaluable advice about setting up play dates.

As a mom of a special needs kid, I found this video and book immensely helpful.  Here at Family Matters we have copies of both the DVD and the book in our lending library.  If you live in Illinois, you can borrow  a copy for a month.  We provide a self-addressed, stamped envelope to make returning easy!

If you would like to borrow a copy of this DVD, please contact Family Matters at 866-436-7842.  Or you can visit our website at http://www.fmptic.org/library to order a copy yourself. 

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Cost of Clumsiness

by Bec Oakley

originally posted on snagglebox.com

Clumsy adj. Done awkwardly or without skill.
It was shaping up to be one of those mornings. I crawled out of bed after only a few hours sleep and drowsily made the boys some hot cocoa. In my sedated state I made the first big mistake of the morning - I put the mug on the computer desk.

A few seconds later, in his excitement to show me something, Attie reached towards the computer screen and knocked the mug over. Hot sticky cocoa spilled all over the desk, keyboard, mouse and expensive-looking ‘History of Pixar’ coffee table book that we’d borrowed from the library the day before. Cocoa dripped onto the floor. It seeped into cupboards. The dog hovered nearby waiting for me to drop my guard.

And then I made the second big mistake. I swore. Loudly.

It’s not the words that mattered (my kids have heard them plenty of times before), it was the tone. The obvious disgust, disappointment and disapproval that in my tired state I wasn’t careful enough to channel towards the cocoa instead of Attie himself.

I grew up being the one who knocked things over, who dropped the ball and walked into furniture and tripped over nothing. I’m still that person. My constantly moving hands are always accidentally upending vases and smacking people in the face. So I know exactly what Attie was feeling when he ran to his room and hid under a blanket.

Shame. Regret. Embarrassment. Self-loathing.
To read more, click here.....
If you would like more information about apraxia, learning disabilities, or parenting, please contact Family Matters at 866-436-7842.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Managing Your Child's Medications: A Lay-Parent's Guide

originally posted on whac-a-mole life 
We're on drugs. Yep, you name it (duh, legally prescribed drugs), we've probably tried it. I can't say I'm as drug-savvy as Nancy Botwin, and we certainly don't grow or sell them, but we do manage them. Doses, prescriptions, times, counter-effects, interactions, half-lives - it's a lot to take in when you're just trying to keep a kid from scratching your eyes out.

This post is NOT about the pros and cons of medicating children. It's a highly personal, emotional issue for many of us, and I don't wish to debate that here. Obviously, medications are not always the answer. Medications alone rarely are the answer. And unfortunately identifying the RIGHT medications and dosages often can feel like chasing a carrot: just when you think you've nailed it -bam! - the kid has a growth spurt; or completely new symptoms; or they stop making THAT pill in THAT dose; or something else.

Nonetheless, I chose to add medications to our treatment plans, and any reservations I had quickly dissipated after witnessing undeniable, SIGNIFICANT results.

Of course, that doesn't mean I love doling out psychotropic medications any more than I like my kid's melatonin habit. However, I defer to the age-old wisdom: if your child needs a wheelchair, you provide the wheelchair. Yes, you also offer therapy, rehab, counseling, sporn flushing, and so on, but you must provide the wheelchair.

Anyhoo, I've become somewhat of a preachy busybody on this topic because I screw up a lot, and it makes me feel much better to pretend I've learned something from it. So, as much as I support the use of  psychiatric medications when needed, I am militant about the following pointers. If you have others, please share them below, because I'm pretty sure we will continue to be a poster household for Big Pharma for many years to come.

  • ONE PHARMACY: Try to stick with one pharmacy for all of the obvious reasons (automatic refills; location; medication interaction flags), but also because they will get to know you. And this is critical when it is Labor Day weekend and the pharmacy is about to close and you are out of refills on your rx and your doctor is on vacation in Aruba. If they know you as well as ours knows us, they just MIGHT be willing to advance you enough pills to take you through Tuesday. (I'm just guessing here.)
  • ONE SPECIALIST: There are many wonderful doctors out there, and many are capable of writing perfectly legal prescriptions. Maybe your neurologist prescribes anti-seizure meds; and your developmental ped recommends an SSRI; and then your pediatrician  scribbles out an ADHD scrip...you can see that this is going to get ugly. Select one doctor to prescribe (or at least manage) your medication cocktail. And, at some point, you will want to consider whether that person should be a psychiatrist, preferably one who is educated, experienced and reputable when it comes to pharmaceuticals - but not in bed with big pharma. It's okay to ask that dev ped or that neurologist who they recommend and discuss adding a specialist to the team. I've had people tell me they are afraid of offending their doctor. I'm sorry: GET OVER IT. Focus on what's best for you and the kid!
  • CHOOSE WISELY: Perhaps your pediatrician is your drug dealer of choice. (Again, as long as they source or know they are the ones "managing" the meds, fine.) Whomever you choose, choose wisely. Think about these questions:
    • Is this their specialty?
    • Do they stay current with the latest research on medications - including off-label uses - and do they have an academic and practical understanding of interactions, dosing and side effects.
    • Are they easily accessible for questions, concerns, issues, and even last-minute, emergency refills - the bane of everyone's existence? Our psychiatrist actually emails us responses to questions and feedback on minor medication changes. I love him!

To read more, click here....