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Preventing the end of year burn out for ASD children

“Take a breath. It’s going to be okay.”

By Rita Harrison (Occupational Therapist)

As we approach the end of the school year, many of the children we see may be hitting a wall. You may find that your child is “off”- old “bad behaviours” are creeping back up to the surface, they are testing boundaries and everyone is at wits end trying to hold it together to get through the final stretch of the school year.

I often recommend to families that when things start going sour – go back to the basics. These can include:

Rita: Occupational Therapist

Reducing sensory overload and using visual supports

Often children with sensory processing difficulties have difficulties filtering the important cues around them.  When children have all their efforts (attention) focused on one thing (often something they like to do/ preferred), they may miss the sign that their attention needs to shift.

Together with a slower processing speed, this can mean that what their parent or teacher may be saying just does not register.  Using visuals, such as checklists of steps to follow or a picture cue, can help these children follow instructions at a pace that is more manageable for them (and also reduce the need for parents/ teachers to constantly verbally repeat themselves)

Slow down the pace

The ability to receive, understand, interpret and respond to the various sensory stimuli around us is an amazing skill that our brains and bodies do.  For children with ASD, this skill is done in a way that may not be the same as others.  For example, they may be paying attention to details that others would typically ignore or they may miss things that others would normally notice.

When children become anxious or stressed, their ability to process sensory information often becomes compromised and therefore their ability to engage or respond reduces.  Slowing down the pace that you speak or give instructions can help children with reduced processing speed to “catch up”.

Also slowing down the expectation of response can be really beneficial – so setting up the task that is challenging for the child (e.g. getting dressed for school) in a way that reduces the amount of steps that they need to do independently and therefore reduces the need for speed (e.g. laying out the clothes that the child needs on the bed in the order that they need to put them on, with a picture of them in the uniform nearby so they can check that they have it on correctly).

Rewards as motivators

Who doesn’t like a reward for doing something that is challenging?  Think of when you had to work really hard on report and you remind yourself, “When I get it done by the deadline, I am going to have that last piece cake that is in the fridge”.

Just like adults, children are motivated by rewards.  Incorporating some kind of reward (e.g. doing a favourite activity with mum/ dad or getting a small prize) can really help children with practicing tasks that are typically challenging for them.  Reminding them of the reward in a visual way (e.g. adding a picture to their schedule) can help them to know what they are working towards.

Having regular movement breaks

Movement can help “reset” the body and brain.  When children are sitting or concentrating on one task for too long, it can be difficult to remain focused.  A simple movement break, such as doing some wall push ups or throwing balls to a target, can help get the brain and body ready to work on a task again and help reduce fatigue.

In the classroom, it is great for the teacher to utilise movement breaks for the whole class as way to “wake up” their learning brains.  At home, using creative and therapeutic movement as a way of transitioning between activities can help keep kids engaged (e.g. lifting chairs off the table prior to meal times and help set the table for the family to eat, going on the trampoline for a timed period before sitting down to do homework, throwing bath toys into a target basket then tipping the basket of toys into the bath before bath time).

I often encourage my families to recall what has worked well in the past, what has helped them get through tough patches before and remind them that all kids go through waves. When our kids have been paddling all year, riding the waves of learning new skills and working hard to keep up with the demands of their busy lives- it’s no wonder that they sometimes fall off their boards and need some help to get back on. Getting “back to the basics” can really help.


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Montrose is becoming part of Northcott!

Our purpose has always been to provide people with disabilities with the best services possible. This will help us achieve that goal.

In the near future, when you visit Montrose.org.au, you'll be directed to our new website at Northcott.com.au.

You're bound to notice some changes… to our offices, our phone number, and even our uniforms and the way we work with you to achieve your goals.

Your therapist and services, our locations and the cost of your services will NOT change.