Wednesday, 17 April 2019

Triad of Impairments Part Two - Impairment in Social Interaction

Earlier this year, I was asked to present at a professional development session for early childhood educators. The presentation? All about Autism and Sensory Processing Difficulties.

The presentation was received so well that I thought that I would use part of my presentation on my blog as I'm often asked questions about Autism and O and L. So here goes!! 

This is Part Two in which I'll focus on Impairment in Social Interaction. You can access Part One - Communication Impairment here!

Individuals who have been diagnosed with Autism commonly have difficulties in three main areas, known as the Triad of Impairments. These areas are ....

2. Impairment in Social Interaction
3. Restricted and Repetitive Behaviours, activities and interests.

Before I begin to discuss the next area, Impairment in Social Interaction, keep in mind that many of these traits are present in typically developing children. The difference in those diagnosed with ASD, is the intensity in which these traits present. In a child with ASD, the traits are much, much more intense and they are ongoing. I’m going to refer to children with Autism but all of these traits may be present in Autistic adults as well.

Children may have difficulty in reading the intentions and motivations of their peers. They may have difficulty in displaying and responding to non-verbal communication from their peers – eye contact, body language, facial expressions, tone of voice, gestures and so on. They may have difficulty in recognizing social cues – when to talk, when to stop talking, how close to stand to people, personal space and so on. These are all considered to be hidden communication skills and they can be very difficult for a child with Autism to understand and interpret.

Children may have difficulty in understanding social interactions and the hidden communication that occurs during social interactions. This can be especially tricky when people say one thing, yet do or mean another.

Children with Autism can at times seem to be very distant. They can appear to be emotionally disconnected from their parents, siblings and their peers. They may not react any differently to a scowl then they would to a laugh or a smile. It is important to understand and remember that they are not emotionally disconnected, they simply may not yet have developed the ability to understand or pick up on social cues as efficiently or as quickly as typically developing children.

Children may have difficulty in initiating play and/or responding to others. Children with ASD may seem disinterested in engaging with play with other children. It’s not that they don’t want to, they may not know how to. They may not understand or know how to turn take or share. They may have difficulties in developing and maintaining friendships with others that are appropriate for their age level. Due to their social impairments, children may prefer solitary play.

Children with Autism often have difficulty establishing and maintaining friendships, as they have difficulty reading the intentions, the motivations or the reactions of others. They may not openly share their interests and engage with others or they may appear disinterested. Often it’s their lack of communication skills, not a lack of desire, which prohibits this engagement.

Children may have reduced eye contact – eye contact can be very uncomfortable for those diagnosed with ASD. However, some individuals learn very early on that eye contact is socially accepted so they will make fleeting eye contact or they will make eye contact and stare straight through you.

Without these social skills individuals diagnosed with ASD may appear socially inept or disinterested when in fact they have major deficits in being able to interpret and respond appropriately. Many individuals who have been diagnosed with ASD, O and L included, want to be social however they struggle in this area.

Stay tuned for Part Three - Restricted and Repetitive Behaviours, activities and interests.

Friday, 12 April 2019

What Acceptance means to me.

My name is O and Mummy asked me what acceptance meant to me because this month, April, is Autism awareness and acceptance month worldwide.

The word acceptance to me means accepting and respecting other people's differences. Acceptance means that people are embraced by others - differences and all. Acceptance means that I belong - as I am - in the community that I live in. Acceptance means that we shouldn't have to change who we are just so that we can fit into what other people think is normal, even though there really isn't a normal way of being.

When people accept others as they are, they are saying "You are you and I am me, and that's okay. Different is good."

When people accept me and my little brother for who we are, they've made a conscious effort not just to know what we do but also to understand and accept us for who we are and the things that we do. My friends who accept me know that I wear my headphones not to stand out but because too much noise hurts my ears and my brain. They know and understand that sometimes I hide under my desk because my classroom is too busy for my brain.

I want to live in a world in which acceptance is not just a goal, but it is an actual reality. A world in which neurodiversity is just another way which makes people unique. A world in which everyone will agree that diversity is a part of what makes our world a beautiful place. A world in which everyone who is different in some way, feels like they belong. There are too many people and not just people who have Autism, who don't feel like they belong or don't feel like they are welcomed by the communities in which they live.

I think that acceptance will take time. Everyone needs to practice acceptance, especially adults because some adults have forgotten what it is like to be different. Kids, when they are really young, are good at accepting other people for who they are but some adults don't like differences. And some adults are really good at projecting their thoughts onto kids, even the negative thoughts. When this happens, the kids don't accept others when they are different. I've felt this from some kids that I go to school with and it makes me really sad and worried for the future.

