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Coping with a family Christmas for an anxious teen with autism


For my son, Tom, thinking about our family Christmas meal is causing him anxiety. Spending time together and creating memories over a shared meal – it’s what many people love about Christmas – but it’s not so easy for an anxious teen with autism. Continue reading Coping with a family Christmas for an anxious teen with autism

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Dyslexia and executive functioning skills

Dyslexia is most commonly understood as a condition that causes difficulties with reading. It is less well known that dyslexia can also impact on organisation and time management skills, which is sometimes referred to as executive functioning. 

What are the signs?

A child with dyslexia who has executive functioning issues may have difficulty:

  • remembering to take to school everything they need for the day 
  • being organised and preparing their kit in advance
  • sticking with an activity and not being distracted
  • understanding what day of the week it is and what different things they need to do each day
  • remembering their routine and prioritising the tasks needed to get ready for school  

What can you do to help?

There’s lots you can do to help a child with these issues. Here’s just a few ideas:

  • Get into a regular routine and stick to it. Children who struggle with time management often feel more secure and less anxious with a familiar routine.
  • Make checklists to break down a task or routine into smaller steps. Visual prompts work better than verbal reminders as they are constant and consistent.
  • Use calendars and planners – colour-coding often works really way to identify regular activities and highlight special events.
  • Encourage development of organisational skills with lots of repetition, reminders and practice. 

How could TomTag help?

  • school girl carrying rucksack with packing checklist attachedTomTag is ideal for all children with dyslexia as the picture symbols we use are easily recognisable and don’t rely on a child’s ability to read for TomTag to be effective. 
  • Make morning and evening routine reminders for tasks that need to be completed and the order they should be done using an I know what to expect – morning and evening minikit or for more varied options try these kits I can do it self care skills or I know what to expect at home
  • Create a school bag packing checklist using the I can do it pack my bag for school kit that will remind them exactly what they need to take to school each day, and bring home again. 
  • Take advantage of TomTag’s colourful tags by colour-coordinating checklist and routine reminder tags with any planners, calendars or charts that you’re also using.  

Useful resources:

  • Back-to-School Toolkit

  • Early Years Home Toolkit

  • Early Years Sticker Pack

  • I Can Do It Learn At Home Kit

  • I Can Do It Pack My Bag For School Kit

  • I Know What To Expect – Morning and Evening Mini Kit

  • I Know What To Expect At Home Kit

  • I Know What To Expect Early Years Kit

  • Learn At Home Sticker Pack

  • My School Kit Sticker Pack

  • Organising My School Bag

  • Primary Years Home Toolkit

  • School Morning Routines

 

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Surviving Christmas with help from TomTag

Christmas is a magical and exciting time but for many children with autism and other SEN, the festive period can be anything but wonderful.

Changes in routine, a house pulsating with flashing Christmas lights and a steady stream of visitors can be too overwhelming and lead to sensory overload, anxiety, distress and confusion.
Making adjustments that help your child cope better at this time of the year will hopefully allow them and all the family to have a more enjoyable and relaxing experience.
It’s also a good opportunity to work on important social skills that can be transferred to other situations at different times of the year as well.

my daily routineJust another day

Keeping to the same familiar routines as much as possible, even on Christmas Day, can be key to helping things run more smoothly. There are no rules to say things have to be done a certain way so do whatever suits your family best.

It’s sometimes not possible to avoid some disturbance or change to the regular schedule at this time of year. Children who struggle with changes to routine can find this very unsettling. If they use a visual schedule at home or school, this is a great way to make sure they know about (and can prepare themselves for) anything different that’s going to happen.

If different or unusual foods are likely to be an issue, think about preparing and freezing your child’s favourite meal ahead of the big day so that it’s easy to serve alongside everyone else’s dinner and gives you one thing less to worry about.

decorations and christmas symbolsDecorations

Flashing lights, glittery objects and jingling bells all around the house are natural triggers for sensory overload. Let your child help to choose the decorations you buy and put up and consider decorating gradually over a few days so they are not overwhelmed immediately. Make sure to leave some areas of the house undecorated so there’s always somewhere for the child to retreat if needed.

