Archives for "Autism"
Yesterday I went for a walk with the autistic boy I work with.
He is now five and has just discovered that he enjoys walking, we walked into town through the snow all wrapped up in hats and gloves. He took with him a plastic toy tiger. While we walked he bounced the tiger along the walls. This is an enormous achievement he was playing with a toy in an appropriate way. No longer stimming the tiger.
Like any five-year-old the buttons at the traffic lights are a highlight of the town walk. Each light we passed he would press the button and say “red man, wait” the excitement of the red man changing to green was a joy to see. When we got our green man I would say “Green man, cross with care” and we would cross the road.
Once in town we did all the things that I remember my girls enjoying at that age. Running up and down the ramp at the library, causing the automatic doors to open and close and pressing the buttons on the lift. He remained cool when we saw a sign saying lift out of order. He needed to check all the lift doors to make sure and luckily the out of order sign was on every lift.
We then went on to the shopping centre where we rode up and down the escalators we must’ve done this seven or eight times and then he put the tiger on a separate step I have to say at this point my nerves got the better of me and I decided that this was going to be the last ride.
Then he chose to go into Marks & Spencer’s probably because there is an escalator there. At the top of the escalator he announced he needed a wee so he went to the toilet I’m not sure if he really needed the toilet but he managed a wee and then the highlight, the automatic flush button!
From here we went to the cafe where he chose a gingerbread man. He sat beautifully to eat his gingerbread man and then I asked him where his gingerbread man was and he replied,” gingerbread man all gone”. This is a direct quote from the gingerbread man book I must’ve read him 100 times over the last year.
From Marks & Spencer’s we caught the bus home he was so excited on the bus that he got all the other passengers on the bus smiling at him. He was able to reply when asked “where are you?” he replied,” on the bus”.
I know that this trip to town is not really a typical trip that an adult and child would make, normally when you go into town there are jobs to be done and this trip was purely for fun. For nearly 2 years his parents and his ABA tutors had been working to stop him stimming, to play with toys in an appropriate manner to answer questions when asked, to ask when he needs help and to behave in a manner that is appropriate. Yesterday he behaved beautifully and was a pleasure and fun to be.
Wow what a fabulous day I have just had.
It was beautifully sunny, one of those perfect was days when you don’t need a coat and you’re not worried about sunburn. I taking out the four-year-old autistic boy I work with.
We went to a park which has a large lake which we set out to walk round. He ran ahead of me and when he was about 50m ahead I would shout “stop” and hold up my hand. As long as I kept repeating “stop” and holding my hand up he remained still. When I got nearer we would say “ready steady go” and then we would run on around the lake, laughing. He is a faster runner than me.
About three quarters of the way round he got tired and climbed into the buggy and let me push him at a more sedate pace for the remainder of our circuit looking at the ducks, fishermen, dogs and their walkers.
As we neared the end we could hear a lot of happy shrieking noises and we could see teenage children trying to stay upright on a raft they had built. Of course they all fell in with more screams and happy laughter. There was even a dog in a buoyancy aid running up and down the bank. It really was one of those perfect days.
Then the icing on the cake: We went into the clubhouse because I wanted to ask if my teenage children could join in the fun, I picked up a leaflet and we are about to leave when the little boy jumped out of the buggy and started to open a door. I said “no! We going to the car” and he said “I need a wee” I looked at the door and sure enough it had the symbol of the ladies toilet. Wow. In we went and after checking all the toilets he chose one, undressed and he did need a wee. I don’t know why he likes to remove all his clothes when he does a wee, but he happily puts them back on again with a little help when he’s finished.
Here he demonstrated appropriate use of language, unprompted. I am so proud of him. It really was a perfect day.
When I think how hard his parents and ABA teacher’s have worked with him not only potty training (which he only really mastered six weeks ago), but speech and appropriate behaviour it is incredible. There is still a long way to go, but days like this make you realise that all the hard work, tears and frustration are worth it.
