Coming Home to Autism

New book Coming Home to Autism takes a room-by-room approach to guide the parents of a newly diagnosed child through day-to-day family life. There are ideas and routines to try at home, including advice on toilet training, diet and nutrition, sensory play, and much more. We sat down with co-authors Tara Leniston and Rhian Grounds to find out more…

Congratulations on the publication of your first book! We want to let our readers know a bit more about it, so, can you tell us who this book is for? Who did you have in mind when you were writing it?

Tara – When my son was diagnosed with autism 5 years ago, I was looking for a book like this. I needed simple practical advice that was easy to read, and something I could use at home.  All the books that were available at the time were either very medical based, diaries of other people’s journeys, or books on pointing fingers as to why your child had autism.  I was very fortunate that I lived in the London borough of Wandsworth at the time Dylan was diagnosed, and I had access to the best help. I was also in a position where I could throw myself fully in to learning all about autism and Dylan. While I was writing I was thinking of all the information I wish I’d had in one place – as opposed to spending hours, weeks and months researching and wasting a lot of money on things that didn’t really help at all.

Rhian – Yes, as Tara says, it was written for families with younger children and those children with a relatively recent diagnosis. I was constantly thinking back to all the families I have worked with, what they said was most useful during their sessions and what they wished they had more advice on. I was also thinking of all the other professionals I have worked with over the years and how their knowledge has contributed to helping children and families consider and plan for all their child needs; from the day to day activities, sleep and communication. This book really is a combination of all those experiences and expertise.

autism

How did you discover your shared desire to help and advocate for autistic children?

Rhian – My career has been dedicated to working with all ages with ASD. I have worked, volunteered and supported autism awareness campaigns. At the same time Tara was raising money for the National Autistic Society; launching herself off buildings, clearly advocating for Dylan and autistic children! She was also supporting local families with advice and signposting them to resources and services. Through our common desire to advocate and consider ASD as part of our families and communities we developed a friendship.

Tara – I gave up my career as an actress to help Dylan and I threw myself in to learning all about autism and how I could help others in the same situation as us. The autism community is a fantastic group of supportive people, families and professionals. I believe Dylan brought Rhian and I together to write this book.

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Tiger Mums & Parenting Pressures

Uttom Chowdhury is a Consultant Psychiatrist and a dad. His new book, The Tiger Mum Who Came to Tea, is a funny and insightful adults’ picture book, combining knowing humour with sound advice to reassure parents under pressure. In this blog, Uttom tells us about some real-life tiger parenting that inspired the book. 

This is a book I wrote primarily based on my experiences as a parent in North London rather than my experiences as a Consultant in Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. It came about after one of the mums from my children’s school told me all about her sons academic achievements and extracurricular activities. He had just done Russian GCSE and was now doing French GCSE as well as violin grade 6 and playing table tennis at a high level, but she was worried he was not reading the right books. He was 13 at the time.
tiger mum

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Why Gender Diversity in Children’s Books Matters

Gender diverse children's booksAlice Reeves and Phoebe Kirk discuss the importance of gender diverse children’s books as a way of helping them to understand that expressing our gender identity in whatever way we choose doesn’t have to be a problem in today’s society.  They are the authors of The Truth and Tails series, which aims to eliminate prejudices and encourage inclusion in young children aged 4-8.

When we’ve shared posts about our children’s book Vincent the Vixen on social media, a question we’ve been asked a few times is: “Hang on, isn’t a Vixen a female fox?”

We wanted the title of the book to spark intrigue, and give a small insight into its theme, and it’s been interesting to see that some people are more likely to assume that we’ve made a mistake than that we’re writing a book about a character that isn’t cisgender. Continue reading

“Lap Therapy” Time by Beth Powell, LCSW

Beth Powell, LCSW, is owner of Beth Powell’s In-Family Services, an outpatient psychotherapy private practice specializing in trauma informed care. Her new book, Fun Games and Physical Activities to Help Heal Children Who Hurt publishes this month.

Bye-Bye Baby Bunting.

Daddy’s gone a hunting.

