Creating a Team / Partnership approach – Support networks at School

The success of support systems for young people in school, often comes down to how well we work as teams, or our approach to working in partnership.

And by this we mean, how well the support staff work together and work alongside parents or other care givers – all focused on the same outcome, using strategies that complement each other, and working to keep lines of communication open and positive.

So how do we build positive communication and good support teams? Try some of the ideas below:

Listen

There is a difference between listening to respond and listening to understand – make sure when you’re working in partnerships that your listening is the ‘understanding’ variety. Part of this is also being open minded to the idea that things may be different to what you imagine and to what you have experienced in the past.

Acknowledge

Following on from listening is the idea of acknowledging how things might be impacting on the person being supported. Too often, it’s easy for us to shift the focus of what might be the cause of a problem, or of not wanting to admit that the environment is having a less than positive influence on a situation, or that strategies are no longer working effectively and may need to be adjusted. When we acknowledge these things, we open up to making positive changes and taking positive action.

It also helps to remember that acknowledging the impact of something does not mean that we have failed or that we are no good at what we do. It simply opens us up to learn and to do things better.

Ask

When we ask questions of each other, we learn and we find ways to do things better. Remember that no-one knows it all. Also, when we’re ‘asking’, remember that parents are the experts on their child – they see things in the raw and they’ll often be able to offer insights that professionals may never have the opportunity to discover otherwise.

Use Positive Language

Positive language goes a very long way in contributing to successful teams. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of thinking before we speak. We all make mistakes in how we say things at times, we all get tired and overwhelmed, and we all have moments where the words don’t come out how we wanted them to. But by taking a step back and reframing our language in a way that builds respect, trust and honesty, we all benefit.

So as you move into the new school year, take a moment to check in on your support teams, and maybe take a moment to reflect on how you can make them the best yet!

Setting goals – reflecting & reviewing the past year

As each new year comes around, it’s a great time to reflect on the year that we have left behind and look at what has been achieved.

Whether you are a parent, educator, support worker, sibling, health professional, or a person on the spectrum, reflecting and reviewing is a great way to work out what did and what didn’t work so that you might look at how to approach things differently, based on your experiences.

It helps to write these thoughts somewhere as a part of the reflection process. Some examples of questions that you might ask yourself are as follows:

What worked? How do you know?

  • What do you consider to be a positive outcome?
  • Do you feel that you have gained skills / abilities as a result?
  • Do you feel like you have more confidence in certain areas?
  • Are you able to attempt a new task with or without help?

What didn’t work?

  • What do you think might have made things hard or difficult?
  • Was the task too difficult for you?
  • Did you find that other people weren’t helping you in the way that you like to be helped?
  • Was time a factor in regards to learning some new skills or doing some training?

What would you do again?

  • List down the pros and cons of particular experiences and work out if that’s something you would like to try / do again or continue
  • Look at the positive outcomes and begin to plan a similar strategy / activity
  • Observe and analyse the benefits of existing strategies / programs

What can you learn from your experiences?

  • Is there something that you might avoid doing in the future?
  • When you have a success with something, then you might try that again.
  • Activities / tasks don’t always go to plan – be prepared to change or be flexible with your strategies and your approach!

When you’re planning out your goals for the coming year, next month or just next week, it is a good idea to ask yourself these questions – it will help you to provide the best possible support you can for someone or just to help yourself to nut out a plan or direction.

Are you ready for the year ahead?

In Australia, it’s that time of year where parents, teachers and support workers are all readying themselves for the beginning of the new school year or a new year of programs and activities.

It’s that time of year where we can feel the anticipation of what is to come and, if you’re anything like us, you’ll be wanting to make sure that you’re prepared as best you can be for a smooth start to all that is new or to all that is starting fresh!

So what better time, than now, to share some of our favourite ‘new class/activity/program preparation tips’! Because the better prepared you are, hopefully the more smooth the ride over the coming weeks!

Gather Information

Will you or your child have a new teacher or support worker this year? What information could you share that would make the day-to-day interactions as best they can be? Or as a teacher or support worker, what information should you ask for that would help you to best prepare?

We suggest that you gather any ideas that have been noted from previous teachers, support staff or practitioners, to share alongside your own ideas and suggestions. The important thing to remember here though, is that you’ll want to keep it practical, positive and easy to refer to! New staff or a new support team will be looking for information on things that they can say, do or put into place straight away, or that gives them a good picture of your child’s needs (or your own, if you’re self-advocating). And try to avoid the type of information sharing that focuses totally on all things negative.

Re-establish Routine

Sometimes during holiday periods we can lapse into ‘non-routine’ or a different type of routine to what we have during other times of the year.

Take a week or two to re-establish sleep routines, waking early (if holiday time means sleeping in) and to regulate meal times and other daily activities or tasks at home.

It might seem like you’re losing out on the last bit of holiday relaxation time but you’ll thank yourself for it when you begin the first week of school or new programs with the ‘home routine’ already established!

