Managing Challenging Behaviour and Meltdowns

Amber at her finest ~ covered in foam at a ‘Messy Play’ session.

Challenging behaviour and meltdowns are something that I deal with every day. After working in Childcare for 12 years, (6 years with children with additional needs,) nothing could prepare me for dealing with my own child’s challenging behaviour in the home environment. I have soon learnt that the relationship I had with my pupils is completely different to the emotional connection that I have with my own daughter, Amber (4.) I have learnt that certain strategies that may have worked with the children I looked after do not work with Amber.
I quickly had to learn the important huge difference between a ‘temper tantrum’ and a ‘meltdown.’ As Amber has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) with traits of ASD and ADHD, she can experience ‘Sensory Overloads’ and this often results in a ‘meltdown.’ This is when I describe that she is no longer in control of her emotions, I’m often describing that Amber is neither ‘naughty’ or ‘spoilt,’ these are meltdowns are occurring because there’s a sudden loud noise, a change of routine or she has become overwhelmed in a supermarket from the noise, the lights, the sheer volume of people. Amber has difficulty recognising that she’s feeling overwhelmed and therefore will display her feelings via kicking, hitting, pushing, throwing items, pushing her younger sister over, pulling stairgates off walls, thrashing herself about, banging walls or doors, spitting, screaming or shouting.

At 18-months-old I first noticed that Amber was a ‘sensory seeker,’ she would actively seek out anything that would provide a sensory input, for example, she enjoyed running the taps in any bathrooms and feeling the water run through her hands. I found that her temper tantrums were frequently and I was constantly told that this was “normal for her age,” and that she would “grow out of it.” By the age of 3 she became a big sister and I had prepared myself for her behaviour to become more challenging, the advice I was given was that this should only be a ‘stage’ and that after she was used to having a new baby in the family, then her behaviour would improve, however it didn’t, and as time went on she became increasingly worse, and would display on the whole as compliant in her Early Years setting but extremely challenging at home, she would target her baby sister by pulling her legs and trying to tip over her Moses basket, the jealousy she felt toward her baby sister was quite extreme. By the age of 4 I started to recognise certain things that Amber didn’t like, that she would avoid, for example, physical contact – she would only give out cuddles on her terms and when she did they were very tight cuddles! She also became anxious around unexpected loud noises like motorbikes when outside and she could hear aeroplanes and grass cutters long before I could! It was around her 4th birthday that I would say that Amber’s ‘extreme meltdowns’ started. These were sometimes around 10 times a day and some would last over an hour, and I found it incredibly difficult to deal with as it was such unknown territory for me. The main triggers for a meltdown are:

• Unexpected loud noises,

• Changes to routine – finds school holidays very difficult.

• Wanting something that she cannot have – usually centred around food, as Amber cannot tell when she feels full.

• Public places – usually indoors – supermarkets, libraries, sports halls, swimming pools, cinema, theatre.
I can usually gauge when Amber is on the verge of a meltdown, she becomes extremely restless, will talk quickly and will jump, clap her hands in front of her face or try and climb onto anything she can to jump off.

I use a range of strategies to help avoid a possible overload:

• Visuals – to display routines of what is happening during each day, traffic light system – to help Amber identify if she needs to free play (green,) find a calm activity such as playdough (orange,) or go to her ‘calm zone, (red.) I also use individual cue cards and fans, e.g to show ‘kind hands.’

• Always carry Ear defenders – in case of loud noise, e.g. at the train station.

• Listening to fears, worries, frustrations and what makes her angry – talking through exactly what the problem is if she is willing to share. This is a recent strategy that has worked once I noticed more challenging behaviour days before a Halloween party, we talked and Amber said “Mummy I’m scared of Halloween.” I could then address this to avoid an overload.

• Keeping calm myself – this is easier said than done! It is one of the most difficult things that I’ve ever had to go through and I’ve always been told that I’m a calm person but it’s very difficult to handle when you are being challenged daily, and you’re the main person that your child outlets with, there was a time when I felt completely hopeless and my self-confidence took such a knock. But staying calm allows situations to be diffused, if my voice is raised then Amber will also raise hers, but If I remain calm, then she calms quicker.

• Avoiding the word “No” – we use strategies to avoid demands on Amber, if she hears the word no, she can become even more angry. We phrase instructions carefully, for example, when getting dressed for school: “You put your socks on, or I can help.” This can be quite challenging for us to think of at times!

• Distraction – Amber thrives on sensory and messy play experiences as part of her ‘Sensory Diet,’ If I plan experiences when she’s at home, such as playdough, sand and water play, foam play, etc she is satisfied in terms of her ‘sensory seeking,’ and I find that her level of concentration is much higher whilst engaging in this type of play.

I have learnt over time that there are specific strategies that can help during and after a meltdown:

• Breathing exercises, e.g. lying down and counting to 10 with a teddy on her tummy. Smelling the flower (breathing in,) and blowing out the candle (breathing out.)

• Calm area – a specific area of the house, including blankets, cushions, bubble tube, sensory toys.

Amber’s ‘Calm Area’ is under the stairs, as she prefers smaller spaces.

• Wrapping up in a blanket – Amber responds to a ‘weighted blanket,’ and likes to feel safe and contained.