Be aware of sensory triggers such as balloons, Christmas crackers, party poppers, festive music – consider using headphones or ear defenders at parties, carol concerts or similar events if sudden or loud noises are disturbing.  

Use an “All about Christmas” symbol list or simple social story to support a conversation with your child to familiarise them with all the different things they can expect to find at Christmas time.

Social expectations

family visits tagsChristmas is usually a time of increased social contact and festive events with family and friends. Use a visual schedule to show what’s going to happen before any visitors come to the house or when you’re going to parties, visiting family and friends, church services, etc.

Maybe even keep a separate tag as a checklist to show all the family members they may be meeting and what an appropriate social contact might be for each group (eg. hugs are ok for family, hand shake for friends, etc.).

There’ll be lots of opportunities to teach social skills such as learning to greet visitors appropriately and saying please and thank you. Include relevant symbols in your visit schedule list or use another tag that you keep handy for a discreet reminder of social behaviour rules.

Presents

Many children with autism don’t particularly like surprises and aren’t good at faking delight if they get an unwanted gift. Some may prefer to have their presents left unwrapped or, if they do like the unwrapping part, they might want you to tell them what’s inside first.

They may also be overwhelmed by a large number of presents in one go. Try introducing them one at a time over the day (or several days) or adopt an advent calendar-style approach, bringing out a small gift each day in the run up to Christmas.

Don’t forget to put batteries in toys in advance so that they can be played with straight away!

Relax!

Above all, remember that this is your Christmas as well. Get as much support from family and friends as possible and share out the workload wherever you can. Get children involved by giving them jobs to do which will keep them occupied and give them something to focus on.

We used the kit I know what to expect at Christmas & birthdays for the examples here. We know it can be a particularly taxing and stressful time of year for our loved ones with extra sensory and emotional needs, so there’s also an expanded version of the basic kit available which includes additional tags and blank buttons plus a Feelings & Emotions sticker pack. We call this our Christmas survival kit

This guide is available as a free downloaded using the link below.

  • Christmas & Birthdays Sticker Pack

  • Christmas Survival Guide

  • Christmas Survival Toolkit

  • I Know What To Expect At Christmas & Birthdays Kit

 

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New school year, new start with TomTag

Looking forward to the children going back to school but dreading those chaotic school mornings?

Help your kids learn to get themselves ready for school, know and understand their own routine and remember what they need to pack – with less nagging from you and a lot less stress all round.

It really is easy with a little help from TomTag!

  • Back-to-School Self-Talk Prompt Sheet

  • Back-to-School Toolkit

  • Feelings Bundle

  • I Can Do It Brush My Teeth Mini Kit

  • I Can Do It Learn At Home Kit

  • I Can Do It Pack My Bag For School Kit

  • I Can Do It Self Care Skills Kit

  • I Can Do It Toilet Routine Mini Kit

  • I Know What To Expect – Morning and Evening Mini Kit

  • I Know What To Expect At Home Kit

  • My School Kit Sticker Pack

  • Self Care Sticker Pack

  • Toilet Training Record Sheet

  • Toilet Training Toolkit

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TomTag: your stories – Elizabeth

We learn a great deal from listening to our customers about their experiences with TomTag. It’s always interesting to find out about the different ways they use our products and wonderful to hear how it often makes such a real difference to their lives.

We thought it might be helpful to share some of those experiences and ideas with you too so we’ve interviewed a number of our customers who have been kind enough to talk about their different stories and backgrounds with us.

First up is Elizabeth, a childminder from London, and mum to two girls aged 4 and 12. 

Why did you purchase TomTag?

I bought TomTag to use with my daughters as both girls are on the autistic spectrum. Although they are both verbal and relatively high functioning they still need some support with their daily life activities.

I’d describe my youngest daughter as being in a permanent ‘fight or flight’ mode, always needing reassurance about what to expect during the day. The eldest has executive functioning issues and needs support to help her sequence activities and with organisation.

Did you use any other type of visual supports before you tried TomTag?

I used to make my own picture timetables and sequences. It was very time consuming having to print off the pictures, laminate them and then attach them to Velcro. My youngest daughter really didn’t like the Velcro system so when I saw TomTag advertised in Aukids magazine I decided to give them a try.

So, how do you use it?

In lots of different ways! 

