Preparing autistic children for enrolment

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You need to look at the enrolment of a child on the autistic spectrum as a three step process. Completing the enrolment form is only one small part of these steps. The three steps includes;  Step 1 Preparing the environment and review the educators practices, Step 2 Preparing for the transition from home to the centre, Step 3 Building relationships with families. Let’s look at these steps in more detail.

Step 1 Preparing the environment and review the educators practices

  • How does your room look and feel for an autistic child? All educators need to critically reflect upon the room and outdoor play area. This involves closely examining all aspects of events and experiences from the autistics child’s perspective.
  • Educators need to ensure the room routine flexible to meet the needs of the child.
  • Nominated Supervisors need to ensure educators understand Autism & how children on the autism spectrum process information.

Step 2 Preparing for the transition from home to the centre

  • Create social stories with the parents. Ensure they include the child preparing for their day in the morning at home, their trip to the centre in the car and what the child’s first day looks like.
  • Ensure the room is not overstimulating. When the child settles in you can progressively add more to the physical environment.
  • Work with the parents and professionals in your local area to discover if you need other resources to meet the child’s needs

Step 3 Building relationships with families

  • Get to know the family, their situation, goals, challenges and achievements. Again, critically reflect and try and see from the parent’s perspective.
  • Give families a visual matrix to complete for their child.
  • Find out what services the child is attending and gain written permission for the service to liaise with specialist and inclusion support services.
  • Allow for a gradual transition. The child and parent/ carer may attend the service for 2 – 4 hour visits for 2 weeks leading up to their first day of care.

Change, can be overwhelming for people on the autistic spectrum. We need to remember the everyday hustle and bustle that most people view as ‘normal’, is difficult for children on the spectrum. With this in mind, children need to a part of the transition preparation so the change is not a surprise for them. Don’t forget you are not alone and there are many services in your community and state/territory to help you identify and develop a range of support strategies that can make the transition process smooth and successful for your new children on the autistic spectrum.

Inclusion Support Goal Steps

We can use ‘Inclusion support goals’ when working with children with Autism. These goals should be made up of real life situations and routines where the child is displaying challenging behaviours.  You choose, plan, practice and evaluate using the challenges that children are facing on daily basis.

Start slowly, begin with very small steps, celebrate and build on each achievement and don’t give up.

Step 1 Choose an everyday event or part of a room routine which the child is finding challenging, exhibiting behaviours or that you feel will support the child’s inclusion ie transition from home to the centre or participating in small group activities.

Step 2 Plan with the families, other professionals and if possible the child the steps they need for the goal. Start simple – no more than three steps at a time. Later you can build upon these steps and include more.

Step 3 Prepare all educators and ensure that everyone s consistently implements the plan. If everyone is not following the same practice it won’t work and becomes confusing for the child.

Step 4 Practice the plan. Make sure it includes preferred language, checklist and visuals/photos so the child can readjust when needed, have some space and have the option to communicate using verbal or non-verbal communication. For example, when a child needs a break from group activities they can bring the visual that represents quiet time or can say “Quiet time now”.

Step 5 Reflect on the work goals with the child, family and educators after they have been implemented and have practised it a few times. Offer support and add another step to the work goal. Try to see it from the child’s perspective and evaluate its success.

If the behaviour is serving a purpose, we cannot take it away, but we can replace it.


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Create a curriculum for the child

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  1. Know the child from many different perspectives
  2. Reflect on how they best receive and process information
  3. Write ideas to create curriculum for this child
  4. Implement these ideas
  5. Evaluate with families and key support services and adjust
  6. Repeat

To meet a child’s needs we need to know them and create curriculum just for them.

We need to look at this from:

  • Child’s Perspective
  • Parent’s Perspective
  • Educator’s Perspective
  • Director’s Perspective

Let’s look at Edward

Step 1 what do we know about Edward?

Edward:

  • comes to the service 3 days a week
  • lives with his mother father and big sister
  • loves trucks, diggers and road signs and has a room full of toy trucks, diggers and road signs
  • starts to run and hit when he becomes over stimulated. This is often caused by large groups, other children crying and children sharing his road sign images or diggers in the sandpit
  • loves spinning around and rolling around on the floor.

Step 2 Reflect on how they best receive and process information.

