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.

 

 

The Truth about Lying

Sometimes its big things. Sometimes just little things. But, big or small, in can appear to others that my little Miss has an almost obsessional desire for what others might perceive as ‘bold face lying’.

Just recently, to her psychologist of all people, Miss declared, that she didn’t have a white board. Now, anyone who knows anything of Miss knows that not only has she had her very own whiteboard for some years, she uses said whiteboard, almost daily, as a communication tool.

The ‘conversation’ went something like this:

Miss (pointing to psychologist’s whiteboard): “I wish I had a whiteboard to draw on”.

Psychologist: “you do have a whiteboard”.

Miss: “No, I don’t”

Psychologist (perplexed): “I’ve seen your white board”

Miss (indignant): “No you haven’t. I don’t have one!”

So, what is it that is going on here?  Is Little Miss lying, being deceitful? Stubborn perhaps? Or, maybe being deliberately oppositional?

In a nutshell, Miss isn’t lying; infact, she is not being dishonest in anyway. Nor is she being, or attempting to be, ‘difficult’ or oppositional.

Rather, as a munchkin on the Autism Spectrum, Little Miss is responding pretty much in a way that shines light on one of the key diagnostic criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder: – “restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities”.

Restricted / repetitive behaviours are often misconceived as relating only to visually observable behaviours – lining toys up or repetitive motor movements (flapping, spinning, tapping, etc). But, diagnostically, and functionally, restricted behaviours relate to a much broader range of challenges; that cannot be seen and are therefore often less understood – sensory differences for example; and, importantly (in understanding Autistic thinking patterns), inflexibility in thinking / rigid thinking patterns.

In its simplest form, the patterns of thinking processes of the Autistic brain lack, to varying degrees, the flexibility necessary to consider options or scenarios outside of the persons own narrow thought process at that time.

In the ‘whiteboard conversation’ above, Little Miss’s thinking process is restricted to perceiving a ‘whiteboard’ as the large, wall mounted whiteboard on her psychologist’s wall. Her brains inflexibility in thinking outside of this narrow focus, did not enable her to consider that any other type of white board, including her own, portable one, could possibly be what her psychologist was referencing.

This inflexibility in thinking is not a ‘choice’ or ‘refusal’ to consider other possibilities; it is part of the neurodevelopmental disability nature of Autism. It is in effect; one tiny part of how Autistic brains works differently from typically developing brains.

When considering rigid or inflexible thinking, is equally important to understand that ‘inflexibility’ does not, in any way, equate to intellectual inability to understand and consider other possibilities / scenarios / ideas, when those other options / scenarios are explicitly explained.

In the above ‘white board scenario’, the confusion was able to be resolved by explicitly acknowledging the misunderstanding: “your right Munchkin, you do not have a big, wall mounted white board like (psychologists name), you only have a small, portable white board”.

This acknowledgement, explicitly defining the thinking process of both parties, enabled Little Miss to then consider that while she didn’t have a large white board like her therapist, she did none-the-less have a white board; and, enabled both the psychologist and Miss to recognise that neither party was being dishonest with each other.

In a similar scenario, just yesterday, a friend commented to Little Miss, “I love the painting you did”.  Miss promptly and emphatically responded, “I didn’t paint it”, and casually went about her business.  You see, in Miss’s narrow thinking, ‘painting’ is an activity that uses a brush and paint, which Miss had not done – she had used her fingers and stamps with paint!

So, next time you consider that an Autistic child may be “boldly lying to your face’, consider first, the nature of, and challenges associated with, rigid / inflexible thinking patterns, and weather you are both on the ‘explicitly same page’.

To learn more about rigid / inflexible thinking, click here.  To support your child in broadening their awareness and knowledge of other thinking patterns, consider incorporating the following activities and games into your daily routine.

  1. Tell silly jokes and make puns.

Show your child how to use different meanings of words to make people laugh. For example, you can tell him a joke: “Why are fish so smart? Because they live in schools.” Then you can talk together about how the ‘punch line’ uses two meanings of the word “school.” Encourage your child to come up with funny wordplay, too – not forgetting to explain the use of the term ‘punch line’!

2.  Play “What’s this?”

Take an ordinary object like a funnel and see how many different things you and your child can pretend it is: a party hat, a trumpet, a unicorn horn. This activity encourages your child to see things in more creative and different way.

