Taking Care of The Carers

Being a special needs parent isn’t easy. No one prepares you for it. While your friends are off living their typical lives with their typical children, it can feel quite isolated and lonely. But you are not alone. There is a whole army of special needs parents and carers out there. We’re all in this together! Recently, we held a webinar about how to take care of ourselves as the carer and below are some of the best strategies and links we discussed.

Mind. uk has some great advice for carers:

“When you spend a lot of your time focusing on someone else, you may feel as if you have
no time for yourself. But looking after your own wellbeing is important for you and for
them.
We have listed some self-care ideas that others have said they find helpful. Even trying
one small thing might help you feel more able to cope.

Share how you feel


It’s important to have someone to talk to, especially if you’re struggling to cope. You
could:
• share your feelings with someone you trust, such as a family member, friend or
neighbour
• join a support group for carers
• contact the Carers UK helpline
• talk to others on the Carers UK forum
• talk to someone through online mental health tools.
Not all of these options may feel right for you. Or you might feel like you have nobody to
share your feelings with. If you are feeling isolated or alone, our pages on coping with
loneliness offer more information.


“Try to find someone you can be honest with about your feelings, without
judgement.”

Try to be realistic


If you take too much on, you may feel as if you never achieve anything. Try to get a clear
idea about what you can do. By accepting the things that you can’t change or do alone,
you may feel more able to cope. You could try identifying and writing down:
• a list of all the support needs of the person you are caring for
• what you can do and what you’ll need help with
• how you’ll know when you need a break.


“Respite is possible – and necessary. You can’t give your all as a carer – you
just can’t. You have to save a bit of yourself just for you.”

Take a break and make time for yourself


Try and take a break, especially if you’re worried about your own mental health. You may
not be able to take a break whenever you need one, but it’s important to have some
time that’s yours.
You may need an hour or two to clear your head, or a day to help you feel more rested.
You could go out, have a nap or turn your phone off for an agreed period of time. Try to
make time for things you enjoy.


“I love running and being able to get out for half an hour each evening
allowed me to clear my head and relax.”

Look after your physical health


It’s important to try and make time to look after your physical health as best you can.
• Try and eat as healthily as you can and do some kind of regular physical activity.
See our pages on food and mood and physical activity for ideas you can fit into a
busy daily routine.
• Try to get enough sleep, as a lack of sleep can make it harder to cope with
everyday challenges. It can also make stress and depression worse. For more
information, see our pages on sleep and mental health.
• Use relaxation techniques, as these can help your mind and body feel more
rested. You need just a few minutes a day to do most of these exercises. For
more information, see our pages on relaxation.


“I have come up with my own saying, which is ‘you have to make your own
normal’. Your life changes so much as a carer and you have to make a new

life for yourself. You do not want to feel excluded from life, so you make
your own normal.”

Parents with chronic illness

A lot of parents of children with special needs are also coping with health problems of their own. Many of the parents we speak to each week are struggling with fatigue, anxiety, fibromyalgia, migraines or CFS. One thing that can help is to make sure we are taking care of ourselves physically. Here is a list of supplements that can help support carers physically and mentally.

Sleep

Restorative sleep is so important, both as a carer and as someone with a chronic illness. Have a look at our blog post about sleep solutions and get started on the passionfruit tea!

Migraines, Fatigue and Chronic Pain

Supplements to help with migraines, fatigue and chronic pain include a combination of Riboflavin (Vitamin B2), Co Enzyme Q10, and magnesium. My neurologist (who specialises in migraines), recommends 200mg riboflavin, 300mg Co Enzyme Q10 and 300mg magnesium each day. Please be sure to check with your GP or primary care physician first though!

Hormonal Imbalances

Hormonal imbalances are really tricky to deal with. It can be hard to get a referral to endocrinology and access the help we need. This tool by Dr Tassone (an OB/GYN and specialist in women’s endocrine issues) helps to pinpoint the areas of the endocrine system which need support. He then recommends a variety of diet, lifestyle and supplements for each Hormone Archetype.

You’re not in this alone. If you are struggling with being a carer and taking care of your own health, please get in touch with Carers Trust or visit Mind UK

They can put you in touch with local support groups, online carer forums, and grant providers; as well as providing lots of resources and strategies to help you manage.

How can we reduce problems with sleep?

Many children (and parents) struggle with establishing a regular, healthy sleep routine. This is especially true when our children have additional needs because they often have dysregulations in their neurotransmitter levels or are particularly sensitive to external stimuli. They may also be affected by circadian rhythm disorders or be genetically predisposed to certain sleep issues.

