Thursday, 29 November 2018

What makes me qualified to discuss autism?


A question has been posed to me ....

"What makes you (ie: me) qualified to discuss all things autism?"

Where do I start? How about from the beginning? Just bare with me as it is a very convoluted story!!

My background is tertiary science. From about year ten onwards, my ambition in life was to become a Marine Biologist - I did two weeks work experience at our local natural history museum in the marine sciences section and loved it. I planned my year 11 and year 12 classes in high school so that I could gain entry into university to study in that field. Once I was accepted into university, I planned my subjects so that I could major in marine biology. However while I was studying at university, I fell into the role as an Education Officer for a CSIRO Science Education Centre. It was in that role that I realised that my goal in life was NOT to be a marine biologist but to work with children. Whilst working at CSIRO I did quite a bit of work with gifted students, who looking back on it now, I have no doubt would have been on the spectrum and with additional needs children, a number of whom were also on the spectrum.

Fast forward eighteen years (jeez now I am feeling old!) and I have worked in a lot of different careers since leaving the CSIRO. I've worked as an Education Officer for Life Education and I worked in the Early Childhood sector for a number of years before joining the Police Service. During the seven years that I was with the Police, one of the roles that I had was working with youth and their families in lots of different capacities. Among other roles I worked with at risk youth who were exhibiting very challenging behaviour and I was on a steering committee to establish a disability group in the area that I lived in. After resigning from the Police service I even tried my hand at administration - I thought that it was an area that I was interested in, but sitting behind a desk all day, every day, drove me slightly stir crazy! I've now come full circle and am back working in the Early Childhood sector and have been for a number of years.

Primarily throughout my career thus far I have worked with children in some capacity and many of those children have been additional needs children or children and young adults who exhibit challenging behaviour. Think education programs, inclusion support programs, programs for youth at risk, disability support and so on.

Whilst working in these fields, I didn't THINK that I was an expert in children with additional needs, be it additional needs or challenging behaviour, however I did THINK that I knew a fair bit about the subject.

And then .... I had my own children. Who just happened to be diagnosed with Autism.


Very quickly I came to the realisation that what I thought I knew, was only the tip of the ice berg! I had a lot to learn!

When you work with children with additional needs, you see one version of them. You see what they want you to see. They may not show you every side of themselves for fear of being judged or because they know that there may be consequences for exhibiting the perceived negative behaviour.

Working with children who had additional needs gave me a great head start when it came time to learn new skills and knowledge to assist my own children but I certainly did not know as much as I thought I knew.

Having two children of my own, both of whom are on the spectrum, I get to view and live their struggles 24/7.  We live autism, gifted and challenging behaviour day and night. 24/7.

Then throw in the fact that as a much wiser (well I hope so anyway) adult reflecting on myself as a child/teenager/young adult, I can see so much of my younger self in both of my children. Through speaking with my children's psychologist, we've come to the conclusion that if I was a child now (in 2018) I too would most likely be diagnosed with Autism. But I won't be chasing a diagnosis as I personally cannot see the benefit in gaining one for myself. I want to throw my efforts into assisting my little superheroes.

I can't tell you everything about Autism. What I can do is write about my children's Autism, with their input as they become more aware of their own thoughts and feelings. I can tell you about how I felt as a child and teenager struggling to understand myself and my peers.

I can give you advice on how to support children when they are exhibiting challenging behaviour. I can give you advice on how to support children and adults who suffer from anxiety as I have lived with anxiety for as long as I can recall. I can give you advice on how to turn everyday activities into therapy activities. I can give you advice on how to support individuals with sensory processing difficulties. However in saying this, what works with us, may not work for your family.

Why? Because our family lives and breathes Autism, anxiety, sensory processing difficulties, challenging behaviour, sleep issues ….. Every single day.

And the more that I learn, the more I realise that I really didn't know that much at all!

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