Experts agree that stress and anxiety are common challenges for families with autism. Stress is linked to many health issues that can create roadblocks to leaning and well-being. Aware of this issue, we’ve been working on an app that we hope will help to address some of the challenges.
In 2015 I began working with a family whose 7 year old son had been diagnosed with autism five years earlier. Despite dedicated and loving attention from both parents, and support from specialists and the best professional advice available, efforts to find solutions to their son’s lack of self-regulation and frequent anxiety and panic were ongoing challenges. My involvement began by teaching the parents the QST method of tactile-movement therapy that they began to administer on a daily basis. Their son’s language, social skills, and digestion improved and his anxiety began to diminish. But as he began to mature, he began to resist the daily parental therapy, except in times of special need, when he would seek it out.
Self-regulation skills and continued neurological developmental support were still needed. I wondered if watching and mimicking another child doing gentle but meaningful movements might be useful. A colleague, Peter Payne and I selected movement practices based on research demonstrating benefit to adults with nervous system dysregulation. (The research from our lab at Dartmouth has shown significant improvement in health and wellbeing of adults who have taken part in long term body-awareness training.)
Our adult oriented training videos would not be meaningful for most kids, so we dug into the problem and began to make short child friendly videos backed by music, special effects and by scenes from nature. Some of the special effects include ‘stims’ designed to attract and hold the attention of children with autism. A few prototype videos were made available to the family, who began to use them, not just on a tablet or phone, but also projected on the TV screen with the whole family taking part. The child’s special education teacher and his school also began to use the videos to calm him at times of high anxiety.
For this child, who has now had the use and support of videos for more than 18 months, his parents report marked decrease in anxiety and continued improvement in language and social skills. Separation anxiety and panic attacks are now rare events. While the videos are reported to have an immediate calming effect for him and other children who are now using them, his self-regulation and language skills continue to increase gradually. We hope that more families and teachers will give the Moving Meditations app a try.
Moving Meditations for Families with Autism is available for Android and Apple devices. It contains 18 short videos that address 6 separate goals. It is suitable for most kids to watch by themselves, but we encourage family participation with parents or siblings also taking part in a brief but enjoyable activity. Some teachers may also find this suitable for classroom use.
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Free installation at the App Store and on Google Play.