Archive for June, 2013

The following is an article recently sent to me by a parent about stress. The stress we’re talking about is the parent’s stress, not the child’s. The article discusses findings from a study which explore the levels of stress in parents with children with special needs versus parents with typically developing children.
I post this with some hesitancy, because although this article provides a great topic for discussion, as well a giving many parents out there a sense of shared experience (“it’s not only me that feels this way”), it also points out the reality of how much more energy, both physically and psychologically, raising a child with special needs requires (and patience). I hope that this sparks conversation among parents. I’d love to see some responses to this piece on the blog.


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These are my go-to steps when working with a child/teen who is beginning to feel the tidal wave of anxiety coming over them. Apply your own scenario here. Keep in mind these basic steps and you will be more helpful to your child/teen during these trying times. Know that despite your best efforts, major spikes in anxiety happen and are often unforeseen and unavoidable (however, they can be less severe with a little help). Know that more than anything else, your child/teen will benefit from your ability to stay calm, remain supportive, and show patience. 


1) Awareness: Complete a thought record worksheet (specifically around recognizing and rating automatic negative thoughts and recognizing the body’s response to these negative thoughts). Pair thought record worksheet with completion of a cartoon if reason for anxiety spike is unclear (cartoon what happened leading up to panic…”we were walking from the car into the school, then you began to cry…something happened in between the car and the school…”). Link for how to cartoon (https://spectrumshare.com/2012/08/01/guest-post-storyboarding-with-dave-nelson-of-the-community-school/) (

Link to Thought record worksheet – http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/docs/ThoughtRecordSheet7.pdf

2) Regulate Body: Place your hand on your chest (over heart) and monitor the beats while taking slow, deep breaths (goal of recognizing the escalated HR and then slowing HR down). Hold breath in for 5 seconds and exhale slowly. Regulation can come from any action that physically settles the body and rebuilds a sense of rhythm (hand-in-hand running into jogging into walking with a parent, stair climbing while counting, tossing a bean bag back and forth singing “hot potato”, etc).Another great grounding exercise is called “SSS54321” (https://spectrumshare.com/2012/10/16/guided-grounding-exercise-bringing-your-child-back-into-the-present/)

3) Self-statement: ” I know this feeling…it’s anxiety… I’ve beaten it many times before. It’s okay to feel anxious about _________ (ex: new things). Remember the wall-ball tournament, baseball practice, and surgery at Randall’s (examples of challenges faced by other clients). I got through them all. I’ll get through this too. I just have to break it down into small manageable steps. I can take one step at a time.”

4) Regroup and Make a Plan (in a contained and less stimulating environment): If need be, walk outside…take a moment to use self statement, label exaggerated anxious thoughts (catastrophic thoughts – “everyone’s looking at me and thinking…”), heart beat regulation exercise with deep breaths, make a plan (step-by-step plan of how we’re going to get through the next 5 mins…30 mins…1 hour).

5) Be willing to leave: If truly not able to settle down and panic is not decreasing…leave and try again another time. When you (parent) push too hard, you slip into the realm of distrust (kid -“they won’t listen to me even when I’m feeling really unsafe”).

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A few weeks back I was out on a sunny Sunday morning with a few friends. We were sitting and watching a sports game at a small restaurant when all of the sudden a truck load of people came in. They we’re also there to watch the game.
What began as a leasurely time with plenty of space and barely any loud noises, quickly became an overwhelming environment for the senses. Within minutes, there were rows of people to my left, right, front and back. Even turning in my seat presented as a challenge.
I noticed my body become more tense and my mind begin working on an exit strategy (I remember going over the phrase “four big steps to the entrance” in my head). Being with a group, I didn’t want to ruin the fun. Thankfully, I decided to use the restroom.
After plowing through the crowd. I suddenly found myself in a quiet, dimly lit, and spacious place. I realized how valuable this space was for me in the moment. The bathroom gave me a chance to breath, look at my watch and see how much longer we would likely be at the restaurant, and check in with how and why I was suddenly feeling so overwhelmed. I began to laugh at myself for the level of relief I was getting from a place people traditionally do not look at as pleasent* (*I was lucky in this case to find a decent bathroom).

After I returned to the table, I wrote this blog post on my phone – thinking about how important the restroom could be as a break tool for those with sensory integration challenges and social-anxiety related issues.

After telling this story to a group of parents in my monthly support group, one parent shared that she and her daughter often utilize the restroom and “count the tiles” on the wall to regulate.

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I am happy to post a parent submission to the blog this week.


If parents are wondering how to bring ot home… This is one of the things we do. 10 jumps on the trampoline, then hop from pillow to pillow down the hall, and end with 100 pushes in the swing. I’ve learned to either do this, or cartoon(thanks to you) when she’s melting down. It does amazing things for our sensory kids. 🙂 The swing provides vestibular input, and proprioceptive input from the jumping. Tantrum over, followed by an hour of quiet play.




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