3. Play the Fannee Doolee game.

Fannee Doolee only likes words with double letters. Keeping this rule in mind, you and your child can come up with things Fannee likes and dislikes. For example, she likes bees, but she doesn’t like bugs. She likes jelly but not jam. Thinking about the sense of the words and the spellings can help your child learn to shift gears more comfortably.

4. Make up new rules for games.

Kids who have difficulty with flexible thinking can have trouble seeing that there’s more than one way to do things. Practice seeing alternatives by helping your child make up new rules for games. Have players slide down ladders and walk up slides in Snakes and Ladders. Run the bases in reverse order in kickball. Once your child gets comfortable with simple switches like this, try combining the rules of two games to make a new game

5. Read “Amelia Bedelia” and other books that play with words.

Kids who have trouble with flexible thinking tend to find it hard to understand that words can have more than one meaning. Riddles and jokes that play with words’ meanings or sounds can also be confusing. You can work on these skills together by reading books like Amelia Bedelia, whose heroine takes everything very literally. When she’s asked to “draw the curtains,” she uses a marker to draw spots on them. You and your child can talk about what she should have done instead.

6. Find more than one way to do everyday things.

Your child may be used to doing things in a certain order, so making small tweaks to an everyday process can show him that there are different options. For example, try making a peanut butter and jelly sandwich by spreading the jelly before the peanut butter. If your child is old enough, ask him to help you map a new route from school to home. This can help your child work on problem-solving skills, which involve coming up with different approaches to solving a problem.

7. Teach self-talk skills.

Teach your child to talk his way through solving a problem. As he gets older, self-talk skills will become more important. If verbal, encourage him to think out loud as he solves logic puzzles and other problems. Help him learn to ask questions like: Is this similar to another problem I’ve solved before? Is there something different here that I haven’t come across in other problems? You may also want to ask his teacher what can be done in the classroom to help him work on flexible thinking and other skills.

On Oral Sensitivities

Are you crunchy food or soft food orientated?
Sensory challenges are common for children (and adults) on the spectrum. Oral sensitivities can be especially challenging when it comes to nutrition necessary for healthy development. Cadence, historically, experiences quite severe oral oversions, which have played a key role in past hospital admissions. Expanding food types is an ongoing challenge for many on the spectrum.

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A Girls Best Friend

A Little Story about One Small Dog and her Young Autistic human – written by eight year old Cadence, about her special friend, ‘Ruby Red’.

“Ruby Red is my dog. She is a good dog. I don’t know if she knows, but she helps me be ruby3brave and strong, when I feel scardy cat. She went to kindy with me, and school and to the shops and parade marches. She is very patient and never gets angry when other kids pulled her ears or tail. She slides down slippery dips with me and goes on the spinning rotunda at the park with me. I don’t know any other dogs that go down slippery dips! She has even been on a Ferris Wheel! She runs alongside me when I am scootering. She sniffs me out when I am hiding and snuggles me when I am sad, even when I get grumpy and push her away.

But then Ruby Red started getting poorly and doing funny things. She rubbed her head against things, and sometimes walked in circles. She didn’t like being patted or touched on the head. She would keep moving from different spot to different spot and only sleep when her head was up on a pillow. She scratched all the time, but she didn’t have fleas. And she opened and closed her mouth a lot. Sometimes she would get wobbly and trip over.

The vet said she had Syringomyelia. It’s a big word that means a disease in her brain and causes lots of pain. The vet put her on medicine to stop the pain.

Then about a month ago, she started getting more poorly. She didn’t want to go down slippery dips with me and even stopped getting up on the bed to sleep with me. She cried and yelped too.

The Vet put her on new medicine. I give her the morning tablet and her night-time tablet. She is more happy again now. She has started jumping up on the bed to sleep with me again and wanting to play ball with me again. It has made her eyes more poorly. She doesn’t see very well but she has a super good nose and follows her nose everywhere! If she falls over, I pick her up and give her a cuddle.

The vet doesn’t know how long the new medicine will work for. It might be for just a little time or a bit longer time. When the new medicine stops working, there is no more medicine that will stop Ruby Red’s ouches. The vet will need to give her a special medicine to stop the pain, but that medicine is so super, super strong it will stop her heart from working and she will die.

We take Ruby Red to the vet every two weeks now. Ruby Red likes to sniff all the waiting area for other animals. I put her on the vet table for her check-up and cuddle her before she has her blood tests. I help her be brave and strong because she helps me be brave and strong”.