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Going Away – help with planning and preparation

Does your child get anxious about school trips, days out or family holidays?

My son has autism and any trip away from home can be a challenging prospect. This is because like many children with autism, he struggles with routine changes, sensory issues and an intolerance of uncertainty.

However, over the years we’ve learnt that with planning and preparation, days out and holidays can be enjoyed rather than endured. We’d like to share our top tips in order to help other parents and carers facing similar issues.

Plan, plan and plan again! 

  • Try searching for ‘autism friendly’ holidays or days out. The National Autistic Society has a list of companies and organisations who hold an Autism Friendly Award.
  • Contact hotels or venues to explain your circumstances and your child’s needs – if they don’t seem supportive then look elsewhere.
  • Check out a destination or venue in advance. If possible make a pre-visit or get a map and consider any potential trigger areas and quiet zones you could head to in case of a meltdown.
  • Practice unusual events such as packing and unpacking a suitcase. A packing checklist is a great way to involve your child in holiday preparations and encourages independence.
  • Use visual schedules to show your child what to expect on the holiday, give structure to their day, and help with transitions between activities.
  • Social stories are a useful way to explain what ‘going on holiday’ actually means. Depending on your child’s language ability, you can discuss what concerns they have about the holiday or trip and then work with them to come up with a list of possible solutions.
  • If you’re travelling by plane, check the airport website to see if they offer any visual guides or booklets. Manchester and Gatwick have excellent guides and many UK airports now offer autism specific page on their websites.  You may also be able to request a wristband or lanyard which entitles you to use the fast-track lanes at security or access quiet waiting rooms. Alternatively, you might want to make your own visual schedule for the airport to explain the process.

Hope for the best, prepare for the worst

However well you plan there’s no guarantee that unexpected events , such as delays won’t occur. It’s a good idea to have a ‘distraction’ pack to hand. A bag containing snacks, music or noise-cancelling headphones, games or entertainment devices to head off any potentially challenging behaviour.

Consider a form of identification such as a card or ID holder attached to your child’s clothing (such as a belt loop) just in case they wander off or become lost. This should give their name, your contact details and any medical requirements. Even if your child is capable of providing this information themselves, in a new and stressful setting this will be much harder.

Helpful resources

We used the kit I know what to expect going away to make the checklists and schedules shown.

The National Autistic Society have some helpful fact sheets with information about school trips and going on holiday.

 A really  informative blog Autism and UK airports – improving assistance for passengers with autism  has a brilliant summary of what’s  available at UK airports.

  • cover image what to expect going away

    I know what to expect going away

  • cover image sticker pack staying away from home

    Staying away from home

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Autism Awareness Week 2017

The world can be a daunting, confusing and stressful place for children with autism and particularly so when they are at school.  

In support of World Autism Awareness Week and the NAS focus on raising awareness, understanding and acceptance of autism at school, we’ve put together some tips on how TomTag visual resources can support pupils with autism in the classroom, help classroom management and make school a more positive and calmer experience for everyone!

TomTag toolkits provide a very simple and effective way of creating personalised visual supports without any time-consuming laminating, printing or Velcro involved. They are convenient for teachers and support assistants to create and neat, portable and robust for pupils to use.

A TomTag I know what to expect at school kit is extremely versatile – here are some ideas for how it might be used.

Do you have pupils who become anxious and stressed about what is going to happen during the school day?

Create a visual timetable of the child’s school day to help guide and remind them of what will be happening. Start by choosing symbols from the school timetable pack that show what lessons and activities are planned and expected throughout each day. Place these into a TomTag coloured tag in the order in which they will happen, using one or more tags for each day, depending on how many different items you need to list. 

When a child knows what to expect, the routine becomes easier to understand and they will be less anxious about it, helping them to concentrate and focus on their work. 

Do you have pupils who become stressed or upset if there’s a change of plan?

Using a visual timetable helps a child to understand about how the same things happen consistently each day or week but it can also be a useful tool to show when something out of the ordinary is going to take place.

With TomTag’s unique click-in button system, adding or changing symbols to show that a new or different activity or event should be expected is quick and easy. Adapting an existing schedule in this way will help the child prepare for and understand the changes and reduce the likelihood of them being stressed or upset by events.

