Saturday 27 January 2018

Dear Teacher!

Yes, of course, you can ignore all the visual aides and sensory tools that we send to school for use with my children. Said no parent of an ASD child, ever!

I am growing rather tired of having the same conversations over and over again.

And it all has to do with the fact that apparently my children do not fit the mould of people's perceptions of what autism looks like. Pray do tell, what does autism look like?

So here is an open letter to all teachers in the future that may teach my little superheroes, or any other children for that matter, who require the use of visual aides or sensory breaks in class!

Dear Teacher,

My child has been placed into your class for this school year and as such I am putting my trust in you, that you will do the right thing by my children. Both of my children are eager little learners but there is a slight difference between my children and the other children that have been placed in your class.

You see, my children have autism, sensory processing difficulties and they learn differently to other children in your class.

First up, can you please place what you know about autism into the back of your mind - keep it somewhere easy to access but not directly at the fore front of your mind when you meet my child for the first time. You see there is a saying that goes "so you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism."

Every individual who is on the autism spectrum presents differently. Please don't assume that you know everything about autism based on your previous encounters with children who are on the spectrum. You know about how those children present with autism. You know very little about how my children present with autism. By the end of the school year you will know about how my children present with autism.

Just because my child doesn't fit into the idea, the perceptions, that you have about autism, doesn't mean that he will be able to cope in your classroom without assistance. Yes both of my children are verbal, but that does not mean that they understand your instructions. You may need to walk my child through what you want him to do. You may need to provide step by step instructions.

Every child has a different learning style, my children are no different. Both of my children are visual learners. Both of my children benefit from the use of visual schedules, social stories and visual choice boards in class.

My children's Occupational Therapist and Speech Therapist have put a lot of time and effort into creating numerous visual aides for us to utilise at home as well as for you to use in the classroom. 

The great thing about this is that you do not have to prepare any visuals, we will provide them all for you. All that we ask is that you actively use them in class with my child. Please do not put them in a basket and think that my child will access them by himself - he does not yet know how to independently use them. You will need to prompt him to use them.

These visuals make my children's lives a lot easier for them to understand and manage. When you start utilising them in your classroom, I can guarantee that you find teaching my child a much easier task.

We will also provide a sensory tool kit for my children to use in their respective classes. Both of my children enter into sensory overload on a regular basis. You may or may not notice when this occurs but believe me, we see the fall out at home after school. Every day.

When we say that they have had a rough afternoon, evening or night, please believe us. We do not make these things up for the hell of it. Just because you have not witnessed a meltdown at school, doesn't mean that they don't occur. You are more than welcome to visit our house anytime after three thirty in the afternoon after school on any school day to witness a meltdown. Please be warned, meltdowns are emotionally, mentally and physically draining for everyone.

My son needs regular sensory breaks to keep himself on track. Please let him have these sensory breaks. There is even a sensory break choice board for you to use.

Please let my children keep their sensory tool kits in an easily accessible place in class where they know where it is kept. A sensory tool kit is no use whatsoever when it is hidden from their sight. And heads up, if it is hidden from them, neither of my children will ask to use the sensory tools. It simply does not occur to them to ask.

Again you will see the benefits for allowing them to use their sensory tool kits in class.

I will apologise in advance if you feel that I am over stepping my mark as a parent, but I am my children's advocate. Neither of my children have yet found their voice to be their own advocate, so in the meantime, I am it.

I look forward to this year and hope that you enjoy having my child in your class.

Kind Regards,

This concerned Mumma Bear!

Sunday 21 January 2018

What is Vestibular Input Responsible For?

**** Please note that if you feel that you or your child would benefit from increasing vestibular input, please consult a trusted medical professional first. ****

Both O and L have always loved hanging upside down. When we lived in Perth they were constantly wanting to hang upside down on our swing set or sit upside down for short periods in one of our lounge chairs. If they weren't hanging upside down, they would be outside jumping on the trampoline, swinging on the swing set or spinning around in the backyard or on one of our many sensory tools or on our office swivel chair.

Since moving to Queensland, both little superheroes have taken it in turns to sit upside down in my recliner to watch television or just to chill out on a very regular basis. They have also been participating in quite a lot of other movement seeking activities as we haven't yet purchased another trampoline.

All of this movement seeking that they are doing is increasing their vestibular input.

I've talked very briefly about the Vestibular system in previous posts so I thought that it was about time for a post simply devoted to the vestibular system.

So what is the vestibular system?

As I have previously mentioned the vestibular system is our movement and balance sense. Put simply the vestibular sense provides us with information as to where our body and head are in space. It helps us to keep our balance and to stay upright.

