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Practitioner insights: 6 ways to support autistic children during the coronavirus pandemic 

Practitioner insights: 6 ways to support autistic children during the coronavirus pandemic 

The coronavirus pandemic is unlike anything most of us have had to deal with. With schools closed, routines and support services disrupted, and increasing concerns all round, it’s easy for us to feel like we’ve lost control. As Kineara’s practitioners continue to provide school-home services and adapt to the changing circumstances, our priority concern is, and will always be, about the safety and wellbeing of the people and families we work with. 
 
In light of this, combined with Autism Awareness and Stress Awareness Month, here are our top recommendations from Gail McNelly, Kineara’s Motivate to Educate (M2E) Lead Practitioner, for parents and carers of autistic children. The hope is to encourage positive coping and wellbeing for yourself and your children during this challenging time.

1. Keep your day as close to the school day as possible

Autistic children may feel anxiety about unexpected changes and events, as highlighted this month by the National Autistic Society. Giving children advanced notice about practical activities, space to express themselves, and time to come to terms with the various changes are very important during this time. “Most children with autism thrive on routine and structure,” says Gail, “Keeping to a good routine as close to the school day as possible can help you and your child maintain some control during this unpredictable time.”

2. Create a visual timetable to support daily routines

Supporting autistic children in understanding and navigating the COVID-19 situation is often best when combined with visuals. A visual timetable, for example, helps children to “know exactly when they are learning, eating, and have free time to play, as well a process information in multiple formats” says Gail. You could also customise a visual timetable with an interest of theirs – for example, with football, you could include space for football stickers and pictures.

3.  Observe their play, get involved and follow their lead

Making the most of your time together is now more important than ever. “You could spend time doing fun and creative activities,” says Gail. Much of what works will depend on your child but some ideas include: “Reading stories, baking fun biscuits, singing songs (nursery rhymes for younger children), trying different exercises, yoga or relaxation techniques, or using sensory objects to have calming down time.”

4. Build on strengths and talk about their interests

Supporting autistic children, Gail uses a variety of tools and resources to build on their individual strengths. Some of these include custom-made emotion cards to help communicate how they are feeling, bite-sized visual instructions and practical breathing/relaxation exercises. 
 
Working with one M2E pupil, Gail found that Talib loved trains and had memorised almost every journey. Therefore, she suggested that dad take him on train journeys and make it a reward for him. If this wasn’t possible, simply talking to Talib about trains, or buying a toy train as a reward and acknowledgement would help to strengthen positive relationships.

5. Be available to answer any questions

It’s normal for your child to feel nervous or anxious about COVID-19, so talk to your child about what is going on and answer any questions in a clear and easy-to-understand way. “An autistic child has a different way of understanding, learning and communicating,” says Gail. She adds that getting to know your child and what works for them, providing reassurance to your child, and letting your child feel their emotions, are all helpful ways to support their wellbeing.

6. A final message for parents

“If both parents live together and are available, take turns to have a rest at a certain point in each day,” says Gail, “I would also advise parents to take 30 minutes each day doing something to de-stress like guided visualisation, yoga or reading.” 
 
Gail also highlights the benefits of introducing family routines, particularly sleep routines, to deal with hyperactivity, anxiety and strengthen relationships. Reflecting on one M2E case, Gail explains, “He would have a warm bath with lavender, a short massage and a short story before bed. He was also given a worry book and a happy book where he would express his feelings and share them with mum during the sessions.” 
 
“Parenting is a very tough job but learning about your child and how they think is also a learning for ourselves. We must find new routines, different structures and work hard together to creates some positive changes within the family home.” 

Useful links 

Find out more about Motivate to Educate. 
 
Join the conversation on Twitter. 

Posted by kineara in Education
Case studies: Three ways to support children’s mental health

Case studies: Three ways to support children’s mental health

Supporting children’s mental health, developing emotional awareness and improving school motivation are just some of the ways our education support practitioners work holistically with pupils and their families. This Children’s Mental Health Week, we share five proven techniques we have used to support pupils’ mental health and wellbeing.

Holistic and wraparound care

Having delivered our Motivate to Educate (M2E) programme for several years, we’ve seen how a holistic approach can help children and young people overcome challenges in school and out. Our practitioners have found that support pupil’s families and teachers, such as giving them to talk about any challenges they’re facing, has a directly positive impact on pupils.

