Travelling on the Autistic Spectrum- When Things Go Wrong

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about managing autism while travelling, after a recent mishap with a suitcase in the airport on my way to Italy, this week I’d like to talk about when things go wrong.

Ordinarily, travelling on my own through an airport is no great hassle for me. I’ve done it loads of times before with no issue, however, with all the disruptions to travel since the start of the pandemic, flying has become a little bit more stressful. Due to reduced capacities on public transport, I started out my journey on the wrong foot by driving the 2 hours to Dublin up a very busy motorway on a Friday afternoon- not the most calming of scenarios given some of the issues autists can have driving. Arriving in the terminal after a lengthy search for a free parking space (despite pre-booking), I made my way directly to bag drop off to relieve myself of the ginormous suitcase I was carrying, laden with goodies from home for an overseas relative.

That’s when things started to go awry…

The suitcase wobbled and rolled off of the self service scales as it was recording the weight, so the label the machine printed off displayed an incorrect value. I proceeded to put the bag on the drop off conveyor… buuuttt it wouldn’t take my suitcase! Now as we are in Covid times, there were crowds of people round me travelling, but not a lot of staff to ask for help from at these desks in order to reduce interactions. So I tried to re-weigh and reprint my tag a second time to find that my bag was 0.8 kg over the limit, leading me to frantically kneel down in the middle of the floor, pulling out shoes and baked goods to shove them in my carry on. I was enduring this stress while still wearing my coat and a face mask, so the heat from the situation was rising, not to mention I was still coming down from the stressful drive, was tired, hungry, and in need of the bathroom- so my sanity was hanging on by a thread! Once I had reduced my weight sufficiently, the machine then refused to print another label for my luggage, and tried to charge me €60 for the pleasure! πŸ™ˆ

Sooo I frantically searched for a an attendant to advise me, who did not have a solution only that I join the massive queue at the ticket desk…aannnnd then the meltdown hit! Thankfully it wasn’t more than a few tears, and once I communicated that I was autistic to the attendant, she was very nice and supportive πŸ™‚

But the saga wasn’t quite over yet! As I proceeded towards the ticket desk for assistance, another attendant saw me and asked where I was going with my suitcase (as the desk was in the opposite direction to the drop off). I communicated my issue and this no-nonsense lady firmly told me to stop crying! Believe me, I wouldn’t be crying in my thirties over something so stupid as an overweight suitcase if I had the choice πŸ˜› She eventually steered me direct to the drop off and fired the suitcase on the conveyor with a final parting order to stop crying. Five minutes later, I was sitting calmly in McDonald’s, my crisis was over and the mortification set in 😳

Granted, this experience was resolved quickly and could have been a lot worse (I’ve had a 24 hour delay on a previous family holiday), but it was still an extremely stressful few minutes!

Based on this mortifying experience, here are some modified tips for dealing with autism while travelling when it’s too late for prevention:

Take a moment to collect yourself– if you feel like a meltdown could be coming on, take a step back. My stress over increased airport traffic with international travel opening up pushed me to keep going, but I should have paused to take off my coat, grab a snack from my bag, and try the suitcase again.

Take a break in a sensory friendly room (if available)– Irish airports have pioneered sensory friendly rooms for travelling autists to enable you to take some chill time to come down from stressful scenarios. If a space like this is available, take some time out.

Approach a member of staff for help– if you feel that you are struggling and are in a position to communicate your struggles, reach out to a member of airport staff and they should be able to help make your journey a little easier. Dublin Airport, among others, has a special lanyard that you can get to alert staff that you are autistic if you are in need of assistance, so the training is there for staff to help you in your time of need.

Take a break from your face maskface masks can be quite problematic for a lot of autists, but are a requirement for travel at present. If you’re getting overwhelmed from wearing the mask for too long, go to the bathroom for a few minutes to pull down your mask and take some deep breaths privately. Pro tip– spend as long as you can in the food court as you will not be required to wear your mask in this area.

