Tag Archives: autism

Guest post

Sensory processing and children with autism

In today’s guest post, Mrs M. explores the world of sensory processing. For many of us, we assume that others experience the world in the same way that we do – lavender is a calming smell, it is pleasant to have soft music playing in the background and the smell of bacon frying makes your mouth water. However, this is not always the case.
Mrs M. takes us through some of the different experiences that children with autism have and, most importantly, how we can support children to make sense of the world around them and thrive in it.

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Imagine living in a world that bombarded you from every angle with sensory information that you couldn’t process…

Imagine desperately wanting to open your morning snack, but being unable to as your fingers feel as if you are wearing a thick pair of gloves.

Imagine walking into your classroom every morning only to be hit by the smell of your teacher’s perfume which is so strong that it makes you feel sick just to be near her.

Imagine the labels in your uniform scratching against your skin like a cactus, making your skin sore and irritated.

Imagine the flickering of the light in the classroom flashing so brightly that it was like a strobe light in a disco.

Imagine the smell of lunch wafting down the corridor which is so overpowering that you simply can’t focus on anything else.

Imagine not being able to feel your seat underneath you, almost as if you had been numbed. No matter how hard you wriggled around you just can’t get comfortable.

Imagine snapping your pencil in half every time you tried to write as you can’t judge the amount of pressure you are applying on the paper.

Imagine the sound of the chairs scraping along the floor as if it was fingernails being scratched down a blackboard.

Imagine being surrounded by beautiful bright displays that make your eyes go funny and your head spin around like you’re on a fairground ride.

Imagine having to filter out all the noises, visual distractions and smells from around the classroom every second of every day.

Imagine having to hold all this in.

Having to concentrate.

Trying to focus.

Attempting to follow instructions from your teacher. 

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Guest post

The Many Faces of Anxiety

It seems particularly apt to have a post from Mrs M. about the different faces of anxiety in January, as this month is often linked with the Janus, the Roman God of war and peace or the beginning and end of conflict. In this guest blog, Mrs M. describes how we can recognise the signs of anxiety in children with autism, and then some really practical strategies for managing anxiety. It is an honest and inspirational piece. Please do share and comment.
Enjoy!

For my son, anxiety is part of who he is.

In fact, it is as much a part of his make up as the colour of his hair or the freckles on his nose that come out every summer. It is his constant companion and is far more than just a bit of worry that can be soothed away with some reassuring words of encouragement.

It is with him forever, and it is important we take it seriously as it plays such a huge part in his life.

It was also actually one of the first indicators to us as he was growing up, that something wasn’t quite as it should be. The older he got the bigger his worries seemed to grow. But at the time we didn’t realise that all the different behaviours we were seeing were driven by this hidden force lurking inside him. And the more we tried to overcome it and force him into situations that we thought he should be able to cope with, the worse we made it; because we didn’t take his anxiety seriously. We didn’t realise how much his anxiety was controlling his emotions and behaviours.

So we bowed down to pressure.

Pressure to make him conform because he looked so ‘normal.’ Pressure from professionals who didn’t have the answers we were so desperately seeking. And pressure from ourselves to live up to the perfect family image that everyone expected us to be.

Pressure to fit our son into societies neat little boxes.

But in fact, we quickly learnt that the key to us being able to move forward as a family unit was far more about us learning to accept and embrace his differences as much as anything else. Learning to accept that his anxiety was part of who he was, and it wasn’t going anywhere. And after all that we had to learn how to unpick his behaviour to see what was really going on underneath the surface.

And so out of necessity his anxiety became our constant companion. We have reluctantly learnt to share our lives with it, having to let it into our routines and family time. Allowing it to dictate the ebb and flow of daily life like the tide. It’s inevitable when your child has anxiety linked with their autism, there is no hiding from it…ever! So, we learnt to accept that it is part of what makes him so unique and roll with it.

