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Ep 10: Back to School Series: How to Alleviate Stress and Ease Anxiety for Neurodiverse Families

It’s back to school time, friends, and it's such a difficult time for neurodiverse families. There’s a lot of mental and physical prep work we have to do in order to get ourselves and our kids ready for the transition from summer. If you’re in the early years of back to school time, don’t worry, it does eventually get a bit easier as you get more experience with it.


In today’s episode, we’re kicking off our back to school series. We’re sharing why back to school time is so hard for all of us, how parents need to prioritize their sanity, and the tools and strategies that we’ve used to help alleviate the stress for all involved.


It’s OK for your kids to have a bit of a meltdown during back to school time, it doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Remember that there are lots of noises and people and other triggers that can cause anxiety for neurodiverse kids, and being patient and prepared is key.



In this episode, you’ll learn...

  • [12:15] Why transitioning back to school is so hard for us as parents of neurodiverse kids and for the kids themselves

  • [19:44] How to prioritize yourself and your sanity during back to school time

  • [30:23] The strategies we’ve personally used to ease the back to school transition for our kids

  • [42:17] Our What the What segment, recapping the key takeaways for back to school success

  • [44:27] The Last Word




If you just can't get enough of us, don’t forget to join our newsletter and check out our other projects.


Links mentioned in this episode…


Back to School Series: How to Alleviate Stress and Ease Anxiety for Neurodiverse Families

Gwen literally clinging to Rylan as they watch the bus approach on his first day of 3rd grade. He appears as if he’s clinging to her too, but in reality is pushing her away because he hates being touched and is super excited to ride the bus. Gwen then gets in her minivan, toddler Reagan in tow, follows the bus to school, waits for Rylan to get off the bus, and walks him to his class line. Does she leave then? Nope. She waits outside the fence until he walks into the school building, holding his teacher’s hand because the teacher sees that Gwen is watching her every move. Ya know. What we all do on the first day of school for our kids.



Back to School Series: How to Alleviate Stress and Ease Anxiety for Neurodiverse Families

Waiting for the bus on the first day of integrated preschool. Did I also follow the bus and stand outside the fence like a stalker? Yepper. Why did I put my little babies on a bus, you may ask? Because when I tried to bring them to school, the meltdowns that would ensue from leaving them there were of epic, biblical proportions.


Transcript for "Ep 10: Back to School Series: How to Alleviate Stress and Ease Anxiety for Neurodiverse Families"


Gwen:

If you have an appreciation for honest and often irreverent conversations about parenting humans with neurodiversity, you have found your home. I'm Gwen.

Kristen:

And I'm Kristen. Together, we have 35 years experience parenting some fiercely amazing humans, which gives us an endless supply of stories of inspiring failures and heartbreaking wins.

Gwen:

Welcome to You Don't Want a Hug, Right? We've been having these conversations for years, cracking ourselves up. We've always wanted to share the hilarity and the hard with other parents, so here we are.

Kristen:

Grab a cozy blanket and a beverage and go hide in a closet nearest you.

Gwen:

Hey, hey KK.

Kristen:

Hey, Gwen.

Gwen:

How the heck are you?

Kristen:

I'm doing okay. I'm out in the woods in my camper with my husband.

Gwen:

Shut up.

Kristen:

I know. I'm looking out into the forest and starting our life on the road.

Gwen:

Okay. Well, I'm in my laundry room, so take that. We haven't seen each other's faces in a spell because it's been quite a week. Do you want to just kind of give a recap to our listeners on where in the world are you and what small life transitions have happened in just the past week?

Kristen:

Okay. In just the past week, we have secured two of our three children in their brand new apartments at college.

Gwen:

Woo woo.

Kristen:

Right? Each have three roommates and they're at different colleges, and it was a matter of trying to get everybody organized, all their stuff moved. Of course, it was a hundred degrees and you couldn't park near the apartment buildings and there was one elevator for two hundred parents looking very unhappy with the situation. I think I lost five pounds in sweat alone.

Gwen:

Congratulations.

Kristen:

Thank you. But they're really happy, they're really excited. Of course, they both lost their debit cards, so I don't know how they're eating right now.

Gwen:

There's a lot of foliage around them that I'm sure they can be picking.

Kristen:

Foliage.

Gwen:

Foliage.

Kristen:

Oh my God. I can't handle.

Gwen:

Congratulations, mama. That is actually so enormous.

Kristen:

It is. It's pretty enormous. And then Graham is at home, getting ready to start his community college classes tomorrow.

Gwen:

Which is just as enormous, just-

Kristen:

Just as enormous.

Gwen:

... so our listeners know, even though he's staying right at home.

Kristen:

Yeah. I mean, the transitions are huge, as our listeners well know. For families like ours, this is always a really intense time. But Greg and I bought a camper, a trailer, a 28-foot trailer, and my crazy husband retrofitted it with solar panels, so that we could be literally anywhere and not need a hookup. We're just living our very best life out here all by ourselves, in the woods.