We’re going to consider the main ways we can help our children get in to a regular sleeping pattern and to make sure they are getting good quality, restorative sleep.

Environmental Factors

Behavioural Solutions

Natural & Herbal Sleep Solutions

Melatonin

Melatonin is one of the things I’m most asked about by sleep-deprived parents. Some consultants will prescribe liquid or tablet melatonin supplements. Some parents choose to order if over the internet from place such as Biovea, but others prefer to try to increase the melatonin levels naturally. Here are some of the best way to do so, according to Our Paleo Life:

There are many things one can do to naturally increase melatonin levels without supplements. The biggest one has to do with lights.

1. Take A Break From Technology

The best way to repair your circadian rhythm, experts say, is to stop using technology for a prolonged period of time. One week was found to be the perfect amount of time to normalize sleeping patterns for a group of participants who were asked to go camping for a week.

You can try to not touch any technology at home for a week but let’s face it, in today’s world it is nearly impossible to avoid technology at home. Even if you don’t want to watch TV, your spouse or your children might and that’ll tempt you to watch too.

The best solution is to plan a getaway for the whole family and turn off all the technology. If you must use it, designate only one or two hours in the middle of the day for it. Plus, leaving technology behind is a great way for the family to bond face to face.

2. Start Dimming Lights Early

Most people make the mistake of thinking melatonin starts when they turn off the lights to go to sleep, but this is not true. Melatonin levels increase when your body starts to sense there is less light.

What you can do to aid this process is by dimming the lights in your house and bedroom earlier. At least one hour before bedtime, start to turn off the lights in the house that you do not need and only leave on the ones that are crucial.

If you only have one light in your bedroom, consider getting a desk lamp or installing a light

dimmer so you can control the amount of light you can have in your room. By reducing the intensity of the light in your house way before bedtime, you’ll be signaling to your body to get ready for bed and this should help the chemicals going.

3. Reduce Exposure to Blue Lights Before Bed Time

We’re all guilty of this. Scrolling through our phones before bedtime but this is probably one of the worst sleeping habits anyone can have. The blue light emitted from your phone screen is distinctly harmful to melatonin production.

It’s not easy to put away the phone though, we know. What we suggest is for you keep the phone outside of your bedroom. Leave it charging in the kitchen or in the living room and let your friends and family know that you are trying to reduce phone usage before bedtime so they don’t call unless it’s an emergency.

Also: pro tip – blue blocking glasses at night. Check out Amazon for a bunch of options.

4. Cut Back on Social Media

Similar to point number three, social media is one of the reasons why many people are addictedto their cell phones and computers. If you find yourself scrolling through social media for hours before bedtime, stop.

5. Eat A Healthy Diet

While this seems like a generic piece of advice, a healthy diet is crucial to better sleep. In fact, did you know all plants have a certain amount of melatonin in them? That’s because plants, like us, also rely on light to grow.

Foods that have a high amount of naturally occurring melatonin are:

  • Tart cherries
  • Asparagus
  • Tomatoes
  • Sweet potato
  • Pomegranate
  • Olives
  • Nuts and seeds

Foods that are rich in tryptophan, magnesium, calcium, and B6 are also known to promote sleepiness.

6. Increase Relaxation

Another way to induce sleepiness at night is to increase relaxation and this could mean different things for different people. For example, music might relax one person but might stimulate another.

Here’s some ideas:

  • Take a bath
  • Essential oil diffuser
  • Play soothing music
  • Use a sound machine that plays white noise
  • Drink non-caffeinated herbal tea
  • Stretch
  • Search, Ponder and Pray

Anxiety & sleep

The last point on that list is very important for our children. Many of them struggle with anxiety and/or depression. Being able to process their emotions and anxieties can have a dramatic affect on the quality of their sleep.

The Therapist’s Aid website has some great worksheets, so does Twinkl.

Have a look at our previous post about anxiety workbooks and worry eaters if you feel anxiety is an issue for your child or young person.

Do you have any sleep management tips you’d like to share with other parents? Let us know in the comments!

P x

What is Dyspraxia? And how to help children with dyspraxia

Dyspraxia used to be known as ‘Clumsy Child Syndrome’ and it some countries it is referred to as ‘Developmental Coordination Disorder’. The signs that a child is struggling with dyspraxia can be seen in various aspects of their behaviour and motor control.

There are three recognized types of dyspraxia: verbal, oral and motor.

Verbal dyspraxia refers to difficulty in producing clear and understandable speech; oral dyspraxia refers to difficulty in controlling the vocal tract ( lips, tongue, palate, larynx) in the absence of speech, and motor dyspraxia refers to difficulties with gross and fine motor skills.

So what causes dyspraxia?

