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Running head: REFLECTION PAPER 1

Reflection Paper

Alex Richardson

Brandman University

Reflection Paper

By observing two students, interviewing them and their parents and teacher, it was very

interesting to look at the differences in development and how autism, anxiety disorder and

attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can impact social and emotional development.

There were many similarities between the two children observed. Both children are

currently in kindergarten and both raised in two parent households. However, there were also

many differences. One was a boy, the other a girl. The boy, Matty, had a diagnosis of autism,

anxiety disorder and ADHD. The girl, Lexie, had no reported diagnoses and was described as a

having normal development.

By observing and interviewing the students, a lot of differences were observed. The

students sat very differently in class. Matty appeared to have difficulties sitting still, he played

with his shoes, rocked back and forth and looked around. Whereas Lexie sat still, focused on the

teacher and participated in group responses. The students also played very differently, Matty

enjoyed running, shouting and rough horseplay. In contrast, Lexie preferred quiet activities such

as poking sticks in the mud and sitting against the fence, talking with her friends.

Additionally, the teacher reported that the two students’ needs were different in class.

Lexie needed little attention and was able to work independently for most of the day. She needed

little reinforcement and was a rule follower. On the other hand, Matty required lots of behavioral

reminders, help with work, help with regulating emotions and had to be prevented from self-

harming behaviors in class. Therefore Matty required much more adult attention to help him be

successful in the classroom in comparison to Lexie.

When talking with the students, their reaction to being interviewed was also remarkably

different. Matty’s responses were short and he appeared disinterested in the conversation. He

talked about what was happening at that moment in time, rather than thinking about past

experiences and reflecting on those. Additionally, his questions had to be adapted several times

to receive an answer that was understandable and that made sense. In comparison, Lexie

appeared to want to answer more questions, she talked about a lot of her experiences in class and

on the playground. Her facial expressions suggested she enjoyed the topic and liked to tell others

about how much she enjoyed her time at school. She was also able to reflect on negative

experiences but still expressed that in general she still liked her class.

Additionally, by interviewing parents there were also some similarities that were found.

Both parents have children that have a disability (Lexie’s sister has a diagnosis of emotional

disturbance), both are living in a two parent household and both reported that they are happy and

pleased with their child's development. However, Matty’s mother was able to express some of

her concerns regarding her son’s diagnosis of autism, ADHD and anxiety. She was able to reflect

on some very hard times and discussed how challenging it is raising her son. On the other hand,

Lexie’s mother had no concerns regarding her development. She expressed that she is a very

normal developing child with no concerns regarding academics or social emotional development.

Although the two children are very different, they both come from very loving, caring and

nurturing families.

From the observations and conversations, it appears that Matty’s development is

impacted significantly. Not only this, but he has three diagnoses, all of which make socializing,

concentrating in class and emotional regulation quite difficult. First, Matty is on the autistic

spectrum. Autistic disorder is characterized by severe and pervasive impairment in several areas

of development: social interaction, communication and the presence of stereotyped behaviors,

interests and activities” (Kerig and Wenar, 2006 pg. 133). This type of behavior was apparent

during Matty’s interview. Although he enjoyed interacting with his friends, when having a

conversation about something that was uninteresting to him, he did not engage in the

conversation and actively avoided it.

However, it is important to note that autism diagnoses are on a spectrum and all children

and adults that are on the spectrum display different characteristics. For example, as many as half

of children with autism will never learn to speak (Kerig and Wenar, 2006), however, Matty was

able to speak and did so very well. Another important observation was the fact that Matty did not

want to look at me while I was asking questions. However, children with autism consistently less

often look at the faces of others (Kerig and Wenar, 2006) therefore, I did not expect, nor

demand, him to look at me while we were engaged in conversation.

Additionally, it was very clear to see Matty’s ADHD impacted his ability to concentrate

in class. ADHD is characterized by “overactivity, distractibility, restlessness and short attention

span” (Kerig and Wenar, 2006, pg. 180). This was apparent in Matty’s actions especially while

sitting on the carpet and during his interview. Additionally, children with ADHD are more likely

to suffer socially by being rejected by peers (DuPaul et al., 2011). This was evident from

observing Matty, as he often played too rough which caused some children to avoid him or tattle

on him.

Matty also has a diagnosis of anxiety disorder. Anxiety can interfere with functioning and

cause significant emotional distress (Kerig and Wenar, 2006). For example, Matty’s mother

discussed how Matty has a fear of monster trees. He requires that all the doors are shut in the

house at all times and if they are not, his anxiety is heightened. Matty displays his anxiety by

self-harming. For normal developing children, they master their fears by using adaptive defense

mechanisms and coping strategies, such as using logic to combat their irrational fear (Kerig and

Wenar, 2006). However, due to a combination of his autism and anxiety, Matty appears to lack

the ability to do this. Many children with autism “engage in self-injurious behavior such as head

banging or hitting, slapping, scratching or biting themselves” (Kerig and Wenar, 2006, pg. 136)

Therefore when Matty is feeling anxious, he will resort to hurting himself, by scratching his face

or banging his head against the floor.

