I will be writing a series about some simple techniques which could help children and adults with triggered anxiety to help manage their symptoms. (Please note that severe anxiety which is impacting significantly on a person’s life may need the intervention of medical professionals and trained therapists).
The 3-3-3 technique is a wonderful tool to use with children as it is easy for them to remember. The objective is for them to feel more mindful, focused and grounded when their anxiety is starting to feel overwhelming.
3-3-3 involves the person identifying 3 objects around them they can see, 3 things that they can hear and moving 3 body parts (ie their fingers, wrists and toes). It works to reconnect the person with their physical surroundings and become aware of their body movements instead of their symptoms of anxiety like intrusive thoughts. Some steps from Choosing Therapy:
Step 1: Focus on 3 Objects You Can See
Focusing on things that you can see helps you become visually aware of your surroundings. You can notice big objects such as a tree or a chair, or you can look for smaller, more discreet objects such as a pencil or a coin. The idea isn’t necessarily to have objects in mind that you want to see, but rather to focus on the world around you. This helps you deal with your anxiety by removing you from the mental chatter causing you stress.
Step 2: Focus on 3 Things You Can Hear
Pinpointing sounds is another great way to help you deal with anxiety. Diverting your attention to your environment can help you transition from a state of inward thinking to one in which you’re connected to your surroundings instead. However, depending on your location, you may have a hard time isolating sounds. Some things to listen for include a clock ticking, clacking of keys on a keyboard, or someone sniffling. If you are somewhere outdoors, you may notice leaves rustling in the wind, cars passing by, or dogs barking.
Step 3: Focus on 3 Things You Can Touch/Move
Lastly, find three things that you can touch or move. These can be within your reach or even parts of your body. Identifying tangible items is one of the fastest ways to ground yourself when you’re feeling anxious. Teaching yourself to focus on the physical environment helps you feel anchored and reminds you to be present.
My son’s neurologist suggested that Vitamin B6 could be tried to help lessen my son’s anxiety. He is having focal seizures, is autistic and non-verbal. While not a cure for anxiety, it was something that could be tried to help with symptoms.
It seems there are only small studies on its effectiveness for both anxiety and depression, but I did find a study showing that Vitamin B6, increases the body’s production of gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), a chemical that blocks impulses between nerve cells in the brain.
In the study, David Field, PhD, from the School of Psychology and Clinical Language Sciences at the University of Reading, said that Vitamin B6 helps the body produce a specific chemical messenger that inhibits impulses in the brain, and our study links this calming effect with reduced anxiety among the participants.”
The dose of Vitamin B6 was high in this study, 100mg. This would suggest that eating food rich in B6 may not be enough to make a substantial difference. However, it could be a worthwhile first step to increase foods with naturally occurring B6. Foods high in Vitamin B6 include fish, chicken, tofu, pork, beef, sweet potatoes, bananas, potatoes, avocados, and pistachios.
I did end up trying a supplement which had Vitamin B6 in it and other calming ingredients which was formulated for children 8+. While definitely not a cure, the anxiety symptoms he was displaying at the time have definitely lessened. I saw an improved mood after about 2-3 weeks. The neurologist suggested using the brand Blackmores, who have a supplement with high Vitamin B dosages. I was unable to try this because my son cannot swallow tablets. However this may be something others might like to try.
Many children with ASD have very particular food palates and this can cause a lot of stress at home when this palate will not go beyond their restrictive favourites – often chicken nuggets which are dry, crunchy and very predictable in smell and texture.
I often get asked how to help children explore different foods and this is not a simple process. Often aversions can be related not only to texture, but the mixing of foods (ie spaghetti bolognaise), the temperature and how it is presented. For instance, eating a strawberry may not be palatable using fingers but may be accepted using a fork or given pureed in a fruit pouch. Experimenting with different cutlery, divided food dishes (so foods are not touching) and in different forms is a good first step.
The “SOS Approach To Feeding” could be tried to help expand a child’s view of food. This can be a very slow process and needs a lot of time and patience. Please do speak to a qualified speech pathologist or eating therapist who can help guide you through the steps if you need more assistance and support.
Step 1 Choose the right food to encourage: Consider some foods that are similar to the ones that your child already tolerates eg if they like chicken nuggets, try chicken schnitzel and also choose a food to try that is as consistent and familiar as possible.
Step 2 Start at a distance: Present the food away from your child, then move it closer once tolerated.
Step 3 Discover the food together: What are its colours, texture, temperature etc?
Step 4 Get closer: If your child feels confident, they may be able to move the food with a utensil, pick it up with their fingers or touch it to their body (on their arm or leg, for instance) or face. It’s important that all exploration is done in a fun and playful manner as we learn most, and will challenge ourselves most, when we are having fun.
Step 5 Once it feels ok to have a food around the mouth, you might be able to touch or hold it with the lips, then a lick or three seconds on the tongue.
Step 6 Rockets and Spit Cups: Once your child feels comfortable playing and exploring with food around their mouth, it’s time to include rocketing (spitting it out with some force while you yell rocket!) into the bin and using a spit cup. The spit cup is especially helpful as it will allow your child to taste, bite or crunch a food without pressure to swallow it. From there, multiple chews may be possible and eventually a swallow.
iPad apps don’t have to be just about sitting in front of screen. These apps recommended by Source Kids encourage movement and a chance to practice some key motor skills.
GONOODLE: Make screen time active with 300+ dance videos, yoga exercises, and mindfulness activities for kids! GoNoodle was developed by a team of seasoned designers, educators, child development specialists, and researchers.
JUMP JUMP FROGGY 2: Get a jump start on physical fitness and fundamental mathematical concepts while exercising body and mind with Flip the Frog and his colourful friends. Your physical motion in the real world controls the action simply hold your device in your hands and jump! The higher you jump, the higher the frog jumps!
