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 https://www.gov.uk/apply-blue-badge.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Happy World Autism Day 2019! Today, many people around the world will be doing something to raise autism awareness. Children may be asked to wear odd socks or a certain colour to school. There may be fundraisers to help raise needed money for autism charities. Many autism families choose to celebrate this day as a special holiday.
More Than Awareness Needed
Whilst autism “awareness” is fantastic, what is really needed is autism ACCEPTANCE. Imagine a society that didn’t stigmatise autistic people for being different. A place where differences were celebrated rather than maligned. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our autistic children could go to school without fear of being bullied for talking or acting the way they do.
World Autism Day 2019 should serve to educate people about autism. Yes, wearing odd socks or a specific colour to school is a talking point, but it’s important to talk about WHY they are doing this. Even the school bully might turn up to school wearing blue to “light it up for autism,” but will it stop them from from bullying the autistic kid in class once the day is over? Let’s have the conversation. Let people know how they can help autistic members of society to feel included.
Ideas For Celebrating World Autism Day 2019
World Autism Day was first designated by the United Nations in 2007, as part of a human rights initiative. Different countries celebrate the day in many creative and unique ways.
“Onesie Wednesday” is one idea, created by the National Autistic Society in 2014. People are encouraged to wear a onesie to school or work to show that being different is ok and acceptable.
Bloggers may write a special post on this day and various social media channels light up with posts and videos about autism.
Fundraisers may include sponsored events or cake sales. Autism charities benefit greatly from the funds raised as it enables them to continue important outreach work in communities, supporting families.
Today I wanted to write about an organisation called Young Minds that is doing a very important work. This is not a sponsored post; I’ve actually used their helpline myself and wanted to share with others how helpful it’s been.
Young Minds is a charity that focuses on the mental health of young people. They want all young people to feel supported and empowered, whatever their mental health issues. They listen without judgement and try to offer help and solutions to families affected by all types of mental health problems. This is especially important for the most vulnerable and excluded members of society. The charity also seeks to influence mental health legislation for better outcomes for patients.
Young Minds Parent Helpline
The charity runs a dedicated phone helpline for parents. The line is free to call and is available Monday to Friday 9:30-4. Outside of these times, parents can leave a message via the online contact form and the charity will be in touch as soon as possible.
I’ve used the helpline myself and found the experience incredibly positive. I had concerns about my child and I wasn’t really sure where to go for advice. I called the number and the lady that answered my call was very calming and reassuring. She listened to everything I said and noted it down carefully. I already felt a lot calmer by the end of the call. It felt like a burden shared.
The call handler explained that I would be contacted within a few days by a mental healthcare professional. I did not have to wait long. The following day I received a call from a warm and friendly man who discussed my concerns at length. The call lasted just under an hour and he was able to offer me a lot of practical advice. By the end of the call I had a clear plan in mind of how to get help for my child and things to discuss with the GP. Incidentally, the chat also drew my attention to a condition called PDA, which is a form of autism that I’ll be discussing in a future blog post.
Crisis Line for Young People
As well as supporting parents, Young Minds offers valuable support to young people themselves. Their newest innovation is a Crisis Text Line which they can access during a mental health crisis. All they have to do is text YM to 85258 and Young Minds will reply immediately. The service is free and available 24/7.
I think that a text service like this is invaluable, because it gives support to the most vulnerable members of society and is a lot less intimidating than speaking to someone.
Young Minds are an amazing organisation doing an important job. There are so many young people suffering with mental health issues today. It is good to know that the support is out there and accessible. It’s my hope that this blogpost can help at least one person or family by signposting them in the right direction.
I have the privilege of writing the occasional post for the wonderful Family Fund Blog. Each month, the blogging team are given a simple theme. We are free to develop the theme in any way we wish, creating a unique perspective on life with a special-needs child.
This month, the Family Fund Blog theme is relationships. When you have a child with autism, relationships with others can be tricky. For example, parents of an autistic child may find themselves under a great deal of stress on a daily basis. So much of their focus is on their child, that it can leave little room for their relationship with one another.
Likewise, friendships can be difficult to maintain. It can be hard to find the time to meet up with friends, as our schedules can be pretty hectic. It can also be hard to find friends that “get it,” unless they have autistic children of their own. The strength of a friendship can be measured by the ability of someone to stick with you through the good times and the bad.
At this point I want to mention some of the lovely people who help to keep me sane on a day to day basis. First of all I have to mention my husband. We’ve been married over 20 years and although our life is anything but normal, we find a good sense of humour really helps! The ability to laugh at everyday situations definitely makes challenges easier to cope with. We also find it important to try and make time for ourselves, even if it’s the odd evening out as a couple.