The vestibular sense is one of our first senses that develop when a foetus is growing in utero. The vestibular sense is stimulated to develop by the movement of the mother's body. By 5 months in a typically developing foetus, the vestibular system is already providing a great deal of sensory information to the growing foetal brain!

The receptors responsible for providing information about this system are located in our inner ear. Any type of movement will stimulate the vestibular receptors, but the best movement activities for gaining vestibular input are spinning, swinging and hanging upside down!

Why is Vestibular input important?

All children, regardless of if they have sensory processing difficulties or not, require this movement to develop their vestibular system. Vestibular input assists children to make sense of the world around them and assists them to learn to move through their environment. As the vestibular system is responsible for our balance and movement, all children require vestibular input for healthy development.

Vestibular input, a.k.a. movement, is crucial to developing a child's gross motor skills. Movement assists in developing a child's posture and muscle tone. Movement will assist to develop a child's visual- spatial perception - where their body is in relation to their other body parts and to objects or people around them, this also assists in developing fine motor control, and also to assist in recognising left from right and crossing their midline.

What happens if a child's vestibular system is not functioning correctly?

Children with sensory processing difficulties may be under responsive or over responsive to vestibular input.

L is constantly on the move so it would be safe to say that he has an under-responsive vestibular input. He requires the constant movement to calm himself and keep on track. When we first noticed that L loved to spin, we were concerned that he would cause himself to become dizzy. He can literally spin for hours and will never become dizzy. L is always jumping on the furniture, on our trampoline when we lived in Perth. He loves spinning in the swivel office chairs and he loves sitting in upside down positions. And if he is going to move somewhere, there is a very high chance that he is going to run! L is a risk taker and will always want to climb higher than he really should! For L, vestibular input is very much calming. In regards to crossing the mid-line on the other hand, this is something that L has always struggled with. He is becoming much better but still needs assistance at times.

O on the other hand, while she does like to sit upside down in the lounge chairs, she has more of an over-responsive vestibular system. O isn't a risk taker - she is very cautious when climbing on playground equipment. O moves a lot more slower compared to L. She has always said that she is afraid of heights, even when the height is not that great. O will always try to climb up ladders and rope ladders on playgrounds but you can always see from the look on her face that she isn't too comfortable with the activity. And quite often when she reaches the top, she will have to be either coaxed to the slide to come down or she will climb back down in tears. O is my uncoordinated little superhero - she is the one that is constantly bumping into objects without even realising. It all makes sense now!

L was a natural when it came to learning how to ride a bike. O on the other hand was much more cautious.

L's gross motor skills have always been far advanced from those of his peers (once he got the idea of walking.) O on the other hand, her gross motor skills are still developing.

So what activities are useful for developing the vestibular system?

We're hoping to get a trampoline soon as it is great for jumping and for L to do his much loved front flips! Even just a series of somersaults on the ground is great for vestibular input. And a jump around on a jumping castle is a must when we spot them at markets or other festivals!

We encourage O to take risks on play equipment but we always ensure that we are nearby to give the much needed reassurance that she will be okay. And when she does take a risk or climb higher than she has on previous occasions, we will point that out so that she realises that her own abilities are developing.

We encourage L and O to sit upside down in one of the lounge chairs in our house - they are restricted to one in the house so as to minimise damage to the furniture! When we are at a playground, we'll encourage L and O to try hanging upside down from the various equipment to gain much needed vestibular input.

We encourage L and O to spin either using their own motion or using one of our sensory tools. They love the swivel office chair as well as a twist balance board that we have in our sensory kit in the house.

We do lots of swinging on the swings in the local playground and when they are swinging, we encourage them both to swing themselves using their own body motion.

We encourage O and L to get out into the backyard to do a lot of jumping and running. It doesn't matter what time of day it is, they love running around the backyard.

We encourage L and O to climb. L loves climbing trees so we take him down to our local park to climb the amazing array of climbable trees! Whenever we visit a playground, we encourage O and L to explore every part of the play area and to do as much climbing as possible. We encourage them both to climb the various different climbing textures so that they can get the feel of different textures and/or equipment.

We also do a lot of activities in which both O and L have to co-ordinate both sides of their body - bike riding, scooter riding, catching a ball, kicking a ball, drawing, painting, typing on the computer. Activities that assist them in developing their gross motor skills, fine motor skills and crossing their mid-line.

All of these activities and more are a part of O and L's sensory diet and all of these activities are assisting in providing much needed vestibular input for them both.

Wednesday 17 January 2018

My Epiphany!

Several years ago I participated in a challenge titled "52 Weeks of Handmade."