What we know Comments and Ideas
Edward finds large group activities difficult Is Edward engaged? Is our equipment interesting to him? Is there an opportunity to create small group learning?
When overstimulated becomes challenging to bring back, needs lots of support to self regulate Be mindful when the room is getting too noisy. Is there too many noisy resources provided at one time? Is there a plan in place to support Edward and identify when he needs quiet time. Are educators aware of Edward’s triggers and cues?

Step 3 – Write ideas to create curriculum for this child

What we know Comments and Ideas
Edward comes 3 days a week and likes to help Is Edward engaged? Is our equipment challenging? Are educators supporting Edward’s inclusion?
Edward lives with his mother, father and big sister Could we go for a home visit? Have we worked with all Edward’s family members to get a clear idea of his family life?
Edward brought in a picture of all his diggers and trucks. I want to know everything about diggers – build your knowledge to share a common interest, find a book from the library or watch a video clip.
Edward has lots of energy and enjoys spinning and rolling. Do we need to add a heap more exercise 2 to 3 times a day to wear him out? Should we introduce heavy things to move around, like a sled?

Step 4 Implement these ideas.

Remember the guiding principle is ‘Meeting the Child’s needs.” Edward’s needs are he wants to be a part of this learning environment and do what the adults are doing. Edward needs to:

  • Be listened to. He needs to tell you and everybody how much he knows about his world
  • Create experiences that are challenging and aligned to his interest
  • Have systems in place to support communication.

Step 5 Evaluate with families and key support services and adjust

Step 6 Repeat

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Entering children’s play worlds

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To prompt positive behaviours from children with Autism we must support the child to build those behaviours.

This cannot be done unless a trusting relationship is made.

Making relationships with children on the spectrum may require you to think a bit differently. See the world from the child’s eyes so that you can experience it with them.

Strong relationships can be built when there is emphasis on the development of children’s play skills and their response and enjoyment to an educator’s emotions, feelings and tone of voice.

Educators need to be genuine in their interactions and be sure none over stimulate the child.

Really look to see what the child is seeing and what interests them by getting down to the child’s perspective and joining in their play.

When interacting it’s important to be attuned to a child’s state, motives and feelings. Educators do this by reading, acknowledging and responding sensitively to the child’s verbal and non-verbal cues that communicate, for example, an interest, a need, or an invitation to interact and play.

Teaching can be brought into every social exchange with children as long as you’re following a child’s lead and offering an exciting interaction. Children with Autism often learn better in small quick bursts.

Eventually social play will become fun and interesting because of your presence and the start of a rewarding, beautiful relationship can be built.

Entering play scenario

An educator worked with a child who was nonverbal, no eye contact, no communication, and many educators said “he has no interest and doesn’t show any play interest at all.” The child would walk around flapping their hands and when outside would crawl around on the floor exploring the ground and nature. He would eat things from the ground like sand and leaves during his explorations.

One-day the educator got down on the floor and crawled around and followed the child for over 20 minutes looking at what he was looking at, sharing quick eye contact and occasionally the child would become interested in the educator’s presence.

The educator soon discovered he was following the ants back to their home nest, crawling the same tracks as the ants. From that point the educator followed the ants. With prompting and lots of positive encouragement the child started to follow the educator and made eye contact. That was the “in” with the child. When we say “in” we mean finding the child’s strength and interest, just like the EYLF says.

You can only enter their world by being a part of their world, and if you start by imitating the child’s behaviour to see what they are interested in, you might be surprised. From this point we are able to build a relationship.

Connecting first, communicating second bit by bit, the educators learnt what interested the child, and then extended on his learning by focusing on this interest.

Try and imitate what children get excited about, get down to see it from their perspective and try and understand what it is they are focusing on.

Step into the world of a child with Autism and see what they are seeing.

How many times do we try and control children in an environment that is not suited to their learning or interest.


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Understanding a sibling’s perspective

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Most siblings of a person with a disability will be able to say there were good and not so good parts to their experience. Those who can look back and see benefits in their situation say they have found inspiration through their brothers and sisters, become more tolerant, more compassionate, more aware of their blessings and, in many ways, more mature than young people who have not had these experiences. They say growing up with their brother or sister gave true meaning to their lives, that “they made me who I am”. Some children, however, have a more difficult time. They can experience confusion over the feelings that arise. On the one hand, a child may feel loving and protective toward their brother or sister, but at the same time feel a mixture of more difficult feelings such as resentment, fear, guilt, embarrassment and sorrow. As children, they are likely to lack the understanding, emotional maturity and coping skills required to deal with their experiences. As a result, they can feel isolated and confused and become ‘at risk’ for a range of emotional, mental and physical health problems, which can continue into adulthood.

