Negative Flashbacks and Autism

Autistic people can have powerful memories. This can result in intense flashbacks, which can be painful and embarrassing. In this post I am going to discuss the phenomena of negative flashbacks and their effects.

Autism and Memory

Autistic people can experience memories in a very different way to neurotypicals. As a spectrum condition, experience of memory can vary greatly between individuals. Autobiographical memories can be particularly intense for one autistic person, whereas another may have difficulty remembering the details of events where they were present. They may not be able to accurately picture themselves in a scenario that they participated in.

There are many different kinds of memory. These include declarative, sensory, episodic and working memory types. Autism can affect how these memories are experienced. As an extreme example, an autistic savant may be able to recall tiny details of an artwork or play a piece of complex music from memory. Memory and autism is a huge topic, which hopefully I can return to in more detail in later blogs. However, this post is dedicated to the specific topic of negative flashbacks.

Negative Flashbacks

A negative flashback is when an autistic person has a very strong memory of something that happened in the past. This will usually be an embarrassing incident of a social nature, although it could be a distressing event, like bullying. Unlike a normal memory, this type of memory is extremely intense, almost transporting the person back to the time and place over and over again. They feel the emotions and pain over and over, which is extremely unsettling and frightening.

A negative flashback can be combined with rumination. This is when a person plays a scene over and over again in a loop. It is like a stuck record on replay. The scenario replays endlessly in the head, causing great distress. This rumination, combined with the intensity of the emotions involved, can easily lead to a meltdown.

Supporting Someone Through a Negative Flashback

It is important to take the individual into consideration when supporting them through a flashback episode. Firstly it is important to take things seriously. An episode like this can cause intense distress for the sufferer and should not be taken lightly. It is no good telling them to “snap out of it,” as it really is not that simple. Emotional episodes such as this can actually cause physical pain, like chest or stomach pains. Show empathy and kindness. Show that you understand and do not belittle their suffering.

Depending on the individual, distraction can be a good technique. If possible try and talk to the person about different things to draw the focus away from the painful memory. Likewise, grounding and mindfulness techniques can help to ground the person in the here and now, rather then then getting lost in a painful memory. Apps like Clear Fear can help with this.

It may also help to try to address the memory when they are in a calmer state. By talking about it in a calm way, they may be able to minimise some of the more distressing aspects of the memory and see it for what it really is. It is important for them to know that a memory is just a memory and cannot hurt them if they do not give it the power to do so. This may take time.

Negative Flashbacks: More Information

For further information and a first-hand experience of negative flashbacks from an autistic individual, I recommend reading Dan Coulter’s blog. Dan explains how he would be triggered by sights or sounds which would cause his flashbacks.

Dan also mentions in his blog that it may be necessary to get professional help for someone suffering from negative flashbacks.

Sunflower Lanyards

Today I wanted to write about something that I found out about recently; Sunflower Lanyards. I didn’t know anything about the lanyard or the scheme, but some of my friends who have children with autism had tried it out with success. Since then, I’ve seen the scheme advertised in my local supermarket, so was keen to find out more.

About the Sunflower Lanyard Scheme

The scheme was first launched at Gatwick airport in 2016, when staff wanted extra help recognising those with hidden disabilities in order to offer tailored assistance. The sunflower lanyard is a subtle and dignified way to meet this need. The sunflower symbol itself indicates positivity, cheerfulness and strength.

Anyone with a hidden disability, regardless of age, can wear the sunflower lanyard. The scheme recognises that many of us have disabilities or illnesses that aren’t immediately apparent to others. This could include things like autism, hearing problems, dementia or mental health issues; to name just a few. By wearing the lanyard, a person is letting staff know that they may need extra time or assistance; or just some patience and understanding.

How to get a Sunflower Lanyard

The lanyards are free of charge and available from the customer service desk of participating supermarkets. I like the fact that no proof of disability needs to be shown in order to get one, as this means that those currently undergoing diagnosis are not excluded. A lanyard can be worn by the disabled person or their carer.

