Saturday 30 July 2022

Movement breaks

Movement breaks. Oh my gosh, what more can I say about these?? I'm fairly certain that the teachers at the little superheroes schools see me coming and think "but I've been giving them movement breaks!"

But first a little background! As with most topics, I have briefly spoken about movement breaks in other posts but have referred to them as sensory breaks.

Movement breaks, or sensory breaks, are all about our proprioception and our vestibular senses - two of those hidden senses that people generally aren't aware of.

Children aren't meant to sit still all day at school, so they need to move, and not just children who are Autistic. All children are not built to sit still all day, every day.

O has always described the need to move or to fidget as "if I move my feet and legs, then my brain can stay still."

Movement breaks can assist children to focus - one of L's teachers a few years ago recognised the benefits of movement breaks for all children in her class, and started getting the students to do simple yoga poses every afternoon for the last ten minutes of school. When one of the students asked why, she responded "do you learn anything in the last ten minutes of the day?"

Movement breaks can assist children to self regulate their emotions - both little superheroes have various movement stims that reflect how they are feeling emotionally. By stimming, or moving, they are able to self regulate their emotions.

When we're out and about as a family, we will give both little superheroes the opportunity to run, jump, climb to burn off the excess energy, which in turn assists them to calm.

Allowing a child to run at school when they need to self regulate can be tricky, due to supervision of the child.

So movement breaks don't necessarily need to be big movements. They could be as simple as running an errand from their class to another - often L is sent on errands around the school to deliver an envelope to a specific teacher. The note inside the envelope simply says "I need to move, please now send me back to my class."

The movement break could be doing simple yoga poses as a class - there are many free yoga for children videos on YouTube.

The child could be asked to help to hand out books or other items in class - this simple movement is often enough to assist in calming a child. Even moving chairs from one part of the classroom to another can be enough to calm a child.

We'll often give L the opportunity to move before school - we head to a park near by his school that he can, run and climb in.

O used to have a sensory chair band on the front two legs of the school chair - think a lycra band looped around the front two chair legs. Just by bouncing O's feet on the band during the day was enough to provide the movement breaks that O needed.

The important point to remember about movement breaks, is that children may not know that they need to move until it is too late. By the time that L thinks he needs a movement break it is often too late and the movement break will have the opposite effect. Instead of assisting him to calm, L will become even more agitated and fidgety! 

Movement breaks, therefore, should be scheduled regularly throughout the school day. 

Sunday 24 July 2022

What does undiagnosed Autism look like?

As we were going through the little superheroes ASD assessments back in 2016 and 2017, it was like a light bulb going off in my brain. O is my mini me and all of the struggles that O has, I went through the exact same thing as a child, teenager and young adult.

Recently I read a post on social media about one person's experience as an undiagnosed Autistic teenager and I found that I could relate to most of the points on the list.

The post got me thinking ..... what was my experience as an undiagnosed Autistic teenager? It has only been in the last few years that I have publicly said that I am Autistic.

I am proud of who I am, but I so wish that I'd known as a teenager, even as a young adult, that there was nothing wrong with me. That my struggles socially and emotionally were because I was Autistic.

So what did my experience as an undiagnosed Autistic teenager at school look like?

I can tell you what my undiagnosed Autism looked and felt like, but remember that every Autistic individual is just that, an individual. My experience is not going to be the same as the next individual.

• Bullying on a daily basis, from those who didn't know me but also from those in my year level. This bullying, unfortunately, followed me through to tertiary education where I was questioned on a regular basis by people who had heard rumours about me at school or had heard the rumours from people that I went to school with. Now matter how hard I tried, I could not escape from those rumours. It was only when I relocated interstate in my mid twenties, that I started afresh.

• Struggling to understand all social and classroom interactions, every day - I did not understand social interactions at all. They bamboozled me completely. I did understand some interactions with a few of the lads in my classes, but then I was accused as a boyfriend stealer and ostracised.

• Crying myself to sleep every night, because I wasn't like everyone else. I desperately wanted to be like everyone else, to fit in, but didn't know how to be like everyone else.

• Not understanding if people were joking or being nasty when they interacted with me. Was an interaction sincere? Did they feel sorry for me? Was I being set up?

• Feeling like I didn't belong to the school community. All the while I wanted to belong to the school community but I did not know how to make myself belong.

• Knowing that I didn't fit in and thinking that the reason I didn't fit in was because I was just quirky or weird because that is what I was told on a daily basis by other students. Then not wanting to be quirky or weird, but that's who I was.

• Anxiety, very high anxiety all day, every day. I could not escape from the anxiety levels that I was experiencing. 