I think that everyone, but mostly adults, needs to consciously practice acceptance for it to become part of their everyday routine. Because every time we practice acceptance towards something that makes us uneasy, we will create new neural pathways and strengthen the old neural pathways that are in our brains that tell us difference in others is a good thing. And if kids see adults practising acceptance, then they will also be more accepting of others.

That's what acceptance means to me.

Sunday, 7 April 2019

What is Sensory Processing?

In previous blog posts I have spoken about the sensory processing difficulties that both O and l have. But it recently occurred to me that to have an understanding of Sensory Processing Disorder, you first need to have an understanding of how we all process sensory input. And that is a topic that I haven't written a post about yet. So here goes!

Sensory processing occurs all the time in all of us, regardless of whether you have been diagnosed with sensory processing difficulties or not. We are all constantly taking in information from around us and from within our bodies.

We all have individual unique sensory processing styles. The way that we respond to different sensory inputs may change across the space of a day according to many different factors – stress, fatigue, illness, hunger and so on. And the way that one person responds is not necessarily how another person would respond.

There are four stages in sensory processing that occurs in every one of us, well most of us, every day. They are ....

1. Awareness – This is the awareness that something is touching you. The process begins when we become aware of a particular sensation. These sensations can come from the environment around us or from within our bodies.

2. Attention – Something is touching your arm. After we become aware of the sensation, our brain needs to decide whether we need to attend to the sensation or not. Our brain determines what sensory information needs our attention and what should be ignored.

3. Interpretation – You are being touched on the arm with a feather. Our brain interprets the sensation and determines its quality. The brain will compare the sensation with old ones that we have experienced before.

4. Reaction – You are being tickled on the arm with a feather which makes you giggle and squirm. The brain determines what reaction to make. The reaction may be emotional, physical or cognitive.

A good example that illustrates the three different reaction types is when a person spots a spider. An individuals cognitive response could be “spiders are dangerous,” an emotional response could be “I am afraid that the spider will bite me,” and the physical response could be “I will jump and run away from said spider.” Or they might respond with all three reactions!!

These four stages are happening every day and quite often we are not aware of it – the sensory processing is automatic.

In individuals who have sensory processing difficulties, their brains misinterpret sensory inputs and as such all four stages of sensory processing are affected. Sensory processing difficulties can also affect a few of an individuals senses or all of their senses.

So what are our senses? Take a moment to write down or say out loud all of our senses. Here's a few photos of my little superheroes enjoying some sensory input so that you can't cheat and just read on. But keep in mind that we have eight different senses!!

So, how did you go?

Hopefully you would have got the first five easily - taste, sight, hearing, touch and smell.

The last three are slightly trickier as they are our hidden senses! Our three hidden senses are those that we don’t consciously think about or are aware of on a daily basis.

The sixth sense is our vestibular sense - this sense provides our bodies with information as to where our head and body are in space. It helps us to keep our balance as we move about.

Our seventh sense is proprioception.
This is our body sense that tells us where our body is in relation to the rest of us. It also tells us how much force to exert when performing different activities like hugging someone, shaking hands, cracking an egg open and so on.

Then we have an eighth sense - our
interoception sense. This is a relatively unheard of internal part of the sensory system and consists of all of the internal sensations that we feel on a daily basis when we're hungry, thirsty, anxious, nervous or when we need to go to the bathroom. Any sensations that originate from within our bodies all stem from the sense of interoception. Receptors in our body organs and skin, are constantly sending information about the inside of our bodies to our brain.

So there you have it, sensory processing in a nutshell!!

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Autism is A Spectrum

If you have been following my blog then you'll know that ASD is the abbreviation for Autism Spectrum Disorder. But what does the term spectrum refer to?

The term spectrum describes the range of difficulties that people who have been diagnosed with Autism may experience and the degree to which the traits present. Some people may be able to live relatively “normal” lives, while others may have accompanying learning challenges and require continued specialist support throughout their lives.

However when people hear the word "spectrum" many tend to think of the Autism Spectrum as linear, similar to the diagram below. I'll use the old terms of high functioning Autism and low functioning Autism to explain.

A diagnosis of level 1 is equivalent to high functioning Autism or Asperger's as it was formerly known. A diagnosis of level 3 is equivalent to low functioning Autism.

When viewing the spectrum as linear, it gives the impression that an individual can be a little Autistic (high functioning) or a lot Autistic (low functioning) and this in itself poses a problem as an Autistic person’s difficulties are then viewed as linear.

“Oh you’re only a little Autistic because you can have a normal conversation so therefore you don’t have any struggles. You’re fine.”