Plan for ‘down time’

Any sort of new activity, group of people, teacher or support staff is going to take some getting used to. So make sure you plan for some down time in the first few weeks of the new year. Allow time to adapt to new daily routines and to develop new relationships. And give yourself permission for extra rest – adapting to new things can be tiring work!

 

So, finally, we send our best wishes to everyone who is at the beginning of anything new – give it your best, and remember… if you don’t get it right today, there is always tomorrow!

Christmas Venues & Events – Allow Extra Sensory Support

As we move closer to Christmas, we see so many venues and community places that have extra decorative displays, foods, stands and people that can be a potential sensory nightmare for people who have sensitivities to noise, smells, overload of visual information as well as many other responses.

For some people, these ‘extras’ can impact on their ability to function at their best and most often it becomes a case of avoiding these spaces as much as possible.

In most situations, this would be the option that people would choose, however there will be situations where there will be the need to shop for food, buy clothes and visit other places.

It might be worth planning to go to these places at a different time of the day – late at night or very early in the morning when there are less people likely to be there.

Unfortunately, the decorative displays and extra wall and ceiling decorations are unavoidable but again if planned well, you can organise to only go to these venues when absolutely necessary ie, write a food shopping list and double or triple the quantities of the usual purchases so that the items last you twice as long.

Obviously the less that you expose yourself to these situations, the better you’ll manage this hectic time of year. It’s about thinking, planning and scheduling in the important tasks and events in advance, to ensure self preservation.

 

Supporting Change is more than just an end of year Transition

We recently spent some time on our blog focussing on the importance of supporting change and transition – it’s something that is often on people’s minds at this time of year (particularly in those places where a new year brings about a move to new activities, new classes and other new environments).

What we’d like to point out though, is that the need for supporting change is something that goes way beyond an end of year transition, and that change and the process of transitioning doesn’t simply end when a person is considered to have joined a new group, program, job or class.

Change happens constantly in our lives and sometimes it can be all the little changes that add up to create challenges for those we support.

Our workshop, Supporting Change and Transition, is aimed at just this – supporting through all levels of change. And we purposely choose to deliver this workshop at the beginning of a new year to encourage people to think differently about how we support change – to understand that it’s more than an ‘end of year thing’.

This week, we challenge you to look around you and take note of some of the little changes that you see consistently in your life, and to think about how much predictability or ‘change training’ you provide to those you support.

Providing Scripts – ‘What to Expect’ (in the lead up to Christmas)

Over the course of the next month or so, providing some type of script with a description of how things are going to play out, will help provide structure, at a seemingly unstructured time.

With all the extra activities and festivities that arise during November / December, having a ‘what to expect’ script prepared, gives the person with structure when there is little structure.

The script can be simply written (supported with pictures if needed), using short statements that are clear and concise. We have provided you with a sample ‘what to expect’ script below:

Lead up to Christmas

  • Mark on the calendar or on a device (eg. phone or ipad) any upcoming events/festivities leading up to Christmas Day.
  • Much of the routine will stay mostly the same throughout the day however there may be little changes that might happen without a lot of warning.
  • You can schedule these into the timetable when you know of the change. Many of the changes that might be affected are that of time (things take a little longer than usual), task (new or unfamiliar) and people (known or unknown).
  • Prepare yourself for the extra family/friends social gatherings by scheduling in those events that you are wanting to attend and those that you want to avoid. Placing these into the calendar gives you some visual reminders of when these events will be happening.
  • If the gathering is likely to be held at your house, you could plan to stay with a relative/close friend or you could retreat to your quiet space and stay there for as long as you need.
  • Use prompts and reminders in the form of cue cards and scripts either in a hardcopy form or on a device (eg. phone) to assist with any expected changes to help prepare yourself.
  • Remember to use self calming strategies such as positive self talk and breathing techniques (eg. belly breathing) to assist with anxiety and to help reserve your energy.

Using a ‘what to expect’ script will help to map out what is likely to happen and how to help manage changes.

 

Reducing End of Year Demands

As the year draws closer to the end and the festivities of cultural and religious celebrations begin, day to day functioning can become a little harder and a little more tiring for those of us who have difficulties with social environments, sensory sensitivities or coping with change.

So it’s worthwhile thinking about how we can reduce the demands of day to day activities and ensure that we don’t completely deplete the energy of those who might struggle (particularly in countries like Australia where the end of a long school year is also approaching).

How do we do that? We can consider some of the following:

  • Take a break from the extra curricular activities that normally happen in the afternoons or evenings (or if these activities are important for a person’s physical and mental health, perhaps consider taking some time out from regular morning activities or having the occasional late start to school if possible).
  • Decide on the number of celebrations / parties that are safe to attend without overloading the social or sensory needs – and politely decline the rest (it’s okay to say no when a person’s ability to function depends on rest or down time).
  • Work out what is important to your family or to the family of the person you support and plan your activities around these things. By focussing only on what is important, we reduce the unnecessary demands that come with ‘filler’ activities or things that don’t offer real value to a person.
  • Schedule in rest time during the normal daily routine. Even if you are keeping additional activities and demands to a minimum, be aware that with everyone else around you being so busy or ‘festive’ that there will still be a certain amount of nervousness that may come simply from watching other people engage in different things.
  • Tone down the stimulation of decorations, music, festive smells and the expectation to hug or touch people when greeting them – all of these sensations can feel like an assault on the system for those who are sensitive, and we need to be respectful of that.

