Writing with phonics: Short vowel 'a'.

SAT (short vowel ‘a’)

Today’s word is brought to you by Miss 5 and the colour pink!

Learning to read and spell with phonics

Classrooms around the world take all kinds of different approaches to learning to read, write, and spell. In New Zealand, research studies (McNeill & Kirk, 2014) found that most teachers did not teach their students phonemes, how to spell phonologically, sound-letter relationships, or spelling patterns. Understanding how to decode language is especially important for children with special learning needs, such as dyslexia and auditory processing disorder, as they require an explicit understanding of these topics (exposure to print media and general literacy is not enough to create an implicit understanding or ‘osmosis’ effect).

It is important to teach a phonological awareness of each alphabet sound (what ‘sound’ does the letter make). A good place to start can be putting a light coating of shaving foam in a flat tray and tracing the upper case letter with your finger while making the accompanying sound. After modelling, encourage the student to make 3-5 attempts. Speculate together what words might start with that sound. Tip: If dyslexia is indicated or they are struggling to distinguish letters, focus on capital letters as these are easier to differentiate visually.

When moving onto words, a good place to start is with short vowel ‘a’ as several phonics words families can be taught together. It’s common to start with CVC words [consonant-vowel-consonant].

When teaching an explicit awareness of phonemic awareness, ‘SAT’ is composed of: 3 letters, 1 syllable, and 3 phonemes. Within the -at phonically decodable word family are multiple words that have the same onset-rime.

Syllable: A unit of sequential speech sounds containing a vowel and any consonants preceding or following that vowel. (Henry, 2010. p.314)

Phoneme: The smallest unit of sound that conveys a distinction in meaning. (Henry, 2010, p.312).

Onset-rime: The onset is the initial consonant or consonants within a syllable. The rime is the vowel and any consonant that follows, within the syllable. (Nicholson & Dymock, 2015.p.87)

-at words

  • cat
  • fat
  • sat
  • hat
  • mat
  • rat
  • bat

-an words

  • can
  • fan
  • man
  • ran
  • van
  • tan
  • pan

-ap words

  • tap
  • cap
  • gap
  • lap
  • nap
  • map
  • zap

-am words

  • jam
  • ham
  • Sam

High frequency words

  • a
  • can
  • and
  • I
  • see

Activities to try

Playdough letters

Make or buy laminated upper case letter mats. Ask the student to help you make each of the letters needed to make one of the CVC words above. While making the letter, explain that there is a sound that matches the letter and model making it,

When the word is complete, show how to sound out the letters to make the word.

Silly Spelling

Using toys, containers, or pictures drawn on paper, create a ‘treasure chest’ for real words and a ‘rubbish bin’ for fake words.

Use 3D letters to make one of the words above; let’s use CAT as an example. Demonstrate how to sound out the letters. Ask the student if they think it is a real word or fake word. Write CAT on a strip of paper and place it in the treasure chest.

Ask the student to remove the first sound [C] and swap it for a different one. Let’s say they add ‘L’. Ask the student if they think LAT is a real word or fake word. Write LAT on a strip of paper and place it in the rubbish bin.

Explicitly discuss how the end sound (-at) is staying the same and ask if they can think of any words that rhyme with CAT. Demonstrate with another word such as HAT.

Jumbled Words

For some learners, it can be difficult to focus on ‘flat’ worksheets and working with kinaesthetic 3D letters can be more helpful. If the entire alphabet is placed in front of them and they are asked to spell RAT this may be visually overwhelming. Try scaffolding the activity:

Level 1: Have the word (and a picture) on a card in front of you. Model spelling the word with the 3D letters and sounding out each letter. Point out that you are matching the letters with the order on the card.

Level 2: Place on the letters that are needed in front of you. Explain to the student that you were trying to write [MAT] but the letters got muddled. Sound out the letters in the word and ask the student if they can put the letters in the right order to match the sounds.

Level 3: Place five letters in front of you. Advise the student that you feel they know the word [MAT] so you have a game that is a little harder. Explain that three of the letters are needed to spell the word and two of the letters are tricks. Sound out the letters in the word and ask the student if they can put the letters in the right order to match the sounds.

You might find that they identify the correct letters but place them in the wrong order. Praise them for finding the right letters and help place them in the correct order. Teach them that there is a pattern that they can learn for this phonic word family. Show them how the -at words they have been learning all have -at at the end and only change the beginning letter.

Phonics Strips

Create your own sliding phonics strips. These are a great visual activity for showing how changing a phoneme can alter the word.

Phoneme Boxes

Show students how to chunk words into their individual phonemes by using phoneme boxes. Explicitly discuss the difference between the number of letters that a word has and the number of sounds that a word has.

