Saturday, 17 February 2018

W-Sitting - What is it?

**** Please note - If you are concerned that your child sits in a w-sitting position on a long term basis, please seek advice from a trusted medical professional. ****

Prior to gaining L's ASD diagnosis, he would regularly sit with his legs in the shape of the letter "w." I'd often seen other children seated in this position as well but didn't really think anything of it, nor was I concerned about it.

L occasionally still sits in this position, especially when he has had a rough day, and I've since learnt that it really isn't the best position for children, or adults for that matter, to be seated in.

O also sits in this position on an occasional basis but not nearly as regularly as L does.

L's sitting position is a regular topic of discussion between ourselves and his Occupational Therapist. Over the past several years we, and his Occupational Therapists, have been doing a lot of work with L on sitting in other positions and on strengthening his core muscles.

So for those that aren't in the know, what is w-sitting?

W-sitting describes when a child is seated on their bottom, with their knees bent and legs splayed out to their sides in what looks like the letter "w." It looks awfully uncomfortable but L prefers this seated position to the more conventional crossed legged position. I've attempted to seat myself in w-sitting to demonstrate what it looks like and have had a lot of difficulty sitting down and getting back up - although this could be due to my age and lack of flexibility!

Children will often prefer a w-sitting position to sit in as opposed to other more challenging and tiring positions. The reason for this is that when seated in a w-sitting position a child does not need to engage their abdominal muscles. When seated in the more conventional cross legged position, a child must engage their abdominal muscles to stay upright.

When L sits in the w-sitting position we can see that his body appears to sag onto the floor. Now that we know what to look for, we can see that he doesn't engage his abdominal muscles at all. And he can sit in this position for longer periods of time with ease than other positions. When seated in the more conventional cross legged position, L tires easily as he has to engage muscles to stay upright. When seated in a cross legged position he needs to move around on a regular basis to offset the uncomfortable feeling that he gets from his tiring muscles.

Sitting in a w-sitting position provides a very stable base for the child's trunk and hips and therefore allows a child to move easily to play on the floor. However the movement is generally in a forward and backward motion as opposed to moving and turning from side to side. 

The tricky thing about the w-sitting position is that many typically developing children will, at some stage, sit in this position. What most parents, myself included prior to L's ASD diagnosis, do not realise is that excessive use of this position during a child's growing years may lead to future orthopedic problems.

One of the issues with the w-sitting position is that it does not allow or permit a child to perform trunk rotation, or twisting and turning, and lateral weight shifts, side to side motion, to reach toys on either side of the body.

The development of trunk rotation and weight shifts over to one side and to the other is vital in children as both assist in maintaining one's balance while running and walking as well as when climbing and playing on play equipment. It is also necessary for being able to cross our mid-line when writing, drawing, turning pages on books, dressing oneself and other similar skills.

Sitting in a w-position on a long term basis may cause orthopedic issues in a child's hips, knees and feet as well as tightness in the leg and hip muscles. I'd never made this connection until speaking with L's OT but it does make a lot of sense as the w-sitting position itself doesn't look like a natural position to sit in as the joints are bent in unnatural ways. Although in saying that L makes it look very natural!

If a child sits in a w-sitting position once in a blue moon, there is really nothing to be concerned about. However when it occurs on an ongoing basis, the child really should be re-directed to sit in a different position so that any potential issues with their joints and muscles are avoided.

So what alternatives are there I hear you ask and what are the benefits of other sitting positions?

Side sitting - This is when the child sits with bent knees and both legs are out to one side, one leg will be tucked under the child's bottom. If seated in this position, the child should really be encouraged to swap legs from side to side occasionally so that the muscles don't become tight on one side of their body. This position allows a child to maintain flexibility in their hips but it also forces a child to engage their trunk muscles!

Cross Legged sitting - This is the more conventional sitting position used by most children. They are seated on their bottom with their legs crossed in front of them. It is often referred to as "sitting with butterfly legs" or "criss cross apple sauce" legs! This is an ideal sitting position as it assists in stretching the muscles in the hips that can become tight with persistent w-sitting. It also assists in strengthening a child's abdominal muscles.