“Holistic support looks at the bigger picture, addressing other challenges they may be facing in life, including issues with rent or housing insecurity, emotional wellbeing or household needs and relationships,” explains Maria, Director of Kineara.

As for wraparound care this means, “we’re here for the child, we’re here for the parent, we’re here for the teacher, we’re here to care for all aspects of the school, for them to feel healthy and safe and have somewhere to go.”

Exploring pupils’ strengths

Working with pupil’s strengths, our practitioners use a wide variety of tools in tackling worry, anxiety and challenging behaviour in pupils. These include the use of bubble wrap, breathing and relaxation techniques, tailor-made emotion cards and daily post-it notes for both the child and parent to express how they are feeling.

As a young boy who has autism, Talib used tailor-made emotion cards and visuals during M2E to communicate how he was feeling in a way that was helpful to himself and others, especially when he was feeling sad or anxious.

During M2E, Gail also found that Talib loved trains and had the incredible skill of knowing almost every route, so she suggested that dad take Talib on train journeys and make it a reward for him.

“Learning about your pupil/ child and how they think is also a learning for ourselves. We must find new routines, different structures and work hard together to creates some positive changes in school and out”, says Gail.

Strengthening family relationships

Our practitioners found that working closely with the pupils’ family during M2E had a directly positive impact on their wellbeing, emotional awareness and behaviour in school.

In the case of Dayo – who was referred to M2E over concerns for his emotional wellbeing and behaviour in class – we saw how developing family routines and incorporating hands-on activities at home helped reduce problems at school.

As the eldest child of four, Dayo would often feel left out at home which was affecting his schooling. Gail, M2E practitioner, explains that one of the things that helped strengthen family relationships was introducing some cooking time with mum.

“We’ve learnt how to communicate better. I’ve also learnt about having independent one-to-one time with each child,” says Dayo’s mum. What’s more, Dayo’s dad admitted that he never spoke about emotions to the children before, but now he makes sure to praise them and tell them how proud he is.

Join the conversation on Twitter using #ChildrensMentalHealthWeek #FindYourBrave  

Want to give your pupils/ children the best start in life? Get in touch with us to discuss how we can work with your school.

Find out more about our education support services.

Posted by kineara in Education, Impact
How to support your child as they start secondary school

How to support your child as they start secondary school

Starting secondary is a significant milestone in a young person’s life – new schools, new friends, new teachers and indeed new challenges altogether. Whether you’re a parent, teacher or practitioner, helping a young person through this transition can be one of the most impactful things you do for them. But how can we support them? Here our practitioners, team and friends share practical ways we can help pupils deal with such challenges.

1. Developing an identity

Fitting in, asserting an identity or gaining peer acceptance becomes even more prominent in a secondary school context. This undeniable reality can often lead to a dip in academic progress or intensify challenging behaviour.

“My challenge at school was a struggle between being a good student and getting the grades everyone (including myself) expected of me and wanting to be independent and assert my identity; who I wanted to be in this world and who my friends were,” says Sandra, Intervention Practitioner at Kineara.

Helping young people to express themselves authentically and take advantage of extracurricular activities is just one way of facilitating healthy social exploration. Sandra adds that it’s also important for parents and teachers to try to understand why someone is behaving the way they are instead of just trying to change it.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track,” she adds.

2. Bullying and peer pressure

Whether its physical, verbal, social, or online, bullying can take many forms. For parents, identifying any changes in your child’s behaviour, asking questions, and building meaningful relationships with their teachers can all make a difference.

Strengthening relationships between the parent and child, parent and teacher, and teacher and child, is one aim of M2E. “I was lucky that I had a good upbringing with parents who gave me a strong sense of self-worth that made me realise my potential. Without it I may have ended up in more serious trouble that would have been harder to return from,” says Sandra.

During the transition, it can be helpful to try to increase your child’s circle of friends by encouraging them to invite home their friends or participate in group activities. Educating pupils and their parents through assemblies, class discussions and workshops can also help to challenge stigma and raise awareness about the challenges that pupils are facing.

“Larger classes make it more difficult to have a closer relationship with students, which is where a service like Motivate to Educate (M2E) is helpful. It offers a listening ear and can help guide a student back on track.”

Reflecting on her own experience, Mel, Comms Lead at Kineara, highlights the importance of having quality support. “For me the main thing was going from a very small school where everyone knew each other to a school with hundreds of kids in each year; this was a bit intimidating at first! The key thing for me was that I had a close-knit group of friends that formed pretty early; they were my peers who I went to for support and we took each other through the whole secondary journey.”