NOT ALL siblings will experience concerns and, with an increased understanding of the issues for siblings, it is fairly easy to support children so their adjustment can become more positive. You can’t remove some of the stresses, but you can help children manage them. Most children can deal with stress better if they feel listened to and understood.

Only once you understand Autism from different perspectives can you support the child and their family.

www.siblingsaustralia.org.au


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Understanding a parent’s perspective

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‘Welcome to Holland’ c 1987 by Emily Perl Kingsley.

I am often asked to describe the experience of raising a child with a disability – to try to help people who have not shared that unique experience to understand it, to imagine how it would feel. It’s like this……

When you’re going to have a baby, it’s like planning a fabulous vacation trip – to Italy. You buy a bunch of guide books and make your wonderful plans. The Collosseum. The Michelangelo David. The gondolas in Venice. You may learn some handy phrases in Italian. It’s all very exciting.

After months of eager anticipation, the day finally arrives. You pack your bags and off you go. Several hours later, the plane lands. The stewardess comes in and says, “Welcome to Holland.”

“Holland?!?” you say. “What do you mean Holland?? I signed up for Italy! I’m supposed to be in Italy. All my life I’ve dreamed of going to Italy.”

But there’s been a change in the flight plan. They’ve landed in Holland and there you must stay.

The important thing is that they haven’t taken you to a horrible, disgusting, filthy place, full of pestilence, famine and disease. It’s just a different place.

So you must go out and buy new guide books. And you must learn a whole new language. And you will meet a whole new group of people you would never have met.

It’s just a different place. It’s slower-paced than Italy, less flashy than Italy. But after you’ve been there for a while and you catch your breath, you look around…. and you begin to notice that Holland has windmills….and Holland has tulips. Holland even has Rembrandts.

But everyone you know is busy coming and going from Italy… and they’re all bragging about what a wonderful time they had there. And for the rest of your life, you will say “Yes, that’s where I was supposed to go. That’s what I had planned.”

And the pain of that will never, ever, ever, ever go away… because the loss of that dream is a very, very significant loss.

But… if you spend your life mourning the fact that you didn’t get to Italy, you may never be free to enjoy the very special, the very lovely things … about Holland.

Compare your families and their emotional and physical challenges.  Looking through their eyes, what is their emotional state at this point?

A parent you are having challenges with
A parent who is happy at the service

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Understanding a child’s perspective – A voice of a child with Autism

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Can’t versus won’t

I may not be ignoring you on purpose when you tell me to do something. Perhaps I just can’t understand what you’re saying. Remember my language is not as developed as yours. If you say, for example, “Matt we need to wash our hands. Can you see that lunch is being served?” I might just hear “Matt lunch” and then wonder why I get in trouble when I wander over there. Please make sure you use simple words. Tell me exactly what to do and why, so it’s easy for me to do the right thing. For example: “Matt, wash hands then lunch.”

Literal language

I may be confused when you say something to me because I only understand the literal meaning of the words. I don’t understand that there may be another meaning. If you say, for example, “You bit off more than you can chew” when I’m not eating I don’t know you mean “You took on a very big task”. When you say something “costs an arm and a leg” I see someone missing those body parts, and if you say “It takes two to tango” I don’t know you mean it takes more than one person. Please say exactly what you mean.

 Visual learner

I’m only learning about language so I don’t always understand what you say unless there are pictures to help me or you show me how to do things.  Please don’t get angry if I need to be shown many times. I am a visual learner so simply telling me things makes it very hard for me to learn. I often get stressed trying to remember my next activity or managing my time. A visual routine with photographs or drawings helps me with this. See for example https://www.cesa7.org/sped/Autism/structure/str11.htm. When I’m older I may have words instead of pictures – or even a combination – but pictures and drawings are what I need at the start.

Can do not can’t do

I have my own way of doing things, so please don’t get angry when I don’t follow the “right” way. I have many strengths, and I can do many things. Don’t focus on what I can’t do as this makes me feel I’m being judged for being ‘broken’. Please help me excel in the things I can do and encourage me to try new things. If you constantly tell me or correct the way I’m doing things I will not let you into my world. I am smart, but in my own way.

