Recently, we have been updating our family toolbox with new strategies and resources. At some point in the process of reviewing the assessments for Cub’s IEP, we realized with surprise that a big cause of the problems we’d been seeing recently is that the tools we had developed when Cub was first diagnosed with autism at age 3 have been outgrown. His triggers and struggles have changed, he needs more support with social skills. He is also now more capable of being responsible for his own reactions.
He is maturing and learning how to adapt and advocate for himself. As for any child, what works for a 3 year old doesn’t work for an 8 year old: but since the change is so gradual, it never occurred to us to question whether what we were using was still valid or not. With the help of an Occupational Therapist and Psychologist we are upgrading our family toolbox and Cub is starting his own for this next season of life.
Zones of Regulation
The Zones of Regulation is a framework to talk about emotions. Emotions can be intense and feel out of control, making them scary to someone who has trouble controlling themselves. The Zones give a system to classify emotions into categories which make them easier to discuss. Our Occupational Therapist (OT) started this program with him, and it’s been a great help for him to identify how he is feeling so he can accurately communicate it to others. Instead of getting loud and frustrated when his brother is on the computer, he is able to tell us that he is jealous that his brother is on the computer already when he wants a turn. Another recent example is that he can express his frustration when he can’t find the Lego piece he is looking for, instead of screaming and running in circles.
Anger Management Handbook
Learning the Zones of Regulation led to our next tool, an “Anger Management Handbook”. He is a lover of Angry Birds and often references the characters in his intense emotions. One of the birds, Red, is sentenced to Anger Management Classes in the movie after an unfortunate incident. I can’t take full credit for this project as we complied several resources we found on the internet to make his handbook. I found The Home Teacher’s Blog which inspired the project and make up the bulk of his Handbook. She made the bulk of the pages I included in the Handbook. Additionally, I took her blog posts of explanations and reworded them to make additional pages for his book.
Cub is very visual and having the Handbook available to him to read regularly helps him internalize the ideas. Years ago I found a emotion scale with the Angry birds that he carried in his backpack toolkit. I never knew he read it until now when he told me. We included that, as well, in the front pocket as a reference guide to look at during an tense moment. I like that the page includes both emotional levels and calm down strategies on the same page. Learning to be aware of his emotions and their effect on others is an important social skill to master as he grows.
Superflex’s Very Cool Five Step Power Plan
Our Psychologist introduced us to SuperFlex as a framework for learning social skills and awareness. As soon as I saw it I knew Cub would love it. It uses a set of characters and stories that show kids how to have flexible thinking. It can make social situations difficult when his brain get stuck on ideas. There are “Unthinkables”, villains with names like Glassman and Rockbrain. And “Thinkable” super heroes with cool names like Cool Q Cumber and Rex Flexinator are available to help you overcome the villains.
There are 5 Power Pals to help you access a social situation and making good choices. It was so exciting last week to have Cub use his Power Pals to show me how to think through an incident. Later he felt confident from defeating the “Unthinkable” we were dealing with. You can download the Five-Step Power Plan from Social Thinking to use at home.
Adjusting our Communication patterns
Another tool we have added to our family toolbox is new vocabulary. When a challenging situation occurs we use the words “Expected/Unexpected . New or unexpected things can throw him off his routine. He will often say that it is “wrong”. His rigid thinking will often correct an adult trying to show him how to do something by telling him they are “wrong” and that the “right” way is the way he wants to do it. It has been helpful to reframe these kinds of situations away from wrong/right, and begin using the terms unexpected/expected. “You are upset because you didn’t expect to run errands after class today.” “I understand that you had different expectations on how the afternoon would look. First we need to do this errand, then you can have the playtime you expected to have this afternoon.”
Talking about things being unexpected in Cub’s mind regardless of whether it is unexpected to the rest of us is important, and validates his thinking and helps us work through the change without calling it wrong. The Autistic mind works differently than most but its not wrong.
These are a few of the new tools we have added to our toolbox for our Elementary School aged kids. What tools have you found that work for your family and make your days successful?