Self Care for Parents with a Child with Autism: Is This Even a Reality?

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Self care is a term used to imply the deliberate and consistent exercise of attuning to one’s self in ways that provide nurturing, renewal, and a replenishment of energy needed to attend to the tasks and life demands that one may be experiencing. The term has long been popular in mental health fields in regard to promoting proper self care initiatives for mental health practitioners. The idea being that the drain and demand that can accompany being a mental health professional requires the professional to consistently participate in self care activities so that he or she can be operating at his or her best.

The same philosophy can be applied to parents of children with Autism. Most people are familiar with the popular study published in Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders that indicated that Mothers of children with Autism experience chronic stress comparable to combat soldiers and struggle with frequent fatigue, work interruptions, and spend significantly more time care giving than mothers of neurotypical children. No parent of a child with Autism reading this article needs to be educated on the demands, drain, and constant energy and focus it requires raising a child with Autism. This realty makes the proposition of self care for parents even more critical.

In my work with parents, I have found that most can appreciate the concept of self care but feel at a loss when it comes to actual implementation of self care strategies. Recent studies have shown that overwhelmingly parents state that lack of time is the greatest obstacle for their deficit in participating in any type of self care. Other often cited obstacles include: financial difficulties, lack of support from others, guilt, and attending to other responsibilities when not attending to their child with Autism.

So is self care a reality for parents with a child with Autism? The answer is yes, but for many the process may involve reframing their reality. To begin with, we need to reframe the value we put on self care, not be looked at as an optional luxury, instead it should be viewed as it truly is – an essential component for preventing stress, burnout, and providing much needed rejuvenation to attend to the many demands that typically accompany parenting a child with Autism. It is just as important as that Occupational Therapy (O.T.) appointment on Wednesday night.

Additional, we need to reframe what self care looks like on an individual basis. Self care strategies may involve doing something for 5 minutes out of a day. It will certainly look differently for each person and does not have to be thought of as something large like a weeklong trip to a beach. That is great if you can do it but that is not how self care exists for most people on a day to day, week to week basis. Some popular self care ideas include: respite care (even if it is a short time such as 30 minutes), joining a support group, investing in a hobby (reading, journaling, gardening, taking walks, sports), exercising, sleeping, and eating at a healthy level, and trying some of those O.T. and relaxation techniques you have be learning to use with your child on yourself.

Some additional reading for self care ideas can be found at www.autismconsortium.org, check out their May 2, 2014 blog post – Self-Care is not Selfish: Finding a Way to Take Care of yourself. Remember that self care strategies are whatever works for you. Reframe the way you look at the time you need and the time you have and make some effort to purposely plan and implement self care as if it were required. You will likely find the benefits are worth it!

About the Author:
Dr Robert Jason Grant owns a private practice clinic in Nixa, MO and specializes in working with children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. He is the creator of AutPlay® Therapy and the author of four books related to Autism. www.robertjasongrant.com

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Navigating the Holidays with Children with Autism

The Holiday season is in full swing, and December brings some of the busiest and biggest holiday activities. The holiday season can be an especially challenging time for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. There are more activities to do and many of those activities are not a part of the typical schedule (such as brother or sisters school play). There are usually more people coming into a child’s life, and some of those people may be individuals the child only sees during the holiday season. There are also presents; giving and receiving, and typically a break from school. What this can create for a child with Autism is a significant disruption in his or her schedule and routine, being exposed to situations that are going to be anxiety producing, and experiencing dysregulation for a variety of reasons.

Helping your child with Autism navigate the Holidays not only helps them, but also provides the opportunity for everyone to experience a more relaxed and enjoyable season. Try some of the following suggestions that may help make things go a bit more smoothly:

1) Plan ahead for events by creating a visual calendar and preparing your child at least a week in advance for activities that he or she will be participating in.

2) When attending an event, party, or even Christmas shopping, don’t forget to bring aids to help your child such as a fidget toy, headphones, etc. The big family get together or little sisters Christmas concert are not the times to try to work on social and sensory improvement.  Instead, try to set up the situation to be enjoyed by everyone even if that means your child with Autism is on the iPad for an hour.

