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Understanding a diagnosis is more than just the label.

After the autism diagnosis, a pathway to understanding the autistic self

What does a diagnosis of autism mean to you and your child?  Often getting that question answered is the beginning of getting access and support.  Whether that support is from therapists or funding bodies, or within an education setting.  It certainly helps to have this difference formally recognised and a formal diagnosis certainly helps with this. 

But getting that label, whilst important is really the beginning.

And although I often say that the label does not change the child, but process of understanding what this label means can help develop self identity, so in that way the label can change them (in a positive way).

It is my opinion that when we have an understanding of what autism means- beginning as young children ideally, will grow to be more complex and rick as these children grow into older children, teenagers and adults.  But I do think that even young children can have understanding that is more complex than just knowing their label.

I feel it is wonderful for children to have a positive understanding of being autistic from the very beginning.  But whilst knowing that they are autistic in terms of being able to tell others, I feel that unpacking out what this actually means will also an important part of support and their journey.

So if you can assist your child to learn more than just that they are autistic, can be an important part of parenting process.  So keeping in mind that being autistic impacts on so many areas of experiencing and functioning and is an important part of a child’s identity. 

So the more they can understand;

  • Their strengths and skills,
  • What they find easy and what they find difficult,
  • How they process information,
  • How they see their needs for movement,
  • How they understand their own feelings,
  • How others can support their learning style,
  • How much time they need for different activities
  • How much relaxation time they need,
  • What kinds of people they feel most comfortable around,
  • How to manage their energy needs,
  • How they communicate best,
  • How they receive information best,

the better able they will be able to advocate for themselves, explain their needs to others and have a well rounded and realistic understanding of who they are and what they are capable of (anything and everything!). 

Sometimes hear children, who are well aware that they are autistic from a young age, don’t progress their understanding much past this this term.  I hear them become frustrated with their challenges and label their autistic brain as being the problem.  They wonder why they have this brain-that they are told is great, but confusingly, they are also aware that their brain is related to things like intense emotions, meltdowns and sensory overwhelm.

Hearing stories like this tells me that we need to make sure they have a deeper understanding of what it means to be autistic, more than just the word and more than just the diagnostic criteria.

We can explore what they like and find challenging about being autistic (in a world generally designed by and for non-autistics) and that this might be part of what we need to change.  Explore the idea that there are lots of other autistics who also have some of these frustrations (so they feel less alone) and encourage them to look at ways they can celebrate their brains and acknowledge that stress causes everyone’s brains to be reactive.

So if you are a parent of an autistic, child or teen, check in with the kinds of things your child might be saying about themselves.  Have there been many discussions about being autistic, their experiences and beliefs about their autism, since they’ve been ‘told’ about their diagnosis? 

If it’s been a while, or you have heard negative things being spoken about themselves and being autistic, find a moment to touch base with what they are finding challenging and empathise with the difficulties they are experiencing. 

Normalise that they are most often living with an invisible brain difference that others may find hard to understand.  That they often are expected to work extra hard to manage their environment and sensory demands each and every day.  That their differences may need extra support if they are funding their emotions are really overwhelming-and that it is ok to ask for help with this.  And definitely find ways that they can spend time in their strengths, their interests to find fun joy, relaxation and things that like about themselves.

Building up a positive sense of self is not about inflating their ego, or making them believe they have superpowers, but it is part of developing a realistic, but optimistic view of themselves to help them build resilience and hopefulness.

Kate x

Fatigue, sleep and it’s impact on emotions

Hey,

Happy Friday to you!

On my Facebook page, I went Live chatting about all things related to the fatigue that you might be experiencing this week as end of year and Christmas celebrations kick into high gear.

I chatted about the importance of routines and sleep in managing both OUR EMOTIONS and helping our children and teens with theirs.

Watch on my You Tube channel!
(And while you are there, it would be a great Christmas gift to me if you would Like and Subscribe- if you’d like to be updated when I post a new video each week that is!)

What’s your style

Hey Lovely human,

When you are looking for support, some like the convenience of being able to use the content when they choose to, for example reading books, watching videos and self-paced programs.  And I know that I love learning and getting inspired this way.

But I also know that when I want to put new information into action, that I really enjoy sharing my ideas and insights with others and getting encouragement and energy from others.

This is where in person events and online mentoring and meetings have been invaluable to my own development as a parent, psychologist and entrepreneur.

This week I’m happy to say there are a few options for you depending on your style or need.

Tomorrow we have Episode #2 of All the Gems happening (which you can watch any time!). I will be sharing my insights, tips and resources about a strengths approach for parenting and therapy and how this leads to understanding a growth mindset and optimistic outlook.  

So if you are not part of this monthly education group, please click here to join!

Finding the time and energy to keep caring

Do you ever feel like you are giving and giving and giving and that you are not sure if you can give any more?