Circle Sitting - This is very similar to cross legged sitting however in this position the legs are not crossed but instead they form a ring in front of the body. Sitting in this position increases a child's base of support and therefore provides them with greater stability. This is a more stable position than cross legged sitting and is great for children when first learning to sit. Babies will often sit in this position to begin with as it is quite a natural way to sit.

Long Legged Sitting - This describes when a child sits with their legs straight out in front of them and slightly spread apart. Seated in this position can help in stretching a child's ham strings. It takes a lot of energy for a child to sit in this position if they are not used to it and if the child struggles to sit up tall or they need to lean back on their hands for support, it can be an indication that their hamstrings are tight.

Sitting against a wall - This position looks exactly like it is called. The child sits against a wall, or furniture, with their legs straight out in front of them. This position provides a child with the extra stability that they may need but also assists in stretching their ham strings.

We also encourage L to sit on a wobble cushion as he can move about if he needs to but he also needs to engage his abdominal muscles as he wiggles about on the cushion. He actually prefers to sit on the cushion as he sees it as a game! The wobble cushion is a win-win option - L has fun but he's engaging and strengthening his core muscles at the same time. Make therapy fun and children will want to participate!

As mentioned earlier, L's Occupational Therapists have been a god send in suggesting other options for L to sit in as well as other activities for L to engage in. We do still allow L to w-sit as he is incredibly comfortable in that position but it isn't on a long term basis. L is now at the point that when he does sit in a w-sitting position, he will often self correct.

And as mentioned earlier, if w-sitting occurs once in a blue moon there really isn't anything to worry about. It is a behaviour often seen in typically developing children. But as with other ASD traits, when it is an ongoing behaviour or action, that is when we need to be on the look out for options to redirect the child to use.

Tuesday, 6 February 2018

The Traits of ASD that I love ....

I was asked recently to list one of my little superheroes ASD traits that I really loved.

And to be quite honest I was well and truly stopped in my tracks. Not because I couldn't think of a trait that I really loved. I was stopped in my tracks because there are so many of my little superheroes ASD traits that I truly love.

I love O's dry sense of humour. At times O's sense of humour seems to be beyond her years. A few years ago she had one of her teachers at school in stitches with a speech that she gave to her class. And another of her teachers loved having O in her class, as O got ALL of the jokes that the teacher made. O would be sitting in the class giggling away as her classmates didn't know what to do!

I love O and L's innocence and their absolute honest approach to life. A life in which they expect everyone to do the right thing. And when someone doesn't do the right thing, they are horrified. I don't want either of my little superheroes to lose this honest approach to life, I do want them to become a little more world wiser.

I love L's determination in every thing that he does. He never gives up! L approaches every situation with enthusiasm and a can-do attitude.

I love the affection that both O and L show to us, to each other and to others. They have their moments when they just don't want any affection what so ever, but every now and then they both give me hugs just because. And they are BIG hugs that literally knock me off my feet and the wind out of my sails.

I love their honesty. Neither O nor L can tell a lie to save themselves - it is written right across their faces. Their honesty shows in their eyes. We don't keep secrets in superhero headquarters, but even if we did neither O nor L can keep one! If you buy a present for someone in our family, don't tell O or L, because nine times out of ten, they will let slip what the present is.

I love the empathy that O has always had towards others and that L is developing. It does not matter if they have known you for five minutes, five days or five years, they will both show concern. O shows concern for people that she hasn't yet met!

I love the attention to detail that they both have with their obsessions and interests. The facts and figures, the names, the descriptions, their willingness to tell anyone and everyone what they know about their obsessions and interests. Their willingness to correct us when we get something wrong!

I love just how literal that both O and L are. Literal in their thinking and how they process and carry out tasks. Their literalness makes me rethink how I approach tasks and how I speak with people on a daily basis.

I would not change a single thing about either of my little superheroes. They are perfect just the way they are!

Saturday, 27 January 2018

Dear Teacher!

