Autism and Grief

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

As my family and I have recently experienced the loss of my dog Jasper (the vet found a large mass on his spleen and he had to be put to sleep πŸ˜₯ ), this week I’d like to talk about autism and grief.

jasper

Everyone deals with grief differently, it’s an individual experience. For autists however, as with many aspects of our lives, grief can be a lot harder to navigate. Emotional processing is at the core of the experience, and for an autist that struggles with emotional regulation, grief can be all the more overwhelming. Meltdowns, shutdowns, violent outbursts- we feel our emotions so much more intensely than neurotypicals that grief can truly bring us to our knees.

In my experience, grief doesn’t even have to be associated with death- grief for the loss of a friendship, a job, a prized toy can be just as tough to deal with. I’ve whiled away many an hour curled up in a ball grieving lost friendships or missed opportunities, especially where specialist interests are concerned (you wouldn’t believe how many times I’ve cried my eyes out over forgetting to press the record button on some Harry Potter TV special back in the days before high speed internet/catch up TV services!πŸ˜‚).

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Grief is never easy, but here are some of my top tips which I’ve found helpful when coping with grief:

Express your feelings– one of the worst things that I did after the death of my dog Oscar 9 years ago was to bottle it all up. I knew that he was dying with cancer 2 weeks before he was put to sleep, so logically I thought that I had to move on straight away. I’d had time to prepare so once he was gone, I felt like I was expected to go back to normal straight away. I felt like I had shed so many tears in his dying weeks that it wasn’t “socially acceptable” to mourn him any more. So I buried my tears and feelings and about a month later I imploded- I even snuck out of the house in the middle of the night to cry by his grave πŸ™ˆ Don’t be like me, lance that boil; don’t let it fester!

Take comfort in music– I know I often come back to this one, but for me music truly helps to process my emotions. I can’t always identify or verbalise how I’m feeling, but music often acts like some sort of mental key to help me get there.

Write it out- Again, I know I proffer this offering a lot, but like music, writing soothes the mind. If you can put words to what you’re feeling at all, it will really help you to make sense of your grief, and help you to move forwards.

Let your tears fall– when you cry as often as I do, the phrase “stop crying” is never far from the lips of those around me. But crying is the needle to my boil- my brain needs it to drain my mind of the neuroelectrical storm of overwhelming emotion. My mind hits emotional capacity and tears are the only way to drain it. In a society of stiff upper lippers it can be hard to feel like you’re allowed to cry, but if you need to, let them roll. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older it’s that there’s no point in holding them in- like a blocked toilet they’ll resurface eventually (and when they do, it won’t be pretty!)

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The most important thing to remember about grief is that it does get easier. Maybe not today or tomorrow, but eventually- there is no true timeline. Bit by bit, the pain will get easier. πŸ€—

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings and that you’re all keeping safe and sane(ish) during this difficult time! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Working from Home

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

As the lockdown continues, this week I’d like to discuss the topic of working from home and autism.

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Although the prospect of working in a comfortable environment away from the social jungle of the workplace can be quite attractive, working from home may pose other challenges for autists. As discussed in previous posts, an ordinary working day can be difficult enough for an autist, but the lack of a regular working routine, the stress of remote video meetings/phone calls, and difficulty focusing on work when surrounded by home comforts, may spell trouble.

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Like many, I have spent the past few weeks working remotely from my family home. Thankfully prior to this crisis, I have regularly been afforded the opportunity to work from home, so this transition has not been as much of a shock to the system as it may have been for other autists.

Working from home isn’t always easy, but by putting the right structures in place you can easily navigate this minefield.

So here are some of my top tips for working from home:

Set aside a specific workspace: setup a corner of the house, a specific room or a desk space from which to work from. Remove any potential distractions from this space, setup your laptop/screen, add a few pens- get everything you’ll need for your working day ready. This will give you more structure and make it easier to work. Try to keep this space separate from where you spend your leisure time- you don’t want to feel like you’re in work mode when you’re watching Netflix late at night.

Work regular break times into your schedule: organize set break times throughout the day- coffee at 11, lunch at 1, a 3pm snack, whatever works for you. It can be hard for an autist to detach when you get into the zone (especially when working solo), but several hours of uninterrupted work are not good for your mental or physical health. Pick your break times and stick to them, giving further balance and structure to your day.