In the times that we have been through, parents have had it quite tough these past two years. With a pandemic that has affected work and family life like nothing we’ve seen in our lifetime, it can be overwhelming to think we need to keep stepping up for our kids, our work our friends and our family.

We know parents of kids with disabilities/different brain styles/atypical ways of perceiving the world have an extra load that they carry. It can be challenging to feel that there is room mentally, emotionally and physically to do all the things that we want to get done.

So how do you do it? What are the keys to having the energy to make change for your family, for your children and for you?

Well it’s my thoughts, that first we must recognise our own needs and put things in place to have these nurtured. There is a popular saying that in the event of a plane crash, we have to put our oxygen masks on first, before we put them on our children. (Even though our instincts might be the reverse).

We don’t need to be in an emergency situation before we have to remember that attending to our own needs is vitally important if we want to care for our children and family.

Understanding our own needs in amongst the competing demands, fighting feelings of guilt when we put ourselves first (there is great pressure to be ‘selfless’ in many parts of society) and understanding that when we fill our own emotional and physical cup we actually have capacity to do more for others. It is just a smart use of time and energy to prioritise ourselves. So for me it means a few simple things.

Firstly my sleep and energy. I know that it is important for me to get enough sleep to feel capable and calm and energised each day. If I neglect this need everything (and everyone) suffers.

The second is my physical health. For me physical health (and mental health) is attended to by yoga and recently again netball. Having time to stretch, feel like I am achieving exercise (and the cool chemical releases that come with it), helps me to sleep better (priority number 1) and have a better mood.

The third is developing and sticking to my routines. Routines, organisations and patterns of behaviour, help me to organise my time, my thinking and my actions. When I’m organised I have a sense of direction that allows me to have a big picture of where I am headed, whilst I attend to the details in the day to day events.

So these three simple things: sleep, exercise and organisation are key in allowing me to have the energy and mindset that helps me to parent in a way that is aligned, be there for my clients, action my goals and continue to improve my other actions of self care (such as having time for hobbies, friends and free time).

So I pose a question to you today.

Before we think about strategies, tools and tips for you to support your children;

how do you develop your own self care?

Are the three things I spoke about important for you?

Are there others more important that impact on you?

Or are these three in need of becoming a priority so that you can build upon them?

Whatever the answer may be, please make sure that you attend to making yourself a priority. It is not selfish, it is a wonderfully good use of your time and energy.

Kate x

Friday ideas for beating the state of fatigue

#FridayLiveVideo

Although I usually try to do a live video each Friday afternoon, this afternoon I decided I’d share with you a few ideas for beating the state of fatigue that many people are feeling with the extended lockdowns that we’ve faced in Victoria and NSW in particular.  So I wanted to share a few ideas that can be helpful for hacking your brain chemistry-and then I’m going to do the same and do a quick yoga workout!

So I wanted to share some ideas about how we can boost chemicals that we know are present and can help for us to experience happy feelings.  I think we are all in need of something practical we can do to help shift our mood in a more pleasant state, so this is my reminder to you this Friday afternoon as we head into celebrating the Dads, Dad-figures and men in our life this Sunday.

There are four main brain chemicals that are really useful for this and it includes some that are made synthetically for our antidepressants.

Dopamine is a brain neurotransmitter than is released when we do a number of things, but it is very involved when we have an accomplishment.  It mediates pleasure in our brain and then also stimulates our brain to seek out more pleasurable activities.  So we can increase the amount of this in our system by doing things like:

  • completing a task
  • Making a goal
  • Doing a self care task
  • Eating food
  • Celebrating

Serotonin is a chemical that helps to boost and stabilise our mood.  It’s involved in reducing the risk of depression, regulates anxiety and healing the body.  When our serotonin levels are normal we are able to feel happier, calm and more focused.  To boos it’s levels we can try out activities such as:

  • Meditation or practicing mindfulness
  • Running
  • Getting into sunshine
  • Being in nature
  • Connecting with another human
  • Cycling

Oxytocin is sometimes also called the Love Hormone.  It get produced when we feel connection with another being, so trying out things like:

*spending time cuddling with a pet

  • spending time with a baby or child
  • holding hands/touch
  • Having a hug (or giving yourself a hug)
  • Giving or receiving a compliment

Endorphins are knows as being natural pain killers.  They relieve pain and induce feelings of pleasure or euphoria and are involved in activities such as eating, drinking, sex as well as maternal behaviour.  They are also involved when we are doing things that can be tiring such as intense exercise, but actually gives us a feeling of high energy even when we’ve been using energy.

We can boost these chemicals by doing thing like:

*activities that produce laughter

  • using particular essential oils
  • Eating (dark) chocolate
  • Exercising/yoga

So these are just a few ideas to get you started,

Happy Friday,

Kate x

Positive self talk, optimism and toxic positivity.