• If in full meltdown mode, (as I haven’t had up-to-date restraining training,) I have been advised to ensure that Amber is safe, e.g. that she cannot bang her head and that I leave the room with her younger sister for safety, but keeping Amber in sight.

• Offering a reassuring cuddle once a meltdown is over, to talk about what happened later, once she is much calmer and try to establish what the problem was.

• Rocking and cuddling tightly can help to calm her.
I felt completely lost after having my second child when Amber’s challenging behaviour peaked, I would have appreciated someone to advise me that everything would be alright. Now I try and help other parents as much as I can, this is one of the reasons why I started my Blog in March 2016, I’ve always said that if I could just help 1 other person it would be worth it.

My top tips for parents who experience challenging behaviours from their child are:

1. Connect with other parents – via social media support groups and local support groups. I attend a parent’s support group, for those that have children with additional needs, which is run from my local children’s centre I have also joined a local support network where there are meet-ups for parents to connect and for the children to interact. This is such a huge support for both myself and my partner, to talk to other parents who know where we’re coming from and have been through similar experiences, this allows us to share tips and ideas and provides a reassuring emotional support.

2. Research – time is precious and we lead such busy lives, but I’ve found it so useful to research the reasons behind challenging behaviours in children, via internet searches and reading various books. There is a fair amount of reading material out there and I’ve found a lot of helpful books that offer information on dealing with anger in children. I have soon learnt that ‘there is a reason for every behaviour,’ and this has put it all in perspective for me, to stop and ask myself: “Why is this particular behaviour happening?”

3. Never be afraid to ask for help and support – in the beginning I saw asking for help as a weakness, I was embarrassed after working in childcare and that I was struggling to cope with my own child’s behaviour at home. But once I contacted my local children’s centre, and was offered Family Support this turned our whole family life around. Our family support worker made weekly visits to offer advice and strategies to support us to deal with the challenging behaviours that Amber displays. Without this vital support our whole family life would have suffered.

4. Always carry a ‘Fiddle’ bag or box wherever you go! This has prevented many meltdowns, especially whilst out and about, providing a distraction and something to focus on if I recognise the signs of Amber becoming restless, or on the verge of a sensory overload.

Squeezy/stretchy toys and fiddly toys – such as a ‘Tangle.’

5. Believe in yourself! – As someone who’s parenting strategies have been constantly scrutinised, this has really knocked my self-confidence, as Amber is a very good masker of her difficulties and she tends to offload mainly with me, I’ve now learnt that this is because she feels most safe with me and that it is nothing that I’m doing wrong. Believe that you are doing a good job. Take a deep breath and try to offer yourself little ‘brain breaks,’ I go upstairs for 5 to 10 minutes and sit quietly in a dark room once Amber’s daddy returns home from work. It is very difficult to find time for me, bit this is so important.

Thanks for reading 🙂

Spectrum Sunday

How we celebrate Halloween 

Sometimes I think I set my ambitions too high, last year Lou only celebrated Halloween at her Early Years setting – which she did handle really well. Lou had nightmares about monsters that started as soon as the adverts for Halloween came on the TV.

This year Lou seemed a bit more interested in Halloween in general and I thought it would be a good idea to plan a Halloween party. Around 3 days prior to this party I noticed a change in Lou’s behaviour, she was becoming more aggressive towards myself and her younger sister and she was aggressive in the tone of how she spoke to me and other family members. I sat down with her quietly and asked her what she was worried about to which she replied: 

“Mummy I’m scared of Halloween.”

 

I’d been so worried about Lou feeling included and joining in with seasonal events that it overshadowed the fact that she was becoming very frustrated about the thought of a party – the costumes, the masks, the noises – that could have an effect. This was a big learning curve for me to always ensure that the needs of Lou come first, I may be trying to help her but in fact I could be hindering her by doing something that is just too much for her to cope with.

Lou has always been the same on ‘home turf’ she gets territorial and possessive over her toys and belongings and then can get overwhelmed and hit out. 

We did continue with a few little ‘friendly’ seasonal activities which Lou did cope really well with.

1. Pumpkin carving and exploration

Mikey lit up

Lou asked for ‘Friendly’ Pumpkins so I looked on Pinterest and found some patterns for Mikey from Monsters Inc and Harry Potter.

2. Chocolate covered apples.

Lou did this activity with her 3-year-old cousin, it was very popular! I stuck a lolly stick into the core of the apple and the girls rolled it around in the melted chocolate and then dipped in ‘Hundreds and Thousands,’ and then left to dry.

3. Cupcakes.

I used orange and black food colouring for these Muffin-style cupcakes but I soon learnt that black actually came out grey! No matter how much colouring I put in!

I did put a few decorations up, including this Web material with matching spiders, which Lou enjoyed touching to check if it was real! 
For every seasonal activity from now on I’ll have to take it in my stride and think always, ‘What is manageable for Lou?’ 

Thanks for reading 🙂 

2 Dairy and Egg Free Kids.

Lou loves to feed Moo ~ here is is giving her a fruit pot!

One thing that has applied to both my girls, is that from tiny babies, both were dairy intolerant. I’ve never really shared our story, or our journey to where we are today:
Lou’s Dairy and Egg free story.