I have an amazing network of “autism mum friends” who I adore. It’s so good to have people that understand you and who have had similar experiences with their own children. One friend recently bought me a beautiful bunch of flowers to cheer me up when I was feeling low. Such a simple gesture had a powerful effect on me emotionally. True friends are like diamonds.
I also have very supportive parents and the best mother in law in the world. They have been so kind offering practical help as well as emotional support. I sometimes think they deserve a medal for putting up with my moans and groans!
Autism parents mustn’t isolate themselves. It’s so important to have supportive relationships. So remember to say a big thank you to all of the people in your life who are closest to you. Remember to let them know how much they mean to you and never be afraid to tell them that you love them.
Many thanks to Family Fund Blog for providing the theme for this post.
In this final part of my series on sensory processing disorder, I will be focusing on sensitivity to touch. This is also known as tactile defensiveness. Every day we are exposed to different textures and temperatures. Problems with the way that the brain processes touch can cause an autistic child to become overwhelmed.
Sense of Touch: Overview
Our sense of touch is controlled by our somatosensory system. This is a network of nerve endings and receptors in our skin. We experience a variety of sensations through touch, including temperature, pressure, texture, vibration and pain.
Because autistic children can experience sensitivity to touch, they may exhibit sensory seeking or avoidant behaviours to compensate.
Sensory Avoiding Behaviours: Tactile
An autistic child may not like to be touched or hugged. It may feel physically unpleasant for them. This may be hard for parents to cope with, as it is natural to want to hug your child.
They may also have an extreme reaction to pain. A slight bruise or cut could cause a huge meltdown that seems out of proportion to the injury itself.
Oversensitivity to fabrics can cause huge problems in everyday life, especially if the child is expected to wear certain clothing for school. Labels and hems can feel itchy and uncomfortable against the skin. A child may also feel hot and refuse to wear a jumper or coat even in cold weather. Some children prefer to wear minimal clothing at home.
Sensory Seeking Tactile Behaviours
Sensory seekers love the feel of different textures on the skin. Their sense of touch can be a powerful learning tool, as they enjoy being “hands on” in their work and play. Parents and caregivers can create a sensory bin for the child to explore. This could be a simple box containing things like rice, sand, dry pasta shapes or play dough for messy play.
Autistic children often enjoy the sense of deep pressure, which can be very calming. This can be achieved using special equipment like weighted blankets. A weighted blanket gives the sensation of being hugged and held. This can help a child to relax and sleep at night.
A sensory seeker may have a high pain threshold and might not even notice that they are injured. It is important that caregivers help them to understand the signs of an injury so that they can seek medical help if needed.
Helping Children with Sensitivity to Touch
There are many ways to offer help to a child with tactile defensive behaviour. A sensory seeking child may enjoy having a “fidget toy” to carry with them when they go out. This will satisfy their need for tactile stimulation and potentially prevent meltdowns.
As I mentioned earlier in the article, special equipment like weighted blankets and sensory toys can be useful tools for autistic children. Likewise there are also specialist clothing stores that sell “sensory friendly” clothes. This could include school uniform made from soft fabric, or clothing without scratchy hems. Parents can also remove any scratchy labels from clothing to make it comfortable. Autistic children may also like soft towels or bedding.
When it comes to hugs or displays of affection, parents need to discuss boundaries with their child. Maybe they could agree on an expression of affection that the child feels happy with. Parents can also warn school staff, friends and family members that the child has sensitivity to touch. It is also important to help the child if they are in a situation where they need to be touched. For example if they need to go to the doctor, parents could explain what will happen before they go.
I hope you have enjoyed my series on sensory processing disorder. If you haven’t read the other articles in the series, please feel free to explore my posts on visual, hearing, taste and smell sensitivity.
Today I will be focusing on heightened sensitivity to smell and its possible impact on everyday life for autistic people. We have already looked at three senses affected by sensory processing disorder: sight, hearing and taste. A person with SPD perceives stimuli in a different way to others. This can result in either seeking or avoiding behaviours.
Every day, we are bombarded with a variety of different scents. Many are pleasant; others not so much. For an autistic person, this can cause a great deal of discomfort. An unpleasant or strong smell may trigger meltdown behaviour.
Sense of Smell: Overview
The sense of smell is closely linked to the sense of taste. We have special cells, located high in our noses that detect scents. These cells link to the brain. When an olfactory sensory neuron detects a smell, it sends a message to the brain. The brain interprets the data at receives and recognises it as a particular smell. Scents can also affect our emotions and stimulate memories.