Get out of your PJs- I know it’s tempting to sit there in your comfy clothes (especially given many autists sensitivity to clothing), but you need to get up and get dressed. It will give you better routine and structure to differentiate between work and play- and it will also remove the stress of being caught in a state of dishevelment if an unscheduled work call catches you off guard πŸ˜‰

Try to schedule work meetings– Communication with colleagues is all over the place these days with entire companies working remotely, and the stress of unexpected calls and the stream of instant messages pinging in the background can be quite distracting for an autist. If you can, try to set aside set times for when work conversations/team catchups can be held- this will help give you further structure and routine

Ask if you can keep your camera off– If you’re really feeling shy and uncomfortable, ask if you can keep your camera off during a meeting. Lot’s of people are having issues with slow internet and will need to turn their cameras off, so don’t feel obliged to if you’re really uncomfortable with video conferencing. It’s not always an ideal solution for teams that need to visually gauge team mates responses, but if you explain your struggles to your employer I’m sure they will understand, especially in these trying times. Just try not to fall asleep on the job… πŸ˜›

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Enjoy the weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Alpacas

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ˜€

This week I’d like to talk about something a little more floofy- alpacas! πŸ˜€

Last week I went on an alpaca walk at a nearby alpaca farm and it got me thinking about the therapeutic benefits of alpacas for people with autism. But first things first, here’s a few facts about alpacas:

  • Alpacas are members of the camelid family (llamas, camels, vicuΓ±as, and guanacos) native to South America
  • There are two kinds of alpacas, the suri and the huacaya. The huacaya (in the pictures above) have fluffy coats where as suri alpacas have long wavy hair that kind of looks like dreadlocks
  • Often confused with it’s taller relative the llama, alpacas and llamas can crossbreed to make ‘huarizo’
  • Their fleece is hypoallergenic (it makes lovely wool) and really soft- which makes it quite pleasurable for the sensory sensitive
  • They communicate by humming and have only one set of prominent bottom teeth for eating vegetation- it’s just gums along the topπŸ˜‚

So how can alpacas benefit autists?

Many studies have shown that animal therapies can be quite beneficial for people with autism and ADHD where being around and stroking animals releases endorphins, decreases stress and anxiety, and lowers blood pressure. Case in point- last week during a hospital visit my blood pressure was a little bit high from the stress of being there, but after the nurses got me thinking and talking about alpacas, my pressure dropped to normal!πŸ˜‚

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Alpacas are particularly suitable as therapy animals due to their gentle, friendly and fluffy nature. In recent years with the rise in alpaca breeding and popularity, the Cognitive Alpaca Learning Methods (CALMs) has been developed to harness the calming nature of alpacas to work with children and adults on the spectrum. As alpacas are sensitive creatures that react to fear and aggression, CALMs students are taught to put their emotions in check whilst learning how to handle and take responsibility for the alpacas. After a few sessions students tend to absorb the alpacas calming aura which has led to improvements in behaviour and demeanor, even reduced numbers of meltdowns- some autists undergoing this program have gone from having 5-10 a day to 1-2 a week! 😱 Moreover, alpacas can act as β€œsocial lubricants” wherein they provide autists with a source of conversation which can encourage better engagement.

You can find out more about alpacas and their therapeutic uses in these links:

https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/b078wl24

https://www.pukkapacas.com/calms-therapy

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Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ˜€

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Inclusive Hiring Programs

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous posts about autism and the workplace, I’d like to briefly talk about the latest trend of inclusive hiring programs for people with autism.

As previously discussed, between 75 and 85% of people with autism cannot find/maintain employment, despite many being highly educated.

It’s not that an autist can’t do the job, there just may be some difficulties with the social /sensory aspects of the workplace (not to mention struggles with interviews) which sadly, many employers do not care to accommodate.

Thankfully, times are changing, and many companies have realized the value of and are beginning to tap into the autistic skill set. Roughly 50 companies in the United States now have a workforce comprising mainly autists! :O

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One company in particular which has been making headlines is Microsoft’s ‘Autsim Hiring Program’.

In the last couple of years, Microsoft have devised this program “to attract talent and build an inclusive approach to support individuals on the autism spectrum that will contribute to the way [they] work as a company in building and servicing [their] products.” Microsoft view autists as an “untapped pool of talent” and are evolving their hiring approach to improve diversity within the company.

What’s particularly interesting about this program is the unique interview process. Instead of the usual sink or swim interviews that we are accustomed to, Microsoft have developed what they consider to be an interview “academy” of sorts. This academy combines the traditional interview with a workshop which will allow a potential hire to show them what they’re made of and to fully demonstrate how they can be an asset to the company.

You can check out more about the program in the link below:

What I really like about the company is their attitude to the future in that they would hope that this will one day not just be a program, but will be the natural way that companies hire and recruit new talent. So much rides on a face face to face interview, even more so for autists. One slip of the tongue can make or break you, but having a skill based element to candidate screening could make such a difference to an autists career. bitmoji-20181205103427

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings, and that your Christmas preparations are coming along nicely πŸ˜€

Have a great weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

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