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Autism – understanding and managing anxiety

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

stress

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

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

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

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

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

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Mumpreneur’s award

Happy new year!

How embarrassing that this is our first blog post of 2014.

We decided that a new year needed a new start so we spent some time doing a spot of refreshing our brand and our website to incorporate our new products and prepare for the direction we see ourselves moving in over the coming year.

Even though the process is not quite finished and there are still some more improvements we need to make to our website, we’re delighted that we have just been given a Bronze Website Award from Mumpreneur UK!

Why not spend a few minutes to take a look around and see what you think.

Bronze_Website_Award

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Let’s celebrate occupational therapy!

This week – 3rd to 9th Nov – the UK’s 30,000 occupational therapists are celebrating Occupational Therapy Week 2013.

love OTOccupational therapy enables people to live more independent and rewarding lives and occupational therapists are the skilled professionals who help people achieve this goal.

Occupational Therapy Week has made me reflect on the huge difference occupational therapy has made to the life of my autistic son Tom over the last 6 years. For Tom, ‘occupation’ refers to daily occupation i.e. the ability to participate in everyday life. Like many children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) Tom has a sensory processing disorder which can make everyday tasks overwhelming, such as coping with classroom noise, the feel of certain fabrics or standing in a queue for lunch. He also has difficulties with both gross motor and fine motor activities such as handwriting.
OT steps
We have worked closely with an occupational therapist (OT) to identify strategies and interventions to help Tom. Activities to improve his motor skills development and reduce his sensory processing disorder have been built into a daily programme and we are very lucky that Tomas is able to follow this programme at school before lessons start. His teachers report that he is able to learn and concentrate better after his occupational therapy sessions. He also follows a ‘Chill Out’ programme devised by his OT to help him overcome any anxiety he faces throughout the school day.

 

Six years on and I’m very proud of the progress Tom has made and hugely grateful to the occupational therapists who have helped him to carry out activities he needs or wants to do. Now I just need to dig out that ‘Chill Out’ programme for myself!

OT-Week-2013-lozenge-carousFind out more about what occupational therapists do and how occupational therapy can help by visiting the British Association of Occupational Therapists’ website www.cot.co.uk.

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TES SEN Show and The Schoolwear Show

It was a bit of a logistical challenge and a pretty exhausting few days but we had such great responses about TomTag and our new stickers at these events that it was definitely all worthwhile.

2013-10-13 17.04.01

We’ve now got plenty to keep us occupied following up on all the contacts made and sending out orders. Thank you if you came to see us at either event – it was great to meet you all. We hope you’ll keep in touch by following us on Twitter or Facebook where you will be first to hear about the even more exciting new products we are planning!

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Cotton Shed Theatre

Orkid Ideas are proud to be co-sponsors of a new marketing banner for COTTON SHED, East Lancashire’s only inclusive theatre group.

cotton shed bannerCotton Shed was formed in 2007 as a part of a ‘shedlink’ scheme run by Chicken Shed, the hugely successful London-based inclusive theatre company. Cotton Shed shares the values of its London counterpart, offering access to theatre regardless of age, ability or background. It is a professional theatre company that works using an inclusive creative process, embracing individuals with a myriad of disabilities and encouraging everyone to contribute. The result is entertaining and outstanding original theatre that celebrates diversity.

My autistic son attends the Cotton Shed Youth Theatre group. Under the direction of professional theatre artists he has built his confidence and talent at his own pace. He particularly enjoys the safe, nurturing environment and through the skill of the professionals has been involved in some fantastic and inspiring productions.

Cotton Shed currently runs groups for Beginners Theatre (ages 4-7), Children’s Theatre (ages 8-11), Youth Theatre (ages 12-16) and Company Theatre (ages 16+) at Haslingden Primary School near Rossendale.

Pop over to the Cotton Shed website www.cottonshed.co.uk to watch an inspiring documentary and find out more about their work or how you can get involved.