The idea of the challenge was that for every week of the year, you would attempt to make a handmade item - be it through crochet, hand sewing, machine sewing, knitting, cross stitching and so on.

The first year that I participated, I am very happy to say that I did in fact manage to create an item every week of that year. At the completion of the challenge I had completed over 52 items.

Last year, however, it was a completely different story. I bombed out very early on in the year but admittedly we did have quite a challenging year in 2017. By the completion of the challenge I still managed to complete a number of items but not as many as I would have like to have made.

The challenge is on again this year and as I was reading a post about the challenge on a social media site a few days ago, I had an epiphany!

We haven't yet been able to unpack my sewing machines, yes I have two, and I honestly really miss sitting at my machines creating items for O and L. I also desperately want to get back into the habit of sitting down in the evening and doing some hand sewing or crocheting. And I have been trying to figure out why I need to sew so badly on a regular basis.

It's certainly not because I or my children need the stuff that I make, although I do think that I am able to make nicer clothes for my children than I could afford to buy. Actually come to think of it, O does need a few more pairs of her favourite style of shorts - little miss has had some what of a growth spurt over the last four weeks!

I have noticed that if I go for more than a week without sewing, be it hand or by machine, I become quite anxious and I've been trying to understand why.

When I was reading the 2018 52 Week Handmade Challenge I realised what it is - I was hit with my epiphany!

When I sew my mind goes blank. Everything that is bothering me and stressing me, just falls to the side. Being creative is like therapy or meditation for me. I get the opportunity to have a complete mental break and am able to concentrate on what I am working on.

Sewing, being creative, is part of my self care routine! 

So wish me luck as I embark on the 2018 52 Week Handmade Challenge. I'm going to give the challenge my best shot!

Saturday 13 January 2018

What are Positive Behaviour Support Strategies?

Prior to gaining L's autism diagnosis one of the issues that we struggled with on a daily basis was his challenging behaviour, more to the point we struggled to understand why he did the things that he did. Over time we have tried various strategies, some failed dramatically and some were brilliant. Last year I attended a workshop titled "Positive Behaviour Support" for children with autism so as to gain more skills to assist me to understand L's behaviour.

Prior to attending the workshop I had begun to implement various strategies both at home and in my work place to assist in supporting L and other children with their challenging behaviour. I was very pleased during the workshop to hear that they recommended some of the strategies that we had already implemented. After the workshop I had a whole new set of skills to implement with L and with the children in my care at my last workplace.

Now before I go on, I know that a few eyebrows are probably going to be raised by that statement .... with the children in my care ... as questions begin to run through your heads. How do I know this? Well ....

When I have mentioned the concept of positive behaviour support strategies in the past to those who work with children, and people become aware of where and why I have learnt my strategies, they have always said statements along the lines of ....

"But they are for children with autism!" or "Do you have a room full of autistic children in your workplace? No? Well they won't work on normal children!"

And at that point my blood generally begins to boil.

Yes, I do have two children who are on the spectrum. No, I didn't have a kindy room in which every child was on the spectrum. And, pray do tell, what is a "normal" child?

But, all children at some point in time, regardless of if they have an ASD diagnosis or not, need assistance to regulate their own emotions and as such will generally act out through their behaviour. It does not matter if they have a diagnosis or not, behaviour is behaviour. The fact that a strategy may have been developed to assist children who are on the spectrum shouldn't matter. There aren't guidelines, or not that I'm aware of, that states that the strategies developed for children with autism shouldn't be implemented with children who aren't on the spectrum.

All children at some point in time, need guidance and assistance to understand their behaviour.

I have been asked many questions on why we have implemented the strategies that we currently use and also what strategies would I suggest to families who may be struggling to understand challenging behaviour.

So without any further ado, here is my list of tried and tested Positive Behaviour Support Strategies, all of which I have found to be effective for both of my children as well as for children who are not on the spectrum.

First up what does positive behaviour support mean?

For children to feel safe and secure, be it at home, at school or in a day care facility, they need to feel loved. Children also need to know that at any point in time they won't be judged for their behaviour. But on the same hand, we as parents need to provide boundaries, we need to be supportive, we need to provide guidance so that our children can learn how to manage and take responsibility for their own behaviour.

Positive Behaviour Support Strategies aim to promote positive behaviour from children in environments that are positive (a no brainer) and that are also supportive. Positive Behaviour Support Strategies also aim to build skills in children so that they can start to take ownership for their behaviour. All children need to, at least by the time they reach their teenage years, become accountable for their own actions - they need to understand that there are consequences that come with behaving inappropriately. They also need to understand that appropriate behaviour means that they are rewarded in some way. The reward doesn't necessarily have to be a toy, the reward could simply be through praise.

