Posted on 1 Comment

TomTag life skill – getting dressed

yellow dressing checklist next to items of clothing

Learning how to put on their clothes and shoes is an important step for children to take on the road to independence.  The ability to get dressed by themselves will give them confidence to function independently at school and, once your child has it mastered, it’s one less thing for you to worry about in the mornings!

If your child starts school in September then now would be a great time to start developing their dressing skills, giving a few weeks practice time before the big day.

Getting dressed – putting on clothes in the right order, fastening buttons and zips and tying shoe laces – involves mastering many skills. We need balance and co-ordination of movements to get our limbs in all the right places, refined motor skills to deal with many types of fastenings and an understanding of concepts such as left/right and inside/outside.

Teaching these skills often requires a lot of patience but the results will be worth it in the long run. Using TomTag to make a simple visual checklist showing what order each item of clothing should be put on is a good place to start. You can also help by laying out clothes the night before, making sure they are the right side out.

With practice and encouragement your child will soon be dressed and ready to go before you are!


uniformUniform

With most schools these days having a uniform, there will be little choice in which clothes your child can wear for school. There are some things you can do though to make things a little easier for them.

Only undo the top few buttons on a shirt or blouse and put it on over the head so that fewer buttons need to be done up. Buttonholes on new shirts are often tight so opening them up slightly may help.

Choose trousers or skirts with elasticated waists where possible and opt for loose fitting items with velcro or large buttons which are easier to put on than tight fitting ones.


tieTie

If your child’s uniform includes a tie and an elasticated version isn’t an option, this useful video of a young boy demonstrating how to tie a tie may help.

 

 


socksSocks

Begin with large, short socks that slip more easily over the feet. Socks with coloured heels make it easier to get them the right way round. Try Little Grippers school socks for socks that stay on – and up! – all day long.

 

 


shoesShoes

Having a designated place for shoes will save valuable time spent hunting for them in the morning! Of course, these days there are many alternatives to traditional laced shoes available but at some point the skill to tie laces will be required. The ‘bunny ears’ is a popular method and YouTube is an excellent resource for demonstrations of this and other tying methods.

Try practising using different coloured, longer laces but if your child continually struggles with tying laces then there are now several products on the market (such as Hickies, Greepers and Lock Laces) that can help.


coatCoat

Start practising with different, larger types of coat. If the sleeve by sleeve approach isn’t working try this flip flop over the top method wonderfully described by Connectability.ca – you might want to stand well back until they get better at this one though!

Attach a zip pull or a key ring to the zip to help with gripping the tab and make zipping easier.


starWell done!

Don’t forget to give plenty of praise to your child for their efforts at each stage and consider using a star chart to help them establish their routine.

A great approach to use is ‘backward chaining‘ where the child learns the last step first. Once they can do the last step, teach the second to last step and so on until they have mastered them all. The great advantage of this method is that the child always gets the reward of completing the task themselves.

Sensory and developmental issues

If your child is sensitive to clothing, EcoOutfitters offer school clothing made from 100% pure organic cotton.

Check for labels and seams that might cause irritation and cut them out where possible. Washing clothes several times before wearing helps to soften them too.

Dressing in front of a mirror provides important visual cues that can help a child with sequencing, body planning and body awareness. If your child continues to have difficulty with dressing, a qualified occupational therapist should be able to help.

Resources

  • I can do it – self care skills

  • cover image what to expect at home kit

    I know what to expect at home

  • cover image download school morning routines

    School morning routines

  • cover image sticker pack self care

    Self care

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

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

Posted on Leave a comment

When is a child old enough to walk to school alone?

Most of us parents will remember walking to primary school on our own at some point but it’s an increasingly rare sight these days.

Practice the journet

There are actually no laws or official guidelines around age or distance of walking to school so it’s down to each of us to decide when our children are ready.

As well as the obvious health benefits, walking to school can help build independence, responsibility, safety awareness and social skills.

The biggest fears amongst parents about letting their children walk to school alone are of traffic and stranger danger. The Living Streets campaign tries to help parents understand the reality of these risks and explains that by protecting children from them they could be unwittingly harming their long-term health and well-being in other ways.

This Living Streets and Parentline Plus Walk to School report states that “Giving children the opportunity to walk to school not only reduces the risk of obesity but helps them develop independence and teaches them important life skills such as road safety and route finding”.

Start small

Build up to walking all the way by accompanying your child most of the way and letting them go the last bit by themselves. Gradually start making that last bit longer whilst they (and you!) gain in confidence until they’re doing it all themselves.

Safety in numbers

Try pairing up with other parents and taking it in turns to walk with the children to school first and then build up to the children walking together without any of you.

Road safety

Use this transition time to give reminders and tips about crossing roads and traffic awareness. If you always make the decision when it’s safe to cross, your children won’t learn what to look for to make safe decisions themselves. Talking through likely scenarios will help build their confidence to know what to do when they’re on their own. Do you know your green cross code?