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TomTag award-winning products

TomTag award-winning products

 

 

Practical Pre-School and Primary Teacher Update 2013

Primary Teacher Update Silver award badgeWe are very proud to have been awarded a Silver Medal as all products considered are tried, tested and reviewed by the people who really matter – children and their carers. Every product is scored for appeal to children, durability, adaptability, educational value and value for money so it’s a great honour to know TomTag meets all these criteria.

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Good practice is good practice (Sensory Stories with Joanna Grace)

Joanna Grace is a special educational needs (SEN) and disabilities consultant who writes educational resources and sensory stories for individuals with SEN. Recently Joanna successfully ran The Sensory Story Project, to create a set of self resourcing sensory stories that parents, as well as teachers, could afford to buy. Orkid Ideas are proud to have been one of the backers of The Sensory Story Project. We invited Joanna to talk about the overlap between provision for children with special needs and provision for mainstream children and we’re delighted to share her thoughts with you here.

Good practice for children with special needs is good practice for all children

Many of the teaching methods and resources used in mainstream schools currently were originally developed for children with special needs. Classrooms have visual time tables, teachers think about the different learning styles of their pupils: visual, auditory, kinaesthetic, and nursery schools sign with their tots.

It makes sense that anything which amplifies learning for a child with special needs will also amplify learning for mainstream children. Meeting the challenges to learning for children presented by special needs enriches provision for all, it’s one of the wonderful effects inclusion has for all children.

I write sensory stories for individuals with profound and multiple learning difficulties for whom they offer the opportunity to engage with a range of sensory stimuli, develop their confidence, communication and increase their opportunities for socialising as well as giving their carers insight into ways of personalising their care. They’re a great resource and so much fun, and they work well with children who do not have any special needs.

joanna grace chocolate
Joanna touching a vat of hot melted chocolate whilst eating melted chocolate – one of her favourite sensory experiences!

Cognitive development, for all of us, relies on sensory stimulation. If we use our senses when we learn more of our brain is involved in our learning, quite literally more of it; and if more is involved then we’ve more chance of remembering.

A sensory story combines a concise narrative (typically less than 10 sentences) with a sequence of sensory experiences. I have written stories about the birth of stars in stellar nurseries, about the history of Victorian feminism, about fantasy adventures and about every day activities. I’ve written stories for Worldstories, Booktrust, Kensington Palace, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and lots more lovely organisations.

You can pack a lot of information into a small number of words; and you can also unpack all that information from a small number of words. When I revised for my exams at school I would take notes, and then take notes on my notes, and notes on my notes etc. Eventually I’d end up with a few sentences from which I could generate everything I knew about a topic. If those sentences had been accompanied by sensory stimuli I’d have been even more likely to remember them, and the process of revision would have been more fun.

It is good for everyone to recognise that communication isn’t solely reliant on language. Children who don’t have special needs can still struggle with speaking in public, or organising their thoughts into language. Think of that adage: a picture speaks a thousand words. Through using sensory stimuli to tell a story children who aren’t quite as adept at verbal communication can speak thousands upon thousands of words, through smells, tastes, touches, sights and sounds.

I’ve had lovely conversations with young people in mainstream nursery, primary and secondary schools, and yes – even a few universities, who’ve enjoyed learning in a sensory way and have begun to consider who these stories might have been written for. They can be a great tool for disability awareness.

The best thing about sensory stories is that they are fun. We all enjoy learning more (or escaping into that special place created by stories) if it’s fun. You can find out more at http://jo.element42.org

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Parent & Teacher magazine – Editor’s pick

Parent and Teacher Magazine Autumn 2013 (2)We’ve also been featured by

Saddleworth Independent newspaper

Prima magazine

Take a Break magazine

Love It magazine

The Guardian – Small Business Showcase

Daily Record – Scotland’s Newspaper

Trutex Back to School guide

Parent News

Primary Times

Families magazines regions BedfordshireBirminghamCambridgeshireDorsetEdinburghFifeGloucestershireHereford & Worcester, London West & London North West

TheSchoolRun.com

National Autistic Society – Your Autism Magazine

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Back to School – an essential A to Z

Whether it’s your child’s very first day at school or they’re just starting a new school year, here’s our A-Z guide to help ease you gently back into the school routine.

