Category: Health Care

Mother creates environment for children with autism.

When it comes to child development, we are often looking for typically developing milestones to help us understand where they may be developmentally. We use this method of measurement to determine emotional development, especially when children face experiences that involve emotions they may not yet understand. But what if your child’s development does not fit the typical mold? For parents of children who receive a diagnosis of autism, there is much more to consider. Let’s take a look at the neurotypical development of emotions, how emotional development may impact children with autism differently, and how we can foster growth within emotional intelligence and regulation through ABA therapy.

Understanding Neurotypical Emotional Development 

To understand the world around us, we rely on our emotions. While we may never fully understand all that encompasses emotions, studies show that emotional development is the key to our health and wellness. This makes the role of parents, caregivers, and educators vital in facilitating healthy emotional development and growth in children.

While we know every child develops differently, there are three main steps to fostering emotional development:

  • Step 1: Social interaction focuses on the relationships your child shares with others, including relationships with adults and peers, from their ABA therapy team to classmates and siblings. As your child develops socially, they will learn to share, take turns, help their peers, play, interact together, and cooperate.
  • Step 2: Emotional awareness is the ability to recognize and understand their feelings and actions and the feelings and actions of others. Emotional awareness extends to how these feelings and actions affect them and those around them.
  • Step 3: Self-regulation is the ability to express feelings, thoughts, and behaviors in a socially acceptable way. For instance, learning to calm down when your child becomes angry or excited is essential.

According to the National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments, healthy emotional development leads us on a path to five vital skills:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Social awareness
  3. Emotional regulation
  4. Responsible decision making
  5. Relationship building

Mastering these skills greatly influences your child’s success at school, home, throughout their communities, and in society. When a child is unable to or does not receive proper developmental support and emotional guidance, they often struggle academically, physically, and behaviorally. A child’s inability to notice, understand, express, and manage their emotions, leads them to experience difficulty in various areas, including:

  • Bonding with others
  • Following directions
  • Focusing on and completing tasks

 

Emotional Development During the First Five Years

Emotional development is critical during the first five years of your child’s life. Without proper development, the three critical stages can impact your child’s development throughout all areas. Let’s take a look at emotional development during the first five years:

Birth to Age One

There are many debates on the range of emotions a baby experiences. Most believe they are born with three; anger, fear, and happiness. Others believe their emotions extend to a broader range of emotions. We do know that babies during this stage of life are continuously discovering how things make them feel. They cry, scream, and coo to communicate happiness or displeasure as we attempt to nurture their needs.

Creating a consistent environment for your child at this stage gives them a sense of safety. Responding to your child’s communication during this stage gives them the green light to continue to explore the world around them, fostering emotional development in the process. Allowing them to learn self-soothing skills will help foster the ability to manage emotions as they grow. Most importantly, it is vital to express your own emotions and mirror your child’s. Expressing your emotions shows your child you understand how they feel, gives them guidance on new emotions and creates a strong bond as you help their emotional development.

 

Age Two to Three

Around this age, your child’s vocabulary is rapidly expanding. Finding more ways to incorporate their new vocabulary with their emotions will also increase. During this rough stage, encourage your child to navigate by using gestures and drawing pictures rather than tantrums and tears. Modeling and nurturing their emotional development is crucial during these challenging times. It is a critical period to work with your child on healthy, acceptable emotional responses.

Model a calm demeanor with your child, even during their tantrums. Be empathetic yet firm and validate their feelings. Help them explore ways to express their emotions and model words to express themselves to help expand their vocabulary. And always provide positive reinforcement to help reinforce positive behaviors and their redirection of unwanted behaviors.

 

Ages Three to Five

When your child is in the preschool stage, independence and social awareness begin to develop rapidly. Your child will encounter many situations and challenges, including:

  • Sharing
  • Conflict with peers
  • Listening to others
  • Thriving in a new environment

This stage is the best time to encourage independence through coping skills. Through strengthening their emotional development, you will supply your child with the tools they need to thrive when away from you and their natural environments.

Even at this young age, you can foster coping skills by teaching them strategic ways to calm themselves and handle situations. Teach them to find a quiet space and take a moment of alone time, color, or cuddle a favorite toy to self-soothe. Explain to your child the challenges they may face and validate that their feelings are entirely normal. Validation will strengthen your child’s emotional development progress and help them manage their behaviors and reactions.

