When ‘Fun’ is Scary

IMG_1534What might be enjoyable and fun for many children, can be a very frightening and distressing experience for other children.

‘Book Week’ celebrations and other dress-up days can cause considerable confusion and distress to Autistic children – whose neurological processing relies, to a large degree, on ‘familiarity’ and ‘known’ knowledge (past experiences) to navigate the world.

Sadly, it is not uncommon for many parents of Autistic children to keep their child home on ‘dress up’ days, resulting in the child missing out on that days lessons / learning.

On her part, while Cadence very much enjoys dressing up; when others are in costumes, they can become ‘unfamiliar’ to her – visually a person she no longer ‘knows’. This is especially true where costume involves face masks and / or wigs – as was the case at her schools ‘Book Week’ celebrations this week.

This year her school’s theme was ‘super hero’s’, resulting in many teaching staff and students wearing face masks and / or full face paint. Others wore full animal masks and / or an assortment of different coloured wigs.

With many in masks / covered faces, Cadence found the digression from who and what she knew, too extreme, making transition to school difficult and frightening for her: “I thought it would be fun. But people looked strange and creepy, nothing was familiar”.

‘Dressing up’ is a ‘right of passage’ and much loved activity of childhood’ and so it should be for all children.

In support of inclusive approaches recognising the differing abilities, needs and diversity of their school population, many schools have asked themselves the question, “is the wearing of face coverings a necessity for children to delight in dressing up? Does the wearing of face coverings result in some children being excluded and / or not engaging in their learning”? And, have subsequently elected to adopt a policy of no face masks / face coverings on dress-up days. We look forward to more schools giving consideration to inclusive policies.

Dress-up Day (by Cadence)
“No-one was normal, only creepy and scary.
Masked faces, wolfs, horses, bears, strange things,
Closing in on me. Surrounded. Trapped.
By bodies with no faces.
The faceless moved so quickly.
Running. Too fast for me.
They laughed. Like it was fun?
Like nothing was different – when everything was wrong.
In a voice I know, from a body I don’t,
It makes no sense that they say “Come with me”.
My feet can’t move. They are stuck. Frozen. Glued.
Everything I know has disappeared.
Screams in my head that they can’t hear.
“Don’t touch me. Please leave me alone”.
I don’t know who or what you are –
When you are not you.
I don’t understand how they think
Scary is fun”.

Why I Belong in Mainstream School

“Parliament is teaching kids that don’t have a disability that they shouldn’t be with kids that do have a disability. I think that’s mean. … my school rules are to be respectful, to be safe and to be a learner. I think parliament should have the same rules. Saying to get rid of kids with Autism is not respectful. When parliament says kids like me should be gotten rid of, I don’t feel safe … a leaders job should be to find ways to make things work, not to get rid of things”.

This week, Australia’s One Nation Senator Pauline Hanson said in parliament that children with disabilities, particularly those with Autism, should be separated out of mainstream classrooms. Cadence listened to the Senators comments on the news. This is nhot a ‘political’ response; it is an Autistic child’s response to what they interpreted from what was said.

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Nine year old Cadence, who is Autistic, was alerted to these comments during a television news break. Cadence, who delights in writing, twirling, patterns, counting and painting, often shares short writings on her experiences as an Autistic child. Her first public piece, ‘Autism is why I am different’,  was published by Kidspot magazine in August 2015, when Cadence was 7 years old, which combined with her prose “Autism Doesn’t mean I’m bad”, was made into a Spanish short film, ‘Acceptance’ (released August 2016).

Read Cadence’s short prose on how words harm Autistic children here.

You can view Senator Hanson’s speech here.

You can visit Cadence’s Facebook page here.

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Cadence typing her letter to Parliament and Senator Hanson.

Little Things ARE Important

Ensuring accurate detail – about ‘little things’ – might be the difference between a child coping, or a child not coping.

Question from Pam: “I have a 5 year old son with Autism. He gets very angry, very easily over ‘little things’, things that aren’t really important. Do you have any ideas on how I can teach him not to sweat the small stuff”

Cadence’s Response:
“Little stuff is important. He needs to know the little stuff so it doesn’t make confusing big stuff. I think that might be why he gets angry because his brain gets overfull with things he doesn’t know the detail about.

I don’t think you should try to get him not to worry about little things. Instead help him know the little things, then he won’t feel confused. Then he won’t get cranky pants.

