Helping a Child with Autism Handle Halloween

Walking around the shops in October it is impossible to escape the ghoulish Halloween theme. The supermarkets are full of masks, deathly hands and creepy cobwebs. A child may shrug this off as you walk them quickly past displays, which are a little too creepy for comfort.

But let’s think about the child with autism. These children often have a different way of processing, heightened or jumbled perception and sensory issues. How might they perceive those costumes, decorations and unexplained changes?

The best way to understand is to try walking in their shoes…

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Shops.

You are now a child with autism entering a supermarket.

The volume has been put up and every individual noise is becoming unbearably loud. The sound of a trolley is like thunder clashing, those sliding doors are nails down a blackboard screeching as they open and close, open and close. Colour is gone and the lighting creates a nightmare strobe effect coupled with a continuous, loud hum, which feels like bees moving about and buzzing inside your ears. Your senses are all muddled. Revolting shop smells of food and body odours, do not stop at your nose, but become sickening tastes. Your mouth is dry. The floor seems to wobble and your clothes begin to grate and chaff and burn into your skin. You anticipate these feelings, but at least you know this shop. You know the routine. You’ve been here before and survived…

But wait!

Suddenly there is an isle of terror where the toys usually are. That piano with the coloured buttons, which is the ONLY reason you’ve ever endured this shop has been replaced by a cauldron full of skeletons and black spiders. That Lego set you’ve been told to “wait for until your birthday” is GONE too! You zoom in and take in every detail – image after image like the ‘click, click, click’ of a camera. It’s fascinating, but also terrifying. You’ll think about it later. It is all too different and uncomfortable right now. Images will be stored for when are home and feel safe – maybe bedtime?

Dressing up.

Maybe you hate dressing up or seeing other people dressed up. Maybe you recognise people by what they wear and the sameness of style makes you feel more secure. Maybe dressing up makes you feel you must become that character. If you are dressed as a tiger then you feel like a tiger. Grown up’s don’t seem to get this and keep telling you off as you leap about roaring and scratching…

Face Paints

Maybe you find face paints frightening – the sad clown with a painted smile. Is it happy or sad? Good or bad? Facial expressions are already confusing, without throwing face paints in to the mix. Maybe someone wants you to wear face paints, but you have a sensory fear or do not realise that those paints are only temporary. Maybe the face paints are okay, but you have a deep, scratchy memory of the face washing after.

Trick or Treat?

Now there are knocks on the door after dark and you see Mum or Dad giving away your sweets to other children. When will it end? Maybe Mum and Dad turn the lights out and neighbours know not to knock on your door. But then there are the neighbours, who still welcome trick or treating. They make this clear with decorations – a friendly pumpkin or a full on fright house…

What can we do to help?

Whether you choose to get involved with Halloween or not it is important to prepare a child with autism for the run up to October 31st.

Here are my top 10 tricks to preparing a child with Autism for Halloween.

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Click Here to download a poster of the top 10 tricks to prepare a child for Halloween

Adele Devine is the author of Colour Coding for Learners with Autism now available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers 

Tessie Regan – Like Having Six Senses

Tessie Regan‘s new book Shorts is a series of short stories about Alcohol, Asperger Syndrome and God. This short introduction is about the relationship between alcoholism and Asperger Syndrome as viewed from her humorous and unique perspective.

I’m 31 and it has only been in the past year that doctors have used their probes and fancy words to explain what exactly has been going on in my brain. Getting my diagnosis meant everything made more sense. I wasn’t insane! I wasn’t rude or unsympathetic! I wasn’t a loner because I hated people! I wasn’t moody because I was impatient! I wasn’t easily distracted and unfocused because I had ADD! I wasn’t a royal pain in the ass as a child because I was undisciplined! I was operating in a different playing field and had been quieting the confusing and undiagnosed symptoms of Asperger’s by drinking myself to death – self-medication at its very finest.

The drinking washed away the feeling of steel-wool in my temples, removed the square blocks from my sternum and eased the clenching jaw that kept in the screaming because my skin was electric. The drinking made my senses relax and encounter the world at a slower pace. When I was sober some things would be so heightened that it was hard to distinguish which sense was receiving what feeling. It is like being dropped off by the mother-ship to run some experiments on the earthlings, but they’ve forgotten to give me the bone and flesh suit that can withstand the elements. Like sending a football player into the game without pads and a helmet… Oops!

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But I guess you’re thinking what did it look like, to be a drunk and to have Aspergers?

