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Snowman

My Christos went to the mountains.

He didn’t play, or feel it, or build a snowman. He posed for this picture and sat eating his favourite Lays Salt & Vinegar crisps and his favourite Lipton Lemon Iced Tea.

If he could talk, he would tell his mum that he is having a great time. That he is grateful she takes him on day trips and spends her day making this daily/weekly/monthly schedules. He would say how happy he is for letting him sit in the front seat and take complete control of the radio, and say sorry for shouting at her when she tries to sing to her favourite songs or tries to turn it down; it’s just how it sounds. Instead, he gives her a big bear hug, and dances by shaking his head, waving his hands and trying to sing.

The mountain air, the white scenery was beautiful and Christos decided to enjoy it in his own way. Not by running around in the snow and ruining it. It fit perfectly with his Car Routine certain voices, certain notes, a certain volume pleases his sensory overload. Instead of hearing the rushing of cars on the highway, the nooks and cracks of the car, conversations he cannot take part in, he prefers to have his songs on loud and enjoy them that way.

For that short time he hears one thing, he sees only one thing.

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A walk

Chris is in the middle of his ‘Dad Routine‘, he loves walks by the sea, on a sunny day, with daddy.

If he could talk, he would tell his dad that he is having a great time; instead, he shows him with the shaking of his head, and waving of his hands, the excited laugh and his hugs. The fresh air, the sounds, it all helps with sensory overload and sensory sensitivity for your kids; if they are deprived the stimuli of a walk and the sea are endless. If they are overloaded, like Christos, the exercise helps burn off energy, it relaxes the mind and makes him smile. He finds it easier to express his state of mind, his happiness and excitement.

If he could talk he would tell his dad how exciting it is to take that walk – from our house, down that long road, past all the places he knows so well, to the roundabout, past the Aquarium, towards the small church and down to the beach.  The hard pavement turns into dirt, an uneven walk through the nature, with sounds changing from car engines to the rustling of the tree leaves, the colours come alive, the stones, the sand lead to this place. He would explain to his dad how soothing the breeze is to his sensitive, overloaded skin and how the salty smell of the sea has become something that he associates with home. It leads to this place, a scenery of neverending blue pleases his sight, rests his tires eyes which are overloaded every day. The constant, steady movement of the water sends off a vibe that relaxes his mind, and the resounding sound blocks out all the unnecessary sounds from his sensitive ears. For that short time he hears one thing, he sees only one thing.

Happy Sunday.

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The [A] Word: [U]nanswered

What causes Autism? We don’t know but there are theories; genes, nature & nurture, too many ‘connections’ overloading the brain.

What is the cure? We don’t know but there are educational and habilitative treatments.

Is it genetic? Which genes? We don’t know but genes are being researched and discovered almost daily that are associated with Autism; this will allow for more in-depth analysis, prenatal testing and a better understanding of how the autistic brain develops and differs from the typical one.

Autism has increased significantly in the past decades, the question is: why? We don’t know but there are theories. For example, something in the environment that triggers autism in a susceptible child. But what? We have the immunizations and thimerosal theories, but evidence and research is strongly against these being the cause. An infection of some sort? Some sort of environment pollutant? Something in the diet? Allergies? We don’t know.

Is autism really on the rise? We don’t know but some believe that can now assess it with more accuracy and proportionately to the increased awareness of autism and the means to diagnose it more readily and at a younger age. Additionally, high-functioning Autism wasn’t diagnosed until recently, which has added to the numbers. However, we don’t have substantive evidence of this theory – we don’t know.

17ea9f8964df5913aadceadbfcc6a23aWhat is the best educational program for an autistic child? We don’t know but because it is a spectrum disorder some can find solace in the fact that an autistic child might receive ABA therapy or cognitive therapy or speech therapy or a combination of two or more alternative therapies depending on what works best for his/her own individual needs. The wide range of alternative therapies discussed in Be creative – Alternative therapy and Projects for Autism – Swimming are more than worth trying.

How young do we need to start? How intense does it have to be? These questions have an even more frustrating answer than “We don’t know”, it becomes “It depends”; it depends on how old they are, it depends on their sensory sensitivity, it depends on their social abilities, it depends on their attention span, it depends on how much and how long you will dedicate to searching for what will work.

Where does being a “quirky child” end and the “autism spectrum” begin? This is my favourite question, it encompasses how little we actually know about Autism, how easily it can be shooed away. The answer is WE DON’T KNOW; and then comes the dilemma, which is dealt with in such a subjective way it is both infuriating and heart-breaking. If a child has some traits but not enough to seem fully autistic, is it better for them to carry the “Autism” label or is it preferable to be called a “weird kid” whose individuality is not defined by any label?; the other side of the coin is that without an Autism diagnosis the child will be deprived of the degree of special education services and the access to treatments available to cater (maybe) to his needs.

