Dealing With Self-Harm and Aggression
Self-harm and aggression are unfortunately common in people with disabilities, especially following an upsetting circumstance or situation. It can be incredibly frightening for both the person and their family. Read on to find some resources and next steps when dealing with self-harm and aggression.
Before we talk about how to handle situations when they arise, it’s important to understand a little background information, presented through several studies. It’s also important to remember that people with disabilities deserve to have control over their own bodies and should be respected above all else.
Prevalence: Self Injurious Behaviors (SIB) or self-harm is described as any behavior that is considered injurious to one’s self and is incredibly frightening for the person with the disability and their loved ones. It occurs in roughly 7%-23% of the disability population, particularly in those with an Intellectual Disability (ID), though the rates are much higher in populations of people with significant disabilities, reaching almost 73%.
Causes: There are many studied causes of SIB, but more research needs to be conducted in many areas in order to fully understand why SIB occurs and how to prevent it. Some causes that have been identified so far include sensory issues, lack of control or a feeling of a lack of control, feeling unable to express emotions of anger or frustration, and other factors such as exposure to dangerous bio-chemicals, history of abuse and certain genetic disabilities. It’s important to remember that there is always a cause to the SIB, and it’s no one’s fault when it occurs.
What can I do if my child is engaging in self-injurious behavior, self-harm or aggression towards others?
First of all, remain calm. It’s important to not match the level of anxiety, anger or frustration they are feeling. These are big emotions, and it’s ok for them to be feeling that way.
Protect yourself. If your child is being aggressive towards you or another person, it’s best to distance yourself from them until they can calm down. Things can be replaced, but people can not and you can not protect your child or others around them if you are injured. If you feel like you can not distance yourself safely, then it’s important to take a protective stance, like putting your hands in front of your face or using safe block techniques. The Crisis Prevention Institute (CPI) can help you learn safe block techniques as well as safe restraint techniques, if needed. Restraint should be an absolute last resort.
Protect the person. Using pillows, blankets or other soft items in between the person and what they are using to engage in SIB can be helpful in reduction of harm. For example, you can use a pillow to reduce harm if the person is engaging in head banging behaviors or you can put a blanket over their arms if they are engaging in picking, scratching or pinching.
Use soothing tones, voices or music. While you are intervening, it’s important to use soothing tones, voices or music to help them reduce their anxiety or help them calm down. You can remind them they are safe and that everything will be ok. You can put on some classical music (or music they like) or you can use a weighted blanket or vibrations to help reduce their sensory overload.
Distraction. If it is safe, you can distract them from the behavior by engaging in a fun activity like dancing, singing or art or you can put something in their hands that will help them focus their feelings on something other than the SIB. For example, you can put a vibrating ball in their hands to give them the feeling of movement and distract them from what might be overwhelming their senses. Do what’s best for your child. Each person is unique and what distracts one person might overwhelm another.
Research proven methods for reducing self-injurious behavior (SIB) in the future
Research has been done on the various interventions ranging from psychotherapy to diet and vitamins. Below are some methods shown to be helpful in reducing SIB long term.
Biochemical: Some people’s biochemistry can be regulated through diet and vitamins. Some research has shown that vitamin B6, calcium and a diet rich in fruits and vegetables and low in sugar can help reduce urges to engage in SIB.
Therapy: Like anyone, providing tools and coping strategies to help your child deal with big emotions and sensory overload can help them learn to advocate for what they need to calm down, communicate what they need or engage in self-soothing behaviors.
Communication: Increasing methods of communication can be very helpful in reducing SIB. For example, if your child is non-verbal or finds it difficult to express their emotions verbally when they are experiencing anxiety or frustration, you can use picture cards or a feelings chart to help them express their emotions. Once expressed, you can ask them what they need from you to help them feel better. You can provide them options like would it be helpful for me to stay with you or give you space right now?
Understanding the Functions of the Behavior: Functional Behavior Analysis (FBA) is a tool used to determine the function of the SIB. For example, if your child engages in SIB after being told no and then stops their SIB when they eventually receive a yes, then they have learned that in order to change your mind as the parent, they can engage in SIB. Another example could be that the SIB is helping them cope with an overstimulating situation like loud music or a new environment. By understanding the function of this behavior, we can more easily intervene. Many children will give you subtle signs that they are going to engage in SIB, by paying close attention to these subtle signs, you may even be able to intervene before the behavior occurs.