Stranger safety

Agree an easily remembered code word or phrase to use in the event that someone else has to pick up or meet your children. Tell them to ask for this code word if anyone approaches them offering a lift, whether it’s someone they know or not.

October is International Walk to School Month

image2931

 

 

Posted on 1 Comment

10 top transition tips – smoothing the move from primary to secondary school

Transitions are on my mind at the moment as I’m busy training for my first triathlon. I’m anxious about how I’m going to manage the transition between swim, bike and run but I know that the secret is in being prepared and making sure I’ve got everything I need in the right place at the right time.

Major transitions

One of life’s major transitions – the move from primary to secondary school – is about to be faced by thousands of children around the country. It’s natural that they will all experience some level of worry and apprehension about this but for many children on the autistic spectrum this transition can be particularly difficult.

Transitions issues

Change in itself is a problem because many children with ASD find it difficult to think flexibly and so become anxious about the unknown. They will prefer to stick with the familiar routines established in primary school as they will have difficulty predicting what might happen in the new setting.

A lack of social understanding and the ability to read and understand social cues accurately mean that children with autism may not know how to behave or respond in the many new social situations they will encounter in secondary school.

Add sensory processing difficulties to this mix and it’s easy to see why children on the spectrum can quickly become overwhelmed by the sensory stimulii of this new environment.

Preparation is key

When my own autistic son faced the transition from his small and familiar primary school to a large comprehensive I tried to prepare him as much as possible beforehand. By investing time in preparation now using some of the tips and tricks we’ve listed below, we hope you’ll be able to make those first days and weeks in the new school a lot less worrying for you and your child.

Top 10 transition tips

School-map_annotated
Make a map of the school

1. Make a map of the layout of the school with photographs of important places e.g. school canteen, main hall, classrooms

2. Try to obtain photographs of key staff particularly the teaching assistants that are going to support during lessons

3. Establish a link with a member of staff who can act as a mentor and home-school liaison. Set up a home-school book to pass on information about any worries/concerns or any relevant developments at home.

4. Get used to a homework routine in advance of the new start. Start simply with a 10-15 minute task at a regular time each evening in a quiet environment.

5. Make a visual timetable showing the school day to make lesson order & break times more predictable.

6. Practice the journey to and from school, making sure the child knows the location of bus stops, road-crossings, meeting points or anything else significant on their journey.

7. Familiarise your child with the new uniform and deal with any irritating seams or labels.

8. Practice packing the correct items for school (TomTag is perfect for this!)

GFI264-Calendar

9. Use a calendar to count down the days to starting the new school

10. Create a personal profile written with help of your child to include all the information new staff should know about them

 

Posted on 3 Comments

Waiting for others to come to you?

How to develop conversation and pragmatic skills in autistic children – a personal view.

you-cant-stay-in-your-corner-of-the-forest-waiting-for-others-to-come-to-you-you-have-to-go-to-them-sometimes1
Like many people on the autistic spectrum my son has difficulties with conversation and pragmatic skills (the social use of language). For example, if we have visitors over it’s embarrassing when, after an hour or so,  he will say to them “Are you going now?”. It’s not that he’s being rude, it’s just that he’s still learning how to use language appropriately in social situations.

Now that he’s a teenager, keeping up with adolescent conversations is a real struggle as they tend to be fast paced, flitting in and out of topics and replete with metaphor, innuendo and sarcasm.

Pragmatics involves three major communication skills that most of us take for granted:-

  • Using language for different purposes

e.g. greetings, requesting

  • Changing language according to the needs of a listener or situation

e.g. talking differently to a baby than to an adult, speaking differently in a classroom than in a playground

  • Following rules for conversation

e.g. reciprocal conversation, introducing topics of conversation, how to use facial expressions and eye contact

We have been fortunate enough to work with a very skilled speech and language therapist who has introduced the concept of conversation as two-way traffic and has been working with him using a highly individualised intervention programme. Over the last 4 years my son has been taught the anatomy of a conversation – he’s learnt about greetings and conversational openings, how topics develop and how they’re used to keep the conversation going.

friendsHe still needs help in initiating conversation topics so we use a Conversation Topics book where he lists what he knows about an individual – things like their job, hobbies and interests and also what they talked about last time. The aim is to use this visual resource to assist him in generating a topic and enable him to use specific questions to follow up on something previously discussed.

It’s a time-consuming process and will require lots of practice. He will need continued support and opportunities to develop his conversational skills but I believe it will be time well invested. Like every parent, I want my child to enjoy the experience of having friends and close relationships.

The reality is – if you can have a conversation, you can have a relationship.

Posted on Leave a comment

Autism – understanding and managing anxiety

We all experience stress during our daily lives but for many autistic people the experience of stress can feel very intense and cause severe difficulties.

stress

Like many young people with autism, my son has been experiencing anxiety related to an overly-literal understanding of what it means to follow school rules and when he is faced with an unplanned change both inside and outside the school setting. He has a very narrow view of what it means to be in the correct uniform or be on time for lessons or appointments. When he is feeling stressed he will rock on his feet, pace the floor and ask repetitive questions. In these situations, he finds it difficult to respond to any reassurance.