Students are likely to begin with CVC words where there are three letters and three sounds. The English language is full of all kinds of oddities (with its blend of Anglo-Saxon, Romance languages, and Greek roots). They will go on to encounter words like M|OO|N which has 4 letters / 3 phonemes; or CL|O|CK which has 5 letters / 3 phonemes.

It can be helpful to pick up a visual phoneme chart that shows all 44 sounds of spoken English and gives examples of their use.

Black Forest Slice (GF, DF, SF, EF)

Black Forest Slice (GF, DF, SF, EF)

Black Forest Slice (GF, DF, SF, EF)

This delicious slice is full of goodness from almonds, brazil nuts, and cashew nuts. It can be served as a dessert or be frozen and added to school lunches. I wish I’d found such an easy way to make allergy free chocolate earlier!

As an autism and allergy mum, this is also a great way to add some important trace minerals to a restricted diet. It deliberately has quite a smooth texture (which is why I have opted for coconut flour over dessicated coconut).

NOTE: This is a small batch perfect for an 18x15cm pyrex dish; feel free to double the recipe for a larger quantity.

Ingredients

BASE

MIDDLE

TOP

  • 4 Tbsp dutch cocoa
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 Tbsp maple syrup

Allergies: gluten free, soy free, dairy free, egg free, peanut free. Contains tree nuts.

Directions

  1. Line a pyrex dish with baking paper with overhanging sides so that you can lift it out easily. (This works better than greasing for slicing and freezing).
  2. Place the base ingredients into a food processor. Blend until well combined and sticking together. Press into the prepared dish and place in the fridge.
  3. Wash the food processor and then use it to blend the middle ingredients until smooth.
  4. Pour the fruit mix over the base and then place in the freezer for 30 minutes to set.
  5. Place the ingredients for the top into a bowl and blend until smooth.
  6. Spread the chocolate mix over the frozen middle layer and return to the freezer for another 20 minutes to set.
  7. Remove the slice from the freezer. Lift out the baking paper and slice into small serves. Enjoy delicious goodness!

Tip: The chocolate will soften easily in summer temperatures so this is best stored in the fridge or freezer. For school lunch boxes, place it in frozen.

Apple Nut Muffins

Apple Nut Muffins

Apple Nut Muffins

These sweet treats are high in natural goodness and fruit fibres, do not contain refined sugar, and contain valuable trace minerals from the almond, brazil, and cashew nut butter.

There are a few different ways that you can make this recipe and I have endeavoured to include options without over-cluttering. Keep in mind when subbing ingredients whether it will impact the recipe overall; i.e. coconut oil or butter will solidify in cold temperatures and hold a gluten free version together better than rice bran oil; using almond meal rather than flour will give a substantially different texture. Similarly, you can create a different texture by mashing the banana by hand + grating the apple; (for our family a smooth texture is imperative for sensory reasons).

For three energetic young taste testers, I made these containing gluten but free from soy, dairy, and egg. Feel free to adapt the recipe so that it works for you and your family.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup flour + 30g fine instant oats
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1 1/2 ripe bananas (= 150g frozen sliced banana)
  • 2 apples peeled and quartered (= 350g intact apples)
  • 1/4 cup Almond Brazil Cashew nut butter (or almond butter).
  • 2 tsp Orgran egg replacer + 4 Tbsp water
    • OR: 2 flax eggs
    • OR: 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp coconut oil (melted)
    • OR: 2 Tbsp rice bran oil
    • OR: 2 Tbsp butter (soft)
  • 1/4 cup maple syrup
  • 1 Tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • Optional: 1 tsp cinnamon

Allergies: This recipe can be made gluten free, soy free, dairy free, egg free, peanut free. Contains tree nuts.

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 180’C / 350’F. Grease a muffin tray or cupcake liners.
  2. In a food processor, blend the banana and apple until smooth. (If you prefer a rougher texture, grate the apple instead and mix in at the end).
  3. Add the egg replacer (or eggs), coconut oil, ABC nut butter, and maple syrup. Pulse to combine.
  4. Add the flour, oats, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon (if using), and apple cider vinegar. Gently pulse to combine.
  5. Spoon your batter into the muffin trays and place in preheated oven.
  6. Cook for about 35 minutes. Check after 25 minutes (you may want to add tinfoil as a cover for the remainder).
  7. Take out of the oven and allow to cool for 10 minutes.

The Invisible Tasks of Food Allergy Parents

woman holding baby while sitting on fur bean bag

Photo by Daria Shevtsova on Pexels.com

The often invisible cognitive load of food allergy families involves both time and heartache.
 
It’s needing to educate staff at childcare or schooling facilities that although lunchbox items may look similar to what other kids eat that varied allergies and intolerances haven’t magically gone away.
 
