Autism friendship skills

October 17, 2018

How to Help Your Child with Autism Make Friends


Every parent dreams of who and what his or her child will be.

Will she be an academic or an athlete? What will his interests be? Will she attend college or start her own business? While these are the questions that parents of most children are asking, as a parent of a child with autism, you may be more concerned with answers to questions like…Will he attend school? Will she get bullied? Or even, will he ever have a friend? How do you help improve your child’s Autism friendship skills?

And as somber as it is, that last question is reality for many parents of children on the spectrum. Autism not only affects learning and development, it also affects one’s ability to interact socially and form friends. If you’ve ever experienced anxiety over approaching a new friend or potential colleague, consider what that would be like if you were unable to read social cues, such as body language, hand gestures, tone of voice and even facial expressions. This is the reality for your child with autism.

With that, your concern regarding your child’s ability to make friends is valid. But fortunately, there are a number of ways you can support your child’s attempts to make friends and even foster an environment in which he or she can do so. Use these tips as a guide to help your child begin developing the Autism friendship skills he needs to establish positive relationships with peers that have the potential to transform into lasting friendships.

And before we start remember you are not alone. You are now part of a giant special needs community. There are therapists, school districts, teachers, aides, support groups, state agencies, health insurance companies, and other similarly affected families to help you in this. Not only will you be connecting to incredibly dedicated experienced talented people to help your kiddo but many of them will become your good friends as well.

Here we go:

1. Start with the basics.

Before you can begin to expect your child to want to form relationships with others, you need to help him develop an understanding of what a friend is and what friendships look like. So start with the basics. Help you child “define” what a friend is by sharing qualities you appreciate in friends, such as caring, accepting, sharing interests, etc. You can also have conversations with your child about what a friend is not, asking questions that include, “Do you enjoy being around someone who calls you or others names?” or “Would you rather spend time with someone who’s kind and helps you?” You may even want to engage in role playing to demonstrate different interactions your child may expect when first trying to get to know friends. For example, you may demonstrate how to introduce yourself and ask the acquaintance’s name, and then reversing roles.

2. Create opportunities.

Because your child has difficulties with social interactions, it may be unlikely that they initiate conversations on their own, especially in the beginning. Do your best to create opportunities for interactions to practice the “basics” you’ve been working on. If you have a young child, trips to the park, play dates, and other social opportunities are great places to put their Autism friendship skills into practice. Play dates are especially beneficial as you can control some of the variables involved, including location, number of children present, and even activities. If your child is older, look for social groups, clubs, or even teams in which your child can participate. It may take some additional support in the beginning, but these experiences can be invaluable for helping your child develop effective connections.

3. Focus on the long-term.

As hard as it may be to see your child struggling to make friends now, remember that the goal is to help them be able to develop lasting relationships long-term. So instead of expecting a whole group of new friends tomorrow, think about where you want your child to be 5 years from now. And then from there, focus on breaking down the autism friendship skills they will need to reach that goal. This approach also helps you celebrate the “small wins” along the way, which can help keep you both stay motivated toward developing new relationships.

Regardless of how difficult making friends is in the beginning, remember that it is a process that you and your child are both learning together. And don’t get discouraged. Making friends is a lifelong process for everyone that doesn’t ever have to be “mastered” when mutual companionship is the goal.

About the Author:

Caryl Anne Crowne is a media specialist and contributing author for the Aveanna Healthcare Blog. She regularly produces content for a variety of pediatric therapy blogs covering topics such as autism, speech therapy and general medical solutions.

 

If I Need Help makes wearable iD and offers a free Caregiver controlled special needs registry for our loved ones who may wander or need assistance in a critical moment.

Learning about your sibling with special needs

September 18, 2018

Teaching your child about their sibling with special needs

sibling with special needs

As a parent, you make a point of treating your children equally.

It’s a goal to make sure that neither child feels left out or mistreated, which can lead to isolating feelings. But what if one of your children is made just a bit differently? Talking to your child about their sibling with special needs can be a confusing conversation to have. The discussion requires patience, understanding, and concrete direction to help your child be the best sibling they can be.

Set the Stage

Your child with special needs may require a great deal of attention, unintentionally leaving you without much alone time with your other child. Be intentional in actively finding time to speak with your child alone about their sibling with special needs diagnosis. Having a quiet and intimate conversation will create an environment where they can ask questions without feeling as though they’ll hurt their sibling’s feelings. Getting to have rare alone time with you will also aid in making the process feel more supportive and loving. Often times, the siblings of those with special needs feel as though they aren’t allow to voice their frustrations, due to the lack of privacy and expectation to behave as the mature, supportive sibling.

