autism, parenting, special needs

Knowing the signs of Autism

When I decided to start-up a blog, I knew that I didn’t want to make it all about being an autism parent. I want to be current,  topical, informative and varied. However, next Monday (2nd February), Jessica has her Ados assessment. Having already completed the first part of this assessment two weeks ago at home with the children’s Disability Nurse, where I answered a series of questions regarding family history, Jessicas development and behaviours, the Ados assessment will give a very clear and final indication if Jessica will in fact receive a diagnosis, or not. It’s taken us literally four years from Jessicas first appointment in february 2011 at age 2 years 3 months, to now, age 6 years and 2 months to get to this point. However, this has been by choice as we discussed with Jessica’s consultant at each appointment, how we were still very wary of Jessicas autism traits, but would wait a little bit longer to see how she progresses before deciding whether to go ahead with a formal assessment or not. I should also point out that Jessica is not in need of a diagnosis as such, as she has all the help already in place. But I feel that a diagnosis will answer questions in the future as Jessica grows and maybe herself feels a little different from her peers. I want to explain to her why she may find it hard to interact, or why she may be experiencing sensory overload for example

Anyway, I shall list what we noticed that brought Jessicas struggles to our attention, and also Jessicas autism traits

1) Sensitive to sound – Jessica would cover her ears quite often, particularly when we were out. If an aeroplane went overhead, the sound would mean nothing to me, but would be loud enough to make Jessica cover her ears whilst looking up to the sky. There was also one particular episode of ‘In the Night Garden’, in which Upsy Daisy would shout her name in a high pitched voice. This would make Jessica cover her ears and cry. We didn’t really think anything of both of these behaviour or actions at the time, but looking back they were a definite red flag.

2) Lack of interest in those around her – Jessica not only had very little interest in toys, but she also showed no interest in wanting to intereact with us, other family members, or other children around her. Emily will draw a picture and been keen to show me, or initiate singing nursery rhymes. Jessica did non of this, and she had no interest at all in Emily once she was born. Again, this isn’t something which prompted me to speak to a health visitor, as I was completely unaware of autism at the time.

3) No speech – This was the red flag for us. By the age of 3, Jessica had still not spoken a single word. I had worried about this from before the age of two, but kept telling myself give her time, she’s just a late developer, it will come. I had mentioned it previously to the health visitor, but I just kept giving it time and reading storys on the internet about children who were late talkers and telling myself it was nothing to worry about.

4) Lining things up – not a red flag, but an autism trait. Jessica would line toys up rather than play with them. Cars, blocks, lego, pens, pencils.

5) No interest in toys – as I mentioned earlier, Jessica showed zero interest in playing with any of her toys. When presented with a toy, she would play with it in the wrong way. For example she wouldn’t pretend to wash up or prepare tea in a toy kitchen, but line the cutlery or food items up, or draw all over it.

6) No use of social imagination – Again, regarding toys, Jessica showed no attempt or understanding of pretend play. No dressing up as a doctor or nurses, or being mum to a baby doll.

7) Need for routine. As Jessica grew older, we noticed how governed we were by doing things in a particular order, or to a certain routine. Jessica has gone through phases of wearing the same clothes each day, same pyjamas each night, even refusing to wait until they were dry after washing to wear them. Jessica comes in from school every night, pulls the bobble from her hair and drops it on the floor, goes upstairs and changes out of her uniform, and there is nothing which would get her to break this routine even for one night. I’ve told her I have a surprise for her in the living room to see if she would be intrigued enough to wait to change out of her uniform, but that didn’t entice her.

8) Repeating words, sentences or phrases over and over again. As Jessica began to use speech at around age 5, she would repeat words or sentences again and again. She would find, and still does find particular sentences or words funny enough to say again and again and laugh. Jessia went throught a period of Echolalio, when she would repeat back everything said to her. Rather than give a reply to ‘Hello Jessica, how are you’, she would respond by echoing the sentence back to you.

9) Short attention span – one of the biggest struggles in Jessias earlier days of speech therapy, was figuring out how to get Jessica to hold her attention in an activity long enough. She still flits from activity to activity althouh her attention has improved.