Gwen:

Does that mean that you could camp outside of your kids' apartments if you need to? Is that part of the goal?

Kristen:

Maybe. Let's not let them know that, but we could hypothetically be in their parking lot.

Gwen:

For sure. Or have Graham live in it, maybe, in the backyard? Okay.

Kristen:

That's an option too.

Gwen:

It is multi-purposed, this camper. Currently, I love what it's doing for you, and I hope that it stays that way, that it's just you and Greg, out in the world alone.

Kristen:

That's our hope.

Gwen:

And Simon.

Kristen:

That's our hope.

Gwen:

And Simon.Yeah. You did leave Simon home with Graham, which is concerning.

Kristen:

It is concerning. However, I mean, Simon did give us that look like, "Please don't leave me." But Graham was going to be really lonely without the dog, so...

Gwen:

Yeah.

Kristen:

Just hope he's alive when we get back.

Gwen:

Or not cowering in a corner or under a couch.

Kristen:

Or needing dog therapy for the rest of his little life.

Gwen:

Well, this is great. This is great news. Your launch has happened, and now you get to settle into whatever this stage is going to be.

Kristen:

Yeah, this stage is going to be a thousand texts a day trying to learn how to adult in an apartment, but those are joyful texts to get.

Gwen:

Yeah, yeah, because they're not in your face.

Kristen:

That's right. We're supposed to be in this advisory role. I'm really excited about it. Gwen, what is your Rylandism for today?

Gwen:

It's actually one of great success. I'll have you know, and I happened upon it this morning. So yesterday, I'll allude to this later in the episode, we had a quite traumatic kayaking experience as a family. Well, Ryland and I did. And my tolerance for him the rest of the day was negative 10.

So when Ryland talks to me, it tends to be the stream of consciousness. And if I'm with my feet grounded, something to drink in my hand, I can handle it, right? But if he just comes at me, it's like throwing a ball, surprising somebody by throwing a ball at them, and it's like 15 balls are just being thrown at me with question, question, when, how, why, and he just wants answers. So that stresses me out to the extreme.

So I sat him down last night, and I said, "From now on, whenever you feel the need to sit next to me and pepper me with questions, I want you to just find a piece of paper, write all your questions down, and at nighttime, we will go through your questions and I will try to give you answers." So he begrudgingly was like, "Okay, but can I ask you a question first?" "No, you can't."

So this morning, I brought him to work and in the car, look at what he hands me. It's a ripped sheet of paper, of course, right? And it says, "Questions for Mom. When can we watch the Jim Gaffigan Show? When can I have a D&D night? When can David and I hang out? When can I finish my Shining Fates order? And when..." Ready for this one? "When can I plan a Halloween fun haunted house party in our basement?" So I get all day to look at this list and think about answers for him. It worked.

Kristen:

Wow.

Gwen:

Does that mean he won't pepper me with more questions? No, but at least those five are out in the open for me to consider in my own time.

Kristen:

Oh my gosh. Amazing.

Gwen:

Okay, what's your Grahamism?

Kristen:

All right, my Grahamism is a little nugget of insight into who he is, which when he's able to tell us these things, we revel in the moment because it's a little window into how he copes and what his brain thinks about. But he said that he laughs out loud... So this is something he does that drives me a little cuckoo. He will be around me and just be laughing hysterically for no reason. I have no idea why he's laughing. It's very annoying. But I don't want to ask what he's laughing at, because it's going to be something totally random and-

Gwen:

Then you have to engage.

Kristen:

And then he's going to laugh while he's telling me, which means I won't be able to understand anything he's saying. So I try to avoid that at all costs. But anyway, he said that he laughs out loud to himself because it's like when a computer overheats and the fan kicks on. When he's anxious, it's a mini program that runs and he sees clips and jokes in his mind and that helps him not think about his worries. I mean, when he told me that, I was like, "Laugh away, young man. Laugh away, and I will find a way to cope with your random laughing over nothing, apparently."

Gwen:

It's like a little movie projector's going off when he's laughing and he's trying to calm himself?

Kristen:

Yes.

Gwen:

It's a self-soothing strategy?

Kristen:

Yes. Which I think is brilliant and-

Gwen:

It is brilliant.

Kristen:

The fact that he was able to articulate it in that way so that I could really understand. Then when he's laughing hysterically, I'm not thinking, "Is schizophrenia starting to become a part of the picture? What is happening?" Now I know what's happening.

Gwen:

He's just a little stressed and he's-

Kristen:

A little stressed.

Gwen:

... figured it out.

Kristen:

Yeah.

Gwen:

Oh my gosh.

Kristen:

Yeah.

Gwen:

I love this. Thank you, Graham.

Kristen:

Right?

Gwen:

All right, let's move along into our episode. Well, we are sending our children to school tomorrow, which means Reagan is in her room making a minute by minute list of what she needs to do in the morning at what time and has alarms set and her outfits are chosen.

Kristen:

Oh my Lord.

Gwen:

And she just is delightful. She has my alarm set so I can help her curl her hair at 6:45 tomorrow morning. I mean-

Kristen:

Oh my goodness.

