How do I tell my child they have ASD?

By Psychologist Emily Coen

In the second part of her “Should I tell my child with ASD about their diagnosis?” series, Emily Coen is back again. This time, for those of us who feel like we may be ready to share our child’s diagnosis Emily has some advice on how to go about it!

What should I say?

It is most important that you stay positive about Autism Spectrum Disorder. Everyone with an ASD diagnosis is completely unique and therefore it is important that each conversation is individualised to the child themselves. Everyone is different in their likes and dislikes, strengths and weaknesses, and personality. Differences should be discussed in a matter of fact manner, using concrete examples from the child and their peers. 

Most children will have a lot of questions, so start with minimal information, remembering that we can always continue the discussion as they learn more about themselves. There are some fabulous books you can read with your child such as:

  • Some brains:A Book celebrating Neurodiversity. Nelly Thomas
  • All My Stripes: A story for Children With Autism. Shaina Rudolph and Danielle Royer
  • Different like Me My book of Autism Heroes. Jennifer Elder and  Marc Simon Thomas
  • My Brother Charlie. Holly Robinson Peete

Some families find it easier to have a professional begin the conversation with the child, allowing the family members to play a supportive role. The professional can also gauge the child’s reaction, and provide further tips to the parents to best support the child. 

If you do wish for one of our fabulous psychologists to assist you with this conversation, please do not hesitate to give reception a call and book an appointment today. 

Emily is a registered psychologist with a Master of Professional Psychology. Emily has experience working with children, adolescents and their families across home, clinic, and educational settings. Emily has a special interest in working with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disorders, anxiety, behaviour management, and emotion regulation difficulties. Emily is passionate about working with children and their families in a flexible and creative manner, to best support their goals. Previously, Emily has worked as an ABA therapist and supervisor, allowing her to develop strong relationships with children and their support networks.
Emily works predominantly within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy frameworks. Emily is an accredited Tuning into Kids facilitator and Cool Kids Anxiety Program facilitator. 
Outside of work, Emily enjoys spending time with her family, reading a good book, playing netball, and cheering on the Geelong Cats.

Should I tell my child about their ASD diagnosis?

By Psychologist Emily Coen

Here in the clinic, we come across this question all the time. Should I tell my child about their diagnosis? When is the right time to tell my child? What resources should I have ready for them? 

Many parents feel anxious around informing their child of their ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) diagnosis, for fear that it will give them a label that might make the child feel different from others. Parents often go through a range of emotions when their child is given a diagnosis – grief, relief, acceptance, and many more. And of course each parent’s emotional experience is unique. You may fear that your child will not understand, that your child may become angry that they have a diagnosis, or you may fear that the child will view themselves differently overall. Our hope is that after your child receives their diagnosis, you as the parents are provided with the necessary support to be able to understand the diagnosis and to advocate for and assist your child, in the best way possible. 

Are there any benefits to sharing the ASD diagnosis with my child?

We think so! First and foremost, children need to be able to have an understanding of themselves and their needs so that over time, they can learn to advocate for themselves. 

Children with an autism spectrum diagnosis should also have the chance to understand, accept and appreciate their uniqueness, which can occur once they learn of their diagnosis. Quite often, we find that understanding the label also leads to a sense of belonging, and knowing that there are other children out there who are similar to them and really “get” them.

Particularly for older children who have better insight, knowledge of their ASD diagnosis can also build a stronger sense of self-esteem. This is because some young people are often already aware that they experience some areas of difficulty compared to many of their peers, such as socialising or tolerating change. Knowing about their diagnosis often provides them with an explanation of WHY they have these challenges. It can provide relief for them to know that it is the ASD and not simply a lack of effort that cause these challenges.

So when do I tell my child?

Unfortunately, there is no magic age when it is best to tell a child about their diagnosis. This will be completely dependent on the child.

