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Tag: teens

9 Ways To Ease Lockdown For Your Autistic Child

Parents of all autistic children will know – change is rarely easy for their little (and big) ones. But the last few weeks have bought a cataclysm of change unprecedented in our lifetime and it’s hard. 

Every autistic child is different so I can’t predict how your child will react. I can’t even predict how my own will react. But I know it will be hard to process and it’s likely there will be delayed reaction. And while so much is out of our control, I’m going to share with you 9 things you CAN do to mitigate the impact of the lockdown for your autistic child.

MY daughter, like all her peers I’m sure, will be bored at home very quickly. But unlike most of her peers, she finds self-regulation of her emotions very difficult, and heightened stress with all the change means it’s going to have to spill out somewhere.

She was already at home but this week all her groups have been cancelled, and the whole family has been at home, taking up space, breathing her air, crowding her kitchen, disturbing her solitude. She doesn’t like it. It makes her anxious and very uncomfortable. And in the past, being this anxious has led to unhealthy ways of coping so we, like many other SEN parents around the country and indeed the world, are trying, unsuccessfully it must be said, to keep everything as normal as it can be.

But how can life be normal when your favoured way to self-regulate is to go to the supermarket (yes, we know!)? When you are hostage to OCD, with no treatment of it for two years, but suddenly everyone is telling you to wash your hands? When the professionals you rely on and have been part of your recovery are no longer available and the groups which brought you back into the world cease to run?

Well the answer is of course that it can’t. For any of us.

The world is topsy turvy and just not RIGHT at the moment. And it’s scary. If it’s scary for adults, imagine how scary it is for a child who relies on everything being just as it’s meant to be in order to have low anxiety. Things are very much NOT as they are meant to be. And while this continues, parents of autistic and other neurodiverse children are likely to see behaviours that reflect that anxiety. Behaviour is communication, and even if your child can’t necessarily articulate to you what’s wrong, they are telling you with their behaviour. 

So how can we help?

9 Ways To Ease Lockdown For Your Autistic Child

#1 Communicate The Facts

Be honest about what’s going on (without going into too much detail, depending on the age of your child). Simple facts can be processed without too much emotional baggage going with them. You will know the best way to do this for your child. Bear in mind teens can find out anything and may see some scary things on social media, so it’s better to come clean (pun intended).

#2 Get That Routine Going Quickly

Quickly establish a new routine, and be clear that it’s important there are no sudden changes as much as possible. How varied your routine is will depend on the needs of your autistic child and their siblings. We have a comprehensive resource list here: https://teencalm.com/home-schooling-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic/

#3 Try to Keep As Much As Possible The Same

It’s likely your autistic child is made anxious by change. Keep as much constant as possible. Although it may not seem important that a particular drink is drunk at a certain time, there is little enough stability to hold on to at the moment.

#4 Use More Than Words

Neurodiverse children are likely to be visual learners, and possibly have issues with short term memory, so make a visual timetable, tailored to your child as detailed or illustrated as they like it. Stick to this timetable every day.

#5 Screentime is Downtime Now

Relax your usual screen time rules, especially if this is one of your autistic child’s means of self-soothing. After all, we bet your social media usage has gone up too?

#6 Use Social Stories

Social stories are visual short stories with teach a lesson about a specific social situation. They can be a great way to help autistic children understand new social situations, as long as they are done properly. Here’s a good resource to learn about them: https://carolgraysocialstories.com/social-stories/what-is-it/ Create a social story to help your child process all of this change (there are some examples for COVID-19 particularly in our home education resources).

#7 Make Sure They Understand the Importance of Washing Hands

Many autistic children are demand-avoidant, and just telling them to wash their hands for 20 seconds is not going to work. They need to understand why and how, and one of the videos circulating on social media where someone uses a coloured soap or substance to show all the parts of the hand which are usually missed is a perfect example.
Alternatively show them handwashing while singing Mr Brightside!

#8 Help Them Understand Why We Can’t Go Out

The Teen Calm household has two autistic teens. One of them would live like a hermit most of the time if he could. He gets his socialising from online gaming and he’s (mostly) happy with that. For him, not going to school is a pleasure and being isolated at home is a habitual choice.
For the other, going out is part of her self-regulation. Therefore keeping her in is already proving difficult and is likely to become a lot more so. Despite the fact that this is all out of our hands, she needs to feel listened to when she moans about it. Visual animations about social distancing have helped – we recommend you make all explanations as visual as possible. And keep some distraction projects up your sleeve for further down the line.

#9 Cultivate Sainthood

As hard as it is, your children need you to be even more patient than normal!

The world may seem as if it has gone slightly bonkers, but what our children are going to remember of this time is not news reports or empty shelves in the supermarket but their time at home with us. Let’s make it memorable for the right reasons.

