If I were to say to you that adults are facing up to three years wait to see a clinical psychologist to be diagnosed with Autism or ADHD, what would you think?
Shocked? Disbelief? Anger? All the above?
Me too. Sadly, I am not making this up and this is true. Is it therefore better to help diagnose a child in our care now rather than as an adult? Maybe the biggest gift you can give to a child in your care that has autism is to be the one person that recognises the subtleties of an invisible disorder. We as nannies are not here to diagnose but what we can do is help a child to be diagnosed and help a child be prepared for the challenges they might face.
My hope for this blog is to give you very brief pointers that will hopefully give you the strength to say something when you feel that one of your charges may need additional help but more of this next time, and also to be able to give all children skills to encourage the wellbeing of the child not just children on the spectrum.
So where do we start?
No Health Without Mental Health (Department of Health 2011)
Although this was a document created to better the patient outcomes for people with mental health concerns. It is something that would benefit every nanny when caring for children with autism. Remember that a child with autism does not have a mental health condition it is a learning and developmental condition but also remember that mental health conditions are something that could happen in the child on the spectrum. Regardless of a diagnosis, which as we know can take a while, try to always encourage a better mental wellbeing in the child so they are able to cope with whatever might come their way.
How do we do this?
Helping a child be more mentally able
A daily ten
Even from a young age children love a routine and thrive from knowing what the day will entail. Start the day with ten minutes of balancing activities or a quick Yoga class in the bathroom (why not), my point is that you spend time each day at the same time just being still and not thinking but just feeling how you feel. Ask the child to sit and ask them to explain how they feel, do they feel funny, or do they feel scared? Its an opportunity to enable the child to speak and verbalise without the intimidation of demanding they tell you what the problem is, if indeed there is one. If all that you achieve at the end of each ten minutes is a ten-minute calm and deep breathing this will achieve a good grounding for the day and a focus to start from. Sometimes its all too easy to jump out of bed and hit the ground running, but the consequences of this on a person could be harmful if we do not take time to reset albeit a brief one.
All about me and you
During the week set time to properly engage with the child or children, I know as well as any other nanny the demands parents put on some children and nannies to spend the whole week running from one place to the next and not stopping to breathe.
Allow half an hour each week to properly talk. I find that it is a good idea to make a jarful of questions that we all pick one, two, or however many times you have time for. Questions can range from, how was your week? What would you do differently? Did you belly laugh this week and why? Ask the child that picks the question to ask each person in the group with the basis that no one must answer if they feel they do not want to but generally children enjoy this activity. It gives the child the ability to ask questions rather than always answering them. Sometimes all a child gets is questions from home and school and it is a good exercise to get them to ask questions and to listen to the answers. It will promote a child’s thought process and will also make them think about themselves and how they feel without being too invasive.
What am I thinking?
For the younger child who has been diagnosed with high functioning autism, a good activity would be to make or buy cards that show a face and the persons emotions. For example, ask the child how this person is feeling, are they sad? Are they happy? It is a very basic activity and one that all children enjoy especially when doing the faces themselves, but they also gain so much from this activity as faces and understanding emotions are particularly difficult for children on the spectrum.
My big board
For any age child make a huge poster or board that has a body drawn on it with a face that has a smile and a sad face or maybe a red x that shows where the child is sore or hurting and ask them to use it when they feel an emotion that they can't explain. Sit down with them and ask them to use the body parts to explain how they feel or make it a game as in, can you find the laughing face and put it on the body? It's an added tool that might be good for nonverbal children or children who are experiencing a really bad time but are not able to verbalise. Explain that if they do not want to talk then they can just pop an item on the body to say how they feel. It is a form of communication that could become vital when all else fails.
Strong children are not just born they are made by the people that surround them.
I am going to go into how you can help a child in your care that you feel might be on the spectrum next time. I am also creating some pdf that can help you observe and document your concerns that may help the parents understand your concerns.
I will also go into detail about where to get help from if you feel its needed and explain who the agencies are and how they can help you.
Emilie has been a nanny for over 23 Years. She’s currently working as a Nanny/PA and lives in the South of the UK. Emilie lives with her dog. When Emilie is not working, she enjoys exploring local footpaths and camping. She also volunteers as a Community First Responder for the Ambulance Service in her local area which she does to give back to her community.