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5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart

Last week marked six weeks since Sunshine was placed in a residential facility.

Six weeks has never felt so long.

Everyone in the house misses Sunshine so much and wants desperately for her to return home as soon as possible.

Last week marked five weeks since COVID-19 social distancing restrictions have been in place in Virginia. It’s been five weeks since we’ve been able to see our daughter. The residential facility is on lockdown. No visitors are allowed.

Our biggest challenge has been how to show love and provide comfort to Sunshine when we can’t physically be with her?

It's taken a while to come up with things that work, but we're finally at a point where we feel good about how we're managing this challenge.

Here are 5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart that we've used!

5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart

5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart

Connecting with your Autistic Child through Engaging Video Chats when You're Apart

Engaging Video Chats

Video chats are the only way we’re able to see Sunshine.

Unfortunately, Sunshine hates video chats, which has made seeing her at all incredibly difficult.

The sensory experience of a video chat is too much for her.

She does not like sitting still and not being able to touch the tech equipment in the facility.

If your child is able to handle this form of connection with others, consider yourself lucky.

If your child can’t handle this experience, consider some of the following ideas from Dyan at And Next Comes L. We’re really hoping that Sunshine’s team in residential can try some of these with her to help make the situation more comfortable.

Fun Games to Play with Kids on Zoom Video Chat

Another idea we've come up with specific to Sunshine is using dress up props to make the video interactions all the more fun.  Sunshine LOVES to accessorize.  She shows such an interest in what everyone is wearing during the few successful video chats we've had.

We'll be sending her a care package with props to choose from and put on before family therapy sessions.  We'll also build a supply at home.  

Dressing up before the sessions will help Sunshine with the transition to video chat in general and will bring about lots of fun and laughter during family therapy.  

Routine Phone Calls with a Schedule-5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart

Routine Phone Calls with a Schedule

Thankfully we do have nightly phone calls with Sunshine. The alarm on my phone is set to 6 PM every night so we catch her at just the right time.

Sunshine does not like missing anything during the day or having her schedule disrupted, so 6 PM is the only time that works. She’s finished with her daily routines and schedules in residential and is winding down for the night.

At first Sunshine really struggled with phone conversations with us. She’s never liked talking on the phone and hadn’t had much practice before residential. Thankfully I came up with a schedule of sorts for our conversations a couple weeks ago.

Understanding the sequence of the conversation, when they begins and how when they end is incredibly helpful for autistic kiddos. Turn taking is also a great way to help with difficulties with communication.

1. We say our nightly hellos. Usually Sunshine has something she wants to tell me right away.

2. I ask Sunshine three questions.

3. Sunshine asks me three questions.

4. We blow loud kisses over the phone and say “I love you.”

5. My husband then reads Sunshine a scripture story and bedtime story over the phone.

We are extremely thankful for any and all communication we have with Sunshine right now. Not being able to see her and hold her has been one of the greatest challenges I’ve ever experienced as a mother.

The state of Virginia at this point in time is not lifting COVID-19 social distancing restrictions until June 10th, which means we still have more than 8 weeks to go without seeing our eight-year-old daughter. What an attachment nightmare!  Especially since her cognitive abilities are that of a five year old.

And so…

I’m learning to be the best mother I can be to Sunshine, despite the horrific circumstances surrounding her residential placement.

Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart: Sensory Friendly Essentials that are Familiar

Sensory Friendly Essentials that are Familiar

There are extreme limits to what we can and can not send to Sunshine in residential. We’ve learned that anything familiar, especially when it has a positive sensory component means the world to her.

We ordered all of the items Sunshine enjoys as part of her morning and nighttime routines and had them shipped directly to the facility.

The facility does provide necessary toiletries, but families are permitted to send their own if they’d like.

We felt the sensory experience of having her items from home may help attachment and self-regulation while we’re separated.

The smell of her shampoo and conditioner, the sight of familiar characters she loves on her toothbrush, the taste of her favorite toothpaste and mouthwash… She has loved having these special items with her.

5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart: Care Packages Combined with Letters

Care Packages Combined with Letters

Sunshine went straight from a pediatric psychiatric inpatient facility to residential. We were told to bring enough clothing for two weeks and other necessary comfort items with her.