As with all children, their personality, abilities and social awareness are important factors to consider when determining when a child is ready to learn about their diagnosis. In the clinic, I often hear questions such as “why do I come to see you?”, “why is it so hard for me to make friends?” and “why can’t I be like everyone else?” These questions are a good indication that your child is ready to learn about their diagnosis. 

For info about HOW to tell your child, read Part Two of Emily’s article in the next blog post!

Emily is a registered psychologist with a Master of Professional Psychology. Emily has experience working with children, adolescents and their families across home, clinic, and educational settings. Emily has a special interest in working with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disorders, anxiety, behaviour management, and emotion regulation difficulties. Emily is passionate about working with children and their families in a flexible and creative manner, to best support their goals. Previously, Emily has worked as an ABA therapist and supervisor, allowing her to develop strong relationships with children and their support networks.
Emily works predominantly within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy frameworks. Emily is an accredited Tuning into Kids facilitator and Cool Kids Anxiety Program facilitator. 
Outside of work, Emily enjoys spending time with her family, reading a good book, playing netball, and cheering on the Geelong Cats.

Should my pre-schooler start school or wait?

By Psychologist Madeline Sibbing

Jump on any Facebook parenting forum, type in the key words “prep” or “what age to start school” and no doubt you will be inundated with pages and pages of posts, conversations and opinions on this very topic. When faced with so much information, it can feel quite overwhelming and sometimes complicate your decision-making process even more than before!

So with that in mind, here are some of our top tips to help you formulate your decision. This advice is based on our experience as paediatric psychologists and decades of collective experience working with young children. 

Listen to your kindergarten teachers

It is around this time of year that parent-teacher interviews are held, with the specific aim of identifying whether your child appears ready to start school next year. You know your child best of course, but kindergarten teachers also have a great grasp of the range of typical development, and the particular skills required for school readiness. So use their expertise and bounce your thoughts and ideas off them! 

Try and ignore sweeping generalisations

These might be “boys are less mature so should always wait an extra year” or “shy girls won’t cope in the school environment”. Hearing these types of comments can make us question our gut instincts, but are rarely helpful. Your child is unique and stereotypes like that should not apply! 

Speaking of ‘gut instincts’…..

……this is the time to trust them. As a parent of two children, both of whom have birthdays after January, I was faced with this tough decision twice. And I chose to send one child at 4 years and keep the other one back until they were 5. Why? Because my partner and I just felt, in our gut, that one of them needed that extra year and one just didn’t. Both kids have absolutely thrived in their own way. 

Think about the end-game.

The decision you make now will also impact your child when they start secondary school in Year 7, as well as when they come to completing Year 12.  Keep in mind the impact of your decision at those key developmental milestones as well as just entry into primary school. 

Be specific about the skills you want them to have before starting school.

Think carefully about WHY you are leaning towards your decision. Is it that you feel your bright child is very bored and acting up, so would benefit from the stimulation of the primary school environment? Or is your bright child still struggling to develop their emotional regulation and social skills and would benefit from another year in pre-school to do this?  Again, this is where kinder teachers can be super helpful.  Speak to them about what you observe at home and what they see at kinder – and, if needed, seek their advice on strategies you can use to help your child develop the required skills. 

My final piece of advice is simply this: no decision is written in stone. Yes of course we want to get it right the first time, but if things don’t go to plan, there are a multitude of school staff, pre-school teachers, psychologists and other therapists who can help you forge a different pathway.

Madeline Sibbing is a Principal Psychologist at the Northern and Hawthorn Centre for Child Development. Madeline holds a Master of Educational and Developmental Psychology from Monash University. Her sixteen years of professional experience has been attained within government and independent schools in assessment, therapeutic interventions and consultation with children, adolescents, parents and teachers. She also developed primary prevention programs, mental health awareness activities and teacher training in a secondary college. Madeline spent several years working as an Educational Psychologist in London, UK, as a Chartered member of the British Psychological Society. She is a registered supervisor with the Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency, supervising Masters of Psychology candidates and newly-registered Psychologists.
Consistently described as an engaging, down-to-earth and knowledgeable therapist, Madeline obtains enormous joy from working with children and young people… as often evidenced by the sounds of laughter and silliness emanating from her therapy room.