Together with his Speech and Language therapist  (‘SLT’) and Occupational therapist  (‘OT’) we have been using some strategies to help him. We have taught him that the concept of feeling overwhelmed means either too many feelings all at once or a very strong reaction to a situation. He can now use this word to express how he is feeling. He has been taught a format for identifying the worry and setting out actions to help resolve it. The actions relate to what he can think, say or do to make things better. We’ve taught him the phrase self talk and he is beginning to understand what a trusted adult would do or say to him  in that situation to help and to use this as self talk. We are sharing this work with his teachers and support staff to ensure a consistent approach to talking about worries and solutions.

On the suggestion of my son’s OT we are trialling a tactical breathing programme developed for the military and emergency services to use in times of extreme stress. We wanted to have activities that were discreet and applicable to the classroom environment. Tactical breathing is a great strategy as no one needs to know that he’s doing it and he can use it to prepare for stressful situations as well as once he is feeling stressed.  We’ve incorporated tactical breathing into an anxiety busting resource for him called the 3 O’s- Overwhelmed, OT, OK.

One of the resources we’re using is a simple free app called ’Tactical Breather’ which I’ve downloaded onto his phone so it’s readily to hand for stressful situations. I’m also encouraging him to use his phone to record worries and solutions so that these can be kept and built up to form a ‘library’ of helpful strategies for managing situations.

It is hoped that over time and with continued support in this area he will become more able to self soothe and manage his anxiety. Incidentally, studies have shown that stress levels of mothers of kids with autism are similar to that of combat soldiers. Perhaps I should download that app for myself too!

Recommended products:

  • 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 what to expect at christmas kit

    I know what to expect at Christmas & birthdays

  • cover image what to expect at home kit

    I know what to expect at home

  • cover image product feelings notebook

    My TomTag Feelings Notebook

  • cover image download school morning routines

    School morning routines

Posted on Leave a comment

Organisational skills for children with SEN

The phrase ‘special needs’ is a very generic term. Children with special needs are not only different from their so called ‘normal’ peers but they are also different from one another. Each child with special needs presents with a unique profile of strengths and weaknesses.

Organisational skills

A lack of organisational skills is the one challenge that the majority of children with special needs face. Coats go missing. Books and lunch boxes are forgotten. Hours are spent each month searching through the lost property box at school looking for gloves, scarves, gym kit and jumpers.

Organisational skills are a challenge for most SEN children because they have limited and inefficient internal structure. They are generally unable to organise their belongings, prioritize their actions or utilize their time efficiently to meet deadlines.  They also struggle with temporal (time related) concepts so they have difficulty assessing, for example, how much time it takes to get ready for school or finish homework.

Daily struggles

These organisational difficulties can put incredible strain on a family. As a parent of an autistic boy I know how frustrating it is when your child has organisational difficulties. I’m also aware how upsetting it is for Tomas to be constantly scolded and reprimanded for behaviours that are mainly out of his control. Tomas does not forget things because he is lazy or unmotivated. He has a neurological condition that means he struggles on a daily basis to make sense of the world we live in.

School morning organisation

Getting ready for school in a morning is a real test of organisational skills for any child. For a SEN child like Tomas the morning routine can be a source of extreme anxiety. There’s so much to remember – homework, lunch boxes, gym kit. Parents are also under pressure to leave on time and ensure that everyone has the right equipment for the day ahead.

Like many SEN children, Tomas is extraordinarily visual. He needs to see things in order to remember and organise them. If things are out of sight they are out of mind. Tomas’s visual strength was one of the sources of inspiration for TomTag (that’s why it’s named after him!). As TomTag clips easily to any school bag it is always to hand and the problem of misplacing the list is avoided.

Confidence and independence

Learning to pack a bag for school sounds simple but it requires skills and self confidence. Using TomTag as a prompt, Tomas has been able to learn over the last few years how to pack his school bag for himself. The fact that he is now able to pack independently for high school is a real testament to the success of TomTag. By giving him a consistent external tool to use he has learnt to overcome his minimal internal structure.

Teachers and parents benefit from children learning to pack a school bag independently. Fewer items are left in the infamous lost property box, morning routines are less stressful and for children like Tomas they are not only ready for school but have acquired important organisational skills which will pay dividends later in life.

Recommended products:

  • product cover teeth minikit

    I can do it – brush my teeth

  • I can do it – pack my bag for school

  • I can do it – self care skills

  • product cover image for minikit morning & evening

    I know what to expect – morning and evening

  • cover image what to expect at home kit

    I know what to expect at home

  • cover image sticker pack my school kit

    My school kit

  • cover image download school morning routines

    School morning routines

Posted on Leave a comment

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

  • cover image download school morning routines

    School morning routines