There are hours spent at home and with medical support staff planning nutritional intake (and addressing deficits). Special allergy free brands are researched and sought (often involving a substantially higher cost and extra driving time to that one special location that stocks a particular item but nothing else on your allergy list – meaning multiple item specific trips). Hours can be spent researching not just allergy free recipes but in needing to substitute ingredient (x), is there a risk of cross-reactivity from ingredient (y), in which case do you start all over again looking at a different ingredient or consider ingredient (z) as a back up?
 
Then there’s the extra time spent milling special flours from scratch because it’s too expensive to buy them pre-milled when you’re juggling multiple allergies/intolerances. There’s the time spent cooking and pureeing fruits and vegetables (not to mention washing up afterwards) so that you can make your own customized smoothie pops or home baking that incorporates ‘safe’ foods and ‘safe’ textures. There is the time spent agonizing over whether to make one allergy free meal for everyone or to make multiple meals each night. There is needing to pack food every time you leave the house because you can’t buy anything safe and easy to eat when out.
 
There is the heart ache of seeing your child sad because their friends have foods that they can’t have; of needing to take a packed lunchbox every time there’s a shared food event at their education facility or church or playdate or birthday party etc… There is the anxiety over trusting food that someone else has made (especially when you find yourself having to quite literally pull that awesome looking food item out of your child’s hands because someone has rushed over in the realization that they gave you the wrong information). For those with anaphylaxis, there is the ongoing anxiety around epi-pens, emergency hospital visits, and the daily concern of how easy it would be for a fatal accident to occur.
There is the emotional distress of wanting your child to find joy in food and knowing that instead there may be an invisible ribbon of anxiety. There is the heart ache every time you have to deny your child something because it will simply make them sick. There’s also the challenge of trying to explain to them why the doctor’s want them to have a tiny little bit of something but only every now and then (i.e. once every four days) and why it’s not ok for them to have more or to eat it when they’re not specifically being given it by mummy or daddy (or whomever their primary carer is).
There is the extra anxiety and tears and restricted eating because someone said something thoughtless in front of them about their food and now they are scared to eat.
There is wanting to wrap them up in your arms; to have them know just how much they are loved and that you would put in these invisible hours for them a thousand times over to ease their way just a little bit.

Autism Mum – Flour free fudgey chocolate brownies

Healthy Hearts Chocolate Fudge Brownie

Healthy Hearts Chocolate Fudge Brownie Free from dairy, gluten, and soy.

I spend a lot of time thinking about food. It’s a consequence of having an autistic daughter with multiple food allergies, intolerances, and self-restricted eating. At the moment beige and crunchy is popular; meat of any kind is not and calcium is also problematic. I decided that sardine cookies would probably not go down well and decided to turn my attention to lentils instead. Lentils contain a wide range of nutrients and are made up of over 25% protein.

I wanted to make something that tasted decadently chocolatey but without a lot of added sugar and minimizing ingredients that are common allergies. It can easily be adjusted to make it suitable for any food restrictions in the family, daycare, or school.

Healthy heart Chocolate Fudge Brownies

Ingredients

  • 2 x 400g tin lentils (approx. 2 cups of drained lentils)
  • 1 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp maple syrup
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 cup rice bran oil
  • 1/2 cup almond meal + 1/2 cup fine rice flour
    • (or substitute 1 cup plain flour)
  • 1 cup dutch cocoa
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp Baking Powder
  • 2 Tbsp chia seeds
  • Optional: 90g pureed green vegetables (spinach, peas, courgette)

Allergies: gluten free, dairy free, soy free, peanut free.

What type of lentils to use?

There are many types of lentils and many online recipes suggest using red lentils. This is probably because they are split, skinless, and can have a sweet nutty flavour. To be honest, I went with what what was affordable and convenient – tins of brown lentils!

How can I replace egg?

I used egg as I wanted the protein but for an egg free alternative, you could pre-soak the chia seeds in 6 Tbsp boiling water for 15-20 minutes or use something like Orgran’s Egg Replacer.

Directions

  1. Put oven on to pre-heat to 180’C / 375’F. Grease your brownie tray (I use rice bran oil).
  2. Rinse lentils thoroughly. The lentils will need to be cooked and their cooking time is going to depend on what form you’re using (i.e. dried lentils will need to be simmered for 15-20 minutes).
  3. Put the kettle on to boil while you chop up the dates (the measurement of 1 cup is after they’ve been cut up).
  4. The dates need to be soaked in boiling water until soft. Personally, I took a big pyrex dish, put in my (rinsed) soft brown tinned lentils + my roughly chopped dates + a small amount of water. I then put it in the microwave on High for 2 minutes, stirred, and then put back in the microwave for another 2 minutes.
  5. Pour the hot date / lentil mix into a food processor and blend till smooth.
    • A metal blade is ideal for smoothness but then you’ll need to change to a plastic blade (or wooden spoon) for combining the rest; if you’re not worried about a perfect puree then you can just use a plastic blade throughout.
  6. Mix in sugar and maple syrup. Taste test for sweetness.
    • Note: instead of sugar, you could just use 1/3 cup maple syrup. The dates will also add natural sweetness.
  7. Mix in egg and oil.
  8. Mix in almond meal, rice flour, dutch cocoa, salt, baking powder, chia seeds, and any optional ingredients. (I went for green veggies, someone else might go for chopped walnuts).
  9. Bake for 30-35 mins.