Last Friday I went along to a Pokémon club that was being run in a local community Hall. Elaine who I met many years ago through the NCT has recently started this Pokémon club. Her elder son who is on the autistic spectrum enjoys playing Pokémon and she had found a Pokémon club on the outskirts of Leeds. She regularly took her son to this club which he enjoyed both playing Pokémon and meeting other like-minded children who shared his hobby. However because it was such a distance it was difficult for these friendships to last outside the meeting so she decided to set up her own club more locally. Her club has been running since July on Friday evenings.
The evening I went along there were eight boys ranging from about 7 to 15 playing a Pokémon game on their DSes. There was lots of chat both from the children playing and the parents sitting at one end drinking cups of tea and coffee. It was a lovely atmosphere and the children moved happily around the room interacting with each other. The club is running through the school holidays as she feels it is important to have some continuity. Some sessions have had over 20 children attending and she is confident that come September when people are back from their holidays the numbers will rise again. She said it was lovely to see children returning week after week. The first time they came they may not have been confident enough to join in and spent most of the time sitting with their parent but by the second or third time they would walk in confidently and sit down at a table to play with other Pokémon fans. This club is not exclusively for children on the autistic spectrum but for anybody who enjoys Pokémon.
It was not a game that my daughters ever got into. I think it appeals more to boys, but what I felt was so positive was that all the children whether they are on the autistic spectrum or not were enjoying each other’s company and talking and playing Pokémon.
I was amazed to find that one of the boys there had travelled nearly an hour to get to this club, but I’m not surprised that once you have been to the club that you return. The atmosphere was lovely, it was so welcoming, friendly, calm yet fun. Perhaps I can persuade my girls to take up Pokémon.
Here’s the link to the club www.harrogatepokemon.co.uk
Last week I went on a grand expedition to a funfair at the seaside.
I had been invited to help as a volunteer on a school trip. As this is a special school and since the children that were being taken were all on the autistic spectrum it was felt that a ratio of one child to two adults would be sensible.
Very calmly the children, teachers and volunteers all boarded the buses. The children were amazing they got into their seats, put on their seat belts and stayed sitting calmly and quietly for a long drive to the coast. On arrival the children had a snack on the bus and then we went to the toilets. Visual timetables were read, then we were given wristbands so that the children could go on the rides for free. Some were happy to wear the bands but most removed them quickly! Then it was down to the funfair. The children were desperate to go on a ride.
The first one was the log flume. We joined the queue climbed the steps and then had to climb into a log boat. For some children this was okay but for others the step down into the log boat was enormous. They wanted to get into the log boat but just could not actually take the plunge. The man operating the ride stopped it so that the log boat was not moving, but still it was too much. Eventually after about 20 min one of the carers picked up the teenager and put them in the log boat! You should have seen the look of delight on the teenager’s face. Round and round they went, the kind operator let them stay on many circuits. Later this teenager managed to climb into the log boat independently, the reward for doing so outweighed the terror of climbing in.
I then took a young boy on the dodgems. This is a child with very little speech, still in nappies who really struggles to control his behaviour. However on the dodgems he was amazing: he could steer within millimetres of other dodgems, control the speed of the car with a foot pedal with incredible accuracy. He also understood that he had to put on the seatbelt and he then at the end climbed calmly out of the car. WOW.
We had our picnic lunch overlooking the sea. After lunch we went to a soft-play area where the children could move about more freely without their harnesses, as there was absolutely no risk of them running off! A final visit to the toilets, and back on the bus for home.
It was a truly amazing day organised by the British Lions, it was wonderful for these children to be given the opportunity to experience a day out at a funfair. The whole of the funfair that day had been given to special schools. There must have been about 100 children there, all of whom attend a special school. It was also very brave of our school to allow us to go, our children are unpredictable even in an environment they know, so to take them to somewhere new is a particular challenge. I felt very privileged to be included on the trip and the children’s experience of the day is something I will always remember.
A few days later reflecting on why the trip had been such a success was, I think, due to the tremendous amount of planning that had gone into it.