Gwen:

This child is like an anomaly compared to Ryland. And Ryland this morning was like, "Do I need any school supplies?" "What do you mean?" He goes "Like glue sticks or..." It's like...

Kristen:

Glue sticks?

Gwen:

"You're 16 and you haven't needed a glue stick since the fifth grade. But don't you worry, buddy, I am on it. Your backpack is ready to go. Your computer is all charged. It has Schoology on it, and you are set." So he is just now thinking about tomorrow, because that's just the way that child operates. But don't worry, I have thought of everything and had all the meetings, and we are ready to roll, okay?" So that's kind of where we are today. Tim's racing all day in South Haven, and so I'm just holding down the fort. Ryland's at work, and I'm mentally preparing myself for a week of just quiet house, which I can't wait. I can't even wait.

Kristen:

It's a beautiful thing.

Gwen:

It is.

Kristen:

Speaking of transitions, talk a little bit about our series that we're launching right now.

Gwen:

We are launching a series on back to school. And since it's such a complex, convoluted, angsty, sometimes joyful, but I wouldn't say that's a main descriptor for this time for our families, we are going to do a series. So this first one we're keeping it kind of general on we're going back to school and let's all just take a breath through what that is and what that means. And then we're going to do an episode on building teacher relationships and building relationships with your children's team, because they are integral to our success. And then we will do one on extracurriculars and perhaps some IEP 504 discussions too.

Kristen:

That just gave me the chills.

Gwen:

I know, I know. But maybe we'll change those, because there are literally 18 topics that we could do in this series, so we're going to just break it down and take our time and breathe into this season alongside you, because we're breathing through it ourselves.

Kristen:

When we think about transitioning back to school, one of the first things I think about is, "Why is this so effing hard?" Why is it so hard for us? And I think one of the main reasons is for kids who are neurodiverse and kids with autism can experience a kind of inertia when it comes to transitions, especially one as big as being at home with your family with potentially less structure and going back into a highly structured environment that has a ton of social demands. So our kids experience an intense lack of control over their environment. They're not able to engage in their special interests to the extent they were over the summer. They're going to have to talk about something else and think about something else, and that's really hard. And they're going to have to use executive functioning skills that they maybe have taken somewhat of a break from over the summer.

We know that as a group, children with autism have been identified as particularly vulnerable to difficulties in transitions and managing those transitions. So our kids are going to have a very hard time, and we know as moms and dads and caregivers in general, that we have to really manage our own anxieties as well as the rest of our family. That is, to me, the crux of the challenge.

Gwen:

Yeah, for sure. And I think all the things you noted about going back to school, on top of that, I would add the sensory experience of going back to school outside of the social challenges and the executive functioning. I know for Ryland, that was probably the crux of his struggles was walking into the lighting, walking into bells ringing, walking into lunchrooms and loud kids, and sometimes just that. The way that our schools for the most part are set up, it's a pain point for me, knowing how easily some of these things can be adjusted. So I think the sensory experience is just as significant as those social challenges in going back to school.

Kristen:

That's huge, Gwen, I'm so glad that you remembered that, because now I'm thinking about have any of our listeners been in a middle or high school recently in their lives? The amount of children and young adults walking through a hallway during passing periods is insanity. It's like salmon swimming upstream. Graham would be throwing elbows and pushing people within 30 seconds. And having a passing period for him that's two minutes before the bell rings is huge for him not to get physical with other people. So you're right.

And assemblies, oh my gosh, no. And lunchrooms, no thank you. Going to the library, right? So there's so many accommodations that we need to be reminding our school teams about and reminding our kids about, remember, these are the things that you can do to manage those sensory pieces.

Gwen:

Even just walking into school before the day starts. I had an occupational therapist describe it to me once really well. For our kids with sensory difficulties, it's like the equivalent of walking down a dark alley at night and just having no idea what's going to come out. So the first thing that comes out at you heightens your stressors, right?

Kristen:

Right.

Gwen:

So you picture them at the top of your head. Well, for our kids, to be able to bring that stressor back down is twice as hard. So in a typical brain, your stressor will come back down in 10 minutes, right? Well, it takes our kids over an hour for that stressor to come back down. So then when the next one hits and the next one hits, which it just does when you're at school, it's one after the other, they're just living at that heightened awareness the entire day. And if that starts the minute they walk in the door, I mean, they're set up for complete failure throughout the day.

Kristen:

Yeah, that arousal level is so high. And you can't tell, necessarily, so peers and teachers, people in the building can't tell that our kids are already at the max. So anything they have is going to spill over. Anything additional.

Gwen:

And I can speak into that lately. My sensory system has become so much more sensitive as I age, and I think much of that has to do with the parenting role that I play, but I can now physically feel that in my body and it's a horrible feeling, not being able to come down. If I need to go to my bedroom and lay down with my eyes closed and a fan on my face for 10 minutes to be able to find my kindness towards my kids, how are they doing that at school?

