January 25, 2023, Cleveland Scene
By Alli Frazier, CEO of Frazier Behavioral Health and Autism Mom
Happy New Year to everyone! At the turn of the new year, many people are thinking about steps they can take to improve family life in 2023. Often we strive to make meaningful change by establishing a New Year’s Resolution. From a busy mom’s perspective, tackling a new resolution goal can sometimes seem like an impossible task. When I put on my BCBA hat, I tackle establishing a new behavior using evidence-based methods. I like to break goals into small attainable parts and reward each step of the process. Here is a list of 12 monthly micro-resolution ideas you can build upon, to make positive changes throughout the year. I am hopeful these ideas will get your creative juices flowing, and you will be able to come up with ideas that best suit your family.
January: Stay Active as a Family
With the snow falling and the weather outside getting colder, it is challenging to stay active. However, ensuring daily physical activity has been proven to boost mood and help control some of the symptoms associated with ADHD, Autism, or other developmental disabilities. In order to see these positive changes, aim for moderately intense exercise, meaning 30-45 minutes, at least 5 times a week. To keep it interesting, bundle up and embrace the snowy weather with a hike in the Metroparks or give snowshoeing or sledding a try. With some planning and creativity, it can be really fun to get the family active. To ensure these new activities become part of your routine, my advice is to “stick with it,” as it takes on average 2 months for a new behavior to become a habit or a way of life. Your neurodiverse child may struggle with new activities or schedule changes at first, but consistency can oftentimes lead to success.
February: Set Social Skill Goals
For Valentine’s Day, set a social goal for the family to show or verbalize their love for each other. One way to show your love for a family member is to turn off all distractions and set aside time to engage with him in a special interest. Years from now, our kids will likely not remember chocolate bars or gifts but will remember the time spent together doing an activity. One idea is to decorate Valentine’s boxes or make Valentines together for family and friends. Making personalized Valentine’s treats for a friend or classmate is the perfect opportunity to learn names, think about what other people like, and practice communicating through thoughtful sharing.
March: Create a Sensory-friendly Space
Consider sprucing up a space and making it sensory-friendly. Many neurodiverse individuals benefit from having a special space where they can feel relaxed and comfortable to decompress. In this sensory-friendly space, the idea is to remove the sensory stimulus that they find uncomfortable and fill it with sensory enrichment. Creating this space does not require a major renovation; it can be as simple as taking an existing room or part of a room and redesigning it. Perhaps you can rearrange furniture to make a sensory corner. Or perhaps there is a closet you can empty out to make a sensory nook. There are lots of low-cost ways to stimulate all of the senses with lights, soothing sounds, aromatherapy, and a variety of textures. Every space will look as unique as the person it was created for!
April: Celebrate Autism Awareness Month
Each family has their own unique way of embracing Autism Awareness. Many of us appreciate seeing the support for our loved ones in the community during the month of April. There are a variety of ways to spread support for one another, such as visiting an autism-friendly business. An autism-friendly business is one that uses sensory-friendly or accessible practices or employs individuals with developmental disabilities. Another idea is to show your support by wearing clothing or accessories with autism symbols. Volunteering or attending an autism advocacy event can help increase awareness, services, and support. Perhaps you can learn more by reading books or watching movies created by a person with autism. Whatever your family chooses, just remember to keep spreading kindness.
May: Show Interest in Their Interests
Neurodiverse individuals often have special interests and have a variety of ways in which they express those interests. An interest may involve focusing intensely on a narrow topic, collecting items, repeating a series of movements, or playing music in a repetitive way. Special interest topics of neurodiverse individuals may be everyday things such as cars or animals, or more quirky fascinations such as lamps, earthquakes, or kitchen gadgets. Connect with your loved one by reading a book or watching a movie together about their interest, or taking them to a place or event that relates to their interest. Set aside a few days, or times of the day, when you indulge in the special interest together. It is okay to establish times that you do not wish to discuss it. You may find the value of that special interest as your child gets older, as it could develop into a job or even a major scientific development.
June: Plan a Family Vacation or Staycation
You can find a meaningful family connection in almost anything, and if you are excited about it, your family will often match that energy. Studies show that a vast majority of neurodiverse families rarely or never take a vacation due to the challenges associated with disrupting the daily routines of the neurodiverse family member. Preparation, practice, and communication are key to success. If you are planning a vacation that involves flying or staying in a new place, do your homework to find out what to expect and what accommodations are available. Work with your child’s therapists or school to develop visual supports, sensory supports, or behavioral strategies that can help. Behavior therapists can sometimes help with role-playing and exposing a child to new routines and environments. Do not strive for perfection, but rather try to focus on the time to unwind and connect.