WAAW OFFER 2: My school day mini-kit reduced from £3.5 to £2.50 

Do you have pupils who struggle to understand what is expected of them?

When children are told what they need to do, it’s not always easy for them to hold onto that verbal information and recall it accurately. We can reinforce our language and improve this communication by creating a visual checklist that shows the child the steps they need to take to complete the task required.

They can refer back to this list as often as they need and could even remove each button from the tag once the step is complete to give a visual indicator that it has been done. Our verbal instructions don’t need to be repeated as often and the child can work much more independently, improving their confidence and self-esteem.

WAAW Offer 3: My school kit stickers to help with organisation, only £1 (usually £3.50)

Do you have pupils who struggle with transitions between classroom activities?


One of the simplest ways that TomTag can be used is with the FIRST-THEN or NOW-NEXT concepts. Choose the symbols that represent the activities that need to be completed. Often the first is a less preferred activity (eg writing work) and the second a more preferred one (eg playtime).

Place these symbols in a tag along with the FIRST and THEN or NOW and NEXT prompts. The symbols can represent a simple sequence, separate tasks or a task and reward. The expectations are then clear and understandable, sequences and time concepts can be learnt and anxieties about or resistance to transitions are reduced.

WAAW Offer 4: First-Then mini-kit reduced from £7 to £5

Do you have pupils who constantly need reminding how to behave?

In the TomTag School Timetable sticker pack, we’ve included a range of symbols to help with behaviour management in the classroom (eg. take turns, personal space, kind hands, sit nicely, etc.). These can be used to help remind individual children or the whole class about appropriate behaviour and teach them about boundaries and rules.

Don’t forget to reinforce good behaviour by using the ‘Good work’ symbol, awarding a gold star sticker or reminding them to ask for help if needed. 

WAAW Offer 5: Feeling and emotions stickers only £4 (usually £6)

 

Check out all our other TomTag products for home, school and out & about on our main website pages.

Don’t forget to follow our Facebook page too where we’ll be highlighted one of our WAAW special offers each day this week to coincide with World Autism Awareness Week 27 March – 2 April 2017.

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Building a positive teaching assistant relationship

National Teaching Assistants Day recognises the valuable contribution that over 240,000 teaching assistants (TAs) make to the education and support of pupils in schools across the UK.

laptop pictures 1910Most TAs are employed to support pupils with special educational needs (SEN) either working with a child one-to-one or in a small group to reinforce what has been learned earlier from the teacher; others have more general classroom responsibilities.

I have met many TAs over the years as they have supported my son, who has autism and language impairment, during his journey through mainstream school. From this experience, these are my top tips for building a good parent/TA relationship.

Sharing information

Share information about your child’s strengths, interests, likes and dislikes with the TA as much as possible. My son loves trains and lorries so letting his TA know what inspired him helped her incorporate those interests into his writing and maths tasks. By sharing his dislike of noisy, crowded rooms she could suggest alternative, quieter activities we could use whenever he became overwhelmed in such situations.

Communication strategy

Decide how you will communicate and agree a way that works best for both of you. A weekly phone call might be sufficient for some whereas others may prefer more regular emails, texts or paper-based contact.

diary_webWhen my son was in primary school and had just one TA I found a home/school contact book to be most useful. This was used daily to share information about his activities, issues or events at home or school. Now that he is in secondary school with a number of TAs, I find regular emails to each assistant to be the most effective and efficient means of communication.

 

Understand responsibilities

Recognise that whilst the teaching assistant is supporting your child, the teacher has the responsibility for what happens in their classroom.

Qualified teachers are responsible for children’s learning so it’s important to ask the teacher and SENCO how your child’s TA is being deployed in the classroom to get the best from your child. Find out what training the TA has had to provide the support your child needs too.

If you are concerned about your child’s progress don’t blame the TA but speak directly to your child’s teacher and SENCO about your concerns.
TT thank you

Appreciation

Everyone likes to feel valued. Don’t forget to tell your TA how much you appreciate their support; a handwritten card and small gift at the end of the year is a nice token of gratitude!