 

Autism is a puzzle so read, research, educate, make people aware until all the pieces fit; it’s all we have.

 

*For answers to different questions, tips and guidance look at 15 answers about Autism.

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Be creative – Alternative therapy

In the last post I spoke about Aquatic therapy, but there are some other creative therapies you can explore:

Autism and Horseback Riding: Horseback riding can be tricky, you’ll have to find a place near by first, and the people need to be professional, and have experience with autism; not necessarily trained but be aware of it. That aside, it’s a great sport for kids with autism. It has been clinically documented that just being around horses changes human brainwave patterns. We calm down and become more centred and focused when we are with horses, because horses are naturally empathetic. The Horse Boy Foundation – set up by a man who wrote a book about riding with his autistic son – is running a programme of summer therapy camps for autistic children and their families in Britain. Dr Nicola Martin, an autism expert at the LSE, said she thought anything that brought children and families together would have a positive effect. “It’s certainly not about healing or curing, because autism is for life, but being out in the countryside, close to nature, doing something enjoyable like interacting with horses, has got to help families come together.” When my mum tried to take Christos horseback riding he didn’t like it, so my mum ended going riding instead. I vaguely remember trying it out for him, it is a pleasant and beautiful experience. There is a special connection with animals because they can sense our intentions, so our kids find it easier to connect to them, they don’t need words. We had a dog for a couple of years, Christos rarely played with him, or walked with him but the night he went away Christos was inconsolable. It is a therapeutic activity – hippotherapy – and many autistic children excel at horsemanship. Read Horse Boy

901447_1403664539874325_322937616_oAutism and Track: For kids with autism, track and field may be an outlet. Running, jumping and any other activity becomes an outlet for their over-activeness. Chris is always running when my dad takes him on walks. Also, track events don’t require excessive verbal communication skills. It doesn’t have to be a track, it can be a field, it can be a walk; just give them the space to run and let loose. Their overloaded senses get relieved and if their senses are less developed the fresh air and the feel of running/jumping may become a stimuli. Once they are able to release that tension they will become more cooperative, or more likely to respond to verbal communications. For example, Christos became addicted to jumping on trampolines, so much so that my dad bought him a huge trampoline which we set up in my nan’s back yard. For years, he used to go to nan’s and just jump for hours. He was so happy during and after, you wouldn’t believe it unless you saw it. Some times he wanted company, some times he didn’t. My mum also had the park in his schedule, so that he can socialise and interact with other kids that did the same. He knew he only had an hour, and the person in charge was always very supportive and let him stay on for the whole time, he never protested when it was time to go; it was on his schedule, it was a rule that could not be broken!

Autism and Bowling: Even though it’s loud, bowling seems to be a sport many kids with autism enjoy. Perhaps it’s the repetition – bowl twice, sit down – or the satisfaction of seeing the pins come crashing down, or the feel of the ball/floor. Whatever the reasons, bowling is a great sport for social events that include kids on the autism spectrum and Christos enjoys it often on school trips.

Autism a861094_1403664296541016_347590982_ond Hiking: In contrast to bowling the peace and quiet of the natural world is a great stress reliever. This is something you will need to check with your kid. Are they sensory deprived or overloaded? This will prove to be a huge help for you when planning their activities. Hiking, or just walking in nature, or a beach – which can be an individual or group activity – is an easy way to get exercise and without intense social communication. Fishing is another sport that may be of interest. The sound of the breeze, birds, insects, water and leaves as well as the feel of walking on rock, sand etc can be soothing to their senses.

Autism and Biking: Teaching Christos how to ride a bike was probably quicker than it was teaching me how to ride a bike. Some kids are super coordinated, but for some it can be tough since balance may not come naturally. He enjoyed cycling very much, gave it up for a while or refused to try, and now he’s doing it again at school. This is another good point, don’t force sports or exercise on them. Be creative and find other ways of keeping them active. Cycling, skating, roller skates, can be a wonderful ways to enjoy the outdoors and keep them occupied.

 Autism and Just-for-Fun Sports: If they are willing to get involved in team sports; great! A good way to start is by playing with them just for fun. Whether it was basket ball, football, tennis, tossing the ball back and forth, or learning to skate, you’ll be building both physical and social skills if you do it together, bring in relatives, cousins neighbours slowly and see how they interact. During physical activity is a great time to introduce new things into their routine. In the long run, it’s experiences like shooting hoops with dad that will be the cornerstone of them making their school team.

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It’s not on them to be good at track, bowling, horseback riding, it’s up to you to find what’s best for them. With Autism, you can never give up, you have to keep trying new things. As no two children on the spectrum are the same, it can be a long process to find what’s best for your kid but when you do, it is so rewarding.

Learn, educate yourself about Autism. It’s not about you, it’s about them.
Check out this video on Sensory Sensitivity