 

Emotional Development in Children with Autism

Children with autism often experience difficulty in recognizing, understanding, and controlling their emotions. Nurturing their skills in emotional development will bring essential changes, helping them understand and respond in more appropriate ways.

By twelve months of age, a typically developing baby can read your facial cues and begin to determine which of the basic emotions you are portraying – happiness, sadness, anger, fear, or disgust. More complex feelings include joy, interest, embarrassment, shame, pride, guilt, envy, trust, contempt, and anticipation. The typically developing toddler starts to use their words to express feelings. But, the emotional development in children with autism is quite different.

Children with autism find it difficult to read, understand, and display emotion.

You may notice your child struggling with challenges, including:

  • Recognizing the facial expressions you exhibit
  • Interpreting the emotions of others
  • Using emotional expressions
  • Responding appropriately to their feelings
  • Controlling their emotional responses or self-soothing
  • Lacking empathy

Ages and Stages of Children with ASD

Infants who later receive a diagnosis of ASD are typically able to recognize emotions similar to a typically developing baby. They are also able to show their feelings similarly to typically developing babies. However, these babies are usually much slower to develop their emotional responses as they age.

Early on, children with autism tend to show less interest in others’ feelings, emotions, and actions. They lack interest in sharing in the emotions of others or expressing social attention. Managing social situations by reading facial cues is also a significant obstacle, as they usually refrain from eye contact and, instead, read into what they see from the mouth.

By the time a child with autism reaches five to seven, they can recognize the basic emotions of happiness and sadness but cannot quickly understand more subtle expressions, such as anger, surprise, or fear. Children with less severe ASD may have the ability to show their feelings similar to how a typically developing child can, yet may find it difficult to understand them well enough to describe these feelings. Children with more severe ASD tend to have less emotional expression than the typically developing child. They may appear to be emotionless, lack empathy, or respond quickly and erratically.

 

Strengthening Emotional Development in Children with Autism

Utilizing strategies your family learns during ABA therapy is ideal for strengthening emotional development in your child. Through the use of ABA therapy strategies, including positive reinforcements and modeling techniques, your child will begin to develop their ability to read, understand, express, and respond to their emotions and the emotions of others. Here are some helpful tips to assist your child in strengthening their emotional development:

  • Speak with your ABA therapy team for strategies and guidance they may recommend for your child
  • Continue to use positive reinforcement strategies you learn during ABA therapy sessions to help encourage and strengthen acceptable and desirable outcomes and behaviors
  • Strengthen communication by labeling their emotions in natural contexts. For example, if you’re reading a book with your child, point out emotions, and discuss the characters’ emotions. Talk about their facial expressions, the situations that led to a particular emotion reaction, and how other characters respond. Work on mimicking the emotions of the characters and discuss how the story makes you feel.
  • Respond to your child’s emotions often, both positive and negative. Let them know you see the smile on their face and enjoy seeing how happy they are.
  • Validate their feelings. Help them understand you see their anger or frustration. If they use undesirable responses, use your ABA therapy techniques and strategies, such as modeling, to reinforce acceptable behavior.
  • Encourage eye contact often. This strategy helps your child learn to scan faces more effectively for emotional cues.
  • Draw your child’s attention to others in the room. Doing so is a powerful ABA therapy technique that encourages your child to absorb the emotional and behavioral responses others exhibit.
  • Play! We know young children learn through play and exploration, which is an exceptional tool to use when strengthening emotional development.
  • Utilize educational tools similar to those your child uses during ABA therapy sessions. Emotion flash cards use pictures of faces to demonstrate the basic emotions on the real or cartoon faces.
  • Use social stories to help explain various social situations and responses to your child. Social stories are highly useful tools your ABA therapy team will often use – a story or comic strip conversation demonstrating how your child feels and how others feel.

