World Autism Awareness Week
Since its World Autism Awareness Week, a blog about autism is obvious. Autism is a lifelong development disability which affects the way in which a person communicates with other people, and how they experience the world around them.
Autism affects 1 in 100 people in the UK alone. That’s a lot of people who see the world differently. It is believed Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin and Albert Einstein were all on the autistic spectrum. Other famous people include Satoshi Tajiri; the creator of Pokémon, Dan Aykroyd; writer of Ghost Busters, and actor Daryl Hannah. The world would be a very different place without these people.
For me autism is fascinating, so apologies if I get slightly carried away! I have decided to base my blog on my own personal experiences, to give you an idea of what life can be like living with an autistic child. My parents have fostered since I was 9.
During my early teens a 4-year-old autistic boy named Jack was placed with us, alongside his two younger siblings. The things Jack did and his lack of social skills really interested me, I spent a lot of time with Jack trying to work him out.
Every night he would play with his trains after watching an episode of Thomas the Tank Engine, he would then rein act the whole episode word for word, he would suddenly stop lift his head and say “huh”and then carry on. This was at the same time every evening, it took us a while to realise it was the sound of the central heating clicking on, that would steal his attention for that small moment.
This is because Jack has extremely sensitive senses due to his autism; his memory is also phenomenal he knew every line to every advert on the TV. The famous McDonald’s “I’m loving it” advert was Jacks favourite. I would randomly hum the tune to which he would shout “I’m loving it” sometimes he would hum the tune to me to get the same response. It was little things like this that allowed Jack and I to connect and build a relationship, something he struggled to do with other family members.
Don’t get me wrong not everyday was easy living with an autistic child. Little things would trigger Jack, loud noises, busy environments, change of plans. We couldn’t randomly pop to the shop, and people couldn’t call in for a brew unexpectedly because Jack would have a complete melt down.
Sometimes, if my parents were having a particularly hard day, I’d ask Jack if he wanted to go to the park or for a walk to the shop. He knew he was to hold my hand; I was one of few people who could touch him without setting him off like a ticking time bomb. For Jack, my parents and I were his safe place, he trusted us, which was a real privilege as Jack didn’t trust many people.
One day whilst my dad was driving to school a road closure caused him to take a diversion. Jack took off his seat belt, jumped on to my dad’s lap head first with his feet on the windscreen kicking and screaming.
He thought he was taking him somewhere else. A simple road diversion can trigger a meltdown and a potential hazard for families living with autism. Although we learnt to never leave the house without a Thomas the Tank train, his headphones and checking road closures we still had melt downs. Its impossible to plan for every situation however you do have to plan for it and have strategies in place.
Jack doesn’t understand idioms such as “its raining cats and dogs” or “it costs and arm and a leg”, he takes everything literally he would expect cats and dogs to be falling from the sky, so when there were no cats and dogs he would get upset. Many autistic people don’t understand idioms, sarcasm, jokes or other vital social cues like facial expressions. Sympathy, empathy and gratitude are concepts that elude them.
Many are unsure how to react to their senses, for example Jack couldn’t feel the cold, so we were constantly putting layers on him during the winter. He didn’t know how to react to pain. So when he had tooth ache we didn’t know until he woke up and his face was twice its usual size. Not all autistic people will have the same difficulties as Jack, some may be more social, some maybe less, everyone is different.
Autism is referred to as a spectrum disorder, with autism on one end and Asperger syndrome on the other. Those diagnosed with high functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome are more commonly known to have average or above average IQ. It is usually diagnosed later then autism because they tend to have little or no problem with language, come across as an average child, barring their social skills, in which they become awkward and noticeably different.
Whereas typical autism can be diagnosed as early as 2 years old, when developmental mile stones are not met, when children are not making appropriate eye contact, attempts to communicate or responding to main carer appropriately. Some can go their whole life without speaking one word, finding other ways to communicate using cards, sign and other unique techniques.
For a lot of people living with autism, sensory overload is a huge problem; one way to help manage this is through multi-sensory sessions. Multi-sensory rooms allow users to engage all of their senses at their own pace in a safe environment, multi-sensory rooms have a calming affect on many users as communication is not necessary and they are free to explore independently.
Our multi-sensory rooms at Redbank House include fibre optic lighting, water beds, bubble tubes, sensory toys and much more. These sessions help to develop co ordination, fine motor skills concentration and focus, some have found multi-sensory have even promoted communication among non responsive users.
If you think someone you know may benefit from our Multi-sensory room call 0161 214 5959 to find out more. We offer a FREE first session to all new users.