My Challenge to you: Do no harm.

When a young Autistic girl’s precious ‘Shopkins collection’ was stolen, so much more was taken from her then cute, tiny toys. Here, her mum Angela, writes an open letter – directed to the persons responsible, and to any others who feel a sense of entitlement to another’s property.

Hi there.
I’m told you have long brown hair, a slim build, in your late teens and that your co-offending friend is of similar age – 17 or perhaps 18 years old. You’re on the wrong side of adulthood, too carefree to yet understand the complex world of a mumma bear, flying solo, and too skilled in vocal ability to grasp the often silent world of a young Autistic girl.

I wonder if you noticed – when you swiftly swiped my girls 232 tiny ‘Shopkins’, her ten ‘Shopkins’ dolls and her six Shopkins ‘Cutie Cars’, from our patio table – the meticulous way most had been lined up by colour and function? I’ve wondered if you gave any thought to as to ‘why’ the ‘Petkins’ car, ‘Gemma Stone’ doll and little ‘Puppy House’ were purposefully set to one side? Or, if you gave any consideration as to why ‘Toastie Bread’ and ‘Apple Blossom’ were front and centre to the rest?

You see, my nine year old girl – the one whose precious collection you stole – is Autistic, and her unique neurology delights in sorting, lining up, role-playing with, and using her beloved Shopkins to support communication, every single day, in a way that serves an intrinsic and meaningful purpose.

I’ve wondered too, would it have made a difference if you had known that what where simply ‘cute’ moulded pieces of plastic to you; to my girl are purposeful objects that help her to process daily events, her needs and her wants? Would you have chosen leaving, rather than taking, if you had realised that what you saw as sparkling dashes of glitter on colourful plastic shapes; to my girl are familiar patterns of differences that make her world feel safe and secure – each speck of glitter on each individual piece counted for, every tiny mark committed to memory, each piece a symbol of daily routine?

There was infact nothing random in how those tiny Shopkins were positioned on the table – their placement communicated the story of how my girl and I were going to be taking her puppy to the vet that afternoon, how I, represented by ‘Gemma Stone’ doll, was going to drive us there … and that my girl had requested toast and an apple for breakfast.

Do you understand now? You didn’t steal a collection of tiny toys, or moulded bits of plastic, or hundreds of dollars of individually chosen Shopkins collected over four years – you stole a child’s unique way of communicating and interacting in the world. You stole her individual creativity in how she plays. And you stole her sense of familiarity and safety.

She’s a gorgeous girl, my little one. A girl who does her very best – every single day – to understand and contribute to what is often a confusing world to her. A girl with a generous heart and a kind spirit who delights in abandoning random letters of kindness, sprinkled with glitter, in unsuspecting places – in the hope that they bring a smile to another child’s face that day. A young girl, who by neurology is fearful of unfamiliars, now has cause to cement that negativity in her minds eye.

As for the scooter you also took as part of your ‘find’, perhaps more disturbing than you taking it, was how calmly you responded to my elderly neighbour, when he called out to you over the fence. “It’s all good, I’m a friend, just picking up the scooter to fix for them”, you claimed. Your relaxed and carefree manner, your choice of words, tells me it’s unlikely that taking from others is foreign to you.

Your still young. You have much yet to experience and understand in life. You’re not too young however, to know right from wrong. You’re not too young to understand the negative and damaging impact your actions can have on another. You have the power to choose better in future, to choose giving, instead of taking, or at the very least, to choose to ‘do no harm’ in future.

My challenge to you, is for my girl to be the last child, the last person, you steal from.

‘Shopkins for Cadence’ Appeal
A detailed list of Cadence’s stolen Shopkins can be found here. If you would like to contribute to replacing Cadence’s stolen Shopkins, please consider donating no longer used / unwanted Shopkins (and ‘Petkins’ Shopkins) to: ‘Shopkins for Cadence’, PO Box 889, Morayfield, 4506, QLD, Australia.


Cadence’s Stolen shopkins

A huge thank you to everyone who has sent Cadence replacement Shopkins!

No further Shopkins are needed at this time. 

Edited / updated list as at 14 December 2017













Sign Out Loud – Autism & Sign Language

Nine year old Cadence singing “Shine Together – It’s okay to be a little different”, in sign language.

As a society, we so highly value speech ability that in its absence we often fail to recognise other equally valid forms of communication, including Makaton and sign language – this despite the reality that among the speaking community, only 7% of any message is conveyed through verbal words – 38% is through vocal elements such as tone, pitch, gasps, and a whopping 55% through non-verbal elements such as facial expressions, gestures and posture – and yet, we cling to the idea that speech ability has almost equivalent importance as our life’s  blood.

Such is the misguided strength society places on the value of speech ability that children, and adults, who communicate non-verbally are, more often then not, perceived “less than”, and at worst (and more commonly), assumed incapable, unintelligent and incompetent.

We look forward to the day when the many valid, alternative ways to communicate – technology systems, sign language, behaviour, writing, art, music, eholia speech – are seen as equal value and importance to typical speech ability.

We look forward to when we, as individuals – and as a community – recognise that what we perceive as another’s communication ‘inabilities’;  is infact a measure of our own inability to communicate in a method different to our own, so that genuine shared engagement, mutual respect and meaningful communication, is truly possible.

Until then, please join Cadence in singing, and signing, out loud.

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.


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.

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”.