Bonus tip– If you’re using a self service scale, place your bag on it’s side, not on it’s wheels- learn from my mistakes πŸ˜› πŸ˜‰

Perhaps the best tip I can offer is to make use of autism assistance programs where available. I have not previously used this service as I have not needed it, and also because other airports like Shannon Airport advocate the use of bright orange hats to quickly identify an autist, which as an adult, this concept would make me feel like a bit of a sore thumb πŸ˜› Check out if the airport you are going to has an assistance program for autists that you can avail of so that in the event that something does go wrong, you will be taken care of. Once I was able to communicate that I was autistic, the staff were happy to help, but other autists may not be able to communicate this mid-meltdown, so make sure to check out assistance programs ahead of time to ensure that the help is available to you in the event that things go wrong πŸ™‚

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Noise Reducing Earplugs

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about sound sensitivity, this week I’d like to explore the subject of noise reducing earplugs. In recent weeks, I’ve been getting a lot of Facebook ad’s for noise reduction earplugs, so I finally decided to take the plunge and buy a pair to see what all the fuss is about.

So how exactly do these noise reduction earplugs work? Isn’t the whole function of earplugs to reduce noise anyway?

Noise reducing earplugs are different to your garden variety earplug in that they are designed to reduce background noise without compromising audio quality in your immediate surroundings. Most earplugs will muffle sounds, but this next generation of earplugs focus on filtering them instead of blocking them. There are a lot of different models out there at the mo, but I chose to test drive Loop Earplugs. Loop are designed with an acoustic channel in the earplug to mimic the auditory canal in your ear, and use a mesh filter to reduce the volume of your surroundings. They are particularly designed with concerts in mind, as music is often played above safe levels (85 decibels) which can permanently damage eardrums in as little as 15 minutes. They have a couple of audio reduction levels from as high as 27 decibels down to 18 (which I tried) so you can purchase whatever reduction level suits your needs.

Loop Earplugs Perfect for Work

So how did I find them?

This weekend, I tested them out on a busy day in the noisy city of Dublin. I popped them in while walking down the street and found it really did reduce the sounds around me, but I could still hear everything I needed to, such as the noises from pedestrian crossings. As I was attending a musical, I also gave them a test run in the theatre for a couple of songs. I was really surprised at the results as the songs were just as clear with the earplugs in and out, just different volume thresholds. Unlike other earplugs, the loop in the plug is quite cool, and looks like a trendy piercing in your ear, so it’s also great that you don’t feel self conscious for having awkward things sticking out of your ears (like those ugly yellow foamy ones they give you on airplanes).

Earplugs that Resemble Fine Jewelry  - Core77

However, while these filtered out a lot of background noise, they did amplify and alter some internal noises. My voice sounded really distant and far away like I was down a tunnel, but everyone around me sounded fine. While walking to the theatre I ate a Magnum ice cream, and as I ate, the earplugs increased the volume of the chocolate crunching in my mouth to unsettling levels, and I could hear my jaw clicking as the upper and lower jaws rubbed against each other. It really weirded me out so I would not recommend eating while wearing them! I also found they didn’t sit in my ear that well and kept popping out, but I do have smaller ears (or so I’m told) so it’s possible that my ears are just not built for earplugs! πŸ˜›

I would definitely recommend trying out these earplugs or similar models (there are some that are more geared specifically for noise sensitivities such as Calmer) if you need to turn the volume of your surroundings down a smidge- I will certainly be adding mine to my handbag for days when I find myself in an auditory nightmare.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Early Intervention

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a recent landmark study showing the importance of early intervention for long term outcomes for autists.

For many years, studies have reported great benefits for autists when early interventions are taken. The research suggests that the earlier interventions are put in place, the better the outcomes for autists. Putting the right behavioural therapies in place as early as 18 months, such as applied behavioural analysis (APA), can be effective in improving language ability, social interactions and IQ for autists. Other programs advocate practical social interventions, peer intervention programs and active family involvement.