Use this time to help them connect the dots. After all, they spend a lot of time with their brother or sister and have probably noticed some differences in their behavior. Introduce the concept that their sibling faces unique challenges causing differences in their behavior or feelings, the help they require, or way they are treated. If their sibling is autistic and has sensory issues, place emphasis on this connection to their challenge. If they have Down Syndrome, explain why this results in a distinct facial appearance. By connecting cause and effect, you can offer rest to any confusion they may have.

Give the Facts

Your child may be too young to fully understand the complexity of their sibling’s challenges to the extent that you do, but this doesn’t mean you can’t build an awareness. Provide them with accessible mental health information that can make their introduction to their sibling’s special need smoother. Read through the resource together and provide examples of your special needs child’s unique accommodations or behaviors as a way of tying this information close to home.

Delve into more detail regarding the cause and effect you touched upon when introducing the conversation. Often times, true acceptance of these behaviors will only come with time as your child matures. Offering information, however, will provide them with context to work towards accepting. In its simplest terms, work to explain the neurological and biological differences that cause their sibling to experience life in a distinct way. Make it known that these distinct characteristics may be difficult for your child and others to navigate but is not something their sibling has control over. This can eliminate resentment down the road that their sibling is ‘ruining their life’ or behaving in ways to monopolize attention.

Why this is Important

As the parent, having this discussion will allow you to uncover various emotions your child may be experiencing as they begin and continue their journey with a sibling with special needs. This, in turn, will serve as helpful material for managing your child’s mental health, which may often times fall behind due to the amount of attention their sibling’s challenges require.

When living with a special needs sibling, a child may experience conflicting emotions. On one end, they may feel worried about their sibling and the way they are treated. On the other, they could feel resentful that what they view as ‘normal’ activities or family outings become much more taxing with their sibling with special needs present. They could also feel pressure to be ‘perfect’ for their parents while experiencing anger that the attention from family, teachers, and other resources are focused on their sibling.

Getting the chance to address these overwhelming emotions will remind your child that you are present, care about their feelings within this unique situation, and are always an open resource for them. This sometimes gets lost in translation within the trials and tribulations of having a special needs child. Let your child know that, although their sibling does require a lot of attention and special resources, their needs aren’t forgotten.

Explain How they Fit in

As much as you want your child to take on the protective sibling role, this has the potential to quickly lead to resentment. Framing your child’s role in their sibling’s life as that of the protector will place immense pressure on them to transition into a parental figure at a young age. This can lead to more anxiety over needing to be perfect as well as anger towards having to focus a great deal of their life on their sibling.

Refrain from words like “protector” or “role-model” when discussing their part in their siblings life, and don’t set strict guidelines for how they must treat their sibling. You can suggest ways that you’d hope your child would react to specific things that their sibling does, but more often than not it’s better to let your child take the lead. Each child goes through their own process of coping with having a sibling with special needs, and you need to be prepared to let them go through these steps in their own time. Some children may adapt quickly and with great patience. Others may experience embarrassment when their sibling has difficulty in public or anxiety about how to introduce them to their peers, and this may result in them pulling away.

Much of this process depends on maturity. Continue to frame their sibling’s challenge in a positive light, seldom showing frustration in front of your child. Instead, frame their challenges with as much light-heartedness and humor as possible to convey that their presence in your family is not a burden but a unique blessing. In time, your child will adopt this similar mindset and reintegrate their sibling into their life. No child fits into a single box- this you know having a child with special needs. Your other child is no exception, and enabling them the freedom to navigate the information you’ve given them at their own pace can ultimately help build a better relationship with their sibling.

If I Need Help makes wearable iD and offers a free Caregiver controlled special needs registry for our loved ones who may wander or need assistance in a critical moment.

Special Education: Three things I know for sure

August 12, 2018

Three things I know for sure from my experience as a Special Education Educator


By Karina D. Barley (Diploma of Teaching, Post Graduate Diploma of Education, Masters of Education – Inclusive and Special Education, Certificate of Educational Research – Special Education)

I have been a teacher for over thirty years; ten of which I spent in special education.

