You are currently browsing all posts tagged with 'how to'.
Displaying 1 - 3 of 3 entries.

How to…Get Some Sleep

  • Posted on March 28, 2012 at 8:06 AM

When my boys were younger, they had a lot of trouble sleeping.  Our current problems with sleep seem insignificant in comparison.  I remember getting three hours of sleep a night.  It went something like this: Willy would be wildly awake until he fell into a brief, exhausted sleep that lasted maybe five hours.  I fell down and slept as soon as I could.  A few hours later—three or four usually—Alex would wake up, eager for morning.  By the time Willy’s sleep schedule normalized (more or less), Alex was where Willy had been (difficulty falling asleep) and Ben was where Alex had been (waking up very early).  Now, both Alex and Ben are (more or less) in sync. 

It might seem ill-advised for me to do a how-to on this topic, since it’s something we still struggle with, but it’s that “still” that has modified our techniques for more effective solutions.

Personally, I advise against medicating children unless absolutely necessary.  But, sleep is necessary, and there are more natural solutions than the kind of sleeping pills adults so often rely on.  Here’s what’s worked for us:

1) Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the body to control your sleep/wake cycle.  “Normally, melatonin levels begin to rise in the mid- to late evening, remain high for most of the night, and then drop in the early morning hours,” according to WebMD.  But sometimes this natural production doesn’t work so well.  Luckily, it can be supplemented without druggy side effects.  There are both pills (which are safe to be ground up) and liquid forms of melatonin you can dose your children with to stimulate sleep.

2) Lavender

Lavender is a flower (as well as a color and a scent) that can be reduced to its essential oils.  Natural lavender (the flower or the essential oils) can trigger relaxation, which can translate to sleepiness without the druggy side effects.  Just be aware that you don’t just want a mass produced lavender scent (candles and other smelly products).  You want something with real lavender oils in it.  Natural food stores often carry the essential oil products, and a few drops in the bath, rubbed over the chest, or sprinkled under a pillow can make a world of difference for a good night’s sleep for those who are so revved up they can’t calm down, even when tired.

3) Staggering

Anything you use can be overused.  The body can get used to it, requiring higher doses to the point that it gets dangerous—even homeopathic oils and natural supplements, like melatonin and lavender, can become dangerous with high doses.  Instead of upping the dose, take a break from the product.  The break should be long enough for the body to adjust; a few days are usually enough.  Then start again.  Start by using one product (melatonin, for example) for a while.  Then, start up with the other product (lavender, for example).  Overlap for a night or two.  Then, stop using the first product for a several days (maybe as long as a week).  Use only the second product.  Then, switch again, following the same pattern.  This should help you and your child(ren) get some much needed sleep, without overusing or overdosing.

And don’t be afraid to dose yourself.  Your body gets used to the rhythms of your children, so you might need the extra help getting a good night’s sleep even after you’re sure your children are getting the rest they need.

Some other natural products you might want to try include:

  • Chamomile
  • Valerian
  • Relaxation techniques (think yoga, and there are yoga programs for kids)
  • Light therapy (for those who are responsive to the change in seasons)

How to…Go Shopping with an Autistic Child

  • Posted on March 21, 2012 at 8:00 AM

Taking a dysregulated kid into a store can be a hellish experience.  On the one hand, you have the child who is uncomfortable and in need of care.  You also have yourself, usually frazzled, at the end of your rope, struggling to accomplish something with a child who isn’t cooperating.  On the other hand, you have the people around you who are oh-so understanding and helpful.  Ideally, you would be able to ensure your autistic child was comfortably regulated every time you go shopping, or you would be able to go alone.  But let’s face it, sometimes the shopping needs to get done, you need to take your child, and your child can’t really handle the experience all that well.

So, how do you do it?  How do you get through this shopping trip in hell with your child, yourself, and your personhoods intact?

1) Come prepared.

In this contemporary age of on-the-go moms and dads, we’re all probably familiar with the diaper bag.  You can even get chic diaper bags that don’t look like diaper bags, unless of course you’re familiar with chic diaper bags.  We learned to pack diapers, wipes, bottles, formula, a change of clothes, a sippy cup of juice, or whatever.  We might pack a blanket, sun screen, hat or other weather-appropriate extras.  We usually stuff in various forms of snacks and toys, or other distractions.

