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
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?
- TomTag 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.
It’s often the simplest things that have the biggest impact.
A seemingly simple thing that gets forgotten, ignored or left unnoticed can cause a big problem down the line. Simple ideas, simple tools, simple changes might be all that’s needed to solve a problem or do a better job than a complex solution.
A Share how I feel tag, with its thermometer-style colour faces scale, has to be one of the simplest uses for the TomTag system but since introducing it less than nine months ago has become our best selling product. It can be used in lots of different ways which is perhaps one of the keys to it’s success – we’ve given some ideas in this free download guide.
Having recommended in our guide that using a feelings diary can help to identify patterns of emotions or behaviour and the triggers that could be causing them, we decided to make our own!
My TomTag Feelings Notebook
There’s a scale for rating the strength of your feelings and a guide to help build up a vocabulary to describe your different feelings and emotions.
By making notes about what happened during the day or at key points you can start to build up a picture over time which helps you to see patterns and identify the common triggers or stressors. Quite often these might be simple things that go unnoticed day to day but are easier to spot once patterns emerge.
It’s often the simplest things that have the biggest impact.
New uniform to buy, school shoes to get fitted, pencilcases galore in every shop – it’s that time of year again when our thoughts must inevitably turn to planning for the new school year.
Last summer our own back to school preparations took on a whole new dimension. My autistic son Tomas faced the daunting transition from his much-loved mainstream primary school to our local secondary. Clearly there would be many challenges to face and one big worry was how Tomas would manage the extra organisational demands of dealing with lots of different subjects.
Tomas was going to need a system to help him keep his paperwork organised and in one place if he was to stand any chance of keeping on top of things. We started with eight A4 ring-binders in different colours and labelled each one with a subject. We labelled the pockets of a plastic concertina file with the same subjects and labelled one extra section ‘letters’ to be used for permission slips, newsletters, etc.
I explained to Tomas that he must take the concertina file to school each day and bring it home again every night. Any notes, homework or handouts he was given had to be filed in it immediately after each lesson to prevent them from getting lost in his school bag or left at school! I then showed him how to empty the file each night. We talked through how we made the judgement about what should happen to each piece of paper. It if was needed for lessons the next day it could remain in the file, any homework sheets should be completed and returned to the file and some papers would need filing in the ring-binders for later reference and revision purposes.
The aim eventually was to have Tomas apply the strategy independently. Direct explicit instructions and plenty of practice are often all that is required to help children learn basic organisational or other skills. This approach can be particularly beneficial for a child with organisational difficulties although it is appropriate and useful for most children.
One year on and I am delighted to report that the system seems to be working! With lots of practice and the support of his teachers, Tomas can now collect, sort and file all his own paperwork from school. Now I just need to apply the same rigour to my own filing system!
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.
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.
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.