As we come to the end of the school year, it brings about excitement for many. The end of school year also brings many change – change in routines, end of school year events, end of year excursions, celebrations, step-up days, going away on holidays. For some children, these changes can be unsettling and can make them feel anxious.
Here are 5 tips on helping your child through the holiday period:
Georgina Psomiadis, Clinical Psychologist
When looking at the research, different studies, together with anecdotal evidence, there are various results in ratios between males and females on the autistic spectrum, ranging from 2:1 to 16:1, respectively!
So why are there such differences across studies? There are several possible reasons for this, some of them being:
The below table illustrates the differences between more obvious characteristics of ASD compared to more subtle characteristics (National Autistic Society):
Often, I hear parents say that their daughter’s teachers don’t notice any ‘problem’ in the classroom, and in fact, they’re considered the perfect student! This is often quite distressing for parents as their child may to experience intense emotional outbursts the moment they arrive home.
Girls tend to mask their behaviours quite well, as they are more motivated to engage socially. They spend excessive amounts of energy doing so at school, as to not get noticed and fly under the radar. Because of this mental and emotional exhaustion, here comes the meltdowns when they finally feel like they can be ‘themselves’.
Unfortunately, there may be very little clear ‘red flags’ in early childhood other than shyness, being quiet and having interests that are ‘typical’ for young girls, though the intensity of this interest is excessive.
The expressive language used by autistic females is often exceptionally good, which can then mask their difficulties processing verbal information. Their eye contact might also be quite good, they may do ‘small talk’ well and can be very chatty, though these tend to be quite exhausting and when their energy is not replenished, can cause significant distress and other mental health conditions over time.
Females who seek therapy present with mental health issues such as eating disorders, personality disorders, depression, anxiety and self-harming behaviours that can divert the clinician’s attention away from a possible underlying autism.
Mothers who identify with having autistic characteristics are typically the ones who bring their young daughters into therapy or for assessment, as they notice the difficulties in their child as similar to their own difficulties, and don’t want their child to go through the same challenges as they did growing up.
We know that appropriate support at younger ages leads to better outcomes. Early intervention is always a good idea, whether a formal diagnosis is made or not (although having a diagnosis can open up funding support for interventions); if the clinician is attuned to the ASD presentation, they will provide the appropriate interventions.
Our mission at Hopscotch and Harmony is to smash the stigma of mental health conditions and a big part of our work is working with young children, teens and adults on the autistic spectrum.
Having an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) does not have to be scary.
There is so much support out there and this will continue to grow as our understanding of their needs deepens. Listening to so many individuals with autism talk about their relief and enhancement of self-understanding when they receive a diagnosis are some of the benefits of going through the formal assessment process. Though this is not true for everyone.
Some people identify with having autistic characteristics or self-diagnose as having ASD, and are content with being aware of what they struggle with and their strengths and don’t want a formal diagnosis. Some people may overly-identify with a diagnosis and feel like ‘something is wrong with them’. This is where clinical judgement and parental intuition come into play… there is never a black and white answer, is there?
Many psychologists at Hopscotch and Harmony are highly skilled in the assessment process for ASD. If you want more information on this process, please call us and we will guide you through this.
When might these occur?
Children with Autism are most commonly thought of when there is mention of sensory
sensitivities or sensory behaviours. One of the criteria that a child with Autism may meet is
experiencing hyper (high) or hypo (low) reactivity to sensory input or unusual interests in
sensory aspects of the environment. There are also children who may not have a diagnosis who may present with sensitivities to some extent.
How do I know what to look for?
There are many categories of senses: sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, balance and we can even extend to include proprioceptive and vestibular input. There are two common presentations of sensory sensitivities.
Hypersensitivity occurs when sensory input exceeds a person’s ability to cope. This is a low sensory threshold and the child is explained as a sensory avoider.
Hyposensitivity occurs when greater than normal levels of input are required for registration. This is a high sensory threshold and the child may be seen as a sensory seeker.
Why might a child engage in sensory seeking or sensory avoiding?