3) For especially busy days, create a schedule of the events for that day that your child can take with him or her and check off events as each one is completed.

4) If possible, solicit help and assistance from relatives. Having an extra person who understands your child’s Autism issues can be very valuable.

5) Be wary of and try to avoid any relatives who might, for whatever reason, trigger a meltdown in your child. Unfortunately not all family members understand and some even make matters worse. You may discover that avoiding such relatives (even if it makes them unhappy) creates a more peaceful holiday experience for you and your child.

6) Be mindful of times or places that may be particularly chaotic and plan accordingly. Simply taking 5-10 minutes to stop and think about what you are about to do and how your child might best be guided through the experience will go a long way in making the experience more successful.

7) Remember quality not quantity. Your child may not last as long at a holiday event as you would but good quality time is more important than the quantity of time spent.

8) Try to have fun and let your child have fun. Most of the things you will be doing are meant to be enjoyable, keep that philosophy in mind. I’m wishing for you that your holidays are the best ever and that you create some wonderful memories for you and your family!

Robert Jason Grant Ed.D, LPC, RPT-S, CAS
www.robertjasongrant.com
www.autplaytherapy.com

AutPlay® Intensive Parent Training

IMG_2852We are proud to announce our Intensive AutPlay Therapy Parent Trainings for parents who have a child or adolescent with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Parents can attend a two-day intensive training covering the AutPlay Therapy protocol and learn how to implement AutPlay techniques at home with their child. Trainings are designed for one set of parents to attend at a time. The whole two-day intensive is individualized just for you and your child!

More and more research is supporting parent training as an effective treatment approach for children and adolescents with Autism Spectrum Disorder. AutPlay Intensive Parent Trainings are designed to teach and empower parents to work with their child at home to help him or her gain in skill ability. Parents can schedule a Friday/Saturday date that works best for their schedule and work one on one with one of our trained AutPlay Therapy providers.

Visit the AutPlay Therapy website to learn more about our intensive parent trainings, www.autplaytherapy.com.

New Group of Certified AutPlay Providers!

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Congratulations to our new group of Certified AutPlay Therapy Providers! There were individuals from 6 different states that participated in the latest two-day intensive training. We also added a new state – Alaska! There are Certified AutPlay Providers across the United States and internationally. A full list is available on the AutPlay Therapy website. Our next certification training will be February 27th and 28th, 2015. You can register for the training on the AutPlay Therapy website. If you are unfamiliar
with AutPlay, it is a play therapy and behavioral therapy based treatment approach to working with children and adolescents with autism and other developmental disorders. You can learn more on our website and don’t forget to follow AutPlay on our Facebook and Pinterest pages!

2014 Training Schedule!

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All trainings are approved for continuing education credits by the Association for Play Therapy and the National Board for Certified Counselors.

Hope to see you at a training!

February 21st and 22nd
 – AutPlay Certification Training
March 15th – Play Therapy Supervision: An Expressive Process
June 27th and 28th – AutPlay Certification Training
August 30th – Top 10 Play Therapy Interventions for Divorce Issues
September 27th – Using Play Therapy Interventions with Families

REGISTRATION: www.autplaytherapy.com 

Aggression in Children with #Autism

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Many children with autism display what appear to be aggressive behaviors, mostly when they are having some time of “meltdown”. This can be very disturbing to parents and other caregivers. Some parents have experienced having their child labeled as an “aggressive child”.

While it is true that children with autism can look aggressive and have aggressive actions when they are dysregulated, it is not the same as a child with an aggression tendency or aggression related disorder. Children with autism may yell, throw things, hit others and seem somewhat  “out of control” when they are dysregulated and experiencing a meltdown. These aggressive behaviors are actually dysregulation manifesting itself. There is an overload and the child is having great difficulty regulating their thoughts and emotions and thus those thoughts and emotions turn into negative behaviors.

It is important for parents and those who work with children with autism to understand the child is not intentionally trying to be aggressive but experiencing being dysregulated (likely a very frightening and overwhelming feeling for the child) and that the dysregulation is manifesting the negative behaviors. The next time someone tries to label your child with autism as aggressive, take a moment to explain dysregulation to them. The more awareness the better!