Kristen:

Right. Well, that's why so many of our kids come home from school and just fall apart. So you hear a lot of times that they may be doing okay in school, but they're falling apart at home. And it isn't because you're doing something wrong at home, it's that they're finally inside their home and they can fall apart. Because so much of their emotional, mental real estate was being utilized just to handle the environment, and then you've got to put learning on top of that and executive functioning for planning and organization. I don't know how they do it.

Gwen:

Well, and then learn how to be with your peers.

Kristen:

Right, and socialize appropriately and not use your special interests overly and keep your hands safe.

Gwen:

And then go sit in the damn assembly and cheer. Okay, go cheer with the mascot running around, freaking the shit out of you, and just cheer with your classmates. Okay? We're going to do the wave and you're going to put your hands in the air and do the wave and then walk back with your peers to your classroom. No.

Kristen:

No.

Gwen:

It's insanity. And you have to do your homework because of course you didn't get it done during your 20 minute allotted math sheet time, because you were looking at 30 problems that need to be done and you were overwhelmed, and so you just laid your head on the ground, as Ryland did so much of his elementary school years. Not on his desk, on the actual ground

Kristen:

Homework for our kids is maybe the biggest nightmare of our parenting life. Like Hayden could do five minutes and then he had to go jump on the trampoline for 15 minutes. He just felt it was illogical for him to have to do homework. He could smell out busywork like nobody's business. And if it made no-

Gwen:

He was correct.

Kristen:

... sense... Yeah, he was correct.

Gwen:

There's not one ounce of research saying that homework benefits children. Not one. I challenge anybody who disagrees to go find it and send it to us.

Kristen:

Yeah, it's brutal.

Gwen:

None. Anyway. So I think we covered the general idea of why back to school is hard, right? It's hard for so many reasons. I think what I want to focus on is instead of like, "We're going to give you all the answers for how to make this easier," we don't have that. We have tools that we can use that are kind of universal and helpful in a universal sense, but what we know is going to help friends is remembering that you are a human being outside of this role and prioritizing your own sanity and finding glimpses of joy and delight in your days so that you will be able to help traverse this time for both you, your family, and your students. Because without that sanity, this is going to feel impossible.

And this isn't coming from a mom who did this all the years she should have, but I have learned how to do it. And I think this year, I'm going into the school year feeling the most calm I ever have, and it's because I've been prioritizing myself. And self is never a priority in this journey, especially early on, but we really want to emphasize the importance of mom and dad, take a breather and find your inner zen, because that needs to be first. Do you agree?

Kristen:

I do. I think whatever that looks like for you in your individual lives, whether it's... I mean, for me, I'm more of an introvert, so I need alone time. That's just super vital for me. So it doesn't have to be like, "Take a bath, go for a walk."

Gwen:

No.

Kristen:

Right?

Gwen:

No.

Kristen:

It has to be something that's meaningful in the context of your own life that just fills you up a little bit. And the reason it's so important is because when our anxiety levels are high, it's hard for us to allow our kids to fail or make mistakes. That's a big issue for parents of kids that are neurodiverse. We are so concerned and try to set up the environment so that our kids don't have to... Because they already have to experience so many barriers, we don't want them to fail, but they deserve to fail like everybody, because that's how we learn, even though it takes our kids many, many, many times to learn sometimes those things. And we have to walk that fine balance between providing them the support and structure they need to be successful at all, and then while still giving them the room to make mistakes and learn how to be an adult and how to be a kid in different environments. So if we are anxious, we're less likely to be able to tolerate letting our kids have some challenge.

Gwen:

Yeah. Or just be themselves.

Kristen:

Yes.

Gwen:

Just to be who we know they are.

Kristen:

Right. We're so much more able to let them be themselves, their quirky little selves, when we're managing our own anxiety.

Gwen:

Correct. Because anxiety ties in with patience for me, specifically. And I'll tell you, yesterday was a day that I made some stupid choices about a kayak trip and I shouldn't have been in a kayak with him for two and a half hours, and it was my mistake. He was just being himself in the kayak.

Kristen:

Not to mention he rocked it for an hour.

Gwen:

He did.

Kristen:

I would've started talking about my special interests after one hour. I mean, come on.

Gwen:

But the point was I was so spent emotionally from him being himself in the kayak with me while Tim was nonchalantly just rolling down the river, enjoying his time. Anyway, so I was a complete a-hole to him, and anything he tried to say to me, I was like, "Just stop it." Like, "Well, mom, I just wondered if we're having dinner." "Shut up. I don't want to talk about dinner."

Kristen:

Oh God.

Gwen:

We need to manage our own patience, anxiety, feelings, because our kids feel that. Even if we don't know they do, they so feel that. And if we're feeling tense, they're bringing that into the school day with them and they're taking it home and they're nervous about how we're going to react. And guys, we have to take care of ourselves.

Kristen:

We do. I realize that when I'm really anxious, I get more rigid, just like my kids, and the message that I'm sending them is, "I don't have faith that you can handle this," and then they get more anxious. I think it's important to recognize that transitions back to school is a huge grief trigger for us, right? Any kind of big transition is a huge grief trigger because now we're reminded that this has to look different for us. We have to do a lot of work upfront to make this transition doable for our kids.