Lou at a few days old

From Lou’s birth in March 2012, I noticed that she was a fairly ‘sicky baby.’ She found it difficult to keep her milk down and suffered terribly with Colic, so we used the various products on the market to help soothe this for her. Lou would only really be comforted if she was lying on her front and on someone’s chest like my own or her daddy’s. I took Lou to be weighed regularly as I did have concerns about her weight after the amount of milk that she couldn’t keep down. Luckily, her weight was always average for her age. 
When it was time to wean Lou, she was happy with foods such as sweet potato and banana, I thought that the addition of solids may reduce the amount of sickness, but it sadly didn’t, I then introduced yogurts and other dairy products to her diet from around 8-months-old. This is when I first noticed that there was a problem, as Lou would have up to 11 soiled nappies per day and would go through the nappy, vest and straight through her clothes, I had to throw away so many clothes due to this and I had carried about 5 outfit changes in her bag. With introducing egg products, such as scrambled egg, Lou would projectile vomit almost straight after it hit her stomach and came straight back out! Alarm bells were then ringing as I thought that “this isn’t right,” it is so difficult to know what to do and to not feel like your causing a fuss when it’s your first child. However, I then expressed my concerns with Lou’s health visitor, who suggested I try a Lactose-Free formula as she may be intolerant to lactose. I bought some tins from a high street retailer and couldn’t believe the price for the size of the tin! But this did reduce her nappies to 6 a day and I avoided egg altogether. For a baby of 9-months-old to still have 6 soiled nappies per day I still thought that it can’t be right. I then sought the advice of our GP who recognised that in fact, it was most likely an allergy to all dairy. The GP prescribed a formula called ‘Nutramigen,’ and advised to cut out all dairy products from Lou’s diet. An appointment to see a Dietician at our local hospital was also arranged. 

Lou at 10 months old

I soon noticed a huge improvement in Lou’s situation, the formula tasted fairly sour and I’d heard that some babies can reject it, but luckily Lou enjoyed it. I had a huge problem getting hold of the formula, it was like ‘Gold Dust’ and very difficult to order in as each small tin was fairly costly. I once waited from 3pm until 5pm for a delivery to come in as I was down to the last few scoops of the tin and Lou’s daddy had to come and take over with the waiting for the prescription whilst I got her home! 
When we saw the Dietician she was most helpful and we were given recipe ideas for dairy free meals and products that we could use as substitutes for dairy and egg. I soon became a ‘serial packet checker,’ it would take me twice as long to go around the supermarket, from checking the ingredients to ensure that no diary or milk products were included. Once Lou reached 12 months-old we were advised to try her with ‘Alpro Soya +1,’ milk that provided children with the right number of vitamins and minerals, however she was also intolerant to Soya and went back to around 6 soiled nappies per day, and we therefore cut this out. On a return visit to the dietician we were given information about the ‘Milk Ladder, where milk is slowly introduced back in the diet to check if the child can tolerate it at various stages or not. This started with baked products with milk in such as biscuits and cakes, then then in meals such as Shepherd’s Pie, Lasagne and then chocolate, yoghurt, cheese and lastly cow’s milk itself. We soon realised that Lou was more able to tolerate milk in baked products and she still suffered a reaction after eating yoghurts and chocolate, with the first sign of blotches appearing around her mouth. By the age of 3 Lou could tolerate yoghurts and cow’s milk in moderation but still suffered if eating any products containing egg, for example, quiche. We had to keep close observation on what Lou was eating at events such as parties. During Christmas 2015, Lou had lots of chocolate at the various events that went on over this time of year, we soon found that she was unable to tolerate dairy products once again. We had to start right back at the bottom of the ‘Milk Ladder’ and it took until August 2016 for her to tolerate dairy once again, we are very careful though, presently that she doesn’t over-load once again and struggle to tolerate dairy once again. 

For a copy of the ‘Milk Ladder’ document, please see here:

Cows Milk Allergy Guidelines 

Moo’s dairy and egg free story. (Just realised how ironic this header is!) 

Moo at a few days old

The day Moo was born I could tell that she was most likely intolerant to dairy, she couldn’t keep any milk down and I had only taken in around 10 bodysuits into hospital for her and had to make a frantic call to my sister to fetch some more. I noticed the symptoms straight away as I’d already been through it all before with Lou, but she was never this sick from so early on. I was getting worried about Moo’s weight gain as she continually brought milk back up, often just after the milk was hitting her stomach. I voiced my concerns with health professionals who suggested that I tried thicker formula to try and ensure that Moo kept it down, this did work at first but she became extremely constipated and I couldn’t stand to see the agony she was in. I kept it always in the back of my mind that I’d experienced this before, but we were in a different area with a different health visitor and different GP so it took until Moo was 3 months old for the recognition that Moo was also dairy intolerant. I repeatedly had to say “I’ve seen this before!” Moo was put onto Nutramigen as Lou had been a few years before, and we saw a massive improvement. We noticed that Moo was more prone to Eczema around her mouth and behind her arms and legs.

Moo when she started weaning at 6 months old

After weaning at 6 months old, we knew exactly the products to avoid and the best ones to use for dairy substitutes, such as Vitalite margarine. Moo was still suffering quite badly with Reflux, and she was then given sachets to include in her formula and meals, we then saw an improvement in her weight gain and she stopped using these sachets by her 1st birthday. We haven’t tried the milk ladder with Moo yet, the problem is that now we have 1 child who can tolerate dairy and one who can’t Lou sometimes forgets and will offer dairy products to Moo, and often Moo will eye up a chocolate biscuit and snatch it quickly! We have to ensure that Moo is offered a substitute when Lou is having a treat, such as dairy free milk buttons. 
We hope to introduce Moo to the Milk Ladder by the age of 2, and hopefully that she too, in time can gradually tolerate dairy products. 