Positive Behaviour Support Strategies also aim to take away the perceived negative language - "stop," "don't," "no" and so on. Have you ever noticed that if you say "stop standing on the table" to a child, they will generally keep doing the behaviour. At times, the child may keep doing it just to annoy you but generally children, especially young children, filter out the "stop, no, don't" and just hear "stand on the table." It is part of their development. By taking away the negative language and using positive language instead, you can start to teach your children what to do instead!

The very first thing that you NEED to know and remember about challenging behaviour is that behaviour is not done on purpose, behaviour is done for a purpose. Our role as a parent, or a carer or teacher, is to figure out what that purpose is.

All behaviour is done for a purpose - it may seem at the time that your child IS doing the behaviour on purpose but are they doing it to simply gain attention or is there another underlying reason. Doing behaviour simply to gain attention is still doing behaviour for a purpose. Do they want your attention? Is the child tired? Are they hungry? Are they in pain? Are they frustrated and unable to verbally express their needs or wants? Are they entering into sensory overload by what is occurring around them?

This has become one of my catch phrases with my own children and with those that I have worked with. Once we, parents, teachers and carers, figure out what the purpose of the behaviour is for, we can then start to work on strategies to prevent the behaviour from occurring in future.

The strategies could be as simple as ignoring the child's behaviour - yes it may be annoying to us but if you give the child attention does the behaviour stop? Generally not. Or you may need to delve further and find a different strategy to implement.

And if you implement a positive behaviour strategy only to find that it does not work, it is NOT the child's fault. All children learn in different ways. Different strategies will work for some and not for others. What we need to do is work out how to come at the challenging behaviour from a different angle. The child is not at fault, we have chosen the wrong strategy.

This next strategy is very much common sense but we all do the opposite from time to time. 

Have you ever found yourself telling your child NOT to do something and then they just keep on doing the original behaviour?

How do we learn what is appropriate and inappropriate behaviour? This comes back to the unwritten social rules of society and how we learn these unwritten rules. The unwritten rules were once explained to me like this ....

.... Imagine you are a male going to a public toilet for the very first time. You see the urinal and there is another male standing at one end of the urinal. Where would you stand? Would you look at them while you were both using the urinal? How would you know what to do? ....

The common sense answer is that you'd most likely stand at the other end of the urinal and no you wouldn't stare or look at the other person. But how do children learn these things?

With a lot of unwritten rules, we need to explain and teach our children what the right way is. We need to tell them what they can do, rather than what not to do.

"We sit at the tables, can you show me how to sit on the chair?"

It sounds much nicer then "don't sit on the table!" And then there is that word "don't!" As I mentioned above, children tend to filter out the words "don't, stop, no" and so on and only hear "sit on the table." Hence why they may continue with the challenging behaviour.

We also need to model this behaviour to our children. I am the first to admit that I have sat on a table in front of my children and even in front of children that I have worked with. If they see me sitting on a table, then of course they are going to do it as well.

Children are not born with the inherent ability to know what is appropriate behaviour, we need to teach them this.

And when we are talking with and modelling positive behaviour to our children, we need to talk with our children rather than talking to them or at them. And don't forget to remain calm. A calm parent or carer will generally mean a calm child.

In our house, we pick the battles in which we need to enter into. There are some battles that are just not worth fighting over.

And this is the same in relation to challenging behaviour. Is the behaviour unsafe? Is the behaviour hurting anyone else? Is the child damaging property or belongings? Or is the behaviour simply annoying to us?

If the answer to the first three questions above is yes, then of course the behaviour needs to be stopped. However if the behaviour is simply annoying to us, do we really need to stop the child from doing the behaviour? Is this a battle that you really want to fight?

If you do need to stop a child from doing a particular challenging behaviour, give them a reason why and something to replace the behaviour. If you are going to take away a behaviour, you need to give the child something to replace the behaviour with, otherwise the original behaviour is just going to continue!

.... Jumping on the table is not safe, you could hurt yourself. If you need to jump, why don't you go outside and jump around on the grass ....

The next strategy that we have implemented, and that I have also implemented with children at my last workplace, is that we label why the behaviour is occurring rather than labelling the child.

.... L is crying/yelling/throwing toys because he is upset that his sister won't share with him ....

If we label why L, or another child, is crying then we can figure out the cause of the distress and in turn come up with a  solution. Do we need to practice turn taking or sharing skills? By labelling why the behaviour is occurring you will find it easier to find the purpose in their behaviour.

Labelling a child with "L is crying" is not particularly useful in determining why the behaviour is occurring. If you're not sure why your child is distressed, you may need to do a little detective work.