For my younger daughter I have set up:

 

 

  • daily timetables that I create by prominently displaying 3 tags on hooks on the fridge (and also in the other rooms where she needs to use them) to show her what her morning, afternoon and evening routines should be
  • a toilet routine reminder hanging in the bathroom which is a simple picture sequence checklist to break the routine down into small steps.
  • social story resources to help prepare for things like visits to the doctor and hairdresser. I explain what’s going to happen and the order of events whilst we look at the pictures together.

My elder daughter uses TomTag for: 

Younger child tag examples

How has TomTag helped your children?

My little one finds TomTag very comforting. She feels in control of her day now and is less anxious about what is going to happen next. Seeing her routine in pictures also helps with teaching her sequences and time concepts. She loves the ‘hands on’ system – she particularly enjoys clicking the buttons in and out!

My older daughter finds TomTag really helps with her organisational skills. She feels less anxious at school knowing she has all the right things with her. She also likes the ’hands on’ nature of TomTag and she’s now started taking responsibility for planning and organising her day. For example, when she started going to choir as an after school activity, she changed her tag by herself to show this change of routine.

I’ve also found the tips and advice for teaching life skills on your website very helpful.

Do you have any suggestions for how we could make TomTag even better?

The range of images supplied in the various sticker packs is generally good. I have used the blank stickers to draw some personalised images – an umbrella, keys and phone charger.

I think there could be some additional ‘days out’ type images e.g. summer fair, fun fair, adventure park or castle. Perhaps a jumbo version of the tags and buttons would be useful for children who have sight problems but I appreciate the product would not then be as portable!

Overall I think TomTag is a wonderful product and it has really made life easier for both my daughters.

Thank you Elizabeth for sharing your story and for giving us some insightful tips on how TomTag works in your home.

Follow the highlighted links in the interview to find out more details about all the products used by Elizabeth and her family.

Would you like to share your story with us?

All it takes is a short chat with us on the ‘phone, ideally send us a few pics of your TomTags in use then just leave the rest to us. It’s easy to get in touch with us, all the details are on our Contact Us page. 

 

 

 

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TomTag life skill – Sleepovers

LIFE SKILL JAN sleepoversSleepovers –  or more accurately ‘stay up late, midnight feast, pillow fights and no-sleep’-overs! First sleepovers are a big step for most kids anyway and can be a particularly daunting prospect and social minefield for children with autism (and their parents!).

Of course, you are the best person to gauge when your child might be ready for their first sleepover or night away and there’s usually no reason to rush this. There may be unavoidable times though when your child needs to stay away from home for other reasons – parental separation, overnight respite or a hospital stay, for example. If skills have already been practiced or preparations made, dealing with an emergency visit could be a lot less stressful for everyone involved.

Careful planning and thorough preparation is the key to ensuring your child’s overnight stay has more chance of being a successful and happy experience. Using your TomTag button holders and our In the house and Staying away from home symbols, you can create handy visual supports that will help prepare your child and ease any anxieties about their next stay away from home, wherever that may be.

Here are our top tips for sleepover success but we’d love to hear your stories and advice too!

Plan, plan and plan again

sleeping bagsleepover 1Ask the host parent questions about meal plans, activities and where your child will sleep and use this information to prepare your child as much as possible.

Try role playing events such as getting up in the night for the toilet or asking for a drink. Social stories are a great resource that help explain what your child can expect in common social situations. Read A Parents Guide to Social Stories from the ‘Normal Enough’ blog for a great explanation about creating your own, including a brilliant example of a sleepover story.

** UPDATE ** Normal Enough blog link broken – try these ideas from Child-Autism-Parent-Cafe

You might also want to try using a visual timeline like this one to show your child what to expect.

Do a test run

bed time

Everything’s easier second time around, right?

Invite a friend for an overnight stay at your home so that your child gets used to how a sleepover works in a familiar environment. Then perhaps try again at the home of a close family member.

Hopefully these practice runs will help iron out any anxieties and give your child confidence for the real thing.

Make an escape plan

car

Let your child know that it’s ok to call you and come home if they need to at any time. If your child is feeling anxious or scared, it’s better that they know they can come home and try again another time than stay feeling worried and be put off the idea for good.