“For pupils who are feeling shy or lonely, we often involve their peers by bringing them into our sessions to participate in group activities such as cooking and baking, which develops the child’s confidence and broadens their friendship circle,” says Gail, Kineara’s M2E lead.

3. Mental health and wellbeing

With 1 in 10 children and young people experiencing a mental health issue at any one time, it is important that we are clued up on the challenges of dealing with mental health, and how we as parents, teachers and practitioners can support pupils. What’s more, a recent Government Green Paper (2017) stated that appropriately trained teachers and school staff can make a difference in addressing mild to moderate mental health problems such as anxiety and conduct disorder, comparable to those achieved by trained therapists.

In delivering M2E, we’ve found that teachers and school staff can support pupils by  developing their understanding of mental health through relevant training such as MHFA courses, as well as receiving support with their own wellbeing. We have also seen how a school benefits from adopting a joined-up, wraparound ethos that focuses on wellbeing just as much as academic outcomes. As part of the culture, schools could consider activities that have been proven to help pupils manage high levels of stress such as mindfulness, yoga and relaxation/breathing exercises.

The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support must be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

After taking part in M2E, one pupil who was struggling to manage his temper said about the programme: “I enjoy having better relationships with people in school. I use my breathing techniques when someone is annoying me, and I listen to my relaxation before bed and no tech for one hour which helps my sleep.” In this case we found the main outcomes to be significant improvements in the pupils’ overall stress and behaviour, followed by an improvement in concentration and emotional awareness.

There are a plethora of online resources exploring different areas of mental health and wellbeing, from exam stress, eating disorders to responding to traumatic events. We have also written about the real impact of exam stress and why schools need to  focus on supporting mental health during this difficult time.

4. Hidden or complex challenges

For some, personal, hidden, or external challenges will take a toll on social and academic progress through secondary school, including the impact of educational inequality, a lack of adequate support for SEND pupils, family breakdown, or issues with housing. One way of supporting pupils through such a challenge is looking at the ‘whole-person,’ offering empathy and being emotionally available.

“The people we work with have multi-entrenched needs, so our support has to be intentional, therapeutic, adaptable,” says Maria, “When you’re talking to someone, it helps to see that person as a system – in that system is a person, their needs, background, parentage, education etc. You’re not seeing a situation or a person as one-dimensional but seeing them in a holistic frame.”

Maria explains that not everyone offers holistic support, neither does everyone have to.” As a school, for example, it’s about recognising that there are other organisations that can support with intervention on a holistic level. It’s about partnership,” she says.

Learn more about our education services.

Posted by kineara in Education, Impact, Research
Practitioner insight: 5 ways to help a young person deal with exam results stress

Practitioner insight: 5 ways to help a young person deal with exam results stress

Having received their exam results, many students across the country will be experiencing feelings of joy and relief, exceeding their own expectations and looking forward to their next ventures. But for those who didn’t achieve as well, feelings of stress, disappointment and uncertainty will begin to loom over them. 

The evident pressure put on young people during exam season, be it from the school, family or themselves, can often impact greatly on pupil wellbeing in school and out. To this end, many schools have introduced, and are doing exceptional work in the run up to exam season – including mental health and wellbeing provision; from equipping students with effective tools and strategies to cope with exam stress, utilising online resources, and providing professional, specialist support for pupils and teachers alike.

But what can we do on an individual level to support a young person deal with the impact of results day?  Here are our five top tips from parents, young people and our own education support practitioners who each bring a unique perspective.

1. Celebrate the wins

Feelings of stress or disappointment are completely normal during this time, and though it’s important to give them space to come to terms with it all, you can help them remember how far they’ve come and what they’ve achieved in school and out.

Having delivered multiple careers related talks at schools and colleges, Tam, Comms Officer at Kineara, says: ”By talking about extra-curricular activities or achievements outside of school, you will be reminding them that there’s more to life than exams and that there’s no one route to success. It’s important to nurture the idea of celebrating small wins, whatever they may be, to maintain motivation and broaden your aspirations.”

2. Don’t add to the pressure

It’s important not to offer immediate judgement or even solutions, rather give them time to accept their feelings, whatever they are.

“I think the most important message is that no emotion is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, it’s what you do with it that counts,” says former Motivate to Educate (M2E) practitioner Roz. “Letting a child know that we all feel angry, worried or sad sometimes and letting them accept these feelings without judgment is a real gift. It’s so important to support a child in being able to talk about their feelings by making conversations with emotion-words part of daily life.”