Our favourite Dairy Free Products: 

Top left: Organix Rice Cakes, bottom left: Cow an Gate fruit pots (pack of 4.) Top right: Asda Free-from chocolate buttons, bottom right: Vitalite margarine – we use for spreading and cooking.

Oatly milk – we use as a drink, on cereal and in cooking and baking cakes 🙂

Thanks for reading 🙂 

Today I spoke out in public for the first time.

img_20161009_114102.jpg

This will be my 3rd Blog post in relation to the Worcestershire Children’s Centre’s funding cuts.

On Friday 21st October a scrutiny meeting was held in a cramped Lakeview room at Worcestershire County Council. I forced myself to speak in this meeting to share our story once again, to make my presence known and to share how the funding cuts are already having an effect on the support my family receives.

Here is a copy of the passage I wrote and read out during the ‘Public Gallery’ section of the meeting.

I wanted to bring my daughter to this meeting today, but I’ve had to leave her with her Grandparents, she wouldn’t have coped with the unfamiliar room, the lights, the noise, etc. How do I know this, you may ask? Because I felt very much the same as a child. There were no Family Support Workers when I was a child, my parents received no support, and the result is today, that I’m a 33-year-old that has been mis-diagnosed.

You may or may not already be aware of my family’s story. I have written 2 Blog Posts around the funding cuts for Worcestershire Children’s Centres, and our story was featured in the Worcester News. I Blog under the name of ‘Sensory Sensitive Mummy.’

My daughter, who is 4 and a half, has Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD,) With traits of ADHD and Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) she also has Hypermobility in her joints and her school are now questioning Dyspraxia. We are currently waiting to find out the extent of a genetic anomaly that has been picked up via blood tests. My daughter is neither ‘naughty’ or ‘spoilt’ she has a neurological disorder, I have dedicated the past 12 months to researching Sensory Processing Disorder.

My daughter experiences sensory overloads and holds them all in during the school day, as soon as she reaches home she experiences violent outbursts, (or meltdowns,) she hits, kicks, spits, and is very rough with her 19-month-old sister. She requires constant supervision. If my daughter thrashes herself back and hits herself, will I get the blame is she’s hurt and will social services come knocking on my door? I have asked several times for support in Restraining Training to keep my daughter safe at home, I was told that this training is no longer available. From August 2015 until January 2016, we received 1 visit per week from a ‘Family Support worker’ from a Worcestershire Children’s Centre, this support turned our family life around and provided continual support as other problems came up in terms of my daughter. The Family Support worker, arranged ‘Multi-agency’ meetings for all the professionals involved in my daughter’s care, they would also chase reports, now I’m left to do all this all on my own, and with caring for 2 young children I am physically and mentally drained. As of September 2016, we have received 1 visit from the Family Support worker, where do I go to for support now?

Who do I talk to about issues that continually arise from having a child with Additional Needs? Schools are already pushed to their limit, they cannot provide me with the same emotional and practical support that a Family Support worker can, but my family have been discharged from this service because we don’t live in a disadvantaged area?

Please advise as to where I should go to for support and advice from now on?

 

I wondered if the councillors involved in making the decisions regarding the funding cuts, realise how difficult it was for people like me, who shared such personal information about our family life. At times I felt like the walls were closing in on me in that room and that everyone’s eyes were on me as my youngest child wanted to get up and explore the room, to be told that we couldn’t let the children explore due to “wires” which I could only see one, which could have easily been moved! I started to feel extremely short of breath and my daughter was restless so I had to leave the room for a time. I wonder if any of the counsellors involved in the decision making could ever understand how difficult it is for people like me to share such personal information in a room full of influential people. I do not understand politics, I don’t know if what I said was the right or wrong thing, after Cll Bayliss shot me down on stating that “we have been discharged from the Family support service because we don’t live in a disadvantaged area,” this is what I’ve been told – and that we are seen as a family that is “no longer in need of this service,” and not a “family at greatest need.” If we haven’t been discharged due this factor, then why have we been discharged? Sadly, I didn’t get my answer! Cll Bayliss proceeded to say that I could stay behind and he would talk to me about this, sounding rather like I was back at school and had to remain behind in class! My daughter was tired, my brain was frazzled and I just wanted to go home, sadly no matter how much you pour out your heart to this man, the response is always the same, “No Children’s Centres will close,” that may be true, however the 3 different weekly stay-and-play groups that I attended with my child, only this time last year, no longer exist. Yes, the buildings are still there but there is hardly anything going on in them anymore! The only conclusion that I can come to is that this individual actually has a heart of stone L

It’s also very worrying that cuts are being made to the health visiting service, my Health Visitor was the first practitioner to recognise my daughter’s difficulties in our own home, until this point my parenting was being blamed and I came to believe that I was a terrible mum. This Health Visitor also arranged for my daughter to be referred to Occupational Therapy, as there had been a mix up. She sped up the process after a 12-month wait and this support has been vital for my child. This same health practitioner supported me through having 2 children with allergies to all dairy products and egg, without her I wouldn’t have known where to turn for help.