 

 

All about me

mobile phoneShare as much relevant information as possible about your child with the host parent before the event. Make sure they have your correct telephone number and ideally a back-up number to call as well just in case.

Include details of any medical needs, allergies and potential challenges or sensory triggers such as loud noises or food preferences. Your advice on strategies for comforting your child at bedtime and handling any flare ups will help the sleepover run more smoothly.

Time to pack

packsleepover 2Don’t forget to pack a favourite blanket, toy or book – anything that makes the child feel comfortable which will help ease any anxiety. Ask the host parent to let your child keep to their familiar bedtime routine as much as they want to.

TomTag is perfect for making a packing checklist of all the items they need to take and a handy reminder when they need to bring everything home again too!

 

Keep trying

thank youIf at first you don’t succeed – keep trying!

Let your child know you’re proud of them for giving it a go even if they needed to bail out. Tell them it’s not a failure if they did come home early and that with more practice it will get easier. Talk through what any difficulties were and make an action plan for next time.

Remember to thank the host friend and parents for helping and let them know how much you value their support.

 

 

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TomTag life skill – coping with Christmas

“It’s the most wonderful time of the year” – but not for everyone.

LIFE SKILL dec coping with christmasChristmas can be a magical and exciting time but for many children with autism the festive period is anything but wonderful. Changes in routine, a house pulsating with flashing Christmas lights and a steady stream of visitors can be overwhelming and lead to sensory overload, anxiety, distress and confusion.

Making adjustments to help your child cope better with this time of the year will hopefully allow all the family to have a more enjoyable experience. It can also provide some valuable learning experiences that help to build those all-important social skills.

We’ve introduced a Christmas and Birthdays sticker pack that contains useful symbols to help you prepare for the festive season and other celebrations. Here are our tips for using these visual supports along with some simple strategies.christmas tag 1

christmas 1Just another day

Keep to the same familiar routines as much as possible, even on Christmas Day. There’s no rules to say things have to be done a certain way – do it the way that suits your family best. If different or unusual foods might be an issue, think about preparing and freezing your child’s favourite meal ahead of time so it’s easy to serve alongside everyone else’s dinner.


christmas 2No surprises

It won’t be possible (or necessarily desirable) to avoid disturbances to routine at home or school altogether. Children who struggle with changes to routine can find this very unsettling but you can use a visual timeline like the example here to prepare them for when something unexpected will be happening.


christmas 3Decorations

Flashing lights, glittery objects and jingling bells can all spark sensory overload. Let your child help to choose the decorations you buy and put up and consider decorating gradually over a few days so they are not overwhelmed immediately. Make sure to leave some areas of the house undecorated so there’s always somewhere for the child to retreat to if necessary.

Use symbols showing items traditionally associated with the event to make an “All about Christmas” list that can help familiarise your child with what to expect.


christmas 4Social expectations

christmas tag 2Christmas is usually a time of increased social contact and events with family and friends. Use TomTag as a scheduler to help your child prepare for visitors to the house or for visits to family and perhaps keep a separate tag as a checklist to show all the family members they may be meeting.

We’ve also included symbols that can be used to reinforce positive social behaviour. Build a tag to use as a reminder for how to greet visitors to the house or to remind them when to say please and thank you.


christmas 5Presents

Many children with autism struggle with surprises and aren’t good at faking delight if they get an unwanted gift. You could leave their presents unwrapped or if they like unwrapping gifts tell them what’s inside first.

They may also be overwhelmed by a large number of presents – try introducing them one at a time or even adopting an advent calendar-style approach, letting them open a small gift each day in the run up to Christmas.

Don’t forget to put batteries in toys in advance so that they can be played with straight away!


christmas 6

Relax!

Above all, try to remember that this is your Christmas as well. If you’re in a good mood and happy, those around you are more likely to be too. Try to share out the workload – try out our Food & Drink stickers and enlist some help with peeling and chopping all that veg!

 

Other resources

The NAS has compiled a list of tips to help you through the festive period.

Do you have any great tips you can share?

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TomTag life skill – school routines

school girl carrying rucksack with packing checklist attached

Minimise stressful, chaotic school mornings with preparation, practice and patience.  

