Monday 30 August 2021

Making Outings More Enjoyable.

Let's talk about outings.

Outings for our family can be touch and go and it really depends on where we are planning to go. Both little superheroes struggle with new places, loud noises, changes in plans, large crowds and so on. But if we stopped going out as a family, we'd lead a pretty boring life!

Over the last few years on our Autism journey, we've learnt a few tricks of the trade to help both little superheroes on family outings. So here are a few tricks and tips that we hope you too will find useful.

We do a lot of talking about the outing beforehand - where we will be going, what we might be doing and/or seeing, how we will get there and how long it may take. This prepares both little superheroes for what lies ahead. If we decide on an impromptu outing, we will generally go somewhere that the little superheroes have previously been and a place that they've enjoyed going to so that there aren't too many surprises. Surprises can be overwhelming.

Wherever we go, we usually look as though we're planning on a long term stay - we will always take a snack bag as due to both of the little superheroes food aversions there may, or may not be, food that they will both eat. As they become older, they are both more willing to try new foods. At times, they may not eat all of the new food, so a snack bag is a must. There is also a back pack - changes of clothes for both, wipes to clean up any messes and fully charged battery chargers.

Which brings us to the sensory tools that we take. Both little superheroes struggle with loud noises so block out ear protectors are taken everywhere. We may not need them every time we go out but I can guarantee that the day we don't pack them, is the day that we will need them. We also have a few small sensory fidget tools as they help both little superheroes cope in challenging environments.

Electronic devices are also a must because they are a great distraction tool for when either of the little superheroes are having a rough time. Hence the fully charged battery chargers!

Over the last few years we have refined the baseline of our expectations. Depending on where we are going, we are usually the first in and the first to leave. We arrive when the crowds are low and then leave when the crowds become overwhelming for the little superheroes.

Knowing when to leave is important as well. We may not be able to see or experience all of the attraction that we're at, but there is really no point in extending the length of our outing if either of the little superheroes are struggling due to sensory or emotional overload. It's just not fair on either of them. And there is always a next time.

And wherever we go, participation by the little superheroes isn't mandatory. If they need a break, we have a break. A break in a quiet spot away from the busyness of where we are, is usually enough to allow the little superheroes to recharge their batteries. For L, this usually means running around to gain some proprioception input or some lap lays and cuddles from Henry. For O, it usually means some device time.

Henry has had a huge positive impact on our family outings as both little superheroes know that he is very capable of assisting them both to calm. 

Not every family is as fortunate as ours to have an Assistance Dog placed with them, but hopefully you will be able use a few of our other tricks and tips. I'd love to hear how you go utilising these ideas.

Tuesday 24 August 2021

Today Anxiety Won. Tomorrow we'll try again.


Today, anxiety won. Last week, and the week before that, anxiety also won.

Tomorrow, we will try again. And hopefully, anxiety will not win.

Anxiety is vicious. Some days it's in the background. Other days, it can't be seen at all. And then there are the days where anxiety comes crashing through and everything grinds to a halt.

That day is today.

But tomorrow, we will get up and try again. We'll put one foot in front of the other and keep moving forward.

The thing with anxiety is that if someone tells you that they are okay, chances are that they are struggling. If you know someone who has anxiety, sit with them. You don't necessarily have to say anything, just sitting and being there is enough.

Earlier this year O had a few very rough weeks as O was physically attacked at school three weeks in a row. Thankfully, O has an amazing support team of staff behind her and supporting her at school.

Since then, we've had a few more rough days (and quite a few weeks,) where O's anxiety has won. But while anxiety slows O down and temporarily pauses O from doing what O loves to do, anxiety doesn't stop O from trying again. And as long as we don't stop trying, we'll be okay.

O, you are strong, you are a warrior, you are awesome. Love you my sweet child xx

Thursday 19 August 2021

Furry Friend Memes

 Hands up if your have a four pegged member of your family?? These are all in celebration of those furry members of our family!!

Wednesday 11 August 2021

Assistance Dog 101: What NOT to do!