While I was drinking most of the symptoms were quieted and hidden. I could be so normal, but only when I was in active addiction. Before I began drinking and during seasons of sobriety was the best vantage point to see Asperger’s. It hid in ‘personality’ and easily fooled the people that loved me because to them it was a harmless problem they could chalk up my oddities (or the endless pool of my ‘personality’). For example I loved consistency and routine and any minor change would result in near cataclysmic meltdowns. As a child, it meant becoming physically ill and depressed and eventually hospitalized when we moved from West Virginia to North Carolina. As an adult, it meant drinking myself through changes big and small. From my older sister moving out of the country to the corner grocery store changing the layout of the aisles.

For the most part having Asperger’s means doing life with a little bit of funniness, but there is a darker side. There is a lot of time alone because I enjoy solitude and also because I need to reset. There is a lot of avoiding and making lame excuses because I don’t want to do something and this hurts people’s feelings. They really start to resent the criminal boyfriend that is espoused to my mind. They make wide circles and annoyed groans. They roll their eyes and suspect I didn’t see it because I didn’t look them in the eye. They wonder when I’ll grow up or mature or act my age. Sometimes they earnestly believe this is because I drank for so many years and that I have given myself some sort of permanent brain damage. The more that my cards make sense, the more they seem to offend the others at the table. But the misunderstanding is okay. When sunlight picks up the hairs on my bare skin one at a time and raises the temperature by a miniscule degree; when I can watch and see this miracle happening on my arm, I will remember that some people will not notice the warmth of it at all. I will remember that my bag of tricks is a blessing translated for the earthlings as ‘quirky’, and let it be well to be that too.

Tessie Regan is the author of Shorts, which is available from Jessica Kingsley Publishers. To order your copy go the JKP website.

 

Summer Holiday activites for younger children with Autism and other learning difficulties (Day 5).

This one probably requires a trip to the local arts store but will provide hours of possibilities and fun once it’s mixed together.

GLOWING WATER

In just a few steps we can turn basic tap water into buckets of fluorescent fun.

Here’s all you need

  • Water
  • A container
  • NON-TOXIC fluorescent paint
  • Backlight bulb

GO!
1. Add a few tablespoons of fluorescent paint in any color into very warm or hot water:

2. stir until completely mixed

3. add as much water as you’d like to increase the volume, stopping before the glow is too diluted.

 

You’ve got the base for glow-in-the-dark water balloons.

And that’s IT! Now get glowing!

 

Taken from The Asperkid’s Game Plan by Jennifer Cook O’Toole

Summer Holiday activites for younger children with Autism and other learning difficulties (Day 4).

We want to highlight activities that you can do without having to spend any (or that much) money in order to have fun. This game is a perfect example of ‘no-money fun’ that you can have just using everyday household items and a little bit of imagination.

MONKEY TOES

Primary learning focus

  • Balance, motor planning, crossing the midline.

Materials needed

  • Unbreakable bowl, bucket or tote bag.
  • Cotton balls, pompoms, or other small, soft objects.

Description
Scatter the cotton balls or other objects around a small area, and then have the child remove shoes and socks and collect the objects to place in the container using only his/her feet. If a cotton ball is too far away, have the child retrieve it and then hop on one foot to get to the container.

Variations

  • Use different size or colour pompoms, and have the child collect items according to size. Colour or pattern.
  • Have the child sit on his/her bottom, and use two feet together to pick up objects.
  • Have the child trap a beanbag between both feet, then jump on two feet to get the container without losing the beanbag.
  • Challenge balance skills by doing this activity with arms held over the head, hands in pockets or behind the back, or on a slightly unstable surface (for example, sofa cushions or air mattress).

 

As featured in Simple Low-Cost Games and Activities for Sensorimotor Learning by Lisa A. Kurtz

 

Summer Holiday activites for younger children with Autism and other learning difficulties (Day 3).

For day 3 we turn to those little coloured bricks that are an endless source of fascination for a lot of children on the spectrum.

LEGO MY CREATION

This one is for parents with two children of a similar age range and here communication is the key.

 

Here’s what you will need

  • Two small containers each holding an identical assortment of “parts – Lego Bricks (but could also be figures, building blocks, pipe cleaners – anything works as long as both containers contain the same objects.

Sit your two contestants back-to-back and give each one a container that has the items in it which are identical to their partner’s.

Player 1 has 3 minutes to construct whatever they want out of the pieces – the only rule is that they have to use ALL of them (oh and no peaking from player 2)

When the time is up player 1 must explain to player 2 what he/she has made, the aim here is to make player 2 see what player 1 sees. Player 2 has to repeat back the instructions that they can remember a section at a time giving player 1 a chance to clarify and redirect if they didn’t get it right the first time. Each direction has to be as specific as possible and player 1 might need some coaching to help him/her paint a clear enough ‘word picture’.

If player 2 is quite verbose and asking lots of questions for clarification it is good to remind them about the importance of communication, that it goes two ways and when we don’t allow others the time they need to think and process we deny our teammates the chance to improve their skills and lower their sense of accomplishment.