Children who can wash, brush their teeth and dress themselves independently won’t need constant reminding of what to do. Whilst a consistent morning ( and evening routine) will make things run more smoothly for everyone.

We’ve lots of advice on how you can develop your child’s self care skills in our tips and resources section. Here are some of our tips for establishing that all important winning school routine.

go to sleepevening compilThe night before

The best way to avoid frantic and stressful school mornings is to have a regular evening routine. Preparing the night before frees up time in the morning and helps you to sleep well knowing that everyone is ready to get up and go.

If your child needs help to settle and calm down before bed, use TomTag to make a bedtime routine timeline to help reinforce your expectations and ensure everyone gets a good night’s sleep.


tidy upA place for everything

Set aside a designated area for coats, shoes, bags, sports gear, letters, etc. and encourage your child to use it. A little effort setting this up now will make everyday packing and organising so much quicker and easier.

This doesn’t need to be complicated or expensive – some simple wall hooks or stacked boxes might be all you need. Check out our Pinterest Back to School Organisation board for some creative ideas.


homework

Homework

Some children may prefer to get it done and out of the way straight away whilst others may need a rest, a snack or some chill-out time first. Go with what works best for your child but be consistent so that your child knows what is expected. Using a designated area for homework also helps create good habits; this might simply be at the kitchen table with supervision for younger children or a quieter place at a bedroom desk for older ones.

Check out your school’s homework policy to see how much time they expect your child to spend on it. If they’re struggling with something in particular, set a time limit then leave it and write a note to the teacher explaining the position.


school uniform

School uniform

Setting out clothes the night before saves a lot of stress trying to find clean clothes in the morning. Don’t forget pants and socks too! Help to keep uniform tidy by encouraging children to change out of it when they get home from school and hang it up ready for the next day.

 


pack bags

Pack your bags

School bag packedGet into the habit of packing up school bags the night before to avoid that mad morning rush around the house looking for missing items. Check bags for any letters or permission slips that need returning and empty out anything that isn’t needed for the next day. If there’s anything that can’t be left out the night before (eg. packed lunches) leave a sticky note on top of the bag to remind you to add it in the morning.

With the right guidance, even very young children can take responsibility for packing their own school bags. Our TomTag I can do it – pack my bag for school kit attaches to any school bag and helps children remember what they need to take to school and bring home again each day. For tips on teaching this skill, read our short guide here.


breakfast

morning compilReady, steady, go!

Just like at bedtime, you can use TomTag to make a timeline for your morning routines. For children just learning self care skills , you might need to start with an individual list for each task, such as showering, dressing, brushing teeth, etc.

If your child can manage these independently and responsibly then one quick morning summary checklist might be all you need to prompt them each day.

We wish you good luck and many happy, smooth-sailing, school mornings!

Resources

  • Back-to-School Toolkit

  • I Can Do It Brush My Teeth Mini Kit

  • I Can Do It Learn At Home Kit

  • I Can Do It Pack My Bag For School Kit

  • I Can Do It Self Care Skills Kit

  • I Know What To Expect – Morning and Evening Mini Kit

  • I Know What To Expect At Home Kit

  • Learn At Home Sticker Pack

  • My School Kit Sticker Pack

  • Organising My School Bag

  • School Morning Routines

 

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TomTag life skill – teaching children about personal hygiene

self care tag image 1

Teaching children about personal hygiene and the importance of keeping their bodies clean is the best way to help prevent infections and reduce the spread of germs. Helping children feel good about themselves and caring about the way they look is important for self esteem and helps them to keep healthy in later life.

Parents should lead by example by making personal hygiene part of everyday life. A simple visual checklist breaking down personal hygiene routines into small steps can be an effective way to teach and remind children how to take care of their bodies and will help them develop good personal hygiene practices for life.

personal hygiene collage

Using TomTag

Checklists for learning personal hygiene routines such as hand washing, showering, bathing, hair care or general daily hygiene tasks can be created using symbols from our self care sticker pack. Our In the House sticker pack also contains a selection of personal care symbols.

Keep them handy in the bathroom or bedroom – all our stickers, tags and buttons are waterproof so there’s no need to worry about any splashes!

Here’s some tips for hygiene skills we think are particularly important.


wash handsWash hands

Hand washing is the most effective way to prevent the spread of infection. Remind children to wash their hands after using the toilet, playing outside, before eating, after blowing their nose or coughing and after petting animals.