Friday Live 27th August 2021

Hey lovely human,

Positive self talk, optimism and toxic positivity.

I was looking at my daughters SEL (Social emotional Learning content) work with her this morning as she was completing a work assignments.  She was asked to come up with some positive statements to got with some hypothetical situations.  We were discussing that whilst positive statements were important to help combat reactive and overly negative reactions to things, it was important that we didn’t jump to making positive self statements (or to anyone else) without knowledge that having so called ‘negative’ emotions and reactions to things are actually ok too. 

We discussed that acknowledging that however we react is ok, but that having the power to choosing to stay in those situations or think differently is where we can really have control.  There can be a danger with trying to think ‘positively’ all of the time, or change our thoughts straight to more helpful ones before we’ve had our current emotions validated-whether this is by ourselves or by others.  And I think this is where the idea of ‘toxic positivity’ comes in.  Toxic positivity is when there can be the push to only accept ‘happy’ or ‘positive’ emotions.  The risk with this is that you demean any emotions that are not positive. And denying all kinds of emotions, or valuing some over others can lead to problems just has having too many low or hopeless feelings can.

So whilst learning about the power of positive thinking, I feel that finding a way to have balanced thoughts or recognise when our thinking is leading on a downward spiral is also important.  Just be mindful of temptation to discount uncomfortable emotions or minimise the importance of having  strong emotions, no matter what they be.  Then if we want to, we can try and find more balanced thinking, that allows us not to sit in a sad, stressed or depressed state.

Having developed this skill of checking in on our thinking to see if it is ‘helpful or unhelpful’ means that you are more able to have an optimistic outloook-(that you believe that things will turn out favourable), but it does not discount any one type of emotion, but is rather accepting of all and willing to work at creating ones that serve you the best.

To see more on this, click the link to watch on my You Tube Chanel:

Kate x

What should we say about anxiety with our kids and teens?

#FridayLive

When should we start talking about anxiety and what should kids know?

One of the most common things I’ve heard in my role as a psychologist from adults that are usually supporting their child with anxiety is that they think they had anxiety as a child too.  But that they either didn’t have any support with it, or really know that they had it until they were older.  Sometimes things needs to change for us to develop awareness of what has been happening.  Or that ability to reflect back on childhood moments with adult understanding for it to all make sense.

When I hear this I think about that child that was experiencing anxiety and not knowing what was going on with them, that they thought they were weird or different if they noticed other kids were not experiencing this as well, or they just thought everyone had this same experience but no one else seems to be worried about it.

Anxiety can be such a consuming and challenging condition if you experience it frequently and it is certainly not an enjoyable state to be in for long periods of time.  And we know from research that long term chronic anxiety can cause all kinds of changes to our bodies and minds.

Autistic children, teens and adults are more vulnerable to experience anxiety for a number of different hypothesised reasons.  But regardless of the why we can understand that triggers to that anxiety include sensory triggers and lack of social understanding.  For a child to not understand firstly that they have a different kind of brain that makes it more likely that they experience increased feelings of anxiety and why and how it happens only makes it more overwhelming for them.

Having information, having understanding allows us to at least name something and in doing that, contain it.  So although this top down approach is not enough on it’s own to help, it is part of what can be very useful for parents to have understanding about, so that conversations can be held with their children about it.  So what would be useful for kids to know about anxiety?

Firstly I think because anxiety feels so overwhelming it’s important to be able name what is happening to their bodies.  So learning words for the feeling and having a discussion about what this feels like for them individually.  Doing drawings, finding videos about it and reading books about it.

Acknowledge that although anxiety feels awful, it is a natural human function that has been designed to try and keep you safe in emergency situations.  Explore the natural biological and brain behaviour that happens when we feel anxiety.

Use books, videos to show that brains have an automatic response that triggers this anxiety response in order to get your body ready to run, fight or freeze.  And that in an emergency, your body will respond and do what it needs to keep it safe.

However when we have anxiety responses when we are not in emergency situations, but our bodies interpret that it is, this is where it can become problematic, confusing and debilitating.  This is when we need to understand what is triggering it, what can help to make us feel safer generally, but also what we can do to feel safer in the moment. 

So understanding our biology helps to normalise it, but learnings ways to calm our body down in the moment is also important. 

Thinking of making an anxiety plan, so that one can easily know what they will do if the begin to notice or experience anxiety.  So understanding what helps for their particular anxiety and being readily able to name it, and use a tool to help with is.  Some tools might include: things like distraction, mindful breathing, fidget toys, music and lots of other things can really help those anxious moments be less uncomfortable.  Having a plan, even if it doesn’t work each and every time, helps people and kids to be less afraid of anxiety as well.  Being able to know that anxious moments will pass and having a plan to get back to feeling calm and in charge is great feeling to be able to support your child with.

