Monday, September 27, 2010

Siblings Need Support Too

No matter how much we would like to, we cannot choose our families or the way in which we are raised. We are indelibly shaped by our environments, our families, and our experiences in a way that makes us who we are. Each piece, person, and interaction is important and is a part of who we become. In families where one or more children is diagnosed with Autism, many times the “typical” sibling feels left out or left behind. Because their sibling needs extra help, support, therapies, time with mom and dad, understanding, diets, etc. the other child(ren) may feel as if their needs are less important.

While all children experience fears, anxieties, and a variety of influences as a child; growing up in a family with one or more siblings with Autism or other special needs, these children tend to experience things differently than those who are raised in a family where all the children are typically developing. These experiences have an influence on how they think, feel, view themselves, what they are anxious about, and how they view and treat others.

There are many positive aspects to a sibling growing up with a child who has special needs: these individuals tend to experience more feelings of compassion and express more empathy towards others; they understand the unique differences of everyone around them and tend to be less quick to judge when someone is not like them; many grow up to work in human services and want to help others; they grow to understand that a child’s “bad” behavior may actually be communicating another desire they are not able to express otherwise; and they also tend to understand that even if someone is expressing anti-social tendencies, they still need someone to love and play with them. Some negative aspects might include: emulating the negative behavior seen receiving attention from their sibling with autism; feelings of low self esteem or self worth due to the lack of attention they receive in comparison; feelings of jealousy, resentment and embarrassment; frustration from the lack of response from their sibling; feelings of being attacked physically as well as verbally by their sibling; feeling as if they have to “make up” for the behavior of their sibling; as well as lacking a typical role model to interact with at home possibly leading to inappropriate behavior outside the home. 

Brothers and sisters are especially important in the lives of children with Autism for many reasons: siblings will most likely be in their lives longer than anyone else; siblings provide constant direction as typically developing role-models; and they are a consistent source of social interaction. As a parent, it is really important to encourage positive play between siblings, from a very young age. Initially it is just a matter of teaching them simple and enjoyable activities to help them interact together, that will grow over time into longer more complex interactions. Also, teaching the typical sibling how to “teach” play to their autistic sibling gives them a feeling of responsibility and feeling of importance in their sibling’s life. Feelings of Jealousy and competition are common with all siblings, but it is always important to notice and act on these feelings, teaching the children how to successfully cope when these feelings arise. Each child needs to feel as if they are just as important, individually as well as together with their sibling, even if many times it is easier to give in to the child with autism in order to avoid a “melt-down” or other difficult behavior. Parents need to make sure all children feel important and their needs are being met. In order to do this, it is important for parents to ensure quality time with each child individually, even if it is merely being in attendance at their sporting events, reading to them before bedtime, taking them on a one-on-one trip to the store with you; the activity is not important, but making the child feel as if they have your attention focused solely on them and that they are important is the main goal. Finding a sibling support group for your typical child is very important as well, giving them a channel to feel as if they are not alone. Also, finding outlets where typical children along with their autistic sibling can participate together is another great solution; joining support groups, family hikes, and playful swimming time, playing tag, or dancing together to music are all lucrative interactions that will encourage quality time with everyone together.       

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Music is the Key

Many times when learning how to communicate and engage with a child who has Autism, you are initially instructed to use music in as many interactions as possible.
You might hear advice such as: “studies and anecdotal evidence are clearly showing that therapy based on music can have a significant impact on reducing the symptoms of autism in children including undesirable autistic behaviors” or “participation in this kind of therapeutic assistance provides the children with the chance to be exposed to carefully measured and chosen, non-threatening stimulation, since no human contact is required”. 
While this advice is accurate, we have not utilized structured music segments within our groups as much as maybe we should have. Yes, we have found this advice to be useful in many different situations and environments and with many different children. Yes, we have used it as an avenue to connect with a child who is upset. Yes, we have played many music based games, and sometimes even “sing out” to a child who doesn’t respond consistently to their name or verbal directions. But, we have never used music as our “glue” to guide a group of children into working as a cohesive unit….before now.
One specific group of kids we have been working with has proven to be difficult to keep engaged for the full 90 minutes we are together. We began this semester by “confining” them to the same room and introducing new games where they would participate for only few minutes together, but for the most part we had a group of individuals existing in the same space. We were able to stretch this group interaction and play for maybe 30 minutes, but even that consisted mainly of engagement and interaction with our staff and little peer interaction with each other. The last two weeks though, we have seen a vast improvement on sustained group interaction and engagement. We have found that starting with group music and play is the key, for this group in particular, to interact together in enjoyable, sustained play. After a period of about 25 minutes of music, we have for the last two weeks, been able to sustain this group cohesiveness for the entire 90 minute session! SUCCESS! Even in the main sensory room of Sensations, where our little group usually dissolves into 4 little individuals running to participate in their own activities, these guys are motivated to stick with their new friends and participate in a round of activities TOGETHER. We ride bikes together, take turns on the zip line together, play in the game room together, etc. In a short period of 4 weeks (meeting 1X per week) we have seen dramatic changes that to the outside observer may not look like much, but to us are huge.