As the scheme becomes more popular, more places will recognise and accept the sunflower lanyards and understand what they mean. Hopefully this will also result in staff receiving appropriate training in order to accommodate the needs of visitors with hidden disabilities.

I think the sunflower lanyards are a fantastic idea and hope that families like mine affected by autism, anxiety and other hidden conditions are able to make good use of this new and exciting resource.

Calm Harm and Clear Fear Apps

Please note that I am not affiliated with the creators of Calm Harm and Clear Fear. This is NOT a sponsored post. I’m just sharing our experience in the hope that it will help someone.

Apps for Anxiety

We were introduced to the idea of using apps for anxiety at our last CAMHS appointment. My autistic son has a problem with ruminating thoughts and often gets agitated. Our counsellor recommended several apps that could help. Out of the list, Calm Harm and Clear Fear were our favourites.

Downloading the apps is simple. They are available on both the Google Play store and the Apple App Store. We prefer using our tablet as it is more user friendly. However, having them on a phone can be useful as they are always available to hand.

Calm Harm and Clear fear can both be used for anxiety, but both focus on different things. You may prefer one over the other, so it’s worth trying both. They are free to download and use.

Calm Harm

I will start with a brief overview of the Calm Harm app. This app has been created with teenagers in mind who may be suffering from the urge to self harm. It has been created by the mental health charity stem4.

The app describes the urge to self harm as a wave. This wave can pass and we can “ride the wave” using different techniques. The main methods are comfort, distract, express yourself, release, random and breathe. Different techniques will appeal to different people.

Each section of the app presents the user with a selection of timed activities, designed to help the urge pass. For example, you may have to name an animal for each letter of the alphabet, or count the 19 times table. This is called Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT).

Calm Harm then lets the user record and monitor any changes by creating a log. Hopefully, the person will feel more in control of their emotions by using the app regularly.

Clear Fear

The Clear Fear app is slightly different and may appeal to younger children. Nevertheless, it can be used by any age.

The app looks at the different types of anxiety that we can feel, including social anxiety, phobias and OCD. It used mindfulness techniques and breathing exercises to help the user calm down.

One activity that I really enjoy on the Clear Fear app is the video clip section. You are presented with a short video, such as a beach or forest, and encouraged to spot as many small details as you can. This is a distraction technique which allows the user to become absorbed in the activity, hopefully making them feel less anxious.

Our Experience Using Calm Harm and Clear Fear

We have found both apps helpful and continue to use them daily. Now, when my son gets upset or angry, I encourage him to use the apps. He says that he feels a lot happier and calmer when using them.

I will mention one slight problem we had with the Calm Harm activities. Because some are timed, my son felt under a lot of pressure to complete the activity in the allotted time; increasing his anxiety. Because of this, I make sure he doesn’t do the activities that make him feel this way. I also told him that it doesn’t matter about doing the whole activity in the time, but some autistic people may feel compelled to. Therefore some caution is needed.

I have recommended both apps to friends and people seem impressed with them. They can be used by anyone, not just teenagers.

You can read more about Calm Harm here and Clear Fear here.

Anti-Bullying Week 2019

Today’s blogpost is something special. I was asked by family fund to write a piece for National Anti-Bullying Week 2019. It runs from 11th-15th November. Bullying can be a particular problem for autistic children, as they can be “easy targets,” standing out as different from their peers. Furthermore, they may have behavioural quirks, sensory issues, or struggle to understand social cues.

Thankfully, as a family, we haven’t had a lot of experience with bullying; my son is at a good special school which deals with incidents very quickly. However, when he was at primary school he did have some problems. It was a mainstream school and he found it hard to fit in. I’d like to share some snapshots from my previous blog to show how difficult school days could be:

“…things came to a head yesterday. He said that the boy had twisted a paperclip open and had been trying to stab him with it. He also said that the boy had picked his nose and tried to wipe it on my son’s top. When my son goes into the corridor to get his coat, the bully blocks his way.”

