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Part 2 of 2:

by Melissa Gendreau, MS, LPC – Child and Assessment Center Therapist

In part one, we introduced several environmental factors that can be helpful for parents – part two will expand upon additional strategies. Read part one here

  • Utilize emotion charts- Make a poster with multiple facial expressions on it to help the child identify what emotion he is having. This can be even more useful when incorporating pictures of the child’s various emotions as well as the parents.
  • Validate his emotional distress and then work to help problem solve the situation. Making statements like “I can see you’re angry right now” “Let’s figure out what you can do until…”

  • Allow time for the child to utilize physical activities to expel some of his pent-up energy.  For example have the child run from one side of the house to the other or outside on the sidewalk.  To get the child excited tell him you want to time him and see if he can beat his last score.
  • Develop a safe zone/calm room- A child with an intellectual disability may benefit from an area of the house that they can go to that they are unable to harm them self, others or property.  The safe zone is to be utilized as a calm area and not as a punishment. This area is for the child to retreat to when their emotions are too distressing for them to handle and require the support of the environment to help calm them down. It is recommended that the child have some say in the structure and decorations of the area so that he also does not feel like it is a punishment.
  • Knives and scissors should be locked up- For the safety of the child the parents should ensure these items are not accessible.
  • Depending upon any patterns of physical aggression, it is recommended that household decorations like picture frames not have the glass in them as the child could potentially use it as a weapon or unintentionally harm himself if he would punch or throw them when their emotions are too intense to appropriately handle.
  • Develop a crisis plan that the parents as well as school and any other care provider has access to. This ensures consistency, predictability and can reduce unnecessary anxiety the child may feel when they are already struggling during a crisis. If in the crisis plan transportation is being utilized, it is important to already have transportation identified and set up as well as having a bag packed at all times.  For example if the family or school is going to utilize the police for transportation it will be imperative to have one officer consistently deal with the child if at all possible.  It would be ideal if the child could meet the officer first and have the opportunity to “explore” the police cruiser, again as a way to decrease any unnecessary anxiety.

Most importantly, seek support. Support can come in any form whether formal or informal through therapy, groups, friends, co-workers, faith leaders, and internet chats. Respite with family or outside of relatives is also beneficial so that the parents and child are getting “vacations” from each other.  Utilizing support, especially respite, is not a sign of bad parenting or an inability to provide enough care for the child with cognitive disabilities. While some parents may feel like they have to be super heroes, it is important that the parents are being mindful of their own self-care, as working with a child with this diagnosis can be physically and emotionally exhausting.


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