Monday 27 June 2022

Why we need space!

Quite often after both little superheroes have had big days, either at school or if we have gone on a family outing, they will need space and time to decompress. The sensory, emotional and social overload can, and often does, take a huge amount of physical, emotional and mental effort. And the combined overload takes a toll mentally, physically and emotionally and can leave an individual feeling completely exhausted.

Having Henry to assist L is an immense help but both little superheroes still need to decompress in their own time and in their own spaces.

Every individual has their own coping mechanisms, and the little superheroes are no different.

Since having Henry placed with us, L will almost always go straight to Henry and give Henry the commands for laps and overs (deep pressure therapy,) or just lay on the floor getting Henry cuddles.

We give them time to chill out - L has a huge cardboard box that he and Henry squeeze into, either to play on a device or just to lay and have cuddles. O will usually lay in her room listening to music. Depending on the overload for the day, really depends on how much time they need to chill and just be.

Once the little superheroes have self regulated, they will often come and seek us out for cuddles. Going to them too soon, can make their exhaustion worse.

Often parents, and/or carers, will ask their children or loved ones, well meaning and well intentional questions about their day. Questions such as "how was your day?" or "what did you do today?" or "did you have a good day?" These questions may make individuals who are already feeling overwhelmed, feel even more bombarded and/or bewildered as questions such as these are very broad.

How was your day? It is still day, so I don't know yet.
What did you do today? You know what I did today, I went to school/work/whatever activity was planned.
Did you have a good day? Can you define good? I didn't get into trouble at school if that is what you mean so that is good, but I felt overwhelmed by my anxiety so that wasn't good.

Unless the little superheroes begin talking with us about what has happened to cause them to feel overwhelmed, we leave the questions until dinner time, This way, part of their daily routine is to talk about the good things that happened.

Obviously if either of the little superheroes want to talk before dinner, we talk. Letting them take the lead, when they are feeling less overwhelmed, usually means that they will both be open about what is causing them distress.

At dinner, we focus on the good things. Talking about the day in a positive manner makes the world of a difference. We will usually get everyone, including us, to say one good thing that happened at school/work that day. And when we do ask questions about the little superheroes day, we ask focused questions based on what we know that they have been doing for the day.

And most importantly, if either of the little superheroes become overwhelmed, we provide them with support. If an individual becomes overwhelmed from sensory or emotional or social, and so on, inputs, they just need and want to be supported.

Tuesday 21 June 2022

Henry goes to ... St Helena's Island

A few weeks ago, Henry went on his first school excursion with L, and all of the year four students from his school - as well as their teachers, a few other teacher helpers and a few parent helpers - to St Helena's Island.

L has been home unwell since and wanted to do a recount of the excursion for his teacher, so we thought we would share his recount here!


On Tuesday I went to St Helena’s Island with the year 4’s from my school. We went on a bus and a ferry to the island.

St Helena’s Island used to be a prison but before it was a prison it was meant to be a quarantine station for sick people. They couldn’t use it for a quarantine station because there wasn’t any easy way to get sick people onto the island – there was just a jetty and the causeway.

The Aboriginal people, the Nooghies, are the traditional people who looked after the island. Captain Flinders originally found the island and named it Green Island number 2 – Prisoner 321 said that Captain Flinders didn’t have a good imagination.

Its name changed to St Helena's island because an Aboriginal man who they called Napoleon got into trouble and was sent to the island. There is a famous man called Napoleon who was in prison on another island called St Helena's island, so they used to say “Napoleon’s gone to St Helena's,” then they changed the name from Green Island number 2 to St Helena's Island. Napoleon the Aboriginal man only lasted on St Helena's for three days before he escaped. Prisoner 321 said "never send an Aboriginal man to an island with an axe."

Prisoners built the quarantine station and then when they finished building, it became the prison. They were told “congratulations you have built your new home.” Only men prisoners were in the prison.

Everything that the prisoners used to build the prison and that they used on the island, came from the island or was made on the island. The buildings were made of beachrock, sandstone, metal bars and wood.


The prison opened in 1867 and closed in 1935. When the prison closed the prisoners carefully took the doors off so the doors could be used in other prisons.

The punishment on the island was the nine tails whip and cannon balls that the prisoners had to carry.

There were two grave yards – one for the prisoners and one for the children that died on the island. The children were from the guards families. The prisoners had their numbers on their crosses – the numbers were their prisoner numbers that they arrived on the island with. When on the island in prison the prisoners were known by their numbers.

The prisoners were all given a metal comb when they got to the island but they couldn’t use the comb because they didn’t have hair. Their heads were shaved and they weren’t allowed to have hair until they were in prison for 1 year or until they were trusted prisoners.

We met prisoner 321, 31 and 47 and the Warden.

Now it's back to me!

St Helena's Island played a major part in Queensland's history that I wasn't even aware of. The island was home to a colonial prison for high security prisoners from 1867 until 1935. The prison was originally intended as a quarantine station but due to the poor access onto and off of the island, and the overcrowding of the then Brisbane gaols, the island was converted to a prison. Prison labour was used for all of the activities on the island from the construction of the buildings and roadways to the growing, processing and cooking of the food, to the manufacturing of everything needed by the prison. Everything that was used to build the prison, was made on the island from the island resources.

The prison itself was closed in 1935 due to a number of factors - administrative issues, prison reform, the lonely isolation of the wardens and their families. At the time the historical significance of the island hadn't been recognised and as such, parts of the prison structures were dismantled and re-usable items were removed from the prison and island to be used in other prisons on the mainland.