Creating an Ideal Environment for Children with Autism

Children with autism thrive on structure and routine. Following a set schedule can help limit confusion, emotional stress, and outbursts in any situation. There are many ways you can create an environment that feels safe, familiar, and nurturing while fostering emotional development, learning, growth, and strengthening of your child’s ABA therapy goals:

  • Set up an easy to follow, predictable routine. Your child will develop security and a sense of control with a reliable routine. Communicate before and during transitions and consider utilizing a family calendar or picture chart easily accessible to your child. It’s useful when unexpected changes are necessary for your day’s schedule. Discussing a visitor, a trip to the doctor, or ABA therapy session while physically manipulating your schedule display can help relieve emotional distress and create a sense of relief knowing what is to come.
  • Continue to provide books, toys, and activities that are appropriate to your child’s developmental age. Choose items that will engage them and hold their attention and allow you or siblings to play along. Be sure to use these opportunities to model emotion through words and facial expressions.
  • Provide your child with plenty of learning tools and activities without overstimulating them. If you begin to see signs of frustration, anxiety, or anger, help them control emotions through words, breathing, and encouraging self-soothing strategies.
  • Allow your child choices that help them feel their input and decisions are essential. Follow their lead when appropriate and talk through emotions such as noticing how happy a particular book makes them while you read together, or how well they are sharing with a sibling. Encouragement and praise will instill positive emotional growth.
  • Talk through emotions often and in every environment. Share your feelings, revealing matching facial expressions. Use every opportunity to model, point out, and discuss emotions and responses. Provide reassurance that every environment is a safe space for them to express themselves while utilizing ABA therapy strategies when necessary.

Nurturing and strengthening your child’s emotional development, primarily through their first five years of life, is essential in their continual growth and wellness. Through proper resources, support, and your ABA therapy team, you’ll arm yourself with the knowledge necessary to help your child thrive in all areas of development. For more information on programs and services for your child and family, we invite you to visit our center and meet our highly trained  ABA therapy team.

0 Comments/by
Mom and child playing

Raising a child with autism certainly has its challenges. Families, in particular parents, face chronic stress, frustration, anxiety, and other mental health and wellness concerns on a daily basis. You may not feel you have the necessary support systems or resources to help you through the struggles. Yet, with the help of mindfulness interventions, counseling, and programs, these challenges can be met with optimism and help set purposeful plans in place. Through proper counseling sessions and mindfulness programs, professionals can help parents and children learn mindfulness-based strategies that can fit easily and naturally into their daily lives.

Woman meditating for mindfulness.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness refers to the state of being aware, in the present, and with purpose. It guides one to deal with situations and people in a non-judgmental, non-reactive way. It leads you towards more appropriate responses by teaching you to disconnect your normal emotional response to a given situation. Mindfulness can improve your mental health and wellness through creating a mental discipline by asking you to direct attention to:

  • Emotions
  • Bodily sensations and sensory experiences
  • Urges
  • Cognitions

 

The Reality of Stress on Children with Autism

Children with autism feel their environment’s pressure and stress, demanding they adopt and perform accordingly. Yet, the mounting anxiety and stress children with autism experience can harm their mental health and wellness. Many children with autism struggle with:

  • Worry
  • Fears
  • Nervous behaviors
  • Uneasiness
  • Worsening of social anxiety and obsession

The increase in such behaviors may lead to further inability to cope with changes in their environment and routines. They may also experience an increase in sensory overload. Adding mindfulness practices into their daily routines can provide them with the coping techniques necessary to calm fears and anxieties while allowing them to hit the reset button and try again. They can learn to self-soothe, controlling emotions, and urges through mindfulness techniques.

Woman petting a cat drinking a coffee for mindfulness.

Benefits of Parents Practicing Mindfulness

Adopting mindfulness strategies can help parents adjust to the daily stressors of raising children with autism.

Studies have shown a reduction in parental feelings of:

  • Diminished quality of life
  • Burnout
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Depression
  • Emotional and physical exhaustion
  • Inadequacy

 

Through mindfulness counseling and techniques, parents can find ways to handle their feelings of being overwhelmed. They may discover new ways to juggle home and work environments on top of managing therapies, medical needs, finances, and balancing the whole family. Researchers often see increases in verbal redirection, lower stress levels when interacting with the child, physical restraint, and an increase in patience and overall mental health state.