Recently, a new type of early intervention has been in the news showing really interesting results. An Australian clinical trial was conducted on a group of autists that showed early behavioural signs of autism to assess the impact of preemptive interventions long before any autism diagnosis (the group were all between 9-14 months old). The intervention used in this study is called iBASIS-VIPP (Intervention within the British Autism Study of Infant Siblings- Video Interaction to Promote Positive Parenting. Talk about a mouthful!). This intervention is a parent led, video aided therapy which is used to improve social communication and development in infants by helping parents to understand their child’s communication style and to learn how to adapt to it. Parent-child interactions were filmed during 12, 2 hour sessions over a period of 5 months and discussions were held focusing on both child and parent behaviours and how to address them to improve social interaction.

So what did the study find?

Results showed significant reductions in the severity of autistic behaviours throughout early childhood. The most interesting finding however, was that this preemptive intervention had greatly reduced the odds for meeting the diagnostic criteria for autism than those who received normal care from 21% down to 7%- that’s 2/3 reduction! 😲 In other words, use of iBASIS-VIPP in early childhood greatly reduces the severity of autism symptoms, and the odds of receiving an autism diagnosis.

Although given how many of us pass through the radar undetected, implementing a program like iBASIS-VIPP on a wider scale is easier said than done. Some early signs may be too subtle to detect, so later bloomers may not reap the same benefits. Nevertheless, early intervention, where possible can have serious lifelong benefits for autists.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Shopping

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about autism friendly shopping, this week I’d like to elaborate a little bit more on the subject.Β 

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Shopping can be quite an overwhelming experience for an autist- the hustle and bustle, bright lighting, loud noises, overwhelming choices, strong smells etc. It can be a real sensory assault. Personally, I HATE shopping (although I’m surprisingly good at it- I even buy my Christmas and birthday presents for friends and family months in advance!). Β It’s never been my thing, I’ve hated it for as long as I can remember; could never explain it. I did everything to avoid it growing up, so much so that when I was 16, I couldn’t figure out how to work the coin slot on the trolley! πŸ™ˆ But as time has gone on, I’ve had to adapt and get used to the process πŸ™‚Β 

While shopping can be troublesome for an autist, there are many alternative options to help you navigate the experience more smoothly.Β 

Here are some of my top tips for making the shopping process a little easier:

  • Make lists- if you find that you get overwhelmed by the choices on offer in the shops, I find it very useful to write out a list to bring with me to keep me from getting distracted and to ensure that I hit all my targets as quickly as possible. Pro- tip, try writing the items you’re seeking in the order you would encounter them in the shops e.g fruit and veg first, meats and cold items, frozen foods etc. This way you can get in and out as quickly as possible without forgetting anything important.
  • Shop online-the joys of modern technology! In the last year, the online retail industry has exploded, so now you don’t even have to leave your house to get your shopping done. There’s websites for everything, and in most cases, the shipping costs are fairly low, so if you’re really anxious, just pull up your laptop and let your shopping come to you.dc855bea69ee17a435c9bae5ab45be12b4f4ed11ecbf0d76dd154fc18c55a1b4.0
  • Avail of autism friendly shopping times- as I previously discussed in my linked post, most supermarkets have regular autism friendly shopping hours where the atmosphere is adjusted to be more sensory friendly. Even busy shopping centres have dedicated autism times to allow autists to pass through and browse the shops without fear of getting overwhelmed.Β 
  • Set spending limits– if you have impulsivity issues surrounding shopping, try to set a spending limit to keep you from going overboard. Many financial apps can do this for you. You can even remove the tap feature on your debit card to discourage you from impulsively tapping your funds away.Β 
  • Keep it short and sweet– to prevent a meltdown, keep your shopping visits nice and short until you feel more comfortable with longer shopping periods. You can slowly build up your tolerance over time.
  • Make use of sensory tools– as discussed in many of my previous blogs, using such sensory tools as noise reducing or cancelling headphones, sunglasses/tinted lenses, weighted clothing or even an item in your pocket to stim with can help to reduce some of the sensory impact of your surroundings.