To catch a little rabbit skin,

To wrap his Baby Bunting in.

                                       Mother Goose

When I was a small child being cared for by my aunt, she sang this song while rocking me to a slow 60-beat-a-minute rhythm.  My aunt took over my care when my mother’s mental illness made it unsafe for my sister and me to be with her. What a contrast in care! My aunt’s rhythm, voice, words, touch, and smell were so much more soothing than my mother’s.  With my aunt, I could relax. I didn’t have to struggle to get away or dissociate into a floppy, non‑moving, barely breathing, pretending-to-be-dead little girl.  My aunt exuded safety and calm that soothed my restlessness.

Resting against my aunt’s chest, I felt the slow, consistent beat of her heart.  I relaxed into the protection of her arms wrapped gently around me.  Her voice, vibrating from her chest into my ears, awakened the proprioceptive neural impulses in my face that told me where I was in time and in space.  Grounding me with her body, she held me so I wouldn’t fall.  Wrapped in her loving arms, I felt safe enough to close my eyes.  The sweet smell of my aunt’s skin pleasured the lower, emotional center of my brain, enticing me to lie close and be still just a little bit longer.

The more my caregiver sang and rocked me, the more her song and her rhythm calmed and relaxed her.  As she calmed and relaxed, so did I.  We shared a pleasurable experience.  We connected in a happy, healing way.  My receptive language was developing.  Her words and touch assured me that there was someone much bigger and stronger than I was who had my best interests at heart.  She was unafraid and confident in her ability to nurture.  She put me first.  By her loving actions, she was forming a template in my brain of safety–security–protection–trust in a higher power through a concrete, much-bigger-than-myself human being.  The safety and security I felt in her arms paved the way for my future belief and faith in a loving, abstract, not-of-this-earth higher, heavenly power.

Adults create healthy, secure attachment in children through positive “real” non-virtual, physical interaction with them.  Caregivers are able to instill in children safety–security–protection–trust because loving, protective adults instilled it in them.  My birth mother couldn’t instill that in me.  But my aunt and uncle, my grandma, and my first‑grade teacher, Miss Beetles, could. They were the human caregiving angels God sent my way. Thus, in spite of the hard beginnings I had, the template was established, in childhood, for the “me” I am today because of caregivers like them who somehow understood what I needed and were able to provide it when I needed it.

Internalized safety–security–protection–trust is the base from which self-esteem, self-confidence, self-responsibility, self-strength, and altruism develop. It is the support upon which mature character or the internalized Fruit of the Spirit must build.  Without an internalized secure base, children develop anxiety and self-deception.  When a child has a secure base in childhood with positive attachment to a preferred, stable, protective, and physically present primary caregiver, then a healthy relationship with God, whom we cannot see, is much easier.

Insecurely attached and developmentally traumatized children often succumb to unhealthy control, anxiety, mistrust of those who love them, and abusive behaviors.  As adults they either become their own God (unhealthy narcissism) or they may find God in substances or toxic behaviors. Reversing unhealthy belief systems is difficult but not impossible. It’s work that is definitely not for the faint of heart, nor for parents who take a child’s antics personally, as if it is “them” whom the child is out to get by interpreting their“can’ts” as “won’ts.”

Therapeutic caregivers of hurting children seek the sources of the unpleasant symptoms that they see, and they address those sources from a psychological, neuro-behavioral, socio-emotional and spiritual growth perspective.  Children need to trust that adult caregivers can and will protect them.  This trumps any other socio-emotional need in childhood.  This is the base upon which the quality of the relationship with self, with others, and with God is built.  A child who has experienced significant neglect, abuse, loss, and chronic and acute stress has an even greater need for safety-security-protection-trust experiences with loving, mature, and stable adults.  They have a harder time developing trust because it has been broken, sometimes again and again.

Below is a therapeutic activity that caregivers can share and enjoy with the children in their care to help them establish an essential base of safety–security–protection–trust.

Caregiver–child rocking chair time to help calm brain and body

It’s not just about rocking infants any more.  Larger children who hurt can benefit from rocking, too.  And so can the caregiver.  This comforting act helps regulate children when they are fretting and need help regulating themselves.