St Helena's Island is now classed as a national park and is located in Moreton Bay approximately 5km from the mouth of the Brisbane River. Today approximately only 7% of the original structures remain - these are mostly the structures that were built from beachrock or brick. The restoration costs of the remaining structures are prohibitive, so the preservation of the remaining structures is the aim.

There are some newer buildings on the island that are used during the educational tours of the island. The Museum located in newer buildings is fascinating.

The prisoners and the warden are a part of the St Helena's Theatre Troupe who were established by the Cat o Nine Tails Cruises - they specialise in a range of tours of St Helena's Island National Park. The theatre troupe are a multi skilled band of actors, singers and minstrels who have been comprehensively trained in the islands history - they present a first person interpretation of the islands history through drama. L's loved all of the interactions with the prisoners and warden but thought that prisoner 321 was the funniest and prisoner 47 was the nicest!

Coincidentally, O visited the island in year 4 with school and prisoner 321, 31 and the warden were present during O's tour!! Daddy Superhero also visited the island back when he was in primary school. And Henry was the first Assistance Dog that has been onto the island and he made a fabulous first impression on the prisoners and the warden!

Being a national park, domestic animals are prohibited from being on the island - the exception is for assistance dogs!

L was fascinated by the fact that anything that was taken onto the island during his excursion, had to be taken off - so all rubbish had to be taken off of the island, as did any of Henry's poop! Thankfully Henry did his business prior to boarding the ferry to go the island and then held on until we arrived home!

It was wonderful for L to have Henry on the excursion. At one point mid morning, L had had enough - there was lots of walking up and down hills involved and L just wanted to go home. He and Henry lay in the grass and had cuddles and deep pressure laps, until L was ready to keep walking.

Oh and Henry loved rolling in the long grass and found all the wallaby treats on the walk around the island!

If you have the opportunity, I would highly recommend a tour of St Helena's Island.

Sunday 12 June 2022

Why do I do what I do?

I work in the disability support sector, and absolutely love what I do. But when people find out what I do for work, they will often ask "how do you do it?"

Why do I do what I do?

I enjoy my work because every day I get to view the world from a different angle. I get to view the world from the eyes of the people that I support. At times their view is from the very edge of the box - we don't fit into boxes, we make new shapes to fit into.

Because days like Wednesday just gone, I can bring out my inner child. Climbing and playing on play equipment at an amazing playground. Testing out slides to see which one is the fastest. Finding new ways to climb back up soft fall hillsides.

Because we take the time to appreciate the smaller details of life. The pattern that the sunlight makes through the shade sail at a playground. The colourful flowers in the garden bed - no two of which were the same. Watching the bees buzzing collecting the pollen.

But most importantly I love my work because everyone, regardless of ability, needs at least one person in their corner.

Tuesday 7 June 2022

You get out, what you put in.

Having an Assistance Dog placed with our family has completely changed the way that we live – Henry has been truly life changing.

But having Henry also places a bigger responsibility on us as a family. Not only is Henry an extra mouth to feed and look after, the pet insurance on the off chance something happens to Henry, the weekly grooming of Henry, but we are also responsible for his ongoing training.

Smart Pups did an amazing job in training Henry prior to him being placed with our family in May 2021, but like any training, if it is not kept up then Henry will gradually lose his skills. Once an Assistance Dog is placed with its family, they are responsible for the ongoing training and upkeep of skills.

An assistance dogs skills can be likened to our own skills. If we have a particular skill needed for work, and we suddenly stop doing that task on a daily basis we may lose the ability to complete the task. Or, and this is more often the case, when we eventually go back to doing the task, we may need to be retrained.

An assistance dog is no different. They are trained in task specific skills that require ongoing practise of those skills.

Every time we leave the house, we look at the outing as a training opportunity. From a family walk each afternoon, to a family day out, to a trip to do our weekly shopping – every outing we practice Henry’s different skills.

There are certain skills, such as providing deep pressure therapy through laps and overs, that Henry does on a daily basis. Whereas other skills, such as tracking L, Henry does on a not so regular basis.

However every single skill – from his task specific skills to his special tricks, are practised and honed every week, sometimes on a daily basis.

With an Assistance Dog, you really do get out, what you put in. The more effort you do every day, or on a weekly basis, your assistance dog will perform to its upmost highest standard.

#teamhenry #smartpups #smartpuphenry #autismassistancedogs #labradorsofinstagram

Friday 3 June 2022

Autism Masking

Let's talk about masking, in particular Autism masking.

But first, everyone masks at one point in time. You may only show your work side of your personality in the workplace - a form of masking. You may hide your true feelings about something so as not to upset others - again masking. You may be emotionally and mentally exhausted but don't tell people around you because you don't want to worry them - again similar to masking.

You weren't taught how to do these things, it just happens. How exhausted at the end of the day do you feel?

Now imagine masking every inch of your being, every single day. 

Autistic individuals, at times, realise that to fit in with their peers, they have to mask their own traits. They may realise that if I have an emotional overload then my peers will judge me, I may get into trouble.

Masking is detrimental to an Autistic individuals emotional, mental and physical well-being.

You may see one behaviour, extremely well behaved compliant individual in one setting, and the complete opposite in another.

Please, please understand masking. Don't dismiss the individual, or their family. Take the information on board and ask, how can we assist.

Autistic individuals are expected to fit into a world, a system, that isn't designed for them. Rather than expecting them to fit in, make accommodations.

Provide an Autistic individual with the support so that they feel comfortable to unmask.