Medication: Medication should always be a last resort, after all interventions have been tried multiple times and have been proven ineffective. If you’re interested in exploring this route, you should speak to your child’s doctor about the best way to move forward that will still allow your child to enjoy their independence.
Always remember that there is no fault associated with self injurious behavior, self-harm or aggression. Finding out the root cause of the issue can help you better identify how to intervene in the moment. Stay calm and help them use their strategies or coping mechanisms. It’s also important to remember that learning new strategies is hard work and may not be successful the first time. Keep at it, the more time you invest in understanding your child, the easier these situations will become to handle and the less likely they will be to occur.
Healthy Relationships and Sexual Health for People with Disabilities
Having “The Talk” with your child can be overwhelming, scary and sometimes a little awkward. It’s often a topic parents try to avoid engaging in with their children and teens, but it’s crucial to ensuring your child can have healthy and safe relationships. People with disabilities have not traditionally been invited to participate in these conversations and can be taken advantage of if not armed with the information needed to make healthy decisions about their bodies and romantic relationships. Read on to find some tips and resources to help you have these conversations with your child or to learn more yourself about how to engage in healthy romantic relationships.
Assume nothing. People with disabilities can experience sexuality on the same spectrum as people without disabilities. We should never assume that just because someone has a disability that they are asexual or heterosexual. Sexuality is a spectrum, regardless of your cognitive or physical abilities. Always approach conversations with an open mind, ready to listen.
Start with Respect. Every person deserves to feel safe and respected in a relationship, so it’s important to start by defining what respect looks like and feels like. For example, every person has control over their own body. What they say goes. If they are uncomfortable in a situation, they have the right to say no and have the other person respect their decision. Similarly, it’s important to recognize that if the other person in the situation expresses discomfort or says no, it is their right and we must respect their decision without trying to persuade them to change their mind. This is important to practice even in the safest situations. Encourage family members to respect the word NO, even in seemingly harmless situations like asking for a hug or a kiss hello.
Understanding an Imbalance of Power. A real issue within the disability community is the issue of sexual abuse, domestic abuse and trafficking. Most instances of abuse start with an imbalance of power, whether that is in a caretaking situation, a friendship, a position of authority or a romantic relationships. Both parties have equal power and should respect the other person. Learning about how to identify an unsafe situation and then practicing the steps needed to leave that situation can help prevent dangerous situations from occurring or escalating.
Understanding Touch and Consent. Many people with disabilities have people touching them in order to get their daily needs met. For example, if you are blind, people might take your hand to lead you across the street or help you find something. If you require assistance with toileting, people are touching your body. It’s important to require caretakers to ask for consent before touching a person’s body. Think about when you are at the doctor’s office. The doctor tells you what they are going to do before they do it and tell you to tell them to stop if anything makes you uncomfortable. This is an important right to have and should be given to every person, regardless of their ability level. Practicing giving consent and discussing what types of touch are ok is important to ensuring healthy boundaries are in place.
Have an Open Dialogue. Dating and relationships, especially in the adolescent years, is confusing, heart breaking and full of emotion. It’s important to encourage an open dialogue where questions and scenarios can be talked about safely. Some people may have a hard time understanding why someone doesn’t want to be their friend or doesn’t want to date them and it’s important for them to have a safe space where they can air their frustration or hurt feelings and then talk about safe ways they can move on.
Get resources. Theses are some amazing resources written by people with disabilities about sexual and relationship health.
Improving Reading at Home
Literacy development is essential to future success. Improving literacy skills in your child can help them get ahead and can lead to success in math, science, history, career development, health and many other areas. For some students, literacy success might look different and may consist of more life-skills such as sign or number recognition. In other students, they may be preparing to enter college or the workforce and will need to read at an eighth grade level at least. Read on for some recommendations on improving literacy skills at all levels.
Life-skills literacy is defined as the ability to recognize and read important signs and numbers that will increase and promote safety or functional living. This includes reading a subway map, reading a picture recipe, recognizing bathroom signs, reading a grocery store price, recognizing important words and much more. Some resources for parents to use include:
Visual recipes: Picture recipes with steps for students to follow along. Most of these are free to download and print or use an iPad to view. It’s so important to include your student in the kitchen with you, especially if you want to prepare them for independent living.
Grocery shopping: Taking your student with you when you go to the grocery store can help them learn to match items with words. Creating a visual grocery shopping list can also help your student be more independent at the store.