As I write this, Henry has been part of our family now for just under three months and he is making such a huge impact.

When we are out and about with Henry in his coat, the majority of people who approach us to either admire Henry or ask questions (often both) about Henry, are extremely respectful. But unfortunately there are a few not so respectful people who at times deliberately overstep the boundaries. There are also people who are trying to be respectful but aren't sure about what they should or shouldn't do when interacting with an assistance dog.

So here are a few tips of things NOT to do when you see an Assistance Dog - regardless of the type of Assistance the dog provides.

Please do NOT tell your child just to go and pat the dog because Assistance Dogs are always friendly. Yes, assistance dogs are meant to be friendly (that is part of the public access test assessment,) however this doesn't mean that you should just send your child over for a pat. Always ask first.

If you're an adult, don't pat the dog. There's a badge on Henry's jacket that says "working dog, do not pet." The badge is there for a reason. Ask before you pat the dog. And if the handler says no, they've said no for a reason. Respect their wishes. Before Henry was placed with us we made the decision that if Henry was in work mode and assisting L by deescalating a meltdown or disrupting a self harming behaviour, we wouldn't allow people to pat Henry. However if people approach us and Henry is not directly assisting L, then as long as they ask first, pats are okay but Henry has to do a skill to earn the pat.

Please do NOT give the dog a treat, ie some of the food you're eating. Number one, Henry isn't allowed human food. He eats good quality dog food, twice a day. Number two, Henry is trained to not to beg for food at all, or even sniff at food that might be on the floor. This is a distraction for the dog when they're working and depending on what you're offering, could make the dog unwell.

Please do NOT go and start to take the halti, harness, leads and so on, off the dog, because you think the dog looks uncomfortable or because you don't believe the dog needs it. The dog is a working dog and is wearing the halti, leads, jacket and so on for a reason. And yes this did happen to us when Henry was in work mode, the elderly woman's reason was because she thinks dogs need to be spoilt. If you want to spoil a dog, spoil your own pet. The halti is uncomfortable for Henry (he will take any spare opportunity to take it off,) but it does not hurt him.

If the handler says that you can pat the dog, pat the dog when they say to and where they say to pat the dog. When in work mode, the only person who can give Henry pats at any time is L and Henry doesn't have to "earn" the pat. Anyone else, Henry has to do something, like a trick, to earn the reward and even then, the pat is on the back of his head. If you pat his face or allow him to lick your hand, he's going to think you have food. And then he's going to go seeking pats. This makes it more difficult for me as the handler, to keep Henry's focus on the job.

Please do NOT try to give the dog commands that you use with your own dog. Working dogs have set commands that they are used to. If you start giving other commands, the dog will become confused and lose focus. While working, the dog needs to stay focused on their handler (and in our case, also on L.)

If you are walking your dog, or have your dog with you, please do not let your dog approach the service dog, no matter how friendly you think your dog is. While a service dog is in working mode, they need to be focused on their person and not distracted by other animals. While in training, Henry (and I'm sure other service dogs are the same,) was given dog distraction training. It is extremely distracting for Henry when another dog is brought over to meet or interact with Henry while he is working.

And finally, if you're not sure what you should or shouldn't do, just ask. When Henry is directly assisting L, we may not answer or we may sound abrupt as we need to concentrate on Henry and L. At other times, we're always up for a chat about Henry and how he assists L.

Friday 6 August 2021

Attractions that welcome Assistance Dogs!

We love to go on family outings, at the moment is a bit tricky because we are back in lockdown due to good old Covid19 again. But when the world reopens, we will be getting back to our regular family outings.

With Henry, a few of our regular family outings, now have a few extra planning elements.

Being an Assistance Dog, Henry is allowed by law to go anywhere (except for commercial kitchens and sterile areas such as operating theatres.) However a few attractions, do ask that if a guest is going to be attending with an Assistance Dog, that notice is given so that extra preparations can be made by the attraction itself.