“Yesterday, My son said that the bullying had started again. The boy had been taunting my son with a bag of Monster Munch (snacks with a very strong flavour and scent). Kids with autism are hypersensitive to smells, and the smell of Monster Munch makes my son feel sick. When the boy realized this, he kept putting the bag near his face and then eventually threw the bag of snacks in my son’s face. Of course, my son did not think to mention any of this to a staff member.

In the playground, my son plays by himself. He is happy in his own world. During break, a kid kicked a football in my son’s face. He said it was an accident, but the child involved was a child who had been previously bullying him.”

Or course, these incidents also affected me as a mum:

He was pretty miserable about going in today. I had to fight back the tears when I sent him in…felt like I was sending him to his doom. I’m in tears typing this.”

One of the big problems we had was that my son wouldn’t think to report these incidents or tell me about them. Therefore I’m aware that there were probably many other incidents of bullying that I never knew about.

Having an autistic child in the family caused another type of bullying too. One day I went to the school to watch the children singing in a concert. My oldest son was sitting in the middle row with all of the other children enthusiastically singing around him. However, my son wasn’t singing. He was crying. In the audience, I felt helpless. I didn’t know what was the matter. I didn’t know how to help him. After school, I asked him why he’d been upset and couldn’t sing. He explained that just as the concert had started, the boy behind him laughed and whispered in his ear “Your brother is disabled.”

From the stories that I’ve shared, it’s easy to see how bullying can affect each member of the family. Moreover, my examples aren’t even extreme. Imagine how tough it must be for those who experience physical beatings, cruel cyber bullying and death threats.

The theme of Anti-Bullying week 2019 is “Change Starts With Us.” It emphasises how we can all work together to stop bullying. We have a collective responsibility to do something and to speak out. Change starts with us…

Anti-Bullying Week 2019

Pizza Massage: Anxiety Relief

I recently attended a seminar about children with anxiety. We learned some excellent techniques for helping reduce anxiety in our children. One of the methods that really stuck in my mind was pizza massage. It is a really simple anxiety relief method that you can do anywhere. The steps are simple to remember; as long as you know how to make a pizza…

Preparing Your Child

Depending on your child, you may wish to talk them through the steps of the massage before beginning. There are some videos on YouTube that can be useful in this regard. It’s also important that they are ok with the idea of you touching and rubbing their back. Some autistic children love massage, whereas others don’t like to be touched. Ask permission or consent from the child.

The Steps of Pizza Massage

Let the fun begin! We start by kneading the dough. We do this by imagining that the child’s back is the dough. Let’s squish and press the skin gently, just like kneading real dough. Do this for a minute or two to relax the child and unknot those tense muscles.

Next we roll out the dough. We make gentle rolling motions down the back as if we were rolling dough out onto a worktop. Furthermore, there are different ways of doing this. We could use a wooden massage roller or a ball. In addition, we could make a fist and rub it down the back in straight lines.

The third step is to spread the sauce. Make a flat palm and rub it smoothly over the back as if you were spreading tomato sauce over a pizza. Make smooth, as well as sweeping motions.

Now we add the toppings. We could ask the child which toppings they’d like! Try making gentle tapping and patting motions over the surface of the back as we sprinkle all of the imaginary toppings on our pizza.

It’s time to put our pizza in the oven. Rub your hands together and blow on them to create warmth and then place them on the child’s back. Another way we could improvise this step is to get a heat pad or an item that has been on the radiator or in the tumble dryer. Rubbing it gently over the back creates a pleasant sensory experience.

The final step in pizza massage is to chop the pizza. Use your hand to make gently chopping motions over the child’s back. Now your pizza is done!