Metro or bus map: Teaching your student how to ride public transportation can drastically increase their independence. Look for a free map on your metro’s resource page and practice riding the metro with your student. Help them learn how to put money on their card, how to swipe to enter and exit and how to look for which train or bus they should get on.
Community and safety signs: Recognizing important community and safety signs is crucial to maintaining a safe environment for your student. You can teach these while out in the community and then review them with flashcards. You can create online flashcards or physical cards using pictures you print out from google. Creating your own flash cards could be more beneficial as you can pick and choose (or even take your own pictures of) signs that are around your house or community. Think about adding police and fire stations, emergency phones, hospitals, bathroom signs, poison and other warning signs, traffic signs, crosswalk information, etc.
Frenalytics: Create picture based lessons that you and your student can do together to help learn about safety, travel, food and other important visual signs. You can sign up for free!
For students who are just beginning their reading journey or are working on sound, letter or word recognition, reading with them is extremely beneficial. When reading with them, choose books that have sight words or words that can be easily decodable (sounded out). You can read part of the page and then point to a word or two for them to read. When they are able to read full sentences, you can read one page and they can read the next page.
When listening to your child read, periodically ask them these three questions:
Did that look right?
Did that sound right?
Did that make sense?
Doing this will ensure that your child is not relying on you to tell them if they’ve made a mistake. By asking these questions when they have read the sentence correctly as well as when they have made a mistake will help them learn to self-correct. Self-correction is when a child is reading and realizes on their own that they’ve made a mistake, and they go back to reread the sentence in order to correct themselves.
Learning to Read vs. Reading to Learn
Once your student is able to decode basic words (usually past a 3rd grade reading level) and has a firm grasp on their sight words, they start to transition from learning how to read to reading to learn information. At this point, comprehension of what they’re reading becomes the most important task. When this occurs, the best way to improve performance is to provide frequent and varied access to books. Having your own library at home is great, but it’s not necessary. The public library has an abundance of resources for you and your student to enjoy. Library cards are free and most libraries do not have a limit on the number of books you can check out at once. Additionally, larger libraries have online access where you can download ebooks right to your phone, tablet or kindle. This is a huge time saver, especially if you have an avid reader at home. Also remember, no one is too old to read with their family members! Kids of all ages enjoy being read aloud to and they also enjoy reading aloud to their family members. Encourage family reading nights where you all read together and then talk about what you’re reading.
Looking for more resources? Reading Partners has a great comprehensive website of resources for parents!
Primary Organization (PK-5): Starting the Year Off Right
A Guide For Parents and Families
Organization skills are crucial to success in middle and high school, but proper organization starts in elementary school. As students progress in grades, they are expected to take on more and more responsibility, and parents are “kept in the loop” on fewer and fewer things. Read on to read some great tips for staying organized in the primary grades.
When I was a student in primary school, I struggled immensely with organization and remembering which books I needed to bring home for homework that night. I would often get home thinking I had reading homework, only to find out I brought home my math workbook and left my reading workbook at school. My mom came up with a genius idea that I’ve tried with lots of students with success, color coordination!
Keep everything for each subject color coded. For example, your math textbook, math notebook, math workbook and/or math folder should all be one color. Color code the section in your agenda with the same color, so when you look at the end of the day, you know to bring home your red books, or your yellow books.
We used colored tape, book socks and colored contact paper to help color code my textbooks and workbooks and then purchased corresponding paper folders that were the same color. Help your child organize all of their materials within the first week of school. Talk to your child’s teacher about helping them organize their desk if necessary.
Keeping a Clean Desk
During recess, snack break, lunch break, or the end of the day, encourage your child to clean out their desk. Go through any loose papers and put them where they belong. Sometimes it’s a good idea to have a “catch all” folder where they can store these papers until they can have time to organize. If there is no time available during the day, talk to your child’s teacher about providing some time for desk organization either at the beginning or end of each day.
Send your child to school with a small pack of wipes to wipe down their desk each day. This will help them keep their desks free of crumbs, pencil shavings, broken crayons, etc. If you tell them to wipe the inside of their desk every week, it will force them to take everything out and subsequently prompt them to organize everything.
Using a Planner/Agenda
Have your child use a planner or an agenda to write down their homework each day. You can color code each section of their agenda so they know to write down their math homework in the red math section and their reading homework in the yellow reading section. Ask your child’s teacher to double check their agenda to ensure they aren’t forgetting anything, at least until they’ve shown they have a good grasp on the routine.