The aim of the game is for player 2 to have exactly the same Lego creation as player 1.

You can adjust the complexity of the game by the number and size of pieces involved.

 

Taken from The Asperkid’s Game Plan by Jennifer Cook O’Toole

 

Special Educational Needs and Pastoral Education Autumn 2014

Browse our latest collection of titles in special educational needs and pastoral education. For more information on any of the books inside, simply click the title or cover image to view the full book page.

Summer Holiday activites for younger children with Autism and other learning difficulties (Day 1).

We realise the importance of keeping children occupied over the summer holidays and with that in mind will be featuring a different activity that you can do with your kids every day this week. These will be interesting, low-cost activities for parents with younger children – first up today is a drawing exercise that can involve the whole family (including the family pet).

 

MIRROR DRAWING

Primary learning focus

  • Auditory perception, visual-motor integration

Materials needed

  • Paper and markers or crayons
  • File folder or other object to use as a visual barrier

Description

In this game, the child attempts to draw a picture that looks the same as the adult’s picture, given only auditory clues. The adult and child each have paper and drawing materials. Place the file folder or other barrier in between the child and the adult, so they cannot see each other’s paper. The adult then draws one item at a time, giving a verbal direction for the child to do the same thing. For example, the adult might say “Draw a large square in the center of the paper, with a small circle inside the square. Next make a smiley face in the top left hand corner of the paper.” After several directions, remove the barrier and compare the two pictures, discussing how they are different or similar. Let the child take turns being the one to give directions to the adult.

Variations

  • Use lined paper and give directions to copy sequences to encourage memory skills (for example, “Let’s draw circles to make this pattern: red, blue, green, red, blue, green”)
  • While shapes and colors are easier to describe, this game is also fun when you make it more creative. For example, give directions for drawing the family pet, but add silly directions, like making a green tongue, or wearing dog mittens.
  • Draw while lying on your belly, or at a vertical surface to strengthen upper body skills.

 

As featured in Simple Low-Cost Games and Activities for Sensorimotor Learning by Lisa A. Kurtz

Parent/Caregiver Resolutions

Lauren Brukner shares her personal Mommy Resolutions. Lauren is an Occupational Therapist who lives in New York City with her husband and three children and the author of the forthcoming book, The Kids’ Guide to Staying Awesome and In Control: Simple Stuff to Help Children Regulate their Emotions and Senses (August 2014).

Kids learn by example; by what we say and do. I know it as a therapist. I have said it countless times to parents who have come to see me. As a mom, do I take my own advice? I try to. Honestly. Between working full-time, three kids aged six and under, and working on my upcoming book, I often feel as though I am always working and something has to give. Sometimes, letting my mommy hat fall can be an easy-sounding route. Thinking about my children over the past few weeks, I’ve had some mommy guilt, and have decided to re-prioritize what is most important. I have thus compiled a list of Mommy Resolutions that I am starting now, this very minute, even though it’s not New Year’s (or any holiday that I am aware of-if I’m wrong, please let me know!), and thought I would share it with all my fellow parents and caregivers. If you have somebody special in your life, these resolutions may apply to you, as well. <3

 

To My Children-I Promise That…:

1. I will not check Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or any other social media when we are together. We will simply play.

2. Even after a long day at work, I will breathe in the calm, and breathe out the stress, greeting you with a smile on my face. You’ve had a long day at school, too.

 

3. When we go to the park, I will be right there with you on the top of the slide, and at the next swing; that is, if you want me there.

4. I will try my hardest not to tell you that I am too busy; know that I always have time for you when you need me.

5. Let’s aim for a dance party at least three times a week.

6. Even though I work all day, I will try my hardest be there for your plays, graduations, and parties. You are my priority, and I never want you to think otherwise.

7. If I am wrong, I will look you in the eyes and tell you that I am sorry.

8. I will tell you that I love you every single day. I will list the countless reasons why as often as I can.

9. I will remind myself to appreciate every smile, sweet word, laugh, and tantrum; you are all growing up so quickly.

10. I will remind myself daily to ensure that each and every one of you wakes up in the morning and goes to bed in the evening knowing with full certainty that you are special, cherished, and loved to the moon and back.

 

Love,

Mommy

 

Small steps – Mindful walking with robots

From using ancient techniques to cross inhospitable terrain to walking with a highly sophisticated robot,  Chris Mitchell, the author of Mindful Living with Asperger’s Syndrome reflects on the many kinds of mindful walking.Chris Mitchell with Robot photo Edited

When new to meditation and mindfulness practice, an initial image that we may have of meditation is of a figure sitting cross-legged with their eyes closed. Understandably, a person with Asperger’s Syndrome who engages in repetitive movement as a way of coping with anxiety and finds sitting still for an extended period of time difficult may be put off seeking mindfulness practice from this mindset. As well as sitting, the Buddha also taught three other meditation postures; standing, reclining and walking. Many people who have found sitting meditation difficult take surprisingly well to walking meditation.