July: Try Something New
The summer months when school is out of session is a great time to focus on community inclusion and social skill development. When academics are on break, it is a great time for your therapy team to focus on developing soft skills of social interaction or community behavior. Some ideas are going to the beach, trying a new restaurant, setting up an in-home play date, joining a recreation league or sports team, or practicing shopping skills. Studies show that neurodiverse individuals may require more frequent exposure to new things or new experiences in order to feel comfortable with them. With this in mind, plan to revisit the same place a few times to help your family member get comfortable.
August: Create a Planning Center
With the new school year, there will be schedule shifts. Change in routine for families with neurodiversity can be challenging. August is a great time to get your family involved with creating a planning center. This center will look different for every family. Consider creating a space right where people enter the home to drop backpacks, shoes, keys, important papers, etc. Without a dedicated spot, things often get lost or misplaced. This can be exacerbated for a child with attention or organizational deficits. Giving everything a designated place can be a helpful accommodation. Some families benefit from a visual to-do list, chore chart, or a calendar that the family can reference right at this entry space, as well. Some families use whiteboards or chalkboards to lay out the days ahead, and some use a shared virtual calendar to keep track of school, extracurriculars, or therapy schedules. For inspiration, you can copy a space you see online, or channel the home improvement guru within to make this happen.
September: Develop a Homework Routine
Neurodiverse individuals benefit significantly from having a structure or routine around homework. Develop a homework schedule for the week that the family can stick to. Every kid will have a different schedule and bandwidth. Some kids have extracurriculars right after school, and homework needs to be completed after dinner. Other kids will do better with getting homework out of the way before dinner. Do what works for your family, but do not let it get pushed too close to bedtime. Work with your child’s teacher or therapist so you understand how to support their executive functioning needs, and get tips for setting up a reward system. Set clear expectations and reward success. Do not nag and bribe; just follow the plan and reward successes. Following these recommendations can alleviate some of the stresses that come with homework.
October: Prepare a Sensory Kit
October is a great month to prepare a portable sensory kit. A sensory kit includes items that can help soothe your child if they are overwhelmed. These kits can include a variety of things your child will benefit from. Consider noise-canceling headphones, fidget toys, a plush toy, scented markers, gum or candy, sunglasses, special interest toys, a timer to indicate how long something will last, or even a sticky note to put on the toilet sensor to stop the automatic flush. Get creative and find out what works for your loved one, and carry it along for short trips.
November: Talk to Their Sibling
Focus this month on gratitude for all family members and their unique gifts. Siblings of neurodiverse family members often face their own unique feelings and perspectives on daily family life. Siblings benefit from having a safe, neutral place to process their emotions and experiences. Take time this month to focus on the sibling experience, by helping them express what they are grateful for, as well as what areas they may need more support in. If you are not sure how to navigate these conversations, you can seek out a therapist or group that specializes in building these supports into everyday life.
December: Communicate What Makes Your Holiday Season Successful with Your Extended Family
Holidays bring joy and unique planning challenges for families with neurodiversity. There are a few steps you can take to make it go more smoothly. Prepare family members for the kind of affection your neurodiverse loved one is able to accept (high fives, fist bumps, etc.). Let family members know that loud or unexpected noises can be disturbing, and advocate for a sensory calm-down space. Prepare your family members by discussing the repetitive language, behavior, or interests your neurodiverse family member may engage in. Explain perspective-taking challenges to family and friends, and ask for grace and acceptance. Set realistic expectations for yourself and your children, and enjoy the experience.
Are you interested in yourself, your family, your child, or someone you know receiving evidence-based, individualized therapy? Contact Alli Frazier’s company Frazier Behavioral Health, a behavioral health clinic that focuses on the person and helps children and adults with behavioral, social, communication, and sensory issues at FrazierBH.com/Scene. Frazier Behavioral Health also recently received Behavioral Health Center of Excellence accreditation.
Can’t get enough of Ask Alli? Check out previous Ask Alli segments on the Cleveland Scene website by clicking here and watch the most recent Ask Alli TV segment at Facebook.com/FrazierBehavioralHealth.