Sometimes we can all see his anxiety, even people that don’t know him inside out like I do. It is etched on his face, in his body language and it seeps out of every muscle in his movements. There’s no mistaking it. It controls him like a puppet master making him bite his nails, compels him to ask the same questions again and again with nothing being able to satisfy its hunger. It makes him pace around the room like a caged tiger, and at times it completely takes over his body. Primal instincts kick in which trigger the fight or flight reflex in his body.

But this anxiety also has a darker more secret side.

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Guest post

Twelve Days of Christmas

I am super excited to tell you that Mrs M. has written a special Festive blog for us, full of her usual great practical advice and top tips. I love Mrs M’s writing because I can really relate to it (I get a wiggly tummy sometimes too!) and it always makes me smile, but most of all, she has a great knack of emphasising the positives – perfect for the holiday season! I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

Hi folks, it’s lovely to be back doing another guest blog for Kathy after what has been a hectic few months in our household I can tell you.

I ended up having to take a few months off from writing. So, for those of you waiting for my series of blogs to continue in which I have been looking at supporting children with autism in the classroom, don’t worry I’ll be back in the swing of things by January with my next instalment as promised. In it I will be looking at managing anxiety in the classroom, and how unmet sensory needs can lead ‘challenging behaviour.’ Keep an eye out for that one in the new year, and apologies for my absence these last few months…what can I say?  Sometimes life just has a habit of getting in the way at times doesn’t it!

Anyway, back to the here and now and I can’t believe as I am sat here writing this how quickly we’re hurtling towards Christmas. And I don’t know about you, but for me, this is the time when panic usually starts to set in as I realise how much I still have left to do in the coming few weeks.

The shopping, wrapping, unexpected guests, decorations, school concerts, parties… I mean the list goes on and on. If I allow myself to dwell on it all too much little wave of nausea washes over me as I stress about the Christmas cards write yet and how on earth I am going to manage to be in three places at once next Wednesday as my kids school commitments ramp up by the day.

So, let’s take a deep breath and pause from the Christmas chaos for just a minute. 

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Guest post

Seeing your classroom from the autistic child’s perspective

Mrs M continues her blog series with advice on working in a classroom with a child who has autism. She has enormous personal experience, which you will see shining through in the post, as well as very practical advice. Please do share any top tips that you have as well! – Kathy

Mrs M. writes:

Before I dive straight in with the practical tips in this month’s blog. I want to talk a little bit about my past experience, as it has shaped my whole ethos in relation to autism within the classroom.

I am a mum to a 12 year old boy who was diagnosed on the autism spectrum several years ago now. And my background as far back as I can remember is in nursery management. But as my kids became older I made the move into a primary school setting, and I soon discovered my calling as an Autism HLTA in a resourced provision.

My career path hasn’t always been plain sailing let me tell you.

I can remember like it was yesterday my first job supporting an autistic child in reception. Because despite all my training nothing could prepare me for the rollercoaster of emotions I was about to experience working alongside him.

He had almost no language and huge sensory needs. He found the transition from home to school very difficult, which would lead him to become very upset every day.

So for a while I felt totally out of my depth.

I remember feeling so worried about getting it wrong, that it stopped me being innovative and thinking outside the box. I had an awful feeling that I just wasn’t up to the job. I couldn’t seem to ‘connect’ with him.

The worry and feeling of inadequacy would keep me awake at night sometimes.

On days when he had particularly struggled, I would feel mentally and physically drained. I saw it as my fault. I felt like a failure as I didn’t feel like I was actually ‘teaching’ him anything.

But slowly, day by day I quickly learnt that this little boy was actually the one teaching me, as much as I was there to teach him. In order to enable him to learn, I had to get into his world and see things from his viewpoint.

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Guest post

Supporting children with Autism

I’m delighted to announce that Mrs M (author of A Slice of Autism: What’s normal anyway?) is starting a new series of blogs for me here. The first one focuses on behaviour, particularly with respect to school and parent partnership. You’ll find plenty of sensible, reliable advice, written in Mrs M’s very enjoyable style.

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I have been privileged to spend many years of my career working within the primary education sector and early years settings to support staff who work with children on the autism spectrum. It can be one of the most rewarding jobs and yet also one of the most challenging too, as each individual child on the spectrum is unique, and therefore they all have such different needs.