The final strategy that I am going to mention may cause a little controversy and the controversy lies in the fact that some either don't understand the why behind how this works or don't want to understand the how and why it works. Or they think the strategy is so out there that they don't believe it will work.

I have used the Green/Happy and Red/Sad Choices strategy with my own children and also with those who are not on the spectrum and it has been successful with all children. I've also used this strategy with success with children who range in age from 18 month year olds right through to school age children.

Green/Happy and Red/Sad Choices puts some of the ownership of behaviour back onto the child. A child can begin to learn about appropriate choices from a very young age - this could be as simple as understanding that they need to wear a hat when playing in the sun.

The Green/Happy and Red/Sad Choice strategy allows children to begin to understand that they are in control of the choices that they make. If they choose to make a happy choice there is a reward for that choice. Again the reward doesn't necessarily need to be a tangible reward. It could be that the child can play outside or continue playing with a particular game or toy. If the child chooses to make a sad choice then they begin to understand that there are consequences for those choices. And that they are in control of the choices that they make. The outcome is generally one that you want - they need to wear hats in the sun - but the child feels as though they are in control!

If L or O are behaving in a challenging way, we show them the choice board and ask them what choice are they going to make. For example, L detests putting sunscreen on due to his sensory processing difficulties. But living in a state where the sun is shining most of the time and combined with L's very fair skin, sunscreen is a must. So ....

.... L, if you make a happy choice and put some sunscreen on, or let me put it on you, you can go to the beach with everyone else. If you make a sad choice and don't put sunscreen on, you will miss out and will have to stay inside. Remember the last time you didn't wear sunscreen and you got burnt. That hurt didn't it? What do you want to do? ....

If the behaviour is unsafe to themselves or to others then we put a stop to the behaviour immediately and again explain why, so that L or O understand why they can not keep doing what they were doing.

.... O that was very unsafe. That was a red choice because you could have hurt yourself or your brother. You need to go and have some quiet time for 5 minutes ....

The children that I have used this strategy with at my last work place responded incredibly well to it. To the point that the children were reminding each other of their choices as they were playing throughout the day.

.... You made me sad because you made a sad choice and hit me. That really hurt me ....

Children usually don't like making their friends sad! The fact that there is a visual that is used to explain this concept to children, makes it even more powerful.

All we have to do now is ask L, is this is a happy choice or a sad choice and he will respond immediately and usually change his behaviour. The only time that this strategy does not work is when he is entering into sensory overload.

This strategy also means that it is not the adult telling the child what they can or can't do, the child is in control of their actions. And if they continue to make red/sad choices, they very quickly understand that there are consequences for those actions. The number of times when I have begun to say "oh if you don't keep your hat on, you're going to have to go on the verandah" and the child has very rapidly changed their mind as to what they are going to do, I've lost count of. Using this strategy, very rarely do we have inappropriate behaviours occurring in superhero headquarters.

There are many other strategies that we utilise and I am sure that there are many others that I am not aware of but these are the main ones that we use on a regular basis.

Please keep in mind that not all strategies may work for every child and that you do need to try a strategy more than once to see if it will work. If it doesn't work the first time, it does not mean that it won't work the next time.

And please remember - behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done for a purpose. We just need to work out what the purpose is.

Told you it was my catch phrase!

Wednesday 10 January 2018

Introducing Ulla! A water hydration system.

*** Please note that I do not receive commissions of any description for this review. It is simply a product that we have found incredibly useful. ***

As I have mentioned in numerous posts on previous occasions, we have always struggled to get O to drink water on a more regular basis. Through talking with her previous therapist in Perth we now know that the struggles that we had are in part due to her sense of interoception still developing.

When we first met with O's therapy team one of the managers, thank you Bianca, mentioned to us about a gadget that you could place onto a water bottle to help you to remember to drink water.

Well, I couldn't get home fast home to research this gadget.

The name of the gadget is Ulla and as their website states Ulla is a smart attachment that fits on any water bottle (plastic or glass) via a silicone band that fits around the bottle. Ulla itself is a small tear dropped shaped object that clips onto the band. Ulla comes in a range of colours and designs depending on where you order it from. The US website does have a larger range of designs than the Australian website.

The Ulla works by following an optimal hydration cycle of 40 minutes. Every time you take a drink from your bottle, or glass, Ulla blinks as it detects when the drink bottle is tilted. After 40 minutes if you haven't taken a drink, Ulla will start to blink madly at you.

When I started reading about Ulla, I immediately knew that this was exactly the type of reminder that we have been searching for for O. Ulla is discrete and would blend in with the drink bottles that O likes to use. Ulla doesn't make any noise so it wouldn't be distracting to O or to her classmates. It sounded perfect. And Ulla is powered by a battery that is replaceable - even better!