The gluten free version comes out as a soft, fudgey, chocolate slice; with normal flour it will probably be higher and a bit firmer. Blind taste testing by neighbour was successful both for approval rating and not guessing the lentils.

Recommended topping: a spoonful of Nature’s Charm Coconut Chocolate Fudge Sauce. It tastes amazing while also being vegan, dairy free, and soy free.

Scones with Extra Goodness: Autism Mom

Enriched scones

Enriched scones

Miss 3 has a range of food allergies, intolerances, and sensory issues with food. To my great surprise, these scones were a massive hit with her. She will eat two of them for breakfast (or lunch) and prefers them without any kind of topping. They are light, fluffy, and tasty with only minimal amounts of sugar (so much healthier than store bought cake).

Her soy allergy means I have to do all our baking myself and she is now intolerant to  drinking milk but seems to cope okay if it’s baked or altered by probiotics (like yoghurt). She needs lots of calcium for her growing bones which is why this recipe is packed with dairy. The wheat germ helps to provide added protein (and is also a secret ingredient for bread and baking to help provide a soft, fluffy feel). The spelt and rice flour can be replaced by normal flour but for me it’s part of overall measures to have her on (a) a reduced gluten diet, (b) to have her grains as varied as possible, (c) to introduce as wide a range of macro and micro nutrients to her diet as possible.  Sometimes with autistic kids it’s about reinforcing the goodness in what they will eat rather than despairing about what they won’t eat!

Ingredients

DRY INGREDIENTS

  • 2 cups plain flour (strong flour also works)
  • 1/4 cup wheat germ
  • 1/4 cup superfine white rice flour
  • 1/2 cup wholemeal spelt flour
  • 2 Tbsp ground linseed (or LSA)
  • 6 tsp Baking Powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 3 Tbsp brown sugar (or honey, or maple syrup)

WET INGREDIENTS

  • 50-70g chilled butter
  • 1/2 cup (or 150g) natural or greek yoghurt
  • 1 cup water

Allergies: soy free, egg free, nut free.

Directions

  • Preheat oven to 200’C.
  • Sift the dry ingredients (the wheatgerm and linseed will mostly remain in the sifter and can then be poured in).
  • Grate in the chilled butter and rub the mixture till it resembles breadcrumbs.
    • Note: Grating is most important when making dumplings as the butter remains intact and melts during cooking; I do find it rubs in very quickly this way when making scones.
  • Make a well in the middle of the bowl and add yoghurt. Mix gently.
  • Add the milk (about 1/2 cup at a time) and mix. Add a little water if necessary.
  • Line a baking tray with non-stick baking paper. Use hands to gently roll and pat the scones.
    • Note: I find it immensely helpful to have a little bowl of rice bran oil to dip my fingers in so that the mix doesn’t stick to my hands. It also allows for a smoother finish to the scones.
  • Bake for 10 minutes @ 200’C. Check the scones; bake for up to another 5 minutes.
  • Allow to cool on a rack.

 

Variations

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Star scones and Butterfly scones

Butterfly scones

Butterflies, stars, cars, dinosaurs – whatever interests your child! Large plastic cookie cutters (i.e. the size of an adult’s palm) make wonderfully shaped scones that can help make these more appealing.

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and cream cheese scones

Blueberry and Cream Cheese scones

Add 1/2 cup of frozen blueberries and add wedges of firm cream cheese to the middle of the scone. (Miss 3 objected strongly to me combining ‘approved’ foods but I thought these were delicious!).

Feijoa Scones

Add 1/2 cup of thoroughly mashed feijoa pulp. Test the moisture / stickiness of the scones and add less milk if necessary.

Passionfruit Scones

Use passionfruit yoghurt (a good quality thick yoghurt like Puhoi or Piako). Consider drizzling passionfruit sauce or syrup on top.

Maple Syrup and Walnuts

Maple syrup has quite a mild taste so swap (and increase) the brown sugar for 5-6 Tbsp of maple syrup. Add 1/4 cup to 1/2 cup crushed walnuts. Consider adding a coffee icing.

Note: (1) Potential for nut allergy. (2) Great for adults but may not be suitable for toddlers (due to choking risk). (3) May not suit ASD kids due to the textural contrasts.