These experiences through group interaction will hopefully touch on many elements within these children’s lives. They are experiencing friendships, they are sharing and taking turns, they are learning flexibility, they are learning to express their desires and listen to the desires of others, they are moving at their own pace through a “jungle” of nuances we all experience every day. In the end, we hope they are receiving great emotional satisfaction and sustained interactions and relationships to build on over the next several weeks, months, and years.   

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Horseshoes and Hand-grenades

“Almost only counts in Horseshoes and Hand-grenades”… and at TCS.  On the third and final day at the Emory Pool, F (a 15 year old client of ours) stood on the edge of the 3-meter high dive fighting his instincts not to jump.  He had been watching the other guys jump off with ease and wanted to experience it for himself.  He had made several trips up the high dive, with each resulting in a walk down.  On this occasion F had pumped himself up, visualized how great it would be to overcome his anxiety of heights, and possibly impress some of the girls that were poolside sunbathing. 

After a several minutes of “should I or should I not” and couple of trips back and forth on the diving board, we (the group) could not keep quite any longer.  F had been crystal clear that he did not want any encouragement or attention while he was up there because that would only embarrass him and lessen the chances of him going through with it.  The rest of the group did a wonderful job of respecting F’s wishes, but we so desperately wanted him to succeed that we needed to chime in with extra incentives and words of encouragements.  I talked about how close he was to overcoming this fear and how wonderful he would feel after he jumped, Another student came up with an idea of being able to play Nintendo DS in the van (during the school day) if he jumped.  Both strategies seemed to have a positive impact on F’s mood and determination.  He even negotiated 7 van trips in which the whole group could play their DS.  The rest of the guys waited patiently on the pool deck eagerly waiting and hoping he would jump, and some had additional words of encouragement for F.

Minute after minute went by, and F’s roller coaster ride of emotions continued.  The group below became unified in their voice of encouragement, and all of us wanted him to take that final step into the pool.  Finally, after so much despair F turned around for the final time and came down the stairs.  He started to cry because he felt he had let everyone down by not doing his part of the negotiated 7 van rides of playing the DS. 

Even though F almost jumped, almost tackled his fear of heights, and almost impressed some poolside girls, the rest of the guys did come together in non-judgmental and unified way to support F.  It was amazing to be a part of such a patient group that put aside their needs in order to support F.  In the end “almost” made a huge difference on the guys of TCS.  They rallied around one person’s quest to conquer his fear, and supported him to the bitter end.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Welcome to our blog

Hello Everyone and welcome to Learning on the Log's first ever blog!

Our vision for this blog is to share our experiences with parents, professionals, teachers, and friends; drawing inspiration from our groups each week or from previous interactions over the years.

We will discuss:

  • Interactions that are encountered within our groups
  • Current events that affect our clientele and their families
  • New attitudes and techniques within our field
  • "How to's" for families
  • Floortime/DIR ideology and strategies
  • Examples of games and easy activities to help engage your child at home
  • Strategies for siblings
  • Suggestions on establishing new play dates for your child and how to assist them in maintaining these new friendships
  • Video clips with examples of conflicts/resolutions within our groups
  • and much more!!

We want this blog to be as interactive as possible, so please comment with questions about our programs, concerns you are currently experiencing, or suggestions for future topics of discussion. We understand that families are busy and they are trying their best to "fit in" everything they can to ensure the most successful interactions for their children, so we will strive to assist them in that goal. Thank you for your time and we hope to hear from you soon.