When they are packing up, remind your child if they have math written down in the red section, they should take home all of their red books and folders. If they have a question, encourage them to advocate for themselves and ask their teacher what they will need to complete the assignment.
Create a Task Card
While your child is learning these new routines like writing down their homework and organizing their desk, create a task card for them to refer back to. Here is an example of a task card for how to use your agenda. I used Canva to create this. You can be more specific by taking pictures of your child’s actual agenda and giving them specific directions.
Download our PK-12 Organization Checklists HERE!
What are your organization tips? Comment below!
Secondary Organization (6-12): Starting the Year Off Right
A Guide For Parents and Families
Middle and high school are no joke! Students are transitioning classes, have multiple teachers, and are learning between 4 and 7 subjects at one time! Organization really starts to suffer at the start of middle school, and it makes so much sense! Read on to learn some simple ways to stay organized.
The Big Binder (TM)
Keeping important papers and information for your classes in one place is key! To do this, the best organization system I’ve found that works for most students is the Big Binder. Some schools may already require students use one central binder for all of their classes, especially if they are an AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) school. Regardless, being able to find everything you need by looking in one place is so helpful. However, purchasing a binder is only the first step.
Start the year off by purchasing TWO BIG BINDERS. One should be carried around with you all year long. The other should be kept at home and is where you will store the notes and materials that you are no longer using each day. For example, at the end of the first marking period, you’ll want to transfer all of your materials into your stay at home binder. This way your notes are there to refer back to, but won’t take up space in your binder for new material.
Most teachers forget to hole punch their materials, so purchasing a good, sturdy hole-punch, like this one, will be super helpful. These can get heavy to carry around, so one tip is to leave this at home and use it during your organization time.
You will need dividers. Purchase dividers with folders, like these, so you can temporarily store any papers that haven’t been hole-punched yet. Be sure to purchase enough so that each class can have a section in your binder.
Label each tab with the FULL name of the class, and put them in the order that you have class each day. For example, if your schedule is English 1st period, followed by Algebra, followed by Biology, label the tabs in that order for ease.
Grab a pencil case for your binder. In it, be sure to always have 2 pencils, 2 pens, a highlighter and an eraser.
Put everything you need for each class IN that section of your binder. If your teacher requires the use of a notebook, and plans to review your notebook for accuracy/completeness, then purchase a notebook with three holes to stick in your binder. Take it out of your binder during each class though, taking notes with those big rings gets mighty difficult. If your teacher requires a composition notebook, use a big rubber band to keep it in your binder. Otherwise, have hole-punched notebook paper available for each class.
Buying the essentials above is just the first step. Ongoing organization and work is needed to be sure you can stay on top of everything and maintain a sense of calm.
Spend 10-15 minutes each day going through your binder and backpack in search of any loose paper.
Hole-punch any paper and put it in the correct spot in your binder.
Go through each section and determine if anything can be taken out. (Don’t throw anything away!) Place notes and materials from old units into your stay at home binder. Be sure to keep this stay at home binder organized as well!
Review your notes. At the end of each day, go back and review and organize your notes. The more frequently you do this, the more it will become rote memory for you and you will able to do it quicker and quicker. Plus, when it comes time for a test, everything will be ready for studying.
Spend 5 minutes preparing for the next day by placing any homework right in the front of your section so you won’t forget to turn it in.
Using a Planner/Agenda
A planner or an agenda is a great way to ensure you know what you need to do each night when you get home. For many students, it’s difficult to remember what you need to do for each class at the end of the day, so it’s best to write it down! Keep your agenda on your desk and open to the current day and class period so you can write down any important information including:
Homework for that evening.
Long term project due dates.
Upcoming tests or quizzes.
Reminders for field trips, paperwork, sports try-outs, etc.
Try out Viinko! Viinko is an online agenda that helps your child learn time management and organization skills, and help your child stay on track. Plus, you can sign up for their coaching services and get specialized assistance.
Keep your eyes peeled for a longer blog about how best to use your agenda. Be sure to check it EVERY DAY. Communicate with your family that this is a strategy you want to try and ask them to help you remain accountable. A good agenda that I like to recommend for middle and high school students is here.
Download our PK-12 Organization Checklists HERE!
What are your organization tips? Comment below!