Therefore, due to Matty’s developmental challenges, he would benefit from interventions

that may help improve his experiences. First, Matty would benefit from an intervention that

addresses his social skills. Using social stories is one way of teaching children with autism social

skills that they may be lacking. They help teach many different skills such as explaining routines,

teaching children how to play and how to deal with difficult types of emotion. Studies have

shown that social story interventions help decrease inappropriate behavior and helps with social

interaction (Khantreejitranon, 2018). Therefore, Matty would benefit from social stories that

address some of his concerning behaviors.

Another example of a social skill intervention is a play-based intervention that involves

video self-modeling. This was shown to be effective in promoting increased development of

social skills in children with ADHD. This study enabled children to watch their own interactions

and reflect on their performance to help them develop problem solving skills (Wilkes et al.,

2011). Although Matty is only 6 years old, being able to view footage of himself may help him

reflect on the way he interacts with others. He could identify where in his play he is making poor

choices and see how his choices impact others.

It is also important to consider the impact that a child’s disability has on parents. Parents

of children with ASD report high levels of stress and lower levels of parenting competencies

compared to parents of children with no disabilities (Keen et al., 2010). Parents are also more

likely to suffer from depression, anxiety, and family functioning and marital relationships are

also more likely to be adversely affected compared with parents of children with other

intellectual developmental disabilities (Tonge et al., 2006). Therefore, providing family support

is a must.

When talking with Matty’s mother, she appeared anxious regarding his development, and

quite concerned about some of his behaviors. One way to help her would be to recommend an

intervention that is aimed at decreasing parent stress and increasing parent competencies. One

example of a support for families is providing parents mindfulness training. Mindfulness is

described as “attentive, nonjudgemental, and receptive awareness of present moment experience

in terms of feelings, images, thought and sensations/perceptions” (Benn et al., 2012 pg. 1477).

By teaching parents mindfulness, this can potentially enhance emotional regulation which

enables parents to listen to their children while being more attune to their own reactions and

result in a more careful and calm response (Benn et al., 2012).

One mindfulness training is SMART-in-Education (Stress Management and Relaxation

Techniques). This curriculum provides mindfulness practice training, such as concentration of

breathing. The curriculum also provides homework practices such as daily sitting and monitoring

responses to emotions and behaviors (Benn et al., 2012). Studies show that intensive mindfulness

training reduced parental stress by teaching them to become more aware and reflective of

emotional triggers. They learned how to recover quicker from stressful encounters by using the

techniques they learned (Benn et al., 2012). Therefore, if Matty’s mother went through a

mindfulness training she may feel better equipped and less stressed when handling Matty’s

intense behaviors.

Overall, Matty is already accessing many services and his parents are well aware of his

struggles. Matty is a great example of how successful students with special needs can be when

they are surrounded by supportive adults and are accessing interventions and help. Although his

family and school are already doing the right things, he is still going to have difficult days and

school may always be a challenge for him.

In comparison, Lexie does not need to access any kind of intervention or receive any type

of specialized support at the moment. She is an example of a very normal child who is doing

very well academically and socially. However, she does come from a home with a disabled sister

who has an emotional disturbance. This could mean that she may need to access help to handle

some of the strong emotions that she sees at home.

It is also important for her family to know that siblings of children with a special need or

a disability can be affected by it. For example, parents spend much more of their time focusing

on a child with special needs, compared with their child that has no special needs (Krueger,

2018). Therefore the non-disabled sibling may crave attention and act out in order to achieve

attention. In addition to this, the child may also feel resentment towards their other family

members as they feel they are not treated equally. To combat this, Kreuger (2018) has some

suggestions. One suggestion is for the parents to set time aside for each child. They should try to

spend some one on one time with each child that is uninterrupted and meaningful. This way the

child feels loved and valued and may reduce the chances of them seeking attention negatively.

In conclusion, Matty is going to need lots of resources over the course of his school

career and in life outside of the educational world. However, with such a loving and supportive

family who educate themselves on his disabilities, he is going to receive appropriate care and

guidance that he needs. Whereas Lexie may go through life and school with no need for

additional supports. However, if she does, it is clear that she would also receive appropriate

support as her parents are aware of what normal development looks like and have experienced

normal development gone awry. Both children are perfect examples of how unique children are

and how important it is that they receive love and support from the adults around them.


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