 Social learning

I’m not very good at reading people’s or my own feelings and emotions, and I need help learning how to socialise with others and how to respond in social situations. You may have to teach me, for example, not to laugh at inappropriate times. If I’m on my own don’t assume I want to be by myself and that I don’t like playing with other children. Please remember I may need help learning how to join in the play, and how to respond to other children’s emotions. You may also need to show other children how to ask me to join in. Structured play activities work well for me because they have a clear start and end.

Managing meltdowns

I don’t enjoy having meltdowns, but sometimes I get so frustrated not having the language to communicate how I feel or what I need that this is the only way I have to communicate. Sometimes my senses just get so overloaded and a meltdown happens. Please take notice when I have a meltdown and try and work out what is causing them eg a particular activity, time, person or setting. Keep a record of your observations.


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Children can project their feeling onto us

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This may appear a little weird at first, but let me explain. The process is called counter-transference and was initially written about by Freud when he noticed feeling the same way as his patients as they somehow transferred their feelings to him. This was further explored by other psychoanalysts in the 1950s and has developed into a process of assisting patients and clients of psychoanalysts.

Let me give you an example you will recognise. Imagine an educator comes into work and they’re moving house or going through a messy personal issue like a divorce. Their emotional energy gets transferred over to the children and then the whole room is a mess, behaviour problems, off the air children, educator breaking down and crying and complete chaos. What has occurred is the educator has transferred her emotional state onto the children. Anyone who spends some time in the room will begin to feel the same way as the children, as the educator’s feelings are transferred to them as well.

How can we use this technique?

When a child can’t talk or has language that is difficult to understand we can use this process to help understand what is happening. The child’s feelings will be transferred to us too.

As educators we need to constantly see things from a range of perspectives. This particularly applies to children with Autism and their families.

Allow yourself to become a part of a child’s world, take the time to know and work closely with families to support them to achieve the best results for families.


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How can you tell if children have problems with self regulation?

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Self-regulation is a person’s ability to adjust and control their energy level, emotions, behaviours and attention. Some of the indicators children may have difficulty self-regulating include where children:

  • Be under-reactive to certain sensations (eg not noticing name being called, being touched, high pain threshold)
  • Appear lethargic/disinterested, appear to mostly be in their ‘own world’
  • Have difficulty regulating their own behavioural and emotional responses eg increased tantrums, emotional reactive, need for control, impulsive behaviours, easily frustrated or overly compliant
  • Have meltdowns that last for longer than typical
  • Have more meltdowns or behavioural episodes per day than typical
  • Be difficult to discipline
  • Not respond to typical behavioural strategies
  • Be easily distracted, show poor attention and concentration
  • Have poor sleep patterns
  • Love movement, seek out intense pressure (eg constant spinning, running around, jumping, crashing into objects/people)
  • Have delayed communication and social skills, be hard to engage in two-way interactions
  • Prefer to play on their own or have difficulty knowing how to play with other children
  • Have difficulty accepting changes in routine or transitioning between tasks
  • Have difficulty engaging with peers and sustaining friendships.
  • Heightened reactivity to sound, touch or movement
  • Have poor motor skills eg appear clumsy, have immature coordination, balance and motor planning skills, and/or poor handwriting skills
  • Have restricted eating habits or be a picky eater
  • Become distressed during self-care tasks (eg hair-brushing, hair-washing, nail cutting, dressing, tying shoe laces, self-feeding)
  • Avoid movement such as avoiding movement based play equipment (eg swings, slides etc).
  • Appear floppy or have ‘low muscle tone’, tire easily and show a slumped posture
  • Perform tasks with too much force, have big movements, move too fast, write too light or too hard
  • Display risky behaviours in play
  • Flit between play activities instead of sticking with one long enough to actually engage in it
  • Seem less ‘mature’ than others of the same age
  • Be emotionally labile (showing rapidly fluctuating emotion levels in a short time).

Children on the Autism spectrum do not know how to respond to social and emotional situations. They often find it difficult to regulate their behaviour and calm down or in some instances get active.

Lots of reinforcement will help educators achieve the desired behaviour.

This will be different for each child. It may be one of the experiences mentioned above or it could be something a bit more challenging to identify that requires lots of trial and error.

Creating a reinforcement kit for that child for the times when the child is displaying appropriate behaviour can be a very effective strategy.


