Sunday, 15 January 2017

Schedules, Consistency and Routine - the fun things in life!

I was asked about a week ago “how do you manage to get everything organized in the morning? How do you organize your time? I need some tips!”

Every family, every household, differs in some way in the same sense that every child diagnosed with Autism differs. No two are alike so the things that we do, may or may not work for your household. There are however certain aspects of Autism that are similar from individual to individual and some of the strategies that we use will benefit others.

There are some days when I am honestly not sure how we manage. These are the days when we are just winging it and hoping for the best. But there are strategies that we use subconsciously every day that help to make our days run smoother.
Most of the time, our days are structured to minimize the stress on our family but also to maximize our time to fit everything in. And there is a lot to do each week – not only is there our paid work commitments to consider but there are specialist appointments, therapy sessions, swimming lessons, day care and school and anything else that may crop up through the week.
I’m not saying that every day in superhero headquarters is regimented down to the last minute, but there is a little bit of structure throughout each day.
If there is one thing that we learnt very rapidly on this journey it was the importance of schedules, consistency and routine in the day to day happenings in our household. Both my little superheroes thrive on routine and consistency and they rapidly descend into meltdown mode if either of these is suddenly changed or is non-existent.
Both O and L need consistency and routine as they are what makes them feel safe. They may have had a rough day at school or day care but when they get home, they both know exactly how and why things are done. This helps to ground them. Routines and consistency brings back a sense of normality that they are familiar with. Chaos for anyone generally doesn’t have a calming effect, throw in Autism and chaos adds a whole new dimension of stress.
All I can suggest is that if you are after strategies, you might consider and modify some of our ideas so that they will work for you.
What do you mean by consistency?
Consistency could mean anything from the discipline methods used in your household to where you eat dinner every evening to how things are done around the house.  If things are not kept consistent, then your child may become confused. Their expectations of how things happen are suddenly changed and they may struggle to keep it all together.
L and O know that their school bags are kept in a corner in the dining room. L generally takes his green blanket to day care and school every day - god help us if anything ever happens to said green blanket as I wouldn’t have a clue where to get a replacement from – and once we have arrived home he will go looking for it when he needs to relax. If we constantly moved his school bag around, this would add to his stress. A simple act like having all the school bags in the same place, every day, reduces the stress. It also makes it easier in the mornings when we ask O and L to help get their school bags ready for the day.
Keeping all the shoes in the same place means that when L is asked to get his shoes, he knows where they are and can go and get them. It gives his self confidence a boost as he knows exactly where he needs to go.
It did take quite some time of me feeling like I was constantly banging my head against a wall, but eventually both my little superheroes understood where the school bags, lunch boxes, drink bottles, hats and other items went.
Most children can be taught how to organize, it may not be easy and might not happen at a fast pace, but if you persevere they will get there. If children can be taught good organizing habits, then it makes sense that calm should follow and that they’ll take these skills into adulthood.
I have heard of some families putting visual cues up around their house so that their children know where everything belongs. This could be a picture of a hat or a school bag or shoes. This will not only assist your child to learn where everything belongs but they are great therapy tools – remember, everything can be turned into a therapy game!!
The way that I look at it, if I can make a household chore into a therapy game, the sooner L will achieve his therapy goals. L loves to help with wiping the dishes. If I put the wet cup on the opposite side of the table to his free hand then he has to cross his midline to get the cup! If you put a picture of a hat where the hats belong, this will help with your child’s language skills.
If you struggle with consistency in your household, it is a good idea to sit down with all the adult members of the house and explain the benefits of consistency for your child. If you are all on the same page and the other adults understand the reasons behind the consistency, life is going to be much calmer for everyone.
Visual schedules
One of the things that L loves about going to Tara’s school, apart from seeing Tara, is his visual timetable. After he’s arrived at Tara’s school and has settled in, L will go to his visual schedule to find out what he is doing that afternoon. Daddy superhero thought that it was brilliant and set about to make our own visual schedule for home.
In the past we have tried printing off very simple visual schedules but they were never well received by L or O. So Daddy superhero got all the supplies that he needed, sat down with L and O, explained what he wanted to make and then started being creative. And wouldn’t you know it, both little superheroes wanted to help, they were their schedules after all. For their schedules we just used a piece of thick card, sticky backed Velcro dots and small wooden shapes.