Gwen:

So much.

Kristen:

I mean, so much. We have to go to the school before school starts so that they can walk the halls, so that they can meet their teachers, so that they can see where their locker is and try the combination. We have to remind the IEP team about the kinds of triggers that are going to happen for them so that we can try to avoid a total meltdown on the first day or the first week. There are just so many things.

Gwen:

We have to make sure their backpacks are properly weighted. I mean, it has to be just right. It can't be so heavy that they can't carry it, but it can't be light, because they need a little weight on their back. It's like a weighted blanket.

Kristen:

Except that the backpacks for kids nowadays weigh about 60 pounds.

Gwen:

Well, and we're not even allowed to have them in our schools anymore here. No backpacks.

Kristen:

Our kids can't handle their lockers. They can't go to a locker between classes. They can barely get to class on time with their-

Gwen:

No.

Kristen:

... 60 pound backpack on-

Gwen:

No.

Kristen:

... much less take out the books they would need. No.

Gwen:

Right. No way.

Kristen:

Right? That just doesn't happen. So they carry their backpacks everywhere with them.

Gwen:

And then they forget them in between classes.

Kristen:

They forget them places. We were laughing earlier as I was talking about... Jameson will appreciate me saying this to you all, but he wears a lanyard around his neck. He's a sophomore in college. He wears a lanyard. It's got a lot of flare on it. It's got the key card to his building. It's got keys on it.

Gwen:

Snacks.

Kristen:

Snacks. It's got-

Gwen:

ID.

Kristen:

It's got-

Gwen:

Credit card.

Kristen:

It's a fanny pack for your neck.

Gwen:

Although not the debit card, because he lost that already. So we're going to have to add that to the lanyard, Jameson.

Kristen:

Yes. Typically that is where it lives. And the lanyard was not around his neck all summer, hence the loss of the debit card.

Gwen:

Right. We've got to get used to the weight of that on the neck.

Kristen:

And Gwen was saying, "Well, I think it's kind of cool to wear a lanyard now." I'm like, "Not the way my kid wears it." It looks like he may be selling things-

Gwen:

Jangles.

Kristen:

... off of that.

Gwen:

He jangles around on campus.

Kristen:

Yes.

Gwen:

But you know what? I was so proud that he's willing to do it, because he knows what works for him.

Kristen:

He does.

Gwen:

And he's just going to do it regardless. So good for you, Jameson.

Kristen:

Right? Wear that lanyard, Jameson. I should wear a lanyard.

Gwen:

Yeah. I've been starting a fanny pack. I wear a fanny pack now.

Kristen:

Wow. Tell us a little bit more about that-

Gwen:

I don't want to.

Kristen:

... decision.

Gwen:

I don't want to. You can just know that I have it on me. My phone is in it. Maybe my favorite rock that I like to hold onto when I'm feeling stressed. I always have it in my possession.

Kristen:

That's something about the both of us, and I don't know if this is an older lady thing, but-

Gwen:

Hey, hold on. Did you just call us older ladies?

Kristen:

Okay, well, I'm an older lady.

Gwen:

What? No.

Kristen:

I'm 10 years older, so I am an older lady. But it's all about the rocks now.

Gwen:

[inaudible] thing to say.

Kristen:

We're carrying rocks around in our pockets.

Gwen:

I think it's cool to carry rocks around. I don't have the little light that... I know an older gentleman who's in his 70s, I would say that's older-

Kristen:

Okay. I'm not-

Gwen:

... who carries a little light around-

Kristen:

... in my 70s, listeners.

Gwen:

... to look at rocks. At least we just have a rock.

Kristen:

Okay, okay.

Gwen:

Okay?

Kristen:

True that. True that.

Gwen:

There's room to grow in our oldness when it comes to the rocks. Anyway, moving on.

Kristen:

They keep us calm. That's all you need to know.

Gwen:

So friends, we have highlighted the importance of... And I don't like the word self-care, but you know what we mean. The importance of finding your zen and I would say finding some moments of joy and wonder that just can carry you through the hard and the tense moments that we know this time carries. For me lately, it's nature and it's holding a rock in my hand. So maybe for you, that's like making yourself a delicious breakfast in the morning before the kids get up. Maybe it's a meditation app that you can sit in the morning and just find your mantra for the day and say that mantra over and over and over and over again. Whatever it is.

Kristen:

Maybe it's eating Twizzlers in your bed and doing Wordle.

Gwen:

Maybe. Something that you can look forward to, something that you can recollect, because it's just a time. It's like the first few weeks of school are its own season in the calendar. And I feel that way about summer too, but summer is just the whole damn thing. It's just a season. And the school year, the first few weeks are especially brutal, and then it does tend to flatten out a little bit, but it's intense.