Self harm in Teens- How to help

If you are a teenager in significant distress, you may feel the urge to self harm. This often happens when things are too painful to handle and you are unsure of how else to deal with your pain. Young Minds say that sometimes it can feel like the ‘only way to let those feelings out’, even though in reality there is support out there for you. Social media showing others self harming can also unfortunately encourage you to harm yourself as a way of coping, particularly if you are struggling with depression, anxiety or other mental illness.

The charity Young Minds notes that 10% of 15-16 year olds self harm and it is very common, affecting one in 12 people in the UK.

The NSPCC adds that, ‘For many young people, self harm can feel like a way to cope with difficult feelings or to reduce tension. The physical pain of hurting themselves can feel like a distraction from the emotional pain they’re struggling with.’

They go on to say that if you have depression or anxiety, low self esteem or feeling unworthy, been bullied or feel lonely, have experienced abuse (sexual, emotional, physical) or neglect, are grieving or struggling with family relationships or are feeling angry, numb or out of control, then these are risk factors for self harming. Sometimes illnesses like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia will feature self harm behaviours. 

Self harming behaviours will bring only temporary relief to mental health problems and can be dangerous. There are healthier ways to cope and recover if you already self harm- there is a way to get better.

Psycom says that ‘Helping teens recover from self-harm is understanding why they do it in the first place. There isn’t a simple answer to this question but, in general, some teens use self-harm to relieve tension by stimulating endorphins while others use self-harm to feel physical pain instead of emotional numbness. Stress and pressure, anxiety, and depression are all associated with self-harm in adolescence.’

So as a parent, guardian or friend of another teen you are concerned about, What are the signs to look out for?  

Signs will vary from person to person but may include:

1) Wearing long sleeves and covered clothing all the time and being secretive when undressing- this may be to hide self harm scars, cuts or bruises. 

2) Unexplained bruises, cuts and scars on their body (this could also be a sign of abuse from another person). Wounds that don’t seem to heal and get worse over time.

3) Talking frequently about harming themselves and self injury behaviours  and watching self harm videos (or following Instagram accounts).

4) Collecting sharp items for self harm use.

5) Avoidance of friends and family, spending more time at home.

6) Depression, low self esteem and self blame.

7) Finding blood stains on clothing or blood in their room/ in tissues and bandages. If they are stockpiling bandages too this is a worry.

8) Engaging in risky behaviours such as drinking or drug taking and outbursts of anger.

How can we help a young person who is self harming and needs treatment?

If you are the young person- Talk to someone you trust- your GP or psychiatrist, a parent, relative, teacher or another trusted friend. The best thing to do is speak to your doctor as they will have seen this before.

You may also need an assessment with the Children and Adolescent Mental health services (CAMHS) as your self harm could be part of wider mental illness/ distress. 

In the immediate- if you have injuries that need treating and you can’t sterilise it yourself, speak to a trusted family member or go straight to your doctor or walk in centre. If you are very injured, you will need to stem blood flow and go straight to Accident and Emergency in hospital, if your GP can’t treat it themselves.

As a parent you will need to provide emotional support,  unconditionally as they adapt to recovering from self harm behaviour. Your teen will be in emotional pain  and need empathy as they try to break the addictive cycle that self harm can bring.

Psycom recommends making time to connect one to one, helping your teen to destress and have a slower, calmer schedule as they recover (including relaxing activities such as walking, mindfulness and reading ), speaking to a school counsellor or psychiatrist and accompanying your teen to appointments and creating a list of friends or professionals to phone.

With early identification and good support networks, self harm behaviours can be managed. It is important to seek professional help.

Helplines such as the Samaritans 116 123 can be of help to people managing self harm behaviours.  Young Minds and Childline also have crisis text lines and see the Mix and Me Two apps too. At Teen Calm, we send subscription boxes to teens struggling with anxiety and mental health conditions. See more at www.teencalm.com

Dealing with exam stress as a teen

If you’re a teenager of school or college age, you will worry about exams. Essays, coursework, exams by memory, subjects you find difficult and knowing you have to get GCSE and A level grades in order to progress in life means the pressure can be high. Having to choose subjects at such a young age to determine your future path can also be stressful.

Additionally, if you are a teen with mental health issues or have additional needs, having to think about exams can be daunting. You may need extra support from parents, teachers and teaching assistants or have to take fewer exams in order to cope. It very much depends on the individual, how much you are able to do academically and cope with emotionally.

The most important thing is to not be hard on yourself and to do what is right for you. Exam grades are important for careers later in life, but you need to look after your own emotional health too.

