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Tag: parenting

Could your teen with anxiety also have autism or SEN? Here’s what you need to know.

Sometimes, when we’re focussed on the anxiety we may find that we’ve overlooked something else. The teenage years are undoubtedly testing times but is there something more at play?

What are special needs?

Each teenager and child will have different physical, social and emotional needs. They may also struggle with mental health conditions such as anxiety. But, as a parent or carer, what do you do if you suspect your child may have a special educational need (potentially including autism, other neurological differences like ADHD or emotional difficulties)? What if the anxiety is created by a wider need?

The charity Family Lives note that ‘’The term ‘Special Educational Needs’ is used to describe learning difficulties or disabilities that make it harder for children to learn than most children of the same age. Children with Special Educational Needs (SEN) are likely to need extra or different help from that given to other children their age. This help is known as special educational provision.’’

Children including teens can have different difficulties that can be classified as SEN by an accredited practitioner such as a psychiatrist, educational psychologist, occupational or speech therapist or a SENDCO inclusion leader in the school. Difficulties can include emotional and behavioural, such as low self esteem and lack of confidence, an inability to follow class instructions and ‘acting out’ at school/ aggression. In some cases, there may be anxiety and panic attacks or depression. Or, as we experienced, very few obvious difficulties until mental health issues arose, due to autistic ‘masking’. We’ll explain a bit more about that in a moment.

Children & teens may struggle with the academic side of school, struggling with reading, spelling, maths or grasping abstract concepts. Class activities can be difficult for a variety of reasons, especially if your child has a learning need. Some children also have speech and language or communication needs, and may have delays in this area, finding it hard to communicate with their peers or teacher and relate to other people. Others have a physical disability which makes life trickier for them to be in class or study at the same level. 

However, help is at hand!

In this blog, we will look at what to do if you think your teen has emotional difficulties and what to do if you suspect their level of anxiety could be related to autism.

Firstly it is important to note that in the UK education system, each child has the right to access learning at their own level. They must receive a balanced and wide curriculum, which can be differentiated, from Early Years to the later key stages at age 16-18. Most children with SEN will be educated in a mainstream school (some are home schooled or in specialist schools as it depends on each child). 

If you are concerned about your child/ teen:

1) Speak to the class teacher and school SENDCO to express your concerns

It is vital to have a good dialogue with the class teacher, who sees your child every day. It is important to express concerns about your child’s behaviour or mental health if it comes up and if they are struggling academically or with their peers. The teacher can set up a meeting with the school SEN Coordinator and this may give you greater clarity, especially if your child is falling behind other children. 

They can put into place plans of action, known as Individualised Education Plans (IEPs) to help your child in class. The teacher may recommend that your child needs one to one support from a teaching assistant, who will carry out the action points of the IEP.

If they are really struggling, in consultation with you, the SENCO may apply for an EHCP (formerly known as a statement of needs), where the school receives funding to best support the person, for example by hiring their own teaching assistant or equipment to help in class.

If your teen is under a psychiatrist, it is important to involve them separately to assess what is going on and note their symptoms. 

2)  See their GP and specialist: What if their anxiety is because of autism? How do I realise?

Raisingchildren.net.au  says that ‘Anxiety is a normal part of children’s development, but children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) can experience anxiety more intensely and more often than other children.’

They also comment, ‘Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) feel many of the same worries and fears as other children. But when children and teenagers with ASD get worried or anxious, the way they show their anxiety can look a lot like common characteristics of ASD.

If you are concerned your child may be on the autism spectrum, it is best to speak to your GP and get a referral to a specialist.

Symptoms of anxiety (and other conditions) can also be very similar to autism. These include:

  • Insisting on routine
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Tantrums and meltdowns
  • Social withdrawal
  • Obsessions and rituals   
  • Stimming (self stimulation) by rocking, spinning or flapping hands
  • Self harm eg biting, scratching, headbanging

You can get your teen assessed and it is best to rely on the advice of professionals such as GP doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, SENCOs and any therapists involved in your child’s care. It is also important to trust your gut feeling too as a parent.

There are a number of ways to assist with anxiety including exposure therapy, CBT, social stories to prepare for social situations. An occupational therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist can assist with this after an assessment.

Not all teenagers with anxiety will have autism. If your teen is struggling badly with anxiety, they can access medication and counselling through their GP or psychiatrist.

As a parent or carer, it is important to note your teens behaviour patterns and if you have a strong feeling that more support is needed or your teen is distressed and asking for further help , reach out for it. 