With an autistic child, you might need all of that or not, depending on their age and development, but you’ll also need some other items.  In particular, you should bring sensory-friendly or sensory-soothing items that help a dysregulated child get regulated, or at least stay within the bounds of self-control.  Chewies are good for this, at least for my boys, and colorful fiddles with different textures.  A set of sound-dampening headphones if you’ve got them.

Unlike when my kids were little, now we have the added advantage of iPods, iPhones, iPads, Kindle Fires and similar technologies which can act as an escape mechanism—a set of comfortable headphones or ear buds and you’re just about golden.

2) Keep it short.

Sure, you’re busy, and you want to get as much as you can so you don’t have to come back later in the week.  It’s a strong urge, but you must resist.  Keep your list short.  Get what you need, what can’t wait, and get out.  Really.  Trust me.  It’s not worth it to wander around leisurely and pick up anything you might like, no matter how much you might enjoy the experience.  The meltdown’s a-comin’.

3) Practice that look.

People will offer unsolicited commentary and advice.  People will criticize you, harass you or your child, make disparaging remarks.  Foster a facial expression that will stave them off and keep it handy.  For me, it’s a slight tilting of the head and a raised eye brow, with a firm mouth and a slight flaring of the nostrils.  I’ve been told by those who it wasn’t directed at, “I didn’t see anything.”  But those who it is directed at know.  They see it.  And it’s a form of challenge.  Most people back down.

4) Prepare a statement.

Perhaps you want to take the opportunity to educate people in your community.  Perhaps you want to tell them to mind their own business and move on as quickly as possible.  The look will stave off a lot of comments and questions, but it won’t catch them all.  Have a statement ready.  If you don’t, you might freeze or say something you regret.  You don’t want to be forced into a position where you find yourself apologizing for your child.  Being autistic is nothing your child did wrong.  You’re not wrong for taking your child into a store.  You have just as much right to be there as anyone else, both of you, and you can’t ever forget that.  Your child is listening.

5) Be prepared to drop everything and leave.

Sure, you’re only here because you have to be.  Sure, you came because you need something and you really don’t want to leave without it (or without paying for it).  But it might happen (not the without paying for it part, please; that will cause problems and those bleeping things won’t help your child).  Your child may be more dysregulated than you think.  Things can spiral out of control pretty fast sometimes.  It happens.  No matter how prepared you are, no matter how much you think you have things under control, sometimes things will be suddenly very much out of control before you can even take a breath, let alone prevent it.

Be prepared to pick your child up and your bag/purse and get out of there.  Leave the cart, the merchandise, and everything else for the staff to take care of (they get paid for it).  If things get out of control, don’t try to force yourself to finish.  Just get out of there.  It’s not worth it.

Shopping with an autistic child can be a wonderful experience, but it has to be the right time, the right mood, the right regulation, and the right store.  Otherwise, it can be hell, but you can survive it with you and your child and your personhoods intact.

How to…Survive the Smearing (Morning with School Edition)

  • Posted on March 7, 2012 at 8:00 AM

I’m trying a new theme this month.  One thing I write as a professional is how-to pieces, and considering the number of times I’ve been asked “How do you do it” in reference to raising three children with autism, I thought maybe a “How to…” theme would be a better fit than a music theme.

So, as the mother of three children with autism, I have to admit one of the hardest things to cope with, for me, was the smearing of feces.  It has been, by far, the most disgusting aspect of my children’s childhood.  To wake up in the morning, ready for the rush of getting the kids on the school bus, and to peek into one of the boys’ rooms…

The first thing that hits is the smell.  When one of the boys starts the morning off with a stinky diaper, that’s bad enough, but when the contents of that diaper is smeared across the walls, rubbed into the carpet, and worn like war paint, then the smell fills the room, hitting me as soon as I open the door with near-physical force.  My gag reflex kicks in almost immediately.  If I’m not careful, I’ll throw up.

It’s important to set priorities.  Cleaning the mess is a huge task, especially if you have a bus to catch.  The advantage of that bus, of course, is that you get the kids out of the way—which makes cleaning easier, at least once you get to it. 

So, the first step is to remove the “war paint.”  I accomplish this with a quick, but thorough bath.  It’s not the fun, lingering bath the boys love.  It starts with a rough scrub.  Fill the tub with only enough water (hot, but not too hot) to cover the child’s hips when seated.  Scrub off all the visible poo.  While you might be tempted to use an old washcloth, be sure to use one with enough texture to make for a good scrub.  It also helps to have a nail brush, because the poo gets under those (frequently long) nails and doesn’t come out in a soak, let alone a quick scrub down.  Scented soap—like lavender nighttime babywash—also helps cover any lingering odor.

