Autism and Perseverance

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As I’m currently attempting to add dressmaking to my list of skills (which is not coming as easily as I thought it would!), this week I’d like to discuss the importance of perseverance when it comes to autism.

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As the saying goes, “Rome wasn’t built in a day“, so too the same holds for learning new skills and autism. Many autists struggle with learning difficulties (I will discuss this in greater detail at a later stage) which can be challenging when trying to learn social or motor skills and develop coping mechanisms.

But just because things don’t come as naturally to an autist as they do to their neurotypical peers, doesn’t mean that they won’t.

Perhaps some of the most frustrating challenges I’ve faced in my life have come from my efforts to learn new motor skills such as riding a bike, learning to knit, learning to drive etc. Attempting to formulate the necessary neural pathways to forever commit these skills to memory was beyond frustrating! Book-based learning I can handle, but ask me to use my hands and it’s an entirely different kettle of fish!

Knitting was a particular struggle- I would sit and watch my peers making headbands and knitting scarves whilst I sat tangled in a ball of wool. Frustrating as this was however, with a LOT of practice, (and several litres of blood sweat and tears) , before long you couldn’t keep the needles out of my hands, and even today I regularly commit to large knitting projects in my spare time.

Similarly, perseverance was key to developing my baking skills. When I first began to use fondant, I was HOPELESS- I could never get it to go smooth, it was always full of holes, it was too dry, or too wet, it never seemed to go right! So bad was I in fact that one of my friends told me that an early creation of mine was so terrifying that it belonged in a horror film πŸ˜› :

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Needless to say I have not been able to attempt a canine cake since πŸ˜›

BUT- I did get the hang of cake decorating eventually as you can see in one of my most recent (and most complex) creations for my Granny’s 90th birthday:

When you get frustrated trying to learn new things like this, it can be all too easy to throw in the towel (God knows I’ve wanted to smash my sewing machine to bits lately after sewing yet another wonky line! πŸ˜› ), but you can’t let your brain get the better of you. Granted it isn’t always as easy to forge new neural pathways and learn new skills as for neurotypicals, but it doesn’t mean that they cannot be formed. Like digging trenches through soil or stone- a stone trench will take longer, but the result will be the same.

Just focus on the three P’s- patience, practice, persistence!

It will take time, but persevere and you’ll get there in the end πŸ™‚

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Have a good weekend Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Public Transport

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Following a recent trip to the chaotic city of London I decided that this week I would explore autism and public transport.

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Navigating public transport in a busy city can be challenging for the best of us, however for autists, this can be completely overwhelming. The throngs of human traffic, strangers accidentally touching/sitting next to you, the stress of late buses/trains, the smells, the noise (the screeching of the brakes on the London underground was one of my least favourite parts of my trip!)- it can be a lot for the autistic brain to take.

As scary as public transport can be however, an autist can’t always avoid using it (especially if you struggle with getting the hang of driving/or prefer not to deal with the stress of driving to/and or around busy cities).

So here are my top tips for navigating public transport:

Plan ahead– sounds obvious, but if you’re prone to panicking (as I often do) don’t wing it! Check out your travel options, look at the timetables, allow enough time for delays with your service (if you have a time sensitive engagement), make a backup plan- Google Maps is particularly useful to show you the public transport options if you give them your start and endpoints. You’ll be a lot calmer and far less overwhelmed if you know all of your options, especially if you’re travelling round a busy tourist city with lots of intersecting travel lines.

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Pre-book tickets– if you’re concerned about getting a seat on a service (or getting the right seat), if the service allows, you should pre-book. This can guarantee you your seat, or for some bus services will at least entitle you to priority boarding at a busy bus stop and cut out a lot of stress.

Aim for a single seat– if you’re anything like me and don’t like sitting next to people when you’re travelling alone (have had far too many unpleasant experiences sitting next to people who make me uncomfortable/smell funny/take up so much space that you’re squished against the window :P), keep an eye out for an individual seat. There are usually a couple of these on buses nowadays, you can even book ahead for a single seat in some countries such as Spain. Failing that, having a lot of stuff on the seat next to you can help as (in Ireland anyway) people are less likely to bother you when you have lot’s of stuff to move- unless it’s one of the few seats left, then sadly there’s not a lot one can do.

Keep earplugs near at hand– ah the trusty earplug, often an autists best friend! Why not keep a pair in your pocket/wallet/handbag for when the noise threshold begins to rise, this could be particularly useful for underground services where the sounds are amplified by the confined space.

Make use of smart phone apps– Most travel companies have their own apps with live information about their services and timetables all at the touch of a button. This can be a great tool to help you to keep track of your service/travel options options and set your mind at ease.