Add to this the fact that many children’s challenges are hidden from the outside world and it becomes easy to see why people can focus on the things children with autism can’t do, their deficits if you like. Instead of us looking at the child behind the behaviour, we can find ourselves stuck in a cycle of negative reaction strategies that actually serve to aggravate the child even further.

boy's fascinatedMany approaches I have seen over the years tend to ‘treat the behaviour’ and focus on the child’s problems. But we should be taking the time to find out what makes these very special children tick, what their strengths are, how they learn, and how we can make reasonable adjustments to the environment in order to meet their needs.

So often children on the spectrum are treated like round pegs in square holes. Our environment and demands to conform to our view of the world can chip away at them and doesn’t take into account their individual needs.

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Guest post

How the long wait for a diagnosis affected my journey as a mum

This week the House of commons will be debating Autism Diagnosis Waiting Time (for details see here), so it seemed very fitting that Mrs M. should share with us her journey as a mum, waiting for a diagnosis. I thinks she shares some very good advice here and, as ever, gives a moving and valuable insight into how this can affect every facet of family life. 

I vividly remember all those years ago when I first became a mother in my early twenties, nervously holding this new little life in my arms. She was so tiny and vulnerable that I became completely overawed at how much she depended on me. I was meant to have all the answers. I was meant to know what her cries meant, what to do when she wouldn’t settle and how to relieve her colic. I was overwhelmed with it all in those early days settling in at home.

mum-and-babyHowever there was one thing I knew for certain back then; that I loved my little baby more than life itself and so instinctively I learned to know what she needed. I needed no guidebook or lessons to tell me what to do, it just happened naturally.

Then in my late twenties, we were blessed with another daughter and a son. Life had become full, crazy and yes at times a little chaotic – but we had such hope and dreams for the future.

My girls were happy carefree little things, full of laughter and smiles. However my little man worried me. Because even though he was hitting most of his developmental milestones he was hard work. Many aspects of his behaviour didn’t fit any checklists or tick boxes for kids of his age. He was a handful as a toddler and ran rings around me at times I have to say. And initially I dismissed my worries, thinking he would soon grow out of it.

However I was soon to realise that it was far more than just your typical boisterous behaviour that was testing my skills as a young mum. I didn’t know it all those years ago, but I was at the start of a new phase of motherhood. One that would turn our whole family life upside down, and my role as a mum would take a whole new road completely.

So fast forward to now – Here I am, older and wiser. I’m now in my mid (to late)-thirties and my son was diagnosed with Autism last year at the age of 10. After all those years.

Altogether it took almost 5 years on the waiting list for him to be assessed.

So I think that’s what makes my journey, and many other mums like me up and down the country kind of unique really. Because I can’t think of any other condition where parents have to wait so long to get the help and answers they need. And I certainly found that my relationship with not only myself, but with my son and my family was pushed to the limit because of it. Because I feel like my early thirties flew past in a blur of stress and uncertainty. I got lost somewhere in between there and now. Let me explain-

boy-waitingI doubted myself constantly because I knew deep down that my son had so many hidden challenges and for years I felt like no one believed me. I knew it was more than the terrible twos, threes or fours. And it certainly wasn’t middle child syndrome. I could see that my son was increasingly struggling with so many aspects of his life, but he wasn’t able to express what was happening to him inside. So instead he would play up, resist, fight or become upset at the smallest of things.

And eventually I began to feel like every instinct I was having as his mum was wrong because I felt like I couldn’t help him and people were judging me as a bad parent that couldn’t control her kid. So many thoughts were swirling around my mind-

Why didn’t people believe me?

Why did they think he was just naughty?

Why could he be good all day at school then the minute I walk in the room he would lash out?

Was it me, were they right, and was I too soft on him… Is that what the problem was?

And this went on year after year after year. I became exhausted, confused and tired. There are even occasions I can remember when I had been on the receiving end of one of his meltdowns after school, and I would keep it to myself because I felt so alone and just couldn’t face the criticism from people who thought he was just naughty. I felt ignored as all I ever seemed to do was make excuses for him, desperately trying to make people see what I saw.