For the majority of cases, there is no known direct cause for dyspraxia. However, it has been noted that it is a common comorbidity in people who have ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder) or a family history of dyspraxia.

What is very intersting is that brain scans can now show the different areas of the brain that light up when a person with dyspraxia performs the same action as someone without dyspraxia.

According to the American Academy of Peadiatrics, children with dyspraxia showed greater activation in the areas of the brain that are to do with visuospatial processing, whereas children without dyspraxia relied more on areas to do with spatial processing, motor control, and error processing.

Brain Activation of Children With Developmental Coordination Disorder is Different Than Peers

Author: Jill G. Zwicker, Cheryl Missiuna, Susan R. Harris, Lara A. Boyd

Publication: Pediatrics

Publisher: American Academy of Pediatrics

Date: Sep 1, 2010

Copyright © 2010, Copyright © 2010 by the American Academy of Pediatrics

But what does that mean for my child?

It means that there will be some things they will find tricky, or certain actions may take a lot more practice for them to master. eg. doing up a tie for school, tying their laces. But it has been seen that children with dyspraxia tend to have very good visuospatial processing, and can be creative, hard-working problems solvers; they’ve had to learn to think outside the box and this can lend itself to their becoming unique and empathetic thinkers.

Who diagnoses dyspraxia?

If you are based in the UK, then usually your GP, SENCO or health visitor will refer you to another healthcare professional for the assessment. This could be a pediatric occupational therapist, a physiotherapist, a pediatrician or an education psychologist. They will refer to the diagnostic criteria in the DSM-5 and ICD11 in order to make an official diagnosis.

How can I help my child?

These are some of the most effective ways of helping a child with dyspraxia:

  1. Encourage individual sports rather than team sports. They may feel clumsy and awkward when playing team sports and this can affect their confidence. But it’s still very important for our children to be healthy. Therefore, encouraging team sports such as swimming or Pilates can help to improve their tone and coordination.
  2. Teach one-to-one or in small groups so we can see the areas of difficulty the child has and we can tailor our approach to them.
  3. ‘How To Use’ labels on machines such as the dishwasher or washing machine. Children with dyspraxia often struggle to organize their thoughts and may get muddled up with processes.
  4. Self-esteem work. Many children with dyspraxia have low self-esteem and feel they are the ‘odd one out’. Cater to their strengths and celebrate their achievements. Just because someone has dyspraxia doesn’t mean they are stupid or incapable: it just means the messages aren’t getting from the brain to their muscles in the way they would like.
  5. Orienteering practice. Children with dyspraxia tend to have a bad sense of direction and may get overwhelmed especially when they have to learn a new route or routine. Help them by practicing it over and over again. As they get older, send them out with Google maps and a local destination- they will learn to strengthen their orienteering skills and sense of direction.
  6. Emotional expression. Due to the fact that their body sometimes won’t do what they want it to, children with dyspraxia can get really frustrated with themselves. Make sure they have an outlet for their emotions, such as a journal, sketchbook or other emotional literacy resources.
  7. Good diet, sleep and exercise. As we saw in the article on ADHD, neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers in our brain) need a good balance of vitamins and minerals in order to function correctly and to be balanced. Have a look here for a more in-depth discussion of the role of diet and neurophysiology.
  8. Task-oriented approach. This is used by occupational therapists to help children improve a specific task such as eating with cutlery (Caring cutlery helps too!), climbing stairs or tying shoes. A task-oriented approach has been found to be very effective for children with dyspraxia.
  9. Process-oriented approach. This approach is slightly different in that it encourages the all-round development of the child’s gross motor skills, which in turn leads to improvements in other areas.
  10. Prioritise. Figure out what the priority is for you and your child, then work on that. Whether it be table manners, hand writing, football practice, riding a bike…find what’s going to make the most difference to you and your child and start there. Don’t get overwhelmed with goals and tasks; just one goal at a time.

What about coordination?

Well, one of things a child with dyspraxia will struggle with, is being able to coordinate their actions and do more than one thing at a time. eg. they may struggle to hold a jar of peanut butter still while they turn the lid. There are lots of day-to-day activities that can be incorporated into their daily routine at home and can help build their confidence in coordinated actions and also build up ‘muscle memory’.

What about handwriting?

This is by far the most common question I am asked about dyspraxia. “How can I help my child to improve their handwriting? I can’t understand what they’ve written, what should I do?” Here are some tips that may help:

Start off with warm up exercises and pencil control skills, practice other fine motor skills which will strengthen the muscles and coordination in the hands and wrists. Get them to write about things they like, and in a manner that they find comfortable. Speak to the school SENCO about extra time in exams and also about the possibility of a ‘scribe’; a member of staff who can write down their answers to questions but in a far more legible manner.