I have spent the past 12 years of my life dedicated to teaching children in the Early Years from 4 months to 11 years, I am so very passionate about the early years, as this is the foundation of every child’s journey in life. I am so passionate about helping and supporting other families, and worried that families that are in the same place as we were a year ago won’t get the support that they most desperately need and deserve.

One thing is for sure, I definitely know who I won’t be voting for in the next local elections!

 

Thanks for reading 🙂

20160716_194214.jpg
My two precious children, the very reason why I gained the courage to speak out today, their futures matter, and so do those of other children. 

 

 

 

img_20161009_085140_processed.jpg

 

Visuals, Visuals everywhere…

Our house is currently covered with visual aids. I’ve used visual prompts in my job role as a teaching assistant, Nursery SENCO (title name in 2009,) and Early Years Teacher. I find the pictures of actual objects work very well with all Early Years children. And I also used the actual objects to show to babies as a prompt, e.g a nappy when it was time to change their nappy.

At first I wondered if visuals would work for Lou, but I discovered that she was responding really well to a ‘Visual Timetable’ and ‘Sign-a-Long'(signing system) at her Early Years setting. Even though Lou is verbal, she may not always understand what is being asked of her or what she is saying herself. Using visuals has aided that ‘Processing Time’ that is so vital for Lou – offering her at least 10 seconds after a question or request. Using a visual is a practical way of getting across a message to her without her having to think really hard about what is being said. 

Here is what ‘Autism West Midlands’ state about visual resources:

Why do visual resources help people with autism?

• Many people with autism are ‘visual thinkers’ so information can be easier to process and understand if it is presented visually. 

Visuals are more permanent than words. Once something has been said it can quickly be forgotten or misinterpreted, whereas a visual will always stay the same and can be referred to as many times as needed.

• People with autism can find verbal communication difficult to understand because there are so many different bits of information to process all at once. Visuals allow a person to focus just on what is being communicated, rather than having to decipher the tone of voice, eye contact and body language etc. 

• Visuals can help people with autism to express their needs – if someone struggles to communicate verbally, visuals can be used to help them tell others what they want and need.

• Visuals can help to increase independence – for example if a person struggles to get themselves dressed in the mornings, try using a visual prompt to help them understand what they need to do.

How can visual resources support those with challenging behaviour?

• People with autism crave predictability and structure. When there is not enough structure people with autism become anxious. Visuals help to provide this structure and predictability, which reduces anxiety.

• Challenging behaviour can occur when a person with autism cannot express their needs or doesn’t understand what is being communicated to them – visuals can help with this.

• Visuals can be used to help people with autism understand how they are meant to behave and what is expected of them.

• Visuals that incorporate a special interest can help to motivate and reinforce the expected behaviour.

Taken from ‘Using Visual Resources – Introduction. www.autismwestmidlands.org.uk

Illustrated small cards. 

These smaller visual cards are very good for aiding processing time, for example, the card that displays putting Pyjamas on is frequently used, also the one for ‘Good Listening.’ When we would like to gain Lou’s attention. 

Now’ and ‘Then’ boards.

Many times Lou can get overloaded with information, she often wonders what the day will bring and asks every morning (around 6am!) Where are we going today? 

This is when the ‘Now’ and ‘Then’ visual prompts are very useful. Where photographs of the actual activities, actions or places are taken: 

For the above this displays that ‘Now’ it is craft time and ‘Then’ it is lunch time. This clearly displays the activity or action that is happening now and after to allow Lou to process what is happening, and also reduces the anxieties of not knowing what is happening. 

Specific routine visuals.

These cards for ‘Crossing the road,’ ‘what I need for swimming,’ and ‘getting dressed,’ were taken from the ‘Autism West Midlands Website.’ (Link below.)
These routine visuals for ‘Getting ready for school,’ ‘after school,’ and ‘getting ready for bed,’ were found on a website called ‘Understood,’ (Link below.)

The above are examples of pre-made specific action or activity timetables that I have printed then laminated. 

Traffic Light Visuals.

After recent input from an OT it was suggested that a traffic light system could be used in order to help Lou to understand how she is feeling and to help with sensory overloads.

I designed the above visuals and used actual pictures for:

Green = general activities of choice. 

Orange or ‘Amber!’ = activities to help calm/burn energy ~ dancing to music or play dough. 

Red = time out in the ‘Calm Zone,’ which is the sensory area situated under our stairs, or to lie on her bed and calm using a weighted blanket.

The aim is for Lou to eventually recognise when she’s feeling a bit overloaded and select an option independently.

Reward systems.

We have tried sticker charts, charts where a hand moves up every time kind hands were used, a ‘Family Starry sky’ where star stickers are added everytime someone in the family achieves something. But nothing has worked as well as the ‘Special Interest’ chart below:

‘Frozen’ achievement chart with characters to earn, can also be snowflakes to earn.