Likewise an individual can be seen as being very Autistic and not being able to function at all.

But both of these scenarios couldn’t be further from the truth.

The Autism spectrum looks a little more like this … a continuum in which individuals who have been diagnosed with Autism can be either side of the continuum in different areas at the same time.

When thinking about Autism as a continuum, an individual can be highly gifted and yet be aloof in their Social and Emotional Interaction. An individual who is non-verbal may be gifted but not able to verbally express their thoughts and be hyper sensitive to external sensory inputs.

L has a diagnosis of level 1 and level 2 ASD – he is average in his IQ, he is quite social, he was non-verbal up until the age of 3 years and even now will revert to selected muteism when stressed, upset or in sensory overload, his gross motor skills are above average, his fine motor skills are still developing and he is both over sensitive and under sensitive to different sensory inputs.

O has a diagnosis of level 2 ASD and is considered academically gifted, she is aloof in her Social and Emotional interactions with her peers, she is very verbal and has always been very verbal, she is very awkward in her gross motor skills yet her fine motor skills are advanced and she too is both over sensitive and under sensitive to different sensory inputs.

And this is the case for the majority of individuals who have been diagnosed with ASD. Not all individuals sit purely on one side of the continuum. Individuals may have a very uneven profile of skills in that they may have very good skills in some areas and poor skills in others.

Autism Spectrum Disorder really describes many different traits or ways in which the brain processes information. Each person who has been diagnosed with Autism will have a set of traits all in different areas of the spectrum. The areas where they don’t have a trait will function no differently to that of an individual who isn’t on the spectrum, but they may be affected by external circumstances – for example sensory input or during social interactions.

Please keep this in mind when speaking with or interacting with individuals who have been diagnosed with Autism. Please don't assume that an individual who is ASD level 1 has no struggles at all or that an individual who is ASD level 3 is not competent at thinking for themselves. Remember, Autism is known as a spectrum for a reason.

Sunday, 31 March 2019

A Different Kind of Brilliant

**** Please note that I do not receive commissions of any kind for this book review. This book is simply one that we have found useful. ****

If you've been reading or following my blog, you'll know that we like, nay love, books at superhero headquarters. Just recently there was a thread on a social media site that caught my interest. A newly published book that could be used to explain Autism to children .... yes please! Where can I buy a copy???

Well safe to say, I jumped online that night and purchased a copy of the book and eagerly awaited its arrival.

The book is titled "A different kind of brilliant" and is written by Louise Cummins. Louise wrote the book for her son to explain Autism to him in a very positive manner. A different kind of brilliant celebrates those individuals who are different enough to change the world for the better. The book gives examples of famous people who would have been or have been diagnosed with Autism and how their Autism helped them achieve what they achieved.

When the book arrived, O immediately took hold of it and sat down to read the book. It was a hit. Her first words were "This book could have been written about L! The book describes L!"

When I read it to L, his response was "Mummy, that me in the book!" 

So here is the review from O and L!

Q. What is the book about?

L ... A boy called Lachlan who got awesome!
O ... It's called Autism.
L ... Yeah awestism and he different cos he see different and he not like eating like me.
O ... The book talks about how being different is a great thing because you can use your differences to do great things. The book talks about Michelangelo...
L ... Yeah, Mikey the Ninja Turtle!
O ... Michealangelo was an artist first! And Mozart, Einstein and a surfer called Clay Marzo and all the amazing things that they did because of their Autism.
L ... Yeah the surfer dude, he not sit still just like me! Mummy, I have awestism?
Me ... You sure do buddy! You and Sissy both have Autism. 
L ... Yeah! We both got awestism sissy!

Q. What is one great thing about this book?

O ... The book shows that being different from other people is a really good thing. Having Autism is good.
L ... It got surfer dude in it and Mikey!
O ... I really like the story, it's written very well and the illustrations are very bright and colourful. The author is very clever and such a lovely Mum because she wrote it for her son.

Q. Who would this book be good for?

O ... I think it would be great for kids who have Autism to read because it talks about all the good things about Autism. Parents really should read this book and libraries should get copies of this book. I think teachers should read this book too especially if they have students in their class who have Autism. 
L ... Umm good for me. You read it again Mummy?
Me ... We sure can. But can we finish this first?
L ... Yep!

Q. Out of 5 stars, how many are you giving it?

O ... 5 stars! It's a really good book.
L ... Same as Sissy. 5! You read again now please Mummy?
Me ... We can read it again. Thank you for helping me.
O ... You're welcome Mummy.
L ... Yep, you're welcome Mummy. Read now please?

So there you have it! Another great book that can be used to explain Autism and just in time for Autism Awareness and Acceptance month!!