There’s some videos of the warm-up exercises to follow shortly!

And over to you…

Do you or your child have dyspraxia? What techniques and strategies have helped you? I’d love to hear in the comments.

P x

Helpful Links:

Dyspraxia Foundation

Medical News Today article re: dyspraxia

NHS UK

British Dyslexia Society, post about dyspraxia

Patient. Info article about dyspraxia

Questions parents ask…about ADHD

In this series of articles, we will discuss some of the most common questions parents ask about various additional needs. We’re going to start with ADHD.

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.

There are three main types of ADHD…

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.

Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.

Usually a child will be diagnosed with one of these three types, according to the diagnostic criteria in the ICD-10 or DSM-5. However, the latest research shows that there are actually seven different types of ADHD and they all manifest in slightly different ways. To learn more about this, have a look at Dr Amen’s work with SPECT scans: a special kind of scan to see areas of brain activity.

what causes ADHD?

ADHD is caused by a variety of factors including genetics, neurotransmitter levels in the brain and the ‘wiring’ of the brain itself. It is not caused by bad parenting!

Usually a parent or close (male) relative has ADHD. Identical twins 90% chance of both having ADHD; this shows us that there is definitely a strong hereditary cause.

What about the neurotransmitters? What are they?

Neurotransmitters are the body’s ‘chemical messengers’; they pass information from one neuron to another. Two neurotransmitters are either imbalanced or reduced in children who have ADHD. These are noradrenaline and dopamine.

Noradrenaline affects behaviors including our levels of vigilance, arousal, attention, motivation, reward, and also learning and memory.

Dopamine is  involved in reward, motivation, memory, attention and even regulating body movements.

When these two brain chemicals are unbalanced, or not being produced in the right amounts, it causes a lack of concentration, hyperactive behaviour and difficulties controlling impulses.

This is compacted by the way the ‘wiring’ is in the brain of a child with ADHD. On PET and SPECT scans, scientists can see that there is dysfunction in the frontal lobes-the part of the brain that says “hmm, is this a good idea?”- so the children can’t put the brakes on their behaviour

In addition, other areas such as the limbic area are under functioning which means the children are taking in lots more unnecessary information through their eyes and ears but they can’t filter the information. 70% of children with ADHD show ‘markers’ on brain MRIs which show their internal system is dysregulated: they are underactive when they should be busy, but hyper when they should be quiet. They also really struggle to monitor and regulate their behaviour.

All of these things added together obviously make a huge impact on their behaviour and emotions. Imagine how you would feel if you were in your car and had a near-miss. You’d likely have an adrenaline rush- the ‘flight-or-fight’ response- and would feel shaken up. Now imagine feeling like that for most of the day and being asked to sit down and write an essay or do some maths: it’s practically impossible.

Behaviours that parents find most difficult to deal with

What about girls with ADHD?

Girls with ADHD do tend to demonstrate slightly different behaviours and there is still a long way to go in researching why this is the case. However, some of the most commons signs of ADHD in girls are shown in the diagram below:

So how can I help my child?

As in the infographic above, the most effective behavioural treatments for ADHD involve living by routine, rewarding the good and taking a step back from confrontation.

Approximatly 50% of children with ADHD also have a Specific Learning Difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, slow processing speed or poor working memory. They need routine and structure in order to thrive. Children with ADHD often have mood swings and emotional variability so they need help regulating and expressing their emotions. Additionally, they can be very sensitive and suffer from cripplingly low self-esteem: they are ‘out of kilter’ with their peers, misread social cues and tend be treated as the annoying outcast who won’t calm down and keep up with the group. They put a lot of effort into their school work but achieve little because they are unable to focus and channel their attention. To help them we need to tackle the issues of emotional regulation, sensory processing problems and brain chemistry.

But how do i do that?

We need to make sure they eat and sleep well. Sugar crashes are far more severe in our children and they get ‘hangry’ quickly. They need a diet that helps to balance their noradrenaline and dopamine levels. This includes a protein heavy breakfast- turkey burgers are particularly good, but baked beans, boiled eggs and other sources of protein are excellent choices. Choose brown carbs over white carbs- they have a grounding affect and take longer to break down which means our children don’t suffer such extreme energy crashes. Iron, zinc and magnesium are essential in the production of neurotransmitters so a multivitamin is essential, along with green leafy veg (maybe in a smoothie with some orange juice to aid the iron absorption). Fortified bread and cereal are excellent choices too, along with bananas (which are an excellent source of B6- a vitamin that helps in neurotransmitter function). Zinc can be found in meat products, beans, chickpeas and nuts. A breakfast of baked beans or peanut butter on whole-wheat toast is an ideal way to get the day off to a good start!