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Teaching children how to be calm

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Calmness and mindfulness is an open and friendly willingness to understand what’s going on in and around you. It means living in the present moment (which is not the same as thinking about the present moment) without judging or ignoring anything or getting carried away by the pressures of everyday life. When you are mindful while waking up, eating lunch, playing, or with every major and minor conflict, your mind is not elsewhere but right there in the moment.

You save energy, as you are aware of what is happening while it is happening. This mindful, friendly presence changes your behaviour as well as your attitude toward yourself and other children. Mindfulness is feeling the sun on your skin, feeling the salty tears rolling down your cheeks, feeling a ripple of frustration in your body. Mindfulness is experiencing both joy and misery as and when they occur, without having to do something about it or having an immediate reaction or opinion.

Mindfulness is directing your friendly awareness to the here and now, at every moment. But mindfulness practice involves some effort and intentionality.

Calmness and mindfulness
can be learnt.

BE A FROG. You could introduce an exercise as follows: “A frog is a remarkable creature. It is capable of enormous leaps, but it can also sit very, very still. Although it’s aware of everything that happens in and around it, the frog tends not to react right away. The frog sits still and breathes, preserving its energy instead of getting carried away by all the ideas that keep popping into its head. The frog sits still, very still, while it breathes. Its frog tummy rises a bit and falls again. It rises and falls. “Anything a frog can do, you can do too. All you need is mindful attention. Attention to the breath. Attention and peace and quiet.”

Calming activities for children with Autism

Consider implementing some of the following calming activities:

  • Working in a tent
  • Resting on beanbags
  • Gentle bouncing or rolling on a small exercise ball
  • Rolling up tight in a blanket or having a weighted blanket to wrap around
  • Slow rhythmic movements- tyre swing, rocking horse, facing each other holding hands rocking to and fro
  • Doing “heavy work” rolling tyres, dragging weighted bags
  • Offering a fidget toys basket with items that can be pulled, squeezed, and manipulated
  • Giving children bubble wrap to keep in their pockets during group times
  • Singing or listening to calming action songs
  • Sitting and reading child’s favourite stories.

Calming sensory seekers

To calm children seeking sensory input, activities that are not typically calming will often help regulate a child’s sensory needs. Then a child may be able participate in a calming activity.

Some of these activities can include:

  • Bouncing on a ball
  • Swinging on a tyre swing
  • Spinning around and crashing on a mat
  • Rolling around on the ground
  • Playing games like musical freeze
  • Throwing around a balloon

Different strategies will work for different children.


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Scenario – Identifying behaviour and triggers

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Before the behaviour

Educator tells children, “Time to pack away, put the trains away.” There was no warning provided. The other children follow instructions and begin to pack away the train set. Ben was playing with this and instantly reacts to the request.

The behaviour

Ben begins throwing the materials, runs around the room and returns hitting another child in the face with a train. The child who was hit was packing away the train set.

Step 1 Manage the behaviour

The following doesn’t help child or educators.

The educator tells Ben that it wasn’t the right thing to do and to say sorry. Educator encourages Ben to ‘use his words’. The educator who initially started the packing away transition comforts the child who has a red mark on his face. The other educator is unsure of how to respond so continues to transition the other children to the group time mat.

A better approach – What could have happened?

Educators could have:

  • introduced warning bells, visual cards or clear instructions the child responds to support the transition of packing away
  • allowed children to pack away in stages and let Ben leave his track out for later
  • used a visual board with two steps – ‘first’ and ‘then’ showing images of what will be happening.
  • added a picture of a train to Ben’s visual routine
  • supported Ben with routine of packing away and involved him in preparing group time to eliminate meltdown occurring.

Step 2 Identify the purpose of the behaviour

Now that everyone is busy and out of Ben’s way he can continue to play trains.

Step 3 Plan of intervention

Critically reflect on the situation to see that no warning was given to Ben and that he was only aggressive to the other child because the educator didn’t carefully plan the transition and implement the types of steps discussed above.

Step 4 Replace behaviour

When a child has a meltdown provide an area for the child to self regulate. Rather than stopping the behaviour replace it eg let a child throw beanbags at the brick wall or into a bucket.

Step 6 Reward for replacement behaviour or following tasks using supports.

When a child packs away they get to choose a sensory item from their reinforcement kit.


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