The first one that I purchased, I used myself at work just to check that it was in fact useful. Hooley dooley, I don't think that I have drunk that much water in one day - the flashing reminder was definitely useful.

Our first Ulla arrived on a Thursday afternoon and I used it on the Friday. The weekend that followed, O bugged me for the entire weekend to put Ulla onto her drink bottle - "When can I use it? Huh? Huh? Mum? Mum? When? Please?" She was super excited to start using it straight away.

I am happy to report that Ulla is paying for itself in the consumption of water that O is going through. Since putting Ulla onto O's water bottle, we've not had one day where she has not drunk enough water. Touch wood, she hasn't become dehydrated once since putting the Ulla on her water bottle.

I found Ulla so useful that I purchased another one for myself to use. It is such a great reminder and it is a product that I would happily recommend to others, especially children, who are struggling to remember to drink enough water throughout the day.

So where can I get an Ulla for myself I hear you ask? Well ....

They are available from Axon Australia and direct from their website. Just don't do what I did the second time  I ordered an Ulla - I didn't realise that I had ordered from the US website and was becoming quite cranky when Ulla took about a month to arrive. Oops! Note to self - check where you order it through!

Saturday 6 January 2018

Why do Children need to engage in Sensory Seeking?

Something that O and L have always done on a very regular basis is actively seek out sensory input. 

From a very young age, and I'm talking as soon as L figured that he could start moving like a commando across the floor, he was constantly on the go. Even now L is constantly bouncing, spinning, wriggling, running, flapping, jumping and so on. He rarely stops.

O also seeks out sensory input but not as much as L does. O more seeks out sensory input when she needs to concentrate on a task or when she is anxious. 

So why do children need to engage in sensory seeking activities?

It all has to do with the proprioceptive system. Put very simply, our sense of proprioception tells us where our body parts are in relation to each other as well as giving us information on how much force to exert when we are hugging someone or when we are kicking a soccer ball. The proprioceptive system may be under responsive, over responsive or a combination of both.

If an individuals proprioceptive system is over responsive, they will actively avoid sensory input such as bright lights, loud noises, certain textures, busy places and so on.

If an individual has an under responsive proprioceptive system they will actively seek out sensory input so that they are able to function. Having an under responsive system in effect means that an individual is not able to process the normal sensations that we all receive throughout the day that would normally stimulate the sensory system. And as such they will seek out the sensory input more often than others.

Most individuals are a combination or both. Both O and L detest with a passion loud noises to the point that they both need to wear block out ear protectors when the noise becomes to loud. Both O and L will avoid certain textures and tastes of food - it isn't that they are being fussy, the texture or taste makes them feel physically ill or makes their skin crawl. And yet the both crave constant movement.

Sensory seeking can assist a child to focus in class or to concentrate on the task at hand.

O has a sensory chair band that goes around the front two legs of her school chair when she is seated in class. She will "play" with the band with her feet or bounce her feet on the band throughout the day - this assists her concentrate in class. When we are doing homework in the evenings, she will stand on a twist board and constantly move around. When she is doing this, she will always get all of her homework correct. As O has told us "being able to move my body means that my brain can stop moving and I can concentrate on my homework!" On a side note, I love how articulate O is when describing how her brain works!

Sensory seeking can assist a child to calm themselves when they are in an anxious state.

O has a small sensory tool kit that she keeps in her desk at school so that when she feels as though she is becoming anxious, she can fiddle with one of her sensory tools. The hands can be great tools for regulating one's emotional state. This is why fidget tools, not toys, when used correctly are incredibly useful. 

In some cases, the more sensory input that they receive, the more alert that they will become.

Both O and L require regular sensory breaks throughout the school day and also when we are at home or on family outings. The sensory breaks can be as simple as spinning around outside, going for a run, hopping into their sensory body sock, getting a tight cuddle. The sensory breaks assist them to escape from the sensory overload that they may be in and to get back on track!

All of the strategies that we have in place that assist O and L to gain the appropriate amount of sensory input that they both need, is part of their sensory diet

Another way in which individuals on the spectrum are able to gain sensory input is through stimming. The word stim is short of self-stimulation and it is classed as repetitive behaviour in the diagnostic criteria under the DSM-5. Everyone has at some stage in their life done a little stimming - it could have been tapping your foot while seated a desk, chewing on a pencil during examinations, fiddling with a pencil or ruler, tapping your fingers over and over on your work desk. In most cases, a stim will come and go when you need it. In individuals with autism, the stim is there for good. Just as babies may suck their thumbs to relax themselves, some stims serve the purpose of soothing or comforting an individual on the spectrum, hence short for self-stimulation.