Because you see I knew.

I just knew that when the day came for him to be assessed that everyone else would finally see what I had known all along. That my son was Autistic.

And then when that day did finally arrive I felt such a mixture of emotions that I just didn’t know what to think. I was relieved on the one hand but deeply saddened on the other as there was so much finality in those words – Autism. All I could think about was that it’s a lifelong condition, and the future seemed so uncertain for him at that point.

But in the months that followed his diagnosis I came to see that there was truly no need for me to be saddened by the label that he got that day. Because it hasn’t changed him, rather its changed how others think of him and that the key to his happiness.

Yes he has a label now, but it’s the right label. Not the ‘naughty’ label, or the ‘spoilt child’ label. And it has freed me of the shackles I felt for years too. I felt like I walked around with a ‘bad parent’ neon sign flashing above my head half the time as people stared at us in the supermarket. Or I was the ‘pushy parent’ when he refused to go to school and I had to fight for accommodations to be made for him.

But you see now the world can understand my son due to his ‘label’ of being Autistic, he is so much happier as a result. It opened doors that allowed us to get the right support for him. Thanks to his diagnosis now other people can now see how much he has to offer the world too. And that is why a diagnosis is so important for children like my son. Because otherwise he would have continued being misunderstood and labelled in all the wrong ways.

So the bottom line is that the long wait not only affected my son, but it affected me deeply, and there is no easy answer I’m afraid to say, it sucks! The waiting lists in the UK are appallingly long and I wish I could tell you otherwise but I can’t.
light-tunnelBut mums what I can tell you is this – please believe me when I say that there is light at the end of the tunnel. I learned that I had to believe in myself, and you will learn that too I promise! You are a good mum and your gut instincts are always right, just like we instinctively know what to do with our babies, nothing has changed just because they have grown up a bit. And please know that your opinions as a mum are 100% valid and worthy of being heard, no matter what labels your child has been given or how long you are waiting for answers.

And if there are any professionals reading this, please try and see beyond the labels, both my child’s and mine as a mum.

That mum may be labelled as a pushy parent, or come across as defensive in meetings. But it’s probably because inside she’s feel intimidated by you all sat at the table like you’re ready to interview her. She may have had years fighting a system that struggles to view things from her child’s point of view. She may have sat at meeting after meeting having to listen to all the things her child can’t do when she knows how much he is capable of if they could only see it. Maybe she’s worn down by judgements and feeling like her opinion isn’t valid. And maybe all she actually needs is for someone to say to her that they don’t have a magic wand to make it all better, but that they hold value in what she has to say and that they are really listening to her.

Because after all she is just a mother. A mother doing her best. A mother who held her baby in her arms all those years ago with such hope and dreams for the future. And no matter what labels her child is given she loves him all the more, more than life itself.

Read more from Mrs M. at her brilliant blogspot here and vibrant Facebook page here.

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Guest post

Dear Mums in the Playground…

umbrella girl
This is the next in the series of blog posts from Mrs M, about her life as a mum of a son with autism. She has been sharing some of the roller coaster of emotions that happen behind the closed doors of family life.

This month Mrs M shares her feelings about her playground experiences. I think you will find them thought-provoking and moving, whatever sort of mum you are. Here is her story:

You may not know me well but I was that mum that skulked past you all with my head hiding under my umbrella, or under my hood just to avoid having to talk to you for many years.

I was that mum that the class teacher always wanted to come and talk to at the end of the day, with a knowing look that something had happened that she needed to tell me about.

I was that mum whose child who stopped getting invited to parties.

I was that mum that never came to the PTA meetings or mums nights out, who wasn’t part of any mums ‘group’.

I was that mum who was often running late in the mornings, looking hassled and exhausted at drop off time so never had the time to say hello to you.

I was that mum who ‘let’ her child hit her whilst trying to get him in through the school door in the mornings kicking and screaming.

I was that mum who you would whisper about to each other that should discipline her child better.