Though we do a lot of walking in normal day-to-day life, we may forget that much of our walking is done on autopilot, within the routine of our comfort zone. When we step outside the routine of our comfort zone into different environments, including when stepping onto different surfaces, or when walking with someone, we notice how little attention we usually pay to sensations that come with each step when we walk on autopilot. This is especially brought to our attention when you are walking with someone who has very tiny footsteps!

At the 2014 NAS professionals Conference, as well as give a seminar on Mindfulness Techniques and Asperger’s Syndrome, including some of the exercises described in Mindful Living with Asperger’s Syndrome, I also got to practice mindfulness of walking with a new friend, Mickey the Robot. Designed to help children with autism in both special and mainstream schools to develop empathy and build on their social skills, NAO Robots, designed by Aldebaran Robotics, are able to respond to human speech and movements and even have the ability to laugh. The first thing that Mickey asks you is: ‘What do you want me to do?’ He then asked me if I would like to go for a walk with him!

Mickey shows he is able to interact in a tactile way when he puts his arm up for you to hold his hand and begins to walk. Noticing that you are walking with him, he then reminds you that he only has very tiny footsteps and that if he has to walk too quick he may fall over! Becoming aware of this, I began to pay more attention to the speed and sensations of my own footsteps, stepping as short and as slowly as I could. When walking with Mickey, as well as being more aware of my footsteps, I also felt I began to feel empathy with him, just by being conscious of his walking needs and not wanting him to fall over!Chris Mitchell Walking with Robots photo

After the conference, it was then my turn to fall over numerous times with a trip to Tromso in northern Norway, north of the Arctic Circle. Leaving behind mild weather in the UK, when I arrived north of the Arctic Circle, I noticed that I was in habitual walking mode when I slipped and fell on an icy surface. Walking on different surfaces, especially ice or snow, often require different techniques of walking to cross, not only when going up and down inclines but also on flat gradients. Though it helps having the appropriate footwear, one also has to be more aware not only of the sensations of their footsteps but also of their centre of gravity, which helps keep us upright, something which we are not normally aware of when walking habitually. In the Chinese legend Journey to the West (known as Monkey in most English-speaking countries), about the journey of the monk Xuan Zang from China to India to retrieve and translate Buddhist scriptures across mountainous terrain, part of his journey involves walking across clouds from one mountain to another. Though he is given special cloud-treading boots for this part of the journey, he has to be able to master their use before embarking on his endeavour. This involves being with each step and noticing where he places each step so that he doesn’t fall through the clouds.

Similarly, in Norway’s Lyngen Alps, I took to cross-country skiing to cross a snow-covered route. Unlike downhill skiing, cross-country skiing involves a lot more walking, with the boots being more flexible and only fastened to the skis at the front. The skis help one move across the snow, but one also has to get used to a different technique of walking than the habitual walking we do in day-to-day life, being aware for the first few yards in front of you, including the hardness of softness of the snow you are stepping on. When going uphill, one finds themselves more in tune with pressure from sensations from the strength required to go up the hill. When going downhill, because there is often a feeling of relief, one can find themselves in a false sense of security when it becomes difficult to control your speed, having to bend knees to slow down.Mindful Walking with Robots mountain pic edited

Just because I practice mindfulness, it doesn’t necessarily mean that I am mindful in each and every moment of my life. Like all human beings, I am just as capable slipping out of mindfulness into habitual thought and movement. Where in fact mindfulness is in noticing when your mind wanders and you fall into habitual movements, including on our walking, sitting, standing and reclining postures.

Mindful Living with Asperger’s Syndrome by Chris Mitchell was published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers in 2013.

Win a copy of ‘Can I tell you about ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome?’ by Jacqueline Rayner

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PLEASE NOTE – This competition has now closed, but you can still get all the latest info about new books like this one by signing up to our mailing list here.

 

We have five copies of Can I tell you about ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome? by Jacqueline Rayner to give away – and you could be in with a chance of winning one!

This illustrated book helps family, friends and anyone who knows someone with ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis) or CFS (Chronic Fatigue Syndrome) understand what it is, what it is like to have it, and how it can affect family life.

Mollie, a woman with ME/CFS, and her family explain in simple and child-friendly terms why she can’t always do things that other mums do because of her illness, which can be frustrating, and share strategies that help them all cope. The family also explain how ME/CFS can affect different people in different ways.

Rayner - can i tell you about ME - pg18 - extractTo enter, simply sign up to our mailing list here by Friday 7th March to be in with a chance of winning.

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The Can I tell you about…? series of books offer simple introductions to a range of limiting conditions explained from the point of view of friendly characters.

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