The children’s teacher had visited the funfair the weekend before. Having had a good look and trying to imagine all the possible scenarios he felt that our children needed a safe space to go to if they were not coping with the experience. The owners had kindly offered us the soft play area just for our school to be available all day. The fact that it was not needed during the morning does not mean that it was not essential, we all knew that we had somewhere to take a child that needed to “chill out”.
Some activities had to be ruled out as the risk of an incident was too high. For example a walk on the beach, which may seem simple to a neurologically typical class outing is too much for our group. Nearly all the children love water and it would have been too difficult to stop them running into the sea!
It is a huge responsibility to take any group of children on a trip and often it is easier not to bother. Today with all the ”risk assessments” it is getting harder for any children to have experiences outside the classroom. However it is nearly always worth the effort and stress. The head teacher must have rung us every 20 mins to make sure we were all safe. We were and we had a great day.
My daughters are 11 and 13 so I rarely go to the playground now. However last two weeks I have taken a four-year-old autistic boy to two different parks. Both times it was a beautiful sunny morning and neither park was very busy.
He was very excited to be in the park and ran off much faster than I’m able to a piece of climbing equipment. I got there as quickly as I could and “hovered” (beneath him) encouraging him. He’s a good climber and was getting a great deal of pleasure out of the experience. He developed a route around the frame, the end of which involved me catching him as he jumped off the equipment. We both enjoyed this game and probably made rather a lot of happy noise.
Drawn toward us were a handful of other children, who came over to the frame we were playing on. This spoilt our game. Now we had to negotiate other, much smaller children who did not play in the same way, would not stick to the same route, whose mothers talked loudly all the time. I foresaw problems and mulled over my options…
a) Explain to the other parents that he is autistic and ask them to let us play the game alone for five more minutes and then we will go.
b) Explain that he is autistic and let them use their own judgement.
c) Try and move him to another, empty (and quiet) piece of play equipment.
d) Go home.
e) Do nothing, and hope.
In the end I was not brave enough to actually talk to these mothers, so I did nothing but watch him like a hawk until the tension I felt, was unbearable. Then I took him screaming home.
Overall, going to the park was a positive experience. I have learnt to pack rewards so that I could have moved him more easily to another piece of equipment. I do know that it was an opportunity for him to play with other children or at least watch how other children play. However I remember that my daughters only ever played with “park children” that they already knew.
Just before Easter I went to Harrogate’s National Autistic Society’s annual conference. The highlight of which was Dr Wendy Lawson’s training session for 300 attendees.
I think that the experience will remain with me for the rest of my life. As with all presentations it is very difficult to explain what it is that grips an audience, perhaps better to say “you had to be there” and leave it at that.
But I came away exhilarated that someone who had such a difficult start through lack of understanding at home, school, in the workplace and society could develop into such an amazing woman who can explain what it is like to grow up with Asperger’s syndrome so clearly to those sitting in the audience.
Dr Wendy Lawson MAPS: BPS, describes herself as an adult with high functioning autism. “I didn’t talk until I was four and I didn’t read until I was nine. But I now have two degrees and I am studying for a PHD in psychology,”
Wendy’s training sessions focus on building bridges between the neurologically typical (NT) and autism spectrum (AS) worlds. She recognises that all relationships between these worlds; formal, informal, familiar or otherwise, need to be negotiated. However it is in the field of learning that she rightly concentrates, believing that this is the key to allowing AS individuals to be truly involved in an inclusive society.
Wendy made available a number of strategies that the (typically NT) attendee can take away and implement in their own daily encounters with AS. She uses her own experiences to add a poignant personal perspective to her presentations.
Wendy told us a story from her childhood when her mother answered one of her questions with “I don’t know”. This was the wrong AS answer and Wendy went on to repeatedly ask her mother the same question. Wendy explained that when faced by an autistic person looking for an answer to a difficult (or impossible) question a good solution may be to ask “what should I answer?”