But I will say, as the kids have gotten older, it has gotten a little easier each year, in my opinion, this back to school time. And I think that has to do largely with the school you're in and the supports they have. So if you're switching schools every year, which is not uncommon-

Kristen:

Nope, it's not uncommon.

Gwen:

We've tended to switch schools at least every other year. This is the second year Ryland will be in the same school, and I feel complete confidence in his team, and so I don't feel that stressed sending him back to school this year. But I've also been getting up and walking two miles every morning and eating breakfast, and that is saving my sanity.

Kristen:

Yeah, I would say that moving my body... I also am getting up in the morning and walking, and moving my body is pretty huge. I tend to shut down and not want to move when I'm stressed, and it really is kind of antithetical to managing your anxiety. You've got to move your body. So any way that you can do that, I think, is important.

Also, medication is our friend. Don't be afraid of medicating. If you really have struggles with anxiety, therapy. There are support groups, talking to another parent who gets it. There are a lot of ways that we can manage our anxiety around transition when we're talking it through and processing it and not kind of shoving it down.

Gwen:

All and.

Kristen:

Mm-hmm.

Gwen:

All and. But yeah, we can... I mean, Lexapro is my probably best friend. Without that, I don't know if I'd still be married. And there's seasons that... She's smirking because she knows it's true. There's seasons that we can look at using some of these tools too. It doesn't have to be ongoing.

Kristen:

I can tell you for my kids in particular, introducing them to the building and their teachers before the first day of school was just absolutely vital. Made a huge difference in everybody's anxiety, because that executive functioning goes out the window when they're coming in that first day.

For Graham, it was always really important to remind his teams that he needs a lot of visual support, that a lot of verbal direction is going to get really dysregulating very quickly for him. He is going to ask a ton of questions when he's anxious that may or may not relate to what everybody else is talking about. So Graham has been known to just get up out of his seat and walk to the front of the classroom, while the teacher's teaching, to ask-

Gwen:

Is that not what they're supposed to do?

Kristen:

I would be getting these reports back saying, "So Graham is coming up to the front of the classroom while the teacher's teaching-

Gwen:

Of course he is.

Kristen:

I'm like, "Yeah, this happens every year, folks."

Gwen:

Every 30 seconds.

Kristen:

Every year. Yeah. So he would keep getting up out of his seat. So to remind them that putting a note on his computer saying when he can ask a question and how many questions he's allowed to ask was huge.

Gwen:

Shit.

Kristen:

Right?

Gwen:

I'm just being brought back to this time. And friends, they grow out of these things. So that's hope for you right now, because this was like an IEP bulleted goal.

Kristen:

For years.

Gwen:

How do we get Ryland not to stand up while the teacher is talking and start talking to her or him?

Kristen:

Mm-hmm. Or walking up to the front of the classroom and tapping them on the shoulder, because we taught-

Gwen:

Of course.

Kristen:

... them how to do that.

Gwen:

While they're teaching.

Kristen:

While they're teaching.

Gwen:

No, Ryland would grab her arm. That's what we told him. No words. You can just grab your arm. So he would just stand there and hold the teacher's arm while she's teaching. Oh my gosh. We forget these things.

Kristen:

Yeah.

Gwen:

We forget. He would have little question cards that they would hand him. They were laminated, of course. That would sit on his desk and he was allowed three questions per class.

Kristen:

Yeah, three questions. Yes.

Gwen:

Yeah.

Kristen:

That is so funny.

Gwen:

But then he would violently raise them in the... Okay, this could be a whole episode. Anyway. Yeah.

Kristen:

Graham would stand there and the teacher would ignore him or tell him that he couldn't talk, and then Graham would still stand there and go... And then he would put his hand over his mouth, but he wouldn't go sit down.

Gwen:

No.

Kristen:

So that was a thing.

Gwen:

It's his question.

Kristen:

Yeah. He's got to ask it. And usually had nothing to do with what was going on.

Gwen:

Of course it didn't.

Kristen:

No.

Gwen:

It was about what was for lunch that day.

Kristen:

Something, yeah, ridiculous.

Gwen:

Did I tell you about my chicken, how it pooped in the house yesterday?

Kristen:

Right.

Gwen:

Oh my goodness. All right, so those are good strategies that you've used. We always, on top of that, when we would go in and tour the building beforehand, even if it was the same school, we would always make sure to have the principal with us. That was my tactic. Because I found if I got some quiet one-on-one with the principal and him, I could build that rapport and know that I had the head of the school in my corner. Because if they spent alone time with Ryland, they would love him. So that was my strategy. And it was really effective.

So I always had the principal in my corner, part of my team that I could go to. Sometimes that was problematic because I tended to rely on the principal over the teacher, and that was something I had to learn. But that was very helpful. Because the principal would then be like, "Hey, do you want to do the crosswalk with me on the first day?" And he thought that was exciting, and then she would inevitably walk him into school the first... And he would avoid that mass entrance. So crosswalk was actually a really good strategy that we would use in the mornings.