Lou has been a huge ‘Frozen’ fan now for about a year, this chart didn’t take too long to make via a ‘Word’ document, the blue circles are easily copied and pasted and I got some Velcro to enable Lou to add the characters one at a time onto the chart as and when she achieves something. When all 5 discs are achieved Lou receives a reward, which I have been advised, doesn’t always need to be a reward that costs, this can be a trip to the park, or ‘Mummy time’ where Lou and I do a particular activity of her choice without her younger sister present. I have found that Lou is particularly motivated by her current ‘Special Interest’ of ‘Shopkins’ and therefore she enjoys earning the smaller sets or magazines which are not too costly. As a family, we are finding that this chart has helped to encourage Lou to use kind hands and has been hitting out less often, it’s also been beneficial in terms of Lou’s current issue of spitting, this has been occurring less frequently since the introduction of the chart. As the interests change, so can the chart to keep the child’s interests, after Christmas i’ll be changing it to a ‘Shopkins’ chart. 

A chart I made for a friend’s son who is a big fan of ‘The Avengers.’

I have found the following sources are amazing for examples of visuals:

  • Autism West Midlands – 

Help and advice, visual resources

There are some really helpful guides to using visual resources and they offer some printable resources. 

  • Do2Learn – 

Printable Picture cards

Here there are also fantastic ‘Social Stories’ that we have used with Lou, these are visual stories where steps of an event or practice are shown in order. We used a Social Story when Lou had to go to the local hospital for her Microarray blood test and we were amazed how well she coped with the experience. Social stories can be used for a visit to the doctors,  dentists,  hospital,  park, play dates, parties, etc. There is more-or-less a Social Story for any event. 

We used this ‘Social Story’ when Lou had her blood tests.
  • Understood – here we were able to print off the routine visuals for bedtimes, getting  ready for school, etc. 

Visual planners

For more information on ‘Sign-a-Long’ please visit:

www.signalong.org.uk

Thank you for reading 🙂 

If anyone has any queries on visuals please contact me at: 

sensorysensitivemummy@outlook.com 

Weighted Blankets 

Source:
ADDITUDE

Lou has been given the chance to borrow a ‘Weighted Blanket’ to help her at Bedtimes, and at other times to help assist in calming her. Before we trialled the blanket I found it difficult to comprehend how a blanket with weights in could have such a positive effect! 

What I’ve found is that these blankets are literally worth their weight in gold! We noticed the improvement in Lou’s bedtime routine straight away, anyone who has read my ‘Bedtime and Sleep’ series will have read that Lou has had problems with bedtimes since May ’16. We would usually experience a high level of anxiety with the transition of getting ready for bed then settling to go to sleep, objects are often thrown and Lou will try anything possible to gain our attention to return back to her upstairs. 

The first evening that we tried the weighted blanket, Lou was keen to be wrapped in the blanket and I couldn’t believe that within 5 minutes she was sound asleep! This has also worked during ‘Chill Out’ time after a bath, and before going up to bed, Lou asked for the blanket and fell asleep on the sofa and had to be carried upstairs! 

We also would like to try the blanket for comfort during the day, and try and recognise if Lou is feeling anxious or angry about something and use the blanket to prevent any further sensory overloads. 

Lou is a huge ‘Sensory Seeker’ she has loved being swaddled tightly since she was a newborn and would settle to sleep far better. Lou thrives on the pressure that a weighted blanket offers.

As a family we have decided that a personalised blanket of her own, is a must for Lou and we hope to be able to provide one as a Christmas present! 

I was directed to a company called:

‘Leanne’s Weighted Blankets’ 

Where personalised blankets can be made at an appropriate weight, dependant on the weight of the child and by using a pattern of material that is of interest to the child.

Frozen and Shopkins patterned weighted blankets
‘Shopkins’ patterned weighted blanket

Lou has a huge interest in ‘Shopkins’ at the moment, and a pink fleece one side and a Shopkins pattern on the other, is going to be very popular with Lou! 

Not Lou! But another child enjoying a ‘Frozen’ patterned weighted blanket

I don’t normally like pressure and prefer not to be wrapped up, but even I almost fell asleep under the blanket! 

These products are not limited to weighted blankets, there are other products on the market that work in the same way:

  • Weighted lap pads (I imagine would be good to have at school.)
  • Weighted cushions.
  • Weighted snakes.
  • Weighted vests.
  • Weighted caps.
  • Weighted wrist and ankle scraps.
  • Weighted cuddly animal.

Thanks for reading 🙂 

    My story isn’t over yet… #WorldMentalHealthDay 2016

    My own design which describes my journey. The butterfly is a symbol of peace and freedom to me. I’d love a Semi-Colon butterfly tattoo (when I’ve found out if I’m allergic to the dye.)

    I usually prefer to write about Lou’s journey, not my own.

    But on days like today I remember back to 2008/9 when I had, what I now describe as my ‘tricky time.’ I prefer to write all of my memories from this time to my online books. I’ve always carried a feeling of being ashamed of suffering a nervous breakdown, but what I’ve learnt over time is that it happened and I’m here to tell the story and therefore:

    “My story isn’t over yet!” 

    (Source: Slogan from Semi-Colon project.)

    I was homesick, 3 hours from where I grew up, I hadn’t really branched out to make a lot of new friends outside of where I worked as I didn’t feel that many people ‘got’ me. I had a bad reaction to some anti depressants and it all went a bit down hill from there. I remember feeling so very scared because I didn’t feel in control of my own body and I couldn’t trust anyone around me due to the paranoia I was feeling at that time. I have this tremendous pang of guilty because people did get hurt at this time, lives were changed down to me but it’s not like I chose for the black cloud to descend on me 😦 

    I could have stayed feeling guilty forever, I could have let it consume me, but I now take the approach that: 

    “Everything happens for a reason.” 