I sent along her favorite stuffed animal, a special blanket for her bed and a family scrapbook we made together in preparation for her residential stay.

Other than that though, Sunshine had nothing.

Once we were able to receive rules and regulations from the residential facility we began to send care packages to her. She received a soft Easter basket full of safe toys for her to play with.

Just recently I sent her a set of Enchantimals to reinforce her love of Barbie like dolls and animal figures.

Sunshine loves these special gifts more than anything else.

The one thing we’ve learned though is that they must come with a letter explaining what the gift is and who it is from. Most letters we send separately because packages usually come from Amazon. Without these letters Sunshine never knows who packages are from. Letters that include images and visuals are even better!

Between residential regulations and COVID-19, Sunshine never actually receives the boxes that are sent. They’re opened and sterilized. Packaging is thrown away. They are searched through and approved by her case worker and then taken to her dorm with all forms of packaging removed.

5 Ways to Connect with an Autistic Child When You're Apart: Book Rituals

Book Rituals

As mentioned earlier, my husband Jason reads with Sunshine over the phone every night before bed. Sunshine requests which book she would like to read from her growing collection in residential, and Jason grabs a copy of the same book from our library at home.

We send new books to Sunshine regularly so we don’t end up reading the same book over and over again for weeks on end.

Sunshine loves her story time with Daddy over the phone. They turn pages together, laugh at pictures, react to phrases in the story and have a grand old time.

My husband loves the positive interaction with Sunshine, and Sunshine gets to keep one of her nighttime rituals from home during her stay in residential.

Though it is extremely hard being separated from Sunshine, and nothing can replace human contact and face to face interactions, we are eternally grateful for the ways we have been able to show love and support during the most difficult of circumstances.

We hope the ideas we've shared here inspire you to find new ways to connect with the autistic child in your life when you're apart.  If you've already found great ways to do so that are different from the ideas shared above, please don't hesitate to comment below and contribute!

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Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids (Montessori-inspired)

Relationships are a complicated subject for adults.  It's no wonder that children struggle so much when trying to understand them.

Lately my kiddos have been asking a lot of questions.

How do I show someone I care about them?  

What do I NOT do?

How do I express emotions appropriately?

Is it okay if I don't feel comfortable with certain forms of physical affection?

If so, what do I do to show someone I care about them?

When I make a mistake, what do I do to show someone I'm sorry?

What if I want to be someone's friend but they look or act differently than I do and I'm frightened?

All of these questions and more can be answered as you enjoy these Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids.

Montessori-inspired Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids

All activities and printables in this post are from the Montessori-inspired Diversity and Inclusion Bundle.

Montessori-inspired Diversity and Inclusion Bundle

If the Montessori-inspired Diversity and Inclusion Bundle is unavailable or you do not want everything included, you can purchase the Montessori-inspired Friendship Printable Pack.  All printables in this post are from this pack specifically.

Montessori-inspired Friendship Printable Pack

Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids

Physical Boundaries: Touch vs. No Touch
Physical Boundaries: Touch vs. No Touch Activity

In our home we work on teaching appropriate physical boundaries for many reasons.  To help Sunshine and all of the other kiddos understand what physical signs of affection are appropriate, I created a set of Ways to Show Affection Nomenclature Cards.

These have been a HUGE hit with our kiddos and can be used in so many ways. 

The first way I presented these cards was introducing the concept of showing affection through touch versus no touch.

Sunshine LOVES to show affection through touch, but not everyone in the house enjoys that.  Dinomite and my husband are very sensitive to tactile input. They do not enjoy being touched, especially when they don't see it coming.

Princess feels unsafe when touched when she hasn't initiated it.

These cards were great at showing the kids there are many ways to show a person you care about them whether you like people touching you or not. 

Understanding this concept was so helpful to Dinomite especially.  He was so excited to learn new ways to show love, without having to touch someone.

The cards are also great at teaching Sunshine ways she can connect with people without touching them, which is HUGE for her.