Get a travel smart card– to avoid panicking about the need for exact change/fumbling with coins, if you regularly travel round a city you should investigate smart cards; all you need do is top it up, tap and go! πŸ™‚

Always factor plenty of time– perhaps one of the most stressful parts of navigating public transport is when you’re under pressure for time. To lighten the load, make sure to leave plenty of time ahead of your journey- be sure to factor in events around your location which could cause traffic disruptions (such as marathons, concerts, holiday shopping or if you’re travelling though rural Ireland, the likelihood of being held up by farm machinery! πŸ˜‚), the weather, general service delays, road works etc.

There we have it dear Earthlings, I hope you enjoyed this post! πŸ˜€ Public transport can be daunting for an autist, but with proper planning and a bit of practice, it won’t be scary for long πŸ™‚

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Aoife

Autism and Going Away to College

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

This week I’m going to to talk about perhaps one of the biggest challenges for a teenage autist- going away to college.

Ah college, some of the best years of your life- but years that can be difficult to adjust to for people on the spectrum. Granted, going away to college is a huge step for anyone, but considering an autists’ difficulty with change the stress can be tenfold. Living away from home, living with new people, finding your way around campus, the lack of routine, social expectations etc.- it can be completely overwhelming!

When I think about preparing for college, it always put’s me in mind of this Blink-182 song:

I haven’t been this scared in a long time, and I’m so unprepared…

This is exactly how it felt for me when I went away to college- sure, I was sick of school and excited to learn new things, but it is still one hell of a transition! I definitely cried a LOT those first few days/weeks settling in.

But never fear- here are some tips that I found helpful for starting out in college:

  • Register with the university disability service– If you think you need a little extra support when starting out, don’t be afraid to ask. Even if you don’t currently need any of the disability support services the college offers, it’s always good to have the safety net there when academic problems related to autism arise
  • Join a club/society– I know it can be really scary and overwhelming at first, but you won’t regret it! There’s loads of societies to choose from, and surely one that will suit your interests- they even have Harry Potter societies and Quidditch teams in colleges now (which sadly didn’t come to my university until after I had graduated πŸ˜₯ )Β  It’s a great way to meet like minded people, make new friends and give you a break from the books πŸ™‚ And if there isn’t a society that you like, why not set one up?
  • Get to lectures early– This is one that could really have helped me out during my first few weeks in college (but sadly I tend to me a tumble out of bed, last-minuter in the mornings). Give yourself plenty of time to get to the right room/building; universities aren’t always designed well and can be an absolute maze to navigate (which won’t help your stress levels). But more importantly, this can help you to keep an eye out for people you know. In my first month in college, sitting in a lecture hall with 300+ science students, I found it very difficult to get to know people, and when I did get chatting, I found it even harder to physically find the same person to chat to a second time among the masses. In getting to class early, you can pick a prime seat to watch out for familiar faces so you can flag them down to sit with you
  • Get a head start on your assignments– An obvious one I know, but a critical one if you tend to be a last minuter. College life is stressful enough coursework aside; don’t risk needlessly stressing yourself out and melting down

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  • Invest in scented candles/air fresheners– If you’re anything like me, the smell of some unfamiliar dishes cooked by your roommates can turn your stomach! Find a scent that you’re comfortable with or something that reminds you of home when offending odors threaten your senses. But make sure you test it out before you buy it- some odors can be even worse than the offending stimulus (I had a bout of nausea from a Christmas Yankee Candle last year- although that could have been a side effect of the antibiotics I was taking! πŸ˜› )
  • Buy a decent pair of earplugs/noise cancelling headphones– the night time activities of the average student can often impact sensitive ears (I went through a few weeks of insomnia in my first year due to late night partying, fire alarms and drunken doorbell ringing), so plan ahead to ensure you get your full nights sleep
  • Google, Google Google– When navigating a new city, Google is your best friend, Google Maps, Google Street View, Google everything! When you’re not feeling confident about your directions, where to find shops, college facilities, timetables for public transport etc., pull out your smart phone and within a few clicks you’ll have everything you need. I would not have gotten through college without Google Street View. It really helped to put my mind at ease when travelling to unfamiliar parts of the city/university and kept me from getting overwhelmed
  • Make use of video chats– Video chatting has become far more accessible than it was when I started out in college, but nevertheless having the comfort of Skyping my family every evening really helped me to settle in during my first year (after that I rarely needed this crutch). Seeing my sisters in the familiar office at the Desktop after they came home from school every day really helped the transition from my old routines to my new college life

Going away to college can be a very scary experience, but try not to stress it- everyone finds it tough at first, but before long you’ll wonder why you ever resisted this change πŸ™‚

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Hope you enjoyed this post dearest Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Have a great weekend!

