Dealing with Holiday Stress & Transitions

This time of year is exciting while we wait for Santa and his reindeer and all the rest of the holiday fun. Unfortunately, along with all the fun can come anxiety!

Anxiety in your child can look like worrying and crying, but it can also look like an increase in rigid thinking, noncompliance, sleep disturbance, and altered appetite.

Here are a few techniques to help with holiday transitions and help keep this a joyful time for all:

  • One of the most effective techniques for dealing with transitions during the holidays is using a visual calendar to indicate the differences between days. You can click here to download and print a simple calendar for the holiday break. 

My encouragement to you is even if you think your child is going to be fine, sit down with him and mark the days that things will be “different”. This can include relatives coming over, playdates, travel dates, days at mom’s house or dad’s house, Trail of Lights visit, and when we return to school, etc. Hang it on your fridge or in your child’s bedroom and refer to it often. If the plan changes, make a quick note on the calendar. Allowing your child to see what is coming next automatically decreases their underlying anxiety.

    Some children need a more detailed plan for the day. It is not always necessary to have a formal visual schedule. Often, a quickly jotted list on a post-it note is sufficient. You can make the “plan” for the day with your child the night before at bedtime or at breakfast. It might look something like this…


    If your child is a time-conscious kid, just add ballpark times, but emphasize that they can change. If
    they do change, make the change in WRITING!

    Carefully choose the amount of information you want to share with your child about upcoming events. Children on the Autism spectrum function better with factual information about what to expect, but don’t give too much information too soon. That can actually backfire and create the anxiety you were trying to avoid in the first place! It is okay to “drip-feed” information as it is needed.

      Preview the “expected” behavior before social events or new experiences. You can discuss what they can expect to see, hear, and do and what others expect to see them do. Discuss any “hidden rules” of different environments. Hidden rules are those things that no one explicitly spells out for us, but we are supposed to just “know”. A few holiday examples might be: if you get a gift that you don’t like or already have, you smile, say thanks, and take it anyway or if you are served food that is not your favorite, you either take a little on your plate or politely say “no thank you” and choose something else – you do not announce to the group that it is disgusting!

      Hidden rules are a giant minefield for our kiddos. The more you can think through the hidden rules of a situation and clue your child in before the event (or even during if necessary) the more competent they will feel, the calmer you will feel, and the more fun everyone will have.

      Finally, remind your child that if the noise, crowds, excitement, and new experiences start to feel not fun, it is okay to say “I need a break”.

        Always respect your child’s need to take a short break away from all the “fun” stuff. Talk about ways your child can take a break in “expected” ways (go in the bathroom for a few minutes, ask to take a walk with a family member, take headphones to block out noise if your child is especially sensitive to sound). If your child does start to have a meltdown, make sure to reassure him that it is okay and that he can use his calming plan next time.

        Remember, the focus is on growing skills to be more flexible in different circumstances, improving perspective taking skills by recognizing the thoughts and feelings in others, and celebrating the use of coping strategies to stay calm and get needs met appropriately! Improvement in those areas is the best present of all!
        I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! Thank you for sharing your children with me every day. I am the luckiest teacher at Baldwin! With love, Mrs. Hively

        Hooray for Summer!

        Congratulations to all the kiddos for their hard work this year and a big giant THANK YOU to all the parents for your support this year. I’m so proud of the growth that each student has made.

        I hope that you all have a relaxing and fun-filled summer with your kids. Take advantage of the downtime to try new activities with your kids. Summer is the perfect time to try to expand your child’s interests.

        Don’t forget about the importance of a simple visual schedule to ease the anxiety of transitioning into summer and back into school (or any “different” time like vacation). Here’s a link to a post about working through transitions with a printable calendar. 

        When the summer doldrums hit, here are the some resources for
        fun activities in the Austin area.
        Click here for a comprehensive list (free & not so free)! 

        Click for  lists of free summer activities!

        If you would like to see your child be able to complete more writing on the computer, summer is a great time to have them work on developing keyboarding skills. Check out this post for links for keyboarding games.

        Summer is also a good time to work on basic personal care and safety skills like shoe tying and  learning their parent names, addresses, and phone number. Here’s a link to a post with shoe tying visuals.

        In mid-August, I will touch base with each of you to see how your summer has been and send you a social story and picture of your child’s teacher for next year. We will also set a meet the teacher visit when it is quiet and chaos-free.

        Have a wonderful summer vacation!

        p.s. I’ve started a SCORES wishlist page on the sidebar. If you have a moment, check it out! If you can keep your eyes open for small items for the treasure box, that would be great! When my kids were younger, I was famous for swiping those discarded Happy Meal toys from the floorboard of the car to recycle in the treasure box! Any freebie can be a good wishlist item (keychains, pens, pencils, sticky notes, toys, etc).  Wish List

        Summer Vacation Transition Anxiety

        Parents, I know that you are probably as eager to start the summer as I am! Not having to drag our kids out of bed and get to the school on time will be such a nice break! I know the kids are super excited to have a break from homework and the responsibility of being a student for a few months. As wonderful as summer break is, the transition between the school year and summer can be hard on our kiddos.

        This time of the year is filled with unexpected changes…. classrooms are being packed up, schedules are altered, everyone is excited, and so many “special” events that require flexibility and heavy doses of social skills are happening. The kids and I have been having many discussions about handling the changes. Many of them have adopted our skill of asking their teacher in the morning, “Are there any changes today?” This has been a great help and eased many worries.

        If your child starts exhibiting behaviors that have been resolved for quite a while during this transition time, please take a deep breath. Yes, it is frustrating. I feel it, too. But regression during a big transition is very common. If your child has shown solid growth behaviorally and it seems like things are sliding backwards a bit give it some time before you start with a new intervention. Continue being consistent with your expectation and current plan. This will give your child the predictability they need during this time of transition. Keep emotions as neutral as possible so that the regression is not compounded by an emotionally charged response. Usually, the regression will stop and the skill will be restored after a short period of time. 