  • A is for ALARM CLOCK

Choosing a fun model and showing kids how to operate it is a great way to teach them good time-keeping.

  • B is for BUSES

Have you got an up-to-date timetable and a vaild child’s bus pass? Does your child know where they are going to be dropped off and picked up? Have a trial run so it’s not left to the first morning!

  • C is for CALENDAR

Think beyond the first week of school and put important dates such as parents evenings, inset days and holidays in your calendar now.

  • D is for DROP ZONE

Set aside a designated place where the kids can leave their bags, coats and school books so it doesn’t all end up in a heap by the end of the first week.

  • E is for EMPTY BAG

Make a clean start with an empty bag and clear out anything still lurking in there from last term.

  • F is for FIND A PARENT

Have you got contact details of another parent at your child’s school who you can ask about school events if letters /permission slips don’t make it home?

  • G is for GYM KIT

Have you got the right stuff for P.E. and perhaps a seperate bag to put it all in?

  • H is for HAIRCUT

If you still have time before the first day of school, make sure they get a good cut so you don’t need to drag tired kids out after school or at the weekend to get it done.

  • I is for INFORMATION

If your kids are starting new schools, it’s time to dig out any information books you have received from the school and make sure you’re familiar with their routine and policies.

  • J is for JOIN

Get involved with the school community and join the PTA or check out after school activities the kids may want to join.

  • K is for KEY

If your kids are older do they have a spare key? Get one now rather than wait until first morning back!

  • L is for LABEL EVERYTHING!

We can’t shout this one loud enough!! Iron, sew, stamp or write your kids’ name on all clothing, shoes & personal items otherwise your jumper will look like all the rest in the lost property mountain!

  • M is for MEDICAL FORMS

Make sure the school has up to date medical information for each child with details of allergies and emergency contact numbers.

  • N is for NOTES

Remind your child to bring ALL notes home from school and check their bag each night for anything lurking in the bottom!

  • O is for OUTDOOR COAT

Have you bought one yet? It won’t be long before those cold days and dark nights start creeping in!

  • P is for PLANNER

If your school doesn’t provide one, look for a suitable notebook or diary to use as a homework planner, an essential for those kids starting high school.

  • Q  is for QUALITY TIME

Don’t forget that school can be stressful and tiring and that kids need to spend time away from homework, TV and other electronic distractions. Try and set aside some time to chat with them each day so you can pick up on any worries they may have.

  • R is for RECYCLE

Donate old school uniform to charity or for good quality articles check whether the school PTA runs a second hand uniform sale.

  • S is for STATIONERY

Check with the school what items your kids need to bring and make a regular check to see if anything needs replacing.

  • T is for TOMTAG

The essential tool to help kids pack their bag to school!

  • U is for UNIFORM

Making sure you start the year fully equipped will avoid any panics later and help children to feel more confident.

  • V is for VISION

Find our if your school offers vision screening and if not, remember to get your kids’ eyes checked regularly as it’s important to pick up any problems as early as possible.

  • W is for WEBSITE

Check your school’s site regularly for useful dates, school policies and curriculum guides.

  • X is for EXTRA-CURRICULA ACTIVITIES

Let kids choose what they want to participate in rather than what you want them to. You never know what hidden talents you might uncover!

  • Y is for YEAR GUIDES

Remember to check your school website or ask at school for details of what your kids will be studying this academic year so you can stay ahead of the game.

  • Z is for ZZZZZZZ

As the nights draw in, get into a sleep routine for school. Just don’t forget to set the alarm clock!