Kristen:

Yeah. I do think that getting the administrator in the building on board with who your kid is is huge, especially for those kids that tend to get... Our kids tend to get suspended more than neurotypical peers for behavior that is related to their disability. So that becomes really challenging. And if the administrator in the building is onboard and you understand what their philosophy is around that kind of thing, you can head off some really traumatic experiences for our kids.

I know for Jameson, Jameson needed a lot of emotional support. So he, when he got overwhelmed, would tend to just break down and cry in class. I mean, this happened all the way through-

Gwen:

Poor buddy

Kristen:

... high school. Yeah. So we needed to let the new teachers know so that they could let Jameson leave the classroom and go to the nurse's office or the counselor to calm down without having to overly explain what was happening or going on. That was huge for Jameson.

And for Hayden, when he was younger, his tics would get really bad with transitions back to school. So sometimes he would be able to suppress most of his tics during class, and then he would have what he called tic attacks in the hallways. So he would have to run to the bathroom, or in the middle of class, he would have to go to the bathroom. And then the teachers would be like, "Why do you have to go to the bathroom? You just went 20 minutes ago." And he's like, "Because I have to tic," and he would go into the bathroom and just get stuck ticing, ticing, ticing like crazy.

Gwen:

Poor buddy.

Kristen:

I know. It was so hard. And then have a panic attack because he was ticing so much. So really letting teachers know and making sure it was in an accommodation in the IEP that you've got to let this kid leave the classroom without a ton of explanation so he can go out in the hallway and tic or go into the bathroom.

Gwen:

Well, with tics, Ryland was the same. And they always get worse when they're stressed or if they're tired or hungry. Really any different bodily sensation that's going on, his tics would get worse. And for him, he couldn't hold his tics back. He almost didn't know and still doesn't know when he's ticing. And his little squeaking noises like we've talked about in past episodes, it's like a mouse is in the room-

Kristen:

Yeah, it is.

Gwen:

... the whole time. So we found it the most helpful, every year we would set up a time with his teacher to do kind of about me talk to his whole class. We did that first grade through sixth grade, and he would just talk about his Tourette's and his autism to his peers and ask if they had any questions. That was kind of a foundational activity that we would do that led to peer success.

It didn't always lead to success, unfortunately, but his peers just accepted him that much faster and understood him that much better. And we saw... We didn't do that in high school because he changed so much and he didn't want to do that. So not every kid's comfortable doing that. And he wasn't comfortable doing that when he got to his new high school, and we saw the social ramification of that, that his peers just didn't understand him and thought he was kind of weird and why does he make these noises. It took half the school year for them to really understand him. So that was a tool that we found to be extremely effective.

And then the beauty of that is other kids in the class would say... Because of course I would go to all of these presentations. They were my favorite hours of the year. Other kids would say, "Well, I have epilepsy in my brain. I might have seizures." And then another kid would raise his hand... I remember once this little boy, "Well, guys, I just want you to know that I have autism too. So when I pick my nose, which I do a lot, I just need you to know that that's because my autism." And I just looked at the teacher like, "Oh my gosh, did he just say that?" But you know what? His peers were like, "Okay. Okay." Completely understood why Mason picks his nose. So anyway, that is a strategy that maybe some kids might be comfortable doing and you can consider.

Kristen:

Yeah, I would agree that middle and high school, Hayden wasn't... He wasn't comfortable, in his opinion, outing himself. Although there's some lack of awareness around that he was still ticing. He could suppress them to some degree and then really let them go when he was in private. But I just feel like him trying to hide a piece of himself and trying to suppress the tics or keep them to a minimum took way more energy than we realized, and he was not able to attend to a lot of what was happening in the classroom because of that.

Gwen:

No.

Kristen:

That's kind of an invisible effect of trying to control what's happening in their bodies, in our kids' bodies.

Gwen:

Well, and that's so much of masking, right?

Kristen:

Right.

Gwen:

With any sort of different ability. If you're so focused on masking, how are you able to truly focus, enjoy, attend to anything else that's happening around you? And the masking happens because the environment isn't built for them.

Kristen:

No. I think that's actually the whole issue for our families is that we are gearing up for a transition back to an environment that is not only not built for our kids, but is actually a huge barrier to learning for our kids. So a lot of families choose to homeschool or as you've experienced Gwen, you're hopping around to different schools, just trying to find something that works. And others are just kind of sticking it out where they are and trying to work with school teams to make it as good as they can and just kind of grin and bear it until you get past these years. But a lot of trauma happens for our kids in these years because of school environment. So I think it's time for our what is the what.

Gwen:

Yeah.

Kristen:

Let's recap.

Gwen:

Let's recap.

Kristen:

So our key takeaways and our what is the what did those ladies talk about is how are we as parents managing our own self-care needs before and during that transition back to school, and that it has to be a planned priority. Pick a couple of things that you know fill your cup and make sure you're doing them, friends.

Gwen:

Absolutely. Our second one is how are we setting our family up for success in this transitional, very difficult time. Reengaging in routines before school starts, getting back into the building to see teachers. Kind of working with the team and your child to set them up for success before the school year even starts is crucial.