Benefits of Pizza Massage

Pizza massage is great for autistic children who are sensory seekers. Moreover, this tactile method is good for anxiety relief as it provides distraction and sensory input. It also helps to strengthen the parent-child bond. It’s a method that is very easy to remember and doesn’t require any special equipment.

So go on! Give it a go today. It’s very relaxing and fun. Maybe you could treat yourselves to a real pizza once you are done!

Max Card

This is NOT a sponsored post. I just wanted to write about a service that I’ve found incredibly useful over the past few years and I wanted to share my experiences with others. Today’s blog is all about the wonderful Max Card.

Discovering the Max Card

As a parent of an autistic child, I think it is important to avail yourself of the help and provisions that are available to you. Because of this, I registered my child on the local council disability register shortly after diagnosis. This gives us access to things like Short Breaks and the latest information about services and support.

A few years back, I received one such email; detailing an exciting provision for disadvantaged children. The Max Card is available to foster families and families with additional needs. It enables users to get a discounted admission to many attractions in the UK.

How to Get a Max Card

Max cards are provided by different charities and local authorities around the UK. They may not be available in all areas. However, it is easy to check on the website whether one is available where you live. In our case, our local carer’s centre were giving out the cards. I just popped in and gave my details and payed a small admin fee of a couple of pounds. It was as simple as that! The lady gave me my card to use straight away.

The card is valid for two years but it is very simple to renew. I just popped back into the centre with my old card and got a new one when it expired.

Where Can You Go With a Max Card?

There are LOTS of attractions in the UK participating in the scheme, including the major theme parks. Discounts vary depending on the attraction. A theme park like Alton Towers will typically offer 50% off admission to Max Card holders. Simply enter your card number on the website and you will be taken to a special page with the discounted rates.

At other places, you simply show your card at the gate to access the benefits. For example, at our local crazy golf, we got a free carer ticket. Other attractions include swimming pools, trampoline parks, experience days and pottery making. There is something for everyone.

Max Card in Summary

My family has saved a lot of money on days out using our Max Card and that it why I wanted to tell others about it. It really is a fantastic scheme. Families can use the card until their child reaches the age of 25. The website has a handy list of all the attractions covered by the scheme. You can find the ones near you by putting your postcode in the search bar on the Max Card website.

CAMHS Frustration: My Experience

As most parents of autistic children know, a diagnosis is not a magic bullet. You are not suddenly entitled to support and help. There is no assurance that everything will be ok. This is just the start of the fight; and plenty of frustration along the way. Today I want to talk about my latest experience with CAMHS and why I feel that everyone involved in my child’s care thinks that his issues are someone else’s responsibility.

At the moment, there are three main avenues for support for my child: School, Paediatrician and CAMHS. Each one loves to push the responsibility onto the other, creating a triangle of frustration. Let’s consider each one in turn.

The Paediatrician

The Paediatrician is an elusive creature and getting an appointment to see her is akin to one of those 1980’s fantasy movies involving some sort of impossible quest. She is always out on call, so I leave messages with her secretary, never to be returned.

In the rare instance that I did manage to speak to her, she promised me an appointment on 7th September. This never materialised, as she is a very busy lady. However, she did let me know that I’d be much better off speaking to CAMHS as they’d be able to deal with my enquiry quicker. At this point in time I’m still waiting for the Paediatrician to get back to me with an appointment.

This brings us to….


Anyone who has ever tried to get an appointment with CAMHS will tell you that it’s a waiting game. We did manage to get an initial assessment, only to be told that we’d be seen in 8-9 weeks. It is now 9 weeks and CAMHS have told us that there’s no chance of us being seen any time soon because they are very busy.

However, they did chat with me on the phone and made it clear that they don’t deal with autism issues and if my child’s problems were because of his autism then they wouldn’t see him. They also told me that I should speak to the PAEDIATRICIAN as she could prescribe something to help him, but also to speak to the SCHOOL as most of his issues were due to school anxiety.