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Β 

Shopping can be a scary sensory experience, but if you follow some of the above tips, you’ll find the experience so much easier πŸ™‚Β 

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!Β 

Enjoy your weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Weighted Blankets

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

After many posts where I’ve mentioned them, this week, I’ve finally bought a weighted blanket! I have been dying to try one out for years, but they are often quite expensive, usually retailing around the 100-200 euro-ish region for a full blanket. However on a Googling whim, I recently found that Dunnes Stores here in Ireland stocks them for as little as €35, so naturally I couldn’t say no!

So first things first, what exactly is a weighted blanket?

Weighted blankets (also known as gravity blankets) are pretty self explanatory- they are flat blankets that usually contain metal, glass or plastic beads in evenly spaced, quilted pockets across the entire surface of the blanket. The blanket is designed to evenly apply deep, calming pressure to the user across their body, like simulating a hug. As the blankets are weighted, you are also more restricted, making it harder to toss and turn in your sleep. Many of these blankets are even designed to stay cool in summer and warm in winter. For optimal use, blankets shouldn’t exceed 10% of the user’s weight.

But how does this benefit autists?

As I’ve discussedΒ previously, autists have higher levels of stimulatory neurotransmitters and lower levels of calming neurotransmitters, meaning that our brains are more “switched on” and harder to turn off than most. The deep pressure applied by the blanket is designed to stimulate the release of the calming neurotransmitters serotonin (which helps regulate the sleep cycle and temperature) and dopamine to relax and soothe the racing mind. It’s also thought that deep pressure can stimulate the limbic system, the emotional centre of the brain, which could potentially help calm you down during a meltdown.

So how did I find using it?

It was quite an unusual sensation to begin with- as you would expect from having a 6kg blanket pressing down on your body πŸ˜› It’s somewhat of a workout moving it about when making the bed and moving it around the house! πŸ˜‚ I found it was quite restrictive getting used to the sensation of the blanket on my body and learning how to move onto my side beneath it. It sometimes feels like someone is sitting on your chest at times, but in a good way!

After an adjustment period, I did find that my mind was much slower at night when I lay beneath it. The heaviness mimics that heaviness you experience just before you fall asleep which can be quite hard to resist. In general I found it a lot easier to sleep with the blanket on, and if I did wake during the night, the added weight made it very easy to slip back into sleep again. On the downside however, it can be a lot harder to get out of bed in the morning trying to push off the extra weight if you aren’t a morning personπŸ˜‚ I’ve had some pretty epic naps using the blanket as the weight keeps it from moving and prevents any nasty draughts from getting into your cosy burrito.

It will be quite interesting to know going forward how the blanket may work in a meltdown situation for me in the future.

Weighted blankets are not for everyone however, as they can be difficult for kids to get in and out of bed without the help of an adult They are also not easily transportable for travel so it isn’t the best idea to get a child dependent on them for sleeping. You can however buy weighted lap pads or weighted vests that can be much easier to use for children with autism and ADHD.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend,

Aoife

Autism and Menopause

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my post about periods and autism, this week I’d like to explore another taboo aspect of life on the spectrum- autism and the menopause.

Apologies once again to my male readers!

I may be too young to give a personal slant on this subject, but I’d like to create some visibility for the often overlooked adult female members of the spectrum. Public discussions surrounding autism are so often centered on childhood, potential issues for adult autists can be forgotten.

The change brings many difficult physical and emotional changes for women such as hot flashes, memory issues, mood swings, sexual dysfunction and issues with mental health. Now imagine how these changes might impact an autist who is already sensitive to change and temperature, sleep disturbances, struggles to manage their emotions and can be predisposed to mental health difficulties?

The autistic life is already a roller-coaster, but throw in the menopause and the cart may just fly off the tracks.

Our knowledge of autism and the menopause is very limited as autism as a diagnosis in itself is only emerging from it’s infancy. Some of the first women to be diagnosed with autism are only now reaching menopause, so there is little available research about their experiences of the change. Of the studies that do exist, experiences of menopause for autistic women vary, however, many reported worsening of autistic symptoms. Some women reported that it they found it extremely difficult to mask their struggles and suffered serious deterioration in their mental health.