Both O and L have a morning and an afternoon schedule that they can refer to at any point. Their schedules remind them of the steps that they have to do every day. The schedule reminds them of what they need to get ready for the day. I will always go along after to make sure they have remembered everything, but with the schedules, they can take some ownership and gain confidence in their own ability.
We have visual schedules of the items that L needs to have for rugby training and games. We have a visual schedule for L of the steps involved in putting on sunscreen. We used to have a visual schedule of the steps involved in going to the toilet. All of these are little reminders to L on how to do things so that he can learn for himself. They give him the confidence to be able to do things himself.

Visual schedules can be as simple or as complicated as you like, and there are plenty of free sites where you can obtain the visuals from to make your own schedules.

At the beginning of the last school year last, I typed up both O and L’s schedules for the week of what was happening each day at school, therapy or day care. This helped me to remember what was on each day and what each child needed to take with them each day. This was my reminder and it spent the whole year on the fridge for everyone to see.
It also meant that when I was booking in specialist, therapy, funding appointments that I could refer to my schedule to make sure that I wasn’t double booking ourselves.
Routines, routines, routines…..
If routines are kept the same, then they are the predictable calm part of your child’s day. O and L know that, generally, we are awake at the same time every week day morning – still trying to convince O that she really doesn’t need to be up at 6am on a weekend morning!
After they wake up, it is breakfast time, then they get dressed for the day and then they can play. Both little superheroes know that before they can go off and play, they need to do all their steps on their morning schedule.
L knows that Tuesday is my day off – not that it really is a day off – from work. Mummy’s day off to L means that it is shopping day and Tara’s School.
O has a set bed time routine that she developed herself – I know that if we deviate from that routine, bed time is a lot noisier and very drawn out. Even our drive to and from school is set, it is the quickest and easiest route to get there and hooley dooley look out if I go a different way, I can guarantee that there will be a little voice from the back seat saying “this the wrong way!”
I can’t encourage routines enough, it really is best to keep life as stable and routine as possible for a child or an adult with Autism. Even if it means that you need to write down a routine for yourself and put it on the fridge, set reminders and alarms on your phone, emails etc.
Saying that,there are going to be times when routines are going to have to be changed and children with Autism need to learn that life is not always going to happen in a certain way. Changing up routines every now and then is a good thing. You could make little subtle changes and then work your way up to large spontaneous changes. These will help your child to adapt to changes at school when they have no notice of a relief teacher for the day. Being comfortable with change will reduce the stress on them, internally they will know that even though they’ll feel anxious that they can get through it.
If I know that one of our routines is going to change, I do forewarn my little superheroes so that they are prepared. We learnt to do this the hard way! I also talk to both little superheroes on a regular basis about what we need to do or what is going to happen that day.
Let’s face it, an integral part of being a special needs parent is the what seems to be the never ending specialist appointments. It honestly feels like we spend more time sitting in specialist offices than we do enjoying the company of our friends.
I’m very lucky in that I only work four days a week. As I mentioned earlier, Tuesday is my day off. This means that Tuesday is generally appointment day. I try to organize any appointments that we need to go to for a Tuesday morning. I do all my phone calls to funding bodies, case managers etc on a Tuesday afternoon when L is at therapy and before I pick up O from school.

