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21 and Atypical: Stephanos

young stephStephanos was born on 21.06.1998. His mum remembers his first words being ‘Mama Papa’ before he was even 1 year old. His 5 older siblings showered him with love because he was the baby, the centre of attention. They were all enchanted by that big smile. Just like any other infant he ate a variety of fruit jars, fruit cremes and mashed potatoes and carrots, packed full of flavour and smells.

At 11 months, he stopped reacting to his name. He stopped eating colourful food and stuck to Cerelac, biscuits and Farley’s rusks. He closed himself off, deaf to his family’s calls for affection. They remember it as him regressing instead of progressing. He stopped saying ‘mama papa’. He started stimming – hands in front of eyes, flapping hands, tiptoeing and making sure all his trains and cars were in the right order.

At 2 and a half years old he was diagnosed with ASD.

Stephanos’ family quickly jumped into action. They tried most of the alternative therapies for autism as well as speech therapy, occupational therapy, hyperbaric oxygen chamber therapy, Applied Behavioral Analysis, one to one teaching and of course used PECS. With PECS his family started communicating with him again. With music therapy they got to see that smile again. With speech therapy his speech resurfaced. Little by little, they got an inch of him back at a time.

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With the support of his big, strong family Stephanos was able to express his artistic side. Nowadays, he has an art studio next to his home where he takes daily lessons. He loves painting horses, having started with a basic drawing and slowly adding the horse mane and the tail to eventually win an Erasmus award for one of his paintings. He also has music sessions three times a week and he loves it! In fact, he knows most of the Disney songs off by heart and he loves Grease the film – and I mean, who wouldn’t? His mum describes to us how on school days they have to play Peter Pan, El Dorado and Robin Hood in the morning, have a little dance and roll and only then are they ready to go to school and start the day.

Even through his verbal communication has declined over the years, Stephanos is a major part of the Prodromou familia. He makes them all laugh, he makes them proud with his art, he overwhelms them with pride when he simply picks up a piece of cheese from the fridge and makes himself a mini sandwich. Stephanos’ own milestones and accomplishments are the product of a long and difficult journey.

Through his ups and downs, he has grown into a thoughtful, caring, compassionate and talented adult who approaches you when you are upset and gets excited when his siblings visit. Perhaps the greatest thing Stephanos has done is inspire the people around him. His family, friends, teachers and other kids get to see his progress and have hope.  Stephanos’ story gives hope to newly diagnosed families that it will get better and even if it doesn’t there is a group of people who will stand by them. He has inspired his parents and my parents to take action and to speak up for him and for all the autism families who need it.

This is just the tip of the iceberg when getting to know Stephanos. I’ll be telling you all about what he likes, dislikes, his calming routines and even his bad days – because who doesn’t have one of those once in a while? We’ll dive into a beautiful, atypical friendship between two boys who accept, acknowledge and respect each other. For example, Stephanos does not like it if you touch your own face or head (same for Christos), yet! somehow they don’t bat an eye lid when one of them does it. Boys eh!

#21andatypical

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Preach & Teach

A voice mail message has come to light where school staff, in Matravers School in Westbury, asked a mother to keep her autistic son at home during an Ofsted inspection. The school suggested that her son took an “authorised” absence.

This happens in schools every day, this isn’t just about Autism, or Downs, or dyslexia, or anything specific – it’s about children being targeted and scarred – not just by children but by members of staff as well. How can we expect an inclusive society, an educated, compassionate world if we preach without teaching?

Another parent, said his 15-year-old son, who has dyslexia, was told by a teacher that his lessons would be swapped during the inspection “because they didn’t want any disruption in classes”.

A couple of months ago a teacher said “I was told to ignore a child’s autism to keep fees coming in”.

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Two severely autistic boys’ parents threatened legal action against a school, claiming they were shut in a room for hours each day. The boys, aged 12 and 14 were pupils at Abbey Hill School in Stoke-on-Trent. They were kept in a cupboard-sized calm room; the room in the picture. The door was not locked, yet it was closed and there was no handle on the inside. We’ve talked about sensory overload or deprivation and there are certain environments that facilitate this and the use of seclusion and ‘calm rooms’ are recognised. They are positive tools to use to assist autistic children, but how does a cupboard with two sleeping bags constitute a calm room? A room with no escape? Or just a room to shove people in when you can’t be bothered to deal with them? Incident reports detail how the boys charged at the door and tried kicking the door handle until it broke. Incident reports about a child trying to get out of a room, which is supposedly designed for their benefit. The log shows him spending the majority of his school day in the room.

A Kansas community is was recently grieving the loss of a 16-year-old autistic boy. Maxwell Webb took his own life. He didn’t leave a note; he was bullied. His father said the mistreatment wasn’t addressed by the school’s administration and was the major factor out of several that led to Maxwell’s death.

An Ohio family says that their 15-year-old boy with learning disabilities was bullied and misled into stripping off and subsequently getting covered in feces and urine. The teen thought he was participating in the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge by his peers.

Listen. Learn. Grow. Accept.

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Sibling Week

There was a hashtag trending a few weeks ago celebrating Autism #SiblingWeek and I had messages asking me how i felt and how I coped as an Autism sibling.1456685_10152043682305030_1431061625_n

In my head, it’s unfair to blame the parents if a sibling is struggling to understand Autism – the parents have enough to deal with. And yes, they are important and they need to seek out ways to get professional help, or books, or alone time. They’re only human and they have their own emotions and their own process to go through; life just dealt them a wild card. I believe, the doctor that gives the diagnosis should also offer advice to parents about their siblings. I haven’t figured out the ins and outs of it yet; but shouldn’t it be a professionals job? They deal with this every day, they know the consequences, they know the shock that drowns out the reality you had been living in until that moment. Even more so, shouldn’t the school be aware of ways to help so they can be offrered?

Chris and I were born 8 years apart. Raising a child, in general, demands extraordinary things from parents, and the family as a whole. When one of them has Autism, those demands are the only thing you have time for. The time you invest in the well-being of that child, you know you will not regret when you see their progress. Siblings though, older or younger, remain silent bystanders. Their silence resonates in their misbehaving at school, in their picking up of bad habits and hanging out with questionable friends. The way the ‘Others’ are affected can take as many forms as can Autism.

416800_10150752443010030_1110641324_nI don’t know whether it’s harder when they are older – so the attention is shifted completely from them – or when they’re younger – so it’s all they know and might not get enough attention.  Your life has changed, the balance has shifted, your parents only talk about Autism, and you can only trace it back to one person. It causes resentment, whether you are old or young, the feeling is there. My mum told me that when Christos was born i used to climb into bed and drink milk from the bottle. I was 8 years old. I was at school. I had friends and I was drinking milk from a bottle and asking my mum to tuck me in; seriously. When he was diagnosed I started acting out at school, mum said – original. Thinking back on it now, its embarrassing, but that’s what happens to children.

As a result of no proper support system being put in place for the Others, there is tension that builds up between the needs of the child with Autism and those of the Others. I used to get annoyed when he played with my toys, when he watched my video tapes because he broke everything; absolutely everything. What i have found, in reading about this and listening to stories, is that there are many ways this frustration can manifest and without the right guidance it can get out of control. The obvious side note here being that where Autism isn’t dealt with early and effectively we get relationships that break down, or never even form to begin with.

In my experience, personally, as well as my discussions with other Others, the great majority has to deal with jealousy for the first couple of years but then there’s this power that comes in. Maybe its from reading, maybe its from witnessing how strong your parents are, maybe its from seeing how someone so small can be so fierce, how someone who cannot speak 419409_10150751639425030_721113893_ncan progress right in front of your eyes. I’m not sure what it is, or where it comes from, but it does and it makes you become who you are. You grow up, you cope, you become passionate, understanding, experienced; you just learn that life isn’t about coping, it’s about taking every day and making it worthwhile, it’s about excellence, because someone is doing that right there, in front of your eyes.

The bright side of being an Other is that we learn, whether alone or with help, to manage these demands and behaviours which makes our childhood/adulthood easier. It teaches us skills we wouldn’t otherwise have or learn at school. We become effective and resilient adults; because being an Other doesn’t end with childhood. It’s a bond we don’t have words for, it’s a relationship that matures and grows stronger over the years.

The concerns of toys and attention fade and as an adult we start thinking of the future and develop a sense of responsibility that makes it difficult for us to leave home and begin an independent life.

Missing home was isn’t an issue, but missing Chris is unbearable. I can text, whatsapp, call my parents, my friends, my family; but my brother I can’t. He doesn’t like the telephone, or talking on skype for too long and when we do he just tells me what he wants to eat. I consider myself lucky if I get the same few words out of him; always ‘Hello, I love you’ and when i ask how he is its usually followed by a kiss and him running away.

I can’t ask my brother how he is, can you imagine that?

It breaks my heart when they call and tell me he asks for me, and asks when he can see me. There’s this weight on my shoulders that I’ve put there that will not be lifted until i know i can give him everything he wants. He doesn’t ask for much, he just wants his music, his food and the pool; but its doesn’t matter, because if he wakes up one morning and asks for something, i want to be able to give it to him. No one expects this from me, and no one has ever spoken to me about the day I will be his carer but it’s something i have been preparing for since i was 17.

That’s the end-game, that’s the dream.

That’s what being an Other does to you, it drives you and it makes you better. So when you meet someone with Autism, take a moment to take it in, see beyond the Autism and realise that they are inspiring, they can motivate greatness without ever saying a word.

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PS: Love?

Been watching ‘The Undateables’. For those of you who don’t know, the show it’s about people living with challenging conditions who are often considered ‘undateable’ – this series meets a few and follows their attempts to find love.

It’s a great show to see what dates would be like without the social expectations of ‘playing hard to get’, ‘saying the right thing’, ‘not being too keen’, rating people from 1-10. Dates are fun, they’re honest and the people on the show don’t play games. They are looking for love, companionship and happiness in it’s purest form. They’re not scared to say ‘i like you’, they’re not under pressure to look, sound or act perfect – they are real. The show aims to explore a side of dating that most people don’t even consider. When you see a person with Downs Syndrome, Tourettes, Autism, Aspergers etc the first thing you feel is pity, sympathy, maybe a bit uncomfortable because they are ‘different’. But who defines ‘different’ other than yourself?

Open up your world.

Everyone is looking for a companion – whether its a man, woman, friend, partner. We look for intimacy because love or affection at its purest is loving yourself first – which then enables you to love, care about another the way people are meant to be loved; completely. Without stereotypes, without social expectations, without games.

love‘Challenging conditions’ can mean anything. What makes a disability challenging, more than any other factor, is the way it is perceived. Autism is perceived as difficult, unsociable, untamable; and at its worst that is sadly the truth. But what makes it get to its worst is the way it it’s treated by society. Why do people with disabilities have to be boxed up and labelled ‘undateable’? Why do we have separate dating sites or agencies? Yes, its difficult, and if you don’t grow up with it or around it it can be daunting. But don’t you think that if education regarding disabilities and their challenges was available at school we would all be more accepting to dating or befriending the ‘undateables’? Or even better, wouldn’t it mean that people with disabilities would not find it challenging to find companionship?

When living with Autism, love is something that you never think your kid will miss; because you love them so unconditionally. But then you’re driving and he sees a girl walking down the street and he waves at her; it’s so unexpected, it’s so out of character. Mum and I laughed so loud when Chris did that one time. However, it reminds you that love – that feeling that we all need, seek, treasure – is in all of us. Whether we can express it or not, we want love in our lives. Everyone who has Autism in their life has thought about how their kid might never have that feeling, might never find someone to love, live with and have a family with. It hurts. It’s a feeling that you wouldn’t wish on anyone.

That’s why we raise awareness. Not for likes, not for views. We do it for the future, we do it for the chance to find love. Whether love comes in the form of acceptance or in the form of romance we seek it, we need it for our children.

Can you imagine your life without the possibility of love? Learn about Autism – love it.

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2014 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog.

Crunchy numbersFeatured image

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,600 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 27 trips to carry that many people.

There were 77 pictures uploaded; that’s about a picture per week.

The busiest day of the year was September 30th with 65 views. The most popular post that day was Mr Moustache.

Posting Patterns

884456_1403665136540932_166050827_oAttractions in 2014

How did they find us?/home/wpcom/public_html/wp-content/blogs.dir/46b/55851256/files/2014/12/img_5885.jpg

The top referring sites in 2014 were:

facebook.com

twitter.com

linkedin.com

flipboard.com

countries

Happy new year all, make it count.

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University of Kent: Imagining Autism

Imagining Autism is a research project conducted at the University of Kent using a range of environments and stimuli and evaluating their encounters with such various interactions (ie lighting, sound, physical action and puppetry).

Sensory Integration Therapy: 

It has been found that people with Autism  have sensory difficulties. I know I’ve used this before but here’s a bit more about it. Again, not all autistic people have this difficulty because (say it with me) no two people on the spectrum are the same.

This sensitivity can be either over- or under-responsive to sensory stimuli or the ability to integrate the senses. It can cause extreme reactions (tantrums, hitting, banging of hands, legs, head) or it can be completely tuned out. So, for example, a sound is perceived differently by people affected by autism, it can be extremely disruptive to them and cause them to act out – because their sensors are overloaded. Another example is taste. Like I’ve said before, it is/used to be a ritual trying to get Chris to try food. He tries it, smells it, stares at it before finally deciding to eat it or throw it as far away as possible. These can also be examples of under-responsive behaviour. Where they don’t react to sounds or noise, which is also the direct cause for parents testing their ability to hear first before anything else. There’s are people on the spectrum that have no appetite for food. If it is not presented to them they wont ask for it, taste isn’t one of the senses that are developed and therefore any food is mundane. When taste is hypo its referred to as ‘pica’ and could also mean that they eat anything – soil, grass, play-dough – because it makes no difference.

SI therapy is similar to the Kent project in that it assesses the persons sensory capacity and it looks for ways to enhance or control it. In this case they looked at a series of sensory environments like outer space, under the sea and the Arctic through drama and performance based activities.

There’s no such thing as a lack of information on Autism. There is a general ‘meh’ attitude towards it though and I’m proud to be working for an institution that dedicates resources to such research.