• Rehearsing potential conversations that may occur during the school day in my head constantly. Then as conversations were occurring, analysing what I thought was being meant during the conversation, which in turn meant that I missed the majority of what was being said, so my sky high anxiety levels rose even further, because I still didn't understand.

• Internalising my anxiety when I had a relief teacher unannounced in any of my classes. This was a huge fear at school. My teachers were my safe people at school as I knew how they taught, their mannerisms in class. A relief teacher was a huge unknown.

• Being friends with my teachers, because I felt like I didn't fit in with my peers. But then you are ostracised by your peers because you're friends with the teachers. It was a double edged sword.

• Meltdowns or shutdowns every afternoon from the exhaustion of unknowingly masking every day. At the time I didn't know that I was masking. I will say that masking was detrimental to my mental health.

• Watching and mimicking everyone around me, but still not fitting in.

• I excelled in a few subjects, I sucked badly in others and I was passively okay in the rest. And even then, I tried to stay under the radar because if I did excel, I was ostracised by my peers for getting good grades, and if I sucked badly I was ostracised.

• Drifting between groups of peers because I couldn't find the group that I fitted into, which in turn meant that I struggled to find my tribe at school. Which then meant that it was difficult to make and maintain friendships, so I sat alone most break times in a dark classroom so that I wouldn't be bullied and because I was emotionally and mentally exhausted.

• Questioning my every being, every inch of my self and my worth because of the constant belittling from other students. My brain began to believe everything that was said to me and about me.

• Finding solace in my intense interests because they were my safe spaces, but then being belittled because others thought I was a nerd.

• I developed trauma and mental health issues, namely severe depression, as a result of my school experience.

• All of the above then followed me into adulthood, as I wasn't aware that I was neurodiverse, as I navigated tertiary study and the workplace. So basically repeat all of the above but as a young adult.

I don't believe that having a diagnosis of Autism as a teenager would have changed how I was treated at high school, however the diagnosis would have given me answers as to how I thought and how I experienced the world around me.

Knowing now that I am Autistic is empowering.

Yes I am quirky, I'm weird, but I'm Autistic. And I'm extremely proud of who I am.

Friday 22 July 2022

What the hell????


Now this could potentially blow up in my face, but you know what, I'm over people trying to silence others because "I'm Autistic and I know best."

Every time, I'm really not exaggerating, I go onto the various social media platforms, there is yet another post in which Autistic individuals are belittling others, sometimes it is towards neurotypical individuals, other times it is towards Autistic individuals. And the reason is always I'm Autistic and I know best." You know what, I call bs. 

I am Autistic. I have always been Autistic but didn't realise until after both my children were diagnosed as ASD. I always knew that I was different but didn't know how - I didn't fit what some medical professionals say Autism is. After both my children's ASD assessments, (and it was confirmed by those who assessed by children,) I met all of the ASD red flags in my own way.

If I didn’t advocate for both my children, and I will continue to do so until THEY (and no one else,) tell me that they are confident enough to self advocate, who would have advocated for them???

Too often prior to both their diagnosis, and even now years after their diagnosis, medical and education professionals dismissed their struggles because "they don't fit what people think Autism is."

If I didn't advocate for them both, they may not have been accepted into the NDIS. They may not have received the assistance at school. 

Parents do know what is best for their children. Sure listen to Autistic adults, read books - there are some brilliant books out there, - find social media pages to follow - but ultimately take the advice and use it how you want to. Try the suggestions that you read about, if they don't fit you or your child, try something else.

Every Autistic individual is just that, an individual. We share similar traits but that is it. What works for one Autistic individual is not going to work for the next.

One Autistic individuals lived Autistic experience is their experience.

My lived experience as a late diagnosed Autistic adult is my experience. My experience is different, but very similar, to my children's lived experience. My husbands lived experience as a late diagnosed ADHDer, is his experience.

Every Autistic individual, child or adult, is unique.

Instead of telling, no bullying, people into doing what you say because "you know best," interact respectfully and help each other out.

Tuesday 19 July 2022

Emotional Intelligence - what is it?

Recently we, myself and Daddy Superhero, discovered a television show on Stan (got to love Stan!) to watch called Scorpion. It was a new show to us, but has been around for some time. After watching the first episode, we then binge watched it, as you do, all 4 seasons. On a side note, why did it end that way??? Producers/Directors/Television Network, please bring the show back, even just to finish it properly!! And while it is never stated in any of the seasons, five of the main characters just must on the spectrum!!

Anyway back to Emotional Intelligence, one of the characters on the show, Paige, is there to interpret the world for the four geniuses that the show is based on, and throughout the four seasons, Paige assists all the characters to develop their emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is a topic that I have been meaning to write a post about for some time, but I've never gotten around to penning a piece. After watching all four seasons of Scorpion, I figured that now is a good time to write that post.