Setting aide time to make phone calls means that I am not rushing around like a head less chook. I know that this time is generally free from distractions (namely O and L) and I can get everything organised.
If I’m unable to make appointments for a Tuesday, then I will always try to make the little superheroes appointments either early in the morning before school or after school. Morning appointments mean that the little superheroes are fresh from sleep and as such the appointments generally go well. Both O and L like going to school and really don’t like being pulled out of school early. O panics about school work that she might be missing so after school appointments reduce the stress on her.
When I’m making appointments I also try, where possible, to book follow up appointments, if they are needed, months in advance. At one point, I had four months worth of psychologist appointments booked for O. One of the great things about all our specialists is that they phone a week out from the appointment to remind us. I also write all our appointments on our calendar and put them in my phone. Can never have too many reminders!
Depending on which specialist we are going to, I try to prepare the little superheroes beforehand. I’ll talk to them about why we have to go and where we are going. L identifies specialist offices by their play areas and water dispensers – so I’ll remind him which one he’ll be going to.
When we go to appointments, we always take our bag of tricks – it has toys, games, books, colouring in books, paper, pencils, food, drink bottles and wipes in it as well as some sensory toys. We must look like were going for a week-long trip. All of these items assist my little superheroes to feel comfortable, they all assist to keep them calm. The office may be busy, but my little superheroes can retreat to their belongings that they know.
This is a big one is our house and it is usually the one that takes up the most time each day. At the start of the week I will ask O and L what they want for lunches each day at school. We are quite lucky in that both little superheroes have their standard fair that they eat at school each day. Wednesday is always tuck shop day at school for O, so that brings it down to four lunches.
Prior to doing the shopping I am one of these crazy people who do up a weekly menu. The menu has certainly saved us not only money but also time. Between the menu and knowing what the little superheroes want for lunch, I know exactly what I need to buy. If Daddy superhero is on dinner duty, he has a list of preplanned ideas to cook. This has definitely been a saving grace for us. It saves a lot of time when you know what is in the fridge or freezer.
One of the best and most used kitchen appliances that I have ever brought has been our slow cooker, in fact we have two of them. You can cook almost anything in a slow cooker – roasts, soups, curries, pasta, you name it there is probably a slow cooker recipe for it. It is great, I can put the slow cooker on in the morning and then when I get home, dinner is done. If we’re at appointments all day, the slow cooker means I don’t have to worry about dinner. If we’ve had a rough day with the little superheroes being in sensory overload, having dinner looked after is a huge relief.
I honestly use our slow cooker more often than I use the stove and oven!

Depending on what is on the menu, I always cook more than we need. The leftovers go into the deep freezer for those nights when we are just too tired to cook.
Always Be Prepared. Channel your inner Scout!
During the school week if I’m able to, I will get the little superheroes clothes for the next day ready the night before. The clothes are laid out where O and L can see them. This eliminates them having to decide what they want to wear the next day. With L, he likes to be in control, so I will always have a few choices for him to chose from. This makes him feel like he is in control but I get the outcome that I am after – L getting dressed. It also means that he can visibly see what he has to put on and he will rarely get “lost” while getting dressed.
It sounds rather silly but I also get my clothes for the next day ready the night before. It just makes the mornings run so much smoother. It is one less thing to organize.
If I’m starting early at work I will get school lunches ready so that in the morning I can just pack lunch boxes.
All of these strategies give us a few extra minutes in the morning to play with.
Make some friends.
Being on this Autism journey has made me feel much more comfortable talking to strangers. When you’re sitting in a waiting room watching your child wreck havoc, I mean play, talk to those around you. We have a group of friends that we met through our therapy appointments. Being on this Autism journey can be lonely at times and finding people who understand exactly what you are going through is important for your own sanity.
Reach out to other people who are on a similar journey, exchange stories, compare notes, have a circle of friends that when you are in a dark place, will understand and be a listening ear.
There are some great Facebook groups which are filled with supportive members. One group that I am part of is Autism Living Life onThe Spectrum. I can sound ideas off other members, ask for advice, have virtual coffee chats, share lows and most importantly share wins.
Tag, you’re it!
In superhero headquarters it really is a tag-team effort between myself and Daddy superhero. With L’s sleeping patterns, or lack thereof, we will take it turns to stay awake with L. Or we will tag out during the night if we need to sleep. Cooking is a tag-team effort. If one person did it all, they wouldn’t have any energy left. I really don’t know how single parents survive.
If you don’t have any support at home, perhaps you could rope in a trusted friend to help occasionally. It doesn't have to be every night, maybe once a week to help out, just to give you a night off. It could even be asking a friend to cook a meal for you once a week. I don’t like asking for help but I have swallowed my pride in the past and asked. I injured my neck and back a few years ago when Daddy superhero was away for work. Wanting to stretch my back, I laid on the tiled floor and then could not for the life of me get back up. O retrieved my phone and I phoned a friend, thanks Bec, who not only brought Maccas for dinner but also bathed the little superheroes, got them dressed and got them to bed.
If you need to ask for help it does not mean that you are weak, it means that you are strong as you have recognized that you can’t do it all.
So tag, you’re it!
Our Autism Bible
The next piece of advice that I am going to give, and this is one that if you don’t already have this system in place, it should be the only piece of advice that you take from this post.