Physical Affection: Family vs. Friends
Physical Affection: Family vs. Friends Activity

Sunshine really struggles with generalizing skills from one setting to another and one person to another.  When it comes to physical affection she doesn't think twice about giving anyone hugs and kisses. 

With this activity she can learn appropriate ways to show affection when it comes to family versus friends.  Depending on your own personal preferences you can include whichever affection cards you want.

When I presented this activity to the older three kiddos I asked them which ways of physical affection they preferred from family versus friends.  The cards led to great conversations about how ways of affection and preferences vary from person to person.  Ultimately they decided the best thing you can do is ask for permission first.

Physical Affection: Yes vs. No
Physical Affection: Yes vs. No-Teaching Consent

The last way we used the affection cards with the three older kids was to teach about consent. 

Teaching Consent-Physical Affection: Yes vs. No Activity

Each kiddo sorted through the affection cards, sorting them into ways of affection they felt comfortable receiving and which ones they didn't.  They observed each other's yes and no piles, making note of ways that others felt uncomfortable.  It was such a fantastic activity filled with so much discussion.

Physical Affection: Yes vs. No Card Sorting-Teaching Consent

When presenting the yes and no cards to Sunshine, I will add the Inappropriate Interactions Cards. She will sort what behaviors are appropriate and what behaviors are not and also do the consent activity.

Teaching Consent: Physical Affection-What's okay and what's not

Practicing Ways to Show Affection to Others

One thing I did not expect from my older kiddos while presenting these lessons, was their desire to practice all of the different ways to show affection.  I was blown away by how much fun they had during this process.  

Ways to Show Affection: Happy Hands

Their interactions with each other elevated these lessons to a whole new level of fun.

Ways to Show Affection: First Bumps

 I'm so glad I had my camera on hand to capture these precious moments.  I loved that they had such a desire to learn about ways to show affection to others and have fun with it.

Ways to Show Affection: Blowing a Kiss

Through the true to life images and modeling on the cards and their desire to practice, the kiddos became so comfortable with touch in a way they wouldn't have been in another setting.

Ways to Show Affection: Side Hug

Lately, I've been quite mindful about following the child's lead when it comes to lesson presentations.  Boy oh boy am I glad I was able to just go with it.  There were so many smiles!

Ways to Show Affection: Thumbs Up

One physical affection card that may be a little unfamiliar to some is the thumb touch.  Princess and I developed this way of showing affection to each other years ago.  It felt safe to her and not to overwhelming.  We've used it ever since!

Ways to Show Affection: Thumb Touch

I feel... when you...

The very last way we used the Ways to Show Affection Cards was with our new I feel... when you... chart.  We combined the six basic emotion cards included in the Friendship Printable Pack, along with the picture chart.  We also threw in the Inappropriate Interaction Cards.

I feel... when you... Chart and Cards

The kids first practiced with the Inappropriate Interaction cards.  I was so impressed with the emotions they chose to go along with each card they selected.

I feel.. when you... Picture Prompts with Emotion and Action Cards

I can't wait to use these with Sunshine when she returns from residential.  The visuals will be such a huge help to her.

I feel... when you... Picture Prompt with Cards

After using the Inappropriate Interaction Cards I brought back the Ways to Show Affection Cards and the kids practiced with those.

Emotional Regulation Refrigerator Display

Once all of the lessons had been presented, I placed the materials on our refrigerator for use in the home when we need them.  We've had them available for the month and they're used every day.

As we presented the "I feel... when you..." chart, Dinomite asked for more emotion cards.  Thankfully I knew exactly where I could find some.  The extra emotion cards have now been printed out and laminated for use with the writing version of the chart. 

The cards are bigger than the ones that I created, but they work perfectly alongside the writing prompt.

Emotion Cards for Kids from And Next Comes L

If you're looking for more emotion cards as well, because you have a child who's ready for them, be sure to grab your own copy at And Next Comes L.  There are 80 different emotions included, all in true to life image fashion.  They are absolutely beautiful and adorable.

Teaching emotions, physical boundaries and consent can be so much fun with kids.  With the printables in the Montessori-inspired Friendship Printable Pack, (included in the Diversity and Inclusion Bundle) you have everything you need to meet the needs of every child!