So let’s call the….


School were very lovely and friendly. They noted down my concerns. They told be to call CAMHS immediately to get him put higher on the list and also to speak to the PAEDIATRICIAN. I guess that brings me full circle then.

As you can see, each department tries to direct the frustrated parent to another department, whilst denying that they are doing exactly that. Heaven forbid that the departments should actually try talking to each other and sharing information. I’m not at all surprised that children slip through the net and end up harming themselves. The system is completely broken and not fit for purpose.

NICE Guideline 170

I found a fantastic article at It Must Be Mum explaining that of CAMHS refuse to treat a child with autism, they are going against NICE guidelines. NICE guideline 170 states that:

“The following recommendations have been identified as priorities for implementation.  Access to health and social care services:

Ensure that all children and young people with autism have full access to health and social care services, including mental health services, regardless of their intellectual ability or any coexisting diagnosis.

Surely if CAMHS refuse to see a child based on their autism, parents could try quoting this to access help.

I’d love to know about your experiences with CAMHS and the school system. Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

Blue Parking Badges for Autism

This week saw some exciting news for the autistic community. Families affected by autism will soon be able to apply for a blue parking badge. This will mean that they can use bays reserved for disabled people. The change is a result of many years of campaigning by autism charities. Authorities and organisations are becoming increasingly aware that not all disabilities are visible. This article will examine the new changes and discuss how to apply for a blue badge.

How Can Autistic People Qualify for a Blue Badge?

It is important to note that not autistic people want, or need, a blue parking badge. However, for many families, the new changes will make a huge difference to their quality of life. For example, a family with a severely autistic child may currently be unable to leave the house if their child has a poor sense of danger, or is prone to unpredictable meltdowns. Some autistic children will bolt and run away, causing danger to themselves and road users alike. Children with autism may also be prone to destructive behaviour.

For the reasons outlined above, we can see why the new changes have been made. Currently, a family affected by autism can apply for a blue badge if they:

1: Cannot take a journey without risk of serious harm or psychological distress.

2: Have 10 points on the PIP mobility component if planning and making a journey causes significant distress.

How to Apply for a Blue Badge for Autism

The new rules will come into effect from the 30 August 2019. From this date, families will be able to apply online for a blue badge under the new criteria. The website is

The National Autistic Society also have some useful advice about the application process for a blue badge on their website. It also has some real-life stories that show how families will benefit from having a blue badge.

New Blue Badge Rules Help Autistic Families

The new rules are overwhelmingly positive and will give families affected by autism a new lease of freedom. Individuals with autism, as well as those affected by anxiety, OCD or dementia will also benefit. It is encouraging to see how small changes like these can make a big difference for autistic children and their carers.

Autism and Exams

As my daughter is currently in her final week of GCSE’s, it seemed only appropriate to write a special blogpost all about autism and exams. This time of year, teenagers up and down the country are sitting their GCSE and A Level papers. For the autistic child, formal examinations can create a unique set of issues and challenges. It is useful to know what kind of help is available in order to minimise the stress associated with exam season.

Does My Autistic Child Need/Want to Take Exams?

The first point to address is whether taking exams is in the child’s best interest. Autism, being a spectrum condition, affects people in any number of ways. This will affect their ability to perform in an examination scenario. Schools should treat each child as an individual. Will an exam cause unnecessary stress? Is the child capable of doing the work needed in order to pass the exam? Are they able to understand what is expected of them?

In some cases autistic children are not able or ready to do a GCSE. However, there are many entry-level qualification options available to choose from that may be more suitable. Also, an autistic child may excel in more practical subjects. In that case a vocational course may be more appropriate than an academic one.

When deciding what qualifications to take, it is important to consider the interests and strengths of the child. What subjects are they strong in? What does the child want to do as a career? Are they considering a university path? These questions are important when considering which exams to take.