It also provides caregiver–child quality “love and bonding” time.  How comforting rocking feels for both parties involved.  Caregivers can even rock themselves when they feel out of sorts, and it helps to re-set their brain.

Rocking caregivers should add a slowly-sung comforting song, hum something spiritually soothing, or just gently make a “shush” sound with their lips and tongue while taking slow, long, and deep breaths to not only better regulate themselves but to give the child something to match.   A regulated parent helps regulate a child.  The drawn out “shush” sound and the slow, rhythmic rocking replicates the sound and the movement the gestational infant at least should have received in utero.  This movement and sound helps the baby’s lower brain develop in a healthier way to better manage stress.  It also helps the older brain do the same.

Caregiver-initiated knee-bouncing games to help install rhythmic synchronicity and nurture trust in children

One of my favorite close times with the adults who loved and enjoyed me as a child was to “Go See Mr. Brown.”  I’m not sure where this knee-bouncing game originated, but it could have been passed down generationally through my South Mississippi maternal ancestors.

To perform this adult-activated activity, the child first sits, facing the adult, on the adult’s knees.  It’s important that the adult’s face and body language convey confidence and fun with lots of facial expression and eye contact.

The adult securely holds onto the child while the child securely holds onto the adult. Then the adult bounces the child slowly and consistently up and down on the knees in synchrony with the words and the 60-beat-a-minute rhythm of the following song:

Mr. Brown went to town

Riding a goat and leading a hound.

The hound barked; the goat jumped.

Threw Mr. Brown right down on a stump!

Surprise! The child does not tumble onto the floor.  Instead, the adult gently, slowly, and securely tilts the child backward as far as the child can comfortably tolerate without showing signs of anxiety and fear.  Then slowly, the adult returns the child to a sitting position on top of the knees.  The adult then asks the child, “Who kept you from falling on that stump?”  “You did!” is the desired answer.  “And I will every time!” can be the adult response.

As the child grows in trust that the adult performing the activity will keep him safe from falling, and will stop if the activity scares him, then the adult may gradually increase the speed and the depth to which the child is tilted back.  In the situation of a hyper-vestibular child (child fearful of too much movement), that may not be by much because the part of the brain which reads and adjusts to movement isn’t working as optimally as it should.  Heed the expression on the child’s face and take notice of resistance in the body to the tilting back movement.  Ask children if they are ready to tilt back.  Don’t force a child to tilt back farther than he or she is ready to go.  That doesn’t build safety-security-protection-trust.

“Lap therapy” time is supposed to be pleasurable and bonding.  It should be mutually enjoyable with lots of eye contact and joyful, loving facial expression on the part of the caregiver!

What exactly is anxiety and why do we need it?

managing anxietyClinical psychologists Sue Knowles and Bridie Gallagher discuss what anxiety is and how, although it can sometimes feel unbearable for many people, we actually need our anxiety to make our lives work.  Their article has been adapted from their new book, My Anxiety Handbook: Getting Back on Track, which provides young people with guidance on how to recognise and manage anxiety’s difficulties.

Anxiety is what happens when our bodies think we are under threat.  It’s a feeling that most people describe as unpleasant, but the physical sensations can actually be very similar to feelings of excitement.  The difference when we’re anxious is that we also have anxious thoughts or interpret the feeling as “bad”.  Other words that are commonly used to describe feeling anxious are “nervous”, “fearful” or “worried”.

Everyone responds a little differently when they are anxious.  Some people feel anxiety mostly in their body with sensations in their stomach, chest and even sometimes their arms and legs.  Other people might say that anxiety is “in their head” because the main thing they notice is that their thoughts go very fast.  These things happen in our body and our mind because when our body notices a “threat”, it responds in the way that it has since we were living in caves.  Back then, we were threatened by predators and worried about being clubbed to death by other cavemen.  Now, we might be more worried about exams and feel threatened by new groups of people.  So, in the way that is has for eons, your brain uses the information collected by your eyes and ears to detect threats in your environment and, without consulting you, releases a number of chemicals that have immediate effects on both your body and the way you think.