Emotional intelligence is a skill that we have been assisting both little superheroes to develop since I can't remember when, and it's often a skill that many Autistic individuals struggle with.

Until recently L struggled to recognise and respond to his own emotions and those of others. O on the other hand was able to recognise emotions in others but struggled to recognise and respond to their own emotions.

So what is Emotional Intelligence?

Everyone has most likely heard of IQ or Intelligence Quotient. Emotional Intelligence, it is also known as EQ or Emotional Quotient, is the ability to understand, use, interpret and manage ones own emotions. 

Your IQ can help you to achieve great things academically in life, but it is your EQ that will help you to manage your emotions, stress and interacting with others throughout your life. IQ and EQ exist in all of us in tandem and both are mroe effective when they work together. 

Our emotions are important pieces of information that we feel every day of our lives that tell us not only about ourselves but also about others. It all comes down to our interoception sense - being able to recognise and respond to what our bodies are telling us.

Developing our own emotional intelligence, assists us in every aspect of our lives - we can learn to develop calming strategies when we become overwhelmed by our emotions. We can learn to manage our emotions in ways that are healthy for our mind and body. We can learn to recognise stress emotions in ourselves and develop calming skills.

As I have mentioned in other posts about developing our emotions, children aren't born with the ability to interpret and express how they are feeling. Recognising and responding to ones emotions is a skill that babies begin to develop from their interactions with their parents.

Developing emotional intelligence takes time, but if we start assisting our children with this skill when they are young, we are equipping them with skills that they can carry with them for life.

Assisting a child to develop their own emotional intelligence, begins with us. We need to be open about our own emotions, so that children don't become embarrassed about their own emotions.

There is still so much stigma in society associated with mental health issues - we need to teach our children that it is okay to be struggling mentally and that asking for assistance from others is the most effective way to manage their mental health issues.

If children are in a trusted environment where emotions are openly talked about, most children will speak freely about their feelings not only to their parents or carers but they may also be open to talking to others.

If we start these conversations early, we are giving our children the best start possible in life.

Monday 11 July 2022

Assistance Dog 101: Scent training

I often say, and write, that this journey that we are on as family is an ever evolving, always learning journey. And over the course of the past two weeks, we have learnt more about scent training in assistance dogs.

Soon after Henry was placed with our family in 2021, he began to pick up on behaviours that L was showing before we became aware of the behaviour - Henry would step in and begin to nuzzle L immediately before L would enter into meltdown mode. When we were asked how did Henry know that L was entering meltdown, we would comment that perhaps Henry picks up on chemicals that L releases once he enters meltdown. What we did not realise is that this is exactly what Henry is doing, and that there is a term for these chemicals.

That term is "volatile organic compounds (VOC)" or "biomarkers."

Before I go into how Henry, and every other dog, picks up on these biomarkers, you need a basic understanding of what a VOC or biomarker is.

Through our bodies usual daily metabolic activity, we release VOC or biomarkers which then enter the bloodstream. From the bloodstream, these VOC or biomarkers are released from our bodies via our breath, through our skin or in our urine and faeces. Depending on our emotional state, or our health, these VOC are altered due to the metabolic changes that occur as a result of our altered state of mind, body, or health. When an individual is feeling extremely anxious, their VOC output is going to be extremely high as opposed to when they are feeling calm.

So how can dogs detect these VOC amongst all the other smells that are around them?

It is all due to scent receptors. Us humans have a measly 400 different types of specialized sensor proteins, known as olfactory receptors in our noses, which amounts to roughly 6 million sites in our nasal cavity. Pretty impressive? 

Well hold onto your seats, as dogs can have over 300 million of these scent receptors in their boopers, aka noses!

In the way that vision is our main sense of gaining an understanding of our surrounds, dogs use their noses. From their amazing sense of smell, dogs can obtain more detailed information than we can ever imagine. It's no wonder then that dogs find the pee-mail smell of other dogs so fascinating to sniff - they're getting all the neighbourhood gossip in one huge whiff!!

Dogs can detect some VOC or biomarkers in parts per trillion - now that is impressive.

So in Henry stepping in and assisting L before we, and L, are aware that he needs assistance, Henry is sniffing out subtle odours that we don't detect at all. The extra scent receptors in Henry's, and other dogs, nose means that they are able to detect a complexity in our VOC or biomarkers.

So how did we begin to learn more about VOC? We are currently training a puppy to be O's Autism Assistance Dog. In the last few months, Alaska, will greet us by sniffing every part of our bodies, but in particular all around our heads. The other thing that Alaska does is that she will come and sit next to or in front of us and touch us with a paw over and over - each time moving away or around before patting us again. We were talking about this particular behaviour in Alaska as she was also doing it to both of our trainers when we had our first face to face session with them.