Saturday, 30 March 2019

Triad of Impairments Part One - Communication Impairment.

Earlier this year, I was asked to present at a professional development for early childhood educators. The presentation? All about Autism and Sensory Processing Difficulties.

The presentation was received so well that I thought that I would use part of my presentation on my blog as I'm often asked questions about Autism and O and L. So here goes!! Part One focusing on the Triad of Impairments.

Individuals who have been diagnosed with Autism commonly have difficulties in three main areas, known as the Triad of Impairments. These areas are ....

1. Communication Impairment
2. Impairment in Social Interaction
3. Restricted and Repetitive Behaviours, activities and interests.

Before we begin to discuss these three areas, keep in mind that many of these traits are present in typically developing children. The difference in those diagnosed with ASD, is the intensity in which these traits present. In a child with ASD, the traits are much, much more intense and they are ongoing. I’m going to refer to children with Autism but all of these traits may be present in Autistic adults as well.

Children who have been diagnosed with Autism have a unique profile of communication development. While different skill levels in communication are seen – from non-verbal right through to verbal children with Autism, regardless of their skill level ALL have difficulty in a number of areas. Many remain significantly impaired throughout their lives in their ability to understand language and/or to communicate verbally. Those children who are considered to be high functioning will still have a communication deficit.

Those children who are non-verbal may understand more than they can speak. They may be highly intelligent and unable to verbalise their thoughts, needs and wants. Non-verbal also does not mean quiet. Often children who are non-verbal can be the loudest!

Children may talk at peers rather than talk with peers. They may want to exclusively talk about their favourite topic. This isn’t because they are eccentric or uncaring, they have major skill deficits in understanding the social use of language as well as being unable to understand Theory of Mind – they don’t understand that everyone doesn’t quite always think or feel the way that they do.

In children whose language does develop, their comprehension can often be very literal and as such they are very concrete thinkers. They may have difficulty in understanding abstract concepts or phrases such as “hold your horses” or “stop and smell the roses.” 

We have some very interesting conversations at home – “Your shoes are on the wrong feet! But I don’t have any other feet!” “Please put your shoes and socks on. Don’t you mean socks and then my shoes.” “We’re going to follow our noses! Why is your nose up in the air? I’m following it.” “Go and hop in the bath please.” That was a fun one to sort out! My children are bone fida smart alecs!

Often, a child’s thinking may be concrete, literal and detail focused, so that he or she may find it difficult to see the bigger picture. As an example, children with Autism may focus on a small ladybird on the corner of each page of a book, rather than the main pictures and the story.

Children whose language has developed may at times appear to be little encyclopedias in that they are able to talk your ear off about particular subjects. However in some cases, these children have better expressive language skills than receptive in that they can say more than they understand. Their comprehension of what they read or recite can be quite low. O's reading level is at a year 9 level (she's in grade 5!) however at times her comprehension of what she is reading is not quite up to that level yet.

Stay tuned for Part Two - Impairment in Social Interaction.

Saturday, 2 February 2019

Be the Change that You want to See

Just recently a number of Autism advocates have been shamed, ridiculed and bullied on various social media sites. Some are self advocates and some are advocating for their children. Some have been forced to shut down their social media sites due to the level and intensity of bullying that is being thrown at them.

Those who are self advocating have found their voice and are able to do so. 

In my case, my little superheroes are 9 years of age and 6 years of age. They've yet to find their voice to be self advocates. So until they are capable of speaking up for what they need, I am their voice. There are many other parents and carers who are in my position and who speak on behalf of their children. Some of these children are young children, some are adults. The children (or adults) that we advocate for, have yet to find to find their voice.

All of us who are advocating for either ourselves or our loved ones are doing so for one reason. And one reason only.

We want to bring Autism from out of the shadows and into mainstream society. We all want to spread a little Autism awareness and acceptance far and wide.

And to do that, the bullying and silencing of others needs to stop. The shaming, the ridiculing and the ostracizing also needs to stop. Pronto.

We need to spread Autism awareness and acceptance with love, respect and adoration. We need to remove the shame, the sorrow and the fear.

The longer that the bullying and the ridiculing of others who want the same thing as us continues, the longer that Autism will be seen in a negative light in society.

Every marginalized group in history has faced, and often still is facing, this challenge. They're seen in a negative light by society and this breaks my heart. And sadly nothing will change until we are supportive of each other.

Find the courage to speak up for yourself or your loved ones. No matter what group you are part of, be the voice that you or they need. Be the change that you want to see in this world.

We're in this together. Let's be supportive of each other and spread awareness and acceptance far and wide.