Kristen:

Yeah. And I would say taking the time yourself to think through what are those things that you can talk to the team about that's going to be hard for your kids for those first few weeks, right? So it's not necessarily an IEP goal or an accommodation, because it's going to be more intensive needs during those first couple weeks. How can we ensure the team knows what to expect and how to best support our kids so that we're setting the team up for success too.

Gwen:

And last, we didn't really talk about this, but don't plan anything else, friends, during the time that school is starting. Have your nights just be open and free so that everybody can melt down as long and as hard as they need to.

Kristen:

Yeah. There'll be lots of sleeping, lots of eating of cereal, and lots of other coping strategies for us as families.

Gwen:

Yeah. Lower those expectations and shine in the glimmers of light that happen.

Kristen:

Those seconds of joy.

Gwen:

Yes. All right, friends, we're going to hand it over to our kids. Thanks for listening.

Reagan:

We know our moms are amazing, but they don't know everything. We think that you deserve to hear from the real expert, their kids. Woo woo. We believe in nothing about us without us, so here it is, the last word.

Kristen:

Hey, Graham.

Graham:

Hello.

Kristen:

Gwen and I were talking today about the transition back to school from summer, and wondering what your thoughts are on what you remember this transition from summer to going back to school being like.

Graham:

I remember transitioning from summer to school being kind of hard to get used to, just because you used to sweep in or be at home a hundred percent of the time and now you're just going to a high school or et cetera as you're not always happy with.

Kristen:

So you're kind of going to an environment where... Do you think you don't have as much control over it?

Graham:

Yes. And that sometimes you don't have people who are nice or just stuff that you're not interested in.

Kristen:

It's a lot of social pressure.

Graham:

Yes, a lot of social pressure.

Kristen:

And now that you're going to community college, what does that feel like?

Graham:

Going to community college for me feels like it's a lot more open because it feels a lot more friendly and welcoming and you have more control of what you want to learn.

Kristen:

And how long you're there.

Graham:

Exactly.

Kristen:

Yeah, I could imagine that. Are there specific people in your school life that made that transition easier?

Graham:

I remember my teacher, Ms. Barnello, really helping me out, just because she would be very nice and she would help adapt to my schedule to help my need.

Kristen:

So she was your case manager for your IEP and she was with you all through high school and she knew you pretty well.

Graham:

Yeah.

Kristen:

So what kinds of things would she do, you think, that would help?

Graham:

She would take it slowly, not heavily hit me with something immediate, because I'm still just getting back into the swing of things.

Kristen:

Yeah. She kind of knew what was hard for you and was able to talk to some of your teachers, right?

Graham:

Yeah.

Kristen:

Cool. Is there anything else you want to say about just that transition on how parents can make it easier for their kids?

Graham:

I would say don't pressure them, just let it happen naturally.

Kristen:

Good one.

Hi, Jameson.

Jameson:

Hi, mom.

Kristen:

Today, Gwen and I were talking about that transition back to school from summer and how hard that can be for our families. I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about a few of the things that you find really hard about that transition from summer back to a school environment.

Jameson:

In I guess somewhat recent years, I've had a lot more freedom to pick and choose these specific social situations I get into and how concentrated it is. And I guess also this applies to my younger self because I would make plans with friends and such. But getting back into school, it's a lot more social situations that I feel I don't have control over, like having to sit in a classroom and dealing with specific participation and having to do all these things that tend to flare a bit of self-ableism in me and such.

Kristen:

Talk a little bit about the ableism and how that impacts you in a classroom.

Jameson:

Yeah. So personally, I think that some of that self-ableism that I've had is... It's hard to reverse. It feels irreversible at this point. But kind of not feeling like I can ask for help, because then that just kind of reveals some kind of stereotype of being, quote, unquote, "slow-minded" or something like that and kind of playing into the ableist stereotypes that people have either intentionally or unintentionally forced on me and my brothers and such. So because of that, I can't ask for help and I'm more willing to suffer in silence and let my mental health completely just take a nosedive if it means that I can pass as much as everyone else and make it seem like I can understand what people are telling me or that I'm a fast learner like everyone and I don't need time to process it and that I'm good at it in practice or something, and that I don't need just the concept, I can do it.

Kristen:

I hear you saying that you have to mask a lot more at school.

Jameson:

Yes. And in the summertime, I feel like with those choices of concentrated socializing and such where I get to pick and choose, I feel like I don't really have to mask that because people I choose to hang out with and such know who I am in the past may not know I was autistic, but at least knew who I was, and I don't have to necessarily suffer in silence in that sense.

Gwen:

Thanks for joining us for this episode of You Don't Want a Hug, Right? We'd sure love it if you'd subscribe to our show in your favorite podcast app. Missing an episode would be catastrophic.

Kristen:

And if you just can't get enough of us, join our newsletter and dig into all of our other projects and ways you can connect with us at youdontwantahug.com.

Gwen:

And food for thought. If you need to create a panic room out of your closet in order to find that parenting kindness, we offer our fullest support. See you next time.


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