Whether a child is seeking or avoiding sensory input, there are reasons behind the behaviours we can see. These may include the following, but can include many more:
What can I do to help?
As with any behaviour, if we can find out or make a prediction of why it is happening and what function it serves, we have a much better chance of making a successful support plan for the child. But how do you figure this out? Watch your child in various environments and observe their behaviours and reactions or even just ask them. Ask others involved in your child’s care also – it’s important to gather information. Be a detective!
Here are some tips that were shared on our blog recently about functions of behaviour – check it out:
Below are some common examples of behaviours and how you may be able to assist.
If a child is seeking sensory enjoyment:
Yes, sometimes these behaviours are enjoyable for a child, but are disruptive to the child’s
opportunities to socialize or it may be impacting/disrupting their learning or attention. If this is a behaviour that is safe, gently speak to your child (or use pictures) to explain it is not time for this just now; however, they may have some time to engage later. Remember, it’s okay for a child to engage in these behaviours sometimes; they serve a function. You also may like to suggest to a child they engage in these when it is time for them to follow their own ideas/explore their environment or when they take a break.
If a child is engaging in a disruptive sensory seeking behaviour:
If you believe the behaviour is inappropriate or disruptive, For example, if a child enjoys biting and sucking their school T-shirt, but this is the tenth one you’ve purchased this year! you may like to further explore why are they biting that material in the first place (Boredom? Anxiety? Is it a concentration aid? Does it calm them?). You may then consider providing alternative opportunities that serve the same function. If this really is just for comfort or concentration, they may like to have a more appropriate option (a small piece of similar material available to them that they can use). If this is due to anxiety, we need to look further into teaching effective and appropriate coping skills. Your child needs a proactive strategy.
If a child is a sensory avoider, provide appropriate ways for sensory avoiding where possible:
Can you help the child to communicate their discomfort in an appropriate way? Or maybe a child can be taught how to minimize the effect the sensory experience has on them. They should always be taught how to cope through a sensory experience as well as being given a way to minimize its effects. The world is an unpredictable place and your child may inevitably experience what they are trying to avoid at some stage.
A summary - How do we understand and how do we help?
If you believe your child may benefit from an integrated and individualised plan, speak to our Client Relationships Team today to discuss a practitioner who may be suitable to assist you and your child.
“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses, we must plant more roses”.
― George Eliot (Novelist, poet, journalist, and one of the leading writers of the Victorian era)
by Melissa Bailey, Psychologist
Why should we know the difference?
A common theme that comes up in working with children and adolescents is bullying. Often I hear reports from clients who feel they are being bullied at school, which is obviously troubling for both the client and the parent, as nobody wants to be bullied and no parent wants to hear that their child is being bullied, or feels uncomfortable going to school.
Although a child may genuinely believe that they are being bullied, not all reports of bullying can actually be defined as such. In some cases the child may perceive teasing to be bullying, whether it is intended to be playful and harmless or goes too far and becomes hurtful.
In particular, kids on the autism spectrum, or who have social difficulties, tend to have a more challenging time interpreting social situations and may perceive teasing as bullying. Therefore it is important that kids (with or without ASD) and their parents understand the difference so that they can appropriately handle the situation, whether that be to work with the school to address the bullying and/or to seek assistance through school programs, a psychologist or counsellor to help develop and build a child’s resilience and assertive communication skills.
What is bullying and teasing?
Bullying: The National Centre Against Bullying (NCAB) define it as when an individual or a group of people with more power, repeatedly and intentionally cause hurt or harm to another person or group of people who feel helpless to respond. Therefore bullying is not a single episode of rejection, acts of nastiness or mutual arguments, disagreements or fights.
Teasing: Teasing is a social exchange and can be friendly, neutral or negative. Teasing or being mean is different to bullying as there is usually no power imbalance.
Although teasing can be hurtful and unkind it’s common among children and so it is important to know the difference as they may require different responses. Whilst I understand it’s common amongst children, I don’t condone bullying or being mean, and feel that it’s important for us to have common terminology so that we can assist children in the most appropriate way.