We clearly need to start a conversation about menopause and autism so that we can properly develop tools and supports to help women navigate this challenging time of life.

For those of you going through the menopause, have a look at this blog post about “Menopautism” from journalist Jane Renton writing about her experiences of the change as an adult with Asperger’s syndrome:

You can also find some useful additional resources for managing the menopause here:

https://www.aspireireland.ie/cmsWP/information/women-girls/menopause/

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Tics

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a topic that’s not discussed very often in conversations about autism- tics and tic syndromes.

So what exactly is a tic?

A tic is a sudden, repetitive muscle movement that can cause unexpected and often uncontrollable body movements or sounds. Affecting approximately 10-25% of autists, tics differ from stimming and other repetitive behaviours in that they are generally involuntary in nature such as abnormal blinking, head jerking, sniffing, throat clearing, or repeating phrases. Like autism, there is a spectrum of tic disorder’s, with Tourette Syndrome being the most common of these. Tic frequency and severity varies depending on activity levels, stress, boredom and even high energy emotions.

Thankfully my own experience of tics has not been severe, however, in times of serious stress I have been known to develop a bad eye twitch in my left eye. It was first brought on by the stress of my final school exams at 18, and has resurfaced a small handful of times since during particularly stressful work periods. Amazingly, no one has noticed this tic as it’s so mild, but it is a very odd sensation on the inside to feel your eyelid fluttering of it’s own accord. I was initially quite freaked out when it first started, but now I know that it just means I need to step back and manage my stress levels πŸ™‚

But why are tics so common for autists?

Although they are often comorbid, as with many aspects of the spectrum, the research into this phenomenon is once again limited. Recent genetic research has shown that there may be an overlap where genes thought to contribute to autism can also cause Tourette syndrome which could explain why they often appear together. At the biochemical level, tics have been linked to imbalances in dopamine and other neurotransmitters, imbalances that have also been linked to autistic behaviours.

So are there any treatment options?

As the frequency and severity can vary with life’s changes, learning what your triggers are and how to manage or avoid them is one of the best approaches. Comprehensive Behavioral Intervention for Tics or CBIT (a form of CBT) is the favoured interventional approach, however, in some severe cases, medications can be used to help control tics.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Have a lovely weekend!

Aoife

Autism and Diet

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Leading on from my previous post about autism and food, this week I’d like to focus specifically on diet and autism. There are a lot of articles floating around about the benefits of certain diets to manage autistic symptoms, but the research is tenuous and in some cases non-existent.

Ketogenic Diet: This is a high-fat, low-carb, adequate-protein diet that drives the body to burn fats faster than carbohydrates and is recommended in the treatment of some forms of epilepsy in children. Research has shown that in some cases, a modified version of the ketogenic diet led to improvement in repetitive behaviours and social communication in autists. The diet is thought to work by increasing the number of ketones in the brain (an energy source produced from fat breakdown when insulin levels are too low to convert glucose to energy) to produce more energy and offset biological stress and dysfunction in mitochondria (the energy producing cells of the body) which contributes to autistic behaviours.

Sugar-Free/Additive- Free Diets: It’s common knowledge that sugar can alter a child’s behaviour, but even more so for autists (there was a limit put on my childhood coke consumption to curb my hyperactivity for example πŸ˜› ). It’s also thought that many autists are unable to tolerate a number of food additives such as aspartame, MSG and E-numbers. On a personal level, this one actually makes a lot of sense as I have had allergic reactions to certain E-numbers that have caused me to break out in hives in the past (not to mention how they used to make me super hyper!). While indeed lot’s of people reduce sugars and E-number’s to manage childhood behaviours, there’s little research on how sugars and additives impact autists.

Supplements: As it’s thought that autists may have impaired or abnormal biochemical and metabolic processes, vitamin supplementation could be used to improve this. While supplements can be beneficial, the research is inconclusive.