Aoife

Autism Assistance/Service Dogs

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week we’re taking a cuteness break to take a look at autism assistance dogs!

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❀

Just look at him!!! 😍

Sooo cute- but, they also provide a very important service to children, and adults, with autism (some days I wish I could justify getting one to have an official reason to always have a dog around! πŸ˜‚).

To state the obvious, an autism assistance dog is a service dog that has been trained to help autists to navigate the world and allow them to gain some independence. Some service dogs have been trained to keep their human from leaving the house unattended, Β alert children/adults with autism of dangerous situations, prevent self injurious behaviours and even induce calm by applying pressure to the foot or lap of their charge!

So smart!! 😍

Ever since the first autism assistance dog was trained 21 years ago back in 1997, these cuddly canines have made a world of difference to the lives of their owners.

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But what does the research have to say about these benefits?

There is limited research data to show the specific/scientific impact of service dogs as of yet, however the glowing reports from assistance dog owners speaks for itself.

As I discussed in a previous post, some studies have shown that the social skills of autists who live with an animal are much greater than those who do not have a pet as they act as β€œsocial lubricants”.Β Studies have also shown that animals in fact can have a noticeable biological calming effect on people with autism as stroking animals has demonstrated a measurable drop in anxiety levels! So just by being there, autism assistance dogs are having a huge impact to the mental and social wellbeing of their human.

These dogs do however cost around €15,000 to raise over two years, so if you’re thinking about applying for one, really consider yours/your childs needs first as there are many out there who could really benefit from their assistance.

Hope you enjoyed this post Earthlings! πŸ˜€ I do love it when I get an opportunity to chat about dogs! ❀

Okay- maybe just one more cute pic πŸ˜‰Β πŸ˜

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Have a good weekend everyone! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Robots

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Today I’d like to briefly discuss a somewhat unusual topic- robots and autism.

Yes, I know what you’re all thinking, Aoife has finally lost it- but just before you call in the men in the white coats, let me tell you about the clinical benefits of using robots for children with autism! πŸ™‚

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Recent technological advances in the field of robotics offer great possibilities in the treatment of autism. As interactive robots are increasingly becoming more human like, this technology can be used clinically to help teach social skills to children with autism.

Whilst the research into the therapeutic benefits of robots is in it’s infancy, several schools across the globe have begun to use social robots reporting very positive results πŸ™‚

So how do these robots work?

The robots engage autists with a specially tailored curriculum. For example, the robot makes a sad face or starts laughing and the child has to say what the robot is feeling, or when interacting with the robot if they do something that could hurt a real person, the robot will cry out so that the child can learn that thisΒ  behaviour is not appropriate.

It’s really cool! πŸ˜€

You can check out Milo below- one of the many models of social robots helping kids with autism worldwide (try not to letΒ  him creep you out though, Kaspar the robot is way freakier….might have further to go in making these robots more approachable in my opinion 😬).

The benefits of using this technology currently include improved:

  • Engagement
  • Eye contact
  • Vocabulary
  • Attention
  • Self-motivation and regulation
  • Emotional recognition and understanding, and
  • Improvements in appropriate social behaviour

And all of this within just 1-4 months of using a robot like Milo! 😲

All in all the technology looks really promising in the treatment of autism, even if a few tweaks may be needed to improve the appearance of these robots πŸ™‚ πŸ˜›

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Aoife

 

Autistic Burnout

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from previous posts about shutdowns and meltdowns, today I’d like to discuss the “autistic burnout”.

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So what exactly is that when it’s at home?

Autistic burnout (also known as “autistic regression”) happens when an autist has maxed out their capacity to maskΒ and to socially cope following a period of prolonged stress (such as major change, attempting to be “normal”, poor self care etc.). This triggers a shutdown like state where the autist can become “more autistic” and is often unable to utilize the skills they have learned to cope- the mind is so exhausted that the autist no longer has to energy to try to overcome their difficulties.

Some people have even reported that these skills did not come back at all after recovering from a severe burnout- hence the name autistic regression.

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From a scientific perspective, the autistic burnout has not been explored as of yet on a medical level, however, there is much discussion of burnout within the autistic community.