 

Extra Strategies to help with toilet training

pexels-photo-88808.jpeg

This is something of a personal issue for me since my 3.5 year old daughter has autism. She has twice shown an interest in toilet training and it was a disastrous affair since she simply lacked the interoception necessary to sense and control her bladder. At the time, she hadn’t been diagnosed and I simply accepted that she wasn’t ready.

I had researched toilet training by attending workshops, reading books, searching through blogs, and talking to other parents. I also wrote a series of articles myself which are aimed at neurotypical kids. These covered:

These are methods which will work for most families; however, some children need an extra level of support. For me, and others I know, it is because our children have special needs such as autism (ASD). Miss 3 struggles with sensory issues in a range of ways, including an awareness (and interpretation) of internal body signals such as the need to go to the bathroom. She’s not alone in this; many kids struggle with the leap from nappies to toilet for eliminating waste. Modern nappies wick away moisture and allow our little ones to stay comfortable without feeling a need to pause their play. We then place them in underwear and expect an awareness of being wet (sensory input) to result in a desire to be dry (perception) and a change in behaviour (action). In reality, these are all separate steps controlled by different regions of the brain and requiring different foundational skills; putting all of these together in a fluid and reliable manner is a complex change.

Extra Strategies to help with toilet training

Start by writing down all the challenges you associate with toilet training. Sort these into challenges for you (as a parent) and challenges for your child. Think about how you can address these challenges.

Write down goals for yourself and your child. Your long-term objective might be toilet training but there might be a number of short term goals that you need to address first (and this is where it comes in really handy that you’ve already written down all the challenges you need to work through).

Your child needs to feel safe and comfortable in the bathroom. It’s often a very functional room that adults spend little time in but the journey your child is embarking on means spending a lot of time in there. For those with autism and/or sensory issues, identifying triggers can be critical.

I knew my daughter didn’t like the bathroom but I thought it was because of associating it with nappy changing and discomfort as a result of very sensitive skin. I patiently worked as a detective to try and observe her behaviour and work out what she couldn’t tell me with words. One morning, I sat down with all the towels on the floor and struggled to find the right questions to elicit a response. I could see the progress in sensory integration and vocabulary work we’d been doing for months but she finds it impossible to answer general questions. At last I narrowed down my questions to ‘Which colour makes your body feel most safe and comfortable and still?’, ‘Which colour makes your body feel most muddly, shaky, and unhappy?’

Through a mixture of words and gestures, we were able to establish that a warm palette of soft sandstone and mocha were acceptable (as were accents of pink, white, and gold) but the jewel-like mix of towels in brightly coloured greens, red, and blue were highly upsetting. Other triggers, included the bright light (with the noisy ceiling fan powered by the same switch), the strong smelling soap, and the toilet paper (which to her felt like sandpaper).

I needed to identify which of these I could change (like the soap and towels) and which ones I could only minimize (like using the light in the adjacent room unless we were having a shower).

Sitting on the toilet requires both proprioceptive and vestibular skills; your child needs to be able to sense their body’s position in space and be able to balance. Consider sending time practising activities like naming which body part you are touching while they have their eyes closed, running, jumping, climbing, and walking on a balance beam.

The sensory feel of the potty or toilet seat is important. Some kids are happy balancing on an adult toilet seat, others are terrified by the feeling of space beneath their bare bum and the fear they might fall in. There are lots of options available on the market, my favourite is a cheap one – buying a toilet seat with an integrated flip-up junior seat.

Help your child understand how they need to be positioned on the toilet (and this requires modelling by a parent or sibling). Show them how they need to sit or move for each part of the process. For a girl, I’ve needed to teach her that her bottom needs to sit near the back, her knees need to be together, and her pelvis needs to be tilted down. I have a large textured sticker on the toilet seat (rear-middle) which she can feel with her hand to help guide her bottom. I also bought a super cheap mirror which we decorated together in colours she chose and which I hung opposite the toilet so that she could see herself and how she was positioned. The mirror also has the advantage of keeping her entertained!

Be aware that using the toilet is a complicated process; you can help your child by breaking down the steps into manageable tasks. Consider making a social story for potty training and putting visual reminders on the bathroom wall.

“Our sensory integration occupational therapist handed me pages of pictures showing the individual steps for using the toilet. Frankly, I felt overwhelmed. It’s such an automatic task that it hadn’t occurred to me how many micro-steps there are!”

“One game we play is ‘What’s under my bum?’ She stands with her eyes closed while I put a tiny plastic animal on a chair behind her. I guide her into sitting and she has to try and feel which side the toy is, roll her pelvis, and reach with her hand for it. She thinks it’s hugely funny; more than a game, we’re building skills she will need for the toilet – sitting, balancing, and movements associated with wiping.”