Similarly a parent asked, “How can I tell if my non-verbal autistic child was happy?” Wendy replied, “Do you know when your child is unhappy?” The parent replied “Yes”, Wendy answered, “Then you know when your child is happy”.
NT’s tend to get hung up on oral communication, said Wendy and it is crucial that time is spent finding the best way to communicate with each individual autistic person. There are many other methods of communication and modern technology is transforming the way we communicate. It is not true that all AS’s are visual learners, Texting can often be a useful communication tool, even when in the same room.
I bought two of her books, Life behind Glass which I have read which explains her life and Concepts of Normality of which I’ve only read the forward.
If you are a parent of or work with someone with Asperger’s syndrome I strongly recommend you visit Wendy’s website www. mugsy.org/wendy I cannot stress how much it explained to me. It is almost like a Dr Wendy Lawson is the Rosetta Stone of Asperger’s. I can’t wait to read more of her books.
Due to various commitments I have been unable to help at the special school on my normal afternoon, so I volunteered to help on a different day. The staff looked delighted and asked if I could help at the swimming session at the public baths. I asked if I was expected to get in the water and they laughed and said “yes!” I have to say, while I can swim, I’m not what you would call a strong swimmer – I swim best if I can touch the bottom and I never get my hair wet.
The afternoon arrived and I turned up nervously with my swimming things. The students were all very excited climbing into a minibus. We volunteers had to run to the swimming pool as the students got out of the bus. A bit of a hitch as the lesson before us had not yet finished, our students were expecting to swim and the energy in the reception area was difficult for them to manage.
Next up, the changing rooms: All of the students are male so we use the men’s changing area, but it still caused quite a stir as most of the carers are female and men were changing from last session. The children changed quickly and mainly independently into their swimming things. The carers, in shifts, also changed.
We then went through into the swimming pool and to my amazement all the children went happily down the steps into the water. The session was fantastic all of the children had a go at floating, kicking, putting their face in the water, blowing bubbles, splashing, laughing and generally having a good time. Even I managed to get my feet off the bottom. One of the students loved to spend all of his time under the water. He would just sink to the bottom of the pool and lie on floor face down there not moving. This made me very nervous, but the water was just too deep for me to be able to reach down and pull him up without putting my own head under.
I asked him to stay above the water. He agreed and instead he stood bent at the waist so that his head was submerged. I wonder why he enjoys this so much. Is it because you can hear nothing under the water or that everything looks different? Others love the light in the water droplets and spend much of the session sprinkling the water to catch the light. It was wonderful session, well worth getting my hair wet!
Last weekend I was invited to see a friend of mine son in a production with Opera North in Leeds. I took my daughters, we were very excited to be going somewhere new. When we arrived it was explained to us that due to the large number in the audience children would have to sit on the floor!
We were then taken into a beautiful dance studio for the show. The show was called ” The True Adventures of the Future and the Past”. The play had been written by the 12 performers over the past eight weeks. The show was fantastic; there was drama, singing, jokes, music and apparently a lot ad-libbing! It was very funny and obvious to everybody watching that the performers were having a good time. At the end of the show many of the parents were exchanging phone numbers and promising to try to keep children in touch with each other . It really was a heart warming experience and a wonderful opportunity for all those involved.
This weekly creative arts project was run by VERVE. It was for young people with Asperger’s Syndrome. It ran from January to March giving up to 25 young people aged 10 to 16 the opportunity to take part in the creative out of schools project for eight weeks. They worked alongside professional artists, a director, a composer and singer.
VERVE aim is to provide an opportunity for young people with Asperger’s Syndrome to participate in something they would not normally have access to. The positive atmosphere aims to develop young people’s skills, and give them the opportunity make new friends and try out new activities.
I know that there are many wonderful out-of-school activities that children can take part in. However for a child with special needs the choice is often limited and the volunteers running the club have little awareness or understanding of the child’s conditions and needs. So it was wonderful for my friend to find this opportunity for her son. It was also a great day out for myself and my daughters.