Make sure the children are surrounded by positive social support. They may be left out at school, with friends pushing them to the side when they’ve had enough of the mood swings or inattentiveness. This really impacts our children’s mental health so we need to give them plenty of positive social interaction and specific praise from family and friends. They may find it easier to be friends with younger children who are at a similar developmental age.

Children with ADHD are very sensitive to stress and become overwhelmed very quickly. We need to find out what their triggers are, think ahead and plan ahead. Choose which aspect of their behaviour you’d like to work on and stick with just that to begin with. Don’t overwhelm them with lots of changes and punishments. Use a behaviour system such as ‘1,2,3…Magic’. It’s one of the most popular programs and really works well for children with ADHD because it gives them the chance to stop, think and make the right choice. We need to make sure we don’t ask too much of them; don’t expect the impossible. Keep distraction to a minimum as far as possible and have structures in place to help the child. This could be things such as having a place for everything in the home, getting them to count what they need in their school bag, repeating requests back to you. As they get older, organization and note apps are really helpful for them to keep track of their thoughts and their day.

Their body, mind and brain are all sending and receiving mixed signals due to their systemic dysregulation and sensory issues. We need to help their body and mind ‘tune in’ to each other and balance their neurophysiology as far as we are able to. This can be done by using grounding activities, mindfulness, and helping them to recognize what they are feeling. For a younger child, we might ask them to colour in on a picture of a body and point to “where they feel cross” or “where they feel sad”. We could then do some mindful breathing exercises and grounding techniques. Even just 15 minutes of mindfulness per day has been shown phenomenal improvements in attention, working memory, compassion and anxiety reduction. Apps such as Positive Penguins and Molehill Mountain are very effective. Another useful habit to start is journaling and using a diary to monitor their emotions. The one I recommend is the Happy Self Journal; it asks different questions every day and helps the children to process their feelings and events of the day. This is also so useful to us as parents because sometimes our children struggle to express themselves verbally and using the journal allows them the opportunity to share their feelings through writing or drawing.

What about medication?

There are quite a few options for medication in treating ADHD, and all are working towards the same end goal: adjusting the levels of brain chemistry and compensating for the brain wiring problems so that the child can focus. According to Childmind.org, “Stimulants are the best and most common type of medication used to treat ADHD. There are only two stimulant medications, methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin, Concerta and other formulations) and amphetamine (the active ingredient in Adderall, Vyvanse and other formulations). Both medications are available as short-acting medications and in longer acting preparations.

The two types of medications (methylphenidate and amphetamine) are equally effective and have the same benefits and the same risks. While most people will respond equally well to either medication, there are a few people who respond better to one versus the other. Typically, if you start treatment with one of these medications and it doesn’t work well or is not tolerated, you should probably try the other medication.”

Which books do you recommend?

Always a favourite point to end on, here are some of my favourite books for children with ADHD & their parents.

The Survival Guide for Kids with ADHD

All dogs have ADHD

Thriving with ADHD: Workbook for Kids

Self-Regulation Interventions and Strategies

CBT Toolbox for Children & Adolescents

Understanding ADHD

Understanding Girls with ADHD

The Explosive Child

What do you find most challenging about being a parent of a child with ADHD? Have you noticed if you have ADHD traits yourself, or a diagnosis even? How do you manage your child’s behaviour? I’d love to hear your feedback.

P x

What causes ADHD and how to help a child with ADHD

In this series of articles, we will discuss some of the most common questions parents ask about various additional needs. We’re going to start with ADHD.

ADHD is one of the most common neurodevelopmental disorders of childhood. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and often lasts into adulthood. Children with ADHD may have trouble paying attention, controlling impulsive behaviors (may act without thinking about what the result will be), or be overly active.

There are three main types of ADHD…

Predominantly Inattentive Presentation: It is hard for the individual to organize or finish a task, to pay attention to details, or to follow instructions or conversations. The person is easily distracted or forgets details of daily routines.

Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive Presentation: The person fidgets and talks a lot. It is hard to sit still for long (e.g., for a meal or while doing homework). Smaller children may run, jump or climb constantly. The individual feels restless and has trouble with impulsivity. Someone who is impulsive may interrupt others a lot, grab things from people, or speak at inappropriate times. It is hard for the person to wait their turn or listen to directions. A person with impulsiveness may have more accidents and injuries than others.

Combined Presentation: Symptoms of the above two types are equally present in the person.