I am currently in the privileged position of teaching pre-service and current teachers both at University level and in Professional Development courses. To encapsulate what I know into three dot points is somewhat challenging, so I thought about what I wished someone had told me when I began my teaching career. This helped me to define three things I know for sure, which are:
The first job as an educator is to provide a foundation that is firmly set in trust, confidence and knowledge of your students. You need to get to know your students; what makes them who they are and what makes them ‘tick’? When you have this knowledge, you can then cater to their needs, build their trust and confidence in you, which will in turn provide them with trust and confidence in themselves and their learning. I honestly do not believe you can be the greatest teacher you can be without this. In partnership with this premise, is a question to ask yourself: What is the legacy you want to leave? In twenty years’ time, how do you wish to be remembered by your students? I hope the answer is that you want to be remembered as a compassionate, caring teacher who inspired and believed in each and every student.

NEVER assume what a student can do.

Secondly, we should NEVER assume what a student can do. It is easy to get caught up in test scores, IQ, performance, reports etc. and forget that we are working with unique individuals. If a student is nonverbal, this does not also mean they are not capable. If a student has a disability, this does not mean they do not have potential. I firmly believe each and every child has potential and possibility and it is us up to us as educators to assist each child to attain their best. When we believe in an individual, it is far easier for them to believe in themselves. Your job is to motivate and provide lots of experiences of success.

Success begets success.

The previous point, leads me to the next. Success begets success. I believe that learning is a cycle. When we focus on what students can do, rather than what they can’t do then we provide them with constant feelings of success. This builds confidence, which in turn reinforces ‘risk taking’ in learning, which leads to more success. What evolves is a cycle of successful and success based learning. One of the problems for students who have a disability is that teachers focus upon their deficits, consequently these kids experience ongoing, daily incidences of failure. Making them do what they cannot do over and over shatters their confidence and creates fear around learning. These students eventually develop the mentality that they would rather not try anything, than try and fail. However, if as educators we offer daily experiences of success, then student confidence builds where they are more likely to try new things. When we allow individuals to feel good about themselves, they are less concerned about getting something wrong. This focuses on developing strengths, independence and autonomous learning.

Karina offers Professional Development for educators with Continuing Education Associates (CEA) in the USA and with Teacher Training Australia (TTA) in Australia. She is also an Associate Teacher at Monash University, Australia.

If I Need Help makes wearable iD and offers a free Caregiver controlled special needs registry for our loved ones who may wander or need assistance in a critical moment.

Top 10 List for Parents Prepping for an IEP Meeting

August 1, 2018

IEP Meeting Prep tips

by Jazmine Gelfand: Jazmine is a special education attorney who offers education and disability legal representation to the greater San Diego community.

by Jazmine Gelfand: Jazmine is a special education attorney who offers education and disability legal representation to the greater San Diego community.

  1. Make sure the IEP meeting is scheduled at a time that is convenient for you. The school team can work with your schedule, to a reasonable extent, and should not meet without you. You can also participate by phone.
  2. Share your concerns with the IEP team in writing in advance. This helps to guide the discussion and ensures the school team is prepared to develop goals and offer services and/or evaluations in these areas.
  3. Provide any relevant updates from private providers ahead of the meeting. The IEP team is required to consider all outside information, so you can feel free to share private evaluations, progress reports from private providers, or any written documentation you feel might be helpful for the team to review.
  4. Ask that copies of the draft IEP be provided 24-hours before the meeting. While the District cannot “predetermine” placement and services, and parents must be included in developing the IEP, requesting copies of the proposed goals and present levels of performance prior to the meeting will allow you to review the documentation thoroughly before the team discussion. This also helps you to use the meeting time as efficiently as possible. Similarly, ask that copies of assessment reports be provided at least 24-hours in advance.
  5. Don’t be afraid to tape record the IEP meeting. While it can seem awkward to tape record your IEP meeting, school teams are used to this practice, and it shouldn’t inhibit the discussion. Having a recording allows you to relax during the team discussion, knowing that you can always review the recording if you need to refresh your memory later. You will need to provide 24-hours notice in order to record.
  6. Bring support! You can bring an attorney, advocate, or anyone familiar with the student. Don’t feel like you have to go into the meeting alone. You are permitted to bring a representative to the meeting with you, and can invite anyone who is familiar with the student’s needs and abilities. Examples include a babysitter, service provider, or family member. If you are bringing an attorney, give the school team at least 24-hours notice, as they may choose to be represented, as well.
  7. Know who is required to attend the IEP meeting. Mandatory IEP participants include the parent, at least one general education teacher if the student is or may participate in the general education setting, a special education teacher, and a representative from the school district/educational agency (often an administrator from the school site). Also, if assessments are being reviewed, a person who is qualified to interpret the assessment results must also attend.
  8. Leave with a copy! Even if the team still needs to finalize the changes, request a copy of the draft with notes, or at least the notes page. The school team should always be able to make you a copy that day.
  9. Don’t sign the IEP at the meeting! IEP meetings can be stressful and overwhelming. You always have the right to take a copy of the IEP home with you to review, then sign once you are completely comfortable with the proposed goals and offer of services.
  10. Remember, you can request an IEP meeting at any time! You don’t have to wait for the annual review, or for the District to call one.