Our sense of smell has two very different purposes. One is related to enjoyment; the scent of flowers, perfume, or delicious food cooking. Our sense of smell also functions as a powerful warning system. For example, we might detect a fire from the smell of burning. Likewise we would not eat a food if it smelled bad, as this would indicate spoilage.
Sensory Avoiding Behaviours: Olfactory
For some autistic children, certain scents are unbearable. My son hates strong food smells like vinegar and cheese. He was bullied by children at school who would deliberately put these foods near him to get an extreme reaction. Children who dislike strong odours may be picky eaters and refuse many foods because of their sensitivity to smell.
Smells in the environment can also be a big problem. My son will loudly protest if we visit a house or building that he considers “smelly.” This can be embarrassing when visiting someone’s home! It can be good to put ourselves in the child’s position. It is unpleasant for us if we are in a room that smells bad. Imagine how much worse it must be for a child with autism. They may often respond by trying to get away from the source of the smell. They may get very agitated and upset.
Olfactory Sensory Seeking Behaviours
On the other end of the spectrum, there are children who love strong smells and seek them out. They may even be attracted to particularly unpleasant odours like feces. This could result in dangerous behaviours, as such children may seek out substances like gasoline, which are harmful to inhale.
On a positive note, parents may be able to use fragrances in a useful way. If a child is agitated, a pleasant or familiar scent may be very calming and relaxing to them.
Helping Children with Sensitivity to Smell
Whether the child has seeking or avoidant behaviours, there are ways to help. It’s good to be aware of how a child may react in a different environment and make plans accordingly.
Some parents have had success introducing new scents to their child in small increments. This could help desensitise them to a certain smell.
Others have used scents as therapy. There are scented putties available which can be used as stress relief toys. Pleasant scents can distract a child from a bad smell. For example, if a family are visiting a zoo, they may anticipate some bad smells! Therefore, they could take along a small cotton wool ball or tissue with a few drops of essential oil. The child can use the pleasant fragrance as a distraction to cover any unpleasant smells. Certain oils like lavender are very relaxing.
It can also be good to make an “escape plan” and think of ways that you can physically remove a child from a situation if they are becoming emotional.
As individuals we should be considerate of those around us. It is not kind of us to wear very strong fragrances. This could actually be overwhelming to others and cause discomfort.
As with other sensory processing issues, it is best to consult a professional for advice about the best methods for helping your child. An occupational therapist may advise on a “sensory diet,” which is a series of exercises to help children with SPD.
The sense of taste is going to be the third part of my series on Sensory Processing Disorder. As we have seen in the previous two posts about visual and auditory processing problems, children with autism can have significant issues in everyday scenarios. This is due to the way that the brain deals with the information that it receives.
As the sense of taste relates to food, it is reasonable to conclude that a disturbance in processing taste can cause problems. Getting a balanced and healthy diet can be hard, and social situations difficult. Sensory processing issues related to taste can require creative solutions to overcome successfully.
Sense of Taste: A General Overview
The sense of taste is also known as gustation or gustatory perception. It is closely related to the sense of smell. The five main categories of taste have been identified as: sweet, sour, bitter, salty and umami. As well as these main tastes, the way we perceive our food can also be affected by the texture of the food. It can also matter how hot or cold it is.
A person with sensory processing taste issues may struggle to distinguish flavours from one another. As with other SPD types, we see both sensory avoiding and sensory seeking behaviours regarding food.
Food: Sensory Avoiding Behaviours
For some with sensory taste processing issues, certain flavours may be overwhelming. This may cause them to gag or to even vomit when eating a food that they don’t like. They may be extremely picky eaters, preferring very bland foods or limited foods from a certain category. It can be difficult for a child with SPD to get a balanced diet containing all of the necessary nutrients from the main food groups. In very extreme scenarios, a child may only wish to eat one particular type of food.
Another problem that may occur with SPD is that a child may not like certain foods on a plate to touch or mix together. A parent or caregiver may need to divide elements of a meal into separate plates to avoid them touching or contaminating one another.
Temperature can also play a big part in whether a child may accept a certain food. They may only like it served at room temperature and dislike hot food. Likewise, a child may try and avoid foods with certain textures, such as lumps.
Food: Sensory Seeking Behaviours
The opposite is true of a child with sensory seeking behaviour. They might love strongly-flavoured foods or hot and spicy dishes. They may also drool and dribble excessively. Such a child may also crave foods that are inedible and potentially dangerous, such as stones, dirt or feces. This is known as pica.