    And I wouldn’t be on the path I am today if these events hadn’t happened. I had to go through a tremendously rubbish path to enable me to learn about myself and become the strong person that I am today. 

    This event in my life sparked some (still mainly) unanswered questions about myself, as a child and also an an adult. I suffered brain trauma at birth, could this have any effects on my mental health? (Another topic for my ongoing research,) although no one is to ‘blame’ all I can do is learn about myself and how I can go about to ensure I can function. I have questions about:

    – Depression

    – Anxiety – (in particular, social anxiety.) 

    – OCD tenancies 

    – Undiagnosed Autism? Particularly Asperger’s Syndrome.

    – Bi Polar? A huge question mark as I no longer have ‘high’ episodes, more on an even keel.

    – Highly Sensitive Person (HSP.) As suggested by a great counsellor I saw. 

    – Sensory Processing Difficulties – in particular, a ‘sensory avoider.’ 

    I could sit and ponder on these things all day but…

    …What I have got are 2 beautiful children and a partner that understands me, for me, like no other person has (except my mum!) Ever! I’m now back, where I feel that I belong, back where I grew up and in familiar terratory. With people close by that would spot straight away if I didn’t seem right. My issues have only meant that I’ve ever had a few weeks away from working, I’ve been able to do a job that I so desperately love, that allows me to forget about my worries, for over 12 years. One of my biggest worries is that my issues would stop my future career prospects as my fear was that people would ‘think’ that I wasn’t suitable to work with children, but it has never stopped me, it’s one of the elements where I tell myself “keep going, your good at it!” When I run my music sessions currently, and I see the children are smiling and enjoying themselves I think to myself “this is what I was born to do.” 

    I do worry that I could have future ‘occurance’ but I desperately try not to dwell on it, I worry that my daughter will suffer the same worries as a teenager and throughout stressful times in life. But I can be the one who can spot her troubles and get the appropriate help if needed. 

    Mental illness needs to be talked about, for years it felt like my ‘dirty secret’ I was so worried and moulded on other people’s impressions of me. What are people with a mental illness supposed to act like? Do people expect me to have a massive meltdown in the middle of a public place?! Do people expect me to sit and cry all day? In fact I find it very difficult to cry, I have only cried twice in the past month! 

    We need to talk to other people who are going through, or have been through the same experiences, I have a few friends and my sister who I could be completely honest with about how I’m feeling and can talk openly about my experiences, I recently chatted to one friend for 3 hours about how we perceive the world and people in public, and realised that it’s not just me who thinks a certain way! Which was a massive relief for me! I’ve only had one experience so far, of sharing my problems, (regarding a view I have on a particularly sensitive subject,) where this person really couldn’t understand me, and later referred to me as “ungrateful” amd “selfish,” (needless-to-say, I no longer associate with this person!) 

    This was one of my first original quotes that I produced after starting my Blog in March 2016. Blogging to me is fantastic therapy. There are so many thoughts going around in my head, it’s a relief to get them out and onto the Blog.

    For more information and/or help, please contact: 

    www.mind.org.uk

    www.time-to-change.org.uk

    One of my biggest hurdles was plucking up the courage to tell my GP how I was really feeling, the GP’s can only really help if you open up, something that I’ve learnt over time. I was so worried about being dismissed or being told that I was “making it all up.” But thankfully, this has never happened. If I have a problem I write it down and hand it to my GP, for me, I am the sort of person who finds it easier to write things down, rather than to make eye contact on a particular sensitive topic. If you, or anyone you know, are feeling that you need to talk to your GP, my advice would be to write it all down and post or take it in personally.

    Thanks for reading 🙂 

    Save Our Children’s Centres Campaign poster 

    As one of the admins for the ‘Save Our Children’s Centres’ (Worcestershire) campaign, I have designed this campaign poster 🙂 including a photo of Lou’s trademark hands! 

    Anyone who has read my 2 Blog posts, and/or read the newspaper article with our story, you will know how the local children’s centres have supported us as a family since August 2015. Without this support we’d be completely lost – however we have already seen the effects of these cuts, as opposed to weekly visits last year, we’ve only had 1 home visit due to the funding cuts and staff redundancies. The family support workers are being told to target and support families in ‘areas of high deprivation’ but what about families like ours who just needed support at home that have a child with additional needs, our worry is so many families and children are going to slip through the net 😦 it doesn’t matter how much money you have, or what your social status is – every child and their family has the right to support. 
    If anyone would like to support us please visit Twitter @SOCCWORCS
    Anyone is welcome to join and you don’t have to live in Worcestershire 🙂 
    Thanks for reading 🙂 

    Sleep and Bedtime Series ~ Guest Blogger 

    Today I am featuring Sophia who Blogs at ‘Tattooed Tealady.’  I absolutely Sophia’s personalised header for her blog. I find the blog so clear and she uses some fantastic images in her posts, making for a very eye catching Blog.  

    Tattooed Tealady started as a beauty Blog, which is great as I’ve not featured a beauty Blog before, Sophia also writes: 

     book reviews, recipe posts and restaurant reviews, and most recently, a place to document my journey through my first pregnancy, with plans to include parenting posts from January 2016.”