Help your child understand how using the toilet will fit into their daily routine; for instance, needing them to sit on the toilet as soon as they wake up in their morning. Communicate what your expectations are and consider making a poster about how the toilet fits into their daily routine. Some parents find it helpful to use a digital timer or a smart watch with vibrating alarms (like the FitBit) to help remind children to take regular toilet breaks. Teach kids phrases like ‘pause my play‘ for going to the toilet; this is less frightening (and less likely to cause a power struggle) then ‘stop’ as it means they can return to their task after sitting on the toilet.

Create an elimination diary so that you can get a feel for how often they are eliminating; this is incredibly useful for identifying patterns. You may also want to seek advice from a nurse if they are regularly holding urine for 6-8 hours or have no bowel motions for four consecutive days or more. Constipation can become a vicious cycle when combined with dehydration and anxiety; it hurts when they eliminate and so that makes repeating the experience seem like a bad idea! There are great articles on how to help strong willed children who may have anxiety around bowel motions; this one includes a template for an elimination diary. These child friendly resources from Continence Foundation of Australia explain how the bowel and bladder work and can be helpful to support discussions.

Think about your stance on motivations vs rewards. A motivation is something that encourages your child to do something (a behaviour or action), a reward is something that comes after an action is successfully completed. Often parents use rewards for toilet training, this may include everything from stickers to jellybeans. Instead, consider creating a special toilet treasure box as a motivation for sitting on the toilet and tying reward charts to keeping underwear dry (rather than eliminating waste). Be consistent with your child that the treasure box can only be played with while sitting on the toilet.

An ideal treasure box will have a lid and can be decorated with the child’s name and any potty party theme you are using. It’s a good idea to include several books (including at least one relating to using the potty / toilet). Give careful thought to your child’s interests and sensory needs. Try to include a few small toys they can choose at the shop; pictures they can look at; things they can manipulate with their hands; things that make sounds. Get inventive!

“We found a dog toy that looks like a rubber zebra and makes a hilarious laughing noise when it’s squeezed hard enough.”

“She has a few princess dolls that sit on their own potty while listening to the music from a wind up jewellery box.”

“We got one of those dinner trays with a bean bag base, painted the top black and added white lines. He zooms cars around the race track.”

Find underwear they feel comfortable in. It’s a big step moving from nappies to something which feels completely different; this is even more true for children with sensory issues, sensitive skin, or eczema. Some children find it helpful to have a breathable material, no elastic, and to be seam free. Lulu Funk is one such online retailer specializing in New Zealand made underwear for sensitive bottoms.

Accept that accidents will happen. They do and sometimes in the most ridiculously awful of places; remember that if you are calm and matter of fact about it that your child stands a better chance of internalizing this without getting weighed down by shame. It can also be helpful to focus on praising them for keeping their underwear dry (rather than focusing on eliminating in the toilet).

“One exercise we did was to bring out a favourite soft toy, two identical pairs of underwear, a bowl, and some room temperature juice. Elmo put on some dry underwear and a pretend Elmo did a ‘wee’ in the other underwear. We practiced touching ‘dry’ and ‘wet’; I talked about how sometimes it can be difficult to feel warm wee when the weather is really hot. I froze the wet underwear and later we practiced ‘wet’ and ‘dry’ again.”

It’s a good idea to teach your child where they should touch their underwear to check if they are wet or dry; boys are often wet higher at the front, whereas girls tend to be wet lower down.

Consistency, consistency, consistency. Having worked out your game plan, share it with everyone else involved in your child’s toileting. It helps to have teachers at daycare, kindy, or school following the same methods and routines as at home (as much as possible).

Decide what success looks like to you. It can be easy to assume that every family has an easy time toilet training but I promise you that there are plenty that struggle. As adults, we may have a reasonable expectation of using a toilet 100% of the time whereas lots of young kids simply get excited or distracted and forget. Think about your child’s developmental age, temperament, and the challenges you wrote down. Success may involve focusing on a single micro-task and then adding a second step once that has been reasonably mastered. Remember that the long term goal is not only to help your child master a skill that gives them another step towards independence, it’s also about helping them to feel positive about themselves and successful along the way.

Stories still to come

I was so thrilled to have two of my seasonal pieces published by Spinoff Parenting in the lead up to Christmas. They were about tips and strategies to help ease the pressure and navigate the challenges of Christmas  for kids with autism and kids in general. I’m aware the website has been fairly quiet since (although the Facebook page is still ticking along) and it’s not due to a lack of ideas when it comes to writing. If I could have some telepathic decoder capture the articles I write while driving the car that would be brilliant!