 

Jazmine Gelfand (specialedlegalcare.com) is a special education attorney who offers education and disability legal representation to the greater San Diego community. Jazmine has been passionate about advocating for children’s education since beginning her undergraduate studies, and she graduated with a B.S. in Early Childhood Development. After enrolling in law school, Jazmine helped create a new student organization on campus, Advocates for Children and Education, which developed several outreach programs to support children’s education rights. She first became interested in the area of special education law after interning with the San Diego Volunteer Lawyer Program’s Education Project. Jazmine also participated in several on-campus clinics, including the Child Advocacy Institute’s Policy Clinic, and the Special Education Legal Clinic, where she represented the rights of low-income students with special needs.

Upon graduating with her J.D. from the University of San Diego School of Law, Jazmine was awarded the 2014 James A. D’Angelo Outstanding Child Advocate Award, as well as the pro bono service award, in recognition of her contributions to San Diego’s low-income community.

Jazmine is committed to providing aggressive legal representation for her clients, while being sensitive to the need to work collaboratively, under a solutions-oriented approach. She is admitted to practice law in all California state courts.

Adult Services, Critical transition knowledge

July 22, 2018

3 Things I Know About Adult Services

By Jonathan Flint Executive Director of California Spectrum Care.

The world of mental health services can be a scary and unpredictable place. It’s difficult to navigate, lonely at times, and on occasion downright unfair. Although, at least for California residents, we are lucky to have the resources and services offered statewide. It’s reasonable to say it’s a tough system to navigate. From the time your son or daughter get into school, you are their advocate and doing everything in your power to increase their chances of success. Some parents are able to triumph more than others, and more times than not; it’s because they know more about available resources and the laws that govern them. Through the years, you and your child work hard overcoming challenges until eventually they graduate or age out of the school system. Through my years of experience, I’ve learned three main components about preparing, obtaining, and utilizing Adult Mental Health Services from my own trials and errors.

1. Adult Services, Preparing For Transition Is Paramount

California Spectrum Care Volunteering at If I Need Help

California Spectrum Care Volunteering at If I Need Help

Transition planning is of the utmost importance when discussing Adult Mental Health Services, which is why I wanted to introduce this concept first. Transitioning to independence is similar to completing a puzzle, there are many pieces and they all have to be laid out and shaped just right so that they fit together. With different shapes, patterns, and colors, you could accidentally put two pieces together that you think fit only to find out they do not. It’s ok. What most people are not willing to admit is that most of the mental health field is trial and error. Trying to make something work and finding out it doesn’t is a success in its own right, and it’s something you want to happen sooner than later. The last thing you want is to travel down a road longer than you should only to find out you’ve been going in the wrong direction. But remember, you can consider crossing out a possible solution a success because it means you’re that much closer to finding the right matching pieces

Starting the transition process five years before graduation, or as soon as possible if you are already past that point, is paramount. The reason is that as your child gets older they will have a shorter amount of time to make mistakes and find new paths. As you age, it is harder to learn new skills, find a job, and most importantly – break old habits (what we refer to as “behaviors”). Also, it gives your son or daughter a head start on thinking about their future. They are just like everyone else in this world. They’ll want to be 100 different things before they find their calling. I thought I was going to be Evel Knievel, then an archaeologist, then a movie director, then a few other things before I decided I wanted to be a Director of a nonprofit organization. Let’s not deprive our kids of that same valuable time of trial and error and experience. Simple questions like “What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “Where do you want to live?” are all valuable questions to ask someone in high school.

If you are thinking your child’s diagnosis is too debilitating for them to think about their future the way I’m describing, this still pertains to you! Don’t ever think your son or daughter is “too severe” to be more independent. One day they will need to be able to function without you. In many ways, the transition process is also about the parent’s future involvement or lack thereof. You also need to think about where you want to be in the future and how your child’s life interacts with it.

When I talk about transitioning to adult services, I think about a few main components:

1. Housing
2. Health
3. Employment/Income Source
4. Quality of Life
a. Social life
b. Social diversity
c. Self-determination
5. Support Services
a) Independent living services
b) Social skills training/groups
c) Job skills training/coaching
d) Transportation

Where do you fit in these categories in your son or daughters life right now? Where do you need to be for them to be as independent as possible, and eventually; how do you transition out of each of them systematically?