At the beginning of our Autism journey, we were given we what we call our Autism Bible through the Autism Association. This is a three ring binder that is sectioned off with various headings. In this binder is everything and anything to do with L and his Autism diagnosis. The binder has L’s diagnosis notes, letters from specialists, his NDIS funding information, L’s medical information, copies of his IEP, basically anything that we might need to refer to when speaking to medical and therapy professionals. In the back of the folder are pages and pages of therapy information and other sheets to give to teachers and relatives. There is space to work out therapy expenses, card holders for all those business cards that you may acquire.
When we have appointments, this bible goes with us. I no longer have folders everywhere, I have one folder. All the information is kept in one easy place to find.
It makes perfect sense to keep all information in one place but it is not something that we thought of when going through the medical round-a-bout leading up to L’s diagnosis.
I’ve since added information that we received from his therapists at the early intervention centre and hospital records from when L had emergency dental surgery last year (that’s another story!) L’s immunization records are in the file.
It is definitely something that all families should have.
Lastly, have some me time!
At the end of each day, make sure that YOU sit down and relax even if it is only 5 or 10 minutes. Catch your breath, make a coffee if you need it, read a chapter in a book, watch some television. It is vital that you take the time to have some time for you.

What’s really important, a clean spotless house or keeping your sanity?

I’d love to have a spotless clean house but then I wouldn’t have time for me. Time for me to reclaim my identity. Time for me to do something that I like doing. Time for me to recharge.
I find that when I do get the chance to sit down and do nothing, I am a lot calmer afterwards. Calm is good remember!! Calm is what we all need to aim for. When we are calm, our children are calmer!
Self-care is super important and it doesn’t have to be completed. A day at the spa would be great, but realistically I know that isn’t going to happen every week. Self-care could be as simple as having a cup of coffee, reading a book, going for a walk with the family, spending some time out in the garden, watching a show on TV, something that helps you to relax.

You need to look after yourself before you can look after your family. If you are run down, you are not going to be of any use to your family.

So sit down, have a cuppa and breathe!

Thursday, 12 January 2017

2017 Reading Challenge

Last year I posted a blog titled "Time to Look After Me" in which I discussed the importance of self care or me time.

One of the ways that I like to have some me time is by reading. In January of last year, one of my friends posted the 2016 Reading Challenge and tagged me in it. Unfortunately time got away from me last year and while I read quite a few books, I didn't complete the challenge. I was so close though!

This is the year to complete a Reading Challenge. After a search I stumbled across Hannah Braime's website. Late last year she posted a blog with not one but two Reading Challenges for 2017. The first has 26 challenges, equating to one book every two weeks, the second has 52 challenges.

I love reading but I'm not up to reading a book every week, so I am going to attempt to complete the first challenge.

I can proudly say that I have ticked off two of the challenges and it's only week 2 of the year! Perhaps I should attempt the second challenge!!

A book you can finish in a day - Alice, written by Christina Henry. I then finished the sequel "Red Queen" the following day! If you like Alice In Wonderland you may enjoy these books. But be prepared, things are not as they seem!

A book written by a female author - Pretending to be Normal, written by Liane Holliday Willey. This is a fascinating read as it is Liane's account of growing from a child into adulthood as an undiagnosed Aspie. The edition that I read had been updated with her diagnosis as an adult and the challenges that she faced with her own children. Would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in reading about Aspergers.

So who is with me!

Hit me with your reading suggestions!

Wednesday, 11 January 2017

What I have found out about Eclipses by O

Hi, my name is O.

I wanted to find out what an eclipse was so Mummy and Daddy set up the computer so that I could search on Google.

These are the things that I found out about a solar eclipse. I did this all by myself.

A solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the earth and the sun and the moons shadow obscures the sun.

Obscure means block out.

The next annular solar eclipse is on the 26th of February 2017 at 12.10 UTC. I don't know what UTC is but it is on my birthday, I'll be 8.

There are 48 days 1 hour 5 min and 47 seconds to go. That means that there are 48 days until my birthday.

You can watch a solar eclipse but you need to wear eclipse glasses or welders googles or through 2 pieces of card.

Welder googles are special glasses that people wear to do welding so that the light from the welding doesn't hurt their eyes. I asked Daddy this and he told me.

The solar eclipse will last for 7 minutes and 31 seconds.