These chemicals affect your breathing, your digestion, heart rate, blood flow and muscle tension.  The aim is to make you ready to get very far away from the threat quickly (flight), kick the hell out of that caveman (fight) or pretend you are dead so he goes away and leaves you alone (freeze).  So, your heart rate and breathing speed up, your blood flows away from you internal organs and towards your arms and legs so they are ready for action.  The unintended consequences can be that you feel tense and a bit sick, or get butterflies in your stomach.  You could start to sweat and feel light-headed or a bit dizzy, even though you might be sitting still.  All these reactions are clever ways ways of your brain helping you to be ready and prepared to manage threat.  However, as threats have changed significantly since this threat system evolved, these reactions are not as useful as they once were.  If we don’t understand what our body is doing, then these reactions themselves can cause even more anxiety.

Some people feel anxious every day; other people only feel anxious occasionally.  Some people’s brains will kick off the chemical reactions much more easily than others.  We think, from looking at the research, that this can be because they were either born with a sensitive threat system or because they have had more difficult and stressful experiences, or both.  There are lots of individual differences, but what we know is that everyone experiences anxiety.

When we are anxious, several things happen to the way we think.  It becomes easier to think of negative rather than positive outcomes, we get stuck on “what if” questions, and our thinking brain shuts down and our threat brain (focused solely on survival) takes over.  This means that we struggle to use the bits of our brains that usually would help us to solve problems and see the wider context, because these bits are offline whilst we manage the threat.  This is a really effective way of dealing with physical threats that were common for cavemen, but it does not serve us so well in complex social situations that we find ourselves in now.

That said, we wouldn’t want to be entirely without anxiety.  This may sound silly, especially if anxiety is making your life miserable, however it is important to remember that anxiety is useful and we wouldn’t want to be without it.  We developed flight, fight and freeze for a very good reason and although we now have more complex worries and things to be scared of, we still need our anxiety to make our lives work.

Imagine if parents didn’t feel anxious about their new baby?  Dads might not bother to baby-proof the house, mums might not bother to check that the car seats are attached properly.  None of these things work out very well for the baby.

Worrying about exams might be stressful, but is it worse than not worrying about exams?  If we didn’t have any anxiety about the future, then we would probably just sit and eat ice-cream rather than revising.  After all, which is more fun and pleasant?

In our new book, we do not aim to rid you of your anxiety.  This might sound like a blissful idea, but we really think that your anxiety is an important and useful part of your life.  It might just need some understanding, and maybe some taming, to make sure it is helping more than it is causing you problems.  We aim to provide you with information and young people’s stories that will help you to better understand your anxiety and where it might come from, and to explain a number of different approaches and strategies to help you to feel more in control of your anxiety.  The ideas that we have included come from research studies, our experiences of working with young people, and the experiences of young people and what they have found helpful.

Use code MAH for a 10% discount when you order this book from our website before the 10th February.

If you would like to read more articles like Sue and Bridie’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Mental Health books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time.

All About Me

All About Me is an in-depth guide describing the practicalities of telling a child or young person about their autism diagnosis. It discusses when to tell, who should do it, and what they need to know beforehand. In this blog, author Andrew Miller explains his reasons for creating the book, and who can benefit from it.

autism diagnosis

What motivated you to write All About Me?

Telling children and young people that they have autism and trying to explain what it means to them is difficult. The abstract nature of autism, its associated differences in cognition and its lifelong implications make it hard for children to understand, and finding out that they have autism could potentially cause some individuals emotional and psychological upset. Therefore, in some cases it could create more problems for an individual than it might intend to solve.

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Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing

Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing is a fun, illustrated storybook that will help children aged 5-10 with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and/ or Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC/ASD) to recognise their sensory needs and to develop tools to support them. To learn more about the book, who better to ask than its authors, K.I. Al-Ghani and Joy Beaney? Chatting to them, we learned a lot about hyperactivity in children, what to look out for and what can help. There’s even a downloadable activity sheet for teachers. Read on to find out more.adhd

What motivated you to write Winston Wallaby Can’t Stop Bouncing and who is the book for?