Quick side note: Your plan is your plan. I’m not trying to lecture that 100% independence is what your plan should be or that you’re wrong if your plan or opinion is different than most. I’m simply stating that your child could be without your assistance one day and that in itself is something to plan for.

Continuing on, at the end of the day these aspects of your son or daughter’s life are essential. All of the components above interact with each other in some way and they need to be able to do so cohesively. Setting up a system where your service providers work together, target goals together, and operate in a consistent fashion can be planned in your IEP, IPP, or a MAP (making action plans) meeting when starting a new service.

2. Perfection Should Not Be The Gold Standard

Donna Hill from Senator Wilkes office stopped by for a visit

Donna Hill from Senator Wilkes office stopped by for a visit

When the leadership team and I co-founded California Spectrum Care we sat down and really thought about what we wanted to do as an organization. What would the function of the organization be? Why were we creating this program? We felt all roads lead back to neurodiversity.

I think the stigma around mental health is changing quickly, or at least faster and on a broader scale than it was before. However, a lot of the conversation is about what society or the general public can do for the developmentally challenged population. We want to spread awareness, get people educated about Autism Spectrum Disorder, and other diagnoses yet we teach little acceptance. On the other hand, I have experienced a culture within the population I serve that lacks accountability for what we should all be doing as service providers. We also need to be aware of the needs and concerns of the general public.

I’m not saying it’s the client’s sole responsibility to be accepted by the general public. I’m saying that there needs to be a compromise between the diagnosed population and the general public. We can’t expect the general public to be ok with someone having a meltdown in the middle of Starbucks because their triple chocolate swirl is going in the wrong direction. But, we can expect the general public to listen to an iPad communication application when taking an order for that triple chocolate swirl. We can teach accommodation, acceptance, and awareness to both sides of the fence until it appears that there is no fence at all.

The clients I serve are wonderful and not weak by any means. They face bigger challenges than I do, and I respect that about them. I have a duty to teach them and ready them for the next phase of their life, whatever it may be. I also have a duty to teach the world around me how to work with them, how to let down their own social inhibitions, and generally accept that they will meet people who are not like them.

So, when I say perfection isn’t the gold standard, I mean celebrate the progress that your child makes and celebrate who they are. Better yet, accept it. If they are happy, healthy, and safe, who’s to say anything is wrong? That could become the ethical debate of the century. But I like to think that we are all just a little different and none of us are perfect. Let’s accept people for who they are, teach them the skills they absolutely need and help them achieve the goals they want to accomplish. It’s very easy to get hung up on the parts of someone’s life or behavior, as a service coordinator, that isn’t necessarily holding the client back. We should prioritize someone’s skill development and then objectively look at who they are as a person and what really needs to be changed for success.

3. Freedom of Choice

Assemblyman Dante Acosta learning about California Spectrum Care and If I Need Helps Wearable iD

Assemblyman Dante Acosta learning about California Spectrum Care and If I Need Helps Wearable iD & Special Needs Registry

We need to stop making choices for adults in Adult Services. Is there fine print in that statement? Yes. It reads: “If they are not impacting their immediate health, life, or mental wellbeing – let them learn from their own actions.” I can’t stress this enough. However, this all ties in with our first point. You need to allow your child to have enough time to make mistakes. Incidental learning and the power of choice is something that cannot be matched. It is the most natural way to live your life and learn in the process.

If you are a parent of a teenager (or older), you know that power struggles can be exhausting, long lasting, and damaging to a relationship. There really is no winner. At the end of the day, we should empower individuals. One day we won’t be there to protect them and the confidence we instill in our youth now will help them out when we are not able.

How can we translate this into adult services?

I think the best way to do this is with person-centered planning. All goals should follow what the client wants as long as it isn’t inappropriate or unfeasible beyond the means of the support staff. You should never be limited to what your service provider can do or what they are willing to do. If you are, find a new service provider. They shouldn’t take up your time or effort (and vice versa) if the goals of the client cannot be achieved in theory.

We should also never condemn, judge, or quickly critique someone’s goals and ambitions. We are who we are, so let’s be accepting. It’s your child’s life to live. They deserve to pursue it. Some might find this outlandish. I can hear my customized employment mentor now… “Jon, don’t get caught in the dream job trap!” Well, he has a point, but again, everyone deserves a shot to prove themselves. After that, we can talk about more realistic goals to obtain their dream and use earlier goals as a catalyst for success.