Yes, of course, you can ignore all the visual aides and sensory tools that we send to school for use with my children. Said no parent of an ASD child, ever!

I am growing rather tired of having the same conversations over and over again.

And it all has to do with the fact that apparently my children do not fit the mould of people's perceptions of what autism looks like. Pray do tell, what does autism look like?

So here is an open letter to all teachers in the future that may teach my little superheroes, or any other children for that matter, who require the use of visual aides or sensory breaks in class!

Dear Teacher,

My child has been placed into your class for this school year and as such I am putting my trust in you, that you will do the right thing by my children. Both of my children are eager little learners but there is a slight difference between my children and the other children that have been placed in your class.

You see, my children have autism, sensory processing difficulties and they learn differently to other children in your class.

First up, can you please place what you know about autism into the back of your mind - keep it somewhere easy to access but not directly at the fore front of your mind when you meet my child for the first time. You see there is a saying that goes "so you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism."

Every individual who is on the autism spectrum presents differently. Please don't assume that you know everything about autism based on your previous encounters with children who are on the spectrum. You know about how those children present with autism. You know very little about how my children present with autism. By the end of the school year you will know about how my children present with autism.

Just because my child doesn't fit into the idea, the perceptions, that you have about autism, doesn't mean that he will be able to cope in your classroom without assistance. Yes both of my children are verbal, but that does not mean that they understand your instructions. You may need to walk my child through what you want him to do. You may need to provide step by step instructions.

Every child has a different learning style, my children are no different. Both of my children are visual learners. Both of my children benefit from the use of visual schedules, social stories and visual choice boards in class.

My children's Occupational Therapist and Speech Therapist have put a lot of time and effort into creating numerous visual aides for us to utilise at home as well as for you to use in the classroom. 

The great thing about this is that you do not have to prepare any visuals, we will provide them all for you. All that we ask is that you actively use them in class with my child. Please do not put them in a basket and think that my child will access them by himself - he does not yet know how to independently use them. You will need to prompt him to use them.

These visuals make my children's lives a lot easier for them to understand and manage. When you start utilising them in your classroom, I can guarantee that you find teaching my child a much easier task.

We will also provide a sensory tool kit for my children to use in their respective classes. Both of my children enter into sensory overload on a regular basis. You may or may not notice when this occurs but believe me, we see the fall out at home after school. Every day.

When we say that they have had a rough afternoon, evening or night, please believe us. We do not make these things up for the hell of it. Just because you have not witnessed a meltdown at school, doesn't mean that they don't occur. You are more than welcome to visit our house anytime after three thirty in the afternoon after school on any school day to witness a meltdown. Please be warned, meltdowns are emotionally, mentally and physically draining for everyone.

My son needs regular sensory breaks to keep himself on track. Please let him have these sensory breaks. There is even a sensory break choice board for you to use.

Please let my children keep their sensory tool kits in an easily accessible place in class where they know where it is kept. A sensory tool kit is no use whatsoever when it is hidden from their sight. And heads up, if it is hidden from them, neither of my children will ask to use the sensory tools. It simply does not occur to them to ask.

Again you will see the benefits for allowing them to use their sensory tool kits in class.

I will apologise in advance if you feel that I am over stepping my mark as a parent, but I am my children's advocate. Neither of my children have yet found their voice to be their own advocate, so in the meantime, I am it.

I look forward to this year and hope that you enjoy having my child in your class.

Kind Regards,

This concerned Mumma Bear!

Sunday, 21 January 2018

What is Vestibular Input Responsible For?

**** Please note that if you feel that you or your child would benefit from increasing vestibular input, please consult a trusted medical professional first. ****

Both O and L have always loved hanging upside down. When we lived in Perth they were constantly wanting to hang upside down on our swing set or sit upside down for short periods in one of our lounge chairs. If they weren't hanging upside down, they would be outside jumping on the trampoline, swinging on the swing set or spinning around in the backyard or on one of our many sensory tools or on our office swivel chair.

Since moving to Queensland, both little superheroes have taken it in turns to sit upside down in my recliner to watch television or just to chill out on a very regular basis. They have also been participating in quite a lot of other movement seeking activities as we haven't yet purchased another trampoline.