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Interest or obsession – a matter of perspective

The recent 175th anniversary of the issue of the Penny Black postage stamp took me back to my childhood and the joys of stamp collecting. For me this was a hobby, a pleasant way to pass the time and a special interest I could share with my dad.

Interest or obsession?

eddies
Eddie Stobart collection

Most people have interests and hobbies. For children with autism however the term ‘special interest’ implies more than a run of the mill hobby – usually that they have an obsession with a particular object, topic or collection.

Having interests is generally a good thing for most people but when they become obsessions then they can interfere with quality of life.

Managing special interests

Over the course of his childhood my son Tom, who is autistic, has had a range of special interests, including:

RUBY GLOOM 6 023
Train spotting!
  • Thomas the Tank Engine
  • Traffic lights
  • Eddie Stobart lorries
  • TinTin
  • Number cards
  • Flags
  • Trains

As a family we’ve always engaged with Tom’s various interests and tried to view them as his way of expressing himself. We’ve used them as a stepping stone to expand activities, encourage his learning and promote his communication skills.

However, as many parents know from experience, managing special interests before they morph into all-consuming obsessions is one of the many balancing acts of parenting a child on the spectrum.

Obsessions – good or bad?

Unlike my interest in stamp collecting, Tom’s special interests fulfill a number of specific needs for him. His current interest is trains and the positive effects of this include:

  • Gives him enjoyment and makes him feel happy.
  • Acts as a comforter and a coping mechanism. When he is overwhelmed or anxious he likes to immerse himself in thoughts about trains.
  • Allows him to connect with other people in social situations as he uses his interest in trains to start conversations.

It is when Tom is anxious that we see the difficulties that his special interests can cause:

  • It’s difficult to communicate with him as all he wants to talk about is trains.
  • Undermines his ability to learn at school as all his thinking time is taken up with thoughts about trains.
  • Isolates him from peers who do not want to talk about or listen to a monologue about trains.
  • Can affect family relationships as he only wants to participate in activities which revolve around his special interest.

Tips for managing special interests

It’s not generally realistic (or necessarily desirable) to remove the special interest. The best approach is to try to manage the special interest so that it does not take over everyday life.

These are some of the strategies we’ve tried to follow:

Set limits

clockTom can talk about or view videos and pictures of trains on the computer at certain times of the day e.g. when he gets home from school but only after finishing his homework or between certain hours at the weekend.

Make it predictable

Making sure that Tom can clearly access what he needs during these limited times or preparing him well in advance if it’s not going to be possible help to significantly reduce anxiety levels (his and mine!).

Encourage communication

notebook & pencilReduce the dependence on the special interest as a comfort when there are worries or anxieties by encouraging other means of communication. We set up a feelings book so that Tom can record any worries he has and we have a designated adult at school that he knows he can talk to about any issues that arise during the school day.

{Using this idea with Tom sparked the design of our TomTag Feelings Notebook which has now been added to our range of products – see links below}

Teach conversation skills

With the help of Tom’s speech and language therapist, we’re working on developing conversation skills to support his understanding of topic management and how to read the signs that people have become bored or disinterested in his train talk!

If you’d like more information or advice about this topic, Ambitious about Autism have an informative article on managing obsessions and the National Autistic society also has some practical advice on understanding behaviour and obsessions.

In the meantime, I would love to hear your experiences of managing special interests and any tips you could share.

  • cover image sticker pack feelings & emotions

    Feelings & emotions

  • cover image download feelings tag

    Feelings tag-o-meter

  • I can do it – manage my feelings

  • cover image for share how I feel minikit product

    I can do it – share how I feel

  • cover image product feelings notebook

    My TomTag Feelings Notebook

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10 ways to have fun with occupational therapy

Occupational Therapy Week took place last week and it prompted me to reflect on the occupational therapy (OT) my son has received over the past few years. Gulp… it’s also focused my mind on the amount of money I’ve spent on buying OT resources!

The main emphasis for my son has been Sensory Integration Therapy to help him cope with his sensory difficulties, with activities focusing on developing gross and fine motor skills and his sensory perception (i.e. touch, body awareness, balance, auditory & visual skills).

Naturally some activities and resources have proved more successful than others so we thought it would be helpful to select our TOP 10 to share with you.