Thankfully I have not really experienced such a full on burnout, but I have circled the drain a few times. When you’re particularly under pressure from doing too many things at once, sleep deprived, dehydrated, hungry etc., that’s when the mask starts to slip. In times like these I have felt much more symptomatic than normal, causing me to snap or say inappropriate things and act more eccentrically than I ordinarily would. It’s as if a part of your brain switches off to keep from overloading- and that part seems to be the one that controls our cloaking device, like the faulty invisibility booster on Arthur Weasleys flying Ford Anglia!

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So how can burnouts be avoided?

Much in the same way as meltdowns and shutdowns πŸ™‚

As I have discussed in a number of previous posts, the key things to remember are:

  • Self Care– Stay hydrated, get plenty of snacks, get lot’s of sleep etc.
  • Utilize stress busters– Find respite in hobbies, in exercise, specialist interests or relieve stress through stimming
  • Take a break– If a situation is taking it’s toll, take a step back. Leave the room, take a holiday (if work related) or go outside for a walk; time in solitude to decompress and reset can be particularly helpful πŸ™‚

Here’s a useful chart from the Autistic Women’s Network summarizing autistic burnout:

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Remember to make time for you this weekend πŸ˜‰

Aoife

Autism and Art

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to take a quick look at a more creative side of the spectrum- the benefits of art therapy πŸ™‚

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Too often we focus on the logic driven mathematical and scientific skills that autists often possess (*cough* ‘Rain Man‘), failing to see the array of creativity that exists within the spectrum. In fact, research suggests that there appears to be a link between milder/higher functioning forms of autism and artistic creativity- with many citingΒ Andy WarholΒ (who as mentioned in a previous post (celebrities with autism) is thought by several experts to have had Asperger’s Syndrome) as a prime example. You can read about some of his bizzare traits here:Β  https://www.theguardian.com/uk/1999/mar/14/vanessathorpe.theobserver

Personally, I love all things creative- IΒ  paint, I draw, I sculpt, I knit, decorate cakes and as you all know, I write. Many a weekend has been spent consumed by an art project over the years πŸ™‚

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In recent years, experts have begun to target creativity in autists by exploring the potential benefits of art therapy.

So what exactly is art therapy and how might it help?

With a key focus on sensory stimulation, art therapy is specifically designed with the aim of addressing deficits and problem behaviours, building life skills, promoting healthy self expression, communication and to help to instill calm.Β  As of yet, there is little research into art therapy, however, currently available evidence has shown that it promotes mental and emotional growth for autists through art making.

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In my experience, the calming effect of art can be quite powerful. As I’ve previously discussed, I often find it hard to switch off my brain at times. However, I have found sculpture to be a powerful way to quieten my mind in the past. I once spent an hour at Art Society in college making a sculpture of dolphins, realizing at the end that I had not thought about anything other than the movement of my hands for the entire duration! 😲 The physical effort can take up a surprising amount of your thought capacity! Granted, the moisture of the clay and drying sensation against the skin may not be great for some autists on a sensory level- but in exposing yourself to new smells and textures through a fun activity, this can greatly help to reduce your tolerance for unpleasant stimuli! πŸ˜€

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Knitting can also be quite useful to calm the mind, however, I found that the more I improved, the more room I had in my mind for thought- but hey, it’s still fun, and not as boring as it sounds (my approach should be renamed “extreme” knitting, I have in fact injured myself from my exertions and needed physio in the past… πŸ˜›Β πŸ˜‚)!

All in all, art therapy offers us a unique way to help improve autistic behaviours by channeling them into something constructive, creative and above all fun πŸ™‚

Enjoy the weekend Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Travel

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Following a recent trip to Amsterdam a very wise friend suggested that I discuss the subject of autism and travel in this weeks blog πŸ™‚

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We all love nothing more than a nice trip away for a new adventure or some much needed R and R. For autists however, travelling overseas, (like life in general πŸ˜› ), can be very stressful.

The crowds, the smells, lack of sleep, ear popping, travel sickness, the stress of beeping going through airport security knowing that random people may invade your personal space- it’s a lot to process!

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So how might one navigate some of these difficulties?

