Children with Asperger’s or NLD often receive help at school and outside school. They might see OT’s, psychologists, guidance counselors, special education teachers, and Speech and Language therapists, as a partial list, to help with anxiety, depression, social skills, sensory issues and motor skills, handling frustrations, and schoolwork. They often create behavior plans at home and school. I often see a team of people working with a child. What amazes me is that these people usually don’t communicate with each other, and often don’t communicate with parents in a helpful way.
Sharing information and strategies creates a continuity of teaching and responding that reinforces learning. There can be shared ways of thinking about challenges, and for talking about them with the child. There can be simple and clear ways for cueing strategies that are used by everyone working or living with the child… but this generally doesn’t happen.
Most parents gladly do what they can to benefit their children. They are their children’s strongest advocates and bear the brunt of whatever happens at home. If one professional is effectively using a word or a signal to cue a way to self-calm, that would be helpful at home, in the classroom, at other activities, and in any other therapies. The repetition would reinforce learning.
I’ll share an example. I started working with a girl with NLD at an independent school. A school professional was using a curriculum that’s very common, referring to zones of regulation. Often these zones are labeled red (for angry, explosive), yellow (worried, frustrated, hyper) green (doing well) and blue (low energy, feeling sad). This is based on work going on at the Center for Emotional Intelligence at Yale.
At school, this girl was being taught to label her feelings as in these zones. Becoming more self aware of feelings was a step towards self regulation. For example, strategies such as taking deep breaths helped bring her “down” from red or yellow.
When I learned of the zones (from the child), I brought in her mother to talk about using these techniques at home. I was shocked to learn that she had no idea of the zone system.
I explained it, and showed her how she could not only help her daughter recognize her own feelings and behavior, but how this could become part of the family vocabulary for talking about feelings. Once the daughter had identified her feelings, there were good apps for learning simple meditation breathing techniques, and a great app for recording and working with her feelings.
The Yale program (CEI) developed an app called “Mood Meter” that actually lets people of any age plot how they’re feeling and record why. The app also suggests ways to shift feelings, from one color to another. There’s a log of feelings and responses.
Once the mother knew about meditation techniques and the app, the parents could model these ideas as well as reinforce the daugher using them. If Mom was cooking and trying to get a lot done, she could say that she was yellow and stressed. She might say, “I’m going to take some deep breaths so I don’t go red!” Any family member could be helped to shift from one color to another, from one mood to another.
Children often resist ideas that they perceive as meaning to “fix” them. When everyone uses breathing, or meditation, or talks about feelings, everyone is more relaxed, more self aware and more in control. Parents have to be proactive in asking the school, or a therapist or a counselor exactly what skills they are teaching, what words they are using, and when they can be applied.
This mother could also introduce this approach across the boundaries of the different people in different roles in this girl’s life, for example, to her teachers and and tutor. Unfortunately, many professionals also are guarded about their turf and techniques, so they resist using something that’s not their usual approach. This is only to the detriment of the child. I always recommend that when possible, parents find professionals willing to collaborate with each other.
I’m also surprised about how often parents don’t understand how their child’s label has meaning in everyday life. A professional will diagnose a child as having AS or NLD, and not help the parents understand that this might play out as inflexibility at home, resistance to expectations, or in frequent arguments. I hear of children being punished and parents being exasperated by behavior that would be predictable and better managed if parents understood what was underlying the child’s thinking and responding.
Parents need to be proactive with professionals in discussing how the child’s behavior at home might relate to what’s being seen or treated elsewhere. For example, home is unlike school in that it lacks structure and has different expectations. Many children feel that school work should happen at school and refuse to do homework. Home becomes a battleground between parents turned into policemen and their children. If the school is involved, there might be a study period at school when the children could do homework, as a possible solution.
I’m continually amazed not only at the frequent fragmentation of support services available (each on its own turf) but also at the fragmentation of services delivered to a single child and family. It’s possible and important to do everything possible to be sure that this isn’t the case. Many practices are starting to offer collaboration of different professionals for “one stop shopping,” and many professionals are very willing to be collaborative when asked.
Photo by quinn.anya