1. HUG & TUG

hug and tug

This simple exercise can calm anxiety, increase concentration and help develop fine motor skills. Just needs two hands and can be done at any time!

Visit the Handle Institute page for details of the exercise.

 2. SCOOTER BOARD

At his last school my son cut quite a dash scooting along the corridor propelled by his arms! Great for building up shoulder stability and core strength.

Sensory Direct have some reasonably priced boards.

3. ANIMAL ACTION CARDS

card exercise  1

Make a set of cards showing different animal walks then take it in turns to choose a card and complete the exercise shown on it. Try dog walks, bunny hops, kangaroo jumps, crab walks – whatever takes your fancy. Great for building upper body strength and a sense of humour!

This is a good activity to do with siblings and as a rainy day or birthday party game.

Stuck for ideas? Pop over to the blog Pinning With Purpose for some good tips on how to make your own animal exercise cards.

4. TIME SHOCK

time shock puzzle

Have you got a steady hand? This frantic beat-the-clock game is great for developing fine motor skills and also uses visual memory.

The aim of the game is to place the shapes in the matching slot before the time runs out. Need nerves of steel though and can get competitive!

5. POP-UP TUNNEL

play tunnel

Crawling helps develop shoulder stability which is important for writing skills. This simple item also offers hours of fun playing peek-a-boo which encourages eye contact.

IKEA, Tesco, ELC and the like all have similar versions.

6. PUTTY

Great for developing hand muscle strength. You could even try making your own putty.

Fledglings have are some lovely reasonably-priced Rainbow Putty which comes in a variety of different colours and is colour-coded to indicate the level of resistance.

7. HIDDEN TREASURE

sensory bean box

Fill a tub with rice or another pulse and hide small objects such as toy cars, figurines or sweets. Great to develop fine motor skills and another fun party game.

8. SWING

cuddle swing

Swinging is good for vestibular movement. My son particularly liked this cuddle swing.

They can be expensive to buy so here’s some tips on how to make your own cuddle swing and there’s even some ideas for versions that don’t need attaching to the ceiling.

9. CRAFT ACTIVITY

There are plenty of options here – we chose to make our own dominoe game using card, craft foam, marker pens and stickers.

There were lots of opportunities to practice fine motor skills with all that cutting, sticking and drawing and we all enjoyed playing the finished result.

10. CHEWY TUBE

chewy aid

Our bright red T-shaped Chewy Tube saved many a shirt cuff and tie being shredded! Very resilient and helps develop chewing skills as well as reducing anxiety. Fledglings and Rosy & Bo both have a good range of oral motor aids to choose from.

 

Find out more about what occupational therapsits do and how occupational therapy can hep by visiting the British Association of Occupatinal Therapists website www.cot.co.uk

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Teach a child to pack for school

single tag sample
Choose a day when they only need a few items

How do you teach a reluctant child how to pack their own bag with all the right things they need for the day ahead and to bring it all home again?

Clare, whose own children learnt this important skill with TomTag, recommends the following simple steps:

1. Select one day when there are not many items to take to school. Use only one tag from the TomTag pack to make a list of the relevant items and activities for that day.

2. Set aside some time the night before to pack the bag with your child and attach TomTag to their bag. Praise your child for remembering and packing everything they need for the day.

3. Ask your child to repack their bag at school using TomTag as a reminder of what to bring home. Check their bag when they return from school and praise them when they have been successful in bringing the correct items home.

4. Ask the child to pack their bag on their own for the same day using TomTag as a visual reminder of what items are needed. Then check their bag for them. Praise your child’s success. If something is forgotten, refer back to the tag and repack.

5. Ask your child to repack their bag at school using TomTag as a reminder of what to bring home. Check their bag when they return from school and praise them when they have been successful in bringing the correct items home.

School bag packed6. Your child packs their own bag using TomTag as a visual reminder and does not have it checked. Praise your child’s success.

7. Choose another more complicated day and repeat the process. Gradually build up to a full week and using the full TomTag set on the child’s bag.

Packing their school bag independently, being organised and taking responsibility for their belongings are great life skills for all children to learn but are especially important for those with additional or special needs. TomTag uses only picture cues so it’s easy for any child to use.

Product recommendation:

  • I can do it – pack my bag for school

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    School morning routines