All of this movement seeking that they are doing is increasing their vestibular input.

I've talked very briefly about the Vestibular system in previous posts so I thought that it was about time for a post simply devoted to the vestibular system.

So what is the vestibular system?

As I have previously mentioned the vestibular system is our movement and balance sense. Put simply the vestibular sense provides us with information as to where our body and head are in space. It helps us to keep our balance and to stay upright.

The vestibular sense is one of our first senses that develop when a foetus is growing in utero. The vestibular sense is stimulated to develop by the movement of the mother's body. By 5 months in a typically developing foetus, the vestibular system is already providing a great deal of sensory information to the growing foetal brain!

The receptors responsible for providing information about this system are located in our inner ear. Any type of movement will stimulate the vestibular receptors, but the best movement activities for gaining vestibular input are spinning, swinging and hanging upside down!

Why is Vestibular input important?

All children, regardless of if they have sensory processing difficulties or not, require this movement to develop their vestibular system. Vestibular input assists children to make sense of the world around them and assists them to learn to move through their environment. As the vestibular system is responsible for our balance and movement, all children require vestibular input for healthy development.

Vestibular input, a.k.a. movement, is crucial to developing a child's gross motor skills. Movement assists in developing a child's posture and muscle tone. Movement will assist to develop a child's visual- spatial perception - where their body is in relation to their other body parts and to objects or people around them, this also assists in developing fine motor control, and also to assist in recognising left from right and crossing their midline.

What happens if a child's vestibular system is not functioning correctly?

Children with sensory processing difficulties may be under responsive or over responsive to vestibular input.

L is constantly on the move so it would be safe to say that he has an under-responsive vestibular input. He requires the constant movement to calm himself and keep on track. When we first noticed that L loved to spin, we were concerned that he would cause himself to become dizzy. He can literally spin for hours and will never become dizzy. L is always jumping on the furniture, on our trampoline when we lived in Perth. He loves spinning in the swivel office chairs and he loves sitting in upside down positions. And if he is going to move somewhere, there is a very high chance that he is going to run! L is a risk taker and will always want to climb higher than he really should! For L, vestibular input is very much calming. In regards to crossing the mid-line on the other hand, this is something that L has always struggled with. He is becoming much better but still needs assistance at times.

O on the other hand, while she does like to sit upside down in the lounge chairs, she has more of an over-responsive vestibular system. O isn't a risk taker - she is very cautious when climbing on playground equipment. O moves a lot more slower compared to L. She has always said that she is afraid of heights, even when the height is not that great. O will always try to climb up ladders and rope ladders on playgrounds but you can always see from the look on her face that she isn't too comfortable with the activity. And quite often when she reaches the top, she will have to be either coaxed to the slide to come down or she will climb back down in tears. O is my uncoordinated little superhero - she is the one that is constantly bumping into objects without even realising. It all makes sense now!

L was a natural when it came to learning how to ride a bike. O on the other hand was much more cautious.

L's gross motor skills have always been far advanced from those of his peers (once he got the idea of walking.) O on the other hand, her gross motor skills are still developing.

So what activities are useful for developing the vestibular system?

We're hoping to get a trampoline soon as it is great for jumping and for L to do his much loved front flips! Even just a series of somersaults on the ground is great for vestibular input. And a jump around on a jumping castle is a must when we spot them at markets or other festivals!

We encourage O to take risks on play equipment but we always ensure that we are nearby to give the much needed reassurance that she will be okay. And when she does take a risk or climb higher than she has on previous occasions, we will point that out so that she realises that her own abilities are developing.

We encourage L and O to sit upside down in one of the lounge chairs in our house - they are restricted to one in the house so as to minimise damage to the furniture! When we are at a playground, we'll encourage L and O to try hanging upside down from the various equipment to gain much needed vestibular input.

We encourage L and O to spin either using their own motion or using one of our sensory tools. They love the swivel office chair as well as a twist balance board that we have in our sensory kit in the house.