Removing the power struggle and giving the reins over to the person who has to live with their outcomes is what creates the human element missing from some adult services. Once we start teaching the art of doing something for yourself and for your future, the quicker we get away from the Applied Behavior Analysis style reward systems that are unnatural.

Jonathan communing with If I Need Helps Mr. PeeBuddy

Jonathan Flint is the Executive Director of California Spectrum Care. California Spectrum Care is a Southern California nonprofit dedicated to servicing individuals diagnosed with autism and other developmental disabilities

If I Need Help makes wearable iD and offers a free Caregiver controlled special needs registry for our loved ones who may wander or need assistance in a critical moment.

The Lookout

July 6, 2018

The lookout! NonVerbal Autistic ESP 

I am not generally a believer of extrasensory perception, ESP.

However, there are some things that occur that make me feel there are things we don’t understand. If you take away one of a person’s senses, eyesight or hearing are the usual examples, that person’s remaining senses improve. That has been scientifically studied and proven. I wonder, if you remove a facet of a person’s ability to communicate, will other communicative abilities make up for it? My sons are both nonverbal autistic. While my oldest will repeat one syllable words, my youngest has never spoken. Somehow they communicate with each other. They plan heists, usually cookies or other sweets. My funniest example is the first time I caught them. I would see my 2 year old at the time stick his head out the kitchen door, smile, giggle, and go back to hiding. After the third time, I got suspicious. Yeah, I know, the silence from the other one should have clued me in. So, I sneak around the back way and to my surprise I see my oldest son teetering on his tippy toes on the chair reaching for the cookie jar on top of the refrigerator. My youngest son was obviously acting as the worst lookout. To this day, I regret my next action. Worried about the precarious position my oldest son was in and taking my responsibility as protector of cookies and appetites, I shouted, “what are you doing?” my oldest looks at me in horror and quickly gets down. My youngest never looked back, running straight ahead to his room.

To this day, I wonder, what would have been the plan if I got up to go into the kitchen the normal way. How would the lookout have warned his brother?

The Lookout NonVerbal Autistic ESP

Armando Sandoval
The Autism Society of Texas-El Paso
https://www.facebook.com/AutismSocietyEP/

If I Need Help makes wearable iD and offers a free Caregiver controlled special needs registry for our loved ones who may wander or need assistance in a critical moment.

Quick Start Guide

June 22, 2018

Caregiver sleep is so important!

June 6, 2018

Caregiver sleep is a hot topic around our house so If I Need Help asked Ellie Porter from the Sleep Help Institute if they could share some important tips about sleep. Ellie asked Amy Highland one of their awesome sleep experts to write a guest blog for us. Here it is. Get ready to get a good night sleep tonight! 

If I Need Help makes wearable iD and offers a free Caregiver controlled special needs registry for our loved ones who may wander or need assistance in a critical moment.

How to Get Better Caregiver Sleep Despite the Stress

While many parents and caregivers find joy in their role, at times it can be a challenge, especially if you’re not getting a full seven to eight hours of sleep. Caregiver Sleep plays an important role in your mental and emotional health, yet it can be elusive with the stress of caring for someone with special needs. You can help yourself get more rest by developing good sleep hygiene and healthy stress management skills.

Develop Good Sleep Hygiene

Sleep hygiene includes all the habits and behaviors in your life that contribute to the quality of your sleep. Healthy sleep starts in a bedroom devoted to creating a supportive sleep atmosphere. At night, that means keeping the room dark, quiet, and cool with the temperature between 60 to 68 degrees. Your mattress should support your preferred sleep position – stomach, back, side – so your sleep isn’t disrupted by aches and/or pains. Check mattress reviews to see if you’re sleeping on the best one for your needs.Your behavior during the day and close to bedtime greatly affects your ability to fall and stay asleep. A few sleep support habits that can improve the quality of your sleep include:

  • Keeping a Regular Bedtime: Your body relies on regular 24-hour biological and physiological cycles called circadian rhythms to time your sleep-wake cycle. A consistent sleep schedule helps your body acclimate itself to your natural rhythms and correctly time the release of sleep hormones.
  • A Relaxing Bedtime Routine: Like a regular bedtime, a bedtime routine helps signal your body that it’s time to fall asleep. Any activity that leaves you feeling calm and relaxed makes a good addition to your routine. Try to start the routine at the same time and in the same order each night.
  • Turning Off Screens Early: The bright light from televisions, smartphones, and other electronic devices suppresses the release of melatonin. Try to shut off your screens at least two to three hours before bed to prevent a delay in the onset of sleep.