DEM DANCING BONES: Learn anatomy while you move and groove together! Dem Dancing Bones is a hilarious take on the well known traditional anatomy song. Your kids will absolutely love the funny dances performed by this cartoon Skeleton named Mr. Bones.
KIDS YOGAVERSE: I AM LOVE: The iPad app teaches 13 poses and breathing techniques set to music with vibrant backdrops. We step onto our magic mat and fly through the ancient lands of Egypt. We are as strong as a mountain, as silly as a Laughing Dove and as playful as a dolphin. Dive deep into the Red Sea to discover indigenous curiosities, like a long-lost sphinx!
SWORKIT KIDS: Within the popular Sworkit workout app there is a free kids workout section with a variety of fun workouts to help get those wiggles and giggles out. With each exercise presented visually, the app guides students through exercise routines focusing on strength, agility, flexibility, and balance, such as doing the crab crawl, squats, or side plank.
SUPER STRETCH YOGA: Move, play and breathe as Super Stretch introduces you to his friends and their yoga poses. Super Stretch is your guide who takes you on your journey. Using storytelling, animation and video examples, kids enjoy making NAMASTE a part of their day.
Working with children can be a challenge, especially if they are not keen to work with you in return. This list outlining ‘The 7 Drops’ is something all practitioners and educators can try to aid building connections and relationships with the children they work with.
Drop your voice – lower your pitch. Show interest in what the child is doing with your voice, your facial expressions and body language.
Drop your body – get down to their level. If they are on the floor playing, ask to join in on what they are doing. Initiate taking turns if they will accept it.
Drop what you are doing – take your time to get to know them. Leave note-taking and other work for later, make spending time with them your priority.
Drop your guard – let them take risks. Encourage them to try different things and get messy and creative while doing it.
Drop your defences – keep your agenda to yourself. This is about the child’s development. Building a real connection and relationship needs to come from an authentic place. Set goals with the child so you are working towards the same outcomes.
Drop your batteries – turn your devices to silent and give them your full attention. This creates less distraction for you and good role-modelling for them.
Drop your misconception that fun is frivolous – learning through play is powerful. Rediscover your inner child and follow their lead. Have fun!
Taking a child with a disability out into the community is often accompanied by other adults averting their eyes or pretending not to see you, especially if your child is making high pitched noises or moving awkwardly. If these adults are also parents, you might hear them tell their children tersely, ‘don’t stare’ before quickly moving their children away from you and the offending noise.
When I arrive at my son’s school to pick him up, there is always one student there who comes running to the gate and who I affectionately call the welcoming committee. She is always on the look out for parents, letting teachers know whose parent has turned up and even giving updates on how far away your child is. She is the first to smile and wave to me and I always make sure I get out of the car, regardless of how busy or tired I am to go over and say hello. Sometimes children who are non-verbal also wander up to me curiously and I always make sure to warmly greet them too, offering them a high five as this is the way they greet each other at school.
Wouldn’t it be incredible for parents to start teaching their children to ‘say hello’, instead of ‘don’t stare’? So don’t avert your eyes – it takes a few seconds to warmly smile and say hello, even better if this is followed by a friendly wave or a high five. Such simple gestures can make the world of difference in someone else’s life and have the power to change their whole day for the better.
My son Micah is 11 years old. Micah is autistic and has an intellectual disability and while he’s predominantly non-verbal in terms of having a fluent conversation with anyone, he’s in possession of a multitude of strategies for not only speaking words but also communicating about the things he is interested in.
If you were to meet Micah, he would likely be largely non-responsive to your attempts to communicate verbally with him outside of him possibly saying hello and goodbye to you. A few years ago, with the help of his speech therapist, we purchased an app called Touch Chat. Touch Chat is a communication system which also includes a keyboard page and it is through this page that we discovered that Micah can actually read many words and that he can also type, even using predictive text when he needs help. Despite him being limited in communicating verbally through his own words, he can read and write at a much higher level. Through this discovery, a whole new way to communicate with Micah was born!
Armed with this new knowledge, I begun introducing Micah to levelled readers, starting at level 1. Levelled readers use and build upon common sight words and my prime motivation for him was that he learn to identify and understand these. This is Micah reading a level 3E reader, Racing Cars:
Following on from this, Micah begun ‘scripting’ from the shows he likes to watch, attempting to verbally copy the script and singing along to the Thomas the Tank Engine song which includes the words at the bottom. This is a video he created himself and posted on You Tube:
Pushing himself further, Micah also created his own script while reading a favourite book of Thomas the Tank Engine. Here he records himself singing happy birthday in response to what he sees on the page, which is a birthday party and blowing the candles on the Thomas cake he sees coming out of the doorway:
Micah, as do many around the world, loves You Tube. As Micah has learned to type, it has become easier for him to search You Tube for the content he’s most interested in. Sometimes this content is not able to be found and he needs to search elsewhere. A few months ago, Micah started to record shows he enjoys from dvd’s and other websites which host this content and started posting them himself to You Tube. Mostly they are small snippets of the part of the show he enjoys, usually a script between characters or the opening sequence. In this recording, he’s shows 8 seconds of Team Umizoomi. It’s not a lot of time, but it has been viewed 1220 times:
Again, pushing himself forward. He has since created a video of himself playing with his own Team Umizoomi toys, using vocalisations:
These are small examples of what Micah can do and the diverse ways he can communicate with the world. While most of the content he independently uploads to You Tube, I make private for his own use – I do allow some small videos to remain public. The amazing thing about the written word for Micah and creating videos is that that scripting he has seen somehow unlocks his own verbal capacity and the words flow from him more effortlessly. It gives him the power to create his own narrative in life and that is simply amazing for him.