  • Pack plenty of snacks– one of the trickiest aspects of travel I find is to find “Aoife friendly” food. If you’re travelling long hours without something decent in your stomach, it can be very difficult to stay sane. Eating healthier snacks may also help you avoid some travel sickness.Β Aoife’s Top Tip– the discovery of Belvita Breakfast Biscuits has made my life sooooo much easier!
  • Sleep/Caffeine– I know it’s not the easiest of tasks, but try to get as much sleep as possible before/during a flight. Nothing frays my temper quicker than sleep deprivation. Caffeine is also useful to help get you through the slumps- or Diet Coke if you like me have sensory issues with hot drinks πŸ™‚
  • Vigilance with metal– To avoid any unexpected pat downs, be sure to double check your pockets before security (you wouldn’t believe the things security have found in my granddad’s pockets- drill-bits to name but one memorable example! πŸ˜› ). Be sure to also double check your hair clips and jewelry- real metals such as silver and gold won’t set the alarm off πŸ™‚
  • Neck pillows- there’s a lot to be said for a good neck pillow on a flight! These can really help to make an autist more comfortable in the cramped confinings of a plane
  • Noise Cancelling Headphones/earplugs– These can be quite useful to help decrease the volume of your surroundings, and can also help to decrease the pressure round your ears in my experience. However, on my flight this week I learned that the use of large headphones is now forbidden for take off and landing- so you may need to check this out with your airline

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In addition to this, airports are beginning to realize the importance of creating an autism friendly environment. Shannon Airport here in Ireland for example has established Europe’s first airport sensory room in the departures lounge. You can check it out here:Β http://www.shannonairport.ie/gns/passengers/prepare/autismandspecialneeds.aspx

Shannon airport have also implemented a customer care program for autists where special caps and wristbands are assigned so that airport staff can readily recognize and help an autist appropriately.

It’s only a matter of time before other international airports begin to follow suit πŸ™‚

Happy travelling Earthlings! πŸ˜€

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Aoife

Autism and the Dentist

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’m going to discuss an important issue for many people on the spectrum- going to the dentist.

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I know- no one ever really enjoys going to the dentist (except maybe Bill Murray in ‘Little Shop of Horrors‘! πŸ˜› ), but for autists in particular, visits to the dentist can be quite traumatic. For many, the invasion of space can be an issue, for others, a trip to the dentist can aggravate sensory sensitivities (the sensation of brushing, the taste of toothpaste, the smell of latex gloves etc).

Thankfully I have never had any major issues with going to the dentist (aside from one unpleasant incident where the anesthetic didn’t take and I felt the drill hit a nerve…), nevertheless it wouldn’t be one of my favourite activities. The high pitched squeal of the tools, the scraping sensation against my teeth, the needles (shudder!)- it’s not the most pleasant of experiences inside my head! There’s a lot of fist clenching! πŸ˜›

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So how might we navigate an autists difficulties at the dentist?

Here are just a few tips and tricks that might benefit parents, dentists and autists alike:

  • Inquire if your dentist is autism friendly– Have they had autistic patients before? Do they have any special tools or techniques to make the visit more comfortable? Do they take any sensory interventions such as dimming the lights, providing sunglasses or minimizing any loud noises that may startle the child?
  • Prepare for a dental visit– Help to desensitize an autist to the experience by story-boarding a trip to the dentist with them so that they know what to expect. When it comes to anxiety, the fear of the unknown is often greater than the reality of the experience. Why not inquire if your dentist will allow you to visit the surgery/send pictures to desensitize your child to the environment and meet the staff before coming in for the real thing? πŸ™‚
  • Wear noise cancelling headphones– whilst this may not be as effective as in other situations given that the tools are operating so close to the ears, nevertheless this may help to take the edge off any noise related issues.
  • Weighted blanket– A weighted blanket sitting on your lap could be quite beneficial in calming an autist. As I’ve discussed previously, the deep pressure stimulation can calm the mind and put the autist at ease. X-ray jackets can also be used to substitute for a weighted blanket. Comforters such as soft toys or other sensory items that autists use to ‘stim‘ can also be useful to help put them at ease.
  • Communication is key– as I’ve said above, the unknown is often one of the more unsettling aspects of a dental visit for an autist. Talk them through each step, show them what you are planning to do to their teeth, allow them to see and feel the tools- testing a motion on the hand can be useful to desensitize an autist prior to the oral exam.
  • Rewards and Bribery– what child doesn’t love a good bribe to motivate them to get through their dental appointment?! There’s a lot to be said for the power and promise of a treat (I may have even bribed myself with a trip to the cinema to motivate me to get this post finished on time! πŸ˜‚)
  • Sedation– though not the best of options, this can sometimes be the only way for particularly anxious autists or those with gagging issues to get through a visit to the dentist.

I’ve also found this useful video about visiting the dentist if you want to check it out:

You can also find more information in the following link:

https://www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/documents/dentalguide.pdf

So there we have it Earthlings! I hope you’ve found this post useful πŸ™‚

Dental care isn’t always the easiest for an autist, but remember, prevention is always best- so get try to find a toothpaste that you like, pick the right toothbrush (soft bristles can be helpful) and take care of those pearly whites! πŸ™‚

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Aoife

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