If there is one area of Autism which is often ignored, it is Strategies for those young people who struggle with separation anxiety alongside their autism.
The research out there on Separation Anxiety, focuses on children and young people who have suffered trauma in their early years, and therefore whilst some of the strategies suggested are helpful, others aren’t always applicable to young people on the Spectrum.
Why is it such an issue?
The lack of theory of mind means that it’s hard for children and young people to picture you when you aren’t there. Some adults with autism have described it as thinking that the person is dead because they can’t physically see them.
So what can you do to ease separation anxiety whilst your child is at school?
Hearts on hands
Drawing one heart on your child’s hand and allowing them to draw on yours can be really reassuring. Knowing that part of them is with you and part of you is with them can really help them to feel close to you whilst you are absent.
Notes in lunch boxes, school bags or given to your child’s teacher
A quick note reminding your child of a happy or funny time you have spent together can be a great distraction. Choose short descriptions such as ‘Do you remember the day dad’s smelly feet meant we all had to get out of the car?’ And avoid more emotional notes, the key is give your child a happiness boost at a time they really need it.
Create them a Calm Pack
Calm Packs are one of my very favourite strategies. Fill them with special interest related reading material, sensory toys and photos of you all sharing happy times. Taking something with them to unfamiliar environments that you have created can really help them to feel much more secure.
Remember their Special Interest
Giving teachers the power to talk to your child about their Special Interest can really help to strengthen bonds faster and make it easier for them to transfer from you to them. Prime teachers and support staff with key information related to your child’s interest. Even quick comments like – ‘I love watching football’ or ‘My daughter has spent this summer playing Minecraft, it looks lots of fun’ can make an enormous difference.
Make sure they are greeted by a familiar member of staff
Having a select number of preferred staff (one is too few, two or three work best) meet your child at the door can really help encourage them over the threshold, this way they are leaving you rather than you leaving them in the classroom, which makes it a much easier process. Again cueing these staff into understanding your child’s special interest is likely to be key to success.