Last night’s Emmys awarded the television movie ‘Temple Grandin’ the win for Outstanding Made for Television Movie, as well as the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Miniseries or a Movie to Claire Danes for her highly accurate portrayal of Grandin. I talked about this film in an earlier post, and it’s certainly worth watching if you haven’t seen it yet.
Grandin was interviewed on the red carpet, dressed in her traditional western wear, rather than the typical Hollywood gown. She talked about her hopes in making the film. (I apologize for any transcription errors.)
“The other thing I hope this movie's going to do is educate people about autism...it's very accurate, my visual thinking,... sound sensitivity, touch sensitivity, visual sensitivity, anxiety, and also to show that people with autism really can do things and they can really succeed.… motivating some of these young people, that they can get out and they can do things.”
Grandin was articulate and well spoken in her own quirky way, and, as always, inspiring about what all individuals can accomplish. The film highlights both the difficulties Grandin had growing up, as well as how her autistic traits were those very strengths that allow her to succeed. Grandin's mother, whom she acknowledged during the ceremony, is portrayed as truly supportive and one of the reasons that Grandin is so successful.
As summer draws to a close, and the new school year is fast approaching, I start thinking of what will make this year easier and more successful than the year before, for my clients, their families, and my readers. This post is a reprint of an article I posted on Ezinearticles.com back in August of 2008, but I think the information is still useful and relevant. For more back to school tips, you can also check out my back to school post from last August, which focused more on the social and emotional aspects of returning to school.
Back to school can be a busy and challenging time and it’s easy to let things slide in the beginning of the school year. But, if your child struggled with school last year, whether academically, with behavior or organization, or with social skills and friends, it’s important to take a few steps now. If your child has special needs, like autism, Asperger’s, ADHD, or learning differences, an early plan is especially important. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be a lot of work, and the payoff is huge. A few conversations now, a couple of systems established, and the year will run more smoothly. Try these tips to get off to a great start.
Attend Back to School Night
Back to school night may be the only opportunity to meet your child’s teacher until the first report cards come out. The benefits of this meeting are twofold. First, it shows your child’s teacher that you’re an involved parent. While most teachers really try to treat all kids equally and fairly, they’re only human. The child with the parent who is paying attention may be less likely to be overlooked in a crowded classroom, and it’s easier for a teacher to contact a parent who has been introduced. In addition, this meeting is your chance to find out what the teacher is expecting. What is the system for assigning and collecting homework? How much time is homework expected to take? What should the parents do if the homework is taking too long? Are parents expected to help with homework? How will the teacher communicate with the parents, and how can you best contact the teacher? These are all questions for which you as a parent need answers. Discuss these issues with your child too. Often, the teacher will tell the parents one thing, but the kids may understand something else entirely.
Put Together a List of Classmates and Phone Numbers
The beginning of the school year is the perfect time to have your child put together a list of classmates and their phone numbers. You don’t need the whole class, just a few from each subject. Chances are, your child will not be perfect this year. It’s easy to misplace a paper, forget a book or write down an assignment incorrectly. It’s best to let this be your child’s problem, but the classmate list makes it easy for your child to find a solution.
Think About Special Services
Schools can be overcrowded and underfunded. As the school year goes on, the waiting lists grow. I worked as a school therapist for years, and every year, it was the same pattern. Things started slowly in September, but by February, my waiting list was so long, I couldn’t possibly fit in another student. Many parents want to give things a fresh start in the new school year, and that may be a good idea. At the same time, it doesn’t hurt to explore the support services. Find out how far in advance you’ll need to request homework support, special testing, or tutoring. You don’t want to give problems time to grow, only to find out that the help you need won’t be available until the following year.
Also, check and see if you need to make requests in writing. Too often parents are patiently and cooperatively waiting in a “verbal” line, only to find out later that the countdown for services doesn’t even start until they make a written request.
Set Up a Homework System at Home
Just as a good teacher will start the year with a plan for homework, assignments, and communication in the classroom, you should do these same things at home. Work with your child to figure out where and when homework will be done. How will your child get you the papers you need to review? The less naturally organized you and your child are, the more time and effort you should put into this upfront plan. It will be easier to start with a system and then modify it if it’s not working than to try to dig out of chaos in the middle of the year. Take advantage of the beginning of the year enthusiasm, and the fact that there is no old work to catch up on.