4 simple strategies to help kids with anxiety

By Psychologist, Judy McKay

All children experience worries, fears and anxiety to some degree. In fact, some anxiety is shown to be helpful (e.g., protecting us from danger, kickstarting us to study, practice and perform under pressure or to prepare for important events). However, when a child’s worries become persistent, when they start to affect daily functioning and prevent them from doing the things that they enjoy, we might start to have some concerns. Research suggests that anxiety disorders affect between 6-7% of children and adolescents. Below are some simple ways to help children manage their anxiety, by: noticing, normalising and talking about anxiety with them.

  1. Noticing physical and emotional changes – Things like somatic complaints, changes in confidence, sleep difficulties, appetite changes, more attached to parents and overthinking. 
  2. Labeling and acknowledging their anxiety – For example  “that feeling you are describing sounds a little bit like something called anxiety and I completely understand why you might be feeling worried and nervous right now”. 
  3. Normalise what they are feeling – For example “this reminds me of a time when I felt worried (I was ….) (I felt…)”. 
  4. Providing recognition for conquering fears – Noticing when they were really nervous and worried about something but they overcame it and did it anyway. 

So if your kiddo seems a bit anxious in recent times, try these four simple steps to start them on the road to identifying and challenging their anxious feelings!

References: Creative Ways to Help Children Manage Anxiety – By Dr Fiona Zandt and Dr Suzanne Barrett. 

Judy is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Judy has experience working with young people, their families and extended support networks across educational, clinical and community-based settings. Judy enjoys working creatively and flexibly with children and adolescents to explore their difficult emotions and experiences.
Outside of work, Judy loves spending time at the beach or in the countryside. She further enjoys playing social sports and prioritises spending time with friends and family.

Our fave parenting podcasts

By Judy McKay, Psychologist

We know that many of our CCD parents are juggling their own work, getting their kids to school and to various appointments all in the same day. Given this, finding the time to upskill in child development and parenting skills may not always seem feasible. So here are some recommended parenting podcasts that you can listen to on the go. They each contain short, informative and professional informed advice that you can soak up during the school run!

Parental as Anything – Maggie Dent

Maggie Dent is an Australian parenting author and educator. She’s an advocate for kids and parents alike and embodies a common-sense approach to parenting. In her podcast, she talks to parenting experts and gives you practical tips and answers to your real-world parenting dilemmas. 

A Different Brilliant – Orion Kelly

Orion Kelly combines his lived experience and expert advice to highlight the strengths, interests and aspirations of the autistic community. This podcast is made for autistic adults and parents of kids on the autism spectrum. 

Happy Families – Dr Justin Coulson

A podcast for parents who want all the answers but don’t have any time! In each short, easily digestible episode Dr Justin and his wife Kylie will address a specific family topic, offer expert advice and provide simple parenting strategies. 

Ask Lisa: The Psychology of Parenting – Dr. Lisa Damour Raising kids can be a bumpy, stressful and uncertain process which is why Lisa’s podcast brings her sane, informed, and practical perspective to your timely and timeless parenting questions. USA based.

Listenable – Dylan Alcott and Angus O’Loughlin

In their podcast, Dylan and Angus speak to people living with disabilities about their lives to educate and break down the stigma associated with disability. This podcast is targeted more towards adults, however the following episodes are recommended:

#4 – Prue Stevenson – Living with autism

#14 – Too Peas in a Podcast

Judy is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Judy has experience working with young people, their families and extended support networks across educational, clinical and community-based settings. Judy enjoys working creatively and flexibly with children and adolescents to explore their difficult emotions and experiences.
Outside of work, Judy loves spending time at the beach or in the countryside. She further enjoys playing social sports and prioritises spending time with friends and family.

Why making time for YOU matters!