 

ABA Therapy, Counseling, and Mindfulness

Through mindfulness interventions, counseling sessions,  and training during ABA therapy sessions, families and children with ASD can drastically reduce stress and anxiety levels. Counseling sessions help each member learn to develop healthy coping skills, produce positive outcomes for the entire family, and help each member create better mental health and wellness practices. And, just as your child learns new skills and behaviors through ABA therapy sessions, parents can also benefit from mindfulness training and counseling sessions to learn and strengthen techniques that will fit into their everyday routines.

 

Practicing Mindful Parenting

Although a more recent form of mindfulness, the idea behind mindful parenting is the same; implement mindfulness through interacting with your child intentionally and become aware of emotions, reactions, and judgments that may need adjusting. Learning mindful parenting through various counseling and mental health trainings puts the parent in the moment, leaving all preconceptions behind. This form of parenting can offer intense bonding experiences while reducing stress for you and your child.

Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we believe in a family-centered, all-encompassing approach. Our highly trained ABA therapy staff is here to provide the resources, training, and support your family needs. We encourage you to reach out and discover the many services we have to offer your child and family today.

0 Comments/by
Flu season essentials station

Coronavirus Disease 2019, or COVID-19, is a relatively new respiratory illness that is spread rapidly from person to person, similar to the flu. Unlike the flu, however, COVID-19 patients are asymptomatic for as much as a week, meaning they can spread the virus even if they show no outward signs of sickness.

 

We know that discussing a pandemic can be a topic filled with anxiety and stress for parents and caregivers. Still, children are resilient and need us to be honest with them, especially in these uncertain times. Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we always strive to give you and your child the tools you need to be successful in both ABA therapy and everyday life. So today, we want to help you feel more comfortable talking to your kids about COVID-19.

Adult helping child put on a face mask

What Do We Know About Coronavirus Disease 2019?

COVID-19 was first identified in Wuhan, China, after an outbreak in December 2019. Since then, confirmed cases of COVID-19 have grown worldwide, causing more than a quarter of a million people to receive a definite diagnosis. Of those cases, more than 10,00 have resulted in death across the world.

 

What’s the Good News?

In most cases, especially for patients that are not immunocompromised or high-risk (like patients over 60 years old), symptoms are minor and not life-threatening. Typically, these include a fever, cough, and sometimes difficulty breathing. Because of the rapid spread of this virus, doctors, scientists, and health professionals across the world have urged people to practice social distancing and other preventative measures to slow the spread of COVID-19.

 

What Can I Do?

As a parent or caregiver during this uncertain time, it can be difficult to ward off anxiety, especially since there are still so many unknowns right now. However, because we have kids and other adults looking to us for reassurance, we have to look for ways to cope and discuss this pandemic honestly, but also in a way that doesn’t heighten their fears. We’ve compiled a few of our favorite tips for talking to kids about COVID-19 that we think will be helpful for you to incorporate in the coming weeks as you continue to have discussions with your children.

 

Three Tips for Talking to Your Children About COVD-19

Before we jump into the tips, we want you to remember something essential: as parents or caregivers, we are the front line—our job is to help make sense of what our children hear in a way that is not only honest and accurate but also minimizes any fear or anxiety they may have. Now that we’ve discussed that let’s take a look at three tips that’ll help you talk through COVID-19 with your kids.

 

  1. Check-in with yourself first
  2. Remain calm and reassuring, but always be honest
  3. Don’t avoid the subject

 

  1. Check-in With Yourself First

Are you feeling frazzled and anxious? Have you just watched the news? If you feel like your anxiety has spiked, it is not the right time to talk to your children about COVID-19. Kids are sponges, especially very young children, so they will feed off your emotions and will start to emulate it if you aren’t able to keep it in check. However, that doesn’t mean you cannot feel anxious or worried. This is an incredibly uncertain time for everyone right now, and it affects everyone differently. Above all, we cannot care for our children if we don’t first take care of ourselves. If you have a child asking questions during a particularly stressful time, you can try one of these phrases:

 

  • “Let’s take a walk outside while I answer that question.”
  • “Before I answer this question, I think we should take three deep breaths to calm down. Do you want to do that with me?”

 

If you’re still feeling nervous during this conversation or you notice that your child might be tense, try having these conversations while working with play-doh, LEGOs, or coloring. Sometimes keeping busy while talking about tough subjects can help ease the anxiety you (and your child!) feel.