Then, once all the visible poo is gone, let the water out, but keep the child in the tub.  Rinse both child and tub thoroughly.  Then, fill the tub again, this time with the usual amount of water you use and a daytime soap (you don’t want them to be drowsy).  Use a new washcloth.  Wash thoroughly.  Hair, face, arms, back, hands, everywhere.  Rinse and let the tub drain.  Then, since you’re short on time (at least, you will be if morning baths aren’t your usual routine), get the child dried and dressed yourself.  This is not the time to work on self-care skills.  If at all possible, keep everyone—including yourself—out of the offending area.  I set out the morning’s clothes the night before, outside the bedrooms, so this is pretty easy for me.

Next, finish the morning routine, making sure all kids get to their buses on time (or, if you have to drive them, that you make it to the schools in time).  This is rough on everybody, because the normal routine is shot, but there’s not a lot you can do to help that.  Try not to make it too different, because such breaks in routine can be traumatic and that will make your job harder.

Once the kids are out of the house, go back up the room.  Wear cleaning gloves if you have them.  Use disposable cleaning supplies (wipes, paper towels, ect.) whenever possible.  Have designated poo supplies for those tasks that require less disposable cleaning tools (brushes, buckets, ect.).  I also recommend using one kind of disinfecting cleaner for poo (and possibly vomit) and one for everything else.  If you or anyone in your household is sensitive to smells, then that smell, even though it’s a clean smell, is going to be associated with poo smearing in, and you don’t want to associate regular cleaning tasks with poo smearing if it can be avoided.  I used liquid Lysol and to this day (years after the last major smearing incident, which, by the way, means they just might grow out of it!) I can’t smell liquid Lysol without gagging.

Start with the carpets or floors first, because you have to walk on them to reach everything else and you don’t want to step in it.  Start with the spot closest to the door.  Work your way into the room.  Be careful not to kneel (if possible) in a spot you’ve cleaned.  Check the whole floor.  Don’t rely on what you notice first.  Check the floor thoroughly, every spot, even under beds and other places that are easier for your child to reach than they are for you.  Then, move on to the surfaces.  Scrub the cloth surfaces (anything that can’t go into the washing machine) first.  Then move on to hard surfaces.  Check all surfaces.  Then, move on to walls, doors, and don’t forget the doorknobs.

I recommend piling the soiled laundry in the tub until you’re ready to deal with it, but unless you know you have two loads, don’t start washing laundry until you’re done cleaning other things—you’ll want those rags in there, too.

Once you’re sure you’ve cleaned everything in the primary room, and gotten the soiled laundry out, check the surrounding areas.  Search for poo, especially in the bathroom.  When you’re sure you’ve gotten it all, wash the soiled stuff in the washing machine.  Use bleach or OxyClean, but not both (they don’t mix well).  Put it through a full wash—all the soiled stuff together, even if you wouldn’t usually wash them together.  Then, take them out of the washer, check for stains, smell for lingering odors, use Febreeze on those items that still smell and use stain remover on anything stained, and then sort them with whatever other laundry you have.  Wash them again.  Don’t forget to go back and clean the bathtub, too.

By now, the room should be a bit drier from the cleaning.  Use paper towels to soak up lingering dampness.  Then use Febreeze on the whole room.  Every cloth surface that can be sprayed with Febreeze should be sprayed with Febreeze.  Wait for that to dry, and then vacuum.

If you have to throw up, go ahead and throw up.  If you have to cry, go ahead and cry.  In fact, I recommend crying, because crying acts like a release valve, letting off the “steam” of frustration, tension, anger, and other negative emotions that would otherwise get pent up and build until they explode.

Once everything’s clean, take a shower.  Scrub yourself thoroughly.  No matter how careful you were not to get any of it on you, you’ll still feel dirty—at least, I always do.  After you take a shower, since now your bathtub is clean, feel free to take a nice, soaking bath.  That, too, can help heal the trauma of having to clean up after smearing.

Maybe even treat yourself to something nice.  I recommend a non-food treat, like maybe an episode of your favorite television show (if you don’t have DVDs, try Hulu or the website of the station that airs the show) or movie.  Yes, I know, you don’t have time—you’re schedule is already way off track—but, really, make the time.  Surviving a smearing is more than just cleaning the mess.  You need to cope with the trauma, too; and it is traumatic, it is disgusting, it is frustrating.  Give yourself time to recover, and then let it go.