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the posts below.
Anger Management for Kids Four Prompts to Encourage Mindfulness in Children 4 Steps to Managing Aggressive Behaviors One Sure Way to Help Your Child Work Through Emotions 5 Lessons to Teach Kids About Balancing Emotions

Physical Boundaries and Consent Activities for Kids (Montessori-inspired)

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How to Create a Montessori Binder

There are times when families want or need to provide a Montessori education for their children in the home, but they don't have shelves, trays, and traditional materials.

At times there's no room for these things.  Other times finances don't permit these luxuries.  And then there are times, like with the coronavirus where families hadn't planned on homeschooling and now find themselves in that situation.

I am here to say a Montessori education at home is possible without shelves, trays and traditional materials.  All you need to do is learn how to create a Montessori Binder!

How to Create a Montessori Binder when Shelves, Trays, and Materials Are Not Available

The Montessori Binder is not a new concept for our family.  We've used it multiple times over the years in different circumstances.

When we go on longer vacations we bring our Montessori Binder along to make sure we're still learning and no one regresses.

There was a time when we could not afford a new set of shelves, and so we created a Montessori Binder for Sunshine to store all of her activities.

Currently, we are in the process of creating a Montessori Binder for Sunshine to use in residential.  It will be filled with fun activities we can do with her during visits.

Basically, the Montessori Binder allows for a Montessori education no matter where you are or plan to go.

Here's how it works!

4 Steps to Creating a Montessori Binder

How to Create a Montessori Binder from Every Star Is Different

1. Grab a 4'' Three Ring Binder.  

You'll want a binder that's larger in order to fit as many activities as possible.  Depending on how many children you have or how many subjects you're trying to cover you may want more than one.

I like using a binder that's really strong and also has a cover on the front so I can make it more personalized and beautiful.

How to Create a Montessori Binder

2. Find Cloth Zipper Pouches for a three ring binder.

Cloth zipper pouches make the perfect tray substitutes.  I say cloth, because the plastic ones usually aren't durable enough.  Match the number of zipper pouches to the number of activities you want in the binder.

I like using color coded pouches as they add more beauty to the Montessori experience and you can color code subjects or unit themes.

How to Create a Montessori Binder

3. Obtain Sheet Protectors with Zippers.

Just like in the Montessori classroom, not all activities fit on smaller trays. For bigger activities or those that include a full sheet of paper, use sheet protectors with zippers.  Those without zippers tend to be quite frustrating as items fall out.

The sheet protectors with zippers also are a great way to "laminate" sheets of paper to make them more durable and reusable.  Just think of all the possibilities when you add a few dry erase markers!

4. Prepare Montessori Activities

Using our bundles, individual products, and free printables, create your Montessori activities, placing one in each pouch or sheet protector.

Pioneer Busy Bags for Tots & Preschoolers w/ Free Printables

You can see an example of how we did this for Sunshine in the post: Pioneer Busy Bags for Tots & Preschoolers with Free Printables.  We even used one for a snack option as these were used in church each week.

5. Arrange Montessori Activities in Binder

This is where busy bags meet Maria Montessori's orderly environment.  Whether you organize by subject, theme, or whatever, you will want to organize the pouches and sheet protectors in the binder.

Using a binder to store work helps the child be able to look through the activities in an organized manner.

If the pouches and sheet protectors are just thrown into a drawer or container, they are much more difficult to look through.

See how easy it is to create a Montessori learning environment anywhere, when you don't have shelves, trays, or materials!

It may not be as fabulous as a Montessori classroom at home or at school, but sometimes that's just not possible.  When it's not, this is the next best thing.

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the posts below.
The Best Tips for Montessori Homeschooling Montessori Is More Than Shelves and Materials Montessori Homeschooling Support and Resources

How to Create a Montessori Binder when Shelves, Trays, and Materials Aren't Available

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The Best Tips for Montessori Homeschooling

Today I'm excited to share the best tips for Montessori homeschooling with developmental, emotional, and trauma based challenges.

There is no doubt that Montessori is fantastic for children with developmental, emotional and trauma based disabilities.  I could go on and on about the:
  • Benefits of hands on materials
  • Focus on fine motor skill development
  • Emphasis on sensory based activities
  • Significance of following the child
  • Insistence of child independence
All of these things are so beneficial to children who are neurodiverse, struggle with mental health issues and/or have attachment disorders.

The Best Tips for Montessori Homeschooling Children with Developmental, Emotional, and Trauma Based Learning Challenges

Many families rely on Montessori schools to provide a proper education for their children.  But there are times when that's not possible due to finances, the child's specific needs, personal beliefs, and now the coronavirus.

My husband and I have been homeschooling our children for eight years now.  All of them have multiple struggles when it comes to learning.  

Some are neurodiverse.  

Others have mental health issues.  

Two struggle significantly due to past trauma.  

Then there are learning disabilities.

About a year ago we started a co-op and added more children to our home learning environment.  Many of those children also had developmental and emotional disabilities.

One could say that we've had a lot of experience with figuring out how to make Montessori work for even the most challenging students once they're able to handle learning in general.  

Note: There are some children who at one point in time or another will be unable to learn due to feeling unsafe or disregulated sensory wise.  In these situations safety comes first and the main goal is to help the child self-regulate and stay calm.

The Best Tips for Montessori Homeschooling with Developmental, Emotional, and Trauma Based Disabilities

1. Before learning begins be sure your child feels safe and is able to self-regulate.  

My kiddos need to get outside and move before we attempt learning each day.  If we can't make it outside then we find a way to move inside using children's exercise videos, etc.  When they don't move around, they can't self-regulate and things tend to fall apart.

Some of our co-op friends needed a meal right before learning, so they wouldn't be distracted by hunger and their brains were more alert.

Another co-op friend needed time socializing with friends to feel safe in the environment before learning.

Observe your child to understand what the needs are before successful learning can occur.

2. Make sure sensory needs are met during learning.

Dinomite needs music to focus better and block out other sounds.

Bulldozer is sensitive to temperature. If he's too hot or too cold, he doesn't learn well.

Princess needs to keep her hands and her brain busy to prevent disruptions.

Sunshine often needs to wrap herself up in layers of clothes and blankets.  

One of our co-op friends always needed something to chew on.  He was also sensitive to smells.

Sensory needs do not disappear while learning, they usually increase in intensity.  Be prepared for that and know that it's okay to meet your child's needs in this way while learning occurs.

If you need some ideas to help your child, be sure to check out some of our favorite resources:

Must Have Fidget Toys

3. Start with the hard stuff first.

In all my years of using the Montessori Method, I have never found a student with developmental and/or emotional disabilities that saves the hardest work for last and enjoys doing it.

Neurodiverse children may push through the period of false fatigue without issue, but most often choose the easiest and most fun tasks after that point.

Plan out your three period block accordingly with this in mind.

When my kiddos were preschool age, we had our "work" shelves and our "fun" shelves.  In order to choose activities from the "fun" shelves, each of them needed to complete a certain number of "work" shelf activities.  The number of activities corresponded to their age.  At age five, Dinomite had to choose five work activities before going to the "fun" shelves.  

Activities on the "work" shelves were always very basic and required a short amount of time to complete to ensure success.  We rotated them weekly to ensure that the kiddos wouldn't do the same ones over and over again for weeks on end.

Now that my kiddos are using the Montessori elementary curriculum, the focus of the first part of our three hour block  is to complete required tasks.  Each kiddo knows they must complete the following:
  • Journal Question
  • Math Challenge
  • Language Challenge
  • Reading Assignment
They choose the order in which they complete the work.  Once those tasks are completed they move on to preferred work or projects.

Observe your child and create a system that works best.  It may be similar to how we do things, or you may come up with something completely different.

4. Minimize struggles with academics.

Bulldozer struggled with a hand preference until he was seven years old.  Not until he was eight was he able to write a sentence on his own.  Writing was HARD.  It brought so much frustration and prevented him from progressing in multiple subject areas.  

That is until we minimized the writing.  

Yes, you read that right.

Bulldozer was responsible for one writing assignment a day.  This is how our daily journal work started.  Be sure to check out our FREE Rainbow Writing Prompts.