Signs of stress 

First of all it is vital to recognise signs of stress. You may experience frequent worries, insomnia, have headaches and stomach pains, not want to eat, feel irritable, feel lower than normal and hopeless about the future. If you start to have panic attacks or depression and are unable to function or feel better, you will need to see your GP to help you manage what is going on.  

The NHS advises, ‘’Having someone to talk to about their work can help. Support from a parent, tutor or study buddy can help young people share their worries and keep things in perspective. Encourage your child to talk to a member of school staff who they feel is supportive if you think your child is not coping. It may also be helpful for you to talk to their teachers. Try to involve your child as much as possible.’’

Speak to someone you trust

Additionally to this, the mental health charity Young Minds gives tips for teens who are struggling with their health and the pressure of exams. They advise several things to help, including:

‘’1) Let your trusted friends and family know you are struggling so they can be there to support you and offer a listening ear. You don’t have to go through this alone.

2) Ask for help from your school and teachers to give you more support and resources

3) Find a study group or start your own – this can help you feel less isolated and build friendships, helping to relieve stress

4) Be kind to yourself and write a list of all your achievements. ‘’ (Young Minds)

The charity ChildLine also seems to agree with the above advice. They recommend that as well as talking to teachers and trusted friends, that speaking with a counsellor may also help in some cases. You can speak to a counsellor at school, through a charity or be referred by a doctor.

Some stress busting tips that they recommend include taking breaks for 20 minutes each hour, giving yourself something to look forward to, planning exam revision in a specific time slot  and making sure you make time for self care, sleep, eating well, relaxation and exercise.

Revising for exams means you may compare yourself to your friends. Try not to compete or constantly look at social media as this will make you feel worse, you may feel not good enough. 

What to do if I am a teen or parent of a teen with bad anxiety?   

If exam stress triggers your anxiety badly, it is important to go and see your GP and also try to practice anxiety management strategies- including talking to loved ones or a close friend,  relaxation techniques, meditation and visualisation, calming music, warm baths, journaling your fears on paper, creating some art and reducing time spent on the internet/ screens. If anxiety is particularly high, a doctor may want you to try medication or counselling. 

Counselling can help to unpack worries in a safe environment and if you are a teen, you can work with therapists that understand the needs of your age group.

As a parent, make sure you don’t pressurise your child or heap criticism on to them if they are struggling. Be there as a support and a listening ear. Help them find a safe, quiet place to revise and be there as a positive sounding board. You can also give your teen small rewards to help motivation. If you are very concerned about the impact exam stress is having on your child, please go with them to their GP.

Child Line have an art box resource  to help deal with stress here: https://www.childline.org.uk/toolbox/art-box/#Howtouse

Here at Teen Calm, we provide wellness subscription boxes for teens struggling with anxiety. Each month, we have goodies to send to your child to help them with their fears and let them now they aren’t alone.

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            

Anxiety in Teens

Our teen years can be a time of fun, friends and parties. But they can also be a time of increased anxiety and vulnerability to mental health issues. We know that as children enter their teen years, there is an increased risk of anxiety and depression (and other mental illness), due to life and bodily changes.  As a teen, you want to fit in with your friends and developing anxiety during this time can mean that you feel different from others, even though it is very common. 

So what is anxiety?

Anxiety is a reaction to life stress, involving mind and body. It can be a survival system, when we perceive a danger or threat.  As a teen, you may be experiencing pressure with exams at school or stress at home, you are growing up and changing to become an adult and life can feel difficult. Things like dating or public speaking, making and sustaining friendships, money worries, become a priority, but they can be anxiety provoking- causing sensations such as racing heart, insomnia, shaking or blushing.

It can also lead to hyperventilation (shallow breathing), headaches and in worst cases, panic attacks. Adrenaline and cortisol ,a stress hormone, surge through the body, causing a reaction to the perceived stress.  This means sometimes that you may not interact with your family or your friends, isolating yourself and wanting to be alone. You may also have a change to eating habits or sleep or have stomach aches. 

A small amount of anxiety can be good as it motivates us to keep going despite pressure. However, in some people, it can turn into an anxiety disorder. 

What if it becomes an anxiety disorder? 

For some teens, anxiety gets taken a step further and becomes a key part of a mental health disorder such as anxiety disorders and phobias, depression or illnesses like PTSD.  Anxiety disorders can interrupt every day functioning, disrupting relationships at home, school and with friends, your teen may stop attending school if their anxiety is very high. There may also be a significant impact to academic grades and feeling overwhelmed with workload and life in general.  

Panic attack symptoms can seem very frightening, causing chest pain, hyperventilation, upset stomach, feeling like you are dying or having a heart attack, numbness or tingling, for example. It’s important that if your teen is experiencing panic attacks, to go to your GP and see if you can get a referral to CAMHS services. Therapy may be needed to provide strategies to cope.    