During the school term I have 3-6 hours per week away from Miss 3 (who has a variety of special needs) and although that time is mainly spent running errands or undertaking domestic tasks that cause her sensory distress, sometimes I can squeeze in some writing as well. Those precious hours are also a much needed pressure valve to release some of the tension from being constantly with a little person who studies my every facial expression,  who is incredibly sensitive to emotional undercurrents and needs me to project happy calm 16 hours per day, and requires enormous amounts of support for everything from emotional self-regulation, to being comfortable in her body, OT work, communication, self-care, and play.

During the school holidays this turns into no hours per week and her anxiety being hugely escalated by the disruption to our routines. The summer holidays mean that not only is kindy on holiday but so are all of our other support staff (from occupational therapist to doctors). Events like severe summer storms can cause massive sensory distress and trigger several days of almost constant dysregulation that is exhausting for both of us. She sleeps in my bed because it gives her a sense of stability and security.  We use a lot of social stories and visual communication to talk about our plans for the day. There’s an increase in alternative communication: selective mutism, echolalia, and needing repetitive (and repeatable) scripted dialogue exchanges.

It all adds up to is me investing my energies into my daughter and storing story ideas (like nuts for the winter) for when I have more time. What I want to write about this year is the importance of embracing the new year with a growth mindset, how to encourage and develop character (rather than content) in our young children, how the Danish / Scandanavian parenting and schooling model compares to the NZ / UK / USA model and why we should consider adopting it. I also want to write more gardening and cooking pieces. I’m particularly interested this summer in the exploring the economies of a kitchen garden as well as taking a look at making use of vegetable parts that sometimes end up on the compost (like carrot greens, radish leaves, and squash blossoms).

Are sunflower seeds good for me?

Sunflower-seeds-picture

What are the nutritional benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflowers make a beautiful addition to gardens in the summer and a great science project for kids but are their seeds also an overlooked source of essential nutrients?

What are the benefits of sunflower seeds?

Sunflower seeds are rich in Vitamin E, copper, B vitamins like thiamine, selenium, magnesium, fiber, folic acid, and more. They are a source of essential fatty acids; especially linoleic acid and oleic acid. Additionally, sunflower seeds are also an excellent source of  amino acids (especially tryptophan) which make up the building blocks of proteins, B Vitamins, phytosterols, and more. They are also a source of healthy polyunsaturated fats which your body needs.

What is the nutritional breakdown of sunflower seeds?

SunflowerSeeds-Nutrition

Can sunflower seeds help improve my health?

As well as helping maintain your body, sunflower seeds are are most highly correlated with boosting cardiovascular health thanks to their ability to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol and to prevent hypertension.

Since they also contain minerals like magnesium and selenium, you may also find they help with ‘growing pains’, leg cramps, and tension headaches.

Vitamin E is a powerful antioxidant that helps to reduce inflammation throughout the body. This makes it popular for warding against everything from heart disease, to helping with IBS, or with chronic inflammation as the result of multiple allergies / intolerances.

In my case, I have a child with multiple allergies (from grass pollen, to dust mites, to food), and Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS), and autism (with associated digestive / gut issues), so anything I can include in her diet that helps with inflammation is great!

What are easy ways to include sunflower seeds in my diet?

You could buy them coated in chocolate or dusted in flavourings (like sour cream and chives) but that’s off-setting their health benefits with other calories and additives! Here are some healthier (and still easy!) ways to eat sunflower seeds:

 

Coping with Christmas | Autism

Santa

Ho ho ho! Merry Christmas!

If you’re the parent of  a special needs child and the thought of Christmas has you reaching for a glass of wine, don’t worry, not you’re alone! This time of year the ASD (autism spectrum disorder) parenting forums are full of questions, advice, and those needing a safe space to share that they’re struggling after yet another Christmas meltdown. It’s a tough time of year for many families and children; end of term / year fatigue from school, exams, financial stress, family obligations. Let’s face it, as awesome as Christmas is, it comes with special stress for those organizing it.

It also poses an extra stress on kids with autism. There is familiarity in comfort, routine, and the familiar. Christmas means change in the home, kindy / school, shopping malls, supermarkets etc. Suddenly there are decorations, Christmas music, and images of this guy in a red suit everywhere. There are crowds, noise, and other sensory evils (like balloons). There are also likely to be a slew of invitations to parties, parades, shared meals, family gatherings etc.

Find a quiet time before the Christmas season to reflect on what Christmas means to you personally, and to your family. You may want to have a family gathering where you talk about what Christmas means to you all and each choose one tradition that you think is really important. Obviously, the bigger your family is, the more negotiation this may involve! I think one advantage for me as a single parent is that I can unilaterally make the choice to put Miss 3’s needs first and miss out on a lot of the Christmas celebrations that I would otherwise enjoy. It’s not always so easy for those with conflicting demands from a partner or where there are neurotypical (NT) siblings who have events they want to be part of.

