April is Autism Awareness Month, so we asked the Netbuddy community (now part of Scope) for some of their top tips. Find out how a ceiling fan and some old yoghurt pots could change your life!
Jacob’s worry box
My son Jacob is seven and has Asperger syndrome and high functioning Autism. He has very high anxiety levels and worries about lots of things. Every night, after story, we do “worry time”. We talk about about all the worries he has put in his “worry box” (his head) throughout the day. It’s a really good way of helping him deal with his anxieties/worries with lots of reassurance and cuddles from his mum.
Carry a surprise card
If your child has Autism or Aspergers, it’s worth carrying a ‘surprise’ card with you for unplanned situations (like unannounced fire drills). On the card, have a surprise symbol (an exclamation mark) and “SURPRISE! we are going to x, y, z”
Remember that routines are important in everyone’s life. Missing a step can make you feel “not quite right”. Think about how you feel if you sleep in and don’t get to eat breakfast or have a shower. This can be useful when trying to understand why someone is struggling when they can’t complete a routine.
Say it with an emoji
Sometimes my brother, who has autism, finds it hard to explain how he is feeling. But he likes choosing an emoji icon on the phone/ipad to represent an emotion.
We’ve created a ‘sensory wall’ by sticking old yoghurt pots on the wall – you can also put bubble wrap, biscuit packet insides, corrugated paper, sand paper ….
My son likes it when I join him in his “autistic activities” like lying on the floor and just staring at the ceiling. Once he notices that I am there he asks for blanket and we just relax like that! Try seeing the world from their eyes sometimes.
Record the answer
Tim keeps asking the same question over and over. I bought a key ring on which I recorded the answer. Now he can press the button as much as he wants without driving me so crazy.
Scented bubbles are great for sensory stimulation. Many sensory catalogues and supermarkets sell them.
Explore alternative activities
Try replacing repetitive behaviour with another activity that has the same function. For example, if your child flicks their fingers for visual stimulation, try giving them a kaleidoscope or a bubble gun.
Sensory equipment can be expensive so try before you buy. Look out for equipment in toy libraries. STEPS, Cerebra and now Newlife Foundation have national schemes. You may find schools/centres locally which offer the same.
The Reason I Jump
I recommend this book if you’d like to understand why autistic people behave the way they do. The Reason I Jump: One Boy’s Voice from the Silence of Autism by Naoki Higashida. It’s heartbreaking but enlightening. The Reason I Jump
It’s OK to be different
Always choose your battles. Be sure you are doing things that will help your child rather than simply make them “fit in”. Sometimes it’s OK to be different!
To support turn taking teach children how to use a sand timer so that they can show they are asking for a turn and the child on the toy can see when their turn finishes. A large bright coloured 3 minute timer is excellent.
Encouraging eye contact
I put stickers on my forehead as a target for my son to look at. This helps him to look at people’s faces and people feel more like he is engaging with them, despite him still struggling with eye contact.
I use traffic light cards on my key ring to control my son’s behaviour. Green means “ok, good, go for it”. Yellow means “calm down, you may hurt yourself or someone else if you carry on”. Red means “no- stop right now!” Used alongside countdowns these techniques have made things a lot more manageable.
Play tents for kids make great sensory spaces when kitted out with everyday items e.g. fairy lights, hanging old CD’s, tinsel, etc.
DIY social stories
I have been creating my own social stories using pictures of my son and clip art pictures. You can find images of most things through Microsoft Office and easily type up your own personalised stories.
If looking directly into your eyes is too invasive for the person you’re supporting, try using mirrors to see if they can look at you that way.
Early bird shopping
If shopping for clothes or shoes is a nightmare, try asking the manager if they’ll open the shop 15 minutes earlier to allow you to try things on without an audience. Our local Clarks suggested it to us, and it made it stress free for all of us.
I’ve bought a multi-coloured shower head on Amazon. The shower head flashes different coloured lights while the water is turned on. My son, who previously hated washing, loves it now!
My son can’t cope with standing in queues. I always go to the front of the queue and asked nicely if we could come to the front. Nobody ever minds when I do. It isn’t fair on him or anyone else to make him queue.
Teaching social rules
For people with ASD, learning social communication rules is a bit like learning a foreign language. It’s not impossible to learn, but it has to be taught, and it takes time.
Try fun games that involve screaming as loud as you can then whispering quietly. We do this before we go out. It reduces my son’s anxiety and also prepares him for what is acceptable in private and in public.
We find YouTube invaluable for preparing our son for a new activity or venue, such as horse-riding or a theme park. You can find videos of most activities and places online.
Lisa loves rocking which sometimes drives us a bit barmy. We bought a rocking chair for the house and a swing for the garden. These satisfy her sensory needs and make it more comfortable for us to cope with.
We’ve discovered the best thing that stops a tantrum in our house, would you believe, is a ceiling fan. Screaming starts, turn the fan on and the spinning calms James down immediately. Best £45 ever spent!
Find out more about getting involved in World Autism Awareness Month 2014 on the Ambitious about Autism website.