We do lots of swinging on the swings in the local playground and when they are swinging, we encourage them both to swing themselves using their own body motion.

We encourage O and L to get out into the backyard to do a lot of jumping and running. It doesn't matter what time of day it is, they love running around the backyard.

We encourage L and O to climb. L loves climbing trees so we take him down to our local park to climb the amazing array of climbable trees! Whenever we visit a playground, we encourage O and L to explore every part of the play area and to do as much climbing as possible. We encourage them both to climb the various different climbing textures so that they can get the feel of different textures and/or equipment.

We also do a lot of activities in which both O and L have to co-ordinate both sides of their body - bike riding, scooter riding, catching a ball, kicking a ball, drawing, painting, typing on the computer. Activities that assist them in developing their gross motor skills, fine motor skills and crossing their mid-line.

All of these activities and more are a part of O and L's sensory diet and all of these activities are assisting in providing much needed vestibular input for them both.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

My Epiphany!

Several years ago I participated in a challenge titled "52 Weeks of Handmade."

The idea of the challenge was that for every week of the year, you would attempt to make a handmade item - be it through crochet, hand sewing, machine sewing, knitting, cross stitching and so on.

The first year that I participated, I am very happy to say that I did in fact manage to create an item every week of that year. At the completion of the challenge I had completed over 52 items.

Last year, however, it was a completely different story. I bombed out very early on in the year but admittedly we did have quite a challenging year in 2017. By the completion of the challenge I still managed to complete a number of items but not as many as I would have like to have made.

The challenge is on again this year and as I was reading a post about the challenge on a social media site a few days ago, I had an epiphany!

We haven't yet been able to unpack my sewing machines, yes I have two, and I honestly really miss sitting at my machines creating items for O and L. I also desperately want to get back into the habit of sitting down in the evening and doing some hand sewing or crocheting. And I have been trying to figure out why I need to sew so badly on a regular basis.

It's certainly not because I or my children need the stuff that I make, although I do think that I am able to make nicer clothes for my children than I could afford to buy. Actually come to think of it, O does need a few more pairs of her favourite style of shorts - little miss has had some what of a growth spurt over the last four weeks!

I have noticed that if I go for more than a week without sewing, be it hand or by machine, I become quite anxious and I've been trying to understand why.

When I was reading the 2018 52 Week Handmade Challenge I realised what it is - I was hit with my epiphany!

When I sew my mind goes blank. Everything that is bothering me and stressing me, just falls to the side. Being creative is like therapy or meditation for me. I get the opportunity to have a complete mental break and am able to concentrate on what I am working on.

Sewing, being creative, is part of my self care routine! 

So wish me luck as I embark on the 2018 52 Week Handmade Challenge. I'm going to give the challenge my best shot!

Saturday, 13 January 2018

What are Positive Behaviour Support Strategies?

Prior to gaining L's autism diagnosis one of the issues that we struggled with on a daily basis was his challenging behaviour, more to the point we struggled to understand why he did the things that he did. Over time we have tried various strategies, some failed dramatically and some were brilliant. Last year I attended a workshop titled "Positive Behaviour Support" for children with autism so as to gain more skills to assist me to understand L's behaviour.

Prior to attending the workshop I had begun to implement various strategies both at home and in my work place to assist in supporting L and other children with their challenging behaviour. I was very pleased during the workshop to hear that they recommended some of the strategies that we had already implemented. After the workshop I had a whole new set of skills to implement with L and with the children in my care at my last workplace.

Now before I go on, I know that a few eyebrows are probably going to be raised by that statement .... with the children in my care ... as questions begin to run through your heads. How do I know this? Well ....

When I have mentioned the concept of positive behaviour support strategies in the past to those who work with children, and people become aware of where and why I have learnt my strategies, they have always said statements along the lines of ....

"But they are for children with autism!" or "Do you have a room full of autistic children in your workplace? No? Well they won't work on normal children!"

And at that point my blood generally begins to boil.

Yes, I do have two children who are on the spectrum. No, I didn't have a kindy room in which every child was on the spectrum. And, pray do tell, what is a "normal" child?