Incorporate Stress Management Methods

For most people, stress cannot be avoided, and that’s especially true for caregivers. However, there are strategies that can help alleviate, manage, and control your stress.

  • Meditation: In a study published in the Journal of Child and Family Studies, participants who practiced mindfulness meditation reported 33 percent less stress while noting an increase in their overall well-being. Two months after the conclusion of the study, participants still reported having less stress. Meditation teaches the mind to focus on present sensations rather than the anxiety-causing past or future. While 15 to 20 minutes of meditation is best, in as little as 5 minutes per day you can start to see some benefits.
  • Yoga: A study conducted at UCLA found that after eight weeks of a 12-minute daily yoga practice, participants showed “a reduced activity of those proteins linked directly to increased inflammation.” Stress causes inflammation, which means that a reduction in inflammation often results from a reduction in stress.
  • Writing It Out: A journal next to your bed gives you a chance to write down thoughts that may keep you awake. For some people, it may be as simple as having a place to list tasks that need to be remembered. Others benefit from writing down stressful events from the day followed by their emotional responses. Yet others, benefit from having somewhere to record thankfulness and gratitude.

Together, good caregiver sleep hygiene and stress management can help you get the rest you need and take better care of yourself. By taking care of yourself, you’re maintaining the health you need to care for those closest to you too.

Amy Highland is a sleep expert at SleepHelp.org. She loves taking naps during thunderstorms and cuddling up with a blanket, book, and cats.

Safety Tool for special needs kids and police.

June 2, 2018

If I Need Help asked our friend Emily Iland to share information about her incredible safety tool “Be Safe The Movie” . BE SAFE is excellent for helping teach your child, teen or adult to interact safely with the police. This is an excellent safety tool we believe in.
If I Need Help makes wearable iD and offers a free Caregiver controlled special needs registry for our loved ones who may wander or need assistance in a critical moment.

Be Safe The Movie!

The Safety Tool You Haven’t Thought of Yet


Many families who live with the risk of having a child (or adult) wander or bolt from home

Many families who live with the risk of having a child (or adult) wander or bolt from home already know some of the key safety strategies to address the situation:
• Keep doors and windows securely locked and/or alarmed.
• Print out a Google Earth map of your neighborhood identifying all nearby bodies of water.
• Enlist neighbors to keep an eye out for your child (or an adult in your care).
• Use identification systems like If I Need Help, or even tracking devices like AngelSense.
While all of these things can help, here is one more safety strategy to consider: Teach your child, teen or adult to interact safely with the police. Especially if your “wanderer” has autism or another developmental disability, they need to be explicitly taught how to interact safely with the police.

Police often become involved in a search for a vulnerable person with a disability

Why? Because the police often become involved in a search for a vulnerable person with a disability, considered a “critical missing person.” If the police are unfamiliar strangers, the person being looked for might panic, fight, run or hide from rescuers. Each of these understandable reactions can be dangerous for different reasons.

For example, a panicked person might run into the street to get away from an officer who is only trying to reunite him or her with their family. A person who is taught, “Don’t talk to strangers” might hide in the bushes every time a rescuer comes near, putting their health and safety at risk. These examples underscore the importance of teaching about the helping roles of the police and not to fear officers.

Individuals of all abilities also need to learn to cooperate with the police and follow instructions, for their own safety. Examples include learning to stop when told to do so (again, think of preventing someone from running into traffic). It is dangerous to assume that the person will be able to follow instructions from the police during an emergency with no preparation. It is far easier to cooperate with police when the person is familiar with their instructions and has had a chance to practice before needing the skill in real life.

The secret is using teaching tools that are well-matched to the way your loved one learns.

These kind of safety skills are challenging to teach, requiring patience, time and effort. The secret is using teaching tools that are well-matched to the way your loved one learns. Joey Travolta of Inclusion Films helped me create BE SAFE the Movie to teach seven essential safety skills for interacting with police. While we designed it to teach those with autism and related disabilities, the 1-hour DVD can benefit anyone, disability or not. BE SAFE uses video modeling, a powerful teaching safety tool that can reach people of all ages, cognitive abilities and language levels. Our actors are individuals with autism and related disabilities, interacting with real police officers, which makes it really authentic!

BE SAFE plants positive visual images in people’s minds that they can draw upon during an encounter with the police, whether it is a casual meeting, needing help, or even a rescue. Remember, you don’t have to be able to speak to benefit from video modeling, and you don’t have to be able to speak to follow instructions from the police.