And last of all

10) Hyperactivity – Jessica is on the move from waking up at 6am to going to bed at 7pm. She is full of energy and never sits still or even sits down whilst at home. From doing handstands on the sofa against the wall, to jumping on her bed and running up and down the stairs. She even walks around the room whilst eating her tea.

So there you have it. The red flags of autism and the traits which go with them

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autism, parenting, speical needs

Stop juding our parenting

Todays news highlighted a story in which a young mum was ‘awarded’ £5 by a kind-hearted fellow passenger, in praise for her three-year-old sons good behaviour during a train journey. Although criticised for being perhaps patronising, nobody can deny the extreme kindness behind the gesture, and can only imagine the ego boost and rise in self esteem for being recognised for such good parenting. However, I think we are missing the point that this also highlights the upsetting example of exactly what we expect from children and what constitutes as ‘good parenting’.

I’ve been reading the comments made on links to the story on Facebook. Lots of proud mothers gushing about the praise they have also received about their childs wonderful behaviour and manners, a lady even commenting on how well behaved her 4 MONTH OLD was, also on a train journey, and another mum describing the praise received from other diners, as her she managed her two young children beautifully, meaning they dined on a nearby table in peace.

This is a letter I wrote to a local weekly newspapaer three years ago http://www.newsguardian.co.uk/news/think-before-interfering-1-4131880 It was written one afternoon, after several weeks of hurtful comments about me and my then three-year-old daughter. The comment previous to the one which prompted me to write the letter, was off a lady telling my daughter that if she didn’t stop ‘making those noises’, santa wouldn’t come. I think that was the first time I spat out the words ‘She’s autistic and can’t talk’, and walked home in tears. Last year I put a letter though both my neighbours letter boxes. Jessica, still largely non verbal at the time, was screaming from getting up, to going to bed. I discussed speaking to our neighbours about it with my husband and health visitor, but decided they know we have two small children, they’ll understand. Particularly the family with four children very close in age. However, after hearing one of them banging on the wall as Jessica screamed one morning whilst I struggled to get her dressed for school, I waved her off in her taxi, sat down with a pen and paper and wrote two letters, one for each adjoining neighbour, explaining Jessicas condition and assured them I would be seeking help and advice regarding the screaming at her pediatric appointment the following week. I know I should have knocked on their doors and spoke to them face-to-face, but I felt I wouldn’t be able to talk without getting upset. One neighbour knocked on the door, and told me not to worry and just concentrate on Jess, and the others, nothing.

Now at age 6, Jessicas  behaviour is very unpredictable, both and home, and especially in public. Throw in a 3-year-old and it’s a recipe for disaster. My anxiety levels shoot up every time I leave the house, as I not only have to deal with the potential difficult behaviour, but of course the on lookers, who are unfortunate to be in the same proximinty as my ‘un-ruley’ children which has obviously resulted from my terrible parenting skills.

I should mention that I took my children to The Baltic last summer. They love arts and crafts, and so took them to join that days activities, which they did and thoroughly enjoyed. However, as it was time to leave Emily threw the mother of all tantrums  as I tried to fasten her in her pushchair, whilst Jessica shouted continuously that she needed the toilet (Autistic children don’t always understand the concept of waiting). Jessica then ran away, so I lifted Emily out of the still unfastened pushchair (due to her kicking and screaming), picked her up and ran after Jessica as she was heading for a lift which doors were about to close, heard the pushchair laden with bags hit the floor, grabbed Jess by the arms, and that’s when a young girl working at the Baltic kindly asked if I would like any help, and held Jessicas hand whilst I again battled to sit Emlly in her pushchair, and reasurred me everything was fine by telling me her mum has told her stories of how she would often act up in public as a child.

We need to remember, this is 2015, not 1940. Our children are no longer expected to be ‘seen and not heard’. We should live in a society where we support each other, not praise those with beautifully behaved children, and chastise those for not. I spent most of the summer last year indoors feeling unable to cope with the glares, comments and stares should my children so much as make a noise, I’m not doing the same this year