 

  1. Remain Calm and Reassuring, But Always Be Honest

The most important thing you can do as a parent, especially when discussing tough subjects, is reassuring your children that they are safe, and you are doing everything you can to keep it that way. Reassure them that mom and dad will make sure they are safe, loved, and happy above all.

 

Next, it’s essential to be honest. Kids pick up on it when we aren’t open or when we seem unsure, so even if you don’t know the answer to all their questions, that’s okay, but tell them that. While we aren’t going to know everything and we shouldn’t pretend to, we should project calm confidence that there are plenty of people out there that do and are working hard to make sure we all get through this. Here are a few honest phrases you can use as you’re talking to your children about COVID-19:

 

  • “I don’t know the answer to that question, but how about we look it up together?”
  • “I need to think about that, can we talk about it later?”
  • “You know, there are tons of people asking that same question right now. We are waiting on doctors and scientists to let us know more about it once they gather all the information about it that they can.”

 

  1. Don’t Avoid the Subject

The biggest mistake we can make when confronted with a tough topic is sweeping it under the rug and avoiding it altogether. Child psychologists agree that this may leave your child even more frightened. So, how can you bring up a conversation about COVID-19 without panicking your children?

 

Listen first, talk second

Listen to your child’s concerns, questions, and fears. This can be at playtime or before bed, whenever you can focus in on what your child is communicating. No matter their age, a quick reassurance from a calm parent and thanking them for asking good questions will go a long way in easing the anxiety COVID-19 may be causing in your home.

 

Make time to talk

Be sure that your kids know that they can come to you whenever they have questions or concerns. This doesn’t just apply to COVID-19, however. If you can make sure that you have an “open door” policy with your kids, they will trust that you are a safe place to turn in times of trouble and uncertainty, and the trust they have for you will blossom.

 

Now that you know how you can talk with your kids about COVID-19, we want to reinforce a few tips you and your family can practice staying safe at home and on the go.

 

How Can You Protect Yourself and Your Kids from COVID-19?

Health care professionals and scientists have a few simple tips that you can use to stay safe, whether you’re at home, work, or at the store grabbing essentials. These are two straightforward tips that you can teach your children so you can empower them to do their part to keep the family safe, too!

 

  • Stay clean
  • Take five

 

Stay Clean

Some simple everyday actions can keep germs at bay. Now is a great time to reinforce good personal hygiene habits like handwashing and sneezing and coughing appropriately.

         

  • Stay away from people who are coughing and sneezing
  • If you feel a sneeze or cough coming, grab a tissue or use your elbow
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds—this is enough time to sing Happy Birthday twice—or you can pick your child’s favorite song
  • If soap is not available, teach them to use hand sanitizer safely

 

Child and teddy bear wearing face masks

 

Take Five

A simple tactic that you can try, especially with smaller children, is to teach them to “take five”:

 

  • HANDS: Wash them often. Especially after using the bathroom, coughing, sneezing or touching things in public

 

  • ELBOW: Cough and sneeze into it if you can’t find a tissue

 

  • FACE: Touch it as little as possible, especially after coughing or sneezing

 

  • FEET: Stay more than six-fifteen feet apart from strangers and people not in your family (please check for updated information regarding this as it is being updated with new research)

 

  • FEEL: If you feel sick, always stay home. Practice social distancing even if you don’t have symptoms

 

What to Do If You or Your Kids Get Sick

If you or your kids come down with something, it can be easy to worry that you’ve got COVID-19, but that’s not always the case. Remain calm so your kids will stay calm too. Manage your symptoms as best you can from home, but if you do think you or your child has COVID-19, contact your healthcare facility to let them know your symptoms before you head there in person.

 

There are more and more resources popping up every day to help those with COVID-19 manage symptoms and get better quickly. Take advantage of telemedicine and other resources that allow you to stay away from hospitals and doctor’s offices if at all possible.

 

Here at Blossom Behavioral Wellness Center, we want to help support you and your family however we can. If you have any needs during this time, like support with at-home ABA therapy or anything else, contact us today. We’re here for you!

 

 

0 Comments/by