By Laura Moresi, Psychologist

At the centre we work with parents that are ready to do whatever it takes to ensure the best for their children. But, when the subject of parent self-care is raised this is often dismissed as unnecessary, not the current focus and sometimes even selfish. We know raising children is an incredibly important job, but looking after yourself helps you do the job well and allows you to give your children what they need to grow and thrive. 

It is all too common to see a self-care post on popular social media sites that highlights the need to ‘treat yourself’ with bubble baths, long walks on the beach or bingeing the latest Netflix series. While these activities are important and can leave you feeling great, they are not reflective of true self-care and can often leave parents feeling that self-care practices are frivolous and/or selfish. 

True self-care is a broad concept focused on improving your physical and emotional wellbeing and involves any action you do to improve your health. Self-care tends to fall under the following six categories:

  • Physical
  • Psychological
  • Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Social
  • Professional

When discussing self-care with families at our practice, the focus is often on practices that fall under these categories and support them in maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Examples of self-care that may not be as readily posted about can include staying active, eating balanced meals, getting as much rest as you can and prioritising tasks to manage your stress levels. 

A further reason to prioritise your self-care is that self-care and mental health are strongly connected. When parents do not make their self-care a priority we can observe increased signs of stress and burnout. Parents can manage stress by using routines, staying connected to others and making time for themselves. Even a few minutes alone for a cup of tea or some breathing exercises can help bring your stress levels down. If feelings of stress continue, parents can also access their own mental health support.

Parents are often so focused on caring for their children that they do not always take time for themselves. But when you take time to care for yourself every day, you are looking out for your loved ones. And, as some might say, you’re giving them the best of you rather than what’s left of you.

References:

Raising Children’s Network

Waterford.org

Laura Moresi is a psychologist completing the Educational and Developmental registrar program. Laura is passionate about working collaboratively with families and other professionals to support children and adolescents to reach their best potential. Laura has experience working with a variety of development and mental health concerns.

3 top tips to help kids do things for themselves

Psychologist, Judy McKay

How do children learn to become independent and contribute to the household? The key is to start early, by building independence while they are young and harnessing that enthusiasm that young children have to “help” or “do it myself!” If you’re having trouble letting them step up, or unsure of how to go about it, here are three top tips to get you started!

  1. Give them choice – Kids love feeling in control of their decisions. Providing them with 2 options instead of telling them what they need to do can be a simple and effective strategy to build autonomy. It can also be useful when encouraging your child to do something they don’t want to do (e.g., You need to have a bath and eat your dinner so which would you prefer to do first?). 
  1. Develop their sense of responsibility –  Allocate them a special job or role within the family system (e.g., Feeding the dog, unpacking the dishwasher or watering the pot plants). Encourage them by praising their efforts. You could also track their success with a star chart with a reward they are working towards.
3.  Encourage Exploration - Once you feel that your child has developed a sense of safety and security (i.e., they have a safe and protected place to return to if they venture too far),  it’s time to let them explore their surroundings and to test their limits outside the safety net you can provide. Show confidence in your child’s abilities and let them know you think they can do it! 

Judy is a registered psychologist with a Master’s degree in Educational and Developmental Psychology. Judy has experience working with young people, their families and extended support networks across educational, clinical and community-based settings. Judy enjoys working creatively and flexibly with children and adolescents to explore their difficult emotions and experiences. In the past, Judy has supported young people experiencing a range of neuro-developmental disorders, anxiety, trauma, social skill and emotional regulation difficulties. Judy values the individual needs of each client and attempts to incorporate their personal interests, strengths and goals throughout therapy. Judy utilises a client-centred approach to her therapy which is grounded in cognitive-behaviour therapy and other evidenced-based techniques.

Outside of work, Judy loves spending time at the beach or in the countryside. She further enjoys playing social sports and prioritises spending time with friends and family.

Discipline and ADHD – can the two go together?

Psychologist, Emily Coen

Before parents with kids with ADHD stress out…..the answer is YES! Of course kids with ADHD can also respond to discipline and boundaries! They just may need a slightly different set of strategies that really fit their needs. Kids with ADHD may have difficulty sitting still, completing tasks, managing impulses, and following directions. The strategies below can be helpful in assisting your child with ADHD to follow the rules.