In 2018, NHS Digital and Young Minds released figures that said that 1 in 8 children in the UK aged between 5 and 19 has a diagnosable mental health condition. They also said that nearly a quarter of young women aged 17-19 has an emotional disorder and that the prevalence of those experiencing anxiety in the UK had increased by 48% from 2004 in 2017.

So, we know that teens are struggling with their mental health. More cases are being reported and as the stigma towards illness is falling, more are speaking out and reaching for support.

There is still not much known on the origin of anxiety disorders- it could be down to brain chemistry and genes (if your parent has suffered from a mental illness, you are more likely to) or down to life stress and circumstances. A teen experiencing a traumatic event could then go on to develop a mental health condition. 

How can you help?

Helpful strategies include encouraging self care- listening to calming music, good sleep practices, listening to relaxation recordings (guided meditations), making sure your teen is eating and drinking enough and sees their doctor or therapist . It is helpful to go with them to your doctor or find a therapist to help too. They can also call the Samaritans for non judgemental chat on 116 123.

It’s vital to speak to school and teachers to see if support can be given in terms of managing workload, friendships and emotional support during the school day, in order to ease them slowly back to attendance or more support.

If you worry that your teen is at crisis point (self harming or feeling suicidal for example) or you are a teen in crisis, it is important to speak to your doctor or local CAMHS team. If you are under a psychiatrist, it is best to go through their crisis team to seek support. In worst cases, you may have to go to Accident and Emergency. There are waiting lists for CAMHS, so you may need to seek private treatment if possible for you.

We created Teen Calm to help teens with anxiety, being part of a network of young people. For more on Teen Calm subscription box to help your teen see: www.teencalm.com 

Welcome to Teen Calm

Are you a teenager struggling with anxiety or depression? Want to feel part of a wider community of friends? Look no further than Teen Calm!

Teen Calm is a new subscription box for anxious teens, created by 13 year old Freya and her mum Cathy, who are based in the UK. Freya was diagnosed with autism last year in the midst of a mental health crisis of depression and anxiety. She is now recovering but both Freya and Cathy want to do something to help other teenagers in the UK and globally.

Children’s mental health services (CAMHS) in the UK are overstretched and often underfunded. Although mental health staff try their best and there is some good care available, there are long waiting lists and young people can slip through the net unless they are in crisis. Cathy and Freya wanted to make a product, Teen Calm, that is not only a home business, but can actually have an impact on those who are struggling.

‘Both Freya and I feel strongly, through our experience, that there is a major problem with children’s mental health services, and that there are tweens and teens all over the country who are anxious or depressed, and not getting the help they need. Of course, a subscription box can’t give them that help. But it can help let them know they are not alone, and give them techniques to lessen the impact.’

Cathy continues ‘Teen Calm is also something Freya and I could do together which got her off the sofa when things were bad with her depression.’

The main aims of Teen Calm subscription box are to help anxious teens feel more confident, giving them a sense of belonging. The box will be sent out monthly, containing positive products to help reduce anxiety such as a stress ball, fidget toy, bath bomb, notepad, pens, colouring sheet, pins, fairy lights, plus a motivational card. These can all be aids to help improve daily anxiety.

Boxes will start being sent out in February 2020 and will be customised each month. Soon you can buy gift cards for friends and family through the upcoming website. The aim is to go global and help teens with anxiety all over the world. Knowing you are part of a worldwide, supportive community can help other teens feel connected and less alone.

Teen Calm is a very personal project. As well as her mental health needs, creator Freya’s diagnosis of autism meant that she requires special educational needs support (SEND) for her school work and life needs. This is greatly expensive and sometimes, hard to access. Cathy told us,

‘Teen Calm also symbolises our very difficult mental health journey as a family, where the lack of SEND funding has made everything a battle and already vulnerable families are made more stressed and more oppressed. So many people feel like they are alone in going through this, and then they find the right Facebook group and realise they are NOT alone. That there are anxious children all over the country who are being failed by ‘the system’. Teen Calm can’t fix that. But we can help in a small way. And we can help to build a community and show people that they are not alone.’

Freya and Cathy hope to build a supportive network through Teen Calm,which in turn will help Freya, who has anxiety herself, too.

If you are a parent/ guardian and feel that a subscription to Teen Calm can help your child, please do get in touch. We aim for the boxes to be affordable and to provide a glimmer of hope to families up and down the country, whose teens may be struggling.

While our subscription box doesn’t replace medical intervention, we hope it can help brighten the lives of children and young people, forming a positive, proactive community that everyone can learn from and grow with. Battling anxiety and loneliness , one box at a time.

For more about Teen Calm see the website and follow us on social media.

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