Puberty. It’s a word that can worry parents about how to discuss physical changes and intimate topics with their child.
Parents of pre-teens on the autism spectrum may find themselves even more lost about how to address this transition with their child. The Autism Speaks Autism Treatment Network (ATN) and the Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P) have collaborated to create the free ATN/AIR-P Puberty and Adolescence Resource: A Guide for Parents.
The guide was created to empower parents with the knowledge and strategies to help their children understand what is happening to their bodies and how to handle their new feelings. The guide also covers children and teens across the autism spectrum, including those who are nonverbal. Both medical experts and parents were involved in creating the guide, which covers topics such as body changes, self-hygiene, and public versus private behavior, as well as gender-specific topics like menstruation and wet dreams. The guide also includes sample scripts and visual aids to guide discussions.
You can download the free guide from Autism Speaks, which also provides other free toolkits for families with children on the autism spectrum.
Children are often stressed about school, whether it is an upcoming test, not understanding a homework assignment, or something mean that a friend said to them the day before. For students with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or other learning disorders (LD), stress can often make school issues worse. The magazine ADDitude has published an article on its website on “Why Stress at School is Toxic to Kids with ADHD or LD.” While focused on children with ADHD and LD, the article has useful information for parents of any student.
The article identifies the following behaviors as good indicators that you child may be under stress at school:
- Refusal to do the work
- Devaluation of the task (“This is so stupid.”)
- Acting up or acting out to direct attention away from a challenging task
- Acting “in” or becoming depressed and withdrawn
- Exhibiting signs of anxiety (sweaty palms, tremors, headaches, difficulty breathing)
- Becoming engrossed in a task that they are already successful at or one that is fun (e.g., refusing to stop writing a story, doing a drawing, playing a video game, or listening to music)
- Efforts to encourage (“I know you can do this.”) are met with more resistance
- Asking an adult to stay close and help with every problem
The article notes that chronic stress decreases memory and cognitive flexibility while increasing anxiety and vigilance. As a result, stressed students often become defensive and protective, behaviors that often result in a student being labeled as a “bad kid.” Most students would rather be known as a “troublemaker” or “class clown” than as stupid, and consequently live up to those reputations. For children with ADHD and LD, repeated difficulties in school often result in increased frustration, leading to extra stress on these students.
Turning Things Around
Stress is not necessarily a bad thing. Moderate stress helps the brain to grow and can teach children how to handle stress in the future. It is crucial, however, to interpret the cause of stress so it can be managed effectively, turning stress into the fuel for success rather than having it erode confidence. The article provides a DE-STRESS model to help parents and children accomplish this. The steps of the DE-STRESS model are:
- Define the condition
- Reduce the risk
Be sure to check out the full article for an in-depth description of what to do in each of these steps to help your child handle their stress in a productive manner.
As the new school year approaches, parents of children with special needs may be a little more nervous than most parents about sending their child to school. Navigating the special education system can be a confusing and frustrating process for parents. The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has a parents’ guide, Educational Rights and Responsibilities: Understanding Special Education in Illinois, available as a downloadable PDF and online in both English and Spanish.
The guide provides chapters on:
There is also a PDF Student Records Keeper for parents to keep track of key information concerning their child’s services.
Another helpful resource is the 25 Common IEP and Special Education Acronyms Parents Should Know, published on the A Day in Our Shoes blog. Educators use acronyms a lot, and parents may not catch what they truly mean in conversations about their student. Be sure to read the comments as well for other acronyms and shortened terms that others have added to the list.