Usually a child will be diagnosed with one of these three types, according to the diagnostic criteria in the ICD-10 or DSM-5. However, the latest research shows that there are actually seven different types of ADHD and they all manifest in slightly different ways. To learn more about this, have a look at Dr Amen’s work with SPECT scans: a special kind of scan to see areas of brain activity.

what causes ADHD?

ADHD is caused by a variety of factors including genetics, neurotransmitter levels in the brain and the ‘wiring’ of the brain itself. It is not caused by bad parenting!

Usually a parent or close (male) relative has ADHD. Identical twins 90% chance of both having ADHD; this shows us that there is definitely a strong hereditary cause.

What about the neurotransmitters? What are they?

Neurotransmitters are the body’s ‘chemical messengers’; they pass information from one neuron to another. Two neurotransmitters are either imbalanced or reduced in children who have ADHD. These are noradrenaline and dopamine.

Noradrenaline affects behaviors including our levels of vigilance, arousal, attention, motivation, reward, and also learning and memory.

Dopamine is  involved in reward, motivation, memory, attention and even regulating body movements.

When these two brain chemicals are unbalanced, or not being produced in the right amounts, it causes a lack of concentration, hyperactive behaviour and difficulties controlling impulses.

This is compacted by the way the ‘wiring’ is in the brain of a child with ADHD. On PET and SPECT scans, scientists can see that there is dysfunction in the frontal lobes-the part of the brain that says “hmm, is this a good idea?”- so the children can’t put the brakes on their behaviour

In addition, other areas such as the limbic area are under functioning which means the children are taking in lots more unnecessary information through their eyes and ears but they can’t filter the information. 70% of children with ADHD show ‘markers’ on brain MRIs which show their internal system is dysregulated: they are underactive when they should be busy, but hyper when they should be quiet. They also really struggle to monitor and regulate their behaviour.

All of these things added together obviously make a huge impact on their behaviour and emotions. Imagine how you would feel if you were in your car and had a near-miss. You’d likely have an adrenaline rush- the ‘flight-or-fight’ response- and would feel shaken up. Now imagine feeling like that for most of the day and being asked to sit down and write an essay or do some maths: it’s practically impossible.

Behaviours that parents find most difficult to deal with

What about girls with ADHD?

Girls with ADHD do tend to demonstrate slightly different behaviours and there is still a long way to go in researching why this is the case. However, some of the most commons signs of ADHD in girls are shown in the diagram below:

So how can I help my child?

As in the infographic above, the most effective behavioural treatments for ADHD involve living by routine, rewarding the good and taking a step back from confrontation.

Approximatly 50% of children with ADHD also have a Specific Learning Difficulty such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, slow processing speed or poor working memory. They need routine and structure in order to thrive. Children with ADHD often have mood swings and emotional variability so they need help regulating and expressing their emotions. Additionally, they can be very sensitive and suffer from cripplingly low self-esteem: they are ‘out of kilter’ with their peers, misread social cues and tend be treated as the annoying outcast who won’t calm down and keep up with the group. They put a lot of effort into their school work but achieve little because they are unable to focus and channel their attention. To help them we need to tackle the issues of emotional regulation, sensory processing problems and brain chemistry.

But how do i do that?

We need to make sure they eat and sleep well. Sugar crashes are far more severe in our children and they get ‘hangry’ quickly. They need a diet that helps to balance their noradrenaline and dopamine levels. This includes a protein heavy breakfast- turkey burgers are particularly good, but baked beans, boiled eggs and other sources of protein are excellent choices. Choose brown carbs over white carbs- they have a grounding affect and take longer to break down which means our children don’t suffer such extreme energy crashes. Iron, zinc and magnesium are essential in the production of neurotransmitters so a multivitamin is essential, along with green leafy veg (maybe in a smoothie with some orange juice to aid the iron absorption). Fortified bread and cereal are excellent choices too, along with bananas (which are an excellent source of B6- a vitamin that helps in neurotransmitter function). Zinc can be found in meat products, beans, chickpeas and nuts. A breakfast of baked beans or peanut butter on whole-wheat toast is an ideal way to get the day off to a good start!

Make sure the children are surrounded by positive social support. They may be left out at school, with friends pushing them to the side when they’ve had enough of the mood swings or inattentiveness. This really impacts our children’s mental health so we need to give them plenty of positive social interaction and specific praise from family and friends. They may find it easier to be friends with younger children who are at a similar developmental age.