Joy and I have worked together in special education for many years. We noticed that there were not many books available that could explain hyper-activity to children in a story format.  We decided to collaborate on this project using Joy’s expertise in Sensory Processing Difficulties, my skills as a story teller and Haitham’s ability to bring it all to life, through his illustrations.
We think the book has something for everyone: It is a story all children can enjoy. A story in which, we hope, children with hyperactivity will be able see themselves in Winston.  They will learn that it is not their fault and instead of being the problem, they could learn to be part of the solution. Parents and educators will have tools and strategies they can use that can help the child to manage their hyperactivity and, if successful, perhaps avoid the need for medication.

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Christmas can be a tough time for children who have experienced trauma. How can we help them to enjoy the festive period?

child trauma christmas

Betsy de Thierry, author of The Simple Guide to Sensitive Boys and The Simple Guide to Child Trauma, explains how Christmas isn’t necessarily a happy time for all children, especially those who have experienced trauma.

Television adverts and social media are full of happy families at this time of year. Tables are laden with delicious food, presents can be found under trees and all around everyone is smiling. Beneath this image, however, there are many children who, for various emotional reasons and past traumatic experiences, can find the contrived festive spirit overwhelming.

For those who care for a child who fits this description, I thought I’d highlight a few challenges and potential triggers to be aware of during Christmas.

  1. Adult expectations that all emotions will be positive

As parents and carers we do love it when our photos make us look like a happy family.  We enjoy dressing up our kids in Christmas jumpers and taking photos that make us look way more perfect, peaceful, harmonious and happy than perhaps the reality is.

Children who have experienced trauma can pick up on a parent’s anxiety for everything to go ‘perfectly’. They are often hyper-vigilant which means that they notice the small detail of your facial expressions, others emotions, smells, sights and sounds – such as a raised eyebrow – because their subconscious has been trained to notice such things in order to survive unpredictable frightening scenarios. Whilst it has been a survival strategy to pre warn them about anything frightening about to happen, it also means that they can see clearly in your eyes the look of hope, fear and uncertainty as you speak about the plans for Christmas celebrations. They want to please you so they may try and be all that you want them to be- but the cost to them can be high. If they feel that your need for perfection and a ‘happy Christmas’ is important for their ‘survival’ then they may deny their own struggles to focus on your needs, which could lead to a volcanic eruption of negative emotions at some point as they will be struggling to hold all their strong emotions internally for too long.

As a tip, it can be helpful to laugh together at the media’s image of Christmas and talk about how many feelings all the adults and children can have at Christmas. It’s always helpful to tell stories of when you were a child and received a weird or unexpected present and how you navigated the expectations and feelings you felt. Laughter at expectations is important and can dilute the pressure that can be felt.

2.  Overwhelming feelings of happiness, loss, sadness, excitement all at the same time

For almost every child, Christmas is a time of experiencing lots of different emotions. Most children will feel excited and hopeful and then on the day of presents will feel happy alongside short, sharp moments of awkwardness, disappointment and sadness that a few presents were not received or weren’t quite right.

For children who are struggling from trauma, these emotions will be significantly stronger but can also be coupled with a strong feeling of loss. Loss seems to be a strong emotion at Christmas; in an environment where things ‘should be perfect’, the loss of a family member, their birth family, a life experience, or a loss of innocence can be felt powerfully, although sometimes on an implicit subconscious level. The strong feelings of loss, which can be felt as sadness and anger, can be overwhelming in the context of ‘happy people’. Somehow the contrast can feel explosive. To add to the cocktail of strong emotions is the most potent of all feelings, which is guilt and shame.

Guilt and shame is often carried at the core of traumatised children as they feel the weight of self-blame for what they have experienced, despite the obvious fact for us that they never caused or deserved anything that happened to them. Shame is the sense that they are bad, dirty, worthless people at the core of who they are. Christmas can feel so overwhelming that their shame levels can rise because they feel that they will probably be ‘the one to ruin everything’ and make everyone unhappy. This can create anxiety or terror, which can lead to some children emotionally exploding before Christmas events have even begun.