Recently I took the little autistic boy that I work with to his office based ABA session. He was so excited to get there that he was up the stairs before I had worked out how to close the door. He ran into the room and immediately started playing with toys that were on the floor. The session was very structured and he worked very hard. One of the activities he found particularly hard was placing objects on, in, or beside other objects. For example putting the brick in the box or putting the brick on the bridge. I was surprised how hard he found it. These sorts of instructions are given all day at school or nursery. “Can you put your books away and line up at the door” would have been an instruction I would have regularly given as a teacher. The ABA sessions are fantastic at preparing him for integration into mainstream school. Every activity is broken down to tiny sections for him to practice and achieve.
One of his ABA tutors regularly goes into his nursery to work with him with other children. This is helping his social skills and encouraging him to use his peers as role models. The nursery had been worried that the sessions would be too structured however they have said that everybody is benefiting from having a tutor in nursery. Although his tutor works with him, helping him with the activities and to focus and sit still at story time the other children also benefit from having an extra adult at nursery. One of the nursery nurses said, ”Oh, ABA is just playing!”
I have been very impressed with the progress he has made doing the ABA program. He’s working with autism partnership which happens to have to an office not far from where he lives. And I feel very privileged to see the incredible progress he has made. For example when I first met him he would not use both hands to build or do puzzles. Also he would not look at what he was doing. He liked to use his peripheral vision. Yet now he can build complicated 3-D puzzles including a build my pickup truck puzzle, for this he needs to use two hands and to look very carefully.
It has been huge battle for his parents to get him on an ABA program. For nearly a year they had to fund it themselves and had to actually deliver the programme themselves for much of the time. This meant one parent had to give up work and their other children miss out on many activities. However just before Christmas they won their tribunal and their local education authority is now funding the ABA program. There is always the worry that the education authority will change its mind and withdraw the funding. It does seem very short-sighted and that hopefully when he has finished the program he will be able to access mainstream education with limited support. Surely in the long run this is cheaper than putting children like him in a special school.
The autism partnership website is a very good one and an explains things clearly and concisely
Many of you will know of this Association, and I certainly had heard of it, I think my mother was a volunteer at some stage. However it was only four weeks ago that I actually visited a centre when I took an autistic boy to a session. For those of you who don’t know of RAD, here is the history…
The Association was founded in 1965 as the Advisory Council on Riding for the Disabled with 9 Member Groups. It became Riding for the Disabled Association in 1969 when membership had grown to 80 member groups. The president at that time was Lavinia, Duchess of Norfolk with HRH The Princess Anne as Patron.
In 1975 saw the introduction of Carriage Driving as an activity and RDA drivers took part in the first World Driving Championships in 2002.
In 1986 HRH the Princess Royal took over as President.
The first National RDA Dressage Championships took place in 1981 and were expanded to include all RDA disciplines with the First RDA National Championships.
1981 also saw the launch of the Association’s in-house magazine, RDA News, which is circulated three times a year.
The Association became a Federation of Member Groups in 1999 and RDA National became an incorporated body in 2004.
2007 saw the National Office move from Stoneligh Park to it’s current location in Warwick.
The Association now has over 500 Member groups which cater for more than 23,000 Riders and carriage drivers.
I arrived at the centre where there was a riding hat waiting for us. Once that had been fitted we were taken into the covered yard where a pony and three helpers were waiting. One volunteer led the pony while the other two walked either side holding onto the young rider’s legs. There were lots of activities to do while on the pony. Small hoops needed to be placed over cones and balls placed in cups. These sorts of activities help communication and listening skills, which are hugely helpful for the little boy I take. While at the sessions I have chatted to other parents of children who are benefiting from the experience. For one little boy the balancing on a pony is helping develop muscle tone and confidence. Most of the people benefiting from RDA are referred from the medical profession. All these sessions rely on volunteers to turn up regularly, and today it was very cold. For those of us who benefit from RDA we are enormously grateful to those who give their time week after week.
If you visit the RDA website there are many case studies of those who benefited.
Here is their website www.riding-for-disabled.org.uk