Children with ADHD are very sensitive to stress and become overwhelmed very quickly. We need to find out what their triggers are, think ahead and plan ahead. Choose which aspect of their behaviour you’d like to work on and stick with just that to begin with. Don’t overwhelm them with lots of changes and punishments. Use a behaviour system such as ‘1,2,3…Magic’. It’s one of the most popular programs and really works well for children with ADHD because it gives them the chance to stop, think and make the right choice. We need to make sure we don’t ask too much of them; don’t expect the impossible. Keep distraction to a minimum as far as possible and have structures in place to help the child. This could be things such as having a place for everything in the home, getting them to count what they need in their school bag, repeating requests back to you. As they get older, organization and note apps are really helpful for them to keep track of their thoughts and their day.

Their body, mind and brain are all sending and receiving mixed signals due to their systemic dysregulation and sensory issues. We need to help their body and mind ‘tune in’ to each other and balance their neurophysiology as far as we are able to. This can be done by using grounding activities, mindfulness, and helping them to recognize what they are feeling. For a younger child, we might ask them to colour in on a picture of a body and point to “where they feel cross” or “where they feel sad”. We could then do some mindful breathing exercises and grounding techniques. Even just 15 minutes of mindfulness per day has been shown phenomenal improvements in attention, working memory, compassion and anxiety reduction. Apps such as Positive Penguins and Molehill Mountain are very effective. Another useful habit to start is journaling and using a diary to monitor their emotions. The one I recommend is the Happy Self Journal; it asks different questions every day and helps the children to process their feelings and events of the day. This is also so useful to us as parents because sometimes our children struggle to express themselves verbally and using the journal allows them the opportunity to share their feelings through writing or drawing.

What about medication?

There are quite a few options for medication in treating ADHD, and all are working towards the same end goal: adjusting the levels of brain chemistry and compensating for the brain wiring problems so that the child can focus. According to Childmind.org, “Stimulants are the best and most common type of medication used to treat ADHD. There are only two stimulant medications, methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin, Concerta and other formulations) and amphetamine (the active ingredient in Adderall, Vyvanse and other formulations). Both medications are available as short-acting medications and in longer acting preparations.

The two types of medications (methylphenidate and amphetamine) are equally effective and have the same benefits and the same risks. While most people will respond equally well to either medication, there are a few people who respond better to one versus the other. Typically, if you start treatment with one of these medications and it doesn’t work well or is not tolerated, you should probably try the other medication.”

Which books do you recommend?

Always a favourite point to end on, here are some of my favourite books for children with ADHD & their parents.

The Survival Guide for Kids with ADHD

All dogs have ADHD

Thriving with ADHD: Workbook for Kids

Self-Regulation Interventions and Strategies

CBT Toolbox for Children & Adolescents

Understanding ADHD

Understanding Girls with ADHD

The Explosive Child

What do you find most challenging about being a parent of a child with ADHD? Have you noticed if you have ADHD traits yourself, or a diagnosis even? How do you manage your child’s behaviour? I’d love to hear your feedback.

P x

Introduction to Sensory Processing

Many children with autism struggle with sensory processing. As shown in a previous article, sensory issues are now part of the diagnostic criteria.

Our senses affect how we respond to the world around us. Many children are either over-sensitive (hyper) or under-sensitive (hypo) and it can be tricky for them to cope with their reactions to what is going on around them.

Below are some examples of different issues that our children may have and just a few tips on how to help them. This is an extensive subject with many research projects underway, so there will be more in depth articles to follow.

  • Taste

Some children may need to sniff their food before tasting it, or they may have a preference for very bland flavours. Similarly, they may prefer textures that are only crunchy, dry, or liquid or they might love spicy food. Trying new foods can be really challenging. My son declared that he hates kiwi fruit and it’s the worst thing in the world; he’s never tried it but he wanted to make sure he didn’t have to. When he did try it later, he decided that he loved it. I still can’t persuade him to try anything that looks too wet or ‘slimy’ (as he puts it).

How To Help: Offer the child a small amount, but don’t force it. If your child has a preference for certain textures or flavours, try to introduce similar items to their diet so it is balanced and healthy.

  • Sound

I’ve found that for most children and adults that I’ve worked with noise is a big trigger for negative behaviour. Many autistic people are sensitive to certain noises or pitches. Sudden noises, such as a police car or fire alarm, can be really distressing. In addition, areas with a lot of background noise- such as a busy cafe or supermarket can cause a build up in anxiety.

How To Help: Ear defenders are a good option and available in many colours and sizes. Alternatively, having an iPod or MP3 player handy when out and about can give the child something auditory to focus on and block out the rest of the noise.

  • Touch

This can be pressure on the body, the feel of clothes, physical contact with other people like hugging or holding hands, brushing teeth, getting their face wet, or experiencing pain. Some of our children may be hypo (under) sensitive to pain or temperature, whilst others may really struggle with something as (apparently) simple as a hug.