Gluten/Casein -Free Diet (GFCF): This is the most popular diet when it comes to autism treatment. Many people report improvements in autistic symptoms following the removal of gluten (a protein found in grains like wheat) and casein (a protein found in dairy) in their diet. It has been suggested that autists have a “leaky” gut that allows gluten and casein to leak into the bloodstream having an opioid effect on the brain and interfering with behaviours, but there is insufficient and inconclusive scientific evidence to support this. Many doctors have recently spoken out against these fad diets as they can be very bad for your health if youΒ unnecessarilyΒ remove these foodstuffs. Gluten free diets for example can increase your risk of cardiac problems through decreased intake of essential wholegrain.

Cholesterol: Cholesterol is involved in modulating the oxytocin receptor and the serotonin 1-A receptor- neurotransmitters that are dysregulated in the autistic brain. Cholesterol deficits could interfere with the functioning of these receptors and contribute to autistic symptoms. Research has shown that cholesterol supplementation can help improve behaviours. I will explore this in more detail in a later post.

Phenols and Salicylates Exclusion: Some studies indicate that autistic behaviours could stem from impairment of certain enzymes involved in the metabolism of phenols and salicylates- antioxidants that are found in fruits, vegetables and nuts. While these compounds are healthy, in high levels these seem to increase levels of serotonin in the brain interfering with autistic behaviours, but there is no evidence to suggest that total avoidance of these compounds is beneficial.

Probiotics and Enzymes: There is currently no research to prove the benefits for probiotics and enzymes in the management of autism. However, as I have discussed above and in previous posts, autists are deficient in certain enzymes and bacteria which can interfere with behaviours, so supplementation could be useful.

Yeast Free Diets: As discussed in my previous post about thrush and autism, candida overgrowth in the gut is thought to contribute to autistic behaviours. The theory posits that removal of yeasts from the diet can improve behaviours, but there is no medical basis for improvement.

Fish Oils and Fatty Acids: Imbalances in omega-3’s and essential fatty acids has been implicated in a number of neurodevelopmental disorders and behavioural issues, so it stands to reason that supplementation could improve autistic symptoms. However, there is much more autism specific research required to confirm these benefits.

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Periods

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

Continuing on from last week’s post about autism and puberty, this week I’d like to talk about autism and periods. I know, I’m about to alienate about half of my readers (sorry guys!), but this is a very important topic to cover for the often overlooked autistic female demographic.

Periods can be challenging for lot’s of women, however, for autists the experience can be somewhat of an ordeal. There can be a lot of overwhelming sensory issues where periods are concerned- new smells, sensations, and sensory issues related to the use of feminine hygiene products. Autists struggle greatly with change, and periods can be quite unpredictable over the course of our lives due to stress, hormonal changes, childbirth and eventually menopause (which I will discuss in a separate post at a later stage). As a result of this, female autists can develop a number of behavioural issues related to menstruation such as increased aggression and repetitive behaviours, not to mention changes in mood and mental health. Throw in a side of cramps and it’s no picnic!

In addition to the mental and behavioural toll, research has shown that periods are biologically much tougher on the autistic body. Studies have shown that women on the spectrum have higher levels of testosterone than their neurotypical peers (likely caused by dysfunction in the hypothalamus in the brain), leading to a number of menstrual related issues such as severe acne, hirsutism, irregular periods, polycystic ovary syndrome and dysmenorrhea. Premenstrual syndrome (PMS) is also highly prevalent in autistic women. Autists are also known to have high levels of inflammation in the body, which can further aggravate menstrual symptoms. Periods can even cause an increase in seizures in autists who also suffer from epilepsy due to hormonal fluctuations.

So what can you do to help a young autist through her period?