An annular eclipse is when the edge of the sun remains visible as a bright ring around the moon. The picture I looked at was very pretty.

A solar eclipse can only take place during a new moon.

The next total solar eclipse is on August 21 2017.

But we won't be able to see these two eclipses in Australia. 

On the 7th of August 2017 there will be a partial lunar eclipse. This will be visible in Australia. I really hope that I get to watch this. I love space.

I don't know what a lunar eclipse is but I think it must be something about the moon because lunar means moon. Mummy and Daddy said that I had to stop because it was dinner time so I am going to ask if I can learn about lunar eclipse another day.

I asked Mummy if I could write this on her blog so that other people can learn about eclipses. I hope that you like what I typed.

From O

Tuesday, 10 January 2017

Why do you carry him? Let him walk!

Why do you still carry your son?

Take a guess at how many times I have been asked that question! It is usually followed by "how old is he? Isn't he old enough to walk?"

Yes I do still carry L, not all the time, but I do carry him. If L isn't being carried, he is riding in a trolley or sitting in the pram.

When I carry L, he looks like a little Koala. L wraps his arms tightly around my neck and his legs around my waist and buries his head into my shoulder. Every now and then he peeps over my shoulder behind us or raises his head just enough to see where we are going. If he sees something that interests him, L will sit up straight.

I am a petite woman and L is almost half my height. I have become quite apt at doing chores around the house and doing the shopping while carrying my little koala boy. L has become quite apt at holding on so tightly that both my arms can be free to do what needs to be done. But not so tightly that I can't breathe!

We don't get too many odd looks when he is in a trolley, but when he is being carried or he is in the pram, people just can't help but give strange looks.

They're looks as if to say "you spoil him" and "stop babying him." They will sometimes roll their eyes at me.

I've given up trying to explain why I still carry L. I now ignore the looks. I might even stare them down to make them feel uncomfortable.

I just enjoy the Koala cuddles, I'll kiss his head to reassure him and hold him even tighter.

L is a runner. L is impulsive and has no concept whatsoever of the idea of danger. He will take off onto busy roads, into car parks, through crowds of people, up flights of stairs, you name it he will have a go. No matter how many times we talk with L about the importance of not running off, he still does it. L doesn't run on purpose, he runs to serve a purpose.

L will see something that interests him and he takes off, at a very fast pace. It doesn't occur to him that he should tell us where he wants to go. It isn't until he gets to where he wants to go, that he looks around in fear to find us. L has scared himself several times, but that hasn't stopped him from running.

At times L will run because he wants to get away from the environment - there may be too many sounds, sights and people. The environment is too busy for his mind to process and he goes into sensory overload.

When L is being carried or is in the pram or a trolley, he doesn't run.

When L is being carried he feels safe and he's less likely to have a meltdown.

There are times when L does want to walk but invariably one of us will end up carrying him. It all becomes too much for him.

I know that the day will come when I am physically unable to carry L, but that day is not here yet. When that day arrives, we will figure something else out. We'll solve that problem when we face it.

But for the moment I will enjoy my koala cuddles from my little man and I will continue to carry him when he wants to be carried. I will continue to help L feel safe and secure.

And also because I am not quite ready to take that next step and make him walk everywhere!

Sunday, 8 January 2017

What does it mean to be a Literal thinker?

A common characteristic of individuals who are on the Autism Spectrum is that they can be very literal. They may have difficulty in grasping abstract concepts or understanding non-tangible ideas. And they tend to take words and/or phrases literally.

The English language is full of slangs, puns, paradoxes and just downright confusing phrases. This can pose a very daunting challenge for an individual with Autism. A literal thinker will take language literally and the words that they speak and hear, they process them in a concrete way.
Basically an individual with Autism will mean what they say, say what they mean and hear the words that you say, not the meaning behind them.

L and O are no exception! All children can be very literal thinkers. My two little superheroes take it that one step further!

We are still learning what we can and can't say to our little superheroes.

For example......and there are many!

Don't say "there go the frogs again" when Daddy superhero lets rip with a fart!
The result was that L and O start rummaging through the front garden looking for said frogs! That was one very long conversation trying to explain that there weren't actually any frogs croaking, it was just Daddy letting off some gas!