3. Relatives commenting on how they look, small talk and expected hugs

Children who have been through trauma can sometimes feel confused about adult requests (‘oh give your granny a hug’) and ‘small talk ‘conversations (what a lovely, happy chap you are!”). When there are unfamiliar relatives who hold expectations such as hugs, it can feel like being traumatised. Trauma can be defined as experiencing powerlessness and terror at the same time. A child could feel powerless (inability to say no) and terror (strong fear) when adults ask them to hug, tickle them or tease them. We need to be able to explain to children that they can say ‘no thank you’ and be confident in ‘being shy’ because that is a normal response to such demands. It’s also helpful if we can chat to relatives and other adults who may visit and explain that, for safeguarding reasons, we are teaching our children that they can take the lead on their own body and say ‘no’ when they want to.  We can also explain that sometimes children may not engage in small talk because they are learning how to be authentic in their conversations and so may not say ‘the right thing’.  It can also be important to point out that children certainly don’t like being teased or commented on because they are children with real emotions and sensitivities.

4. Needing to pretend they like the presents they are given

This is fairly obvious but can be a huge pressure for children to navigate. They see the look of hope on the present giver and don’t want to disappoint whilst also feeling a sense of disappointment themselves. Let’s be kind to children who are honest and have emotions that are authentic and enable them to process negative feelings in a way that ends well and gives them a life time of skill.

5. A strange fat man (Father Christmas) is coming into my bedroom while I am sleeping

As an adult I would not be keen to think that an old man is coming to my bedroom at night while I am sleeping. It doesn’t make me feel safe. I have no idea why we think children would be ok with this! If your child doesn’t sleep around the Christmas season, it could be due to fear about this experience. They may feel too much shame to tell you as others seem so excited about it, but actually the feelings of anxiety can rise leading up to this ‘special night’. For those who have been sexually abused, by a man at night coming into their bedroom, it would seem obvious that they may not be feeling that relaxed. Popping the fantasy bubble about Father Christmas can be the kindest thing you can do to some children!

If you would like to read more articles like Betsy’s and hear the latest news and offers on our Adoption, Fostering and Social Care books, why not join our mailing list? We can send information by email or post as you prefer. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Autism: A Journey of Discovery as a Parent and Psychologist

Raelene Dundon is a parent, a psychologist and the author of  Talking with Your Child about Their Autism Diagnosis: A Guide for Parents. In this piece, Raelene tells her personal story of how she came to write this book, and what she hopes it will achieve. You can also read an edited extract from the book on our blog, here

Looking back on where this book really started, I would have to say that it was 10 years in the making. It was about 10 years ago that my son Aaron was diagnosed with Autism, and I was launched into a world of speech therapy, behavioural intervention, visual supports and questions – lots of questions.

parent autism

I was already a registered Psychologist at the time, and had been working with children with Autism and other developmental disabilities in an early intervention program in Melbourne, Australia. While with hindsight I can honestly say that my experience of being a parent to a child with Autism has been a challenging but overwhelmingly positive one, I can still remember the moment I was told that Aaron had Autism and my reaction was one I have since seen many other parents go through – fear, sadness, and confusion.

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The Importance of Talking to Kids About Mental Health

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Helen Bashford, author of Perry Panda, has experience working in the mental health field, most recently as Carers Lead for a Mental Health Trust, providing support for families. In this article, Helen discusses the need to talk to children about mental health, and the benefits of drip feeding them information. 

We have all heard it by now, that 1 in 4 people will experience mental illness at some point in their life.  This statistic means that every child – every single one – will know someone experiencing mental ill health, if not now then in the future.  There’s also a 25% chance they will become ill themselves.  In families where a parent or sibling is ill, children have to live with the disruption mental illness can cause, and childhood is rife with issues such as bullying that can leave children vulnerable.  Research now shows that half of all mental health problems are established by the age of 14, and 75% by the age of 24 (Mental Health Foundation).  So, when we think about how to prevent mental illness we probably need to think about childhood.

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