3. Help them explore their strengths and individuality

In delivering M2E, one of the key learnings for our practitioners has been in adapting their support approach to cultivate the unique strengths of the individual pupil. This is done through active listening and enabling the young person to make decisions and empower themselves.

“If one tried their best in a particular exam and still didn’t do so well, consider what their strengths are perhaps in a different subject,” says Elle, Head Tutor at EDS Education. “It’s not the end of the world and young people shouldn’t feel pressured to do well in a particular subject which their parents might expect them to. For example, I have a student who is great at maths but not so much in Science. It’s about finding your strengths are and celebrating them.”

Zak, a Youth Panellist at YoungMinds, adds that it’s crucial not to compare students to their peers: “Someone may graduate at 21, but can’t find a job until 25. Someone else may graduate a year or two later – perhaps due to taking a gap year or retaking a year – and then find a job immediately upon graduating. Everyone is on their own journey.”

4. Talk to them about their feelings

Our practitioners use a wide variety of tools in tackling worry and anxiety in pupils, such as the use of bubble wrap, practicing breathing and relaxation techniques, tailor-made emotion cards and daily post-it notes for both the child and parent to express how they are feeling.

M2E practitioner Davinia says: “Art making has been a useful tool for helping children access and express difficult memories. Using materials that allow a child or young person to make mess, should they want to, creates a freedom to access these memories and to begin to make sense of them.”

Roz adds, “Talk about how characters feel in films and books, why and what they could do about it. This way a child or young person will learn not to judge their emotions but to acknowledge and express them usefully.” Whether it’s through art or a different creative outlet, help a young person explore their feelings and let them know you’re there for them.

5. Encourage them to stay positive and motivated

Sometimes it helps to step back from it all and be hopeful about the future, no matter the outcome. This may involve helping them reflect on key learnings or what could have gone better, but more importantly, encouraging them to celebrate and plan some fun activities they can look forward to.

Head tutor at EDS Education, Elle, was pleased to find so many of her students receiving high grades in their exams, however, one student didn’t get the exact grade she wanted. “The advice I would give is not to be disappointed and understand that everything is a learning process. You need to think and reflect on your grades. Ask yourself why did this happen? What could you have done differently to better your grade? Did you plan your revision timetable? Once you’ve answered these kind of questions, you can take your next step in further education.”

What’s more, studies show that positive mindset yields a higher sense of wellbeing and fulfilment, as well as practising self-determination and having a sense of control over one’s life. Director of Kineara, Maria Morgan, says: “There’s nothing stronger than recognising and accepting where you are to move forward.”

Posted by kineara
Motivate to Educate: End of year reflections

Motivate to Educate: End of year reflections

It’s the end of term and time to showcase another brilliant set of M2Es delivered by our dedicated, school-based practitioners. A big thank you to our partner schools, families and pupils who’ve made it all possible!

Primary pupils in Harrington Hill and Redlands Primary School celebrated after taking part in Motivate to Educate, a 15-week intensive and tailored intervention that aims to build confidence, motivation and wellbeing among pupils.

The pupils at Harrington Hill took part in a certificate ceremony led by Kineara’s school-based practitioner, Davinia, and attended by their parents and carers, whilst pupils at Redlands celebrated with a picnic and family activities delivered by practitioners, Gail and Rujia. They were the latest of over 60 local primary school pupils and their families to take part in M2E, which so far has achieved an 86% increase in emotional wellbeing and confidence among pupils.

Harrington Hill

Harrington Hill Primary in Hackney, East London, has been one of Kineara’s strongest partnerships in the last few years and is a testament to the school’s dedication to care for its pupils and the school community. This year, our partnership has led to us being shortlisted as a finalist at the Education Resource Award 2019.

Having worked with four families in our latest cohort, Davinia said: “The school had various concerns about the pupils, ranging from disruptive behaviour and emotional instability to lack of confidence and issues in the home which inflicted on their studies and wellbeing.”

Davinia utilised a wide variety of tools in tackling worry and anxiety in pupils, such as the use of bubble wrap, tailor-made emotion cards and daily post-it notes for both the child and parent to express how they are feeling. “In this cohort, art making has been a useful tool for helping children access and express difficult memories. Using materials that allow a child to make mess, should they want to, creates a freedom to access these memories and to begin to make sense of them.”