But, all children at some point in time, regardless of if they have an ASD diagnosis or not, need assistance to regulate their own emotions and as such will generally act out through their behaviour. It does not matter if they have a diagnosis or not, behaviour is behaviour. The fact that a strategy may have been developed to assist children who are on the spectrum shouldn't matter. There aren't guidelines, or not that I'm aware of, that states that the strategies developed for children with autism shouldn't be implemented with children who aren't on the spectrum.

All children at some point in time, need guidance and assistance to understand their behaviour.

I have been asked many questions on why we have implemented the strategies that we currently use and also what strategies would I suggest to families who may be struggling to understand challenging behaviour.

So without any further ado, here is my list of tried and tested Positive Behaviour Support Strategies, all of which I have found to be effective for both of my children as well as for children who are not on the spectrum.

First up what does positive behaviour support mean?

For children to feel safe and secure, be it at home, at school or in a day care facility, they need to feel loved. Children also need to know that at any point in time they won't be judged for their behaviour. But on the same hand, we as parents need to provide boundaries, we need to be supportive, we need to provide guidance so that our children can learn how to manage and take responsibility for their own behaviour.

Positive Behaviour Support Strategies aim to promote positive behaviour from children in environments that are positive (a no brainer) and that are also supportive. Positive Behaviour Support Strategies also aim to build skills in children so that they can start to take ownership for their behaviour. All children need to, at least by the time they reach their teenage years, become accountable for their own actions - they need to understand that there are consequences that come with behaving inappropriately. They also need to understand that appropriate behaviour means that they are rewarded in some way. The reward doesn't necessarily have to be a toy, the reward could simply be through praise.

Positive Behaviour Support Strategies also aim to take away the perceived negative language - "stop," "don't," "no" and so on. Have you ever noticed that if you say "stop standing on the table" to a child, they will generally keep doing the behaviour. At times, the child may keep doing it just to annoy you but generally children, especially young children, filter out the "stop, no, don't" and just hear "stand on the table." It is part of their development. By taking away the negative language and using positive language instead, you can start to teach your children what to do instead!

The very first thing that you NEED to know and remember about challenging behaviour is that behaviour is not done on purpose, behaviour is done for a purpose. Our role as a parent, or a carer or teacher, is to figure out what that purpose is.

All behaviour is done for a purpose - it may seem at the time that your child IS doing the behaviour on purpose but are they doing it to simply gain attention or is there another underlying reason. Doing behaviour simply to gain attention is still doing behaviour for a purpose. Do they want your attention? Is the child tired? Are they hungry? Are they in pain? Are they frustrated and unable to verbally express their needs or wants? Are they entering into sensory overload by what is occurring around them?

This has become one of my catch phrases with my own children and with those that I have worked with. Once we, parents, teachers and carers, figure out what the purpose of the behaviour is for, we can then start to work on strategies to prevent the behaviour from occurring in future.

The strategies could be as simple as ignoring the child's behaviour - yes it may be annoying to us but if you give the child attention does the behaviour stop? Generally not. Or you may need to delve further and find a different strategy to implement.

And if you implement a positive behaviour strategy only to find that it does not work, it is NOT the child's fault. All children learn in different ways. Different strategies will work for some and not for others. What we need to do is work out how to come at the challenging behaviour from a different angle. The child is not at fault, we have chosen the wrong strategy.

This next strategy is very much common sense but we all do the opposite from time to time. 

Have you ever found yourself telling your child NOT to do something and then they just keep on doing the original behaviour?

How do we learn what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour? This comes back to the unwritten social rules of society and how we learn these unwritten rules. The unwritten rules were once explained to me like this ....

.... Imagine you are a male going to a public toilet for the very first time. You see the urinal and there is another male standing at one end of the urinal. Where would you stand? Would you look at them while you were both using the urinal? How would you know what to do? ....

The common sense answer is that you'd most likely stand at the other end of the urinal and no you wouldn't stare or look at the other person. But how do children learn these things?

With a lot of unwritten rules, we need to explain and teach our children what the right way is. We need to tell them what they can do, rather than what not to do.