Don't say "go and turn on the taps L" when there is only one tap in the bathroom sink.
Result is that L goes into the bathroom and turns on the sink tap and the bathtub tap and then forgets to turn both off when he leaves the room! Every single time! Note to self, stop saying this!

Don't say "go to bed" when it is sleep time and L is already in bed.
The result is L says "but I am in bed, see, I here!" Aaaagh!!!!! Go to sleep, I meant, go to sleep!

Don't say "No calling out from bed tonight please" to O when she is tucked up in bed and meant to go to sleep.
Result is that ten minutes later you hear a tapping noise coming from O's room. When I went in and said "O, I said no calling out" O responded with "but I wasn't calling out, I was tapping the bed, I didn't call out. It's different!" Yes it is different, guess I should have said no noise please!

Don't say "Just a minute" or "Just wait a second."
Both little superheroes walked off and came back a minute later. Yep, they went and counted to 60 and then came straight back. Next time I gave a time frame and you guessed it, they were back immediately after the time frame finished.

Don't say "hold your horses."
Both little superheroes stood there with their mouths open catching flies as they looked for some horses to hold. Oh dear, why did I say that!

Don't say "let's do your maths homework a different way" to O.
O then becomes very upset because "Miss S said this is how we have to do it." We had quite a few conversations with Miss S during the school year about completing homework in a different way.

Don't say "we're following our noses" when O or L ask where we are going.
Take a guess on how many odd looks I got with two children walking around with their heads poked forward and bottoms pushed out as they tried to follow their noses. Why oh why did I say that.

Don't say "go and hop in the bath" to L when it is bathtime.
Not even going to explain this one. Needless to say it was hilarious, even L had a giggle!

Don't say "we're lost" when O or L ask where we are as we're driving in the car.
This evokes a lot of crying and children saying "but I don't want to be lost!"

I think their very literal take on the world and words is one reason why my little superheroes like everything to be organised and in O's case, why everything has to be done in the correct way.

Because of their very literal take on the world, my little superheroes can also be very honest, in fact they can be brutally honest. They also cannot tell a tie to save themselves.

Don't ask them if your hair looks good or what they think of what you are wearing if you want an honest answer. They'll give you one, even if it means that the answer comes out as an insult.

They don't mean to insult you, they are just answering your question.

So how can this literal take on the world be beneficial to individuals with Autism I hear you ask?

While it means that people on the spectrum can have a very hard time comprehending what other people are saying, which in turn can make social situations even more awkward, it also means that individuals may be very exact when completing tasks.

Being exact and precise and thorough can be an asset. Not being distracted by the social happenings around them, means that they can focus on the task that they were given. This is not to say that individuals who aren't on the spectrum can't focus too. We all have this ability, some just perform it better than others!

I watched a BBC episode of "Employable Me" several weeks ago.  The episode followed two gentlemen, one of whom had Autism, as they applied for jobs. The young fellow with Autism was incredibly literal and preferred things around him to be exact and precise. Long story short, he applied for and was given a work trial in a computer manufacturing plant. Within the first few days of his work trial he was able to pick up faults in the software programs, that the software developers hadn't been able to find.

The episode concluded with him being offered a position within the company. The CEO of the company recognised that his eye to detail would be an incredible asset to the company.

Albert Einstein, Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Michelangelo, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Lewis Carroll ..... all of these people have something in common, apart from their brilliant minds. They're all thought to have been on the spectrum. They have all touched and changed the world in some way, they were all extremely precise, thorough and focused on what they did.

Temple Grandin is a professor of animal science a the Colorado State University. The University calls her "the most accomplished and well known adult with autism in the world." If you haven't watched one of her TED talks, you should. Temple didn't speak until she was three and a half years old, she communicated her frustration by screaming, peeping and humming. After receiving the diagnosis of Autism, her parents were told that they should institutionalize her, but they didn't. And look at what she has achieved. Temple is also an outspoken Autism advocate. The world needs more individuals like Temple Grandin.

The next question that I ask myself, is how can we help our children to understand the world around them? How can I make it easier for them to comprehend what others say and mean?

The word "no" can be a huge pitfall in superhero headquarters. The word "no" to my little superheroes means never, not at all, not a chance, not ever.

Instead of saying "no, you can't have an icy pole," we need to re-phrase what we want to say.

No, you can't have an icy pole at the moment, you can have one after lunch. This gives hope to a child who is a literal thinker.