Dr. Robert Jason Grant is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Board Certified Counselor, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, and a Certified Autism Specialist. www.robertjasongrant.com

 

Bullying and Autism

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It was a Wednesday afternoon and John, a 14 year old with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), was coming in for his third counseling session. He had shared little during his last two sessions and mostly sat and stared around my office. John and I had been working on rapport and by his third session, he had begun to feel comfortable with me and started telling me about his troubles at school, which mainly dealt with other peers. He started slowly, but eventually disclosed to me the bullying he was experiencing at his school on a daily basis. John spoke about other teens calling him names (I will not list them here as they are highly offensive), being laughed at, made fun of, being hit, pushed, tripped, and having false stories made up about him.

John has never told anyone in authority at his school that he is being bullied and he has told his parents very little about his situation. John does not fully understand what is meant by bullying and why other students are treating him badly. He does know it creates a great deal of anxiety for him, he does know that he excludes himself to avoid being hurt, and he does know that school is a place he does not want to be anymore.

John’s story is similar to the stories of many children with an ASD. It is not uncommon for children with ASD’s to become victims of bullying. It is also not uncommon for children with ASD’s  to not tell teachers, or even their parents about bullying they are experiencing. It is difficult for children to understand what is happening and how to handle it. Some children with ASD’s may even believe that they deserve to be treated badly while others may not even realize they are being bullied. Bullies are not discriminating, and children with an ASD are too often easy targets for a bully’s emotional abuse.

Most children with an ASD can learn effective ways to handle bullies. Aggressive social skills training focused on dealing with bullies is a great and effective approach. Further, every school has an anti-bullying policy and those policies should be followed. If your child is in school and being bullied, it is important to report the issue to the school. Many schools will follow school policy and actively pursue eliminating the bullying. It is also important that children learn how to report bullying and become comfortable with reporting. Therapists, parents, and school personnel should establish a simple protocol for children to report bullying behaviors and actively encourage children to report.

Children with ASD’s have enough to handle without being exposed to bullying behaviors. We must acknowledge and eliminate bullying; it cannot be ignored and invalidated as something that just happens. Never give up fighting for a child’s right to be in a bully free environment. The following resources are available to help children and parents deal with and eliminate bullying:

Missouri School Violence Hotline www.schoolviolencehotline.com.
ABC: Anti Bullying Coalition http://antibullyingcoalition.blogspot.com.
Stop Bullying www.stopbullying.gov
Stomp Out Bullying www.stompoutbullying.com
Stop Cyber Bullying www.stopcyberbullying.com

Dr. Robert Jason Grant is a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Board Certified Counselor, Registered Play Therapist Supervisor, and a Certified Autism Specialist. Dr. Grant is a member of the American Counseling Association, American Mental Health Counselors Association, Association for Play Therapy, and the Autism Society of America. Visit Dr. Grant’s websites www.robertjasongrant.com and www.autplaytherapy.com, connect with him via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and LinkedIn or email at [email protected].

New AutPlay Providers

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Congratulations to our new AutPlay Therapy Certified Providers! They each competed our intensive training in AutPlay, a play therapy treatment for autism, dysregulation issues, and developmental disorders. Contact information for all Certified AutPlay Providers can be found on our website www.autplaytherapy.com. Upcoming AutPlay Certification trainings – September 13th and 14th, 2013 in Kansas City Missouri and February 21st and 22nd, 2014 in Springfield Missouri.

AutPlay Therapy Certification Training

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AutPlay Therapy Combined Level I and Level II Certification Training June 7th and 8th at the CC Counseling Training Center in Nixa (Springfield), MO.  16 CEU’s approved by the National Board for Certified Counselors, the Association for Play Therapy, and the Certified Autism Specialist Credential.

AutPlay Therapy is a play therapy based treatment for autism disorders, dysregulation issues, and other developmental disabilities.

Space is limited so register early! Visit our websites for more details and to register online. www.autplaytherapy.com or www.robertjasongrant.com.