Show children how to wash hands effectively using the 5 step method – wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry. Get more tips from the NHS wash your hands campaign.


brush hairBrush hair

Hair should be brushed every day. If your child has sensory issues try a brush with a large head and use a firm stroke as you brush. Use strategies such as brushing in front of a mirror so your child can predict when the brush is coming and giving definite time limits to the task e.g. let’s count to 10.

 


bathShower/bath

Establish a regular bathing routine either daily or every few days. This may be a calming activity as part of your child’s night time routine. Show your child how to wash the entire body and if sensory issues are a consideration, use non perfumed soap, a large sponge and lots of deep pressure when washing and drying.

 


deodorantDeodorant

As your child becomes older body odour may be an issue. Provide deodorant if necessary and explain why it is needed. Emphasise that using a deodorant is not an alternative to washing!

 

 


cut nailsCut nails

Keeping nails short helps to prevent bacteria and dirt from collecting under them. If your child dislikes having their nails cut try using baby nail clippers and cutting them straight after bathing when the nails are softer. Cutting nails whilst they are asleep is another option but only if your child is a sound sleeper!

 


blow noseBlow nose

Remind your child not to pick their nose as this increases the spread of germs. Teaching a child how to blow their nose can be a frustrating task so if you’re struggling these tips to help kids learn how to blow their nose  from The OT Toolbox are useful.


 

Resources

  • I Can Do It Self Care Skills Kit

  • I Can Do It Toilet Routine Mini Kit

  • Self Care Sticker Pack

  • Toilet Training Record Sheet

  • Toilet Training Toolkit

 

 

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TomTag life skill – teeth brushing

self care tag image 3

Poor oral hygiene can be damaging for children in many ways; they may not want to smile, have problems eating food and then there’s the pain and upset of toothache. This can easily be prevented by introducing a regular and healthy teeth-cleaning routine as early as possible.

A simple visual checklist breaking down the teeth-brushing routine into small steps is an effective way to teach children how to take care of their teeth. Setting a good example by following a proper daily hygiene routine yourself as well as regular reminders to your child will pave the way for great dental health and happy smiles!

toothbrush

Toothbrush

Choose a medium soft brush with a small head. Letting your child choose their own toothbrush may encourage them to use it too.

 


toothpaste

Toothpaste

Using a flouride toothpaste helps prevent decay. Check on the pack and use a toothpaste with a flouride level of at least 1000ppm for children up to age three and 1350-1500ppm for anyone older.

If your child is particularly sensitive to strong flavours or dislikes foaming then try this unflavoured, non-foaming fluoride toothpaste from OraNurse® .

 


Toothpaste on brush

Children under three should use a smear of toothpaste and then only use a pea-sized amount to up age seven.

Brush twice a day – once just before bedtime (but after any milk or other snacks) and at least one more time during the day.


brush teeth

Brush teeth

Use small circular motions with gentle pressure and concentrate on one section at a time. Brush for at least 2 minutes – using a timer really helps. We love the free, NHS approved, Brush DJ app that plays 2 minutes of music taken from your device to make brushing more entertaining!
Spit out toothpaste but don’t rinse or only use a small amount of water so as not to wash away the flouride.


floss teeth

Floss teeth

Flossing once a day helps to clean thoroughly between teeth and prevents the build-up of plaque. Floss sticks can make the job easier for children than traditional string floss.

 


awesome

Great job!

Don’t forget to praise your child for their efforts and maybe even use a star chart to get them established in their routine and reward them when they remember to brush without any reminder.

Using TomTag

Our I can do it – brush my teeth mini kit is a handy sequence reminder to hang in the bathroom – there’s no need to worry about any splashes with TomTag’s waterproof stickers!

 

 

Other resources

The Children’s University of Manchester have some great interactive online resources about teeth and gums aimed at KS2 children and the British Dental Health Foundation offers plenty of practical advice and information on caring for children’s teeth.

 

 

  • I Can Do It Brush My Teeth Mini Kit

  • I Can Do It Learn At Home Kit

  • I Can Do It Self Care Skills Kit

  • Self Care Sticker Pack