How To Help: For a child that is over-sensitive to touch, a verbal or visual warning may be needed. Don’t force the child to hug/cuddle/touch something if they find it too distressing as this could only exacerbate the issues.

For a child that is under-sensitive, then they may like a weighted jacket or blanket, or deep pressure massage.

  • Vision

Children with autism are predominantly visual learners. This means that they take in a lot of information through what they can see. Some colours or sights may be distressing or overstimulating. They may struggle with bright sunshine or the flickering of a strobe light.

How To Help: Sunglasses and window shades in the car- these have been a lifesaver for me and avoided many a meltdown due to the sun being “too shiny”. Try to keep bedroom walls clear of clutter and posters, this will help the child to be settled at bedtime rather than visually over-stimulated.

  • Smell

Smell can be a particularly emotive sense for many people and children with autism are no different. Some scents may be preferred and a source of comfort,  whereas a change in washing powder or air freshener can be very upsetting.

How To Help: Introduce new scents slowly. If a change in behaviour is noticed as a response to a certain smell, it may be best to avoid it.

  • Proprioception

This is basically our sense of position and movement. It’s something that many children with autism and ADHD struggle with as their sense of spatial awareness and connection with their own body can be a bit disjointed. This may manifest as clumsiness and issues with personal space.

  • Vestibular

This ties in very closely with proprioception in that it affects spatial awareness but also incorporates balance. Again, it can manifest as clumsiness or a child who spins or swings quite vigorously in order to get some sensory feedback from that sensation.

How To Help: Sensory circuits and physiotherapy exercises can really make a difference with these issues. There will be a guide to sensory circuits on the website in a few weeks, as it is such an effective way to help with behaviour due to sensory imbalances.

Occupational therapy and physiotherapy can help the child to master their fine motor control and strengthen their core. An occupational therapy assessment would be the first port of call to assess which difficulties the child has and how to help them individually. 

As I said before, this is just a brief introduction to sensory issues and there are more in depth articles on the way. In the meantime, please feel free to e-mail me for advice or further information.

© Peta Slaney, 2020, All Rights Reserved.

Tips for claiming DLA

It’s one of the questions I get asked a lot : “Is it worth applying? What if they turn me down? What if I say the wrong thing?”

Well, the worst ‘they’ (The DWP) can say is ‘No’. So give it a go. DLA (disability living allowance) is there for us to help our children and make a difference to their lives; for some of us, that might mean paying for private speech therapy sessions, or sensory toys; for others, it might mean running the family car. It is a provision that is there for us so there’s no harm in applying.

Here’s a few tips to help:

  • Request the application form over the phone. That way, it will be backdated to when you made the phone call (as long as you send it back within six weeks). Otherwise, it will be dated from when they receive the form.
  • Don’t expect the decision maker to know anything about autism or other special needs. Chances are, they don’t. Write an idiot-proof guide to your child’s difficulties and additional needs. Use key phrases such as “This is more support than another child of Adam’s age would need” or “This is far greater than the care needs of  a typical nine-year old”. They have to see there is a difference and the needs are additional in order to award DLA.
  • Describe your child’s worst days. This is stated on the form but many parents don’t want to ‘over-exaggerate’ their child’s needs. Believe me; you are not exaggerating- you are used to coping with additional needs. There’s also the space provided to say how often your child has a ‘bad day’; you might want to use phrases such as “5 out of 7 days, Kieran is unable to dress himself without verbal prompting and reminders.” This gives the decision makers a clearer picture.
  • Include all the relevant paperwork. It probably may not be read, but have it there. Include a massive bundle to show that you’re not just chancing your arm, that this is a real child with real needs.
  • Photocopy your form and your evidence before you send it. Just in case it gets lost and you have to do it all over again.
  • Send it recorded delivery. Yes, there’s a free postage envelope, and yes, most of us are on a budget but better to be safe than sorry.
  • Ask for help. Speak to someone at your child’s school or nursery who can help you fill it in if you are struggling or e-mail me/ special needs support groups/ local children’s centre / citizen’s advice bureau/ national autistic society.
  • Keep a diary of your child’s behavior. Send that in with the form and the evidence; it gives the decision maker a better idea of the challenges our children face.

Remember, you are doing this for a good reason: you are trying to help your child and give them the best support you can.

Have you had success or hassle trying to claim DLA? Let me know in the comments or PM me.

Further information and advice:

National Autistic Society

GOV.UK Disability Helpline

Citizen’s Advice Bureau- DLA information

© Peta Slaney, 2020, All Rights Reserved.