Some children also seek out general oral stimulation by chewing objects or clothing because they like the sensation.
Help for Children with Gustatory Processing Issues
Food should be made as appealing and as easy to manage as possible. This will depend on the preference of the child. Parents could try cutting food into small chunks or presenting it in a novel or creative way.
Friends and family should try and set a good example for by showing how enjoyable a varied diet can be. They should offer plenty of praise for trying out new foods. This can really encourage a child with sensory processing taste issues.
It can be a good idea to let a child help out in the preparation of a meal, so that they can associate food with enjoyment. They may be more willing to try something that they have made themselves.
For a child seeking oral stimulation, there are a variety of sensory toys available, including chewable jewellery. This will enable them to satisfy their need to chew without being destructive.
An occupation therapist or dietician may also be able to help with further suggestions on how to enable a child to eat a varied and balanced diet.
In my next blogpost in the series, I’m looking at the sense of smell and it’s associated sensory seeking and avoidant behaviours.
In this second part of my series on SPD, I’m going to be looking at the different ways that autistic people may process sound. As previously mentioned, Sensory Processing Disorder occurs when the brain has difficulty with the information it receives via the senses.
When I discussed visual SPD in the last blogpost, I mentioned that sensory behaviours can be either “seeking” or “avoiding.” The same is true with hearing sounds and we are going to look at how this can impact on everyday life.
How May SPD Affect How Someone Processes Sound?
It is estimated that as many as 7% of children have a problem with processing sound. This can also be known as auditory hypersensitivity. Unlike deafness, the child has no problem actually hearing sounds. The problem occurs in the way that the brain processs the sounds. For example, in a typical classroom there may be a teacher talking to the class, but there is also a variety of background noise, like a ticking clock, squeaking chairs, whispering children or outside traffic. A child with SPD may struggle to filter the relevant noises from the background ones.
As a result of this, a child with auditory hypersensitivity may have trouble remembering information if it is given verbally. It may also affect their social development if their ability to interact with peers is affected. Many opportunities for socialising involve noisy venues, so this can create real problems when a child with SPD reaches the teenage years and cannot access these places without feeling uncomfortable.
Scientists at the University of California studied the brains of autistic children exposed to traffic sounds and scratchy noises. They found that the amygdala (part of the brain associated with social and emotional behaviour) was more active in autistic children than neurotypical children when hearing these sounds.
Sensory Seeking Behaviours
A child with SPD may seek out loud noises or crave them. They might enjoy listening to loud music on their headphones. They may like visiting noisy, crowded places or self-stimulate by banging objects loudly.
Some autistic people are sensitive to pitch and a group of British researchers studying autistic children found that 20% had “perfect pitch,” meaning that they have an exceptional ability to distinguish between musical notes. However, other children in the same study had problems distinguishing the loudness of a tone. These children were the ones least likely to cope with everyday noises.
Sensory Avoiding Behaviours
Some children with autism can actually feel physical pain when exposed to certain sounds, especially very loud and unexpected sounds like a fire engine or someone shouting in the street. This can lead to public meltdowns, which can be very distressing for both parent and child.
If asked to picture an autistic child, we may conjure an image of someone covering their ears, trying to blot out the noise. This is because auditory sensitivity is so common in autistic children. From a practical point of view, concentrating in class at school may be hard as competing sounds merge together as one. A child may even be able to hear people having a conversation in the distance. Sounds that we may view as “normal” may be unbearable to an autistic person.
Helping A Child With Auditory Processing Issues
There are many practical ways that parents and friends can help a child with SPD. For example, ear defenders, the type used by industrial workers, can be a great help, as they muffle out the noise and make it more bearable. This can be a useful strategy if you are visiting a crowded or noisy place; for example, a fireworks show.
Sensory seekers may benefit by having their needs met, for at least some part of the day, in a home or school setting. This could include having access to musical instruments or being able to listen to music on headphones.
It can be a good idea to prepare a child before going somewhere that may potentially cause issues. Think about the place that you are visiting and any problems that you could foresee occurring. The child may be best positioned away from loud sources of noise (unless they are a sensory seeker!) or away from windows and sources of conflicting sounds.
Children with SPD may enjoy listening to recordings of white noise as a way to relax. Earbuds or noise-cancelling headphones could also be useful devices that may help a child.
In my next blogpost, I will be looking at how the sense of taste is affected by SPD, and some of the implications associated with taste hypersensitivity.