Both O and L have various stims based on their emotional state. They don't stim for the sake of it, they stim because they need to.

O and L stim to help themselves calm down when they are anxious. They stim to express different emotions. Stimming assists O to focus on one thing and gets her mind away from the sensory overload going on around her.

So how can YOU help your child to gain sensory input?
  • The very first thing that you need to do is work out exactly what your child likes to experience and why. Ask them why they like to do particular body movements. Ask them what does it feel like when they're bouncing or spinning and so on, you'd be surprised at what they might be able to tell you.
  • Try to figure out the impact that the sensory seeking activity has on your child. What can you observe about your child when they are engaging in a sensory seeking activity? I know just from watching L, that spinning on the spot or spinning while seated on an office chair helps him to calm. When you think too hard about it, it doesn't make a lot of sense but in some cases being overly active is actually calming for a child.
  • Make a note of what works and why it works. This is useful so that you can pass the information onto teachers, carers, family members so that they too are able to assist your child when they need to gain some sensory input.
  • Make sure that your child knows if there are any limits in place when they need to sensory seek. L loves playing rough and tumble, the down side is that he simply isn't aware of when he becomes too rough. Again this has to do with the fact that he is not yet aware of how much he can and can't use when engaging in rough and tumble play. One of the limits that we have set is that he is only able to play rough and tumble with Daddy Superhero!
  • Put together a sensory kit for your child to take to school each day. This way they will have items that they are familiar with which will help them when they are needing to gain sensory input.
  • Give your child plenty of opportunities to engage in sensory seeking activities - you will notice the benefits for your child!

Now before I finish this post off, there is one final vital piece of information that you NEED to know.

Sensory seeking and stimming is NOT a bad thing. However if the individual is physically hurting themselves, otherwise known as self harming, or is in danger of hurting others or if the stim is an inappropriate behaviour, then of course the individual should be redirected. But if you do find that you need to remove an inappropriate or dangerous behaviour, you do need to replace it with a preferable behaviour.

Preventing an individual from gaining sensory input when they need it will only make the situation worse. They are sensory seeking for a reason and they may very quickly enter in meltdown mode.

Stopping an individual from sensory seeking or stimming simply because you don't like it or you don't think that they need to engage in the activity, can be detrimental to their emotional and mental well being. By telling them to stop stimming you are in effect telling them that that aspect of their autism is a bad thing. All you will succeed in doing is help them to withdraw into themselves and no one wants this to occur.

So the next time you find yourself becoming frustrated at the constant movement of your child or someone close to you, take a closer look as to why they might be engaging in that behaviour. What can you do instead to assist your child?

Wednesday 3 January 2018

Siblings and Autism.

Myself and my husband Scott, a.k.a. Daddy Superhero, have always been very conscious of the fact that at times O misses out on participating in activities that she loves due to the fact that L simply doesn't cope well in certain environments.

O has always been a sociable child - at times she may have taken a while to warm up to those around her, but there has rarely been an activity that she hasn't wanted to participate in. She does struggle participating in activities that require her to be social with children but she will usually just get on with the activity by staying by herself.

L on the other hand, from a very young age, struggled in over crowded, noisy and busy places. His go to method to get away from the busyness was, and still is, is to physically run away from the area, or he enters into meltdown mode due to being over stimulated.

In the past prior to receiving L's diagnosis of ASD, as a family we would put off going pretty much anywhere so that we would avoid a meltdown. And if ever there was a change in routine or if we had to change the activity that we were going to be going to, cue a meltdown from L.

But to O's credit, not once has she ever complained that she has missed out an activity because of her little brother not coping. She simply accepted that the reason we didn't go is so that L wouldn't become distressed.

When we received L's diagnosis everything made sense. The saying "behaviour is not done on purpose, it is done for a purpose" rang very true.

The more that we examined the reasons for L's behaviour, the more we began to understand what he was trying desperately to tell us.

After receiving L's ASD diagnosis, we sat down with O and explained to her, using a story book, that L had autism and that was why he did what he did but that his autism did not excuse his behaviour if he was misbehaving.

After this O showed just how caring, compassionate and tolerant that she really was towards L. She has always been this way, but her compassion increased ten fold. She became even more protective of L - god forbid if anyone picked on her little brother. And when L was in meltdown mode in public, she would explain to complete strangers why L was melting down.

But she has never shown any resentment towards L, and for this I am so very proud of her and very grateful.

It makes my heart sing very happy tunes that O is the child that she is. But there have been many a time when I have felt incredibly guilty as I've felt as though I've been devoting so much time to L and yet I feel as though O misses out. I felt, and still do at times, as though I was spending very little time with O.