        As we enjoy the long weekend, I’m going to ask each of you to please help your child with an activity that will help with the mixed feelings that can accompany the summer vacation transition. Please help your child fill out this calendar for next week identifying their plans for Thursday, Friday, etc. The plan does not have to be detailed. Just identify where they will be (home or traveling?), who they will be with, and a main activity they can count on.  It can be as simple as Thursday is Legos, Friday is a trip to the pool, Saturday is video games at home. Have your child post their calendar on the fridge or in their rooms. Doing this simple activity can help tremendously with decreasing anxiety and helping your child end their school year on a good note. The calendar can be found under “Transition” on the right sidebar.

        Please make sure that you are following this blog by email. You will receive an email notification when new topics are posted.  I will be posting several pieces of information about activities for handwriting improvement and summer activity ideas over the next week.

        Social Thinking Group Topics ~ April 2012

        I will periodically be posting updates to keep you informed about the topics that your child is learning in Social Thinking group. I suggest  that you subscribe to this blog or follow by email so that you will be aware when new material is posted.

        The kids have been working to create “team” names for each individual social group. You should have received an email letting you know what “team” your child is on for reference purposes. If you are unsure, ask your child or shoot me an email. At this point, the only group who does not yet have a name is the 1st/2nd graders. We will be working on a team name soon.

        The Cardinalsaurs is a group made up of Kindergarten and 1st grade students. The team name was created by combining two ideas from group members (Cardinals and Dinosaurs!). The great thing is that the kids figured out how to compromise with no guidance from me! I love it! One of the group members has contributed this fantastic drawing of what a Cardinalsaur looks like. 

        The Cardinalsaurs have been working on improving joint attention through building projects. Joint attention is the shared focus of two people on an object or other person. Joint attention is a critical skill for social competence. It is necessary in order to reference the people and context of a situation. Social referencing is crucial in order to monitor the actions and feelings of those around us and to help adjust our own actions in response. We’ve worked on building our joint attention through play without verbal communication. One of the favorite activities is to choose an object that we want to build and each member of the team adds a designated number of pieces to the creation. You direct your partner’s actions through your eye gaze by looking directly at the piece you wish for them to pick up and then directing their movement through your eye gaze.

        To practice this at home:


         1. Use Legos, K’Nex or any kind of building toy with varied pieces.

         2. Allow your child to initially decide on an object that you will build as a team. One important rule is that no one can speak, they can only communicate through eye gaze. This emphasizes the rule of thumb “what I’m looking at is what I’m thinking about”. The other rule is that you cannot move or remove any piece that another player adds to the creation. This rule allows for practice of flexible thinking when someone’s idea varies from your own. Decide a number of pieces that can be added on each turn (1-3 is recommended).

        3. After the first creation is complete, then the next person gets to pick an object. Emphasize that the pictures we create in our minds of the same object may vary. For example, if we are going to build a boat,  you may picture a speedboat, while I might picture a cruise ship. Neither is wrong and we have to be flexible as we build to accept the ideas of others.

        This week the Cardinalsaurs are learning the basics of being Social Detectives. A Social Detective uses his eyes, ears, and brain to figure out what others are likely thinking and feeing and make social predictions. If you would like to read The Social Detective by Michelle Garcia Winner feel free to visit the Baldwin SCORES Wiki at mrshively.wikispaces.com.  The book is available for online viewing under the “Superflex” tab on the right sidebar.  If you do not yet have a login for the wiki, please email me and I will send you the login info.

        The Social Detective concepts are important because they lay the foundation for learning basic Social Thinking skills. From this point on, we will begin to use the terms “Expected” and “Unexpected” to describe social behaviors. This takes away the connotation of “good” or “bad”, but instead examines behavior from the perspective of whether it is expected in a given situation or not.  For example, crying when you have to transition activities is unexpected while crying because you fall down and scrape your knee is expected. The behavior of crying is not good or bad. Expected behavior creates calm feelings in others and yourself while unexpected behavior creates uncomfortable or upset feelings in others and yourself.

        The other terms that we will begin using are “smart guesses” or “wacky guesses”. Using the Social Detective tools (eyes, ears, brain) allow us to make “smart guesses” about what others are thinking or feeling and predict what may happen next. When we do not use these tools our guesses tend to be wacky and off-base.

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        The soon-to-be-named group is made up of 1st and 2nd grade students and the Thinkables are a group of 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade students. Both groups are currently working on expanding their knowledge of the Superflex strategies and techniques to defeat Braineater. Braineater is one of the Unthinkables that is a troublemaker for all of us at one time or another. Braineater causes us to be distracted and make our brain leave the group.

        Watch the Superflex page on the right sidebar for various visual tools that I am in the process of uploading. So far the kids have learned about defeating Rockbrain and Glassman. You can also check the SCORES wiki for access to the Superflex books to read from home. If you do not have a username or password, email me and I will make sure you have access to the wiki. The wiki address is: mrshively.wikispaces.com. 

        ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
        The 5th Grade Transition group is focusing on preparing for the transition to middle school. This is an exciting and anxious time for students who are moving into this new setting. We are preparing through video clips and discussion about questions and concerns that they have. I have created a series of 20 short video clips of current 8th grade students providing information on topics that they wish someone had told them before they entered 6th grade. Here are the first two clips:
        #1 – Reputation Begins on Day 1
        #2 – What if I Don’t Get a Class I Want?
        More clips will be uploaded as we work on them as a group in class. It would be a good idea to have these clips available from home in the summer before the school year begins in August.