Because some learners need more information and practice and so few tools are available, I created the BE SAFE companion curriculum. It includes 7 lessons and 300 pages of teaching tools that help parents and teachers reach diverse learners. These BE SAFE materials are available at our website, www.BeSafeTheMovie.com .

In addition, BE SAFE can now be streamed into classrooms 

through a subscription from TeachTown (TeachTown.com). Isn’t that an important safety tool you want to see in your local school and in your child’s classroom? I know I would have wanted that opportunity for my own son with autism when he was in school!

Next time Erin and Bruce invite me to be a guest blogger I’ll talk about ways to create positive, personal relationships between your child and local police. For a preview, check out our new video and photo gallery at www.BeSafeTheMovie.com

You wouldn’t leave the front door unlocked and just hope for the best, would you? Don’t leave safety to chance when it comes to teaching your child to interact safely with the police! Whatever tools you choose, today’s a great day to get started teaching. When it comes to your child’s safety, ensuring that your child knows what to do in an encounter with officers is one more step to take for peace of mind.

Emily Iland

Emily Iland is an award-winning author, advocate, educator, film-maker and the mom of a young man with autism. She has more than 20 years of experience training the police about autism (www.ExperienceAutism.com). She discovered that while training the police is essential, it is not enough. Youth and adults with autism and related needs also need to learn what to do when they meet the police! Emily and her son Tom are bringing BE SAFE to Omaha, NE the week of June 10 and Phoenix, AZ in August. Learn more about Emily and her many projects at www.EmilyIland.com or contact her at emily@BeSafeTheMovie.com

Autism tips to know as you start your journey!

May 31, 2018

If I Need Help asked our friends who have adult children with special needs to share “3 things I wish I knew when my child was first diagnosed that I know now” Todays’ Autism tips for parents are from Shelly McLaughlin and Syrenthia Farris. They share the important things they wish they knew when her child was diagnosed.

If I Need Help makes wearable iD and offers a free Caregiver controlled special needs registry for our loved ones who may wander or need assistance in a critical moment.

Shelly and her son Hunter

Autism tips 3 things I Wish I Knew When my Child was Diagnosed that I Know Now!

When Hunter was first diagnosed with Autism I felt alone with a sense of grief. Fortunately, I was able to connect with local support groups and with Pathfinders for Autism (which would ultimately become my career). I wish someone would have reassured me that I was going to find incredibly supportive people through this journey. Without Hunter’s diagnosis, I would have missed opportunities to meet some amazing people.

It’s been at least eight years, but still fresh in my mind. The nightmare of being at the grocery store check-out and watching my four-year old son run out the automatic door and straight into the parking lot. But bolting from the scene didn’t only happen at grocery stores – it seemed to happen from every location. I wish someone would have told me that it would be possible he would one day outgrow his tendency to wander and elope (and fortunately he did).

ALL children have challenges.

But when your child with Autism has difficulties, we tend to blame everything on the diagnosis. I wish when Hunter was younger I could have better understood that some bad behaviors, while undesirable, are age appropriate and unrelated to his Autism.

Since embracing this journey with my son, I have developed and conducted Autism Trainings for various organizations including the Maryland State Police, Maryland Capitol Police, multiple County Police/Sheriff’s Departments, fire departments, EMS staff, corrections officers and other professional organizations. I am a certified police instructor by the Maryland Police and Corrections Training Commission, CIT certified through Montgomery County Police, and certified in Mental Health First Aid through Harford County Sheriff’s Office. I have also written several of our PFA Tips articles that have appeared in other publications, such as Chicago Special Parent Magazine and Autism Parenting Magazine.

Shelly McLaughlin
Director of Safety Programs
Pathfinders for Autism

Stephan and his Mom Syrenthia

3 Autism tips that I Wish I Knew When my Child was Diagnosed that I Know Now!

1.) The importance of Self-care. I wish I knew back then how important it was so I could have start early on.
2.) How raising autism has been such a blessing and positive impact on my life and the ones I serve/advocate for.
3.) Autism would place some wonderful individual in my path and there is support you just have to ask for it #Resource

When I was just 19, my 2 year old son Stephen was diagnosed with autism.

I had to become a strong advocate and navigated through an endless maze of doctors, clinics and treatment centers. After 20 years of advocating and serving as the primary caregiver for my son I reached a breaking point. I was emotionally exhausted and had to enlist the support of close friends and family to rejuvenate and jump start my life. The process was endless and needed deliberate amounts of self care. It was this experience that birthed Parents of Children with All Special Needs POCWASN.

Syrenthia Farris
Founder and CEO
http://www.pocwasn.org/