    1. Please explain a bit about yourself. How many children you have and how old they are? 

    – I’m Sophia, a 28-year-old Psychology graduate turned blogger. I write over at http://www.tattooedtealady.com where I talk about beauty, food, books and parenting. I’m a first time mama to 7-month old Willow, an independent baby girl who makes every day an adventure. 

    2. What is your child’s usual bedtime routine? 
    – From the beginning we always said we wouldn’t try and implement a routine, because our lives are fairly flexible and we wanted to go with what Willow wanted and needed. For the first two months this meant no routine whatsoever, but by 9 or so weeks old, we noticed Willow was starting to put her own routine in place, which we started to follow along with her. Now at just over 7 months old, this is more like a proper routine with most of our day set like clockwork to do certain things at certain times, including bedtime. 

    Unlike many families who find a bath right before bed works best for them, Willow is not a fan of baths when she is starting to get tired, and so we usually have ours much earlier in the day. Instead, our bedtime routine centres around dinner time and story time. I aim to have Willow at the table eating dinner between 5pm – 5:30pm at the very latest, which varies day to day simply by what time she decides to wake up that morning. We’ll have dinner together, tidy up and settle down on the sofa for her last bottle of the day, before going upstairs around 6pm – 6:30pm, getting into her sleepsuit or pj’s for the night and settling down to read together. 
    Willow loves reading any time of day, but I find when it’s close to bed time it really helps to keep her content and help her drift off peacefully, rather than fighting sleep. After a few books she’ll go into her sleeping bag, I’ll pop her cot-bed with her night-light on and I’ll say goodnight. Some days I can simply kiss her nan-night, leave the room and she drifts off herself, sometimes I have to go back in a few times to reposition her, find her dummy for her or just generally soothe her. On a good night she’s asleep within minutes, but every now and then it can take much longer.
    3. If your child has tried to gain your attention after you’ve said goodnight, what do you do? Go back and see what the problem is? Leave them?
    – Generally, we decide what to do based on the noises we hear coming through the monitor. If Willow sounds like she’s just content talking away to herself, we wait to see if she’ll drift off alone. Other times, for example if she sounds a little frustrated or on the very, very rare occasions she’s getting upset, we’ll go straight in. On those occasions I’ll go into her room quietly, trying not to make her more alert than she already is. She will often have rolled onto her side or tummy, which she tends to find distracting and uncomfortable. I’ll pop her back onto her back, find her dummy which she often throws out of the cot whilst playing, and go back through the goodnight process. I’ll check her nappy, usually the culprit to her still being awake, before stroking her face, make shushing sounds which she has always found calming, make sure she has her comforter and then say goodnight before quietly leaving the room again. Sometimes once is enough, other times I’ll have to do this anywhere up to a handful of times before she’s asleep.

    4. What is your child’s usual bedtime? And usual wake time? Do you have any views on later bedtimes, does it mean they get up slightly later? Or still the same time in the morning? 
    – Willow generally wakes between 5:30am – 6am, any later than that is a treat for me as I get a little longer in bed too, although those times are sadly few and far between! Bedtime generally is between 6:00pm – 6:30pm, although there is the odd occasion once every fortnight or so, where she will fight sleep and stay up until 7pm – 8pm. On these occasions she still wakes up at her usual time in the morning. 

    5. Do you have any strategies or tips for a smooth running bedtime?
    – We are very lucky that after the initial first few weeks when the world was a very big and confusing place for Willow, we generally have things very easy with her. She never really cries, she’s exceptionally well-behaved around others and is a very happy and content baby. Because of this, we find that most of the time, bedtime is pretty smooth running. She does like to have her nightlight on, which is a projector that displays stars on her ceiling as well as playing a variety of soothing lullabies or nature themed sounds, but on some occasions we go without as it can also be distracting for her if she’s having the odd night where she’s fighting sleep. 

    6. Do you have any other strategies that have worked for you?
    – Staying calm! Babies aren’t robots and their needs will change from day to day. I read Willow’s singles as much as possible and try to work around her, rather than making her work around me. Listening to her cues, watching her body language, giving her what she needs all works for us.

    7. Does your child still have day time naps? Morning or afternoon? Morning and afternoon?
    – As Willow is just over 7 months, we are still lucky enough to have day time naps, although these have always been more difficult for us than actually getting her to bed at night. She’s always been a light sleeper in the day and often fights nap time. I found a chart when she was just a few weeks old, which was a rough guide to how many naps a baby has at different ages, roughly how long each nap should be and roughly how long they are awake between naps. I find Willow has loosely followed the chart and so it’s a pretty good guide to go by.

    At this age, Willow tends to have 2-3 naps a day, usually 2-3 hours of awake time between each nap and napping for 30-60 minutes. Her usual is more around the 30-minute mark and she very rarely naps longer than an hour. That said, she sleeps so well at night and very rarely wakes throughout the night – even skipping those dreaded sleep regressions we’re all warned about -, that I don’t mind so much if she doesn’t nap for long during the day.

    You can read more from Sophia at: 

    www.tattooedtealady.com

    Twitter

    Instagram 

    Facebook 
    Thanks goes to Sophia for joining in with the Sleep and Bedtime Series.

    Thanks for reading 🙂 

    This is the last guest Blogger feature in the Sleep and Bedtimes Series, it has been a wonderful few months in sharing experiences from some wonderful parenting Bloggers, thanks to everyone who joined in. I will look forward to my next guest series. 

    ~ Nicki