When we keep in mind that some of us may need to reduce the demands on our day to day experiences, we are all more likely to have a happier and more relaxed ‘lead in’ to the end of the year.

Create Structure (when there is less/no structure)

As we move closer and closer to that time of year of Christmas celebrations and party invitations, what we know as ‘routine’ and ‘structure’ in our day, suddenly becomes less structured and sometimes, disappears altogether.

Not only does this happen in the home environment, but also out in the community whether it be at school, workplace or day to day activities/programs.

All this uncertainty can create havoc for someone on the Autism Spectrum – not knowing when, where or how festive activities or get-togethers are going to happen nor how many people will be there (and if those people are known/unknown).

Providing extra structure and support through this period is very important particularly as the potential for overload and meltdown is likely to be extreme – feeling a loss of control and the need for sameness is just the right mix to cause an explosion of emotions.

It is certainly worth considering the importance of the celebration/invitation and keeping the festivities to a minimum particularly if it’s likely to disrupt night-time and morning routines. Throw in the mix the tiredness (particularly for young ones) and exhaustion from the social interactions and misunderstandings they encounter on a day to day basis and the result is likely to be complete shutdown.

Creating a calendar whether it be daily, weekly or monthly, can help to create structure and visually map out when events are happening – as soon as you know that there are extra activities planned (or impromptu), place them in on the calendar for all to see. This will help support someone to prepare themselves in readiness for the change.

(See below a calendar sample for the month of December)

xmas-calendar

 

What we should never assume about transitioning

Over the past few weeks, our blog posts have been highlighting some important areas to understand about the impact of change, along with some strategies that we can use to help a person through change.

This week, we’d like to focus on what’s important to not ‘assume’ about transitioning.

Each and every person will have a different experience of change, and every person will have different ways of handling or coping with change and transition.

One thing that we hear time and again (and also understand from a personal perspective) in regard to people moving through change, is that they can often hide their feelings of uncertainty and stress and only release this when they feel safe and secure (usually in the home environment or with family or friends whom they trust).

Whilst ‘hiding the stress’ is a protective mechanism that many people use, it becomes a problem when others then assume that a person is handling change well, or coping with a transition. Other people don’t see the meltdown or the symptoms of anxiety. It’s what we often call the ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ effect – seemingly dual personalities or a case of ‘two faces’ (one masking the turmoil that is going on inside).

Unfortunately these assumptions of ‘coping well’ can lead to a sense of being misunderstood (particularly for parents who feel that when they advocate for their child’s struggles that they are unheard) or a reduction in supports for a person who is going through change or learning to adapt to a transition (because it is assumed that supports aren’t needed).

So what do we need to take from this? In essence, it’s that we should never assume that because we don’t see the stress or anxiety that is happening because of change that it’s not happening. It’s the acknowledgement that symptoms of anxiety or stress that is brought on by change may possibly be being played out behind the scenes. And it’s understanding that it’s important to listen to what might be happening behind closed doors that we don’t see ourselves.

A report of ‘not coping’ when everything appears to be going well should never be taken as though fault is being laid on the person who is at the face of change – it’s simply something that we should hear and then work towards assisting with.

Always assume that we support change and always work towards keeping the lines of communication open with all those involved in the person’s life. It’s good for everyone!

Why transitions are tricky for some and not for others!

Transitions are a movement or change from one thing to another – it describes the process through which people move through change.

Transitions come in all shapes and sizes, and for many of us, seem quite insignificant in the big scheme of things. But for those who require daily structure and routine and the security of knowing what lies ahead, preparation and preplanning of change is a necessity.

Some transitions can appear to be quite minor, but are relative to each individual’s past experiences and daily levels of anxiety. How a person manages a transition however big or small will depend on how their day is travelling and the amount of transitions they’ve had to endure (particularly when there have been unexpected changes).

Sometimes there will be unexpected changes in routine and most of the time these are unavoidable – they can be planned for on a visual schedule by using pictures or words that signify the possibility of change or an adjustment so that the person has pre warning that something is going to be different (even though they are unaware of the specifics of the change). It is also useful to practise using the scheduled change so that it becomes more of a natural occurrence.

The use of pictures/symbols or words will help show that something is going to be different, for example, the use of a ‘question mark’ in our sample visual schedule (see below)

horizontal-schedule

 

 

Sample visual schedule of activities for a young person – the question mark signifies something different

 

 

 

For a transition to run smoothly, it is necessary and beneficial to provide some form of visual support to assist the person to manage the changes during their day.

Please comment any successes (or challenges) you’ve experienced with transitions and planning for change! 🙂