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  • Writer's pictureDr Jennifer Turner

A strategy to help autistic children and young people in their return to school

Updated: Sep 1, 2022

I want to start by recognising that everyone is different and that includes every autistic person. However, this is one of the first techniques I use with children and adults and can be incredibly helpful very quickly.

The concept I am going to share with you is known as Energy Accounting. It is based on a bank account analogy, you can’t take out more than you put in. The analogy can and has been adapted in many ways to make it more accessible, for example you could use coins or ‘life’ in a computer game, marbles in a jar or anything else you can collect and take away.

To put in simple terms, every activity has a cost and / or will make a deposit into the account. Too many costly activities result in going into an ‘overdraft’ or perhaps having to use ‘a credit card’. This builds up debts that have to be repaid through activities which increase the balance in the account.

It can be really helpful to sit and make a list in two columns of activities. One with cost, this may include socialising, certain subjects, sensory experiences, high verbal expectations (such as in a classroom), meeting new people amongst many others. Then see if you can add a value to these for example socialising with new people is hard (20) but would cost less if it was with a friend who they knew well (10).

Then make a second column of activities which give back into the account. For many young people playing computer games or watching videos is their top earner (that’s not to say they should be able to do this all the time). Gaming often has very few social expectations and is clearly structured and rule based which many young people find a relief. Other activities might be going for a walk (walking to an activity might reduce its cost), bouncing on a trampoline, doing a puzzle, listening to music, playing with a pet.

Remember that even enjoyable activities may also have a cost. For example going for a bike ride may be a very positive experience but there are also potential costs, for example the young person might not like getting hot, they might have to stop if they get a puncture, someone might try to talk to them, they might get lost. So you can see how an activity designed to add value to the account can also take away.

Many parents find this is a really helpful way of checking in with the

ir young person.

So why have I written about this now? Going back to school is a huge cost for most young people, even if they enjoy it. Everything feels new, different, the social expectations, the academic expectations, the sensory experience of school. Hopefully they have had a lovely break and recharged over the holidays, however, the anxiety is likely to be building as school approaches. Their account is being depleted. Now is the time to ask what can be done to add to their account? What activities would help them this week and next week as they transition back into school?

Perhaps readers could add comments below about what helps their children replenish their account? If you are stuck for ideas you could have a look at The OT toolbox which has lots of ideas for sensory strategies to help with emotional regulation.

I have uploaded an example below and a blank table so you can have a go yourselves. Please let me know if you find it useful.

Energy Accounting
Download DOCX • 105KB

I wish you all the best with the transition over the next couple of weeks. Remember this is hard, take time, if possible, to look after yourself as well.

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1 commento

Jennifer Mason
Jennifer Mason
01 set 2022

This is a great post, thank you. We have noticed the 'bank accounts' depleting rapidly this week as the back to school date draws closer for two of our children but even for our home-educated child. We have tried to allocate daily 1:1 time doing a favourite activity (lots of baking, colouring, showing an interest in what they have been designing on their online game etc) to keep connected as we notice a tenancy to withdraw (which we respect) but find those moments of connection definitely add to the bank account and help distract them when they are stuck in their worries and anxious thoughts. We will have a go at completing the sheet because we definitely find making it visual…

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