That’s me. I was that mum.

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Guest post

How we can help alleviate the build up of stress at school

I am very proud and pleased to present the third in the series of guest blog posts, written by Mrs M, who writes ‘A Slice of Autism’. I am publishing these once a month.

This month Mrs M gives us some very practical ideas for how to support children with autism in the classroom. These do not need massive changes in routine or environment, but simply viewing the school from a child’s perspective. Here is her third blog:

Many children on the spectrum can have huge anxieties about school, and if we think about it it’s no wonder really; the hustle and bustle of the playground, the unwritten rules and complex friendship groups, and the language and sensory demands that bombard our kid’s fragile nervous systems is bound to take its toll. And that’s before we even think about our kids sitting still in a chair and actually ‘learning’ anything formally.stressed-boy

I worked for many years within the Primary Education sector with Autistic children, so I have a good understanding of what daily life for many kids on the spectrum can be like. I also have an 11 year old son who went through Primary school as a very anxious child with High Functioning Autism and sensory issues. He would often cope at school and reflect all his anxiety inwards, only to explode once at home. Until finally during Year 6 it all just became too much and his mental health deteriorated due to prolonged anxiety. He now attends a specialist school in Year 7.

So I kind of feel like I am positioned well to see things from the perspective of both school and home when it comes to school related stress and anxiety. Some parents can feel that their concerns aren’t really taken seriously, and that they can come across as paranoid, overprotective parents as they often see a different child that the one that school sees. And that can cause conflict and tension between home and school which is helpful for no one (especially the child in the middle of it all). And with the new SEN Code of Practice it’s even more important than ever that schools works collaboratively with parents as that will lead to the best outcome for children

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Guest post

Home and School … We are all on the same team

I am very proud and pleased to present the second in the series of guest blog posts, written by Mrs M, who writes ‘A Slice of Autism‘. These will be published once a month.

The first blog ‘The Delayed Effect’ had a massive response, with many readers saying how they could relate to the blog. This month Mrs M focuses on how effective partnerships between home and school can be made, for the benefit of all involved – most importantly the children. Here is her second blog:

schoolyardI want to share a story with you. A story about ‘that mum’. A mum who found herself on a journey. A bumpy journey that she hadn’t really planned to take.

Now you may be read this story and think that mum sounds just like me, I’m so relieved that I’m not alone. Or you may read this story and think I know that mum and I never realised that’s why she stands in the playground each day looking down at the floor, maybe I’ll go and talk to her.

Or finally you could read this story and think I hadn’t realised how much courage it took for that mum in my class to pat me on the shoulder and ask if she could have a word with me at home time today.
So here is my story of…..
How I became ‘that mum’
Once upon a time on a sparkly autumn morning there was a playground full of nervous little children. All looking so grown up; wearing their crisp clean uniforms, and squeaky new shoes. Their parents were beginning to smile and nod at each other in a knowing kind of way. Then the awkward silence was broken by the bell ringing loudly, a signal to everyone that it was now time. Time for all the anxious parents to let go, and time for the children to start on their journey of discovery…..as it was their first day of school

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Guest post

Autism and the delayed effect

I am very proud and pleased to present the first of a series of guest blog posts, written by Mrs M, who writes ‘A Slice of Autism‘.

This will be a series of articles about being the mum of a child with autism. They are ‘warts and all’ accounts, often very personal and always very moving. They will make you laugh and make you cry.

I hope you will find it both interesting and supportive:

Tonight my son walked through the door from school and immediately I knew. He didn’t have to say or do anything….I just knew!

Call it mothers intuition, or call it years and years of practice, but I knew something was wrong. It was the delayed effect. My son has had a tricky day at school. He has held it together for nearly 7 hours. He walks through the front door…..And bam!!
Pressurecooker

He’s somewhere safe, familiar and he can’t contain the pressure anymore.

It creeps out of every fibre of his being. His face is tense and he has red cheeks. His body is stiff and awkward. His words are fast and loud, and he’s agitated. He’s hungry, he’s not hungry. He wants a snack but not what’s in the cupboard.

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