At the beginning of last year Daddy Superhero and I decided that we would make a conscious effort to ensure that O, and at times L, didn't miss out on doing what they wanted to do because of their sibling.

Just like it is important for us parents to have "me" time, every child in the family needs "their" time with Mummy and Daddy.

So what can we do as parents to ensure that siblings don't miss out on their own special time?

As a family we ensure that we make time with both O and L. This time is just for them, their one on one time with myself or with Daddy Superhero. Juggling the demands and individual needs of all family members can be challenging for all families - the lack of hours in the day and some times the lack of energy can both cause challenges. But for us it is incredibly important that both O and L have their own time where we are able to focus just on them eve when we are exhausted. Sometimes it is as simple as a coffee date with Mum or Dad, sometimes it is an outing to the movies. For L he just loves going to a playground. But what is important in every one of the outings is that it is one on one time devoted to O or L. Phones are ignored and we devote all of our attention to O or L.

We ensure that we go on family outings on a regular basis, but at times and depending on what the outing is, O will go on an outing with one of us while the other stays home with L. And surprising L is incredibly happy to stay at home - he has the full attention of whoever stays home with him, he has all of his beloved superhero toys and he doesn't have to share with his sister!

If L knows that a particular outing is going to be noisy or busy, he will happily choose to stay at home. And if he is aware in advance that our plans have changed, then again he is happy to stay at home! L is my little homebody!

There are activities that should be shared by the whole family so as to create those precious family memories but then there are activities that don't necessarily have to be attended by the entire family.

If we are on a family outing and one of my little superheroes enters into meltdown mode - one of us will stay with the little superhero who is in meltdown mode to help them to calm and the other will participate in the outing with the happy little superhero. This way, we don't all miss out. It is incredibly difficult to walk away from a child melting down and I always have to remind myself that the other little superhero needn't miss out. In saying this, most of the time the happy little superhero will want to go back to check on their sibling! They really don't like seeing each other in distress.

We ensure that we are fair with both O and L. As I have said many times on previous occasions, autism does explain O and L's behaviour at times, but it certainly doesn't excuse their behaviour if they are misbehaving. In our house, rules are rules and there are consequences for breaking those rules. If either O or L are particularly rough with one another, we will sit down and talk with them as to why they behaved the way that they did. Nine times out of ten there is an underlying cause for the behaviour but they certainly don't get away with it. We will talk with both of them about what they could have done instead of lashing out at the other and then O or L have to deal with the consequence of their actions. This way neither O or L can complain that we're favouring one child over the other.

And if O or L are having a particularly tough day, we'll sit down with both of them separately and explain to them that maybe, just maybe, we need to give the other a little slack for the day. They both understand when the other is having a tough day and are happy to occasionally let the rules slide for each other. At times, they know that the other is having a tough time before we have realised so they will remind Daddy Superhero and myself that we need to let the rules go for the day.

We openly acknowledge and celebrate the relationship that O and L have. We foster their sibling relationship and point out all of the positive aspects that we love. They may argue and bicker like every other brother and sister but deep down, the love that they have for each other is magnificent. We want them to see the positives in their sibling relationship.

We encourage both O and L to participate in activities in which they are able to make connections with other children. They both need their own time to participate in activities that they love without having to "share" their friends with each other.

There are times in which the focus of the entire family should just be on one child, rather than on both. When one of my little superheroes achieves something great, like receiving an honour certificate at school, we celebrate their efforts. The number of honour certificates that O received at school last year far outnumbered the number that L received and when L realised this he did become quite despondent in his own abilities. When this occurred, we pointed out all the great things that he had achieved through the early intervention centre that he was attending or we'd highlight a new skill that he had mastered so that L could see that he too was doing great things.

A family tradition that we started in 2017 centers around telling each other about the favourite part of our day or telling each other one good thing that happened that day as we were eating dinner. This serves several purposes - it assists O and L to focus on the positive parts of their day instead of dwelling on the negative. Telling each other about our favourite parts of the day also means that O and L could see that even though at times we may have all been on the same outing, everyone can have a different perspective on what they thought was the best part. Both O and L love this part of our day - quite often after the other has finished talking, they will chime in with "wow, that sounded like fun" or "next time, can I come too!" And quite often, if it is an outing that one of the little superheroes didn't want to participate in, they can hear just how great it actually was and they will want to participate next time.

We've found that by doing all of these things, touch wood, neither O nor L are showing any resentment to the each other. They understand that, at times, they need all of the attention of either myself or their Daddy, but that in the long run, neither is missing out on one on one attention from us.

What do you do to foster the relationship with all of your children? I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas.