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Under the Sea

18618642_10155212899245030_1725112754_oWhen visiting friends and family while Chris was growing up my parents needed a distraction; that was either food, or Disney. My dad had friends who worked for a museum in Larnaca and we used to visit them often and eat yummy food. They had a little girl who owned ‘Magic English’ cassettes. For those of you who don’t know, they were an aid to learning English by using Disney characters and movies. He took one look at the opening theme song and that was it: obsession acquired. (Episodes here) I know that my family is probably reading this and remembering the theme song in their heads right now. ‘Magic English, Magic English, have fun with Disney everyday‘.

Naturally, we had ALL OF THEM.

When I was growing up, I was lucky enough to learn both Greek and English and so growing up bilingual. When Chris started speech therapy, he had his Magic English tapes. He watched them non-stop. He didn’t play along, or speak, or use the same words but he paid attention. So, for example, when he saw Flounder he knew he was a fish, when he saw Mickey he knew who that was, what he was doing and why. He just couldn’t express it. You see, the problem with the world today is that we value spoken word over unspoken. We have been programmed to believe that someone who doesn’t ‘like’ your picture on social media thinks you’re ugly. Someone who doesn’t share their feelings is up to no good or doesn’t care. We stopped reading between the lines and somewhere between those lines is my brother.

There is one scene that I remember most of all. It’s using the Little Mermaid, introducing all the characters and ‘Under the Sea’ is playing. Sebastian is singing away, being all Sebastian about life under the sea, I think it was part of the Friends learning cassette. I remember him smiling, dancing, and enjoying that scene. I remember how much of a teenager I was thinking this was silly because it was so basic. I remember it now, and I wish I was back there pushing him to repeat words, to learn them in English, dancing with him and just enjoying his happiness. Hormones are such nasty things. (Magic English – Under the Sea). Before Aladdin and the Lion King, Chris was obsessed with Pinnocchio, the little boy who wished to be real. He loved it when Pinnocchio and Jiminy were under the sea meeting random fish and trying to find Geppetto; and he would hide when the whale was on screen. That scene is also in the cassettes.

Those cassettes were a big part of our childhood and yet another part we owe to Disney.

He loves anything that has to do with water or the sea. You may remember that it was during a Sandy Holiday that we first thought of autism and how he loves swimming on his own. Aquatic treatment is also one of the alternative therapies I mentioned earlier on: We’ve found that water provides a safe and supported environment, which not only supports Chris, but also provides him with hydrostatic pressure that surrounds his body in the water. This pressure actually soothes and calms him, providing him with the necessary sensory input he craves.

What awoke this memory you wonder? Or maybe you don’t but you’ll find out anyway. The Scarborough Sea Life centre introduced an autism-friendly morning last Saturday (13th May). The centre will opened an hour early for an “Autism friendly session”, “with an accessible quiet area, considerate lighting, reduced sound and exclusive use to help families enjoy the aquarium experience in a relaxed and understanding setting.”

If you are in the UK: Max Card is a card you can apply for with your local city council if you are a family with additional needs, not just autism. The scheme is designed to help families save money on great days out at castles, zoos, bowling alleys and more. With local, national and international businesses becoming more autism aware this card might be used more than you think! Autism-Friendly events are expected throughout Merlin Entertainments attractions including Alton Towers and other Sea Life centres in the upcoming months to make sure all children in the UK have the chance at experiencing a magical day out. For more information and booking details are online at www.mymaxcard.co.uk/venues/autism-friendly-day .

I encourage you to use the Magic English aids (^they are all on YouTube, link above^) whether your child is in speech therapy yet or not. Its an entertaining way to spend the afternoon and you may not see immediate results but it does make a difference.

Remember, just because you can’t see progress, doesn’t mean it’s not happening.

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Projects for Autism – Swimming

Aquatic Therapy consists of treatments and exercises performed in water for relaxation, fitness, physical rehabilitation, and other therapeutic benefit. 

893047_1403665643207548_1079878709_oLaurie Jake, “Autism and the Role of Aquatic Therapy in Recreational Therapy Treatment Services” – “This pressure actually soothes and calms the children, providing the necessary sensory input they crave.”

An article by Hear Our Voices states that “a majority of clinicians reported a substantial increase in tolerating touch following aquatic therapy.”

Imagine a world where you did not see, hear, smell, feel and taste the way everyone else does; a world where lights and sounds bombard your senses.

This is often the world of Autism; it involves many cognitive consequences including; problems with verbal communication,  concepts and explanations, literal understanding, delayed processing to name a few. Children with Autism often focus on detail, hey have trouble understanding causes and effects and are usually not able to understand the concept of time causing confusion when you have to deal with their organisational and sequencing demands. We are always looking for ways to keep them moving, not fixated on one thing for days, we try to incorporate as much as we can in their routine, making it flexible and recreational. 

Recreational therapy can play a significant role in enhancing the quality of life and productivity of a child with Autism. 

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Among the vast range of interventions is one that we believe to be unique and very successful; aquatic therapy. Water activities provide autistic children with coordination and tactile input. As I’ve mentioned before, children with Autism have sensory difficulties, and are very easily distracted by these difficulties, whether it be because of pain, annoyance or fascination. There is an over or under reaction to stimuli in the environment they live in and have very strong reactions to certain textures, tastes, smells. We’ve found that water provides a safe and supported environment, which not only supports Chris, but also provides him with hydrostatic pressure that surrounds his body in the water. This pressure actually soothes and calms him, providing him with the necessary sensory input he craves. Aquatic activities are a fun and enjoyable experience that has many physical, psycho social, cognitive, and recreational advantages. Water is the ideal medium in which to exercise or rehabilitate the body; it’s an environment that reduces body weight by 90%, decreasing stress or impact on the body; and these are benefits for everyone!

For children with Autism aquatic therapy can be a play-based movement, improving range of motion, helping to facilitate neurodevelopmental growth, improved body awareness, increased balance, sensory integration, mobility skills and most importantly, having fun. The Aquatic Therapy and Rehabilitation Institute defines Aquatic Therapy as “The use of water and specifically designed activity by qualified personnel to aid in the restoration, extension, maintenance and quality of function for persons with acute, transient, or chronic disabilities, syndromes or diseases“. 

200273_6950080029_9968_nWith Chris, we found that the water (pool or beach) provides a safe environment for him; it feeds into his sensory demands and he is much more tolerating to touch. Another positive is that the energy required to swim around, move or the activities in the water helps with hyperactivity; which means that he is more cooperative, and has better concentration. Swimming can also help with developing social skills. Everyone makes a friend at a pool or a beach, whether is a ball gone astray or just curiosity. The point is that it puts Chris in a position where he is calm and therefore open to interaction. Now, if you use swimming as a therapy, which is highly recommended during the earlier years of development, social skills can be engaged in during group aquatic therapy sessions with specific skills targeted by a trained professional. Group sessions mean, not only having to work with the therapist, but with group mates; sharing toys and equipment, experience cooperation, initiating/maintaining eye contact as well as increased self-confidence promotes self-esteem, preparing them to successfully engage in interpersonal relations. 

Parents, it may be scary thinking about it due to the significant safety risks when in the water; lack of response to verbal commands, and their distracted nature can be a big worry.   But this is why it is important to incorporate swimming in their flexible routine from a young age. Leaving aside the numerous and obvious advantages, it is essential for them to be    comfortable around water, alert and educated about the dos and don’t s. Exposing children with autism to aquatic therapy can evolve their swimming skills and their understanding  of safety around water.

 Living with Autism is a journey. We never stop learning, there’s always something you can do. So be creative, be brave, swim.