Some helpful charities;

YoungMinds
Stem 4
Mind
The Princes Trust
Heads Together

Other useful organisations;

Time to Change
Place 2 Be
SAMH

Teen Calm is a new subscription box for teens struggling with anxiety. Find out more here.

Caring for an Anxious Teen? You May be Forgetting Something Vital

In today’s hectic world, self care is becoming more important than ever. With work stress and demands on our time, parents are more overstretched than before. Parents are also working longer hours than ever, in a bid to provide for their family.

What if you are a parent or guardian of a child with mental health issues or SEN (special educational needs)? How do you cope and look after yourself whilst being a good, loving parent to your child? What do you do in times of trauma?

Self care is defined as ‘the practice of taking an active role in protecting one’s own well-being and happiness, in particular during periods of stress.’ (online dictionary)

Erin Leyba writes for Psychology Today that,  ‘It’s essential that parents care for themselves – first, for their own well being, but also because any effort they put into self-care also has huge payoffs for their children. When parents “fill their own cups,” they have more patience, energy, and passion to spread to their families.’

If your child or a teen you know is going through a trauma, there are ways to help. For example, if they are in hospital due to illness or are unwell at home, you may feel overwhelmed and struggle to cope. You may also feel helpless seeing your child in pain and become anxious or overprotective as a result.

If you are seeing your child go through acute anxiety or depression or have a reaction to any trauma they face, whether it is illness, bullying or struggling at school, then as a parent we react by putting them first. It’s natural, but the longer the trauma continues for our child, the longer it continues for us too, and while no self-care is sustainable for a short time, after a while something is going to give.  So how do you care for yourself alongside this? Here are 8 possible ways to give you an idea.

Psychotherapist Stefan Deutsch did some research into this area, specifically looking at the epidemic of ‘burn out’ amongst adults and parents. He comments, ‘’The self love needed for self care was missing. Academicians use terms like self esteem, self worth, self support, self care but rarely self love. That is left to the spiritual community. People don’t realise that taking care of their own needs; eating, drinking, brushing their teeth, showering, wearing clean clothes, going to work are all acts of self love. My own clients conceded that they were on the bottom of their Totem Pole of priorities. Everything in their life came before their own health and wellbeing; the job, the house, the kids, the family, the car, finances, and so forth. The problem is that people have a hard time reaching for balance in their lives.’’

Finding balance and taking care of yourself are vital in difficult times (and a good pattern to get into for every day too). Here are some strategies that may help you manage stress:

1)  Write it out– write out how you are feeling as a stream of consciousness on paper, getting all thoughts and worries out of your brain. The simple act of sharing it and writing it down, means you can move forward knowing its out of your head and you can come back to it at any time. The act of journaling freely for 20 minutes can really help reduce stress.

2) Talk it out– confide in a trusted friend, family member or therapist about how you are feeling. Going to counselling in times of trauma or shortly after can help you to seek support and process all that is going on. Having a cup of tea with a friend and a good chat can also be helpful.

3) Schedule an hour to see a friend or do something for you– parents are often short on me time. Make sure you schedule in time for yourself away from everything that’s going on. This could be a phone chat or going out for dinner or the cinema with a friend. Or something as simple as carving out time for you (and you alone) to watch a comforting film or TV show.

4) Do something special with your child – a trip if they’re well enough. Or something at home – a takeaway and a film, baking a cake together, watch them play their video games…sit and watch their favourite YouTube channel with them.

5) Walk in nature. Nature is soothing and walking in fresh air and getting some exercise can help clear your head and put things in perspective.

6) Make a gratitude list and write 3 things you are grateful for on it every day. This can help with boosting positive mindset.

7) Eating well and sleeping: Make sure that alongside caring for your child, you eat well and try to get enough sleep. If you are struggling with this, reach out for support from your GP. Sleep is vital for replenishing our bodies and encouraging resilience.

8) Medical help. If you are struggling to cope with your life situation or think you may be depressed or highly anxious , it may help to see your doctor or psychiatrist to see if you need anti depressant or anxiety medication. You can also self refer to IAPT (Improving Access to Psychological Therapies Programme) in the UK for therapy sessions if needed, which have shorter waiting times than the general psychology list.

You can also reach out to various charities such as Mind or Young Minds for support and helplines including the Samaritans are open 24/7 for judgement-free listening.

You cannot pour from an empty cup, so in times of stress, you can learn to unwind and take care of yourself.  Make self care and self-love your priority as well as looking after your child.

At Teen Calm, we provide subscription boxes for teens with anxiety. You can learn more at www.teencalm.com            

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