If uncertainty about a situation something that you or your child is experiencing at the moment, it is even more important to understand what we can do to help.  Having a way of feeling grounded, calm and safe when there is so much change and unpredictability is going to be very useful skills in these current times.

If you feel like you could use some support in understanding this more, or supporting your child with this, we cover this and more in Spectrum Steps.  August round of Spectrum Steps starts tomorrow morning and it’s not too late to join me.

Regulation, safety and sensory understanding for child behaviour

Hey Kate here,


So I think I chatted last time about the work from Mona Delahooke from her book Beyond Behaviours that I’ve been reading and I spoke about whether we look at a child’s behaviour from a bottom up or a top down approach. 

Now psychologist are particularly trained in the top down approach. Meaning they get lots of training in how to modify thinking skills.  But since I’ve been working in the area of autism for some time, my understanding about the sensory and regulatory systems has absolutely had to evolve beyond my earlier education and training.  And she talks about this as needing to be incorporated for a better way of understanding all children’s behaviour better.  She also talks about the importance of the sensory system and understanding when that system is being stressed and what behaviour might be communicated because of that. 

And while I feel that this is just common sense, that when we are well regulated and feel contained and secure, ‘misbehaviour’ or challenging behaviour is much less likely this is not necessarily an assumption in all settings. It’s clear to me that when a child or young person is uncertain, anxious, hyper vigilant, that is when we will see behaviour that is is described as problematic, inappropriate etc. So trying to teach, reward or skill up when that body and brain system is still being stressed is going to be largely ineffective. 

So I love that Mona is able to clearly articulating about this missing piece in the child psychology lens.  So if you are seeing behaviours of concern and you’ve been trying to educate, reason, instruct, reward etc to try and make a change, perhaps try a different tact. 

Think about whether they are able to regulate, think about their ability to engage with you, their ability to communicate easily back and forth and their ability to describe their difficulties. 

And do a good check on their sensory profile-are they avoiding or seeking input to try and regulate the self in some way.  If so, then attend to this and provide as much as support for this as possible.

By doing these things first-within the environment of a safe trusting space, you may see behavioural difficulties subside before (or instead of) a skill, behavioural plan approach is even required.


You can catch the full video here and I hope you will join me next Friday from my Kate French Facebook page.  If you’d like, to I welcome you to switch your notifications on so that you know when I’ve gone Live and you can join me and pop any questions you have into the chat.

Bottom up and top down approach to children’s behaviour.

Friday Live 30th July 2021

Hey lovely human,

Today on my Friday Livestream chatted about the idea of looking at children’s behaviour from a ‘bottom up’ approach first and then taking a top-down focus. This idea of structuring an approach comes from the book Beyond Behaviours by Mona Delahooke, Using Brian science and compassion to understand and solve children’s behavioural challenges.

What this means is that to understand the function of what we observe as ‘challenging’ or ‘problematic’ behaviour is firstly to look at whether all the developmental and sensory needs of the individual are being met first. Bottom up behaviours come from our reflexive parts of the brain and are not conscious in thought or planning. When children are dysregulating, they are often operating from this primitive part of the brain and are unable to help them by offering top-down solutions. Top-down solutions involve self awareness and learning to apply these to help regulate our bodies and minds. But successfully doing this should occur after attention has been given to what could be affecting regulation from a bottom up lens. So looking to see if developmental needs, body needs and sensory needs are being met first. For top down approaches to be effective the individual needs to be able to apply these to themselves to regulate. So it also involves learning about the connection between our mind and bodies-mindfulness awareness of this is a great place to start once we have completed bottom up interventions.

If you’d like to catch my brief video, click the video below.

Talk with you soon,

Kate x

Friday Live -Making the transition into school holidays

Hey Lovely Human,

This afternoon I chatted about moving into school holidays and the possible impact on families, routines and time spent. Holidays can be a great opportunity to connect with family more, step away from the hustle and bustle of commitments that usually fall during the school term.

It can also be a challenging time as usual structures and timetables are changed, which can create anxiety particularly for those children, teens and families where they thrive on routine and predictability. So I spoke about the importance of adapting and taking some time this weekend to work out a new school holiday routine that everyone is aware of, including limits on screens, opportunity for free play and pitching in with household helping.

I chatted also about the different needs that parents have to be aware of when they have children at different ages and how they will require different level of support and guidance as we make this transition. School holidays can also be a good reset if there have been challenges during the term, if getting to school has been difficult or stressful for your child.

So think about some activities you may be able to put into your holiday schedule where you really get to have some connection and quality time with your child or teen.

Also letting you know that I have Glimmer beginning 12th July for parents who are newer to learning about their child being identified neurodivergent or autistic. This parent coaching group runs over four weeks, with two hours of content and dissuasion each week, exploring all the things that are important in this early phase.

Thanks for watching and I will talk to you soon,

Kate x