  • Educate them clearly about their changing bodies– autistic women can be particularly vulnerable, so they need to know exactly how their reproductive system works and the importance of consent. Use clear language that can not be misinterpreted or taken too literally. Understanding their body will also help them to better normalize menstruation so it is far less scary. As discussed in my last post, autistic women enter puberty much earlier than their peers, so it is essential that they are educated sooner rather than later about their changing bodies.
  • Check out autism friendly books about puberty/periods– there are a number of books available targeted at growing autists to help them navigate this challenging time. There are even books specifically about periods for young autistic women that may help.
  • Chat about different feminine hygiene options– as no two autists are the same, so no one option is better or worse when it comes to feminine hygiene products. There are far more options available these days to young women than just sanitary towels and tampons- they even make absorbent period underwear which could be very helpful for girls with sensory issues.
  • Setup a calendar/diary to track periods- the unpredictable nature of life and unexpected change can be particularly frustrating for autists. While periods can oftentimes be unpredictable and don’t always run on time, a calendar can nevertheless be very helpful to prepare an autist for upcoming periods and establish a routine. Knowing that an event is approaching can help to offset the scariness of it.
  • Break the taboo– reassure them that periods are a normal part of life and that there is nothing to be ashamed of. Periods may be overwhelming for autists, but they are by no means alone in their menstrual struggles.

Hope my female Earthlings at least enjoyed this week’s post! πŸ˜‰

Have a lovely weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

Autism and Puberty

Greetings Earthlings! πŸ™‚

This week I’d like to talk about a frequently sidelined aspect of life on the spectrum- puberty. So often people focus on childhood autism we forget that autistic children will grow up and go through puberty just like everyone else.

Puberty is a challenging time for everyone, but often even more so for those on the autistic spectrum. Research is limited on pubescent autists, but some studies have suggested that behaviours can worsen in autists during this time, in particular, aggressive behaviours. The smallest of changes to routine can trigger meltdown’s in an autist, so imagine how this response is amplified when your entire body decides to change. You couldn’t pay me to go through puberty again- the raging hormones were a minefield (although there are day’s during this pandemic where I might consider it to travel back to a time when I had freedom πŸ˜› )!

There can be a lot of sensory issues arising from the onset of puberty that can trigger further distress- body odours, sensory reactions to hygiene products, and my own personal hell, the sensory discomfort from wearing a bra. As I’ve discussed in previous posts, I went to war for years with my mother against wearing one as the sensation of it against my skin freaked me out and I was incredibly uncomfortable- but as I was un-diagnosed, this was passed off as just being awkward πŸ˜›

During puberty, socialising, an already challenging task for autists, becomes even more complicated. When you’re a child, everything is easier as kids haven’t developed a filter yet, but once those hormones kick in, conversations become more nuanced, boys and girls interact differently and your peers start to become aware of your mind blindness and excentricities. It can be quite a socially lonely time for autists.

So how can we navigate this difficult time in an autist’s life?

  • Talk openly about the facts of life– Talk them through the changes their body will experience in clear, concrete language. Don’t leave any room for confusion or misinterpretation so that they will be fully prepared and less thrown by the changes to come- there were certainly a few books that I read growing up where overly simplified language such as “a special hug” was used to describe sex that would only confuse and misinform the more literal autist
    • An important thing to know about puberty and autism is that it can have a much earlier onset in girls. Studies have shown that female autists tend to enter puberty and start menstruation on average 9 and a half months earlier than their peers, so girls need to be prepared and educated about the facts of life earlier than you might expect
  • Use visual tools– Sometimes words are not enough to create the correct mental picture for an autist. Illustrated books about puberty can be very useful here, and there are now many books specifically targeted at autists which can really help them to navigate this time
  • Discuss appropriate/inappropriate behaviours– don’t leave it at just the facts themselves. Autists will need to be taught about consent, sexual behaviours and inappropriate conversational topics just like anyone else. As female autists often mask their behaviours, it is especially important that they are taught about these things as they can be quite innocent and may be taken advantage of if not adequately prepared for adulthood
  • Sensory friendly clothing– For the young women out there, the market is now opening up to produce sensory friendly bras to help combat the issues of traditional brassieres. Bralette’s and lightweight sports bras may also be helpful alternatives
  • Normalise the experience– Reassure them that everyone goes through this, that it’s a normal part of growing up. Don’t attribute the entire experience to their autism
  • Be positive– Don’t assume things will be harder for your child as everyone is different. A positive attitude can go a long way to easing your child into the murky depths ahead

Hope you enjoyed this post dear Earthlings!

Have a lovely Easter weekend! πŸ™‚

Aoife

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