To someone who isn't aware of how literal ASD children are, it may seem that the child is being a brat. The child may be seen to be being intentionally difficult. Sometimes, this can be true. But it more than likely is that it is a misunderstanding. The individual, child or adult, has literally misunderstood what you have said.

When I see that my children are staring at me with confused eyes after I have finished talking, I wait to see if a little light bulb goes off in their heads. If they are still looking at me like I have three heads, I get them to repeat what I have said to see if they have processed the information the way that I meant. If they haven't, then I rethink what I just said and explain it in a different way.

It all comes back to say what you mean and mean what you say!

At times, both O and L need a little more time to process what has been said to them. If L doesn't understand, he will say "what?" O responds with "can you please repeat that?" It's not that they weren't listening or that they are being rude, their brains are just trying to process what we have said and they are recalling a memory on how to answer or respond.

When we repeat what we said, most times they respond to what we are asking or saying. Give your child enough time to process the information if they don't respond straight away. Showing anger or annoyance towards them is a sure fire way to start a meltdown.

Auditory prompting and information should be kept to a minimum. If children are struggling to comprehend what you are saying, they may understand better if visual cues and prompts are given instead.

We use visual cue cards for L at home and also at the Early Intervention Centre that he attends. He may struggle to understand verbal instructions, but if you give him a visual card with the steps on it, he completes the task very quickly. Visual cards can be used to give directions, give instructions, rules, anything that can be explained using pictures.

Below is the visual cue card that we use for L when he needs to get his gear ready for rugby training and games. He brought this to us a few days ago asking where his head gear was - he wasn't sure what it was called but he pointed to the picture and asked. This is a huge step for L.

We also make sure, where possible, that all the adults who have contact with O and L - teachers, carers, coaches, relatives - are aware of just how literal both O and L are. We explain that if they need to give instructions to either O or L, at times both need step by step instructions. This is important as it reduces the frustration on everyone and we avoid the dreaded meltdown.

We are assisting O to understand phrases, multi-meaning words, jokes and playful teasing by using examples that she understands. In some ways, and Miss S her teacher from last year can attest to this, O's dry sense of humour is way above those of her peers. O had to do several speeches as part of the school curriculum last year, she chose to do one of the speeches about sea cucumbers. O found the fact that sea cucumbers breathe through their bottoms (really they do) hilarious and included it in her speech by saying "talk about having bad breathe!" This went straight over her classmates heads, as did several of the jokes Miss S cracked throughout the year. O got them all!

We know that O and L will probably be literal thinkers for a long while yet. And even as adults they may still struggle in certain situations. But the more we do with them now, the easier it will be for them later.

And if all else fails, I have accepted that in the meantime, my little superheroes, at times, are just bona fide smart asses, but in a nice way!

Friday, 6 January 2017

Why doesn't your child look at me when I talk to them?

In most cultures it is disrespectful not to look at the person who is speaking to you.

In other cultures it is the opposite. It is considered disrespectful to look at your elders when they are talking to you. The act of looking someone in the eyes can be seen as an act of challenging their authority.

Both O and L struggle to look people in the eye when they are speaking. Both will make fleeting glances at the person, including at us, and then look away.

From the outside, it appears that neither of them are listening. It appears that they are being rude.

And then occasionally O will do the complete opposite. O will make eye contact and then not break it. She will stare you down during a conversation to the point that it becomes very unnerving. O is beginning to understand that it is polite to look at the person who you are talking to. She just hasn't grasped the concept that staring makes some people feel very uncomfortable.

An individual with Autism doesn't need to look at you to pay attention. Looking at you can actually be very distracting and can make the individual feel very uncomfortable.

We've asked O why she will fiddle with a toy or whatever she is holding while we talk with her. We used to think that she wasn't paying any attention what so ever. Turns out she was paying attention and quite often can repeat verbatim what we said to her. O explained that keeping her hands busy while talking means that her mind can be still, she can take in everything and process what we are saying.

It may look like she is gazing off into the distance and is not here with us, but she is.

Individuals with Autism can find it very difficult to read facial expressions and other non-verbal communication cues. Looking at someones face when they are talking can actually be quite distracting as the individual tries to process what they are seeing and hearing. If you think about it, it is a lot of information to process - facial expressions, hand gestures, the language used, the tone of voice and so on. Then throw in that the individual is also trying to process what you are saying and trying to form a reply in their mind, you may start to feel a little tongue tied.