Christmas events

If your autistic child is old enough and verbal enough to discuss Christmas events with, involve them in planning which events to be part of and which events to skip (and always have a back up / escape plan that will let you leave early and keep your child’s self-respect intact).

Keep in mind that Christmas parades, parties, and concerts are not only a variation to routine but can involve huge amounts of sensory input. You might want to aim for a smaller, local events rather than the biggest one in the city centre where tens of thousands of people will attend resulting in roads and bus services being blocked / hugely disrupted.

Clearly identify the change in routine and pre-warn them. Show them photos of where you are going and what to expect. Consider creating a social story to help them understand the sequence of events and what will be expected of them.

If they have sensory issues, take along items that will help them feel more settled (whether that’s a weighted toy, a fidget toy, or noise-cancelling headphones).

Restrict the number of events that you attend. It’s easy for them to accumulate in the weeks leading up to Christmas; remember to include in your calculations any Christmas celebrations / pageants etc. at kindy / school, church, etc. as well.

Christmas countdown

For young children, you may want to start preparing them for Christmas as early as 01 Nov (depending on their age). I started introducing Christmas books and cds (from the library) early with Miss 3 to help her get comfortable with the concept before it started at kindy. I didn’t want her anxiety to be triggered or for her to feel excluded because the other kids knew who Santa was or recognized popular Christmas tunes and she didn’t.

I would have been quite happy to put up our miniature Christmas tree the week before Christmas; instead, it went up mid-November to ease her anxiety. They sang a song about Christmas trees at kindy and she started an anxiety attack that all the trees she loves outside kindy would be stolen and turned into Christmas trees; this transferred to a fear our Christmas tree would be stolen from storage. Long story short, we drove across town the next day to collect our tree from Nana and Poppa!

Think about a visual method for counting down to Christmas. You might want to do an advent calendar (some families do) , or download an app, or simply mark off days on a Calendar.

Christmas Presents

Most ASD kids do not like surprises; pre-warn! Here are some ideas from different parents:

  1. I discuss Christmas presents with my son and give him a budget. He researches what he wants and tells me. He knows exactly what he’s getting for Christmas and is happy that it’s exactly what he wants!
  2. I buy my daughter one present for Christmas. I tell her in advance what I’m saving up for and show her pictures. Santa gives her a few small items in her santa sack as unwrapped treats to eat (like chocolate and an orange).
  3. I wrap all the presents but for my autistic child, I attach photos of what’s inside. They still enjoy unwrapping them but they’re more comfortable knowing what’s in them. Their siblings have the choice of photos too.
  4. I take photos of everything before I wrap them and then let my daughter choose if she wants to open them as a surprise or point to items on my phone and then be handed the presents in that order.
  5. I’m getting my child a bunch of small practical gifts (like sensory items, or craft activities, or a sea shell to represent a beach visit) and am going to let them open one thing each day from when kindy ends. They’ll help to give us something to do each morning to cope with the change of routine and it will make Christmas Day less overwhelming.
  6. Remember to warn relatives if certain items are likely to cause sensory issues. You may want to ask them to pre-wash clothes and remove tags for instance.

 

Christmas Day

Wonderful and exciting though Christmas Day is, it can also be overwhelming and carry with it a range of expectations.

  1. Discuss in advance what the schedule will be for Christmas Day. Consider creating a social story  so that they know what the order of events will be. For instance, when do they open presents? When will meals be? What food will be served? Are family coming to visit? Are you driving to visit family?
  2. Identify correct etiquette for receiving a gift. Teach them to say Thank You. Explain rules and expectations; i.e. “Sometimes we receive presents we like. Sometimes we receive presents we don’t like. We should say thank you for each present we receive.”
  3. Give them a list of everyone they will see Christmas Day. Help them think about how they will greet each person. Do they want to give Grandma a hug? Do they want to just wave at that funny smelling Great Aunt they only see once a year? Make sure that extended family understand how important consent is (at any age) and that it is entirely up to your child if they want physical contact. Help your child to understand it is important to greet each person (with a wave, or eye contact and saying hello) but that it is up to them whether they want a hug / cuddle.
  4. Use a portable timer / clock / watch for visiting other people’s houses and make sure you leave at the time you have pre-agreed with your child (to avoid a meltdown). If necessary, have the family take two cars so that you can leave early if your ASD child isn’t coping.
  5. Make sure there is food they will enjoy eating on Christmas Day. It’s all very well wanting a traditional roast with all the trimmings, but if this is something your child won’t eat then don’t force the issue on a day that is already stressful for them! If they want to eat a plain cheese pizza, or seaweed and crackers, or a marmite sandwich + apple, then let them. Make sure they are included and have the option of trying other foods but have food they are comfortable with as well.