  1. Set limits: 
  • Be firm, fair and consistent. 
  • Start by establishing just a few specific rules, expectations and consequences for their behaviours.  
  • Follow through is important as children are great at identifying “soft spots” and learn how to get their own way.
  1. Release energy:
  • Children with ADHD often have excess energy. Allow your child to release this in an appropriate manner. Activities include trips to the playground, heavy work activities such as lifting and pushing, jumping on the trampoline, sensory games, or structured activities such as sports. 
  1. Managing attention problems: 
  • Establish a habit of working in short uninterrupted blocks of time to maintain attention and focus. 
  • Assist your child to stay on task by using visual reminders of tasks they need to complete. 
  • Give effective instructions. Start by gaining full attention, and avoid multiple step instructions with complicated language. Keep instructions and give one step at a time.
  1. Managing impulsivity. 
  • Come up with a private signal to remind your child it’s time to try and settle down. For example, use a hand as a stop sign to cue to the child to stop, breathe and think. 
  • Teach your child to go to a quiet spot to calm down when they are overstimulated or frustrated. Create a comfortable area and calmly guide the child there, not as punishment, but as a way to soothe themselves. They might need you to sit with them and help them regulate, this is OK! We call this “time in” with an adult who can support them, rather than the old-fashioned term of “time out” which is more of a punishment.
  • When talking to your child, bend down to their level and calmly explain their actions and consequences to their actions. 
  1. Praise 
  • Be proactive! Catch your child when they are displaying positive behaviours and praise them for it. Praising motivated children about what behaviours we are looking for, and providing frequent feedback, are really important.  
  • Establish a reward system for when your child is engaging in positive behaviours. 

6. Attention

  • Give your child 10 minutes of undivided attention. Learn about your child’s interests, their day at school, their friends. Check in on their feelings and allow them to ask questions. Giving your child attention in a proactive way can reduce attention-seeking behaviours.
  • If you’re finding it hard to fit this in, schedule it! Plan ahead, such as walking home from school once a week and chatting to your child on the way; or stopping for a milkshake before their after-school sports. It doesn’t matter how, where or when you do it – just plan it in!

Things to remember:

  • Stay calm. If you are angry or upset, do not deal with the situation on the spot. Or tag team with a partner or another family member who may be in a calmer state than you are! When you are calm, you are more able to communicate effectively with your child.
  • Do not take your child’s actions personally. It’s not about you! All kids struggle at times to regulate their emotions and behaviour, and it can sometimes be even harder for our kiddos with ADHD. Try and keep this in mind when your child pushes your buttons and remember: kids generally want to do the right thing, it’s just sometimes hard! (Just like it can be hard for all of us sometimes!)
Emily is a registered psychologist with a Master of Professional Psychology. Emily has experience working with children, adolescents and their families across home, clinic, and educational settings. Emily has a special interest in working with autism spectrum disorder, developmental disorders, anxiety, behaviour management, and emotion regulation difficulties. Emily is passionate about working with children and their families in a flexible and creative manner, to best support their goals. Previously, Emily has worked as an ABA therapist and supervisor, allowing her to develop strong relationships with children and their support networks.
Emily works predominantly within the Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy frameworks. Emily is an accredited Tuning into Kids facilitator and Cool Kids Anxiety Program facilitator. 
Outside of work, Emily enjoys spending time with her family, reading a good book, playing netball, and cheering on the Geelong Cats.

How can I help my child cope with starting school?

Last week we covered emotional readiness, what it looks like and how to develop it. But what can we do as parents before school starts to help our children cope with the transition? 

Prior to school commencing, it can be helpful to assist your child in establishing expectations around what school will look like, discuss their emotions around starting school and develop effective coping strategies that they can use to manage strong emotions. 