"We sit at the tables, can you show me how to sit on the chair?"

It sounds much nicer then "don't sit on the table!" And then there is that word "don't!" As I mentioned above, children tend to filter out the words "don't, stop, no" and so on and only hear "sit on the table." Hence why they may continue with the challenging behaviour.

We also need to model this behaviour to our children. I am the first to admit that I have sat on a table in front of my children and even in front of children that I have worked with. If they see me sitting on a table, then of course they are going to do it as well.

Children are not born with the inherent ability to know what is appropriate behaviour, we need to teach them this.

And when we are talking with and modelling positive behaviour to our children, we need to talk with our children rather than talking to them or at them. And don't forget to remain calm. A calm parent or carer will generally mean a calm child.

In our house, we pick the battles in which we need to enter into. There are some battles that are just not worth fighting over.

And this is the same in relation to challenging behaviour. Is the behaviour unsafe? Is the behaviour hurting anyone else? Is the child damaging property or belongings? Or is the behaviour simply annoying to us?

If the answer to the first three questions above is yes, then of course the behaviour needs to be stopped. However if the behaviour is simply annoying to us, do we really need to stop the child from doing the behaviour? Is this a battle that you really want to fight?

If you do need to stop a child from doing a particular challenging behaviour, give them a reason why and something to replace the behaviour. If you are going to take away a behaviour, you need to give the child something to replace the behaviour with, otherwise the original behaviour is just going to continue!

.... Jumping on the table is not safe, you could hurt yourself. If you need to jump, why don't you go outside and jump around on the grass ....

The next strategy that we have implemented, and that I have also implemented with children at my last workplace, is that we label why the behaviour is occurring rather than labelling the child.

.... L is crying/yelling/throwing toys because he is upset that his sister won't share with him ....

If we label why L, or another child, is crying then we can figure out the cause of the distress and in turn come up with a  solution. Do we need to practice turn taking or sharing skills? By labelling why the behaviour is occurring you will find it easier to find the purpose in their behaviour.

Labelling a child with "L is crying" is not particularly useful in determining why the behaviour is occurring. If you're not sure why your child is distressed, you may need to do a little detective work.

The final strategy that I am going to mention may cause a little controversy and the controversy lies in the fact that some either don't understand the why behind how this works or don't want to understand the how and why it works. Or they think the strategy is so out there that they don't believe it will work.

I have used the Green/Happy and Red/Sad Choices strategy with my own children and also with those who are not on the spectrum and it has been successful with all children. I've also used this strategy with success with children who range in age from 18 month year olds right through to school age children.

Green/Happy and Red/Sad Choices puts some of the ownership of behaviour back onto the child. A child can begin to learn about appropriate choices from a very young age - this could be as simple as understanding that they need to wear a hat when playing in the sun.

The Green/Happy and Red/Sad Choice strategy allows children to begin to understand that they are in control of the choices that they make. If they choose to make a happy choice there is a reward for that choice. Again the reward doesn't necessarily need to be a tangible reward. It could be that the child can play outside or continue playing with a particular game or toy. If the child chooses to make a sad choice then they begin to understand that there are consequences for those choices. And that they are in control of the choices that they make. The outcome is generally one that you want - they need to wear hats in the sun - but the child feels as though they are in control!

If L or O are behaving in a challenging way, we show them the choice board and ask them what choice are they going to make. For example, L detests putting sunscreen on due to his sensory processing difficulties. But living in a state where the sun is shining most of the time and combined with L's very fair skin, sunscreen is a must. So ....

.... L, if you make a happy choice and put some sunscreen on, or let me put it on you, you can go to the beach with everyone else. If you make a sad choice and don't put sunscreen on, you will miss out and will have to stay inside. Remember the last time you didn't wear sunscreen and you got burnt. That hurt didn't it? What do you want to do? ....

If the behaviour is unsafe to themselves or to others then we put a stop to the behaviour immediately and again explain why, so that L or O understand why they can not keep doing what they were doing.