Autism and Exams: Access Arrangements

Schools are able to make special arrangements for autistic pupils taking exams. Again, the needs of the child must be considered. How does their autism affect them in an exam scenario? For example, a child with sensory issues may have problems sitting in an exam hall with other pupils. The sounds of people tapping their feet, pens on paper, coughs and sneezes, may be extremely distracting and uncomfortable. A child with autism may also have fine motor problems, which means that they cannot write as quickly as other children, which would be a great disadvantage in a timed exam.

Access arrangements may include placing a child in a smaller, quieter room to take the exam, so that there are less distractions. Autistic children may also be given extra time to complete their work or allowed access to a laptop or computer so that they can type their answers rather than write them. They may be allowed a reader and/or a scribe during the exam.

It is important to contact the school as soon as possible to put access arrangements in place. These often need to be arranged months in advance with the cooperation of the exam board involved.

Autism and Exams: In Summary

Autistic children are definitely capable of sitting exams and qualifications are more accessible than ever. Schools are making it easier for autistic children by being more inclusive. Autism needn’t be a barrier to academic achievement.

Here’s wishing everyone taking exams every success this year. Keep overcoming challenges and persevering. Hopefully, your hard work will be reflected in your grades in a few months time. And also don’t forget the amazing teachers, parents and support staff who help our autistic children to be the best that they can be.

For more information, the National Autistic Society has a useful webpage on exam guidance.

Autism and Destructive Behaviour

I don’t like to be negative about autism, but the fact is that autism often comes with certain challenges. Today I want to focus on one of them: destructive behaviour. This type of behaviour can often accompany a meltdown and can be one of the most upsetting and frustrating aspects of living with an autistic child.

Broken Things

Our house has had its fair share of broken things. Generally, it tends to be gaming controllers. The controller is often seen as the cause of frustrations during gameplay, hence it will end up being bitten, thrown up a wall or pushed into a dustbin. However, we’ve also had our fair share of other “casualties.” Our walls are a bit dented and scratched in places. We have five dining chairs instead of a set of six. We are on our fourth broken TV set.

I read an excellent article by another autism parent, showing that we are not alone. I felt an instant cameraderie with the writer of the article, as though we were members of an exclusive club; the brotherhood of dented walls. But how can destructive behaviour be managed? And how do autistic people comprehend the destruction that they create?

Autism and Perception of Destructive Behaviour

I can’t speak for every case, but I think for a lot of autistic people there is an inability to cope with the aftermath of a destructive rampage. The child has calmed down, so therefore expects everything to return to normal as it was before the meltdown. Consequences simply don’t occur to them. “I was angry. I threw the game controller up the wall. But I’m calm now and it still doesn’t work.”

As parents we can make a big mistake in trying to shield our children from the natural consequences of their actions. We fear that they will never cope with the broken controller, so rush out and buy a new one. The child learns that there are no real consequences. The magic fairy has come along and fixed everything. Calm has been restored. For now.

But the truth is, that by shielding the child, we are actually exacerbating the problem. Broken things stay broken and that lesson needs to be learned. It’s a hard one for parents. We are conditioned to want to make everything right. But long term, this doesn’t do us or our kids any favours.

Autism and Destructive Behaviour: Natural Consequences

So I now let the broken things stay broken. Games have to be played on a TV with a less than perfect display. The thick streak of solid deodorant smeared down the bedroom wall has not been magically cleaned away. Broken games consoles remain unplayable. Living with the consequences of destructive behaviour may cause a child to think twice about doing it again.

As well as this, it’s a good idea to introduce more immediate consequences, tailored to the particular child. In our case, any destructive behaviour results in an immediate ban of all electronic games for the rest of the day. A favourite game may be put in “game jail,” only to be released after a full day of good behaviour from the child. These methods haven’t prevented every single meltdown or destructive episode, but they have helped.

I’d be really interested to hear how others reading the blog have coped with negative Behaviours. Please feel free to share your parenting strategies in the comment box below.