To assist in establishing expectations, you can prepare your child for what school might be like by talking about what is going to happen at school, explaining the new routine, driving past the school, taking tours of the school, completing practice runs of the first day or reading books about other people’s experiences of starting school. When discussing emotions around starting school, it is important to provide space for your child to explore the feelings they are having in relation to this transition. Young children may experience difficulty putting their feelings into words, so it may be helpful to draw or play out how they are feeling about the first day of school. To develop effective coping strategies, it is important to teach skills that your child can use when they are feeling calm before trialing these out during a strong emotion. Examples of effective coping strategies include positive self-talk, breathing exercises, getting a drink of water, asking for help or labelling an emotion. 

As parents, it is really important to think about how you are feeling about your child starting school and the emotions and reactions you are showing to them. Children will look to you to determine how safe a situation is, so even if you are not feeling it, showing enthusiasm and excitement communicates to your child that the transition to school is exciting and something that they can cope with.

If you have been through all these strategies and are still unsure about whether your child is ready for school, there are several people who can help.  Your child’s kindergarten teacher is a great source of information and will be able to give tailored advice specific to your child.  Alternatively, you can always book a session with one of our paediatric Psychologists to explore your child’s needs and make a plan that works for you and your child. 

Laura Moresi is a psychologist completing the Educational and Developmental registrar program. Laura is passionate about working collaboratively with families and other professionals to support children and adolescents to reach their best potential. Laura has experience working with a variety of development and mental health concerns.

Is my child emotionally ready for school?

Starting school involves a big change for your child, and as such it is normal for children to experience strong feelings as they begin to think about and prepare for this change. Just like with other new experiences, the transition to school can bring a wide range of emotions. Your child may experience feelings of excitement at the prospect of going to school,  nervousness about what lies ahead, or anger and sadness around the thought of leaving kindergarten and losing close relationships formed with teachers and peers. Understanding and helping your child label and respond to these feelings will not only help reduce their stress as they prepare for the transition, but also provide them with effective coping tools that will help support a positive start to school. 

What Does Emotional Readiness Actually Mean?

When talking about emotional skills in preparation for school transition, we are looking at a child’s ability to recognise, label, understand and manage a wide range of emotions; self-regulate and cope when they have to do something that they do not want or when things do not go according to plan; and show resilience or the ability to ‘bounce back’ following challenges.

Self-regulation refers to a child’s ability to understand and manage their behaviour and reactions to feelings and the demands of various situations. A child with well developed self-regulation abilities should be able to:

  • Limit highly emotional reactions to various situations, such as calming themselves down when frustrated or excited
  • Adjust to changes in expectations or routine
  • Focus on a task or shift focus to a new task
  • Control impulses

Self-regulation is an important skill for starting school as it can impact a child’s ability to learn, socialise, be independent and cope with big feelings. Children that typically feel things strongly and intensely will generally find it more difficult to self-regulate than children who are more easygoing and will likely require additional support to develop these skills. 

How Can You Support Emotional Readiness?

The best way to assist children in learning to self-regulate is to provide support when they need it. Some ways that you can do this include:

  • Talking regularly about emotions with your child and normalising that it is okay to have these feelings
  • Assist your child to regulate and encourage them to name the feeling and cause when they are experiencing a strong emotion
  • Support your child to develop effective coping strategies, such as deep belly breathing or positive self talk, to manage strong emotions
  • Provide specific praise to your child when they demonstrate appropriate self-regulation skills while managing tricky situations
  • Model effective self-regulation to your child through providing an age-appropriate dialogue when you experience an emotion (i.e., I am feeling frustrated that I have so much work to do, I;m going to get a drink of water and take some deep breaths to feel calm before I start working on this again)

Above all, remember to be patient. It can be really hard for young children to cope when they are experiencing strong emotions and developing these skills takes lots of practice and praise.

Laura Moresi is a psychologist completing the Educational and Developmental registrar program. Laura is passionate about working collaboratively with families and other professionals to support children and adolescents to reach their best potential. Laura has experience working with a variety of development and mental health concerns.