We've already had one not so nice outing where Henry was refused entry - and not just Henry, all service dogs are refused entry based on a few ridiculous reasons none of which can actually be used to refuse entry to a service dog of an description. We are fighting this decision through the correct channels as it is discrimination, but that is another post!

What I thought would be good is to list attractions that do welcome Assistance Dogs. Keep in mind that our travel is very restricted at present but eventually, I would hope that we can add interstate, and potentially overseas attractions to this list.

If you have had a positive experience with an attraction that does welcome Assistance Dogs, I would love to know. Perhaps we can even add your outing to this list!


There are 63 attractions in south east Queensland alone that welcome Assistance Dogs. Whether we will visit all 63, I have no idea but we'll give it a shot as the world reopens!!

Australia Zoo - the staff here were wonderful and we had a fantastic day. Here is a little post about our visit.

Sealife at Mooloolba is another excellent attraction that welcome Assistance Dogs.

Sea World on the Gold Coast were brilliant when we visited with Henry.

Movie World were also great.

Thursday 5 August 2021

International Assistance Dog Week

I found out something new at the beginning of this week - there is a week for celebrating Assistance Dogs and it just happens to be this week from the 1st to the 7th of August.

International Assistance Dog Week was created to celebrate and recognise all that Assistance Dogs do for their human charges, as well as to raise awareness of just how much these specially trained dogs change lives. The celebration takes place every year and begins on the first Sunday in August.

The main goals of International Assistance Dogs Week are to recognise and honour assistance Dogs, raise awareness and educate the public about the role of an assistance dog, and honour those who raise and train these amazing dogs.

Assistance Dogs really do transform the lives of the individuals that they assist and we have seen that first hand over the last almost three months.

There are many hours of training put into each and every assistance dog. Traditionally, guide dogs are the predominate type of service dog that people are familiar with. We are asked on a daily basis if Henry is a guide dog!

But over time, trainers have realised that dogs can do much more for us humans. Service dogs now range from Guide Dogs for the sight impaired, to Autism Assistance Dogs, Seizure Alert Dogs, Mobility Assistance, Diabetes Dogs and PTSD Dogs. The range of skills that each dog can do, varies upon what type of assistance their handler requires. 

We are extremely fortunate to have Henry to assist L. Henry has been life changing for L and for our family. Henry is a truly remarkable working dog. He has made so many positive impacts in the last three months, and we cannot wait to see the impact that Henry will have in the future.

To everyone, from the Smart Pups trainers and admin staff, through to the foster carers, thank you so very much that you all did in training Henry. We are extremely grateful.

L's Sensory Space

L has always been one to hide in small spaces - cardboard boxes, under chairs, if there is space big enough to fit his body into, L will attempt to hide in the space.

Oversized cardboard boxes have always been one of L's favourite hiding spaces so we have always had a box set aside somewhere in the house for L. But because L uses the boxes on a daily basis, they quickly become destroyed.

Well, not any more! Easier this year Daddy superhero brought home a HUGE cardboard box from his work for L. The box was used to transport an industrial pump so the box itself was extremely sturdy.

L's face when he saw the box was truly priceless. He immediately climbed into the box and declared that he was going to stay in the box forever!

For the next week, whenever we were at home, L literally lived in the box. He ate in it, watched the tablet in it, got dressed for school in it, used the box as his calm down safe after school, used it to get some proprioception input by hanging upside down in it. It was a multi use space.

Daddy superhero and I started talking about turning the box into a sensory space for L as he'd requested that we turn the box into a chill out space in his bedroom. So a few weeks after the box arrived home, we did a trip to Ikea and purchased a few must needed items and then spent a day creating L's very own sensory space

Suffice to say, L loved his sensory space once we'd completed it, he even wanted to sleep in it that night. Six months on and the box is still going strong!

Sensory spaces do not necessarily have to cost the earth. Excuse the pun, but think outside of the box if you are thinking about creating a sensory space.

One over sized industrial pump cardboard box - free

Two sets of Ikea LED lights - $30

One very happy boy when he saw his hidey hole - priceless ❤❤

And yes he lined up his cars so I left them as I found them!