.... O that was very unsafe. That was a red choice because you could have hurt yourself or your brother. You need to go and have some quiet time for 5 minutes ....

The children that I have used this strategy with at my last work place responded incredibly well to it. To the point that the children were reminding each other of their choices as they were playing throughout the day.

.... You made me sad because you made a sad choice and hit me. That really hurt me ....

Children usually don't like making their friends sad! The fact that there is a visual that is used to explain this concept to children, makes it even more powerful.

All we have to do now is ask L, is this is a happy choice or a sad choice and he will respond immediately and usually change his behaviour. The only time that this strategy does not work is when he is entering into sensory overload.

This strategy also means that it is not the adult telling the child what they can or can't do, the child is in control of their actions. And if they continue to make red/sad choices, they very quickly understand that there are consequences for those actions. The number of times when I have begun to say "oh if you don't keep your hat on, you're going to have to go on the verandah" and the child has very rapidly changed their mind as to what they are going to do, I've lost count of. Using this strategy, very rarely do we have inappropriate behaviours occurring in superhero headquarters.

There are many other strategies that we utilise and I am sure that there are many others that I am not aware of but these are the main ones that we use on a regular basis.

Please keep in mind that not all strategies may work for every child and that you do need to try a strategy more than once to see if it will work. If it doesn't work the first time, it does not mean that it won't work the next time.

And please remember - behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done for a purpose. We just need to work out what the purpose is.

Told you it was my catch phrase!

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Introducing Ulla! A water hydration system.

*** Please note that I do not receive commissions of any description for this review. It is simply a product that we have found incredibly useful. ***

As I have mentioned in numerous posts on previous occasions, we have always struggled to get O to drink water on a more regular basis. Through talking with her previous therapist in Perth we now know that the struggles that we had are in part due to her sense of interoception still developing.

When we first met with O's therapy team one of the managers, thank you Bianca, mentioned to us about a gadget that you could place onto a water bottle to help you to remember to drink water.

Well, I couldn't get home fast home to research this gadget.

The name of the gadget is Ulla and as their website states Ulla is a smart attachment that fits on any water bottle (plastic or glass) via a silicone band that fits around the bottle. Ulla itself is a small tear dropped shaped object that clips onto the band. Ulla comes in a range of colours and designs depending on where you order it from. The US website does have a larger range of designs than the Australian website.

The Ulla works by following an optimal hydration cycle of 40 minutes. Every time you take a drink from your bottle, or glass, Ulla blinks as it detects when the drink bottle is tilted. After 40 minutes if you haven't taken a drink, Ulla will start to blink madly at you.

When I started reading about Ulla, I immediately knew that this was exactly the type of reminder that we have been searching for for O. Ulla is discrete and would blend in with the drink bottles that O likes to use. Ulla doesn't make any noise so it wouldn't be distracting to O or to her classmates. It sounded perfect. And Ulla is powered by a battery that is replaceable - even better!

The first one that I purchased, I used myself at work just to check that it was in fact useful. Hooley dooley, I don't think that I have drunk that much water in one day - the flashing reminder was definitely useful.

Our first Ulla arrived on a Thursday afternoon and I used it on the Friday. The weekend that followed, O bugged me for the entire weekend to put Ulla onto her drink bottle - "When can I use it? Huh? Huh? Mum? Mum? When? Please?" She was super excited to start using it straight away.

I am happy to report that Ulla is paying for itself in the consumption of water that O is going through. Since putting Ulla onto O's water bottle, we've not had one day where she has not drunk enough water. Touch wood, she hasn't become dehydrated once since putting the Ulla on her water bottle.

I found Ulla so useful that I purchased another one for myself to use. It is such a great reminder and it is a product that I would happily recommend to others, especially children, who are struggling to remember to drink enough water throughout the day.

So where can I get an Ulla for myself I hear you ask? Well ....

They are available from Axon Australia and direct from their website. Just don't do what I did the second time  I ordered an Ulla - I didn't realise that I had ordered from the US website and was becoming quite cranky when Ulla took about a month to arrive. Oops! Note to self - check where you order it through!