Rainbow Writing Prompts (Free Printable)

Once that writing work was complete, all other learning assignments required absolutely no writing.  We did this for years with him.

Believe it or not, Bulldozer loves writing now.  His penmanship is beautiful.  I truly believe we owe that all to the principle of following the child and not pushing him into something he isn't ready for.

One of our co-op students was petrified of math. He would avoid it at all costs.  He reminded me a lot of Dinomite when he was younger.  Each day, he knew that he only had to complete our daily math challenge, and then he knew he could relax and not worry about more math, unless he chose to do more.

Over the course of the year this child slowly felt more comfortable with numbers and progressed through content he had struggled with for years.  

Follow your child's lead.  Battles and frustration are not the Montessori way.  Work together, following the three period lesson.  Use the FREE Montessori Three Period Lesson Visual Prompts if necessary.

Montessori Three Period Lesson Visual Prompts (Free Printable)

5. Set a learning schedule that matches your child's sensory and self-regulation needs.

It can be so easy to try to create a schedule based on the needs of the parents, instead of considering the needs of the child and following their lead.

My kiddos almost always become hungry about 90 minutes into their work.  To remedy this we have a healthy snack after required tasks.  The snack also helps the kiddos self-regulate after what is often the most difficult work of the day.

Right after snack, I present a lesson on most days.  After they're refreshed with a snack, the kiddos are at their best and ready to focus on something new. Giving a lesson at that time provides extra support, when they would otherwise meltdown or fall apart due to false fatigue.

Once the lesson has been presented, the kiddos have the rest of the three hour block to choose work from the shelves or work on a project.

They're usually so excited at this point to do whatever they want that we don't usually have any further issues.

There are times when a kiddo can't seem to work on their own at this point.  If this happens I usually try to create a project based learning environment so they stay more engaged, or I become their one-to-one for the rest of learning.

6. Have learning time occur during the child's best time of day.

My kiddos prefer to have learning time in the late morning to early afternoon (10 AM to 1 PM), completing their three hour block before lunch.  They function better.  They're not nearly as tired.  Their focus is at its best.

This time slot allows them to sleep in each morning, slowly get ready for their day and get outside.  If we try to have learning time earlier or later, it's usually unsuccessful.  

In Sunshine's case, her medications are working at their best during these hours.  In the afternoon she begins to deteriorate.  At night she struggles the most.

Observe your child and decide when they learn best.  Do you have an early bird? Perhaps you have a night owl?  Make adjustments to your schedule accordingly.

7. Observe how many choices your child can handle.

A long time ago I learned that the more choices of work Sunshine had, the more overwhelmed she became.  I also observed that if the work on the shelves was too spread out around our homeschool classroom, she became overwhelmed.

To solve this problem we put out enough work to only fit one set of shelves.  All of her work, no matter the subject was on the same set of shelves.  This was a huge success.  We rotated it out weekly or every other week depending on her interest level.

We also created the daily task checklistThis has been beneficial for all of our kiddos in multiple ways.

Montessori-inspired Daily Tasks Checklist (Free Printable)
Follow your child's needs and create a learning environment and process that helps your child feel calm and self-regulated.

8. Work your way up to the recommended three hour work period.

It took us YEARS to work up to a complete three hour work period as Maria Montessori recommends.

Do not feel defeated if you can't get your child to work for the entire time.  It will come when your child's body and mind are ready.

Start with a time period that ensures success for you and your child and build from there.

Remember that Montessori learning occurs throughout the entire day, not just during the designated learning time.  You are not failing if you can not succeed at the three hour work period.

Homeschooling children with developmental, emotional, and trauma based challenges using the Montessori Method takes time to adjust to.

If you're off to a rocky start, know that's okay.  As you observe and follow your child, things will get better.  

We hope these tips and resources will help you and your child excel at Montessori homeschooling!

If you enjoyed this post, you may also enjoy the posts below.
The Best Montessori Tips for Special Needs Families Montessori Homeschooling Support and Resources Free Printables 
The Best Tips for Montessori Homeschooling Children with Developmental, Emotional, and Trauma Based Learning Challenges

Read More »