Exact is important to me. If I ask Mum what the time is, I need the answer to be the EXACT time, not an a roundabout time. If its 3 minutes past 8am, I need the answer to be “3 minutes past 8am”. I don’t like it if Mum says “it’s 8.00am”, when it’s not!

If she doesn’t tell me the exact time and I see the clock says something different, my brain gets all jiggery. It gets jiggery because Mum’s answer and the clocks answer don’t match up. When it gets jiggery nothing makes sense. Then I get cranky pants.

From Cadence”

When Understanding is like an Ice-cream Treat


“I get excited when I understand what someone says. Most of the time I only understand bits of what they say, not all of what they say. When I understand all of what they say its like rainbow ice-cream, with sprinkles and chocolate sauce; its like eating a yummy treat”.

‘Language’ is such a tricky concept for many kiddos’ on the Spectrum.

‘Receptive Language’ goes beyond just vocabulary skills, and beyond speech ability – it is the ability to comprehend vocabulary, directions, concepts and questions; and, can impact significantly on a child’s ability to communicate and engage in social conversation.

Children with receptive language difficulties commonly experience:
* Difficulty processing information presented verbally.
* Difficulty answering ‘who, what, when, where, why’ questions.
* Difficulty following the content of a conversation accurately (and talking ‘off topic’ as a result).
* Difficulty with reading comprehension.
* Acting before a direction in completed and / or attend to only part of an instruction.
* Following what others are doing and appearing ‘lost’.

Some ways to support a child with receptive language difficulties include:
* Shortening directions, outlining only one step at a time.
* Using direct language, eg “put your toys away” rather than “Your room is messy”.
* Use gestures to help communicate and show / model what you want the child to do.
* Use visuals.
* Use real objects to teach concepts – ‘hands on’ activities that are interactive.
* ‘Check in’ with the child that they have understood your verbal words.

Photo: Child’s handwriting on a piece of lined paper. Writing reads: “I get excited when I understand what someone says. Most of the time I only understand bits of what they say, not all of what they say. When I understand all of what they say its like rainbow ice-cream, with sprinkles and chocolate sauce; its like eating a yummy treat”.

“When my friends go up to someone and talk, I don’t understand how words just come out of their mouth. I wish I could do that. How do they do that?

It’s not uncommon for an Autistic child’s thinking to be profound or ahead of their peers. It is common for them to have significant difficulty with speech and / or language skills needed to verbalize their incredible thoughts.

Speech inability has no relationship to intellectual ability. Challenges with expressive language has no relationship to not having anything to say. Communicating non-verbally has equal worth as speech.

Encourage. Support. Be as genuine in your efforts to hear them, as they are in their efforts to share with you.

#actuallyautistic. #girlsonthespectrum #autism #aspergers #nonverbal #neurodiversity

Sensory Differences & Social Anxiety

“I always thought everyone noticed me because I notice everything. I don’t like being noticed.   But I notice everything because I am autism. I maybe don’t need to worry about people noticing me because if they are not Autism, they don’t notice everything I do”

Cadence’s definition of the word ‘notice’ encompasses her significantly heightened awareness of, and experience in, all sensory areas – hearing, sight, smell, touch and taste.

On reflection, it makes perfect sense that a child born with profound sensory differences (commonly referred to as Sensory Processing Disorder), would assume other people share these same differences; and, that this assumption would include the idea that others are always noticing and observing them, contributing to their social anxiety.

No, Not all Cats have Autism.

Along with her ‘Ruby Dog’, Cadence has two much loved cats,’Mo Mo’ and ‘Miss Tilly’.  Mo Mo became part of the family the day he was born.  Miss Tilly arrived last year as a 3 month old. Like humans, both moggy’s have their own individual personalities and preferences, which Cadence relates to here:

Mo Mo is a bit like me.

He is a scardy cat. He hides from people he doesn’t know well.

He gets startled by sudden noise.

He doesn’t like others touching him but he does like soft strokes.

He is a fusspot with food. He likes to climb things.

He is always thinking and trying to do good.

 

Tilly is different.

She loves everyone, even strangers!

She eats anything at all and doesn’t care if its not her usual food.

She tries new games straight away and doesn’t care where she sleeps.

She is a chatterbox and purrs all the time.

Mo Mo likes things the same and never purrs.

I always know what Mo Mo is going to do next. I never know what Tilly is going to do!

 

Mo Mo and Tilly are my cats.

I like that they are not a bit the same.