So the next time that you are talking to with O or L and they don't look at you, please don't assume that they are being disrespectful and not listening.

They more than likely are paying you their full attention, just in their own way, as well as processing what you are saying.

They may seem disinterested and aloof, but I can guarantee that they are there with you, working things out in their own way. There is so much happening behind their eyes. They're really not as far away as they seem.

Tuesday, 3 January 2017

Why we all need to laugh more!

I love listening to my little superheroes laugh, giggle and tell jokes. At times they are laughing at each other and other times I'm sure that they have no idea what they are laughing at. O laughs in her sleep, I didn't know that was possible, but it is. She gets a really deep belly laugh going!

Their laughter really is contagious and I can't help but start laughing along with them. Their laughter primes my brain, makes me smile and before I know it I am joining in on the fun.

After a good giggle session, we all can't help but feel good inside. Laughter really does make you feel good. And that good feeling you get after laughing remains with you even after the laughter and the reason for the laughter has subsided.

Being on this Autism journey it is vital to have a good laugh every now and then. There are quite a few moments of absolute despair and if I remained in that dark place, no one would want me around. I would not be very pleasant company.

Having a wicked sense of humour, having the ability to be silly and being able to laugh at oneself is a must on this journey.

A sense of humour helps us to keep a positive, optimistic outlook that helps to get us through the difficult situations and the disappointments. Even just a smile can go a long way to making me feel better.

The simple act of laughing triggers the release of natural endorphins and these feel good chemicals help you to feel good instantly. It's an instant pick me up. These endorphins help with our mental health. Laughter can help to relieve stress, anxiety and depression. Some say that laughter can also diminish pain. Laughter triggers healthy physical and emotional changes in the body.

And the best thing about laughter is that it is FREE!

My little superheroes laugh hundreds of times during each day, sure they have quite a few times where there are tears and yelling and screaming but the number of times that they laugh far outnumber the times of sadness. 

As adults, we tend to be more serious, well some of us are, and we laugh more infrequently. The stresses of life get to us and we forget to relax and just laugh.

What we need to do is stop being so serious all the time and actively seek out opportunities for humour and laughter. We need to find happiness, find what brings joy to your life.

There is a clip that has done the rounds on Facebook of a gentleman watching something on a tablet on a train. He is giggling his backside off. Everyone around him has no idea what he is laughing at and yet they can't help but laugh along with him! The sound of laughter naturally draws people together, we want to see what is so funny, we want in on the joke.

Now the thing about laughing is that you can't really enjoy a laugh with other people unless you take the time to really engage with them. Turn your phone off, switch off the TV and connect with them, truly spend time in their company. You'll all feel happier, more positive and more relaxed. You may not be able to alter the stressful situation, but you can control how you feel about it.

Laughter really is a powerful antidote to stress! Laughter is great for building and strengthening relationships.


Be silly!

Do your best impersonation of a deep belly laugh that takes over your entire body. Think of a baby laughing, they get right into it. They break out into a big smile, they giggle and the belly starts shaking and wobbling!

How do be silly I hear you ask?

Go ahead and allow yourself some time to break from your normal routine and have some fun with your children. 

Tell some jokes, tell some Dad jokes. You don't have to be a Dad to tell Dad jokes. Watch a comical TV show or cartoon with your children. Read a funny book, there are plenty of hilarious books - my little superheroes love "The Book With No Pictures" by BJ Novak.

Share a funny story. Make up a nonsensical story with your children. Play a game. Run around in the backyard with your children. Pretend you are a child again!

Try spending less time worrying about the perfection of your home and spend more time on your presence at home with your family.

Your children need this time of silliness.

YOU need this time.

Your children won't remember how perfectly neat the house was, they will remember all the memories that were created with you.

To really enjoy life and get the most out of it, you need to live. You need to be silly, at least once! Try it and see how good it makes you feel!

Here are some random facts about Laughter:

Laughter relaxes the entire body and can leave your muscles relaxed for up to a good 45 minutes after!

Laughter burns calories! Okay, so no you can't stop going to the gym but apparently laughing for 10 to 15 minutes a day can burn about 40 calories! So schedule a bit of laughter into your day. Your body will thank you for it!