Regarding the support, Harrington Hill have said: “We could not provide the much-needed level of support we do for our whole school community without Kineara’s M2E. Their work places the child completely at the centre and nothing is too much trouble. We can honestly say we’d be lost without the service, as would our pupils and their families.”

Redlands

Redlands Primary in Tower Hamlets, East London, has been another fantastic collaboration between ourselves, the school and the families we’ve worked with. Over the last year we’ve supported 15 pupils and their families, including 10 families who attended our drop-in, three parent workshops, and we’ve also provided therapeutic counselling for three families who needed more in-depth mental health support.

Talib*, one of the pupils from the latest cohort, was referred to M2E after concerns about challenging behaviour at home which was affecting his engagement and progress in school. As a young boy who has autism, the school was keen to provide extra support for Talib and the whole family in understanding autism and developing effective tools and strategies to support his wellbeing.

Through a variety of 1:1, group and parent support sessions, practical and therapeutic exercises, Gail worked with Talib to develop his emotional awareness, wellbeing and understanding of autism, so that he can build on his strengths and be proud of who he is. Living in a small overcrowded flat with another family, Gail also supported Talib’s family in completing a health assessment about their living situation, which led them onto a priority band for a new home. Recently, we found out that the family will be moving into a new 3-bedroom flat – a great achievement which we hope will not only provide space for Talib to grow and express himself freely, but improve the wellbeing of the whole family.

Reflecting on the case Gail said: “What worked extremely well was the support from the school and their drive to keep pushing for Talib and the whole family to succeed. Giving the child space to express how they’re feeling and showing parents different ways of changing their responses and routines at home, can make a real impact in improving wellbeing and enhancing positive relationships.”

Our impact

So far, we’ve delivered a total of 63 M2E programmes with three school partners and we’ve improved emotional wellbeing and confidence in 86% of cases. In addition, we’ve seen a 69% increase in family wellbeing and communication, supported 76 drop-in attendees, and addressed 29 different issues from housing to mental health and wellbeing.

Each intervention is tailored to specific need and, overall, families we work with say their children’s wellbeing, communication, and emotional awareness significantly improve after taking part in the programme. Teachers notice improved behaviour and engagement in the classroom, and our pupils experience real improvements in stress, anxiety, motivation and confidence, which impacts positively on their education.

M2E will continue to be delivered to pupils at Harrington Hill Primary in the new school year, with additional wraparound services that include drop in support for parents and for school staff.

We are currently able to partner with schools in the Greater London area. To learn more about M2E or partner with us, contact: info@kineara.co.uk

Read the M2E press release.

*Note: Names have been changed to protect pupil’s identity.

Posted by kineara in Community, Education, Impact
Selected as a member of the London Housing Panel!

Selected as a member of the London Housing Panel!

30 May 2019

We are excited to announce that we’ve been selected to be a member of the London Housing Panel, which will bring together voluntary and community-led organisations to engage with housing issues facing London.

Delivered by Trust for London and the Mayor of London, panel members will come together to explore a wide range of housing issues and perspectives from homelessness to the private rented sector, low-income Londoners to social housing; and to help influence policy pledges and priorities.

The panel is comprised of 15 London-based organisations – from homelessness to equalities groups – providing services, representation or carrying out advocacy work in relation to housing. These include Generation Rent, Homeless link, Solace Women’s Aid and other important members.

Director of panel member Kineara, Maria Morgan, said: “We are very excited to be part of this important new initiative, which brings community representation into housing policy decision making. We look forward to working with the London Housing Panel and the Mayor towards inclusive housing policies for all Londoners.”

As we’ve delivered our housing services, our core focus has been in supporting vulnerable people to sustain tenancies and avoid eviction. Through holistic and tailored support, our experienced practitioners work closely with families and individuals facing challenges times and/or with multi-complex needs. We’ve recently launched our new Rent Support Programme Plus (RSP+), based on our proven model of holistic and intensive practice that has seen a 92% success rate of preventing evictions for social housing tenants – find out more about our work and impact on our website.

We are looking forward to sharing our experiences within housing and working collaboratively with other organisations on housing related issues. As an organisation, one of our aims is to influence wider policy on housing, welfare and other social issues that impact the communities we work with; we believe this is a great opportunity for us to help influence policy pledges and priorities by providing our expertise.

Read the full press release.

Find out more about our housing services.

Posted by kineara in Community, Housing, Latest, 0 comments