Unbeknownst to us, Alaska is alerting us but patting our bodies over and over, that something is amiss in O's VOC output. Due to Alaska's young age, she is only 6 months old, and her training still ongoing, Alaska is not yet sure how to assist O, she just knows that something is amiss.

Henry on the other hand, while he hasn't been trained in detecting these odours, he has associated the odours with L's behaviour and hence will step straight into the skills that he has been trained to do.

The behaviour of Alaska in sniffing our faces, is a behaviour that we would usually attempt to stop a pet dog from doing. For an assistance dog however, you want this behaviour to continue.

Using an individuals VOC or biomarkers, is how seizure alert, diabetes dogs and so on are trained. Every individual releases a slightly different VOC or biomarker version than the next. The biomarker may be the same in terms of the chemicals that it contains, but the levels would differ.

So now when Alaska bops us, or O, with a paw, we pause and take a minute to assess how O is feeling. If anxiety levels are high, we then get Alaska to give cuddles or some deep pressure stimulation to calm the anxiety. And the same of Henry, if he bops us for no apparent reason, we do the same, pause and assess how we are feeling internally.

So the next time your dog keeps bopping your arm or leg for no apparent reason, pause and take a check of how you are feeling internally. Perhaps they are trying to tell you something!

On a side note ....

Dogs have a specialized scent organ, called the vomeronasal organ or the Jacobson's organ, that is located between the roof of the mouth and bottom of the nasal passage. This organ is also found in other animals such a snakes, cats and horses, and it has specialised receptors that focus on detecting pheromones.

Dogs have a much larger olfactory cortex than us humans, and the smelling section of a dogs brain is 40 times larger than ours! One-eighth of a dogs brain is dedicated solely to detecting and interpreting odours - that's larger than the section of our brain that is dedicated to interpreting sight!

When detecting these VOC or biomarkers that we excrete, dogs are able to ignore the huge number of background odours that they are detecting at the same time, to focus in on what they are trained to detect!

Saturday 2 July 2022

Interpreting Social Nuances

Interpreting social nuances!

I'm fairly certain that this is something that every adult, regardless of whether they are neurodiverse or neurotypical, had issues with as a teenager - interpreting what other teens did and said. But over time, most people become fairly apt at interpreting hat others do and say.

Individuals who are Autistic, or are neurodiverse in other ways, may have ongoing struggles to understand and interpret the social nuances and other subtleties that are present in our every day communication with others.

This is something that we have been dealing with over the last few years as the little superheroes grow older and their social interactions with others become trickier to decipher. We're often told "it's just teenage children being typical teenage children," but both little superheroes are far from being "typical" children.

The interactions that they are struggling with are typical teenage children interactions, but when you put Autism and ADHD into the ring with the interactions, both little superheroes genuinely struggle to understand what others are saying and doing.

Deciphering hidden messages and meanings, sarcastic comments (when you may not understand sarcasm,) non-verbal communication messages - all of these can cause communication with others to be quite difficult as the Autistic individual may not be to understand what is being communicated.

Autistic individuals are often very literal - they say what they mean - and they are often very direct. We often make the comment that you shouldn't ask either of the little superheroes a question that you don't want an honest answer to! They will tell exactly what they think. And from their body language we can also tell exactly whether they like, or don't like something!

Being literal in their communication style does not mean that there is anything wrong with how an Autistic individual communicates - it is just a different communication style.

So what can you do when communicating with an Autistic individual to ensure that there is little confusion on their part?

You could try to ensure that you are direct in your communication with them - say what you mean, and mean what you say. This means trying not to use figure of speech - in other words, speech that has hidden meanings. Figure of speech is often used to hider the true meaning of speech without being sarcastic. other times people may want to say one thing but directly imply the opposite. Figure of speech can also be used to say something nice in a rude way, or something rude in a nice way. 

Figure of speech can be incredibly confusing even at the best of times - I always struggled with this communication style as a child especially when it was one of my favourite uncles who used it. His sense of humour was, and still is, very dry and he showed very little emotion when using figure of speech, so trying to interpret what he was saying was near impossible.

Try not to hide the true meaning of your speech.

Unless you know that an individual understands the concept sarcasm, try not to be overly sarcastic in your communication.

Autistic individuals, as well as other individuals are have different abilities can be taken advantage by those that they come into contact with - often it is due to the literal nature of these individuals as well as the fact that many who are disabled only see the good in others. If you have a hunch that this is occurring, please step and say something. Be the person for the Autistic individual in that moment.

If an Autistic individual confides in you that they struggle to understand and interpret social communication, please be understanding. Take the time to talk with them about what could be meant by others.