Don’t Forget Social Issues
If your child has struggled socially in the past, the new school year can be the best time to tackle those issues. Take time with your child to discuss potential friends in the new classroom. Since many kids move over the summer, and most schools shift the students every year, lots of kids will be looking for new friends. Are some of these kids potential friends for your child? Think now about play dates and activities. It can be tough to join into a dance class or a team after it’s established, but being an early member makes your child an automatic insider. And for parents, often the first few days of school are the times it’s easiest to meet other parents.
These simple steps may be tough to manage in those busy first weeks of school, but it’s worth it. Try to think of this as an investment for a smooth and successful new year.
You do everything the experts advise. You set up rules and rewards and consequences and you’re as consistent as possible. But still, your child melts down, throws a tantrum in front of everyone, screams and yells, and you’re left embarrassed, judged, angry, and thinking that you don’t know what you’re doing. Maybe it’s not that you’re doing anything wrong.
Kids with special needs can be difficult to parent. So often, well meaning - or maybe just nosy - friends, relatives and even your own parents may not understand it. “If you’d only…, be tougher, be less tough, do what we do, whatever,...your child would be as well behaved as mine.” But that advice only works for their children. It may not work for yours.
The Explosive Child: A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children, by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. may be exactly the help your family needs. Greene presents a different theory behind the meltdowns, the idea that children behave well when they can. And when they don’t manage to hold things together, through tantrums and worse, it’s not that these children don’t know right from wrong, or that they don’t know that their parents are the boss. Kids throw tantrums because they don’t have the skills to behave better.
Greene posits that weaknesses in “flexibility and frustration tolerance” can trigger these meltdowns. These “pathways” to meltdown include “executive skills, language processing skills, emotion regulation skills, cognitive flexibility skills, and social skills.” That’s a pretty complete list of what a lot of children with ASDs or ADHD may be struggling with. And, the “triggers” to these tantrums are probably pretty predictable as well.
Further, Greene states that continuing to fight, struggle, set a line in the sand, put your foot down, can be just doing more of what wasn’t working in the first place. Greene’s plan involves moving beyond the extremes that parents often choose: either insisting on the adult’s way (Greene terms this Plan A) or giving in to the child (Plan C) to a Plan B, involving collaborative problem solving. In collaborative problem solving, the parent is really functioning as a “surrogate frontal lobe” and helping the child develop those skills necessary to manage tough situations. Greene looks at triggers to explosions, and develops plans to be proactive in avoiding meltdowns, as well as coming up with quick emergency plans for when explosions are about to happen.
Of course, every child is different, and it’s difficult to fit an individual, or a family, into a prewritten book. But Greene give numerous examples, asks some tough questions, and really helps the reader envision how this different way of looking at parenting challenging kids may be the answer. His writing is so clear and methodical that it easily moves the frustration of parenting into a logical, problem solving arena. I encourage parents to read this book carefully, think about your own family dynamics, and try these techniques out for your own family.
So many individuals with Asperger’s and autism get caught up in worries, repetitive thoughts, ruminations. Often, worry is the number one difficulty that individuals on the autistic spectrum have to deal with. We all face failure, rejection, unpleasant situations and uncomfortable emotions. But the difference in how well you manage is about how well you can let go and move past those difficulties.
Worry is about the past, looking at all the things that have gone wrong for you. And, worry is about the future, recreating all those negative situations and imagining them into the your future. That’s why present based programs, things like Eckhart Tolle’s the Power of Now, or Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction can be so effective: they help you move out of the past, out of the future, and focus on the now. Even a simple step like pausing for a breath or two can reset your anxiety level, move you out of thinking about the past or imagining the future, and take you right into the present moment.
Patricia Robinson MFT
I'm a licensed therapist in Danville, California and a coach for Asperger's and ADHD nationwide. I work with individuals of all ages who have special needs, like Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD, ADHD, and the family members and partners of special needs individuals.